29 December 2008

I Goes to Outer Space in My Day-Dreams

I have mentioned in the past year a favorite film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the towering achievement of Arthur C. Clarke brought to the screen by Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, etc.). (The fact that Friend & Pastor Josh Patty, a noted blogger-film-critic, ignorantly, maliciously and logomachistically bad-mouths 2001 every chance he gets is unimportant for the subject of this post, but I’m always annoyed by that and figured I'd mention it.)

There’s a lasting image I have from seeing 2001 the first time. One of the astronauts is in the carousel (where centripetal force substitutes for gravity) and has a computer screen sort of tablet in front of him. He’s reading the newspaper. He touches a story on the screen, and it blows up to readable size. I remember clearly how ethereal that seemed to me, and how seeing such a thing in the movie’s projected time frame (2001) was awfully unlikely.

Now, 40 years later: The subscription to the Times-West Virginian came up for renewal at the office. Partner JC and I are still getting used to one another’s quirks. My references to the paper guy most mornings when the paper isn’t there by 7 start out with “Dammit to Hell” and go from there, and she finds that a touch off-putting. So she suggested that we get the electronic version. (After all, the idiot doesn't exist who can get that one wet.) You guessed it, it's 2001 in action. In only 40 years. I’m not sure what I would have predicted that reality would require when I saw the concept in the 60's. We do have a great deal of infrastructure to do this: The entire Internet, the system of generating and delivering electricity, satellites, cables everywhere, and so forth. But the concept works – touch the screen, you see the story.

I’m a little sad that young people don’t think that this is a big deal.

Pippa passes.


25 December 2008

Old warriors

Perhaps it sounds odd to those who live in a more urban world, but guns are always a nice Christmas gift in West Virginia, a meaningful way to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child and to recognize peace on earth and good will to all. (Aside: Love may be fleeting, but a good firearm is forever.)

In that spirit, son Tim saw a nice M1 Garand rifle at a gun show a couple of weeks ago, and purchased it as a Christmas gift for his Pap (LaJ's father). Pap is a Marine veteran of WWII. The family gathered at No. 3 today (family includes some with no genetic or marital connection, but they are family nonetheless) for dinner, gifts and peace. One senior there was Jim Moon, an elder brother so close to me that it's hard to describe the relationship. Jim is an Army Korean veteran. Pap unwrapped the rifle, and the years vanished. He held it and operated it as you and I would a keyboard, passed it over to Jim, who did likewise. They talked quietly about being able to strip it and reassemble it blindfolded, and just a hint of where they had carried its twin, Pap through surf in the Pacific and Jim at a seawall in a place called Inchon. Who says there's no time machine? I saw one work today.

National policy notwithstanding, those of us with no military background see nothing but glimpses of that part of these guys' lives.

Pippa passes.


17 December 2008

Blather, I'm beat

A Jigger of Justice

I have re-emerged. I’ve been in Wheeling for two weeks trying a criminal case in U.S. District Court. The case was with Judge Stamp, who is extremely sharp, extremely quick and an old-time gentleman who runs a very dignified courtroom. My opponent was John Parr, a very experienced assistant US Attorney. He's the most effective kind of lawyer to have against you -- very, very skilled, and totally fair.

The trip was worrisome generally because LaG has been more ill lately, and I hate to be out of town. Moreover, I cannot have a cell phone turned on in trial, so there was that constant worry. However, the home folks kept weather eye and all was well.

When I arrived, I found that my portable printer had crapped out. That was my fault - prior preparation prevents poor performance - what was I thinking? I didn’t check the equipment! There was a Best Buy near, so I replaced it, but I hope that I learned something there. At least I thought I did. Later in the week, I relied on the hotel clock rather than my own, which I anally set by the government clock, and was darn near late for Court in the morning. Some quick study, aren’t I?

I do not know how to describe the trial of a case. I have never seen a “lawyer novel” which did it adequately. Gerry Spence does it in Gunning for Justice and The Smoking Gun, but he’s not exactly the average working lawyer, he’s a superstar. Working up to a trial is pretty intense. Spence estimates ten hours of prep for every hour of trial time, which is probably in the right ballpark. The buildup to the trial is, for me, nerve-wracking. If it weren’t, I’d be worried. And then when the trial starts, the nerves go away and it’s a time of intense focus that doesn’t let up even at overnight. In fact, for me, it doesn’t let up for some days afterwards.

And a courtroom is a place of misery and fear, and you’d have to be out of your frigging mind to volunteer for the profession of trial lawyer. But here I am.

I Swear

This morning as I blew back into town, I went straight to the Courthouse for the swearing-in ceremony for the people elected in November, including former partner Amy. The Division I Courtroom was packed. For those non-Fairmonters, the Division I Courtroom is a showplace, more ornate and traditional that the Courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. It will hold 300 people, and was built in the days when Court was a public spectacle and entertainment. The seats in back suck, so I went up before the bar into the corner, and sat in one of the carved chairs, and a couple of lawyer friends joined me, so we could sotto voce narrate the proceedings.

The State Treasurer, John Purdue, gave a short address to begin the festivities. He’s a nice fellow and a competent treasurer who speaks with such a thick accent that I wonder if it’s possible that it’s genuine. He’s been steadily running for governor in 2012 for several years now. His primary opponent likely will be newly-elected Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who was also present. They spoke nicely about one another, and I wonder if that will be the case come May of 2012. Anyway, in Mr. Purdue’s address, he told a story of a church which had a statue of Jesus damaged, and where the pastor challenged the congregation to fix it. They fixed it, all but the hands, which were too damaged. Fine, said the pastor, no problem, for you are the hands of Christ! And so, new public officials, we in government are the hands of Christ! My comment to the lawyer beside me was that this was the sort of cocky bullshit that has rendered West Virginia government (and government generally) so sickeningly ineffective. Good public servants, please refrain from giving God advice. He doesn’t need it. Please don’t think that you are carrying out His will. You (and I) are too DUMB to understand His will and when you do It, that’s only because even a blind squirrel gets a nut now and then. In politics as in any other endeavor, cocky kills. Unfortunately, it usually kills somebody else.

On the other hand, a couple of new officials, notably new sheriff Joe Carpenter, made it clear that they were there to work and didn’t pretend to have all the answers.

It was strange seeing Amy in the black robe. She said it was a surreal experience. Tonight, part of me just wants to sit and contemplate this.

After the festivities, I chatted with old friend Rev. D.D. Meighen, who now operates the county’s community affairs TV station. We had a fun talk about the predilection of politicians to inappropriately hijack religion for their own mean purposes. I love those sorts of conversations, and I wish we had some sort of coffee house kind of thing for nice, thinking people to meet, talk and share.

Biker night

Good friend Pastor Josh Patty is giving a Christmas mostly solo singing concert Saturday night, assisted by Brooks Parker and Leigh Ann Bolyard at Central Christian Church at 7 PM. These people are gifted musicians. (Mind you, they have each worked their asses off to develop those gifts.) It will be worth attending. I was tempted to post something on the church blog to the effect that I’ve posted the announcement in biker bars with the addition that the tequila is free and that Josh thinks that anyone who rides a Harley is a pansy. However, some of the congregation has no ear at all for sarcasm, so I have held myself in check.

Pippa passes.


08 December 2008

Ice, Brains and History

Notice to Drivers
From: Archangel Ezekiel,
Department of Natural Laws

It has come to my attention that, once again, there are an inordinate number of automobile collisions in West Virginia this weekend. The police and the local newspaper ascribe this spike in accidents to “icy roads.” If this winter is like the past 90 or so in which automobiles have been used prominently in this area, I expect that equally “icy roads” will yield fewer collisions as the season progresses. This is particularly good news to Sts. Christopher (Patron of Travelers), Florian (Firemen) and Michael (Paramedics).

There is, however, no reason to await the diminishment of collisions. I have carefully checked the settings on the Natural Laws, and I assure one and all that the relevant principal factor (coefficient of friction between ice and rubber tires) remains the same as it always has been. There are minor differences given what humans do with tire compounds, tire tread design, inflation and so forth, but the physics is the same. The only explanation I have is that you humans have to relearn driving on icy roads every year. This is illogical. Please try to remember from February to November how to drive, and that will make all our lives easier.

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

A couple of weeks ago, my old friend Rev. D. D. Meighen preached at our church. I met him 45 years ago, at The Methodist Temple in Fairmont (now defunct), and he is a fine fellow. His sermon was about Thanksgiving, and he gave a fairly traditional interpretation of the Puritans surviving their very hard first winter. He properly extolled the bravery of the 7 (of 50 survivors) healthy enough to work hard, keep fires burning, food butchered, and so forth, and talked about the joy that they had to have felt for having SOMETHING to give thanks about the next autumn. He didn’t go overboard, either, with the trendy self-flagellation over “our” mistreatment of the Indians. (Aside: I will not apologize. I haven’t mistreated Indians. Nor held slaves. Nor persecuted Jews. Hell, my taxes buy Israel endless F-16's and Indian Nations host gambling tax-free.) However, in mentioning the bravery of the Puritans, we seldom acknowledge that their strategic thinking was pretty lame. The general weather patterns of the North American coastline were known, even in 1620. The Pilgrims left England in AUGUST heading for NEW ENGLAND. Had they gone by 747, they still couldn’t have built shelter and stored food for a New England winter. So, they planned to be ashore with limited supplies and no shelters in place (other than the ship and what they could quickly throw up). Admire bravery. But consider poor judgment, always. Was God going to provide? Of course. He did. He provided these people BRAINS. It's not His fault they failed to use them.

Battlefields Forever

There was a short article recently in the Washington Post about preserving battlefields, this one about preserving the site of Third Winchester from the ravages of development. Mind you, I’m all for preserving stuff from development.
Asphalt ribbons, sewers, the same houses, no trees, and general fugly-ness is turning our natural world into rice pudding. But to preserve something because it was a battlefield? Battles in the Civil War lasted a day or a week at most. Then the armies moved on. Often, there were many deaths. There were brave deeds. And when the armies left and the dead were buried, the earth remained and the woods and fields healed themselves. What is the glory of preserving these places of death?

