Archive for October, 2006

You can’t spook me

October 31, 2006

Jack_3 Look, I know what you’re going to think, so let me make it plain: I am not AFRAID of a bunch of trick-or-treaters, OK? I know that under the costumes are just ordinary little kids, so sheltered and overprotected by their parents that they have only this one chance to get a pitiful few morsels of candy. And I do not sit in the back of my house, with the lights off, every Oct. 31 because I am a mean, old man who resents the idea that more people think they can come to my front door in one night than all the other nights of the year combined.

No, this is just my one chance every year to have two uninterrupted hours of contemplative introspection. It is comforting to sit alone in the dark and ruminate on what it must have been like 200 years ago when I could have camped out in the very spot where my house sits and not seen another single person for DAYS AND DAYS.

I have to go now and call my friend. For some reason, I thought my vacation would have kept me out of town until after Halloween, but now here I find myself, back in Fort Wayne. If my friend has a couple of hours to spare, I think I can talk into going out to dinner, say from 6 to 8 p.m. That should be just about right.

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Don’t worry, be healthy

October 31, 2006

It’s beginning to look like the "we are just doing what’s best for you" crowd won’t give up until everybody lives to be 150 years old, during which lifespan they will be carefully monitored to make sure no one is having fun, which as we all know, leads to higher expectations, which can cause stress, which is even more harmul to health than trans fats:

After two years of secret taste tests, KFC said Monday it would stop frying chicken in artery-clogging trans fats, but New York City restaurants being urged to do the same say it’s not so easy.

KFC’s announcement, which won praise from consumer advocates, came an hour ahead of a public hearing on a proposal that would make New York the first U.S. city to ban the unhealthy artificial fats.

Industry leaders dished up a plateful of reasons why such a plan shouldn’t be adopted in the nation’s restaurant capital.

The move would be a "recipe for disaster that could be devastating to New York City’s restaurant industry," said E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association.

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Middle of the pack

October 31, 2006

Never mind that Brick, N.J., and Amherst, N.Y., have been rated the safest two cities in the country and that St.  Louis and Detroit the two most dangerous (the two World Series cities; go figure). Fort Wayne is No. 169 on the list (which goes from No. 1 as the safest to 371 as the most dangerous). That could lead to an interesting mayoral debate, depending on who wants to downplay crime and who wants to highlight it. Being 169 is no great advertisement, but it’s better than any other Indiana city rated except Evansville (159). South Bend is No. 275, Hammod is 285, Indianapolis is 320 (guess all those press reports of a crime wave aren’t just hype) and Gary slips badly but still barely holds its spot in the bottom 10 at No. 362.

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The high cost of death

October 31, 2006

In next Tuesday’s election, Wisconsin voters apparently get to "advise" legislators whether they should consider instituting the death penalty. This does not seem a good course to one newspaper editor, who offers one of the most dishonest arguments you will ever hear, using an ad posted by the Indiana attorney general’s office for a death-penalty specialist as his case in point:

As Wren noted in his e-mail to me:

"Despite what proponents of the death penalty might want voters to believe, capital crimes prosecution and defense are specialized areas of legal practice; both the Department of Justice and the state public defender will need substantial increases in resources and sum-sufficient litigation budgets to handle these kinds of cases.

"Capital cases last a long time and consume enormous amounts of legal resources and all those costs will come directly from the taxpayers’ pockets at the expense of public education, health care, environmental protection and all manner of other public services." Yet more reasons why Wisconsin should stay the course it wisely chose 153 years ago and turn down this attempt to get our state in the legalized murder business.

Why dishonest? Because people like this newspaper editor, who are always against the death penalty and will do everything in their power to prevent carrying one out, are the very ones who made capital punishment the long and expensive process the newspaper editor is complaining about. The never-ending appeal process, if it is proof of anything, is evidence that carrying out the death penalty is not quick or easy. It does not speak for or against the legality or morality or practicality of having capital punishment.

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IPFW Whisperer

October 31, 2006

In addition to a class on UFOs, IPFW’s Division of Continuing Studies also offers something called "Ghost Hauntings and Ghost Huntings":

Just listening to many of his stories with brushes from spirits on the “other side” is enough to send chills up a person’s spine, but for Weides, it’s all in a day’s work.

“You have to practice this calmness, this receptive nature,” he said. Not all ghost hunts are successful, but the variety of things he and fellow hunters experience when they are lucky make it worthwhile. “Spirit activity is everywhere, and there’s no denying it,” he said. “And it’s always interesting hearing people’s stories.”

Silly me, I was hoping to study something like French cooking or photography — you know, subjects of absolutely no value in the real world. I guess I’m not as ready as the rest of Fort Wayne must be for all this "lifelong learning" stuff.

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A gay old time

October 30, 2006

In my last vacation post from Texas on Friday, I lamented the left-right camps we let ourselves get pushed into during campaign season, an exercise in political extremism that is at odds with the way I think most of us live our lives, which is to assess each issue as it comes, making the best decision we can based on the available evidence. A case in point, for me, is gay marriage, which is in the news again because of New Jersey court action, and which President Bush has brought up in Indiana:

"Activist judges try to define America by court order," Bush told the crowd of 4,000 at Silver Creek High School, flanked by local Rep. Mike Sodrel, R-Ind., who is running for re-election. "Just this week in New Jersey, another activist court issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage is between a man and a woman."

At that, the crowd went wild, members shouting "USA," stomping feet and shaking pompoms*.

