Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fido and Fideux

Do you want someone who thinks you're perfect just the way you are, and will love you without condition or reserve, in sickness and in health, in petulance and in affability? Of course you do. And if you have an extra $50,000 lying around the house near a nice dog, you can have it forever and ever. That's what it costs to get your dog copied and shipped so you can take that guesswork out of finding your new best friend. Yes, you too can thumb your nose at death and loneliness and get a whole new fifteen years of picking up poop through the simplicity of cloning.

Everyone remembers that first clone, Dolly the sheep. Sheep were considered ideal subjects for cloning because no one could tell them apart anyway. But Dolly was merely the first animal cloned from a body cell. The first animal cloned at all was a sea urchin. Hans Dreisch did it in 1885, presumably after having developed quite a fondness for a particular urchin. He shook an urchin embryo until its cells came unglued and discovered that the loose cells became identical urchins. He was delighted. The other biologists talked about him behind his back.

In 1902, Han Spemann continued the work with the altogether more laudable Salamander. He was able to separate its embryonic cells by teasing them apart with a loop of baby hair. He made identical salamanders up to a certain point of embryonic development, after which his cells just produced half-embryos, resulting in salamanders that paddled around in circles all their lives. There is today no market for cloned pet salamanders, because all salamander lovers know each one is just as wonderful as the next.

The first pet cloned was a cat, through the auspices of an outfit called Genetic Savings and Clone. Cats come cheaper. I could have gotten a whole new (Saint) Larry for a paltry 25 grand. I'm not inclined to, though. I know I can do just fine by selecting a short-haired tortoiseshell kitten the next time I'm bereft, even it if arrived the old-fashioned way, through cat lust. Tortoiseshell kitties are the very very best. I know this from the 100% satisfaction rating I got using my scientifically unimpeachable sample size of One. I most certainly was looking for a tortoiseshell the last time I went to the Humane Society, after Larry had been gone a year, but there weren't any that day, and my need for an immediate cat overcame my inclination to wait for a speckly one, and that's how Tater ensued. Tater wasn't the first one I played with but she was the only one with any personality, and my streak of picking funny and affectionate cats is unbroken: Tater is one fine bundle of furry pudding. Unfortunately her adoration is almost completely directed toward Dave. She'll give me the time of day but it's Dave that lights her up. I have to go down the street now to be greeted properly by a cat, a small torty named Millie who is willing to take a good rumpling and whose owner is no longer alarmed by me.

There's only one explanation for the price discrepancy between getting a dog cloned and a cat cloned, and it's not the one the company provides. The company says the entire operation is expensive because they have the very best equipment and the very finest staff with the very stoutest salaries, but it's got to be the same equipment they're using for the $15,000 cloned cow. Presumably the cat is less expensive because surrogate mommy cats go into heat more often than dogs do. So they're charging twice as much just to make you wait around until the bitch gets frisky? I don't think so. I think it's a matter of demand. I think they know dog people are just that much more nuts. A cat person that nuts just accumulates a bunch more cats.

Low-tech clone
There's no guarantee though. What if you buy your cloned dog and it's everything your old dog was, except enamored of you? What if it likes your spouse better? As long as it doesn't  have horns and an extra tail, you're not getting a refund.

Plus, you're not the same person you were fifteen years ago when you got your best dog. You've completely forgotten what a pain in the ass your best dog was as a puppy, and you're fifteen years crankier about dealing with it.

Many people suggest that this whole project is a waste of fifty grand when you could buy a bazillion mosquito nets for Africans with the same money, but that's a strained argument. You wouldn't have done that anyway.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Power To The People

The truths we used to hold to be self-evident are so two centuries ago. We've got new truths now, conceived in think tanks and dedicated to the proposition that rich people need more money. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Regulation needs to get out of the way of business. And this will lead to prosperity. That's the narrative we're being sold, and a whole lot of us are buying.

How's that working out for us?

A few of us are very prosperous indeed. Many of us are much worse off. The middle class has declined. Our natural world is despoiled and its systems on the verge of collapse. Our resources are dwindling. We've been at war for years, and we're barking for new wars.

This isn't my notion of prosperity.

Maybe what they're selling us is fake goods. Maybe government and taxes and regulation aren't really the problem after all. Maybe it's time to yank the narrative back, by telling the truth.

