Friday, July 31, 2009

Is it too late to blog? Is it ever too late to blog? A few minutes before midnight and I thought I'd click here and plug in, for no good reason but to say I was still alive, for those who were wondering. Wonder no more -I'm just keeping busy, and keeping my distance from the interverse.

Just looked up "interverse" on Google. Seems I made the word up.

Okay, good night.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The president has finally touched a nerve. WARNING: Politics ahead!

How could he?

Because Bud Light is the most popular beer in the world, and he felt it was a safe pick. Because our president is not a beer drinker and sadly knows nothing of the stuff. Because, because, because, because! Bud Light is also not owned by an American company, so there's an offense there as well.

Officer Crowley, easily the only real blue-collar, average American working-man of the three, picked Blue Moon, and though I admire his selection of a perceived microbrew, this beer is just terrible (and happens to be owned by Coors.) Seriously, Blue Moon tastes like malted ass. My humble opinion on this matter was justified when The Winemaker was visiting a month ago and he mentioned that "some bastard left a sixpack of it in my fridge" where he said it sat for months before he finally poured it down the sink. (Now, I probably wouldn't go that far, but I can understand the sentiment.)

Hotheaded Harvard Professor Gates chose Red Stripe, working man beer of Jamaica. Red Stripe is also not an American beer, but I think I appreciate the choice -though probably not for the same reasons. (It has that bullseye of an ad campaign, "Hooray beer!") Truth be told, Blue Moon is higher rated than Red Stripe by Beer Advocate, but I prefer Red Stripe, if only because it comes in those fun little bottles.

Anyway, I suspect these were all political decisions, though perhaps not Officer Crowley's, who merely suffers from poor taste, rather than a submission to political correctness (the former being the more easily-corrected condition.) Why Obama couldn't pick a bold, flavorful American microbrew is a disappointment, and I am sure there is a tap of a hundred-thousand consultants (all working pro-bono) from which he could have chosen in this area, myself included. But don't be tempted to think that the new "Beer Czar" is not a political position. (It would be. For example: My beer choice for Obama. What? It's a very popular American microbrew!)

It was thoughtless of our president to not pick Anchor Steam's "Liberty Ale" or any of the Samuel Adams brews. Or he could've procured a few bottles of "Equality Ale" from the Capitol City Brewing Company just down the street from the White House. I've never tasted it, but it seems to me this would have been a fine choice. Because when Crowley and Gates sit down at that picnic table on the back lawn, which side is Obama going to sit on?

Summit to be held this afternoon.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We are a fully integrated Mac family now, for better or for worse. For better! (I see your eyeroll and raise you.) After waiting some months for the corporate gods to announce their new product upgrades at the WWDC, we got in touch with our connections and placed the order for the new family laptop. Well, business laptop. Okay, Mrs. Ditchman's laptop. (It's a tax write-off all the same.)

Our "connection" is one of several of my cousins who hail from the Silicon Valley area and who work for that hippest of computer companies and who mentioned last Christmas about the happy and benevolent "Friends & Family" discounts they get. One phone call saved this penny-pinching family a few hundred bucks, so we were very grateful. "It's what it's there for!" said my cousin. What a swell guy.

Mrs. Ditchman seems to have come around. The old banged-up PCs were just piling around the office here; a Gateway tower with that old cow logo on the front, (Cow logo? Always made me wonder) an IBM "Thinkpad" which has padded its thinking capacity with so many plug-ins and third-party apps that it thinks no more, (and therefore, isn't) and then that rhino of a CRT which causes the lights to flicker when you turn it on, its screen's rainbow hues are unviewable now, though we hang on to the beast out of respect for the environment. Anyway, the quick response and sharp images of the new MacBookPro sitting on her desk are a joy to look at. And yet today we have all the computers hooked up, in an attempt to synchronize everything and, as well, pluck the old files out of the dinosaurs. Our office looks like Matthew Broderick's bedroom in Wargames. (Heh.)

Though I know she is busy, it looks as if Mrs. Ditchman has abandoned the concept of transferring the old files altogether. Funny how that is -I've experienced it myself- how you resist the change because all your info is in that one electronic block and you can't possibly leave it behind, and then when you finally make the transition you find you never go back. You don't need it, none of it, like all those boxes in the attic, but one day an old customer will call and their file will be on some archaic hard drive and you'll wish you'd made the effort of the transfer and... ugh. Anyway, I'll get to it. Maybe in a month or two. Maybe never.

I'm not sure how I talked her into Mac, but I believe it had something to do with all our business photos being on my computer, and the need to display the slideshows on a fancy laptop for sales presentations. (Also, the new MacBooks are made of aluminum, so there was a certain mutual metallurgic collaboration that had an appeal.) But I decisively did not talk her into it! I merely pounced when she was amenable to the idea, so now we are all definitively Mac. I find it amusing, diverting, and yet somewhat annoying whenever it fails to live up to Mrs. Ditchman's high expectations after my passionate pitch. Oh, well. It's a computer, not a Fabergé Egg, for crying out loud.

But it's awesome! I sit down at it and she enters, "Hey! What are you doing with my computer!" so she must be getting attached to it. Our music and photos and business files and address books are all (mostly) accessible in the Home Network I've set up here, with the dumb little old iMac downstairs blinking out email and Facebook all day. And all the iPods; car iPod, jobsite iPod, running iPods. And then there's the AppleTV, of course.

So what'd I do? Went out and bought an iPhone. Okay, two of them. Look, we were already on AT&T and our phones were getting old and dumb, as technology does with age. (I forget how many Gs there are in the networks now, but our phones were still on F, or something.) Anyway, the iPhone has finally adjusted down to $99, as opposed to the $599 or whatever ungodly amount it was when the thing first launched, and this seems to me a perfectly reasonable price. How do I like it? HOPPING JEHOVAH IN HEAVEN ABOVE IT IS AWESOME BEYOND ALL MEASURE! No kidding. I love it. It's even better than I thought it was going to be. Now I see what all the huffinanpuffin was about. I'm not going to go into it today, but I just figured I'd let you know. I think it is very sweet.

And, oh, hmmm, here's something interesting, in case I was wondering about our diminished checking account.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Well, this is interesting. I mean, interesting in the fact that of course there are underwater aliens! Everyone knows that! I doubt a bunch of men in close quarters in a Russian submarine would ever hallucinate after a while. And who knew that Russian subs had windows? Let's see the government try and write these perfectly legitimate sightings off as undersea swamp gas, or experimental ocean balloons, eh?

Anyway, I'm bouncing back today (finally.) Got a run in this morning and feeling much better, thank you very much. And thanks for hanging in there with me, all 27 of you, my dedicated readers, even though most days I just feel like writing: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Did you know there's meaning behind all that filler? I looked it up. Check out the translation:

Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

Just seems to describe writers (and runners) everywhere, that boring old nonsense filler. Who knew?

The Ramona job was finished late yesterday and I can put that one behind me for a while, until the wind blows it over and I have to return for repairs. The wind! Customers are always concerned about the wind. Sometimes I have to show them the engineering tables where it specifically says the 70 mph and 90 mph wind ratings. (I build them to 90 mph.) People always say, without exception, "Oh, no. The gusts get very strong up here." And who am I to argue? I always remind them, "90 mph is a Category 1 hurricane. If you get 90 mph winds in your backyard, you're gonna have bigger problems than your little patio cover blowing away." Makes people think.

But yesterday, she pushed me on it. "Is there a guarantee? I heard there was a guarantee. If the wind damages it are you going to come out and fix it?" At which point I scrutinized the tiny muscles in her face and tried to read her subtle body language to ascertain if she was joking or not. I couldn't tell. She got me. So I said, "When it happens, call me."

I've never had to fix one for that problem before, but now I know I just asked for it.

Meh. That's life. I try not to dwell, and preoccupy myself with undersea humanoids in silvery suits. They're more reliable than the weather.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Woke this morning a tad melancholic, which would make me angry if I let it, since I have no truly legitimate reason to be either melancholic or angry, but it happens sometimes. One reason: I didn't have a good dinner last night, nor much of a lunch yesterday. And then I had a dream where I was living in Pasadena again, with Carey. It was a nighttime dream, which is an atmospheric occurrence used by my subconscious to reinforce a certain dismal sense. In the dream, I was happy to see all my old friends I hadn't seen in years, but I found I missed my kids and my wife. There are stages in life, that is known, but if you live correctly the latter stages improve the perspective, and the thought of turning back reaches an absurd height.

Not that I was thinking of turning back. It was just a dream; dark, distant, depressing, and today I go back out to Ramona where it's supposed to be in the 90s again, and that is nothing to be cheery about. So now what? Have a hearty breakfast, and git her done! Git on with it!

Also missed my run this morning and yesterday, due to extenuating (and otherwise prolonged) obligations. Must stay on target, and not get tempted with a distraction. Must arrange goals in a hierarchy of importance, so as not to get sidetracked. Must not quit, so as... to not be a quitter, I guess.

This is all hard with a family, who have goals of their own. As well it's hard with all those necessary daily achievements; find work, do work, make money, pay bills. I'm amazed the Little Digger is nine months old and getting ready to walk. Nine months before that he was nowhere to be found, and could hardly be imagined. What happened here? Where did it all go? Where was I?

He's the greatest. Yesterday we were in the kitchen and I went to hug Mrs. Ditchman. No good reason, really, except the obvious (I love her.) We were standing there, arms around each other, and we looked over at the boy in his high chair who was just watching us. He had a big smile on his face, like he was just happy to see his parents hugging. So sometimes, when you hug your wife, it's nice to have that outside encouragement, (because we all know that sometimes it can be difficult to hug your wife.)

And this recent blogging has been just terrible, dumb reading. Started out so strong at the beginning of the year, and now I'm just phoning it in (sometimes literally.) It's easy to write, but it's difficult to write well, (and who says I've ever achieved the latter?) It takes time, and commitment. Like a family. Like a garden.

And I've felt that the garden is something of a failure again this year, sorry to say. It's been so hot, and there's the ongoing drought concerns, so I just let it all fall down the hierarchy of family needs. Makes me sad to see those empty garden boxes out there, with all their inherent potential. But I do have the Great Pumpkins, and I did get some flowers planted around the pond a while back. I was doing my end-of-the-day garden round last Friday, all hangdog and self-pitiful and feeling sorry for being responsible for all that dried, cracked earth, and then I took a step back and noticed something: that middle section around the pond really looks nice. There were a few pretty yellow water lillies, some hyacinth, and the goldfish were still alive. Sometimes you just get so headlong into your life's work, that it doesn't occur to you to perform the simple act of lifting your head to see what the whole point of it all is.


Friday, July 24, 2009

OH, I've been beat down all week by the merciless Ramona heat. Ramona, which is where I'm working, is a stone's throw from Hell's doorstep, and I feel like a cauterized blotch on the southland desertscape. It's where all the fires start down here in Southern California. It's that hot. Things just catch fire spontaneously. No, really. I was admiring a sunflower in someone's backyard and it caught the reflection of the sun off a piece of aluminum, and it burst into flame right there in front of me, nothing left but ash and smoke. I'll have to be careful.

It's been demoralizing and debilitating. There's no shade in my business until my work is done, and I am like the hungry chef or the sick doctor all day. The only bit of shade is a small spot against the house that the dog uses. I kicked him off of it and collapsed there, but it smells of dog. Yesterday, I got to a point where I had to climb the ladder a thousand more times. It was 4:30 and I had already drank a case of Gatorade, and I just unlatched my tool belt and let it drop. I quit. Just walked off the job and left all the tools there. I never do that. I always load up the power tools so the customer is not responsible for them, but yesterday I couldn't take it anymore. I'm quietly wishing they'll be stolen in the hot night, and then I'll have to spend all weekend replacing them, while I pray for cooler temps for next week.

When the weather gets like this, there's just no predicting how long the job is going to take. Add to it that this job is another 60 footer. Sounds like money! you think, but the projection is so short (5' in parts) that it's not. Interesting thing: the wider the cover, the more work it is. The greater the projection, the less work. I won't explain it, so trust me, but one of the problems is that if your tools are on one side of the yard, you have to walk 60' every time you need something. What? Stage the tools in the middle? I can't. There's a pool there. Yes, a pool I can't use. It's possible it doesn't exist at all, however, and is just some luckless mirage. I'll check again this morning.

I use every tool in the truck. For some reason, these jobs take every tool. And I spend a good portion of the day just loading and unloading the truck. This house is also on a bit of a hill, and I couldn't park in the driveway, so the thought of loading up at the end of the day just killed me. I abandoned the jobsite, but I am not a quitter, as it was a tactical retreat. I've regrouped, and am returning to that battlefield now. But that ground evaporates the sweat and drinks in blood, and I am not sure it was wise to leave the weapons just laying out there.

Have a frost-free weekend!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Saw a beautiful, soaring, tiger monarch butterfly on the breeze today, in my backyard.

He kept flying.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

See? Algae bloom.

In other news, the world will end tomorrow, according to sociologists/scientists. Okay, maybe not END, per se, but them religious folks can get crazy. They're always looking for an excuse to assplode.

Speaking of the confluence of faith and science, I found this rarely-reported tidbit perfectly American, and perfectly sweet. I had considered an essay on "the moon landing and what it means to me", but haven't been blessed with the confluence of inspiration and free time, lately. Damn, too, as I have a lot to blab on it. But the article speaks for itself, and Aldrin is a true American hero. (Can't say the same for some of the folks in the comment section of that Washington Post piece.)

Let me just mention: after they jumped around on the moon for a few hours, Buzz and Neil got back in the lunar module and slept. When they woke, they prepared for liftoff. No one was 100 percent certain the rockets would fire. If they didn't, Buzz and Neil would have been stuck there, helpless, and left to die. The president had a prepared statement for this. There was no Plan B.

40 years ago last night. And I can't even do communion right in Earth gravity.

In other news, BUTTERFLY GARDEN PROGRESS REPORT DAY! (Has it been 4 months already?)

Butterfly Garden, June 21st:

Today: (Hold on, let me grab my camera and run outside to get a pic.)

Okay, so it looks the same from that angle, but it extends well to the right of the pic. I actually went through there and pulled a bunch of plants, as they were more or less spindly and deadish. There are a lot of flowers, many more than a month ago, and pretty consistent. But, alas, no butterflies, so maybe next year. Anyway, it's nice to look at from the Family Room window in the morning.

We may have reached the apex of the Butterfly Garden. And now for the slow, demoralizing decline into winter. Should I document that? Perhaps I shall, if I can remember to. Few recognize the utter significance of decay.

But it ain't over yet! Remember my GIANT pumpkin I'm growing? Check this out:

Mid-July and it's already bigger than most pumpkins I buy for Halloween. Just gotta keep the thing alive for another couple months, but it's costing me a king's ransom in water bills.


Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm going off the vitamins for a while. All the beer I had over the weekend might be at odds with the vitamins, might make the liver work harder. I want to be good to my body so: no more vitamins.

Well, there's a rumor on the street that glucosamine and alcohol don't mix. I'm not sure this rumor has any more validity to it than the rumor that glucosamine actually helps your joints, so I'm dumping on the glucosamine for a while. The beer tastes too good!

Okay, it doesn't all taste that good. Went to the Stone Brewery Sourfest with family and friends yesterday and before I got there I perused the PDF of all the breweries and beers that were going to be served and I was shocked (shocked!) that there was not a one that I had ever sampled or tasted before! So how were the sour beers? They were sour. Some more sourful than others.

I think there is a reason that the style of "sour" beer is not sweeping the nation, and you can guess what that reason is. I tasted ten of them, and they all tasted pretty much like a batch gone, well, sour. It makes one wonder if "sour" is just a category that poorly-made beer falls into out of a failure to attain certain desirable, beerish heights. They weren't terrible, they were just SOUR, like they lacked one or two necessary ingredients. Like a cinnamon-raisin bagel without the raisins and low on cinnamon, and in the end just mostly bagel-like.

As well, I snuck away -giving in to overwhelming temptation- on Saturday to sample the beers at the Oceanside Ale Works, which were nice. Well, there was one called "Dirty Blonde" that actually tasted like racehorse bathwater, and had very little of the blonde flavor advertised, and far far more of the dirty. Seriously: to say this was the worst beer ever conceived, brewed, and sampled by man is an insult to unshowered, libidinous blondes (and racehorses) everywhere. I actually dumped mine in the men's room sink, returning it to its source. I'm a fan of the OAW, so this was a major disappointment. The brewer was there, and we almost leapt over the tasting bar and grabbed him by his frothy beard and smacked him around, "Hey! What're you trying to push on us?! You oughta be ashamed of yourself!" But we contained ourselves and found it in our hearts to forgive, as the other ales were fine. But... I'm still shuddering at the sickening flavor of that putrid, unquaffable gutter runoff roiling on my tongue. Blechhhh...

All the beer drinking was necessary because of all the dance recitals with the Little Ditchman, I must say. She did all right, for a 3-year-old. She didn't fall off the stage, which is an automatic 7 points, and she knew all the words to the song and had a couple moves down, so it looked good. The final performance on Sunday was scheduled dead in the middle of naptime, so it was tough on the little ones. At the curtain call for the final bow, the screaming and hollering of the applause and the blinding bright lights had the Little Ditchman (and others) with her hands covering her ears and her eyes welling up with tears, standing there onstage with a quivering lip (I know the feeling.) Her teacher picked her up and tried to console her, and it was a bit heartbreaking to watch helplessly from the fifth row. I felt I was going to cry too, after seeing so many recitals and performances. What can I say? I'm a guy, and I just don't get the dancing. It's been said that if The Dance could be explained with words, then they wouldn't have to dance it out, so I guess I'll never know.

I, and every Dad there, applauded furiously all the same.


Friday, July 17, 2009

So busy this morning, I forgot to blog. So! Busy this morning? I forgot to blog! So busy, this morning I forgot to blog. So busy this morning I forgot to... blog?

Punctuation makes all the difference. Most of my rewriting is flipping the punctuation around to keep the voice consistent, ah, but, who cares anyway? (He said, wondering about those commas.)

It's 12:54. Friday. Friday? Friday! This excuses my noon beer. Such is the pleasure of working from home. I'm trying to put a complex aluminum order together. What makes it complex is that I am stressed about how I should have paced this order a few days ago, but didn't have the time, and how I'm trying to utilize the GENTRY materials, from when we were jobbed on that one contract a while back (the jerks.) So it's a components-only order, which confuses everyone. I do this all the time. People roll their eyes.

Thus, the beer. Also, this weekend is going to look a lot like this:

...which I simultaneously look forward to and not. It's too cute to ignore, and yet I have so many things I've been needing to get done around here. It's not the Little Ditchman's dance recitals that bug me, actually, but everyone else's! I know, how selfish, but they kind of make you sit through the whole thing, and then again, as there are multiple performances. You wade through a hundred little dancers to get to your one perfect little princess, and then there is the madness before and after: the wrangling of the Little Digger, the photos, the dresses and tiaras. It's hard on a man, but hey, men should be hard enough to take it. I hear there's a beerfest waiting at the end of it. I better look into that and make sure.

Anyway, I'm glad this week is over. She was a painful one, she was. She was? She was!

Have an a-veces-tengo-ganas-de-bailar weekend!


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Add "black Arctic goo" to forces of the apocalypse unleashed in the end times. It's an algae bloom, I say, to ruin the mystery of it. I get them in my marine aquarium, and when I saw the accompanying photos I thought, yep. It's the same wretched smelling, hairy stuff that grows in my fish tank from time to time. Nothing spectacular. Quite the opposite of spectacular, really. Boring old pond scum.

Unless we're referring to the actual freakish size of the blob, 15 miles long in some spots. The article goes to some lengths to mythologize the goo, describing birds getting caught up in it and the blob leaving nothing behind but bones and feathers, but don't worry, people, I know this goo. Plucked a couple fistfuls of it out of the living room tank just yesterday.

It's a naturally occurring phenomenon occurring in unnatural conditions, (whatever that means.) In my aquarium it happens whenever nutrients are in abundance and the temperature gets out of hand, so I guess we can ascribe the presence of the mysterious Alaskan goo to "climate change". It just cracks me up that we can't do with otherwise ordinary news, and we have to turn every hairy mass into a bigfoot and every flash in the sky into a flying saucer -but what would life be without them? Ages ago we would have turned them into gods, or the work of such, and now we turn them all into a cultural folklore, mocked by most, feared by others, and adulated by the cryptozoologists who walk among us.

They are a strange crew, the cryptozoologists, generally keeping to themselves like the animals of the unreal that they study. Ostracized by the scientific community, they hole up in their garages -which do double time as weird archives and publishing houses- and spend their free time trying to secure graduate degrees to legitimize their names, which are banned in most scientific journals. It's hard to get a degree when you can't keep your mouth shut from all the crazy talk, and one day you look up from the lectern to see not students, but the nodding heads of a thousand other wackos. Cryptozoologists all say the same thing: "They're all crazy. But my creature... my creature exists."

The day you're proven right, that your large, undiscovered bat-winged vertebrate is found trolling the bottom of the sea, on that day you're downgraded to just boring old zoologist, and all your life's work is stolen from you by the respected and "legitimate" establishment researchers. Science is hard because of the unknown things. There are unknown things, and scientists have always struggled to humble themselves in the face of them. But the old science of Discovery has today been replaced by the science of Theory, and Truth has been lost in the ever-constant pursuit of the next research grant. Al Gore's net worth has increased to well over $100 million since he started spouting off about "Global Warming" a few years back. He's no scientist, but even I'll get a climatology degree and tell him whatever he wants to hear in return for that sizable paycheck. Meanwhile, many otherwise sober, scholarly, and skeptical, scientists now find themselves in the awkward company of the throngs of passionate cryptozologists they once reviled.

So, for the record, it's just boring old pond scum. It's what the scientists have told us all along is the stuff from whence we came, the origins of life.

End times, indeed.

“To us, men of the West, a very strange thing happened at the turn of the century; without noticing it, we lost science, or at least the thing that had been called by that name for the last four centuries. What we now have in place of it is something different, radically different, and we don't know what it is. Nobody knows what it is.”

-Simone Weil


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lileks posted the above image a week or so ago. I just felt it was too precious not to repost, especially in light of this recent news item. What can one say about the unnatural event of giant squid beaching themselves in Southern California? Sell your stock, ditch your job, give away all your possessions -the End is coming! Where are our leaders?!

Also on the news this morning, a 7.3 earthquake in the South Pacific spurred a tsunami warning in New Zealand. It reminded me that THE BIG ONE IS COMING! Do we need reminding? I was reminded of it last week when I saw something in the news about an increase in earth tremors being a harbinger of a coming tectonic event. I mentioned it to my wife, and we laughed. We grew up in Southern California, and all our lives they have told us this. All our lives: the Big One is coming...

Oh but it is! Meanwhile: hurricanes, wildfires, mortgage crisis... So, why the obsession with the big earthquake? Not sure. But I think it has to do with its intrinsic unpredictable and unmanageable qualities, which make it altogether more compelling. After all, you can run from a hurricane or a fire. Where do you run from an earthquake? Yes, to a doorway -that proverbial, 8 inch-wide transition space, built to withstand and protect from the downward force of the crumbling building above. Emergency planners make it sound like in the case of a devastating earthquake, the metropolis will be reduced to a landscape of still-standing doors, all of them leading nowhere. The doorway. What a terrific metaphor. You can't run from an earthquake.

Oh, but it's Wednesday. I'm building a beautiful aluminum cover today, reinforced with a 2x8 ledger attachment, made of real wood. The customer demanded it, as he felt that the whole thing wasn't going to be strong enough. Also used: a steel insert for the aluminum. More reinforcement. Then he was concerned about the strength of the columns supporting it all, so we showed him the specs that say the columns are strong enough to hold up the whole damn house. I think it satisfied him. Anyway, so much for the rust-proof, termite-proof qualities of our product, but if there's an earthquake: everyone outside and under the aluminum patio cover!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh no! They kidnapped me and forced me to drink beer! Some victims get all the luck.

But I could do without the kidnapping, as it's not a necessary part of the beer-drinking experience. Depends, I guess, on who is doing the kidnapping. Somehow, it ran concurrently with this article, on a recently aired commercial in North Korea for their state brew, Taedong River Beer.

The piece mentions how there are never commercials for any food, much less beer, on DPRK state TV, which is regularly episode after episode of propaganda pieces on their mighty leader, including the usual slogans and factory descriptions. (Factory descriptions! Perhaps they're on to something, because it's actually a pretty popular show on the Science Channel: How It's Made.) So why did Kim Jong Il decide to make a beer commercial? Who knows?

The advertisement, which lasted nearly three minutes after a news program on Thursday, showed a grinning Korean man with sweat on his face holding a glass of beer, with a caption that read, "Taedong River Beer is the pride of Pyongyang."

The commercial said the beer relieves stress and improves health and longevity. It also showed images of a pub it said was in the capital of Pyongyang, filled with people drinking.

No girls in bikinis? Anyway, I picture all those extras being kidnapped by the State and then forced to drink beer for the commercial. If they had any sense, they would do it wrong repeatedly for the retakes. How does one act poorly in a beer commercial? Without smiling, of course. I suspect everyone smiling in North Korea is a professional actor for the State. Then again, it would be difficult to enjoy a beer under the threat of a DPRK forced labor camp. You should check out the beer spot here, comrade. You owe it to your countrymen to drink up and enjoy.

Here in America, we bask in the luxury of a thousand different beers, and as many bad beer commercials, as I'm sure you are well aware. I've been partial to IPAs recently, where I used to despise them. I've never seen a commercial for an IPA, but here's one: Deschutes Brewery makes an IPA that really hit the spot and got me on a bender, so I began trying a few others. Still, I don't mean to sound racist, but there always seems a little too much "India" in the India Pale Ale for me, where I prefer a little more "pale". Sierra Nevada's IPA was a disappointment, which seemed so overly-hopped that it obscured all the other simple qualities of beer. Stone's IPA is preferable, but I'm heading out of that town now. It's summer. We need a lighter fare.

I brought home some Wyder's recently, which is always pleasing. Their Pear cider is tasty enough that Mrs. Ditchman has been drinking it, (and nearly finishing the bottle!) But it tastes like soda pop to me, and I fear I might down most of the six-pack and then drive off through the neighborhood with the last one in my left hand, resting on the open window of the car door. There are several "Summer" beers available now, usually crafted by microbrews who spend the year making heavier stuff. (The Winemaker says Sierra Nevada has gone downhill. Their summer beer is evidence of this.) Oceanside Ale Works has a nice one that they serve with a slice of orange, but my real favorite is a new one from Maui Brewing Company. Their "Bikini Blonde Lager" has a sweet, malty finish that sets it apart from others. Maui Brewing Company sells their beer in cans, which they claim is more environmentally sound. Perhaps it is, but selling beer in cans for ten dollars a six pack does not seem to me a winning marketing strategy. It's too bad, as their near-perfect "Coconut Porter" has to be tasted to be believed. To make matters worse, it comes in a four-pack, also cans.

