Monday, July 31, 2006

Mad Max: Beyond Blunderdome

Okay, let's start by making clear that I do not condone racism, alcoholism, or driving drunk.

That said, I can't help but think that the only difference between Mel Gibson and the rest of Hollywood is that he yelled his sentiments at cops while drunk at the side of the road, while the rest of Hollywood yells their sentiments cold sober from award show podiums. That, and the rest of Hollywood are clever (or sober) enough to wrap their anti-semitism in a more palatable shroud of anti-Israel sentiment.

Because of course the drunk driving, resisting arrest, insulting cops...well, that's no big deal. Opinions are more dangerous than actions.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Strange Dreams

This morning I had a weird dream. It was one of those where I start out watching the dream like a movie, then at some point actually become the main character. In this case he/I was going on a cruise. Just before I got on the ship I got a call from my "handler." Unknown to me, I was a specially trained assassin. I had been conditioned to forget that entire aspect of my existence and just go about my life until receiving the proper code words from my handler, at which point the assassin would take over. Once I was done with a mission they'd reinstate the conditioning and I'd go along none the wiser.

Evidently they wanted me to kill someone on this cruise. I spent a long time wandering around the ship just enjoying myself. At some point I found the person and killed them, though my subconscious mercifully fast-forwarded through that part. Then the cruise ended, and I decided I'd had with this existence. I was going to kill my handlers before they could stick the genie back in the bottle, so to speak. Not only was I doing the dirty work for an unknown organization/person, but I didn't even have any memory of it. It wasn't to protect me, really. I could still get caught and convicted of my murders, but I wouldn't be able to implicate my handler.

Unfortunately they must have gotten to me before I could get to them, as I soon forgot all about that. Right before I woke up I met my older brother. We talked for a little bit, then he had to go. He hopped on a motorcycle (rather nice bike, as I recall) and roared off, recklessly cutting off a woman on a motorcycle, then zipping off with great skill to keep her from following him.

Why am I telling you this? I don't know. Probably because my dreams are more exciting than my reality right now. And because I was thinking it would make a great plot for a novel or something--until now. I just remembered that the same idea was used in a Babylon 5 episode. Some may recall Talia Winters.

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

Signs of Hezbollah Respectability

Hezbollah has been taking some criticism for hiding their forces among, around, and behind civilians. So to show they're trying to turn over a new leaf they've evidently changed their tactics. They're now hiding behind unarmed U.N. peacekeepers.

Oh wait. They haven't stopped hiding among civilians. They're just branching out. They remind me of the joke about the two hikers out in the woods when they're confronted by a large, angry grizzly bear. One hiker immediately takes a pair of tennis shoes from his pack and starts putting them on instead of his hiking boots. His partner says "You won't be able to outrun that bear, even with those shoes." The hiker just shakes his head. "I don't have to outrun the bear, just you."

Unfortunately, the biggest joke is that anyone actually thinks Hezbollah are the good guys in this fight.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Little Yard of Horrors

I survived the weekend. My solo went well enough, though invariably my voice works better in rehearsal than in the performance. And I was nervous. Mind you, I spent seven years as a music major, and yet I was less nervous giving a Sunday School lesson to a bunch of adults.

That went well, too, though the material-to-time ratio was out of balance in favor of material. The last half was rushed. I hate to say this, lest someone get ideas, but I need more practice teaching. Just because the manual says to cover all of the material doesn't mean that's what you need to do.

If I were to do it again I'd focus on one central theme and the verses that build on it. Instead I had two; building the temple and Solomon's (Kiiiiing Solomonnnnnn!) downfall. One or the other would have been just about right. Oh well, live and learn.

Over the weekend we stopped in for some birdseed at a wild bird specialty store near our house. Great shop, if you like birds, squirrels--or at least looking like you do. They had a collection of plush birds modeled after specific species, complete with bird call when you pressed their chest. I wonder if they sell well. It's one of those concepts where if you buy one you have to buy them all, unless you're really, really into, say...the California Condor. So we bought none.

