Satisfying as it would be to cuss our news media’s coverage of the disaster, it would really miss the point. The point is that the event is harmful to another people, and if it matters, a people we call allies. My condolences, Japan.
Had a little bit of fun today. Everyone on Facepalm seems to be catching a Trojan (and I’m not talking the Tommy kind) that causes them to spam their friends with a supposed link saying “SICK! I can’t believe Miley Cyrus [or whoever] let someone videotape her doing this!” If you’re fool enough to click, you’re the next contestant on The Trojan Is Right–come on down.
I can’t see something too many times without wanting to parody it, so I hunted Youtube for something a lot grosser than whatever was being attributed to Ms. Cyrus: Rosie O’Donnell singing the Maude theme song to Bea Arthur. Posted the link, along with: “SICK! I can’t believe Bea Arthur let someone videotape her doing this!”
And it’s true. If I went on Rosie O’Donnell’s show, I sure wouldn’t let them film it. That would destroy plausible deniability. You don’t admit something of that magnitude, even if CBS News has you on film dead to rights. It’s always ‘alleged.’
Well, the contractor’s opinion of my bright idea was polite and helpful, but translated to: “Baloney.”
We have a driveway drainage problem, basically. The earth and concrete have shifted in the home’s 55 years. My bright idea was to cut a trough to enable the rain (it does rain here now and then) to drain downhill, rather than into my garage. Contractor: “That looks like it would work, but it won’t. French drains are expensive. The real solution is to break up this driveway, regrade and repour it.”
I guess my opinion of his solution will depend on how much it costs. Anyone ever had a driveway repoured, and if so, what’d it set you back? They vary, of course, but if it costs more than a roof, that’s going to be unpleasant.
Today’s story is about a cat. Some of it is interpolated and presumed, but of the start and finish no doubts exist.
My family come from the Flint Hills of Kansas, which I still call my homeland. I miss home. We drove back there once, and as we crossed the line from Nebraska into Kansas, I wept. Something about that limestone and black gumbo must be in my body chemistry.
Now, to outsiders, the Flint Hills look mostly like dull, quiet rolling pasture with rock outcroppings and not a whole lot going on.
If that’s what they see, they’re hoodwinked. The Flint Hills seethe with life, a constant food chain battling for survival in what can be a hard land. All sorts of varmints: mice, rats, voles, and whatever else crawls under the ground. Kingsnakes. Prairie rattlers. Raccoons. Rabbits. Coyotes. Deer. Bobcats. Hawks, owls, eagles, prairie chickens, birds of prey and prey birds. Badgers. Impound reservoirs full of fish. Turtles. It is no place for an unguarded baby animal unless you want it eaten by morning. When you walk in the Flint Hills, you keep an eye out. Something might happen.
One day some years back, a terrible thing occurred. The neighbors’ cat over east had eight kittens, and all was well until one afternoon when the neighbor was driving his SUV down US 50, heading west toward Strong City. The family ranch is about a mile and a half north of the highway. The neighbor saw some sort of movement in a mirror, things evidently fallen from the vehicle, and pulled over. The whole clutch of kittens, turned out, had crawled up into the engine compartment before he left home. They were falling out all over the highway.
He accounted for seven, mostly dead. He never found #8. No idea what the hell happened to that cat. Word got around, of course, and it was unfortunate, but that was that. The Flint Hills are hard on cats. It’s cattle country, and a dead kitten is less of a big deal than a dead calf.
About one week later, my Uncle Mike was pulling up out front of the carriage-room (it is still called that) around dusk. There was a cedar tree out front of the old stone ranch house in those days. Mike, who along with my Aunt Jaque has loved and adopted animals as long as I’ve known him, heard a high, faint, thin mewing nearby. By long reflex, he froze. (One time we were just getting out of the car after coming home and there was a huge kingsnake climbing that tree.)