This weekend, if I can make it there, we will be heading to the Stone Brewery for their third annual "Sour Fest" which should be fun. Do I like sours? Not particularly, my friends, but any excuse... any excuse...


Monday, July 13, 2009

Mid-July, 2009. Living in the suburbs. Wife and kids. Semi-stable family construction business. Verging on 40. And still going to Summer Camp.

Mrs. Ditchman would go, too, I think, if we had some safe place to leave our kids for a week. This past weekend was our annual camp counselor training event, which was a compelling twenty-four hour display of wit, wisdom, and anecdotal evidence of our "leadership" prowess. We had a good time. The past few years have been a collection of seasoned counselors and directors, meaning no first-timers, which changes the structure of the camp a bit. These twenty-somethings keep coming back to volunteer to spend a week with 150 high schoolers out on a literal desert island. Someone must be doing something right, to get such a group of thoughtful, committed, caring young men and women together, but, of course, none of these people can be trusted with your children.

I often think I'm getting too old for this, but then, so do we all. Summer Camp today is not as mysterious as it was when I was running the place, back in the 90s, which was then not as mysterious as it was the decade before that. Today it's all Facebooked and YouTubed. As well, in times past it was a parking lot of tearful reunions and goodbyes, bookending a week of escape that upended the adolescent comfort zone so that they could get a better perspective on the life to come. Now you just text everybody.

Every kid has a cel phone, or an iPod, or a digital camera, or a PSP, or all four packed into a little gadget that can be hidden anywhere. There is WiFi on the island, and the cel signal is strong enough now, but we try to get kids to leave that tech-junk at home. We tell them it'll get stolen or broken, (which it probably will) but it's really to diminish the competition for their attention. In many ways, the job of Summer Camp counseling is harder today than it ever was, but kids are kids. It's just different.

Examples. There was some discussion of having a "Camp Blog" with daily updates so that parents could check in on their fragile offspring. Lots of parents insist that their kids keep their phones on them at all times, which puts us all at odds. Some camps have tried the daily blog with varying degrees of success -parents comment and email that they don't see their kid in any photos, that there aren't enough vegetarian dishes being served, that their kid hates sunscreen and needs it constantly, etc. So we're still debating the concept. And a lot of kids who have phones end up sitting in their bunks posting to their Facebook pages about camp happenings. Someone suggested that we demand that they all make their counselor their Facebook "friend" upon their arrival at camp, so then we can check up on how the camp is faring in real time from the director's cabin. (Camper: "Just had boring team competition. Our leader is lame. This sux. Can't wait to sneak out tonight with Villa 4." [Thumbs-up emoticon] Your counselor likes this!)

And then there's all the legal stuff. Hours of carefully-worded prep and training videos are required viewing now, and all counselors have to sign, declare and affirm that they put the time in and watched them. Subjects such as safety, bullying, and child-abuse are covered, (as if we'd never thought of it) and the information is helpful, I guess. It's boring, but necessary, and there is a distant nagging feeling that none of these lawyers have ever been to camp, have never worked in a community youth group, and are dubious of your intent and ability altogether. The volunteer application was at one time a single sheet with probing questions like "Why do you want to work with kids?" Today it is a multi-page legal agreement that requires a hundred initials and twenty signatures and you get done with the thing and feel as if you just bought the property. But we all sign and date it, every year now, and just so you know: last year's application is not on file to copy, since this year's version has been re-packaged to head off the latest lawsuit scare.

The camp director and I were chatting yesterday and he reminded me of something I'd said years ago, which was that it is far easier to make the case that I am unqualified for the job, rather than that I am qualified for it. It was not a revelation about me, but a criticism of the direction of this legalistic camp mentality. Molestation and child abuse are such a fear now (however justified) that counselors are not allowed any contact with campers outside of camp without written/signed/dated/verified parental consent. This means no emails, or Facebook befriending, and, we imagined, no exchange of greetings upon a surprise run-in at the local mall. Also, no one in camp is allowed to change their clothes in front of anyone else. It all sounds all right, until you consider that 150 kids and leaders are changing in and out of their bathing suits all week, that we play daily games where kids and leaders alike get covered in mud and ketchup and shaving cream, and that the bathrooms are communal and the cabins have no doors. (Some don't even have walls!) So, yes, the lawyers have little idea what they're talking about. They have a window to the world, framed at night, the shades drawn.

A few years ago the event of "Pier Diving" was banned by these office-bound barristers. It's not as dangerous as it sounds: a ten foot jump into calm seas, thirty feet deep, near shore, and with a fully-staffed team of well-trained and attentive lifeguards -hardly different than a public pool high dive. There has never been an injury, but evidently the lawyers shook their heads in the negative and the insurance companies refused to cover it. That same year, a second rock-climbing wall was installed on the field, just south of the elaborate ropes course which includes something called the "Power Pole" -a telephone pole easily three times the height of the pier which one climbs to the top of, and then leaps off into a thrilling free-fall, collegiate camp staff manning the harnesses. (Oh, but they wear helmets!) Strangely, kids preferred the Pier Diving event, and now, every summer, it must be explained why the event is held no more. This will be the last year they complain about it, however, for next summer that generation of high schoolers will have moved on, and no returning camper will have ever remembered the event enough to ask for it.

I know what will happen, though. Years from now, all the staff will change out, and one day some innovative camp director will have an idea for an event called "Long Walk Off A Short Pier", or something. The event will be organized, leaders will rally, lifeguards will be arranged. No one will think to stop it, and it will be a huge hit. They'll have to think of something to do after all those ropes courses are banned after the first cracked rib from the first accident leads to the final lawsuit.

It's amazing they even let us swim in the vast, unwieldy Pacific! Or let us hike on that desert island amongst the thorny cactus and poisonous rattlesnakes! Adults nowadays are always complaining that the kids don't get outside enough, but what kid would want to leave the house wearing all that safety gear?

Which is why I go. I want that battle. I want to think up and be a part of something more fun, more fulfilling, and more real than the Internet or the lawyers could ever imagine. I want kids to be able to be kids, while they have the chance. There are too many adults today trying to be kids themselves, making up for all the screens and paperwork they're mired in, and it's sad, because we need more reliable Grown-Ups in the world. And one of the reasons these forty-somethings are still chasing their youth is because they never went to Summer Camp.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't mess with me. I'm trying to synchronize everything.

Have a juggler's weekend!

(File that under "compelling book titles": The Juggler's Weekend


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Alcoa, Inc. (NYSE: AA) is an acronym for "Aluminum Company of America" and is the third largest aluminum producer in the world. They've been around for something like a hundred years.