What is this nasty old Government, anyway? Well, we're trying an amazing experiment here. We declared we are the government: we the people. We gave limited power to those we elected to represent us. We have banded together to achieve for ourselves that which we cannot achieve on our own. Do we want clean water and clean air? Do we want safe food and educated children? Do we want to provide for our defense sensibly? Do we want to share the donuts or give them all to the fat guy? We're in charge. If we're not getting what we want, it's up to us to change things.

But we're easily swayed. We're hanging onto all these myths from back when we could head out and homestead all the land we could steal. We're rugged individualists; we're cowboys. We think we can do just fine for ourselves if The Government would just leave us alone. But there are more than 320 million of us cowboys now and no place left to dump the trash. We need to be careful.

So the next time someone goes full Bundy on us and declares the government the enemy and demands that the land be given back to We The People [sic], remember that government land is our land, and the people who want it for their own purposes--to run cattle on, or mine, or drill, or clear--do not care about ours.

Regulation? It's not there to thwart enterprise. It's there to do an accounting of the true costs of business. Go ahead and grow your business as much as you want, but you don't get to skate on the garbage bill. If you pollute, or you endanger, or enslave, or misrepresent, or cheat, you have to answer to us. Regulation means your bottom line might be somewhere different from where you'd like it, but we're all under the same sky, and someone's always downstream. There's a cost to everything, and if we run our economy without accounting for all of it, we're letting pirate ships sail away with our treasure.

So we regulate. When we strip away regulations, we give more to those who have too much already, while we pick up the tab. When we lower everyone's taxes, we discover ourselves without what we need, just to further enrich those who need nothing.

Do we want clean drinking water at the tap? Then that is something we should keep in the commons. We hire people to make it happen--they're called government workers--and we pay them. Government workers are not our enemies. They're the people we pay to do the things we want done, that we can't do by ourselves, at no profit.

Right now, the shrink-the-government crowd prefers to use our taxes to pay private outfits to do the things we want, so they can profit. Water. Power. Prisons. Schools. Even our war-making is delegated to mercenaries, with Blackwater and Halliburton raking in the billions. The already-wealthy want ever more of our treasure, and that's who's running the show.

That's because a few people with great wealth have an outsized effect on what happens in our name. But it doesn't have to be so. We are the people, and if our government is not doing what we want, we can change it. Our power is in our numbers, and our will, if we exercise it.

What could we accomplish if we banded together? Could we be as powerful as Walmart?

Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, became the behemoth it is by hacking the middle class off at the knees. It arranged for products to be made in low-wage countries with low environmental standards, and then insisted our local manufacturers cut wages and benefits or lose their market. They led the charge to the bottom. Their prices were so low they wiped out smaller local businesses. Now they are so powerful that they can bargain for lower pharmaceutical prices and everyone thinks that's a good thing. But we the people can do that too. If we the people got together to provide for our own medical care by adopting single-payer insurance, we could negotiate our own drug prices and the costs of our procedures.

True, the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industries would take a huge hit. True, we wouldn't enable six human beings named Walton to have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people. But we'd have health care.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Ridge Too Far

So yes, I can drive a stick and I can parallel-park, which makes me better in some ways than many youngsters. Better at things that no longer need doing, but who's quibbling?

However I would be fibbing if I said I really enjoy shifting gears. I got my first automatic car ten years ago and the only stick shift I ever encounter anymore is on our truck. My particular economy of stature is not what the designers of our truck envisioned. My feet barely aspire to the floor. In order to drive the truck at all, I have to reach underneath the bench seat and try to motivate the whole thing forward, but I'm not as strong as I might be and if no one's there to help I usually only get it half whanged out, and not really as far forward as I need. That means I'm on the edge of the seat and at an angle, and when I put the clutch in, my leg is completely extended and also I'm driving with my tippy-toes. If my ass ever goes flat, I won't have any grip on the seat at all. The only reason I haven't hit anyone yet is probably because my driving is so erratic that everyone clears the hell out of the way.

But I haven't hit anyone yet, and I've been driving this or our previous, even-bigger truck for thirty years. Mostly without complaint. Except when I'm bringing home a load of something up 33rd Avenue. 33rd Avenue has this one steep spot with a most unfortunate traffic light right at the top of it. I get a couple yards of steaming cow shit in the bed and I'm screaming all the way up the hill. I'm screaming at the people in front of me if I think they're going to mosey me out of making the green light, and then I'm screaming at the people behind me if they're planning to come right up on my bumper. I don't want them right up on my bumper. I want them about a quarter mile from my bumper, assuming a prayerful position. I try to communicate that with enthusiastic gestures in the back window but it never works. "Oh look, George, there's a crazy butch lady in front of you. I think it's a lady. Get up closer so we can see."