Pretty soon Mike identified an emaciated grey kitten up in the tree, needle claws dug into the bark. It could only be #8. The little cat was starved, dehydrated and unlikely to survive the night. Over the course of the week, he had traversed a mile and a half of pasture and woods, somehow finding ways night and day to evade the dozens of creatures to which a kitten looks like the Pizza Hut truck–and the nocturnal hunters are the deadliest. What did he find to eat? How did he survive showing his whiskers at the creek or pond, which draws prey and predator? How’d the cat know to come to the one surest place in Chase County to care for him?
We can’t know. What was obvious: he had proven his survival skills and instincts to any standard of satisfaction you might concoct. Mike called the neighbors, who said he was welcome to keep the kitten. Otis, as my relatives dubbed him, quickly became a feisty little feline, bothering and pestering the stately elderly lady cats of the house. He would lie in wait to pounce on them, and when they’d had enough, they’d just give him the facepaw and let him flail at the air. I could tell from his agility (amazing even by the elevated species standards) that Otis was going to be a barn cat. We have three large stone barns, and they are patrolled by half-wild cats who mostly catch their own food. You need barn cats. Varmints like barns.
The next time I saw Otis, he was a grey spectre up near the barns, a huge wily tom with the self-assured air of survivorhood and prairie-smarts. He must be getting older by now, but I suspect he’s still up there hunting varmints, scoffing at raccoons and confounding coyotes. Otis is a survivor, and has been since the day he fell or jumped out of an engine compartment to make his own way in the world.
Two years later… Otis has passed on. I’m glad I got to see the old boy a few more times before that happened. Farewell, Otis, as you take charge of barns in a different world.
© 2013, J.K. Kelley
Addendum: as an editor who has since had a good conversation with Uncle Mike about the subject of Otis, I remembered a detail or two slightly wrong, but not many. Otis was a fantastic cat who spent his last year in semi-retirement, mostly in the house. I am glad I knew him as a feisty kitten.
That’s what it is for me. Except for hoping KU wins it all, I just go to a happy place. It’s something that screws up my favorite TV shows. Give me a holler when it’s over, or if KU gets to the final four.
Why not UW? Well, it’s okay with me if UW does well, but I’ve got a long memory. When I was at UW, no football player ever tried to get me to write his paper for him. Basketball players did. Also, when I was at UW, I was never hassled by a football player. I got some from basketball players. So in addition to not liking the sport at all to begin with (everything I was ever good at in sports is a foul in basketball), I didn’t find any passion to care if we won or not. I wouldn’t root against UW, just didn’t much care.
The women are another story. They never asked me to write their papers and they certainly never tried to bully me (and some of them could have…those are some big gals). Go Dawgs!
So this afternoon, I went to my nephew’s opening collegiate ballgame. (Double drag for him: he didn’t get to play, and his team lost.) It was good baseball, but I was embarrassed on behalf of Columbia Basin College, the Tri-Cities, and on behalf of my country.
Now, I’m not a flag waver, but I do stand up for the national anthem (of any country). And when a team visits from another country, as did the Prairie Baseball Academy of Lethbridge, AB, Canada, I believe strongly that we should show them the courtesy of playing the visiting anthem as well–thus demonstrating friendship and respect. It’s done at hockey games all the time. What is wrong with Americans, that they so often don’t know how to be good hosts and make a gesture of courtesy to international visitors?
Shame, CBC. You embarrassed our entire area. PBA Prairie Dawgs, well played, and my apologies for the boorish thoughtlessness.
Today John Dvorak wrote a pretty good article on why Microsoft’s stock is, in his words, dead money. Yeah, I know it’s on Murdoch’s news service, but Dvorak’s old school and knows his stuff.
It is so odd how things cycle. When I was hustling machines about five miles from the Redmond campus, I hated the IBM reps. Every one of them. They were not merely arrogant (though nothing like the Apple reps, the very snottiest of all), they were stupid (which the Apple reps were not). We were making 5% margin on IBM machines. We made 20% on others. Also, no one wanted IBM. Why should we sell it? Well, because it’s IBM. In reality, we were selling them at cost to keep our dealership. We couldn’t get to a profitable discount level with IBM unless we sold more. However, when we had a line on a big account and were willing to go out at cost just to advance our business with IBM, IBM would go direct and undercut us (and we were to understand and accept this, that ‘business was business’).
