Monthly Archives: February 2010

Mangos in Wyoming

I was in Riverton, Wyoming, this weekend.  Among its other attributes (and it really is a very picturesque place, but that’s not what this post is about), it has a Wal-Mart.  I stopped there on my way out of town for snacks for the 5-hour drive home.  I headed for the produce, which in a Wal-Mart is invariably fresher and offers a wider selection than anywhere else.

Let us not reflect on what imperial machinations the corporate behemoth inflicts to keep its produce section in tip-top shape.

Reaching for the apples, I noticed that mangos were on sale.  63¢ each.  How far is Riverton, Wyoming from mango country?  I don’t know, but a hell of a long way.

No mangos grow here.

Through the marvels of the modern global supply chain, Wal-Mart caused a crop of uniform-sized mangos to be grown, transported from some distant hacienda, and placed at my eye-level.  In Riverton, Wyoming.  For less than the price of a candy bar.

My grandfather homesteaded a hardscrabble farm just outside that town in 1948.  He weathered the blizzard of ’49 with a wife and an infant in a shotgun shack constructed from materials taken from a nearby WWII POW camp, going on to eke out a living raising corn and wheat and cattle so paltry it nearly did him in.  Sixty-two years later, I am buying mangos for pocket change.

I don’t believe in miracles.  But this is progress so radical as to be nearly miraculous.  Unnatural, even.  Luxury beyond the wildest imaginings of the 99% of history’s greatest potentates.  Is it good?  Yes.  Is it sustainable?  I don’t know.  I’ve got some doubts.  What will the scionness’ children, my grandchildren, be doing in Riverton?  Teleporting in sashimi for the cost of a snapped finger?

So it has always been

Old news footage of soldiers behaving badly in Bangkok.

There have been “camp followers” since there were camps with soldiers in them, no doubt, but I wonder if this was the first time soldiers were flown in by the planeload to the camp followers?  Note, too, that the Thai officials got over the “decline in morals” when they scented the cash, if the approximately 10,000 girlie bars in Thailand as of 2010 are any evidence.

Rustlers

They’re still around.  Here’s one that didn’t get too far:

CHADRON, Neb. (AP) _ A man accused of stealing cattle in the Panhandle and selling them at a livestock auction in eastern Nebraska has pleaded guilty. Jake Otte entered the plea to one count of exercising control in Dawes County Court. The 29-year-old had faced 10 charges of felony theft, but they were combined into the single charge during last week’s preliminary hearing. Court records say Otte stole 10 head of cattle from Chadron-area rancher and former Dawes County Commissioner Gil Nitsch in October and sold them at a livestock auction in Wahoo for $8,700. Nitsch had branded the cattle, but brand inspections are not required in eastern Nebraska. Eight of the animals have been recovered. Otte is out on $10,000 bond until his April 13 sentencing.

Spotted at KNEB, Voice of the Valley.

Kicking the habit back

It took me about 20 tries, but I managed to kick the smoking habit about 5 years ago.  (Not without the habit kicking me back – I was hacking up tarry nastiness for a good 3 months afterwards.)  I wonder if I would ever have started if there’d been ads like this staring me in the face (click the picture to enlarge):

The French says "To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco." Ain't it the truth? Tell me that those hunched figures getting frostbitten sucking on butts in the 5-degree cold outside your building aren't slaves.

Currently generating controversy in France, I think these ads are great.  They ought to run them here.  I wonder if they’d have any effect.  Who knows what the kids think is cool these days.

Even better would be a five-dollar tax.  I couldn’t have afforded to even start smoking if a pack of smokes cost me $7.

How I learned to concentrate (again)

Over at TeleRead, Chris Meadows recently wrote on the sapping of our attention spans. In between clicks away to gmail, Facebook, and Chris’s own links, I was just able to read through to the end, and the comments after.

Now perhaps I am merely mentally lazy and weak, as Steve Jordan suggests, but I don’t think reclaiming your attention span is strictly a matter of willpower, of just clicking things off. The networked world is more insidious than that. Mere willpower isn’t enough for me. I couldn’t just “turn stuff off”. But if I wanted to get some serious writing done, or even spend more time with my daughter, I had to.

I don’t even have a smartphone and almost never turn on the wireless function of my Kindle, but when I got a new super-duper fast laptop with wireless on it after arriving back in the States last year, the effect was very much like a sudden crack addiction. Mind you, on account of living in the Third World for some years, I hadn’t been exposed to a gradual build-up of all-the-time media. I just jumped straight into the pool. Before I knew it, I couldn’t even get through a meal without glancing at the laptop for some all-important update, 99.8% of which I couldn’t remember a day later. My attention span suffered. My writing suffered. My daughter learned to ratchet up the squeal volume to compete with the glowing screen.

It took me some months of grappling with the supercharged information monster before realizing that simple behavioral changes were required. I do some writing longhand, but most of the heavy-duty editing work occurs on the computer screen. Going analog was not an option. So, I resurrected and rejigged my old laptop, synced with the endlessly useful Dropbox, and now use it exclusively for writing. The reason: it’s painfully, painfully slow. With a 128k processor it takes a good two minutes to boot up even the google homepage with Chrome and it lacks wireless – you actually have to plug it into a wire to get online (which I do strictly to sync the docs I’m working on with Dropbox) which keeps my behind in the writing chair. It is an exercise in ritual self-humiliation to break away to Facebook or gmail or RSS feeds or whatever. This is enough to cause you to reflect and stop yourself. As opposed to my other laptop, where the time-wasting temptations of the internet are always only one, swift click away. I couldn’t will myself into stopping the online skipping around. But I can sure frustrate myself into it.

