13 December 2009

Merry Christmas, Dancing to The Single Issue Tango, and An Unfortunate Evening in a Rural Tobacco Barn

Personal privilege: LaG (that would be our mother, Opal, undisputed matriarch of the Monongahela Valley) was hospitalized for several days and now is home with home health people present.

Thus, this wretched scribe has been elsewhere for a while. LaG is doing better. Good wishes & prayers are appreciated.

Merry Christmas!

The right wing whine lines are humming with the sounds of Christmas, er, The Holidays. “The Reason for the Season!,” and “Put Christ Back in Christmas!” The theme, you see, is that Christ is being chased from His Own Birthday by those who would chant “Happy Holidays” and especially by people who erect “Holiday” decorations or, worse, “Holiday trees.” When the babble bubble bursts, we should conclude, they say, that we Christians are victims of a dastardly plot to secularize us out of our own faith.

What the Constitution says literally and how it is universally interpreted and accepted is a touch different. The First Amendment states, in full:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Universally, we recognize that the First Amendment does more than limit Congress. It grants citizens the right to freely exercise religion within very wide boundaries. (E.g., The U.S. Supreme Court endorsed the right of members of the Santería faith tradition in their practice of animal sacrifice, over the State of Florida's animal cruelty prosecution. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 1993)

And so, when someone wishes the devout Christian “Happy Holidays!,” the Christian can cringe and cry, run in circles, scream and shout, or he or she can choose not to play "I'm a victim." His or her response can be, “Merry Christmas!,” “Up yours, satanic pig!,” silence, or “Whatever, who cares.” He or she will not be arrested for a sincere expression of Christian faith (unlike the situation if such an expression were made in downtown Mecca, Tehran, Riyadh, or Rangoon) nor, for that matter, subject to anything except what he or she just expressed: disagreement.

Government exercise of religion is proscribed. Government suppression of religion is proscribed, too.

So I hope this clears things up.

Now, I have set forth what amounts to a hypothesis. Let’s test it. So, from No. 3 Equity Court, I wish you a Merry Christmas!

There. See? It worked. Nobody prevented me from doing it. If I don’t get a response from that particular episode of “Merry Christmas!,” I’ll surely get a response from the other occasions where I extend that wish this year. None of the responses will force me to retract the sentiment. None of the responders will shame me for extending the wish to them. If anyone is offended, then they are simpletons. If they do not want to reply with some equivalent Christian greeting because that is not their faith tradition, that’s fine with me. I’m not offended by “Happy Holidays,” “Thanks, you too,” “Here’s mud in your eye,” “Happy Hannukah, too” and even a hearty “Screw you” won’t hurt me. (A Jewish lawyer friend had a well-meaning client wish him "Happy Chaka Khan" one Christmas and he solemnly returned the greeting in kind.)

So lighten up, people. Quit looking at ways to be victimized. Look for ways to spread positive messages and do positive things.

The Single Issue Tango

In the peculiar Rube Goldberg geometry of shuffling offices, there was a rush brought on by the elevation of Delegate Carrie Webster to a Circuit Judge vacancy in Kanawha County. Delegate Webster was Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, one of the two key House of Delegates Committess (Judiciary and Finance), the Chairs of which are big dogs in the Legislature.

The easy and obvious (and proper) answer in such a circumstance is to move the vice-chair into the chair. Any vacancy or, or that matter, any little crack that can be widened or exploited will be attacked by any number of opportunists who, in politics, swarm like platelets looking for a bleeding cut. There is another phenomenon of politics that also comes into play in such situations: In order to achieve their desired results, partisans will (1) make stuff up and (2) look at irrelevant single issues to the exclusion of ability, other issues, honesty, or consequences. That was the buzz for the past couple of weeks. The vice-chair of Judiciary was Delegate Tim Miley from Harrison County. He’s extremely intelligent and effective and has not the hint of improper compromise or taint about him. BUT - shhhhh - he’s against abortion. And Delegate Webster? She’s for abortion.

Abortion sells printer ink, but has little to do with what the legislature actually does from year to year. It is, however, the most powerful, visceral single issue hobby horse in the political stable. So rather than a discussion of how Judiciary would work, we were treated to a week of abortion this and abortion that. The purpose of that discussion had little to do with abortion, though. (Mind you, the people in the trenches stirred up by the manipulators honestly thought it did.) Realpolitik says that the votes aren’t there to do much of anything with abortion this year and that federal action is preempting most lines of action anyway, so it’s all about the power grab.

I’m happy to say that Delegate Miley, who is a good and honorable friend, was named Judiciary chair a few days ago.

Useless, Useless

There is a place in the garden for every flower. For everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Your reach should exceed your grasp, or what’s a Heaven for? La-di-dah.

But grasping at soap bubbles?

The same old patent medicine floggers still flog the same old patent medicine, only in different bottles. Everyone wants a rainbow and usually that means some sort of Easy Living.

In the past few weeks I have been tempted, Lord, oh I have been tempted to the Jimmy-Swaggart-With-Hookers point by mesmerizing emails proposing that I abandon No. 3 and aim high, aim for a Career In Video Game Testing. The emails promise that I will average $750 per week after training. Presumably, the company which sent the email will “train” me (and they’ll have to - after “PacMan,” I pretty much lost interest in video games), and perhaps they will charge some modest fees. Surely they will send me to some willing employer who, despite having video game designers, needs persons trained as testers (but not programmers) to tell them how they’ve done and are willing to pay modest bucks for it. Right? Right?

Sigh - and I still run into teens who are certain that they do not need to take school seriously because they are “sure” to be models or skateboard “professionals.”

This is our fault, you know. We’ve sat on our asses because we have been lazy, stupid and afraid, and let the TV be the babysitter, and bound our youth to a Hannah Montana world which exists between the tube and the retina. Do we have the guts to confront this head on?

(PS - A book from the Three Parsec Bookshelf® for the first person to note the historic reference of the title to this section; and also to the second person if Pastor Josh is the first, since the answer is the old shooting fish in a barrel thing to him.)

Law Blogs

I’ve added several links to Law Blogs to the right. These are from the 2009 ABA Journal “Top 100" list, i.e., the ones I like.

Pippa passes.


29 November 2009

Tchotkes, Fandangles and Thoughts


(Tchotkes: Knick-knacks, trinkets (Yiddish); Pronunciation: \ˈ'chääch-kə, ˈ'tsääts-\ )

When I arrived at No. 3 this afternoon, I found on my desk a certificate which had come in the mail from the “Pro Bono Referral Project,” the agency which attempts to find lawyers who will do pro bono (free) legal work for poor people. Pro bono work is required under the rules and doing it willingly is at the very least a moral obligation of members of the bar. I do not presume to comment upon how much cheerful service goes into pro bono work as a general practice in the bar of West Virginia, although the reporting system doesn't record anywhere near all of the work that is done. In any event, the certificate that came was for “Good Service” or something of the sort. I’m a big believer in certificates and such. When I was president of the local Boy Scout council, I used certificates, patches and the like liberally. All a certificate takes is a pack of REAL GOOD paper, the high-cotton content, heavy-weight kind in some sort of off color, a decent color printer, and a $7 frame from WalMart. (Giving a certificate without a frame says, Hey, thanks, but not enough to spend seven bucks.) This creates a “thing” in the physical world which a person can hold and look at and say, hey, somebody appreciates me. Naturally, it’s important that certificates be hand-signed by more than one person, to show that it is a consensus, not a mere unilateral solo gesture, and always signed in an ink color that shows it wasn’t copied. For motivation, “thank you”s cannot be overdone.

Businesses use tschotkes for a different purpose, usually to promote name recognition. That is particularly good for unusual services such as chimney sweeps.

While I have used and do use them, I must say that certificates don’t really impress me on the receiving end. (That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the Pro Bono Project’s gesture, it just isn’t something that punches any of my buttons.) I don’t have an “I Like Me Wall.” Many people do, and there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that, they show demonstrable achievements and events. I’m just not into that for deeply held personal reasons. I’ve no idea where my diplomas are (and don’t really care), have no idea where photos taken at “events” are (ditto) . . . well, you get the picture.

But last week, I did get “certificate” of a sort that I will keep and treasure. It will never see a frame or a wall or even anyone else’s eyes. It’s an email with pictures attached from a woman and child I represented in a pro bono case. At the end of the case, they escaped an unspeakable domestic situation with a man who later committed murder. They relocated. (Dang, I forget where they went - seems to me it’s somewhere between Key West, Florida, and Adak, Alaska.) Her email? THAT’S tschotke.


This is the first Sunday of Advent, the Christian celebration culminating in Christmas. Pastor Josh, not one for mindless adherence to the lectionary, is using parts of Handel’s Messiah as jumping off places for sermons for the four Sundays of Advent. Today, he used the first few verses of Isaiah Chapter 40, the familiar passage which begins “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain . . .” We as a nation have strong Judeo-Christian roots, and much of our literature and thought, including political thought, references such Scripture. Unbeknownst to Josh, I’m betting, is that our beloved Senator Robert C. Byrd (himself a noted Constitutional scholar and Biblical scholar) often recites Isaiah 40 when talking about public works, particularly as it applies to the construction of infrastructure in West Virginia. In many of these hills, construction of so simple a thing as a four lane highway is so scandalously expensive that those from areas of more forgiving terrain have difficulty picturing the obstacles.

And speaking of the Messiah, permit me to offer a mildly irreverent address for a video of the silent monks doing the Hallelujah Chorus. Why do I not insert a link,you ask? Because, I answer, I've attempted it several times and it's either put in the address or . . . well, I put in the address, let's leave it at that, just for now, OK?


