15 December 2010

A Word to the Fellowship; And Lesser Rambling

Personal to the Fellowship

EMS1.com reports that it has been a very hard week. We lost our brother Dave Grundle, age 50, an EMT in Indiana, and an ambulance accident. Our sister Vanessa Carrillo, age 19, was critically injured in another ambulance accident on I-25 in New Mexico. Brethren, the job is as dangerous as ever it has been. Be careful out there and remember those who have fallen.

An Addendum Wherein My Ignorance is Laid Bare

My brother Born has informed me that a very short portion of the Shenandoah River does indeed run through Jefferson County, West Virginia, and that with respect to the geographical observation made about John Denver’s Almost Heaven, West Virginia, I am wrong, wrong, wrong. Born wanted to inform me lest I show my ignorance. That particular ship has long since sailed, of course.

Perhaps John Denver just could not work “Monongahela” into the rhyme scheme.
This reminds me of a curious argument that Born and I had after he ruled in a case years ago concerning whether the Mason-Dixon line extends all the way to the Ohio River or terminates at the eastern boundary of the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Yes, I know that’s a pretty esoteric subject. It’s just what we do.

A Gender Observation From the 1930s

Among my eclectic collections are books about the history of Fairmont, Marion County, and this region generally. Recently, I acquired from an eBay seller a compendium of some old sources including biographical sketches of various prominent Marion Countians of the 1930s. Among the descriptions was the following:

“Miss L. Dale Westfall - Although women in America no longer suffer from sex discrimination to any great extent in relation to their activities in the professions or in general business, the time is not so far back in our history when many and agitated discourses in the public press and elsewhere were those concerning the inferiority of female brain tissue. No doubt some of those could be resurrected from dusty shelves, but it is safe to say they will never be by the present generation of intelligent citizenship of Fairmont, West Virginia. ... Family life had been one of ample means and Miss Westfall, early showing unusual talent, had been encouraged to cherish the hope of a college career, but was orphaned at an early age, and shortly afterwards faced with the disastrous knowledge that the funds had been lost through unfortunate investments, she began to show some of those sturdy traits of character that have helped to place her far front in the business world.… Not only in association with others, where her business vision and sound judgment have contributed no largely to firm success, has Ms. Westfall earned the distinction which is hers, being termed one of the leading businesswomen in the state, but alone and individually her investments have been made with such business sagacity that the returns give her a most satisfactory income.”

I don’t know who wrote this, but I imagine that the conclusions about how open and easy local society was to gender differences in the 1930s are not all that believable to the modern ear. Perhaps it is commendable that this writer was giving it a shot 80 years ago. Perhaps not, I can picture a reaction that the writer was quite dense.

I’m working on an essay about the concept of “brotherhood” in the old sense as it should and does extend across gender lines, and I thought this passage from the 1930s was interesting.

Tidbits of a Curmudgeonly Manifesto

I don’t know how I got started on this, but I just started writing down little hobbyhorses the other evening:

Coke® or Pepsi®? Who cares? They are cola. They taste the same. Those who get all snooty about one or the other are wallowing in bargain basement elitism. We are not talking about the difference between single malt scotch and the five-dollar-a-bottle blended scotch. We’re talking about Coke®. And that includes Pepsi®. Grab a Kleenex® and have a good cry.

I make reference to God frequently and sincerely. Some people do and some people don’t. That’s the First Amendment in action. If you disapprove of my faith, I can live with that.

I do not fly or otherwise display the Confederate battle flag (the “stars and bars”) because I think it’s tacky and offensive to black folks. However, I no longer take offense automatically at those who do. Display of any flag is constitutionally protected and symbolic speech. To some, the stars and bars reflect general disaffection or regional pride. I do not suspect that those waving the stars and bars are organizing themselves into gray clad regiments which are preparing to invade Pennsylvania by way of the Emmitsburg Road.

The Gadsden flag (“don’t tread on me”) was used at the time of the American Revolution. It is a legitimate American symbol and is very easy to interpret. I do not care how many whack jobs have hijacked it as an emblem of their own agenda. To me, it symbolizes the American spirit, and I will continue to fly it.

Oh, my God. The electricity is off. Heavenly days. This means that you will have to live in the same manner people did for tens of thousands of years until sometime in the last century.

The church down the street with its loud speakers blaring hymns every day at 7 AM, noon and 7 PM is every bit as annoying as would be a mosque with the muezzin in a minaret yelling out a call to prayer five times a day. Sharing your beliefs does not give you a right to be pushy or thoughtless.

Yes, I always carry a knife in my pocket. It is not an affectation, it is a tool.

In my opinion, the person cleaning the bedpan in the hospital has more dignity than the highest-paid administrator there.

Please remember that this is but one sellers stall in the marketplace of ideas. I encourage comment, I cherish thoughtful dissent.

Pippa passes.

28 November 2010

Appealing Sturm und Drang

An Intermediate Court of Appeals?

A chief goal of some business interests in West Virginia in the upcoming session of the Legislature is to establish an intermediate Court of Appeals.

When I talk about the legal structure of Mother West Virginia, I always picture myself talking to Mum in the UK and Flick Down Under, so I’ll refrain from rushing ahead. People go to court to resolve disputes and everywhere in the civilized world there is some sort of court of general jurisdiction, a court for citizens to obtain justice. Wherever the English Common-Law model of justice is followed, that court of general jurisdiction is where juries will sit. In West Virginia, the court of general jurisdiction is called the circuit court and a circuit usually consists of one or more counties. Circuit Judges are elected in partisan elections.

You have to have a safeguard against error, passion and prejudice. If you have any system and declare that what you have is perfect, you’re wrong. And so, in the Common-Law jurisdictions, there are courts of appeal. Someone who is dissatisfied with what a trial court does can appeal the case and ask a “higher” court to review what the trial court did and correct mistakes. Generally, the limitation is that the lower court decision is given great deference in its factual determinations because that’s where the live witnesses were heard. Here in West Virginia, there is a single appellate court, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. And so, the loser at Circuit Court has one chance to correct mistakes. In nearly every other state, there is at least one intermediate court between the trial court and the Supreme Court of the state.

One thing which powers the desire in West Virginia for the Intermediate Court of Appeals is the perception that jury verdicts are too high. (That’s an oversimplification, of course.) Another motivation is that appeals in West Virginia are not a matter of right, that is, the Supreme Court doesn’t have to hear the appeal. (See below the recent changes to the rules.), And so, there is the very real fear that someone will eat an unjust verdict and then have no way to know that someone will at least listen to their claim that it is unfair.

The Supreme Court of Appeals has responded to the concern by altering the Rules of Appellate Procedure. Formerly, if you filed a petition for appeal, the court could deny it with a two sentence order. Under the new rules, the Court will issue a “memorandum opinion,” that is, a short opinion which says why they are rejecting an appeal. The Court said before that they did carefully read every petition for appeal but, like so much of what happens in any courthouse, that was behind closed doors. The Court reasons, I presume, that the memorandum opinion will prove that every case has been given individual attention by the justices.

The problem here is that we have five Supreme Court justices (also selected by partisan election) and they have exactly 168 hours in every week to pursue their vocation, to care for their families, and for refreshment and sleep. The justices themselves cannot review every appeal much more thoroughly than they already are doing. They are ably assisted by very smart lawyer-law clerks, some the “superstars” of their law school classes, but those aren’t the people who were elected to rule on cases.

The “formula” answer for a lawyer who does not represent big business interests or insurance companies is that we do not need an intermediate appeal court because we can trust our circuit judges and juries.

Right, like I’ll follow a formula. Here again – you think you have a perfect system? If so, you probably have other hallucinations. Just because business interests, who are the loudest at the moment, want such a court, should other interests oppose their position? That’s pretty sloppy thinking. I cannot help but conclude that a just result justly arrived at is safe on appeal.

That being said, please remember that not a lot of people want justice in the abstract. That’s the sad secret of our justice system. People want to win. People want to find advantage for themselves. In our system of partisan elections and indeed in systems of nonpartisan elections, the heavy money does not closely track law school transcripts or superior intellect. How will a prospective judge vote in cases in which I’m interested? That’s the question. So it’s not so much the concept of an intermediate appellate court or a discussion of whether it’s needed or at least whether it would be quite useful. The Devil is in the details.

The real questions are who will the judges be (which means how will they be selected), how strict will the legal standards of appeal be, in other words, how much deference will be given to the actions of the trial court, and how transparent will the process the? I don’t hear much discussion in the last two questions, perhaps because they represent fairly settled law. A trial court should be granted a lot of discretion on determinations of fact. And if we say that an Intermediate Court is a good idea because people haven’t been adequately heard, then we should expect a genuine, reasoned written opinion in every case. Question number one is where the rubber meets the road. I will not reprise the endless discussion about partisan election versus nonpartisan election versus appointment versus retention elections versus mixed schemes ad nauseum. My own tin can version of statistical analysis, thinking about the judges I’ve known over the years, tells me that the Bell Curve follows any selection method. Two of the genuinely finest judges before whom I practiced died over the past week – United States District Judge Robert Maxwell and state Circuit Judge Les Fury. Judge Maxwell was appointed; Judge Fury elected.

A final consideration is that appeals be promptly resolved, for the great majority of appeals are not about million-dollar judgments. They are about child custody and alimony, boundary line disputes, people waiting in jail or waiting to find out if they have to go to jail, or other questions vital to just a few common citizens. We need to consider their rights, too.

Yes, I know this part of the post is dreadfully dull. It’s funny – looking rationally at important public issues should be dull in a lot of instances. Does the Sesame Street generation have the patience to govern America?

Minor Observations –

Ho, ho, ho, asking the obvious -

The State Journal, a statewide newspaper in West Virginia which focuses on business issues, ran an editorial on the question of whether the confusion and competing interests concerning a special election for governor in 2011 will prevent the Legislature from dealing with more substantive issues. The title of the editorial was “Will Politics Trump Good Government?”

