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Silence is Golden

Some friends and family actually have inquired why I stopped writing The Doke Dispatch. One even said, “With all the craziness going on right now, this would seem to be the perfect time for you to be out there ranting and raving.”

Well, that’s precisely why I’ve opted out, as hard as it is to resist the urge. There are just entirely too many stupid things being said by otherwise responsible people, including any number who are running for President, that the notion of pouncing on each one — tempting as it is — just lost its appeal. After all, what would my employer think about my views, especially given that I’m technically an employee of the State of Texas? I believe that question answers itself, as anyone who knows my political leanings might surmise. Andy Borowitz does a terrific job lampooning the foibles of the politicos, so I’ll leave that space to him.

And, commenting on companies that do illogical or patently stupid things has lost its appeal. There are just too many out there that appear to be stumbling and fumbling their way through the process of serving their customers and their shareholders, which strangely seem to be at odds these days, to the detriment of both. But, you never know when sensible people again might be put in charge of these companies and chart a better course. It’s better to let Andy have that space too.

For the time being, I’m practicing the Silence is Golden rule.

If I feel compelled to comment at all, and inevitably I will, I’ll restrict myself to my own stupidity and foibles. Certain family — especially my kids — and my insane pets of course are still in open season.

Perhaps more about all that later.

Thanks, Carl Foster! I Learned From The Best

At 88 years young, my friend and mentor, Carl Foster, should be living a life of quiet retirement at his home in Warrensburg, Missouri. Not Carl. He is still ranting against injustice, intolerance and hypocrisy — a terrific role model if there ever was one!

Rather than do my own rant, I just could not resist sharing Carl’s priceless piece, “Get a Hobby. Write Letters to the Editor,” which I’ve attached and pasted below. Okay, it’s 2500 words, so a bit long — but well worth your getting a nice cup of coffee and investing 10 minutes of your time to see what the crisp 88-year-old mind has been doing to stay busy.

Thanks, Carl

Get a Hobby. Write Letters to the Editor
By Carl B. Foster

When you reach the age of 88 and have to give up deep sea diving or wild boar hunting or even golf because of your physical limitations, you really need a doable hobby to keep you occupied. Mine is writing letters to the editor.

Each morning I scan the morning newspaper, searching for news of some city, county, or state official trying to mold our society or of someone’s malicious attack on an innocent. If I find a suitable subject that causes me to start tingling all over, I begin drafting my “Letter to the Editor.”

I write letters for several reasons. To be honest, it’s because I love to see my name in print and I enjoy immensely the phone calls (both for and against my position) but more important, because I am a “do-gooder.” I hate injustice, intolerance, bigotry, and above all, hypocrites. These are all fodder for my letter writing hobby.

There are some basic rules about writing letters to the editor. Never attack an individual on a personal basis. Try injecting a bit of humor (no jokes, please) or my favorite technique – exaggeration.

Following is a letter to the editor which is an example of my way of dealing with an issue that I really feel strongly about:


When I was in the U.S. Navy on a PT boat in the South Pacific during World War II, we got pretty tired of eating out of a can. To get a bit of variety in our diet, we simply tossed a live hand grenade over the side. You would be surprised to see the variety of fresh seafood that came floating belly up!

I understand that the U.S. Congress is currently contemplating allowing the ban on assault rifles to expire soon. I personally see nothing wrong with helping hunters who don’t like to aim by allowing them to own and use their automatic weapons. But, in all fairness, for those of us who are not too great at fishing, how about approving the use of hand grenades – for fishing only, of course, After all, fair is fair.

Recently Missouri lawmakers wrestled with a “concealed carry” bill that would permit duly licensed individuals to be armed. Although certain facilities were excluded, such as schools, churches, and courthouses, one of our representatives proposed an amendment to the bill which would permit the carrying of guns on university campuses.

Here’s the way I reacted to his amendment:


There are many of us who are looking forward with great anticipation to the efforts of the Missouri legislature to enact a bill permitting concealed weapons on the UCM campus. We are thankful for the support of the NRA and its fine support of our legislators in this patriotic endeavor. If this measure passes, we can look forward to a rapid decline in rapes, robberies and murders on the UCM campus.

Basically, I liken the implementation of concealed weapons to a baseball game. If a batter thinks the pitcher is throwing a curve ball, it doesn’t really matter whether the ball actually curves or not. It is the batter’s perception that counts.

