Friday, December 26, 2008


I have long maintained that if God had wanted us to celebrate Christmas on December 25, he would not have made Fall Semester grades due in December. Oh, of course that's not my only problem. There's also every level of public education deciding it would be nice to have a holiday-time concert extravaganza, in which my children participate extravagantly. Throw in a few church functions, and you've got an effective barricade to our family having a timely and joyous Christmas.

I will admit that all this seems to affect my family more than others. But the fact remains: here it is, the day after Christmas, and we have about 1/3 of our Christmas lights up, half of our tree decorations up, NO goody plates distributed to neighbors and friends, and an unacceptably small amount of wrapping paper left over from yesterday's festivities, all because we just didn't have time. Or energy. Or perhaps money, but that's beside the point.

So as a family we decided, as we often do with birthdays, to postpone the real party to a later date, in this case, January 24. Our problem has been what to call the celebration. We could just borrow a holiday, of course, but the problem with all the existing holidays is that they occur mostly in December, which doesn't really address our issue at all. Kwanzaa, for example, is held from December 26 through January 1 (although it does have the strong support of the Boy Child mainly because he wants to wear a cool hat).

And of course, we are about as African American as Thor Heyerdahl.

In the tradition of made-up holidays, there is also Festivus. It is more philosophically aligned with what we are tying to accomplish, having been created by a single family for their own purposes (though popularized by one of their sons, who wrote for Seinfeld). It also has the advantage of requiring only a single aluminum pole for decoration:

A commercially available Festivus Pole kit. Really.

But alas, it too is celebrated in December, in fact, usually on December 23, so we've already missed it. Admittedly, the traditional Airing of Grievances may have livened things up a bit.

Hanukkah runs from December 21 - 29 this year. Also I really like bacon. Also the note above about Thor Heyerdahl applies here too.

Which brings us to Decemberween. It does have the right feel to it, what with Brundo the Decemberween Yak and the Sword of St. Olaf. At least St. Olaf sounds Scandinavian. But once again, we are thwarted by the fact that clearly, Decemberween is celebrated 55 days after Halloween, placing it on December 25 (although, apparently, it can be celebrated in July, time permitting ("Decemberween, Decemberween, you're 7 months after you should've been...").

(L to R: Strong Bad as Archibald, Bubs as Dr. Christmas, Marzipan as The Angel, and Homestar Runner as The King of Town)

So that's the problem. Nothing really captures the spirit of our family celebration and occurs naturally in January. And before you leave this blog and run off to Google, let me just say I've tried that already. January 24 is Beer Can Appreciation Day. No good.

So we need some help. I need my faithful readers (both of you) to help us name our holiday. Procrastivus? Winterween? Januarymas? Also, an idea for some official decorations might help, so we can take our Christmas tree down.

The lucky reader whose idea we end up using will be promised a place at our table for the traditional X-Festikwanzaaweenikah dinner of . . . I don't really know. Spaghettios? But don't let that stop you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'll Probably Get in Trouble for This, But. . .

Something snapped today. I heard it once too often. You know, the little quote by Karl G. Maeser:

I have been asked what I mean by word of honor. I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape, but stand me on that floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first!

I'm sorry, but I just have think that if Brother Maeser is stupid enough to make such a promise, he probably deserves what he gets.


I'll probably burn for that one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It Is (Was) Thanksgiving, After All

So here's my list of some things I'm really thankful for:

1. The Divine Ms B, who puts up with my failings as a husband and a human, and who really doesn't think jewelry, cruises, trips to Europe, vacation homes, designer -- well, designer anything, or any of the other manias that have seized the upper middle class, are necessary for a full and happy life.

2. Good kids on whom I have spent money for tuition and books and orthodontia and various trips, but never any money for bail, legal council, or rehab.

3. Still having some friends that I've known since as far back as fourth grade, with whom I therefore share experiences that would assure our mutual destruction should they ever become public knowledge. And being able to spend a day with them a few times a year.

4. Having other friends that, despite miles and years, are just as wonderful as they ever were. Just a little balder, maybe.

5. Having a job I enjoy going to most days, and working with people that I really like to be with.

6. Modern medicine. Say what you will, it's much better than the alternative. And it's probably saved my life more than once.

7. Indian food.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Cat is Out of the (Gucci) Bag!

Well, what must be one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of the world is now floating about in cyberspace, thanks to the Mommy Muse. In a recent post she suggested that my sense of fashion isn't quite what it could be. But before I get to the main subject of this entry, I do have to take exception with one of her points: she offered as conclusive proof of my bad fashion sense the fact that I wore red sweat pants in public. Now I am clearly guilty of that, but as it unequivocally states in Section 7-XXXVII- of the International Fashion Code Scoring Book:

Any article of clothing, no matter how egregiously unfashionable or how obviously in bad taste, does not count against the FS [fashion sense] of the wearer if there is a professional or college team logo on it, and said person can reasonably be said to be a fan of or is otherwise affiliated, however loosely, with said team.
As anyone who saw me could attest, those red sweatpants were Wisconsin red sweat pants, and so are really irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Go Badgers!

(By the way, just for the record, the same section quoted above also allows for the following items:

There is also a Cheese bra available for sale , but I'm not out to start World War III here, just make a little point about team apparel.)