There are lots of places that I associate with historical and sometimes unpleasant events. When I go to Charleston, I sometimes stay at the Charleston House, which is located at the confluence of the Elk and the Great Kanawha Rivers. This is the campsite of Simon Kenton over one winter in the 1700's. He was one of the famous frontiersmen who settled this part of the country. I’d love to see a little park there, perhaps a recreation of the winter campsite. But no, there’s a hotel sitting on it. OK, there have been significant battles at the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheney, when they form the Ohio. For a time, that was the site of Fort Pitt, which became the basis of modern day Pittsburgh. Great place to preserve forever, huh? Damn, they put Three Rivers Stadium right there, then demolished it to make a parking lot for the new football stadium and baseball stadium. How about the site of the very first land battle of the Civil War, Philippi, West Virginia? There was an original covered bridge there that figured in the battle. On part of the battle site is a Sheetz store, which is a 24-hour gasoline, coffee, snacks & bathroom place. A few years ago, someone delivering gasoline had a problem with a hose, but didn’t notice. The store is slightly upgrade from the bridge. Fluids flow downhill. Somehow, there was an ignition source. No more bridge. At GREAT cost, the State had the bridge rebuilt as near to original as possible. To me, that’s silly. It’s still a small bridge, and another bridge is still 100 yards away to carry other than automobiles. Put a park there, a monument or something and call it a day.

Frequently, I drive past the site of the largest mine disaster in American history. Very little is there. Last Friday, I drove right past the site of Lewis Wetzel’s famous leap to escape the Shawnee war party. (Basically, he jumped off a cliff rather than be captured, and fell through trees which broke his fall, and he landed uninjured enough to keep running.) There’s a road there, and low class commercial stuff (tire shops, etc.) at the bottom of the hill. A few months ago, I was reading an article by a local historian about the site of a famous local frontiersman’s last stand. It’s now an industrial park.

We should preserve nature because it is worth it. Important things have happened almost everywhere, and trashing a site because we can’t discover what happened there is piss poor reasoning.

Pippa passes.


03 December 2008

Wisdom here? As likely as fishing in an unstocked pond.

Friend Josh lost a loved and respected teacher unexpectedly over the weekend. His always-thoughtful blog has a touching reminiscence:

[I'm too stupid to post a link. See "Central Christian Church, Pastor's Blog" on links bottom right.]

I would comment on the blog -- but haven't for a couple of reasons. One, this is a private thing for Josh. If he were alone in a schoolhouse, I'm thinking he would have written this on all the chalkboards. But mainly, who am I to extend sympathy or understanding? I didn't know Bill Placher.

Or did I? I’m not spouting wisdom here, you’re not going to find me claiming that, ever. But of course I know Bill Placher. I know Josh. Part of who Josh is came from Friend Bill’s teaching and personality. Much of his teaching appears to have been done with questions, which is tough to pull off. And I see that in Josh. And I know whoever occupied that place in Bill’s life, even though I’ve no idea of what his/her name is, and perhaps neither does Josh.

If you know me, you know my Dad; and Sax; and Louis Schoolnic; and the guys who taught them. You know Central Christian Church, which spends part of its time ambushing me with new truths, and you know the folks who started that church 115 years ago.

We know a lot of others through Josh, and I want to learn about them, too. And there will be more. Institutions to which you pay monetary tuition are minor things. Of greater import is the College of Hard Knocks. Sometimes I wonder who the dean of CHK is. Maybe it’s some guy living in a shack. Or a younger person on a respirator in an ICU. It could be a single mom who raised four kids and put them through college. Whoever it is, I’m on pretty solid ground when I say that the Dean of CHK says that if you’re smart, you never graduate. You just keep taking harder courses, and then you can teach more people.

There is a continuity to human learning. And maybe to human wisdom. That last, I’m really not sure.

Josh, I respect your sorrow this evening and commend to you the power of meditation and reflection.

Pippa passes.


26 November 2008

The Front Row

Former partner Amy moved out of No. 3 today. I was in Court all morning, and was spared that part of it and I confess, I busied myself this afternoon so that I didn’t have to watch her furniture and books and so forth taken out a piece at a time. Her stuff has gone to the Courthouse into a temporary office, to be moved again into the Family Court quarters on 1 January. Well, I end all posts and nearly every email “Pippa Passes,” and this is a part of that.

Sometime in the past month, she had gotten the latest picture of the Marion County Bar Association members, which was taken not too many months ago. It was sometime after the primary election, so we knew that this moving day was coming. She had ordered two prints so we’d each have one. This is the latest in a series of bar photos that are meaningful to me.

I was “hooded” on 12 May 1978. That’s a ceremony at the law school where the doctoral doodad is put on you by the faculty. It’s fancy and totally impractical, and unless you become a college faculty member, you put it away, never wear it again and (like me) eventually lose it. Well, let’s see, I graduated law school the next day, Sunday the 13th; drove to Charleston on Monday the 14th; and appeared at the West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday the 15th to be admitted, take the oath and sign the register. The next day, 16 May 1978, I opened my solo practice, sharing some rooms on the 7th floor of the rather down-market Security Bank Building with my law school buddy Glenn Schumacher, down the hall from my brother Dennis Curry and Charlie Anderson. The following Monday the 21st, the Marion County Bar Association gathered on the Courthouse steps for a photograph. I’d like to say that this was a tradition, but as far as I know, it had only been done once before, since there’s only one prior bar photo that I’ve ever seen, and a couple of prints of it still hang in the Courthouse and in old law offices.

In those offices, and a couple of places in the Courthouse, there is this undated picture taken sometime in the 1960's. We knew that much because there were a couple of 1959 graduates in the picture, Scott Tharp and Alfred Lemley, as well as guys I knew had died before 1971, when I first started frequenting the Courthouse.

The Courthouse is some sort of stone Beaux-arts building, with a porch on the second floor with real thick, real tall Ionic columns holding up the cornices. (I can make the argument that the capitals are too fancy for pure Ionic, but they are still scroll-shaped.) Stone staircases extend down the front of the buidling from each side of the porch, and are framed by magnificent carved stone bannisters. On second thought, let me try to import a picture here. The staircases I’m taking about are on the left, behind the police cruiser.

The Bar Association in the 60's photo is gathered on the north staircase arranged in order of seniority starting with the front row. It’s strange to see Scott and Alfred way in the back, although it’s not at all surprising to see Judge Meredith in the front. Even in the 60's, he had already been Circuit Judge for 20 years. Scott Tharp is now universally acknowledged as the “dean of the Marion County Bar,” and Alfred Lemley has retired to North Carolina. I worked for Alfred and John Amos in law school. Later, whenever I had a case against Alfred, I always kidded him that he had better watch out because he taught me everything I know, and he kidded back that he wasn’t worrying because he hadn’t taught me everything that HE knows. Every man (no women) in the 60's photo is in a black suit, white shirt, narrow black tie, crew cut and is clean shaven. Russell Furbee is there. I forget when he graduated, but he was a well known trial lawyer. There is Earl Goodwin, and this picture is probably the only time I ever saw him without an unlit cigar in his mouth. A real tall guy is Gary Rymer, and Louis Schoolnic is there. Louis was very special to me. When I first started, he was careful to call me “Counselor,” and later, “Kid,” both of which were supportive and respectful. He taught me a lot, and I saw him try his last jury case. Frank Sansalone is there and his then-partner, Ross Maruka. Those guys were also important in my life, top lawyers who taught and mentored automatically. Frank (“Sax”) helped me out a lot the first couple of years by sending lots of research and writing projects my way.

Well, it’s now May of 1978, and the second known picture of the Bar is being taken. Again, we are arrayed by seniority, youngest in the back. There are Schumacher and I on the back row. I’m the tall kid, age 25, with a big head of LONG BUSHY BLACK hair and a bushy BLACK moustache in a black three piece suit. I’m certainly not athletically built, but much more so than in later years. Right below me is my future partner, Susan McLaughlin, the then-only (and first) woman in the Bar, graduated 1977. (More than half of the new lawyers here have been women starting in the mid 90's.) A couple of rows down is a young Pete Higinbotham (graduated 1973, Tulane) and his brother John (73?, Duquesne). Pete is the one who taught me to use an artist’s pad to lay out a complicated brief or argument so you can see it all at once, and I don’t know how many younger lawyers I’ve passed that on to. The old guys are down front, of course, and also the judges. Of course, with Judge J. Harper Meredith, that’s the same thing. He graduated around 1920, and became Circuit Judge in 1945 when Judge Frank Haymond went to the Supreme Court. Also in front is Judge Fred Fox, then not yet 40. (I think he turns 70 this year, and is still on the bench. Judge Fox is the senior circuit judge in West Virginia now.) George Amos is down there, a small and compact man with white hair and a strong stance. He was an OSS agent in China in World War II, and it was very rare that he mentioned anything at all about that. (George is Partner JC’s father.) Fred Steele is there. Fred was a property lawyer genius who died of old age and overwork at a very young calendar age. A comparatively young (55?) and vigorous John Amos is there. I worked for John, and he was a fanatic outdoorsman. He was a naval aviator in WWII, and flew amphibious aircraft off of ships that weren’t aircraft carriers. He described landing a pontoon craft in the open ocean, hoping that it didn’t crash, and then waiting to get picked up by the ship. (John is in seriously declining health now.) His partner, Hayes Webb is there. Hayes gave me a job at their firm after my first year of law school because I already knew how to do complete land title searches in the Courthouse record room, and that opened a lot of doors for me. Russell Furbee, who was in the 60's picture, was the senior partner at that firm, and I used to “staff” cases with him over coffee real early in the mornings during law school when I worked there. He’s not in the 1978 picture, though, because he died the week before it was taken. His was the first bar memorial service that I ever attended. Carter D. Jones is on the front row in the 1978. He was a leading lawyer in the 1930's, and people remember that he drove a Cord, which was an ultimate luxury car, the first front-wheel-drive in America. That was equivalent then to driving, say, a Maserati today. Carter is in a purple striped shirt and bright tie, which was rather daring for 1978, but I’m certain that no one would have said a word to him. Alfred Putnam (“Putt-putt”) is there. He was in the Security Bank, and I always marveled that his cigarette ash didn’t set the bushel of paper on top of his desk on fire. Harry Cronin is near the front. (WVU, 1949). He practiced as “Cronin & Cronin,” having come to work with his father, who died after Harry had been a lawyer about 6 months. Harry used the firm name until he died. Harry was a meticulous dresser, and always wore light and bright colors. He was a trim and distinguished guy, and could pull it off. Harry was perpetually happy, and when he died, his bar memorial service was nearly an Irish wake. George May is near the front. George was a big, tall one-armed man with a booming voice who practiced a lot before the FTC and ICC. Woodrow Potesta (WVU, 1948, and he taught me at Fairmont State) is there. He had a huge tax practice. He went from having LITERALLY 10 cents after he paid for his books and tuition for the first semester of law school to making millions and endowing a faculty chair at the law school. Woody also taught me a lot. I remember him giving me his opinion about lawyers who bought accounts receivable and then chased down the money. I remember that his description of those lawyers was quite obscene. I look at the 1978 picture today, and I see about 60 lawyers, and I have stories about just about every one of them.