Same with concealed weapons. If we think that everyone may be carrying a concealed weapon, it has exactly the same effect.

However, just passing legislation allowing students to carry guns on campus is really not enough. Following are some suggestions on what would greatly enhance this legislation:

Because of the current economic recession, many students cannot afford to purchase a gun or the ammunition that goes with it. Only the richer students can take advantage of such a program. Therefore, I would propose that the university bookstore sell guns and ammunition (with student discounts) to help level the playing field. Which brings our athletic programs into play. I recall that last year the UCM Bookstore offered a percentage discount on everything based on the number of touchdowns made by the football team. If we have another winning football season, the cost of these guns and ammunition would be drastically reduced.

Female students would be particularly pleased over the program. They would feel much safer if they assumed that their date was carrying a concealed weapon. When I was a college student (many years ago) I dated a girl who wore a leather jacket, boots and a helmet and rode a motorcycle. I felt real safe when I was with her.

Think of the huge savings by eliminating the need for a campus security force. With students armed with guns the number of violent actions on campus should be reduced to almost nothing. Even the Pine Street problems would be greatly reduced.

The only added cost of a concealed weapons program that I can see would be the need to purchase bullet proof vests for faculty and administrators, especially during the weeks of mid-term tests and finals. Actually, students should see a dramatic improvement in their overall grades since most faculty would be reluctant to fail a gun-toting student.

I understand that one of our sister universities provides laptop computers to all incoming freshmen. How dumb is that? Guns can provide a lot more security than computers, especially when you read about all the sex that is being solicited via the internet.

It goes without saying that both the NRA and the Missouri legislature should be highly commended for their deep concerns over our well-being.

I should note here that there were some people in our community who thought I was nuts for advocating concealed weapons on our campuses.

My letter writing isn’t always in opposition to what I perceive to be an injustice. Following is my way of saying thanks to a bunch of nurses and doctors at our local hospital who were involved in a problem concerning the upgrading of staff and the deadlines for completing some educational programs.


Following a three-day involuntary visit to the Western Missouri Medical Center, I was really intrigued with the front page stories in The Star-Journal about the controversy over the plan by the hospital board to upgrade its staff.

I have no intention of commenting on something about which I have no knowledge. However, I do want to tell you that if you have to go to the hospital (which I did) you could not be in a better place than our local medical center.

During the three days of my “internment,” I was served by RN’s, LPN’s, MD’s, and a multitude of other professionals who all had specific patient responsibilities. I did not know (or care) who was what. All I wanted was for some tender loving care. And that I got, big time.

Although I was restricted to a liquid diet, the staff did wonders with a wide variety of delectable foods. I had many choices – lemon, raspberry, or lime jello and finally, a big bowl of beef and noodles. Someone in the kitchen took out all of the noodles and beef so all I got was the broth. It did increase my desire to get well quick.

Every time a new staff member entered the room, they asked me for my birth date. I thought at first that they wanted to be sure that I invited them to my next birthday party. Not so. It was a system to assure verification that you were who you were supposed to be.

Then, before any medical action was taken, the nurses read the numbers on the band around my wrist in much the same manner that a pilot and co-pilot go through their check list prior to take off. Again, this was to assure that they were providing the proper medical treatment to the right patient. I was really impressed.

For the record, the staff of the Western Missouri Medical Center is extremely well trained. Every one of them came into my room with a very positive manner and a “what do you need, how can I make your stay more comfortable,” and finally, “this is going to hurt and I am truly sorry, so please forgive me” attitude.

Even the lady who came in to clean up my room (after I really messed it up) was cheerful and wished me well, and she knew I would be glad to get back home, I knew that the administrators of the hospital had made patient comfort and service a top priority. This kind of treatment prevailed from the Emergency Room to admission to the hospital and further treatment.

Warrensburg is truly blessed with a state-of-the-art hospital.

Actually letters to the editor can really pay off. On my next visit to our local hospital, I was awarded a Good Conduct pin and all my medical records indicated that I was one of the Good Guys!

Another issue that really rattles my cage is the attempt to legislate morality. Following is my response to a number of legislative actions:


As a senior citizen who has been married to the same woman for 55 years, I believe that I have had enough lifetime experiences to warrant my suggestions and recommendations to our Missouri legislative bodies. In the interest of simplifying current statewide problems, here is what I propose:

1. Concerning the desire to strengthen the sanctity of marriage by banning single-sex marriages there is a much quicker and simpler solution. Pass a law which abolishes divorce. It follows that Missouri should also refuse to recognize divorces that have been executed in other states. We must do everything we can to protect the sanctity of the home.

2. Concerning the proposal to prohibit highway billboards that promote “Gentlemen’s Clubs” or other nefarious sex promotion outlets, I propose that the legislature pass a law prohibiting the use of billboards to publicize motels. We all know (so I am told) that there is much illicit sex going on in motels.

3. Concerning the need to cut state support of indigents and dependent children, I propose that the legislature simply declare a lowering of the poverty level, to say, an income of $5,000 or less per year. Just think of the savings that can be made in just reduced Medicaid and welfare alone. Of course, we could deny residency to anyone with less than a certain income, but this could get a bit complicated.

4. Concerning the need to spend money on maintaining roads and bridges, the legislature should set statewide speed limits at 30 miles per hour. At that speed, roads don’t need to be so good, and life will be much safer. Right?

We are blessed with a legislature that is determined to keep all of us on a high moral plane, and for this we are eternally grateful. I hope the above suggestions will contribute to the passing of laws that will keep Missourians morally straight.

While I normally write my letters with “tongue in cheek,” occasionally there is an issue that really ticks me off and I react accordingly. The issue again was “same-sex marriage.” Our local paper dared to print an engagement photo of two people of the same sex, and the flood of letters to the local newspaper were extremely nasty. Some threatened to cancel their subscription. It got this rather serious response from me:


It has been a long, long time since I have seen so much hatred expressed in the name of Jesus in all those letters to the editor of The Star-Journal that condemned an engagement announcement.

I really feel sorry for those who have such fragile family values that they feel threatened by the very personal (and private) actions of other people.

Although I disagree with the hate themes expressed in those letters, I commend The Star-Journal for publishing them. I look forward enthusiastically to renewing my subscription.

Lest we forget, “LOVE IS THE ONLY POWER.”

Although I generally write letters to the editor which address specific issues, there is a favored way to express thanks to those who have helped you in some way. Thank you notes are OK, but I like to express my thanks publicly. Following letter to the editor illustrates that point:


We live in Northfield and while I was working in my yard this afternoon, someone inadvertently left the gate open (it was me) and my two senile idiot dogs decided to see what lay beyond. Most dogs just wander the neighborhood and then come home after a respectful jaunt.

Not our independent thinking dogs, Tracker and Katy. Thinking they would surely come home soon, we didn’t worry too much about them for the next hour. We were shocked to receive FOUR voice mails telling us that our dogs were secure behind Stahl’s. Egads, that’s right off the highway! We jumped into our car and drove the mile or so to Stahl’s staying well within the speed limit of 65mph, right? Would you believe that Stahl employees – who didn’t have any dog leashes – had secured our dogs by shifting them from one parked car to another, apparently during their various breaks. They told us that they were dog lovers and knew what it was like to lose a pet.

When we got our dogs home, I severely punished both of them. They only got two bedtime doggie treats instead of their usual three. Stahl’s must be a wonderful place to work if those employees are representative of their company.

In summary, I have a number of beliefs that motivate me to respond to what I read or hear about. Here are just a few of them.

I believe:

• That every household should have a grenade launcher since they are legal in Missouri. However, I also believe that grenade ammunition should be outlawed.

• That I am one of the good guys, at least when compared to some of the bad guys I know,

• That all guys should have a wife who will bake them a yellow cake with chocolate icing for each birthday.

• That the number 88 is a great score for a round of golf but it is awesome in terms of years of age. Golf is still the greatest sport going and my shattering of the course record during a City Golf Tournament still stands. (I shot the highest score anyone has ever shot in that tournament.)

• That I would rather read a good book than work in the yard.

• That when I run across anything that is counter to my beliefs that I have a patriotic duty to write another letter to the editor.

Thanks, Carl Foster! Keep those cards and letters coming!

Addictions Too Close To Home

A crackling bolt of sheer panic struck me this week on the way to the office, just as surely as if lightning had targeted me from 40,000 feet above and zapped me in my car.

About midway to the office, I realized my Blackberry was sitting next to the sink on my bathroom counter at home. I almost hit the car just feet in front of me. I felt my heart start to race. My whole body seemed flushed and overtaken by anxiety — and I’m feeling it again just writing about it.

Addictions come in many forms and I seem to have mastered most of them. But only this week, after laughing about it for so many years, did I realized I was indeed a CrackBerry addict.

Addiction Meets Delusion

I couldn’t return home to get the Blackberry without being late to a meeting and so, like any self-respecting addict, I started the pointless exercise of trying to convince myself that I would be just fine without it for a day. That’s called delusion.

By the time, I got to the office, I had the actual, physical shakes. Who had tried to call me in the last 10 minutes? What emails were sitting there unread that needed — at least in my deluded state — an immediate response? What issue required me to jump in immediately before it went sideways and forced me to spend entirely too much time getting it back on track? How could I control things without my mobile control panel in my pocket?

Of course, after docking my laptop and suffering through the excruciatingly slow boot-up, I saw in my emails only a news update from the New York Times that I’d already heard on the radio — what stray gene requires one to get news updates on their Blackberry, anyway? — along with three emails with no sense of urgency. I viewed these on the two in-boxes on the two side-by-side screens that I keep going on my desk all day. Addicted to information? Who me?

And, while the shakes slowly did start to subside, I glanced at my calendar and realized that I would be in meetings all day, during which someone might actually need a quick response. I even had a lunch meeting that would require a 10 minute drive — without phone, without text, without email for when my car broke down — not that my Lexus has ever broken down nor probably ever will.

I Can Do This

I called my wife, who is painfully aware of (and I believe even somewhat amused by) my random addictions, and she immediately offered to drive the Blackberry to the office, if only to lower my blood pressure. My admin arrived and offered to drive to my house to retrieve it.

How silly, I thought. I can’t seriously ask people to drop what they are doing to get something I should be able to live without for the next 10 hours. But, I saw the skepticism in my admin’s face and heard it in my wife’s voice, like they were saying, “Pal, we expect you to go into the DTs any moment so let us just get you your fix.”

By the time I left for my two-hour meeting, I was in full hypertensive mode: what additional emails might arrive that needed my attention? Was there a crisis circling to land while my radar was down? This cold-turkey thing clearly wasn’t working.

By the time my ashen self returned to my office and got to my dual screens, there were 50+ emails sitting there unread. AAArrrggghhh!

The panic returned. I scanned the list and saw several from my wife — she knows my random addictions all too well — and opened the most recent, which assured me she already had found out where my lunch meeting was being held and would leave my Blackberry there with the hostess.

I was early for lunch for the first time in months.

Would A Friendly Intervention Been Too Much to Ask?

When I returned to work and stepped off the elevator, I waved my Blackberry sort of like Jeff Bridges shook his Oscar in the air and said to the two admins who sit outside my office, “Whew! I got it back. You know, I think I may be addicted to this thing.” They looked at each other, laughed in unison and said, “You think? We could have told you that.”

I laughed…sort of…until I realized I had been walking around with this very public addiction, and nobody had bothered to intervene.

Back in the ’70s and early ’80s, I did TM — Transcendental Meditation. I wasn’t into its mystical elements and never, well never very seriously, considered heading off to join the Maharishi at either his compound in Switzerland or his retreat in India. But TM brought me, as the Maharishi would say in his wonderfully high-pitched, sing-song voice, ‘profound relaxation.’

I started meditating again this week and found it both incredibly easy to get back into and, yes, profoundly relaxing. With my mantra and me now reunited, I’m actually experimenting with leaving my Blackberry somewhere else in the house for up to a couple of hours at at time while I’m doing something elsewhere. I even went to the bathroom at work without it once yesterday.

It’s a start, but the road back from addiction begins with small steps…right?

Facing My Addictions

I started buying wine several years ago and today have no idea how much is in my collection, since I don’t even store it at home. But it’s more than my wife and I will ever drink and certainly more than I need. So, with a newfound awareness of my overactive addiction gene, this week I only bought four bottles of Barolo that my wine broker offered for sale, feeling very much in control again.

And, all of this self-contentment was fine until I fired-up my home computer today to update my iPod playlist. Once iTunes loaded, I glanced down at the tally bar at the bottom of the screen to see I have amassed 6,850 songs — that’s 19.5 days and 468 hours of music in my iTunes library. How possibly did I assemble 4.9 days of rock, 2.2 days of classical, 2.3 days of pop, 1.5 days of jazz, 1.7 days of country, and excessive numbers of hours of hip-hop, reggae, easy-listening, contemporary Christian, New Age, R&B/soul, alternative and holiday music — all supported by two back-up systems in case my system crashes.

