Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Political Ramblings of a Bear with Insomnia

Politically Incorrect Reporting by Nevada Jack

The warm weather continues and I just can’t get back to sleep. They’re saying January has been one of the warmest on record here in the north woods—on average 25 some degrees above average—with some 40 days straight of above average temperture. We're suppose to get a few more warm days, with temps in the 40s, before an artic air mass brings down some sleeping weather... With things so balmy, I’ve spent my times sticking my nose in human politics;, it's more entertaining than the National Enquirer.

Folks say and promise anything to get elected. Take Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Talking with a conservative priest on a TV program, he promised not to have sex until after the elections, which are scheduled for April 9th. Why? This priest had just thanked Berlusconi for his defense of family values. But this overstuffed politician is married to a beautiful woman, Veronica Lario, a former actress. For more information on Veronica, check out this blog.

Being intimate with one’s spouse isn’t a threat to family values in most books. So what was he promising? It has been pointed out that Berlusconi is a dubious defender of morals. He’s been married twice and is known for his playboy past. Maybe he is promising not to have any illicit affairs until after the election. Or maybe he’s making a promise that no one, except for him and his wife, will know for sure if it's kept. Promising not to do anything that is done out of the public eyes is a lot safer than promising to do something like cut spending, which can be observed by running the numbers. Of course, in America politicians make a big deal about cutting spending then do the opposite, hiding what they’ve really done. If you don't believe me, read this blog.

If Berlusconi keeps his pledges and shuns the affection of this woman for a couple of months, Italians should question his sanity.

And then there is the case of President Bush. In the State of the Union Address, he chastised Americans for their addicted to oil. He’s right, of course. Only he should have been saying this since at least since 911 (after all, Carter said it back in the 70s). But Americans have gone on consuming more and more oil. Developing alternative energy sources is a good idea. It’s only that hearing Bush call for it, with his background and friends in the oil industry, makes him sound like your neighborhood heroin supplier lecturing you on the morality.

Of course, with big oil's surge in profits, I'm sure they'll be working on alternative energies. Well, probably not, they don't want anything to happen to the hen that lays their golden egg, but they at least have some ads which suggest they're busy doing research so that everyone can relax and get off their backs while their profits increase.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Sins of the Father...

(ok, here I go again breaking my rule about not writing about family)

I screwed up big time. Yesterday afternoon my daughter lost one of her baby teeth. This is probably the fifth or sixth tooth she’s lost, so it’s no longer a big deal to me. After the trauma of getting the tooth out and taking care of the blood, I forgot all about it until this morning when she woke up. She always sings in the morning, and she’s always known I'm the tooth fairy (please, don’t let the last part of that description get around). This morning, it wasn’t a joyful song. She made up a song that went something like, "Daddy, Daddy, I’m so mad. Daddy, Daddy, I’m so sad. Daddy, Daddy, you're the tooth fairy. Daddy, Daddy, you forgot!" Obviously, I’m now going to have to make it up to her. She suggested I could take her to San Francisco on the train. That doesn’t sound like atonement or penitence; that’s extortion.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Book Review: Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter

Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter (Shoemaker Hoard, 2004)

I first came across the writings of Wendell Berry in college. He had just published The Unsettling of America, a collection of essays in which he set out his beliefs about conservation and land use and how to stop dangerous trends in American agricultural and food production. I don’t know what happened to that book; I’ve lost somewhere along the way. A few years later I came across some of his poetry and enjoy a couple of his chapbooks. Then, about ten years ago, I discovered his fiction. I still enjoy Berry's essays and poetry, but his fiction is superb. The writing is simple and clear; yet demands to be read and savored slowly.

Berry’s fiction is set in the town of Port Williams, Kentucky, a fictional town along the Kentucky River where a number of generations of his characters have lived. Over the past ten years, I’ve read all of his fiction. It’s hard to say which are my favorites, but I’d probably have to pick Memory of Old Jack or Jayber Crow. Most tell the story of the town through a member of the community. Hannah Coulter is his first published attempt of writing about the community through the eyes of a woman. Interestingly, one of Berry’s first novels, Nathan Coulter, was about the second husband of Hannah (her first died in World War II). Berry's characters have faults, but because they work together, they overcome them and enjoy a simple life close to the land.

Hannah Coulter grew up poor, but was a hard worker. She married well, as they say down South, to the son of a prosperous and hard working farmer. But shortly after her wedding, the war came. Her husband died died in battle, leaving her with a child. Her second husband, Nathan, survived the war. Upon their marriage, he purchased an old worn-down farm and they spent their lives building it up. The story is told through Hannah’s eyes, after Nathan’s death. None of her children are going to come back to the farm (although there is a hint that a grandson, who did a stint on drugs, might pull things together). In telling the story, Berry lifts up his ideas of land management and offers lots of proverbs as well as some classic tall-tales. Many of these tales are told by Burley, Nathan’s uncle, who points his jokes at himself. Berry draws the stories out as he pulls you in, even retelling old jokes. One of his stories is about Ellis and Burley going on out in Ellis’s Model T, to drink some moonshine. Ellis had just overhauled the car, but had forgotten to bolt the steering wheel back in. Coming through the county on a dirt road, he was flying and Burley kept yelling for him to slow down. Finally, Ellis had enough and said to Burley, "if you want to drive, here." He handed him over the steering wheel. This story explains why a wrecked Model T is rusting away down by a little branch known as "Sand Ripple."

Berry’s stories entertain, but they also make us wonder if those of us who have moved away from the farm and the land have lost something. Over and over again, he finds a way to slip in his vision of a land ethic. People are suppose to stay put and take care of the land and when they do, the land will take care of them. Another value that Berry highlights here and in other stories can be summarized in the old hymn, "Abide with Me." The "members of the Port William Township" abided with each other, rejoicing in the good times and being beside them during the bad (one of Berry’s collections of short stories about Port Williams is titled Watch with Me.

I often think of my own family when reading his stories. All my great-grandparents as well as my mother's parents were farmers. Nathan and Hannah Coulter would have been just a little younger than my farming grandparents. Mat Feltner would have been the age of my great-grandparents. And Old Jack, who died in 1952, would have been my great-great-grandfather's age. He died in '55, a year and a half before my birth. I wonder what his life would have been like when compared to Berry's characters. At the end of this book, Berry provides a useful tree of the Port Williams membership, so that you can see how people are related.

But Berry doesn't only conjure up family memories. He's also a prophet. Sometimes I wonder if his battle is as useless as fighting the wind, but other times, his vision becomes real enough to make me wonder if it isn’t possible and if we wouldn’t be happier living a little closer to the land.

I encourage you to read Berry and would love to know what you think.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ski Midwest (reporting on the weekend)

The storm hit about thirty miles south of Cadillac and for the next hour, I clutched the steering wheel as I gauged my position in the road by the location of the reflectors off to the side. What little traffic there was slowed down to no more than 30 miles per hour. At times, there were just the two vehicles traveling together. I was following Larry and worried when he seemed to sway too far to the right or left. But he never ran off the road and after an hour of driving in poor conditions, we our destination. It had been snowing for a bit over two hours when we arrived and Cadillac was blanketed with five or so inches of the white stuff. They’d get another couple inches before it quit snowing at midnight. But by then, I was safely in bed, dreaming of powder.

Saturday morning was beautiful as we drove out to the Caberfae Peaks. The roads had been plowed, but snow hung heavy on trees and when the sun rose, everything sparkled. Even though this was my first time downhill skiing in the Midwest, I was pumped. I haven’t had downhill skis on since I left Utah and although the mountain had only 475 feet of vertical, I was promised that they had some good steep pitches. At first, riding the lift closest to the lodge, I was disappointed. There wasn’t much pitch and the gentle slope made me wish I had my backcountry skis so I could ski free-heel/telemark style. But slowly I worked my way south and there at the south peak found some nicely pitched runs (yes, runs—there were two of them, one to the right and the other to the left). After a leisurely ride up the lift, I’d stop at the top and take in the view (you don’t get many vista views in the Midwest, so you have to grab them when you can). After a few minutes of looking, I’d kick off with a herringbone style push with each ski, then pull them parallel, heading downhill. In the morning, before things got skied off, I often hug close to the edge where I was treated with ankle deep powder. Other times, I’d go straight down the middle, occasionally shifting my weight on the skis while reaching with my pole, making a slight turn, completing the run and being at the bottom left in a minute or less. Other times, I’d intentionally go slow, forcing myself to slow down, while savoring the moment.

Yes, it would have been nice to have four or five times the vertical, but I still had fun and my legs were tired by the time I decided to call it a day and head home. The drive back was much more pleasant than the one the day before. I love watching the sunset behind a hardwood forests, the trees’ barren during this season. Then, in the low points, fog covered the land, adding a mystical touch. And when I was on high ground and could look up at the sky, it seemed as if I was heading straight for Orion. I was home by Nine o’clock and too tired to sit before the fireplace. After reading a bit in bed, I feel asleep.

And Sunday was a good day. Did you see the Steelers?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peanut Butter: The Making of a Tall-tale

"Is this like how peanut butter was invented," my daughter asked this evening when I offered some crazy explanation to one of her questions?

My peanut butter invention story became a legend in our family this Christmas while we were home. I’d forgotten about the story. It was at least three and maybe four years ago when we were traveling some distance in the car that I made it up. My daughter was in the back, strapped in her car seat, chatting away. She had recently discovered peanut butter (we didn’t give her any until she was three to avoid any serious reactions). It quickly became her favorite food (and is her main source of protein to this day). She was asking me questions about peanut butter. How you make it and so forth. Then she asked me how it was invented. After having driven several hours, my mind needed a distraction so I told her a story.

"You see," I said, "a hundred years or so ago there was this engineer named George Washington Carver (I may have even gone into how he got his name) driving a large coal-fired hog on the Georgia Central, pulling freight on the Atlanta to Macon run. One day he spots some kids playing on the track up ahead. He pulls the whistle and they run, but they left something on the tracks. He engages the brake and the train comes to a squelching halt. Climbing out of the cab, after the steam dissipates, Engineer Carver looks under the wheels and notices a brown paste. Not knowing that it was, he wipes it on his finger and sniffs. It smells good, so he licks it and discovers peanut butter. "

I went on to tell about how he’d bring peanuts to work, place them on the rails outside the round house. Then, after he fired up his hog and drove it out onto the turntable, getting ready for a day’s work, he’d made enough peanut butter for him, his fireman and brakeman's sandwiches. It was the brakeman’s job to scrape up the peanut butter and spread it on slices of bread. They may have been more to the story, cause she kept asking questions and I kept making up answers." After the trip, I promptly forgot about it, but not her.

What’s amazing, this year at Christmas (several years after I told the story) my daughter tells her cousin (who is in college) the story. I’d forgotten all about it. She even remembered George Washington Carver’s name. Her cousin breaks up laughing, then has her telling everyone else in the family. And now, when she wonders if I’m pulling her leg, she asks, "Is this like how peanut butter was invented?"

And one more thing... I recently discovered that George Washington Carver was not the inventor of peanut butter, even though he did do a lot of work with peanuts. His being the father of peanut butter is a myth, but like Mark Twain supposedly said, you can't let truth get in the way of a good story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Vampire for Governor?

Politically incorrect reporting by Nevada Jack

The warm weather continues. It didn’t even drop below freezing last night and it’s raining this morning. This is Michigan, for heaven’s sake. How’s one to hibernate when with weather like this. If this keeps up, I’ll have to take plenty of naps during berry season.

I’ve used my time to keep up on human politics. Some of it is very weird, with politics being such a blood sucking business. In Minnesota, which has been known for doing crazy things, such as electing a professional wrestler as governor, there is now a vampire running for the office. Jonathon Sharkley, dressed in a cape made from draperies and sporting greased-backed hair and canine teeth, announced his candidacy on a full moon, Friday the 13th. Like many politicians today, Sharkley is running on a law and order platform, vowing to personally impale convicted of murders and child abusers on the capitol lawn. This guy probably has a personal vendetta against child abusers, for there is no way anyone can be that screwed up without some help. He must have been abused as a child!. For those convicted of lessor crimes, Sharkley promised he’d stick their tongue to a pump handle in January and let them spend the day on display. After reading about his campaign in the news, I decided to run on over to the ice fishing state where I hope to get a good walleye dinner in addition to getting to the bottom of this story.

Reaction to Sharkley’s campaign has been mixed. The Twin City director of the Chamber of Commerce is worried. "Too many Americans wonder about us already. They think we talk like those guys in the movie Fargo. What are they going to think when they hear our governor sounding like William Macy as he impales a convict in public? This won’t be good for tourism."
Knowing he needed to sound more "mainstream," Sharkley contacted a branch of the University of Minnesota. The Dean of the Department of Communication assigned one of his junior faculty members to the project. I caught up with the young lecturer as she was coming back to her office after meeting with the self-proclaimed vampire.

"Good afternoon, Miss. You appear a little red in the face, I take that as a good sign. If your face was pale, I’d wondered if he feasted upon your blood," I joked.

"I’m red faced because I’m hot," she snarled with a Minnesota accent, obviously not happy about her assignment. "I’m wearing two turtlenecks and a couple of scarves, I wasn’t taking any chances with this guy."

"What’s he like?" I asked.

"He’s a little creepy, like all politicians, but it’s also refreshing to have a politician honest enough to admit he’s a bloodsucker. Excuse me now, I need to go take off a few layers of clothing." With that she closed the door to her office.

Ms. Fashion, the director of marketing for Gap, pointed out that she has seen a definite shift in clothing sales over the weekend. "This time of the year, we’re normally beginning to put out our summer clothes. But nobody is interested in low-cut blouses this year."

In another bizarre twist, the Mayor of Gilroy, California, garlic capital of the world, was seen driving a produce truck into the Twin Cities. Obviously, he sees an opportunity for his hometown.

Garrison Keillor, a son of Minnesota, shook his head when he heard about Sharkley’s campaign. First Jessie, now Dracula, he mumbled, but then noted that it would give him another season’s worth of material for Prairie Home Companion radio show. "Can’t you imagine the governor visiting Woebegon?" he asked. "And I’m sure one of those Norwegian Bachelor Farmer’s pitchforks will be more effective than any wooden cross with a spike on the end in saying good riddance to the Governor Dracula."

Sharkley is running on the Vampyres, Witches and Pagan Party’s ticket. He admitted he’s using an antiquated spelling to sound more hip. In addition to reaching out to law and order votes with his unique views of capital punishment, Sharkley is attempting to draw in the environmentalists with a pledge to reintroduce wolves into city parks across the state. As a bear, I feel discriminated against.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Notebook--an essay on a book

Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook (1996)

I admit, this is my first Nicholas Spark’s book. It’s also the closest thing I’ve read to Chic Lit since Bridges of Madison County. And yes, I’ll admit in a rather self-righteous fashion, I’ve read both books and have seen neither movie.

At least half a dozen people suggested I read The Notebook since last summer when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although she is no where near the stage of Allie, in the book, one can only wonder what the future holds. In my mind, my parents have had an idyllic marriage, kind of like Noah and Allie. Noah and Allie met one summer in New Bern, North Carolina, when she was 15 and he 17. Fourteen years and a World War later, they meet again, right before Allie’s wedding to a “hot shot Raleigh attorney. “ (being from NC, I can say that!) As far as what happens after they meet, Sparks leaves you in suspense. Will Allie go back to her attorney or stay with Noah? You don’t learn what happens until the last part of the book when the two of them are in a nursing home. Allie has Alzheimer’s and generally doesn’t know Noah, although sometimes when he reads their story to her, there is a spark and it’s like they fall in love again. But then, “the thief comes in the night” and takes her away again.

In addition to reading the story because of the subject matter on Alzheimer’s, I was recently encouraged to read Sparks because of the settings of his books reminded them of some of my writing about exploring the coastal waters of Eastern North Carolina. Like Noah in the book, I grew up near the coast and spent many days in a canoe exploring the tidal streams. Sparks does a wonderful job painting a picture of the natural environment.

Not only did this book bringing up family issues about dealing with the disease, it also stirred up within me lost feelings from the summer of ’90. I was working in Idaho. Toward the end of the season, I met a teacher from there who had just called off an engagement. We had an intense relationship that lasted only a couple of weeks. Reading Sparks, I once again I recalled nights sitting in hot springs under the desert sky and a snowball fight in late on August afternoon, up in the high country, when we were caught in a winter storm. The highlight of our brief courtship was a dining at a Cajun Restaurant (near Ketchum). The chef served an ice cream dish with brandy blazing as his deep voice sang out “I Only Have Eyes for You.” After the summer was over, she went back to teaching and I headed to a job in New York State. I never saw her again and my calls and letters went unanswered. About a year later a friend in Idaho called me with the news that she’d gotten married. With such memories, I was a bit jealous of Noah’s good fortune.

If someone wants to learn about Alzheimer’s, I would recommend reading David Shenk’s, The Forgetting, Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic. I wrote about it in my blog last summer. It’s a beautiful piece of literature about a horrible subject matter. Another recommendation, for about what Alzheimer’s can do to a family, is James Carroll’s, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us. Although this book is certainly not about the disease, it deals with the disease in the closing pages of the book. Carroll, a former Catholic priest, is writing about how the Vietnam War and religion split him and his father (who was an Air Force General). Then, in the end, Alzheimer’s became a hindrance to any true reconciliation between father and son. Carroll’s book, like Sparks, reminds us to make the most of the time we have at hand, for tomorrow may be too late.

If you have read any of these books, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Promised Pictures

Below are pictures from New Orleans that I promised in my postings from that city (see my posts of the first week of January). The first four pictures are from the lower 9th Ward, then there are some where we were working mucking out houses. Notice the spray painting on the houses indicating they've been checked by relief workers and the amount of mold growing on the walls. Finally, there is a picture of me at Jimmy Buffet's place in the French Quarter (and, I'm sorry to say, we didn't go in). I will also be posting some pictures in my posts from North Carolina (the last half of December) including horses on Shackelford Banks and porpoises off Masonboro Island.

Reading Over the Holidays: First Book Report

Having spent a lot of time traveling over the past three weeks, I was able to get through several books. These included Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter, Steven King's On Writing, Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook and Donald Miller's, Through Painted Deserts: Light, God and Beauty on the Open Road, as well as the book highlighted below. Quite a variety of genre, eh? I will attempt to highlight with a brief report on each. If you read any of these books, I’d love to hear your insight. I’d also like to know of others you’d like to suggest for me to read (warning, there are always 20 or more books on my reading list).

Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).

I had seen this book quoted and referred to many times prior to having been given a copy. So when given a copy, I quickly dug in. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist. He’s published three other books, two of which like this one deal with economic changes to the global economy. He is a free-market capitalist, but not without compassion and a concern for global issues such as the environment. Friedman’s thesis is that a number of changes in the past 15 years have brought the world closer together (hence making it flat). These changes began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and include such things as rapid advancements with technological including the internet and search engines which has allowed changes in production and engineering and consumerism. In explaining his thesis, he takes us around the world to places, like Bangalore, India, where he can demonstrate these changes first-hand. (I wish I had his travel budget).

My biggest critique in Friedman’s book is that he has so many "Ah-Ha" moments where he’s discovering how connected the world has become in the last ten year. You’d think he was the only one coming up with these thoughts which occur on his globetrotting experiences. I had to force myself through the first couple hundred pages of the book, dealing with Friedman’s arrogance, to get to the real meat. That said, there is some interesting stuff in the first two hundred pages.

As a free-market promoter, Friedman believes the real benefits of this New World in which political borders are becoming obsolete is that the "pie" will get bigger and everyone will benefit with a larger slice. He does, however, raises important environmental questions of sustainability (I’m not sure he really has a good answer here) as well as political questions including a long discussion of the role of terrorism in the flat world.

Friedman lists a number of dangers to this new global economy—protectionism being one, terrorism, over consumption of non-renewable resources, corruption and disease being others. He criticizes Arab nations for their lack of innovation and suggests that they (along with Venezuela) are "cursed with oil." He links oil resources as a cause of dictators and has an interesting turn the phrase from the American Revolution, "there is no representation without taxes." This rings true, for if leaders don’t have to tax people and can depend on money from sources like oil, then the people will be less critical of the government and there will be fewer checks and balances. However, it is also true that many of these nations have been crippled by their colonial experiences and by the meddling of international oil companies and western governments who are in need of oil.

Friedman is critical of President Bush and the GOP Congress for cuts in science programs. He feels that after 911, the USA has gone from being an exporter of hope in the world to an exporter of fear. He chastises Bush for not calling on American to sacrifice after 911, suggesting that America should have immediately began working toward becoming less energy dependent which would not only help our economy, but would also cut off a source of funds for the terrorist. This last suggestion sounded a lot like a newspaper opinion column I wrote back in 2002.
I also appreciated his warning (as many others have also done) the dangers of misinformation and conspiracy theories rising from the use of the internet. The emotional nature of much of the discussion that is carried out over the internet leads often to irrationality and encourages conspiracy theories (see my previous blog entry).