Stairs up the Alameda Ridge
Apparently no one is used to manual transmissions anymore. They assume if the truck full of steaming cow shit is stationary on the hill ahead of them, the only way it can go is forward. That is not at all the only way it can go. Particularly if I'm at the wheel. Sometimes I even signal the problem to the people behind me by rolling to a stop and then toggling back and forth with the clutch and gas so it rolls back a bit--then forward, then back again--but this only seems to fascinate them.

So when the light changes I have a couple options, if what you mean by "options" are things I can control in theory. I can stomp on the gas and simultaneously rip out the clutch pedal and go forward very noisily. Or I can do that and stall out and coast backwards with no power and burst into tears. It's a crapshoot. I truly hate driving this street with a full load. I am a nervous wreck.

Alameda Ridge view: rain, but higher rain.
But we live on relatively high ground and elevation must be gained one way or the other. The problem, as I see it, is glacial Lake Missoula. We had a perfectly decent river basin here at one point, formed as a standard bit of scooped-out area in front of a group of volcanoes, and it should have been perfectly easy to haul a steaming bunch of cow shit home on it, but then came the Missoula Floods and their biblically massive cargo of sediment from eastern Washington, forty or so episodes of it, and our little neighborhood got progressively taller, and the portion at the top of 33rd Avenue in particular got taller. We  had a minor volcano in the way of the floods coming down the Columbia River, and while it got briefly turned into an island, the north portions of it got scrubbed off and deposited as a giant gravel bar. This was great news for the future denizens of the so-called Alameda Ridge who would have a nice view of the city and a bunch of money to enjoy it with, but it was terrible news for those of us further north with all the elevation and none of the view and only passable driving skills and possibly a steaming load of cow shit. And, arguably, for the people driving behind us.

The entire situation is so ghastly that I've taken to skirting the Alameda Ridge altogether. Further west there are ways to gain that elevation but not quite so fast, and as much as I'd like to take a direct route, there's something to be said for getting home at all. I don't have to go too far out of my way. Just 15,000 years or so.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

In The Clutch

Dad taught me how to drive a stick. Or at least he set out to. I'm not sure the entire learning process was completed on his watch. I got my learner's permit a few minutes after I became old enough to qualify, and learned to drive on his 1968 Volvo. It was his first automatic car, so all I had to do was locate what I needed on the PRNDL and then try to keep everything between the road stripes. Later he picked up an authentic VW camper with a stick shift and decided I should learn to drive that too. It's hard to understand why a man would sign up for such a chore, but he believed strongly that people should be taught things. I don't remember driving it through the city but at some point he headed me to a freeway on-ramp and told me to go go go.

That part was really noisy. There's nothing natural about using a clutch. There's a fine ballet involved between the clutch and the gas pedal and you just have to keep whacketing away at it until they agree to a proper pas de deux. There was a tremendous racket as I chugged down the ramp, the sound of years being ground off my father's life, and finally I staggered into traffic at a lurchy 30mph, lucked into fourth gear as cars careened around me, and everything settled down. I can only imagine that my father thought the freeway was a good place to practice shifting because you only had to do it once. At any rate, this was the new Beltway around Washington, D.C., and I'm not at all sure how many loops I did before Dad came to, but eventually we got back off again. I can't remember how we got home.

The time it all finally clicked was freshman year in college when I got a ride from a friend and I asked if I could try driving the stick. He said okay. There was no good reason for him to do that except he wanted to get into my pants. That transmission squawked holy hell for a few rocky miles and then I kind of got the hang of it, and we negotiated the rest of the deal later.

All of which comes to mind because I recently read that the clutch is one of the things that is likely to disappear altogether in the not too distant future. You mention manual transmission these days and people think it's what happens when you sneeze into your hands. And I've been surprised to learn that most kids nowadays have no idea how to operate a clutch. They don't have to know, of course.