The obviousness of the answer is pitiful, just pitiful, to quote noted philosopher Jed Clampett.

Gun Show

There is an ad today’s Times-West Virginian for the gun show which comes the Fairmont two or three times a year. Sometime in the future, I’ll make a stab at describing the experience and spirit of the gun show. The ad in today’s paper includes the line:

Get Your Guns While You Still Can!

I understand that creating a fear of lack is a marketing technique. But, to my Second Amendment, compatriots: Listen. Are you listening? Over the short term, there will be no shortage of firearms. Before the midterms, gun rights were pretty secure in Congress. You think maybe the midterms hurt? With the Heller/McDonald decisions, constitutional law is on the side of a liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment. So, relax.

The Catch of the Breath, “Liberal” Defined

No, no, no, when I talk about a liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment, I’m Nancy Pelosi and I'm not talking about an interpretation that restricts firearms to members of an organized militia who may only carry muzzle-loading flintlocks. Those who read that into what I wrote are succumbing to the propaganda paranoia coming from media zealots who are more interested in book sales and Nielsen ratings than in advancing rational and helpful political and social thought. “Liberal” and “conservative” are names placed on two dinky little pigeonholes nailed together by someone other than We the People and into which interests other than We want to cram every conceivable political or economic thought. How can we pretend to be a Land of the Free if we blithely let someone else hand us a list of our own “approved” beliefs? The “liberal” to which I refer includes the definitions:

favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible;
favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of
personal belief or expression; of or pertaining to representational forms of
government rather than aristocracies and monarchies; not strict or rigorous;
free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.

A restrictive non-liberal reading of the Second Amendment would activate the militia clause in a manner which the United States Supreme Court (in McDonald) decided was not intended by the founders.

Once words start scaring us, we are no better off than Pavlov’s dogs.

Almost Heaven

I really love the John Denver song, Almost Heaven, West Virginia. He makes reference to the Blue Ridge mountains which are more commonly identified with the Commonwealth of Virginia but which lie partially in West Virginia. [A little bit of nickel knowledge: the “blue” in Blue Ridge refers to the color imparted in the atmosphere by natural chemicals from trees.] On the other hand, when Denver makes reference to the “Shenandoah River,” I always cringe a little bit. The edge of the Shenandoah watershed defines a part of the border between Virginia and West Virginia, with all of the Shenandoah lying on the Virginia side. I thought we settled this one in the Civil War. Okay, I still like the song.

Good Example by the President

Pres. Obama is going around sporting a fat lip with stitches in it from injury while playing basketball. What an excellent example for young people. These are the bumps and bangs of real-life, not the puny intakes of breath from the Xbox NBA basketball game. For that matter, all of the presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelt (with perhaps two or three exceptions) have been quite active people. There's a lesson there.

A Wise Hobbyhorse?

Why in the world would anyone ever refer to himself or herself as “wise”? That is cockiness incarnate. I have been treated to professional advertising lately, most of it by lawyers, where the advertisers lay claim to the sobriquet “wise” and award themselves with the mantle of “wisdom.”

Even when “I am the greatest!,” I run into the fray looking like a blowhard and I also run the risk of meeting Joe Frazier and getting knocked on my ass.

The simple fact is that neither I nor anybody I know is anywhere near smart enough to refer to themselves as “wise.” This is a determination to be made only by others, and only invariably after a long and consistent history of intelligence, moderation and moral rectitude.

Maybe wisdom this a good goal to shoot for. But unlike a merit badge, there is no guaranteed path and you are not in control.

Pippa passes.


19 November 2010

Darwin & Daffodils

A Quick Lesson in Leadership

The notion of "social Darwinism" is quite overused, just as our several other scientific principles when folks try to hammer them into social systems. Nevertheless, I see some parallel between extended Darwinian kinds of concepts and leadership.

One such concept to which I heartily adhere is that leadership is not grasped, declared, proclaimed or bragged about, it is simply exercised. In other words, the person who yells out “I’m the leader!,” has already relinquished any control. The leader who will be followed, in my experience, is the one who simply gets out and leads knowing that his or her lead will be followed. This week has furnished West Virginia with an excellent example of this principle in action..

Those of you in the flat lands may be unaware of the triflingly unusual situation in the executive branch in the government of West Virginia. Our two-term governor elected in 2004 and 2008, Joe Manchin, was just elected to serve out Sen. Byrd’s unexpired term in the United States Senate. (Incidentally, I consider this a very good choice for West Virginia and for the nation. For instance, with the arrival of now-Senator Manchin, the ill-considered concept of “cap and trade” is dead on arrival in Washington.) Sen. Manchin's selection left a vacancy in the governor’s chair. The West Virginia Constitution provides that in the event of such a vacancy, the president of the Senate shall act as governor. The statute is not a model of clarity on this point nor is the rather fuzzy statute which recently designated the president of the Senate as the lieutenant governor. Likely, someone will bring some sort of petition to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia to clarify the situation and determine, among other things, whether there shall be some sort of special election for governor in 2011, right before the general election for governor in 2012, and whether the president of the Senate will be serving as governor, acting governor or shall act as governor (See? The nuances are somewhat complicated.) in the meantime.

But into the thick of this bothersome uncertainty has stepped Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin. As soon as Sen. Manchin moved out, Mr. Tomblin moved into the governor’s office and just started doing the job. He has brought in his own staff, made some changes in administration leadership positions and has wasted no time in putting his stamp on the governor’s office. I don’t know Gov. Tomblin, and have never met the man. But I do think that this is a darn fine lesson in leadership. If you wait for your critics to give you permission, you'll never even get started.

2011 is going to be an interesting year in these mountains.

Anonymity & Timidity

The Good Lord Himself (OK, Herself?) personally knows my many weaknesses. Absent from them,I am happy to say, is faint-heartedness of principle.

Today’s Charleston Gazette reports a lawyer disciplinary case of some note and controversy. Some nasty comments to the story are from lawyers writing under pseudonyms. (One styles him/herself the “great american,” lowercase theirs. Holy Cow, chutzpah on the hoof.) Writing criticism anonymously, I believe, demonstrates a certain kind of weakness of character.

If someone reads something I write and thinks that the writer is a stupid, arrogant SOB, they will damn sure know that Roger Curry is the stupid, arrogant SOB that they are thinking about.

Dumb, De-dumb, Dumb

One of the myriad weaknesses I must cop to is the occasional intransigent shortsightedness.

Some few years ago, a “Gateway Connector” highway was begun through a moderately rundown area of East Fairmont in order to provide a more direct connection with Interstate 79. It has long been my unshrouded opinion that this was the Road to Nowhere and a bloody awful waste of money.

Okay. They’ve opened part of it, and I drove up the Connector yesterday. I was wrong. Just plain, flat wrong. This darn road is such a benefit in opening the downtown area to outside access that I have to say it was worth the money. I still think with regret about some of the older people displaced from homes which they continued to carefully tend in a steadily deteriorating area. On the other hand, some of the structures razed were blatant slums when I was last in them 25 years ago and had not had a hammer or paintbrush cross their thresholds from then until the time they were bulldozed to make room for the road, so good riddance to them.

Someone please write this down and remind me the next time I appear to be just absolutely dead bang certain about something.

Asses Watching Other Asses

America has a tradition of free speech and town meetings and so-called ordinary people standing up on their hind legs and saying extraordinary things. These were the pamphleteers of the colonial and Revolutionary eras; these the acid writers of the 19th century; these even the new thinkers published by small houses in the 1950s. And these traditions were given such a quantum boost by this universal soapbox and printing press right before your eyes.

Not only has the written word flourished through the blogosphere, radio-like opinion has now started to take off (e.g., blogtalkradio.com) and of course there is the Everyman medium, YouTube and similar entrants into the Visual Marketplace of Ideas.

And where goes humankind goes Gresham’s Law. There are now, and I kid you not, videos on YouTube showing video games imitating real-life which gamers have played and want to display – So we have an opportunity to sit on our asses and watch the effects of other people sitting on their asses while pretending to participate in Reality.

Ben Franklin? Thomas Paine? Are you there? Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Dodgeball and Daffodils

The director of the West Virginia's “Office of Education Performance Audits” is a bold crusader against . . . dodgeball. When he visits a school, he examines even the lesson plans of physical education teachers to ferret out apostasy. The summer, he was quoted in the Charleston Daily Mail:

"Dodgeball ... is not part of the West Virginia 21st Century physical education content standards and objectives. This practice had the potential to cause physical and emotional harm to students and was not of an educational nature."

Mind you, when the teams lined up at dear old Parkersburg high school to play dodgeball, I had trouble getting out of my own way. It was not an unheard-of circumstance that my handsome visage had the reverse imprint of “Wilson” planted somewhere. But give me a break – it’s dodgeball. I tell children with whom I interact that the occasional bangs and bruises are parts of growing up and indeed some of the good parts, because they show that you’re really living. Tell me, is that a terribly passé attitude? When I got creamed with a dodgeball, it may have hurt my little feelings but it also pissed me off. Somehow this seems moderately educational to me.

What’s next? Shall we change the name of school sports teams to those of harmless herbivores, pastels, flora and other vanilla things? Will the Fairmont Daffodils edge out the Charleston Chipmunks in a gentle game of tiddly-winks or croquet? And will the winner then have to apologize? After all – we don’t want to upset anyone.

So is sitting on one's ass watching other people sit on their asses and play video games such a great surprise right now?

Perking Up

It will be a nice fall day in West Virginia for a walk in the woods Saturday.

Pippa passes.