Self-Righteous or Merely Dumb? You Decide

Recently, I noted the lack of character that posting anonymously displays. One of the (anonymous) blogs most blowsy about the little faux Fairmont Scandal of the Week recently added a phone feature that people could give the "writer" (term used loosely) information (1) only if that person gave the (still anonymous) writer his/her name and (2) with interesting consequences if the informant said anything the (still anonymous) writer didn't like. Oh, let me use Moron #35's own words:

"I will not answer any call when I don't know who is calling. However, you can always leave me messages with any information that you think may be of interest to this blog. If you wish for me to call you back, a number or e-mail must be left and will be kept confidential, unless you trash me or this blog."

A Good Judge

Last week, Judge Daniel McCarthy of Clarksburg died. He had been retired for several years. He presided in several cases as a Senior Status Judge and did a lot of mediations in hard cases, and always let the litigants be heard. He was a kind, decent and honorable person.

Pippa passes.


23 November 2009

Carefully Handling the 10-Foot Pole

“Ever Try Arguing With A Woman?”

No, no, no, don’t blame me, I'm not the one who said it. If noticing and appreciating gender differences is sexist, hey, I’m guilty and I’m glad. But subjectively at least, I’ve not strayed into any disrespectful country. Also, if I were to evaluate opposing counsethat way, I'd be getting my ass kicked regularly. No, the tag line of this post is the tag line on a billboard displayed all over this region advertising a lawyer who happens to be female. The lawyer involved is attractive according to conventional standards and is featured in a really large photo. I submit that subjective observation is relevant because the physical appearance is part of the overall impression that the billboard is supposed to present, part of the shtick.

There are a couple of problems with a hire-me-I’m-a-woman ad. (I’m not including bad grammar. There is only so much room on a billboard and so much time for someone driving by to absorb the message.) First, if it is directed at people who want the lawyer to “argue like a woman,” you are pitching to stupid people. They want a role-player who will dance a set-piece Kabuki and pull off some magic by being following a script that may not be the best course for the case. Second, women lawyers who “argue like a woman” rather than argue like a lawyer faile to use their own individual abilities to best represent their clients and give them good advice. Individual strengths determine successful practice and, indeed, what kinds of cases lawyers should and shouldn't do. One good friend is a woman lawyer who never argues; never raises her voice; she just diligently presses and when she finds the key weakness, administers the coup. Lawyers who follow some antique formula are easy pickin’s for their opponents. One can only hope that this particular lawyer is smarter at law than at advertising. (Indeed, her reputation is that of a workmanlike lawyer.) (No apology, that is a term in our language.)

Hmmm - I wonder if I should advertise something like, “You Need a Man’s Man to Handle Your Case.” Well, two problems there, too. My friends who know me would laugh and everyone else would sue me for false advertising. (Over coffee, we’ve come up with MUCH more inappropriate macho mottos and suggestions which propriety and a desire to sleep without firearms in my hands has prevented me from spreading forth here.)

Other lawyer ads are more subtle but nevertheless misleading, and lawyers are smart enough to mislead within the rules. Oh, some blast through the line: “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight!” Others? There is the aw-shucks approach that fronts for a legal-assistant heavy paper mill that rarely tries cases. There are firms that suggest specialties without using the word. One really good firm in the past year led us to believe that they were the only firm in this part of the state set up to do complicated medical malpractice cases. Now, these guys are really good trial lawyers. However, there are maybe 3 to 6 firms around here that could do those cases, depending on how picky you are. On the other hand, lots and lots of people advertise for med mal with the (mistaken) belief that they can get a good case, make a modest strike without working too hard, and escape. That isn’t good law practice, nor even ethical. A couple of former military individual lawyers have touted those experiences in advertising. Those experiences show perseverence, but there have been some stunning exceptions to positive correlations of good lawyering.

Oh, defense firms and business firms advertise and market too, just in different ways. They are politically connected better, as a rule, and realize that silly things like rallies and email campaigns get politicos presence but not presents. They work the phones better and do personal interaction better. Oh, they also dress a hell of a lot better, or at least more conventionally. For instance, I cannot think of a single thing I own that is monogrammed. (I like it that way, too.)

Direct Social Isolation, Geographic and Intentional

I take inappropriate, feckless pride in detachment from popular culture. Some familiar icons (Britney, Miley, Brad, who knows who else) richly deserve MY disinterest. Whether they merit your interest is solely your business. And yet, in this part of Mother West Virginia, there is geographic disconnection, too. What prompts that is Doreen Lewis’s blog (link yonder) where she talks about hearing an in-person talk by Dr. Wayne Dyer. There are those here geographically who have traveled in the traditional sense far more than I (also speculatively, but I’m working on that) and of course many friends from more populous places have greater exposure to physical cultural events.

And so, what is the value of the “real world” encounters at a presentation, lecture or seminar over the transmitted or stored electronic equivalent, or the same information in written form. And, for those rare cynics, no, this is not an apologia for some pure Castallian model of life - it is a genuine question. Any takers?

Random Observations:

If the exclamation point did not exist, would it be possible to advertise used cars for sale?

The fact of global warming is scientifically established to overwhelming probability. The only way to get to certainty about the range of adverse predicted effects is in retrospect, at which time it most probably would be too late to remediate them. It's a lot easier to add heat to the system than it is to remove it.

8% of the people on Earth have an automobile.

Brethren in Scouting - Boy Scouts of America: A Centennial History, by Chuck Wills - available at Amazon - I like it. I'm reading Scouting for Boys by B-P, and the resemblance of his work with our experience is striking.

Pippa passes.


18 November 2009

Olympic Self-Righteous Team Trials; Only Schmucks Need Apply

When my prior blog began to stray from self-deprecating personal tales and droll social observations into the more concrete and more particularly the political realm, I would not and could not continue publishing those new things anonymously. There are two reasons. In order of importance (to me), they are:

1 - Only immoral & craven cowards publish things anonymously.

2 - Anonymous opinions are worth nothing because there is no way to assess the author’s motive to exaggerate, minimize or outright lie.

That’s what I thought then, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

[This does not reflect on life in the Shelf Community and the relative anonymity found there, because it is a closed village which does not reach out to any public. Such of us as do go public do so flying our own flags. There is also a good bit of off-the-net contact amongst the Villagers.]

A. Conan Doyle spoke through Sherlock Holmes about his total lack of interest in anything which was irrelevant to him, such as the Copernican model of the solar system (Sun in the middle). I don’t fully support that logic, because the human mind is capable of making astounding direct connections and even analogous connections.

Although my interest in popular culture is miniscule, my attention to national, state and local political, legal and government affairs is intense, and so I cruise daily lots of state and national newspapers or their websites. One of these is the Charleston Gazette, the morning paper in the state capital. The primary attraction (to me) of the Gazette is that it has published a couple of my op-eds in the past two years. In today’s issue, there was a story about a member of the Fairmont State University Board of Governors getting into an argument with an assistant football coach over how much playing time his son got in last weekend’s game. Descriptions of this sort of thing are subject to the whim of the writer. One person’s “scream” is another’s “yell” is anothers “he talked loudly.” So we have no way to know any of the nuances of what actually happened. What we do know is that there was no physical contact, no physical threats and no violent verbal threats. The Gazette says it’s a big deal, but when you distill the mash, you just get that the guy was pissed off. But: That BOG member, Andy Kniceley, is the publisher of the Times-West Virginian, the daily paper in Fairmont.

Let me note at the outset that my relations with the Fourth Estate are uneven. I have never commented on a case prior to a verdict and said very little after a verdict. Andy and I have never become buds, and I have yet to talk with him about this. But what first struck me was that this was a “prominent person under the microscope thing,” and that it’s also payback time from whoever dislikes Andy. People who run newspapers collect more enemies than bikers with open helmets collect bugs in their teeth. Remember, though, that public perception and character aren’t always in tune. I’ve known genuinely beloved public people who were jerks; and genuinely despised public people who were kind and decent. Public perception simply doesn’t have a lot to do with actual character, Ronald Reagan excepted. Payback is personal, not just.

And then as I read the Gazette article, I got to the following paragraph:

“Separate reports by two Fairmont police officers were anonymously sent to the Gazette on Tuesday.”

The person or persons who sent documents anonymously have neither nerve nor honor. The reporter went on to say that s/he had been unable to contact Kniceley or other BOG members. (Ever notice how the press implies that their "targets" are hiding if they don't instantly answer the phone?) The Fairmont Police said that the “incident” is “under investigation,” and FSU issued a mealy-mouthed “We understand this is under investigation” statement. (Nice going, PR Department of my alma mater. Hint: It takes a touch of courage, but “This is silly” is an acceptable response when the inquiry is, well, silly. Or how about, "We have a genuine drug problem in Fairmont and you're asking about THIS shit?") The reporter laughing up his/her sleeve as s/he wrote the story as well as the editor who ran it (and prominently, at that) are cursed with an overabundance of self-rightousness. I carry a small rock in my pocket, and call it “the first stone,” for obvious reasons. They’ve already chucked theirs.

Barney Fife could “investigate” this in 30 minutes. (The officers who have been assigned this pathetic “case” are professionals and nice guys who are caught in the middle - if it were Joe Lunchbucket, nobody would care when they kissed off the case; with someone prominent, they will be accused of favortism if they treat the guy like a normal person.) What should an “investigation” conclude? Well, if every allegation is Gospel truth, but the incident had occurred at the Tinkerbell Ballerina Academy with the Junior Assistant Dance Intern (“You just let her do three ******* pirouettes!?!?!?), we would be and should be concerned. But consider the context. The person Andy was addressing was the offensive line coach of a college football team. I doubt he had an attack of the vapors and fainted. And so, after our 30 minute “investigation,” our response should be “Yo, dude: Chill.” Case closed.

Anything else is idiocy which distracts us from important things going on in Fairmont and in Mother West Virginia.

