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May, 2010:

There’s a Nap for That


I finally got an appointment with a local sleep specialist last week. I’ve never been a strong sleeper, and I’ve been having intermittent problems sleeping, some of them severe, since the collapse of Coriolis 2001-2002. There’s some (small) possibility that I have apnea, even though I sleep on my side and not on my back. I’m going to go in for a sleep study later this summer (when my allergies are better) and this was the initial consult.

The specialist went through all the usual sleep disturbance stuff with me, mostly things I’d read about many times in many places. One of the first things on his list he said briefly and emphatically: “No naps!”

Carol and I about cracked up.

For two reasons, actually. First of all, telling Jeff Duntemann not to take daytime naps is like telling Jeff Duntemann not to code in C++. No problem, Doc! I’m just not built that way. I can sleep during the day only when I’m sick, drugged, or both. (No comment on C++.)

The other reason goes back to our last couple of trips to Chicago. Our niece Julie, like her (slightly) older sister Katie Beth a strong-willed little girl, decided at some point earlier this year that She Will Not Take Naps. I teased her about it several times this past winter:

“Julie! How about taking a nap!”

“No!” She clutched her favorite blanket and made Angry Face at me.

“Just a little nap?”

“No nap!”

This went on for most of an evening in Gretchen’s family room, until I decided that I was in danger of jeopardizing my relationship with the person who would someday decide the fate of my legendary tube collection, and knocked it off.

But by our next trip, winter had faded to a glorious spring, and Carol and I did a lot of chasing around in Gretchen’s back yard with Katie, Julie, and the dogs. Carol has the Kid Gene and I do not; I have no intuitive grasp of what very small girls consider fun. I spin them around and roll down the hill with them, but I’m never entirely sure what they might enjoy. And the trying is nothing if not aerobic. So at one point, a little out of breath, I just lay down on the hillside, laid my hands over my chest, and stared serenely at the very blue sky. Julie, now 2, came up to me and looked at me quizzically.

“Julie, Uncle Jeff is taking a nap.”

Without a word or even much hesitation, Julie lay down on the grass beside me and laid her hands over her chest.

Lead by example, I always say.

Odd Lots

  • As I polish up this Odd Lots, I see that is down, which is significant to me since they host and Have no idea what’s going on yet, nor how long the outage has existed. (I was over at one of Carol’s friends’ rebuilding some very ad-hoc tomato shelters in honor of George Ewing until an hour or so ago.) If some of my pages are inaccessible, it’s not about me; it’s the whole damned hosting service.
  • We lost Martin Gardner the other day, at 95. Amazing man, something like a technical Colin Wilson, who wrote the “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American for 25 years, edited Humpty Dumpty’s Magazine for Little Children (which I read circa 1957-59) and cranked out books for most of his life. Every one I’ve read has been terrific, and I especially endorse Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957) and The Annotated Alice (1960.) I should look for a few more.
  • Art Linkletter too, who made it to 97. It was in Linkletter’s very funny book Kids Sure Rite Funny that I found the wonderful kid-quote: “Now that dinosaurs are safely dead, we can call them clumsy and stupid.” The book’s copyright was not renewed and it is now in the public domain; you can read it online or get free ebook copies in various formats here.
  • The problem with how to carry your iPad made it all the way to the Wall Street Journal, which devoted an A-head story to the issue. My correspondents (including a couple who have the iPad) think a belt holster is unrealistic. Best iCartage solution I’ve seen so far (including a photo endorsement from Woz himself) is the Scott eVest, with 22 hidden pockets, including one custom-designed for the iPad.
  • Then again, there’s some unexplored form factor territory between smartphones and iPads. I find the Dell Streak (formerly the Mini 5) intriguing for its size/shape alone. (Here’s an interesting perspective on display size from Engadget.) The 5-inch model that will launch later this year (and in the UK on June 4, I hear) is about the size of an old HP scientific pocket calculator, and in the fevered days of my youth alpha geeks carried those around in leather belt holsters. Even the rumored 7-inch version could be belt-holstered with some care; beyond that it gets dicey. (Dell supposedly has a 10-incher in development.)
  • After asking mobile developer David Beers about his thoughts on the Android OS, I discovered that Google will let you download an Android LiveCD so you can mess around with the OS on an ordinary Intel PC without having to lay out for an actual mobile device.
  • That unpronounceable volcano in Iceland, perhaps fearing that the world was starting to get bored with it, blew a volcanic smoke ring the other day. Many people, perhaps thinking that smoking may be hazardous to a volcano’s health, are cheering it on.
  • After several calm days here, the winds came up again yesterday morning. As Carol and I were driving back from Walgreen’s, we saw dust clouds crossing Broadmoor Bluffs in front of us on several occasions. It’s dry here, and construction sites generate a lot of brown dust, true. But then the winds calmed for a few seconds before starting up again, and when they did, we saw a large pine tree shake in the wind and let go a thick cloud of yellow dust. Pine pollen by the pound. No wonder I can barely breathe.