04 November 2010

Titanium, Germanium and Francis Scott Key

All that Glitters is Not Titanium

Earlier this week, I was in the Fairmont General Hospital HealthPlex where there is a large wellness center/gym/work out area, urgent care center, doctors offices and so forth. FGH is a non-profit hospital and occasionally runs capital contribution campaigns. The HealthPlex was built three or four years ago, partly with sizeable donations, and there are the usual plaques to commemorate the donors and the levels of giving. On the wall by the elevators are four large plaques for the five levels. The first four are fairly humdrum, and follow the per ounce monetary value of metals: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. But they had five levels and had to name another metal. Plutonium and Americium are more valuable than Platinum, but I understand why they might avoid those. So, the highest giving level is denoted “Titanium.” That seems strange.

Mind you, I consider titanium a superior metal. The spreader arms of the first model of the Hurst Rescue Tool (“The Jaws of Life”) were fabricated of forged titanium. They were about 2 feet long had to be able to exert over 20,000 pounds of force at the tips without deforming or breaking. Titanium is used in some aircraft construction. Also, titanium is being used these days to make some very nice looking and relatively inexpensive jewelry. Perhaps this is not something random and the FGH Foundation has hit upon the idea of ranking metals not solely by their monetary value but by by their metallurgical properties and their usefulness to mankind. Based upon that, I have made a careful study of the periodical table of elements [don’t hassle me, I know that bronze is an alloy] and I suggest the following11 levels of giving, Olympic medals, and so forth, based on usefulness to mankind and my personal yet impeccable opinions:

1 - Iron
2 - Copper
3 - Aluminum
4 - Lead
5 - Zinc
6 - Mercury
7 - Tungsten
8 - Germanium
9 - Titanium
10 - Magnesium
11 - Chromium

If I had to choose number 12, it would be bronze. Silver and gold just don’t make the list. I extend apologies to Oliver Goldsmith and Paul Revere.

Note: I recognize that it would be a real bear of a job to fashion a medal out of mercury. Not my problem, I’m just the creative brains of the outfit.

Dumb Question for Wednesday

“How did the election go for you?”

Who cares? The election is OVER. What counts now is what the people we elected DO and what WE do as citizens from this day forward.

Francis Scott Key - Read the Next Stanza

The old boy knew that he wasn’t waxing lyrical about a people who were already perfect:

“God mend thine every flaw.
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.”

Pippa passes.


31 October 2010

Un-campaign Notes

There is still smoke curling off the keyboard from political writing which has gone hither and yon in recent weeks. I cut a public service announcement on behalf of the firm on Friday which will run election night on the theme “Don’t go to sleep, we're citizens 24/7.” For tonight, I offer nonpolitical things, and this terminal of my HAL-9000 computer system will be wondering who is inputting this information.


Beloved friend Parson Jim Norton at a cold and was not singing in the choir this morning, so he sat by me. I have a cold, too, which drops my voice about half an octave. As we were singing a hymn this morning, it struck me that was the first time I had stood and sung along with a good bass voice since I did so with my dad many years ago.

Lawyer books

I haven’t written book reviews in a blue moon and this doesn’t count as a review – more like a random comment or two. John Grisham’s newest book, The Confession, was published last Tuesday. A couple of years ago, I had sworn off Grisham because improbable plot twists late in his novels made them less enjoyable for me. I downloaded this one anyway, and it’s a good one. He uses the most believable scenarios since his very first novel, and The Confession centers around that very rarest bugaboo which does (as well it should) scare the hell out of every participant in a death penalty case, that we wrongly convict and execute a factually innocent person. Grisham hardly needs my imprimatur, but he has it anyway.

And then I read The Reversal by Michael Connelley, also recently published. Connelley is a journalist who has two long-running characters who occasionally intersect, one of whom is a lawyer in the traditional lawyer-novel sense. The plot starts with a 20-year-old murder conviction being reversed and a defense lawyer being hired as a special prosecutor. The glaring error in this one is the discussion (unnecessary to the plot) of whether to seek the death penalty of someone previously sentenced to the penitentiary for the same crime. You just can’t do that, because that would “chill” the right to appeal a verdict which was improperly obtained. It's still a fine read.

The Sounds of Silence

In the coming weeks, I have to collect all of my “letters to the editor, op-ed submissions, and similar writings.” Of the purpose behind this, more later. Others will be asked to do the same.

I must say, I’m looking on this with wry amusement. Most of my friends probably have a real good idea of where to put their hands on their public writings and, while their personal correspondence may be voluminous, the blatherings they may have posted where Angels Fear to Tread are few. There are of course, some exceptions, many of whom have blogs which are linked to the right of this page.

To me, finding these writings is not Mission Impossible, but it will certainly be Mission Darned Difficult. I don’t do many letters to the editor, for I can seldom keep my writings short enough. I do submit op-ed commentaries and opinion-laden articles, mostly to statewide publications or to the local newspaper and publish what used to be the “canons” from the blog as book reviews spread here and there. (I also wonder how far back I have to go - My first letter to the editor was as a senior in high school; first magazine, US News, as a college student; the ABA Journal as a young Turk; a couple of USA Today letters over the years - how far?)

But, my heavens! (Prior to being so sensitive that anyone would be reading what I said, it would have been “Holy Shit, Batman!”) I have opinions! I’ve expressed them! People may not agree with me! People may not like me!

Well, that is the flipside of the First Amendment. When you make public commentary, you’re making a choice to participate in the marketplace of ideas. People are welcome to be consumers-only in that marketplace. The responsibility of vendors in the marketplace is significant from where I stand. And the greatest fear is this: if you are honest in your writing, people know who you are. And you’re just going to have to take the chance that some people will not like you. In fact, it’s not a chance, it is a fact – for every person who engages in productive and respectful discourse, there is another who throws the anonymous rocks of personal destruction. Moreover, people who read you over time will see you grow or diminish as you refine your ideas, abandon the bad ones or seize on what "sells."

I intended this mini-essay to be lighter than it has turned out. But I confess that my heart is still pretty light. I look back over things I’ve written in years past and occasionally I will say, “Boy, that one’s a little bit dense,” or even “What the hell was I thinking?!?” That I’m still content to write what I think and feel so far as it is proper to be written and I am at peace with always having done so. I certainly think - I certainly hope - that it has always been done with honesty and respect, even if it has been occasionally stupid.

Speaking of Intelligent Commentary

My Old Friend The Reasonable Curmudgeon has posted the most provocative, delightful and, well, reasonable essay on his blog (link to the right.)


Not Going Far To Look for America

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and
aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

In some folk/folk-rock of the 60s and early 70s, you find good poetry. The next few paragraphs have been sitting on the hard drive for a couple of weeks. A tweak here and here, and here they are:

I found America tonight.

One of the old Disney movies with Fred MacMurray talked about the concept of “serendipity,” where you ran on to something wonderful you weren't looking for, and even had this catchy little song, “seren-dipa-dipa-dipity.”

We’re on one of the long hauls of this never ending political marathon and every smile in front of the camera claims to represent America. No, I’m wrong – not “represent” America, they claim to be America. I’m in the middle of the marathon, writing and calling everyone I know for my friends and for the causes in which I believe so deeply. But I was reminded tonight that politics is not America. The political system may support America, it may provide some guidance for America, but it is not America.

This evening we went to the church for a fundraiser called the “Furnace Dinner.” The purpose was to generate some funds for church property maintenance, part of which is going to be a lot of HVAC work. If you see one little church dinner, you’ve seen them all, haven’t you?

And so, once again I prove conclusively that a few bulbs in Roger’s chandelier burn out and need replaced and refreshed now and then. There, at the Furnace Dinner, was the real America. America is found in the Fellowship of honest people. You find America when families come together, where moms and dads are with their kids, or the young and active help the aged, or anywhere that goodwill prevails. It doesn’t have to be a church – the softball field, a family reunion, a chance meeting of strangers who become friends at the state park, a concert, or even a person of goodwill sitting alone and transcending his or her troubles, there is America. As for me, I found America tonight in a simple dinner cooked by pretty good cooks and served by a Boy Scout troop. I found America tonight in high school students singing solos and a large professional-quality-yet-unpaid choir performing. America was there tonight in kind words everyone said. And easy hugs.

In short, my dear friends, America is in the people. It is not solely a church or in particular organization or a political party or ad hoc movement, America is not in stickers on automobile windows, it’s everywhere among the people.

I’m glad I didn’t stay home tonight.

A Dangerous Addiction

I posture myself is a bastion against the profligate use of electronics for simple things people should be doing with their minds. And here I confess, I have slipped. I filled up the Chrysler on Friday and mentally calculated the mileage at about 21.6 mph. What was I thinking? Where was my confidence? I pulled out the … sigh … my cell phone. It has a calculator function. It calculated to 20.85. I have no excuse. Scotty, beam me up. Now. Please.

Pippa passes.


23 October 2010

Political Bigotry: Juan Williams, NPR and Arrogant Hypocrites; Or, Mama, Where’s My Constitution?

Let’s set the scene, the players and the issue.

The scene: “The O’Reilly Factor,” a “fair and balanced” yet shrill, unpleasant, lowest-common-denominator “news commentary” program on Fox News. The players: Bill O’Reilly, the spiritual creator of the foregoing; Juan Williams, an intelligent and articulate analyst/,commentator for National Public Radio, an organization which prides itself on neutrality and which is criticized for as much liberal bias as O’Reilly is for conservative bias, and which is supported largely by public funding, including tax dollars.. [See Notes on Labels below.] The issue: The private perception by citizens of Muslims.

Williams made the following brief observation:

"Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." It hardly needs recitation that Muslims on airplanes committed a heinous terrorist attack on American soil and that government response to that attack has led to drastic changes in American society.

The response by NPR:

William’s “remarks on 'The O'Reilly Factor' this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and goodundermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." NPR fired Juan Williams.

In these writings, I have long chafed at that whining concept of “political correctness.” Everyone on the right [See again Note on Labels below] whose beliefs are questioned in the least cries “I’m a victim!,” and pretends that he or she is being led off to the nearest concentration camp. I have rejected and still reject the entire politically correct/incorrect tear-jerk-athon.