I remember a bit of the banter as we gathered for the 1978 – guys down front offering to fetch glasses of milk for those of us on the back row, that sort of thing. It was all great fun, and it was dizzying actually to be a Marion County lawyer, something that I had wanted to be since high school.

The next bar picture was taken in March of 1985. Schumacher and I have moved down a couple of rows, since there were a few newer lawyers who had come to the bar after 1978. Judge Meredith died a few months before that photo, and Judge Rodney Merrifield had taken his Division. Brother David Born had come to the bar, and was not yet on the bench. This photo was on the south staircase on a sunny day. I’m not smiling, since it was a very difficult time for me. In fact, right after the photo was taken, Dave and I went across the street for coffee and to give me a chance to read him in on some ongoing problems that were about to blow.

In 1992, it was back to the north staircase, on a cloudy day. I was with my then-partner, and we were about halfway down the steps. By then, I’d gone to a LOT of bar memorials, and every time I would look at the older bar photos, I’d have some mixed nostalgia and sadness.

Flash forward to November 1997. I don’t recall why we did a picture in the fall/winter. Presumably due to the weather, this was taken in the Division I Courtroom. This is nicer than the Courtroom in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a balcony overlooking a huge space with widely separated counsel tables, an imposing bench, and an impossibly large jury box. I’m off on the right side of the picture, 1/3 of the way back in the crowd, in a dark suit, with long, slicked back hair, and I seem to be channeling the movie Wall Street look. Right beside me is Judge Born, and we are bantering as usual. Something very important to me is that on the back row is Leah J. Heimbach. I’ve know Leah since she was 18 (and I 25). She was a paramedic, then nurse, then went into steadily more responsible healthcare administration jobs. I would like to think that exposure to me had a little bit to do with her going to law school. When she graduated, she came to practice with us for a couple of years, and was a good, solid trial lawyer. The siren call of healthcare lured her back as a university medical center’s general counsel, and now she and her best friend (an RN/Master’s labor specialist) run a very successful and growing healthcare/legal/management consulting firm. It absolutely meant the world to me that Leah was a part of “my” Bar. The attorney general must have been visiting Fairmont, and he’s in the picture, too.

I can’t find my print of the next photo, which was taken around 2002. This was another rough patch, and I just don’t know what I did with it. I do recall that I was in the third row, beside Pete Higinbotham again, and once again the front row of the photo from 5 years before had been altered by death and the back rows augmented by new people coming to the bar.

And then came May 2008, and the photo Amy left behind today. It was a perfect sunny day. As usual, we were arranged by seniority, on the northern staircase, just like in the photo from 45 years before. The “kids” were in the back, and the old guys up front. The guys in front offer the lawyers in back glasses of milk, and the ones in back warned those in front that the front row is really dangerous, because sometimes the guys of front don’t live until the next picture. What a difference in how I look from the 1978 picture. Oh, I’m still standing right beside Pete Higinbotham, and we still do the khakis and dark jacket thing. Now, though, the black bushy hair has become a grey short crew cut and the moustache, while bushy, is a pretty dull grey. Partner Amy is there in the middle (but next time, she’ll be a judge and in front), and former partner Susan with her partner Gina Carpenter, and yet other dozens of lawyers and again I have stories about almost all of them.

I don’t know how to feel about this newest photo. It doesn’t feel right. I’m on the front row.

Pippa passes.


15 November 2008

Letters to Obama, one of which won't be read by him

[The first section is an excerpt from a copyrighted essay by Alice Walker.]

Nov. 5, 2008

Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

[She continues in this vein, giving wise and gentle advice, for several more paragraphs.]

. . . Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker
© 2008, Alice Walker

15 November 2008

Dear Brother Obama -

It’s pretty cheeky of me to be writing the president-elect, and darned unrealistic if I were to believe that you were actually going to read it. The best I can hope for, realistically, is that this becomes a datum in a report, something of the sort that of the 20,000 blogs examined, 15,432 were favorable, 4,112 were unfavorable, and 457 (including this) were confused blather.

But, silly me, I’m always thinking that sometime, somewhere, someone will pause and listen for the voice of that pesky Professor Reality before they tromp the cowpies of the body politic’s pasture.

Is the appellation “brother” a bother? I know OF Alice Walker, but I confess, I’ve never read a darn thing she’s written. I’ve heard that she boldly goes into racial issues, but I sure hope the “brother” thing isn’t racial. I may be wrong, and if I am, that’s really her business, and yours. Maybe it’s a Christian thing, that would certainly be nice. Between us, there could be a fellow lawyer thing going on but, let’s face it, you’re Harvard and I’m WVU. Harvard Law and Yale Law are the intellectual bigots of the law. WVU is among the aw-shucks, keep-your-powder-dry bigots of the law, so beyond the ability to stand up in the same Courts wearing clothing which is superficially similar, our experiences aren’t real brotherly. Somewhere in the recesses of my heart, there is the hope that you could find the concept of “brother” in a fellow human, not because s/he is a voter or a cause, but just because we’re all in this together. That’s the one I hope for, and yet the human experience (approximately since the evolution of our species) argues against that.

Hey, kudos, pal, you presided over one of the truly great campaigns, better than Clinton’s first, better than the Reagan express. Other than knowing of a very few top aides, I really don’t know who ran it, which is one reason it was great. Both campaigns of Bush II were effective, but the overwhelming presence of the Karl Rove troll diminished the Bush II appearance.

All that being said, it’s the top of the first inning. As president, you have done nothing. You don’t get a honeymoon. You don’t get 100 days. Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia has already been on your ass about deployment of the U.S. advanced missile defense system in Europe, and there’s nothing you can do about that yet.

And Alice Walker is right, the economy is not your fault, at least beyond the fact that you have participated with the other 534 people in Congress at the biggest brothel on Earth wallowing in the dough when times were good. We can hardly single you out for that. Well, the 1929 economy wasn’t Hoover’s fault, but he still gets slammed for it, and nobody seems to think that’s unfair. Oddly, the opposite is true too. Boom times weren’t Harding’s or Coolidges’s doing (Harding was drinking and playing poker, Coolidge was only working four hours a day), but they both got a pretty easy ride for all of the incompetence going on because for whatever reason, things looked good. So, friend, if looking for fairness, you have the wrong jog. A really harsh humor source, The Onion, had an article last week entitled something like “Another Black Guy Gets a Shitty Job.” What is funny is that it’s true. (By the way, why is it that mixed race folks always are considered "black"? I don't understand that one, it seems terribly ante-bellum to me. And sad that it's still in play.)

I voted for you. I didn’t then and do not now think you are Moses, and don’t be giving me a line of shit about the Promised Land. Go to work. Talk straight. Take your lumps, give out some lumps. Don’t blow sunshine, don’t promote a cult of personality, just work in the sunlight. When I believe you are wrong, I’ll express my opinions in a reasoned fashion. I will not yell, wave signs, or do other silly shit. I will be willing to listen, reason and, when appropriate, change my mind. But I - and others - WILL be a part of the equation.

Read Ms. Walker’s essay every night, or something like it. You’ll need the inspiration to do the dirty job you’ve taken on. And every morning, put it aside, and walk with Prof. Reality into a hard world.

Pippa passes.


10 November 2008


One of my secret desires is to have a HUGE library of my very own. I read about the personal lives of writers - Louis L’Amour gets short shrift as a mere writer of “westerns,” but his books were well researched and he was both an outdoorsman and a scholar, and he had a personal library of 18,000 volumes. I’ve just started Books, by Larry McMurtry, who reports that his library holds something like 40,000 volumes. I wonder - how many of those works have those guys read? And does it matter? And if not, is there something of the private art collection going on here, where things of value are locked away from view and use by others?

I also wonder where libraries are going in the computer age. I now use an Amazon Kindle, and I assume that I’ll continue to use an ebook of some sort when the Amazon/Sony/Microsoft/Whoever VHS vs. Beta war is over and the victor identified. Right now, there are about 100 books on my Kindle, several I’m reading, some reference, some occasionals (like Conan Doyle, The Federalist, Common Sense, The Republic, TR’s official papers) and many in the reading queue. How big will the future library need to be? I don’t think, though, that I will ever completely put aside the tactile feel of a paper and ink book. Certain books (bios, some histories, for instance), I still obtain in hardcover.