Anyway, back to the real issue, which is, basically, "Duh!" Let's look at the pure, unvarnished facts:
  1. I was once asked by my date to change my clothes before we went out in public together.
  2. During a college practicum experience when I visited and helped teach a high school math class, students made fun of my clothes. They sent me notes about it. I thought those blue and red plaid pants were the snappiest thing I could find at DI.
  3. My wife destroyed most of my wardrobe when we got married.
  4. My own web page contains the following audio clip which plays when you click on my handsome face: Audio.
  5. At a professional meeting a few years ago, I explained to one of my friends from graduate school that I had reached an age when comfort was more important to me than fashion. He replied, "Steve, I can never imagine a time when comfort wasn't more important to you than fashion." Thanks, Randy.
  6. I wear socks with sandals. Often, I wear black dress socks with sandals. I have worn that particular combination to Church. My reasons are simple and unassailable: 1) feet are ugly (at least mine are), and 2) sandals are comfortable. And to all of you members of the Fashion Police whose knickers are knotting up as you read this, let me make these two cogent arguments: 1) get a freakin' life, and 2) bite me.
  7. I am absolutely and fully in favor of all university teachers wearing their academic robes to teach in. It would, for me, cover a multitude of sins, including partially un-tucked shirts. If they were long enough, they would cover my socks-and-sandals.
  8. My adopted Pirate name for International Talk Like a Pirate Day is "Cap'n Scruffy."
  9. My fashion hero is Professor Peter Schickele, of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, shown here standing next to Lyric Tenor Vale Rideout, a normal human being with fashion sense. I often really look like this. Honest.

As you can now deduce for yourself, it is clear to me and to everyone who knows me that I feel about fashion like pigs feel about breath mints: blissfully ignorant.

See, "fashion" deals with questions like, "Which of these two ties should I wear with my new charcoal sports jacket?"

My problem is more likely to be in the area of choosing, "Which of these ties should I wear to my daughter's wedding?"

So there you have it. My being accused of having bad fashion sense is like being a Democrat in Utah County: I'm already numb from abuse, and one more jab just doesn't make that much difference.

The "Queen" part hurt a little, though.

The Family Rule

Everyone knows that families have to have rules. If there isn't order and clear limits, the experts tell us, children grow up feeling insecure and become cross-dressing Democrats or worse, Yankee Fans. But despite our best efforts, reading numerous books and taking the occasional parenting class, the Divine Ms B and I have never really achieved much in the "house of order" department. Dinner time is often a matter of personal choice. Bedtime? Flexible in the extreme. And despite the fact that (I swear!) each of our children has their own, designated bed complete with sheets, blankets, and pillows, the late evening will often find my children wandering about the house, dragging a blanket, looking for a couch, recliner, floor, or someone else's unused bed, to sleep in. It seems that no matter what we do, we remain largely Bohemian, with a bag of chips.

So it is with some pride that I announce today solid empirical evidence that at least one rule has been established in our family. I have verified its existence on several occasions, and I feel safe in announcing to the world proof of the fact that our house is not ruled by utter chaos.

Figure 1 below shows the amount of milk that needs to be left in the bottom of the milk jug so that the person leaving said milk is not obligated to go out to the other 'fridge and bring in a new gallon of milk.

So, there you have it. Social order and reason prevail, and democracy is safe. Watch out, Pike Family! Our star is rising!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trouble Brewing in the Garage

I have been a homeowner (and a car owner) long enough to recognize an epic battle when it is brewing. I have had a few. For example, we owned a '90 Plymouth Voyager whose engine would shut off while we were driving down the road. Then it wouldn't start again for anything between one and six hours. About half the time this shutting down was preceded by the engine overheating. Of course, it would shut off without overheating sometimes, and it would overheat without shutting off sometimes. We came to dread going through the mountains because it might overheat and if so it might shut down. Or it might make it over Mount Timpanogos only to die on the way to the store later that night. Yes, we took it to several mechanics. But somehow we could never seem to get it to a mechanic while it was still misbehaving. So over the course of 5 years or so we just replaced everything. Never did fix the problem. Eventually it died for good. Now, two cars later, my eye still twitches when I start driving uphill. And the Divine Ms. B still turns the AC off and the heater on, even in the middle of August, just to keep the engine cool

Of course, the maddening thing was the seemingly random nature of it. No one ever figured out why, or when, or how, or if, the stupid thing was going to shut down.

Now the garage light is starting.

We've lived for a long time with a balky shop light in the garage. It acted up when the weather got cold, because of course the framastat or the freemulator or whatever it is that gets the gases in the long florescent bulbs excited enough to start glowing wouldn't work if the temperature was too low. But then I finally broke down and bought a new shop light rated for cold weather, and hung it up. Now, the shop light has to plug in to a grounded three-prong power outlet, and of course the light switch controls a regular old single-bulb light socket. So we had used one of those screw-in adapters, screwed into another of those screw-in adapters, and a three-prong to two-prong adapter.

Voila! There was light!

Until there wasn't.

Of course, I took things apart and frowned at them, and reassembled them and tried it again. And there was light. Until there wasn't. So I took out the most suspicious looking adapter, since I only really needed one, and tried it again. And there was light. Until there wasn't. I eventually replaced all the parts with other parts we found in my toolbox. Each time it worked, for a while. So I frowned and tightened and wiggled things with reckless abandon. And, after various combinations of new and old adapters, we have finally arrived at the state where sometimes the light works, and sometimes it doesn't. I scratched my head and told the Divine Ms. B, "That'd be an electrical problem. Yup." And there we stand, until I make a trip to Lowe's and buy another adapter, one that hasn't had a chance to catch a bad attitude from the other spare hardware in my toolbox.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Results of the Procedure

Well, my friends were right. The preparation was by far the worst part. In fact, the part where they put the sleepy juice into my IV was really rather pleasant, at least the six seconds of it that I remember. And afterward, I got crushed ice in a Styrofoam cup. Beat that!

But the best part is, despite what many of you might think, there was NO STICK!

And I've got the picture to prove it:

So there.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

An Attack of Modern Medicine

Tomorrow I begin preparations for a medical procedure. I am having this procedure on Monday morning, but preparations begin tomorrow. I am having this procedure for two reasons. The first is, my wife's friend's husband had some health problems, and so I had to go get a physical. (You married men will understand this.) The second is, when you get a physical and you are past the age of 50, your punishment is to go get this procedure. Even if your doctor himself admits, in front of your wife, that he has sort of been putting it off himself -- that's how much fun it is, this procedure -- you still have to go get it because apparently That's The Rules.

