South Carolina’s Rich Tradition

On the heels of the gentleman congress member from South Carolina’s outburst during Obama’s address on Wednesday night, Thomas Schaller-the best professor I never had at UMBC- offers a quick review of South Carolina’s proud pronounced history of, well, something:

No state boasts a tradition of shrill resistance to the Republic comparable to South Carolina’s.

Thomas Jefferson removed condemnations of slavery from the Declaration of Independence to appease South Carolinian slaveholders. State loyalists helped the British recapture the state in 1780 from the patriots. By 1828, state icon and Vice President John C. Calhoun was advocating state “nullification” of federal powers.

In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede…

It goes on.

Hardhat Area

I’m monkeying around with the site’s design and layout this afternoon, so that’s why things might look a little unfamiliar/not work right.

Getting Back To Sources

David Ogles, a self-confessed one-time “Paultard,” confesses himself startled to find the following passage in Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s book The Road To Serfdom, which-Ogle says-“essentially is to socialism what Noam Chomsky’s work is to capitalism” (for those of you who aren’t familiar with Chomsky, that translates to “highly critical”):

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance ““ where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks ““ the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong…

…Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

So, seriously people, enough with all of this “socialism” nonsense.

Tim Kreider in the NY Times

Tim Kreider, my favorite cartoonist of pretty much all time, has this to say in re: 9/11 on the New York Times Happy Days Blog:

I like to think that most people who got caught up in that bellicose hysteria experienced the attacks as a spectatorial event, as unreal, and so their reaction was also unreal – like the “payback-time” montage in an action film or the impotent revenge scenarios we play out in our heads. It wasn’t until I actually went to New York City a week after the attacks that I understood how empty and inappropriate an emotion anger was to bring to the circumstances; it was like picking fights at a wake.

He seems to have semi-retired from cartooning, but you can check out his past work here. Some of them are not safe for work.

Thought For The Day

If the final version of the health-insurance reform bill doesn’t include free Botox for illegal immigrants, death panels staffed by U.S. Postal Service employees, and the criminalization of the private practice of medicine, that will prove not only that (1) Obama still plans to take these steps but also (2) just how sneaky the man really is.

Soylent Green Is People!


Obama gave a great speech last night, but-as I’m sure was the Republican Party’s fondest hope for the kind of thing people would be discussing the next day-I note that as of about 2 p.m. (MT) the 13th most popular Google search is “joe wilson south carolina.”

I’m sure that at least some of those searching for more information about Mr. Wilson just want to get his Paypal information so they can shout him a drink, but I’m thinking that the popularity of this particular search indicates that I’m not the only one asking this question: “Who is this guy, and what led him to heckle the president during a televised, joint session of Congress?”

It certainly wasn’t tradition. While some countries’ legislatures, such as the British Parliament, enjoy a rich tradition of heckling the executive branch, Wilson’s outburst was such a breach of customary congressional decorum that Nancy Pelosi actually spat her Orbit-brand Postively Pomegranate gum out onto her podium, while witnesses described seeing Michelle Obama shaking her head and muttering “no, he didn’t” “daaammmnnn.”

The answer is quite simple, really.

Wilson is one of that small number of Americans who understand that all Obama really wants to do is suction all of the money out of law-abiding Americans’ bank accounts (Republicans first, of course) and use it to pay for mandatory abortions, free Botox and breast enhancements for illegal immigrants (as if they weren’t spicy enough already), and the execution of the elderly, whose corpses we will then stack like cord wood in the streets.

Wilson and his friends know that all of this-and worse-is true. After all, it’s right there between the lines of the health-care-reform bill that Obama hasn’t even written yet. But they can’t seem to convince the majority of Americans that, not only was Obama not really born in Hawaii, he wasn’t really born at all.

If you can, consider how all of this looks to the Joe Wilsons of the world. A vicious monster has somehow duped the majority of stupidest Americans to elect him president. Despite repeated exposure as the ruthless, conniving man that he really is, he is not only allowed to address schoolchildren-who as we can all agree should be insulated from politics and allowed to concentrate on the acquisition of knowledge, such as that the earth was created just 10,000 years ago-but the elected representatives of the people actually gather to listen to his policy proposals and applaud his turns of phrase.

It’s as if no one understood the danger of looking into the mesmerizing spirals of doom the man calls eyes.

When you look at it this way, it’s clear that-far from forcing Rep. Wilson to apologize (and hasn’t he had to do it enough?)-we should be commending the man for managing to keep the lid on as long as he did.

