Tuesday, December 31, 2002

An Example of Slant

Precious little news from Venezuela makes its way up here, and that that does is shockingly one-sided in an Orwellian way, except that the arm of big brother is not swung by governments but by corporations and bigwigs with agendas far out of public view and subject to no sunshine laws.

Oh, spare us! What is this leftist hogwash: corporate bigwigs and hidden agendas? Honestly. You rant!

I do. But not senselessly. Here is an example of what I mean, this one drawn from the opening of a Christian Science Monitor article that seems even to begrudgingly acknowledge grass-roots support behind Chávez:

It used to be an elegant shopping boulevard before President Hugo Chávez took power and allowed street vendors to set up camp. Now the Sabana Grande is a crowded marketplace, filled with cheap imports and expert pickpockets. ["Grass-roots support for Chávez"]

What would you say if I described a new shopping complex thusly?

It used to be a forest before the real-estate developers moved in and allowed big-box chain-stores to set up camp. Now it is a sprawling strip mall complex, filled with corporate storefronts that sell cheap imports and drive local merchants out of business.
You would ignore what I say as meaningless ranting devoid of information.

Because of course, one cannot compare mere street vendors to engines of the economy. The key to survival is growth, you'd explain. The key to growth is development, you'd say. The key to development is commerce, you'd say. The key to commerce is profits, you'd say -- big profits that attract big corporations into the country, that bring more profits for more corporations. So the reasoning goes. For the sake of growth (which is for the sake of good), we must make way for the corporations. All must be subservient to that end. All.

And that is the state of media coverage of Venezuela today.

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Reporting from Venezuela


And this is why I think you are a simulator and no longer a journalist: You know, or should know, the effect that your distortions have on people in foreign lands who may not be following the situation as closely as those of us who know the score. And you still chose to distort instead of report. [Al Giordano]

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 Monday, December 30, 2002

... for now she was stuck.


Her mascara and her English textbooks betrayed big dreams, but for now she was stuck. ["mobbed by monklets"]

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In Ashgabat

In Ashgabat they say [1] a long-dreamed-of pipeline can now be built. With the terrorists smoked out of their holes and driven far away, with peace and freedom spreading throughout the mountains and the valleys, prosperity beckons tantalizingly, and the future is bright.

In Ashgabat. With peace and freedom in full flower.

In Ashgabat. Where our tax dollars bear fruit.

In Ashgabat. A pipeline.

In Ashgabat.

[1] "Turkmen, Afghan, Pak leaders to sign $3.2b pipeline pact," The Daily Times, Pakistan, online issue: Tuesday 31 December.
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 Thursday, December 26, 2002

Distant Spring

A loggerhead shrike stared at me from his perch on a Live Oak tree on that day many months ago. A late afternoon light was slanting across the grass, throwing golden spikes of light over the green grass and turning the tops of distant trees afire with an early evening glow. A cloudless blue sky told the story of the day that was and of warm breezes and yellow wildflowers basking in the sun.

I remember warm springtime breezes. I remember blue cloudless skies. I remember the golden light of the setting sun.

And it sure seems mighty cold outside.

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 Tuesday, December 24, 2002

A Yellow Blanket for Frances

We visited Frances on Saturday.

We got there while she was sleeping, sleeping hard with long breaths in and out. The sheets and blankets over her went up and down. We found two chairs and sat to wait for her.

As she woke, she looked up at the faces and around at the room. It took her a while to get reoriented. But when they told her that Trudy had come, her eyes opened wide, and a bright smile crept across her face.

Her Trudy had come to visit her.

She sat with her, talking some, sitting some, holding hands, scratching itches, running a cool rag across her forehead. And when Frances told Trudy that she was cold, Trudy smiled and reached for a package beside the bed.

Here is a present I brought for you, she said, pulling a yellow fleece blanket from the tissue in the bag. And here is a yellow card to go with it. Merry Christmas, Frances. She laid the blanket over Frances's feet.

With the blanket on top and someone to talk to, Frances cheered up. As afternoon came, she was smiling and joking and speaking of horny-toads. She even tried to eat some soup. But evening came, and we had to go. So we hugged her and kissed her and squeezed her hand goodbye.

When her family visited later that night, Frances told them how Trudy had come, and she showed them the bright yellow blanket that Trudy had brought. And she kept the blanket over her that night.