But we did buy a 40 lb. bag of bird seed and a 50 lb. bag of sunflower seeds for the squirrels (we have three who visit regularly, and one who used to live in our tree before it blew down). We also picked up a book on landscaping to attract wildlife. Go figure. My brother would probably love a book on landscaping to repel wildlife.

I'm not sure we'll go so far as to become certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife sanctuary, but we're seriously considering going in for more native plants and landscaping with wildlife in mind. While I can't get into zero-scaping (or whatever they call the "I hate lawn care" style), I guess I'm liberal enough to think that getting plants that are used to surviving in this dry climate could be a good thing. Especially considering the trouble I seem to have with growing grass.

We did some research for our date night. We found a website with a fairly comprehensive list of native plants, searchable by region and other criteria. I was a little concerned, however, whenever I'd see a plant listed as aggressively invasive.

"Honey, have you seen the kids lately?"

"No, but how long have we had carniflora tyrannus growing in the kitchen? I thought we planted it by the back fence!"

Too many of them looked like weeds, which I'm sure the homeowners association would just LOVE. But there were a few options that were quite pretty. I'm sure we have plenty of research still ahead of us, but I'm kinda excited about it. Especially since I'll have some more construction projects come from this--which of course means new tools! Uhh uhh uhh!

Our plans are pretty major. We're probably talking in years rather than weeks or months. But that's a good thing. It's something we'll do as a team, if not exactly together, and I believe it's healthy for a marriage to have some common short-term goals/projects (raising kids is too long-term to believe you're making much progress). So we'll see how it goes. Who knows, maybe the NWF certification isn't too far out there after all.

But if I wake up one morning to find a bunch of new age hippie wannabees camped out in our yard I reserve the right to bash them over the head with our official NWF habitat sign. They're scaring the birds.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Seven Days Makes One Weak

Well, maybe not, but I'm sure ready for a weekend, even if it will be a bit of a tense one. One of the drawbacks of being in the Sunday School presidency in my church is that part of your job is filling in for teachers. So this weekend I'm teaching the Gospel Doctrine class, usually attended by around 60-plus adults each week.

I'll also be singing a solo in our main worship meeting. I'm not sure how these things always happen, but invariably if I have one such commitment I usually have two or three.

Anyone have some great insights into 1 Kings 3-11? It's on the rise and fall of King Solomon. Short version: Off to a great start, but then he started to believe his own press. And just what does anyone need with that many wives? This guy was obviously a collector.

Thanks to my parents, I'll never be able to hear Solomon mentioned without hearing the song they sometimes played on the stereo when I was a kid: "Kiiiiiiiing Solomonnnn didn't pray for riches...Kiiiiiiing Solomonnnn didn't pray for fame, oh no!...Kiiiiiiing Solomonnnnnn only prayed for wisdom....but it brought him fame and fortune just the same!"

Ah, the things we keep from childhood.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

That Felt Good

I had a phone interview today, and it went well. The interviewer even said I sounded like a good fit for the position. I asked a lot of questions that hopefully sounded like I knew what I was talking about. I could say "I've done that," "I'm doing that," or "I'm used to that" to everything she asked.

What really felt good is that when I some asked questions I could sense a little concern in the answers, as if she was afraid she would give an answer I wouldn't like. How cool is that?! I even got a salary range out of her (more of a guess, though, as she was not the hiring manager), and I don't see any problems there, either.

The company sounds like it's a cross between the last place I worked and where I work now, and from what she told me, it sounds like it combines the best of both worlds. I find myself really, really hoping they'll hire me. I would love to be excited to go to work in the morning. I would love to work for a company where it matters if we get it right the first time because we don't have tons of cash to throw around trying to fix stupid decisions.

Oh, I'm sure this place has their problems, too, but so far it sounds like they have at least a different set, and perhaps even some of the right problems.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Heat Is On

Well, that's it. The summer is pretty much over as far as we're concerned. Terhi's parents have gone home, and there is nothing more to look forward to--other than the end of summer itself. This unrelenting, oppressive heat may appeal to some people, but not me. It just wears me out.

Of course there are landscaping projects starting to materialize. Little did we know that losing our shade tree would inspire us to redo the entire yard. Actually, I think we've been building up to it anyway, and this was just the catalyst. But we're now in full planning mode, which means we may soon be into full renovation mode. Perhaps I shouldn't be looking for a new job until after I've used up a bunch of my vacation from this one in landscaping projects.

