Woman Trampled at Wal-Mart

If you thought my recent blogs on the evils of Wal-Mart were over the top, why don’t you ask Patricia VanLester? She was knocked unconscious and trampled by shoppers rushing into Wal-Mart at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to buy $29 DVD players.

VanLester had a seizure and will be hospitalized at least a week. But never fear, Wal-Mart officials did call her at the hospital and offer to put a DVD player on hold for her. They also expressed disappointment, and hope she comes back “as a shopper.”

Read the story for yourself and draw your own conclusions. (link via jordoncooper.com via MetaFilter)

Uncensored Stories of War

It seems strange timing after my entry the other day about the under-reported stories of the war that I come across this CBC story, Deadline Iraq – Uncensored Stories of the War (link via jordoncooper.com, again). It’s a report based on interviews with 50 journalists who were in Iraq. The web site has photos and complete interviews with 12 of the journalists.

They do some reflecting on how the war was reported, whether it was biased or not, whether embedded journalism worked, etc. But the most chilling aspect is the personal stories.

The worst is one fire fight where a journalist describes the fighting getting thick. They were surrounded and medics and chaplains were picking up M-16s and fighting back. The journalists says he seriously considered picking up a gun and fighting. If you remember the image, this was the same battle where a U.S. solider was being carried away on a stretcher while still firing his gun.

The worst is the pictures of dead civilians lined up in row, the burned faces of Iraqi children, and story after story hinting at the damage high-caliber weapons do to the human body. War is not the G.I. Joe thing we think it is. Some of these stories mention the anxious U.S. soliders, many younger than I am, and the incredible remorse some of them felt.

One of my good friends from high school is in Iraq right now. I’ve had his address for a couple weeks, and I’ve been meaning to write him. Busyness has kept me from it, but I know part of it is that I don’t know what to say. It’s not as simple as a dose of patriotism and thanks for fighting for freedom.

Where Oh, Where Has the Internet Gone?

“It’s a huge problem,” said Brewster Kahle, digital librarian at the Internet Archive in San Francisco in a Washington Post article on the ephemeral nature of the net (link via jordoncooper.com). “The average lifespan of a Web page today is 100 days. This is no way to run a culture.”

Yikes. Think that’s frightening for scientists, how about a web-addicted writer like me? I probably do 90 percent of my research online. If the web is going to work longterm, it needs to be a little more reliable.

Going Home

I’m a blogging maniac today. And I guess that’s OK. I’ll be taking some time off over Thanksgiving, so you’ll just have to go without. I’m also avoiding lots of real work today. What else is new.

Aside from the job update I just gave, lots of other stuff is happening in my life. After 30 years with Ford Motor Company, my dad is retiring at the end of the year. He’s only 53 and it seems amazing to me that he’s able to retire. Then again, I have a rough idea how much he made per year, so I’m not that surprised. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to retire at 53. A lot can happen between now and then, but in general, teachers and writers don’t have as good of a retirement package.

Along with retiring comes selling the house I grew up in. It’s been on the market since the spring, and amazingly they’re going to close on December 23, meaning retirement and moving will happen at about the same time, making it unnecessary to pursue any kind of temporary living arrangement, which would have been lame. It’s nice how things work out like that. My dad will be retiring to his home state of Kansas, where he’ll finally be living full-time with my mom, who has been going back and forth between Kansas and Michigan. It’s all part of the extremely bizarre, yet happily ending story that is my parents’ marriage. While the move to Kansas means I’ll get back home to Michigan even less often than I do now, I’m happy to see my parents finally settling down together.

As part of this whole retirement/moving mess, we almost ended up spending Thanksgiving in Michigan. For some reason, I really didn’t like the idea. You’d think I’d love going back to Michigan. It’s home. I get to see my friends and be back to the familiar surroundings. But Michigan hasn’t been a relaxing place since I broke up with my long-distance girl friend and my parents split up. While my parents were separated, home was never home. The house I grew up in was half empty, and Dad just didn’t make you feel at home the way Mom did. While Mom made you feel at home in her apartment with lots of goodies and mothering, it was an apartment. While it was always good to be home and see friends, it was never quite as relaxing.

When we head to Kansas for Thanksgiving, it’s a different story. Part of it has to do with the summers I spent there as a child, so there’s an incredible nostalgia factor. It’s also the land of wide-open spaces, which is perfect for relaxing introspection. Most of my extended family is there, so there’s lots of people to see, and really nothing to do but hang out with them. My grandparents are there to be grandparents, and lately my mom’s been there to do the mothering. Since my parents bought their retirement home in Kansas, there’s even been a nice place to crash (as nice as grandma’s place is, you just can’t put your feet up like you can at your parents’).

