Monday, June 30, 2008

Time Machine

We spent two hours in 1930 today.

A family with whom we are friends are on vacation for the summer. Wife and kids left a few weeks ago, since she does not work in the summer. Husband, Jeff, will eventually take a week or so off work and join them.

Jeff showed up today along with their dog. We went out on the porch and visited. If we did not have a porch, an unexpected visit might be a big imposition because stuff is going on in the house--a kid has left some food on a tray, another kid has left his shoes and socks in the middle of the floor, etc. (Bugs me and mortifies my wife). But with the porch, those issues did not apply.

Our dogs visited while we visited. My dog is small and hairless. His dog is a big sad-eyed thing that looks like a mix between a hound and a lab.

My dog has not been around other dogs for two years, so he got amorous. My youngest said, "They're fighting!"

Jeff said, "No . . ."

I interrupted with, "You bet! They're fighting!"

The day was cool. We laughed and talked.

We did not even have to worry about The Great Depression.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

How Long is A Month?

My middle child's 16 year old friend, from the state in which we previously lived, arrived a week ago.

When discussions first began about his visit, I said, "Two weeks would be fine for a visit."

My wife, on the other hand, said to the friend, "We'd love to have you. Stay as long as you want."

To which I would add, speaking to my wife, "As long as it is no more than two weeks."

She would say, "He stayed for a week last time and we were not sick of him."

And I would reply, "First of all, we were somewhat sick of him. The fact that he would not eat anything that we ate ticked you off royally. The tensions between him and the oldest bugged you, too. Second, there is a world of difference between a week and a month. Before the month is out, somebody will have to die."

He is here for a month.

She says, "I didn't think he would really come for a month. I didn't think his family would let him stay that long."


I understand that women are required to have faulty long-term memories in order to propogate the species. If my wife remembered all the throwing up and discomfort of pregnancy and the excruciating pain of delivery, we would have only had one child. And couples must have a bit more than two children, to propogate the species.* If women had excellent long-term memories, the species would die.

Adam: The kid is asleep. Let's pick some figs!
Eve: Abel is so nice. We don't need another one.

Ok, I admit that second child did not turn out so well.

The first week of his stay has been about the same as last time--frustrating, but not fatal. But things will probably get worse from here, as the kids get sick of each other.

The kid is bizarrely unreasonable in his picky eating. It is mind boggling. He eats Kraft mac and cheese. When we fix homemade mac and cheese, thinking he would go for that, he gets a panicked expression at seeing bread crumbs on the stuff. Of course, we could serve him some without the bread crumbs. Only 2% of the macs are actually touching bread crumbs. And it has real cheese, that he likes to eat on pizzas, etc. But . . . no. It is as if we served him up Kraft mac and raw sewage.

So he eats a $1 Totino's pizza. Yum.

When we ordered pizza out he said, "Um, you got Papa John's pizza. I don't really like Papa John's."

Here is how bad it is. When we were taking him back to the airport last time around, we did not have time to stop and eat, so we grabbed something at McDonalds. He eats fast food all the time. But, "There's nothing I really like at McDonalds."

Uh . . . as if there is a freaking hairsbreadth difference between McDonalds and all the other fast food havens? Not nuggets? Not chicken strips? Not a hamburger? Not anything?

A kid who does not like McDonalds!

I need to rest now.


*On average, each man and woman must replace himself/herself. Plus, some will die before they replace themselves, some will be infertile, some will be too lazy to breed, and some will be fans of Brokeback Mountain.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I guess, "I wouldn't understand."

I do not get peoples' attitudes toward sleep. If you're going to get 8 hours of sleep, you can do it from 11 P. M. to 7 A. M. or you can do it from 3 A. M. to 11 A. M.

If you're hanging around or working in bars that open at 11 PM, then sure. If you play online games with friends on the west coast who go online at 11 P. M. eastern time, sure.

But if you're playing video games, watching TV (with TiVo), reading, or doing a million other things that people do, it might be nice to roughly match the working world.

I hear, "I just can't go to sleep at 11 P. M."

You can if you get up at 7 A. M. and keep busy until 11 P. M. A few days adjustment on the front end and the back end takes care of itself. Presto! Sleep cycle amended!

Another thing that seems barking mad to me is, "I just need another 15 minutes."

After sleeping for 7 hours, 15 more minutes--especially after rousing--is nothing. It may make you 10 minutes late. That's something. But 15 minutes more sleep matters only if you are catnapping.

So look around at the grown ups and get with the plan, you slackers!

Friday, June 27, 2008


My youngest picked out his glasses. I already explained why we got plastic frames, not wire frames.

I favored frames that matched his light brown/dark blonde hair color. He tried on some jet black frames and, in a nasal voice, kept saying, "I'm a poindexter." I was not impressed, but the technician thought he was a hoot.

He decided the battleship grey frames were for him. I didn't think they were the best, but I am fine with letting him choose what he wants in that realm.

He has been wearing them for the past two days, which is more than I could say about the wire frames. He had to be constantly prodded to keep those on.

His big brothers keep calling him Weezer, since Rivers Cuomo, lead singer (and pretty much the entire creative force behind the band), wears dorky square glasses. When he passes by they sing Beverly Hills or Hash Pipe.

That doesn't bother the kid, though. He is fine with them thinking he looks extreme in one way or another.

If his brothers knew more Weezer, they'd realize the song to sing is Buddy Holly. And that would be fine with my youngest because he don't care what they say about him anway. He don't care 'bout that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I am not sure what a draft is. I finished my 4,000 word short story, Suffrage. that I discussed here and excerpted here. I even talked about Suffrage's viewpoint here.

I finished the story, front to back, at about 5,600 words. Then I read through and diced it down twice until I got it to 4,000 words. In the process, I rearranged things a bit, edited the copy greatly, emphasized the theme, etc. Then I did another read-through for unity, tone, theme, and more editing.

Have I done one draft, two drafts, three, or four? I would think that finishing, then cutting a story by 30% constitutes at least two drafts. But then, revision and tightening--another draft?

It's all so confusing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I flirted with the idea of talking about gas prices before, but I did not do the whole thing. I will make this one short and complete.

1. The Federal Reserve has been churning out dollars, lowering the value of the dollar. When we buy oil from Saudi Arabia, our plentiful dollars do not buy many Riyal (the Saudi currency), so our dollars do not buy many barrels of oil. In 2002, $1 would buy 1 Euro. The Euro price of oil is about the same today as it was then. So a lot of the price of gasoline is sponsored by the Fed.

2. China, Russia, and India have freed up their economies. People there are starting energy-using businesses and are buying lots of energy-using consumer goods and services. World demand for oil is way up.

3. We have not built a refinery in this country in 30 years due to high environmental standards. You may like the standards, but you pay for them at the pump.

4. We have not allowed much new drilling in this country in decades. So even when oil prices rise, we do not produce that much more oil.

5. We mandate an expensive ethanol/gasoline mix. If it were cheaper to make gasoline from corn, companies would do it on their own because they're greedy.

6. We mandate a few dozen other gasoline mixes that almost nobody wants to use, but congress thinks are politically nice. This decreases efficiency at refineries.

I think that about does it. Except for number 2, we are doing it to ourselves.

When you hear counter-arguments to these points, the best test to apply is this: Does the argument assume that oil companies are greedy? If the argument contradicts the assumption of greedy oil companies, then wave the nerd making the argument away with the back of your and and say, "Piff, piff! Begone!"

For instance, idiots are currently trying to contradict 3 by saying it's the oil companies' free choice, not stringent environmental regulations, that keep oil refineries scarce. But this would mean that companies who see this huge demand for refinery space are saying, "Yawn, I could make more money if I had more refinery space. So what?"

Piff piff!

Idiots try to contradict 4 by saying, "The oil companies are not drilling where it is legal to drill, so why should we open up more?" The implication seems to be that there are profitable places to drill that the oil companies are ignoring.

Piff piff!

Senator Grassley from Iowa corn country says that ethanol (5) is efficient. If it were, then gasoline distributors in the past were giving up profits by not mixing ethanol with their gasoline. And, if ethanol was efficient, zero subsidy would be necessary to get gas distributors to use it.

Piff piff!

Finally, idiots are trying to blame oil speculation for high prices. Some people bet the price of oil will go up. Every time someone does, someone else must be betting that it will not go up that much. Why are people betting the price will go up? How about reasons 1-6.

Speculatory prices on oil reflect scarcity. If tomorrow the government decided to repeal ethanol laws, repeal laws mandating multiple grades of gas, loosen restrictions that make refineries infeasible, allow drilling where we have oil, and if the Fed tightened the money supply, the price would dive and the people betting on high prices would start losing.

So, what is the solution to high oil prices?


Suffrage (Excerpt)

“When I die, bury me in Tangipahoa Parish, so I still can vote.” -- Huey P. Long

I made my way along Buttermilk Creek at dawn, checking my traps when I heard cussing, somebody spitting words out like hammering a nail. I settled down in the brush, then snuck up the hill to our family plot, quiet pine straw under my toes. Their horses and tents was at sides of the flat hill. I counted eleven dirty white shirts and blue caps, and then I saw one more, head to toe in Yankee blue.

A scrawny one cawed, “Hey Sergeant, Eli Fox was born in 1824 and died in 1864. Change the two to an eight he was born in 1884, twenty years after he died!”

“That’s ten years from now,” growled the big Yankee in blue. “Doesn’t make good sense.”

“That’s why it’s funny!”

Sarge stood on Daddy’s grave. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun.”

Lightning crackled in my head. If I’d had our shotgun I would have blown their heads off. I waited until I caught my breath, and crept back down. My brother, Ernest, would know what to do.

When I jumped the gully, I ran right into a blue coat. “Ho, there, lad,” he said wrapping his arms around me, making me drop my sack with the two dead coons. He took me down hard.

“Easy, lad. Let’s chat, shall we?”

“Turn me loose, damned Yankee.” I almost sobbed, short of breath with him on top.

“We’re looking for the White League. I know a fine lad like you wouldn’t have nothing to do with murders, but maybe you know who would. Tell me and I’ll go about my business.” Irishboy Elliott’s whole family talked like this Yankee--I didn’t know there was Irish Yankees.

“Let me go!” I shot halfway out and grabbed a handful of red hair. He hit me so hard that my head rattled.

Yankees thundered down the hill, yelling. They drug me back up and tied my hands and feet, so that I was hugging daddy’s tombstone. It was a sandstone slab from Buttermilk Creek with nooks and crannies for their rope to seat down in, except for the face that Ernest had flattened out, where my chest and neck fit.

Sarge squatted on the other side of the stone and glared until I quit cussing. “What’s your name, boy?”

I clamped my jaw shut. I was madder than I had ever been.

“Not ready to talk? Well, I can cure that. Get my whip, Monihan,” he ordered the Irish Yankee.

Monihan puffed his cheeks out, stood there a second, and drug off. Sarge stared at me from under his Yankee hat and bushy eyebrows. “You know any White League around Muddville?”

I just stared.

“Traitors buried here, boy. You wouldn’t be one of them?”

Through my teeth, I said, “My Daddy wasn’t no traitor.”

He spit on Uncle Van’s grave. “Your Pa took arms against his country. And before you say Louisiana left that country, I’ll tell you that the Union voted--majority rule--for Louisiana not to leave, so they broke the law. Your Pa’s a traitor.”