I have both libertarian and conservative instincts, and same-sex marriage is one of those issues where my instincts are battling it out, with no clear winner yet. The libertarian part of me says that what two people want to do, if they are harming no on else, is none of government’s business. But my conservative nature says that marriage has been defined in one way for all of human history and we ought to be careful before we start messing around with it. Where that leaves me, for now, is that recognizing civil unions, giving gay couples the same rights that any other two people have by right of contract, is pretty much a no-brainer. But going the next step and recognizing actual gay marriages, with the government’s imprimatur, is something we ought to take very slowly, through a state-by-state legislative process rather than by judicial fiat.

That seems to me to be an issue over which we might have a rational, logical debate, and I would very much like to participate in such a discussion. But in today’s climate, it seems almost impossible. To many on the right, even acknowledging that there might be gay couples desiring to be treated with respect is a rejection of all sacred American traditions. To many on the left, refusing to move beyond civil unions is proof of a hardhearted indifference to the plight of all downtrodden people everywhere.

*The term, fellow journalists, especially those of you at the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, is pompon, not pompom, which is a bigger gun than most of you have seen.

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Pay as you went

October 30, 2006

I may not know the intricacies of high finance or the subtleties of government economic models or the ins and outs of bonds and taxation, but I surely know when I’m getting screwed:

The Colts’ new home isn’t the only football stadium area residents will be paying for in years to come.
Indianapolis still owes roughly $75 million in principal on bonds related to the construction of the 22-year-old RCA Dome.
That means that long after the Colts move into their new digs at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 and the Dome is demolished, millions of dollars a year in taxpayer dollars will continue to be used to reduce the debt on the old stadium.
How long? Thirteen years.
"The average person has the right to feel like this is a jive deal, that they’re continuing to pay for improvements for a stadium that is no longer going to exist," said Fred Glass, head of the city’s Capital Improvement Board, which runs the Dome and is on the hook for the debt.
"The fiscal realities, though, are that if we were going to move forward with a project with which we need to move forward, this is the only way it can be done," Glass said.

Jive? When taxpayers will still be paying $75 million for something that won’t even be there? I guess so. I’d say the "average person" won’t care a hoot about the "fiscal realities" involved here. Unless they are Colts season-ticket holders, of course.

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The DST blues

October 30, 2006

My God. The most important thing to happen in Indiana in more than 30 years, and I missed it. When you went to bed Saturday night, you set your clock back an hour to finally participate in daylight-saving time (or else you got around to it sometime Sunday):

Before the clock change, sunrise Saturday in Indianapolis is projected at 8:09 a.m. and sunset at 6:47 p.m. Sunrise on Sunday will be 7:10 a.m., and sunset at 5:46 p.m.

Sally Brodkorb of Upland, about halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, will miss the extra evening daylight.

"I just liked it being light out later in the evening when you could get some more done outside like yard work," she said.

At the Village Clock Shop in Zionsville, the change will be time-consuming, said owner Julie Brogden. She has 60 to 70 running clocks on display that will need their hour hands moved back.

At the time of the big fall back, I was in Texas, which is an hour behind us (and, thanks to us adopting DST, will now always be an hour behind us). So I had set my watch back an hour when I got to Texas last Saturday. So, on Saturday night, all I had to do was leave my watch alone when my brother in Texas set all HIS clocks back an hour, which took a little bit of self-control, I’ll admit. Then, all I had to do was keep adding an hour to the airline schedule on the way home on Sunday, since we were really flying on Texas time.

This is all so confusing. I think I have it all straightend out now, except for one thing. It sure got dark early in Indianapolis Sunday night. What was that all about?

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So long to Texas

October 27, 2006


And so it ends. We went shopping yesterday in San Marcos, the county seat, a college town of about 40,000. We went to Best Buy and a few other places and had lunch at Appleby’s. It was almost like being in the real world. That was the only thing we had really planned for the whole trip, which is about right for a one-week vacation. I’ve been on those week’s off in which everybody has a list of something to do or somewhere to go, and, I swear, it’s a lot more exhausting than a week of work. Today we’ve got the Alamo, sandwiched in between the trendy stores of the Riverwalk and a jaunt across the border for something really cheap! Maybe it’s because I’m older, or because I’ve just had enough of giving famous places the quick once-over, but I’m at the point where I think vacations should encompass more being than doing. They should be aimed at renewal, at least emotional if not spiritual. Vacations are a time to slow down and take stock, to think about who we are and what we want out of life, to be at ease with ourselves and our loved ones in ways that we let slide by in our working-day routines.

I was able to tap into my reservoir of calmness here in Texas, so it was a good week off. It was, in many ways, the perfect time for me to take a vacation. My colleague Bob Caylor and I had gotten all the interviews of political candidates done and had talked about which ones we wanted to endorse; I had even written my half of them. So I was able to leave with a sense of something accomplished and the feeling that I wasn’t burdening Bob with an unbearable week of work. And I was able to get away for awhile from things political just at the time when I was most sick and tired of them. Being sick and tired of politics is not a good state to be in for one whose job involves a good deal of commentary about things political.

What is so wearying this time of year is how we are all herded (or let ourselves be herded) into these two extreme camps. We are either liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat, Red State or Blue State. There are two ways to look at the world, and we must choose one and only one. And the most zealous partisans don’t want us to see the world in any other way. I heard one of them the other day going on and on in a snide, condescending rant about how useless "moderates" are because, not really believing strongly in anything, they bend with the prevailing political winds. It doesn’t matter which particular end of the spectrum this commentator was from; you hear the same sort of thing from the left and right these days. In the study of informal logic, this is called the fault of "bifurcation" (from the Latin prefix "bi," meaning "two," and "furka," meaning "fork" or "branch") — using an either/or statement (or an implied either/or statement) to argue that there are only two possibilities when in fact there might be many more alternatives. Some things truly are either/or — you can only be one or the other. You can be alive or dead. Man or woman. Rich or poor. But usually things are not so clear-cut. The statement "We must either pass the new federal budget or watch this nation go down the drain" ignores a whole range of other possibilities. Such as a new version of the budget, or a new budget altogether. Or state action that might substitute for missing federal funds. Or action from the private sector. And on and on.

