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.