Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How Not to Clean Your Carpet

From July 29, 2000

Since my house had recently become catless, and was about to become rabbitless as well (and therefore entirely petless), I thought it would be nice to have the carpet in the whole house professionally cleaned – no more fur or dander, a fresh smell, that sort of thing.

So I signed on to have a national carpet cleaning outfit over for a house-wide treatment. I have a big house, so it sounded like a decent deal. When the salesman said that his people would move all the furniture themselves, that clenched the matter for me.

The workers showed up promptly Friday afternoon: two guys, one about my height, the other one even bigger - between the two of them, clearly capable of manhandling my furniture. The bigger fellow was the boss, and he did most of the talking. I thought it was a little odd that he left a religious tract on the kitchen counter and tried a couple of times to start up a religious conversation (I chuckled when he saw the crucifix on the wall and asked me if I was a priest). I told myself that in a little while I would have nice clean carpet, so I just chatted with them while they worked.

As they were about to start on the last room, I ran upstairs to see how the rooms looked. I thought it odd that the master bed was exactly where it had been, as was my computer desk in my upstairs office. I don't know if you're familiar with carpet cleaning equipment, but it's not exactly the kind of stuff you can just squeeze under a bed and still reach the whole carpet.

Puzzled, I went back downstairs and asked the cleaning fellows if they had any trouble moving the bed. I was surprised when I was told that they don't move beds because their insurance won't allow it (not quite all the furniture after all).

Concerned, I called the cleaning company's office and asked to speak to the manager who had sold me the package. He wasn't in, but I did get another manager who explained that their insurance didn't allow them to move heavy furniture like beds, and that a computer desk wasn't a piece of furniture because it held an appliance (i.e. a computer).

Frustrated, I pointed out that I had been sold a package in which the cleaners were supposed to move all the furniture, and that no distinction was made at the time between normal furniture and other kinds of furniture. The manager replied by repeatedly saying that was the deal, that I really didn't want carpet cleaners to move an expensive computer around, that there was really nothing to be done, etc.

Angered, I pointed out that the time to tell me this was when I was buying the service, not moments before the job was about to wrap up.

Still aggravated, I then told the guy in my house (you remember, the one bigger than me) that I had a problem: they weren't delivering what I had purchased.

That's when things started to turn really ugly: the big cleaning guy started arguing with me. We went around for a few minutes until he started yelling at me. Then he reared back on me.

Clearly this guy had used the tactic to intimidate helpless little old ladies and various widowed grandmas over the years.

I told him that no one talks to me that way in my own house, adding that it was time for him to leave.

He kept shouting at me.

"Get out of my house!" I demanded.

He stood over me, nose-to-nose, and continued shouting.

We went around this way for a few minutes. Then, abruptly, he said he wasn't going to leave without his equipment. I told him to get his equipment and leave. Then he said he wasn't going to leave without being paid. I told him that he would be paid when he left the house.

He still didn't leave. But he did keep shouting.

Though the guy was stupid to have reared back on me, I hadn't been physically harmed, so I opted for the subdued measure of mentioning a call to the police.

He told me to go ahead and call the police - and added that he would take me to court for failure to pay.

I dialed 911.

After a long 10 minutes, two cruisers pulled up. In the interim the big guy and I had gone around several more times. The police stayed until the two guys left.

All of which is an object lesson in how not to clean your carpet.


Subsequently, I attempted to contact the company to express my dissatisfaction -- I left several voice messages, wrote a couple of letters, and sent dozens of emails, but I failed to receive acknowledgement.

Meanwhile I was receiving repeated phone calls from them thanking me for my business and asking when they could come back out for another cleaning. It was only after I threatened legal action if they didn't quit harassing me that the calls stopped. Incidentally, on that last call I was told that the employee had had other problems with customers and finally been fired.

Sic semper tyrannis.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trips to the Mailbox

One day a few years ago a jogging neighbor paused at my mailbox while I was retrieving the mail.

"Doesn't that couple's barking dogs bother you?" she asked.

She meant the two dogs that sat on my next-door neighbor's back porch and saluted passers-by in lupine fashion. In point of that fact, the porch was on the same level as my family room, and the dogs routinely barked when they saw me moving around inside my house.

