Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A wake-up call

As horrific as it was, the Sumatra tsunami was just a ripple compared with the megatsunami waiting to scour the U.S. East Coast.

I've posted on this subject before, but there has never been a better time than now to raise awareness of the ticking time bomb at La Palma in the Canary Islands.

Earthquake-generated tsunamis are nothing compared with those triggered by massive landslides and volcanic islands are the primary cause of these rare but inevitable cataclysmic events.

The trigger will be the collapse of the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma. There is already a massive fracture that slipped a short distance during an eruption in the latter portion of the 20th century. The speculation is that the next time the volcano cranks up, a major eruption will cause all or part of the western flank of the volcano to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists predict the collapse will generate a train of a dozen or more very large waves spreading out in an arc that will strike the eastern coasts of North and South American, as well as the Caribbean.

As we saw with the Sumatra event, the wave height increases as it moves into shallower water. It was estimated as high as 20 feet and reached as far as a quarter-mile inland in the Indian Ocean tsunami.

A La Palma megatsunami would generate waves as tall as 160 feet (8x the Sumatra size) that would reach as far as 12 miles inland all the way from Greenland, down the densely populated U.S. East Coast to Brazil and beyond.

It is estimated that the northeast coast of Brazil would feel the impact first, some six hours after the collapse, with Haiti, Cuba and the U.S. East Coast following in rapid succession.

Take a look at a map of the U.S. East Coast and notice how much population is concentrated within 12 miles of the shore from Maine down to Miami and you begin to appreciate the almost inconceivable destruction.

Think of the massive traffic jams caused by Florida residents fleeing hurrincanes and then imagine the futility of trying to evacuate that danger zone with little more than six hours' warning.

Scientists say there is no way to predict when the La Palma collapse will occur - only that it will occur. Maybe in 1,000 years, maybe tomorrow.
Here's a place to start to learn more:

Friday, December 24, 2004

Maria and I bought her daughter a Zire 72 for Christmas - PDA, camera, MP3 player - way cool. Just the thing for a college student, eh? Posted by Hello

Christmas 1967: My parents opening presents 37 years ago. Dad loved to look goofy for the camera. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ghosts of Christsmas Past: Sean (left) and Steve relaxing in their Winnie the Pooh chairs amid the debris of a Christmas gifting frenzy. Posted by Hello

Monday, December 20, 2004

Yes, we really did wait until 6 days before Christmas to get a tree. We had to wait that long for it to snow at the tree farm. It was 10 torrid degrees when this picture was made. Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A motorcycle orphan again

Whatever cheer I might feel this Christmas is tempered by the knowledge that my local BMW motorcycle dealership is going out of business.
This is the third BMW motorcycle dealer to fail in this city since I started riding BMWs in the early 1980s.
My friend Bill will end his 4½ years as a BMW dealer at 7 p.m. Wednesday. I’m sad for Bill, who really gave it his all, but in the end was brought down by a weak economy and a corporate shell game that forced him to take motorcycles from BMW faster than he could sell them – all because the top management at BMW Motorcycles USA wanted to make their numbers look good and never mind what it did to the dealers.
I’m also sad for myself because, with more than a year to go on my K1200GT’s three-year warranty, I now have to ride more than 100 miles to the nearest authorized BMW service department for maintenance and repairs.
I have plenty of company. I estimate there are at least 500 other BMW motorcycles under warranty in this area and their owners are in the same fix.
Bill announced his decision to close last Tuesday morning and sent out the word that he’d rather sell his inventory of parts, accessories and apparel at cost or a loss to his regular customers than hand the stuff over to some inventory liquidator. Consequently, my friends and I have been doing our level best to help him while, at the same time, behaving like respectful vultures.
I helped him dispose of a couple of used bikes that would have otherwise been turned over to the liquidators and also found about $350 to spend on a new rear tire, luggage and other assorted stuff.
All this comes at a time when he is going through a very unpleasant divorce. He sold his house this month and moved into an apartment with his two young sons today.
I gave him his first dollar in business and desperately hope he can get through this with his sanity intact.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Overrated stuff

Old Navy anything. It's become the uniform of the Ordinary American - people with follow-the-crowd sheep mentalities. The styles are ho-hum, the workmanship is purely Third World and the colors are consistently unattractive (to me, anyway).

Rolex watches. Was it the James Bond connection that made them so desirable among the unimaginative? Maybe they're ok for women, but the men's styles are foofy. Give me a Breitling any day. Now there's a man's watch.

Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Great, if you want a heart attack, but certainly not worth the damage it does to your cardiovascular system.

Godiva chocolate. Gimme Lindt (& Sprüngli) from Switzerland. The previous item notwithstanding, I could eat Lindt chocolate until I explode or lose consciousness.

9mm handguns. Give me the knockdown power of a .45 any day.

O'Charley's. What a stupid name for one more chain of fake Irish bars.

Nike sports shoes. They're just shoes. You're paying extra for the logo.

Sheriff's Capt. Ken Campbell uses an electronic metal detector to check out a student at my stepson's high school this morning. Everyone coming into the building got "wanded" as a result of a threat received yesterday afternoon. Yes, it's finals week and some idiot kid apparently thought this would be an amusing prank.& Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


As I drove down the interstate this afternoon, I found myself thinking about how absolutely astonished I would have been if, at the age of 10 or 12, someone would have told me what was coming in the way of technology.
Take cars, for instance. When I was 10, we had a 1955 Ford. It was a freaking deathtrap by today’s standards: hard steel dashboard, no seatbelts, no airbags, drum brakes. It lacked power steering and power brakes and you actually had to crank the windows up and down. And, oh yeah, no air conditioning. The sound system consisted of an AM band radio and a single speaker in the dashboard that reflected its sound off of the inside of the windshield. Radial tires were decades away, so the handling and suspension were pretty much garbage.
Imagine my surprise if I had known that my future held a sleek 2-seat car with removable hard top, complete with power steering, power brakes, radial tires, AC, power windows, seatbelts, airbags and a four-speaker stereophonic sound system that played discs read by a concentrated beam of coherent light and got digital stereo radio signals from a pair of satellites more than 22,000 miles out in space. Absolutely unbelievable then, but utterly ordinary today.
Or what if someone had told me most people would have pocket telephones and that I would have one that electronically held hundreds of phone numbers, a powerful calculator, my appointment calendar and to-do list, a couple of games and the complete texts of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James Joyce’s Ulysses? And it gave me instant access to a worldwide computer network and the vast information repository it represented, not to mention the ability to send electronic mail instantly to anyone on the planet. Of course my pocket phone is a bit behind the times because the newer models have more storage capacity and include a color digital camera.
Can you imagine how amazing that would have been to a kid living in a small town where we were still making operator-assisted phone calls and paying long distance charges to phone someone in the nearest city of any consequence, only 20 miles away?
I suppose this shouldn’t really surprise me, considering that my father was born just seven years after the first transcontinental automobile journey and the Wright brothers’ first flight. Dad grew up on a farm without electricity and indoor plumbing where much of the field work was done with horses. That sounds like something out of a Third World country, but we’re only talking about a couple of generations ago right here in the United States.
One of the interesting consequences of being around nearly 60 (ack!!!) years is the perspective it gives you. My wife’s teenage kids have never known a time without home computers, cell phones, compact discs, ATMs, video games, fiber optics, lasers, microwave ovens, color TV, cable TV, pocket calculators, TV remote controls, FM radio, cordless phones and halogen lighting. These are all things that have come into being during my lifetime and I’ve only been around since 1945.
Assuming technological advances continue at the same rate – or at a constantly accelerating rate – the future world of my 5-month-old granddaughter will be every bit as inconceivable from a 2004 vantage point as today’s world was from 1910 or even from 1955.
How cool is that?