This music obsesion is truly an illness — unless I’m stranded somewhere for 20 days with nothing to do and lots of battery power. It’s yet another addiction that strikes too close to home.

So, I fought the urge today to buy Dean Brody’s latest CD, even though one of his band members recommended it to me this week. Well, maybe I’ll download just a couple of songs, since I really do need more country tunes.

I think it’s time to meditate.

Silence is Golden

I started to blog under the misguided notion that it would be an ideal way to rant at idiocy and vocalize my random occasional opinions. Then I went silent — though not for any lack of an urge to rant, certainly not for any lack of idiocy to rant about and unfortunately not for any shortage of random opinions on…well…everything.

I trace my silence instead to my mother, who like so many mothers in the ’50s and ’60s admonished her kids not to say nothing at all if you couldn’t say anything nice. It was the Silence is Golden era. I suspect it also was the root of a generation of neurotics who in fact had a lot to say, little of which was very nice. In keeping t it all bottled up inside, we have found hypertension — but not our voice.

Just Keep Your Mouth Shut and Collect the Gold

As I have watched, read and listened in recent weeks to the sheer idiocy of the national debate on health care, I have chosen to remain silent. As Republicans threatened to repeal, as their rhetoric led to threats of actual violence upon those we have entrusted to make law — without the slightest repudiation from the conservative movement — I remained silent. (I couldn’t be silent about the twisted politicized approach to writing textbooks in Texas, but even my mother would have been okay with that.)

If silence is golden, I now am very rich indeed. So, why does it feel so cowardly instead of enriching. Might it be because I like my tires without spikes in the sidewalls and my trees without an adornment of toilet paper? Do I perhaps value the friendship of some Neanderthal friends too much to write something that may offend them? Do I just want to keep collecting the gold that comes with silence in hopes it actually may lead to something vaguely resembling satisfaction?

When Words Fail You

I ask myself how possibly I could have let weeks go by without commenting on what has to be the most dysfunctional time in recent memory — not counting, of course, the eight years of the war-mongering, torture-tolerant, greed-inspiring, spend-our-budget-surplus Bush presidency?

I think the answer is simple: I have been rendered totally speechless, utterly dumbfounded, unable to find words to express the disgust, outrage and pity I feel toward people who actually would oppose making health care available to everyone in this country. I have no words for people whose hearts seem empty and dead, other than the occasional Palinpatation. What can you write in the face of this apparent void of caring or compassion or empathy or equality? And, what words can possibly appropriately respond to the robotic recitations from whatever script these people are working from?

So, clearly, I am incapable of saying anything nice. I will revert to my silence and collect my gold — which today, especially, feels more like 30 pieces of sliver.

The Politics of Textbooks

This is just a quick note of disclaimer and a short blog to elaborate on an earlier Facebook post. If I had a “Proud to be a Texan” bumper sticker, I’d burn it in protest of the absurd actions last week by the state Board of Education.

Frankly, I am embarrassed to live in a state that allows narrow right-wing political agendas to re-write history and distort so grossly the textbooks from which our kids are taught. Maybe we could save the textbook printing costs and just distribute John Birch Society pamphlets at the start of the school year.

This travesty has been widely reported, including a story in the New York Times on Saturday, so it will be easy enough to Google the details. The Dallas Morning News on Saturday also had a reasonably good summary of the suggested changes and edits to our textbooks, including the removal of Thomas Jefferson as one of those thinkers and writers who influenced social change around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.

An elected state board of education — sorry, I just can’t capitalize the title a second time — voted along party lines to ensure that students don’t know about the heroic Hispanic Texians who died at the Alamo, but will recognize those names already broadly known and featured in the movie.

Come to think of it, this whole episode seems like a movie — a very bad movie!

Springing Forward

I’m old enough to remember when we neither sprang forward nor fell back.

I was about 14 when they standardized Daylight time in the US. Well, the word “standardized” is a little tricky, since for some odd reason there are places that have successfully resisted all urges to go forward or back — which, by definition, sort of seems to define backward, or at least obstinate. I never actually think of Indiana and Arizona as particularly obstinate or backwards, except for their propensity to elect Republicans. But, that’s for another day and another blog.