The people paid with our money at NPR have transcended mere political correctness. They have blithely and even proudly adopted (or admitted) political bigotry as their modus operandi.

Prejudice is everywhere. Everyone is prejudiced for or against something, many things as a matter of fact. Prejudice simply means “prejudgment.” In some places (e.g., courts), prejudice is positively a bad thing. In other places, prejudice is a condition which exists and simply has to be dealt with. Bigotry is another matter. Like ignorance, prejudice can be fixed with information and thought. Bigotry is a fixed opinion, armored against fact, reason, kindness, respect, or adherence to the rules and values of an organized society. Like stupid, it cannot be fixed. The NPR management mavens have proven themselves to be bigots.

That the canning of Williams is contrary to constitutional principles is, I hope, clear. He was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. It would take one really stupid SOB to deny that. What he was saying was truthful. Now follow along here: Williams was not saying that Muslims are dangerous or unpleasant or whatever. He said that when he sees people in an airport who are Muslims, he gets worried and nervous. He is saying how he feels. Not only is that the truth, he is the only person who can possibly know that truth. Does National Public Radio wish to ban him from holding beliefs? (Recall, if you will, the delightful concept of “thought crime” from George Orwell’s novel, 1984.) Surely NPR does not want its analysts to lie about what they think – do they? No, likely they just want people who are supposed to be thoughtful analysts allies to shut up and sing the company song. How, I wonder, is this different from singing any other company song? Other than some insignificant differences in dress and deportment, NPR and Rupert Murdoch simply are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum merchandisers of manufactured opinion.

Williams expressed an honest belief. It is a legitimate issue and discussion whether that is a reasonable belief. Should someone be worried and nervous when he or she sees Muslims in an airport? A few Muslims have crashed airplanes into buildings “in the name of Islam.” Enough others have formed at least small armies to conduct localized wars for the same purpose. Some (undetermined) proportion of Muslims hold violent beliefs. What is the objective danger level created by a Muslim in an airport as compared to another individual in an airport? What about the subjective beliefs? On my own streets, if I see a civilian carrying a firearm openly, my thought is that’s probably not a good idea, but I’m not worried or afraid. If I see a civilian attempting to carry a firearm concealed but not being quite successful at concealment, I think that he or she is unduly careless, but I’m still not worried or afraid. Other people in other places would be worried and afraid and if I were to deny them the right to express the fact that they honestly and personally experience those feelings, I would myself be a bigot no matter how strongly I believed that their feelings were “wrong.”

We can make no social progress without honest expression and honest discussion. Williams is worried and afraid when he sees a Muslim. Do not tell him, “You are wrong, get over it.” If you tell him that, you are the bigot. If I tell you that I will never change my mind, I am the bigot. Until we talk, unless we talk, unless we as a society and as individuals open up and expose our honest beliefs and honestly consider whether they have a rational foundation, how can we as a nation or as a culture move forward? Williams said that he is worried and nervous. Some years ago, Jesse Jackson said the same thing about black men he ran into on dark streets. No one accused him of joining the Klan or adopting Nathan Bedford Forrest as his role model. He was being honest, in order to start a discussion which might lead to improvement. Had Juan Williams said, “Let’s nuke Qum,” that would have the kind of incendiary effect worthy of his being separated from a responsible news organization.

As it is, NPR has done for the Constitution what Al Qaeda did to the World Trade Center.

Note on labels: Liberal, conservative, right, left, progressive, and so forth are synonyms for irrelevant, misleading, feces, and excrement. They were originally applied to economic schools of thought which have long since vanished into static and are applied instead into shifting sands of convenient and often internally inconsistent sets of beliefs adopted by people who are too dumb, too lazy or too cowardly to consider important public issues, think about them, and expressed principled opinions.


11 October 2010

Hicks in Philly and Other Wisps of the Vapours

On this Monday holiday, a certain Italian navigator in service of the Spanish monarchy comes to mind. He was convinced that he had reached his intended destination, and that he did show just in time before his crew mutinied. Sadly, he was wrong by approximately 8000 miles.

Happy Columbus Day.

Hicks in Philly

{Editor's note: There is a brouhaha in the mountains where the National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a casting call for a TV ad to be shot in Philadelphia. The casting call specified that they were seeking for a "hicky" kind of look, with seedy clothing and beat up John Deere and trucker ball caps. The following letter from a West Virginia emigre to his aunt back on in Alexander's Ferry has been obtained and is published as a public service. Beloved Bro. Dave Born did note this morning that at least in the Fairmont newspaper, it was printed on page 3 while the guy with the prize organic cabbages was featured on page 1.}

Dear Aunt Madge:

Thank you very much for your letter and the $100 check. I’m sorry it took me so long to write this. I know I was taught better manners, but I’ve been really busy.

I have to tell you about a casting call I went to for a commercial about West Virginia! When I moved away from Alexander’s Ferry, I told Mom and Dad and the whole family that I wasn’t going to get stuck working down in a coal mine or driving a truck. That’s why I came up to Philadelphia, to get a good clean job acting, so I would make lots of money the easy way. Well, I’m not living the good life yet, but I’m getting closer.

I went to a casting call a couple of weeks ago for really important political commercial. It was for some Senate campaign thing, and they wanted to trash the Governor. I know what he’s done for us but I’m behind on the rent, so I went anyway. When they cast actors for a commercial, they tell you the kind of person they’re looking for, the kind of clothes to bring to the audition and how to act. Well, get this: They were looking for guys to portray ordinary West Virginians! Can you beat that? I figured, lucky me, here I am and I have the inside track.

Pretty quickly, it got weird. They didn’t exactly describe the people I’m used to back home. The casting call said: “We are going for a ‘hicky’ blue collar look. These characters are from West Virginia, so think coal miner/truck driver looks.” Well, since those sorts of jobs put food on the table and clothes on my back when Dad was doing them, I figured I could bluff my way through it.

The whole costume thing was also really odd. They wanted all the actors bring hats, but they were looking for only certain kind of hats. You’re not going to believe this, but the main thing they wanted was to see hats that were old and dirty. Can you picture what Grandma would have said if somebody had walked in her house wearing an old dirty hat? Boy, I would not want to have been there for that. This director also wanted hats that said particular things. They specifically mentioned John Deere hats, old and dirty, like I said. That one stumped me. A John Deere hat is just what George Clooney wore in that movie we saw at the Marquee Cinema, “A Perfect Storm,” and even out on a fishing boat in the middle the Atlantic Ocean, his hat was new and clean.

Oh, they also said a trucker hat would be okay, but only an old one. The problem is, all my ball caps are like Uncle Matt’s and Dad’s and nearly everybody else’s back home - they have American flags, NRA seals or things like that on them. (Oh, I took my NRA Life Member hat and the director just had kittens - it turns out the NRA has endorsed Joe Manchin and not the other guy.)

They also wanted people wearing jeans and work boots and so forth and it was plain to me that the fellows that showed up were as comfortable wearing that stuff as a pimp would be wearing a choir robe. These guys were all out-of-work “Off-Broadway” actors from New York City. This one fellow had his name on his big wardrobe bag – “Louis Vuitton” – he must be French. He was awfully stuck on himself and when he started talking “like a West Virginian” I could hardly figure out what he was saying.

One of the fellows said he had to go way out of town to Tractor Supply to get a pair of working man’s pants and he was all hot and bothered by that. I don’t understand that, either. I’m thinking the food in the diner where the commercial was filmed probably came off the farm, and the farm workers probably came in needing to wash up every night. So what’s the big deal? Moreover, everything in that diner down the bricks and the plumbing was hauled there to Philadelphia on a truck. I didn’t understand that one, either. I remember driving a moving van part time to pay for school at WVU. I guess I just never learn to be ashamed of work like I should have. But, Aunt Madge, some of the best people I’ve ever known have been coal miners and truck drivers. This really bothers me.

Oh, I didn’t get the job. The director said “The rubes won’t believe you.” I remember Grandpa talking about “rubes,” but I haven’t heard it since I was a kid. Maybe this director is from somewhere really backward, I don’t know. Anyway, he said I just wasn’t “hicky” enough to be a real West Virginian.

I’m really glad to hear the cousin Ralph got a job at the Toyota engine plant. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a computer lathe, let alone how to work one. And is Katie really studying biometrics at Marshall? I hear that’s a hot field and graduates make good money. Tell Jim I’m proud he was promoted fire boss at the mine. To be the one in charge of safety for a full shift of miners is a heavy responsibility.

Don’t be offended, but I am returning the check you sent me. I’m thinking I will be “hicky” enough for the next commercial and if I get that job, I’ll be able to pay my rent for the month. I really wish I could afford own a house like most everybody does back home.

Your loving nephew,

The Silent Auction That "They" Will Regret

On Saturday the 16th, Central Christian Church is hosting the "Furnace Dinner," to benefit the building maintenance fund. Part of the festivities will be a silent auction. One item being auctioned is a sermon title - Pick your scripture, pick your title, and Pastor Josh will preach a sermon on it.

I will be bidding aggressively. The sermon topic I select will include hot dogs, Trotsky, mathematics and the word "Timbuctu." More later.

Pippa passes.


07 October 2010

Unorganized Reflections

It would be rather cheeky of me to claim that I’m ever meticulously organized here. Pardon me, but this week I don’t think I’ll even make a stab at it.

There is no way that I will attempt to synthesize the experience of the long illness and then sudden death last Friday of my mother and make something literary out of it. I cannot exactly claim to be a mere “observer the scene,” but neither can I write a retrospective which makes any particular point.

Funerals – Can a funeral will be “beautiful”? Certainly, quite a number of the persons attending this one referred to it as such. Maybe it’s something like the idea of Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Storm, where the event is terribly unfortunate but it just comes together in some kind of beautiful if macabre fashion. Pastor Josh Patty conducted a service of comfort, faith, and even optimism. He described my mom and her feisty attitude accurately enough to evoke a good bit of laughter. Josh visited the house early Friday afternoon and spent an hour with Grandmother a couple of hours before she had a sudden heart attack or some similar large & fatal event.

