Friday, December 31, 2004

#130 - Dog Trainer Year in Review

Patterico releases his second annual review of the LA Times' performance as a masthead of the mainstream media.

To sum up what Patterico takes all year to point out: they stink.

They stink so bad that Patterico needs to issue a two-parter (part two coming soon) to handle every misstatement, falsehood, and biased invective issued by this major metropolitan fish-wrapper just this year alone.

I subscribed once upon a time. Maybe even twice, but my memory for such things is suspect. They usually get me when I'm trying to be budget conscious and hit me with the "hundreds of dollars in coupons alone in the Sunday edition!" line. So I cave, and ultimately get so angry reading their bald-faced slants that I angrily call and cancel. This, of course, gives them latitude to harangue me for the rest of my natural life because I used to be a customer, so, by golly, I must want to be one again.

They don't understand that I have been through my twelve-step program for LATimes addicts, and as a recovering subscriber I am likelier to take up snake charming than to ever subscribe to their rag again.

Their telemarketing scripts haven't changed much over the years. They invariably hit me with the old coupons line, as well as pointing out that they have "increased their local coverage" again this year. That usually means that my community now receives two columns of print, instead of one and a half. Also, they only tend to report on my community when that community somehow affects Los Angeles. This they call "expanded" coverage.

Funnier still is dealing with their telemarketers. All I have to do is point out to them that the paper may just as well be in the direct employ of the Democratic National Committee and they immediately begin harping on that coupons line. Yep... those coupons certainly appeal to my greedy Republican nature, but not enough, I'm afraid, to make me want to subscribe.

Still, the next time I want to help the kids make a few paper hats, I might visit the newsstand. For old Times' sake.

UPDATE: Silly me. Part Two was here all along.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

#129 - Please Wait

My father had a wonderful way with the phone. Dad was a tightly wound coil - a mainspring with nowhere to go - and certain elements of the population suffered as a result. Highest on the list of suffering humanity was anyone who dared get Dad on the phone.

Dad was a card-carrying curmudgeon. I'm pretty sure the Webster definition had been modified at one point to include Dad as an example of modern usage. Mom, sainted at an early age, had long since learned how to let the curmudgeonry roll off her back. She was, and still is the master of the soft answer and the subtle deflection. If any of her children were guilty of some life-shortening offense, she alone could keep the guillotine at bay and spare our miserable lives. I'm reasonably certain the only reason I didn't end up in military school was because Mom knew how to call his bluffs.

Still, Dad could be intimidating. And his worst enemy was the phone. For most of my youth, the phone company was responsible for providing phone equipment to the home. You were charged for each unit in your home, and there weren't too many styles to choose from. Consequently there was generally only one phone in our house at any given time. Since Mom was a traditional stay-at-home Mom, she got to answer her phone at least 95% of the time, until my sisters got old enough to learn how to string seven numbers together.

Once in a great while, Dad was closest to the phone when it rang. His manner of answering was about as welcome as hearing from the friendly IRS auditor that he'd like a visit with you, say, tomorrow morning. "Hello!" was his clipped response. If the caller was known to him, Dad might follow with, "Whaddaya want?" If an unknown quantity, which usually meant a sales slug, the usual response was "Not interested," followed by an equally curt slam.

Even if he wasn't the one to answer the phone, his hatred of the instrument enveloped the immediate area of the person talking on it, to the point of literally increasing the ambient temperature of the phone itself by several tens of degrees, rendering it impossible to hold for any length of time. Mom, for example, might be chatting with one of her Church friends. After a moment or two, Dad would begin growling; a low, throaty sound that resembled a cheetah protecting its latest kill. If the call extended beyond, say, five minutes, he began making comments regarding the imminent departure of the dratted phone to-blankety-blank-morrow. Or he might threaten to merely rip it out of the wall.

Most of what I know about the phone I learned from my Dad.

Today, of course, the phone has become downright lethal. Not only can it come in an ever-widening variety of annoying styles and colors, it's become completely portable! Some models can be carried all over the house (and, consequently, hidden in a wondrous array of locations). Others are now portable enough that they need never leave our sides. Indeed, many people seem to have had them surgically grafted into their skin, judging from the increasing numbers of people apparently talking to themselves in embarrassingly public places.

My own experiences with cell phones lead me to believe that ol' Scratch himself is responsible for their widespread use in vehicles that weren't any too safe on the roads to begin with. You know the ones I mean: those larger-than-anyone-could-possibly-need SUVs where the driver can barely see over the dashboard, let alone the drivers around them, all the while being completely absorbed by their conversation with some invisible person. Since my vehicles are both much nearer to ground level, I spend inordinate amounts of time dodging CRUAVs (Cellphone-Riddled Urban Assault Vehicles) in order to save my own life.

I, of course, am a much safer cell-phone user in my own vehicles.

Anyway, all of this by way of pointing out that I am not a big fan of Mr. Bell's contraption. And in my book, the worst offenders of all are companies who have decided that it is somehow more efficient for them to use computers to dial their stupid phones for them.

Open statement to anyone who wishes to inform me that my payment is a day or two late: Don't sic your stinking computer on me. I will hang up. This has been a pet peeve of Mrs. Woody and myself for many years now. It is insulting to us for you to assume that your time is somehow more valuable than ours is. That's certainly the implication. "Your time is important to us. Please wait for the next available associate." The message here is that my business is so important that they use a machine to dial our number so that some outsourced customer service rep with questionable English skills can ask me when I plan to put my check in the mail, or would I rather pay over the phone.