Finally, simply for informational purposes, I note that the 12th most popular Google search is currently for information about Wilson’s Democratic challenger, Rob Miller. Should you wish to give Miller a little money, you can do so here.

What Do You Say When It’s Over?

"Quill etc" by Flickr user Studentofrhythm, used under Creative Commons license.

Today I was jotting off an email to a client and closed, as is often my habit, with the word “Cheers.” I typed it and then I looked at it and wondered, “why the hell do I do this?”

Depending on the context, I sometimes also close with either “Best” or “All the best” or, when it makes sense, “Thanks.” Excepting the latter, I have no idea why I use any of these closings on such a regular basis.

Interestingly, I only use any of them in business-related emails. When I write to friends or family, I don’t use closings. I either just insert a dash and then my name or, in some quick exchanges, nothing after the message body at all. (And I mean nothing: I have Gmail set up to insert a signature block with my full name, phone number, and professional web site, and sometimes, when dashing off a message to a friend or relative, I’ll actually take the trouble to erase it, I suppose so that no one will think I am gloating over my glamorous station in life.)

But with business emails, I usually use one of the aforementioned closings. Why? The difference seems to be the extent to which I am trying to control how I present myself. To friends and family, I’m not trying to present myself at all-or perhaps, more accurately, I’m trying to present myself as someone who isn’t trying to present himself.

So how do I want to present myself to clients and business contacts? That’s an interesting question, one I don’t have a clear answer for. I mean, I know, but at a very elemental, kind of instinctive level. It’s not something I’ve ever tried to put into words before. Trying now, just off the cuff, I guess I’d say I’m going for some combination of cool, confident, in control, and glad but by no means desperate for business, with all of this in some way adding up to a bargain at whatever it is they’re paying me.

I can’t say when all of this resulted in the impulse to start closing emails with “Best” or “Cheers,” though. I imagine the anthropologists can or will one day be able to trace the arc of such emailing customs. I have a vague memory that, in the early days of email, we all treated messages more like letters and so probably used closings like “Sincerely” or “I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant.”

Then, as email messages began to take a more fundamental role in our day-to-day communications, their family resemblance to snail-mail faded away, feature by feature. I recently worked for a man who demanded that we type the date at the top of our work emails, but I think he’d be the first to admit that he was being self-consciously and rather proudly old fashioned. (Not to mention Scottish.)

I can’t remember when I first received an email closed with “Best” or “Cheers,” but I liked it at the time. Some charmer had gotten the idea to start gesturing at the old courtesies again, and these two closings seemed to me the perfect way to do it. They sounded at once polite and at the same time meaningless, a little out of tune, as if some moon colony started by Miss Manners were finally getting back in touch with Earth.

I was right that they sounded a little unfamiliar. Doing some research just now, I learned that the Wikipedia entry on valedictions-which is what these are, apparently-includes “Best” and “Cheers” among a list of such closings that “are used in casual email but very rarely in letters.”

At any rate, for me “Best” and “Cheers” are starting to feel played out. I’m particularly dissatisfied with “Cheers” for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Is it just that it feels a little cheekily exhortatory, like “have a nice day”? Or its tone of unseriousness? After I asked Twitter for help finding some replacements, someone commented: “when people write “cheers” I always wonder if they’re drinking right then.”

Here are some of the other suggestions I received:

“Together in pain”.

“Unified in hatred of Sutton Stokes”.

I think “peace” is making a comeback.

I’m sure this is very dated but for guys I thought it was “Later, Dude” and gals, “Chat later”.

Time to adopt TXT speak. TTYL, TTYS, GTG, BRB. You might even turn “All the best” into ATB

I sign all my emails “Boo-yah!”

I use “Best” or “Best regards” or occasionally “Warmest regards”

All quite helpful, but none of them really do it for me. Any suggestions?

What do you say when it’s over, and why?

Any Day Now

DSC 0016

Here in Missoula, summer is beginning its retreat. The breeze up on Blue Mountain during Sunday’s hike was downright frigid at times, and the last two mornings have seen temperatures in the 40s even down here in the valley. During the day, the sun warms things up into the 80s, and it will be a while yet before we have to put all summertime activities aside, but fall is on its way.

Fall has always been an exciting, energizing time of year for me. I used to think it had something to do with a conditioned response to the beginning of new school years, when, however horribly the year could be expected to turn out in general, at least there were new jeans and other opportunities for self-reinvention to look forward to.

The other day it occurred to me that the explanation might be even simpler. I was born in September, so maybe changing leaves and crisp nights were simply my first experience of the world and still excite in me a primal reaction to the waxing of this season.