How will the modern public library keep up? Well, I’m thinking in Marion County, the answer is “Not well.” As a kid, I saw the public libraries as magical places. When we lived in Bridgeport, the library was in a big grey house on Main Street. I remember going upstairs to the children/adolescent section when I was in grade school and entering another world, my world, and it was a place where I was welcomed and nourished. (Sound hokey? I can live with that. That’s how I saw it then. That’s how I remember it now.) When I was in high school in Parkersburg, I would go downtown to the Carnegie Library, across from one of the fire stations. To the right of the entry was a large reading room with all of the recent newspapers and periodicals. That’s the first place I read the New York Times and Washington Post, and began to develop my (still limited) sense that there is a world beyond my mountains. Going into the stacks was a unique experience. The library didn’t have a huge footprint, but it had lots of levels. They were connected by old wrought iron spiral staircases, and the floors on each level in the stacks were glass brick. The stacks just went on and on until the imperfections in the glass made them vanish. The whole experience had a “taste” to it that I can recreate in my mind to this day.

Perhaps it is the library which is the greatest achievement of humanity. When I read of the Library of Alexandria, I feel sadness at its loss. When I read or see the account of the sack of that library (particularly by Carl Sagan in Cosmos), I just want to find St. Cyril and kick his ass. THAT was a crime against humanity.

I’ve not been a constant at the public library in Fairmont, because I buy so many books. Oh, I represent the Town of Fairview, and for a time after a fire, the library collection was in town hall, and I was pretty impressed by the breadth of it. When I culled my shelves two years ago, I sent 1,000 or so volumes (all recent, perfect to near perfect condition, suitable for the stacks if they so chose) over to the Fairmont branch. Now, Partner JC is very much a public library person. She was one of the Baltimore library system’s stars.

Two weeks ago, JC stopped at the library in Fairmont to get a library card. Sounds pretty simple. She’s a good risk, I think, a responsible attorney, dedicated reader and all that. Answer? Nope, she doesn’t yet have a West Virginia driver’s license. I called the librarian today, who informed me that West Virginia law requires that a new resident get a new license within 20 days (possible, I’d never heard that one) and that information they need that to prosecute people who don’t return stuff. Well, there is a new wrinkle in marketing, we don’t trust you, we don't care who or what you are, we just want a way to prosecute your ass. I had considered having a nice, information-gathering conversation with the librarian, learning more about the facility, and since JC and LaJ both swear by it, doing more for it. Knee jerk doctrine without thought doesn’t go well with conversation, though, so I just didn’t pursue it. Such an approach is such stunningly poor judgment, it just makes for a laugh out loud moment.

I had also thought about asking about another peculiar event at the library, but just didn’t want to hear the administrivia answer for that. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to leave the library because I was reading. No kidding. I had taken my mother (85) and our neighbor (94) to listen to an author who they wanted to hear (and who sounded like a great bloody boor to me, but there’s no accounting for taste.) I got them set up in the room where the presentation was being made, and went back to the reading room. The library was closed but for the lecture, but I figured since I was their transportation, I was sober and quiet, and I was reading, they would probably tolerate my presence in the reading room. Hell, I wasn’t even using electricity, the lights were off and I was reading by sunlight. The librarian on duty disagreed. She asked me to leave. And I said, “For reading?” “Yes.” “In a library.” “Yes.” Some people would get pissed about something like that, but the absurdity was so savory, I thought I was in a Monty Python routine. I was looking around for the dead parrot stapled to the perch.

I have to cull the shelves again. I won’t be sending away any junk, because I don’t have any junk. I’m collecting boxes for, I bet, 500 volumes. I’m thinking I’ll ask TimSon to haul them in his truck to the Bridgeport Library, unless of course they throw me out between now and then.

I’m remembering an old Pogo cartoon, the caption of which was “We have met the enemy and he is Us.”

Pippa passes.


05 November 2008

Pardon Me, Is That a Concrete Block You Just Dropped Into My Teacup?

Close to Home

Partner Amy was elected Marion County Family Court Judge last night.  In so many ways, this has been a very emotional campaign.   My brother Dave Born was defeated by dearest Amy in the primary. 

The Regular Season Starts Now

I really enjoy reading Michael Moore, and listening to Michael Moore.  He is smart, he has a sharp mind, and he usually uses reason rather than buzz word blather.  This week he’s gloating, and it’s unbecoming and steps outside of reason.  His website (michaelmoore.com) is somewhat more controversial than he is, and he sends periodic emails to a large mailing list (me included.)  His Monday email (correctly) predicting the presidential election result (not that that was some amazing prognostication) positively gushed.  He quoted conservatives who called President-elect Obama “the most liberal senator” (he’s not, but he’s in the top 10 or 20%) and lauded the fact that after 28 grueling years, the Reagan era has come to an end.  He ends with the conclusion that we have arrived at “the Promised Land.”  Come on, Mike, you’ve been busting your ass since “Roger & Me” to present an alternative viewpoint to corporate dominated media and money-talks mentality.  (I’ll deal with Obama’s truckload fundraising in another post soon.)  But “the Promised Land”?  All we need to do is trust Obama & Company, and lie down in green pastures amidst plenty, yadda, yadda?  What total bullshit.The candidates have come through the gantlet of a vicious campaign, they have earned their laurels?  So did Warren G. Harding.  If they were a football team, they would have finished training camp and the exhibition season, and now the season is about to start.  NOTHING that ANY candidate for ANY office has done so far has benefited ANY citizen in ANY way.  It is DAY ONE.  Take a vacation, guys.  Monday the 17th, the WORK starts, what actuallly COUNTS starts, and NOTHING that you have done so far means ANYTHING to ANY of us.

A tidbit about the bailout of banks

About half of the billions of bailout money for banks will be used by the banks to pay dividends to shareholders.  In other words, select persons who made bad investments are protected from losses, and WE (taxpayers) are paying them their investment income.  Perhaps it is a legitimate observation of President-elect Obama that his administration will “redistribute wealth.”  However, a more accurate description is that his administration will continue to redistribute wealth, only in different ways.  How about the earnings of the folks laid off from the banks or brokerages?  None of the bailout money will help them. How about Joe & Jane Lunchbucket, the banks’ customers?  They deposited their paychecks from a company which uses the same bank on Tuesday but the deposit wasn’t posted until Friday.  In the meantime, they wrote five checks, including a car payment and house payment to the same bank.  Three of the checks bounced because the deposit hadn’t posed, and those were paid by “courtesy overdraft protection” for which the bank charged $31 per check as an “overdraft fee.”  Will they be bailed out?  I don’t think so.  And the bank officers, will their pay and benefits remain the same?  Will they be doubling up hotel accomodations when they do business travel?  Nope.  The couple who take home $40,000 per year together, no medical insurance, but make too much to qualify for medicaid, now the wife needs $1,200 per month for medication, will they be bailed out?  Oh, please, give me a break.  Or is this all an exercise in the Viking Motto?: I Got Mine.

Pippa passes.


28 October 2008

David & Goliath: A Cautionary Tale; Do Not Try This At Home

The Old Testament [modern Jews call it something else] depicts the Jews experiencing odd and/or supernatural things involving pillars of salt, trumpets, walls collapsing on their own as guys march around them, sheeps’ blood warding off evil, faux sacrifices, holy arks (supposed to be some sort of capacitors by modern authors who have read too many comic books - sorry, “graphic novels”), and which also show a great deal of bad judgment. (Here, I refer to things like David wooing Bathsheba, getting her pregnant, and arranging the death of her husband, Uriah, to cover his tracks - see the post of a couple of weeks ago, “Who Speaks for Uriah.”)

And so we come today to the story of David and Goliath. This is a central story in our culture, or a central theme, and teaches that that Good will prevail over Evil even when the wicked is bigger, stronger and meaner, because Good is, well, good. This theme introduces a moral exception to the conclusions available from the experiential observations from which we conclude that God is, indeed, on the side of the big battalions. This Good-wins theme is critical to our species and that is an acute distinction with less sentient species. Life since Humanity began (in the Garden, in Oldevai Gorge, wherever) has been about power and the conflicts of power. That happens in the physical world, the social world, the intellectual world, the spiritual world, and some of the greatest (and also some of the least successful) human achievements have been about transcending constant competition and conflict. But even in our own churches, we freely acknowledge power and conflict, even in trivial matters. One way that immediately comes to mind is good friend Pastor Josh’s genuinely humorous comment at the end of some sermons about our communal desire to get out of church and beat the Baptists to Bob Evans for lunch. Think about it – when you are in a commercial establishment, a restaurant wanting seated or at a grocery store wanting to check out, do you look for the shortest line, the quickest way in and out, the advantage that will advance your interests over those of others? Welcome to the world of conflict, competition and power. Even when I’m slouching through the grocery store line and let someone (usually an older person or a lady) in front of me, I’m aware that I have given up some sort of right, that I have the power, but I’m voluntarily relinquishing it, just to be a nice fellow and maybe gain a few points in Heaven or notch up a Boy Scout Good Turn.

The David & Goliath tale as told to little kids is somewhat sanitized. Let’s look at it in a really modern translation (the translation called The Message, available on bible.com, which is probably as far from the KJV as the KJV is from the Greek): (This is from I Samuel 17.)

A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor——126 pounds of it! [No, that unit of measure hadn't been invented. I don't know where this translator gets that.] He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail——the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. . . .

Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, "Why bother using your whole army? . . . So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he kills me, we’ll all become your slaves. But if I kill him, you'll all become our slaves. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!" When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine's challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope. Enter David. . . . Goliath stepped out from the front lines of the Philistines, and gave his usual challenge. David heard him. . . . David asked, "What's in it for the man who kills that Philistine and gets rid of this ugly blot on Israel's honor?"

. . .

The things David was saying were . . . reported to [King] Saul. Saul sent for him. "Master," said David, "don't give up hope. I'm ready to go and fight this Philistine." Saul answered David, "You can't go and fight this Philistine. You're too young and inexperienced——and he's been at this fighting business since before you were born." David said, "I've been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I'd go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I'd grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference——I killed it. And I'll do the same to this Philistine pig who is taunting the troops of God. God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine." Saul said, "Go. And God help you!" [I don't know if that's a prayer or given in the modern sense, which is a sort of kiss-off.]

. . . Then David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

As the Philistine paced back and forth, his shield bearer in front of him, he noticed David. He took one look down on him and sneered——a mere youngster, apple-cheeked and peach-fuzzed. . . . "Come on," said the Philistine. "I'll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I'll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice." David answered, "You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I'm about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there's an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn't save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God——he's handing you to us on a platter!"