Most of us live our ordinary lives in the real world where there are myriad choices with intricate histories and complex ramifications, not in the pretend political world where there are only two stark choices. We might call ourselves liberal or conservative or libertarian, but that is only our starting point, the lens through which we view the world based on our experiences and the thought patterns we have built around them. We still take every situation as it comes, using our philosophical inclination to help us sort through the facts we can discern, not as proof of where we should stop considering the facts. My brother is a good example. He is a gun enthusiast and ardent 2nd Amendment supporter who thinks Rush Limbaugh is a nut. He is a border-state resident who gets incensed at the lack of a solution to the problem of illegal immigration, but he also thinks the pharmaceutical companies are greedy opportunists. I could go on, but you get the point. He is a complex human being who does not fit neatly into the left-right paradigm.

So are we all. The only sane, rational way to live is to make the best decision possible based on all the available evidence, wherever that evidence might lead. That rationality is what gets lost in the political season. And the funny thing is, the politicians know that, too. When the political season is over, they have to live in the same real world the rest of us inhabit, and make the best decisions they can, no matter what rhetoric they spouted to get elected. One of the strangest elections I’ve written about was the last mayoral contest. We had Graham Richard, the Democrat, talking about how efficient he had been in paving the streets and filling the potholes and getting the garbage picked up. And we had Linda Buskirk, the Republican, talking about how that was all fine, but where was the grand vision for Fort Wayne? (The way Linda’s ads ended up sounding was, "Hey, vote for me, all Richard did was make your government work the way it was supposed to." Any wonder why she lost?) Of course, once he was re-elected, Richard started trying to fashion a grand vision, and if Buskirk had won, you can bet she would have kept those potholes filled. That’s the way it is in the real world.

I call myself, these days, a "moderate conservative with strong libertarian tendencies and a few liberal skeletons in the closet." When I wrote that on my first blog post about a year and a half ago, it elicited a comment from someone who said he was, I think, "a strong conservative with some libertarian inclinations and a few liberal skeletons in the closet." We were both identifying ourselves as somewhere to the right of center. Based on our best self-definitions (always subject to revision), we likely start from nearly the same premises in studying any issue. But we might end up in different places, still willing (I hope) to argue about our differences and their implications. At least that’s what I’ve been thinking about in my too-short week in Texas. Ask me again next year when we have to go through this all over again in a mayoral election between two as-yet unknown candidates who are even now lining up those stark choices for us to consider.

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Winding down in Texas

October 26, 2006


Yesterday was the halfway point of vacation. If I had been at work, we would have called it
"hump day." Somebody needs to come up with the vacation equivalent of that term, which connotes victory over adversity. "Yeah, it’s been a grind at work, as usual, but at least we’re over the hump now, sailing toward the weekend." Wishing our lives away, as my mother used to say. The halfway point of vacation is something different, contentment tinged with sadness. At about the same point when we start really believing we’re on vacation, finally settling into zen-like bliss, we start feeling the tug of the return trip.

Img_2121 It rained off and on all day yesterday, and we had nothing planned, so we just stayed in our pajamas all day and loafed around the house, venturing out onto the covered deck periodically to watch the deer munch at the feed Larry and Michelle put out for them just a couple of hundred feet from the house. It’s Purina Deer Chow, actually, and they put it in a feeder that sits on a tripod about 15 feet off the ground, dispensing the pellets in measured amounts twice a day, precisely at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. "That’s an odd thing," I told my brother. What? he asked. "Well, you came out here to Hill Country because you wanted to get away from all the rules and regimentation of Houston, to a place where people say, ‘You can’t tell me what to do on MY property, by God!’ and one of the first things you do is put the wild animals on a schedule. You might as well have them punching a time clock." The deer have gotten used to the feeder’s schedule, so they come around about 10 or 15 minutes ahead of time, to get a good seat. But the noise the thing makes when it goes off scares them, so they all run away, then come back five minutes later. Make up your own trying-to-figure-out-the-rules-at-work metaphor. I’d like to say the accompanying photo is one I took, but I still haven’t been able to get close enough. It’s one my brother took about three weeks ago with one of his zoom lenses.

We’ve had a lot of fun cooking this week. Last night, we made a meal for which we each did at least one dish, and we all fit in the kitchen at the same time. On Friday, I’m making a version of the quiche that people at work like for carry-ins. Here’s how to do it.


Start with a 9-by-13 pan, nonstick or greased or sprayed with Pam. Pack in a 30-oz. bag of shredded hash browns on the bottom and up the sides to make your crust. Salt and pepper it, drizzle with about a half-stick of melted butter and bake it in a 425-degree oven for about a half-hour or until the edges of the potatoes start to brown. Let it cool a little, then layer in your filling. This is a very forgiving recipe, so you can use about anything. For the version at work, I use a couple of pounds of fried and crumbled bacon (the precooked kind you just nuke for a few seconds works wonderfully) and about three-quarters each of two packages of two-cup shredded cheese — one of Swiss and one of sharp cheddar. For the version Friday, I’m using a pound of fried and crumbled sausage, cheddar and mountain jack cheeses, and about a cup each of onion and green pepper sauted in butter. Like mushrooms or jalapenos or tomatoes? Want to use ham or Canadian bacon? Need to get rid of some of that broccoli? Feel free. Don’t just throw the stuff in your hash-brown crust, really layer it: a little cheese, a third of the bacon, different cheese, more bacon, cheese. Like that. You can now cover the dish and put it in the fridge till you’re ready to finish it with: four eggs and a cup of half-and-half, mixed well together with about a half-teaspoon of seasoned salt or Mrs. Dash’s or something like that (lately, I’ve been using Old Bay seasoning, one of my recent favorites). Pour it in the dish and bake at 425 for about half an hour. Enjoy with your favorite accompaniments — blueberry muffins and apples fried in cinamon butter would be one good choice.