Monihan brought a black bullwhip. These Yankees wasn’t herding cows so I knew Sarge liked to beat people. Ernest would never hear me scream way out here. I yanked up on the rope and felt my feet move, too--trussed. Salty sweat ran into my eyes and mouth, but I couldn’t wipe. Monihan handed Sarge the whip. I blurted out, “You never voted to whip me, you cowards.”

Sarge blinked. He smiled. “Nope, I never did. All right, let’s vote it.”

“I vote no, so it’s a tie. Let me go.”

He grinned. “We got thirteen here. You’ll have to submit to what General Blount calls the tyranny of the majority.”

Could I keep him talking until somebody could save me? “You Yankees got boys of your own. Why do you want to bullwhip me when I ain’t done nothing?” Tears leaked out of my eyes; my body was stinging on the sandstone.

Sarge said, “All in favor of me whipping this boy?”

Lots of “yes sir” from them.

“Against?” he said.

I said, “No!”

Monihan said, “No sir.”

Sarge looked like Monihan hit him. “What the hell?”

Monihan said, “Since we’re voting it, I allow that if we whip him we’ll make more enemies than we want. Free him and we’ll get just what we want, Sir.”

“Hrmph. Well, you lose. Since you like this traitor, you get to beat him.” He handed the whip to Monihan. I relaxed a little since Monihan didn’t want me beat anyway. Then Sarge said, “Three lashes. If some aren’t good enough, you’ll get those, plus one.”

Daddy whipped me some before he died at Mansfield when I was eight. Mama didn’t have the stomach for whipping me after Daddy died--she got pneumonia a year later. Ernest whipped me once, but he ended up crying halfway through. He had the gumption to take their place in most things, but not that.

I stared hate at Sarge and ran my fingertips over Daddy’s stone.

The whip whistled through the air and lashed me. Every muscle bent backward and I screamed like a girl. My muscles didn’t let go. I ran out of air, caught more, and screamed it out, too.

While my back still blazed, another lash burned across it. I couldn’t breathe. My muscles was so tight I was paralyzed.

Sarge said, “Wait. He needs to feel them all.”

When I caught my breath I pled, “Oh, please, damned Yankees, oh please don’t ...”

I begged until I whimpered and twitched like a dying squirrel. Sarge raised my chin with his hand. “Two hundred black men murdered in Colfax last week. Where is the White League in Grant Parish?”

I blurted the truth. “I don’t know, Ernest says we ain’t got time for such, we got to make a living, we ain’t no better off than black folks, we sell them chickens at their boarding house, we swim with them, we call them names but they calls us names too, I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“Shut up!” He growled. “I don’t think the boy knows nothing. Still, we voted three lashes. Monihan.”

I sobbed, “No, oh please, no.”

Monihan leaned and touched me on the shoulder with the tip of the bullwhip. “That’s three, Sarge.”

“You Irish bastard! On your knees!” Two of them stripped Monihan’s jacket and shirt and shoved him down on the other side of Daddy’s stone, facing me. He put his hands on my shoulders and nodded.

Sarge’s first lash bent Monihan backwards and he fell over, trying to reach behind, screaming not nearly as loud as me. Four Yankees held his arms around the stone while Sarge lashed again. He screamed and cried, and in a while he was moaning and they let him up.

Sarge said, “Sorry you did that, Monihan?”

Between gasps, Monihan said, “Aye, Sarge.”


When I staggered home with my coons, Ernest was plowing behind the mule. I still had the shakes and whimpered when I took a wrong step. I could never sneak up on Ernest because he was always looking over his shoulder. Sitting on the porch one time, I asked, “What are you looking back at?”

He squinted at me and said, “Mansfield.”

“Why are you scared? You won at Mansfield.”

“Maybe somebody won at Mansfield. I sure didn’t, and neither did Daddy. And you didn’t win neither.”

When Ernest looked back he could see I was bowed up. “Jake?”

“Yankees, Ernest. At the graveyard.”

“What did they do?”

I’d start crying if I told him, so I just turned my back.

“Lord! Why, Jake?”

“The League killed hundreds of black folks at Colfax last week. Yankees thought I knew something.”

Ernest hugged my forehead to his sweaty shoulder, like when we prayed every night. “I’m sorry.”

“Ain’t your fault.”

He pulled back, looking me over. “Skint up ... all over.”

“They tied me to Daddy’s gravestone. One named Monihan took two lashes to save me from getting another. Don’t hurt him.”

Ernest swallowed hard. I had known we couldn’t fight Yankees, but I forgot somehow, because Ernest always set everything right for me. He was Daddy, Mama, and big brother, too.

“Let’s go see Irishboy,” he said.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cheap Colored Glasses

My youngest is nearly eleven years old. Early in the last school year we found out he needed glasses. I went to the local optometrist with the foreign name. He was a jerk. Young and pouty like a Hollywood flavor of the month. "I have time to get this kid in before lunch. Come on, kid."

Though my son did not have problems with reading vision, he prescribed bifocals. I questioned him. He said, "He'll eventually need them, so he can get used to them now." Translation: "I make $15 more when I sell bifocals." His frames were expensive.

I took the prescription to my local Megalomart vision center. To my surprise, they agreed to make only the distance prescription--non-bifocal.

My youngest had problems with the little thingees that rested on his nose to keep the wire frame glasses in place. He kept bending them out of place. Eventually he broke one. So I broke the other one and he was relatively happy with them. What rednecks.

Around the end of the school year the wire frames broke. So I went back to Megalomart for some plastic framed glasses, which would not have the problem with the noserest thingees. The least expensive plastic frames they had were about $60. Eyi.