That roused the Philistine, and he started toward David. David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine. David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, facedown in the dirt. . . . Then David ran up to the Philistine and stood over him, pulled the giant's sword from its sheath, and finished the job by cutting off his head. When the Philistines saw that their great champion was dead, they scattered, running for their lives.

OK, I think that even this humble scribe as the Chair of our Church Board of Heresy can find the Moral: Armed with the power of the living God, the Weak have a weapon that the Mighty cannot match, and God’s People will prevail. (Here, my mind's gospel group is singing that energetic verse, "There is power, power, wonder working power, in the blood of the lamb . . ."

There are two broad ways to look at the lessons from the David & Goliath tale. First, whether it is literal or some inspirational fable [no, I’m not going there], if David’s stone was powered by and guided by God personally and not by God’s laws (angular momentum, aerodynamics, kinetic energy, etc.), it’s a pretty good story, although I assume there’s an implied lesson that God doesn’t always (doesn’t even frequently, in my observation) interfere that directly in human affairs. However, if the point is that David’s faith made the difference, and that he accomplished this feat without direct, present supernatural assistance, then the story teaches lessons that are seldom discussed:

1. King Saul is a moron. Lucky, but a moron. He nearly got David killed.

2. David is either a lucky genius (the Palestine version of J.B. Hickok) who defied God's laws of physics or a little psychotic or, more probably, both.

3. The putative lesson, that you can do anything, even that which is seemingly impossible in the physical world if you just have enough faith (and the corollary that if you attempt something and it doesn’t work, you’re the one who failed because you didn’t have faith) is cocky, anthropocentric and contrary to species and civilization advance and survival, because it mocks both courage and intelligence.

The greatest reality in our physical lives is power – who has it, who uses it, who is affected by it, how it changes, and how we (usually ineffectively) try to avoid it and produce a just society based on reason and love (which coincide closely a lot of the time.)

For a primer on power in our lives, look at two relatively recent books, The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War, both by Robert Greene. I do NOT recommend these books in the same way that I recommend, say, Handling Sin or Red Helmet or Plato and a Platypus Walk Into A Bar. Greene has not produced something beautiful and stirring and uplifting. These remind me of an episode from the original Star Trek series where a planet was operated on the basis of a book about Prohibition-era-Gangland-Chicago, and carrying a Tommy gun with a drum magazine was the zenith of culture. Greene paints an accurate, smelly, colorful picture of the sewage pit that is much of our social structure, and does so in a vain and cynical manner. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, just that I wouldn’t want to hoist a brew with him.

It is not impossible for a small, unarmed person of great faith and virtue to prevail in physical battle over an evil, armed, ruthless opponent, but that’s not the way to bet. Perhaps the real heroes of the David & Goliath story are (1) God, not for being right there and orchestrating the fight, but for creating mass, inertia and angular momentum and (2) the guy who invented the slingshot. It was noted (at least by legend) in the Old American West that God made All Men but Colonel Colt made All Men Equal. The force multiplier of a slingshot, David’s ability to use it, and his willingness to do so under stressful conditions theoretically made the victory possible. However, against an armored opponent, the target for this primitive weapon was small, and the odds weren’t with David.

According to the story, David put the stone exactly in the unarmored spot on Goliath’s forehead with enough force to embed the stone. This just isn’t likely. There is a limit to how fast anyone can twirl a sling. Aiming a sling is necessarily imprecise. With a firearm, you are looking down the barrel, along the axis that the bullet will follow. By definition, with the sling, you are the sling has to be 90 degrees off target when you release it. (Actually, a touch more than 90 degrees to give the pouch time to disengage from the projectile.) Then the projectile leaves the pouch at a not-amazing velocity. Even if the slingster is experienced, s/he cannot account for the vagaries of physics. David used a river rock, that is, a smooth rock. It was still unbalanced, it was not spin-stabilized, and so it was not terribly aerodynamic. Early fluctuations in its course became greater and greater, so no matter how good a slingster David was, the equipment is limited and physics defies pinpoint accuracy.

In sum, generally, God is on the side of the big batallions and the quality weapons.

This is not to say that it is always wrong to take on a more powerful opponent. (Although, it is still always stupid to do so unknowingly.) Germany was going to overrun Poland in 1939. Poland knew that. Poland’s army included no-kidding horse cavalry and fabric-covered biplanes. If they didn’t resist, Germany was going to invade, crush Poland and kill lots of people. If they did resist, Germany was going to invade, crush Poland and kill lots of people. Resistance was honorable and reasonable. Germany moved on Paris, but was not bent on destroying the city. The French declared Paris an open city and evacuated the military. Cowardly? Up for debate. Wise? I think so.

These are hard and even evil ways to look at life. When the old and weak springbok is taken down by the predators, no doubt his last thoughts are something like, “Boy, this sucks,” but they are still his last thoughts.

When the underdog wins, there’s usually a reason. Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae faced 300,000 plus Persians around 480 BC, and held the Persians at the pass called the “Hot Gate.” This is frequently cited as an example of those armed with goodness and faith prevailing over impossible odds. Well, this was not a David vs. Goliath situation. Consider:

1 - The 300 were elite soldiers facing relatively poorly trained conscripts.

2 - The Spartans were defending a narrow pass where the Persians could not bring their numerical superiority to bear.

3 - The Spartans knew that they were all going to die, they were willing to die, and they did die.

4 - The Spartans had a limited goal, delaying the Persians. They did not have to defeat 300,000 enemies.

Looking dispassionately does not diminish the courage and honor of the participants in any conflict, nor the disapprobation deserved by some of the participants. But looking only through the emotional lens is still stupid.

So, do you carry away the right lesson from David and Goliath? Here is a test: I recently read in a newsletter a blurb where a guy was essentially bragging that he saw a “bad guy” outside his house hotwiring his motorcycle. So, he concludes, he was on the side of good and right when he grabbed his pistol, went outside, got very close to the bad guy, missed the fact that there were two other bad guys present, and let the bad guy get within 5 feet of him. Now, here is the question, what did you think of first? (a) Good will win out, and we need to stand up to evil. (b) Going after someone for a property crime is immoral. (b) Getting into an armed confrontation unnecessarily is stupid.

If you answered “(a),” and are still in your fecund years, that is good, because evolution is about to work it’s magic. If you answered “(b),” stick to well-lighted, gated communities. If you answered “(c),” you got the true point of David & Goliath.

God has worked, can work and does work miracles. One of the less flashy and most important is the development of the human brain and this intangible thing called Good Judgment. Perhaps the College of Hard Knocks is really a Jesuit school.

Note: A special tip of the ol' chapeau to Friend Rosa, who pointed out that I'd slipped and used "Trojans" three times in place of "Spartans." Rosa also declines to start the discussion of "justice," and let me assure you, dearest Rosa, that post is a-borning.
Pippa passes.


12 October 2008

Another Department Funeral; Mr. Physics Strikes Mildly; First Crop Circles, Now This . . . ; Honoring Columbus

Another Department Funeral

Today was the funeral of Dave Chittum, one of the Marion County Rescue Squad veterans. Dave was an adherent of the strength of the “brick in the wall” theory. Rather than negativity of the Pink Floyd version, the brick in the wall theory is quite robust. Systems require cooperative effort. One person cannot do it all alone. It is a noble thing to do one’s part, to be a “brick in the wall.” Dave applied himself vigorously, worked hard, and served as a good example. He was always prepared and meticulous. Toward the end of the funeral, the rescue company took over the service. I guess I’ve become sort of a de facto department funeral spokesman or sexton (even though I’m long “retired”), so I gave a short eulogy, and then the officers and members performed the traditional all-companies roll call. I recently described that - All radio frequencies are cleared, and all county departments are alerted, which takes a couple of minutes to scroll through the tones. The dispatcher then announces that EMT Dave Chittum does not answer roll call, that he is loved and missed, and that he is now serving with our Lord and Savior. Uniformed squadsmen (that includes both genders) were pallbearers, including son Tim, and the hearse was tucked in amongst several pieces of apparatus for a procession to Station 20 for a final salute before the hearse went on alone. There is something about the long line of ambulances and rescue vehicles, lights flashing, driving along in procession at about 10 miles per hour, that is very, very somber and sad. My brethren the Fords were in charge of the service, and this is the second department funeral they’ve done in two weeks.

Mr. Physics Strikes Mildly

This is the weekend that Partner JC moved to Fairmont from Baltimore. Inasmuch as all of us had more ambition than brains, we arranged for a rental truck and guys on each end to do the move. JC rented a 26 foot Uhaul, and Bro. Dave’s son Elliott drove me and it over to Balto. A bunch of guys loaded Saturday, and it took several hours longer than “budgeted.” Then, the truck was full, but here was more stuff, so we went out and scrounged another Uhaul truck. We returned to Fairmont late last night, and I put the short truck up the hill, no problem. I told Elliott to take the turn up the driveway wide, because the driveway is narrow. However, still not having an overabundance of brains, I forgot that the truck was riding low and that the driveway gets real steep real fast coming off Locust Avenue, so I forgot to consider coming in another way. The truck’s rear bumper dragged and stopped the truck coming in. When Elliott put ‘er in reverse, the trailer hitch dug in, and that puppy was going nowhere. I called the Fairmont Police because we were a traffic hazard and one of Fairmont’s Finest came out. That’s not sarcasm, the Department is working well these days. The officers are well-trained, reasonable and respected. He called a large wrecker (non-locals: That’s a localism for a tow truck) to free the truck. Fortunately, the fine asphalt and steel bumper were of exactly the same hardness, so neither was marked at all by the experience. LaJ came down to No. 3, and found 3 young fellows who did hard work, and she hired them to help unload in the morning, and they helped get the truck up the hill after the wrecker freed it. Helped, hell, they figured it out, or the truck would still be there. I gave them fifty bucks to have some refreshment on me last night, and they were there at No. 3 at 8 AM and worked hard unloading. Elliott was somewhat chagrined. I thanked him for two days of really hard work and also for giving me a story on him (To tell the story, I do have to conceal the fact that it’s really all my fault.)