The other thing I did which has proved enormously helpful in improving my concentration was winnow down my RSS feeds. In a pure exercise of Darwinian survival of the fittest, I cut these down to the absolute essentials – the NY Times, A Hank Williams Journal, a few blogs of friends and writers, TeleRead. I used to spend hours chasing around interesting links on BookForum and The Awl and Ars Technica and etc. But now I quickly come to the end of the linkage, at which point boredom sets in … at which point I can return to work, satisfied at having taken a good survey of a select few of the world’s happenings, without drowning in a ceaseless sea of updates.

Also, while I don’t dispute that immense value of Twitter, I’ve so far avoided both using it and following folks. This is because I know myself: I’d be right back on the crack, and it might be days before my daughter got fed again.

Somewhat ironically: thusly unplugging myself from the matrix has freed up a lot of time for one its primary benefits: ebooks. With a good chunk of my time no longer sucked into the linky rabbithole, I’m reading a lot more. My Kindle has a large backlog of books acquired willy-nilly when I was downloading everything in sight. Although this backlog has to compete with a stack of paper books, I do plan on getting through some of them relatively soon. I’ll post on them here as I do.

Note: This originally appeared at TeleRead.

Kris Kristofferson update

I paid some homage to Kris Kristofferson on Christmas Eve.  Now Nathan Rabin over at The Onion’s AV Club Nashville Or Bust feature is getting in the act:

Over the course of this project, I’ve written about a rogue’s gallery of drunks, ne’er-do-wells, and scoundrels, larger-than-life icons who lived fast, died young, and left behind desiccated, ghoulish corpses. That all ends with today’s entry in Nashville Or Bust, however, as I cover the dry, colorless, almost perversely uninteresting Kris Kristofferson.

Kristofferson is just your typical Army brat turned championship college rugby player turned Rhodes Scholar/expatriate Oxford alum turned Army captain/helicopter pilot turned recording-studio janitor turned hit songwriter turned recording artist turned producer turned movie star turned living legend turned primary inspiration for the role that will probably win Jeff Bridges a long-overdue Oscar this year. When he left the military, Kristofferson wrestled with a choice every country singer has faced, from Jimmie Rodgers to Taylor Swift: whether to accept a post teaching English Literature at West Point, or pursue his dreams of becoming a songwriter.

Well worth a read.  Here’s a soundtrack.

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And they say America isn’t a meritocracy

Facing a stint in the Federal big house?

[vodpod id=Video.3021129&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

You could come out an embittered ex-con who goes on to to fail to rob more banks.  Or, you could transform yourself into a jailhouse lawyer who presents briefs to the Supreme Court:

Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber.

“We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison.

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

He prepared his first petition for certiorari — a request that the Supreme Court hear a case — for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002. …

“It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.” …

The former solicitor general showed the bank robber drafts of his briefs. The two men consulted about how to frame the arguments, discussed strategy and tried to anticipate questions from the justices. …

In January 2004, Mr. Waxman called Mr. Hopwood at the federal prison in Pekin, Ill. They had won a 9-to-0 victory. Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion.

Then keep on on keeping on:

By 2005, the Supreme Court had granted a second petition prepared by Mr. Hopwood, vacating a lower court decision and sending the case back for a fresh look. Mr. Hopwood has also helped inmates from Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska get sentence reductions of 3 to 10 years from lower courts …

Mr. Hopwood, who is 34, said he hoped to apply to law school next year. Richard Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan who worked with Mr. Hopwood on the briefs for a recent Supreme Court case, said that he had already talked to the admissions office there about saving a spot.

Mr. Hopwood’s personal life is looking up, too. He married in August, and he and his wife had a son on Christmas Day.

So a Federal convict crashes the Supreme Court.  What’s stopping you?

And they say America isn't a meritocracy

Facing a stint in the Federal big house?

[vodpod id=Video.3021129&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

You could come out an embittered ex-con who goes on to to fail to rob more banks.  Or, you could transform yourself into a jailhouse lawyer who presents briefs to the Supreme Court:

Shon R. Hopwood was not a particularly sophisticated bank robber.

“We would walk into a bank with firearms, tell people to get down, take the money and run,” he said the other day, recalling five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998 that yielded some $200,000 and more than a decade in federal prison.

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

He prepared his first petition for certiorari — a request that the Supreme Court hear a case — for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002. …

“It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.” …

The former solicitor general showed the bank robber drafts of his briefs. The two men consulted about how to frame the arguments, discussed strategy and tried to anticipate questions from the justices. …

In January 2004, Mr. Waxman called Mr. Hopwood at the federal prison in Pekin, Ill. They had won a 9-to-0 victory. Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion.

Then keep on on keeping on:

By 2005, the Supreme Court had granted a second petition prepared by Mr. Hopwood, vacating a lower court decision and sending the case back for a fresh look. Mr. Hopwood has also helped inmates from Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska get sentence reductions of 3 to 10 years from lower courts …

Mr. Hopwood, who is 34, said he hoped to apply to law school next year. Richard Friedman, a law professor at the University of Michigan who worked with Mr. Hopwood on the briefs for a recent Supreme Court case, said that he had already talked to the admissions office there about saving a spot.

Mr. Hopwood’s personal life is looking up, too. He married in August, and he and his wife had a son on Christmas Day.

So a Federal convict crashes the Supreme Court.  What’s stopping you?