Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

The cowboys fight for their lives in an event film for summer 2011 that crosses the classic Western with the alien-invasion movie in a blazingly original way: ?Cowboys & Aliens?.

We sweltered in the Valley View High School gym for a worthy charity event last evening and then sought relief in the air conditioned Malco Theatre for a showing of Cowboys and Aliens.

Besides being a fun ride – just like summer action movies are supposed to be – it was, for us, a movie about a dog.

There’s a dog – he looks like an Aussie – who shows up in the opening scene and follows the main character around through the movie. We love Aussies, so our eyes were on the dog pretty much every time he showed up.

A friend opined it was the worst movie she’s seen in years. I thought it was in danger of going off the rails of credulity a few times, but if you just switch off your critical impulses and go with it, you can have a good time.

And Harrison Ford, who turned 69 on July 13 (hey, his birthday is a day before mine, albeit three years earlier), proves that an old guy can still be an action hero.

(Harrison Ford is also a Ford dealership in Wellington, Ohio.)

Deer indifference

I had high hopes that a 50 pound salt block would be an irresistible treat for the neighborhood deer population, but they’ve managed to ignore it for the better part of a week.

This casual walk-by at 1:27 a.m. today is the first time a deer has come within camera range of the salt block since I placed it in the side yard last Monday afternoon.

Nevertheless, I remain guardedly optimistic.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Godspeed, Jan

My former sister-in-law, Janice Kroon Cusack, died at 5:30 p.m. yesterday on her 58th birthday after a lengthy and painful struggle with cancer.
Her husband Pat and son Collin were at her side, holding her hands when she passed. Jan grew up in Lafayette, Ind., and was a graduate of Jefferson High School. She also attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. before moving to California. She had lived in Santa Maria, Calif. for several years.
Arrangements for a memorial service are pending in Santa Maria.
Besides her husband and son, she is survived by sisters Diane Morris and Kathleen Teerman.
Your prayers for her family would be most welcome and appreciated.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Think of it as emancipation

Several of my former colleagues at The Indianapolis Star were laid off/fired a few weeks ago in Gannett’s latest effort to squeeze a few more pennies out of what was once a great newspaper.

The Gannett bean counters eliminated the copy desk with an eye to outsourcing copy editing. I have no idea how that is supposed to work, but it has the effect of lobotomizing what remained of The Star’s institutional memory. You can look for more embarrassing corrections, like, “There are 92 counties in Indiana. The Star regrets the error.”

Judy Wolf is one of the best copy editors I ever worked with. She was let go. She recently posted this on her Facebook wall after she and others suffered the consequences of an incompetent HR director at The Star:


This is a note I've sent to the HR director at The Star (Olivia) and the union/Guild president there (Bobby). Those of us laid off just found out that almost every piece of information that HR gave us about health insurance was absolutely wrong. Olivia acknowledged she'd given out bad info and said the company would try to make things right. The Guild asked all of us to send her a note with our personal tale of woe and copy it to the Guild. I almost posted this on the FB page I created -- Jobs for (ex-) Journalists -- to share, but there are job postings there, and I don't want to push those down on the page.

Olivia (and Bobby):

This is to document -- and add to -- the 2 voice mails I left for Olivia last night (Monday, 7/25). I didn't record the times, unfortunately. I've not yet received a response.

Bobby asked us to call you and tell you our tale of woe. To be brief, this is just some of what the wrong information you gave out has caused:

* Some people have bought insurance policies they didn't need to. So, your error made them spend time researching policies when they could have, oh, I don't know, been researching jobs. And your mistake made them spend money at a time when they would be trying their best to shepherd their funds.

* Many people (everyone I've talked to, at the least) spent the last 10 days of June, furiously spending down their flexible spending accounts because they were going to disappear come July 1. I went through close to $1,200, I believe. I rescheduled numerous appointments, squeezing as many in as possible (until I thought I was out of FSA money); bought stuff I didn't actually need right now (a new pair of glasses is just one example) but purchased because if I didn't, the money would be wholly lost; refilled prescriptions just weeks after the last refill, meaning my FSA paid the full amount for them; etc.

Now, of course, we find out that none of that was necessary. So, in addition to making me spend down what I didn't have to, your failure at the basics of your job meant I wasn't able to start looking for jobs for the 10 days immediately after the layoffs. Gee, Olivia, I'm at a loss for words to thank you for delaying my job hunt that long. Why, I'm sure there were NO jobs in town that I might have applied for. Not a one. And I spent all that energy that I could have applied to hunting for a job for what turned out to be a futile effort. Wow. You really know how to make an impression when you're fairly new to a job, don't you?