Their attitude was that everyone should want IBM and we should push everyone to IBM, even when a retarded goblin could see that IBM was the very worst deal going. Even when they came out with a good product, people didn’t want IBM’s MCA (‘MicroChannel’) architecture. They had a great portable and I had a client interested in two. He asked about the architecture, and I said ‘MCA’. His words, quoted exactly as I recall: “Not that f***ing MicroChannel.”
Microsoft, by contrast, was swift and slick and witty and inventive. It was eating Lotus’s lunch, WordPerfect’s lunch and just about everyone else’s. It was the smartest kids in the room. Some of its stuff was dumb (remember ‘Bob’?) but a lot of it took hold. Even IBM used Microsoft’s DOS (which M$ didn’t actually invent, but bought in desperation early on). And when IBM tried to make everyone buy OS/2, the market said ‘meh.’ You could tell the Microserfs when they came into the store. They looked like hippies gone full geek, total slobs. You didn’t make judgments. They were often FYIFV (‘f*** you, I’m fully vested’) tycoons and they might well write you a check for two brand new laser printers.
Now M$ is the dinosaur rather than the juggernaut. It invents nothing. It follows and tries to appropriate the market, and the market increasingly sneers. In the process of its rise, its ruthlessness made it many, many enemies who yearned for the day M$ would become irrelevant. I was one, as I labored on supporting M$ products in the workplace as an IT jock, basically forced to deal with them as the world was once forced to deal with IBM whether it liked IBM or not.
Dvorak’s right. MSFT is a lousy buy, even though its price has been flat for years while the market has risen. They’re not going to invent anything. If they weren’t sitting on so much cash, and if they didn’t have so much inertia due to the past with regard to installed base, they’d collapse. They are in much the same situation as IBM once was. They can say what they want, but people no longer care.
Addendum: As an editor, I find it fun to look back in hindsight at my past commentary, especially where it missed something. This is how we learn. My views held up for two years on this one, and then MSFT began a climb. Writing in 2020, it’s up over 200–about a 9x gain in seven years. What I learn from this is why I no longer buy separate issue stocks at all.
This was back before the USSR gave way to the Russian Federation. Every year, the Soviets had a massive military parade past Red Square. The Politburo stood and watched as tanks, armored cars, armored personnel carriers, soldiers, missile platforms, and so on rolled past, displaying Soviet might.
One year, an important US public figure was visiting Moscow at that time. It was normal and customary for the Soviets to honor him by inviting him to stand with the Politburo and watch the parade. Of course, he was assigned a KGB colonel fluent in English as a handler and escort. They got along quite well.
So on the appointed day, the American stood with his Soviet hosts to watch the armaments flow by. T-80 main battle tanks, BMP-2 armored personnel carriers. Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers. ZSU mobile flak guns, and surface-to-air missiles on trucks. SCUDs on bigger vehicles. Paratroopers in blue berets; marines in striped shirts. At the tail end of the parade, oddly, were a few thousand civilians in nondescript Eastern bloc business dress, if one may call it that. They didn’t march in formation, but sort of milled along. A good percentage were female.
The American turned to his handler. “Bogdan Ivanovich, I understand the function of the tanks. I understand the tracks, the artillery, the missiles. I understand the paratroopers and the marines. But please tell me, if isn’t a state secret: who are those people at the end, and what is their role in the military?”
The colonel drew himself up with that pride and dignity only a Russian can display when speaking of Russia. “Those?” he replied, a bit intimidatingly. “Those are middle managers of Soviet economy. You have no idea damage they could cause you!”
One perk you get as a ‘lancer is that when you are researching a subject, not only can you pick up the phone and call people, many will talk to you. I’ve learned the hard way not to bother leaving a message. By the time I hear back, for the most part, I’ve already turned in my work and can no longer benefit from the conversation.
Why would they talk to me? Most are curious to know what I’m working on, with an eye toward how it will portray their museum/city/project/company. I have to be fairly vague for contractual reasons, but I can at least explain why I’m bothering them. If a real person answers, most are helpful, especially historical society/museum curators. They like this. Someone wants to know the things they know! (I can relate, having a mind full of information people rarely want to know.)
Of course, if the matter you’re researching is controversial, expect a full spin cycle and attempt to rinse away anything sordid. I had that with a major toy company, back when I was trying to learn more about the debate over who invented a very popular toy. They handed me over to their PR flacks, who did their job: try to kill me with helpful kindness, sending me numerous PDFs relating the official history–which is good to know, but is by no means the last word. I give them credit, though, because their job is to get me to write the party line, and if they make my life difficult, they know it will perk up my nostrils. They hope to make it easy for me so that I’ll just use their source material.
Unfortunately for some, I’m not the sort of ‘lancer who takes the easy path. A major MLM company got a taste of that. The firm (one I loathe enough that I had to discipline myself to careful objectivity) claims two prominent founders, but reports all over the place refer to a third and very obscure co-founder. Even allowing for the Internet copycat factor, it was suspicious enough to wonder: was there really a third co-founder, and if so, what became of this person? Dispute? Bought out? Dead? I called the company, whose flacks asked some older fellow who has evidently been around since the reign of Tiberius. They flatly denied this third founder. Then I asked (by e-mail, now) the question that ticked them off: “Sir, if that’s accurate, then people are spreading false information far and wide about the company’s origin. You haven’t even asked me where I heard about it. Aren’t you at least concerned about rooting out such possible misinformation?” I never heard from them again. I interpreted that to mean that I’d lit up their ‘hostile’ display indicator and would get nothing further from them on the subject.
That set me to shoveling twice as hard. Unfortunately, I didn’t turn up anything useful, so the most I could do with the third individual was to mention the name and stress that it was an unsubstantiated rumor. What that meant, of course, was that it went into print. Did I learn the reality behind the rumor (if any)? No. Is it possible someone with more time on his or hands than me might see this in the book, and dig long and hard enough to penetrate the wall of corporate sanitization surrounding the subject? It wouldn’t break my heart…
I do know this. As an editor, people ask me often about copyright matters, legal liabilities, and so on. I tell them the same thing every time: I do not know. I’m not a lawyer. Ask one. Pay them. That, or do what I did above, which is not to mention their name.
It’s one of the hardest parts of freelancing. Suppose you feel like hell. Are you going to do your work? Well, let’s put it this way. If you have a tight deadline, if you are conscious and can function, yeah, you’re going to do your work. Now, the editors I work with are generally very understanding and kind folks, but it isn’t that way everywhere. Plus, understanding and kindness would surely wear thin if you played the card all the time, or even often.
So the bottom line is that yeah, I’m going to do my work. I have a number of entries that must be rewritten by Wednesday, and a timeliness track record to protect. What is more, it must be up to the standards my editors expect from me. Never mind that I’m not physically or mentally up to the standards I expect from myself; an editor reviewing my ms will see only whether it’s okay or not okay.
This is one of the hardest things to convey to prospective writers. There is a writing mentality that I call the “Oh, for a muse…” perspective. It savors la vie litteraire, a world of bons mots and clever epigrams. It yearns to sprinkle random French terms with deep savoir faire. It imagines an ivory tower of eloquence, insight and not having to explain what ‘onomatopoeia’ means. It is pensive people in berets sipping sophisticated coffees in proper coffee shops, as opposed to realtors sipping extra large super-skinny caramel lattes with four shots of mandarin syrup. It hankers after a sense of intellectual superiority, the mojo of being able to say “I’m a writer” and have people coo over you.
Well, I’m a writer, and what it means right now is gluing myself to my machine and getting my work hammered out fueled by Ricolas, coffee, tea, a pizza most would consider toxic waste. The upsides are that I don’t have to talk (I barely can; I sound like Darth Vader) or socialize (always a battle for me to begin with). But I do have to write. I don’t get to plead ‘writer’s block,’ a concept in which I don’t fundamentally believe anyway. If I write, I will get paid and preserve my rep for producing (thus probably getting to write more later). If I don’t, I won’t.
It’s as simple as that.