The spiffy new truck.
Unless they want to borrow our truck. We're on our second truck now, a ratty 1986 Ford, and it's popular in our neighborhood because if you want to make a dump run or haul in a couple yards of cow poop you don't want to mess up your own sweet ride. This still seems spiffy enough to us. Our first truck was a heroic and massively ugly 1969 International Harvester with power nothing. It was hell to steer, and it wasn't that easy to shift, either. There was nothing tight about the gearshift. You'd start it in second, unless you were trying to pull a house off its foundation, and by the time you were farting around in the massive neutral territory trying to find fourth, there was always a chance you'd find reverse first. So trepidation was a constant companion. This meant you might veer into the oncoming lane a bit while you were shifting, but it wasn't too dangerous, because anyone seeing this truck headed their way was already as far over as he could get. No one was going to win a jousting match with our Cornbinder.

But now I live in a brave new world in which I must beg store clerks to talk slower, and ask mere children how to operate my whizbangs and disentangle my interwebs. I feel like an aged immigrant fresh off the tuna boat, gaping at skyscrapers in dread. So I'm kind of chuffed about the manual transmission thing. Sure, you can borrow my truck to get that sofa you saw on craigslist. You can drive a stick, right?

Oh, watch that fresh young face crumple in embarrassment!

Aww, that's okay. I'll drive you. Hop in. And I start 'er up, and stomp that clutch, and ease 'er into gear and say Okay, where to, Cupcake?

Oh yes. I'm going to call them Cupcake.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It's Being Looked At

It hardly seems fair, but I guess now, on the list of things you must not do after your first trimester of pregnancy, we can add "being gazed at by Braco." Braco is a healer. A healer who gazes. At you. Not one on one, so much, but at special Gazing Events with lots of other people in attendance. People show up from miles around to attend Braco's gazing sessions and a whole lot of them report feeling better about things.

Braco himself does not claim to be a healer, and says at best he is a conduit for healing energy that comes from somewhere else, most likely the sun. Remarkably, attendees at a gazing Braco performed from the top of the Sun pyramid in Mexico reported seeing a circle of white surrounding the sun afterwards, which might have been a refraction of the sun's light off the tiny ice crystals in high, thin cirrus clouds but might also have totally been a personal how-do-you-do from one star to another; there's simply no way of knowing.

Braco (pronounced Braht-zo) was born Josip Grbavac in a vowel-poor region of Croatia, and was aware of his power to channel the Unknown Infinity early on, although he went ahead and got a degree in Economics just in case. He met and was mentored by an older healer, Ivica Provic (pronounced Shlotz-kaputz), who had also shown signs of being special early in life, when, as he reported, a little piece of the sun entered his left leg and traveled through his body to his groins. This had troubled him for years until he had a vision of a boy with a big injection who came to inject him. After that he met the young man he renamed Braco, and they really hit it off. Ivica was an economist too, if you can imagine that! He had had more than one near-death experience before having the all-the-way one, to which poor Braco had the misfortune of being the sole witness. Ivica, who never wore less than a kilogram of gold, uncharacteristically removed all his jewelry and his wallet and was then swept away by a rogue wave. Unfortunately for him, his pal Braco did not discover his own healing powers until a day or two later.

At first he trained his Giving Gaze on individuals but too many people clamored for a gazing, and now he gazes only at big groups. He charges eight dollars for a ten-minute session, or four dollars an eyeball if you buy both, which is a pretty good deal, considering a plumber won't show up for less than a hundred bucks. He attracts very large crowds because a lot of people have something wrong with them. In addition to barring women past their first trimesters (when hormones make them skeptical and grouchy), he does not allow people under the age of 18 to attend, due to the intensity of the energy, and also they might fidget and make fart noises. He does allow live streaming of his gaze for free. (In fact, he's live-streaming today through the 18th.)

Also, and only at the sessions, his trademark jewelry is available for purchase, such as his double-sided thirteen-point gold-and-diamond sun pendants at $470 a pop.

All the healing gaze you need.
All he does is gaze, and as a writer, I find this his greatest power. There are approximately eight thousand ways in English to describe a look, from glimpsing or glancing to peering and staring, and eyes can drill, and cut to the side, and flash, and drop, and be cast down or askance, and be daggers or gimlets, or what have you, and in spite of the sheer poundage of eye-related pages in the thesaurus, by the time you're a quarter of the way through your novel you have completely run out of them. Try to sneak one in you've already used in chapter one and your readers will hate you for it. They will roll their eyes. They can do that more than once, but you can't. Maybe it's easier in Croatian.

Because Braco has lots of books for sale. Also DVDs. Just with the gaze. The audio versions didn't get any traction.