So anyway, preparations begin with nothing but clear liquids tomorrow, and then a couple of pills about noon, then drinking a lot of something that as near as I can tell turns into Scrubbing Bubbles. And from what I'm told, it tastes like it, too.

Friends and relations who have had this procedure already assure me that the day of preparation for it is by far the worst part. Considering the procedure itself bares a striking resemblance to what happens when people are abducted by aliens (probes, sharp things, etc.), that is really saying something. You can imagine what a comfort that has been to me.

So no matter how bad your Sunday is, you will still be having a better day than me. And a better morning Monday, too, although it may take hypnosis for me to really remember that part.

From Utah Valley Digestive Health Center, or Area 51?
You decide!

Friday, October 24, 2008

If a Tree Falls in a Barber Shop . . .

I realized yesterday that there are some questions I don't know the answer to. Oh, I'm not talking about the classic toughies like "What is truth?" and "If a tree falls in the forest. . . ." I mean questions I should know how to answer, in the not-exactly-rocket-science category. I encountered one such question yesterday, when the young lady swung my chair around to face the mirror and asked, "How would you like your hair done?"

You might as well ask a pig, "Do you think the paella needs a pinch more saffron?" Except the pig would have an unfair advantage in that he got the Yes/No question and I got Short Answer. If the pig just nodded his head, he would look more intelligent than I did, staring stupidly into the mirror, my mind searching in vain for an answer. A paradigmatic deer in the headlights moment for Steve.

The honest answer, of course, is "well, I want it to look kind of like it does now, only shorter.' But saying that, I fear, would insult the skill and intelligence of the young lady. She wants to hear something like "layer the left side, and I'd like filigree on the right side, and shave 'J-Lo' into the back, and can you weave some beads across the bald spot?" Now that's an order worthy of those two years of beauty school.

As it was, all I could come up with was, "well, make it shorter." She looked into the eyes of my reflection in the mirror, saw panic, and resorted to the "ask some questions" technique (Lesson 17, "Dealing with the Hopelessly Clueless Client"). "How much shorter?" She had me there. "About an inch?" she asked helpfully/hopefully. "Yeah, " I said, trying to portray the image of a devil-may-care man of the world, who had been places and seen things and could tell you that when the rhino is charging and you have to make the shot, nobody cares if your hair is three-quarters of an inch shorter or an inch and a half, and so an inch would be fine, because I had better things to do, like go home and clean my elephant gun.

The rest of our business was transacted pretty much in silence, until she asked, "Does that look short enough?" The truth was, it looked like it always looked after a haircut, which was blurry, because my glasses were in my pocket. "Looks great!" I said. "Do you want some product in it?" "Nah," I said, trying once again to project the idea that it isn't product in your hair that will save you in the jungle. She released me, I threw a $20 at her and bolted for the door.

People have complemented me on my haircut. I thank them graciously, and give them a smile that says, "It's all in letting the stylist know what you want. You've just got to be firm."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

At Last! Corporate America Understands Me!

Warning to Church Ladies and Utah Republicans:
This blog contains pictures of partially nekkid women. You might try instead.

I’m used to dealing with junk mail and “$-$-$-$AVE BIG!” offers. You know the type: “This coupon good for $300 off a New Lexus!” (Just what I was waiting for. I had the other $79,700 sitting in the bank, biding my time.) Living as I do with wives and daughters I’m also used to various free samples of pantyhose and aloe-intensive razors. I get a LOT of pink junk mail. I could wallpaper the house with JoAnn Fabric flyers. You get the idea.

So I wasn’t particularly thrown off my game when I saw the following piece of pink junk mail last week:

My major concern was finding out what kind of cosmetic or perfume was going to find its way into the bathroom menagerie as a result. So I opened it to find out. Attached was this little card.

Ah. Victoria's Secret. OK. I could live with that. What kind of damage could be done with $10 in Victoria's Secret? Like $300 off on a Lexus. So I announced to the assembled females, "Anybody want $10 off on some underwear?" Yeah, my wife agreed that someone could use that, and I shouldn't throw it away.

I examined the fine print more closely. "...any purchase during the month of your birthday." That would mean we'd have to wait until (straining the small part of my male brain that remembers birthday months) . . . uh, June (got that one easy, you got to remember the wife's birthday, after all) or April or July or August. Hmmm. I started to wonder how long it was good for. I looked on the back of the card for the finer fine print.

CARD VALID OCTOBER 1-31, 2008 it said on the back. Now THAT posed a conundrum. Why would they send out a card to a household of women that (with probability 0.70606674... -- no, really!) would not have a birthday in October? Sheesh. What morons.

So I cast my mind about to determine whether I knew a woman with an October birthday. As I was reeling my mind back in I started to shuffle through the other mail. An uncomfortable little feeling started to stretch in the back of my mind. Then it did some hopping about in place, then a few jumping jacks, a push-up or two, and then ran really fast up to the front of my mind.

MY birthday is in October. I slowly turned over the pink mailer. There it was:

It was me. I got to go spend $10 at Victoria's Secret. Me.

Well, that put a new perspective on the question, "What kind of damage could be done with $10 in Victoria's Secret?" I started to think about it. My wife gave me a funny look. I don't think she liked the gleam in my eye.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Red vs Blue

Utah and especially Utah County is a place that takes Red vs Blue very seriously. First, and perhaps most important, Red vs Blue symbolizes the rivalry between the University of Utah (Red) and Brigham Young University (Blue). I went to BYU, I work for BYU, I used to visit BYU as a child and play with the vending machines. It's not surprising that I have arrived at a fairly Blue state of being. (I have a niece and nephew who are Red, but seem otherwise normal.)

I am also Dodger Blue, as in the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the Red counterpart, you can pick Cincinnati or the Cardinals, I guess, but any true Dodger fan knows that the real issue, the one that really matters, is Blue vs Pinstripe (or perhaps Blue vs Orange--you know who you are, and no, we still haven't forgiven you). This is because the New York Yankees are (and I say this with complete objectivity) Evil Incarnate. (I have a son-in-law who is a Yankee fan but seems otherwise fairly normal.)

For me, the interesting question is Why? Why do I still get a small thrill when the Minnesota Vikings win? (Yes, they are Purple, but work with me here. I'll be back to Red and Blue in a minute.) My association with the great state of Minnesota consists of 1) a total of maybe 30 hours spent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport waiting for connecting flights over the past 15 years, 2) driving across it in a rental truck and staying one night in a motel, and 3) listening to Garrison Keillor. But I still think the Vikings are cool, and have a better defense than most teams and are much, much better than the Dallas Cowboys, who are evil and smelly and a bunch of convicts anyway. I have absolutely no evidence for any of that, and I don’t even care enough to look up the facts and make a case. Why, then, do I believe it?

Well, because in junior high, my friend was a Viking fan. He was a Viking fan because he went to visit his cousins, who live in Minnesota, for a couple of weeks once. That's it. Because of that two week visit, I had to suffer the agony of watching the Vikings lose to the Cowboys on a last second Hail Mary from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson in the NFC playoffs in 1975. I remember going on a long lonely walk in the cold and snow after the game. Not that that has anything to do with my feelings about the Cowboys, of course.

I am a Dodger fan probably because my brother is a Dodger fan, and he is a Dodger fan because our older sister is. She followed the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio in the 40's and 50's. He followed them from Los Angeles in the 60's, and I followed them in the 70's. I hate the San Francisco Giants because of the New York Giants and the 1951 Pennant game. I wasn't even alive then; I caught it from my siblings.

This is irrational under any possible definition of the word. Of course, I'm as good as anyone else at coming up with excellent reasons why my particular team is the best. If they don't play better, they have more heart. Or more class. Or at least they aren't dirty players. Or unlike others, they play for love of the game instead of money. Or they have more tradition. Or God loves them more. Or something. But all of it-- and here is my point -- all of it is justifying the choice I made after I made it.

Now, back to Red vs Blue, which has also come to symbolize the political spectrum, at least in the last couple of elections. Utah and especially Utah County takes this particular Red vs Blue very seriously as well. True, Utah County ranked only 27th on the list of the 100 most Republican counties in the 2000 presidential election, which I'm sure is a source of embarrassment to Utah County conservatives. But political opinions are pretty deeply held here, and they are definitely heavily slanted toward the Red side.

More and more, I am thinking that the foundations of all these Red vs Blue battles are pretty much grounded in the same kind of logic, that is, essentially none. I know we all like to think we stand on principles, and that while the other guys are knee-jerk-whatevers, we really see things clearly. But I’m not so sure. I think I may have been a Republican most of my life for the same reason I’ve been a Dodger fan and a Viking fan: my family and my friends.

In 1980, a social psychologist named Robert Zajonc (ZY-awns) published a paper called “Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences.” He talked about his experiments that showed people don’t need to process things cognitively at all before making an affective (emotional) decision about them. In other words, we often judge what we like and don't like before we think about it at all. So I’m suggesting that maybe we decide about baseball teams, and political parties, based on what feels good (being part of the family, agreeing with friends, sensing which group is more fun to hang out with) and only then begin to justify the choice with our reason. And of course, over time, it becomes a habit to react positively to Red, and negatively to Blue, and to justify it more loudly and with more conviction.

Of course, we can and do change our opinions after studying things out, and we probably should do that a lot more than we do. But it only happens if we are willing to take seriously the possibility that just maybe, the other guys don’t suck as much as we thought.

So in that spirit, here’s to you, Yankee fans, Cowboy fans, and accursed Utes: Just for today, I’m gonna pretend you’re as smart as I am and maybe, just maybe, you have a valid point to make.

Monday morning, you’ll probably suck just as much as usual.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Olive Branch

I need to hurry and apologize to all the Stephanie Meyer fans out there, because I really can't fight on two fronts and I'm planning to aggravate a lot more people in my next post. So, using the time-honored methods employed by a man when he knows he's defeated (especially by women), let me just say:

I'm sorry. I now recognize that Stephanie Meyer deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature, and Peace, and probably Medicine and Economics as well. I see nothing but genius in the literary device of having a teen-aged girl fall in love with a vampire, and I fully recognize that there is only nobility in the feelings women might have for Edward. I personally have witnessed readers of her books cured of leprosy. Go buy the books. Buy several, one for each room of the house.

As for me, I'm going to put reading Eclipse right on my list of things to do. After I lose weight and get in shape and get the family finances under control once and for all and read the Old Testament and clean out the garage and refinish all the furniture and run a marathon and schedule a colonoscopy and learn to play jazz harmonica, you won't be able to keep me away from it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Response to SMUTS

It will not have gone unnoticed among loyal readers of my blog (both of them, if you count my wife) that my recent ruminations about women and vampires injured the tender sensibilities of a group of women (all three of them, if you count two of my daughters). A recent blog entry, available at:

was posted in response, and made several cogent observations:

  1. I am a big fat idiot.
  2. I obviously haven't read the book(s)
  3. I should read the book(s).
  4. Far from being an old-fashioned "evil" vampire, Edward is a new breed of vampire, who is willing to fight for what's right, and who apparently is the moral center of the whole book series; he could probably give Obama a run for his money if he made a bid for president. (Note: He wouldn't run for president, of course. No, he would prefer to be free of political obligations in order to save the life of young women who wouldn't need their lives saved in the first place if he hadn't impregnated them. But I digress.)
  5. I sure am a big fat idiot.
  6. I'm probably compensating for something.
  7. Wow, am I a big fat idiot, or what?!?

I want to offer some responses to these observations.