Of late, music is been playing an even more important part in the life of our Church. The funeral was a little bit music-heavy. Of course (to me, of course, because it was a Curry funeral) the opening hymn was “How Great Thou Art.” That dates back to the childhood of my paternal grandfather who absolutely loved that hymn and insisted it be played prominently at his funeral about 45 years ago. At my suggestion, Grandmother’s funeral included “It Is Well With My Soul.” I remember that one from only a few months ago at the funeral of a friend, and brother David and I were talking about it a good bit after that funeral. It has a rather interesting history. My partner, who was sitting with David, commented that he was in full voice in the singing.

Our cousin’s husband, Chris, volunteered to act as a pallbearer. Chris was always really good to my mom, as was his wife Nancy. Nancy’s mom is my dad’s sister who still lives nearby, and we all generally spend the holidays together. I know that mom’s death was particularly hard on my aunt. Grandmother’s eldest great-grandson, from California, was another pallbearer, as were two husbands and one boyfriend of three of the granddaughters. I’d never met the boyfriend before – very nice fellow, and when I thanked him for serving as a pallbearer, he commented on what an honor was. In any event, the family was all back to Harmony Grove Church for another Curry burial.

When God punches your ticket, you’re staying on the train. That being said, Grandmother received optimal medical care from when the event occurred. The paramedics and fire department had good response times and showed good judgment in doing immediate transport rather than an extensive treatment at the house (in my active duty days known as a “swoop and scoop.”) The ER staff at Fairmont General was properly aggressive and professional and, when it was clear what the outcome was going to be, they showed a great deal of kindness. Someone called the volunteer pastor on duty, who came back and spent time with us immediately after Grandmother died.

My Masonic brothers the Fords did the funeral arrangements in their usual kind and efficient fashion. That brings to mind jokes my dad would always make with the elder Ford, Bud. When they ran into one another, no matter who was around, they would begin discussing dad’s funeral arrangements in elaborate ways. “What can you do in the way of a Viking funeral?,” my dad would ask. Bud would reply that he’d have to use Tygart Lake because of the Monongahela River just isn’t deep enough. And then they would discuss whose john boat they were going to steal to burn up, whether there should be a colorful wig and clown makeup involved in the body preparation, and so forth. (This is, by the way, my kind of humor. The blacker and less appropriate, the better. I’m not sure if this is a regional thing or merely something typical of odd people throughout the nation.)

No sweeping philosophical declarations today. Hmm. The VR software translated that as “duck rations.” OK, no duck rations, either. There’s too much cutesy philosophy out there.

That’s it for now. Carry on. There's nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

Pippa passes.


02 October 2010

A Homegoing: Opal Gates Curry, 1923 - 2010

Opal Corrine Gates Curry, 87, of Peacock Lane, was reunited with her beloved husband, Carroll H. Curry, in the House of the Lord on 1 October 2010, after a long illness.

Opal was born on 16 July 1923 to Okey R. Gates and Vaughn Daisy Elliott Gates in her grandmother’s home in Central, WV, a small town between Parkersburg and Williamstown. On the night she was born, the doctor got stuck in the mud trying to get through so she was delivered by her grandmother at home. She later moved to Fairmont and graduated from East Fairmont High School.

While attending church near her home, she met her husband, the late Carroll H. Curry. They were married on 12 December 1942 and were together for 56 years, until his death on 1 May 1999.

Opal worked at the Westinghouse Lamp Plant from 1941 to 1942. She spent the rest of her life raising her family and contributing to the community. She and her husband lived in several towns in North Central West Virginia while he was employed by Monongahela Power Co. She was a member of Central Christian Church for 25 years. She was a 50 year member of the Mt. Vernon Garden Club, and was a member of the Woman’s Club of Fairmont and the Red Hats. Her hobbies included sewing kids’ costumes and dolls, making dollhouses and crafts, and decorating her home.

Opal is survived by three sons: Dennis H. Curry of Spencer; Rev. Joel B. Curry and Dr. Shara B. Curry of Glenville; and Roger D. Curry and Janet Edwards Curry of Fairmont; and six grandchildren, Hillarey Carder (and husband Dan Carder) of Preston County, Ashley Gillespie (and husband Scott Gillespie) of Morgantown, Erin VanGilder (and husband Brent VanGilder) of Fairmont, Andrea Curry of Red Bluff, California, Alicia Curry Miller (and husband Matt Miller) of Danville, Virginia, and Tim Curry of Fairmont. Opal had eleven great-grandchildren. She is also survived by her faithful cat, Snow; and by many great friends, including Leona DeLong and Butch Moore.

Friends may call at the R.C. Jones Chapel, Ford Funeral Home, 1410 Country Club Road, Sunday from 2-6 p.m., and at Central Christian Church, 1640 Big Tree Drive in Fairmont on Monday from 10-11 a.m.

Funeral services will be held at Central Christian Church at 11 a.m. on Sunday with Rev. Joshua J. Patty presiding. Interment will follow at Harmony Grove Baptist Church Cemetery on Rt. 250 in Taylor County.

Perhaps I'll write more on this later.


29 September 2010

Words from a non-Monogrammed Guy

Old Gentleman

Tom Brokaw called them "the greatest generation," and that term has now been bandied about for years, pro and con.

I met a gentleman in the course of business last week. He was drafted at age 20 into the U.S. Army and was made an infantry officer. He made the landing in North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942, on Sicily in Operation Husky in 1943, and on Normandy in Operation Overlord in 1944. He ended the war at a river opposite the Soviet Army. He matter-of-factly described the 3000 bomber raid on the French hedgerow country where Allied bombers hit his unit’s position by mistake, and then mentioned in passing that when he was discharged he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The DSC is next to the Medal of Honor, and criteria is that one has acted with "extraordinary heroism in combat." About half of these medals were awarded posthumously.

No more comment, this gentleman’s life speaks for itself.

Of course we have heroes today. But we don't know who they are. Hint: Not Bret Michaels, not Dog the Bounty Hunter, and not Al Sharpton.


One of my current reads is The Redneck Manifesto, by Jim Goad. He begins with a stout declaration of principles of Southern and rural people who are derided routinely in contemporary media as hicks, hillbillies, rednecks, and so forth. (Later, Goad briefly blows through a Psalm to workers, great stuff, and about two-thirds of the way through the book (where I am now) begins an odd neo-socialist rant.

Be that as it may, the lesson here is that you don’t have to like an entire book to learn something from it and to take away something valuable. As Goad talks about the way that so-called "hillbillies" live their lives, he distills that to a declaration of innocence and a slam at their detractors:

"They never learned to be
ashamed of what they were."

There it is in a nutshell, friends. To those of us who own nothing monogrammed, work on our own cars, enjoy fiddle music, read the Bible and the Washington Post, and take our baseball caps off and put our hands over our hearts when the flag passes, why ever should we learn to be ashamed?

Repeat Lesson on Seat Belts

I’ve said it before: The routine, habitual no-exception use of seatbelts improves your odds of surviving a collision without serious injury - a lot.

What puts me in mind of this is that Tim rolled his grandmother’s Audi on the Interstate last week. Someone cut him off and dropped the hooks and in avoiding plowing them, Tim used the median and flipped the Audi. (I’ve been wondering if the other driver, who vanished by the way, was trying to cause an insurance scam accident in a very stupid way.)

Yes, no doubt you have a friend of a friend "who would have been killed if I had been wearing a darn seat belt!" There are even some very few kinds of accidents where seat belts may add to the risk of injury. (A "T-bone" into the driver’s door often is cited as an example. True though that may be, if it’s that hard a bang, the driver will be injured to some extent anyway.) But anyone who says that seat belts don’t improve your chances of avoiding death or serious injury is simply wrong.

By statute, damages in a civil suit are reduced only very slightly for an injured plaintiff who didn’t wear an available seatbelt. I can argue this one either way. That doesn’t change a defendant’s negligence, but someone who is more severely injured because they didn’t buckle up can hardly claim ignorance, can they? And as for not securing children? My worst memory of the EMS years was a fatality where parents didn't secure a one year old.

Pippa passes.


15 September 2010

Genuine Pleasure in Reconnecting With an Old Friend or How The Laffer Curve is My New Marvel; And Other Scribbles

The Reasonable Curmudgeon

I ran across the blog of an old friend the other day: http://www.thereasonablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com/

This "Reasonable Curmudgeon" is a widely educated guy with all sorts of life experiences, and he's also a hell of a writer. Please note his 20 July 2010 discussion of the Laffer Curve.

It is indeed a pleasure to reconnect with The Reasonable Curmudgeon. He, too, has taken the body punches of life, which enables him to say things with experience and authority. Who are you going to listen to about the storms which are sure to come into your life? Someone who has never gone out in the rain?

And so, I happily add The Reasonable Curmudgeon’s blog to the links on the right for your frequent reading pleasure.

Perhaps on an effort another day I’ll chat about the Laffer curve.

Note: Yes, I know that the titles to my posts are a tad complicated, a touch obscure, and just a teensy-weensy bit enigmatic. I like double titles, having first come to appreciate them in the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. I like Rocky & Bullwinkle. They make considerably more sense than anyone in the marble whorehouse on Jenkins Hill. Ever since a discussion years and years ago with George Byers, a wonderful guy who still teaches English at Fairmont State, I’ve always had lots of harmless fun with titles. (George’s comment to me at the time, and I was about 19, was "Dummy, the title IS part of the composition!" I think we were talking about Charles Lamb at the time.)