By the way, I’ll give you odds that the end of the story is that the differences will be settled the way "manly men" do it in West Virginia - They’ll sit down together for a pepperoni roll, call each other assholes half-heartedly and decide that they’re each OK guys after all.

Addenda - 19 November 2009

1 - The Times-West Virginian published an apology by Andy Kniceley today. It showed a lot of class.

2 - Almost without exception, comments shown as "anonymous" here are signed, light & humorous, and/or from Shelf Villagers with their writing style tracks knowingly all over them. However, the irony of Comment #2 below was so delicious that I published it anyway.

3 - In the past 2 days, I've toured the anonymous blogosphere more than ever. Some of the writing is wretched and some pretty good. Unfortunately, none of it carries a shred of credibility, owing to the absence of guts by the authors. This is hardly in the spirit of Thomas Paine or Patrick Henry. They knew damn well that they were putting a lot on the line by honesty in writing.

4 - I have deleted the link to the Community.

Pippa passes.


06 November 2009

Announcement; Personal Puffery; Temporarily Deflated Observations

Public Presentation, George Washington Gavel

The Gavel that George Washington used in the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol will be presented to the public on Tuesday, 17 November 2009, at 3:00 PM, in the Division I Courtroom, Marion County Courthouse (Third Floor), Fairmont, West Virginia.

The Courthouse is a “Beaux Arts” structure (photo here somewhere) which dates to 1900, and the Courtroom has been restored to near-original condition. It’s the nicest courtroom in West Virginia and rivals anything you’ve seen on TV, including the Courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird. Judge Fred Fox is always happy to show it off to the public.

The gavel is in the care of Potomac Lodge #5, AF&AM, of the District of Columbia. The presentation in Fairmont is being conducted by Fairmont Lodge #9. There are only two occasions that any Masonic work is conducted publicly, portions of cornerstone placements and funerals. The Capitol ceremony was a Masonic one, and at the time President Washington was Grand Master of the American lodges.

A tiled lodge for Masons will be held at the Temple on Speedway that evening, dinner at 6, lodge at 7.

Publication Drivel?

The State Journal, the business newspaper for West Virginia, is wrapping up four weekly columns I’ve written on the process of producing a national health care plan. They are not available on the paper’s website, but are similar to my post of 11 September 2009 entitled "My President Can Beat Up Your President: Choosing A Rational Path to Health Care.”

Wednesday's (4 November 2009) Charleston Gazette published an op-ed by me on the PEIA (West Virginia Public Employee Insurance Agency) consideration of a premium surcharge for obese people. http://www.wvgazette.com/Opinion/OpEdCommentaries/200911040954 I am informed that the reaction in state government & gadfly circles is about even - half "right on," half "hang the bastard." I can live with either one.

I have a new t-shirt: "If you can read this, you're in range."

The War on Drugs

Large drug dealers no longer count currency, as that is too inefficient. Now, they WEIGH money. $1 Million in 100's weighs 37.4 pounds.


One of the current books I’m (re)reading is Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Recently, I reread Siddhartha. I wonder - Would either book sell if written today? Opinions? Rosary? Jim?

Pippa passes.


14 October 2009

A Small Tsunami of Blather from Equity Court

"Jesus Carries a .46" Revealed

On 5 October, I presented the aphorism “Jesus Carries a .46,” and invited interpretation, backed up by the promise of loot from the Three Parsec Bookshelf®. I disqualified a few readers who would have known immediately what it meant, since I try to avoid easy contests, although I’ve been surprised at how quickly some of you have twigged to odd things in the past. Well, I’ve had two submissions within 9 days.

Dearest SHEILA222!!! took a break from school and her own darling offspring and responded: "Jesus packs enough (heat) to stop you in your tracks. (and it sometimes makes you see the error of your ways before you end up on Boot Hill or places far distant from him.)"

And Dearest Rosary took a break from her pedagogical, literary and family life and asked: "Why would Jesus need a rifle, Roger? Unless, of course, he's tired of what some folk do in his name..." Jeez, Rosary, can't a guy just pray for instant death for the enemy?

Well, y’all aren’t spot on, but pretty darn close. Sheila referred to Jesus having excess “heat” which exerts moral power and Boot Hill which connotes gunfights. Rosary specifically mentioned firearms.

The phrase comes from an old joke. Someone asked the old Texas Ranger why he carried a .45. (Note to those unfamiliar: The .45 referred to here is a pistol. The “.45" means that the diameter of the barrel and therefore the projectile is 45/100ths of an inch, which is pretty big as bullets go.) His reply was, “Because they don’t make a .46,” meaning that he carried the most powerful pistol cartridge then available. The connotation, then, is that whatever we have, Christ has more power.

Both Sheila and Rosary got the fundamental idea, and. so they will be the recipients of something special from the Three Parsec Bookshelf®. Shiela, I can’t find your physical world address and Rosary, I don’t think I’ve ever had yours. So if youse would kindly advise me by email, I’ll send the cornucopia via the Inconvenient Oozing Third Dimension for your delight. (At least I hope it’s delight; I try.)

Note: Parson Norton gave it a gallant effort, he really did, and he he enjoyed the challenge. Indeed, he was laughing aloud about it last Wednesday night, and experimenting with Biblical themes. Norton is a wonderful fellow who recently gave me 2 books on “Process Theology,” the kind of subject he knows better than I know the stuff that I write about. And Bert picked up an in medias res discussion which was obscure but darn interesting. I think I’ll sic Norton on him to convert him. Hell, it worked for me. Oh, my goodness, there is a vision of the Red Gates of Hell for Pastor Josh - Bert and I in the same pew on a Sunday morning. Just contemplating that makes the week worthwhile.

Second note: Bert also mentioned weapons calibrated in millimeters. I have always clung to the belief that that's for sissies. On the other hand, some of the extremely violent (legal) military people opt for metric calibers, so perhaps I'd better not spread that one around. I'd hate to have the coroner call to her assistant over my dead body, "Hey, Sidney, throw me the metric ruler."

Third note: Sheila has pointed out in a comment that I'm somewhat of a dumbshit - she is correct, which will come as no shock to faithful readers. Sorry, Sheila!

Nobel Musings and Where is Alferd Packer When You Need Him?

It is THEIR tcatchke. It is THEIR money. Who cares who they give it to? Those who disagree can form their own foundation and give medals, cash, farm animals, 8-track players or lottery tickets to whomever they please for whatever reason they please. The hubbub is just another garment-rending distraction so we don’t see how we have to pay for the bunny that gets into the hat, we don’t realize that we’re paying someone who doesn’t know bunnies from giraffes to put the bunny IN the hat, and then we’re always amazed and pathetically grateful when he pulls the bunny FROM the hat and presents it to us as his gift so we vote for him again. I would ask “How stupid do they think we are?,” but we keep demonstrating that they are right day, after day.

Sunday night, the Fairmont Alferd Packer Memorial Peace Prize Committee spontaneously formed at the weekly pre-week planning supper, and is exploring our own low budget version of honoring who we want. We’re thinking ordinary people who keep going through think & thin.

New & Improved

The bank at which I do my business has a “new and improved” online banking system. I didn’t think anyone used that phrase, “new and improved” any more, but I was wrong. I only had to call customer service once for "simple instructions." In order to be qualified for “new and improved” service, you have to agree to the “new and approved” customer agreement which, if set in 10 point type on 8-1/2 x 11 inch paper, runs 21 pages – 11,130 words.

No Whining Wimp Zone

I well remember when I was 6 years old, my Dad carefully showed me how to safely handle a pocket knife and gave me a little one with a blade maybe 1-1/2 inches long. Since then, a knife has always been among my pocket litter awaiting me every morning, sometimes something petite and sometimes something large. In the news today, there is the story of a CUB SCOUT who had a collapsible knife/fork/spoon kit he got a his first Cub meeting with him at school, and he’s been expelled and put into the juvenile system for that. I cannot even summon sufficient words to articulate the argument. Only the most moronic powder puff wimp would . . . well, you see my drift.

On a related note, a couple of months ago, I went into the Courthouse in a nearby county where there is “tight security.” I was relieved of the 2 inch Gerber pocket knife I was carrying because it was “dangerous.” The Deputy kept a straight face and I could not tell if he was kidding or not. (I no longer carry Buck products, since they have sold American virtue to China, where they now manufacture products with soft Asian steel and neo-slave labor.) However, that day I also was having ankle trouble and so had a cane. No problem, I kept it. I had a friendly chat with the judge, who is a friend, and told him that I would have played hell killing him with the 2 inch knife. But with that nice long piece of straight American White Ash, he would have been dead meat.

Note: Soon, a bit on Glenn Beck’s moronic rant about having taken his pistol to the movie theater and the even more cretinous responses that has generated.

Time It Hurries On

I continue to be baffled by this electronics thing. I sent 2,000+ pages of a trial record to a printer today. The printer will put everything together and hand-carry the appeal to the Court in Richmond. I’m still stuck in the 70's when I paid $1 a month for touch-tone phone service and the height of word processing was the IBM Correcting Selectric Typewriter. You xeroxed stuff one page at a time. I also hand-wrote drafts of a lot of things, and it was a simpler time . . .

And, yes - - in many ways it WAS a better time and a happier time.

Pippa passes.


05 October 2009

Acute Ecclesiastical Improbabilities

Religious practice is a personal decision. Religion is a cultural imperative. You do not have to agree with me. That is the First Amendment in action. The remedy when you are presented with religious information or communications that you are unwilling to listen to is this: don’t listen. Simple. I give this preface because someone invariably gives me annoying clatter when these Dispatches turn to matters of Faith.

Our beloved Pastor Josh recently requested (Assigned? Harassed? Haranged?) some folks to write suggested “ministry values” for our church, which is a part of the denomination Disciples of Christ. Generally, the Disciples don’t focus on doctrinal details which exclude people from worship.