Anyway, we'll keep you posted, I'm sure. But personally, I'm going to stall for awhile at least until the weather starts cooling down a little.

Monday, July 17, 2006

With Liberty and Justice for Vulcans!

This story bothers me, but not for the reasons I originally thought.

HONOLULU - Junior Stowers raised his hands and exclaimed, "Thank you, Jesus!" in court last month when he was acquitted by a jury of abusing his son. But his joy was short-lived when Circuit Judge Patrick Border held him in contempt of court for the "outburst" and threw him in jail. Stowers, 47, sat in the courtroom and a cellblock for about six hours until the judge granted him a hearing on the contempt charge and released him.

Sounds like someone is taking separation of church and state too far, especially considering that most states still swear in witnesses with " help me god." But, it turns out, there was an even stranger reason behind it.

Court minutes said Border later dropped the charge because he realized Stowers' trial lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Carmel Kwock, did not have time to tell Stowers the judge had ordered both sides not to show emotion when the verdict was announced.

Say what?! The court can order people not to show emotion over verdicts?! They can hold a person's life in their hands, but expect that person not to show any emotions? I'm having a little trouble understanding that one.

Friday, July 14, 2006

There's A Bright Golden Haze In The Danger Room...

I've never seen any of the X-Men movies. Too bad this one will never be made. The latest movie trailer remix: X-Men III - The Last Standing Ovation! (video)

Something Is Different...

I received a call today from another company I applied to. That brings my callback rate on my applications to 40%, which probably represents a 100% increase over my response rate when I was unemployed. This is encouraging. I'm not holding my breath by any means, but I'm at least enjoying a bit of a smile.

The first place did indeed want to get as much as they could for as little as they could. I'm not sure how they get people of any caliber to fill their positions. It would have been a fun job, but not at that price.

Another weekend is here. Terhi's folks leave on Sunday, so tomorrow will be filled with last-hurrahs. Since we'll probably be doing something with them, Terhi and I had our date night last night. We camped out at Barnes & Noble and perused their landscaping books for ideas. The loss of our tree has prompted us to get dramatic. I suspect once we get a plan we'll be looking at several years worth of work. It could be a lot of fun. Or a lot of grief.

Probably both.

Entering The Digital Age

I've been using Wikipedia for awhile now, and love it. And for a long time I've been wishing I could find a file card type system for organizing and cross-referencing notes on things. Today I decided to do a little poking around, and discovered PmWiki. In hardly any time at all I've been able to set up a standalone wiki (an editable website generator that allows quick cross-referencing) on my computer. If I can figure out how to add in pictures I'll be in heaven.

What this may mean is that some day I'll be able to create a web server on my website, set up a wiki, and create an interactive family portal. It could be a real blast! Or it could be a big dud. On the other hand, I KNOW it could make things much easier for my younger brother and I to collaborate on the odd projects we occasionally create. I just have to figure out how to work it all out.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Card And The Critick-Priest

I just took another trip to Hatrack River, Orson Scott Card's online forum. While there I visited The Library and found his essay "Fantasy and the Believing Reader." It's very long, but very good.

In it he sets up the notion that there are three ways (really two ways) to read or believe a story: Mythickly, Epickly, or Critickly (misspellings intentional to separate them from the original words and their inherent shadings). Mytick is the belief that a story is true of all human beings. Epick is the belief that a story is true of a particular group. Critick is the belief that a story must be viewed as external and unattached to the reader, and not believed.

Critickal reading is what he is decrying. Criticks, he explains, choose not to believe the stories they read, but instead create their own stories about those stories. In essence, Criticks write their own stories, to be read mythickly, about stories by others that are not to be believed at all. While mythick or epick readers choose to participate in the story, critick readers keep themselves outside it in order to instead write their own story about what they read.