The New York Times listed The World is Flat as the fourth most blogged about book of 2005. Many, on both the right and left, have been critical of what he says. And the case can be made that the book contains little new information, and some of his conclusions are over-stretched, but I still glad that I read it. For a take of Friedman’s book by Daniel Dezner at the University of Chicago, click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fallacies Abound: The State of Political Dialogue Today

Sage's reflections on all this a few days later (Sunday, Jan. 15): It disturbs me how mad I got about this. As you can see from below, there were a few things I said that was over the top. Thinking about arguing with people I don’t really know (I’ve never meet anyone in the discussion face to face), made me consider the way I choose those who are or who will remain my friends. If I am unable to question a position someone takes—especially when the position is obviously one sided, then I find myself not desiring to continue that friendship. I have dropped more friends in my life over the way they treat other people (that’s always a “worse sin" than treating me badly). I really became incensed when Suzie attacked Scribe without addressing anything he said. This pattern continued on with others who joined in. I also despised the way names were thrown out—labeling others as commies, trolls, moonbats and all sorts of things just because they had different view. Name calling is never helpful. I suppose I could have refrained from commenting on Suzie’s post about Abramoff, but if she really didn’t want any comments, she should have turn the comments off for her posts. Allowing people to agree with you, without allowing for alterative interpretations, is a sure-fired way to find yourself blinded by truth. But that’s not my problem and it is now time to move on. I’ll continue to read and comment on conservative and liberal, mainstream and upstream blogs and hopefully learn a thing or two.

The Political Observations of Nevada Jack

It’s so warm around here I woke up from hibernation. When I did, I found my buddy Sage all worked up over people who can’t seem to comprehend the English language. I’m not sure why this worries him so, but he says it has something to do with these folks being allowed in the ballot box come next November.

Yesterday, Suzie over at Assorted Babble tried to make the case that the Ambraoff scandal wasn’t just a Republican scandal, but also a Democratic one. She showed the amount of money Ambraoff and associates gave various Democratic Senators. By the time this scandal is over, there may be some Democrats who’ll be sent packing, but Suzie made no reference to how much her Republican friends received from Ambraoff. Sage responded, referring to a well-known conservative columnist who made the same point that he was trying to make:

Suzie--that may seem like a lot of money, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what he's been giving out. You know, if you want to justify your sin, you can always find someone who is worst that you, but in this case, I believe the numbers will work against the Republicans. What this scandal shows is there is a real need for a housecleaning in Washington--from both parties. I like Kathleen Parker's take on the scandal (she's considered a conservative columnist from your state). (comments abridged)

A little later, Scribe from Oklahoma came back with a similar comment, citing the National Review, another respected conservative magazine. NR encouraged Republicans not to diminish their role in the scandal by pointing to the small percentage of Abraoff’s goodies that went to Democrats. Suzie doesn’t like Scribe, as he’s an Independent Christian (and those of her type tend to think that any Christian not in the Republican Party is a heretic, or more likely a pagan or heathen or the anti-Christ). Suzie deleted Scribes comments.

Suzie next published comments on her take on the Alito’s Senate hearings. She complained about the Democrats treatment of Alito (I admit, it may be bit harsh, but this is an important position he's up for). Sage didn't comment on Alito, but on her attack on Scribe as she ended her post. Sage defending Scribe, asking if she’d even read what Scribe wrote. Below are Sage’s comments:

Suzie, at the risk of being banned and deleted, I'm going to challenge you again. You talk about being open minded and middle of the road, but step back and look at what you're saying.

Did you even read what the Scribe wrote in your post about Abramoff? He was quoting the National Review! That ain't exactly a left wing magazine. If he's lying, then probably the best conservative thinkers in America, the writers of the National Review, are liars. (I do have respect for the National Review even if I don't always agree with them)
Suzie then lashed out at Sage, in a comment full of grace and compassion.

Sage, I do not NEED your freakin challenges and I will not tolerate it ANYMORE. GOT IT? I am an open-minded person, but enough is enough. Yeah, if you read my post - I said I keep going further and further to the right……Yes, from the middle. Now I am a full-blown Republican with a few exceptions on some issues. So from now on, you can refer to me as a PRO-AMERICAN –REPUBLICAN - PRO-VICTORY and PROUD OF IT and I’m not taking any more of this shit.

If you can’t keep your left leaning politics to yourself or for other liberal blogs, don’t comment here on this subject. Many of my readers (friends that know me as you should by now) wait for other posts that do not involve politics to comment on, I would suggest if you wish for us to be friends that may be a good idea otherwise yes you will be deleted too.
Okay, at least she now admits she is not open-minded, but where did Sage (or even Scribe) bring in left-wing politics? If you can see either position as left-wing, enlighten me. This is a common fallacy, categorizing someone and then assuming their guilt by association.
As the evening continued, Christa joined the challenge and, after pointing out flaws in Suzie’s position, offered to help her form a rational argument, she found her post getting deleted by Censor Suzie. At this point, Sage’s blood pressure was up from 110/80 to about 360/200! And he probably stepped over the line when he threw down the gauntlet:

Suzie, don't worry about sugar coating anything, cause I ain't. You haven't read anything I said or responded to my thoughts in any kind of logically manner. Instead you've issued ad hominem attacks without addressing anything that anyone who disagrees with you says. I am left to wonder if you are literate--what I said wasn't all that radical and Scribe and I both quoted conservatives (not liberals).