Frances died early Sunday morning.

I didn't know her; I had only met her once before. But I saw the love she had for Trudy and the love Trudy had for her. And when the pall bearers unpinned their white carnations and laid them on her casket, the world felt like an emptier place.

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 Sunday, December 22, 2002

Help for Loretta

Across the empty cafeteria, an old woman sat at a table by herself in the corner by the kitchen door. She had stringy white hair and was hunched at the shoulders. She was rocking back at forth.

Help! she said, not quite a shout but certainly not spoken to herself. Then she got louder. Heeeeellp. As she rocked, her plea echoed in the empty room. Help. Somebody! Help me. Help me, Please!

From time to time, kitchen staff would walk into or out of the door and say something quietly to her as they went by, but still she continued.

The two other women in the cafeteria paid no mind to her but stuck to their own tasks: one wheeling herself in minute increments to her favorite table in the middle of the room; the other periodically trying to sit up and get out of her chair, gasping with big breaths between each failed attempt.

Nobody answered the old woman's call.

Here, I'll take it, the woman in the kitchen said.

A man had come into the cafeteria to put a dirty glass in the sink. As he turned to leave, the old woman looked up at him and caught his eye.

Please help me, she said in a quiet voice. Please don't leave me here.

I can sit and talk with you a while, he said as he pulled up a chair. Her left eye tracked him closely as he sat down and put his hand on her arm.

What's your name? he asked.

Loretta, she said.

And they talked for a while, and he got her some juice from the kitchen, and she took her medicine.

I'll come back before I leave, he told her as he stood up to leave.

Please don't forget, she asked.

I won't.

It was time to go. The day had drawn on. It was dark outside. They had a long drive ahead of them, a drive neither looked forward to.

They put on their coats and walked down the hall out to the lobby past the nurse's station, past a few old women sitting silently in their wheelchairs with blankets on their laps.

Wait, he said. I told Loretta I'd say goodbye. And went back to the cafeteria.

It was dinner time. The room that was empty before was busy now. All the tables were full. The staff were passing out trays and napkins and glasses of juice. The patients were all focused on the meals before them.

And on the far side of the room, Loretta was sitting in her corner by the kitchen door. He could spot her easily in her bright red gown. She was draining another glass of juice. He walked up to her and touched her arm.

I'm going home, Loretta, he said. Goodbye.

She set her glass on the table and looked at him with her piercing left eye. Thank you, she said. Come visit me when you come back.

Ok, he said and patted her on the shoulder. And Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you.

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 Saturday, December 21, 2002

The Man Who Moved Her

She wants to know something more about him, this man who walked into her life from out of nowhere. She wants to know who he is, what makes him tick, this man who moved her.

She looks up at him, he looks back at her. Her eyes sparkle. She opens her mouth to speak, but he cannot hear her, and he begins to walk away.

She touches his arm. He looks back. She begins to speak again but doesn't know what to say. He is still looking at her.

What drink do you like? she asks.

He does an excuse-me? double-take. It's not clear what she's asking.

What drink do you like better... Dr. Pepper or Coca-Cola?

He smiles and without hesitation answers, Dr. Pepper.

From behind the oxygen mask on her face, she smiles too. She turns to her daughter standing on the other side of her hospital bed and says, He likes Dr. Pepper! The three of them stand and lie still in suspended silence for just a few seconds with smiles crossing their faces.

The man looks at the daughter and says, I'll be right over here. He points to the curtain that divides the room. Call me if she gets uncomfortable again.

Thank you, the daughter answers. And thank you for helping me move her.

The woman on the bed is still smiling.

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 Friday, December 20, 2002

Falling Purple Rain

I sat not too far from here on a stone under a trellis beneath a wysteria vine about one year ago. A year ago or so I sat there not so far from here and wondered.

It was sunny then, as Central Texas springs can be. It was sunny then and warm, and the sky was blue, and the sweet fragrance of purple rain fell to the ground about me.

And now it is sunny again down here by the water. It is sunny again, and the light is glistening on the waves, and I wonder if that purple fragrance is falling. I wonder about that wysteria vine with its blossoms falling from above. It wasn't so far from here.