First, about not reading the book(s): Ms. Mommy-Very-A-Musing suggested I had no right to critique the books unless I had read them. I could trot out a classic if somewhat cliched argument here, of course:
I also have not smeared Vaseline on my tonsils, or spent time in a South American prison. However, even without first-hand experiences in these two matters, I feel relatively safe in proclaiming that I would not enjoy them, and further, in venturing a guess as to how others might react to them as well.
Now I happen to believe this is a pretty good (even if cliched) argument, but I will leave it alone for now, because somehow it sounds too much like "If all your friends jumped of a bridge, would you do it too?"

In fact, I have not read the books. But in my defense I want to point out that, among the arguments given against my blog was the claim that women don't love Edward because he's a "bad boy," as I implied; they love him because he's gorgeous. Well. That certainly gives me motivation to read the books. Throw in Fabio and a few bodice-rippings and I'm there, I tell you what.

Also, I see now that I way over-analyzed the matter. I thought that instead of mere physical attraction there was a deeper, perhaps socioculturally-based reason for women falling in love with an overgrown mosquito. But no. It all comes down to physical attraction (or, as the Vampire Defense League would have it, being "hot"). Sorry. I'll try to keep it more shallow next time. I am gratified, at least, that there was an open admission of the importance of hotness in this case, rather than the usual cover-ups about "personality" and "sense of humor" and "no really, I think bald men are sexy."

It was also suggested by Ms. SMUTS that Edward was not an evil blood-sucking tick in human form but was in fact a very moral character, practically a Saint. This was offered in the spirit of genuine literary analysis, which I can certainly respect. The problem I have with it is that the teen-age girls who read this stuff do not sit around at night and discuss the Twilight series based on its literary merits: "Well, of course, Bella represents the primal subconsciousness's rebellion against the hegemony of the Every Woman. . ." etc. etc. as English teachers are wont to do. No, it is much more like something out of Tiger Beat: "OMG, OMG, he's so cute!" or "I have E.C.D. -- Edward Cullen Disorder! (followed by several squeals from friends). " So if you were to put questions about the characters in the books to the average 14 year old girl, it would go something like this:

Question: Who was the absolutely hottest character ever?
Answer: Duh! Edward!
Question: Who is the luckiest girl in the world despite the fact that giving birth was much more like something out of Alien than otherwise?
Answer: Bella. Duh, again!
Question: Who was the character best representing morality and a sense of duty?
Answer: Huh?

So, to sum up: No, I haven't read the books. But I don't think literary analysis is the critical issue here. Rather, the critical issue is the juxtaposition of 1) the single most important fact that all the women who read these books seem to agree about, which is that they are just all tingly for Edward, and 2) a fact that I think anyone would have to agree with, whether they've read the books or not, which is that Edward is a freakin' vampire.

Next, I would like to address the not-so-subtle implication that I am a big fat idiot, or as Ms. EDWARDLUV would have it, a "Nintendo-playing couch potato" (after extensive literary analysis involving the search function on my Web browser, I was able to conclude that she used that exact phrase three times). Of course I can quickly dispense with this by arguing that it has no material merit: 1) Neither I nor anyone in my household has ever owned a Nintendo, 2) there are no video game consoles of any brand in my house now, and 3) I couldn't possibly be a couch potato because the couch is always already covered with between 2 and 5 cats, and I never get to sit there, let alone vegetate on it.

Now it could be that some would claim that they have seen me in my house, reclining in my La-Z-Boy with my eyes closed and making noises that could be misinterpreted as snoring (if no one can really claim that, then forget I said anything, and skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, read on). But I would assert that such people cannot distinguish between my snoring while asleep and my repeating the nasal manta of a little known type of deep meditation which I use to relieve the stresses of working so hard, especially around the house. This is a technique I learned under an oath of secrecy and unfortunately I cannot divulge even the name of the technique, especially since then you would try to look it up on Wikipedia. So you see that this accusation is wholly without merit and is simply an attempt to cloud the issue with personal attacks. Besides, you can't believe everything my wife tells you. So there you are; you see the couch-potato accusations are totally fallacious. And taking care of that only leaves one last issue.

There seemed to be a subtle implication that somehow I'm only mad about this because I'm not as hot as Edward is portrayed to be, and perhaps I have a history of being spurned by members of the fairer gender. On this point I realize I may not succeed in convincing the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vampire. But I will say this: although it is true that I didn't have a date to my own junior prom, it is also true that I pretty much hit the pinnacle of coolness as a senior in high school and my white '63 Impala and I did all right for a few years. But I have no proof for my coolness other than pictures in my high school yearbook, and I'm not about to publish any of those in public. So you'll just have to take my word for it: my picture with the rest of the debate team shows me with a very sexy sneer on my face.

So that's it; the arguments go down 1 - 2 - 3. I think there is only one thing left to say, and that is: How many vampires does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to screw it in, and the other to stand around and look hot, apparently.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

He's a Freakin' Vampire, You Idiot!

Someone has to take a stand here, and I'm willing to do it. With this blog I formally announce the founding of the Guys Against Vampires, Elves, and Leprechauns (GAVEL). OK, I really don't have anything against Leprechauns (unless and until Stephanie Meyer announces the publication of "Irish Spring," the first book in her new series, in which I assume the heroine, Brunhilde, will be torn between her love of Brian, the Leprechaun, and the love that Brian's arch-rival, George the Griffin, has for her). I just needed the L because GAVEL sounds better than GAVE.

Why Elves? One word: Legolas. Hmmm. Maybe I should've used that L and avoided the whole Leprechaun thing.