First Crop Circles, Now This . . .

I was really glad that the whole thing with the truck bumper didn’t mar the asphalt. However, before I left the office last night, I saw a terrible thing. Aliens have been at it again. They dissect our cows. They abduct people. And those damn geometric crop circles, what are those about? Well, now, right in front of No. 3, they have started asphalt etching. I’m trying to figure what the message is. It looks like it was done by a UFO with a large metal flat surface dragged across the asphalt, with a metal protrusion right in the middle that dug in. I’m calling the Air Force, this is outrageous. I’m an American citizen, and I need protection.


Tomorrow is Columbus Day (observed), when we lose a day of work in honor of an Italian navigator who was so lost, he missed is destination (China) by 8,000 miles and never knew it.

Pippa passes.


09 October 2008


Janese Tennant

Dear Friend Janese Tennant died late last night. The way she met Death is a humbling lesson to us.

Dave Chittum

Comrade Dave Chittum of Marion County Rescue Squad died yesterday. He worked thousands of hours as a volunteer, and never shied away from the tough duty. At this point, I don't know if the family will want the department involved in the funeral.

Pippa passes.


08 October 2008

Silliness; Observations; Pique; and a Great Sadness This Evening


Comments betwixt Rosa & Melissa remind me of an old saying ‘round the Marion County Palais d’ Justice: Sometimes you get Justice. Sometimes you get Just Us.


Balto trip for this weekend to move lotsa stuff. However, to secure my continued position as the apotheosis of The Easy Way, I’ve gotten Bro. Dave’s son to go along (great guy), and HE will drive the damn truck. Mind you, I did a lot of furniture mover/driver work while I was in school, and moved a lot of folks who couldn’t drive either something large or something with a manual transmission. (I think rental trucks mostly have slush-boxes these days, for the plethora of wusses who rent them.) But the drive to Baltimore is a pain in the ass, and if I can go as a passenger and read, etc., by golly that’s what I’m going to do.

Government by Machine Shop

I spent the morning in the Governor’s offices on business. There are two parts to the offices, one of which you’d expect and one of which you wouldn’t. The reception and public areas are spacious (spacious, hell, you could park a blimp in there), graciously decorated, and staffed by ultra-polite, well-dressed and efficient folks. It’s the working areas in the rear that really fascinated me, though. All of the folks back there are also well-dressed and ultra-nice (men, women, all in business wear), but it’s not plush offices with people sitting on their asses sipping cappuccino and thinking weighty thoughts. It reminded me more of a neat and orderly machine shop. There are work stations all over the place, and you have to be a touch of a gymnast to weave around the work stations, and everyone is busy. You can tell that it’s a focused and happy place. People aren't relaxing, but they are smiling when nobody's looking. And it’s not artificial. My dad would refer to “working boats” as those that had equipment on deck, neatly arranged but still there on deck. There is simply no show about the place, it is a place of work and accomplishment. Governor Manchin is one of the most genuine guys I know. He won’t say it if he doesn’t believe it. Particularly my friends in other states, google his uncle, A. James Manchin. I loved that guy. He was flamboyant, and that fact made some people fail to take him seriously. He talked about “Mother West Virginia,” and when he was head of an environmental clean-up program, he referred to the plague of junk cars as those “jaded jezebels of junkery.” He talked like that all the time. But he was sincere, and he believed every word. Governor Joe Manchin is like that, only with less alliteration. Even when I don’t agree with him, I respect the hell out of him. He is the most effective and most honest governor in my lifetime.

There my thoughts go back to Governor William Marland. That guy was absolutely brilliant, considered the best student ever to go through the WVU College of Law (and since Dean John Fisher is in the running for that distinction, Marland had to be legendarily great). He was elected Governor in the 50's when he was quite young, but he developed a serious addiction to alcohol. His administration ended as a disaster and he faded into obscurity. In the mid-60's, a news reporter found him driving a taxi in Chicago, and published an interview, where he described having found some peace.

The Perfect Political Speech - If the Sublime Elu returns from his world tour, he's running in '12.

(I do not claim this as totally original. I have heard or seen it or something like it somewhere, but it must have been a long time ago, and I forget where it was.)

My fellow Americans - My programs are simple and workable. They are fair. They will restore safety and prosperity to our beloved country.

YOUR taxes will be reduced to nothing. However, THEY have been shirking their responsibilities to support the Nation which has granted them succor for far too long, and THEY shall bear their fair share of taxes.

Wasteful government programs which give OTHER people benefits to which they obviously are not entitled will be ended, and these citizens will be required to work for their daily bread. The necessary government spending which benefits YOU will be expanded to reflect fair recompense for the contributions which you have made unselfishly to your country.

No longer will the police be shackled by antiquated notions of warrants and technicalities which merely let the wrongdoer avoid the heat of the forge of Justice. And, my friends, my law-abiding loyal friends, YOU shall not be inconvenienced by a search made without probable cause or a warrant, and you shall never be arrested or placed on trial for something for which there is no clear video evidence of your doing. As to YOUR children who, in their youthful enthusiasm, may stray over the boundaries of good sense and legal behavior, the law will deal with understanding and mercy. But make no mistake: The OTHER youth, the hooligans, shall find that attaining the age of adulthood gives them the responsibilities of adulthood and the punishments for failing in those responsibilities.

I pledge that your mortgage interest rates shall be less than 3%, inflation shall be less than 3%, and that the average passbook savings interest rate paid to you shall be no less than 12%. You deserve no less.

YOUR second amendment rights WILL be enforced, and NO ONE who will commit a crime with a firearm will be permitted to obtain or possess a firearm even for a moment.

YOUR first amendment rights will be enforced, and YOUR CHILDREN shall not be exposed to pornography, strong language or situations of which you disapprove in any media. Moreover, academic freedom shall prevail, in libraries swept clean of the filth and controversial writings that pollute America. You will be free to worship as you wish, and there will be prayer in school.

I strongly support freedom of choice.

Every human life is precious, from the moment of conception.

No longer will we be bound by a corrupt system of benefits and costs, of trade-offs, or of comparisons. We shall, from this day forward, deal only in absolutes, never questioning, never doubting, and never, never thinking.

Thank you and God Bless America.

And please hurry, Lord.

Great Sadness

Friend Janese is on the brink of that passage from this life to the next tonight. Remember her, please. She has walked a steep and stony path in this life by her own choosing, because she has been strong and capable and could do so; she has been a gruff and effective supervising nurse in intensive care settings, and has seen and done things that had to be done which were nevertheless most unpleasant and which most of us would recoil from. She is facing this transition with faith and class and courage and acceptance. As I write this, the hospital tells me that she is now in a coma. God bless this beautiful person and friend and grant her peace.

I have been thinking much tonight of our group at Parkersburg High School, class of '71, and it is surreal to know that she is leaving us, if only to await us down the road in a little while.

Pippa passes.


04 October 2008

Who Speaks for Uriah?

Let’s set the stage:

As I noted recently, Pastor Josh Patty has wrapped up his 16 week marathon sermon series on the ancient Israeli/Jewish monarchies, as reported in Kings and Samuel (and probably elsewhere). In my comments here and on the pastor’s blog (www.alongthispilgrimsjourney.blogspot.com - kickin' place, you gotta try it) I’ve succeeded in offending lots of people with my lumping of the ancient and modern Israelis together and projecting my negative opinion of the moderns (controversial in itself) on the ancients.

I’ve commented with light humor and with heavy-handed sarcasm. That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a good deal. Quite the contrary. Just as it’s easier to improve on someone else’s plan than it is to come up with your own out of whole cloth, seeing someone doing something less than optimally or even downright stupid prompts you to see new things and better ways. Or, put baldly, it's easier to criticize than create.

Despite their exploits being recorded by God in the Bible, the ancient Jewish leaders had venality and pettiness in excess even of Bill Clinton and his wandering hormones, Richard Nixon and his enemies lists and maybe Bush II and the phantom WMD’s. I have notes of the earliest adventures of David (whipping Goliath) for a potential future post on interpersonal conflict, probabilities given strength and other tactical matters, and reality, but turn today to David as King and the corruption of power. (Josh reads the story as being about sex. He is a biblical scholar. I am not. I still say it’s about power first.) And so, the story of David and Bathsheba:

(A note on the translation: This is from The Message, found at bible.com. It’s a very free translation that loses a lot - I guess, but how would I know - in the musical language of ethics, but restates the history in words heard around the fire since the nighttime fire was discovered. I’ve simplified the language even further – this is far enough from the original Hebrew or Greek that I don’t think I run afoul of the warning in Revelation about changing stuff in the Book. And if I do, I recognize that that’s a pretty big “oopsy.”)

2 Samuel 11

One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, "This Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite." David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant.

Later she sent word to David: "I'm pregnant."

David then got in touch with Joab: "Send Uriah to me." Joab sent him. [Uriah is away with the army at a seige. What follows is David offering him a leave to go be with his wife and, presumably, cover David’s tracks on the paternity issue. Uriah, having more honor than brains, refuses because the others in the army can’t get the same deal. David tries again, this time getting Uriah drunk.] Uriah replied to David, "The Chest is out there with the fighting men of Israel and Judah——in tents. My master Joab and the army are roughing it out in the fields. So, how can I go home and eat and drink and enjoy my wife? On your life, I'll not do it!"

“All right," said David, "have it your way. Stay for the day and I'll send you back tomorrow." So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem the rest of the day.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. [Which is pretty cold under the circumstances, read on.] In the letter he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front lines where the fighting is the fiercest. Then pull back and leave him exposed so that he's sure to be killed."

So Joab put Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce enemy fighters. When the city's defenders came out to fight Joab, some of David's soldiers were killed, including Uriah.

[Joab sends a report of the battle back to David, who is really, really peeved that the Israelis didn’t take the city. Then the messenger reports:] "By the way," said Joab's messenger, "your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead."