* Everyone I know of has been horridly worried about what the costs of COBRA will be, how they're going to afford it, why they haven't gotten the COBRA packet, will they have enough time to look at the options and get the reply back before the 2 months is up, etc. And I'll reiterate my surprise from the exit interview when Carolyn and I asked for info on COBRA and you said you didn't have it, that it'd come from Gannett benefits. Think about it, Olivia. You've just been laid off (unexpectedly, I can assure you). Would you want HR (pardon me -- the HR director, for God's sake) to give you as much good information as possible? Why, I'm guessing you'd answer yes. Wouldn't that be helpful? Wouldn't that give you some feeling of knowing where your life was going? Why, yes, I do believe so. Your response to us was cavalier.

I know you've accepted responsibility, Olivia. I won't say I appreciate it, because that's the absolute minimum you should have done. And if you didn't, I know I had notes from my exit w/Carolyn that would've stood up in arbitration. But I can think of absolutely no reason this was screwed up like it was. I know you haven't been in contract talks here, but surely as part of getting familiar with the place, you discovered that we have a union and a contract covering the newsroom, library and building services.

And all it took me -- a lowly former employee, not an HR director at one of Gannett's biggest papers -- was a call to Gannett benefits yesterday (Monday), and a chat with Amit, to find out that those of us covered by the contract (those w/severance, which is all of those covered) were continuing on the health insurance. Why didn't you do that? Do you have no appreciation for what being laid-off (or fired) means? Seriously. Do you just not get it? Don't you understand that the information you're providing is life-altering? Do you care about the humans? Do you even like the "Hs" in HR?

If I'd made this many mistakes on something big (like a project), I'd be so humiliated, I might not come back to work.

We're in the information business. I know you're in HR, but you're in HR for a newspaper. It seems that it never occurred to you to check the information you were giving out. How does that work, Olivia? How do you talk to people whose lives have just been turned upside down and not make absolutely sure that what you're telling them is correct? How?

I doubt you've ever been laid off or fired, and maybe that should be required of anyone working in HR. Your world flips. You don't know if you'll be able to find a new job; what will happen to your insurance; if you'll be able to keep your car or your house; if your kids can continue in whatever education they might be enrolled in. And that's just for starters.

I don't think you can truly comprehend the vast effects of your amazingly wrong information. And I know at least I gave you a chance during my exit interview w/Carolyn to double-check. I specifically asked if every deduction, outside of taxes, was being stopped. And then I named them, one by one. And you said yes, yes, yes down the line. Except you had to check on insurance. And you did and came back in the room and said yes, those deductions were stopping, too.

So, did you actually check with someone with knowledge, like Gannett benefits? Or did you just need a drink of water?

Additionally, according to Amit, you gave us bad information on COBRA. You said the company would pay 35 percent of the costs for the first two months. Wrong. The employee pays 35 percent of the costs for the first two months, and the company pays 65 percent -- a HUGE difference (hundreds of dollars just for single coverage).

What the Guild is now telling us is that we're to let you know our tale of woe -- and you (or the company) will try to make things right. TRY? TRY?? You're not serious.

Just TRY to remove the fear that people have been living with.

Just TRY to assuage the worries that at least two former staffers have been dealing with because they or a member of the family had to go to the ER since June 30, and they've been worried sick about how they're going to pay for bills they're already getting.

Just TRY to take away the panic people felt when they realized that their FSA accounts would evaporate in days. (I don't know about the health savings stuff, but I'm guessing the same held true for anyone w/something besides the FSA). And then they wasted 10 days spending down money, and energy, that they didn't have to.

I personally have no faith that the company will make whole all the people who've suffered financial loss and emotional trauma because of your incompetence. Because of that, I've urged the Guild in the strongest way I can to file a grievance and prepare for arbitration so that those laid-off can still seek redress to make them whole. Because a vague promise of trying to fix things isn't going to do it.


Judy Wolf

While I sympathize with Judy and the others completely, I find it sad and pathetic that anyone still clings to the idea that the Newspaper Guild has any power to make Gannett do the right thing. A grievance? Arbitration? Oh, please.

Gannett officials made it clear from the outset that they do whatever suits them and they’re quite content to let the Guild members fantasize about arbitration and redress of grievances to no avail.

