Saturday, December 31, 2005

Time at the end of the year

Our company provides a page on their intranet for tracking the hours volunteered for community organizations.  Every so often they hold a drawing for a small prize, and sometimes they recognize service in different areas -- the company really likes the American Cancer Society and local food banks, I think, but no matter.  For whatever it's worth, I put in my hours from month to month too.
They clear out the database after the first of the year, so Friday I checked my time to see the total for 2005.  According to my own count -- and if anything, I suspect it's lower than the actual -- I've put in something like twelve hours a week, average, for the past year:
John Locke Foundation = 10 hours  (mainly a presentation I did - I can't count time for Carolina Journal articles)
Johnston County Republican Party = 22 hours
S.C. Home Educators Association = 25 hours
North Carolinians for Home Education = 544 hours
Total = 601 hours
Observation:  Don't underestimate the impact of "community service", whether freely volunteered or assigned as a judicial sentence!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Further news from Walmartgatory

I always take great interest in the ebb and flow of merchandise at Wal-Mart. Prior to hurricanes, for example, there will be a run on bread and Sugar Frosted Flakes -- this will be true even if supplies of batteries and masking tape remain strong. Being Southerners, we see hurricanes as Trouble. (Visitors to Charleston, Wrightsville Beach, and New Orleans don't count, since they seem to think a Hurricane is a mixed drink in an ornamental glass, and behave accordingly.) I learned a few years ago if I buy our normal four to seven gallons of milk on the way home from work, people see my power company ID or the logo on my shirt and get uneasy. I have to assure them we're not stockpiling, just feeding seven kids.

In contrast, unlike folks who really live with it, we Southerners think of winter precip as a Holiday. When snow is predicted, Wal-Mart runs low on sugar and chips. As the 21st-century analog of the Trading Post or General Store, W-M serves as an indicator of sorts, holding clues to what's on the popular mind, and snow = fun to us.

This year, a few days before Christmas, it was plain that Johnston County was due for an onslaught of sausage balls. Witness the condition of the meat cooler at the Clayton-Garner Wal-Mart; nearly every kind of bulk sausage, except the expensive Jesse James variety, is gone. Even the frozen pre-cooked patties we like for breakfast were in short supply.

On the other hand, a few days later, after Christmas, the ramen noodle department had been ransacked. Beloved Wife's theory credits a popular salad made with crunched-up ramen; I wonder if it's repentence over too much ham and good cheer ("No thanks … just a little soup, I think").

For what it's worth, though, there seemed to be less repentence over gifts than I've observed before; the return lines were not nearly as packed as I've seen in previous years. Maybe the gift card business has something to do with it. John Hood at the Locke Foundation has a few observations of his own today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ow, my head

Did this consultant use a buzzword generator to write his report?  I don't think you can parody this kind of stuff:

    "So far, however, a combination of device-centric and network-resident barriers have conspired to suppress attachment rates beyond the initial corner-office inbox junkies," said David Kerr, vice president of the company's Global Wireless Practice, in a statement.

    "While improved data economics coupled with expanding device portfolios from Microsoft Mobile partners, Symbian camp evangelists and aspiring Asian vendors all augur well for the future," he added, "no dominant paradigm has yet emerged to transition these PDA users into true converged device solutions customers."

The link to the article follows, but I already read it -- it still doesn't help much translating the gobbledygook above.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What is Walmartgatory and what can be done about it?

I am not part of the I-hate-Wal-mart crowd (heavily overlapping the I-disdain-people-who-shop-at-Wal-mart crowd); while I recognize the trouble a big-box discounter causes certain smaller retailers in the neighborhood, I know for a fact that they have their come-uppance too -- for example, when there are two big boxes in the neighborhood, even with the same company, market forces begin to reassert.  When we lived in Louisiana, the local WM had specially selected their staff for surliness and slovenly habits; we routinely drove an extra seven minutes or so to shop the next WM, one town over.  Everywhere, too, we do our pharmacy business with a local firm; the one in Smithfield, Carroll's Pharmacy, is outstanding, even though I differ with the pharmacist's politics.

But there is one thing which almost makes me sign on to conspiracy theories -- at certain levels of fatigue and certain hours of the day, I've noticed, I can almost sense a sort of haziness come over me in the supergiantmegabox WMs here.  It is accentuated by the difficulty in cell phone reception, especially the new WM between Clayton and Garner (very minimal signal by the cheese cooler, though enough digital to text message in an emergency … HOW MUCH BTR? ND REG FLOUR? -- It's Christmas week, you know.  Another five yards down the baking supply aisle, you lose digital service.  By the computer department or hardware, all signals are gone, period.)

We've dubbed this twilight place "Walmartgatory" -- where unrepentent shoppers are held indefinitely suspended in a sea of merchandise, cut off from weather and time, their communication with the outside world blocked or garbled (CAN YOU HEAR ME?), no information or reality except that which is selling or for sale.  It's like sensory deprivation experiments with your eyes wide open.

Is it the lights?  Do they flicker at a rate which induces a zombie-like state? 

Or is it simply the effect of too many trips to the same place for wildly different needs?  Surely this didn't happen at the General Store.  I can't say but it occurs often enough to make me wonder.  The only solution I've found is focus, focus, focus … must stay focused …

Monday, December 19, 2005

Coming soon: What is 'Walmartgatory' and what can be done about it?

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear ..."

I started out this year planning to comment on books I was reading as I finished them. For the most part, I haven't done that after all, spending more time on other issues and writing what I did write about books mainly for print publication.

I have to break out of that habit for this one, though -- Paul Revere's Ride, by David Hackett Fischer. This is not a new book, copyright 1996 I believe, but it is fascinating, a terrific blend of biography and political/military history. Fischer has enough material for two books here, the biography of Revere itself, but also an hour-by-hour account of the events of April 1775, demonstrating his stated thesis -- that history does not tell of a lonely midnight rider or two, but actually a well-organized group of civic leaders throughout New England, keeping in close contact by means of signal and courier, and an effective network of surveillance and intelligence interlocking with the Whig political leadership and the militias of the villages across Massachusetts and Connecticut.

While Paul Revere did ride that night, he rode on many nights and many missions, and he was only the foremost of dozens of other couriers who carried the alarm of April 18. Although I was concerned that Fischer's book might be a revisionist work to downplay the contribution of a loved folk hero, in fact the reality he brings out places Revere in a less romantic but much more deliberate, influential, and noble role all along.

This is great reading and highly recommended. There is some profanity, quoted directly from the soldiery, and some observations in the early chapters about the practices of vice - mainly prostitution - as adapted to still-Puritan Boston, so a bit of editing is in order if shared with a younger audience.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

In the December Carolina Journal

The December issue of Carolina Journal is posted on the website here and includes my interview (page 23) with Wake Forest pastor Scott Brown, discussing how his daughter's family history project became a book (Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer by Kelly Brown, published by Vision Forum) and led to a feature-length movie, The League of Grateful Sons.

A really interesting family and a terrific project -- and if ever an article writes itself, this one did.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


For reasons which elude me, I seem to have settled into a pattern of posting every Tuesday (at a minimum). 

Why might that be, I can't say. 

I have more to post later but this, at least, will be my placeholder.