Archive for January, 2014


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What We Really Need…

….in a winter like this is surf music! From Australia, no less, and note the letter carrier on the far left:

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Even extreme weather has its beauties.

Yesterday morning it was 15 degrees below zero as I left for work. There was a thin crescent of a waning moon in the eastern sky, and somehow it seemed more stark and vivid in the subzero cold, its beauty enhanced.

I had been dreading the day since I first heard the forecast last weekend: high of minus 3, windchill of 25 below. I dressed for it: wool vest over my shirt, down vest over my sweater, heavy parka, long johns, and hand warmers in my gloves and boots, and one over my heart. I braced myself and started the route.

And it wasn’t that bad. The high temperature was around zero, but the sun was shining and there was no wind at all. I remembered from my Michigan childhood that there is little difference between 10 degrees and 20 below if there is no wind. And there is about 4 inches of snow on the ground, and walking is more strenuous, so I warmed quickly. At one point I even took off my parka.

So this thing that I had been dreading turned out to be not to be so difficult in actuality. Not something I would want to do everyday, but not horrible either.

There is a lesson there…

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I Love My Job…

imagesEven after a day of battling the elements.

It is so vital, so primal.

All right. I didn’t defeat the Ice Giants. But I survived.

I am pretty sure that office workers never experience the sort of exhausted triumph that those who work outside do after a day in the  really harsh weather.

And today, they  predict, will be much worse. Minus 10 as I write, high of maybe zero, wind chill too horrible to say.

I can do this…

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No! No! No!

I was driving to work the other day, listening to NPR, when a story aired about the state of the movement to legitimize gay marriage in Virginia. The reporter was doing “man on the street’ interviews, and a woman from Charlottesville, when asked her opinion on the subject said “I’m against it. I am a Christian, and God said that’s a No-No.”

I groaned.

I am sure that NPR was happy to find such a stupid comment from a professed Christian. The problem is that I suspect that they didn’t have to look too far to find it. This is precisely the sort of immature and ignorant faith that repels people, that makes them think that they are agnostics because they reject an anthropomorphic god, one with arbitrary, pleasure-denying rules, “No-Nos”, as if illicit sexual pleasure was the cookie jar or something, instead of disharmony with the created order.

You really have to wonder what that woman thought of the interview; did she think that she was somehow bearing witness to the goodness and love of God?

Her “No-No” god is every much an idol as any pagan deity, except less attractive.

Meanwhile, from the Department of Ridiculosity

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal comparing the Left’s push to reduce inequality in the United States to Nazi Germany’s war on Jews.   polls_BABY_CRYING_5814_509845_answer_1_xlargePerkins, a founding member of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, asks whether a progressive Kristallnacht is coming:

“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich,” Perkins wrote in the letter.

He continued that he perceives “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them…This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

 Oh, please. This analogy is both obscene and hilarious.

When in doubt, it is always a good idea to compare one’s perceived enemies to Nazis.

Poor, poor, persecuted rich people.

It’s Not My Imagination


Anthropomorphizing this Winter…

I keep saying that this is the most consistently cold winter I remember since the first winter I carried mail in Holly, Michigan. That would be the winter of 1981-82. I googled around, out of curiosity, and learned that the winter of 81-82 set all sorts of records in Michigan for both snowfall and cold. I only know that I remember being very cold, and I remember waking up one morning in early April, full of longing for Spring, and looking out the window at a foot of snow. I am not sure, but I may have cried.

And it’s not over yet; Tuesday’s projected high is minus 2….


I read this to my bride in preparation for posting it, and her verdict was that today’s  post is “gloomy and snarky”.

Sorry. I am facing Ice Giants this week.

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I saw a piece of political mail yesterday from Mike Huckabee, with his picture on the front of the envelope. Across the middle were emblazoned the words “What you as a conservative do in the next three days is crucial!”

Mr Huckabee has been sending that same letter out for at least three years, to the same mailing list.