The details of this latest massacre at The Star make me absolutely giddy that I fired The Star and Gannett in October, 2000, for wasting my time and misusing my talents. I shudder to think what the last 11 years would have been like if I had stayed at a newspaper-turned-newspaper factory.

Time is our only irreplaceable commodity and I hope Judy and her colleagues can soon experience that glorious feeling of liberation that comes from turning in your Star ID and walking out the door for the last time.

Robert Indiana

robert indiana

I came across this picture of artist Robert Indiana that I shot at a Herron Art Fair circa 1968 while rooting through my photo archives the other night in search of photos a friend requested.

The event was on the grounds of the John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis.

Indiana, who was born Robert Clark on Sept. 13, 1928 in New Castle, Ind., is indiana lovebest known for creating the iconic LOVE pop art graphic piece which has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and at least 32 sculptures on display worldwide. The first sculptural representation of the LOVE graphic was created in 1970 and is on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Indiana has lived in the island town of Vinalhaven, Maine since 1978.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

An American hero

norm obit

I just received word that my cousin, Norman W. Lauchner, 90, died on Tuesday.

Norm was a Lieutenant (JG) in the U.S. Navy, stationed on Corregidor in Manila Bay when World War II began. When Corregidor fell to the Japanese in May, 1942, he was imprisoned in the notorious Bilibid POW camp near Manila where he languished for three terrible years.

After being liberated in 1945, he returned to the U.S., married his wife Gail, and raised two daughters and a son. He had a successful career in advertising and public relations. They made their home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Norm’s mother was my father’s sister. He was born in Frankfort, Ind.

Finding an audience


This is Jackson, who lives next door and is totally nuts about anything with a motor.

Every time he sees our garage door go up, he’s over here like a shot demanding to sit on both of our motorcycles and our John Deere LA125 lawn tractor.

His mom brought him over this afternoon and while she chatted with Maria, I played YouTube videos that I shot while riding the bikes and also my widely under-appreciated Mowercam video. Jackson loved all of it, especially Mowercam.

I’m so happy that Mowercam finally found its audience.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday night stuff

The U.S. Postal Service released a list of small post offices targeted for closure this week.

I went to the official web site and checked the listings for Arkansas and Indiana.

Happily, Brookland, Ark., and Thorntown, Ind. are not on the list.

In the meantime, I got a call from my ATO Fraternity brother Jan Eglen asking me to scan my archives for any photos of him as an undergraduate at Indiana State University. Seems the University is declaring him a distinguished alumni and they need some photos for the occasion.

I searched, but came up empty for the undergrad years.

eglen weir cookI did, however, find this photo from when fraternity brother Bill Broadstreet (on the far right) and I and someone else, maybe Dennis Fach, met his plane when Jan and his wife Jo flew home from California to Indianapolis for Christmas, 1966.

Indianapolis International Airport was called Weir Cook Airport in those days and passengers boarded and de-planed via the rolling stairways that are only used for heads of state these days.

We swarmed the Eglens with cameras flashing, making it look like they were celebrities.

Come and get it, deer!


I bought a 50 pound block of salt for the neighborhood deer on Monday afternoon, but it has gone unused so far.

I checked the trailcam and the only 30-second video clips are of me turning the camera on Monday afternoon and turning it off to remove the SD memory card this morning.

So I’ll put the card back in and wait patiently.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Red bag, red boots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Maria is trying to heal from a bulging disk (L-5 to be precise) and the path to recovery involves avoiding sitting in favor of lying down, standing and especially walking.

Since it’s crazy hot, we’ve become mall walkers, making a point of walking about a mile every day at the Mall at Turtle Creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were on the second half of our walk today when we passed a red cloth thing lying on the tile floor. Realizing that it looked like a money bag, I turned around and retrieved it.

Sure enough, it was a Coca-Cola money bag with about $40 in $1 bills.

We found a couple of mall employees nearby and they radioed for a mall cop to come and retrieve the bag. It took him awhile to reach us because their Segway isn’t running. Really.

We speculated that it was the take from a vending machine down by the Target store and the Coke guy dropped it on his way to another location in the mall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         The other highlight of the mall visit was the discovery of these stunningly goofy UGG Australia Women’s “Classic Sparkles” boots, on sale at Dillard’s for a mere $170.