More George Ewing Stories

In the wake of George Ewing’s passing, my old friend Lee Hart sent me an email full of reminiscences. Some of these were familiar to me, but most of them were new. (Lee had been local to George for a lot of years and saw him far more often than I did.) So let me set them down here with minimal editing, as I’m currently in the center of the vortex trying to get things in sufficient order to do some serious writing in coming weeks.

Lee remembers (as I do I, in some cases) these WA8WTE tidbits:

  • Words like weaselrat, snoguloid, kremulator…
  • The toilet, on a raised dais in the center of the living room in his geodesic dome home (the “throne”).
  • Panning for coins and ICs in the sand floor of his dome after we tore it down in 1980.
  • How he kicked a skunk into the river because it was after his food.
  • His “motie” charger for his 2M handi-talkie: a series capacitor and bridge rectifier in a disorderly ball of duct tape.
  • His movie reviews, which made me wonder if I’d seen the same movie he did! (Ed: I have a couple, which I will scan and post in coming days.
  • Plowing his driveway with his picnic table.
  • His “tin Plymouth” that was so rusty it even holes in the roof. (Ed: This is the Barracuda he drive to Clarion. It was a…remarkable…thing.)
  • Making chili with peanuts because he was out of beans.
  • His “portable” computer, which was a military surplus shipping case. His Heath/Zenith H89, printer, a change of clothes for padding etc. all inside. He used the (empty) case as a seat, and screwed legs onto the cover as a table to use to hold the computer when everything was set up.
  • The car he sold to John LaPrairie for $200, with the proviso that John had to clean it out. (There was so much junk front and back that only a driver could fit inside). John found over $200 in loose change, wadded up bills, and refund checks in it.
  • Going to Soo, Ontario (Canada) in his rusty old pickup. The brakes failed rolling down the Canadian side of the bridge, so he rolled straight past customs at speed. Flashing lights, armed guards, etc. chased him down. When they found all that surplus junk in the back, they searched it for hours. They figured he was either an insane terrorist, or a harmless idiot. (“What’s with the bottom half of a chart recorder, eh?”)
  • George visited a friend he hadn’t seen for a while. The friend happened to mention that he was trying to fix his old Jeep, which had a bad carburetor. George starts rummaging through the pockets of his huge Army surplus coat, pulls out a carburetor and said, “Like this?”

I’ll add a couple of my own here: George (who was a very big if gentle man, and almost entirely muscle) visited us at our first house in Chicago shortly after we bought it in the spring of 1978. It was a 1913 bungalow, and paint had been used carelessly everywhere. The kitchen casement window wasn’t painted shut, but it would only go up a few inches without jamming. George saw me struggling with it, so when I stepped aside he grabbed both brass handles in his huge hands and heaved upward, hard. Ker-unch! Both handles came out of the wood and away in his grip.

A few years later, he drove his ’76 Monza hatchback out to our house in Rochester, NY and stayed for a couple of weeks to housebreak Chewy. We noticed that the Monza’s pot-metal door handles had been replaced with custom-shaped (in a vise, with files) galvanized iron angle stock. He had torn the real handles off within a year of buying the car, simply because he didn’t know how strong he was.

Damn. If George Ewing had been around in 10,000 BC with a jack and some 2 X 4s, Atlantis wouldn’t have sunk. And I don’t have a lot more friends like that to lose. Like, none.