A bad presentation can spoil even a good meal, so here’s how I think I’ll serve it. I’ll announce that breakfast will be served promptly at 8 a.m. They’ll show up about 10 minutes early to get a good seat. Then I’ll set off a loud buzzer that will scare them away for five minutes. The chef is a god. Not God, but a god.

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Still in Texas

October 25, 2006


Day1sign_1 Yesterday was shooting day at the Roadrunner Ranch. My brother decided to call it that only because he discovered he had those particular birds on his property and thought it was pretty cool. He was very disappointed, though, to discover that they do not make the "BEEP, BEEP" sound and chase coyotes off the edge of cliffs, where, according to the laws of cartoon physics, they do not fall into the canyon until they realize they are standing on thin air. There are coyotes around here, too, and they make an awful racket an night sometimes, which is probably one of the reasons he didn’t call the place Coyote Ranch.

Target_1 Roadrunner Ranch has its own shooting range, which it took some guy with a bulldozer my brother hired about three hours to create. It is cut into a hill, has bales of hay and mounds of dirt and a thick plywood backstop — even if you miss the target, you’re not very likely to hurt anything, unless its the stray coyote already falling off the cliff. We used the standard man-outline-with-a-target-on-its-chest and only went through three of them, so we were probably shooting for about an hour. It was just long enough to make me appreciate that an editorial writer with a repertoire of stinging retorts is not at the top of the "Hey, you, pay attention to me" chain of command.

Guns We mostly shot two handguns — the Sig Sauer 9mm semiautomatic that is my brother’s primary carry piece, and the Ruger .357 revolver (but loaded with .38s) that’s his second-favorite. We also tried a Beretta Minx, a little gun that uses .22 shorts, that he has on loan to see if his wife would like it for a pocket or purse gun. The Beretta was fun to shoot, but you wouldn’t want to try to discourage a guy cranked up on PCP with it. It would probably have more stopping power if you just sneaked up on somebody and hit him over the head with it. It would probably suffice, though, for shooting in the air to scare off any annoying Indiana Pacers you might encounter in a strip club.

Leogun2 The Sig and the Ruger, though, are serious guns. Either one could easily drop a crazed terrorist or Marxist-spoutin’ carjacker, even if they were just winged. I’ve seldom shot a rifle since the Army and never had much to do with handguns, so I didn’t know which I would like best. I wasn’t crazy about the semiautomatic — it didn’t rest comfortably in my hand, was too complicated to load, could easily jam. But I did very well with it, getting several shots close to the center circle with the first clip. The revolver felt much more natural, loading and ejecting were simplicity itself; I liked it a lot. But it had more of a kick, and it took me many more rounds to get close to that inner circle. My brother has another .357, a little lighter with a slightly longer barrel, that I’m going to try on Friday; it may end up being my favorite. I did fairly well for a novice and, with enough practice, could probably become pretty proficient with any of them. If anybody threatened me, I could easily take them out, as long as they were wearing that paper target and agreed to stand absolutely still for at least 10 seconds. Is that too much to ask?

Leogun So I might be buying a gun. After Vietnam, I developed — I wouldn’t say an aversion, exactly — a profound lack of interest in guns. I got over it, but that’s not the same as feeling the need to develop an interest in them. But I can see the attraction of being able to command that much force. Just shooting on the range, knowing you are unleashing so much power and can precisely direct it, is cathartic in a way few other things can be. It is, if I may be indelicate, just fun. I’m not sure about the other step — getting a permit to carry it around. I’ve obviously never been, in civilian life, in a situation where having a gun would have made a difference. But I can imagine a situation in which merely having one would make you think you’re in a position to need it, if you know what I mean. My brother, who, as far as I know, never thought much about guns until he came to Texas 15 years ago, has been carrying one around for several years and has never gotten close to feeling the need to use it. On the other hand, he says he feels naked when he goes out in public without it. I already feel that way about my cell phone; don’t know if I need another item to add to the list. So I’ll have to think about that one. If I do decide to carry, I certainly won’t be alone. According to this Indianapolis Star story from a couple of years ago, Indiana is second in the nation (to New York) for the number of carry permits per 1,000 residents. And if you look at the correction at the end of the story, we’re likely No. 1 or at least a stronger No. 2: The New York figures are for people having permits to own guns, not carry them. Texas, by the way, does not even make the top 10. There is a reason for that.

Fifteen years ago, a gunman drove his truck into Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and started shooting. When it was all over, 24 people, including the gunman, were dead. Except for Oklahoma City and the Sept. 11 attacks, it remains the nation’s worst mass murder in a public setting, and it led, in 1995, to a concealed-handgun law authored by Susanna Gratia Hupp, who ran for office after both of her parents were killed in the shooting.