Looks like something Dorothy would wear if the Wizard of Oz were staged in Alaska. As silly as they look to me, I’ll bet Dillard’s sells every pair they have.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And now for something completely different…

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."
The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.
-- John Cleese - British writer, actor and tall person


I’ve been following the highlights of the 2011 BMW Motorcycle Owners of bmw lgbtAmerica International Rally in Bloomsburg, Pa., by way of the BMW MOA web site’s forum.

A thread titled “Any LGBT riders?” was started in February, but escaped my notice until it jumped up in the listings due to some postings during the rally.

A woman BMW rider in Milwaukee suggested organizing an LGBT meet and greet at the rally and got several positive responses.

Then, in mid-March, a guy from Southwest Missouri, posted:

What is this group? Another long Distance Riding Assn?

A rider from Ontario responded:

Are you serious? I'm not a member of the group, but I know what it is...

The Missourian said:

Yes, that was a serious to share?

At which point Paul Glaves, a former BMW MOA president, explained:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender = LGBT

The Missourian:

Ok, one more quick question......
How many MOA members is it going to take to help pull my foot out of my mouth?
Feeling pretty sheepish.....

The Milwaukee woman pitched the idea to Deb Lower, who chaired the seminars committee, and the meet and greet was held at 5 p.m. on Friday.

As far as I know, this is the first time the subject of sexual preference has been raised within the BMW MOA. Knowing how opinionated and cranky some BMW riders can be, I can’t imagine that this won’t stir some controversy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More trailcam action

I pulled the SD memory card from the trailcam this morning and was pleased to find about a dozen 30-second video clips of deer in our side yard, recorded around 6:15 a.m. today.

This is only the second time I’ve captured video of deer in the yard and it’s been just after sunrise on a Saturday both times.

This time it’s a couple of does with a cameo appearance of a young buck that looks a lot like the buck the trailcam caught earlier this month. They show no interest at all in the watermelon in the foreground. In fact, nothing big enough to trigger the trailcam’s motion detector has eaten any watermelon, so I assume insects are feasting on it.

Here are six 30-second clips spliced together.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie review

4lions This is pretty much how I think of home-grown jihadists - naive, confused, stupid, immature and generally ineffective.
The four young Brits who fancy themselves soldiers in a great Muslim uprising are probably much closer to reality than most people think.
The police are just as inept and ridiculous in their response to threats, real and imagined.
It's easy to see how so few acts of Islamic terrorism succeed if the would-be perpetrators are this inept.
This is one of the best films I've seen this year. I think it deserves a much wider audience.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I love a good deal

blue jacketI’m so happy about the killer deal I got on Firstgear MeshTex riding gear that I’m almost tempted to go for a ride in today’s weather (97°F with a heat index of 102°)!

Motorcycle Superstore has their Firstgear MeshTex jacket marked down to $169.95. I bought that same jacket last month for $29.

Their Mesh Madness Sale price on the Firstgear MeshTex pants is $189.95. Got mine for $59.

That’s how much better you can do at - $89 versus $360.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No vacancy in Altoona

We were going stir crazy.

Maria’s condition dictates that she cannot sit, only lie down, stand, or walk.

After spending the better part of the day in a horizontal position, staying inside in the air conditioning because the heat index was in triple digits, she was ready to get out and go somewhere, anywhere.

So we came in to town to Barnes & Noble where she can stand and peruse the quilting magazines and I can surf and blog.

I called Indianapolis BMW friend Rich Nathan’s cell phone as I drove and reached him as he was walking out of a Cracker Barrel in Altoona, Pa. If I had followed my original plan, I would have been riding with Rich when he rolled out of Indianapolis this morning.

It was 8:30 p.m. and getting dark and Rich and whoever he’s riding with were unable to find a motel room in Altoona. Consequently, they’re faced with the prospect of going ahead to the next town or back to the last one.

“Didn’t you learn anything when you rode with me?” I chided, jokingly.

When I travel, I nail down my lodging at lunch, estimating how far I want to ride in the afternoon. Then, secure in the knowledge that I have a room waiting for me at day’s end, I can ride without worry.

I think it’s a consequence of traveling with my parents when I was a kid and watching them go through the frustrating day’s end search for a “Vacancy” sign, not knowing how long the search would take or what the room would cost.

Honk if you love Memaw!


Walmart parking lot in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

I didn’t honk.