Anyway, you guys know what I'm talking about here. It is no secret that a lot of women are attracted to "bad boys." Of course, they won't admit that.  They ask, "Where have all the nice guys gone?" while they are busy staring at the Sopranos on TV. They say what they really want is a sense of humor, but they spend a lot more time watching Johnny Depp than they do Drew Carey. They say they want someone kind and thoughtful and caring, just before they leave with Killer to go watch the cage fights. (Ladies:  before you dismiss me here, ask yourselves:  Who do I really like to watch: Dr. Gregory House, or Dr. James Wilson?  Case closed.)

Sure, most of us guys have learned to deal with that. Dealing with it usually involves playing Nintendo until, eventually,  the women come to their senses and realize you can make more money programming computers than you can riding motorcycles. So we can handle real, flesh-and-blood bad boys. Wait long enough, and most of them end up on an episode of Cops anyway.

But now Edward Cullen comes along and ups the ante by a factor of 10. This takes the concept of "bad boy" to a whole new level, and I think it's gone way too far.  See, a few years ago it was just pirates: Captain Jack Sparrow may have given us guys some heartburn, but at least he wore eye-liner. Also, pirates seemed to drink a lot and never shower, which, from a guy perspective, is a step in the right direction. But a vampire?!? I remember when many women thought it was a genuinely BAD thing to be a vampire. Now it's "well, yes, he may hunt humans and drink blood, but at least he dabs his ruby lips with a napkin afterward." The napkin, by the way, matches his bronze hair and sets off his ivory skin. Gimme a break.

So I say, to heck with vampires and the women who love them. I am turning my unofficial boycott of the Twilight Series into an official boycott.  And the movies too.  Although I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I found out Kristen Stewart was cast as Bella.  I would have assumed that only Paris Hilton could project the depth of thought and moral strivings that characterize a woman who falls in love with, and then becomes, a freakin' Vampire.

Buffy, come back!  We need you!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Brain Pain

A friend dropped by to visit me a few weeks ago, someone I've known since I was 11. I am unusually lucky, I think, to have a few life-long friends, people I've known since 5th, 6th, 7th grade that I am still close to. Anyway, he dropped by, and we had fast food and unhurried conversation. The conversation ranged over No Child Left Behind, salvation by grace, and economic theory. I was commenting on the fact that, contrary to the old saying (never trust a young conservative or an old liberal), I seemed to be getting a little more liberal in my old age.

He told me a story of when the first liberal seeds were planted in his heart. About 10 - 15 years ago, in the midst of an economic downturn, he happened to be the employment specialist for his local church. His assignment was to help those who needed it to find work; some he was able to help and some he wasn't. But he mentioned in one meeting that things must be tough for a lot of people. He had been walking in downtown Salt Lake City and had been approached by an unusually large number of people asking for money. And he let it slip that he had given them some.

The leader of the meeting immediately chided him for handing money to beggars, and began a recitation about how many of them had chosen that kind of life by their actions, and so forth. My guess is he eventually got around to the part about not giving people fishes but instead teaching them to fish.


Is anyone else feeling a little uncomfortable at this point? Anybody think that seems a little strange in a Christian church? Yeah, me too.

End of Intermission

My friend, to his credit, just let his eyes glaze over and started to think about the story of the Good Samaritan. But the seeds were planted. The Gospel of Utah Republicanism was never quite the same for him.

See, stuff like that makes my brain hurt. I happen to be familiar with this particular religious tradition, and I know there's a revered old King named Benjamin who had some fairly peppery advice for anyone who would say, "The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just."

Another thing that melts my Jello is that there is no way that guy could have provided any proof for what he said: how would he possibly know what those people had chosen or not chosen? How could he have known what was in the hearts and lives of so many people -- to say nothing of what was in my friend's heart? But that didn't keep him from spouting off the party line as though it was true beyond dispute. Alas, it is a common malady, even among people who should know better. In the words of Slim Pickins in Blazing Saddles, "I am depressed."

Mr. Electronics

Dave Barry once said he didn't believe in the molecular theory of matter until he got the Death Flu one winter, and was able to feel every individual air molecule bouncing off his skin.

Similarly, I have had a hard time believing in certain New Age ideas such as auras and energy fields that are supposed to surround all living things. But now I'm beginning to wonder. If such things do exist, I know that my own personal electromagnetic aura (his name is Ralph) kills semiconductors.

Oh, not immediately. That would be too easy. It's a slower, more painful process, spread out over the life of the extended one-year warranty.

I was reminded of this today as I was attempting to back up my small external hard drive to my medium external hard drive at work (obsessive, you say, backing up my backup? Anal retentive? YOU take Ralph for a while, then we'll talk). Every few minutes it would just quit. Power down. Stop. Kaput. In the middle of trying to transfer files. I was sure it was dead.

See, it would have been the fourth hard drive failure in the past 18 months for me. I had just broken in my new work computer last May when its hard drive failed and I had to re-load everything. My computer before that one also had a new hard drive because its first one failed. I had an external drive at home that quit, too. I managed to save most of that data after spending $80 and most of an evening. Cheap at the price. Today, I thought about trying to save the data on my small drive, too, but I would have had to spend another $80 because all that software and its license was saved -- let's see -- two hard drives ago.

Turns out it was just a bad USB connection. It behaved admirably once I bypassed the USB hub and plugged it directly into my laptop. But I was still shaky all afternoon.

Did I mention that after the disk crash on my latest computer, it only took a few weeks for some files to become corrupted and render my computer un-bootable? Yup. The files couldn't be repaired. Had to re-load everything.

Mr. S. Moosebutt claims that he can hear the PDA's screaming in pain as I walk past them in the university bookstore. He should know -- he's accompanied me for most of the "replace the PDA" runs I've had to make over the past few years. Although the Dell Axim performed well right up until two weeks after the one-year warranty expired, I find that Palm PDAs are good for an average of two repairs during their one year period of functionality. (Hint: always send the Palm PDAs to the repair center Registered Mail. One of mine was lost in transit, and never got the chance to die 10 days after the warranty expired. Sad, in a way. Moosebutt's theory is that it escaped from the truck somewhere near Tucson, and is living in sin with one of my old digital watches. They are currently plotting my death.)