This service is so automated, in fact, that even when I've made the stupid payment, I will continue to receive calls from their computer until such time as the payment makes it through the company's labyrinthine accounting department and is actually posted by the computer, at which point it's time to bug me about the next payment. Did I mention that their accounting department is probably located on Grand Cayman? Just thought I'd remind you.

I'm not as bad as my Dad, I must admit. I do enjoy chatting with my children who live in various parts of the country (although I'm far likelier to hear from them than vice versa), and I do occasionally communicate with folks from Church. Even my Mom hears from me during certain phases of lunar activity. Otherwise...

I'll be ripping that blasted phone out of the wall tomorrow. Assuming I can ever find the cord.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

#128 - Blogs as Family History

A couple of words of explanation. First, the numbering of my posts (beginning with this one). Blogspot has, for weeks, insisted that I have only written 96 posts. I sorta felt like that may be something of an understatement, since that 96th post was written somewhere around Halloween. I was pretty sure I'd written a few posts since then. To prove me right, Mrs. Woody gave me my best Christmas present this year: A compilation of my posts, printed and bound into "Volume I." (Woody's Woundup, Wonderwood Academy Press, Christmas 2004) A quick count of the index showed that my post titled "Counter-Education" was number 126, which also means that Mrs. Woody only missed one post in her juggling act to get my last entries printed and bound. Seemed I wouldn't shut up, and she had to draw the line somewhere.

So, to defend my honor, I've decided to start numbering my posts. Note to Mrs. Woody: Volume II begins with post number 127, 'k?

The second thing to explain comes from recent analyses of blogs and their increasingly important position in the world of communication. Many, many bloggers are of the opinion that blogs will or already have replaced or otherwise supplanted the MSM in the dissemination of information to the world at large. Certainly, as I read through my past posts, that's what I started out to do. It made sense, back in June, to blog about political hot buttons, since that's what was foremost on my mind during the summer and fall of this past year.

The funny thing is, once we held the actual election I had no trouble whatsoever switching gears. While some politically-centered ranters struggled to find their post-election voice, Ol' Woody just shut off the political spigot, and opened the one labelled "Dad Stuff." That's what this blog has become: a virtual monument to the world as seen through the eyes of one very average Dad.

In this Dad's world, politics still come into play, but they no longer occupy most of my waking moments. World affairs are still important, but I am fully aware that there are many, many more competent minds out there who can dissect and disseminate this stuff far more effectively than I. Will I still offer my opinions on these subjects? Of course. I am, after all, a male, and like all males I suffer from Male Answer Syndrome. You bet I have an opinion. I'm just trying to limit myself to areas where I feel I'm on somewhat solid ground.

Which brings me to my subject for post number 128: Blogs as a form of Family History. For several years now I have been an amateur genealogist. I've gotten good at it, but my amateur status remains secure. The wonderful thing about family history (as opposed to "pure" genealogical research) is that you can record your family's history in any number of ways today.

Twenty.... um,... lessee, eight from four is... ok, twenty six years ago (nearly twenty seven now!) I left home to serve a mission for the Church. Part of the ritual in those days was something called the "Missionary Farewell," which basically served as an excuse for family and close friends of the departee to roast him in front of three hundred people. The missionary would then get, oh, about two minutes to stammer a brief testimony and sneak out the side door and into oblivion. At least, that's how we wanted to leave once our loved ones got through telling every embarrassing moment of our young lives. You have no idea how hard we struggled deciding whether some members of the family should even be allowed to approach the pulpit.

Anyway, Grandma got the family together one day, not long after I'd left, to make a tape recording of everyone wishing me a good mission and telling me they missed me (except for the previously mentioned family member who, if memory serves, said something about having taken over my room and good luck getting it back, bwahahahahaha!). The second side of the tape carries portions of my Farewell. About every five years now I come across this tape and just have to pop it in the tape player.

This is family history.

For one thing, three of the people who appear on this tape are no longer with us. Grandma and Grandpa died in the late eighties, and my Dad passed away in 2000. For another, hearing everyone's voices from that many years back is just neat. A time capsule, if you will, of sounds that my children and grandchildren will enjoy listening to many years from now.

My wife is a scrapbooker, and we have one entire room of the house dedicated to her enterprises. Every scrapbook she creates is, itself, another version of family history, replete with photos that are well-preserved and protected, plus journaled thoughts throughout to serve as a living record of our family's activities.

This blog? Just another way to preserve Daddy's thoughts for future generations. Especially when Mrs. Woody goes to the trouble to print them out, index them, bind them, and have them available for anyone to read through, even if/when Blogspot goes down for the final digital count.

Please believe me when I say that I am not conceited enough to believe that this blog will have a lasting impact on anyone outside my immediate circle of influence. But for those who care, I do this out of love.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Renouncing Christmas

It's not that the mainstream media types have won the battle. Far from it. However, if any day of the year could possibly make me renounce Christmas, it's the night before we travel up to visit family for the holiday.

I have a physics problem, and I'm certain some few of you Dads out there are familiar with it. I have a Saturn. I'm not complaining; it's been a terrific car for our small family, and the miles I've put on it have been hard-won. Still, it's a Saturn, and the trunk is - how shall I put this? - a tad larger than Michael Moore's hat size. Not much larger, but you get the picture. Here's the physics problem: How to stuff approximately 159,000 cubic yards of gifts and luggage into a roughly 5 cubic foot trunk.

Now, for those pinko-athiest weirdos out there who don't believe in miracles, let me assure you: I face this problem every Christmas. Every December 23, I stand in my living room, survey the presents and luggage that my sweet Mrs. Woody absolutely insists must be transported to Ventura County, and pronounce in my most authoritative voice that it cannot be done! Then my sweet, lovely, and (did I mention?) extremely patient Mrs. Woody smiles her lovely smile at me, and I melt and mumble something about making it work somehow, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it simply cannot be done!

Then I begin the task of working this 3-D puzzle that is our Christmas cargo, and, lo! it all fits! Miracle, indeed!

So, let me assure you that even though I am this close to renouncing Christmas for the rest of my natural life, I am also still hopeful that the Miracle will occur right on schedule tomorrow morning when I begin actually putting all this stuff in my tiny Saturn trunk that was actually designed for Little Old Ladies from Pasadena who only drive it to the store every fifth Saturday and buy, maybe, two bags of groceries, because they're afraid they'll have to put the milk and eggs in the passenger seat, for Pete's sake, and their insurance probably doesn't cover anything like smeared egg yolk on a passenger seat, which would also attract insects because this is, after all, Southern California where it never dips below 63 degrees in the dead of winter, and her silly husband wanted to retire to Minnesota, of all the forsaken places to retire, where he'd have to make her shovel snow out of the drive because you can't afford even to pay some snotty-nosed kid five lousy bucks when you're living on a fixed income, even with Social "Security," which is a joke because those danged politicians in Washington keep spending the money on "fact-finding" trips to Bangladesh, which reminds me that...

Oh. Sorry. Got a bit carried away.

Anyway, I have little doubt that come tomorrow morning I will once again defy the laws of physics and turn my Saturn trunk into a sort of black hole. Just as dense but less likely to allow light to escape.

Which also means, by the way, that unless I get some time on my Mom's computer while we're there, I won't be blogging for a few days.

Merry Christmas!

UPDATE: I failed to mention that the Miracle works both ways. We loaded the car up this morning during a lull in our rare winter storm in order to make the trek home. To my astonishment (like this hasn't happened every Christmas...) I discovered that we had even more stuff going home than we did coming here! Still, the Miracle was with us, and I only had to put two things in the back seat with the girls.

Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


'Twould seem this movement is actually growing legs. Conservative students are fighting more than ever for what they see as "academic freedom." Or, what liberal educators see as a frightening trend toward not being able to indoctrinate impressionable minds any which way they please.

Cam, seems like the waters are clearing just a bit for your impending dive. Word, Bro.

Marijuana - The Board Game

Via Dave Barry's blog comes this corker, just in time for the holidays.

The game, in theory, shows the dangers inherent in running a marijuana farm in the Great North. Apparently the brainchild of a reformed pot farmer, it runs players through all the excitement of raids, having property confiscated and crops destroyed, all from the safety of your living room.

Still, as Cpl. Scott Rintoul of the RCMP Drug Awareness Squad (Note to Mom: It'd be nice if this Rintoul was related, eh? Need to check to see if any of our northern Rintouls came from or migrated farther north!) points out: "It's not a game." He expresses concern that this game does nothing to point out the dangers to the "victims of organized crime."


Well, here's one game I don't feel any particular need to support. Still, at nearly $40 a pop, I'm pretty sure a certain reformed pot farmer won't be missing his former cash crop too badly this Christmas.

Give me a few years and I'll be playing a game of my own devising with my girls. I call it "Marijuana - Killer Weed." I'm sure liberals will find it quite as funny as "Reefer Madness."

I'm equally certain my girls won't.

The Curse of Love at Home

Wrote the poet, "There is beauty all around When there's love at home;" (Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, No. 294)

This is a favorite hymn of the LDS Church, and I grew up singing it at the top of my not inconsiderable lungs through most of my childhood (and beyond). With my little girls, it's become a favorite song for our evening prayer time. Until just before Christmas, it was easily one of the most requested songs every night. It's a beautiful hymn with a wonderful message, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wishes to bring a sense of peace into their homes.

Except for the curse.

There is a wonderful legend in the classical music world. This version uses Mendelssohn, but I've also heard versions with Beethoven and Liszt (credit SermonWarehouse):

The great composer, Felix Mendelssohn, had a bad habit of being late for appointments. One reason for this is that he liked to sleep late. Consequently, there were times when his students came to his home for a morning lesson and Mendelssohn would still be in bed. On one occasion, a student grew tired of waiting and figured out a way to get the master downstairs in a hurry. He went to the piano and struck an unresolved chord. He knew that if there was anything that could bring that man to attention it was an unresolved chord. The story ends, of course, with Mendelssohn springing out of his bed and rushing down to the piano to resolve the chord for the student.

I use this story to illustrate how music - any music - badly or incompletely performed can be painful to a discerning ear. My mother understood this principle all too well in my childhood, and used it to great advantage.

As with most families, we siblings squabbled a great deal. From the absolute petty to the major issues, we bickered. With four, and, later, five youngsters possessed of tremendous lung capacity, Mom was constantly looking for creative ways to get our collective attention. It wasn't easy. Then one day - I can remember neither the conflict nor the participants - our young ears were assaulted with a ghastly noise. Mom, singing as off-key and as loudly as she could muster, pelted the house with a sound that can only be compared to a recital given by drunken Shriners.

The song? "Love at Home," of course. "LOOOOOOOOVE AAAAAAAAAAAT HOOOOOOOOOOOME!" repeated as many times as necessary to stun us into submission. It generally worked. No matter what the conflict, the presence of a common enemy helped us to cease arguing, clap our hands over our ears and plead with our sainted mother for our auditory lives.