Then David told the messenger, "Oh. I see. Tell Joab, 'Don't trouble yourself over this. War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another — you never know who's next.’ “

When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.

[Further passages go on to have a pity party for David, because that first child dies and he really regrets his sin, but finally, his life works out, he and Bathsheba have further children including Solomon, and Israel presses on.]

So King David suffers, loses a child, loses sleep, knows that he’s done wrong, but he’s still got the girl. Uriah is still dead. Who speaks for Uriah? The love child lives a short and miserable life. Who speaks for that child? Extolling the justness of David’s punishment and suffering is a rather strange position for people of faith who, presumably, believe in loving everyone and protecting those unable to protect themselves, whether it is because they are very young or because their backs are turned.

Well, this is ancient history and perhaps apochryphal or fantasy or something like that. Of no interest at all today. There is no modern David who would harm others for his own pleasure or benefit or enrichment, is there?

Damn right there is.

Uriah is everywhere. Who speaks for Uriah? Who speaks for the service people in mortal danger in Iraq and Afghanistan, danger that doesn’t resemble the noble and fun bullshit that the small screen portrays, Uriah who has been sent to war, tour extended, enlistment stop-lossed, furnished low-bid body armor, and sent into a war justified by lies which may really be about profit and showing the world which country has the biggest dick.

Who speaks for Uriah? The financial system glitz and promises sent a smart young woman to NYU 15 years ago, where she earned an education in finance, and then went to a second tier business school for an MBA. Let’s call her Jane Briefcase. The old boy net wouldn’t let her in on the top floor (being old boys and being Harvard/Yale/Columbia/etc. bigots), but they put Jane into a cubicle, paid her well enough to buy a late model used Volvo, and she started struggling with the idea of having children, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Oh, she worked at Lehman Brothers, an investment firm. Boy, the CEO and CFO and other guys in Saville Row suits and Italian silk neckties sure have egg on their face right now, since their greed drove Lehman Brothers into the ground. They are going to have to rely on vast savings, protected retirement accounts, and may have to sell off real estate until they have only the city condo, the Connecticut mini-manse and the house in the Keys. Oh, Jane Briefcase, who made them much of their money, was laid off with less than a day’s notice. She has a few thousand in savings and a mortgage that is eating it up. Nobody will be hiring financial people for a long time. She is Uriah, too.

Who speaks for Uriah? Uriah is the coal miner whose foreman sent him under some bad top because it was probably going to be OK. The roof fell, and Uriah blew out his back. He was making $60,000 per year because he worked a lot of overtime. He’s on workers’ comp taking home half of what he was. He may get retrained, or he may not. He may get Social Security, he may not. The retirement home isn't gonna happen.

Who speaks for Uriah? We market “gangsta rap” and glorify guns and violence without ever showing a real gunshot wound. We send police officers out with “rules of engagement” and laws of search equivalent to a “Mother, May I?” approach, and then tut-tut the TV when it reports more violence and blame the liberal-conservative-du-jour when we realize that we are losing the War on Drugs.

Who speaks for Uriah? The tobacco industry patronizes the U.S. Congress, which in turn protects and subsidizes the industry that directly kills Uriah 400,000 times per year.

Who speaks for Uriah? 43,000,000 have no medical insurance and won't be getting any. They may get some charity care, but if they need something expensive - chemotherapy, coronary artery bypass operation - they are shit-outta-luck. Talk to your congressman. Oh, you'll need to dodge all 4 of the health-insurance lobbyists that exist for each and every member of Congress.

Uriah is no weakling. S/he is dedicated and powerful, looks after the other guy and asks only that those who hold the power of life and death over her treat her honestly, and not put her where enemies are sure to kill her.

Who speaks for Uriah?

Pippa passes.


01 October 2008

My Humble Attempt to Piss A Lot of People Off; How am I doing?

Screw Wisdom: The Profligacy of Solomon

Pastor Josh finally finished the fabulous and engaging series of sermons on the Jewish monarchy, which stretched through the summer like a featureless, steaming asphalt roadway across a New Mexico landscape, going someplace but who knows where and numbing the mind as it goes and goes and goes and goes. (Friend Josh is a regular reader, and I’ve had a great deal of fun explaining my thousand-yard-stare boredom about the Jewish kings.) In any event, the last sermon was entitled “God’s House,” or something like that, referring to the building of Solomon’s temple. (That’s one of the central images in Freemasonry, so I’m actually familiar with the accounts in I Kings.) Josh likened the temple to the Pilgrims’ meeting house, one of the first structures built in Massachusetts. Sorry, I disagree. The Pilgrims cut down a bunch of trees, and built a snug meeting house. Perhaps 50 guys were involved. As to the temple, to build a structure around 60 feet by 90 feet, THOUSANDS of artisans worked for years to build a perfect building with perfectly cut stone faced with perfectly fitted cedar and a sanctum sanctorum lined with gold where the High Priest went to chat up God once a year. Sorry, guys, this is Thorstein Veblin at work. My God doesn’t need a gold room or a temple that drains a substantial chunk of a nation’s resources. Not that the Jews were unique – At the Vatican, you could use the sanctuary at St. Peter’s to hanger a Zeppellin, but they still have nuns with bowls for contributions at the doors for visitors to throw money in. There’s lots of speculation about the wealth of the Catholic Church, but who cares? What we can SEE is disgustingly ornate and arrogant.

My issue with this sort of consumption is not confined to churches. Just so I can be sure to cover all the bases and piss off as many readers as possible, I consider the following to be of questionable judgment, ridiculous waste, silly posturing and often consumption to the point of immorality:

Granite countertops

Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Maybachs, Lamborghinis, & Ferraris

Homes with more than 2000 square feet per occupant

Exotic animals kept caged

Hair transplants for men

Breast augmentation not related to medical need or injury

Fur in environments where it is not necessary to kill and skin the animal yourself to survive

Shotguns costing more than $2,500

Exotic hardwoods imported for construction from other continents

Rolex watches

(Dissenting view: "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned . . ." James 5:9. I must have missed that sermon.)

Accuracy to Distraction

Dearest Doreen mentioned some weeks ago that she sets her clocks ahead a few minutes to “fool herself” and be sure that she is on time. That’s a concept that I don’t understand. If you have instruments, don’t you want them as accurate as possible? Mind you, I take this to extremes. At least once a week, I check and if necessary set my watch by the government’s atomic clock. (www.time.gov)

I Am Not Antique, Merely Unique

At Alice Polis’s funeral, I was talking to an old buddy. He told me that he had been to the Fire Museum in New York City, where they display antique fire and rescue apparatus and tools. One of the “antiques” displayed there was a Hurst Rescue Tool, a powered hydraulic machine that tears up and cuts up cars to get at trapped people. What annoys me is that we bought one NEW when they were FIRST introduced, and now the damn things are ANTIQUES?!?! I also remember 78 rpm records, 8 track tapes, manual typewriters, column shifters, bias ply tires, fender skirts, black dial phones owned by the only phone company that existed, Amos & Andy on the radio, and I can live with all that. But this Hurst Tool thing hurts.


I’m still going to Marietta as much as possible to see dear Friend Janese. One thing I’ve noticed over there is that the town still has some brick streets. This is an old town - founded in 1788. Brick streets make sense. Brick streets last MUCH longer than asphalt, and no petroleum is used in the composition of bricks. I wonder why we got away from brick streets.

Janese . . .

. . . continues to do poorly, on the one hand. On the other, she knows that no matter what happens corporeally, she still wins. She still needs love and touch and prayer, and I ask that for her.

25 years

Someone brought in a deed that I prepared 25 years ago. I was honestly pleased to see that it was good quality work.

One of Roger’s Handy Tips

To keep stuff from sliding around on the car dashboard, companies sell “special” mats which have a waffle pattern and stick real well to vinyl. They cost $10 or so for an 8" x 6" rectangle. However, they are made out of a material called “tool matting,” which is used by mechanics to line the drawers of the big professional tool chests you see in automotive repair places. (Mechanics invariably own their own hand tools.) You get tool matting at the auto parts place for $5 for a 3-foot roll. It’s sad that some bastard is working the fringe on this and overcharging people for mere repackaging and marketing.

Jesus Isn’t a Candidate - Get Used to It

In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, there is an article about critical “swing” voters. The idea (which makes sense) is that McCain and Obama each have a solid core of people who would vote for them no matter who or what they got caught in bed with, so the campaigns are aimed at a small group. One voter said that he was waiting to see who would act more like Jesus. Jesus Christ, preserve us from such idiocy. You’ve got to be kidding me. Would Christ our Lord function in current government? I’m thinking that there would be a moneychangers-in-the-temple thing going on real quick. How about looking for leaders who aren’t motivated by money, who are honest (and one way you gauge that is by how often they tell you stuff that you don’t want to hear when they know that you don’t want to hear it), and who will actually READ the Constitution, some history, the Bible, and some science. Got news: Jesus ain’t running. (A recent book, American Savior, by Roland Merullo, is based on the premise that Jesus shows up and runs for president. It is a work of fiction.)

Happy Flag

Bro. Dave and I have coffee at 8 AM most mornings in the café across from the courthouse. To indicate that she’s open, Jeri, the owner, hangs a happy sun-and-flower flag outside the doorway. That’s just such a positive thing.


I've a number of posts in the works. One now under way is about a local Marion County issue where county commissioners are openly pulling an arrogant political stunt that is genuinely upsetting. One is a friend with whom I was in Boy Scouts, and he is a genuinely nice fellow. This is sooooo uncharacteristic of him. The other is a public servant who has served honorably for sooooo many years, and this seems uncharacteristic of him, too. They are wrong this time. Unfortunately, in politics, seldom is anyone willing to say, "Darn, I was wrong, I'm sorry."

Pippa passes.


27 September 2008

Roll call - first impressions

I just returned from Alice Polis's funeral. Son Tim picked me up at No. 3 in the new medic vehicle (first time I'd ridden in an MCRS rig in a number of years), and the EMS community had a big turnout of people and apparatus, together with many of Alice's family and friends.