If you don’t know why I’m thinking such thoughts, Amy and I are expecting our first child to be born toward the end of the month, just six days before my own birthday.

Due dates are predicted based on averages, of course, and it’s already been two weeks since the doctor allowed as how he’d better brief us a little more thoroughly on the signs that would indicate Amy had gone into labor and should soon see the inside of one of Community Medical Center’s labor and delivery rooms.

“Any day now,” in other words, as various friends and acquaintances have been pointing out relentlessly. Vanetta, who runs the department office where Amy works, says she’ll be watching the clock extra carefully around the time Amy usually gets in every morning, with lateness having a whole new potential implication. Last Saturday, I called my parents around 8:30 p.m. their time, assuming that-if they were watching a movie or something-they’d just let the call go to voice mail. It didn’t occur to me until the phone was actually ringing how they might interpret a call at such an unusual hour.

Any day now.

I know Amy is ready. Although she is not having any acute problems, it seems to be difficult for her to get comfortable, whether standing, sitting, or sleeping. “I can’t wait to be normal again,” she said the other day.

For me, of course, things are normal right now, other than the ever-increasing space limitations in our bed and the slower pace I have to remember to take when Amy and I are walking together. (Not to mention the crib and changing table that now occupy half of the room I used to call my office.)

So I’ll go ahead and admit that I think I can stand to wait right up until the scheduled due date, and maybe even a little beyond.

For one thing, I’m trying to knock out a couple of freelance projects first, to pad the bank account enough that I won’t have to work very much in the aftermath of the Blessed Event.

But mainly, Sept. 22 is when everything changes. Amy’s discomfort aside, I know enough to suspect that I should enjoy these last few days of-for me-normalcy. Though I understand abstractly a great deal of what’s about to happen-apparently, for example, there is no grace period and the baby will start to need its diapers changed right away-I cannot claim to have the slightest true grasp of what’s about to happen.

All of this potential energy seems to be gathering off stage. Waiting for it, I have the distinct sensation of standing somewhere, blindfolded, listening to something large rushing toward me from somewhere off in the distance and beginning to suspect that these might be railroad ties that I feel under my feet.

I’ll take a few more days of normal if I can.

Only In Montana: Bear Education Edition


About a week ago, I opened my morning paper to the opinion page and found an editorial arguing for increased education funds.

Nothing unusual about that. Times are tough all over, and residents of every state in this nation are used to hearing calls for more money for education. What was unusual is the class of students the editorial writer had in mind:

[A] fully funded bear education program would make a wonderful gift to mark Glacier National Park’s centennial next year.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

The editorial was written in response to a controversial decision by Glacier National Park officials to kill a mother grizzly who had become too friendly toward human users of the park. Although she had never attacked anyone, she was known to approach and “greet” hikers and campers, and officials were worried about both the potential immediate dangers of these interactions as well as the lessons that were being imparted to her two cubs.

In August, government agents tracked the bear down and shot her. They tried to tranquilize the two cubs for transport to a zoo, but, in the process, accidentally killed one of them, too.

This is a sad story, but what’s interesting to me is all the talk about one possible way that these deaths could have been prevented: bear education, or hazing intended to impress upon bears just how dangerous it is to hang around near humans.

Apparently, this approach had been tried with this very bear a few years back. As an earlier article about the problematic bear explained:

[I]n 2005, park rangers enlisted the help of Carrie Hunt and her Wind River Bear Institute. Think horse-whisperer for grizzly bears.

Hunt’s job is to teach bears and people how to live and let live, and her work with the Old Man Lake female was nothing short of precedent setting….

Hunt… [used] specially trained dogs to not simply instill fear in the bear, but to teach bears what was allowed and what was not…. they worked grizzlies the way cow dogs work cattle. This, she said, is sophisticated bear behavior modification, teaching bears how to make good – and lifesaving – choices.

Hunt “worked” this bear for 10 days that year and another 10 days in 2006, and her approach seemed to work: there was no sign of the problem bear for the next two years. Hunt felt the bear would need some “booster work,” but then the bear lost its radio collar, the park didn’t budget the funds, and the followup visit never happened-to the detriment not only of the bear, but anyone who values these animals as one of the last remnants of the great wilderness that this area-this country-once was.

If you do value these animals, it might interest you to know that times are pretty tough for them, too. The 600 grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone region (which includes this part of Montana) were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but they’ve since been dying at a rate high enough to be on the verge of triggering federal reconsideration of their delisting. The death toll among this population is up to 17 this year, including the illegal slaying of one of the biggest known bears in Montana, a giant that stood more than seven and a half feet tall. Human-caused deaths-self defense, traffic accidents, illegal hunting-are partly to blame, but so is climate change, which is killing off some of these animals’ staple foods.