Relieved not to be courting heat exhaustion

As much as I hate having to miss this year’s BMW Motorcycle Owners of America national rally in Bloomsburg, Pa., I’m extremely grateful I don’t have to ride through this insane heat wave to get there.

If I had followed my original plan, I would have suffered through heat indexes of 100 and above yesterday to get to Indianapolis, only to be hit by even more extreme temperatures today on the ride east through Ohio to Pennsylvania.

The last time I missed a BMW MOA rally was 2007 when a wedding photo shoot got in the way of riding to Wisconsin for what I’m told was a splendid rally. I swore I wouldn’t let anything get in the way again, but I hadn’t counted on family illness.

So Maria’s back problem has rescued me from a miserable ride, or worse. For that, I’m grateful and I’m glad I can be here to help her through this difficult time.

Besides, I can buy a rally pin later from the BMW MOA website.

Frank’s frank appraisal

Frank is not impressed
I set out a watermelon half as trailcam bait several days ago.

When I pulled the SD memory card last evening, I found six 30-second videos triggered by my passage on the lawnmower, several videos apparently set off by foliage blowing in the wind and this in which Frank, the free range Jack Russell terrier, inspects my choice of trailcam bait and offers his opinion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Being useful at home

Tomorrow was, as I posted earlier, a tumultuous day, with my rally plans flip-flopping from on to off to on to off again.

The final result is “off.”

(Notice that the period is inside the close-quote mark? For those of you who may be unsure, that is the correct placement.)

But I digress.

I thought the rally might be saved when the guys at Gateway tire suddenly decided they could work on the Subaru right away and have it done yesterday afternoon. Turns out the alternator belt had broken and another was about to fail, so they replaced them both for a total of $120 and change.

At that point, Maria said she felt she could manage without me and urged me to go to the rally.

But then we got as clearer picture of her back problem from our chiropractor. She has a bulging L5 disk from some weekend lifting. The fix is to avoid sitting and to spend her time walking, standing or lying down. So that means no work, since her job involves at least 8 hours of sitting a day, plus sitting in the car to and from work.

The chiropractor advised taking the rest of the week off. Her boss wanted a “conventional” medical opinion, so we went to Clopton Clinic this morning where the nurse practitioner concurred.

Clearly, there is no way in hell that I can leave her alone under these circumstances. My place is here with her, not at the BMW MOA rally in Pennsylvania.

Monday, July 18, 2011

No rally for me this year

Today is not turning out the way I planned.

I fully expected to spend today packing for the BMW MOA rally in Bloomsburg, Pa. I even had the rally site coordinates programmed into my Garmin Zumo 550 and printed out the sheets for my trip log.

The plan was for me to ride to Indianapolis and BMW friend Rich Nathan’s house tomorrow and he and I would ride to the rally, arriving sometime around midday on Thursday.

But Pete the Aussie has had the squirts the last couple of days, which was very bad news for our dining room carpet. Then he had a small seizure and barfed in the living room last night.

So I decided it was time to take him in for a liver checkup and get the vet’s opinion on his intestinal disorder.

I asked Maria to take the del Sol to work so I could haul Pete in the back of the Subaru, so if he had an accident, it would be on the removable rubber mat in the cargo compartment.

I stopped at the post office and was pleased to find the rent check, which was due 18 days ago. The tenant included the late fee for last month’s rent, but not for this month’s rent and the check was made out to me and “Marie” – not the first time he’s made that mistake. Whatever.

So I altered my course to the vet’s office to include a deposit at the bank.

But as I made a left turn off of Johnson Avenue onto Bridge Street, I noticed the Subaru power steering had quit. And the brake and battery warning lights were on.

So I went on to the vet’s office, where I left Pete for the day, since I didn’t fancy hauling a sick dog to Gateway Tire and sitting around with Pete while I waited for something to happen in the way of diagnosis and repair of the Subaru issue – which I suspect is a dead alternator.

But Gateway is backed up with work and they can’t even look at the Subaru for two days. I don’t trust the car to make it to the nearest Subaru dealer in Memphis, so there it is – the Subaru will sit there for at least two days and then probably one or two more waiting on parts.

Maria picked me up and brought me home. I’ll collect Pete later today in the del Sol.

There is no way I could leave town for a week with all of this – plus Maria isn’t feeling well – so I emailed Rich and told him I can’t make it.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who cares what I think?

baby-boomer-chartMy stepdaughter Morgan is a financial genius.