The service concluded with the traditional last honor given a fallen brother/sister, the department roll call. Dispatch alerted all departments on all dispatch frequencies (18 stations in the county, and it takes about 2 minutes to go through all the alert tones), and announced that Paramedic Alice Polis did not answer roll call and was now serving with the Lord.

Then the cortege of the hearse, family vehicles and lots and lots of apparatus with flashing red lights passed slowly through the streets of Fairmont to Station 20, where the hearse passed through the honor guard of apparatus.

We take care of our own.

As the hearse pulled away, a call went out and one of the rigs headed the other direction, Code 3 (lights & siren). As I write this, another rig just came past No. 3 Code 3 on another call.

As always, Pippa passes.


25 September 2008

Requiem for a friend

I was called this morning and informed that a dear friend from my old rescue company died during the night. I sent the following to the Fairmont Times-West Virginian today:

We see Marion County Rescue Squadʼ's ambulances driving at a pretty good speed when their red lights are flashing. Not Wednesday night, though.

Around 3 AM, two MCRS rigs, lights flashing, slowly pulled away from a residence on Coleman Avenue, one behind the other with a hearse in between. They accompanied the body of Alice Polis to R.C. Jones/Ford Funeral Home for her final arrangements. This was not a public display; it was the middle of the night, and there was no one there to see. It was an expression of grief and loving honor to one of the countyʼ's "unsung heroes," and one of the hardest-working founding volunteers of the Rescue Squad.

Alice Polis was there from the start, and was prominent in the "Watson hill" years, when the Squad occupied cramped rental quarters below Bunnyʼs [bar] at the top of the hill. At that time, the ambulances were staffed entirely by volunteers, 24/7. She started as an Emergency Medical Technician, and around 1978, Alice became one of the countyʼ's first paramedics. On her tens of thousands of alarms, when Alice was with patients, she was unflappable. She made decisions, wasted no time, took care of the patient, and took them to the hospital.

A lot of Aliceʼ's work was absolutely invisible to public. Alice was one of the regionʼ's outstanding instructors. She taught many of West Virginiaʼ's EMS people their first EMT class. In fact, she gave the first training to two of the very, very experienced chief officers who now lead the Rescue Squad. Alice served on the Board of Directors of the Rescue Squad, where her business experience helped turn a low-budget volunteer operation into an increasingly efficient and effective healthcare organization. Alice was instrumental in the funding campaign to construct Station 20, the current Third Street station. Alice was one of the visionaries who saw that the nature of the regional economy and the growth of the county required that the Rescue Squad expand its services and hire career EMTʼ's and paramedics.

In the news this week, we have Wall Streeters making tens of millio ns in salaries and stock options crying for handouts and bailouts. What irony. Alice Polis worked well over 1,000 hours per year FOR FREE.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." That can be done in a sudden, brave gesture or with the constant, faithful, devoted and selfless service gave to her friends and to this county. Wednesday night was just the last of thousands of alarms that she answered.

I'm glad that they turned out the station last night. I don't know who that's done for, the dead or the living. But as God is my witness, Alice deserved it.

Pippa passes.


17 September 2008

In your face hokiness

Friend and Brother Phil has a huge Masonic mailing list, to which he sends daily+ news and other items. Last week, he sent one which had originated, apparently, with some Minnesota brethren who were taken with our mountains, and who were touched by the depth of friendship which is found in West Virginia. I have modified it based on my own beliefs.

Friends and West Virginia Friends

Friends: Never ask for food.
West Virginia Friends: Never HAVE to ask, the extra plate is already set.

Friends: Will say 'hello'.
West Virginia Friends: Will give you a big hug and if you are of the opposite gender, a kiss.

Friends: Either don’t talk to your parents or mumble at them.
West Virginia Friends: Smile and call your parents Mom and Dad.

Friends: When they see old people with their adult children, ask the adult children how the old folks are doing.
West Virginia Friends: Talk directly to the elderly, call them “Ma’am” and “Sir” and ask them how the garden is doing.

Friends: Have never seen you cry.
West Virginia Friends: Cry with you.

Friends: Keep quiet while you pray and a little embarassed.
West Virginia Friends: Pray with you and hold your hand.

Friends: Will visit a bit and leave.
West Virginia Friends: Will spend hours there, talking, laughing, and just being together, and you don’t feel time passing.

Friends: Will vanish if your family gets in criminal trouble.
West Virginia Friends: There in Court with you.

Friends: Introduce you to their friend the drug dealer.
West Virginia Friends: Call the police about your so-called friend the drug dealer.

Friends: If you call at 3AM, will give you the suicide hotline number.
West Virginia Friends: If you call at 3AM, will be right over and stay however long it takes.

Friends: Will visit you in the hospital when you're sick.
West Virginia Friends: Will cut your grass, clean your house, do your laundry, and then come spend the night with you in the hospital.

Friends: Will put you on their to-do list.
West Virginia Friends: Will drop everything and come running when you really need them.

Friends: Have you on speed dial in case they want to call.
West Virginia Friends: Remember you number and actually call you.

Friends: For a while.
West Virginia Friends: For life.

Friends: Think this is hokey.
West Virginia Friends: Screw ‘em, we don’t care if it is, it’s still true.

Pippa passes.


15 September 2008

Big News 'Round No. 3, The "Mystery Partner" Unmasked!; And other lesser but still stirring stuff

The “Mystery Partner” Identified

Since May, when Partner Amy Swisher won the primary election for Family Court Judge, I have been planning continuing life in No. 3 Equity Court.

There is a frequent undercurrent in the professions, at least in smaller locales, of who might want to combine with whom in business.

I’m really happy to announce that the “mystery partner” who is moving in to No. 3 is my oldest friend, JC Amos. We met 50 years ago, in kindergarten. She has a JD and LLM (the latter is a second law degree, and she specializes in TAX law) from University of Baltimore, and is also a CPA. She currently practices in Baltimore. Her practice is mostly business, tax, estate planning, probate and commercial work. She will be moving into my areas of practice and I into hers, both doing the OJT thing.

Firm name: That’s been a vigorous debate! In the non-person-name realm, we considered lots of neat stuff. However, we settled on - are you ready for this? - Curry Amos & Associates, LC. Yeah, I know, but also her daddy was a prominent Fairmont lawyer for MANY years, and his name is known here, too. (Fascinating guy - Was with the OSS in China in WWII.)

CAA will begin operations around 15 October 2008 here at No. 3 and perhaps elsewhere, too. The 304-368-1000 phone will stay the same.

What online persona JC takes is her decision. We will have a firm website in short order and I assume there will be some biographical stuff there. JC does not currently have a public blog and I don’t know her intentions in that regard.

She’s a good person, and I’m looking forward to a lot more years of productive service to our communities. Looking forward, hell - I’m thrilled!

Flying your honest flag

I published a comment 2 posts ago from “Fairness to West Virginia,” on a political observation. This person/group has a blog which is taking part in the West Virginia Supreme Court race. So far, so good. But there is no indication who is involved in this effort. I will be considerably more impressed by and thoughtful about the opinions of people who will put their names on their opinions. Even if your flag is the Jolly Roger, for God’s sake, have the guts and class to fly it proudly.

The Old Dad Still Has Some Stuff

SonTim came home from his paramedic class tonight in high spirits. They had a test on pulmonology, and he was ecstatic to have scored a 68. I made a comment about the superior training we received in the “old days,” [which is (1) empty posturing and (2) a lie] and he challenged me to take the test myself. For you ladies out there, this is a direct male bonding and male provocation thing, and I had no choice but to boldly step forward. So, I took the test, and scored a 62, which surprised Tim and which surprised the living hell out of me. I have not given any serious thought to pulmonology since 1989, and the whole gas-exchange, surfactant, pH, rales-rhonchi-wheeze, sats, rates and so forth reminded me of how unfortunate a patient would be who was stuck with me these days. They now use drugs and procedures that I was not trained in.

Reminds me, Friend Tom’s son Luke is now a Firefighter/Medic in Montgomery County (MD), and is well on his way to membership in the Order of the Black Cross. Wow, I remember quaffing a couple with Tom at a conference while Luke was in utero.

Church as Personality Cult?

We come to depend on professionals and leaders in our lives, to the point that we identify the message with the messenger. When I think “Boy Scouts,” my first thought is Johnny Pitcher, long since deceased, who was my scoutmaster when I was a kid. I do not have the words to say what a wonderful guy he was, and he represented everything good about Scouting to me. After I left that troop, I learned to appreciate the “brotherhood,” and the entire movement, not just that one individual. But we still depend on these personal relationships. My doctor is a great person, and it makes me feel good to know that she’s there. And so forth.

I’ve found this phenomenon with church, and haven’t learned to move beyond it yet. When I joined Central Christian, Parson Jim Norton was the interim pastor. I’ve known him for years, and he is a great fellow, supportive and understanding. When he hung up his spurs (Robe? Stole? Whatever ministers hang up . . . ), I was disturbed. I was learning through him and through his gentleness. Then, along came Pastor Josh Patty. He’s a younger guy, a genuine scholar who can communicate, which isn’t all that common a combination. I really love the guy, and we have had some of the most delightful talks, often lighthearted intellectual sparring seeking to find ever more obscure references that the other may or may not recognize. It is a fact that in most Protestant churches, the pastors move on after a while. Josh is going to be a high flyer – He has honest scholarship and the loving message of a Joel Osteen without Osteen’s idiotic grin. We are sooooo fortunate that he is with us. In the Fullness of Time, he will move on in all likelihood. I hope that by then I will have learned the church as a community, not just as it’s leader.

In a much, much broader sense, I’m thinking that Christ wasn’t going for the personality cult thing, but for results. But those thoughts are rather elementary and not terribly well supported at this point.


Oh, the “Order of the Black Cross” is that faux honor society into which medics (at least in the mid-Atlantic area) are inducted when they just can’t catch a break and patients are dying like flies whenever they touch them. At various times, it's also been called "The Order of the Boatman" or "Friends of Thanatos."

Pippa passes.