Iron Stairs, Glass Floors and Fifty Years

think I’ve talked before about the public library in Parkersburg West Virginia, the town I lived in when I was growing up. This was the "Carnegie Library," part of the legacy to America of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

I can’t tell you when it was built, but I do know that it was an old building. The first floor ceilings were high and ornate moulded plaster. When I walked in, there was an enormous reading room on the right, behind doors which were never closed. All manner of periodicals including the latest out-of-town papers were organized and neatly laid out and there were always several people (including a good many older people) there in the reading room.

The stacks, though - that’s where the magic was. The library had four floors of stacks in the back. They were connected by spiral staircases, all narrow and wrought iron. The floors were iron frames and the flooring consisted of large glass blocks so that on the top floor, you could see wavy images of dark oak bookshelves immediately below you and ever more blurry things two more floors below that. You were dancing in the air, you were a part of the computer before the computer was really a part of our lives or anybody ever thought of the Tron movie. You moved about and picked through bits of memory and could take bits and absorb absorb them and share them and savor them, and remember these experiences now well on to 50 years later.

The time came when the library moved to different quarters, so the building was empty. At that point, a retired engineer, Joe Sakach, opened "Trans-Allegheny books," a huge and delightful bookstore in the old library. They did a good mail-order business but as Waldenbooks and Cole’s and Barnes & Noble and Amazon and Walmart and Oprah made first buying books and then picking out books cheaper and easier for the microwave generation, Trans-Allegheny slowed along with the other independents. Mr. Sakach died, and the executors have been trying to find someone to reanimate the bookstore, with no takers.

I almost said that I have never complained about progress, but that would be a bold faced lie. I have bitched, moaned and complained about progress every 10 minutes approximately since birth. And yet progress comes and I certainly use new technology even if I am clumsy and grumpy about doing so. You might note that the publication of these scribblings is electronic rather than from a mechanical press and distributed in halfpenny editions. But the sights and smells in the world of that library are still a part of me.

"Litter cleanup ahead"

On one of our two-lane roads last weekend, I was buzzing along just "blowing the stink off." (That’s the phrase my grandfather used for taking a nice fast ride with the windows open to enjoy the day in the sun and the breeze and the speed and the feel of the road.) I came across one of those temporary orange diamond warning signs with the legend "Litter cleanup ahead." No problem, you just back off and wave to your friends and neighbors as you ease by them while they are picking the detritus from the lap of Mother West Virginia.

And for every item that these friends grasp and put in a plastic sack, there is a thoughtless piggish bastard who put it there. There is someone who is too lazy and too stupid and to irresponsible to pick up after themselves. I even wonder if these folks are potty trained.

Performance Art

I have only a passing familiarity with American sign language (ASL). Mostly, that is through having deaf clients for whom we have used interpreters. At the clients of left, I’ve talked with the interpreters about the nature of ASL, its relationship to Indian trade language (tenuous), its syntax (unique, and not a word for word English translation) and so forth.

The only fellow I see who is fluent in ASL is Parson Jim Norton, whose parents were deaf and who grew up using ASL as one of his first languages. At times, 'round Central Christian Church, Jim will arise before a hymn or some poeticI him or some poetic passage of Scripture and interpret it in ASL. He did so couple of Sundays ago and I was struck not so much with the capacity of ASL to communicate ideas as with its order and fluidity as performance art. Perhaps it is dance with the arms. I confess that I have never understood or appreciated dance as an art form (even though dancers obviously are exceedingly athletic). Watching Jim opened a window for me a little wider, and reminded me that I have way more to learn than I already know.

Thought for the day:

If you do not like the books I read, don’t read them.

Additional thought for the day:

. . . and I'm not interested in your opinion about those books.

Pippa passes, as always.


09 September 2010

Beyond the Schmaltz of 9/11


Saturday is the ninth anniversary of that fateful day where we all remember where we were and the deep anguish we felt as the world changed, blah, blah, blah.

It is amazing – such a seminal event in American history yet it has been so overhyped and over-whined that it has become almost tiresome to hear about, particularly where “the victims of 9/11" are invoked for causes or political interests which have little or nothing to do with terrorism or where others are trying to buy into a little bit of the “victim” action for themselves.

A particularly egregious example of the latter are those star-crossed “birthday victims.” [Note: I use really-improbably-but-marginally-believable stories for sarcasm, but this one is totally on the level.] Some folks whose birthday falls on 11 September are identifying themselves as additional victims because “their day” was co-opted rudely by Atta & Company. To this crowd, some of the most wretched victims of all are those soon-to-be nine-year-olds who were born on 11 September 2001, identified as such by their parents, who are sure to pass along this loathsome sorrow to these children as soon as they can really savor their ill fortune.

Enough. People who were school-age or above in 1941 remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about Pearl Harbor. The same will apply to the WTC etc. for us. We each have a story and our private thoughts. Some of those stories are quite powerful, within ourselves, owing to our backgrounds and beliefs. I have a strong reaction to the Two Towers and all of that. Please pardon me if I don’t slather it all over the screen for you. Somehow my own reaction to what I saw on television doesn’t seem to be very startling in the broad scheme of things.

And to others similarly situated: You have your First Amendment right to bathe in your angst, blah, blah, blah. But you are boring. Very boring. Until somebody came up with something truly idiotic like “they stole my birthday,” I hadn’t heard anything new about the 2001 attacks since 2002. A particular note to those of you who believe that (1) the United States government knew the attacks were coming in advance, (2) somebody packed the WTC with exotic theoretical explosives, (3) the passenger jets shot missiles into the towers right before they plowed into them (carrying more explosives by four orders of magnitude in their fuel tanks than any missile could hold), or (4) Saddam or Satan was behind it all, listen to me: You are mentally ill. Please do not take a job as a teacher. Please do not procreate. Let's cover both the nature & nurture bases here.

The question remains what to do about the coming of 11 September every year.

There are various schools of thought which generally fall into a couple of categories. One is that it be a day of remembrance which morphs into a day of vengeance, primarily against anything Muslim, grassless or sandy. The other is that this Holy Day be elevated to some higher plane which gives lip service to anything patriotic, but promotes the One Big Happy Family of Humankind with Those Darn Ornery Terrorist Kids. The former is characterized by exhortations in the press and on Facebook to be sure to fly your flag this Saturday lest you prove yourself un-American. (Oh, and there’s tha big deal about a preacher in Florida who’s going to have a Koran barbecue.) The latter is characterized by suggestions such as that of President Obama that we have services of interfaith understanding and that we make this a national day of service, period. Once again, reason is trumped by caricature.

Taking time for remembrance in isolation doesn’t seem to be of great value, although I know lots of people disagree with me there. Remembrance, I believe, should be for the living, to fulfill our own sense of obligation and honor and to provide inspiration and instruction for our future behavior. If we become so emotional or so irrational that we can make no sense of what we’re supposed to be remembering, there is little use in the remembrance. Similarly, service with “an attitude of gratitude” for what we have is an important part of our society. We lament, I lament for that matter that self-interest fuels human activity more than it ever has. However, without that spirit of cheerful service, life would be pretty poor in this world. And I can add little to the “brotherhood of humanity” idea other than to say that simply turning the other cheek from genuine harm is pretty stupid.

By the way, if the preacher wants to burn the Koran, that’s pretty boring too. Some symbolic speech is stupid speech, but the Constitution does not limit rights to people who refrain from stupid things. My thought is that the Reverend Salamander is a putz and should be ignored. Were he burning a Bible, I’d say the same thing, even though I’m a Christian. The printed material is not the person of Deity. On the other hand, I get really ripped when someone disrespects the flag. I know this is inconsistent. Read your Emerson and welcome to my life.

Come Saturday, I will remember and I will (I hope) continue to be of cheerful service. For myself, I will particularly remember the emergency services people who ran toward the danger rather than away from it. I will remember two people, both volunteer EMT’s from Long Island, one a lawyer and one a messenger and Boy Scout leader, who were working in Manhattan that day. They went to the scene, grabbed trauma packs off fire engines and went into the towers. Greater love . . .

The rest of it is just noise.

Perhaps I will ritualistically burn a few of my Archie comic books just to get into the spirit of things. No doubt the Jughead Crew will throw a fatwa on me.

The Other Hazard

This morning's Dominion-Post (the Morgantown, West Virginia, newspaper) ran an Associated Press story on the front page with the headline “Doctors See Eye Hazard in Laser Pointers.” Wait a minute, I smell a small contest! A fine book from the Three Parsec Bookshelf® to the first person who can identify the other hazard of using a laser pointer. Brother Maccheu is ineligible, as we got a real hoot about this at coffee this morning.

A Thought for the Day:

When you ask for my advice, listen for at least 60 seconds before you tell me I’m wrong. After all, you’re the one who asked.

Pippa passes.

02 September 2010

Sparks and Parks

US as the Spark

“Person in the street” things never impressed me a whole lot when they were about politics, economics, public policy and so forth. One or two sentences seldom tell you much. Or so I thought.

Today’s Fairmont Times-West Virginian newspaper had its usual kinda fun “Word on the Street” column, with pictures of local folks responding to a question. The question of the day was “What could spark the U.S. economy?” Three of the five people who answered suggested that a federal program would help out, and two of them specifically mentioned the “Cash for Clunkers” plan where the Government paid people to trade in old cars. (Car dealers took a cut of that, of course.)

Mind you, I do not criticize these folks. They react to common wisdom which is drilled into us by three branches of government, by the press and (when they are being candid) by the Fifth Estate (the corporate community). When in need, go to the Government, they will provide. Blessed art they.

The fallacy here is that Government creates nothing. Government regulates. Government adminsters programs for private business to build infrastructure. Government provides protective services which we developed a habit for to go about our productive activities in peace. The Government mines no coal, digs no metal ore, builds no vehicles, grows no food, and harvests no timber. The Government sings no songs and writes no books which have the slightest intellectual or literary value. (Have you ever read the Tax Code?) Government is useful in many ways. Some modern self-styled conservatives are really semi-anarchists (unless one starts picking on programs that pay them), but Government is conceived by Humankind as a benevolent invention to make society better.