Monday, December 13, 2004

How to make a cop shoot you...

A police officer friend of mine killed a 20-year-old kid yesterday morning.
T was one of two Special Response Team (i.e. SWAT) guys who fired when the kid pointed his weapon at other officers. Only one bullet hit the kid and I’m betting it was T’s. He’s thoroughly professional, has a firing range behind his house and trains almost constantly.
It all started about 4:30 yesterday morning when an officer noticed this kid speeding in a nearby county seat town. Over the next hour, he led police from several departments on a three-county chase, running over several stop-sticks that punctured three of his tires. He was running on three rims by the time he abandoned his car along an interstate about 14 miles west of where we live and struck out on foot.
Officers said he was waving a pistol and a knife as he ran through corn stubble and harvested soybean fields in the darkness.
They followed him about a mile and a half, crossing a state highway and moving north on a county road. As he walked along the county road, a sheriff’s deputy followed at a discrete distance, illuminating him with the patrol car’s headlights while a police negotiator tried to persuade him to drop his weapons.
The kid was jabbering incoherently and cutting his arm with his knife.
All the while, T and another SRT member were following along with their M-16s – T flanking him in an open field and the other officer walking up the road.
In an apparent moment of clarity, the kid told the officer, “Tell my mother I love her.”
Then he raised the pistol and brought it to bear on the negotiator.
True to their training, T and the other SRT officer, raised their assault rifles and fired to protect their brother officer.
One shot went wide, but the other caught the kid in the chest. He was pronounced dead minutes later at a nearby hospital.
The autopsy and toxicology reports are still pending, but the kid had needle tracks on his arms and his behavior was consistent with that of a meth head.
The kicker is that his pistol turned out to be a pellet gun.
My wife and I took a plate of cookies over to T’s house last night and it was clear that he was taking it kind of hard.
“I arrested that kid a week ago, but I didn’t even recognize him this morning,” he said.
Turns out the kid had been admiring a friend’s stereo just hours before it was stolen and it turned up in the kid’s garage, so he had a burglary charge pending when he committed “suicide by police” yesterday morning.
It wasn’t until two hours after the shooting that T learned the kid was waving a pellet gun.
“It looked like a long-barreled .357 to me,” he said.
We won’t know who fired the fatal bullet until ballistics tests are done.
Either way, T is going to be unhappy. He doesn’t especially want to have the distinction of being the first officer on his department to kill a perp in more than a quarter century. But, on the other hand, he doesn’t want to be known as the guy who missed.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

My granddaughter Lisa is ready for her first Christmas. I got her to cooperate for about 250 photos yesterday afternoon. Posted by Hello

Monday, December 06, 2004


Just in case anyone cares about my astrological pedigree, here's the poop:
Sun 21° Cancer
Moon 18° Virgo
Mercury 16° Leo
Venus 7° Gemini
Mars 24° Taurus
Jupiter 23° Virgo
Saturn 15° Cancer
Uranus 15° Gemini
Neptune 4° Libra
Pluto 9° Leo
Ascendant 18° Taurus

My first wife was a Scorpio, as are both of my sons. My second and final wife is a Gemini.
If you have a Palm Pilot and are looking for astrology software, I heartily recommend Delphi v2.01. Astonishingly, it’s free and you can get your copy at
It calculates natal charts with great precision, including angular relationships and synastry. Runs on Palm OS 3.5 and later.
Way cool.

I wonder if Richie Havens ever got dentures...

I flipped over to the ‘60s channel on XM Satellite Radio just now and find myself listening to some Richie Havens concert song.
Richie was one of the featured performers at Woodstock. He was boring then and he’s boring now.
All of which is apropos of nothing in particular.
I had an exchange of e-mails this morning with my cousin Sam, the son of my mother’s sister Ruth. Sam was the youngest of four kids and is a year or two younger than I. His oldest sister, Joanne, was almost a contemporary of my mother. Next in order was Kay and then Susie and Sam.
Susie, who was five years older than I, was all flash and brass. Disarmingly glamorous with a startling directness. I remember my parents being taken aback when she called them by their first names, instead of “Uncle Charles” and “Aunt Eileen.”
I thought she was beautiful and cool and had a crush on her during my pre-school years.
My chronology may be off a bit – I was only in junior high school – but I think she got married during her senior year of high school because she was pregnant.
She married her boyfriend and he went on to be a successful attorney. They moved to Michigan and she occupied herself being a model and doing television commercials.
Somehow, though, it all started to slip and the next I heard of her she was drinking heavily, had crashed her marriage and was living with her widowed father in Indianapolis.
A short time later, my parents told me Susie had attempted suicide with sleeping pills and was in an Indianapolis psychiatric hospital.
I visited her several times, renewing our friendship despite the confusion and memory loss she was experiencing from electro shock therapy, intended to zap away her chronic depression.
After a few weeks, she was released and I lost track of her until one winter night when I got a call from a guy who turned out to be her current boyfriend/drinking buddy. He and Susie were holed up in a fleabag motel on the Westside of Indianapolis and Susie was drunk and out of control. Would I come out and help, he asked.
When my (first) wife and I arrived, Susie was in bed, slamming down vodka like it was water and jabbering incoherently. At one point, she tried to drag her into bed with her with obvious amorous intentions. My recollection is that we somehow got her into detox, at which point I realized she was way beyond my ability to help.
Her brother and sisters had pretty much washed their hands of her years earlier after she used them and stole from their homes to get money for booze.
The last time I saw her, she was apparently semi functional – the encounter was her father’s funeral and I think it was about 20 years ago.
So when my cousin Sam mentioned this morning that he had passed through Indianapolis last Friday and visited Susie – he calls her Sue – I asked how she’s doing.
His response:
Sue is in an assisted living facility on the westside of Indy, just north of the airport. Health is declining, largely due to her continuing smoking and crippling arthritis. She basically "vegetates," having no interest in anything. All she has is (our) side as her kids haven't attempted contact in years. An extremely sad set of circumstances but, unfortunately, largely self-imposed.
Jeez, the twilight years of the Golden Girl of my childhood. How freaking depressing!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

I was very sad when the U.S. Postal Service raised their rates and obsoleted this stamp. Did I mention how much I love Big Sur? Posted by Hello


They don't do no good
They never be workin'
When they oughta should
They waste your time
They're wastin' mine
California's got the most of them
Boy, they got a host of them

Swear t'God they got the most
At every business on the coast
Swear t'God they got the most
At every business on the coast
They got the


They can't fix yer brakes
You ask 'em, *"Where's my motor?"*
*"Well, it was eaten by snakes..."*
You can stab 'n' shoot 'n' spit
But they won't be fixin' it
They're lyin' an' lazy
They can be drivin' you crazy

Swear t'God they got the most
At every business on the coast
Swear t'God they got the most
At every business on the coast
*[Take it away, Bob...]*

I asked as nice as I could
If my job would
Somehow be finished by Friday
Well, them whole damn weekend
came 'n' went, Frankie
*[Wanna buy some mandies, Bob?]*
'N' they didn't do nothin'
But they charged me double for Sunday

You know, no matter what you do,
They gonna cheat 'n' rob you
Then they'll send you a bill
That'll get your senses reelin'
And if you do not pay
They got computer collectors
That'll get you so crazy
'Til your head'll go through th' ceilin'
Yes it will!