Because of the concealed-carry law, among other reasons, Texas has a reputation as being a haven for reckless cowboys who would rather shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. I’ve been talking to Texans this week, and the state certainly has a gun-aware culture. They talk about guns a lot, and generally know when and where they can and can’t carry guns. There are two different signs, for example, at least one of which an establishment must post prominently if it does NOT want guns on the premises. Most people are aware of these signs and keep an eye out for them. Which is more dangerous — that level of awareness, or the situation in Indiana in which probably 90 percent of the population doesn’t even know this is a weapons-carry state? How many people at the restaurant around you are packing? In Texas, you’d at least be aware that they might be. Furthermore, Indiana is a must-issue state, in which the burden of proof is on officials to prove that a permit is not justified, rather than on the individual to prove one is justified. (Indiana, in fact, is an open-carry state rather than a concealed-carry state; if you have a carry permit, you can wear the damn thing on your hip High Noon-style if you want to.)

And you tell me: Which state really deserves the cowboy reputation? To get a concealed-carry permit in Texas, you have to take 10 hours of instruction (and five more for renewal every five years) on everything from Texas gun laws, the role of the police, conflict resolution and anger management, and pass a test on the material, THEN you must actually pass a live-fire test supervised by a qualified instructor (often a police officer). In Indiana, about all you have to do is apply for the permit and undergo a background check showing that you are not a felon, a drunken spouse beater or a deranged lunatic. You may or may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn or have the common sense to leave your weapon holstered 99.99 percent of the time.

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More Texas

October 24, 2006


Day1a I MISSED THE Knights of Columbus annual Hunters Night Out dinner and gun drawing at the Wimberley VFW. But if I lived here and paid attention to the Winberley View, I wouldn’t have had to. A notice of the outing was the first item of the Weekend Digest on Page 1 of the newspaper’s Saturday edition (the other one comes out on Wednesdays). While daily newspapers are still struggling with the idea that local news is the most valuable commodity they can offer, weeklies and semiweeklies like the View have long known that the minutia of local life is their bread and butter. Page 1 also tells me that, for the second year in a row, the Scudder Primary School’s Halloween party has gotten so big that Danforth Junior High will host it. Of course, it is not called a Halloween party — it is the second annual Scudder Fall Festival; no place is safe from political correctness. Reading inside, I learn, among other things, that a Wimberley artist’s work is going to be in two juried shows in New York, that tickets for the civic club’s annual home tour are on sale for $15 and that Ann Rolling of Wimberley has been named woman of the year by the Xi Alpha Beta Chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority.

Day1c_1 THE PAPER doesn’t skimp on the big local news, either. The Wimberley school board is interviewing five architectural firms so it can find a company to help it sell a big bond issue — called bond election here — to the public. If my brother’s reaction is any indication, the prospects do not look good. "They got screwed by whoever built the high school for them, and now they want millions from the public to bail them out." The school system also seems overly fond of a report it commissioned that says growth will be such that two new schools will be needed in 10 years, so naturally they want to raise the money for them now. Total cost: about $45 million. "People are going to the public meetings and standing up and shouting, ‘Are you NUTS?’ " Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? My brother cares about this issue even though he lives 13 miles outside of Wimberely and isn’t even eligible to vote on the bonds. That’s what happens when you move to a small town, or even near one. My brother came here from Houston, which is just too big for people to think they can have a meaningful say on what goes on. Here, small decisions affect everybody, so people pay attention.

ANOTHER ISSUE he cares about, also covered by the Wimberley View, is the attempt of an Austin developer to build a $25 million resort adjacent to Jacob’s Well, a "natural" historic area that draws a lot of tourists. The Wimberley Valley Watershed Association has issued a statement "expressing concern" about the "environmental impact" the project would have on the preserve. My brother seems to be a little bit cynical on the subject. The watershed association sounds like an official group with a lot of influence, but it is really just a bunch of landowners who live around Jacob’s Well and are mostly concerned, my brother believes, about their own property values. But everybody should care about the watershed, because water is a very big deal here. This is is the second year in a row of near-drought conditions. "We all think the counties should offer more of an incentive (i.e., tax break) for rainwater collection systems. That would relieve the pressure on the aquifers and wells." My brother has a well in addition to a rainwater collection system — his tank holds 10,000 gallons and is full, despite the relative lack of rain, so he hardly ever has to use his well. It saves him a whopping $65 a year on his property taxes.

Day1light WIMBERELY IS HAVING some growing pains. it is a nice little town in a picturesque area that a lot of people want to move to, which means it is in danger of becoming a not-so-little town in a picturesque area a lot of people have already moved to. A third traffic light was recently installed in Wimberely, and some of the old-timers are just beside themselves. "Where to they think this is — San Marcos?" Of course, not everyone has the same opinion on the relative merits of smallness. I know you’ll find this hard to believe back in Fort Wayne, but the town fathers are on a bit of an annexation binge. My brother went to see a neighbor yesterday about a gun he wants to buy, and his neighbor was incensed about having been annexed recently. The back of his property is right on the river, and he liked to go there and shoot his guns off. He can’t do that now. There is a subdivision right outside town — lots of senior citizens, its own golf course — that headed Wimberely off by getting itself incorporated. So now there is what amounts to a neighborhood — called Wood Creek — that has its own mayor.

Day1b I WANTED TO close today with a photo of a deer or a fox, just to show you that, despite encroaching civilization, this is still the middle of nowhere (with satellite TV and wireless Internet connection, of course; let’s not be ridiculous). But wild animals are skittish, and I haven’t been able to get close enough for a good shot yet. So I followed Larry and Michelle’s cat, Bubba, for a while and got a picture of him peeking out from the covers he had burrowed under. In Indiana or in Texas, cats are always easy. Bubba (or "Bubber," as they say down here) was a stray that made a two-mile circuit of this property and two or three others. My brother and his wife took him to the vet and then took him in after he got bitten by a snake. He acts peculiar on occasion, chasing things that aren’t really there and jumping up from where he is and racing to somewhere else for no particular reason. They worry that the snake bite might have left him "not right," but it just seems like normal cat behavior to me.