Las Vegas Quarters


I got a Las Vegas quarter in change the other day. This is a term I use for certain coins (generally quarters but occasionally nickels) that (after spending decades ricocheting from one slot machine to another) have a distinctive beat-to-hell appearance that can’t be mistaken for anything else. Las Vegas quarters don’t wear smooth and shiny like quarters that people use to buy burgers at McDonald’s. They’re full of dents and nicks and more matte than polished. They also look like they were dug up in some Roman ruins in Gaul after a century or three of service.

Vegas fired its quarters back in the late 90s, when computerized slotless slot machines began replacing electromechanical slot machines with a vengeance. They’re now gradually filtering out into general circulation. This is the second I’ve seen this year, after never getting one outside the city itself prior to that.

I never entered a Las Vegas casino before my first trip to Comdex in 1985, and I remember that the metallic racket of quarters being spit into stainless-steel pans at the Continental Hotel and Casino was continuous and never stopped for even a second. The psychological effect was intentional and obvious: People weren’t just winning now and then. People were winning constantly. And the quarters paid the price.

By the time Carol and I took a short trip to Las Vegas a few years ago, the coin machines were gone. The racket of interacting metal objects had been replaced by a continuous cacophony of crude digital jingles, a sort of MIDI hell that I found a lot harder to take than the now-vanished quarter clatter.

I have a little dish of odd coins that I’ve gotten in change over the years (mostly foreign ones and American coins with weird damage) and my 1977 Vegas quarter will join them. Such quarters are tokens (literally) of a piece of technology that slipped away when nobody was looking, and a hundred years from now, I wonder if someone will pick up such a quarter and think, “My God, what happened to that poor thing!”

George M. Ewing WA8WTE 1945-2010


Last night I got word from Florida author Elenora Sabin that George Ewing had collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on May 18. He was 64. He had been in the parking lot near where he worked, in Tampa, Florida when the collapse occurred. Death was evidently immediate; by the time bystanders saw him and called 911, he was gone. I spoke with his brother Tom a little while ago. He mentioned that George had had an organ donation agreement in place through the LifeLink Foundation, and following organ donation, his body was cremated. His ashes are being returned to George’s home state of Michigan, where they will be interred in his parents Wilkin & June Ewing’s plot at Riverside Cemetery in Sault Ste. Marie. He never married, and is survived by his brother Tom. No memorial services are planned.

Clarion73BrennertMcEvoyEwing.jpgI first ran into George at the Clarion SF Writers’ Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, in 1973. That’s him on the right margin of the photo at left, holding a camera. (The other two workshoppers shown are Alan Brennert, far left, and Seth MacEvoy, center. There’s a chap between Seth and George whom I don’t recognize.) As WN9MQY, I had thrown my novice ham station into the trunk of my Chevelle and taken it with me, imagining running a wire from a third-floor dorm room out to one of the campus’s abundant trees. No luck; we were in the basement of Mason-Abbot Hall, and the only thing outside my room window were yew bushes…and a copper downspout. Hmmm. I poked a run of coax out the window and ran around outside to see whether I could somehow match into the copper pipe…and found another piece of coax in the dirt, coming from the next window over from mine. That’s when I met George Macdonald Ewing WA8WTE. Neither of us ever got a good match into the downspout, but that was all right. He became a close friend and my staunchest ally at the conference (which was a continuous low-key war between the Techs and the Orteests) and we were never out of touch for long after that.

GeorgeEwingatJeffWedding1976.jpgLike me, he was a hands-on techie and hard SF enthusiast, and we brainstormed SF ideas and critiqued one another’s fiction frequently both at Clarion and afterward, in letters (later electronically) and in person. He was encouraging but also honest: In 1977, while visiting us in Chicago, he persuaded me to abandon a novel I was working on, and kidded me goodnaturedly about some of its more juvenile aspects for years thereafter. He sent a newsletter/fanzine to our Clarion class for the rest of the 70s, run off on the ditto machine of the rural Michigan high school where he taught. Alas, the termites made a colony out of my box of fanzines and APAs in the late 90s, and they’ve all perished, but George’s Post-Clarion Carrion was nicely done and often hilarious, especially his off-the-wall SF movie reviews. He attended our wedding in 1976 (above) and we saw him at SF cons regularly over the years. He and I were among the founders of the SF/tech fan group General Technics, a group that persists to this day.

