May 2009 Archives

Where the Red Fern Grows

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One of the very best books I read when I was a kid was "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. I read it in the fourth grade along with another book by Rawls, "Summer of the Monkeys."

My recollections of the two books have faded with time, to the point that the only thing I really remembered about them were that they took place in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, that there were dogs involved, that Where the Red Fern Grows was better than Summer of the Monkeys, and that the movie of WtRFG was horrible.

So, now that I'm on my dog kick, I'm trying to examine why it is that I've always wanted a dog, and a few things stick out. There was the time that someone brought a litter of puppies to Sunday school, and I desperately wanted one. There's also my memories of reading Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller, and my always pleasant experiences with Buffy and Charlie (the Espeland's Cocker Spaniels). To balance that out, I also remember Mrs. Highland's dog, Abby, the Collie who was horribly behaved, but that didn't bother me too much. There was also the dog that ran out from the house next to the veterinarian's and bit me when I was riding my bike to the Espelands (the only time I've ever done that). Also, there was the very real experience of living with a sweet, but often misbehaved Chocolate Lab that had some emotional baggage (This was a great experience because it taught me quite a few things that I want in a dog, and quite a few things that I don't want in a dog).

Having identified all of these formative dog experiences, I'm trying to go back and re-examine them. Sometimes when you're young, you get these ideas in your head and they grow into some sort of ideal not challenged by reality. For instance, I read Robinson Crusoe and so naturally I would like to be shipwrecked on an island... wait, let's back that up there and re-examine. See what I mean?

Anyhow, since I wanted to get a book on picking the right dog, I also put in holds for Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys, and Old Yeller. Well, I'm pleased to announce that after a few hours or reading, Where the Red Fern Grows still stands up as one of my favorite books of all times.

One of the dangers of reading books meant for young children is that you find out they weren't as good as you remembered. Not the case. WtRFG is still pitch-perfect, even for a reader of 26. It's not a complicated narrative, but it's engrossing and captivating and emotional. Billy, the protagonist, wants dogs so badly that he works like crazy for two years to save up the money to buy them. He doesn't just want any dog. He wants two purebreed redbone hounds so he can hunt raccoons. After finally saving up enough for the hounds, he goes on adventure after adventure getting the puppies, training them, learning about perseverance, learning about tragedy, learning about triumph, and finally learning how to put things in perspective. Throughout the book, he turns cynics into believers, learns about unconditional love, and displays an unbelievable generosity, that he never seems to grasp himself.

I remember crying the first time I read it. Even though I didn't cry this time, I still wanted to. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: 5 of 5 stars.


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Haven't written on this yet, but Justice Souter announced last month that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court in June. This has set in motion a process to pick his successor, and today, President Obama announced his choice: Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

At this point, I don't know anything about Judge Sotomayor, aside from the fact that she's a woman, hispanic, and generally considered to be pro-choice. Oh, and she voted in favor of the player's union rather than the baseball owners in 1995, and that decision lead to the end of the 1994-1995 strike.

The sad part about the whole situation is that the news coverage of potential Supreme Court justices always revolves around gender, ethnicity, and abortion. Just like I'm upset for Michelle Obama when the news fixates on her fashion choices (such an accomplished person reduced to an argument over appropriate fashions), I get frustrated with the media for always dumbing down judicial issues. We never seem to have intelligent analysis of the judiciary, and so most of the public sees jurisprudence as some sort of black box. Cases go in, opinions come out... and the only thing worth our time is to make sure that the 'abortion outcome' is always a binary decision. Yes or no. Always. It can't vary based on the inputs, and the quality of a judge can be judged solely on their support (or lack thereof) for abortion.

Maybe I shouldn't worry or get upset about it. Maybe the issues are being handled by qualified people. Maybe the proper debates and conversations are happening in the White House and the Senate chamber. Maybe. I sure hope so, because I don't expect to be reading many nuanced articles on Ms. Sotomayor's judicial track record.

Yay, Indiana!

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I'm very proud to be a Hoosier... and this reinforces it.

Three of Chrysler's secured creditors are mounting a fresh attempt to thwart the carmaker's Chapter 11 reorganisation on the grounds that it violates their legal rights and the US government's authority under the Troubled asset relief programme.

The three - all Indiana state pension funds...


The Indiana funds say the current plan will strip their collateral into the new company, benefiting more junior creditors. The funds also allege that Tarp funds were meant to be funnelled only to financial institutions.

"Whatever powers the Treasury department may have under Tarp," the funds said, "it does not have the power to control the entire restructuring of a company to the detriment of the company's secured creditors and for the benefit of other interest groups so that certain broader policy and political objectives may be achieved."

Some days, I question the wisdom of our Federal system... other days, as in when the states serve as a check on the Federal government (rather than an impediment to good government), I really am happy that our system allows dissenting voices to appeal to the judiciary.

Here's hoping the courts realize just how badly the government's Chrysler plan will undermine the financial system in this country, and rule in favor of creditor's rights (also known as the rule of law). If you think about it, basically the federal government is forcing a transfer of wealth from one pool of citizens (in this case Indiana taxpayers and the constituents of those pension funds) to another (UAW workers) by elevating the UAW claims in the Chrysler capital structure.