The curse, of course, is that I now do this to my own children. My lungs happen to be even better than Mom's, and I can get considerably more volume than she did. Furthermore, my sweet girls have a Mommy who has trained their ears to listen to things with the volume down, so that when Daddy is in full voice, he often hears, "Daddy! Could you sing quieter?" (We're still working on "more quietly" versus "quieter," but why split hairs for this story?)

Lately, with the girls at 7 and 5, the bickering has increased a bit. Normally my girls play very sweetly together, as long as the older one is getting her way. Occasionally, however, as 5 year olds are wont to do, the younger one decides she wants to do something else for awhile, and the bickering begins. Daddy then draws a nice, well-supported breath, and bellows, "LOOOOOOOOVE AAAAAAAAAAAT HOOOOOOOOOOOME!" I generally only have to sing that phrase twice, before the girls are giggling helplessly on the floor with hands over ears, pleading:

"Do that again, Daddy! Pleeeeeeze?"

Some day I'll write about curses that backfire.

UPDATE: Cameron relives the curse. As he points out, "at least Mom never had to resort to whuppin' us upside da head."

Not that we didn't deserve it...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Republicrat Arnie

USA Today (via Drudge) carries this little tidbit about the Governator prodding the GOP for leftist votes.

It would be relatively easy at this point to take another cheap shot at Arnie's ever-progressing "Kennedy Syndrome," since his marriage into the Royal Family has apparently addled his Stero-Austrian sensibilities. Heck, I've done it before. Unfortunately, his statements to a German newspaper are even more troubling than his left-center leanings.

The telling quote:

"I would like the Republican Party to cross this line, move a little further left and place more weight on the center," he was quoted as saying. "This would immediately give the party 5% more votes without it losing anything elsewhere."

So it comes to this. Politics reduced to mere bookkeeping.

I am not naive enough to believe that it's never been about how many votes you get. This is what keeps power brokers in power, after all. Politicians we happen to support don't get there without votes; of this there is no question.

I had hoped, however, that this last election would have made something clear, even to these dull-witted politicos. The campaigns of the two major parties were marked by extreme polarization - more so than we've seen in many years. The issues ranged from personalities ("I'm voting for Kerry because I hate Bush") through terrorism and down to "values." On each point there were, truly, very few middle-roaders. The middle-roaders can, perhaps, be compared to Nader's campaign. Enough to be considered "significant," but not nearly enough to swing the results of the election.

With that knowledge, and considering the fact that the Republicans did better than most analysts had predicted this election year, it seems inconceivable that the Governator would ask the party to set aside its moral backbone in order to gain another 5%.

And yet, it's not really inconceivable.

This is Arnie, the Hollywood power broker, speaking. This is a man who made his fortune because he became a commodity, and then enlarged it by being a shrewd financier. He married into what is arguably one of the most powerful and wealthy families in the United States. He parlayed the woes of a very unpopular governor into a stunning victory for the GOP, and has even been mentioned as impetus for changing that dratted ol' Constitution so his power base can propel him into the White House.

Of course he wants another 5%.

Arnie the Hollywood Power Broker© craves popularity. He will - and you can quote me here - begin playing the "diversity" card any day now. "We must reach out," he will say, "to those who feel that the GOP is an exclusive club." He will preach tolerance of gay rights, and even the worman's "right to choose," because it will attract voters from the left side of the spectrum and give him that extra 5% he craves.

The problem, of course, is that Arnie fails to do the math.

Whether or not you believe, as some party faithful do, that the GOP gained any kind of mandate in this last election, it cannot be disputed that we won by a very narrow margin. Narrow enough for politicos like Arnie to be wistfully gazing at that 5% vote margin.


Open the floodgates by asking us to set aside our moral convictions, Arnie, and you instantly lose a much larger number than the 5% you might otherwise gain. Don't forget that a very large portion of your current "power block" are unabashedly right-winged conservatives, and we will not hesitate for an instant to turn your plea for "diversity" into a political nightmare. Tolerance is fine as far as it goes, but I refuse to turn my back on the principles that have become my own "power base" - the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So here's the deal, Arnie. If you really want that 5%, do the honorable thing. Change parties and declare yourself to be a "conservative Democrat." At the moment, I think the only thing lacking is an actual change in your registration. You'll find the paperwork online, I believe, at the web site for the Secretary of State.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MSM's PC Christmas

Hugh Hewitt asks for responses to a Newsweek article that discusses the birth of Jesus and attempts to infer historical accuracy from the biblical accounts. The unfortunate truth is that no one in mainstream media is qualified to write such a piece because they lack the critical ingredient - faith - required to write with any authority. Those who have the faith are merely referred to as sources; another data point from which to write their scholarly theses.

The whole frustration we (the Christian base of believers) have with such articles is that any fool can do that kind of research and come up with the same or similar conclusions. It's very similar to those documentaries that promise to tackle a tough historical mystery, only to end with "it all depends on your perspective." I hate those documentaries, and articles of this nature leave a similar taste in my mouth.

The historical truth that these authors seek is, unfortunately, clouded by history itself. Primary source material is thin. There are precious few libraries of documents written in the meridian of time. Archaeological data is inferred from many sources, but relatively few authoritative writings directly from the horses' mouths, as it were. Those that exist are often suspect in their accuracy, and tended to be written from heavily biased perspectives. A Roman historian, for example, would tend to write so that whatever Ceasar they served came out smelling like roses, while other races or nations become either buffoons or fierce warriors (depending on who needed to be impressed).