In the early 1970s he hand-built a plywood geodesic dome on some property he’d bought near Cheboygan, Michigan, and lived in the dome while slowly hand-building an A-frame chalet beside it. By 1980 the A-frame was livable (barely) and he convened a party to celebrate and dismantle the dome. Fifteen or twenty of us showed up, and the dome came down in high style. The A-frame wasn’t quite finished (interior walls had not yet been sheetrocked, which made for problems with the bathroom) but we had campfires and outings to Whitefish Bay and slept in a huge tent made of sheet plastic weighted at the edges with old railroad ties and inflated with an ordinary window fan.

EwingLivingonaShoestringCover200Wide.jpgGeorge was a published writer in both the SF and nonfiction worlds. His first story, “Black Fly,” appeared in Analog in September 1974, followed by semiregular publication there, in Asimov’s, and other places. He sold numerous articles into the electronics/ham radio market, many focused on scrounge technology. In 1983 Wayne Green Publications published George’s book Living on a Shoestring, which was a Ewing brain dump on how to do more with less and repurpose what you and I might call junk into the raw materials of a comfortable (if eccentric) life. It’s as close to a memoir as we’ll ever have, as those who knew him will attest. He was always doing this stuff, and developed a sense for outside-the-box make-do technology that served him well both personally and in his fiction. He was Pro Guest of Honor at Nanocon 8 in Houghton, Michigan, in 1996, and the Houghton SF group published a short reprint volume of his fiction for the con. He played tuba in his high-school band, and considered tuba one of his iconic traits. I never actually saw a tuba in his hands, but he drew cartoons of himself playing one on regular occasions–often standing atop unlikely things like abandoned military radar antennas.

He spent a week with us in Rochester in the summer of 1982, and housebroke our new puppy Chewy while we were both away at work. Greater love hath no man…

GeorgeJuneTazzy350Wide.jpgI don’t have many good pictures of George. What’s here is all there is. The photo at the top of this entry was taken in 1995, in my then-new Scottsdale workshop. Sure, he’s peeking out from behind other people in various convention group shots, but mostly we see half of his head and one arm. The photo at left is the most recent I have, from 2004, with his mother June and his dog Tazzy. He didn’t think people were that interested in seeing his image; he sent me this photo only because he thought Tazzy looked like my old dog Smoker. (She does.) That was a key George Ewing characteristic: He was not full of himself. He was courteous, jovial, a good listener, generous with his time and ideas, and extraordinarily social. He was always willing to assume the best about other people, and never engaged in the sorts of poisonous arguments and personal attacks that have made so many others (including far too many in my acquaintence) look like brain-damaged twelve-year-olds. He scolded me only a couple of times, but always in private, and in every case for abundant good reason.

We don’t get to keep our friends forever, and 37 years is a pretty good run. Only a handful of people go back with me farther than that. I will always celebrate his friendship, especially his can-do outlook, which might be summarized in these two points:

  1. Think outside the box;
  2. Then turn around and make something out of the box!


Scheherazade Live

Carol and I cruised out to Manitou Springs last night to pick up our friends David Beers and Terry Blair, and we all went downtown to the Pikes Peak Center to take in the Colorado Springs Philharmonic‘s last concert of the season. On the program were Wagner’s Prelude from Die Meistersinger, Mozart’s Symphony #40, and Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It had been way too long since we’d heard live music of any kind, and it was about damned time.

I was familiar with all three pieces, though I doubt I’ve listened to any least scrap of Die Meistersinger since Dr. Raymond Wilding-White‘s courses in college. Opera isn’t a big thing with me, and Wagner never takes ten minutes when fifty will do. Mozart? What can I say? Reliable and familiar, and great stuff when you want a graceful background for good conversation. But Scheherazade, wow. Conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith gave it all he got, and it was one of the most amazing classical performances I’d ever experienced.

It’s a stunning piece to begin with, an interweaving of a dozen or so Russian-ish themes with enormous energy and a loose program following the old tale of the 1001 Arabian Nights. Smith and the orchestra put their backs into it, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat in concentration. It was one of the few live performances I can recall which was better than the recordings in my own collection. I know the piece very well, and I found myself waiting anxiously to see how well they would do a particular passage. In every single case, it was well indeed–and by the end of the concert (it was the final item) I was exhausted. The temptation to treat music as background for other activities is strong, but when you’re paying thirty bucks for the seat, you pay attention. That may be the biggest single upside to live music heard in concert: It’s you and the music, nose to nose. We forget that at our peril.