Your blog has become so full of fallacies--you should pull yourself away from the TV long enough to read a book on logical thinking. There are in your blog sweeping generalizations, red herrings, ad nauseam (making the same point over and over), ad hominem remarks (attacking the person, not the issue), and ad numerum (appeal to the majority as if the majority is right and has no possibility of being wrong). Delete me if you want, but at least read and consider what I’m saying. If you learn from this, you might be able to convience someone else of your point instead of just patting like minded folks on their back as they pat you on your back and you all sit around blaming all that's wrong with the world on someone else.
Suzie immediately deleted Sage’s comments and posted the following:

Sage, I did NOT read your comment...just after the first line I deleted. Would appreciate you keeping your insults to yourself.....and off my blog.I have not attacked you on YOUR blog and I would appreciate the same from you here. If you have nothing nice to say....then keep it to yourself.

Now, dear readers, with the exception of the last comment where has Sage resorted to a harsh attack? Was he really not nice in his earlier post? If so, please let me know and I’ll have a talk with Sage.

The name-calling and self-righteous proclamations resumed at Suzie’s today, with comments about how right they are and how the commie liberals hate them and are destroying their beloved America. Where do they get this stuff? Does offering a different perspective mean that you hate someone? Those, like Murf, who challenged Suzie were immediately attacked by Suzie and friends, often with words unfit for children. Some of her "friends" picked up the banner on their site. The self-proclaimed "born-again Redneck" has a real "eloquent" post. His being born again must have to do with his bigotry being reaffirmed as opposed to any religious conversion. I know, that’s a little underhanded, but come on, how can they claim the high moral ground with such offensive comments? He assumes everyone who disagrees with him is a communist and doesn't deserve any respect.

I sure hope things cool off again soon so I can go back into hibernation. If you need to brush up on how to make an intelligence case for your beliefs, I suggest reading Antony Flew, How to Think Straight: An Introduction to Critical Reasoning (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 1998) or look at Sage's links and click on the site for logical fallacies.

If you have stayed with me for all this, please let me know what you think. I’ve asked Sage not to delete any comments unless they contain profanity or are obscene. He has agreed to this stipulation. I also recommend reading Scribe's post about this debate: Part 1, Part 2, Part3.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Updating the Blog

Thanks to Murf, I now have links on the side of my blog. Isn't that cool! She shamed me into it, calling me Pa Ingalls (a character I kind of like). Then she took pity on me and walked me through the process. (I'm not a techy, I just like to write and vent). I know I haven't yet put every link there who's linked to me, or who I regularly read, but I'll try to finish updating it soon, as well as posting some other links you may not find anywhere else.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Northbound on the City of New Orleans

About ten minutes out of Greenwood, Mississippi I call Bo’s Barbecue Bar and Grill and order half a dozen barbecue pork sandwiches. I've just gotten a signal for the cell phone. I’m not sure what to expect. I met Bo on the trip down. Amtrak stops to change the crew in Greenwood and I knew we’d have a few minutes to get an order. When the train stops, I run to Bo’s bar. It’s a dive. A half a dozen patrons are drinking beer. "Hey Amtrak," one calls, "you’re going to Chicago, why the 'Stiller cap? (I'm wearing a Pittsburgh Steeler cap) I'm the only white boy in the place. Bo calls me back to the kitchen. He takes each rib, dips it in sauce, places a couple between white bread, wraps them in foil and places them in a bag. I grab the order, toss him some money and run back to my car. I step back on the train and a minute later, the whistle blows and we resume our northward journey. The ribs are heavenly and a big hit with others who have ordered one. It’s been a long time since I had that Shrimp Po Boy for lunch at Crabby Jacks.

Our eyes got opened on our last day in Na’Arlens. We were taken down into the ninth ward, to the place where the levee broke allowing a barge to sail into the neighborhood. They’re still searching houses for bodies here and nothing we’ve seen can compare to the destruction. It looks more like what I’ve seen of the tsunami. These houses are already demolished, washed from their foundations and broken into splinters. There’s nothing to be saved. We also go and look at the break off the 17th Street Canal. The destruction is great, but not nearly as bad as the ninth ward. Some neighborhoods are recovering rapidly, others will take years if they ever rebuild.

We’re into Memphis early, it’ll be a longer break. The engine takes on fuel. It’s cold, but the fresh air is invigorating. I walk up and down the tracks for a few minutes before heading back to my seat. People are already asleep. One lady sleeps, her head back with her mouth gaped open. Wickedly, I think I should take a picture. She’s appears to be attractive, but not in her sleep. After a few minutes of reading Stephen King, On Writing, I turn out my light, fluff my pillow up and place it against the window, falling asleep to the rock of the train.

Next think I know, it’s 5:20 AM. We’re in Mattoon, Illinois. On the platform, a group of eight young Amish or Mennonite women wait to board. They’re just outside my window and from the second deck of the Superliner, I’m looking down on them. They appear as a flock of ducks, turning their heads back and forth in unison, looking up and down the track, as if they’re a little uneasy about the journey they’re embarking upon. I fall back asleep. At 6 AM, I get up, go downstairs to the bathrooms and wash up before heading to the lounge where coffee is available as well as a plug for my computer.

The scenery has changed from when the sun went down yesterday evening. The blue skies, cypress swamps and pine hills are replaced with grayness. The sky is gray, the bare trees are gray, when we go through towns, buildings are gray as well as the crumbled remains of factories. The spaces between towns are filled with bare fields that in another five months showcase corn and soybeans. It’s over one of these fields that the sun finally breaks through, just above the horizon, burning off the morning fog. For a few minutes, the sky assumes a pinkish hue, only to quickly return to the gray as the sun continues its march across the southern horizon. Railroads merge in and out. We’re nearing Chicago. Soon, someone spots the Sears tower and we’ve completed the first leg of our journey. Just three more hours on a train and we’ll be home.

NOTE: I'll post a few pictures later, when I get them developed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hurry Up and Wait: More from New Orleans

Hurry up and wait. That sums up much of life down here. We seldom get started when planned due to having to wait for something, or having to find an address, or to get a key, or something. It’s always something.

There was an emergency today and we were diverted from mucking out houses and sent over to a church west of New Orleans to erect a tent city. Overnight, I was transformed from a "homewrecker" to a "homebuilder." The work wasn’t nearly as hard and the air was a lot more refreshing as what we’ve been doing since Monday, but it was also less rewarding. This "tent city" consists of 70 "tents" that are made out of corrugated plastic (like cardboard, only waterproof) that’s riveted together. The tents are placed in "pods," each which has a central heating and cooling system. It’s really quite ingenious. The people we were helping was trying to get ready for their first group which is coming in this weekend, seventy-some college students from Texas who will spend two weeks working in the area and living in this plastic village. The village is designed to be used over the next two years and can house up to 140 workers. The "tents," when properly constructed and anchored, are supposed to withstand 70 mile per hour wind. Jim, our local crew leader, tried to put the best spin on things. "Well, y’all naw, I didn’t naw about this job," he told us in his thick accent as we were eating a meal his wife had fixed (jambalaya and fried fish with wonderful lemon pies). "But it kinda wore on me, y’all naw, got challenging getting those rivets in at the right place." I hope he didn’t see me roll our eyes. My hands, after a day of this type of work, feel old and arthritic.

Coming back home this evening, we missed out turn. Looking at a map, we decided to cut across through the central part of the city (Between the Garden District and where we’re staying near Loyola University. Soon we were in an area where there were no lights (not even streetlights) and no people. It was eerie driving through there in the dark. Only a few blocks away, on both sides, life is returning to normal, but this neighborhood is still abandoned.

The headlines of today’s The Times-Picayune reads "Sigh Seeing." It’s not a misprint. The article is about Grayline and Isabella Tours offering sightseeing tours of the devastation. The Grayline tour is $35; Isaballa’s tour is $49, but also includes the 9th Ward. Both have been in the city for years, giving tours of historic sights. There is a debate going on over whether or not this is "callous profiteering," or just plain "distasteful." Of course the companies are saying they’re helping get the message out about how bad the city has been devastated by Katrina. In other local news reported in today’s paper, there are still 161 bodies who haven’t been identified, they’re still searching for bodies in the lower 9th ward, and a crucifix damaged in the storm is "in the hands of the master." I thought that last article was somewhat funny, for there are many of us who worship the guy represented on the crucifix as the Master.

Tomorrow is our last day in the city. We’re not going to have much time for work, but instead will get a tour of our own, (no, we’re not paying 49 or even 35 bucks), but we will go into some of the areas we’ve yet seen and the site of some of the levee breaks. Tomorrow is also "12th Night," (also known as Epiphany), which supposedly kicks off the Mardi Grad season (of course it heats up the closer you get to Ash Wednesday). We’re leaving at the wrong time. This trip has been enlightening.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Stories from New Orleans

Everyone has a story to tell. Jim and Bonnie were at Rocky Mountains National Park when the storm hit. On vacation, the news caught them by shock. His mother, with Alzheimer’s, was in a nursing home in New Orleans. It took Jim ten days to find her. She and the other residents were loaded on a bus and sent to Lafayette. She’s still there as the nursing home in New Orleans home has yet to reopen. Iona Mae’s home wasn’t destroyed, but a neighbor’s tree did crash into their house, tearing out part of the room and causing some water damage. Her sister wasn’t so lucky. Her house flooded to the ceiling and will need to be razed. On the train coming down, I talked with a guy who is a correctional officer. At first, I thought he was telling me he was in jail. But then he flashed his badge and discreetly, as some of the passengers looked like they might have been his customers, told me part of the story. He was on duty. When the levee’s broke they had to get prisoners out of the lower levels. Life got complicated because not only was the power out, their back-up generators were underwater. His family is now in Chicago and he’s living on a cruise ship. Many others families have stayed away. The family of the pastor of this church has just come back. He came back as soon as possible, but with no schools, his wife and kids stayed with family in South Carolina. Their school opens this week.

Going through homes and making decisions about what to save and what to pitch is uncomfortable. But some of the stuff we find is humorous. Yesterday, one of our students found a stash of pot in what was probably her son’s room. Maybe he knew where to look. There was also some "lick me all over" lotion along with some visually interesting magazines. It was suggested we could take the pages apart and dry them on the lawn. We didn’t. Under a bed we found a pistol, ruined by the water. It’s also interesting to go through folks liquor cabinets, tossing bottles away and trying to guess what they once contained as the labels are either off or in such a condition that they’re not readable.