The good news (so to speak) is that, for Christians, authoritative sources tend to come from within far more than from without. Even within the Church, writers are prolific and there are scholars plenty. But true faith and knowledge come from sources that no media story could ever articulate. Few have tried; all have failed.

Having given the Newsweek article a cursory reading, I can readily see that the author did a lot of research. But all of it is meaningless to the spiritually inclined. Oh, it makes interesting reading. But his arguments are not compelling to those who are comfortable in their faith. He might sway those few who are struggling with their faith to a greater degree, but by and large those fights were lost long before reading such a story. For the rest, we have faith in the writings of the prophets and the feelings we receive from the Holy Spirit.

A powerful combination with which no journalist - with or without a Pulitzer prize - can ever hope to compete.

UPDATE: I guess I've been blogging long enough now that I can actually link to myself. Refer to this post to see just how out of touch with spiritual reality even some major religions can become. Truly frightening stuff.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Non-Rant Day Declared!

I've been on a somewhat short fuse the last few days, and I need a little soul-cleansing action today. I'm not honestly sure where the funk came from, but I'm hoping to dispel it. Could just be a combination of too little sleep coupled with too much holiday busy-ness, augmented by a glut of outrageous news items during what should be a festive time of year. Or, perhaps, I'm feeling hormonal all of a sudden.

Anyway, this time of year always presents a bit of a conundrum for me. I have been a choir boy since long before my high school days. In those days when choir directors could still get away with calling them Christmas concerts, Christmas was my favorite season for singing. There were two primary influences that helped me appreciate the beauty of Christmas music in my younger years. First and foremost were my parents. Both incredibly gifted musicians who instilled in their offspring a love of beautiful music. By merely opening my ears I was introduced to an ever-widening spectrum of inspiring songs, carols and anthems that went way beyond Rudolph, Frosty, or St. Nick. Beyond even Joys to the World, Midnights Clear, Towns of Bethlehem, or interminable iterations of Hallelujah.

My second best influence for music which still can send me into raptures unspoken was, interestingly enough, my agnostic, Jewish, and very gay high school choir director. He it was who first trained my voice enough to begin to express this wonderful music without sounding like a donkey with adenoid trouble.

The conundrum is how a season that inspires such beautiful sounds can send me into near-complete physical and emotional breakdowns because I'm so busy singing that I can't seem to get any rest.

I swore this year would be different.

I conducted what I had hoped would be my last Christmas concerts last year after having done so on and off for decades. Conducting is an even bigger energy consumer than singing and is, for me, more emotionally draining as well. As I looked ahead to this Christmas, I envisioned attending one or more concerts just to listen and appreciate, then go home. Oh, I figured Mom would hit me up for her concert this year. Mom's concerts are always fun and never over-taxing. But that would be it, and I could enjoy the rest of this glorious season.

About a month ago I received an invitation to be the tenor soloist for our community's first ever Messiah Sing-Along, an event held in (of all places!) the Nixon Library. Then another invitation to sing in a special devotional to be held in the Los Angeles Temple. Then Mom's standing invitation, and, of course, our own Ward choir which sings once for the Ward, and again for our entire Stake in a special fireside.

The bottom line here is that I will have sung every weekend this season since Thanksgiving. I lost the battle to stay healthy in between concerts. I came down with a particularly nasty head cold immediately following the Messiah performance. The good news is that it never hit my throat. Thank goodness for Zicam. I recovered just in time to do Mom's concert. The bad new is that I'm still sniffling, and I have two more weekends' worth of singing to go.

Really, this isn't a rant. I could just as easily have said, "No." But I didn't. I have a disease.

In any case, may I recommend something to anyone who would like to break out of the same-old Christmas music blahs this season?

I first became acquainted with the music of the Dale Warland Singers by a happy accident. Back in the early 80's I happened upon two of their Christmas recordings at a local Gemco (any locals still remember Gemco??). They were in the novelty section, and I think I paid, what, $5.00 each. I had looked at the playlists and saw a couple of things that I normally didn't see on Christmas recordings that featured Slim Whitman and Perry Como. When I took them home and played them, I immediately recognized a choral group to rival the best that Robert Shaw or Roger Wagner had ever put together. Near flawless execution, wonderful tonality, and boundless energy are the hallmarks of the Warland Singers.

The only drawback for me is Warland's devotion to modern composers, which means that you get one or two pieces on any given recording that would make cats willingly jump in the nearest lake. Otherwise, I can't recommend them enough.

Merry Christmas, and, assuming I survive the next two weekends, a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Free Enterprise is an Oxymoron

Let me just state for the record that I support the principles of free enterprise. In my book, the less Government interference in commerce, the better. I firmly believe in the right of any business to make money hand-over-fist so long as the market is willing to shovel the money into their coffers. Long live Capitalism!

Now, having said that, let me belly-ache about profiteering, money-grubbing, greed-swilling corporate capitalist pigs. If I may.

Two examples will suffice to support my rant today.

First up (I'm changing the names to protect the innocent - me - from said greed-swilling corporate pig lawsuits) is a company known as OldDeadRelatives-dot-com. Some enterprising person or persons thought there was money to be made in the world of genealogy as more and more information became available publicly via the Internet (a.k.a. Al Gore). The idea is to buy up the digital rights to countless books and other resources, then charge through the nose for researchers to be able to use those resources from the comfort of their living rooms. Terrific idea. I myself have been a willing subscriber.