Maybe all of the eventfulness of my life is getting to me and I think life should be even more of a headache... but I'm getting an unrestful kind of itch and contemplating all kinds of big changes... probably it's just because the weather in Chicago is finally really nice, and I'm couped up in an office during the day, but I've been thinking: (Warning: This post makes zero sense to anyone who lives outside of my head.)

• Would like to move to Wyoming, buy a forest green 1988 Ford Ranger pick-up truck, get a dog, and work in a small town, but live in a house/cabin a few miles outside of town on 40 acres of my own,
• Would like to have a hunting rifle and basement freezer to store the one elk I would hunt and kill per year (must learn about skinning elk, also how to shoot a gun, should I buy 4 sets of clothing or 50? Maybe I'll trade for those on the trail... sure wish the Wagon could carry more than 50 sets of clothing).
• Bonuses: Money stretches further in Wyoming, life is simpler (and I would be unhappy after three months), could work as a bookkeeper/accountant, etc.
• Requirements: 40 acres should have a stream for fishing and no city lights for star-watching, also needs a bike/walking path near the cabin (like that one place by Kalamazoo).
• Perhaps location would be eastern Washington so I could catch Salmon in the river. (I went to the store and tried to buy Salmon on Monday, but the 2 for $8 sale referred to the two cuts of Salmon in the package, not 2 packages for $8, so no Salmon. Salmon, yum.)
• Huge perk, wearing fleece most evenings. Huge disadvantage: Wyoming winters are totally harsh. Summers have lots of mosquitoes. Hate mosquitoes. Perhaps Arizona.

• Would like to sell downtown condo and move some place bigger, and across the street from a big park (perhaps Lincoln Park or Grant Park). Could rent for less than I pay to own.
• Would like to have a dog (Irish Terrier) that I would walk in the evenings.
• Would like to be able to take my dog to work.
• Would still like to be able to walk to work and everywhere else I need to go (Millenium Park?)
• Would like to be within three blocks of grocery store (Lincoln Park? or Smith Ave. in Bloomington, IN - incidentally I saw two months ago that the owner of the Chocolate Moose had to close because they couldn't find an owner.)
• Would like to live in Loveland, CO. (Drove through there as a Kid and thought how awesome that would be.) or someplace with a lake in the middle of town. Would have dog that would run into water to retrieve stick while playing fetch.
• Would like to live on a houseboat. (Read an article in NYTimes about that, also last year about some retirees who live on a river in France.) Would have Dog that can swim.
• Would like to live on outskirts of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in house by the Indian Ocean. This house is two stories with the entire upstairs a Master suite that has both eastward and westward facing balconies. Would work at nearby English language MK school. Would have dog.
• Would really like to go back to Rio.

Anyhow, the point of this is that most of my bizarre fantasy-escapist-dreams involve a dog of some sort, and I'm always jealous of the people with a dog in my building. Now, after the disastrous cat experiment of aught eight, I know much better than to try this where I live now, so maybe I'll move. I did some reading up on dogs and I'm not sure that an Irish terrier is necessarily the best fit for me... but that will be my placeholder over the next month as I 'experiment' with a 'dog'.

Experiment requirements:
• Walk "dog" in mornings to the nearest green spot and back. Minimum time requirement 20 mins.
• Walk "dog" after work for at least 10 blocks ~ 30 mins.
• Walk "dog" for a few minutes in evening before bed.
• Figure out how much dog food will cost per paycheck. Set $ aside. Figure out where I could buy dog-food and how I would get it home. Add cost of taxi if necessary.
• Figure out how much other stuff costs per paycheck. Set $ aside.
Experiment length: 6 weeks with only two foul ups. (May 20 - June 24), will repeat test again when I move.

If I pass my test, then maybe I'll let myself go look at a shelter... but not until I pass my test. Also, maybe try selling my place in the mean-time... or maybe just give up the dream.

Hi Eric

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From the Cubs game on April 18.

A Psalm 23 kind of week

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I'm having a terrible week for reasons I won't fully go into here... but suffice it to say, I was already stressed out when I called my Mother and found out that our 18 year old cat is likely going to be put down this week.


When all of my siblings and I were young, we each had a bible verse. I'm not sure why my Father assigned them as he did, but I expect they're some of his favorite verses. Not every time, but often when we would have a family devotional time, all of us would recite our verses. Mine was the 23rd Psalm, and that was the context in which I learned it. Later, when I was a teenager, someone pointed out to me that because it is such a common grave-side passage, most people associate the Psalm with death. I'd really never thought of it that way... and I still don't.

To me, the 23rd Psalm is about always being able to find strength in God. Whether you're in desperate need of it because your enemies are laying siege to your life, or just chilling out, sitting in the grass by the lake. It's also an admonishment not to worry about the things we worry about so often like food and shelter. That's in God's control too, and we just need to let him take care of it all.

As my blood pressure went from high to blow-a-gasket-high at work today, I found myself reciting the Psalm under my breath, praying for God's soothing presence, something I do much too rarely.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD