Friday, January 30, 2009


What blew my mind today? A news report. Politics. What else has the ability to raise a person's ire like politics?

Anyway, the story had to do with President Barack Obama's stimulus package being debated now, I believe, in the Senate. Of course, Republicans as usual, have objections. (What don't they object to that is good and decent for common folks?

They're complaining about how the President's stimulus package would add money spent to the budget on an ongoing basis

Okay, just what were they talking about? You'll never guess. Pell Grants and funding for the handicapped. Heaven knows, we don't want our kids to have funding in order to be educated or the handicapped to be helped on an ongoing basis.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


So many people are unemployed in this latest financial crisis that has arisen worldwide. It gives people problems they sometimes don't have the resources to cope with. For example, today a man killed himself, his wife, and his family after he had been laid off and his wife had lost her job. I guess he just didn't know how they would survive or otherwise what to do, so he took the drastic measure he did to ensure they wouldn't have to face what was coming down the pike without jobs. That's trouble with a capital T.

However, above and beyond the personal level of the tragedy and the trouble the man faced, our society faces widespread problems that affect everybody. It is an issue --- unemployment --- that we must all, in some degree or another, deal with. Not only must we face it individually, but we must also face it collectively, as a nation, even as the world.

For much of my thirty-five-year career as a civil servant, I felt like the administration and Congress failed to adequately fund the enforcement of its laws and regulations. In fact, in retrospect, it is likely that I felt that government never did adequately fund enforcement. At least, not in the venue I worked in.

It always seemed so odd. With respect to what I did --- tax audits and matters relevant to them for the Internal Revenue Service --- revenues generated from adequate funding for enforcement always exceeded by far its cost. Now, I realize that that isn't necessarily the case with respect to enforcement of all laws and regulations within the government

For example, enforcement of the laws applicable to a National Park don't generate revenue above and beyond the cost of its enforcement. That just doesn't happen --- except perhaps in rare circumstances --- in that particular scenario. However, with respect to enforcement of the laws and regulations pertaining to investments and banking, I believe the current situation proves that the expenditures are minimal compared to the costs of not enforcing the laws and regulations.


I've been reading a Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Matt Kirby recommended it. I picked it up as a Kindle book in oversized font. I got it cheap, for under four dollars. Additionally, it didn't have digital rights management. I had indicated on Matt's blog (Kirbside) that one of my favorite books I read last year was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I don't think he understood why --- I noted that it had won the National Book Award --- and he indicated that for a post-apocalyptic narrative there wasn't much better than Canticle for Leibowitz. So I told him I would read it and agreed to tell him if I liked The Road better, to tell him why. He was bemoaning the fact that many stories don't get the recognition some do undeservedly, suggesting that The Road received the National Book Award recognition undeservedly.

For my readers group this month, I read The Story of Edward Sawtelle. Now if that had been the book Matt was complaining about getting recognition it didn't deserve, I would agree with him. Fully. As I understand it, Walter Miller only published one novel during his lifetime,

The Story of Edward Sawtelle is a first novel for its author, David Wroblewski. Wroblewski has a great future as a writer, I believe, if he keeps at it and learns from his mistakes here. There are flashes of brilliance in his narrative. But it appears he has had more support than he deserves with this first novel, and it will be difficult for him to overcome pride and approach his next project with humility.

Needless to say, I didn't enjoy his first novel much at all. For several reasons. I didn't believe that the characters were realistically drawn. The protagonist, Edgar Sawtelle, seemed as mute as his vocal chords. The antagonist, Claude Sawtelle, was so evil he made the book a matter of bathos instead of pathos. The minor characters didn't seem internally consistent. The motivation of the characters was almost always nonexistent or wholly inadequate.

Early on in the book we have this incident: "Edward was shocked to find words inside the walls of his house, scrawled by a man no one had ever seen. It made him want to peel open every wall, see what might be written along the roofline, under the stairs, above the doors. In time, by thought alone, Edgar constructed an image of Schulz [the prior owner of the property] so detailed he needn't even squint his eyes to call it up. Most important of all, he understood why Shultz had so mysteriously abandoned the farm: he'd grown lonely."

Wroblewski drew Edgar so insightful and creative early on but the boy ended up inconsistent, unable to cope with his circumstances and to figure out how to combat his antagonist, Claude, instead of fleeing from him and leaving his mother and a kennel full of dogs he loved behind.

In another scene, Edgar's heart surges in his chest. "He tried to force sound from his mouth, but there was only the gasp of exhaled breath. He swung his hand wide, then struck his chest with all the force he could muster, mouthing the words." In his extremity in this scene, the creative and resourceful Edgar from earlier can muster nothing creative or resourceful. It just doesn't make sense.

Other commenters have mentioned the flatline pace throughout the work. The book has no heartbeat because of it. It also fails to satisfy the reader as to several plot lines, leading readers down paths and leaving them lost there. Others have mentioned these specifically.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Sometimes, from my present vantage point, it is difficult to imagine how I coped with a job, a complex family --- immediate and extended, assignments for my church and community, and even writing a little bit. I managed my time so much better then, it seems to me now.

I remember the period of time when I worked as a manager in the Appeals Division at IRS, as an Associate Chief. The job wasn't particularly demanding relative to technical knowledge or anything like that, but I wanted to get a handle on doing employee evaluations as efficiently as I possibly could. After all, that was the primary responsibility, or so it seemed to me at the time.

Appeals didn't have its computer systems fully up and running then, so I think I developed something on my own computer, a laptop I brought from home. I wanted to make a database where I could post the data from each case evaluation I conducted relative to each employee I managed. That way when the annual valuation period came up, I could just import the individual case narratives to support my general narrative as to a particular critical element. Anyway, I worked on it and it all worked out just as I had imagined. It made me so much more effective and efficient.

They say there is a social speedup, that is, that people are working longer hours, that more and more women are likely to work outside of their homes, that middle-class families need more than one wage earner to keep their standard of living, that, in particular, the less advantaged families have to have more than one earner to scrape by. This situation requires people, I guess, to go faster doing what they have to do and what they must do to survive.

I can honestly say that I don't seem to have the stress or anxiety I had when I was trying to stretch my time so efficiently. On the other hand, there is a little bit of anxiety and stress when I think how inefficient I have become. Stress requires an individual to organize themselves better. Or, I suppose, to refuse the additional demands. Some people cope in harmful ways, doing drugs or alcohol. If I were as dependent upon cell phones as some people seem to be, perhaps I would resort to drugs or alcohol. (Not really, I don't think it's in my nature.) It is nice to be retired from my regular job, but at the same time know that life to be meaningful seems to require some stress and considerable effort.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Context in real life can make all the difference in what happens.

Last Thursday, Shelley went to take her eighty-seven-year-old father supper and found him on the floor in the bathroom. He had fallen while going to the restroom and hurt himself. He couldn't get up. It is unclear how long he had been there on the floor, but he was in bad shape, and Shelley called me to help get him up.

Robert had been declining in health and awareness in the weeks preceding this occurrence, and Shelley had taken him to a new doctor, one that practices internal medicine, hoping to get him some relief and help. The doctor prescribed antibiotics to treat his not being able to control his bowel movements. Then, after the accident, he was extremely weak and unable to stand up, communicate clearly, or understand fully. We contemplated calling 911 but decided against it, and Shelley tried to schedule an appointment with the doctor who had prescribed the medication. The doctor said to take him to the emergency room and have him checked out --- it was the prescribing doctor's day off. Golf day, I presume.

At the emergency room, they said Robert had cracked a rib and punctured a lung. The doctor said it wasn't serious enough to admit him, but he needed to be seen the next day again to make sure things hadn't worsened and that he wasn't bleeding out internally. We spent most of the day at the hospital waiting for them to reach this conclusion or getting him there or back home again. It was clear that Robert couldn't be left alone. Shelley stayed with him most of the time and her brother, Chris, spent some time with her. Her other brother, Norman, came to spend the night after he went to the movie.

Since then, things have been hectic, especially for Shelley. She has spent much of the time with her father, as much as she thought she could. She is worried that he will die. She is unprepared for it, and she wants to spend more time with him in the eventuality it happens imminently.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Do I need to make an assessment of where I am in relation to my current context? Perhaps I should, but I have avoided it my entire lifetime up until now, and I probably will continue not to make an honest and open current assessment. It is too heart-wrenching and challenging. I am too afraid. Someday perhaps I'll figure out why and tell you. Probably not though. Instead, it is easier to use my imagination to focus on somebody else. It seems more interesting. I can see them more clearly in their environment than I can see me in mine.

It proves more interesting to consider how others shaped my life, to assess the intersection of my history with that of those who impacted me in some measure. To have knowledge of self, it is essential to understand the social and historical context of our times.

My mother's name was Nola. Overall, I guess throughout my younger life I felt more or less indifferent about her first name, Nola. I guess I was worried more about mine than hers. Hers seemed less noticed than mine. I don't recall her ever complaining about it. On the other hand, I don't remember her enthused about it either. By the same token, I don't remember ever complaining about my name until I was older, much older, and my parents were gone or not around. Now, I would have to say I like my mother's name, Nola. I like it a lot.