This is a Palm pretending to have just
died, so that I will not take it home.

I should have seen it all coming. It wasn't too long ago that my watch was trying to escape. I had a metal watchband, held together by metal rods. To get a connecting rod out, you had to push really hard with a small pin or something. But routinely, as I would walk across campus, a rod would fall out and my watch would fall off.

I'm on my second watchband now. Its latch quit closing tight, but so far no escapes. Maybe when I turned fifty, Ralph lost a little mojo.

I'm holding my breath now, because I bought a new Blackberry and I really like it. It does everything I ask of it (except sync with Outlook using the Toshiba Bluetooth stack instead of the Windows Bluetooth stack -- Thanks, Blackberry folks!) and hasn't tried to escape even once. I'm cautiously optimistic, but do me one favor. If you see me walking across campus with my laptop case, please don't do anything to make Ralph angry.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Now Where Did I Put That Anthrax?

When I dropped Em off at the airport this morning for her trip to Madison, she paused for a moment just before entering the security checkpoint. She rustled around in her purse, saying, "Here, Dad, would you take these?" She then produced a smoke bomb and a box of matches.

Daughters. You gotta love 'em.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Good Luck, Loco Parents!

I'm sending my daughter off to Wisconsin for a while. Our good friends are going to be in loco parentis for about a month. They've already raised a girl-child through to adulthood, and she turned out to be a rugby-player, so you know they're going to be OK. But just in case they've forgotten, or (more likely) our model has a few quirks their model didn't, I have a few reminders.

1. Em communicates in a somewhat different language. To practice understanding her, take a typical Hawaiian word like Keinohoomanawanui, and say it over and over again as fast as you can. Amphetamines might help -- think "chipmunks." Anyway, when you can sing the entire Hawaiian national anthem in about 20 seconds, you'll have the basic idea. Skip over any vowels or consonants that slow you down -- most of them are not important. A schwa can replace any vowel, and a glottal stop works fine for most consonants. Oh, and do your best to start the sentence upstairs, and finish it downstairs -- or better yet, outside. Texting at the same time is optional, but can earn you valuable extra points, redeemable for lip gloss!

2. Em believes there is only one 8 o'clock each day, and it is NOT of the "AM" variety. She knows, technically, that the sun must come up each morning, but it has been years since she has actually seen it. She may take a swipe at you early in the morning if you get too close. Try tempting her our of hibertation with oatmeal. It sometimes works.

3. Em has been busy evolving some extra organs in her inner ear with small magnetic particles that will enable her to pick up text messages and log onto Facebook without cumbersome electronic equipment. Until she has fully evolved, she may still need computer and cell phone access. Like, 24/7.

4. For reasons that are not exactly clear, Em and her friends like to engage in flour fights and whipped cream fights. Keep a hose handy in the back yard, and buy a little extra laundry soap. She is likely to appear at your door white and sticky.

5. The good news is, she eats almost anything as long as it's "good" and not "gross." So following that simple rule will avoid any difficulties.

Well, that's about it. She's really a delightful child, and we will miss her. While she's gone, her little sister will have to fill in for her. Just the other day, we had to tell her to get off the computer and speak slowly. She should do fine.

And to D & S: Thanks for being Em's Loco Parents, and Good Luck. You have our number.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


I think I might start collecting propisms. I'm using the word propism to designate a malapropism that turns out to be not so "mal"-- that is, in some way maybe more appropriate than the intended word. For example, tonight I asked my son to aldentify the pasta.

My favorite so far, for those of you from the same religious community as I, is "steadfast and removable." That describes me. Removable as in replaceable. As in, "Johnson, you go in for Williams. Williams, siddown. Better yet, go take a shower."

I like to think of my self as steadfast and removable. I'm on God's second string team, going in now and then to give the starters a rest. Good place to be, on the bench, watching the first-stringers work their magic. Keeping the bench from floating away.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Icelandic Karaoke

Well, another Iceland Days celebration has come and gone. This one had several high points:

1. A talk by a native Icelander about how to get along when you visit Iceland. Among the tips: Bring plenty of money, don’t try to drive yourself in Reykjavik, let someone at the hotel know where you’re going before wandering off to explore, and for heaven sakes take a real shower before entering a public swimming pool. Where were you raised, a barn or something?

2. Pönnukökur, or Icelandic pancakes, which are getting to be a family favorite. They are thin pancakes sort of like crepes or what my mother called Swedish pancakes, but of course Icelanders will tell you they are really much better, especially their grandmother’s recipe.

They are traditionally cooked in a special pönnukökur pan which can be obtained by mail order for 90 Canadian Dollars (remember that hint about lots of money?) but they are good, filled with strawberry-rhubarb preserves and whipped cream and folded in quarters. Just Google pönnukökur and you can find a recipe. Use any pan you’d cook crepes in.

3. Kleinur, or Icelandic donuts. They are fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. At least ours were. Pretty good.

4. Pylsur, or Icelandic hot dogs. Very much like American hot dogs, but made with lamb in addition to beef and pork. I like the way they were smoked, but they reminded B of the smoked sheep’s head we had at Thorrablot, so she didn’t care for them. We had ours with mustard and French-fried onions.

If you order one in Reykjavik, ask for pylsur “eine með öllu,” that is, “one with everything.” (And by the way, thanks to my recent linguistics class, it is easy to see the relationship between “eine með öllu,” and “eine mit alles” or some similar German phrase.) Then you will get one with ketchup, remoulade, French fried onions and mustard, and sometimes raw onions.

5. Ever notice how many of my “high points” deal with food?

6. We sold a lot of Icelandic paraphernalia, including rune pendants and imported ceramic dolls in native costume. My favorite was a book about Viking warfare. We still have one baseball cap left; let me know if you want it.