I'm a moron, 'n' this is my wife
She's frosting a cake
With a paper knife
All what we got here's
American made
It's a little bit cheesey,
But it's nicely displayed
Well we don't get excited when it
Crumbles 'n' breaks
We just get on the phone
And call up some flakes
They rush on over
'N' wreck it some more
'N' we are so dumb
They're linin' up at our door
Well, the toilet went crazy
Yesterday afternoon
The plumber he says
*Never flush a tampoon!*
This great information
Cost me half a week's pay
And the toilet blew up
Later on the next day-ay-eee-ay
Blew up the next day

We are millions 'n' millions,
We're coming to get you
We're protected by unions
So don't let it upset you
Can't escape the conclusion
It's probably God's Will
That civilization
Will grind to a standstill
And we are the people
Who will make it all happen
While yer children is sleepin',
Yer puppy is crappin'
You might call us
Or something else you might coin us
But we know you're so greedy
That you'll probably join us

We're coming to get you, we're coming to get you
We're coming to get you, we're coming to get you
We're coming to get you, we're coming to get you
We're coming to get you, we're coming to get you...

Francis Vincent Zappa, 1979

This song from Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti album is on continuous loop in my head today as I spin my wheels trying to get people to do their jobs.
At the head of my list is American Modern Insurance, the company I have paid $962.59 in premiums to in the past 23 months for motorcycle insurance.
When I got rear-ended by a moron in an SUV in California last July, I opted to have American Modern settle my claim immediately, less my $500 deductible, which I expected them to recover for me from the moron’s insurer, Farmers Insurance Group.
American Modern paid the repair bill, less my deductible and then promptly stopped communicating with me.
I’ve sent them three e-mails and left more than a dozen voicemail messages with their Claims Department since Sept. 18. How many have they returned? Zero.
I called again today and got a nervous young man named Travis who, after hearing the elements of my problem, told me I need to speak with Tara Osborne. That’s what I was told Tuesday and I left a voicemail for her that day, I said.
She was off sick Tuesday, Travis tells me, but she’s in today. Unfortunately, she’s on her phone. So Travis promised he would write my name, phone number and issue on a slip of paper and place it in front of her on her desk. He assured me this action would guarantee a prompt callback. Well, it’s 5 p.m. and they close up shop at 4:30. Did I hear from Tara. Nope.
So I roll “Badger American Modern” over to tomorrow’s to-do list on my PDA.
Then there’s the matter of the Ebay vendor who charged me $21.52 for two 2 ounce bottles of KL Homme Eau de Toilette I bought for $6.01 each. Yes, that’s $9.50 for shipping and handling based on a disclaimer that all items are pre-packed for shipping. So how come both bottles showed up today in a single package that cost nowhere near $9.50 to ship? And when I open the package, I find two 2-ounce bottles of KL Homme After Shave, not the Eau de Toilette featured in the ad.
When I e-mailed the vendor suggesting we do an exchange with her picking up the shipping both ways, I got this terse response:
Hello, I was not aware that these were any different from cologne.....I have many bottle of this KL Homme.....some where after shave and some were Eau de toilette...and that informs me of for the shipping...yes it is now I am to refund you all your money.......and I will be out the origianal shipping charge.... the listing fees ....the final fees.....the Paypal fees.....and the cost of you returning the item to me this point and time, I would rather send you the proper item...equivalent to 4 ounces of KL homme (cologne)...this is my offer....I am trying to work with you so that you get your item...and I am not out all the charges that I have allready paid for......
I responded by suggesting that if she is going to peddle this stuff, she needs to know the terms and supplied her with comparative definitions of cologne, eau de toilette and after shave, along with this explanation from
What is the difference between Perfume, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, and Eau de Cologne?
The differences are simply a matter of the amount or concentration of oils in the fragrance. These oils are called "juice." The highest concentration of "juice" is in perfume (or parfum). Next would be Eau de Parfum, then Eau de Toilette, and finally Eau de Cologne.
Actually, Eau de Toilette and Eau de Cologne are generally interchangeable, particularly in Men's fragrances. After Shave has the least amount of oils. The higher the concentration of "juice" the longer your fragrance will last, and the less you need to apply.

Now there’s the matter of reminding the local street department that they were directed by the town council six months ago to cut down the three aging maple trees that shed limbs and menace my house every time a strong wind blows.
And on, and on, and on…

I think I'd like to be back in the Florida Keys today... Posted by Hello

Friday, November 26, 2004

We awoke to our first snowfall of the season yesterday morning. This is how it looked along the county road south of our house. It's all melted now, but it was beautiful while it lasted. I'm ready for spring now. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Worth two in the bush... My dad when he was about my age (59). I look much younger. Really. Posted by Hello

Overworked cliche

I'm really tired of blues songs that begin with, "I woke up this mornin'..."
Didn't most of us?
Well, now that I think of it, my dad didn't. He died seven years ago today.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Puzzling Evidence

For the benefit of the ladies who are unfamiliar with the layout of restaurant men's rooms, a lot of establishments put something on the wall above the urinals to give us something to read while we're otherwise engaged.
Some places post the sports page of the local paper, some post a page from USA Today and some stick advertising there.
I found myself staring at one of those ads today.
It was an ad for a company called Big Slick Attire and they make clothing for gambling. Yeah, who knew?
The ad directs the reader to their website: There, you can see the various t-shirts, tanktops, caps, hoodies and other stuff created with this rationale:
Big Slick Attire was created for players, by players. Our shirts are not only classy, but relevant to the best poker game invented, No Limit Texas Hold'em.
Jesus! Talk about a niche market.

Monday, November 22, 2004

And now for something completely different: This couple are regulars at a rollerskating rink in a nearby town and they always bring their 3-foot tall Barbie doll skating partners. The Barbies have bendable limbs, so they put them in chairs at the snack bar when they take a break. They also have child seats for the Barbies in their SUV. Strange? Posted by Hello