I shrugged my shoulders. "Sure," I said. "But the couple who lives there isn't married, so I've never really gotten to know them."

The jogger recoiled as if her leash had been yanked. "Oh, I don't care anything about that," she said as she turned. "I just don't like the dogs barking." So saying, she resumed her jog.

Quite literally, the person on the street is annoyed by barking dogs but inured to folks living in sin. Commenting on immoral lifestyles is beyond the pale; baying hounds is a matter of righteous indignation. Mentioning the injuriousness inherent in divorcing conjugal purpose from conjugal pleasure is a conversation-stopper; giving two healthy pets the run of the back yard lowers property values.

I wasn't indifferent to the dog-owning couple next door: I had, after all, met them. He was a coach for the now-defunct Atlanta women's soccer team; she was an attorney. My own dog Roscoe was a digger, and twice the couple had kindly brought my little rover home after he'd made his way under the fence to call on his canine neighbors. The couple did eventually marry; not long after they divorced when he was caught in an affair.* I moved a short time after and lost track of them.

* Couples who live together before marrying -- particularly those who intend to never have children -- are more likely to end up divorced than couples who wait until after marriage to share a bed. Thus, living together on a trial basis before marriage to test compatibility actually undermines and hinders marital permanence. It really is unhealthy and unwise.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eat Your Cake

The meaning of the expression “To eat your cake and have it too” is that one wants to have something both ways when the two ways are mutually exclusive. I suspect the literal meaning is often forgotten or overlooked, but it actually is serviceable in grasping the concept: the correct sense is that one wants to eat his cake and still have it. The two parts of the expression are frequently reversed as “To have your cake and eat it too.” There’s no difficulty in that, of course: anyone can have a cake and eat it. Ah, but to eat it and still have it: that is a worthy trick.

A popular expression whose literal meaning is obscure to me is “To call a spade a spade.” This is broadly understood to mean that one looks at a situation square-on, without equivocation or dissembling; as such it is a near cousin of saying “The emperor has no clothes.” But (Erasmus aside) what the literal meaning is of calling a spade a spade is I have no clear idea.

Friday, July 25, 2008


My junior year of college I roomed with three fellows in a small apartment.

One roommate, Mark, had a short temper. He knew he had a short temper, however, and was constantly trying to keep it in check. You could tell how much any given struggle was costing him by the shade of red or purple his face was turning.

Another roommate, Wes, was a finicky fellow awash in quirky mannerisms. He was frequently oblivious to the effects his quirks produced in people.

One day Wes was watching TV. Rather, he was skimming through channels at break-neck speed courtesy of the remote control (to a generation later this might have been called Extreme Television Watching).

As it happened, Mark of the Short Temper was in the room, and the rapid rate of channel changing was causing his blood to boil. At last, unable to keep silence, but hoping to say something constructive rather than decapitate his roommate, Mark blurted out:

"Wes, in my journalism class we would call someone who watches TV like that a 'Grazer'!"

Wes had no idea what Mark was talking about. Turning around, The Finicky One tilted his head and let out the universal standby response for situations like this:

At this point I offered an observation.

"I guess you could say then that, to watch television is human, but to change channels is bovine."

In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Calling All Beings

Earlier in my career I was a technical writer. One job I had was writing and designing computer-based training (CBT) courses: I authored courses for Microsoft applications that were administered on a computer, sans instructor.

My editor was a former N.O.W. member and still-active feminist. She had a policy that she never read anything written by a man (editing my work was a concession to necessity: she was obliged to pay the bills). Her remarks were peppered with observations about the frail egos of men and references to her former New Age guru, who at one point had exorcised the demon that had possessed her (I asked her if the possession had been unexpected or if she had been dabbling in forbidden areas; she said she'd been dabbling).

She was also a superb editor; I am an improved writer today for having worked with her. I described some of her techniques to an editor I know at the Cincinnati Enquirer, and he once used them in a presentation he gave at an editor's roundtable that was favorably received by his colleagues.

Not every conversation bore fruit, however. For example, one day the conversation centered on the use of the masculine pronoun.

"Some people say to use 'they' even for the singular case so as to avoid the use of 'he' or 'him,' but that's just poor grammar," I said.

"Yes, you're right," my editor replied. "The desire to remove sexism from the language is no excuse for writing badly."

"What do you recommend then?" I asked. "Should the word 'person' be used?"

"Absolutely not!" she said. "That word has 'son' in it, which is another manifestation of sexism."

"Well then what word should be used?" I asked.

"The word to use is 'being.'"


"Yes, it is safe from sexist connotations."

"But nobody will ever adopt such an alien expression to describe something as common and everyday as an individual."

"I know," she sighed. "But that's no excuse for surrendering."

"I think you're on your own for that one," I said.

The last time I saw her, she was mid-eye-roll about my wife's decision to become a Catholic, that quintessentially patriarchial religion. Only later did I decide to become Catholic myself; I never sought the editor's perspective on the matter, but I'm confident I could have puzzled it out if needed.

Which is too bad: I might have enjoyed explaining that it was Catholicism that raised women from the degraded status of mere property (c.f. paganism) to new heights because of the Christian creed. Not surprisingly, as society evolves its downward way into secularism and further afield from a Christian worldview, the tenets of paganism are returning, and women are again being restored to their status as mere objects of passion.

Malum quo communius eo peius.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Design by Committee

Here's a YouTube video doing the rounds. Consultants will identify with efforts to DBC (Design By Committee).

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVb8EC1Y2xM

Some of the audience comments on this one are pretty funny too.

The Eskimo "K"

A 19th century Oblate missionary and frontiersman among the Eskimo of the Labrador coast, one Fr. Lacasse, gave this description of the Eskimo "k" or "kh" sound:

"Learning to pronounce the k would give you a sore throat. You have to fetch up a sound from the pit of the stomach, arrest it as it passes through the throat, hurl it violently into the nose, then, in spite of your repugnance, and in spite of all the laws of motion, you must bring it back into the throat, there to receive its death-stroke."

From Mid Snow and Ice, p. 159, Rev. Fr. Pierre Douchaussois, O.M.I.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chariot Racing, circa 2009

Winner of a Roman Chariot Race

A move is afoot to revive chariot racing in Rome's Circus Maximus.

In 2009 the three days of races will begin on the traditional starting date of October 17. As the Circus Maximus is not up to code for seating 35,000 fans, cameras and remote viewing screens are to be installed.

* http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=3e1cc3e7-4548-4731-8b61-13daaea660c5

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Letter #7: Christmas

In December 2007 my local Roswell paper published an article encouraging Christians to take time out of their holiday schedule to pay attention to the observances of minority religions. I wrote a response, which was not published.

Here are the link to the original:
* Original Article: p. 12 of http://beaconcast.com/downloads/20071213

Below is my unpublished letter.


‘Tis the Season

A key point of Kate Copsey’s multicultural news article “December Not Just for Christian Holidays” was that this December, Christians should interrupt their normally scheduled celebration of one of the chief events of their own religion – i.e. the nativity of said religion’s Founder – and instead spend time considering the views of different, unrelated, and antithetical creeds.

By Jove, I look forward to the follow-up articles! Without giving way to self-conscious hand-wringing, when can we expect to see the parallel article encouraging Saudis to tip their turbans toward any crosses they happen to pass en route to Mecca during the Hajj? Or the one inviting Israelis to sprinkle frankincense on their menorahs? Or the piece encouraging Nepalese nationals to use leaves of the sacred fig tree as stocking stuffers?

All jesting aside, Kate shouldn’t shake the finger at Christians who unapologetically commemorate the arrival of Christ into the world. We celebrate birthdays because it is good to be alive, and the birth of Christ is the birthday par excellence to be celebrated: the Creator of the world came to earth as a Man and opened the gates of Heaven for all who cared to enter. Rather than act rueful about this good news, I’m for shouting it from the rooftops: it’s the best Christmas gift I could ever give anyone.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Rue des Bernardins, Paris

The Church of St. Nicolas is one of the spots I'll be visiting when I tour France this October.

In the 19th century the place was formerlyh home to the Abbé Félix Dupanloup, who reconciled the renowned diplomat (and notoriously amoral) Talleyrand (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord) with the Church on his deathbed in 1838. Later Dupanloup gave a moving panegyric on St. Joan of Arc that aroused popular sentiment in both France and England and played a role in her canonization in 1920.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oz vs. Wonderland

I wonder what an Oz vs. Wonderland grudge match would have been like?