7. Of course, the highest high point of all was my entire family singing Smaladrengurinn, an Icelandic folk song about a shepherd boy and his sheep. It is a testament to the power of Icelandic folk music that my entire family was up there, singing in public. As I pointed out to the audience, the family that sings Icelandic folk music together could very well be up there on stage next June instead of us.

All in all, a very satisfying Iceland Days. Sjáumst!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Parents of the Year? Nah.

OK, we're probably not the world's best parents. It has recently been brought to our attention that all four of our children can pinpoint the exact day that they had the argument.

It started innocently enough. Really, it was just a joke, but one that served our purposes as parents. One night when I wanted to convince my oldest daughter to take a bath, I told her that she had to scrub between her toes to get rid of the toe spiders. See, I had this vision of it being so long since she took a bath that the spiders had built webs between her toes. Sort of my version of my mom telling me that my ears were so dirty she could plant potatoes in them.

But she believed it, and toe spiders passed into the pantheon of imaginary entities of our children's world: the Jellybean Fairy (who was sometimes discovered to have left a jellybean in Dad's office during the next visit, and who later lost all restraint and started leaving them all over the place), the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, and so on. As with other members of the pantheon, occasional expressions of doubt about toe spiders were met with the embellishments and excuses necessary to keep the story plausible. They're pretty small; you're keeping your toes clean enough that you don't have any now. Any little unidentifiable speck between the toes could be a bit of web, you never know.

To be honest, it occurred to us that if this belief went on too long, say, into the upper elementary grades, it could prove to be a social liability. But we felt that, like the Jellybean Fairy, toe spiders would have the good grace to just fade away when the time came.

But no. As it turns out, each of our children told us, some months or years after the fact, that they had had arguments -- serious arguments -- with good friends about whether or not there were toe spiders. They all lost, of course. And eventually they realized that their parents were liars. I think they've all accepted it as a character flaw that isn't entirely our fault: we probably can't help ourselves. But we notice they look at us with funny expressions when we tell them they actually need to file tax returns every April 15, or that it takes 30 years to pay off a typical mortgage. You can see them thinking: Is this another one? If I tell this to someone else, will they laugh in my face?

So it's our fault that our children had these difficult and somewhat embarrassing exchanges with their friends. But we couldn't help but laugh a little -- actually, a lot. It didn't help our case much.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Man's Feast

Perhaps I am not a man of passion. I know some. A friend of mine since childhood is passionate about guns. Growing up in a small town in eastern Utah, I’ve done my share of shooting tin cans and old pop bottles with BB guns and .22's. Old toilets are best to shoot with .22's, of course, because they break apart in such a satisfying way--but that’s another story. I’ve even gone to the shooting range with my friend a few times and tried my luck with his .45 and his .357 (do you own a .357? Forgive me: I can’t remember). It was fun. I can understand the appeal and appreciate the skill involved. I hope to go to the shooting range again sometime. Heck, I might even enjoy skeet shooting if I ever tried it.

But I don’t love guns the way my friend does. I don’t love the feel of them. I can’t get the same pleasure out of just holding them and field stripping them and oiling them and reading about them that he does. I don’t fear them, and I’m somewhat inclined to think that if guns are outlawed, well, you know the rest. But they just don’t interest me enough to keep any around, or learn how to use them safely. So I don’t own a gun. (Criminals please note: Not really. I have a loaded M1911A1 with semi-jacketed hollow points by my side at all times.) (Local Police please note: Just kidding.) (Maybe.)

And of course, I own a bicycle, and I enjoy riding it. I was one of the first three kids in my town to have a ten-speed when I was growing up. Granted, mine came from Western Auto and was not as cool as my friend’s Schwinn Varsity. Nor did my brother give me a box full of parts and force me to clean and assemble my own ten-speed, as happened to my other friend. But the point is, I was an Early Adopter (that almost NEVER happened to me when I was young, so I like to dwell on that whenever possible), and I’ve been riding and shifting and getting my chain caught between sprockets and swearing and adjusting brakes and fixing flats and kicking at dogs for a long long time. Today, I own a 17-year old Trek mountain bike. I can appreciate the difference between it and my old Western Auto, and I’m sure there are bikes out there that would be a lot smoother and lighter and more wonderful than mine. I would probably enjoy them even more than I do my Trek. Still, the Trek gets me everywhere I have guts enough to go.

But again, I’m not passionate about it. I don’t own a single pair of black spandex shorts (or whatever new miracle fiber they’re made out of these days) or any special racing-style jerseys. I can go on a Saturday morning bike ride without having to look like Lance Armstrong. My neighbor, a real bike enthusiast and participant in numerous races, once told me he wouldn’t let a bike shop touch his bike – he did all the repairs himself. I not only let them touch it, I pay them good money so I won’t have to. I can’t imagine a possible universe in which adjusting my own shifters would be that important to me.

And of course, there’s my canoeing friend. I’ve been canoeing exactly once. It was a gentle and peaceful float along the Wisconsin river. I got the worst sunburn of my life and had a really wonderful time. I can easily imagine doing it again. I think it would be great to take a canoe down a wide, slow river, listen to the water and the wildlife, and just take a day away from the existential hum of daily life. Very appealing.

Of course, I can’t imagine doing it enough to justify owning my own canoe, nor can I imagine getting anywhere near the Class V rapids that my friend would likely find so appealing.

All I can say is, my life is never going to even vaguely resemble a Mountain Dew commercial. My friends will have to take all my adrenaline hits for me, and welcome to them.

So I am not a man whose passions for toys are easily stirred. If I could afford some four-wheel drive vehicles and the gas to operate them, things could be different. Even then, I suspect that my actual use of them would be far exceeded by my grand plans to use them. Someday, I hope to put it to the test. I’ll keep you posted.

In the mean time, I just want to make one last point: You can have my perfectly balanced high-carbon steel Forschner 8-inch chef’s knife with the Fibrox handle when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.