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There is a man on my mail route, probably in his mid 30s, with the unlikely name of Dudley. I have never known anyone else with that name, and the only other Dudley I have heard of is the comic actor Dudley Moore.

Dudley is the third Dudley in his line, after his father and grandfather. He has not named any of his sons Dudley.

His last name is Scottish, and he is descended from some of the earliest settlers in Wayne County, Ohio.


When I first moved here, nearly twenty years ago, I read that some of the earliest Europeans in Wayne County were Scots, but I did not see much evidence of them in the area, aside from the College of Wooster, founded by Scottish Lowlanders and once associated with the Presbyterian church, and whose sports teams are dubbed The Fighting Scots. There is a bagpipe and drum corps besides the brass marching band, and they wear kilts in the black and yellow Clan MacLeod tartan.

I know, very unhistorical and unlikely, given the Lowland background of the place.

Other than that, the area seemed devoid of much lasting impact of the early Scots, who had been eclipsed by the later English, German and Swiss immigrants.

Then, maybe 16 years ago I successfully bid on a route that included, besides half of the downtown, the southwest quadrant of the town of Wooster, a working class and poor area.

There I found people living in old houses whose names were Grant and Duncan and McClelland and McDougall.

It turns out that Dudley, who was raised on a farm south of town, is the grandson of one of the old women on my former route.

Dudley lives in the subsidized housing complex that I deliver. As he has been unemployed most of the nearly two years I have been on my this route, and as he is gregarious and likeable, I have talked a lot to him when he comes out to the cluster box to get his mail. He is an intelligent guy, a reader, and fairly radical, at least when you get him going. We have talked a lot about the socio-economic system and disparity and the plight of the displaced working class.

You know me, always fanning the flames.

He is a Freemason, and proudly displays the Masonic symbol on his living room window. We have never discussed it, but I suspect Freemasonry in his family goes back way before the first time the name “Dudley” ever appeared.

Dudley lives with a woman, and between them they have four kids. The children have several last names; I suspect the story is as convoluted as that of many families today, and not only among the poor. He says he intends to marry his girlfriend when their lives are more stable, and told me that when he does he will wear a kilt in his Clan tartan. In spite of the irregularity of his situation he is devoted to his family, and looks askance at the ways of some of his neighbors, dealing drugs and otherwise behaving badly.

There is a real sense of decency about him.

He has often spoken with frustration about the indignities of living in subsidized housing. He told me that every month they are subjected to inspections, with strangers in ties with clipboards walking through their home.

That is the sort of thing that makes me hate bureaucracy and all its works and pomps: it reminds me of the scene in Time Bandits where, after the prissy Robin Hood (played by John Cleese) distributes alms to a poor person, one of his brutish Merry Men slugs the beggar.

Dudley has often expressed his desire to get out of there and off of government assistance, to support his family on his own.

He finally got a job last winter, at a local factory. The pay was pretty crappy, around $9 an hour, but he figured it was a foot in the door. He apparently was a hard worker, and soon he was told that he was being considered for a promotion to lower management.

Then he got pneumonia. He missed two weeks of work, as well as two weeks of pay; it is a non-union shop and there is no paid sick leave.

Ah, the benevolent capitalist.

I am willing to bet, even in a smallish factory like this, that you could pay for all the annual sick days of every worker out of the CEO’s salary and he wouldn’t be hurting at all.

When Dudley got better he went back to work, but pretty soon his back gave out, fruit of an alcohol-fueled car crash in his youth. This time after a week or so off work, in a doctor’s care, he was fired.

Yes, you union critics, companies still do things like that.

In spite of these setbacks, in spite of his back pain, and in spite of being unemployed again, he was always upbeat and friendly.

That was last summer, but early this winter he got another job, this time working in a group home for disabled adults. He was pretty excited to be working, and he thought he had the qualifications to do this job well. So did I; like I said he is outgoing and friendly and it seemed like he would be good with the disabled. He told me, excitedly, that he would make a salary; I forget how much he said, but it sounded abysmal to me, not enough to raise a family.