I had never heard of “ministry values.” When Josh brought the subject up, I pictured that most useless of all writings (ok, maybe it’s tied with the love letter), the “Mission Statement.” That’s where an organization says in flowing incomprehensible blather what they have no intention of ever doing, hoping that the rubes will be so confused that they will forget to evaluate the organization’s results.

I looked on the net and found some examples, which were of little help. I even found a translation of Martin Luther’s Theses, which were, well, whining twaddle so far as I could tell. Since a whole Reformation was based upon them, I suspect my own analysis is at fault rather than Luther was inadequate.

In any event, Draft #2 was moderately serious, and I submitted it on the level:

Some of the common values of the people of Central Christian Church:

The people of Central Christian Church are loving and faithful Christians. We do not march stiffly in step to one single dictated dogma. Rather we walk together as best our understanding of Christ’s teaching leads us to do.

As Disciples of Jesus the Christ, we faithfully adhere to the virtues taught by God - love, honestly, kindness, caring, humility, and service.

We love one another.

We accept one another.

We support & serve one another, knowing that God has called each of us to a ministry of our own, the nature of which is unique to each of us in accordance with the gifts He has given us.

In times of sorrow or trouble, we give extra of ourselves, whatever it may take, to serve our brethren, whether giving love, encouragement or loving guidance, always with humility and love, and always in privacy and confidence.

We support & serve our community, and the greater community of mankind.

We inhabit a garden of many herbs and flowers, each beautiful and useful in its way. (See Note 1)

There is evil in the world, and we face it without hesitation and with God’s justice. (See Note 2)

We acknowledge our need always to learn and to teach one another, to question, to respect the opinions of one another, and to open our minds to concepts and ideas. We focus upon the Bible for authority and also open ourselves to supplemental sources.

We expresss gratitude to God and live lives of Joy.

We incorporate prayer into our daily intimate lives as our communication to and from God.

There is no water so holy as the sweat of honest labor nor prayer so sincere as the extended hand.

Our core agreement is that Jesus is the Christ. He has gone to prepare a place for us and he will return and take us there personally. (See Note 3)

OK, I did my best given that I’m not what one would call an ecclesiastical scholar who hangs round the scriptorium and misses dinner.

But there was also Draft #1, which, while crude and whimsical, still had elements of my own beliefs:

We value rock & roll. [I’m not sure why, we just do.]

We value blended scotch and believe that the guys who order single malt are effete snobs.

We believe guys ought to ogle the girls and the girls ought to eye the guys and God planned it that way. Moreover, distillation was made possible to aid in that endeavor.

We are heartily sorry for our sins, but not so much that we’re going to quit doing all of them.

We value God’s peace and will smile and turn the other cheek right up until someone REALLY pisses us off or messes with one of our children, in which case all bets are off, and it’s time to open a six-pack of whoop-ass.

Jesus carries a .46. (See Note 4)

There is no water so holy as honest sweat.

Note 1: I specifically and intentionally stole that from Baha’i writings.

Note 2: OK, originally, it was “without fear,” which is mega-dumb.

Note 3: Our Dad said that each of us has a ministry, and I'll expand on that at some other time. This comes from a specific passage: "Let not your heart be troubled. Who believes in God believes also in me. In my Father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And I will come again, and take you there personally." This has been a part of communications with intimate friends in their own times of ultimate crisis, and is important to me.

Note 4: A Contest!!: The first person to describe the meaning of this phrase will win a book from the Three Parsec Bookshelf®, to be selected by blog proprietor. Subnote: Bros. Dennis, Joel, David and Bert are not eligible, because they would find the topic too easy. Bro. Bert’s wife is also ineligible, because I thing Bert’s been sandbagging us in his blog (see link to right), and LaBert knows more about the topic that all of us. However, if Bros. Josh or Norton or Sisters Carolyn or Sarai are the winners, I’ll DOUBLE the prize (goodness, I’m channeling Billy Mays - who, by the way, I have it on good authority that Bro. Josh killed) and maybe even throw in some other form of media. All caprice is final.

Please feel free to gather the firewood for a burning-at-the-stake, and we'll talk.

Pippa passes.


24 September 2009

The Hindenburg in Spray Paint

Tuesday’s Times-West Virginian had a raging above-the-fold story on the community’s outraged and righteous reaction to some racial graffiti spray painted on a street and parked cars. The guy who wrote the story is a very handy wordsmith who called the event “a clarion call to City Hall for action.” And even though city workers went out and cleaned up the vandalism, the reporter went on, “the ugly words’ lingering echo remains.” (The guy writes well.)

A number of community leaders, all of whom I respect, were quoted concerning the seriousness of the event and the need to take action. One individual strongly recommended “sensitivity training,” although I’m not sure who is supposed to get it, how we procure their attendance or how the message is supposed to get through to them.

Every city official who could scratch their way to a camera or a reporter’s notebook expressed his or her shock and dismay, treating the whole thing like the Hindenburg disaster, "Oh, the humanity!"

And in the meantime, some kids or young ne’er-do-well morons are sitting around drinking, smoking and laughing themselves silly over the attention their spray painting has gotten.

People: These are WORDS. When will we as a society move on? What will the milestones be?

Well, how about when we respond to graffiti by cleaning it up, painting it over and treating it as any other property crime. And when the miscreants have been to court, hey, as part of their sentence, now we have the cleaning crew ready to go for the next clean-up job that needs to be done.

Another milestone will be when we stop yakking about unity, unity, unity and start acting like we believe in it. Unity for America means a common language (that would be English), a common flag, a common nationality (American, not Irish-American, Italian-American, African-American, Asian-American, Martian-American, or any other hyphenated American) and a common purpose - Do what helps our families and neighbors.

A milestone will be when the Klan joins the Flat Earth Society in our level of respect. Another will be when criminal things done against people maliciously which cause harm will be treated as “hate crimes” because they are criminal things done against PEOPLE maliciously which cause harm. If someone has an irrational hatred based on an irrational classification, we can’t lobotomize them. But if they DO something criminal, we’ve had a legal system for the last 1000 years to deal with them.

A milestone will be when we don’t whine about what doesn’t harm us and don’t hunt for ways to be victims. If school administrators call for a prayer at some school breakfast, after breakfast someone will whisper in their ear, hey, dummy, don’t do that, rather than drag them to federal court and attempt to jail them. A milestone will be when we realize that we CAN have prayer in school. You want to pray, pray. Don’t make anybody else pray with you, but this is America, you’re free to follow God. We’d expect City Council to focus on 150 miles of leaky water lines that need replaced, and not get in a lather about things they can’t fix. A milestone will be when we cut through the crap and teach children that results count, and that we and they will not have a just society without it being a productive society and that requires responsible and productive people.

And a milestone will be that we think and reason. Words, how will be look at words?

Let me personalize this. I asked a couple of friends to insult me today, to really let it all out. With their suggestions, I synthesize that someone now writes about me, “Roger is a fat, ignorant, pompous moron, and how he ever expects to read all the books he buys is a fantasy!”

Well, that’s colorful. (Oh, I left out the REALLY colorful stuff as being unfit for general public consumption.) These are WORDS. If those words are true, they may be unpleasant, but facts are stubborn. If they are false, they are still WORDS, and if they do not cause tangible harm, they are nothing – wounded feelings don’t count. And if they are arguable, that’s the First Amendment at work. Some (newspapers, for example) have much bigger hammers with which to use words, and in our nation that’s controlled only loosely by libel laws in order to encourage free speech. So, let’s think: Is the insult to me true?

Fat - Got it in one. Facts are stubborn.

Ignorant - That’s mostly untrue, although there are some areas (e.g., popular culture, conventional etiquette) where my ignorance is breathtakingly broad. If you disagree with me (and many, many do), it’s usually because I just look at things differently. And if you’re thoughtful, I love talking about our differences.

Pompous - Not in the sense of driving a Mercedes or wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, but I speak up at inappropriate times, so this one isn’t unfair, so I guess I have to cop to this one, too.

Moron - That’ s meant in the pure epithet sense, so it’s a “sticks & stones” thing. Do I like it? No. “Sticks & stones,” it’s nothing in the real world. Being insulted isn’t pleasant, is it. But it’s still WORDS.

Books - Them's fightin' words - I'm gonna read them all if I die trying, which I probably will.

The WORD used by vandals - nigger - is an epithet. It is a word. The person/concept/thing/object it describes does not exist. It is an insult. Do we really want to honor the guys who toss that around, who deface public spaces and who cheapen public discourse by taking their idiocy seriously? Is a knucklehead with a can of spray paint stronger than our power of self-control?

Pippa passes.


21 September 2009

Welcome to our buffet: Tonight we have Ignorant or Prurient, Take Your Pick

The stories are West Virginia, but their analogs are everywhere.

A week ago in Taylor County (just to the south of us), there was an MVA (motor vehicle accident), a head-on, on Route 50. A car containing 4 high school students caught fire and burned, and while those passengers were all flown to a trauma center, they all died. Grafton High School and all of Grafton are having genuine difficulties coming to grips with this, especially since it is a small town in a small county (<20,000). Everyone who responded to this emergency - the Sheriff himself and numerous deputies, the prosecuting attorney himself, the emergency squad people, both fire departments, and the state police - knew these people or their parents or friends. The EMS grapevine has described the scene as well-managed and efficiently run, and the victims received optimal care under the circumstances.

So far, I have not heard one damn word about the people who worked this accident, nor about the effect of such a thing on them. Not a damn word. They are not whiners, they certainly aren't cowards, they are the people who do moderate to very dangerous things daily for their fellow man. A "y'all are doing a good job," "we're glad you're there," "how's it going?" or the like is appreciated far more than you can imagine. A note, a pan of lasagna sent to the stations at Christmas or the like is stunningly rare.