Hat tip to Pat Lichen for introducing me to Braco, whom she discovered the standard way, by finding his card while rummaging though an old box in church.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Serving Mammon

All over the world, and for much of history, women have tried to avoid getting pregnant, and often sought to abort if they did, even at risk of their own lives. In modern times, wherever abortion has been legal, abortions rarely resulted in their deaths. I do not know if making abortion legal results in more abortions. But it's very clear that legal, available, and affordable birth control results in a lot fewer abortions. It's not even debatable. Statistics bear that out.

Nevertheless every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan's has instituted the so-called "global gag rule" withdrawing aid to any organization providing reproductive healthcare that includes abortion, or even alludes to abortion as an option. This has a large impact on the provision of birth control and invariably leads to more abortion. The current Republican administration has gone many steps further and has withdrawn money for all charitable aid services, if the organization that provides them does not denounce abortion. Mortality from malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, and other diseases is expected to spike. That is what it means, now, to be pro-life.

An adviser for the administration's new policy issued a strange rationale. She said "The Trump Administration, and most of America, doesn't believe that taxpayer funding ought to go to abortion. And it certainly shouldn't go to nations that generally are very, very pro-life, which is true all across Africa. The cultural imperialism that exists at the heart of this idea, that they can't be happy unless they have abortion like we do, is outrageous."

Cultural imperialism. This is not a phrase she came up with off the top of her head. This is calculated propaganda straight from a think tank.  The idea is to rip a page from the left-wing playbook, mark it up a bit, and toss it back. We lefties hate imperialism. We're always going on and on about countries forcing themselves on other countries. We're anti-colonial. We find it deplorable to blast our way into another culture and replace it with our own.

We are so shocked by the audacity of the phrase in this context that we splutter and falter. There are so many things wrong with this that we don't even know where to start objecting. That's the point, of course.

We're stuck with this counterproductive policy because those in power are not especially interested in reducing the number of abortions. They are interested in claiming their place in a holy war, marching into battle with the brightest banners and the loudest trumpets, a battle in which abortion is the greatest of sins but war is a perfectly honorable way to murder people. Many of us liberals are puzzled by the willingness of some self-described Christians to overlook or even reward reprehensible moral behavior in their candidates--let alone their worship of mammon--but we are making the mistake of imagining their doctrine stems from the Gospels, from the Sermon on the Mount. From Jesus. And it doesn't. It comes from Revelation. And according to Revelation, Christians are headed toward a final, cataclysmic battle for the human soul, and the sides we choose will mean our salvation, or not; so we'll follow that godly anti-abortionist, anti-gay leader straight to the gates of Hell, and it doesn't matter how many people we kill along the way, as long as they're post-fetal. All we need is righteous fervor and enough sacrificial Muslims.

With a few exceptions, the leaders themselves don't care about these issues. They're in it for themselves. The President himself almost certainly doesn't care about abortion--I'd be astonished if he hasn't paid for more than one himself--but he knows a good lever when he sees one, and many people can be maneuvered into voting for plutocrats as long as they swear allegiance to the right hot issues. Millions of single-issue voters will flock to their side if they claim to be anti-abortion, or pro-gun. But make no mistake, they're on their own side. They're fine with war. They'll make one out of whatever they have at hand.

That is why Iraq was selected to be bombed into smithereens after 9/11. Iraq was irrelevant but handy. Over a half million Iraqi citizens perished and those that survived lost their livelihoods as the United States, having manufactured deliberate chaos, privatized industry and opened up the country to piracy by multinational corporations. Billions were made and funneled off to private hands as our conquering armies smoothed the way to installing unfettered capitalism, which was the main goal all along. Quite a caper for a party that disapproves of "cultural imperialism." Iraqi society predictably disintegrated into factions, many of them now stoutly anti-American. And on and on it goes. Our leaders still profess to be against terrorism, but they're not. That's something they can use. Peace is the enemy of profit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ready, Set, Hunker!

North Dakota, 1939
Populations affected by the recent polar vortex bomb cyclone have been advised to unhunker carefully, as scientists and other liberals are warning of worse to come. As noted elsewhere, the latest arctic blast was particularly widespread, with sleet grenades reported as far south as Texas, and experts caution the public to remain wary of exploding residual land mines loaded with frozen ass shards.