The neighborhood we worked in today experienced even more damage, both wind from the Katrina and flooding from the breached levees, than the one we worked in yesterday. A number of large trees are down, facing south. There were even more blue tarps, generally on the north side of the homes, as the wind damage appears to have come from a southward blowing wind. There is also more services here. Someone has put portable johns on each street for relief workers. The Red Cross van comes through offering free meals, but we’ve brought our own lunch. We’re assigned to a nice home, but with roof damage and a water level of nearly five feet, it’ll need to be totally stripped. Little can be saved here. We salvage some of her daughter’s awards and a sealed plastic box of pictures that miraculously was above the water level.

The owner, a single woman, is the principal of an alternative school. She had already cleared out two rooms when we arrived. We pitch in and clean out the rest, then start pulling drywall. We didn’t finish, as all the drywall including the ceiling, will have to come out. Her insurance will pay her $7,000 for the damage to the roof and estimated damage that came from water damage from above. She won’t get anything for the flood damage. All that will remain are studs, the brick, and a roof covered with a FEMA blue tarp. The owner graciously offers us drinks. As we take a break she tells her story. She left a day before the storm and wasn’t able to get back into her neighborhood until October 3. When she came back, she couldn’t believe it. She’s staying in an apartment now, hoping to rebuild. She’s lived at this home for over twenty-five years.

Ken and I work on the kitchen. First we muck out everything which is easy since a lot of the stuff in the cabinets have floated out onto the floor. Using large coal shovels, we load it all up in a wheelbarrow and dump it out at the street. After mucking, it takes less than 30 minutes to pull out the cabinets. Watching me unhook the waterlines and drains and break apart the cabinets, Ken jokes that I’m a real "homewrecker." He’s right; the dishwasher was less than a month old. As we finish the day’s work, a contractor crew from Arkansas loads up the junk out front. Now they’ll be room for the drywall to be discarded. We’ll be at it again in the morning.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Day in the Life of a New Orleans Relief Volunteer

I’m sitting on my cot in the second story Sunday School room that is our home for the week. A crescent moon can be seen just above a branch of a live oak. I’m tired, but am clean, having taken a shower. It’s been a long day and in a few minutes, Bonnie will have our dinner ready—beans and rice. Bonnie is from here and her cooking smells good. I won't be checking many of your blogs over the next week, but I hope to have an opportunity to share with you my experiences here. I'll catch up with you all later.

First Day on the Job:

New Orleans is surreal. Sections of the city like the French Quarter are in good shape. Businesses are open. Cars navigate streets with temporary stop signs. But other neighborhoods are abandoned. There is no need for temporary signage. There is still no electricity. Blue tarps are ubiquitous. You can’t live here, but groups are returning to do the hard work. And Marines are patrolling the streets, making sure that those doing the work are suppose to be there. We’re sent into one such neighborhood. On the surface it looks nice. Sure, the grass is a little brown and in front of some homes there are huge piles of furniture, household goods, and other rubble. If you could avoid seeing piles of debris, you would think this is a nice middle class neighborhood. Only there are no people here. We pull up to the house to which we’ve been assigned. It’s a single story brick home. There’s a car under the carport and another in front of it in the driveway. Other than the cars looking a little dirty, nothing seems out of order except that each house has a ring around it, indicating the water level. And spray painted on the brick is the date the house was checked to make sure no one was inside.

Walking up the driveway, I’m grossed out before I get to the first car. The steering wheel and the seats support a hearty growth of mold. They’ll have to be towed away. Inside the house, black mold grows on the walls, as if someone decided to paint black pokey-dots. All the furniture is ruined. The owner asked if us to try to save her dining room furniture and her china.
Otherwise, we’re told to haul it to the streets. It takes two hours for nine of us to haul everything outside. The refrigerator is of particular interest to one of our more inquisitive of college students. He opens it! It hasn’t been on since August 28th, and the stench is overwhelming. He slams the door closed and we secure it with duct tape, before hauling it to the street. Just about everything goes. Couches, chairs, televisions, and clothes in the closet, shoes (this lady had three wheelbarrows of shoes and another one just of purses). We save the dining room furniture, but wonder if its salvageable. Certainly the china and many of her knickknacks will be okay, once washed in bleach.

About lunchtime, the neighbors who live across the street drive in from Houston. They’ve already hauled out most of their belongings, they’re now starting to gut the house. We talk a bit. He tells about how quickly the water rose on the night after Katrina hit. In 20 minutes, it went from a foot or so deep to upwards of five feet deep. "We crawled out on the roof from the second story," he said. "I went, jumping roof to roof, till I found a boat to steal. Paddling it back to the house, I loaded my family and we left." They spent several days in the Convention Center, before walking over to the Superdome, where they were loaded on a bus for Houston. He seems in surprisingly good spirit. I suppose he’s had time for it to sink in that all he’s accumulated during his lifetime is lost.

After lunch, we begin to pull out the dry wall and carpet. We stop frequently to rest and drink water. The respirators we’re all wearing sucks up energy. The carpet and padding is heavy, still soaked with water. The drywall breaks out easily, filling the rooms with dust. To be outside on the street without the mask reminds you of just how nice of a treat fresh air can provide. By four o’clock, the sun is dropping lower in the sky and studs are exposed on the inside of the house. We sweep up and stack all the salvaged goods in one room. After one last check, we lock up the house, and leave. Tomorrow, we’ll do it again.