Heading to Kansas for a holiday weekend is like stepping into another dimension where time is slower. You have to drive an hour to get to a Target or a movie theater, and I like it that way. You have to be more intentional. I especially like driving through Raymond, Kansas, the town of around 100 people where my parents grew up in (it’s really my dad’s home town, because my grandpa lived there his entire life — my mom grew up on a farm outside of town, which my grandparents sold to my uncle when they moved). It’s a bit sad and lonely since my grandpa died, but I still like to drive through and just see it again.

I’m not sure why that attraction to place is so much stronger in Kansas. You’d think I’d want to go to Michigan for one last Thanksgiving. With my parents moving to Kansas, my brother is the only relative left in Michigan. I have plenty of friends there, but without my parents living there I just won’t get back very often, if at all. But somehow the sense of place and home is stronger in Kansas. Maybe it’s a different sense, maybe it’s the holidays and my sense of family is winning out, I don’t know.

In some ways it feels like Michigan is where my parents marriage is broken and failed, and Kansas is where it’s coming back together again. That really has no bearing on reality, since my mom actually moved to Kansas when they got divorced, and it’s not that simple, but somehow that seems to make sense.

All I know is that I’m looking forward to a few days in Kansas. It’s a long drive, but I don’t mind. I like being behind the wheel and letting my thoughts drift all over the place. It’ll be good to be with my parents and see my extended family again. It’ll be good to have some time off. You’d think the unemployed wouldn’t need a vacation, but then most people don’t know what the unemployed do all day. I think part of it is working out of the home – it means even on a vacation day or a weekend the computer is sitting there and work needs to be done. Sometimes you need to disengage from the office, and a home office makes that difficult. Especially when you’re a computer freak like me and work and pleasure are so inter-mixed.

I think I’m also blogging a lot today because I want to clear my mind of some of the thoughts I’ve been swimming with lately, because I know I’ll fill up again on the long, long drive. 670 miles is a lot of thinking, and it makes it easier if I’ve got a full mental tank.

Chronicle of the Unemployed

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving, and it’s time for some introspection. I’ve realized I haven’t really talked about what I’ve been up to in a while, and it’s probably a decent time to bring people up to speed. I’ll be seeing family I haven’t seen in a year this week, so I need to practice up anyway.

I’m still unemployed. But I don’t really think of it that way anymore. Since about mid-October I’ve been getting a lot of freelance jobs. Enough so that I’ll be taking a small business course soon and giving full-time freelance a go.

In some ways it’s very scary. I have a lot of work and deadlines to shuffle, being productive at home is a constant battle, and I have to hope that the work will keep coming in. But it’s also very cool. My wife says I don’t complain anymore. I’m doing work that for the most part I enjoy (some jobs are better than others). A lot of the details work out nicely thanks to my wife’s full-time job. Insurance and cash-flow aren’t a big deal because of her job.

It’s a different kind of life, and except for the uncertainty, I enjoy it. There is kind of a dread hanging in the air wondering if I can meet all my deadlines, and wondering if beyond the deadlines I’ll be able to get more deadlines. Sometimes you have to trust.

And as I said, being productive is incredibly difficult. Right now for example, I’m typing my blog, which is incredibly unproductive. Earlier today I folded and put away the laundry. I shoveled the sidewalk and part of the driveway. All things that should be done, but the question is when. It’s a balancing act, and I’m learning.

I also have these get-rich-quick schemes. They’re more like pay-the-bills schemes, since it’s doubtful I’d make any money, much less get rich. I just have these grand ideas of things I like to do, and not having a job makes those dreams a little more plausible.

Freelancing is one of those dreams. I wanted to do this back in July, but it just didn’t seem possible. Now it’s happening without a lot of effort on my part, so it seems worth pursuing. And I’m thinking of these other ideas. The main idea was sparked by the youth pastor at my church (technically the Associate Minister, but whatever), and I’m probably sharing it against common wisdom. It’s a business idea, and traditional wisdom would tell you not to publicize such an idea so people won’t steal it. But I guess I’m idealistic, and this idea is starting to flicker, like so many of my ideas, so I want to share it and see if some broader wisdom can overcome the conventional wisdom and maybe jumpstart my idea.

It started when my youth pastor asked if I’d contribute to a newsletter for the youth group. In high school I edited my youth group’s entire newsletter, and I loved it. I volunteered to do the same this time around, pretty much surprising my youth pastor. The 411, the newsletter of Messiah’s youth should be mailing this week (and I suppose I’m ruining the surprise if any of them read this — but I highly doubt any of them even know about this blog — yet). The 411 sparked memories of my youth group’s newsletter, the Ozone, and some of the ideas I had back then.