No, they're not all latent liberals

I really ought to be doing something useful this Monday morning, but I must share this piece I pirated from Jeff Goldstein’s Protein Wisdom site.
It gets right to the heart of the fallacious assumption that all of those heretofore silent non-voters were latent liberals and Democrats. That has always been the touchstone of Democrat ideology and, to some extent, believed/feared by those of us in the Center and on the Right.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, associate professor of political science at UVA Gerard Alexander argues that, in election 2004, “there wasn’t a huge untapped pool of Democratic voters, after all.” From “The End of a Left-Wing Fantasy” (subscription required, so I’ll quote liberally):
It’s not difficult to detect a level of demoralization among some Democrats that can’t be explained by the loss of a single presidential election by three points. One reason may be the death, on November 2, of a myth that has long nourished the hopes of the American left--the idea that tens of millions of non-voters (if only they could be turned out) were an ace up their sleeve.
For decades, liberals and progressives pointed out that Americans vote at much lower rates than Europeans. Since non-voting is especially high among groups that normally lean to the left--minorities and those with the lowest incomes and formal education--this meant that the building blocks of a more liberal, even social democratic, politics existed in the United States. But these people (so the thinking went) were excluded from the political process by complicated registration procedures and the failure of parties and candidates to raise issues that motivated them. To many on the left, it was a reassuring image: Outside the political system, looking in, were enough potential voters to swamp conservatives (and moderates for that matter). It meant history was still on their side, since ways would surely be found sooner or later to mobilize these citizens.
Many Democrats shared this belief, which is why they joined progressives in passing the “motor voter” registration law in 1993. Many journalists were believers, too, regularly reporting that high turnout naturally favors Democrats.
But there were always two things wrong with this line of argument. It exaggerated the number of non-voters and it mischaracterized their likely political views. Because turnout ratios are typically calculated as a percentage of all adult residents of the United States, the number of non-voters misleadingly includes millions of people who are not eligible to vote because they’re not U.S. citizens or, in many states, because they are convicted felons. There have always been millions fewer non-voters out there to be mobilized than was suggested.
More important, the myth mischaracterized non-voters politically. It’s true that minorities and the very poorest Americans have historically voted at disproportionately low rates. But it doesn’t follow that the average non-voter falls to the left of the political aisle. For example, U.S. Census Bureau data suggest that non-voters who didn’t finish high school at most made up one in five non-voters in 2000. The same data suggest that up to 30 million non-voters in 2000 had either some college education, a bachelor’s degree, or an advanced degree. In other words, non-voters included many millions of middle-class Americans. In other cases, the myth-making left politically miscategorized groups that historically voted at low rates. African Americans might vote overwhelmingly Democratic. But politically sluggish young people come close to splitting evenly between Democratic- and Republican-leaning views, despite 1960s memories to the contrary. Hispanics are turning out to be much more politically diverse than some hoped (and others feared), even if we aren’t sure exactly how many voted Republican this year. Finally, the ranks of non-voters have also included millions of rural and small-town residents--many of them religious--whose incomes might connote urban poverty but whose political sympathies don’t. In sum, it isn’t obvious at all that most non-voters would be heavily inclined to support left-of-center candidates if they entered a polling place.
The 2004 election results bear this out and may lay the myth permanently to rest. The campaign caused a healthy increase in turnout, but at least as many of the new voters cast Republican ballots as Democratic ones [...]
[...] And if we compare how many votes George W. Bush added to his 2000 totals with how many John Kerry added to Al Gore’s 2000 total, it’s clear that Bush gained heavily among these new voters, even though Kerry had the easy pickup of many former Naderites to his totals.
Much has been made of the impact of the Evangelical Christian voting bloc, but I suspect the real swing in George Bush’s favor this November came from erstwhile liberals who woke one morning to find they were suddenly more comfortable with the conservative label—progressivist Democrats having hijacked the Democratic party, and with it the home to traditional liberal moderates. For me, this realization occurred in the course of debating my progressivist friends in the academy over things like affirmative action, or diversity, or gender-based pedagogical theory. To my mind, a real commitment to egalitarian concerns had been eschewed by progressives in favor of a faux egalitarian impulse that sought to foist a superficial statistical “equality” on the American public by constantly jiggering policy to achieve the proportional results it idealized. And the ends justified the means. Which is how we ended up with illiberal liberalism—a liberal progressivist political culture that justifies racial quotas and free speech zones, hate crimes legislation and increasingly anti-male public education practices.
It’s worth remembering that Martin Luther King, Jr., a Christian civil rights advocate (and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from its founding in 1957 to his death in 1968), would today be pilloried by the progressivist left as a red state Uncle Tom—an “inauthentic” Black Bible thumping creationist whose dream that people be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” would be dismissed as anti-Black “code”—or rather, as the right’s usurpation of the language of “fairness" to keep minorities permanently oppressed by removing from the social equation historical contingency. Which critique, of course, is a big steaming load of self-serving horseshit.
No, in the final analysis, I think the American liberal spirit is alive and well, just as it’s always been; but because much of that spirit resides in the ideals of modern conservatism, and because conservatism finds its home in the Republican Party, an increasingly “red” country has simply continued its principled embrace of classical liberalism. And until the Democratic Party recognizes that such a rebranding is in fact taking place, they’ll continue to lash out at what they perceive to be backward heartland rubes in a facile attempt to caricature those who embrace a constitutional liberalism that respects the separation of powers—and which places the will of the people over the slim partisan dictates of some or another activist judge hoping to cement his or her own judicial immortality.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Chicken head

Another blogger recently used the expression "chicken with its head cut off" to describe a state of extreme excitement and it triggered a nostalgic flashback about my mother.
My mom was raised on a farm and had a farmer's sensibility about animal rights - essentially, "We own the animals and can do whatever the hell we want with them." Sort of a Book of Genesis "dominion over the animals" perspective that still makes sense to me. Except for dogs, of course. Dogs are simple little people trapped in hairy bodies who just want to make us happy.
There's an old American Indian legend that tells of a time when the Great Spirit split the human and animal worlds apart and, at the last moment, only the dog leaped across the expanding chasm to be with man.
But I digress.
When I was young - in the single-digit age range - my mother occasionally bought a live chicken as part of her grocery shopping. I don't know where she got it. I don't remember ever seeing live chickens in the little IGA grocery store where we shopped.
At any rate, she would take the hapless hen out into our back yard and, with one deft and practiced two-handed twist, rip its head off.
I watched in amazement as the headless chicken dashed blindly around the yard, its wings beating wildly and a fountain of crimson spouting from its neck, until it flopped over in the grass.
That was the first time I witnessed death - not counting insects and other lower life forms - but it wasn't until much later that I grasped the irony that it was being dealt by the same person who gave me life.
You still hear and read the headless chicken metaphor these days, but it's an abstraction to most people born since 1950 - certainly to anyone not raised on a farm.
I have no idea why my mother chose to kill and dress her own chicken rather than just buy it ready to cook from the grocery. I don't know if fresh-killed chicken is supposed to taste better or if it was just cheaper or if she just did it out of nostalgia for how she was raised. And she's not around anymore to ask.
She's gone to the land of the headless chickens. Let's hope they don't hold a grudge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Another blogger’s list of favorite things got me thinking about my personal list. So here, in no particular order, is my personal list of stuff I like or can’t do without:

BMW Motorcycles – I’ve been riding BMWs since 1981 and have more than a quarter-million BMW miles in my mirrors. I love them because they’re reliable and generally on the technological cutting edge and because they set me and my friends apart from the beefwit biker lifestyle Harley-Davidson crowd. My current ride is an ’03 K1200GT which has 19,165 miles on the odometer as of this afternoon’s ride.

My Subaru Forester – We bought an ’02 Forester S in March after an elderly woman with macular degeneration totaled my late mother’s ’92 Buick LeSabre that my wife was driving. It handles beautifully, gets decent gas mileage (23.11 mpg) and can go about 330 miles on a tank of regular. It’s great for hauling around our camera gear and we can even sleep in it, if need be. We’re eager to see how it handles in the snow with all wheel drive.

Breitling watches – I inherited a 1940s Breitling Premiere from my late father-in-law. It was a WWII bring-back and I had it cleaned and put back into running order. I splurged about four years ago and bought myself a titanium Chrono Avenger that looks terrific and keeps excellent time.

Nikon cameras – I had a couple of Nikon point-and-shoots for my motorcycle trips and was content with them until my girlfriend (now my wife) bought a Nikon N50 SLR back in the late 1990s. I had a Pentax SLR and lenses dating from the ‘70s which I sold on Ebay to get into the Nikon line. I started out with an N90S and the Tamron 28-300mm lens, later transitioning to an F5 before we made the jump to digital and bought a couple of D-100s. Between us, we have a pretty complete range of lenses from the digital 12-24mm, through a Tamron 90mm macro to a funky Phoenix 500mm.

XM Satellite Radio – I’m listening to XM as I write this, having finally received the free home kit that I ordered when I bought my first XM Roady in June. It’s such a luxury to have this incredible variety of music without commercials.

Diet Coke – We go through a couple of cases a week. Goes well with Bacardi Puerto Rican Rum, too.

Beck’s Dark Beer – My favorite, although – truth be told – after the first two, any beer will do. My taste runs to the darker beers and porters and stouts, but I would never turn down a Molson or a Labatt’s. While in Mexico a few years ago, I developed a liking for a brand called Superior, which I’ve not been able to find here.

Swiss Army knives – I’ve carried one or another for most of my adult life and use it daily. I’ve eyed the Leatherman tools, but can’t get excited over their bulkiness.

Windstopper garments – I discovered windstopper technology about 8 years ago when I bought a jacket made by Columbia and found it needed very little layering to keep me comfortable in bitter cold weather. A friend turned me on to Willis & Geiger clothes shortly before the Lands End bean-counters killed the company because it wasn’t making enough profit. I was able to snarf up some great W&G gear, including a Diaplex sweater that has an excellent wind-stopping shell.