There are a few problems, however. First of all, they keep changing their pricing policies. Your subscription will change, sometimes twice in a year, to include less information for the same price. They then re-bundle the data and attach a price to it. The end result is that a subscription that gave me pretty much everything I really needed last year for around $170 will now cost me nearly $300 if I buy every package where they've spread those resources.

I won't even get into the horror stories of trying to cancel your subscription. I figure the cheapest way is to let my credit card lapse and never renew it. Once they figure out they can't get my money, they'll cancel my account. It's no use trying to talk to their so-called customer service reps. These are probably (based on my trained ear) BYU co-eds who have no idea how the company operates and wouldn't even know who to talk to about the fact that the ONE CENSUS IMAGE I'VE NEEDED FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS STILL HASN'T BEEN REPAIRED. I always say that in capital letters when I talk to them, and I keep getting the same perky "have a nice day!" in response.

My second example occurred just this morning. Mrs. Woody and I are dedicated homeschoolers. That is to say, Mrs. Woody is a dedicated homeschooler and I am the dedicated support and all-around rah-rah Daddy. In any case, Mrs. Woody has spent a lot of time and energy in developing a curriculum (being a teacher by training, in her case). She is constantly on the lookout for materials and programs that will help her teach our two little sponges.

For reading, she settled on a nationally recognized phonics program called something like (remembering my fear of lawsuits a few paragraphs back) Addicted to Small Syllables. We bought the full package a couple of years ago, and got Daughter Number One started on it in earnest at the beginning of the last school year. Daughter Number Two got her start this school year, and both girls have become reading whizzes, without having even finished the program yet. Number One has even read (age seven, first grade remember!) the first book of the Harry Potter series.

We have been very satisfied with the program. So what's my beef?

When we got the program, we realized that we would need an additional set of workbooks and posters so that we could use the basic program for both girls, and each could have their own progress charts and so forth. After the materials were delivered, we realized that something was missing. Mrs. Woody called the company, spoke to a very friendly person, and the item was shipped post haste.

Now, a year later, we realized that one of the posters for Number 2 was missing. Mrs. Woody called them this morning to order one, only to learn that now it (a barely more than letter-sized progress chart) would cost us $9.95. Not including shipping! Seems that because we're no longer considered "new" customers they can no longer just ship us whatever we may lack without charging us for the privilege. Mrs. Woody pointed out that they receive quite a lot of free advertising from us in the form of recommendations to friends and family about the program and how successful it's been for us. Well, they say, we appreciate that, but we're really doing you a favor by even letting you order just the one poster. Had you called only a week ago, we would have had to charge you for a complete set of workbooks and posters at $49.95!

No thanks, and have a very Merry Christmas (emphasis by Mrs. Woody). You can bet we will not be advertising for your company any longer. Terrific product, lousy customer service will be our advice from this point forward.

Yet another example (or two) of corporations being so beholden to their stockholders' bottom lines that they cannot justify offering good old-fashioned customer service anymore.

Sad. Very sad.

No Disrespect Intended

Days like this one are hard for me. I know that there are probably millions of people today who are remembering John Lennon. They remember (in no particular order) his music, his writings, his interviews, the "British Invasion," Yoko Ono, the Beatles breaking up, and, of course, his senseless death at the hands of a whacked out fan.

Me? I'm trying just as hard not to have to think about any of that.

It really has nothing to do with my so-called musical eliteism. Yes, I have interests that do not range far afield from my classical roots. However, I grew up during the sixties and seventies, and Lennon's influence was everywhere. One could only ignore it to a point. The man himself I was able to ignore completely, and I've never really regretted it. I just can't see what all the fuss was about.

Visionary. Yeah, well, so was Lincoln, but I don't hear people get all choked up about his getting blown away in Ford's Theatre in 1865. Maybe in another hundred years, they'll stop getting choked up about Lennon, too.

Talented. Depends on taste, really. He wrote stuff that apparently resonated with a large portion of youth during a turbulent period in history. Some of them still have a few surviving brain cells after Lennon and his cronies pointed the way to chemical-induced enlightenment. I much prefer losing my brain cells the natural way.

Trailblazer. Um, really, if you read his interviews (I have, believe it or not. It was the only book available on a cold morning when I needed some mental stimulation. Call it "historical research.") you'll find that everything he did initially was an accident of circumstance, mixed with a healthy dose of rebellion from whatever his limited understanding defined as "the establishment." Once he became an icon, he became a trailblazer because he knew people would follow him. Didn't he once proclaim himself to be more relevant than Christ? No, John Muir was a trailblazer. Lennon was more of a slash-and-burn kind of guy.

I guess I have no soul. That's probably the bottom line here. I've never been able to make golden calves out of pop icons, and that's where I went wrong in life. I enjoy the music in limited doses, but I just don't see what the big deal is when it comes to the artists. Look at Streisand, for pete's sake. No, scratch that. Don't. I don't have enough liability insurance.

Of course, any sympathy I might have had for Lennon died when he did, leaving us Yoko Ono to keep reminding us what a god Lennon was. For that, I will never forgive him.

Let it be? Yeah, right.

UPDATE: I knew I wouldn't be the only one who couldn't care less about this particular anniversary.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On the First Day of Christmas... true love made a list.

This list will save our sanity, if it doesn't kill us first.

Mrs. Woody loves lists. She makes lists for just about every occasion, including (or especially) our vacations. On those occasions when the list is absent, we invariably forget something. Take, for example, last weekend. I mentioned previously that my daughter had her fifth birthday last week. I also mentioned that our kids get to celebrate birthdays multiple times since we always have our own little private celebration, then head off to visit extended family for at least one more celebration. Two cakes, two sets of presents. You get the idea.