Scheherazade and I have an interesting history. When I was 7 we got a very early stereo record player, and not long after that, my mother started bringing home a classical LP every month from the local A&P food store in Edison Park. (The remarkably durable independent Happy Foods is in the building now, and has been since the 70s.) I don’t precisely recall the deal, but I think they were a dollar if you bought ten dollars’ worth of food. My mother played the records a lot, hoping to instill a love of classical music in Gretchen and myself. It worked, at least until the first sparks of the British Invasion (not the Beatles–Chad & Jeremy) drew me to pop music in 1963. However, by that time I had heard six or eight well-known classical pieces dozens of times, including Scheherazade. I assumed at first that Rimsky & Korsakov were a duet of some kind, but hell, I was 8. (I’m not sure I even knew that there were detailed jacket notes inside the cardboard sleeves until I was well into my teens.)

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic concerts begin with an optional half-hour lecture given by the conductor, asssisted by the concertmaster and sometimes other members of the orchestra. Smith is a good presenter, and explained how the Great Russians took simple Russian folk music and made it into orchestral battleships like Scheherezade. He spoke of The Five, and reminded me of something that I’ve never entirely understood: Why don’t we ever heard the music of Cesar Cui and Mily Balakirev? I went through the classical side of my CD case and didn’t find a single piece by either composer, peppered as it is by Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and several other famous Russians. Their contribution may have been organizational (Balakirev did a lot to point them in the right direction and keep them all focused) but I’ll have to go looking for some of their work.

Hearing Scheherazade, Night on Bald Mountain, the William Tell Overture, and the several other pieces in the grocery store music collection made the back of my 8-year-old head just go wild with images and crazy ideas. It may not be far from the truth that classical music pushed me over the edge into writing fiction. Even today, when I need to crack a plot problem, I stick an upbeat classical CD into the player and crank it up loud. Eight times out of ten, the plot problem is toast, and the story continues. Music is good that way. I need to do more of it.


All Saints church in Stuart, Iowa. Photo May 18, 2010.

Back in Colorado Springs (finally!) after five weeks away. Most of the trip was about family things that are not of general interest, and I’ve discovered that writing long trip reports on a netbook makes my eyes cross. So here’s the report in retrospect.

We didn’t get away from the Chicago area until 4 PM, so our first day on the road was short and we only made it to Davenport, Iowa. Quick tip: Avoid the Davenport Clarion. It was very un-Clarion like; old, grungy, basically worn-out, with lots of broken things and pillows that felt like they were stuffed with leftover pantyhose.

To make up the foreshortened day we grit our teeth and drove for ten hours the day following, making just short of 600 miles, from Davenport to North Platte, Nebraska. It was a dull haul across some pretty country that we now know reasonably well, and we didn’t take time to do any sightseeing, with one exception. While I was gassing up the 4Runner in Stuart, Iowa, Carol saw a copper dome off in the direction of the town center, just past the inevitable grain elevator. We followed our noses to the dome and saw a remarkable thing: A large Byzantine-style stone church in the midst of a very small (population 1,700) town. (See above.)

It’s a sad story: The beautiful 1908 All Saints church was torched in 1995 by a psychopathic arsonist who said he wanted to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. (I know someone who might say, “He should have become a liturgist instead.” Religion geek joke, sorry.) The interior decoration was ruined, and, lacking the funds to restore it, the local Roman diocese gave the building to the town. Stuart did some savvy fundraising, and is close to completion on a $3.2 million restoration project that will see the building become a secular community center. Stuart itself is a grid of nice old houses with a reasonably functional downtown retail strip and a Victorian gingerbread town hall built in 1884. It’s the smallest town I’ve ever seen that I’d be willing to live in, even though it doesn’t have a museum full of bombers close by.

We spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in North Platte, and that may well be our favorite hotel along the Springs-Chicago path that we’ve pounded so regularly for the last several years. It’s everything the Davenport Clarion wasn’t: clean, comfortable, and completely functional–plus perfectly willing to let us keep four rowdy bichons in the room with us.

Our last day on the road was gray and wet, and although we stopped at Lake McConaughy, we didn’t stay long. What we saw there was startling: The lake was about 18 feet higher than it was when we were last there, in August 2009. The water’s now higher than it’s been since 2001, and the enormous sand beaches are mostly gone…because they were just exposed lakebed to begin with. There are still beaches, of course, but they are narrower now, and have young trees protruding from the water. The seven-year drought has passed, and the lake has grown from inflows of as much as 2500 cubic feet of water per second from the Platte river.

It’s funny how QBit seemed to know he was within a few miles of his house, as he began seriously agitating from his kennel in the back seat as soon as we got off I-25 in Colorado Springs. (He didn’t make any fuss at all when we got off I-76 at Fort Morgan earlier to pick up a snack wrap.) We emptied the car and collapsed into bed. I’m thinking that we may have to make more trips there but shorter ones, and let United Airlines do the driving. The dogs kennel better than I handle Interstates, especially over 1100-mile routes crawling with 18-wheelers and oversized loads.

At this point I’m going to rest. Just rest. Everything else will gracefully wait.

Odd Lots

  • Jupiter has always looked better with a few belts, but now, astonishingly enough, one of them has gone missing.
  • Ever want a stuffed muon? Head right over to the Particle Zoo, where that and many other cuddly plush species of atomic debris can be had, including a few (like the tachyon) that have never been observed and probably don’t exist. Oh, you can get stuffed dark matter too–and does that Higgs Boson look happily stoned or what?
  • I’d heard about it a while ago, but only recently began reading up on the Haiku OS, inspired by ahead-of-its-time BeOS. What intrigued me is Haiku’s inherent suitability for multicore CPUs, since it’s pervasively multithreaded, and damned near every piece of an app is spun off into a separate thread. Alpha release 2 is now available. I’ve downloaded the ISO and will report back here when I test it on my quad core.
  • One of the more interesting issues involving the iPad is where to put it: Do all of us macho geeks need to get used to carrying man-purses? Hardly. We wore our leather-holstered slide rules on our hips like mathematical six-guns back in the 60s. A quick check online showed nothing comparable for the iPad and its inevitable imitators, but trust me: Leather belt holsters for slates will be the Christmas gift in 2010. Draw, pardner! Whoops. Visio isn’t available for the iPad yet. Surf, pardner!
  • The Hong Kong knockoff artists are beginning to fill the Fake iPad niche, and according to Wired may well clone the Google Android slate before Google even admits that it exists.
  • And Bill Roper sent a link to a barely $100 Android slate shaped to better fit your stylish black leather belt holster. With one of the new Android-based e-reader software packages like FBReader and Aldiko, a gadget like that could serve as a socko indoor ebook reader.
  • From Pete Albrecht comes a link to Lehman’s, a vendor offering mostly non-electrical products and catering (presumably) to an Amish clientele. (Preppers too, I suspect.) An amazing number of items in the catalog (the red rubber hot water bottle, for example) were commonplaces in my youth, and some (like the strangely retro-deco Stirling engine fans) would be right at home on planet Hell from my novel, where electrical devices don’t work. All in all, a fascinating flip.
  • The May 2010 Scientific American published an article suggesting that carbohydrates may be worse for you than saturated fats. This is not news to me (when I eat carbs I gain weight rapidly, and lose just as rapidly when I stop) but it’s encouraging to see a “big-time” publication take the notion seriously. After all, the Federal government has been telling us that fat makes us fat for thirty years now, and all we could do in response has been to…get fatter. I’ve doubled my fat intake in the last year or two, and have remained at my customary 155 pounds. Something’s screwy somewhere. (Found via The Volokh Conspiracy. Read the comments; amazingly good signal-to-noise ratio there.)

The Persecution Gambit

I learned a great deal about tribalism in the past few years, watching a Colorado Springs drama unfold. The former rector of Grace & St. Stephen’s cathedral downtown fomented a split in the congregation, one of the largest in Colorado. His faction quit the Episcopal Church entirely and hooked up with a crew of African Anglican bishops who collect disaffected American Episcopalians like I used to collect bus transfers. Their choice and no great loss, but the group tried to take the property (including a marvelous Gothic church building, school and offices) with them. After a two-year court battle, they were thrown off the property in April of last year, and occupancy returned to the parish group that remained loyal to the Episcopal Church. During the investigation, it came to light that the rector had allegedly been siphoning off church funds to pay for his children’s college educations, and he is now facing 20 counts of felony theft that could land him in prison for most of his remaining years.