It's a powerful essay, but one passage particularly leapt out at me:

You see why the critic-priests must shun participatory reading, must deny it, must refuse it. Participatory reading puts your very self at risk. It will and must change who you are. This may be much of the reason why most people never read stories at all after they leave adolescence. Consciously or not, they do not wish to change, and so they avoid an experience that will unavoidably change them. The critic-priest, with his detached reading, does precisely the same thing. He avoids the experience of reading a story, in exchange for the experience of affirming the story that he is a superior, elevated, fit and above all non-bourgeois reader. It is a story that is not dissimilar to the story of the divine right of kings or the infallibility of popes: It bestows power and privilege, provided that enough other people believe it.

I've long suspected that I'm a mythick or epick reader. It is a poor story that cannot engage me. My wife teases me about getting caught up in commercials on TV, and she's right. If the commercial is telling a story, I have to know that story. I may quickly decide afterward (or even during) that the story is not true, but seldom will I fail to finish the story.

Likewise I will often ignore or avoid certain stories. Sometimes it is because I know the story will ask more of me than I am willing to give. It could be that I see the enthusiasm of the person recommending it to me and do not wish to disappoint them by not sharing their enthusiasm. Or it could be that I simply do not wish to become like that person by allowing the same story that has shaped them shape me.

Card also discusses the idea that writers will write specifically to please the Critickal crowd, hoping to gain their acceptance by providing them something designed to be read critickly. That concept went "click" in my head the moment I read it.

I didn't mind critickal reading in high school and college. It was fun sometimes. It was like putting together a puzzle. But it became a real chore if I liked the piece. I remember reading "Huckleberry Finn," knowing full well there would be a major essay test on it. I loved the book, and I was still only 2/3 the way through by the time the test was given.

It wasn't that I'd been lazy. I read the book every chance I got. I devoured it. The experience of the book was more important to me than the grade I would get. (I still managed a B+ via some quick analysis and extrapolation of the essay we were assigned to read and argue for or against.)

Similarly, a particular poem in college caught my fancy. I got a poor grade on my paper evaluating it because I didn't catch all the poetic techniques employed. I went the rounds with my professor (Doggone it! He cared about me!) until he finally convinced me that the poet had intentionally used those techniques, and that they added to the poem.

But I maintained (to myself) then, and I still do now, "so what?!" Perhaps the means by which the poet delivered her message made the message more polished, but it is still the message that counts. The poem made me feel something, experience something. Why can't that be enough?

That is why I, like Card, will always consider myself "only" a storyteller. My goal in writing will never be to please the criticks, but to help the reader feel and experience and remember and think.

That's not to say that I don't sometimes consciously try to help my reader/listener feel and experience and think a certain way. I will occasionally make up bedtime stories specifically to teach my daughter some point or another. Because consciously or unconsciously I've known for awhile that a truth wrapped in an experience will sink deeper and stay longer than a truth by itself.

Unless, of course, the recipient receives the story critickly. If my daughter ever fires back with "Nice story, Dad, but I can't help but notice that your having the flower change her ways is really just a pale attempt to reinforce Judeo-Christian values by invoking a Dickensian model of being able to view the outcome of choices in time to avoid them, which would seem to contradict the Faustian paradigm" she'll never get another bedtime story again. Ever.

Because it's as obvious as the nose on my face that I was really referencing Milton while invoking Wordsworthian imagery. So nyeah!

An End To Shadows

I've completed reading two Orson Scott Card novels; "Ender's Shadow," and "Shadow of the Hegemon." A friend of mine has mentioned them as evidence that Card has become bitter. I don't see it, frankly. Yes, the stories are somewhat dark, but Card has always been a little dark. None of his books have painted an overly rosy image of mankind. If you're looking for an author who espouses the idea that mankind gets it right more often than it gets it wrong, don't look to Card.

More interesting to me was the Author's Note at the end of "Shadow of the Hegemon." I don't know if it was part of the book, as I listened to this one. In any case, he explains that a lot of the Shadow series, and this book in particular, had its roots in playing Risk with his brothers as a child, and going from using the game board provided to creating their own from real maps of the world. It makes me wonder if someday I'll be pulling book ideas from the RPGs I used to play with my sister and brother.