Windows XP – I’ve been a Windows user since v3.0 in the early 1990s and, while it still has its problems, XP is the most reliable version yet.

Dell Computers – My Dell has performed remarkably well and so has the one I bought for my step-daughter to take to college. My wife’s Gateway, in contrast, is less reliable especially when it was running Windows 2000. I upgraded the memory and the operating system to XP and it’s almost as solid as my Dell now.

Instant oatmeal – A one-serving package, two-thirds of a cup of water, 90 seconds in the microwave and breakfast is served. It’s only 3 Weight Watcher points and I like to think it’s lowering my cholesterol.

DSL – When I moved to this little town of 1,500, I had to give up my high-speed internet. After a year of dial-up, my prayers were answered when the local phone company offered DSL. Since I live only 5 blocks from the switching office, my service is very fast and I’m a happy camper.

My Handspring Treo 300 cell phone/PDA – Yeah, it’s been obsoleted by the Treo 600 and 650, but it only cost me $70 on Ebay, works great and uses lots of free software.

Nepenthe – The restaurant in Big Sur, Calif. My all-time favorite place to eat and chill out.

Hello Direct telephone products – I’ve used their headsets for years. They’re very comfortable and are far superior to the Plantronics crap you get in office supply stores.

Our Hot Tub – It’s a CalSpa and it’s like taking a mini-vacation to soak in 102º F water when the outdoor temperature is –10º and my hair has ice crystals in it. We got it early in 2001 and the heater failed this summer. It had a lifetime warranty and, since I’m still alive, they replaced it free.

Ebay – I’ve used it to sell more than $3,100 worth of parts from my old bike (’91 BMW K100RS) and love to shop for good deals there.

KL Homme cologne and aftershave – It’s out of production, but I can still find it on Ebay, along with the discontinued KL fragrance for women.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Be careful what you wish for, my Canadian friends

A lot of disgruntled Kerry supporters are considering moving to Canada rather than remain in the U.S. for the next four years of George Bush's second term. They will not be missed.
And Canadians have put up a website to tout the Great White North as a new home for America's sore losers at
Canadians: Please accept our apologies in advance. Don't expect them to add much value to your nation or your culture. They couldn't function in a Democratic society here and they probably won't do very well there either.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Yeah! Go to the Cox & Forkum site - - for more great editorial cartoons! Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Yasser has left the building

I always suspected he was really Ringo Starr with a rag jauntily wrapped around his head. I almost asked U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick about it at a press conference in 1988.
He will not be missed. Except by those who hoped he would give up the secret Swiss bank account numbers where he had $2-3 billion in PLO money stashed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Man

I like to see who reads this stuff, so be advised that if you comment, I'll return the favor by reading your profile and at least some of your blog.
Anyway, I saw something in a commenter's profile that reminded me of this:

About a year ago, my wife had a major headache - felt like her head was exploding.
She got a call from her youngest brother Raph, who is an Emergency Medical Technician with a suburban fire department. In his job, he deals with a lot of stupid people whose lives are a cascade of bad choices.
His advice - bartiburates and whiskey.
"Yeah, they tell you not to mix alcohol with barbiturates, but that's just The Man trying to keep you down," he said with a chuckle.

Cockfighting goes mainstream! Posted by Hello

Chicken Shit

I never much cared for Burger King's food.
Their Croissandwich usually made me queasy about an hour after eating it and I couldn't get excited about their burgers or other fare.
But I have to give them credit for having one of the most bizarre promotions going with their guys in chicken suits.
I first became aware of this strange, kinda creepy scene when a friend e-mailed me the URL to The Subservient Chicken. The BK sponsorship is very low key and some visitors to the site probably never even notice it. It features a guy in a chicken suit standing in what looks like an apartment living room. You're invited to type in commands - whatever comes to mind - and he'll do it. He'll sit down, he'll fall down, he'll turn around, he'll leave the room, and on and on. But if you tell him to do something he considers inappropriate, he... well, I won't spoil the surprise. He appears to be wearing women's garters, which gives the thing a sorta kinky vibe along with the power trip of being able to give orders to a guy in a chicken suit.
BK upped the ante this fall with their loopy spin on cockfighting at It's all about the presumed fight between BK's Tender Crispy (T.C.) chicken sandwich and the new Spicy Tender Crispy (Spicy) chicken sandwich.
T.C. and Spicy go at it in a cage match straight out of the WWF school of theatrics. Pay close attention to how the ringside announcers dance around the obvious term for how the match is won.
I was about to say the promotion hasn't got me thinking about dining at Burger King, but it is almost lunchtime and a Spicy Tender Crispy chicken sandwich doesn't sound all that bad. As long as I don't imagine that I'm gnawing on any part of the guy in the chicken suit.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

This is the week for birthdays. My son Steve (left) turned 34 last Sunday and his brother Sean (right) is 37 today. Considering that I followed the Homer Simpson school of parenting, they turned out amazingly well. Happy Birthday, guys! Posted by Hello

My wife shot this photo of a Cooper's hawk Wednesday moments after it killed a pigeon. Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Clearing the air

I have deleted the more rabid of my pre-election posts. I feel better now.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Winners and losers

Curious about which of your neighbors contributed to political campaigns and which ones they supported?
Check out this website. It's complete from Jan. 1 through Oct. 13, but be sure to come back later after the final reporting deadline.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I couldn't resist. Here is a county-by-county map showing results where 100% of the vote has been tallied. Lots and lots of red. Posted by Hello

Here's how it shook out in 2000. Notice Gore did considerably better than did Kerry in '04. Posted by Hello

Forget politics, let's visit the Garden of Eden

I'm sure those who frequent this place have found the last few days' offerings very tedious and perhaps objectionable. Sorry. I get that way sometimes.
So, as an antidote of sorts, I offer this travel piece that I wrote for a motorcycle magazine a few years ago. It's about the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kans., one of my favorite travel oddities:

You’re headed west on Interstate 70 through Kansas, leaning into a stiff prairie crosswind blowing up from Texas and counting the mile markers to the Colorado line.
Your day started in Independence, Mo., and the rising summer sun warmed your back as you put Kansas City in your mirrors. Somewhere around the Ellsworth exit, you notice you’re 200 miles deep into Kansas and grimace with the realization that there are more than 200 miles to go before you can say goodbye to the Sunflower State.
This would be a good time for a break and, if you’re willing to bend your schedule a little, there’s something amazing just over the northern horizon.
The only clue to the passing rider is a standard-issue interstate point-of-interest sign at the Kans. 232 interchange announcing something called the “Garden of Eden” up the road in Lucas.
The 18-mile ride to Lucas is an eye-opener after hours on the superslab. The two-lane blacktop snakes its way north over undulating hills, topping out at an overlook surveying the 9,000-acre Wilson Lake Reservoir. It doesn’t take long to realize there’s more to Kansas than what you can see from I-70. You may wonder if the Kansans didn’t choose the route to keep the rest of us moving on through. Following the signs, you turn left on Kans. 18, then left again down Lucas’ Main Street. Another left and a jog down a side street and you are face-to-face with S.P. Dinsmoor’s claim to immortality.
Samuel Perry Dinsmoor began life in Ohio in 1843 and served in the Union Army in 18 Civil War battles. He taught school in Illinois after the war, then tried farming in Nebraska. By the time he got to Lucas in 1891, he had a wife of 20 years – a wealthy widow named Frances he married on horseback – and a reputation for quirkiness.
His neighbors’ first clue that Dinsmoor was, shall we say, a little different came in 1907 when, at the age of 64, Dinsmoor built what he called the Cabin Home.
Wood was at a premium on this windswept stretch of the plains, prompting farmers to hack fence posts out of the native limestone that lies just below the sod. It made perfect sense to Dinsmoor, then, to build a “log cabin” of logs hewn from limestone. The 11-room cabin, completed in 1910, is built of brown limestone logs – many of which are 27 feet long – painstakingly fitted together to form walls 22 inches thick.
The Dinsmoors – S.P., Frances and their five children – lived in the basement that included a kitchen, dining room and living area, but they slept on the top floor. The main floor was a showcase for Dinsmoor’s collection of curios and woodworking handicraft. Dinsmoor’s Cabin Home was the first house in Lucas with running water and electric lights.
Frances Dinsmoor died in 1917, leaving her husband lots of money and spare time.
Over the next dozen years, the aging Dinsmoor turned his attention to the space outside his limestone walls.
One of his first projects was a pagoda-like mausoleum in the back yard surmounted by a concrete angel. It was Dinsmoor’s plan to be entombed there with the late Frances, but local authorities denied his request to have her body exhumed from the town cemetery. Undaunted, Dinsmoor dug up Frances’ casket one dark night and transferred her remains to the mausoleum. The cement over her crypt was curing by the time the locals realized what had happened.
With Frances tucked away for Eternity, Dinsmoor set to making concrete his thoughts on religion, philosophy and politics.
Strung around the west and north sides of the property are a panoply of larger-than-life figures, anchored by the images of Adam – wearing a Masonic apron to cover his nakedness and looking suspiciously like his Creator Dinsmoor – and an impossibly wide-hipped Eve. Sons Cain and Abel are just to the north, making offerings to God. Abel is offering a sheep but Cain’s sacrifice is, in the Gospel according to Dinsmoor, a “rotten pumpkin” and Cain is trying to cover a hole in the side with his foot.
The tableau continues with the discovery of Abel’s murder by his wife and his dog. The dog, also a Dinsmoor invention, is the picture of canine horror with its front paws extended and its mouth wide open in a frozen howl of despair. High above the scene, the all-seeing eye of God gazes down from a concrete stalk and, with one slender arm, points accusingly at Cain and his wife who are skedaddling out of town with their belongings in a carpetbag.
Around the corner on the north side of the yard, Dinsmoor gives us his sermon on the way of the world: a worm nibbles a leaf at the end of a concrete branch, oblivious to the bird about to devour him. A cat-like creature stalks the bird, only to be pursued by a dog. From a nearby tree, an Indian aims an arrow at the dog, unaware he is in the sights of a solder’s musket from the next tree to the west.
Over by the mausoleum is “Labor Crucified,” an allegory in which the working man is tormented in his agony by the doctor, the lawyer, the preacher and the banker.
Dinsmoor took time off from his magnificent obsession in 1921 to wed his 20-year-old Czechoslovakian housekeeper. He subsequently wrote, “An old man needs a nurse, a young man wants a companion. I got both.” Although in his 80s, he fathered two children by his second wife.
Dinsmoor died in 1932 at the age of 89. According to his wishes, he was entombed in a glass-topped coffin in the mausoleum with this promise to future visitors: “If I see them dropping a dollar in the hands of the flunky, and I see the dollar, I will give them a smile.”
About 10,000 travelers visit the Garden of Eden annually and many take the $4 tour that includes a chance to search Dinsmoor’s withered face for that promised smile.

The Garden of Eden is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, from April through October. Hours are from 1 to 4 p.m. from November through March. The phone number is 785-525-6395.
The Garden of Eden has a web site:

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New Dylan autobiography

When I was in college back in the mid-1960s, I remember a piece in the student newspaper that sought to explain the new folk music phenomenon Bob Dylan. I wish I had a copy of that story today, just to see how it matches up with the man revealed in Dylan's new autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, which I just finished reading this afternoon.
My dim recollection is that the sophomoric student article painted Dylan as an inscrutable eccentric trickster, deep yet elusive.
That's pretty much the general impression I've had of Dylan since I first heard him around 1964 or '65. And, of course, I thought of him as the conscience and voice of my generation.
Well, it turns out that he's neither, as least not in the way most of us thought.
Dylan, in his own words, comes across as a regular guy who just wanted to do his job and go home to his family without being hassled by every freak and geek who imagined him to be the new Messiah.
In a recent radio interview on NPR - the first he's given in my memory - he's asked if he ever thinks about walking away from music.
"Every day," is his comeback.
The book reveals a devoted family man who has spent much of his life plugging away at his craft and trying to shield himself and his loved ones from the glare of offstage attention.
The further I went in the book, the most shared impressions and cultural perceptions I discovered. I became a grandfather earlier this year and have been wrestling with the idea and its implications of advancing age and life changes. I feel a whole lot better about it now that I know Dylan owns a "World's Greatest Grandpa" bumper sticker.
Oddly enough, many of us thought of him as the voice of our generation while at the same time seeing him as detached and set apart from the rest of us.
It turns out that he's much more one of us than we realized and it's probably more accurate to think of him as the voice of every generation, whether they know it or not.
This is an invaluable book because it demystifies Dylan and blows away all of that "mad genius" stuff that has swirled around him for 40 years.
I find maybe two books a year that I just can't put down. This is one of those books.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Lisa, shortly after her surgery yesterday. Her doctor is truly an artist and I am blown away by what a great job he's done. Thanks to everyone who expressed support for her and her parents. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

And the snit goes on...

Can you tell I'm feeling cranky today?
My mood wasn't helped by the arrival in today's mail of the current issue of The New Yorker.
There is much about The New Yorker that I enjoy and admire. Their cartoons are the best around. They publish some splendid fiction. They capture much of the excitement and vitality of New York City.
But they've become such rabid Bush-haters that I believe it's time for us to part company when my subscription runs out at the end of the year.
I found this week's cover art particularly egregious - the American flag over the faint shadow of the hooded Iraqi prisoner from Abu Ghraib, arms outstretched and trailing electric wires. As if harassment milder than what I bore as a fraternity pledge could somehow overshadow what happened to those twits' own hometown on 9/11. How soon the memory of the fireballs and the rain of doomed WTC victims fades from the memory of people who reflexively loath their own country.
Truth be told, The New Yorker's parochial self-absorbtion was wearing a bit thin with me. For the most part, they're pseudo-intellectual jerk-offs who are desperately out of touch with what the rest of the country thinks. While NYC is a city of immigrants - people with the courage to strike out and leave home for something better - I think the editors and writers of The New Yorker are descended from people who were too comfortable or too timid to expand the frontier as most of our ancestors did.
They can teach us nothing, but have much to learn from us. So why pay $40 a year to be annoyed every week or so by their pointless jabbering?
I'm confident that they would receive a cancellation notice from me with supreme indifference, so I'll be content to let it go with this.

How convenient

Anyone notice how the Clintons have been conspicuously absent from the Kerry campaign?
Of course, Bill has the excuse of timely heart surgery, but what of Madame Hillary? Must be hoping a Kerry loss will set her up for '08.

From the best film of the year. Posted by Hello

Iraq: Just the beginning?