I can somewhat accurately describe those peoples' experiences that night, but trust me when I say that you do not want to read the details. The work had to be done, somebody had to do it, and we as a society should be very glad that those people were there.

Also about a week ago, a Charleston Police officer was shot and killed in the middle of the night while on duty. This was a subject of discussion and great sadness in the state over the past week (indeed, a good bit in our church). I hope that I don't need to explain our debts to police officers.

Today, I went on the website of "West Virginia's Newspaper," The Charleston Gazette. There is a link to a sound file of the radio traffic from the shooting. Silly me, I thought snuff movies belonged in underground porno. This is the worst prurience I can imagine, and the drooling idiots who are sucked into listening to this with some sort of lame justification that they are learning something are pathetic. Radio communications under great stress (any such communications for that matter) are harsh and emotional, and it is nothing but a cheap thrill, an adrenaline masturbation to listen to that. Shame on the Gazette.

Pippa passes.


16 September 2009

Lying Your Ass Off; Tales of a Lonely Power Chair

Effective Political Fundraising Methodology 101: Lying Your Ass Off

I’m on all sorts of email lists for different organizations of different orientations. Today, I received an “urgent” email from the Minuteman PAC. It provided, in part:

“Since last week when Joe Wilson stood in truth and declared Obama a liar on health care benefits to illegal aliens, the liberal left has raised well over $1,000,000 for his Democrat opponent. $1,000,000 in one week for a seat in Congress!!!”

* * *

“So, let's sum this all up. Because Congressman Joe Wilson has the guts to stand up and call a lie a lie, he has been forced to endure:
--- an energized and well-funded Democrat opponent
--- the hacking and crashing of his website by leftwing nuts
--- the continual lecturing and barrage of mainstream media attacks
--- the first formal rebuke of a Congressman...ever
--- and being called a racist by a former president [Carter.]”

The email was signed by Brett Farley, Executive Director, Minuteman PAC, whatever that is.

One kind of lie is the omission which leads intentionally to a false impression. “. . . the liberal left has raised well over $1,000,000 for his Democrat opponent. $1,000,000 in one week for a seat in Congress!!!” Congressional campaigns are now cracking the million dollar barrier routinely. That’s a shame, it’s a scandal and it’s a fact. And according to politico.com today, both Joe Wilson and his opponent, “former Marine Rob Miller” BOTH have cracked $1 Million since last Wednesday in new money. [Oh, to the extent that “former Marine” denotes history, it’s a thing of honor. To the extent that Miller's campaign sticks it on everything, it’s pandering. Rep. Wilson also has a distinguished military history.]

Being called a racist? Come on, Brett, are you kidding? Surely the “Minuteman PAC” has the guts to endure some name-calling. If not, here's another name: Whiners.

And the best of all: “the first formal rebuke of a Congressman...ever” How shall we respond? Well, maybe . . . You lie!

Congress rebukes and censures at will. Often, the recipients ignore them, which apparently is the posture of Rep. Wilson. (Actually, I don’t blame him for that. He apologized, said it was stupid, and it’s a waste of time to keep it up. The horse is dead.) On 9 July 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 429-2 to rebuke President Obama over his signing statement on 24 June which said that he could ignore provisions of the law he was signing on how a $106 billion loan guarantee to the International Monetary Fund could be used. I haven't heard any "oh how awful's" this week about that. The House and Senate rebuked Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 when they were annoyed by his annual message. Nope, no call to apologize to TR's heairs.

Well, maybe Brett only meant rebukes, not the far more serious censures. After all, shouldn’t Rep. Wilson be concerned about getting a lesser “punishment” to ignore? This is film noire. Representatives censured include William Stanbery (1832, insulting the speaker), Benjamin Gwinn Harris (D-MD) and Alexander Long (D-OH) (1864, saying nice things about the Confederacy), William D. Bynum (R-IN) (1890, bad language), Thomas L. Blanton (D-TX) (putting naughty things into the Congressional Record), Laurence M. Keitt (D-SC) (1856, pulling a gun on other Representatives to keep them from helping Senator Charles Sumner as Rep. Preston Brooks was beating hell out of him on the floor of the Senat with a cane), John Winthrop Chanler (D-NY) (1866, insulting Congress)(maybe he said, “You lie!”), Barney Frank (D-MA)(1990, fixing parking tickets for his bunkie), Gerry Studds (D-MA) and Dan Crane (R-IL) (1983, sexual behavior with congressional pages), John W. Hunter (D-NY) (1867, bad language),
Fernando Wood (D-NY) (1868, bad language), Edward D. Holbrook (D-ID Ter.) (1869, bad language), plus a minor host of others.

So what might we conclude about the clear implication that Rep. Joe Wilson is being uniquely picked on? Well . . . That it’s a lie.

Speaking of rebukes, here’s a funny one: President Obama has “rebuked” Congressional Democrats for calling for the more serious “censure” of Rep. Wilson, calling what they were doing “a circus.” (He’s right, by the way.)

And here’s perhaps the funniest thing about the whole matter. Look at Joe Wilson’s record. This is an intelligent guy, a moral guy and a nice guy. He acted sincerely and with abominable lack of control at an extremely bad time. He apologized for that. As a result, he has the opportunity to be a spokesman for civil discourse. Picture a public service announcement - “Hey, I was impolite. If you act like a jerk, your message doesn’t get across. Let’s all talk rationally and work together.” But if political minelayers and yip-yap doggies of dogma can turn this into millions of ad-bucks, it will only encourage freakish public behavior and communication.

Simply a wonderful lesson here. Children of America, are you watching?

Tales of a Power Chair

One of my very longest-term clients stopped in last week for some deed work. He was my landlord when I graduated from law school, and is a hell of a man. At the age of 95, he still mows his own grass, drives to Florida, and takes women out to dinner. He was telling me that someone bought him one of those “power chairs” that’s advertised on TV to make his life easier. “Ain’t no way,” he said. “I start using that damn thing, I’ll die. That dark angel’s gonna have to catch up to me, boy, I’m not gonna sit and wait for him, by God.”

I cannot improve that attitude with any comment.

Pippa passes.


11 September 2009

My President Can Beat Up Your President: Choosing A Rational Path to a Health Care

President Obama’s speech last Wednesday night was convoluted, hit-and-miss and largely irrelevant blather. Oh, it was well-written and lofty and all of that. The speech appealed to my pride as an American, but then it doesn’t take much to do that. We should be proud that we are Americans.

As a political “necessity,” the President seeks compromise in a world (1) where a substantial number part of his political foes will brook absolutely zero compromise, (2) where a substantial number of his own political groupies are drooling to “help” by sticking the knife in the “other side” wherever they can (and in their wildest dreams ending up with a single-payer system, and (3) where the only compromise in play is some patchwork on a system that is in crisis. Such is not the recipe even for no-bake brownies.

Let us consider the current players, Congress and all of the loudest people participating in the health care & insurance debate. Their primary concerns are not illness, accident or suffering. Oh, they are mostly normal humans who don’t like the abstract idea of cancer eating up young people and so forth, but these are generalities, not gut-check images of dying people. Representatives, Senators, Congressional staff people, the Executive Office of the President, the entire pig-snail bureaucracy, Gucci-suit insurance executives, Armani-suit health care executives, disability examiners, the kinds of doctors who review files rather than see patients, wing-tip & Manolo Blanik trial lawyers on both sides of malpractice cases, HR directors, health care union reps, prominent writers, K Street lobbyists, political pundits, think tank policy wonks, and the usual suspects in the peanut gallery follow the money. And they really have three things in common:

1 - They have good medical insurance so the debate isn’t personal to most of them.

2 - They will continue to prosper personally so long as they focus on money first.

3 - They will moan like they’ve been gut-shot if you say they are all about money and claim that they out-nice Mother Theresa.

Thus, they follow what Hagar the Horrible calls “The Viking Motto”: I got mine.

My own anecdotal observation is this: The amount people care goes up with the amount of blood and feces they get on their hands. I don’t know of any scientific study like that, but the kindest and most caring and most human people about health care are those in the trenches. Perhaps it is the lowly “orderlies” and “Certified Nursing Assistants” who have the greatest caring - and most dignity - of all. But the docs and nurses and x-ray techs and med techs and paramedics and so forth are right there, too.

Following the money is DEstructive. That’s easier. It takes less thought, although the players have to have fewer morals and stronger stomachs. One of the very best follow-the-money strategies is the simplest: If you don’t have good enough facts or shocking enough facts, make stuff up. People will believe it. Thousands of people die of cancer when insurance companies cancel policies after they get sick because the insured didn’t tell the company about their acne. That’s a pretty good story. The champion story of recent months is the one about the bureaucratic Committee to Kill Granny. That was inspired. In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, where he proposed that the Irish solve their hunger problem by selling and eating their children. That was condemned as cruel satire. The funniest thing is, the 18th Century people knew it was satire and the 21st Century people swallowed the Committee to Kill Granny hook, line & sinker. Who says we’re making intellectual progress?

So let’s take the Vince Lombardi approach. In two years, Lombardi took the Green Bay Packers from the bottom of the NFL to the championship. One of his mantras was “The basics.” What are the basics of health care? They are not instantly to declare that all employers will buy health care or that we’ll switch on Tuesday to a single payer. The basics of health care REQUIRE that we as a nation answer 3 questions. These questions are hard to answer, but the questions are simple and clear:

1 - Who will get health care?
2 - What care will they get?
3 - Who will pay for the care?

Of course I have opinions, and I’m not pretending to hide them. But this is not advocating “my plan,” because I really don’t have one. Let’s identify the questions and consider the process we MUST go through to answer them. If you disagree with what I might think is a good solution, that’s fine with me - but you still have to confront the problems and answer the questions. If you don’t answer the questions, you’re not talking about health care, you’re talking about moving money around and ignoring sick people.

Under the President’s plan “announced” Wednesday, we get the idea that everybody (with unspecified exceptions) with get unspecified health care paid for either by themselves or their employers or unspecified others, possibly financed in an unspecified way by unspecified savings from unspecified waste and fraud.

OK, that sounds harsh. But under many health insurer’s plans, healthy people hopefully won’t get sick and if they do, they’ll try to find a way to deny or limit coverage, and if they can’t do that, they’ll approve treatments which were modern 15 years ago and limit payments for what they do approve to what was reasonable 20 years ago and stick the patient with the rest.

Under the overall prevailing American system, the most advanced medical care in the world is theoretically available. Some people get all of it, some people get some of it and some people get very little of it. Generally, those who get the least are those who work at relatively low paying jobs.

Under the most liberal plan, the single payer, we will provide everybody with everything paid by taxes and pay doctors what we damn well please, but rich folks will pay the best doctors privately because they’ll establish a private-pay, superior care network. Other folks will get the care they get when the system gets around to giving it to them.

Let’s look at some issues that will come up as the questions are considered and answered.


Currently, the rich get good care, and so do people with excellent health insurance. Those in government-as-employer-funded insurance plans (such as members of Congress) have the best insurance of all, which will pay for just about anything forever. Other insurance plans go from good to nearly useless, depending on the plan and that depends mostly on what premiums are paid. Insurance companies are not stupid. They have to take in more than they pay out. If they don’t, they go to a place called “Out Of Business.”

The poor get an acceptable level of health care in many instances. No, I will not retract that. The poor who qualify for Medicaid have health insurance which is better than the insurance of most working people. You may think that’s good, you may think that’s bad, but whatever you think it is, it’s a fact. The “working poor” and “lower middle class” more often get the shaft. With too much income for Medicaid and too little to pay the employee part of health insurance premiums plus deductibles and co-pays, these people are the most at-risk for having medical needs and no way to pay for them. Again - be it good, bad, or just their tough luck, this is a fact in America today. Oh, hospitals tout their level of “charity care,” which is the dollar value of care which they give to people who they know can never pay. That is a good thing, but let’s not get teary eyed here. There is no person called “Hospital” who has to eat macaroni tonight because s/he gave too much charity care this month. The executive staff still gets paid. The power stays on. “Charity care” is another term for “shift the cost.” Somebody pays the cost to treat charity patients. Those costs are just moved to whoever pays for the other patients.

Before we look at what care will be given, let’s consider two special categories of potential patients. First, there are the illegal aliens/illegal immigrants. This is a hot button topic. Representative Joe Wilson improvidently but sincerely blew his top during the President’s speech. That was dumb, but I doubt if it was planned or cynical. Nevertheless, it is CERTAIN that the following event will occur: A car will pull up to an Emergency Room door. A woman will get out, rush in and tell the people inside, “My husband is having a heart attack.” The husband is an illegal immigrant. This is no longer a theoretical debate, and we are cowards if we hide from the issue. We as a society have to decide: Does the guy having the heart attack come in the hospital for treatment that may cost tens of thousands of dollars that others (like taxpayers) will pay, or is he turned away. There is no compromise here. He’s in or he’s out. He’s an illegal immigrant. Society, decide.

The second people to think about are the “they did it to themselves” crowd. This person has lung cancer. S/he was a smoker for 30 years. “They did it to themselves.” Will that affect their access to care? AIDS. (Give me a break - of course there are people who got AIDS purely by non-preventable causes. They are a minority, however. Most AIDS patients could have avoided the disease by using sanitary or sterile precautions.) Are they fully in the system? Fat people. They/we have more heart attacks and strokes. Is it fair that others pay for their/our sinful indulgences?

Again, whatever your answers might be, the questions have to be answered.


America has the most advanced medical care on Earth available to its citizens. That doesn’t mean that all the citizens get that care, but it is available. In 21st Century Health Care America, what care actually will be given?

Preventive care - We know so much about the value of preventive care, but citizens do not take care of their own health and third-party payers either don’t pay or poorly pay for prevention. Dental and vision care are particularly poorly covered, but each can prevent serious (and expensive to treat) medical conditions later. Adults need PSA/prostate exams or mammograms, and every older adult needs colonoscopies. Without good insurance, you don’t get those, and if you contract the diseases they are designed to detect, you will more likely die, but only after you have much more expensive treatment than you would have had if the condition had been caught earlier. Payment for diabetic medications and testing supplies can help avoid amputations or kidney dialysis. Ignore the fact that those are awful things for a patient to experience. Even if we are just following the money, it seems stupid to let those things happen.

Garden variety acute care - We do pretty well there. Appendectomies, hospitalization for pneumonia, getting stitches, lab work and x-rays seem to happen reasonably dependably. When we talk about what care is given, we will have to listen to the doctors mostly. True, there are as many insufferable egomaniac doctors as insufferable egomaniac lawyers as insufferable egomaniac politicians, but the docs are the only ones who know the details of medical care.

Expensive care - As the care becomes more expensive, we look at its cost and necessity more closely. Does this patient really need a cardiac bypass operation, or will placement of a stent do? Does this patient need a month in a rehabilitation center? And what are reasonable costs. (See below, “Who will pay,” about cost containment.)

Experimental and “Hail Mary” care - I want to live forever. Because of my faith, I fully expect to live forever in the broadest sense, but I want to live here on this Earth in a young and healthy body forever. Impossible, you say? Not so fast there, I’m working on it. Most people have the same goal, at least in secret. There are some dread diseases that are almost sure to kill a patient in a relatively short time.

Let’s assume a patient age 60 has cancer of the funny bone. The survival rate for that mythical cancer over one year is 5%. A bone marrow transplant is the treatment, costs around $200,000 and assume that it increases the one year survival rate to 10%. Does the patient want the treatment? Yes. The patient is broke and has no insurance. Do we pay for that treatment from public funds. Hey, says the patient, it’s a bargain, it doubles my chances of living. Hey, says the heartless people who have to balance the books, it’s 200,000 bucks we can spend where it will do more good, you’re 60, and doubling the chance to 10% still is a bad deal. The answer? I don’t know. But we have to decide. When the situation arises, we will not have time for philosophical debate or a 10 day court hearing or extended prayerful reflection. We have to make a decision. The patient is treated. The patient is not treated. Period.

End of life care and other “hopeless” care - Life is precious and we have an obligation to keep a patient alive, period. Everyone has the right to a dignified death at a time of their choosing, and if they are unable to choose, we need to figure out what they would want. Or something else. Or I don’t want to make the decision, doc, you decide, I’m going outside for a smoke. Here is another hot button issue. It is virtually impossible to divorce this one from the appearance of morality and money. Proponents of different views will even embrace those concepts. The anencephalic baby. Anencephalic means no brain. None. No place for conscious thought to form. A soul? Don’t ask me, I’m not that smart. Science says there is no reason to use medical resources on this baby. I cannot tell you the “right” answer. These babies will be born. We as a society have to decide the answer. Granny will die. How long will the standards of treatment support her life? If she is in an irreversible coma, will we put on a respirator and keep her going at $2,000 a day for a month? (How dare you ask the question! No, perhaps how dare I answer it in a way you consider wrong, but we must ask the question and discuss it. If we don’t, we prove ourselves to be cowardly and stupid. I don’t care how strongly you hold your beliefs. But if you are unwilling to talk, you are an idiot.)

Last year, I sat in an ICU as a dear friend died after supportive medication was stopped. This was his choice. The ICU had other patients in crisis, so it was my buddy, me and another buddy. We read the Bible to him, prayed with him and for him, and it took him 11 hours to die. He could have lived a few more weeks or months in pain and almost complete dependence on caregivers. I do not know as a fact what the right thing to do was. I think he did the right thing. I may be wrong. Will we, can we as a society make this decision in the name of efficiency and cost-effectiveness? Decide.


In the largest sense, this is a trick question. Ultimately - the people will pay. Always. There is no Ms. Insurance Company who will be peeved that she is overdrawn because Joe Lunchbucket needed an operation. Her managers may be upset. Her stockholders who depend on dividends may gripe. But notice, those are real people. There is no Captain Government to ride to the rescue and pay gladly for the incomprehensible art on the Hospital walls. But there are taxpayers whose pockets (and sweat) created that value. Real people. So the question is not whether it is insurance, government or individuals who pay. It is simpler. What people pay?
On its face, the simplest and fairest system is that the sick people themselves pay for their own care. If a person of means is impoverished by health care, well, s/he’s the one with the medical needs, it’s not our fault. Here we go, “How heartless!” No, if we don’t ask hard questions, if we are so afraid that we won’t confront them, we are cowardly and stupid.

Any other method of payment shifts the burden to someone else. If the “someone else” is the government (funded by taxes, i.e., the public), employers (funded by customers, i.e., the public), insurance companies (funded by premiums, i.e., the public) or a mix of those, this is simply a risk-spreading device. In other words, it’s insurance whether an insurance company is involved or not. What people pay the premiums?

And here’s where the “single payer” concept breaks down. It would not be a “single payer.” It would be a “200 million people who pay their taxes payer” system with one checkbook. The public foots the bill every time. The wealthier part of the public foots more of the bill every time. So the “who pays” is a matter of degree. How hard will we stick it to how many? And where will we catch them? From their paychecks? Their dividends? Their taxes? Their monthly bills and payments for goods and services? Will we target some and excuse others? If Ohio requires employers to pay full health insurance for workers and West Virginia doesn’t, does West Virginia get the Honda plants? There are lots of issues and lots of dogs in the fight, but make no mistake: People will be paying the bill.

Waste & Fraud?

Walk into a hospital. How many people are wearing scrubs? How many people (men & women both) are wearing suits? Now you know about the waste. Watch what drug sales people drive, google “health care fraud,” check the relationships between doctors, hospitals, owners of MRI’s, critically look at the minutes of hospital boards for what is hinted at but not there, and audit a sample of Medicare billing for whether the services were really provided. Now you know about the fraud.