This affects me somehow, but I may be at the bottom of the smeltery on that one. I love news like this. It's bad, but it's not nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be! -or- The house burned down, but the dining room was saved! Awesome. I and my family, and those of my friends and neighbors, are buoyed by the cheery outlook.

The price goes up, the price goes down. Sometimes, way down. Actually, we're in the painted aluminum business, so that's a bit different. Paint is a petroleum-based product. And the petroleum market? Let's not go there, shall we not?

All I know is we've got to keep selling product, and keep hoping there are people out there who are willing to buy it. I've been working hard these past few months, but yesterday we looked at the upcoming schedule and saw a big dry spot on the horizon, like we were approaching some impassable sandbar out at sea. What do you do? Get out the shovels? Wait for the wind to change and the tide to come in? Get out the coolers and beach chairs?

The Kaneohe Bay sandbar is a few miles up the coast from my sister's place on Oahu. It appears once a year or so, a mile out to sea. They film LOST there, among other things, and everyone paddles out to it, wanders around a bit... and stands there.

You think, Gee, this is beautiful. And then you crack open a few beers, I suppose. I've never beached myself on it, but that's one sandbar that sounds pretty good right about now.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I was charged with taking out the diaper bin trash this morning before the mommy charged off to Jazzercise with her wailing battalion in tow. This was unfortunate because A) the diaper bin trash event is always a nasty, foul one, and B) the garbage man, early-riser that he is, had already arrived, collected, and driven off -the story thus culminating in our child's excrement sitting in a bag in the can on the side of the house for another week, under the hot July sun.

Some things procrastinated are better left unmentioned altogether.

In other, more cheerful, garbage news: we bought a new trash can for the kitchen. It's a Costco item, stainless steel and battery-powered. Yes, that's right, battery-powered. All things are going electronic nowadays, don't you know? So you plop a few (non-disposable) D-cells in the bottom of the thing and it opens its lid for you by way of the "intelligent infrared sensor system." Just wave your hand in front of it and whoop -the lid opens, ready for trash! "Touchless!" it declares on the box. There is a learning curve, however, as you never really realize how often you use two hands to carry trash to the bin until you're standing there and... how shall I wave my hand in front of thee? So you move some of the trash over the sensor and whoop up goes the lid, knocking your trash. As well, sometimes I wave my hand and it doesn't open, like, these are not the garbage cans you're looking for... Who invents these things? Was there a flaw in the foot pedal design?

The Little Ditchman seems to enjoy it. I tried to teach her how to jettison garbage with flair by displaying that it was necessary to say "Abracadabra!" each time you magically open it, but alas, this did not catch on. 'Twas not such a bad purchase, though, and it was relatively inexpensive, which was important at the moment because there was no non-electronic trash can for sale, oddly. Anyway, the thing has a truly friendly, servantile demeanor. Walk too close to it and it opens for you sometimes, with a supplicating look on its simple-minded metal maw, asking, ...Trash?

Also, it came with a smaller duplicate of itself -free! So we now have two automatic, battery-powered, infrared-sensing, stainless-steel, self-opening garbage pails. We put the other one in the downstairs bathroom, and it's like the mini-me of the kitchen one, asking politely when you enter the privy ...trash?

Honestly, I didn't think this was a necessary electronic purchase for the home, but the previous can was just cracked, scratched, busted and uncleanable. I emptied it before I disposed of it and I thought, What am I doing? I mean, how do you throw out a trash can? Answer: bigger trash can. (I honestly wish I had a funnier, more profound punchline to that question.) I guess I could just put it out on the curb. One man's trash (can) is another man's treasure (chest).

Next up: we need a new coffee maker. Does yours take an hour to make half a pot of coffee even when you poured a full pot of water in it? Where does all the other water go? And why are these cabinets all hot and damp?


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More. More of everything. All kinds of action around here! Very exciting. But I'm not going to tell you about it, as I don't want to bore you (at least, not today.) One man's "action" is another man's hyper-caffeinated channel surfing finger.

I mentioned that I was "confused" this morning. "Again?" Mrs. Ditchman asked, and it was then that I thought: uh oh. So I guess I better get to the bottom of it. I think it has to do with the doubled-up workload, anticipation of future events, and the pile of mail, chores, and unread magazines on my desk. Also, the receipts are mounting up, due to the previously mentioned weekend of consumption. I meticulously double-check my receipts in the register, and then appropriately file each one for tax purposes. It is a simple task, except when put off, where it soon becomes a surprising morass of paperwork. Like a looming Tax Day without a deadline.

Today was the Little Ditchman's first day of school! She was excited about it, and I suspect she'll do well as long as these schools sustain that preconceived interest. It's Preschool, in case you were wondering, but it's not even that, as it's summer Preschool. I remember absolutely loathing summer school as a child, and would stop at nothing to avoid it. I guess with Summer Preschool they get the brainwashing in early.

Getting ready this morning she asked a perfectly valid question: "Do they have a bathroom at my new school?" The answer, in case you're wondering, is yes, thank Jehovah. I'll have to teach her about the difference between may and can now, because I remember every kid being mocked by the higher-ups for asking "Can I go to the bathroom?" I hope so! HAR HAR! was always the answer, or thereabouts. It was never funny.

So we roll on. There was a typical amount of First Day chaos in the classroom and I immediately hoped the teacher had a team of able assistants. I thought to myself that that was a job that I just could not handle -being a lone pre-school teacher. (Damn, what fortitude that must require.) We put the little girl's name tag on her and showed her to her new cubby and introduced her to her new teacher and our Little Ditchman just ran in and got on with it, like she'd been there a thousand times, and done with us. We didn't cry about any of it. We just sort of gave it a sanguine shrug, walked back to the parking lot and got in our respective cars. I went off to work, Mommy went off to Jazzercise, and the Little Digger just happily laughed it all off like he does everything else, neither considering the momentous occasion nor the profound passing of Time.

Wish I could be more like him.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Well, it was a near perfect 4th, and I shan't go into the sordid details, but I say near perfect because we watched fireworks on the tv, which is an insult to fireworks everywhere.

Actually, no, we caught a glimpse of a firework or two from the upstairs office window, out across the street, between the two neighbor houses, past the trees, beyond the hill, and off in the distance. It was unsatisfying. But it was a swell time at the neighbor's, as it was last year, with the kids running on the grass with cupcakes and strangers chatting over beers about simple, uncontroversial things; kid's names, local water temperatures, the lack of storage space in these old tract homes...