There are several more books in the series, and I plan to get to them. But I need a rest. I've plowed through both books simultaneously in about two weeks. I've got Beans for brains, and they're Petra-fied. Much more and I'll develop Achilles' tendencies. Oh, I crack myself up!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Willows Keep Fallin' On My Head

In hindsight, that was fast. It's not yet a week since the tree blew over, but it's now a pile of logs. The play gym is a pile of boards, and there's a a big dirty spot where the stump used to be. Our back yard is now bathed (or is it baked?) in sun from morning until late afternoon. About all that remains is to see how much the insurance will cover, and decide what will go in its place.

It's been an entertaining week for the kids, for sure. Lots of nifty trucks, saws, and machinery coming and going. The coolest--at least that I saw--was the stump grinder. It's like a circular saw on steroids. The gentleman brought it around and in a couple hours had chewed up the stump and all the major roots. We now have a large pile of saw-chips, suitable for mulching. Great fun!

From the sounds of things, I'd better be studying up on pergolas (the brother of Legolas?). I suspect I'll be building one before long.

In Tolerance We Trust

Callimachus (substitute blogger) has some interesting thoughts on religious tolerance over at Michael Totten's Middle East Journal.

It is, if nothing else, a reminder that the concept of "separation of Church and State" was once intended to protect the former from the latter, not the other way around.

Friday, July 07, 2006

None Dare Call It Tree-son

The tree is no laying in smaller chunks on the lawn. The mangled play gym teeters near the patio. Other than the poor gym (that's what I get for declaring "This is the last time I'm building one of these" when I completed it this Spring), a few fence boards were broken. There appears to be no damage to our house or the neighbors. The claims adjustor will be out tomorrow, and then we'll get the final verdict. On the whole, though, we came out pretty well, considering.

still, it's been a loaded week, and I'm exhausted. I've got to psyche myself up quick, though, as I have a phone interview after work today. I suspect it'll come to nothing. The salary range they advertise can't possibly draw the level of talent they're asking for. Still, they called me, so who knows? Perhaps this will be a case where they're so impressed that they'll pay me more just to get me.

I'm not smoking anything. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Big Wind Blows...

We had a big thunderstorm front rip through the area last night, and our 40 ft. shade tree is now laying against our and our neighbors' houses. We won't know for sure until we remove the tree, but it appears the damage was minimal. Except for the kids' play gym, which bore the brunt of the trunk, and is now little more than expensive kindling.

We are determined to provide lots of excitement for my in-laws while they're here.

I must say it's a surreal experience watching as a big chunk of lawn around the base of the tree starts to bulge, then rip open, then gape wider and wider with each gust. You're just waiting breathlessly for the last big gust that will finish it off, praying it won't come, and knowing there is nothing you can do about it. You can see it coming, and all you can do is wait to see what the result is.

We were quite fortunate. Two more feet to one side would have put several branches through our bedroom window. A few more feet the other way may have destroyed our fence and done significant damage to our neighbor's house. Only one direction would have been any more fortuitous, and that would have been at a 90-degree angle to the wind, aka Not Happening!

It looks like all that money we've been paying into homeowners insurance may finally bring a return. The tree removal service is providing entertainment for my kids as I write this.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I Have A New (Old) Hero

Orson Scott Card has written the best non-religious defense of traditional marriage I've ever read. It's long, but it is very, very good. A few highlights:

Since the politically correct are loudly unwilling to fight or die for their version of America, and they are actively trying to destroy the version of America that traditional Americans are willing to fight or die to defend, just how long will "America" last, once they've driven out the traditional culture?

Oh, it will still be called America.

But out of the old American mantras of "democracy" and "freedom" and "home" and "family," of "motherhood" and "apple pie," only the pie will be left.

And even if few people care enough to defend the old family values against the screaming hate speech of the Left -- which is what they're counting on, of course -- the end will be the same. Because with marriage finally killed, America will no longer be able to raise up children with any trust in or loyalty to or willingness to sacrifice for that society.

So either civilized people will succeed in establishing a government that protects the family; or civilized people will withdraw their allegiance from the government that won't protect it; or the politically correct barbarians will have complete victory over the family -- and, lacking the strong family structure on which civilization depends, our civilization will collapse or fade away.

Read the whole thing. Please.