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.