God’s Time

My grandmother, Nana, was very well north of 70-years-old when Daylight Savings Time got imposed on her life. She would have none of it. In her mind and in her heart, there was Daylight Savings Time and there was God’s Time. She might eventually and reluctantly get around to changing her clocks, but she always operated on God’s Time. In fact, later in life she wore my grandfather’s old watch on one arm and I actually would catch her checking it to make sure she knew what God’s time was, no matter what zone the rest of us were in.

It wasn’t a religious thing to her. Daylight Savings Time was just not the way the world was meant to work.

I’d say, “Nana, we’re going to go to Monkey Wards (Montgomery Ward to the uninitiated) at two o’clock.” She would invariably reply with something like, “Is that at two o’clock God’s Time or that silly new time?”

Any suggestion that time was time mattered not. Irrespective of where we might be going or when we might be watching something on TV, it simply had to be defined in terms of happening either at God’s Time or at this perfectly pointless time the government had thought up. Her shows — As the Word Turns, Guiding Light, etc. — miraculously appeared at the same time on the Monday after Daylight Savings as the Friday before. She wasn’t sure exactly why, and I certainly couldn’t explain it, other than pointing to a clock and suggesting that whatever time it said was the time it was.


Every year for the next nearly 20 years, when fall arrived she would let out a terrific sigh of relief that we were back on God’s Time. All was well with the world again. Things made sense again. And, besides, she could finally get an extra hour of sleep.

So, as I spring forward this Saturday night — a process we actually begin quite early in the evening to compensate for that horrid lost hour of sleep — I will lovingly remember Nana and God’s Time. And, I may find just one clock and leave it unchanged this year in her memory.

Canine Insanity Strikes Close to Home

Our dog is mentally ill. Crazy. Insane. Without his faculties. Nuttier than a fruitcake. Truly and undeniably insane.

This is not to make light of mental illness. Some of my best friends are mentally ill. Many more are on the verge. I teeter close to the edge myself from time-to-time.

But canine insanity is another matter altogether. And, I fear it raises the question of born or bred? My own view is that Snickerdoodle Doke was crazy from the start. He’s a golden doodle named by his human sister because his coloring could not be more snickerdoodle in appearance if he had cinnamon and sugar sprinkled up and down his coat. I’m now starting to think he did, and that some of it seeped into his ears and attacked his brain.

Let’s Blame the Breeders

Snicker came into the world in rather unfortunate circumstances, entering our lives at 4 months after his breeder died and her family was not quite sure what to do with this last, unclaimed pup. Since the owners also were mentally ill, they chained him to a tree outside during the first four months of his life. He lived outside through storms that came flying at him from the Oklahoma sky, something would induce some serious instability in man or beast. As the tree to which he chained became his closest friend, he began to eat bark, twigs that fell from the branches above and dirt. He had a particularly insatiable appetite for bark, twigs and dirt when he came to live with us.

We call him a rescue dog — although he also is a designer dog, so it cost about $1,000 for the privilege of rescuing his mentally ill self from the neglect of people who clearly were clueless, and quite likely mentally ill.

Bark, Snicker, Bark…But Leave the Trees Alone

Snicker was always quite a novelty and a source of great entertainment at cocktail hour on the deck of our home. Friends would delight at his flying leaps from the top step to the ground, where he would make a bee-line for his favorite tree, from which a ring of bark was missing precisely at the height he could comfortably gnaw away on it. He would typically finish his bark entree with a few gobs of dirt and a twig or two, I suppose as some sort of dessert.

Since we had no trees, twigs or bark inside the house, he took to paper and socks. The good news is he didn’t chew up shoes or furniture or anything that might suggest he was a normal dog. But, he loved paper. We would hide everything, and when we left the house, he would open my wife’s desk drawer and pull out a couple of envelopes for a quick nibble. I suspect he is the only dog on record to down a complete roll of paper towels. But, among his more noteworthy indoor snacks were our socks. Not everyone’s socks. Mine got spared for the most part, but socks previously attached to female adolescent feet are, I suppose, some sort of delicacy for mentally ill dogs.

We frankly lost track of the number of socks that he eliminated at the end of his digestive process, if you catch my drift, not to mention the rather large amounts of paper that came out the same way. These strange eating rituals led to many anxious trips to the vet, long multi-day stays while they waited, hoping that whatever was wrapped around his intestine would manage to free itself of its own accord. They kept Snicker alive — no doubt thinking, but not telling us, “this dog is seriously mentally ill.”

The Latency of Canine Insanity

In time, Snicker lost his taste for bark, twigs, dirt, paper and socks and took up a diet that vaguely resembled normal dog food. But latent insanity clearly lurked in his brain, waiting to fully develop into the certified six-year-old nut-case who now again ravages our home and yard for the inedible delights of paper, dirt and bark. When he goes out to the yard to decompost himself, we have to watch carefully because our stack of firewood is like a candy store and the potted plants, and especially the dirt in which they are planted, are simply irresistable.

Clearly, this unusual diet doesn’t work terribly well in all those portions of Snicker’s body south of his brain. Just this week we spent another two days, including an overnight in-patient stay, with the vet. We now have paid for the entire vet practice to have Olympic sized pools in their backyards. The aggregate bills could most certainly have paid for the beach house we want on the Big Island.

Finally this week, my wife had a serious heart-to-heart with the vet who admitted that Snicker’s issues were not physical. We have a mentally ill dog.

“MY Problem???”

We are treating his mental illness using the paper, sticks, bark and dirt deprivation method, which means barricading him in the kitchen whenever we leave the house. He makes such irritating noises at night and produces such offensive wafts of gas that are not at all unlike the noxious odors that come from a pulp mill, so we have banished him from his comfortable down bed in our bedroom. He repays us the favor by barking from his kitchen jail compound, giving me the opportunity to get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday that had sleeping late written all over it. I unbarricaded him and he just sat there looking at me, as if saying, “What? What? What’s your problem?” MY PROBLEM! “You are a mentally ill dog. That’s my problem.”

The trouble with mental illness in dogs, unlike humans, is that it is contagious. I feel my own fragile sanity slowly slipping away.

My wife suggests it’s not that slow.

Closing Ceremonies, eh?

I was going to rant about how lame the Vancouver Closing Ceremonies were, but why bother?

I love Canada and anything I say about all the overdone, pointless patriotic promotional proud-to-be-a-Canadian blather would be misinterpreted. At least they had a sense of humor at the opening with the clown finally raising the whatever-that-was after the mechanical glitch at the Opening Ceremonies. And, they let Bill Shatner just go on without hitting the censor button, talking about doing it in canoes. But, other than Shatner and Neil Young (and maybe the giant beaver), I thought the opening ceremonies generally sucked.

Too bad, especially since all that cross country skiing and biathalon on TV was so darned exciting hour after painful hour. That’s when fast-forward on my DVR paid its rent.

Wonders Never Cease 1

Just when I thought it was a hopeless cause, my college freshman starts chatting with me on Facebook and tells me how totally disgusting her dorm room is because her roommate is a total slob and has clothes piled four feet high and you can’t see the floor and there is a growing stench coming from her side of the room. She then accompanies the prose by texting me a couple of photos, making her description of the mess an understatement. I suggest she jettison the stuff, but she is not sure what jettison means (being just a college freshman and all) and suggests instead that she might just chuck it all out the window. I told her she got the point.

This is a someone who left home after living in a room that I would liken to the slums of Mumbai and a mere six or so months later is telling me how disgusted she is by messes and filth and how clean her side is. By comparison, I asked? Nope, it is certified clean, she insists.

Now, just how do these transitions happen? By experience, of course. All the ranting I did for all those years about her own room at home did absolutely no good, but living in squalor for a while makes one appreciate cleanliness.

Which, in an odd turn, is why ranting about the Closing Ceremonies would be so pointless. Things are what they are until they change. I’m sure that’s a rule of physics whose name I just don’t recall at the moment, but it has to be true. The fact that I remember anything about physics is Wonders Never Cease 2.

IMHO…trees are safe

In my humble opinion, trees can start breathing easier. The ease and proliferation of online information and communications has expanded so rapidly and is expanding so broadly that we can stop clearing forests to churn magnificent trees into paper. I thought my kids where going to have conniption fits when they learned Dear Old Dad was on Facebook. “Oh, brother…now we’ll have to find someplace else to go,” the elder daughter exclaimed. But, when she saw me connecting with hundreds of friends and colleagues, people my age not hers…and when her 89-year-old grandfather started his Facebook page, she just gave up, befriended him and I’m sure is now onto the next social networking secret being kept from freakish old people like us.