Since I was named after my father and he was called Walt, they called me Wally. I didn't like Wally. I still don't. I don't like Wally and I don't like Walter. To me, our culture demeans those two names.

My mother's middle name was Clara. Her mother's name, my grandmother on Nola's side, was named Clara. Her maiden name was Clara Barney. I don't know right off if she had a middle name. I'd have to look it up. My mother's maiden name was Nola Clara Thompson.

I am more like my mother than my father. My body is more like my mother's than my father's. It is more bulky and fair. It seems like it is more prone to distress. For example, my body gives me migraine headaches --- at least it did when I was younger --- just like my mother's did. Also, in temperament I am more like my mother, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I grew up in Utah. (Old, stale joke: my wife says I never grew up. Not really. She doesn't say that. I do. Boring.)

Anyway, I did grow up in Utah. I was pretty much a product of the culture here. While I didn't grow up in the standard Mormon family --- my father was, as he described himself, a heathen. While my mother was a baptized Mormon and had graduated from seminary, she almost never stepped foot in church while I lived at home. I pretty much followed the prescribed course for a faithful Latter-day Saint: going to church, going to seminary --- although I didn't go to seminary much --- going on a mission, entering into a temple marriage, etc.

So the context of my early life was influenced greatly by those I associated with in the church. It was also, of course, affected by family and neighbors.

As you might imagine, there was considerable tension between my active membership as a Mormon boy and as a member of my family. My father's mother came to the United States from Holland when she was just a teenager, a convert to the LDS theology. I don't know the particulars, but I do know that as a young convert in Utah she became disaffected with the LDS church and held it in low regard. My father was never baptized a Mormon, and the most he ever had to do with the church, according to him, was stealing a set of sacrament cups from a church in West Ogden when he was a youth. He was never disrespectful of religion or of LDS members, other than at times to belittle their priorities, thinking, for example, they should attend to the maintenance of their houses more than they attended to the maintenance of their memberships.

My mother's family also had become disaffected with the LDS church. In fact, on both sides of my family I was unaware of anyone who was involved in Mormonism besides me. My mother, however, was always supportive of my activity in church. In fact, as a young boy she encouraged it --- I often believed it was to gain some respite from me while I attended.

What I am would be different had I had a different context.

There are societal patterns that influence our lives. There is no doubt about it. Nonetheless, I do believe in libertarian free will. Somehow, there is a congruity between cause and effect and free agency. I don't intend to figure it out, although I wouldn't mind understanding it. But I do know that even though I grew up influenced so greatly within my context, I always had a choice. Of course I believe I still do. I do not believe in fatalism or determinism. I am not a sophisticated philosopher and have no expertise in that field other than readings and studying the works of others relative to the subject.

I lived in two towns as a boy: Clearfield and Sunset. My family moved to Clearfield before I have any recollection of life, when I was two. At that time, there was me, my mother, Nola, my father, Walt, and my sister, Marsha, five years my senior.

My mother had been married before she married my father. My sister was the product of that earlier marriage. My father was a Marine who served in World War II, earned a Purple Heart, and served in the South Pacific. He was a smoker throughout all of my boyhood. My mother was also a smoker for much of my boyhood. My mother had another son, Kim, five years my junior.

Friday, January 2, 2009


Context is so important. You can't forget it. In Out of the Dust, the family sits down to eat. They shake out their napkins, spread them on their laps, and then --- because Billy Joe has followed her Ma's rules for setting the table by placing the plates upside down with the glasses bottom-side-up and the napkins folded over the forks, knives, and the spoons --- they can make jokes about their conditions, their environment, their context. Billy Joe's father says the potatoes are peppered plenty, Polly, and goes on to say that they are having chocolate milk for dinner, aren't they rich. Of course the peppered potatoes and the chocolate-colored milk arise from the dust from the dust bowl they live in.

You can never forget social context.

Well, I guess you can, but you shouldn't. That isn't to say that people within a context cannot or do not draw false assumptions about its meaning. They do, and often. Even the media does.

Having a clear sense of context allows the writer to challenge unexamined assumptions from time to time. It allows the writer to question values and challenge readers to think about society from varying vantage points.

So whether you're talking about teenage pregnancy, the reform of social welfare, AIDS, gay marriage, immigration, or a multitude of other social issues, you cannot forget about the setting and context. How you address an issue varies according to the context and setting it is in. A friend who writes about teenage pregnancy amidst the privileged in Manhattan in contemporary times certainly faces a different set of circumstances than a friend who writes about a trio of troubled teens in a large city in the late 1800s along the eastern coast of the United States of America.