And yesterday we had church. It's a nice church, with nice people, and nearly everyone in Hawaiian shirts. No one thinks twice about it, though I imagine if you'd abruptly joined from the Bible Belt, you might find it off-putting, and perhaps mildly cultish. Communion was passed and I didn't screw it up this time, thank the Lord. Though I admit I was tempted to pass the Holy Host to my wife and say, This gluten-free wafer is the body of Christ, broken for you... This thimble of bland grape drink is the blood of Christ, shed for you... But I didn't, and asked forgiveness at the thought. Sometimes I just can't help myself.

Oh, but the Lord made me this way, so shame on Him! After church we went on a spending spree of wild abandon, like the good capitalist American Christians that we are, purchasing electronic goods for the family business and stopping in at Costco to drop a couple hundred for whatever; cases, vats, pallets... You'd never know the economy was on the downturn by going in that store. Consumption! It's a good thing!

Today leads me, like riding bareback without reigns. I've felt confused all morning, and I fear it's just the early pangs of mid-life -fleeting moments of nonsense and madness inserted into a busy Monday schedule to keep you on your toes. Let's try and get something done today, in spite of it all.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

I really wanted to write something for the 4th, and did a little reading on it, but then I came across this and decided that what I wanted to say somebody had already gotten down. (Lucky me! I get the morning off!)

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

There were no trumpets blown. No one stood on his chair and cheered. The afternoon was waning and Congress had no thought of delaying the full calendar of routine business on its hands. For several hours they worked on many other problems before adjourning for the day.

What kind of men were the 56 signers who adopted the Declaration of Independence and who, by their signing, committed an act of treason against the crown? To each of you, the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock and Jefferson are almost as familiar as household words. Most of us, however, know nothing of the other signers. Who were they? What happened to them?

I imagine that many of you are somewhat surprised at the names not there: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry. All were elsewhere.

Ben Franklin was the only really old man. Eighteen were under 40; three were in their 20s. Of the 56 almost half - 24 - were judges and lawyers. Eleven were merchants, nine were landowners and farmers, and the remaining 12 were doctors, ministers, and politicians.

With only a few exceptions, such as Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, these were men of substantial property. All but two had families. The vast majority were men of education and standing in their communities. They had economic security as few men had in the 18th Century.

Each had more to lose from revolution than he had to gain by it. John Hancock, one of the richest men in America, already had a price of 500 pounds on his head. He signed in enormous letters so that his Majesty could now read his name without glasses and could now double the reward. Ben Franklin wryly noted: "Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we shall most assuredly hang separately."

Fat Benjamin Harrison of Virginia told tiny Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: "With me it will all be over in a minute, but you, you will be dancing on air an hour after I am gone."

These men knew what they risked. The penalty for treason was death by hanging. And remember, a great British fleet was already at anchor in New York Harbor.

They were sober men. There were no dreamy-eyed intellectuals or draft card burners here. They were far from hot-eyed fanatics yammering for an explosion. They simply asked for the status quo. It was change they resisted. It was equality with the mother country they desired. It was taxation with representation they sought. They were all conservatives, yet they rebelled.

Though the resolution was formally adopted July 4, it was not until July 8 that two of the states authorized their delegates to sign, and it was not until August 2 that the signers met at Philadelphia to actually put their names to the Declaration.

William Ellery, delegate from Rhode Island, was curious to see the signers' faces as they committed this supreme act of personal courage. He saw some men sign quickly, "but in no face was he able to discern real fear." Stephan Hopkins, Ellery's colleague from Rhode Island, was a man past 60. As he signed with a shaking pen, he declared: "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."

Even before the list was published, the British marked down every member of Congress suspected of having put his name to treason. All of them became the objects of vicious manhunts. Some were taken. Some, like Jefferson, had narrow escapes. All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered.

· Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his home plundered -- and his estates in what is now Harlem -- completely destroyed by British Soldiers. Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated with great brutality. Though she was later exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died from the effects of her abuse.

· William Floyd, another New York delegate, was able to escape with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees without income for seven years. When they came home they found a devastated ruin.

· Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause.

· Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.

· John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart, 65, slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779, without ever finding his family.

· Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops in the college. They trampled and burned the finest college library in the country.

· Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children. The family found refuge with friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved. Congress finally arranged for Stockton's parole, but his health was ruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when he could no longer harm the British cause. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity.

· Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia, delegate and signer, met Washington's appeals and pleas for money year after year. He made and raised arms and provisions which made it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In the process he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his own fortune and credit almost dry.

· George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with his family from their home, but their property was completely destroyed by the British in the Germantown and Brandywine campaigns.

· Dr. Benjamin Rush, also from Pennsylvania, was forced to flee to Maryland. As a heroic surgeon with the army, Rush had several narrow escapes.

· John Martin, a Tory in his views previous to the debate, lived in a strongly loyalist area of Pennsylvania. When he came out for independence, most of his neighbors and even some of his relatives ostracized him. He was a sensitive and troubled man, and many believed this action killed him. When he died in 1777, his last words to his tormentors were: "Tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it [the signing] to have been the most glorious service that I have ever rendered to my country."

· William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.

· Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from privation and exposures while serving as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and on the voyage, he and his young bride were drowned at sea.

· Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr., the other three South Carolina signers, were taken by the British in the siege of Charleston. They were carried as prisoners of war to St. Augustine, Florida, where they were singled out for indignities. They were exchanged at the end of the war, the British in the meantime having completely devastated their large landholdings and estates.

· Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces. With British General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70 heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown piece by piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson's palatial home. While American cannonballs were making a shambles of the town, the house of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelson turned in rage to the American gunners and asked, "Why do you spare my home?" They replied, "Sir, out of respect to you." Nelson cried, "Give me the cannon!" and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits. But Nelson's sacrifice was not quite over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson's property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.

Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.

And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.

He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to that infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York Harbor known as the hell ship Jersey, where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons' lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. The utter despair in this man's heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: "No."

The 56 signers of the Declaration Of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. "And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."


Friday, July 3, 2009

You may not have heard, but a 4000 man surge in the Helmand River valley of southern Afghanistan has begun. This operation is the largest Marine Corps-led operation since the Vietnam War. It would be good to keep the troops in our prayers this 4th of July weekend.

No, really.

July 1, 2009 · Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, addressed his troops in Afghanistan before the operation launched early Thursday against Taliban-occupied areas.

Following are excerpts from his remarks at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province.

He did not use a teleprompter.

On the mission in the Helmand River valley:

Our job is to get in there and get it back [from the Taliban] ... We don't want to give the enemy one second to think about what he's going to do. Because we're going to be pushing so goddamn hard on the enemy. Our job is to go in there and make contact with the enemy — find the enemy, make contact with the enemy and then we'll hold on. This is an enemy that's used to having small-scale attacks and having the coalition pull back. There is no pullback. We will stay on him, and we will ride him until he's either dead or surrenders.