She has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in library science. While most of her classmates at Indiana University are still paying off student loans, Morgan graduated with money in the bank and no debt.

She has always been fiercely thrifty and has become expert at couponing during the last year or so. More recently she signed on with several online survey sites and gets paid in money, merchandise and coupons for filling out surveys.

She suggested it to me and I signed up with three such sites.

But after filling out the initial surveys that let them assign me to the appropriate demographic in terms of age, race, employment status, education and location, the survey offerings have dwindled down to zero.

My conclusion: the marketplace doesn’t really give a damn about what a 66-year-old retired white guy in Arkansas thinks.

Perhaps, they had better reconsider. I represent the leading edge of the Baby Boom Generation – the pig in the python when it comes to population groups and the most rapidly growing demographic.

Book review

lostinamericaI've been following Colby Buzzell since he was a pioneer mil-blogger filing dispatches from Iraq more than 5 years ago. He wrote the most compelling first-person accounts of combat I've read from that conflict and had a huge following. He was even read on a regular basis at the White House and the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, he made people in his chain of command nervous and they put so much pressure on him that he decided to pack it in.
Now that he's back in the civilian world, the editors at HarperCollins Publishers tasked him with recreating Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" for the new millennium.
He admits in the first several pages that he didn't have any idea how to do that, but maybe that worked to his advantage. He set out from his California home in a 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente and drifted around the west and midwest doing day labor, sleeping in skid row hotels and spending his money on booze and cigarettes - all the time collecting impressions of the people he met. His travels are, of necessity, more self-conscious than Kerouac's, but he shares Kerouac's eye for detail and that makes his narrative vivid.
This is not an uplifting book, but it's a fascinating read and it's interesting to know this kind of experience can still be had in 21st century America.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bleed me, Seymour


I celebrated my 66th birthday today by donating a pint of blood (mine) at the Jonesboro Sun/Red Cross blood drive.

It’s been years since I gave blood and it seems like the screening process is more exhaustive than it used to be.

I’m surprised and puzzled that so many grownups are so terrified of needles and the sight of their own blood that they can’t bear to participate in a community effort like this.

The kid in the next chair to mine, who I guess to be in his mid-20s, complained he was getting dizzy and about to pass out. I managed not to laugh. But just barely.

My mother and my first wife were nurses and my daughter-in-law is a doctor, so I’m no stranger to the medical field. And the sight of my blood doesn’t bother me a bit. Unless it’s spurting from a severed artery. Then I might get concerned.

Las Vegas Mob Experience



My son Steve did all of the music for the Las Vegas Mob Experience attraction at the Flamingo so we checked it out last Sunday morning.

It’s a highly interactive museum that traces the intertwined history of organized crime and the development of Las Vegas as a gaming and entertainment destination.

You start out at Ellis Island where you’re photographed in various poses against a green screen. The images are later offered for purchase (see above).

The visitor interacts with virtual (Mickey Rourke, in our case) and live actors to perform tasks that advance him toward the eventual goal of becoming a “made man” in the Mafia – stuff like delivering an envelope with three fake $100 bills to “Louie” at a cafĂ©, lying to the police, and deciding the fate of a guy caught cheating in a mob-owned casino. If you perform too poorly, you could end up getting “whacked” in the final encounter.

I’m pleased to say Steve and I are now made men in the Las Vegas Mob Experience context.

The exhibits include lots of clothing, home movies, and memorabilia donated by the families of the key players like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky. (Lansky’s Social Security card – Number 109-03-8534 – is on display, along with several pages from his journal.)

The music really enhances the impact of the experience and once again, Steve makes me proud.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh deer!

I left the trailcam on while I was gone to Las Vegas last week and pulled the SD card this morning to see what it captured.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this pair of 30-second clips showing a doe and a young buck emerging from the woods to stroll through our side yard. We’ve glimpsed deer in the woods, but never before in our yard.

The camera recorded their passage at 8:09 a.m. last Saturday.

Mountaineer Lisa

lisa climbing01

We took Lisa to Lifetime Athletic last Sunday for a bit of rock climbing.

She is absolutely fearless, something that was underscored by her desire to do the lisa at the topcrazy acrophobic rides atop the Stratosphere Tower a few days earlier.

She was struggling a bit with some of the routes up the rock face, but climbed like a spider monkey up a familiar route all the way to the top, which I guess to be about 40 feet up.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Steve climbed to the top of a huge pine tree in our back yard when we lived at 5009 N. College Ave. in Indianapolis. And Nicky says she was a climber when she was a kid.