Clearly, then, bear education isn’t the only answer, but it might help reduce the overall rate at which we humans feel forced to kill these animals. Before signing on completely in support of an ongoing bear-education program, I’d need to know how much it would cost, and what else that money might otherwise get spent on (other than press releases defending the decision to kill a bear). But in the abstract, I’m all for it: increased funding for bear education!

Trail Report: Blue Mountain Lookout

Determined to keep active in these last weeks of her pregnancy, Amy wanted to get in a Labor Day hike. We had failed in our second attempt on Bear Creek Overlook a few weeks back, so we wanted something even easier.

Consulting our venerable (seriously: published in 2001) Day Hikes Around Missoula, Montana, we chose Hike 25: Blue Mountain Saddle to Blue Mountain Lookout in the Blue Mountain Recreation Area.

The main problem for Amy right now is steepness, partly because-with about 50 percent more blood volume than usual(!)-it’s easy for her to lose her breath. Then there is simply the mechanical difficulty of lifting her legs high with all that belly in the way.

The description of Hike 25 indicated there would be a brief section of steep climbing, but then we’d be on gentler switchbacks the rest of the way to the working fire-lookout tower at the top. We stopped by Safeway for sandwiches and we were on our way.

After the 10-mile drive in on a rutted Forest Service road (Toyota should make a commercial about our Corolla), we parked on the pullout described in our book and set out. As described, the first section of the trail straddled a rolling ridge and was easy enough. Then came the steep section, a poorly-thought-out route that simply carves straight up the face of the mountain.

We were looking for a right-hand fork at 0.7 miles to take us to the switchbacks and thought we had found it when we saw a little sign for trail 3.01. This new trail cut to the right straight across the mountainside and so was much flatter than the route we’d been following, but after about 10 minutes we saw no signs of any switchbacks and decided we must have made a wrong turn. (If the route’s official turnoff was really 0.7 miles from the trailhead, I’d say this turnoff was at about 0.5.)

We walked back to the main trail and returned to clambering up the steep trail, at one point having to make a wide detour around some big downed trees. The whole time, we were treated to the droning roar of some ATVers powering up and down the mountain somewhere nearby, which was unpleasant but at least minimized the bear risk.

The trail was extremely overgrown narrow and after a while we began to wonder if we were still on the right branch. We picked out a dead pine about 50 yards above us and decided we’d turn back if we couldn’t see anything promising from there. But a little past the pine we found a right-hand fork that quickly matched the description of the switchbacks we’d been looking for.

This part of the trail was no better maintained than the lower section. Along one 30-yard stretch, branches from plants on either side of the trail had grown completely across to meet in the middle. It had rained recently, so the branches were wet, and pushing through them was cool and refreshing.

Because of the poor visibility in all of that brush, it seemed (to this admitted ignoramus on the subject) like the kind of place where one might surprise a bear, so I unholstered my pepper spray and held it in my hand as I moved into the lead.

After a few more switchbacks, we found ourselves at Blue Mountain Observatory, a green, cinder-block building with about the same size footprint as my garage and a smooth metal dome on top, all locked up today tight as a drum. About a tenth of a mile distant stood the lookout tower.

We made our way over. According to the book, the lookout is about 50 feet tall. A smiling, white-haired man with a beard came out on the walkway to greet us. He didn’t invite us up, but he certainly seemed friendly enough and probably would have been amenable if we’d expressed interest.

The problem, of course, is that in situations like this what looks like a nice old man from the bottom of the tower often turns out-once you climb to the top-to be a serial killer wearing the Forest Service employee’s skin. Plus, as Amy observed, the tower looked kind of rickety, so we decided to just circumnavigate it and then rejoin the trail that had brought us up. As we looped back around the tower, the man called down.

“You came up the hard way,” he said.

He directed us to what he described as an easier trail. We sought it out and found that it was the other end of what we had earlier decided was a wrong turn, trail 3.01. Sure enough, this was a much easier route back, taking us on a long, single switchback before doubling back toward the original trail. This mostly level route took us through gloomy firs and across an avalanche chute right in the thick of the forest, a spooky vista of dozens of huge, jagged snapped-off trees above and below the trail, all pointed downhill.

I think this alternate trail probably added to the 2.2 miles of our book’s described route, but the ease of the return route made up for any increased distance. With frequent stops for breathers and water, Amy did just fine, and we were back to the car no more than two hours after we’d set out. We were both glad to have finally completed a hike for a change.