Tort Reform

I love hysteria. I still remember Schwartzenegger in the Conan movie talking about the joy of hearing the lamentation of the survivors of his slain enemies. Aren’t lawsuits great? OK, some honesty here. Some lawsuits are bizarre, and should not be brought, although not nearly as many as the insurance companies pretend. This is not because malpractice lawyers are all nice and responsible, it is because they want to pay for their Mercedes & Lamborghnis and the other cars they don’t park in front of the Courthouse when they go try a case. A bad case will get thrown out and because these cases are done on a “contingency fee,” (the lawyer gets a piece of the action; no action, no fee), so they’ll not knowingly bring a bad suit. Some plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, are stupid and bring bad suits anyway. There is and always has been a way to throw these suits out, but only after some expense has gone into the defense of them.

Some doctors are good doctors who rarely made mistakes, but once in a while do so. A few doctors are quacks and hacks who blunder their way through bodies happily helping the Grim Reaper. “Tort reform” does not discriminate among these people. Actually, let’s go further with the honestly. This is not tort “reform.” Every change is called “reform.” If someone suggests that we put surviving spouses out in the bitter cold when their mate dies, someone would call it “parental reform.” “Tort reform” is really “targeted lawsuit limitation.” For particular defendants, doctors, we decide that the needs of society are more important than the needs of the individual, and so the person who believes that s/he has been injured by medical negligence (whether s/he is right or wrong) will have a more difficult time proving it and will recover less than what a jury would say were a correct verdict if the harm were inflicted by another sort of defendant. (On the other hand, doctors and insurance companies have lots of money, so malpractice verdicts may be larger than other verdicts.) You can say that lawsuit limitation is a bad idea, you can say that’s a great idea, I don’t care. That’s the purpose of it, and is a policy choice. Let’s just be honest. In the meantime, the liability insurance companies terrorize doctors with tall tales and rape them with jaw-dropping premiums (which get passed on to guess-who, the people who pay for health care).

The whole fear of malpractice suits does add very large costs to the health care system through “defensive medicine.” A doctor can be morally certain that a patient has some minor problem. Then the doctor thinks, well, there’s a 1 in 10,000 chance s/he has some particular major condition which would show on an MRI. Just my luck, the doc thinks, this patient has that, I’ll get sued, and so forth. So the doctor orders an MRI that someone else will pay for, and it’s $750 to $1,000 spent for no rational reason. With the fear that’s out there, justified or not, we can hardly blame those doctors.

And so, here’s the choice. Continue the circus. “You lie!” “There are significant details to be ironed out.” “The time for games is over.” “Socialism.” “Mandate.” Blah, blah, blah. Or employ rational minds. Answer the three questions.

Note: A bright spot: West Virginia’s Governor, Joe Manchin, is encouraging business to offer health insurance to attract and retain good and loyal employees. He’s not telling them how to do it. He’s not asking the Legislature to pass laws or making executive decrees forcing them to do it. He’s communicating logically, using reason, and trusting the honor and intelligence of business people to do the right thing in an efficient way that works for them and that improves life for everyone.

Pippa passes.


06 September 2009

Small Stuff and Discomfort

I’ve some short observations tonight.

New Eyes

I am pleased that several new readers of these humble scriblings have contacted me in the past month. I make no pretense that I have superior ideas or insight. Wait, wait, wait, that’s bullshit. Of course I do. But where I (hope that I) differ is that I know that I may be wrong. Adopting convictions instantly without thought or the intake of facts is stupid, and unwillingness to reevaluate and engage in reasoned, fact-based discussion/debate is equally stupid. Anyway, all are welcome and all are encouraged to comment and direct us to their own offerings in the Marketplace of Reason. [This was formerly termed the "Marketplace of Ideas," but that admitted ideas such as "The Secret" (sit on your ass and think what you want and you get it), debt stimulation (get out of debt by incurring more debt), and the suspension of Cause & Effect, so I've capriciously changed the name of the souk. Reason raises the bar.]

Healthy Children

I sit here in the domesticity of Casa LaJ, and at the other end of the room the flicker of the TV competes with the laptop for my eye. [My aside: This is a hardwired brain thing. Early man needed to be on the ball to keep from being eaten, so we are wired to respond to motion.] And a few moments ago, there was some sort of ad or blurb for some children’s show or CD involving “Thomas the Tank Engine,”, essentially a talking train in a little society of talking trains. That takes me back to when Tim was very little and we would watch such things and read such books. It’s easy now for “kids” of his age to pooh-pooh those things. He came in about 1 AM this morning and we talked a while about his hard night shift at Rescue 20 last night, one of those places that services the harsh world. But Thomas and his friends, and Winnie the Pooh, and Dr. Suess and the Lorax and the Cat in the Hat and the stuffed animals, they are all real, too. They are a part of the emotional and moral world of learning for little ones and the awakening to wonder of them and the reawakening to wonder of jaded adults.

I am reminded of a lesson I learned unexpectedly in college. I was spending a couple of weeks at the State Capitol on an internship led by my good friend and mentor, Dr. Jim Whisker. (Google him - Conservative voice, writer on early firearms) One of the people he had sit with us, a group of 20 high energy college students who, by then, were running on the reserves which the 20-somethings seem to have, was Jack Whiting, the director of the Kanawha County Regional Development Authority. Jack brought with him a stuffed tiger and passed it around. Well, we were college students, not little kids, so the darn thing went around quickly and at arms’ length - almost. Until (well past me), someone cuddled it a bit and lost themselves for a second, and then it seemed to be OK to act like humans. What a lesson - you can be a human and sentimental and it doesn’t lessen you as a strong person.


I spent the afternoon at No. 3. When I have things to do on a computer that don’t require a large screen or lots of books or documents, I may move to the armchair with the laptop. This afternoon as I was there, the stubbornly unnamed neighborhood cat who is attempting to inveigle himself into the office dropped into my room. (He pops in when Pooka the Dalmation takes an outside break.) Cat cynically jumped onto my chest. Two hours later, I woke up and resumed activity. But don’t get the idea from this that I am moved by my many animal friends.

The Clampetts Make a Phone Call

Until Friday, I had never made an international phone call. I am extraordinarily untraveled and of unimaginative geographic focus. (Also, as the Shelf Community denizens know, my modern popular cultural orientation is totally out of whack.) Friday, that All Changed, and I Joined The Pepsi Generation. On My Very Own, I Made An International Phone Call. (To Tunisia.)

It’s interesting how blasé on the one hand and cocky on the other we become about the things we do. Oh, my yes, what a hillbilly bumpkin, pshaw, never called Africa? Good heavens, you’re impressed just by meeting The Governor? You must be kidding! A little blood? That bothers you? How odd! Goodness, I meant this to be light, but I’ve led myself into one of my pedantic hobby horses, when people believe that something about them makes them better than others. Smarter? Often that’s true. More skilled at particular things? No problem. But better?

The Discomfort Part

This evening, the notion of writing in the short blurb bothers me, and I’ve no idea why.

Pippa passes.


29 August 2009

Deep Fields

The Absolute, Ultimate Contemplation


Above is a link and a photo. The photo is of the “Hubble Deep Field,” and the link is to an animation of the same.

“Hubble” refers to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in low earth orbit for 19 years. It is a reflecting telescope (meaning it has a precisely configured mirror that focuses the images into a “charged coupling device”) and because it is above the atmosphere, the resolution and clarity of the images are superior.

Some astronomers booked time on the Hubble to examine a teeny-tiny area of northern sky where there appeared to be nothing. Time on the Hubble is hard to get because so many astronomers want to use it and the objects it finds are so faint that the exposure times are very long.

The Hubble Deep Field image is of a "field" of thousands of galaxies 13 billion light years away. The animation is of the estimated distance of the galaxies (there’s a way to do that by measuring the Doppler shift of the light) and flies you through them in 3 Dimensions.

The contemplation is the sort of thing that keeps us up at night, or at least keeps some of us up. It is a challenge for mere human minds, certainly a challenge for theologians, the church, and philosophers. The Earth is 4 billion years old. The light from these galaxies started toward us 13 billion years ago. These galaxies each contain 100 billion stars, more than all of the grains of sand on all of the beaches of the Earth.

Traditional religious doctrine says that God created the heavens and the Earth, and sometimes it is expressly stated and always implied that all of this was created JUST FOR US. That’s a logical conclusion for a civilization which has no optical magnification. But as we have been able to observe the farther and farther away (as well as the smaller and smaller), it has become steadily - no, geometrically - more evident that the Universe is more complex and extensive than we ever imagined. Even at the possibly limited level that we now perceive, it may be much more vast even than that.

This creates a conundrum for earthly theologians and philosophers. Do you ignore the other 70 sextillion stars and their probable planets, and the possibility of life on those planets? (No appeal to scientific atheism there, that’s a way of saying that God as Builder had a lot of job sites going at once.) Do you accept the possibility (only a moron would talk authoritatively about numerical probabilities) that God is worshipped elsewhere in familiar or unfamiliar ways? Or is this a thing like me with calculus, darn it, they say this makes sense but I don’t see it, so I’ll do things that I know how to do and trust that somebody understands this.

Look at the video, stare at the picture and see if you can walk away without feeling uneasy. If you can, well, that’s your look out.

Age, Restraint, Yang, Yin

I’ve never been far separated from the fire/rescue service since leaving active field work. (I’m not sure when that date is - either my last emergency call or my last day as an emergency services officer.) In any event, like anything that’s a part of your life, it stays with you and if you’re not careful, you tend to pontificate ad nauseum forever.

Tim is about to take USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) training, after which he will be eligible for the regional USAR team. He and I have had lively conversations on the subject.