Just in case you missed it, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani announced today that Iran has successfully test-fired the latest prototype of Shahab-3 missile.
"Iran has upgraded the former version of Shahab-3 guided missiles and successfully test-fired it in a military defense shield exercise," Shamkhani was quoted as saying.
"The missile has proved stronger in terms of destruction and precision at guided targets," the minister added.
On Aug. 11, Tehran announced a successful test-firing of an upgraded version of the Shahab-3 missile, which, military experts estimated, had a range of 1,300 km and was capable of striking targets in Israel and Europe.
Remember George W.’s post 9/11 “enemies list” that included Iraq, Iran and North Korea?
How short-sighted does the Iraq invasion seem now in light of a looming nuclear threat from Iran?
I, for one, am pleased that we have more than 100,000 of the best-trained, best-equipped troops the world has ever seen positioned just minutes from Iran.
Has it occurred to anyone else that an unstated objective of the Iraq campaign was the acquisition of bases from which we could better deal with the rogue states of the region?
Naturally, it would have been foolish to state this up front as a reason to remove Saddam and conquer Iraq, but it’s looking more like a brilliant move with every passing day.
Yes, the insurgency in Iraq has made things a little messy and a short-sighted media has fixated on it at the expense of seeing the big picture.
Kudos to the Bush administration for thinking more than one move ahead in this chess game we dare not lose.
Another astute blogger pointed out this week that we have a 25-year-old score to settle with the mullahs of Iran - a little matter of Americans held hostage because a Democrat president couldn't command their respect. Or fear.
As I've said earlier, those who seek to destroy us should understand that - with our use of precision munitions and our concern for civilian casualties - what the world has seen so far is "us being nice." They don't ever want to see "us not being nice."

Saturday, October 16, 2004


It's cold and rainy and I haven't seen the sun in a couple of days and besides that:
1. The contractor who promised to keep the front porch from rotting off of my house has disappeared and winter is coming on. That leaves me with mixed feelings - he agreed to do the job for $4,000. If we let it slide, I don't have to cough up 4 grand, but that means it will probably cost more next year after another winter's ravages.
2. The former tenant who skipped and stuck me with three months' rent - the one I sued and won garnishment of her pay to recoup part of my $3,000 loss - has apparently quit her job and become a fugitive rather than make good on her debt.
3. Town officials who voted June 21 to cut the three dying maple trees that are menacing my house have done nothing and now I have another yard full of leaves from said town-owned trees.
4. My insurance company has done nothing to recover my $500 deductible from the insurer of the cretin who rear-ended me in California in July and the bike repair bill is due next week.
5. My wife's ex is late again on his child-support payment.
6. All of my present tenant's November rent will go to make a property tax payment on the rental property that has become a huge albatross around my neck.
7. My Honda del Sol needs new CV boots ($350) by winter.
8. We've had a negative cash flow ever since we got married three years ago.
And on, and on and on.
You know what would cheer me up?
Money in the mail usually works.
If you want to see me smile, go to and send a buck or two to me at
And, if you will permit me to do so, I'll name my benefactors and express my personal gratitude in this blog.
Or not. I'll still like you either way.

Shades indoors and a cigarette. What a poser! (My wife loves this photo, but then she hadn't been born yet when it was taken in the summer of '62.) Posted by Hello

Friday, October 15, 2004

Cigarette in hand at my desk in the Indiana State University student newspaper (The Statesman) office, circa 1966. That spot on my shirt is an Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity badge. Posted by Hello

I thought I was soooo cool with a Viceroy dangling from my lips. I'm at the wheel of my parents' '57 Ford Fairlaine 500 and the year is 1964. Posted by Hello


One of my favorite bloggers mentioned today that she and her husband are smokers and it got me thinking about my former tobacco addiction.
Both of my parents were smokers. My earliest recollection about my father smoking was that his brand was Phillip Morris. The company had a signature ad campaign on radio and magazines and on early TV that featured a hotel bellboy with the characteristic chin-strapped pillbox hat worn at a jaunty angle. His name was Johnny and he could be heard across America shouting out, "Caaaaalllll for Philllipppp Morrrrrrrissss!" Besides offering a glimpse of big city hotel amenities, it was a catchy campaign. Years later, when my dad's older brother Joe retired to a mobile home park (don't dare call them trailers) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., we were all amazed to discover the original "Johnny" was one of his neighbors. Apparently the gig didn't pay very well.
I think my mother smoked the occasional Phillip Morris too, but mostly I remember my dad as a smoker.
I remember him sitting at the kitchen table after meals and lighting up. There was no ashtray on the table, so he used his plate for an ashtray, stubbing out the butt among the egg yolk or mashed potatoes or whatever was left on the plate. Just to complete the image, I remember it being Fiestaware. That all seems desperately uncouth today, but my dad was raised on a farm and so was mom, so she never got on his case about it.
Given today's sensibilities, especially about smoking, most people would find such behavior horrifying.
Anyhow, by the time I was 8 or 9, my friends Jack and Bill would occasionally involve me in their clandestine forays into cigarette smoking with cigarettes they had filched from their parents. (This was in the 1950s and just about everybody smoked.)
But I didn't pick up the habit until around my sophomore year of high school when I took it up during a road trip to Terre Haute with friends to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet in concert at what was then Indiana State Teachers College. I started with Salem, which was convenient because that's what my mother was smoking by then. Dad had long since transitioned to Winston.
By the time I got to college, I was smoking a pack of mainly Salem or Winston every couple of days. Sometime during my freshman year, Jim West - my neighbor in the dorm - got me converted to Viceroy. He wasn't really trying to change my brand allegiance - he just always seemed to have plenty when I ran out of my brand.
When I got into the newspaper business I found myself among hardcore smokers. A blue haze of cigarette smoke hung in the air of the City Room and almost everyone had a cigarette in his mouth or burning in an ashtray all the time. I remember the custodial staff changing acoustic ceiling tiles occasionally and being shocked at how the new, white tiles stood out in sharp relief against the yellow, tar and nicotine-coated tiles.
By this time, I was up to three packs a day. My first conscious act every morning was to reach for cigarettes and lighter on the bedside table and fire one up on the way to the bathroom. Likewise, the last thing I did every night was stub out that last smoke in the bedside table ashtray.
Sometime around 1969 or so, I got the psychological leverage on myself to actually quit and I stayed quit until an emotional crisis about three years later.
I quit for keeps around 1979. Naturally, my metabolism changed and I gained 40-50 pounds, some of which I manage to lose and gain from year to year.
I had a relatively easy time quitting the last time because I did it in the context of a Transcendental Meditation Sidhi course at Maharishi International University (now the Maharishi School of Management) in Fairfield, Ia. I was in an environment where nobody smoked, I had no access to cigarettes and I was spending several hours a day in meditation. I took about 40 rolls of Certs breath mints with me and, by the time the two-week course was over, all desire for a smoke was gone.
Even so, for several years afterward I had occasional dreams in which I went back to smoking. I'd invariably awake with a start and the horrible fear that I had actually started smoking again. It's a very powerful addiction and I believe the researchers when they say it gets a stronger grip on you than does cocaine.
As a footnote, my dad was about my age when he lost his voice to cancer of the larnyx that his oncologist said was almost certainly a consequence of smoking.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Why Osama is irrelevant