But newspapers, again in my humble opinion, are an increasing irrelevance and a total waste of trees that sit there harming no one while they save us from global warming. The Sunday editions of the New York Times and Dallas Morning News are sitting in my living room now about 90 percent un-read. I scrolled through the NYT on my Blackberry before ever heading downstairs this morning for the weekend “coffee or tea?” debate. I skimmed all the headlines, clicked through to read six or so stories and got the gist of what’s happening from the NYT’s angle. I also had to check what happened today in history and was reminded that the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco erupted on this day…another Sunday, oddly enough. What if it had happened on Feb. 29 instead, a leap year? Would being reminded only every four years make it seem any less bizarre than it was? I digress.

I quickly checked the front page of the DMN and the front pages of a couple of sections, a defensive move more than a reading exercise, just to make sure there were no surprises I needed to know about. Certainly not to gather news. Now all the feature sections of both papers are sorted into their respective mudroom bathroom reading and master bathroom reading stacks (I’d say piles, but…well, never mind) and within a few days, they’ll get skimmed and browsed and maybe even read, and I’ll have enough newsprint on my fingers to justify keeping the subscriptions.

A year ago, it was four papers a day on the doorstep (although our papers rarely make it within 10 yards of the doorstep). On Sundays, it was only two, since the WSJ and FT didn’t publish. Okay, I’ll admit to missing the WSJ, simply because the writing got so much beter after Murdoch took over, something I never imagined would happen and imagined even less that I would admit. The news and feature mix was great, especially in the Personal Journal on Friday and the Weekend Journal, and the writing had life again. The clear exception, of course, was the editorial page that tilted so far to the right I was afraid I would fall over whenever I started to read it. Maybe the Murdoch takeover and my affinity for the WSJ were purely coincidental. I certainly hope so. But, with four papers a day, something had to go.

I really miss the FT. The British writers just have this way of expressing themselves that makes me want to dive into tea and crumpets (English muffins suffice). I like the odd spellings and the interesting phrases. Their take on the news brought a perspective one couldn’t access in US papers. And the weekend edition made for terrific bathroom reading, often getting me through an entire week if I didn’t consume it all (over tea, of course) when I awoke on Saturday. Now that I think about it, the “coffee or tea?” debate started when I decided not to renew the FT. One couldn’t read it without a nice cuppa.

The NYT would and should be the next to go, but too many people I know and like read it — and I hate the thought of missing out on the “did you see the piece in today’s Times about…” discussions, although those regrettably are more and more infrequent. And, given my penchant for reading the Times on my Blackberry before even descending the stairs to the kitchen each morning, I am able to absorb just enough content to drop a “did you see…” of my own — to impress myself, if no one else. As for the Dallas Morning News, well, I really don’t have much choice given where I live. If I don’t read it, there is inevitably something that I needed to see and will get caught by surprise by not knowing. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like the DMN either, but that’s another matter entirely. If you live in a city and want to function outside your home in any meaningful way, you don’t have much choice but to read the local paper. San Francisco was the only city I lived where it was a true joy to open the Chronicle each morning, just to read Herb Caen, to see how wrong they could get a basic news report and to know that the Comical was, if nothing, consistently and reliably the Comical.

Yep, the world is getting safer for trees. We don’t send letters anymore, which is sad. Newspapers are increasingly irrelevant the moment they go to print and the internet gives me so much more control over what I read and what I don’t.

But, what’s the deal with magazines? I actually enjoy them more than ever. Not the news magazines, whose days are so numbered I’m shocked there are any numbers left. And, not Harper’s or The Atlantic Monthly anymore, having so perfected indulgence that they became annoying. But, Real Simple and Oprah and Men’s Health…I just can’t help myself. Once I get past all the tedious ads, I get drawn in and enjoy them. Same with National Geographic Traveler and some other travel mags. But the clear winner in the “keep killing a few trees for magazines category” is The Week. Until recently, The Economist was on that list, until it became so impossibly turgid that I just couldn’t take it any more. But The Week is a terrific little magazine that offers no particular perspective of its own — unless you count what it includes and what it excludes — but instead provides a compendium of what the national and international media is reporting, what pundits here and abroad and punditing about and does so in a quick, easily digestible way. It even makes me want to hop onto the computer to follow-up on some odd or interesting bit. The whole concept is brilliant, sort of what must have been rolling around Al’s head when he started USAToday. “The Week” is worth a tree or two.

I like the fact that blogs save trees — in today’s instance, a matter of particular relief.