What I found fascinating is that throughout the entire period, the man claimed to be the victim of deliberate persecution, that he was merely defending all things bright, beautiful, and virtuous, and that the Episcopal Church was trying to squash him like a bug. I boggled and boggled until my boggler was sore: Beyond the surreal notion that the Episcopal Church persecutes its opponents, anyone who read more than the shallowest accounts understood that the property had always been owned by the Diocese of Colorado and not the church community itself. (This is a matter of public record.) The more the rector yelled “persecution!” the weaker and sillier he looked—and the more scrutiny he called down on himself.

I’ve touched on this a time or two here before. Sad as it is, this sort of thing isn’t unique. Leaders caught in fibs or with their hands in the cookie jar scream “persecution” more often than you might think. I had an insight recently that explains what had seemed pretty counterintuitive to me: This technique isn’t about persuading outsiders that they’re innocent or deflecting suspicion. It’s all about rallying the base, according to primal tribal instincts that we inherited from our killer-ape ancestors. Every tribe has honest members, and when tribal leaders’ misdeeds come to light, there’s a very real risk that the honest ones will bolt the tribe. The cry of “persecution!” stirs deep feelings, implying that it’s not entirely about the leaders. The tribe itself is under attack, and the defensive poo-flinging had better begin right now, or the tribe could be crushed by its evil and hugely powerful attackers. (Even if they’re just a few noisy bloggers.)

The tactic is a gamble. It works well on the tribal foot soldiers who are basically owned by the tribe, but those loosely bound to the tribe can easily see through it. Much depends on how much flingable poo those owned by the tribe can summon. Run short of FPUs (Flingable Poo Units) and the tribe can shrink, lose power, and suffer humiliation from which recovery is not assured.

If your tribal leaders are accused of wrongdoing and respond with howls about “persecution,” odds are overwhelming that they’re guilty as charged. They’re not trying to defend themselves. They’re trying to keep the tribe’s honest members from drifting away. Don’t fall for it. You gain a lot more by tearing them down, humiliating them via brutal public honesty, and throwing them to the wolves. Never allow a dishonest leader to remain in power. The Anglican tribe in Colorado Springs is now fading away. Yours could be next.

Bichonicon 2010 Wrapup, with Ribbons


The show portion of the Bichon Frise National Specialty 2010 finished out today, and I’ll take a break from cleaning up and packing (which includes washing all the dog towels we brought) to summarize.

I made a McDonald’s run for the gang this morning at oh-dark-30, all the while that Carol and our friends were furiously brushing and tipping down in the grooming area. Both Aero and Dash were showing today, so I got a chance to put on my best suit and parade our puppy around the ring. Dash doesn’t like leashes, but he held his head up a little better today, and picked up Fourth Place in Open Puppy Dog 10-12 Months, out of a field of nine, again including most of the Bichon Powers. (Bogglingly, we beat a couple of nationally known handlers and their dogs.) Carol says that I’m picking up the dog handling thing pretty well, and although I could smell myself sweat, the judge evidently liked what she saw.

Carol handled Aero in Amateur Owner/Handler, and although it was a small category, she took First Place, just as she did last year. Aero is a very good dog, and few dogs that good are handled by their owners. (Most show dogs of Aero’s quality are owned by wealthy people who hire professional handlers to take them around the country and show them.) Ordinarily, being a champion would disqualify Aero for any category except Best of Breed, but since we entered Aero in the show before he completed his championship, he got to stay in the category. Carol and Aero did not place in later rounds, but considering who we were up against, that isn’t really surprising.

So we’re taking home three ribbons this year: Two Fourth Places for Dash, and one First Place for Aero. Overall a fine showing, and we’re lookiung forward to the big Colorado Springs show in June, where Dash has his first serious shot at a major win. We’ve decided to spend another night here for reasons of simple exhaustion, which was fortunate because there’s a tornado watch in force for most of our path back to Chicago. (By tomorrow morning all that should have passed on over Ohio.) As the bichon crowd leaves the hotel, other groups are filtering in (including a hot-air balloon convention) and we’ve begun hearing an old line that curdles any bichon person’s blood: “Look at the pretty poodles!” Yup. Time to go home.