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Texas interlude

October 23, 2006


Saturday morning, Indianapolis airport. My sister Judy and I are waiting to board the plane for vacation with our brother Larry in his Hill Country home in Texas. Vacation is supposed to mean leaving behind the worries of our working lives, not so easy in my case. Just watching TV for a couple of hours last night and this morning, I encountered some of the most incompetent, selfish, evil, downright despicable people on the face of earth – candidates for public office. I know they are very, very bad people because that’s how they describe each other. We complain about negative political ads in Fort Wayne, but ours sound like a bridge club talking about the weather compared to the venom that is spewed on Indianapolis TV hour after hour. The candidates make each other sound like lowlife creeps you wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with, let alone spend your vote on. Hasn’t it occurred to them that such invective has a cumulative effect, making us despise all politicians, not just their immediate opponents? Imagine if McDonald’s and Wendy’s sold hamburgers that way, not just extolling the virtues of their own products, but constantly berating the competition’s service, price and product as not fit for thinking humans. That, too, would have a cumulative effect, and people would soon stop buying hamburgers. Well, guess what? People have mostly stopped buying what politicians are selling.

Agitated by all the publicity about security nightmares, Judy and I arrived at the airport a full two hours ahead of time. Of course, the things you worry so much about that you over-plan for are the ones you often don’t encounter. We breezed through the checkpoints in about five minutes, which meant we had a long, long time to wait in one of the most boring places there are. I amused myself for a while by watching a man play with his beagle, which he kept taking out of its carrier every few minutes. (You can take a dog with you on the plane if the carrier will fit under the seat). But cute only goes so far, and I started worrying about the dog. It was pretty calm in the airport, but an airplane trip usually takes the better part of a day: If the poor doggie has to, you know, go, where would it go? I spent most of the time reading the two newspapers I picked up at the terminal, The Chicago Tribune and the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.

The Trib seems to be struggling, like most other papers, with how to be balance local and national/world news in a time when a 24-hour production cycle is not suited for stories people can find in so many other places so much sooner. The lead story on Page 1 tells me that “Militia storms Iraq city.” Already know all about it, thanks so much. And one of the stories displayed prominently below the fold goes on at great length about what a big issue abortion is in the South Dakota elections this year. Don’t really care. The two editorials on Saturday tell me that Hugo Chavez kinda blew it with his United Nations histrionics and that the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a really good guy. Snoozers.

The WSJ, on the other hand, is very good at telling stories of nationwide interest by the meticulous accumulation of compelling local detail. A story about college libraries reinventing themselves in the age of the Internet was crafted around the experience of Valparaiso University, which rebuilt its library twice the original size but with fewer books, greatly increasing student use in the process. There was also an infuriating story about how Ticketmaster wants to make it illegal for us to buy and sell our concert tickets online by prodding legislatures to give it a monopoly. And Peggy Noonan had a column in which she observed: “This in fact may be the year negative advertising reached critical mass . . . The irony of the ads: Their relentless tearing down may force voters to decide based on actual issues.”

Sunday evening, somewhere in Hill Country. We slept late today, had a leisurely breakfast, then spent some time on the deck watching all the animals that come up close to the house for the food my brother and his wife leave out for them: deer, raccoon, little gray foxes. The house sits on 35 acres just outside Wimberley, Texas, and all around it are distant neighbors separated by empty spaces. This is the perfect place to shrug off the everyday world and get into the leisure mode. But I kept screwing up and picking up the local paper or the Sunday one from Austin. I kept judging the news stories as well as reading them and, of course, every other page had something political on it – there are apparently plenty of bad, bad people in Texas, too.

I finally got fully into the vacation frame of mind when we went to a cookout at Mark and Diane’s, neighbors of my brother and his wife. There were 10 of us altogether, and we told jokes and traded family histories and swapped our favorite personal stories.

The best story of the night came from Steve and Lynne. They lived in Boulder, Colo., for a while and got to really missing their Bluebell ice cream – apparently so good that ex-Texans spend most of their waking minutes pining for it. So, Steve found himself back in Texas for a meeting or something and decided he had to get some Bluebell back to Colorado. He bought this incredibly huge cooler, filled it up with half-gallons of ice cream of various flavors, then went to a Baskin-Robbins and bought some of their dry ice to put in the cooler. There is a limit, the way Steve told the story, to how much dry ice you can have packed around something if you are shipping it by plane, “unless you pay the right person $15 or $20.” So he did that and got the ice cream on its way. In the meantime, Lynne had arranged to have a freezer for the ice cream trucked to their house and placed in the mud room. But a blizzard hit Boulder, which kept the truck from getting through. So when Steve and the ice cream got there, there was no place to put the ice cream . . . except there had just been a blizzard. So he took the ice cream and buried it in the snow bank in the back yard, putting stakes in the snow with the names of the flavors written on them – here is buried the vanilla, here is the butter pecan. The weather in Boulder is unpredictable, so naturally the blizzard was followed by several sunny days, and Steve kept having to go back to move more snow over the ice cream. And they had several people over every evening after that, always offering them ice cream and thoroughly enjoying the bewildered expressions when Steve went out to the back yard with a shovel to bring some in.