I just finished today’s post to the Blonde Sagacity ( blog, which is the text of an open letter Osama Bin Laden wrote to America in November 2002.
You can go to Blonde Sagacity to read the text. Bin Laden explains why he hates us and wants to kill all of us unless we shape up, forget the Enlightenment ever happened and become his brand of medieval Muslim.
At the root of his complaint against us - not counting our support of Israel – is what he sees as the immoral corrupting influence of American culture.
Well, Osama, that’s precisely why you can’t win.
I call it my Doctrine of Stuff and I cognized this cosmic truth more than 40 years ago during the Vietnam war.
A basic fact of human nature is that people want Stuff.
We like our possessions and we always want more.
It occurred to me during Vietnam that we would be more successful against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army if, instead of dropping expensive high explosives on them, we dropped planeloads of sneakers, transistor radios, bluejeans, and other consumer items.
At the very least it would confuse them. At best it would undercut their ability to stay pissed off at us. How can you be seriously angry with someone who flies over every day and drops a couple of tons of cool stuff on you?
And it would probably cost a lot less than the tons and tons of ordinance we expended in our unsuccessful effort to subdue them.
It was that realization that led me to predict the fall of Communism, something that caught the CIA completely by surprise.
Not me. I saw it coming 20 years earlier.
The seeds were sprouting in the ‘60s when Soviet youth got infected with rock and roll and other American cultural influences.
It was just a matter of time until the people of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe – bombarded for decades with images of western affluence and consumer-driven economies – decided they’d had enough of cardboard shoes and crappy cars and shoddy merchandise.
In the space of a few months, people all over the Soviet sphere of influence decided individually and collectively, “We’re done. We’re not doing this anymore. Fuck you and fuck your system. We want the same stuff people in the U.S. and Canada and West Germany and the rest of the civilized world have and anybody who tries to stop us does so at his own peril.”
The plain truth, which scares the bejeezus out of Osama and his crowd of stone-age control freaks, is that there is not a single religion, ideology or belief system known to man that cannot be co-opted, corrupted and rendered harmless by American consumer culture.
The culture is relentless in its ability to absorb and trivialize any threat. Remember how scared the Establishment was when the hippies showed up with their long hair and paisley? Within five years, Republican bankers were wearing bellbottom pants, hair over their collars and using words like “groovy” and “hip.”
The people’s desire for Stuff is morphing China into a consumer-driven state that none of the old Communist cadre can thwart.
At this moment, the mullahs in Iran have their hands full suppressing a youth movement driven by American music and style that will surely overwhelm them before the decade is out.
Cuba, the last Communist holdout, will be owned by Wall Street within five years of Castro’s death.
The best Osama and his band of psychotic idiots can hope for is to go down fighting.
He demands we renounce materialism and convert to Islam.
I demand he lose the Halloween costume, have a couple of beers and shut the fuck up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

In case you ever plan to visit Kansas City, let me recommend this guidebook by my friend Katie Van Luchene. Katie, who also edits Kansas City Home Design magazine, is one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure to know and her clever style puts the Insider's Guide to Kansas City head and shoulders above any other guidebook I've seen. Hell, buy a copy even if you don't plan to go to KC. It'll make you want to plan a trip. Posted by Hello

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I just got what must be the 50th e-mail from identity thieves posing as Ebay administrators.
It directs me to what purports to be an ebay secure web page where I can re-enter all of my personal/financial data. But if you put your cursor over the hypertext and glance down to the bottom of the screen to see where it really goes, you'll note that it's actually a server in Romania.
And, as I typed the previous paragraph, I got an e-mail from "Dr. Richard Smith" who says he's "a 65 years old man and a British living in zimbabwe."
Oh, really.
His scam is that he's dying of esophageal cancer and wants to give me $10 million to distribute to fire victims in Australia. Of course, I may keep 5% for myself.
I'm asked to respond and, of course, he'll need my bank account number and transfer information so he can send me the money.
This must be my lucky day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Just for the record...

Things I’ve Never Done:

Traveled outside North America.
Done cocaine, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, or methamphetamine.
Killed another human being.
Knowingly committed a felony.
Used a parachute.
Gambled on a riverboat casino.
Been to a NASCAR race.
Watched a NASCAR race.
Cared about a NASCAR race.
Bungie jumped.
Tasted caviar (it was offered).
Been to a Wagnerian opera.
Missed voting in a presidential election.
Run out of gas in a car.
Been the victim of a violent crime.
Ridden in a tank.
Owned a chimpanzee.
Been to Burning Man.
Lost a home to fire, flood or wind.
Made money on the stock market.
Learned to SCUBA dive.
Graduated from college.
Leased an automobile.
Been fired from a job.
Ridden a motorcycle in New England.
Been to the Smithsonian.

Things I have done:

Been to the end of a rainbow.
Flown in a hot air balloon, glider, DC3, Ford Tri-Motor, Twin Beechcraft, Piper Cherokee and various commercial jetliners.
Had a Kundalini experience, with a bolt of light/energy shooting up from the first chakra to the crown chakra.
Ridden a motorcycle to all three coasts (Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf) in one season.
Sat in a motel room with Willie G. Davidson and watched Easy Rider on TV.
Experienced earthquakes.
Passed Donald Trump on the escalator at Trump Tower.
Held Eva Braun’s pink silk slip in my hands.
Built a geodesic dome.
Water skied.
Counted one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers as a personal friend.
Seen two people die – one of natural causes, the other a police officer shot by a felon.
Been a motorcycle instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and a motorcycle examiner for my state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Been published in a national magazine.
Had my photos used on MSNBC.
Been to Mount St. Helens (three times).
Had an affair.
Worked in a factory.
Been a garbage collector.
Owned the 45 rpm picture sleeve of Street Fighting Man – the rarest picture sleeve in the record-collecting world. (I sold it in 1992 for $4,300.)

My mother applauding grandson Steve's piano playing.  Posted by Hello

Four years an orphan

Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother's death.
Here's what I wrote for her funeral:

Saturday evening, two nights after my mother died, I got around to going through her purse.
My initial thought was to make sure there wasn’t anything important or valuable there, but I think I was really looking for my mother – for some trace of her and her personality.
I found it.
Tucked into various pockets and pouches were the little notes that had become her memory in recent years, notepad lists of information she wanted to be able to recall as Alzheimer’s cruelly robbed her of her ability to retrieve all but the most basic information.

There was a yellow Post-It note to remind her of a beauty shop appointment she won’t be keeping at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
There was the list of meal times at the retirement center nursing home: 7 a.m. breakfast, noon lunch and 5:15 p.m. dinner.
And there were several little slips that listed my name, my address and my phone number, some with talking points she wanted to bring up when she next spoke with me:
• “Blank checks” – She wanted me to bring her some checks because she felt powerless without a way to pay for things she was sure she needed.
• “My car, where is it?” – She had places to go.
• “Ready to go home.” – She desperately wanted to get back to the house that had been her home for 46 years.
Going home was the dominant theme of all of our conversations and visits from the time we moved her to the retirement center last April. After asking if I had a by-line today and telling me I needed a haircut, she always reminded me she had work to do and the house on Columbia Street needed her. I would assure her that I’d checked on the house and everything was just fine, but she never really believed me.
My mother was a woman who needed to be busy, going places and doing things.
For a lot of years, that meant being a Registered Nurse and helping people. I remember when I was a kid and she was a nurse in Dr. George Wagoner’s office how patients would call our house on weekends and late at night with questions they didn’t want to bother the doctor with.
She was proud of being a nurse and she made sure everyone knew it, especially the staff at the retirement center. The director of nursing once told me how my mother would listen to the health complaints of the other residents there and how, more than once, they noticed her sitting wheelchair-to-wheelchair, checking the pulse of one of her neighbors.
I never expected this moment to come so soon. When I described her to friends, I usually compared her with the Energizer bunny who keeps going and going and going.
That’s why I couldn’t believe what I was hearing Thursday night when the nurse called to tell me my mother had just died.
How unlike mom.
I learned she died in her sleep and then it made sense. Her 85-year-old body betrayed her and death took her unaware.
I was sad until I had a vision of her emerging from the fog of Alzheimer’s and being welcomed into Heaven by Dad, her brothers and sisters and her parents.
Maybe, without knowing it at the time, that’s what she really meant when she scribbled those memos about “ready to go home.”
I’ll miss her, but there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this separation is only temporary. In the meantime, I have her notes to remind me of a mother who was proud of me and loved me unconditionally.

Monday, October 04, 2004

I helped my younger son, Steve, with the driving chores on his weekly 660-mile round-trip drive to take his daughter, Lisa, to see specialists in Chicago. Here they are in the doctor's examining room waiting to be seen. She has her first surgery Oct. 20. Posted by Hello