I went to the Megalomart in the next town. They had plastic frames for as low as $10 and plenty for $18. But they would not make the non-bifocals.

Then my semester started and we moved and finally today I took him for an eye exam, which cost $68. Eyi again. Let the whole congregation say, "Eyi."

I thought the frames that my son picked cost $18. After the technician totaled them up, I found out that they, instead, cost $10! The glasses cost $40, total!

I was in econoheaven.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Not to Get an Education

A student came in a few days before the final for help. She asked about a concept in the first chapter that was going to be covered on the test. I explained. She asked about a word in my explanation.

The word she asked about was "input." Inputs are the resources used in production to produce output. In pizza production, inputs are cheese, pepperoni, electricity, ovens, labor, etc. I probably used the word 1,000 times. Apparently she did not understand any of it.

I said, "When you hear a word that you do not know you should ask."

She said, "I am too scared to ask."

I said, "Then you will suffer, because you will miss so much of your education. And in the job market, it will be hard to compete if you are too shy to ask for the information you need. You have to overcome this."

She said she accepted that. I told her to at least ask the professor after class or during office hours.

It hurts to see a student underperform so badly because of fear. Since I give out Snickers bars--the normal size, not minis--to encourage participation, call on students to keep the discussion going, and constantly ask if there are questions, I cannot understand why someone would think that I would mind if someone asked a question.

Sitting and failing is such a waste. And waste is the worst sin in economics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


For the first time I am writing a story about someone from the backwoods. Since my relatives are from the backwoods, I know the language intimately. Heck, I speak it fluently. I also understand the culture.

My third cousin, for instance, was the only person in sixth grade to be able to legally drive his pickup truck to middle school. There are plenty of family stories about fishing in the morning before school, owning one pair of shoes that you only wore to church, driving the wagon into town in the winter with heated bricks wrapped in cloth for warmth, cattle theft, backwoods murders, and marriages between young folks.

For the story to have an authentic voice, a first person viewpoint would be nice. I think this sentence--"I hunkered down and snuck up the hill to our family plot, thankful for the quiet pine straw under my toes."--reads better than-- "He hunkered down and snuck up the hill to his family's plot, thankful for the quiet pine straw under his toes."

But with horror and misery, first person viewpoint is so difficult to balance. First person misery can become whining.

Almost as much whining as this post.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Using Technology

My middle son's best friends live in another state. He went to school with them before we moved. He now chats with them on the phone for hours a day, plays games with them on the Wii and XBox 360, IMs with them, emails with them, voice chats on the 360 with them, etc.

One of his friends visits over spring break. That friend is also flying in today for a summer visit. Of course we need his flight information in order to pick him up. Transferring that information to us was hard, somehow.

We already know he's flying into Atlanta. The information we need is (1) arrival time (2) flight number (3) city of origin. We don't really need to know the city of origin, but it helps when locating the flight on the Arrivals screen at the airport.

Julia and I figured that it would take one minute to put this information into an email. Quick, easy, saved. They wanted to fax it. I don't have a dedicated fax line, so I would have to set the machine up. The print quality on my cheapo fax machine is not good, either. Not a good idea. Could you email it?

So his family said, "We'll scan it and put it in an email." My son was on the phone with them at the time.

We said, "Just type it into an email." So the friend starts calling the information out over the phone. So I need to stop what I'm doing and write this down? Send an email! No, don't scan it. Just type the information into an email. It is the equivalent of 3 words.

You spend all day communicating over various electronic media with my son, remember? You can use the communication for useful things, not just for yakking about video games.

I am at risk of an electronic aneurysm.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Was Too Slow

Quite a few of my students use laptops in class. I know I would.

One laptop users has unsuccessfully taken my course multiple times. Now and then, in walking around class, I would see that he was surfing the web instead of taking notes. At other times I would see him furtively clicking away what he was doing when I approached.

I never said anything to him. I'm not that kind of guy.

He took my course this summer, too. He sat in the back with his laptop. I assumed he was still surfing in class. And every day he would leave after one hour of a course that lasted an hour and forty minutes per day. He missed a few days here and there, too.

When he turned in his final, he told me, "I hope I never see you again."

I nodded. About the time he walked out, I realized what my reply should have been.

I should have said, "I barely saw you this time around."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Learning by Doing

Economics is about choices. But many students have not made some of the choices I teach them about. Some have only held one job. A few have never held a job. Many have never seen an involved production process.

I often mention pizza in the course. My first economics teacher used pizza often. Most students like it and can relate to decisions involving consumption of pizza. And, though few have made pizza, they understand the involved process by which it is made. But there is no substitute for "doing."

Every year I get more students who have played interactive online games in which they make lots of decisions--some production decisions and some trade decisions.

In the virtual world, they have owned their own business and have striven to get ahead in a competitive economy. These students should understand more about economic decision making than other students (other things being equal, such as real world experience).

I never found a good database, though. In particular, I find the students around me have all had high school economics. Few online gamers have had economics. There is some crossover, who have had economics and gaming experience, but not enough to clearly show in the data.

I know that other researchers have had such data problems before, but this is my first.

Professors who review my work have suggested that I use the online games in class to test their effects, but I am reluctant to do so. The games are addictive. I might turn half my class from decent students into excellent gamers, but terrible students.

Research is not pretty. Maybe you remember my poem on the subject.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Today I showed a news video that I recorded long ago about a man in the D. C. area who was jailed for planting trees on his golf course in the wrong place.

The county gave approval to the man, then later the county hired a new arborialist (what a title!) who interpreted zoning regulations differently. The property owner was ordered to change $125,000 worth of landscaping. He refused and was thrown in jail for contempt of court.

He had planted trees too close to the neighbor's yard according to the new arborialist. The neighbor was the property owner's father, who did not care where the trees were.

The county also required that the man construct a nature trail that led to an eight lane highway. Further, a hill behind the clubhouse was in violation of zoning ordinances, but the commission refused to say what was wrong with the hill (too high? too low?).

Eventually the county required that the man plant more trees.

The Declaration of Independence says that we are endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "The pursuit of happiness" meant property rights.

When government takes away property rights at will, then we are one step from slavery.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Inside

Things are bigger on the inside
When tables, wall paper and La-Z-Boys cohere
Into the shape of rooms.

When God picked up this house
I saw it could never have fit
On the lifeless dirt and broken Coke bottles beneath.

I remember a ghost house
That I lived in, eating spirit food
Cooked on kitchen apparitions.

Now the incoherent surface of the moon
With moon ash, moon rocks, and moon-scorched microwaves,
Is all I can see.

Later, when even the ash is gone, I will wonder how
The humongous haunted house ever fit within the chain-links.
Things are bigger on the inside.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Building An Idea Story

Some stories are characters. Some are ideas. Some are setting. Some are events.

When I get an event story idea I have to search for characters to participate in the event. When I get a character idea I have to find something for the characters to do and a setting in which to do it.

Most recently, I started a story about dead people voting (idea). I needed characters and setting. I thought of Huey P. Long's quote, "When I die I want to be buried in Tangipahoa Parish so I can still vote."*

The setting had to be an isolated town. There could be no government to solve the town's problem with napalm or a tactical nuclear weapon. And some characters in the story had to be fanatical enough to vote on anything and to abide by what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority."

I started in Huey P. Long's depression era Louisiana in the cypress swamps of Tangipahoa (TANJ ih pah HO ah**) Parish along Lake Pontchartrain. I researched the area and found a Confederate training camp.

The U. S. Civil War would make a good setting for the story, except that Tangipahoa Parish was not organized until after the war. I could set the story in what would later become the parish.

On the other hand, a Civil War cemetery would be especially helpful in the story and there were no battles in Tangipahoa Parish. Savannah's Colonial Park Cemetary has Confederate tombstones that were defaced by Union soldiers. I liked that!

But Savannah surrendered to Sherman so that he would not burn it. There was not much conflict in that history and I would like a bitter past for the story.

I could lift the idea of soldiers defacing other soldiers' tombstones, but move it from Savannah back to Louisiana. Since there were no battles in Tangipahoa Parish, I decided that perhaps the battle of Mansfield in the Red River campaign was suitable. And Mansfield, in De Soto Parish was across Nachitoches Parish from Grant Parish, where the Colfax Massacre occurred.

The Colfax Massacre! That generates bitterness. Dead soldiers taken home to be buried after the Battle of Mansfield. Union troops in Reconstruction Era Louisiana sent to hunt down the White League for murdering 150-200 blacks.

Confederate tombstones defaced in the backwoods of Grant Parish. Hate and bitterness and dead soldiers fanatically devoted to majority rule. A backwoods community caught between Union troops and the White League. That was the setting.

And I know about plenty of backwoods characters like Wiley.



*In Louisiana, counties are called parishes.

**The natives do not pronounce the last syllable

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Domo Arigato! Do You Want Fries With That?

A Japanese restaurant opened this week in my touristy mountain town. My wife and I went to celebrate the end of our move; or to celebrate father's day; or just to eat some sushi.

As we ate and discussed the experience, I kept coming back to this comment. "It's not that kind of Japanese restaurant."

I knew things were wonky when I stepped up to the counter and said, "Table for two," and the "hostess" replied, "For here or to go?"

I had never been asked that question at a Japanese restaurant. Perhaps that is my small town orientation. When we go to a Japanese restaurant, nobody asks McDonalds questions.

The walls were painted in orange sherbet. The entree was on a styrofoam plate. The sushi was in styrofoam to-go boxes. Plasticware. Most of the sushi was bland. The shrimp was almost good--it did not taste like freshly cooked shrimp. The tempura was good, though.

On the plus side, steak and shrimp generally costs $18 bucks or so at the usual restaurant. They cost about $8 at this place. So in my town we now have disappointing Japanese food at low prices.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

About Godboxing

After I began writing poetry a friend (also a poet) and I had a conversation about a bumper sticker that infuriated her. She felt it was really smug. It said, "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven."

She viewed the bumper sticker as saying, "I do not care how badly I act, because the rules do not apply to me." She may have been right about the folks that had that bumper sticker. I never talked to any of them.

More than that, she viewed the bumper sticker as saying, "I know God. If you do not agree with me, then you must not know God." She did not like when people said, "God is this way, and not that way."

I consider myself a tolerant and polite absolutist. A Hindu friend (not the poet) once said to a small gathering around a professors' lounge table, "John gets along with everyone because his religion views all beliefs as equally valid."

He had me all wrong. I had to break that to him later.

I am an absolutist. My religion believes that "we know." We understand that some people of other faiths disagree with us and believe that they know. But we know they're wrong.

That was obnoxious! How can I be so intolerant?

The key lies in my Hindu friend's confusion. I am very tolerant, but not accepting. However, modern sensibilities often confuse tolerance and acceptance.

I love to learn about other beliefs. I love to compare and contrast their beliefs with mine. I feel no compunction to continuously say, "But I am right and you are wrong."

My poet friend objected to being told that by the bumper sticker. So we wrote Godboxing.

Some of the people with whom I discuss my beliefs are also absolutists. Frankly, I have difficulty understanding how anyone can hold non-absolutist religious beliefs. To me, "non-absolutist religious beliefs" is an oxymoron.

This brings me to my kung fu fist of death argument regarding absolutism. If you hold non-absolutist religious beliefs, then you must believe that I, as an absolutist, am wrong. But people who say that they are right and others are wrong are absolutists.