It still produces nothing. Government income comes from people through taxes. (Oh, yes, corporations pay taxes. The corporate charter gets up every morning . . . no, people do. And then people do the work and buy the products and services.) “Cash for Clunkers” bucks did not originate with “the Government.” They originated with the woman at a drafting table and the man on the tractor, both doing productive work for pay. The dollars just took an expensive detour through the Government.

This is not an Obama thing, a Democrat thing, a Republican thing, a Newt thing. This is an American thing, a Reality thing. The only thing that will spark the economy is us.

A Dull Fire

Last Sunday’s Dominion Post, the Morgantown (West Virginia) newspaper, had a decent story and a couple of fair photos about a structure fire which broke out very early Saturday morning. It was front page, below the fold, with only middling size headlines. The ho-hum-ness of it all really says some some remarkable things.

For my non-Mountaineer friends, a short word on the terrain in West Virginia: If you live on the plains, it is quite mountainous, and our plethora of two-lane roads make for quite challenging (to me, fun) driving. If you live in the Rockies, these mountains are more moderate and (from their shape) geologically much, much older than yours. In any event, all towns, roads and streets have to deal with steep terrain. I live on a street, for example, which follows a ridge line. In Morgantown, there is a long commercial road near the airport called “The Mileground,” which likewise follows the top of a long, broad ridge. On the Mileground, you find a number of car dealers, restaurants, retail outlets and the like.

Very early Saturday morning, a fire broke out in some apartments which were attached to a NAPA auto parts store. The fire spread very quickly. So, at 2:30 AM, the first fire departments were called and as they discovered a vigorous fire, they called for the second and third alarms. All in all, more than 100 volunteer firefighters from 14 fire companies in four different counties rolled out of bed, drove to their stations, and hurried to this fire. Since it was a blaze at an auto parts store, they had to deal with a lot of flammable liquids and a lot of flammable pressurized gases, including such simple things as cans of spray paint. (There is a reason that the label on a spray can tells you not to throw the cany into a fire. The thing will explode. The firefighters talked about little explosions cooking off for hours.) It took these guys about seven hours to put the fire out and do the overhaul necessary to make sure it stayed out.

What strikes me is that citizens take it for granted that there are people in their communities who are willing to do this work. That being said, not everybody can do the work. Firefighting requires strength, stamina (and as I tell my son, a maladaptive psychological state). I could no longer do field work in emergency services of any sort if all our lives depend on it, because I’m just not conditioned. What I would suggest is twofold: One, that we thank the people who do this sort of work. On a holiday, send a meal to the local firehouse or rescue company or police station. If you see people working a long call in August (their protective clothing is really hot), drop them off the case of bottled water. Just thank them for being there on the job. Volunteers get paid nothing. Career people are not getting paid enough.

Two, reflect on our own contribution to your community, to our fellow humans. Perhaps we cannot carry a 200 pound person out of a burning building. What can we do? What DO you do? Driving? Phone calling? Doing the books for a Fire Department? Selling at a bake sale? Talking to youth? Reading to old folks? There is something. If they can do what they do, we can do things, too.

Finally, it strikes me that no one was injured on The Mileground fire. This was a dangerous fire, it took guts to be there, and it took smart chief officers to fight it safely and effectively. Moreover, lots and lots of emergency service people always, always wear their St. Florian or Saint Michael medals, even after they retired. This isn’t because the medals have some sort of magic power, it’s an affirmation that they know in Whom to put their trust.


The Discovery Channel office in Silver Spring, Maryland (a DC suburb) was the scene of an armed hostage-taker yesterday. When the criminal pointed a gun at a hostage, a police sniper shot and killed him.

Out in Goofyville, the comments are rolling about the bloodthirsty police:

Let us just give police [the] simple right to kill whoever they feel deserves to killed.

They just let him bleed to death. It should be considered as murder and [a]premeditated one.

There are no winners here (except perhaps the cops, who love it when they get a chance to shoot people).

OK, that’s enough examples.

Shooting a criminal is a gut-wrenching thing for a police officer. This officer is worthy of praise and prayer this day. The criminal took up a firearm with the intent of harming others. While he was armed, he volunteered for a lethal reaction.

By the way, why does the press call him a “Suspect”? He’s a criminal. OK, a dead criminal.

More of My Home Among the Hills

Yesterday, I was in Family Court in Taylor County, the traditional seat of the family. (The common Curry ancestor of the thousand odd Curry/Curreys scattered over West Virginia settled in Taylor County on Lost Creek in 1799.) I had the 9:00 o’clock hearing, which did not take long, and then the 1:00 o’clock hearing. It would’ve been a waste of time to drive back to Fairmont.

The people around me sometimes laugh a bit at the size of my briefcase and all the stuff I carry. But I always have work in my briefcase and whatever it takes to do the work. And so, right after the nine o’clock hearing was concluded, I adjourned to the picnic area at Tygart Lake State Park. Here, a picnic table and a laptop with a full battery provided all I needed to enjoy the late summer day. The leaves are still full, it is cooling off a bit, and the birds and animals, large and small, could be heard moving in the woods.

One’s pay may be more than money.

Quote for the Heck of It:

“I will not be wronged, I will not be insulted, I will not be laid a hand on. I do not do these things to others and I require the same of them.” John Wayne, the J. W. Books character in The Shootist, his last film.

Pippa passes.

27 August 2010

Not as Good as Lincoln-Douglas; And Other Things

Running for Senate

A newspaper ad has run over the past week in the Fairmont newspaper, the Times-West Virginian. It’s a political ad by one of the minor Republican candidates for the open Senate seat, KBlockquoteenneth Culp, a CPA. (The subject of whether we should be having such a special election may be for another day.) This fellow has virtually no chance of winning. One advantage that kind of uphill fight is that the candidate can pretty much say anything they want and anything they believe, hope that their message “goes viral,” and they pull off a miracle. They don’t have to worry much about killing sacred cows or offending people. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, really, this tactic works. (The national example that comes to mind is Jesse Ventura as governor of Minnesota.)

Mr. Culp’s ad was OK by my standards. Here are some excerpts:

“I remember what it was like to work my way through college because my parents were poor. I know what it’s like to have to go to work every day to feed my family . . . to buy food, clothes, gasoline and make a mortgage payment . . . to have to buy used cars because I can’t afford a new one. . . . I remember what it was like to work 70 to 80 hours per week, 52 weeks a year to build a successful business. * * * I am the only candidate who has a comprehensive plan for getting our economy back on its feet. Once we have stopped Obama’s radical, socialist agenda we need to get back to a fairer income tax system that rewards success, not punishes it. * * * Don’t be fooled by all the slick ads running on TV. It’s going to take an outsider to fix these problems.” [Not that my grammar is great, but I didn't fix any of his, either.]

Oh, by OK, I do not mean that I agree with Culp’s politics or positions, just that he is stating them, which is unheard of. Mind you, this isn’t Lincoln-Douglas debate material, where the candidates spoke for 3 hours at a time, but it’s lots more than “Vote for Smith, the People’s Choice!”

Unfortunately for candidate Culp, the ad is terribly ineffective. (I also think some of it is a little zany and patently absurd, but those are political opinions rather than opinions about politics.) Candidate Culp mentioned his real opponents by name - a TERRIBLE idea. Culp acknowledges the good points of the two most prominent candidates in his race – so essentially he bought them a little bit of advertising space. “John Raese is a fine gentleman.” [Even some Republicans disagree with that one. John Raese is rich, handsome and wields power indiscriminately with an ax.] “I especially respect Mac [Warner] because of his 24 years of military service." Warner has a conservative/golden boy/military image which most politicians would sell their mothers into slavery for. His ideas are those of a dogmatic conservative “true believer,” which is always somewhat chilling. And finally, Culp fills about 12 column inches with 6 or 7 point type explaining at length his positions and beliefs. In a responsible nation with a responsible electorate, those lengthy explanations are precisely what responsible candidates need to be doing. Is it any surprise that this is so ineffective in America? Other than generally oppose Barrack Obama, I have no clue what any other Republican candidate plans to do.

Oh, the Democratic primary will be a runaway by Governor Manchin. His chief opposition is from Ken Hechler, a former history professor, Congressman and Secretary of State who is pleasant, pleasantly quirkly (drives around in a red Jeep) and 95 years old. To make a statement, Governor Manchin really needs to pull about 80% of the vote.

Addendum, Sunday, 29 August 2010:
1 - Governor Manchin took 70% of the vote, which is a touch worrisome.
2 - John Raese polled 71% in a 10 person field, but only one other strong candidate was running. Considering the money he dumped into ads, that's not a total shock.
3 - A press account this morning of "person on the street" opinion states: "Raese’s TV ads were enough to convince **********, a 69 year-old from Morgantown, to vote for him. Though he’s a millionaire businessman, he appears on camera in jeans and a denim shirt, his sleeves rolled up, talking about the jobs he’s created." He appears on camera. Can you believe it? This individual expressly voted because of how he appears on camera. St. Patrick with Rattlesnakes, welcome to the New America, Land of the Superficial Appearances.

But a Bigger Problem . . .

I reminded LaJ in the car tonight that “Tomorrow is the election.” Her reply: “What election?” In this season of haphazard and ad hoc decision making (which isn’t over - most likely, there will be the Governor’s chair to fill), it is hardly surprising that lots of intelligent people who do not have politics in their blood are wondering just what the hell is going on. Of course, this inures to the rich and well known.

Mi Casa Ain’t Su Restaurante

At least in the Mid-Atlantic area, Mexican restaurants seem to be named with random Spanish words which have been picked, probably, because Americans in this region know that they are Spanish words. Two Mexican restaurants in the Fairmont area (both excellent, by the way) are La Casa & Mi Pueblo - but I doubt that locals would name a restaurant “The House” or “My Village/Town.”