The trip was planned as an overnighter. On Friday we'd celebrate our niece's birthday, then celebrate our daughter's birthday the next day. Then off to the other Grandma's house for a brief visit (with computer doctoring) and singing in her concert Saturday night. No big deal.

Except... we forgot the presents. That's right. A trip to celebrate two birthdays and we forgot the presents. Can you imagine if I pull that stunt on Christmas? (Um, note to Mrs. Woody: Add to list!)

Anyway, Mrs. Woody didn't make her list, and I forgot to grab the presents. There were other things, of course, but how can you forget presents when travelling, what, umpteen kazillion miles to visit family for the express purpose of celebrating not one, but two birthdays?!

So, based on that fiasco, Mrs. Woody made a Christmas Readiness Checklist (CRC). Then she fainted. Or, at least, she would have if doing so wouldn't have caused a concussion from hitting her head on the corner of the computer desk.

As I looked at the list, I realized that, based on her schedule, we were already behind schedule to a list she had just made. No wonder she was stressed! Since a goodly portion of those things listed "Daddy" as the responsible party, I began to feel a tad stressful myself. So, last night, whilst enjoying our perennial favorite "White Christmas" video, I put up the tree. Complete with lights.

The list really isn't as bad as it may sound. Looking ahead, I figure I can make up some ground on Friday. The only things on the list are returning library books, and cooking dinner for the missionaries. Gotta cook anyway, and returning books is a no-brainer. Mrs. Woody has to do a school project with the girls, but she'd probably have to do one of those anyway, too. Saturday's only list item is our Ward Christmas Party that evening, so I see wiggle room and a chance to catch up.

Then we'd better not fall any further behind.

The list wouldn't like that.

Monday, December 06, 2004

BlogSurf, U.S.A.

As one who was once termed "co-dependent," I suppose it can be dangerous to blogsurf on days when my biorhythm is on a triple low (for the record, emotionally I just started an up-swing, but physically and intellectually I bottom out in a couple of days). I sometimes will read things that make me want to open discussions with the authors and see if I can't talk them through the tough times.

Having kids, I should know better.

Most parents know: You can talk all you wanna, but if they don't want to listen, you may as well go work on your Pulitzer Prize entries.

On the other hand, some issues always tug at me no matter how thick I think my veneer is on a particular day. Take, for example, people who don't have children but want them desperately. This is an issue I can still relate to, because it really wasn't all that long ago that I myself was in that boat.

Twenty years ago I found myself wondering when the children would come. Not "if," mind you, but "when." After a few years, I began to wonder "if." There had been many a tearful evening with my spouse (now my ex) wondering what we were doing wrong, or what we had done that warranted being childless. There were fertility specialists and a rash of humiliating tests. Nothing worked.

Then - quite suddenly, it seemed - there were kids everywhere. We adopted our first child. Then we became foster parents. Three more children were added to the house and one of those we adopted. Now, a few years later still and remarried, I've become a "natural" parent.

Let me just state here that, realistically, there is no difference between being an adoptive parent and being a natural parent. My first child was adopted at birth. My second came to us as a thirteen year old hormone storm. Numbers three and four came the "old fashioned" way. As a Dad, I stressed myself through each one, regardless of whether there was even a pregnancy that I was somehow involved with. Even adopting our teenager was no walk in the park. Seems the State of California doesn't really believe that teenagers need parents (as far as the foster system is concerned, at any rate) and we were ultimately forced to do an adult adoption.

This roller coaster never stops to let passengers off.

I have sat in waiting rooms and judges' chambers. I have yet to see an actual delivery because my two natural births decided to make their entrances the hard way. Now I spend my days waiting to see how things will turn out for my kids. I try to anticipate their questions so I can have some sort of coherent answer for them. Even my eldest, who is married with a family of her own, manages still to keep Dad on his toes. She doesn't do it on purpose, of course. It's just a parent thing. I mean, I'm 46 and I know my Mom still loses sleep on my account every once in awhile.

Advice? Plenty. But to keep it brief, there needs to be a spiritual base to your life in order to keep things in perspective. For example, have you ever paused to wonder just where that desire and longing for children comes from? It's a gift from heaven. Knowing that, however, can either be a blessing or a curse if we don't understand how families fit in the eternal scheme of things.

I was petrified of adoption because of all the horror stories I'd ever heard about things that adoptive parents had gone through. Everything from birth mothers changing their minds at the last minute, to children wanting to find their birth parents before they were emotionally ready. But once the decision to adopt was made, it became a natural thing for me to place my faith in God and let the process run its course. I will always be grateful that I was able to do that.

To those who want but don't yet have I can only say: Keep going. Stay right with God and you will be taken care of. If all other doors have been slammed in your face then maybe, just maybe, your chance for a family will come in a life beyond this one. I know I'm not offering much, but it's all I have.

Best of luck.

P.S. If you're really desperate, I can loan you my teenage son. I'll ship him to you in a box with a feeding slot. If he gets uppity, you have my permission to close the feeding slot. No return postage, I'm afraid.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Our baby turned 5 today.

5, at least from a parent's perspective, is a landmark age. Potty training: done (nearly... gotta tackle those yucky ones yet). Booster seat instead of infant seat: done. Realization that being 5 means certain responsibilities: done.

I call her "Tiny." I really shouldn't, but she does inherit the smaller end of our gene pool, and we are not giants. Unfortunately, the last child of any family will always be the "baby," and our baby is not altogether eager to leave that era behind. She still needs snuggle breaks every afternoon with Mommy. She still wants people to read to her, even though she's reading at about a 1st grade plus level already. Her imagination is limited only by her relative lack of experience, but she's quickly catching up with her older sister.