You intolerant bigot!

Friday, June 13, 2008


You Found It
(Godboxing: A Dialogue)

Is it the function of art
Or just the urge to kill
That causes you to limit,
To collect specimens,
To pin me and God,
Wriggling, to the wall?
"Something there is that doesn't love"
A box.
I don't know about God but I want

I am confined as you
By flesh and bone,
Tied to what is, and escape
Only by creation.
But creation involves loosings
And bindings anew--
Confinings anew?
Each surrounding wall
Has two sides.

In the box I don't mind
Darkness so much.
In the box there are surfaces
(Up, down, floors, ceilings, I don't know)
On which to lean.
But I've burned my boxes
And can't go back
(such a garden as it was).

A loosing and a binding,
The ultimate confinement
Outside walls which can't be broken.
In a different box, I am
Bound by my words
Which I have given you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


The reason that I am thinking about boxes is that I have found myself in a box that I did not know existed. In the past, I held some world views that were not in the mainstream of the political sensitivities of that time. However, they were reasoned world views, based on a mainstream reading of history, so I viewed the political sensitivities, not my views, as illogical.

My views have not changed. So why have I been using the past tense? Political sensitivities have changed. I now find my reasoned views characterized as evil. I feel that society has built a box around me and erroneously labeled it.

This will be a cryptic rant (a cryptic rant--just what you would expect from an academic), because I do not want to reveal myself as one who holds my now-maevolent ideas. Here is what I will tell you. The basis of my own evil view is this reading of U. S. history. At one time thirteen states joined a compact known as the United States by signing the U. S. Constitution as a voluntary association.

Nuff said.

I'll go polish my swastickas.*


*Note: The previous line is a joke. I do not own, nor have I ever owned, Nazi memorabilia. I, in no way, sympathize with coercive movements of any kind, including, but not limited to, Nazism. My views are quite the opposite--individual freedom is the greatest good that mankind can work toward with regard to political aspects of this world.**


**Further note: I believe that people should have the freedom to own Nazi memorabilia if they choose. Further, I do not view someone as sympathetic to Nazism simply because they study the history of the Third Reich and/or own Nazi memorabilia.***


***Further note: I do not believe that someone who says, "Hitler was a charismatic leader," or "Hitler was a pursuasive orator," or "Hitler made the trains run on time," is necessarily sympathetic to Nazism. I think these views can be held by those who love freedom, but also read history.****


****Two notes in one: (1) Will Smith, the actor, was once taken to task for saying that Hitler believed that Hitler was a good person--a statement that I would be willing to accept without proof. (2) I have no direct knowledge or detailed secondary knowledge of railroad efficiency in the Third Reich.*****


*****Final note: My original rant has nothing to do with Nazi Germany. If Nazism had never existed, my rant would be unchanged except for the last line, which was a joke. Remember?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


A story arc of Scott Adams's Dilbert comic strip had Dilbert captured by aliens, taken to their home world, and put in a zoo. Finally Dilbert is released and returns to his cramped cubicle, thankful that he is no longer confined. The irony, in case you missed it, is that the cubicle that Dilbert returns to is materially inferior to the zoo he was in.

My reading of the strip is that we can be in spiritual prison or we can enjoy spiritual freedom, depending on our world view. No, this does not mean that I would just as soon be locked up in San Quentin as be on the outside. But I have seen plenty of people in a spiritual prison of which I had no understanding.

I recall a married couple that I knew in college. She was a sweet country girl that was pleased to leave school and marry a bright/brilliant, considerate, loving (from all appearances) guy. She had a job overseeing a warehouse. She felt trapped because she had preferred marriage to high school. She thought she would have had such a great career if she had not got married when she did!

My view was that she hated school before and was pleased to get away from it, so she probably still hated school. She was nice, but not naturally bright. She was earning a good living at a good, albeit limited, job. She had a husband who treated her exceedingly well. I saw her situation as one in which she could easily consider herself fortunate.

My mom had a similar story, except that mom was bright/brilliant; she had the 4.0 average and the academic achievement medals to prove it. But she got married at 17 to the man she loved (No, she didn't have to get married! I came along 7 years later.)

Mom occasionally wondered what she could have achieved if she had not got married, but she did not dwell on it as my friend in college did. Both women were confined by previous choices and my honest appraisal is that mom had much better prospects for career achievement than my friend in school. But mom was happy living in the box she made for herself, while my friend was not.

Our past actions build a little box in which we live. If we are not happy in our box we can, often with great effort and some risk, build a new box. But so many people in spacious, opulent boxes are miserable while those in more humble boxes are happy.

One of my favorite song lyrics, as I previously posted, is by Tom Tom Club. "Happiness is emotional habit." I believe that we make the choice to be happy or to be miserable. I understand that my belief is an axiom--an assumption that I cannot prove.

When I see someone who is unhappy living in their excellent little box, I am dismayed. Well, I am not crushingly dismayed. After all, that would mean that I am not happy in my box.

Monday, June 9, 2008


My dad knew my maternal great grandfather. That was common in rural areas early in the last century.

Americans had settled down. Almost everyone was farming. Technology dictated that you would not hear of many jobs that were beyond a few miles walk and even if you did, you could not commute more than a few miles. So most people stayed in one place and married someone that lived close by.

Dad said Wiley was peculiar. He wore a white suit and carried a parasol when he went in to town. He fixed watches and shoes, which was unusual in an age where almost everybody farmed. And if you visited him, he would tell you, "I had my gun on you from back when you turned off the main road."

Wiley had reason to watch the road and keep his gun handy.

The first man Wiley killed owned a big sugar cane field near Wiley's home in Mississippi. The man rode up on his horse and found Wiley walking by the field with pocket knife out chewing on a stalk of the man's cane. The man said, "That's my cane."