USAR involves Bad Things That Happen In Urban Environments, such as building collapses. Thus, the incidents are generally large, affect many victims, and require many unusual technical skills at a very high level. 9/11? Every USAR team in the world was headed for their gear and an airport within an hour.

I never had USAR training, and I know that it has changed from 20 years ago anyway. It involves sophisticated rope/descent/lifting systems, stabilization/support systems, and victim location, all of which requires heavy application of practical engineering and physics. It takes an enormous investment of time to become trained and maintain a high level of training. Well, some people in their 20's have the energy for that. (I almost said “guys.” It’s not exclusively men who do the very heavy rescue work, but mostly. I don’t know if it’s cultural, biological or a body strength thing.)

My concern is the number of live incidents a regional team in West Virginia will have to work. This is a concern, not the expression of superior knowledge. Having a specialized team nearby is a good thing. Having people going into an ultra-dangerous task with anything but the very best chance of getting out is a bad thing. Like so many parts of life, it is a yin/yang, although which is which is always the argument. This is similar to the hazardous materials flap of years ago in Marion County. Someone came to the County Commission with an elaborate plan to equip a hazmat team with a hazmat response truck for the low, low price of $200,000, and requested that the Commission fork it over. The Commission asked me for a recommendation, and after consulting some people more knowledgeable than I by far (but not all of whom agreed), I advised against it. The reason? There are so many industrial chemicals transported (something like 150,000) and so few incidents in the county, fitting firefighters out for an aggressive response created an unacceptable risk of killing rescuers. Again, yin/yang. (Years later, county policy changed somewhat, and now there is a moderate hazmat response capability.)

One lesson for those outside this professional community is that before you see the vehicles pass you with lights and siren, a whole lot of thought, planning and training has happened to make it look easy. It’s not easy. It’s not safe. Every time I see these folks on a call, I say a quick prayer for all aboard. They’re too busy, and they are doing God’s work.


I’m amused about odd things, I suppose. When I am in a courtroom or a church or other “official” public place, I see everyone being very, very quiet even when nothing is going on. (That being said, often I am too damn boistrous in those places, and I gotta cut that out.) When Court is not in session, it’s just a big room. You’re permitted to have a conversation, to tell a joke and to act like a person. Ditto with any other mere place.

At other times, too, people in these places seem to stay very, very quiet when perhaps they think that it might be good to say something or do something positive or encouraging.

Our church has an excellent choir. There aren’t many voices, but the ones there are have good quality and lots of volume. Three or four weeks ago, they outdid themselves with an anthem, something loud, something that everyone was letting it all hang out, singing at full voice, the tenors getting red faced, and they were defining “singing with gusto.” The anthem ended. Silence. Silence. And then, God bless them, some soul in the very back started to applaud and everyone took it up, relieved, because it was now OK to make appropriate noise.

In my relatively limited contacts with predominately black churches, there is a different tradition, a tradition of more open opportunities to praise and communicate. I’m not sure exactly what mechanism is at work. Whatever it is, I suspect it’s healthy.

There is a line from a Gene Wilder movie, Silver Streak, where a black fellow is criticizing a white fellow dancing: “How come you white people always have a tight ass?,” referring to his being clumsy and inhibited.

Makes you wonder. Why do we as a people always have a tight ass?

For as Long as the Grass Grows and the Eagle Flies

In 1985, I was just a beginning apprentice curmudgeon, but showing a sliver of promise. (Dissenting view: A shadow of the horror to come.) That’s the year that some organization in the county hit upon the “memorial brick” as a fundraising project. The idea was, people would pay, I think, $40 to have a special brick engraved with a loved one’s name (or their own name), and that would be part of the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. For $75, a larger concrete thing was available. Judging from the number of bricks, they made a lot of money and a reasonably attractive sidewalk was installed.

I noted at the time that the whole idea was silly, because it is unseemly for living people to prepare memorials to themselves and a vain hope that any memorial will last such that more than one or two generations later, anyone will care. [To illustrate: During Charles Dickens' life, one Wilkie Collins was at least as popular a novelist. Ever heard of him? (Unless you've read the recent novel, Drood, by Dan Simmons, which trades upon his very obsurity.)] That was not a popular notion in 1985 and as a mere apprentice, I knew to shut up and bide my time.

Walking into the courthouse this week, I noted some deterioration of the sidewalk. Many of the bricks are becoming worn. The concrete blocks are getting pretty shabby, as concrete isn’t nearly as weather resistant as brick. And, of course, fifty years from now, whoever decides about streets and sidewalks will have no problem with digging the whole thing up and replacing it with something else.

Which would we rather have - George Washington’s hatchet? Or his nation? Lincoln’s hat? Or his Union? The power of things as memorials is pretty small.

Pippa passes.


08 August 2009

Wanted, Dead or Alive: The Dirty Rat Bastard Who Kidnapped Roger and Wrote Nice, Non-Controversial Things in His Blog

You want sharp? You want erudite? You want controversial? You want the Truth? Well, I've none of the first three tonight, and I'll NEVER have the Truth.

Disaster at Equity Court

Owing to an unfortunate incident involving one of my animal friends, Equity Court has lost all four stars as a "Friendly Hostelry" from Flying Mammal Review.


CNN ran one of their “Everyday-Hero-Feel-Good” vids today which showed people exercising good sense while in a stressful situation, which is a rare commodity. A high speed intersection MVA (public-service-speak for car wreck) in downtown DC left one car deformed with a small engine fire and 2 occupants inside and an SUV on its top with 3 entrapped occupants. The vid shows bystanders tearing a door off the car by hand (with enough guys, you can do that) and removing the people. Normally, I’d say don’t do that. Removing people carefully prevents further injury, sometimes injury worse than what the patient started with. The rescuers talked about fear of the car exploding, which is Hollywood-inspired nonsense. Without a detonator of some sort and a just-right explosive, cars just don’t explode. But they can burn, and inhaling the fumes/smoke from the plastics can be fatal, so removing the people was the wise thing to do. And the bystanders crawled into the SUV to physically support and calm the trapped people. Just when everyone seems like a self-involved moron, people get together and shine a little bit of human light.

Book Related Things:

A Review of Reviews:

My attraction to the net generally began with finding out how it could enhance the world of reading and access to books. I heard about this outfit, Amazon.com, and the “new” way that they were selling any book you could possibly want! I suppose that I would have to be classified among those in the upper 50% of people interested in books & reading, and even in writing. Over the years, my writing went from rambling legal briefs and rambling letters to rambling emails and rambling anonymous blogs to this rambling blog and to occasional book reviews. [I’m desultorily looking for a forum to begin publishing reviews on paper again.] When the spirit moves me (often a malevolent spirit), I’ll do a review on amazon.com just for the hell of it.

Generally, I’m not overwhelmed with the quality of reviews there, although that could be jealousy showing through over the 40,000 reviewers who are ranked “above” me. Something that bothers me is the academically unexpected distribution of review ratings. One would expect a bell curve, tending to the high or low side depending on the consensus of the quality of a book. At Amazon, though, the reviews are separated and high contrast - a reverse bell curve. Normally, the reviews in Amazon’s 5 Star system include lots of 5's, several 1's, and darn little in between. If we’re actually reviewing a book, that doesn’t make sense. Micheners aren’t thick on the ground, so 5's shouldn’t be universal. Most folks with the chutzpah to write a book can string something together with acceptable syntax and make some sort of point, so 1's shouldn’t show up a lot, either. Well, the Amazon reviewers aren’t reviewing the books, they usually answer the question, “Do I agree with the author’s conclusions?” Let me note right here that I’ve been guilty of that sin a lot, and a more responsible and logical system is relatively new to me. Live and learn, or you don’t live long.

So let me suggest a three step process for reviews:

Step One: What is the quality of the writing? Is it grammatical? Consistent? Does it maintain ones' interest?

Step Two: What is the quality of the information (if non-fiction) or story (if fiction)? [NOT "Do I like it?" That's next.] Is it researched and footnoted if appropriate? What is the quality of the reasoning and logic? Are the conclusions supported? Does the author discuss alternate possibilities? Does the author use appropriate examples? Does s/he avoid logical fallacies? In other words, is the author enough of a scholar to pen something worthwhile? [“Scholar” is not a bad or wimpy designation. George Patton was a classical scholar; Leonardo exercised his hands by bending horseshoes.]

Step Three: How do I personally react to the book as a whole, what is my gestalt impression? Do I agree with it? Even if I don't agree with it, does it make a significant contribution to the public discourse? (Note: I've positively reviewed books I don't agree with for precisely that last reason.) And to be sure, “Do I like it?/Do I dislike it?” inevitably creeps in.

Use this sort of system, and you will not be a “popular” reviewer, but I think a more honest one.

Book Storage:

Yeah, of course we know how to store books. That’s why we go through them every 20 years and throw out 1/3 of the volumes because they are too damaged. The Library of Congress and Douglas Filler have published simple guidelines for safe and effective storage of paper books:

Store them in a stable, cool, clean, dry environment - Paper is an organic product. Warm and wet environments promote decay of organics and the growth of microorganisms. That’s a bad thing for a book.

Keep books out of direct sunlight. Sunlight fades inks and dyes.

Don’t force a book to lie flat. That’s always sounded contraintuitive to me, which is why hearing what the experts say is important, at least to me.

Don’t’ use rubber bands or string to tie up a book because they can cut into the pages and cover.

Never, never, never try to repair a book with conventional tape. [In fact, repairing them at all is an acquired skill.]

Don’t wrap books in plastic bags to preserve them; a cardboard box is better. (We’re back to dry environments there.)

Also a note from me, the dust jacket adds a lot to the value (and attractiveness) of a hardcover book. Transparent mylar can be cut to protect it well (but not from sunlight.)

Dull, dull, dull. That's me.

Pippa passes.