Another big blow is forecast, but nobody is expected to enjoy it. This year's Nor'easters are predicted to be more than usually violent and may degenerate into widespread rioting and looting. It is recommended that those who must venture outdoors obtain a Sou'wester fitted with a retractable awning and a portable laser weapon system. This may offer limited protection against the anticipated storm of frozen-off testicles, some up to three inches in diameter, which are anticipated to pile up in drifts up to two feet in unsheltered areas; after their initial deposition, these are not expected to be a hazard to the public until the first thaw.

In the West, expect atmospheric rivers to surpass flood stage, although insurance industry estimates of damage to structures, initially predicted to be high, should ease after mudslides of biblical proportions obliterate all evidence of previous habitation.

Elsewhere, expect generalized pestilence and intermittent outbursts of contagion as legacy zombie viruses newly released from melting permafrost begin to migrate down a low pressure trough. Poxy pockets with periods of pus are possible, and storm systems previously ferrying a cargo of locusts from sub-Saharan Africa are now likely to pick up massive mutated futuristic death crickets as well. Shingles is another possibility, although it will be restricted to just one hemisphere at a time.

Not all is lost: there is some hope that snow accumulations in Florida will raise the elevation sufficient to withstand rising sea levels, at least until next summer. Nothing, however, is expected to dislodge the persistent system of climate-change denial which invariably forms an obstinate gyre anywhere money meets greed.

Extreme drought in some areas has become so entrenched, however, that estimates of its duration are now being revised several months back in time, to achieve proper direness. Officials of the Pirates' Mutual Benefit Association recommend that the remaining molecules of water be captured in small plastic bottles and distributed to those in need at a 10,000% markup. This should supply continued funding to maintain misinformation sites well into the future, although even now the truth has  been unable to withstand the stubborn high pressure area parked over the Petroleum Institute.

Climate scientists peevishly remind us that recent extreme cold weather events do not mean the climate is not warming, but that climate warming should result in localized weather phenomena that will be ever crappier. If you had crappy weather before, you are now looking at a shit blizzard. Doots of doom are headed your way.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, where we have been accustomed to quite moderate weather conditions, we have been warned that the climate should become even more moderate, eventually reaching maximal averageness. In some localized areas such as Portland, a typical resident might be able to get by wearing the same stinky hoodie every day of the year, and don't think he won't.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

And A Happy Epiphany To You

I never know if we're going to get a Christmas tree at all. It's up to Pootie, and sometimes he plays his cards pretty close to the vest. This year I really thought we were going to get away with no tree. That would have been fine with me. We've stripped Christmas way down. I've gone from making a dozen presents, at 15-60 hours labor per each, to Nobody Gets Presents. I've got my time spent on Christmas cards down from about fifty hours to about fifteen. Now we put on carols for a couple days and eat extra chocolate and one year we had a special beer at ten o'clock Christmas morning, and that's about it.

Besides, if we averaged last year's tree with No Tree, it would come out to a normal-sized tree. Last year's tree was five feet taller than our ceiling. Other people, standard-issue people who are neither too tall to see what's on the bottom shelf nor too short to change the light bulb, might think that means the tree didn't fit, but we're accustomed to making things work around here. We're not a matched set, ourselves.

The only thing our trees have in common is us. We've had tiny little ones and great big ones and once we stapled a huge branch to the wall. We don't have what you'd call a tradition. Not like my niece Elizabeth. Elizabeth's mom always put up the tree on Christmas Eve and not a minute earlier, and they'd spend the evening decorating it. It was big and fat. You'd just sort of push the ornaments into it. She had gobs of antique ornaments. I think it was because her own dad was an admiral and lived all over the world, and maybe he had dirt on some oligarchs. So maybe some of the ornaments started out as hair pins for the Romanov girls. Or were made by Currier for Ives. Or lived in Mata Hari's navel. I don't know. They're fancy. They'd decorate until bedtime and then Elizabeth would wake up at two in the morning and come down and open all her presents and that's where the grownups would find her come daylight, sitting happily in a mound of wrapping paper and toys without a single regret. And now the ornaments have all been passed down to her, and she continues the big fat Christmas Eve tree tradition.

Meanwhile, across town, Dave kept asking if Pootie wanted a tree this year, and I kept saying hell if I know why don't you ask him, and sure enough, finally, late on Christmas Eve, Dave let on that Pootie did want a tree after all, now that it was 33 degrees, dark, and raining sideways. You'd think you could get a bargain in those conditions, but no. Evidently, there was a Christmas Tree shortage this year. I'm not sure how that happens, inasmuch as almost everybody knows when to expect Christmas, but it did. And we're in a Christmas Tree producing state. That's what we got: trees and hops and hazelnuts. It beats coal.