Wiley replied, "I'll pay you a nickel for it."

The man said, "That ain't good enough. I'm going to get off this horse and give you a beating."

Wiley said, "If you get off that horse, I'll kill you."

So he did.

As far as I know we have only Wiley's word on the particulars of the incident, but relatives on mom's side attest that Wiley killed the man about some sugar cane.

Wiley's knife, mutual threats, and walking down the road also led to Wiley's second killing. Wiley was walking by a plantation where a party was being thrown. The owner's dogs came out and threatened Wiley, so he pulled his knife.

The owner saw the commotion and told Wiley, "If you hurt my dogs, I'm going to kill you."

Wiley said, "Call your dogs off or I'll kill them, then I'll kill you.

The man did not call off the dogs. Wiley killed them. Then he killed the plantation owner.

It is bad form to kill rich people, so Wiley had to leave the state in a trunk in the back of a wagon. That is when he moved into my dad's neighborhood.

One of Wiley's daughters was seeing a man that Wiley did not approve of. At one point the man was meeting her to take her into town and Wiley told her, "If you go up that road to meet him, I'll kill you."

She did. The bullet that Wiley put in her back did not kill her or permanently injure her, but her wound was serious.

One of his sons-in-law named Dertinger got Wiley arrested--nobody remembers what for. I am not sure if Dertinger was the man that Wiley nearly killed his daughter over. When Wiley got out of jail, he stuck his finger in Dertinger's face and said, "You're a dead man."

Months later, Dertinger disappeared. Wiley spread word that Dertinger told him that he was going to Florida to pick oranges.

My paternal grandfather visited Wiley some time after that. Grandpa had been hunting on Bear Creek and found a mound of dirt that looked like a grave. Grandpa told Wiley, "Mr. Edwards, off the Bear Creek trail I saw where someone had buried a man."

Wiley leveled his finger at Grandpa and said, "You ain't seen nothing, Lonnie. You understand?"

Grandpa said, "Yes sir, I sure do."

Grandpa never told the story until after Wiley died. He was not interested in moving to Florida to pick oranges.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


We are moving. We attack a part of the house, pack it in titanic tupperware, then take it and unpack it. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

We do not know how to use the thermostat at the new house. I never had a programmable cooling system. So it's hot there in the afternoon and early evening. We are supposed to learn how to use the thermostat tomorrow and also meet with the handyman to get the old dishwasher out and put ours in.

Last night in Wal Mart I saw B. J., my creative writing teacher and member of our Gang of Three writing group. I learned that I am moving to her neighborhood. I hope she does not think that my move is an elaborate stalking plan.

I should talk about B. J. sometime, but the post would have to be solely devoted to her, because she's special. Besides having an unusual personality (from my nerdish perspective) she is one of the most giving people that I have met. I must stop writing about her, since I said I would save it.

The weather is supposed to be rainy this week, so the rest of the move may be problematic. I have four or five friends coming over Saturday morning to help us polish it off--the big furniture, freezer, televisions, etc.

But I am taking Sunday off.

Friday, June 6, 2008

What's The Matter With Kids Today?

Now and then I hear colleagues bemoan the fact that university students are not in class to learn, but to get a grade. I usually remind them that there are three main education hypotheses in economics: human capital, screening, and consumption.

It may be that employers want employees who have abilities (human capital) that they can learn at a university. So students attend universities to build this human capital. Students who believe in the human capital hypothesis want to learn, whether or not they get satisfaction out of the learning process, so they can get good jobs.

It may be that employers do not think that universities can teach the student anything that the student needs. That is, there are good employees and bad employees out there, none of which will be improved by education. But these employers may see a university diploma as proof that the student will be a good employee. The student who has jumped through four years of educational hoops has demonstrated that she will put forth effort in order to perform and does not find learning as painful as the student who did not get the diploma. So that a degree reveals a good employee, but getting the degree does not make a good employee.

Finally, students may be getting a degree because they like education. They do not care about gaining skills to get a better paying job. They do not care about the stamp of approval of a degree. They just love to learn.*

How many of our students have which of the three motivations, and to what extent?

My guess is that 90% of my students firmly believe that education is screening. Some of them also believe in human capital, too--I'd guess 60% of all students believe that they learn useful skills. And I'd say 1% of our students would be at the university if there were no employment enhancement from a university degree, either by screening or by building human capital. That is, 1% of students love to learn.

But since my colleagues were once part of that 1%, they sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that all of their students should be, as well.


*I have somewhat short-changed the consumption hypothesis. It includes the concept that a student may, separate from any love of learning, enjoy being at a university with their peers, joining sororities or fraternities, going to football games, partaking in Guitar Hero contests, etc.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


In the late 1940's families in the Southern U. S. would sit on their porches after supper. They would visit with their neighbors and the kids would all gather and play. By the mid-50's many of these community rituals had ceased and "neighborhood" lost more meaning with each passing year. What caused this change? Air conditioning.

Before air conditioning the home was much hotter in the afternoon and early evening than it was outdoors. After air conditioning the home was cooler. There were still pockets of the south which did not have air conditioning, though.

I grew up in a home built by sawmill workers for sawmill workers around the turn of the century. None of the walls were square. An air conditioner would not cool much area, so after trying one we gave up. We had an attic fan set in the ceiling that pulled air through the windows. Not the same. So we used the porch.

My wife's family also lived in a town that was not pervaded by air conditioning. She loves porches.

Before we bought a home, we would sit out on the balcony of our apartment if the apartment had a balcony. Our first home did not have a porch. But since it had a shady back yard, we bought a bench swing and would sit outside and talk when the day was cool enough.