Now, that’s the kind of story that can fall apart in several places if you think about it too much, and you probably had to be there, eating barbecue and drinking wine or beer, to think it as funny as we thought it was. But it’s the kind of story you don’t see in newspapers – it’s personal; even papers trying to be local don’t go that far. If they did, they’d probably screw it up. “There is nothing quite like the taste of that ice cream,” his wife, Lynne, said. “We missed it terribly.” And even politicians who would say almost anything to get elected probably wouldn’t pick on somebody’s ice cream choice. Not this year at least.

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Pssst, over here

October 20, 2006

If this isn’t just about the coolest possible scientific breakthrough in recent memory:

WASHINGTON – Scientists are boldly going where only fiction has gone before — to develop a Cloak of Invisibility. It isn’t quite ready to hide a Romulan space ship from Capt. James T. Kirk or to disguise Harry Potter, but it is a significant start and could show the way to more sophisticated designs.

In this first successful experiment, researchers from the United States and England were able to cloak a copper cylinder.

It’s like a mirage, where heat causes the bending of light rays and cloaks the road ahead behind an image of the sky.

[. . .]

Cloaking used special materials to deflect radar or light or other waves around an object, like water flowing around a smooth rock in a stream. It differs from stealth technology, which does not make an aircraft invisible but reduces the cross-section available to radar, making it hard to track.

The new work points the way for an improved version that could hide people and objects from visible light.

Come on, ‘fess up. You’ve imagined what you would do if you were invisible. We all have. Hang out in the women’s shower room, or the men’s, as the case may be. Find out what your bosses are talking about. Be present at one of those meetings between Bush and Rumsfield. Learn what your friends really say about you when they think you won’t find out. I hate to admit it, but I’d probably spend at least a few days messing with people: sitting at their tables and moving their plates and glasses around when they weren’t looking, sitting behind them at the theater and giggling, turning the lights on and off in their living rooms. Personal interaction is so important, don’t you think?

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The mob protects its territory

October 20, 2006

Indiana’s gambling attention isn’t all focused on fine-tuning bingo rules and collecting casino taxes:

Twelve people were arrested Friday when police broke up an illegal high-stakes poker game in an apartment in East Chicago, Ind. Large amounts of cash and 19 cases of beer were also seized.

Since the Hoosier Lottery had $739 million in sales last year, with $189 million going to the state, I wonder what is considered a "high-stakes" game these days?

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Democratic trouble in the 7th

October 20, 2006

Everyone has been focusing on the three Indiana Republican congressmen who might lose their races, but one of the Democrats is in trouble, too:

A new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Julia Carson narrowly trailing Republican Eric Dickerson — an outcome that, if it holds on Election Day, would be one of the biggest upsets in Indiana politics.

Dickerson led Carson 45 percent to 42 percent in the poll conducted for WTHR (Channel 13), The Indianapolis Star’s news-gathering partner.

Advance Indiana, an Indianapolis blog, is only half-pleased with the Indianapolis Star’s coverage of the development:

The Star‘s State House reporter Mary Beth Schneider and political columnist Matt Tulley react today to a new WTHR-TV poll showing Dickerson with a 45%-42% lead over Rep. Julia Carson (D). Schneider new’s story is dismissive of Dickerson and sympathetic towards Carson. What’s new here? Tully, on the other hand, is much more circumspect and offers some thoughtful analysis of why the poll might actually reflect what voters are thinking.

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October 20, 2006

I’ve dismissed claims from the left that the United States still has ambitions as a colonial power. But maybe I need to rethink that:

Bush signed the document on August 31, and the White House released the text this month in the late afternoon of the Friday of a holiday weekend. So the first full revision of space policy for ten years has provoked controversy abroad as much as at home. The eyecatching declaration is that the US asserts the right to deny access to space to anyone “hostile to US interests”, although it gives no basis for that right. It also rejects arms control talks that would limit future US actions in space.

It’s ours, all OURS, ha-ha-ha!

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Nicotine narcs

October 20, 2006

If the county’s proposed smoking ban, much tougher than the city’s, is passed, will we need to hire a few extra people for the sheriff’s department to be the tobacco police?

If you catch someone smoking in a non-smoking area in Omaha, Neb., call the police. The Omaha Police Department (OPD) is encouraging city residents to call 911 in the wake of the citywide ban on smoking that went into effect on Oct. 2.

Teresa Negron, sergeant in charge of public information of the OPD, explained that the department encourages observers of infractions to pick up the phone to report the infraction — just like they would for any other crime they observe being committed.

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On the “D” list

October 19, 2006

Gov. Daniels does not get a very good grade on the Cato Institute’s "fiscal policy report card" measuring performance in cutting and spending taxes. From the news release:

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana receives a D on the Cato Institute‘s eighth biennial fiscal policy report card released today. He earns low marks for his "abysmal" tax policy, including a proposed income tax surcharge and a freeze on the property tax relief program. According to the study, if it weren’t for a resistant state legislature, Daniels’ grade would have been much lower.

Only one governor got an A — Matt Blunt of Missouri. Of the 46 governors reviewed, six got a B, 17 got a C, 13 got a D, and 9 got an F. Here’s the executive summary, which also has a link to the full text.

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Grumpy Americans

October 19, 2006

An interesting take on the difference between the average American of 1967, when we hit the 200 million population mark, and the average American of today’s 300-million landscape:

As the U.S. population crossed the 300 million mark sometime around 7:46 a.m. Tuesday (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), the typical family is doing a whole lot better than their grandparents were in 1967, the year the population first surpassed 200 million.

Mr. and Mrs. Median’s $46,326 in annual income is 32% more than their mid-’60s counterparts, even when adjusted for inflation, and 13% more than those at the median in the economic boom year of 1985. And thanks to ballooning real estate values, average household net worth has increased even faster. The typical American household has a net worth of $465,970, up 83% from 1965, 60% from 1985 and 35% from 1995.

Throw in the low inflation of the past 20 years, a deregulated airline industry that’s made travel much cheaper, plus technological progress that’s provided the middle class with not only better cars and televisions, but every gadget from DVD players to iPods, all at lower and lower prices, and it’s obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Median are living the life of Riley compared to their parents and grandparents.

So why are they so unhappy?

Possibly because the more we have, the more we expect, the more nervous we become about keeping it and the more impatient we are at achieving the next level. Desperate people are grateful for the smallest improvement in their lot. Satisfied people get grumpy.

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October 19, 2006

Have you seen WANE-TV’s "political analysts" Marla Irving and Brian Stiers at work? (Go to the WANE site and find it under "featured videos").This is the same kind of "fair and balanced" commentary we’ve been seeing on network news and cable outlets. The moderator poses a question, and the Repbulican gives the Republican line, and the Democrat gives the Democrat line. There isn’t an independent thought or truly objective observation to be heard. This isnt "political analysis." It’s worthless crap. Marla predicts a big Souder win. Brian talks about what Hayhurst will do when he wins. Wow.

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A venemous climate

October 19, 2006

This is priceless. 14-year-old Julia Wilson has a Web page expressing her anger at the president, which includes the words "Kill Bush" along with a photo-collage showing a cartoon dagger stabbing the president’s hand. This, naturally, leads to a visit from the Secret Service. How does her father react? Not, as you might expect, with embarrassment at his daughter’s over-the-top behavior. He finds the reaction to it over the top:

Her husband said the public reaction reflects the country’s "venomous" political climate.

"It’s very disappointing and it’s a sign of the times," Moose said. "The political discourse in the country is so vicious. There’s no serious debate."

Cindy Sheehan, you have a soulmate.

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Half smart

October 18, 2006

Congratulations, Hoosiers, you sneaked into the top half. The brain power of its citizens earns Indiana the rank of the 24th-smartest state. Vermont cheers, Arizona is not amused.

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Your attractions, my interests

October 18, 2006

OK, many of us believe in downtown and would like to see it become more vibrant and vital. Creating a riverfront improvement district, with much cheaper and easier-to-get liquor licenses is one idea to help accomplish that. But that concerns some people, especially established restaurant owners who paid big bucks to get their licenses:

While the ordinance is meant to spur development and funnel hospitality dollars downtown, many existing restaurateurs oppose the proposal, believing the increase in licenses would devalue theirs and that more restaurants downtown could drive them out of business.

“This (ordinance) could cost the city some of its oldest and finest restaurants,” said Steve Gard, owner of The Oyster Bar, 1830 S. Calhoun St.

One City Council member, it seems fair to say, is not exactly sympathetic to that point of view:

Councilman Tim Pape, D-5th District, asked those opposed to the proposal whether they were committed to rejuvenating downtown or were looking out for their own interests and playing favorites.

“That’s the cost of success,” he said. “Nothing’s free in this world.”

Excuse me? Wanting to keep what you’ve worked so hard for is selfish? Not wanting to have to compete with businesses the city has given a big break to that you haven’t gotten is not sufficient commitment to the "common good" (see previous post)? Close up your restaurant and chalk it up to "nothing’s free in this world"? If the city is going to make downtown turn around, this is not exactly the attitude that will get the most people on board.

When I moved back to Fort Wayne to work for the newspaper, somebody asked me what I thought of Komets games, and I had to confess I’d never been to one and never would go. Don’t like hockey; sorry, not my thing. I can still hear the "you don’t love the city enough to support its attractions" lecture blistering in my ears. That lecture was exactly backward. There are many attractions I do like — an occasional play the Civic, hearing some music at the Embassy — but because the city has done a good job of catering to my interests, not because I feel some obligation to support them. And I don’t berate people who don’t feel the obligation to share those interests.

The city’s job, if it wants to lure people back downtown, is to provide — or at least facilitate — things that will make downtown a fun place to be. Telling people not willing to sacrifice everything for that vision that they aren’t sufficiently civic-minded is the surest way to take all the fun out of this discussion.

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By any other name

October 18, 2006

Anytime Americans are asked to self-identify themselves politically, far more are willing to call themselves conservative (usually in a 40-something percent range, in most of the accounts I’ve seen) than liberal (from 19 to 22 percent). As a result, far more conservative politicians are willing to call themselves conservative than liberal ones are willing to call themselves liberal. They keep trying new names. "Progressive" was big for a long time, and at an editorial-page-editors’ conference I attended a few years ago, the assembled liberal pundits had some fun trying out "communitarianism." Now there’s a new name in town:

Ned Lamont uses it in his Connecticut Senate race. President Clinton is scheduled to speak on the idea in Washington this week. Bob Casey Jr., Pennsylvania candidate for Senate, put it in the title of his talk at The Catholic University of America _ then repeated the phrase 29 times.

The term is "common good," and it’s catching on as a way to describe liberal values and reach religious voters who rejected Democrats in the 2004 election. Led by the Center for American Progress, a Washington think-tank, party activists hope the phrase will do for them what "compassionate conservative" did for the Republicans.

Whatever it’s called, it’s still the same old nonsense — what you owe the group instead of what the group owes you, how every solution to a problem that doesn’t come from the federal government is suspect, why you can’t be trusted to live your own lives until you hear from your betters.

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