Steve said she probably would have done better on the new routes if she had condescended to wear the special climbing shoes available at the facility, instead of insisting on her own sneakers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ultra-cool gift!

canon lens

I’m drinking my morning mocha cappuccino from a Canon telephoto lens mug that was a surprise birthday gift from my son Sean and his bride Ruth.

The mug is an exact replica of the Canon 70-200mm lens and is a supremely cool gift for a photographer. You can find them at They have a Nikon lens mug too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where have I been? Las Vegas!


I flew home today after five glorious days with my son Steve and his family in Las Vegas.

McCarran International Airport has changed a lot since I was there last in the late 1980s, but one thing remains constant – rows and rows of slot machines.

The one on the right paid me $75.50 on a $20 bet while I waited for my flight to board this morning.

What’s this all about?


I’ll explain later.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Absolutely outrageous!

The Quartzite, Ariz. Town Council and police department conspire to deprive a citizen of her First Amendment rights.

The mayor objects strenuously, but is ignored.

Read all about it here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Really, why should we care?

I don’t watch Nancy Grace much. I can take about 10 minutes of her tasteless pandering and her penchant for airing uninformed opinion.

But I can’t help but wonder what she’ll do when the public eye moves on from the Casey Anthony circus. She’s made a career out of this case.

As far as speculation about Casey Anthony’s future goes, if a dirtbag like Elliott Spitzer can get a show on CNN, who knows what her star potential is? However she trades on her notoriety, my gut feeling is that she’s sufficiently unstable that she will eventually self-distruct, a la O.J. Simpson.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Vanity plates


“Kike” is a derogatory slur used to refer to a Jew. From Wikipedia:

According to Leo Rosten, the word kike was born on Ellis Island when Jewish immigrants who were there were also illiterate (or could not use Latin alphabet letters), were asked to sign the entry-forms with the customary 'X,'* refused, because they associated an X with the cross of Christianity, and instead made a circle. The Yiddish word for 'circle' is kikel (pronounced KY-kul), and for 'little circle,' kikeleh (pronounced ky-kul-uh). Before long the immigration inspectors were calling anyone who signed with an 'O' instead of an 'X' a kikel or kikeleh or kikee or, finally and succinctly, kike.

I found myself behind this blue Cadillac Escalade at a stoplight in Jonesboro last bloggerevening. And I found myself wondering why in the world the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration – the issuing authority for Arkansas license plates – allowed it.

I went to their web site where you can try out different texts for vanity plates and discovered they block all of George Carlin’s list of prohibited words along with most other racial and ethnic slurs.

But these gems are apparently available:

  • KUNT
  • PMS

Well, you get the idea.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Four-legged joy

Have you ever taken the time to read it?

Some of the Declaration of Independence sounds like it could have been written today. I invite you to read the whole thing:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton

Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton

Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean

Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark

Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton

Weekend project

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         When Austin comes to visit he always turns out to be a catalyst for projects we’ve been putting off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         This time it was the antique hutch Maria found at an abandoned gas station-turned used furniture store on her way home a few weeks ago.

The interior had been painted a nasty yellow, so Maria got some paint to match the dining room wall and she and Austin applied two coats of it Saturday afternoon and evening.

I thought it would look more impressive if we could add lighting, so we went to Lowe’s yesterday and found a $45 LED light setup on sale for $20 and some new drawer pulls and door knobs to dress it up for another $28.

Here’s the finished product. The project piqued Austin’s imagination and has him thinking about making money refurbishing furniture when he gets home.

Now Austin is stoking the outdoor fireplace in an effort to burn up all of the woodpile where we think a snake may be lurking and menacing Pete.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Austin’s here!


Austin is down from Indiana for the holiday weekend.

We had a Welcome to Arkansas lunch at the new Don Jose restaurant in Paragould.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The back way to town

Got 15 minutes to kill? Come along as I ride to town for coffee at Seattle Grind.

Checking in

I’m at Seattle Grind where I just had a pleasant Skype visit with Tim Balough in Alma, Colo.

Tim says there’s still lots of snow on the mountains – looks more like April than July. Quite a contrast to northeast Arkansas where I’m getting my morning ride in before the heat index soars into the triple digits.

I’m playing with the GoPro HD video camera, so maybe I’ll post a video later today.

Now, it’s off to the post office and home.