Then I got a new job and we found an unbelievably affordable home. But this one had no back yard. Also the front yard was lousy and on a busy street. We felt like we would be exhibits if we sat out front.

The home we are moving into has a porch. The street dead ends, so traffic is light. The yard is so shaded that direct sunlight seldom shines on much of it.

We set up our swing yesterday. It was good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Light and Dark

Over my lifetime I read a few short stories here and there, but mostly stuck to novels.

I would be pleased to continue reading and writing novels, but to establish writing credentials, I think I have to publish short stories. I enjoy writing short stories, but I agree with Orson Scott Card--it takes about as much conceptual work and research to write a short story as to write a novel, and novels are so much more lucrative.

To learn more about short stories, I seek the best speculative fiction short stories and learn from them. Even among the best collections I find many stories that I consider marginal. Naturally, every story is not for every reader but, in my opinion, some bad writing sits in high places.

Chizine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words, publishes excellent dark speculative fiction short stories and poetry.

Kirt Dinan's Longtime Gone won Chizine's short story contest in 2007. I read it last week. It grabbed me and held me. It took me into another world. It was not strictly constructed on scenes, as I prefer, but it absorbed me--the best short story I have read in a long time.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Review, Really!

I have just read a story by an author who, in my view, gave me a realistic view of Jurassic Park. My favorite story in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction's July issue is The Dinosaur Train, by James L. Cambias.

There are few dinosaurs in Cambias's world. Of course Disney has some. And the teen protagonist's grandfather owns a dinosaur circus. When one of grandpa's dinosaurs gets sick, he feeds her a concoction containing some leaves and Dr Pepper, as instructed by the woman who sold him the dinosaurs decades before.

The dinosaur throws the Dr. Pepper concoction up at a performance of the circus show. At another time a scientist says that it sounds like the dinosaur has a spleen infection like he recently saw and diagnoses a common antibiotic. That is exactly how doctors work. "Hm, sounds like it's probably X. Try the usual solution."

Cambias writes about real people dealing with a mostly unknown creature. Cambias's scientists sound like real doctors, not like Crichton's supergeniuses.

Another realistic aspect of Cambias's story is the way that the dinosaur circus drew huge crowds decades ago, when dinosaurs had just been rediscovered, but now the circus is limping along amid a public that has accepted and grown bored with dinosaurs. The unjaded children are the biggest fans, along with the very old, nostalgic fans. Perfect.

Cambias's characters are real. Grandson ready to choose a career, favoring inheriting the dinosaur circus, while his father counsels education. Grandpa, who has spent decades standing up against a government that is looking for an excuse to confiscate his dinos, thinking they can do a better job (I love it!), has been hardened into unreasonable stubborness. Yes, he is the biggest dinosaur of all.

The writing is smooth. The story structure is strong.

I loved it.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I am moving across town during the next two weeks. We have a two week overlap in the lease, so we are taking a gradual approach.

Non-essentials go first. Finally we will be down to a small set of essentials like beds, computers, televisions, minimal kitchen stuff, and minimal furniture.

I have never done a move like this. We do not really have to pack lots of stuff at once for one big transport, packing it so well that it will survive the moving van hitting potholes at 70 miles per hour. We bought a few of those big plastic tubs--the stuff that's like giant blue tupperware. So it will be like this. Pack knickknacks off the mantle, cushioned with a sheet, pack cookbooks, pack the food pantry stuff that we probably won't have a crushing need for, then haul, unpack, and repeat.

Eventually, we will have to face the pain taking the freezer door off so that it will fit through the door to the house, turning the sofas up on their sides and working them out the door, balancing mattresses, etc. But, overall, I do not see a huge amount of pain right now.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


One of my idiosyncracies is that I am oversensitive about others' feelings (except when I'm not). For instance, I might not ask about your dad because he is in poor health and he may have died half a year ago and I forgot. Or maybe I forgot to ask you about Dad for half a year, so I never knew.

In any case, I don't want to barb you and make you say, "Dad's dead," just when you thought you would get through an afternoon without dwelling on it.

You may be thinking, "Nah, you don't want to ask about Dad because you'll make yourself look bad for being an insensitive clod for forgetting his death or forgetting to ask about him for six months."

Not so!

I am also reluctant to talk about my marriage unless I know the audience's marital experiences are generally good. Sometimes I forget and blab about how happy we are. By the time the person I'm blabbing to has told me that he/she had two messy divorces and has given up on marriage. I feel so bad for bringing out the contrast that I am usually crying uncontrollably. (Well, I am feeling guilty, at any rate.)

Yes, Julia and I are happy. I told you about when we met and about our first date. We have known each other for 27 years and have been married for nearly 24 years. We have three sons.

After becoming parents, couples often lose touch with each other and find, after the kids are grown, that they do not know each other and don't particularly like each other. Our oldest son is 18, so I think that if we were going to lose touch with each other we would have done it by now. Julia and I often make time to be alone, sitting in the park or driving around or letting the oldest take the other two to scouts and staying home together.

We usually keep each other amused and, after 27 years, we still have plenty to talk about.

We are usually able to work out conflicts before they arise. When we do argue, we are able to resolve things and go on without lingering resentments.

We have similar temperaments about many of the things that cause problems, such as division of household labor and use of funds.

I know all this seems practical and not romantic. But since I am an economist, that is what we are stuck with.

Julia is an art person, so in some sense we are a case of opposites attracting each other. Over the years, we have influenced one another. She is more of an economist and I am more of an artist (at least a little more).

She is very feminine in her approach and, as you can tell, I am very male. We both feel that women and men are different in their ways of thinking and are made to enjoy each other's company. I am consistently surprised by her approach to life, and she bears with me.

Now that I have broken my rule about blabbing about our great marriage, I'll go hide my head in shame for doing so.