Note to Fairmonters: No Wings Olé is not a Mexican Restaurant. The closest it gets is that some crockery was probably made in Mexico before the wholesaler outsourced manufacturing to China.

General note on regional cuisine: I have a client, a very pleasant Hispanic gentleman from Arizona. He’s an American born & bred, but has relatives on both sides of the border and is fluent in both languages. While he longs for home, he has been seriously enamored of the cookery at the Bob Evans Restaurants, an Eastern chain that is a pure Midwestern country theme, the sort of place that serves breakfast all around the clock. (He also has a killer recipe for sopapillas.)

Time Magazine:

The current cover of Time shows a star & crescent in a stars & stripes theme with the legend “Is America Islamophobic?”
If you take the “phobic” part to mean general dislike, the answer is yes, and that’s OK with me.

Pippa passes.


23 August 2010

This Wretched Scribe Afflicted with Acute Philosophical Atrophy


LaG, the Matriarch of the Clan, continues to experience severe medical problems. Thus, the regularly-irregular publication schedule of this wretched scribe's blog has been irregularized even more than usual. She is receiving good care, Pastor Josh and friends from Central Christian Church are much in evidence, and Bro. Butch Moore continues to faithfully discharge his Obligation by his resolute attention to the physical plant needs in the Home on the Ridge. Thanks for the many expressions of concern and prayer is always appropriate.

Brad Pitt and the Oil Spill

Actor extraordinaire Brad Pitt has weighed in on the Gulf Oil Spill. Formerly an “opponent of capital punishment,” enquiring minds will be fascinated to know that he is willing to make an exception for “those who are responsible.”

OK, it is a grave error to say that celebrities shouldn’t comment on public issues unrelated to their fields (in this case, acting and picking up girls - I am not qualified to judge him on the former, and the publications displayed at the checkout line in the grocery store suggest that he's a whiz on the latter.) Actors are amongst those given leave to wax ineloquently on damn near anything by the First Amendment. Listen, the problem here isn’t that he speaks, it’s that we listen. Are we so spectacularly dumb that we value the opinion of a handsome yet random actor over that of anybody with a reasonably complete science education? And when anybody spouts an opinion which is self-evidently absurd, why do we publicize it?

The Gulf Oil Spill was indeed an indecent and monstrous blight. The causation is anything but simple and linear. Nobody understands the extent of the damage. [Right wing and corporate apologists opine that everything is A-OK, because we can’t see much oil now. Guys, meet Brad; Brad, meet the guys; You have a lot in common.] I’ve yet to see anyone mention as one basic cause our obscene reliance on oil, to the extent that 80% of Congress and 100% of the past 8 presidents are/have been willing to give every other demi-sheikh a blow job and to the extent that we drill wells 5000 feet deep in the ocean.

How did the causes align to permit this well to blow? We need to know. Brad Pitt cannot tell us. Neither can I. Neither can nearly anyone in Government. The best oil geologists and engineers work in industry. BP is losing double-digit billions on this road kill salad and I’m betting that they’d sort of like to avoid a repeat. Other companies likely are laughing up their sleeves, but want to make sure the attention doesn’t turn on them.

One other subject totally absent from the press coverage was the long hours and brilliance of the engineers who fixed the well. They were working with robots on a problem caused by excessive pressure in an environment where the ambient pressure was in the order of 150 atm.

Brad, old love, if I want advice on picking up girls, I’ve give you a jingle.

Craigslist Ad I’d Like to See

"Classy guy seeks woman of any age who enjoys long walks on the beach, gentle rain showers, sipping wine, going to concerts, and flower gardening, and who enjoys doing all of the above alone. I’ll be at home, take your time."

Safety, Monies and Mama

Son Tim attended in interesting fire call yesterday. A compact car hit the end of a guardrail on Rt. 250, impaled itself 30 feet into the guardrail (down the middle of the car) and caught fire. The angel who looks after children and fools was on duty and the occupants walked to the ambulance.

I drove past the spot today. The guardrail had a single layer curved piece protecting the end, and that did nothing to retard the progress of the car significantly. The curved piece is fairly cheap as safety devices go, and you get what you pay for. I’ve seen the aftermath of crashes into the large square “target” endcaps which crumple the corrugated steel of the guardrail to absorb impact, and those appear to work fairly well, but they have to be darn expensive.

Safety costs money. In the accident yesterday, we can assign some responsibility for the extent of the damage to the guardrail designer and installer. But isn’t there a whole lot of “pilot error” in running a car off the road and hitting a guard rail that hard? What is our responsibility as a society? How much safety should we buy with tax dollars? How much should we mandate by regulations? Does it matter how stupid the hypothetical people are we’re protecting? How about the probability of harm and probable extent of harm? Here again, we’re denied a simple linear analysis and burst squarely into economics and morality.

Carry Me Back to Old Brasilia

Last week, I received by mail from a well-known third-party vendor will who I will not name (but I will say that a large South American river is involved) a package containing, among other things a rather decent knife from a rather decent manufacturer. I purchased this as a gift for my brother. On the packaging is a 1:1 photograph of the knife. I’ve seen the packaging on the same model direct from the manufacturer, so I know that it is clean and has no stickers of any sort on it. However, this third-party vendor (wisely) plastered a bright yellow sticker on the box with the legend “Sharp Object Inside.” They also sell irons with stickers “Remove clothing before ironing,” (which is not as funny as it once was because I talked to someone who actually ironed something on themselves and got burned).

Maybe these stickers are bad for evolution.

Pippa passes.


28 July 2010

Mike Fink and Other Less Interesting Folks

Darn Mike Fink

Yesterday I was driving through Calhoun County, West Virginia. This is a beautiful place, although quite different than the homes of many readers. It is a county of two-lane highways. I grew up in such places, and I know both feeling of isolation and insulation and indeed comfort of “home” and “neighborhood” that a place like Calhoun County engenders.

My mission yesterday was as a marauding Philistine, to find land for uses inconsistent with the quiet nature of Calhoun County. As I drove up Route 16, I passed through the unincorporated community of Chloe and was reminded of the comment of Gertrude Stein that “there is no there there,” and then I arrived at the community of Minnora and found that there wasn’t even any there. And, of course, I jest, these are simply tiny communities where neighbors nest in comfort and security and where in the deep snows of winter, neighbors check on each other.

Well, the land lies beautifully along Route 16. America is such a beautiful and varied place, and I love so much of it. But my home is, indeed, among the hills. Here, finally, was a place to share with people who have been deprived of the quiet joy of living in Mother West Virginia.

And then: Darn the luck! I ran across a historical marker alongside the highway. In West Virginia, the Department of Culture and History erects permanent markers at historical sites. This particular one marked the “Grave of Mike Fink.” The pleasing vapor of my pleasant (and financially advantageous) visions blew away. You see, this Mike Fink (not that Mike Fink, the other Mike Fink) was a seminal figure in central West Virginia history. To countenance development within shouting distance of his grave? Heresy! Besides, dealing with the Department of Culture and History would be nightmarishly expensive and the flood of tourists would make any sort of regional development just another tawdry collection of souvenir stands. And so, the grave of Mike Fink as well as the unnamed Indian who killed him (photograph above) remains unsullied, as does the Valley of the Elk, which is only right.

I Got It Wrong

I have been reflecting on the strange case of Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture official who was fired by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack after Andrew Breitbart published edited videotape of a recent speech she gave. In that speech, she described an incident 25 years ago where she first sandbagged a white farmer and then, after her own reflection, undid the damage and helped the farmer out. In my post of 22 July 2010, I roundly criticized her as having made a pretty stupid speech.

I’ve followed the news, I’ve considered the comments of Friend Rosa, and now I think I just got it wrong. Taken as a whole, Ms. Sherrod’s speech was a self revealing story of learning. I can hardly object to it having been hokey, inasmuch as I do so love hokey. I’ve also been reading Child of the Appalachian Coalfields, by Robert C. Byrd, and particularly his discussion of his membership when he was in his 20s in the Ku Klux Klan. Although it followed him all his life, in West Virginia he became the most popular public servant of all time and pretty well got a pass on the Klan thing.

And then I considered if what disturbed me was Ms. Sherrod’s reaction to the uproar in the firing as victim-like and whining, and I still think it was. On the other hand, to expect her to have remained calm after she was sandbagged was probably asking too much. I do know that my own reaction would not have been effective at all. A selected few may differ, but I lay claim to a reasonable degree of mellowness. When I screw up, I think I say yes, I’ve screwed up. But in this situation, of both Brietbart’s and the Secretary’s big white horses would have figured in my reaction. So, perhaps a response such as Ms. Sherrod’s was the only way to change the status quo, I don’t know.

In the world of the sound bite, we have to be careful, for we don’t see a lot of accurate representations of people’s beliefs.

My hand to God: A Lawyer Ad

There is an old custom in Mother West Virginia when one is relating something that is not very credible but which is nonetheless true. You raise your right hand when someone expresses doubt and say, “My hand to God . . .,” and that imbues what you have said with the strength of a solemn oath.

I was cruising craigslist.com this week, looking for a printer. I saw that one can advertise legal services. Who (and how) would one advertise legal services on craigslist? So I looked, and My Hand To God, I found this ad: (I’ve changed only the name)


Mortimer Snerd

Now accepting divorce clients for hundreds off normal fee.

Mention this ad and get a divorce for $1200. Call me today.
304 555-5555

123 Snerd Lane
Snerdville, WV. 26101

Stunning, just stunning. The ad is either misleading or really indicative of not a lot of attention being paid to a case. One cannot predict in advance how much time and effort a divorce will take. The $1200 may be OK for a “no-fault” divorce with no children and not much property. But if you add ANYTHING else, the lawyer will be working for free or not doing stuff that should be done. Is this some sort of “get ‘em in the door” thing? Beats me, and I’m not going to ask Mort. You don’t always get what you pay for, but if you don’t pay, the chances of getting go down a bunch. And “mention this ad”? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Pippa passes.