Mommy, of course, has hit that stage where "my baby is growing up!" accompanied by a wistful look. I have not interpreted this look - nor has my wife ever implied - to mean that she wishes she had another baby in the house. Quite the contrary. We've both reached that age where we will enjoy watching the girls grow into each stage of their lives. Except, probably, for that stage where Daddy begins answering the door while polishing the ol' .45. But I fully expect Mommy to get more of those wistful looks in the ensuing years. Shucks, I'm 46 and my Mommy still gets 'em.

Tonight we celebrated by taking the girls to Ye House of Giant Mouse and Cheese, the venerable temple of cheesy entertainment (literally!), as well as pizza. We'd been threaten promising to take them there for weeks to celebrate their reading accomplishments in school, and the little one's birthday became the catalyst. So, off we went to visit the Rat and spend some of the tokens we've been hoarding since our last visit. The girls had a blast. Mom and Dad enjoyed watching them have a blast.

With both sides of our family living in a relatively near-by county, it often happens that birthdays in our family get celebrated multiple times. This will be no exception. Tomorrow we wend our merry way to Ventura County to celebrate BDay Number 5 once again, as well as to participate in Grandma's annual Christmas Concert at her church. Since most of her kids and in-law kids sing, we generally all get to participate, give or take having to watch grandkids.

In the meantime, we get to enjoy all the benefits of a child turning 5. This is about the age where they begin to understand that they have wills of their own that they can assert. Ah, yes. Now I remember. 5 year olds become more fussy about what they will or will not eat. They don't like being told they have to "be patient" about anything. In fact, didn't I threaten - just the other day - to play the boarding school card?

No, sir. No more babies in this house...

Irresponsible Rumor Department

Anyone who works in aerospace knows the value of a well-placed irresponsible rumor. The better ones become self-fulfilling prophecies if timed correctly. Here's my attempt at a new political one:

Cap'n Ed at Captain's Quarters offers an interesting juxtaposition of posts. First, read his post regarding use of cannabis being linked to increased psychosis.

Then, directly above it, read this post regarding the recent and increasingly bizarre antics of Minnesota's Finest.

Whattaya get? A pot-smoking Senator who has become seriously delusional. I figure he'll have the Jesse Ventura grassroots vote all sewed up in 2006.

Of course, this time of year he could just be experiencing early brain-freeze, but my rumor's more fun.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Life By Committee

By now, only a sheltered few will not have heard about the "Groningen Protocol" created by a hospital in Holland. The protocol calls for an independent board that will examine cases where terminally ill patients with "no free will" may be euthanized. This frightens me.

Let me explain. I have mixed feelings about euthanasia. I have been acquainted with parents who had children born with terminal complications. In one case, the child had been born prematurely due to multiple problems in utero. The baby, a little girl, was born with a cleft palate, severe spina bifida, and nothing more than a brain stem, really. There was no hope for any length of life, and the doctors argued against life-saving procedures - itself a form of euthanasia. The father was a friend and also my counselor in my priesthood quorum at church. A good man who, with his equally good wife, faced a difficult decision with strength and courage. In the end there really was no question. They agreed not to use any form of life support, and the baby died within a week of her birth. They named her, placed her one photo on their wall of family pictures, and eagerly look forward to the day when they will be reunited with her in eternity.

This was a decision not reached lightly. There were consultations with family, including grandparents, their Bishop, the medical staff of two hospitals, and, of course, each other. They sought guidance through prayer and felt strongly prompted to make the ultimate decision. It was an intensely private process.

How disturbing, then, to hear of a nation that has taken on the role of ecclesiastical leaders, family, and medical experts to decide the fate of those who cannot decide for themselves. Is it possible that they might supplant the natural authority of parents on behalf of those deemed "unworthy" to live? Yes, in this case, it is.

Any time a committee takes up a matter, no matter the degree of significance, their deliberations become a matter of public record and carry with them a certain overriding authority. Whether or not it is intended, the effect will be the same. "We're sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, religious considerations aside, we cannot allow this baby to live in this condition. He will be euthanized within the hour."

Here in the Land of the Free (So Far) we still face the problem of such things as assisted suicide. Again, not a decision to be taken lightly. On the one hand, it might seem more merciful to prematurely end the suffering of a soul who suffers from a terminal illness. On the other hand, our moral compass would seem to point out that suffering is a part of this life that carries with it experience for the sufferer, and lessons of courage and faith to all who are connected with that sufferer.

The question of who decides whether someone lives or dies is not altogether different from the question of whether to create a life merely to save another one. I'm speaking here of embryonic stem cell research and all the ethical and moral questions connected with it. How can we possibly justify supplanting the authority of God in these questions?

The Dutch, as a sovereign people, will not appreciate interference from the outside, any more than we appreciate world opinion regarding our activities in Iraq and elsewhere. But my brother makes the case: It's one thing to declare war against an armed enemy, and another to declare invalid the life of any human merely because they can't speak for themselves.

I pray that we in this country will never allow life to be decided by committee. Except where a criminal's life is demanded in justice for the shedding of innocent blood. We call that kind of committee a jury. A jury of peers.

Note the difference.

UPDATE: Way Off Bass posts his discovery of ancient Dutch scripture fragments. Must read.

Also, aside from Hewitt, why are the lawyers in the 'Sphere not commenting on this? Fear of the moral/ethical implications? Tsk, tsk.