My brilliant business idea was to make youth group newsletters. It’s something a lot of youth pastors would love to do, but don’t have the time, the skills, or the equipment. Or they want a newsletter so bad they just do it, and the results are so-so. I’d love to do the design, layout, editing, and even some of the writing for youth group newsletters all over the country. I could syndicate my writing, offer template layouts, and offer to design their youth group specific content.

It’d be a lot of fun. The problem is my perspective audience. Churches aren’t exactly loaded, and youth group budgets don’t have a lot of flexibility. I’ve looked at the numbers, and so far I’d end up being a huge budget item for the average church and barely making money worth my time on my end. So I’m still working on that one.

Of course there’s lots of other fun ideas to go along with it, like a national newsletter and a web site component, but those are more complicated. And frankly, there’s lots of companies offering web site services to youth pastors, most of them much cheaper than I could ever hope to be. So my brilliant business idea is still just an idea. I’m hoping my small business class will help me refine that idea and see if it’s worth pursuing. I really hope it is, partly because such a venture would require a new computer and lots of fun graphic design software. Without a feasible business plan requiring such an expense, I just can’t justify it.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m not really looking for a full-time job anymore. I have my eyes open, and I check the job listings every now and then, but nearly as often as I did before. I feel like this is the way to go, so for now I’m taking the open door. We’ll see what happens.

Expensive Paperweight 2

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving. It’s a two-day work week, since we’ll be traveling on Wednesday, and with all the preparations and things that need to be done, it’s pretty much a week written-off. At a time when I actually have enough work (or maybe just enough deadlines) to be semi-stressful, a week off isn’t what I need. At the same time, it so very much is what I need.

All morning while I folded laundry and cleaned things up I was thinking about the blog I wanted to write. I’m not even there yet, but this random outpouring shows you just how conflicted I am. I want to get some real work done, but I also want to kick back and enjoy a vacation. I want to write for myself, I want to finish up some fun projects that really don’t amount to anything. But I also should work on projects that do amount to something. But as the deadlines loom on the horizon and not up-close, it’s too easy to not amount to anything.

Today that’s compounded by my stupid computer. Right now Outlook Express won’t let me delete any e-mails. It tells me “The message could not be deleted.” and that’s it. Now I’m pretty bad at sorting through my e-mail and deleting the stuff I don’t need, but when you get over 70 spam a day, the delete feature is pretty important.

I don’t even want to think about visiting Microsoft’s “support” site and trying to troubleshoot the problem. What a joke.

What’s really annoying is that my computer won’t just die. Of course if my computer totally died that’d be a huge pain in the butt. I’d lose lots of information (that reminds me, I should really back some stuff up again) and be out a whole lot of money. However, I’d be forced to buy a new computer. And that would be sweet. (somehow I wonder why a financially impractical solution sounds so appealing)

The Under-reported Stories of War

While browsing the news headlines this morning, I came across a number of under-reported stories from Iraq, including an alarming suicide rate among U.S. soldiers, yesterday’s news that a civilian cargo plane was hit by a shoulder-fired missile (amazingly the plane was able to land and no one was injured) — even more surprising is that there have been eight reported instances of missiles fired at civilian planes in Iraq, and today’s news that two U.S. soldiers were dragged from their vehicle and their throats slit (though there seem to be some discrepancies in the story; Update: later stories are providing more details. It sounds like the soldiers were shot, their vehicle crashed, and a group of Iraqi teens swarmed the car, dragged the soldiers from their vehicle and pummeled them. It’s reminiscent of Somalia and not a pretty picture. Second Update: Or not. Yet another report denies the pummeling and slashing stories.).

It’s amazing the stuff that goes on that we don’t hear much about. The eight attempts on civilian airplanes is crazy, especially considering some want to open Baghdad airport to passenger flights. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if there was even one attempt on a commercial plane in the U.S.

The Blizzard of ’03

Weather people are stupid. On Friday the local news was having a field day about the enormous blizzard that was supposed to come down on the Twin Cities, rendering us immobile. Entire newscasts were consumed with the coming weather, including interviews with plough drivers and on location reports with snow-making machines demonstrating blizzard conditions.

Last night it began. We had a snowball fight.

This morning I woke up to maybe three inches on the ground. It’s still snowing, and they say we could up to six inches, but this is a joke. What blizzard? I can’t stand it when the news media gets fixated on something beyond all measure of sanity.