I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, but when I did he reported that he liked his job. A lot of it consisted of hanging out with the housemates, taking them bowling or out to dinner or on other excursions.

But there were drawbacks.

He said that at one restaurant one of the men soiled himself, and he, Dudley, had to clean the mess. Then when they got home the man did it again, leaving a trail all the way to his room.

I told him that I didn’t think I could do that job, and I resisted saying something about “shitty wages”.

Then I didn’t see him for a good while again. When I did he was wearing a tie. When I asked him how the job was going he said “Excellent!” and told me that he had been promoted to an administrative position, overseeing several group homes. I congratulated him, and then inquired if this involved a decent raise, as I am aware that management in a lot of low wage industries offers a pittance. Yes, he said, his salary would more than double, to $49,000 a year.

I shook his hand and congratulated him again. He talked excitedly about getting his family out of public housing, of being able to buy a house in the country.

I was so pleased at this development; it is a rare and happy occasion to see a workingman get an honest break, hard to come by in these days of the decline and fall of the honest break.

I sure hope he gets married in that kilt.

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Contra the Market Myth


From a January 20 Oxfam paper:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.

That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.

• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.

• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.

• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.



To read the rest:


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Baby Days


Samuel James Nichols

I love having a baby and a three year old in the house, especially when the baby is fat and happy, as young Sam is, and the three year old is one of the sweetest humans I have ever met (though as a three year old, he does have his moments).

Sam started out fussy, and who can blame him? His pregnancy and birth were the hardest of all my bride’s eight children. And then at two weeks he was hospitalized, poked and prodded and examined, sometimes by people who did not seem to know what they were doing.

So for a long time he was pretty upset, but as he is very audial, always attracted to the mysterious sounds around him, especially musical ones, I could often distract him by bouncing him and singing various songs of my composition, such as “I am Mr Fussybutt that’s who I am, I am Mr Cuteybutt my name is Sam” and so on, a reference to the fact that he was fussy but cute, and cute but fussy.

But he has gradually calmed down and these days, at almost four months, he is almost unrelentingly cute, and just as his brother Will, our current three year old, did when he was a baby, Sam smiles every time he looks at me. Not that he will always look at me; like all the babies he will sometimes doggedly evade my gaze. “Hey Sam, I’m over here” I will say, as he deliberately pretends to not hear me.

Life is rough, and it’s been a hard winter, with still a long haul ahead, and more Arctic air coming, though apparently not of the scary Vortexial variety. There are the inevitable worries and concerns, the heartbreaks of daily life.

But it is great to come home to a fat baby and a generally cheerful three year old, and to the other children, the little ones rowdy and winsome, and the older ones, straining and testing and seeking.

And, of course, to come home to the bride whom I love.

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Play Banjo, Sing


I have been intending for some time to write a post about the decline of American radio. I have not had time to do the topic justice; suffice it to say that after all the independent FM stations (ie, “underground stations”) had been devoured by corporate radio the only oases were college radio stations.

And judging by what I hear in this part of Ohio, these too have pretty much bitten the dust: the student DJs of the College of Wooster’s  radio station, once the source of a lot of good and new music, now play mostly pop and the ruder sorts of hip hop.

And when student DJs are not around, the thing reverts to the worst sort of canned music from God knows what corner of the corporate radio universe.

But tonight I tuned in to hear a couple of students, one a boy and the other a girl, hosting a music show, and they seemed musically smart and witty in a dry college sort of way.

The young woman offered this wry description of the music of Mumford and Sons: “It’s like play banjo, sing, play banjo slow, sing soft, play banjo fast, sing loud, play banjo, sing.”

Which pretty accurately describes every Mumford song I have heard.

And she offered this  tune by Bear’s Den as an example of superior Banjo Folk Pop:

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