On the threat of roadside bombs:

Now, I'm concerned about the IEDs [roadside bombs] and I know you are, too. There's a hell of a lot of IEDs out there. As we get in there, we're going to get a better feel for who these people are who are putting them out. We're going to work the networks. And we're going to kill the guys that have a chance to go out there and lay them. But they are out there, and you need to know that.

On putting the Taliban on the defensive:

All too often, it is us who have to think about where we're going to go, where we're going to attack, what we're going to do. In this case, we're going to be so thick in his AO [area of operation] that he's going to have three choices: Stay and fight, which we hope he does; try to blend into the population and just pretend he's a local, in which case the Afghan army and police can sure as hell help identify that along with local leaders; and the third thing is run. And if he tries to run, we've got people waiting for him.

On the Marines' training and preparation:

You probably know the name of every little terrain feature in that AO. And that's good. Because you're going to need to. You're going to need to very quickly get into his turf and get comfortable and make him the guy on the run. Make him the guy who's going to have these decisions as to what he's going to do.

On defeating the enemy:

We'll kill and capture a hell of a lot of enemy over these next couple of weeks, I'm confident of that. And I hope the enemy does try to go chest-to-chest with you. It would be a hell of a big mistake, and I don't think his last mistake. And I suspect we'll see some of that.

On supporting the Afghan people:

We need to make sure we understand that the reason we're here is not necessarily the enemy. The reason we're here is the people. What won the war in al-Anbar province [Iraq] and what changed the war in al-Anbar was not that the enemy eventually got tired of fighting. It's that the people chose a side, and they chose us. We offer the one thing the enemy can never offer, and that's a future; that's hope. The people are looking to you.

On the need to minimize civilian casualties:

We'll surround that house and we'll wait. And here's the reason: If you drop that house and there's one woman, one child, one family in that house — you may have killed 20 Taliban, but by killing that woman or that child in that house, you have lost that community. You are dead to them. You are done. And when I talked to the governor [about this scenario], I said, 'Yeah, but governor, we will have killed 20 Taliban.' And he goes, 'Yeah, but you will have also killed the local family, and the people will always remember that.' The Taliban didn't kill that local family. You did. And as far as they're concerned, you killed locals and you're done. They will do anything they can at that point to help the Taliban and help the enemy against you.

On the media:

I tell you, personally I want the media out there because we've got a hell of a story to tell. I'll tell you, I've never in more than 30 years regretted embedding the media with the Marines that we've been associated with.

On the conditions in enemy territory, in the desert:

Bottom line, fellas, it's hot. It's gonna get hotter. Your packs are heavy. They're gonna get heavier. Our resupply to you is going to be tough. We're focused on getting you water. We're focused on getting you ammo. Chow will come later. Anything else will come later. We'll get you all the water and ammo you can use, but a lot of it may be by air drop, because the roads to get to you may not be open. And like I said, there is no cavalry. There is no reserve. You're gonna fight. And you're gonna stay there, and you're gonna fight until you win.

Final words:

Bottom line, fellas, is that this is the moment. This is the moment you've trained for. This is the moment you came into the Marine Corps for. This is the moment that all of us have been waiting for for a hell of a long time.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Travel tip: If you're flying U.S. Airways from New York to L.A. and decide you'd rather stop in Albuquerque mid-flight, just take off all your clothes.

This is the second morning in a row that I have suffered my ordinarily monthly ocular migraine. Both mornings the coffee was strong and I woke up about 45 minutes earlier than usual. So tomorrow: sleep in and no coffee. I get the OM about once a month, and I have to stop whatever I'm doing for about twenty minutes because I go mostly blind. I've had it for years and there's no explaining it, like the various other random physical anomalies I suffer. The thing about the ocular migraine is that its accompanying headache is slight, so it's not a terribly painful experience, but my vision blurs and fuzzes like bad pixels on an LCD screen, and suddenly I can't read or walk and I am forced to lean back in a chair, stare off into space, and wait for it to pass while passersby think I'm being lazy or meditating selfishly. The worst is when I'm driving down the freeway and suddenly, uh-oh, gotta pull over. Also, my vision always blurs out to blindness in a star and crescent shape, so, yes, there is a Muslim extremist conspiracy to literally mess with my head going on here.

Well, I suppose everybody's got their something. Mrs. Ditchman, for example, sometimes gets the true migraine which is a wholly immobilizing pain that renders her face down in bed. It's awful to watch. She carries around Excedrin Migraine, which she says is the only thing that does the trick, if she can catch it early. Interestingly, Excedrin Migraine is laced with caffeine, which I was supposing was one of the factors that was causing the OM, so go figure.

Who knows why we're burdened with such things. In my case, it happens and it's as if the finger of God reaches down and clips you right in the Achilles. God sayeth, "Whoa, kid. Stop for a bit. I'm here, you're there. Don't forget it." And so I do. I know I'm lucky, because it's not too painful, but others get it differently. It's one of the questions I'm gonna ask The Boss in the celestial performance review; why some people get fair bodies and others don't. Of course, I already know what the answer's gonna be: "Whoa, kid. Mind your own."

But I'm gonna ask Him anyway.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Welcome to July, where you cock your head in disbelief at how half of 2009 has already come and gone. Hopefully we're not still writing 2008 on our checks (hopefully we're not still writing checks) and if you're anything like me, you were writing "2009" all through December of last year just to get on with it. So how are you doing with those new year's resolutions?

I didn't make "New Year's resolutions" this time out, if you'll recall, feeling that the whole idea of "resolving" anything had proved itself inanely unrealistic after all these years. Rather, I crafted a list of Ten Big Goals for myself, to be accomplished by 2010, and I remember that I went over them with Mrs. Ditchman on the way home from Christmas (she humored me.) Big Goals! I'm not going to list them here because A) I think they would bore you, B) I would lose gravitas, ambition, and momentum at your mocking me, and C) I don't want to jinx it. I'm about halfway through half of them, a few I haven't even begun, and one is finished/filed/forgotten. That last one I will tell you and it was "run a marathon" but that's the free gimme I put on the list every year so that I can feel like I at least did something. It's funny to think that "run a marathon" is the easy one, but that's the kind of bold, stop-at-nothing, go-getter I am.

The other goals are in a mire, bogged down and repressed under the weight of last year's goals. (It would have been easier to just pick ten marathons.) To be completely honest, I think last year's goals are this year's goals, but who's counting? Goals are goals. This year's good idea is next year's project which is a goal for 2011 but really won't be accomplished until 2012. I'll keep that in mind next time I have a great idea: add three years to the date of execution. I say "execution" because at that rate, any good idea should just be killed off to avoid the spousal nagging.

Or, just make a million dollars and pay someone else to take care of it. Make a million dollars! I never will, and I know this because that was a goal of mine I put off years ago.

Speaking of making millions... I was supposed to be up with the concrete guys this morning but the concrete guys have abandoned me altogether and today I dig on my own time. It will be hot. That's the thing about being in the shade business -you're always working in the sun.