So come with me. Come walk down the trail a bit, and I'll show you that place where I sat in the sun on that stone by the water under that vine amid a falling purple rain. Come with me. Let's wonder again.

sitting by Town Lake, Spring 2002, Austin TX
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 Thursday, December 19, 2002

Helping a Little

He's helping with the leaves: raking them in the front yard, loading them onto the big blue tarp, dragging them into the back, piling them onto the compost pile. But what's taking him so long?

He's helping with the leaves perhaps, but at the moment, he's lying down on the job: under the tarp on top of the leaves with the dog barking at him from the other side of the fence. His head pokes up from under the blue. Wide-eyed, caught in the act, he sees me coming thru the gate, a guilty grin on his face and a strand of jasmine tied around his head.

He's helping with the leaves somewhat, but I seem to be doing most of the raking, and I seem to be doing most of the loading. Although he drags them to the back on his own, I have to go back there to get him to return.

He's helping with the leaves only a little.


I remember a summer in Michigan years ago when I spent a month at my grandparents' house. During the days, they would be out in the yard from morning to night, pulling at weeds, mowing the grass, picking berries. They would be out there, but I have this memory of sneaking into the house and lying on the bed.

During the day. While the breeze rustled thru the leaves of the oak trees in the front and blew in thru the screen. With the sound of the mower coming from around back. While there was work to do. I have this memory. While my grandparents worked in the yard outside, I was lying down on the job, helping with the chores only a little. And I wonder with shame what they must have thought.


At least he's helping a little.

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 Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Party's Over

The President told us to go to Disneyland. The mayor told us to go to the mall. I bought a fancy printer. But it wasn't enough.

The damage was more than skin deep. The spell broken, the decades-long, post-cold-war boom busted, the peace dividend spent, our optimism on the wane, shop as we might it just isn't enough.

That printer wasn't made here. Nobody new got a job from that act of defiance, except perhaps low wage workers stocking the shelves at a big box in the suburbs down the street from the big box that closed. The shelves might be full, the product might be moving, but the labels on the outside all say the same thing:

  • made in China
  • skilled labor need not apply
  • service economy or bust

So bust it is. We can spend, spend, spend. We can buy, buy, buy. We can root for rosy holiday shopping cheer, but it just isn't enough.

The party is over. The glitter is gone. The revellers are rolling in the street.

And there's a mob around the corner.

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 Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Now Serving

The doors had only been open a few minutes, but people were everywhere. Each register was busy. The sign on the post office wall said Now Serving: 92.

People were carefully stacking boxes while they sat and hurriedly addressing boxes while they stood. One woman behind the counter shouted to see if anyone just needed to pick up held mail. Another was helping unprepared customers retape their boxes.

The sign rolled over: 98, 99, 00... I wondered how they'd call it out. Number double-zero, a woman behind the counter shouted. A man from the back of the room with an infant hanging from his left arm and a car seat and package from his right came limping up.

10, 11, 12... An old man with a cane next to me fidgeted as said, Keep counting! He wasn't happy. He had only come for stamps. (Who knows what he was thinking, coming for stamps at this time of year.)

13, 14, 15... I looked at my number and then at the man. Here, I said. We'll swap. You're just getting stamps. He looked at me with a bit of surprise on his face and then shuffled to the counter. He got a single roll of first-class stamps, turned, and said Thank you, as he left.

16... I walked to the counter.

It was your turn, the postal employee behind the counter said and then smiled, Random acts of kindness. You've made my day.

And she smile -- at this time of year, she smiled.

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 Monday, December 16, 2002


These guys are amazing, he said. They're clearly brilliant, and they're all obviously smarter than me. ...

He was talking in an animated tone, but there was something in it that belied his intent, just enough of a hint of sarcasm that I sat up and began listening closer. He continued without missing a beat.

... and they're so productive. But you know, and now he paused, formally inviting the attention that his veiled sarcasm had already won.

You know when I read their stuff I realize that they don't know what they are talking about!

I laughed louder than I have for a long time.

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 Wednesday, December 11, 2002


What is happening in Venezuela doesn't get a lot of attention up here. Don’t ask me to hypothesize why; you wouldn’t like my answer, and I cannot offer a constructive solution, anyway. Let me just say that terrorists come in many colors.

For Gaviria (and some corporate “press freedom” organizations), the libertinism of a paid press takes priority over the liberty of free speech by all the people. Nothing is more frightening to them -- nor more important for Authentic Democracy -- than a scenario in which the masses confront this era[base ']s hijacking of the public airwaves by an elite minority.


Foreign powers and billionaire economic interests tried to fix the game by installing their own referee, Cesar Gaviria, in Caracas. But he’s not an umpire or referee. He’s a player for the team that has now lost the contest, an advocate for destabilization and repression, and it is time for Gaviria to get the hell out of the stadium.

The only possible “mediator” of this dispute cannot be the commercial media nor foreign interests: It is, and will be, the Venezuelan people who now make the calls. [NarcoNews editorial]

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Trombone in the Afternoon

The dog doesn't like it when the boy gets out his trombone. That's not surprising, since the boy likes to blat on it from time to time as he experiments with the sounds he can make, and since he often likes to blat in the general direction of the dog, sending him scurrying for cover or the nearest protective lap.

They have a young band director at the middle school, and he specializes in lower brass. I bet Mr. Edwards plays some great stuff when he gets out his horn.

Just now, between the snippets of "Twinkle, Twinkle" and Brahms' 1st Symphony, with the dog safely stashed behind a closed door, the boy pulled out his mouthpiece and started buzzing with it.

And there's no doubt about it, he was playing the Peter Gunn theme. I know that's not in his lesson book.

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 Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Choosing Words

On this anniversary of the birthday of Adolf Hitler, we recall his many contributions to the greatness of the German fatherland. If it weren't for the exaggerations over those camps, we wouldn't have all the problems we have today.

On this anniversary of the birthday of Joseph Stalin, we recall his role in bringing the Russian homeland into a role of prominence in the world. If it weren't for those trouble-making authors who sought to exaggerate gulags and mass exterminations, Russia wouldn't have all the problems she has today.

On this anniversary of the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond, we come to honor a great man. When he ran for president, we voted for him, and we're proud of it. If everyone had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years.


So what if they misunderstand what you meant. It was a long time ago, and things might have been better, anyway. How do we really know? This is a big, non-issue and is being blown out of proportion by a few loser liberals who don't seem to understand that they're irrelevant now and nobody has any patience for their whining. Just issue a statement and it will blow over.


Do not let my choice of words convey to you the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past. Nothing is further from the truth.

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 Monday, December 9, 2002

Phoning Home

As usual, they left things to the last minute. While time ticked away, they were in the back yard battling with balloon swords, and only when it was time to go did they decide to call home and see if they could make a change in plans. So while we stood around in our running gear, with gloves and hats in hand and with the bike finally strapped to the back of the car, they punched at the buttons on the phone in the kitchen. Nothing happened.

Ugh! Matt exclaimed, trying the number again.

That phone seems to be kid-proof, I said. (It doesn't give much feedback, and it never fails to frustrate the efforts any twelve year old kid in a rush.) He tried again and got the wrong number.

I dialed the right number! I know my mom's cell phone! Matt gasped, as he hung up.

His third attempt went no better. He just held the phone to his ear waiting for a ring on the other end -- a ring that never came.

Try the black phone in my office, I said.

Matt looked at me blankly.

The black phone next to the computers.

He hung up the phone and walked slowly to the study. On his way there, we heard him ask Ben a question.

Ben, can you show me how to use this phone?

You see, it's a black rotary dial Western Electric phone. Trudy looked at me and winced.

We're so old!

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Students in Teheran

The Specatator (linked by Instapundit) show us that there can be reason to hope in these dark times:

More than 10,000 people defied riot police to gather outside Teheran university in a show of support for reformist students and a sign of a wider dissatisfaction with the regime.


The crowd on the streets was made up of a cross-section of ordinary Teheranis. One of the several middle-age, middle-class women taking part said: "We don't have free speech and we don't have freedom - I have come here to support the students for my children's future."

Among the crowd were many plain-clothes security agents who bundled dozens of people into police cars and videotaped faces in the crowd. At one point a security agent was surrounded by a catcalling crowd and defended himself with a can of pepper spray.

As he hurried down the street followed by jeers, the crowd began to chant, "Thank you, police!" to the regular police, who stood by and did not overtly harass people. The officers smiled back. One of them helped an injured old man out of the fray. [Specatator]

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 Sunday, December 8, 2002

Thankful Every Day

They were perhaps the saddest days I've known. Far away from every home I'd ever had, my grandfather lay dying on a bed in the back room of the house where he spent the last months of his life.

He was a hard working man. He worked with his hands. He worked with his head. He worked with his legs. He worked with his heart. And in the end, he returned to his hometown and to the land that he loved to work a few of the dreams that he always kept with him: a cabin in the woods, a pond among the cattail reeds, a shaded rut road running beneath the towering oak and maple trees.

But now it was over. While we sat in the room that night reading poetry and singing songs, he died. With my grandmother's hand in his as she kissed him goodbye, he died. And now this man, this pillar, this point of reference for everything I valued was gone.

Those were perhaps the saddest days I've ever known. My grandfather was gone; my grandmother was descending into dementia certain now to accelerate; my mother and her sisters were saddened beyond belief. Yet as I started my car to leave, as I backed out of the driveway, as the 15 hour drive home loomed before me, I rolled down the window, turned on the radio, and began to sing.

With this great void of grief yawning before me, I began to sing. And it was because of him, I know, that at such a time I should set aside my grief and sing.

He gave so much.
He left so much behind.
I am thankful for him every day.

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 Saturday, December 7, 2002

Walking Alone

Three people were walking along the trail: a child (a young girl of about 6 or 7), a woman (who seemed to be the child's mother), and a man (who seemed to be the woman's friend).

Let a represent the child.
Let B represent the woman.
Let C represent the man.

From a distance, I saw the three of them walking side by side:


As I drew nearer, I could hear them talking together:


And as I drew yet nearer, I could tell that the girl was telling an animated story:


I passed by them as the man laughed:


One might conclude that his laughter was in reaction to what the young girl had said, that it was a reaction she was seeking to elicit, that she had told a funny story. But the sound of his laughter (and the silence of the woman) suggested otherwise. He was laughing at the girl. Something that she had said had clearly tickled him, but not her story, something instead about the girl. His laughter was really intended for (and only for) the woman, not really feedback to the girl and her story:


Now as a parent, I would not sit by and let such a thing happen. A child telling a story is no thing to take lightly, and I certainly wouldn't want laughter directed at the child. I would see to console her:


But that's not what it felt like as I ran by. Instead this I felt this:


The girl was walking alone.

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In the Name of Security

This story has been circulating recently. It's scary, especially in view of the current push to roll back Miranda rights (you do not have a right to remain silent) [wash-post] and the wide latitude given authorities by the USA Patriot Act to define people as terrorists with little traceable accountablility.

Be aware that all references to the story I was able to find online seem to trace back to this single source. I have not found (but have not extensively searched for) independent reports of this story. [Update: See Wilde for some reasons to think this is a hoax.] [Update 2: 2600 has an updated discussion of the story, including an admission that it was not possible to independently confirm and also their reasons for proceeding with the story anyway.]

Also be aware that depending on who's doing the watching, surfing to the 2600 link could be interpreted as a questionable act.

[2600]: An amateur photographer named Mike Maginnis was arrested on Tuesday in his home city of Denver [...] The following is Maginnis's account of what transpired:

As he was putting his camera away, Maginnis found himself confronted by a Denver police officer who demanded that he hand over his film and camera. When he refused to give up his Nikon F2, the officer pushed him to the ground and arrested him.

After being brought to the District 1 police station on Decatur Street, Maginnis was made to wait alone in an interrogation room. Two hours later, a Secret Service agent arrived, who identified himself as Special Agent "Willse."

The agent told Maginnis that his "suspicious activities" made him a threat to national security, and that he would be charged as a terrorist under the USA-PATRIOT act. The Secret Service agent tried to make Maginnis admit that he was taking the photographs to analyze weaknesses in the Vice President's security entourage and "cause terror and mayhem."

When Maginnis refused to admit to being any sort of terrorist, the Secret Service agent called him a "raghead collaborator" and a "dirty pinko faggot."


Three hours later, Maginnis was finally released, but with no explanation. He received no copy of an arrest report, and no receipt for his confiscated possessions. He was told that he would probably not get his camera back, as it was being held as evidence.

Maginnis's lawyer contacted the Denver Police Department for an explanation of the day's events, but the police denied ever having Maginnis - or anyone matching his description - in custody. At press time, the Denver PD's Press Information Office did not return telephone messages left by 2600. [2600]

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 Friday, December 6, 2002

Washington Out of Context

I read in passing in Clayton Cramer's blog this quote from George Washington that stikes a general chord when taken out of context

Let us look to our National character, and to things beyond the present period. No morn ever dawned more favourably than ours did; and no day was ever more clouded than the present! Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript
Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.
Mount Vernon, November 5, 1786.

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The Road to Radicalism

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on the emergence of radical Islam in otherwise moderate Kenya:

Desperation and poverty, say observers, play a part in the radicalization process. The road to transforming the "us against them" mentality into a willingness to do battle with "them" is not a very long one, some say, especially in a country where more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. [fertile ground in Kenya]

And this is not the way to stem the tide:

  • You're either with us or against us
  • We're gonna smoke 'em out of their holes
  • There must be a regime change in Iraq
While these sound bytes might play well in the Western street, they fall flat on the ears of many Muslims who are more likely than not to see such language simply as evidence that few alternatives to violence exist.

We will not be taken seriously until we demonstrate our understanding of this. Worse: we will fan the flames of hatred.

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An Energy Boost Like That

The light was fading. The temperature was cool. The colorful leaves of yesterday had begun to turn brown.

He ran along the trail beside the river, pushing harder now that his body had warmed up. It always seemed, on cold days like this, that it took a while to get going, but he knew that by the time he reached this point things would click, and they did.

He had just passed two people jogging along with a dog. But as often happens when you pass someone on the trails, they seemed to speed up as he went by, spurred perhaps by his passing.

As he ran, he heard their footsteps behind him and the chinking sound of their running dog's collar. It sounded to him like they were keeping on his heels. He expected any moment that the dog would pass him, so close did the chinking sound. His foot fall quickened. His breathing accelerated. The cool air swept against his face. The chinking sound began to fade.

Then he looked up. In the distance, a vaguely familiar shape came close. She wore a burgundy top. She was tall. She had a smile on her face. He knew her.

He raised two left fingers to wave. She stayed to her side, and at first, he stayed to his. They smiled at each other. She was grinning, ear-to-ear. He was waving his fingers and breathing hard.

But then he slowed and veered to the left. He stopped. She slowed and stopped. He walked up to her and leaned toward her and kissed her.

See you at the end.


He moved back to the right and started again. Behind him, he heard the foot falls and chinking sounds again. He began to pick up his pace.

Did you even know her!? a voice behind him asked.

He laughed and turned as he ran. No! I bet you never got an energy boost like that!

They laughed. He turned back around and picked up his pace again and left them behind and ran to the end of the trail.

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 Thursday, December 5, 2002

You Should Have Mail -- But Don't!

From Chuq Von Rospach, a possible explanation why I can't seem to reliably send mail to my brother:

Over the past week or so, I've been getting increasing complaints from AOL users about e-mail that hasn't been getting to them from my mailing lists. In many cases, they're seeing the last part of a conversation, or random messages in the middle of a discussion thread are disappearing. In every case where I've been able to, I've checked my logs, and in every case my logs show that I sent it to AOL and it was accepted. In none of these cases did AOL ever send me an undeliverable notice.


That's beyond broken. I've known for a while that AOL was flakey, but if a typical user is seeing 1/3 of the email I'm sending him get lost, AOL has a serious problem, and my indications are it's getting worse.

If you have users on AOL, or are a user on AOL, be warned. It's worse, because AOL won't admit or comment on the problem, to sites sending the email OR its users. It seems to be trying to stonewall on the issue. [chuq]

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Barefoot in the Grass

The boy put the leash on the dog. The dog jumped at first but then sat on the mat by the door as the boy took off his socks. The boy started to open the door. The sit evaporated in an instant.

Sit, Guinness.

The dog sat back down. The boy took off his other sock. (Why he had not taken them both off at first, I cannot say.) And then he started again to open the door. The dog popped up.

No, Guinness. Sit.

The dog sat back down. And the boy tugged at the door again. The dog popped up.

No, Guinness. Sit.

And so it went, back and forth a few times until eventually the dog got the hang of it.

Ok, the boy said. The dog popped up, and they went outside, the dog pulling hard on the leash that the boy gripped tightly.

It was cold. The sidewalk and lawn were aglow in the golden litter of fallen ash leaves. The two of them walked away, stirring the leaves as they went: the dog on leash, the boy barefoot.

... The boy barefoot!?

Ben! Put on your shoes!

What? he asked in mock innocence as he looked back.

Put on your shoes.

But why?

It's cold. And you won't walk him for long. You see, I knew this from past experience, otherwise I wouldn't have cared.

Put on your shoes.

He mumbled as the walked back to the door, But it'll just wear them out.

Wear them out!? One point for creative thinking.

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 Wednesday, December 4, 2002

She Rolled Her Eyes

My mother stepped outside and yelled to me: This shirt would make a good painting shirt!

I stopped what I was doing (pruning a branch from a poplar tree and making no particular progress other than giving my arm a good workout). From my perch on the ladder, I turned to look back at her.

She stood there just outside the door holding my purple shirt up in the air.

I could keep it, she volunteered.

No, I said. It's one of my favorites.

She scowled as she gave it a second look. And she raised some sort of objection -- something about how it looked ratty or how it was time for a newer shirt or something like that.

I like it.

As she turned to go back into the house, she rolled her eyes. I know she rolled her eyes, although eyes didn't show it.

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From Andrew Sullivan, blogrolled on The Visser View:

in some ways, I respect their hideous consistency. One of the things that befuddles me about some Christian fundamentalists is why they don't call for public executions of homosexuals. They say they believe in the Bible literally. And Leviticus clearly calls for the death penalty for sodomy. So why do they refuse to follow the Bible? Or are they cafeteria fundamentalists? [AndrewSullivan]

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 Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Nani's Hair

On the first day we visited at lunch time. She held my hands with a feeling of recognition. Her eyes were mostly shut, and she didn't say a word, but her hands spoke clearly when she gently squeezed my fingers with hers.

On the next day we went at dinner time. She had been sleeping. She was quieter, squeezing less, opening her eyes almost never. And when she did look up she stared ambiguously beyond us.

Ask her if she washed her hair today, Vicki suggested. In later years, Nani's white hair was a marvel to behold. Shining brightly and waving gracefully, it was something she rightly grew to enjoy. Ask her if her hair is clean.

"Did you wash your hair today, Nani?" we asked.

With her eyes closed and barely a motion to see, she shook her head in an unmistakable no. And she reached for my hand that rested on her knee.

I took her fingers in mine, but she let go and slowly moved her hand to her head, touching her fingers to her hair. She didn't need to ask twice. I walked behind her wheelchair and whispered something to her as I ran my fingers thru her hair.

I ran my fingers thru her hair just as she did hers thru mine so many times so many years ago.

Thanksgiving 2002, Prattville AL
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 Monday, December 2, 2002

The Second Time Around

We sat at the table with pies and apricot bars and bread and fruit arrayed before us. We sat there and nursed our tea and ate our sweets. And we talked.

We have talked often in this family at tables like that one: talked about our lives, reminisced about the years gone by, projected the years to come. We have talked often that way, sitting around a table by the window telling our stories.

Have you heard my story about the snake? I asked, thinking that they all certainly had. But their eyes lit up expectantly. None of them had heard it. Trudy began laughing, knowing what was to come.

It was the kind of story that requires room. So I stood up and backed away from my chair, standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. There was plenty of room there to swing my arms. This was the kind of story that required that sort of thing: big gestures, wide eyes, a loud voice, and great swings of your arms.

It was a story of a man, a dog, and a hapless snake. Not much of a story, if the truth be known, but the kind of story you can squeeze for effect. So I squeezed. And I swung my arms as if I held the blue axe in my hands. And I gestured with the look on the surprised snake's face when he pulled his head out of the hole, my missed axe swing having only grazed his neck.

And as I stood in the doorway swinging my arms and making faces, I told them how the snake got away and how the dog looked down at the hole and then up at the man. There wasn't really any more to it than that: dog finds snake, man fetches axe, man swings axe, man misses snake, snake gets away. But there was something in the telling of it, something in the look in their eyes and the laughter that filled the room, that made it so much better the second time around.

An evening during Thanksgiving, Prattville AL, 2002.
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