But we did find a great tree. Might be my favorite tree of all time. Charlie Brown passed it up. It's got about six branches on it, and it's about a foot wide. It's no bigger than the portion of last year's tree that stretched along the ceiling. "Twenty bucks," the tree guy said, and I said Really? And he said "Yup, twenty bucks," and I said Reeeeeally? And he said, "Yeah, it's a Doug Fir, twenty bucks," and I said "It's a noble," and he said "Yeah, that's right, twenty bucks," and I said "Dave, pay the man." It's the Art Of The Deal for Democrats.

It IS a noble fir. My favorite kind. They're stout and sparse. You can hang bowling balls from them and they don't even shrug. We stuck it in a concrete block and jammed a towel around it, and Pootie and Dave did the decorating with Pootie's own ornament collection, which owes more to the Dollar Store than the Romanovs.

I do know it comes down on Epiphany. Epiphany is the day on the religious calendar commemorating the moment Mary told Joseph that she didn't care what else he was planning to do, the damn tree was coming down now. I guess it came to her all of a sudden.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Nothing More Than Feelings

I like to check multiple weather forecasts, and haven't noticed that one is more reliable than another, although I admit to a fondness for the one that says things like "Rain beginning in 27 minutes." I like that level of audacity in a field known for its shruggers and wafflers. Sometimes it's even right. What I don't like is when the forecast tells me what the weather will feel like. I'm supposed to be in charge of that.

It's going to be 39 degrees tomorrow, but it's going to "feel like" 34. Says who? Who's out there who knows how much clothing I plan to wear or whether I'll even roll out of bed? It's presumptuous. They've got all sorts of data and they want to show off. They've got the temperature, the dew point, and the wind speed. They toss all those in the bucket along with some salt and algorithms. Algorithms are little tiny tornados used for stirring. And then out comes the "RealFeel" statistic. It's annoying.

Because I want to figure that out for myself. I want to read that it's going to be 39 degrees with wind gusts up to 30mph and a light fog. That's plenty vivid. I can work it out from there.

Modern weather people would ruin the trip to Grandfather's. Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather's house we go! That's a lot of nice useful information. I can see the horse, I can see the sleigh, I can hear the jingle bells and feel the powdery snow bursting out of the evergreens. Modern weather people would stick Gramps's address in Google Maps and hit "get directions." Sure, you'll get there. But if Grandma hands you a TV dinner it would serve you right. [Children: a TV dinner is a dinner you eat while watching TV. Um, TV is something that lived in a big box and had shows in it, and if you weren't there to watch them that was that. They weren't coming back.]

So I'm worried about the "feels like." It seems like a short walk from there to your whole house deciding how to dress you. Already I've bought a winter coat that, according to the tag, is good down to a freakishly specific minus-four degrees Fahrenheit. There are probably coats for every increment on the thermometer. Soon enough that mouthy little Alexa is going to check the weather app five minutes before you get up and consult with your coffee machine and and a drone is going to drop you a nice outfit on your bed in your favorite colors, as determined by what your retinas flick to in the popup ads.

Which means you will never be uncomfortable again. But discomfort gives your soul needed texture. It expands your range of happiness. Witness the whininess of people who are momentarily forced out of their 72-degree air-conditioned comfort zone. Their capacity for joy is all shrunk up.

We were plenty happy when we were little, because we didn't have control over much of anything. The snow would come down, and Mommy would stuff us into our little snow suits and boots after making sure to drain us first and out we'd go. We didn't even notice we were cold because we were busy building a snow bear. Later we'd come inside and pull off our slushy socks and stick our feet up against the heat register until they itched from chilblains. Does the weather forecaster know the state of our boots? Does he know whether we're going to build a snow bear?

Worse, now there's no room for hyperbole. You can't come in the house hoo-boying and stamping your feet and tell someone the wind picked up a load of tiny ice daggers and drove them through the gap in your muffler and now your neck whistles because of all the little holes punched through it. Or that you know your ass froze off over at 33rd and Sumner because you heard it clank onto the pavement. Someone will just make a little frowny face and look at his phone and say, "Well it feels like 34."


It just seems like I should have more of a say in it, somehow. But after all, even when we went to Grandfather's house, the horse knew the way to carry the sleigh, so maybe it was always an illusion.