When the Hatter's clock struck eleventeen, the Wicked Witch's Flying Monkey battalions launched a salvo against the halberdier card troops, smudging their rosy uniforms -- to the Queen's great chagrin.

A confused hedgehog ran the wrong way in the melee, causing the Munchkins to give pursuit after what was mistakenly thought to be a disordered retreat. Cresting the glade of frithy toves, the Lollipop Guild went down in an uffish heap to the rampaging Jabberwock, who inadvertently trampled the White Rabbit. He will be missed.

Matters momentarily turned worse for the Yellow Brick Roaders when the Duchess dowsed the combatants in pepper spray. The Tin Man, however -- unimpeded by the noxious fumes -- used his woodsman's ax to good effect and salvaged what he could of the Oz expeditionary force.

Their retreat was covered by the Good Witch of the North, who dropped a house on the Jabberwock; the burbling beast was subsequently helped free by the carpenter while the walrus recovered from a poppy-induced nap.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Letter #6: Eugenics

In April 2008 the Beacon published a feature article about how the frequent decision to abort babies with Down syndrome was tantamount to eugenics. I wrote a response, which was published the next week.

Here are links to the originals:
* Original Article: p. 4 of http://beaconcast.com/downloads/20080503
* My Response: p. 11 of http://beaconcast.com/downloads/20080510

Below is my letter.


Two common attributes of the ancient pagan world were cruelty and despair. As Alan Sverdlik’s story “Modern Eugenics: The Elimination of a People” (April 24) illustrates, those attributes are alive and well in our contemporary post-modern era.

I tip my cap to the generous and heroic souls who have chosen to raise Down syndrome children and face lives of isolation, confusion, and unjust hardship: you’ve made the decision to stand up as real men and women in the face of impersonal, de-humanizing initiatives that dissolve what is best in life – love, happiness, an untroubled conscience, hope. Well done.

People come to resemble fun-house mirror reflections of themselves when they are considered primarily in terms of their civic worth. Each of us is meant for a better fate than being reduced to commodity status or cataloged as some variety of defective. And it’s not like the reducing and cataloging is being done using terribly precise instruments.

In a similar vein, when was it decided that we cannot expect individuals to undertake difficult burdens? “He’ll have a hard life – let’s end it for him now” is at best an example of false generosity, a case of undisciplined compassion and charity run amok. At worst it is a habit that tolerates no external constraint on moral conduct, no discipline for the mind, no curb for the passions. We really are weak and willful creatures, prone to do what is easiest and most comfortable; that’s why bodily and mental culture is meant to be in the service of morality. Reversing that order and putting morality in the service of culture translates into falling victim to a creed of legalized cunning and force, one that commits outrages against the weak and victimizes those who choose lives of honest labor and hard work.

So long as this backwards set of priorities is the reigning sentiment of our time, don’t trust the judgment of anyone who wants to “spare” another’s suffering through eugenics and that other phenomenon the Nazis championed: euthanasia.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Happy Flight

For this morning's flight I was back on Delta. We boarded the plane on time, and I dozed in my seat (17D) while waiting for the flight to take off.

I was wakened by a flight attendant tapping my shoulder.

"Excuse me...would you like to sit in First Class?"

Ah, the benefits of being a Medallion-status frequent flyer.

"If I must," I said insouciantly, then moved to my new seat in 2D.

I was able to fit both bags overhead, leaving me more leg room for the trip. The flight attendant served me hot tea and a granola bar, after which our 7:00 AM flight pulled back from the gate at 6:57 AM.

When I arrived in the office, I opened my email and found this note from the client:


Please see Sandy's...comment below about your subscriptions wireframes. All of your hard work was well worth the effort! I’m so happy she is pleased with the direction we are going.

Thank you so much,

My two cents worth: awesome.



Not a bad morning.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The King's Good Servant

Thomas More (Holbein)

On this day and at about this time 473 years ago St. Thomas More was executed for treason on evidence of perjured testimony. More's opposition to Henry's anti-papal action and his silence regarding the English monarch's illicit marriage with Lady Ann Boleyn* grieved the King, whose less conscience-encumbered subjects saw to it that one source of the King's displeasure was empowered to remain permanently mum.

Owing to the former Chancellor's years of faithful service to the crown, King Henry commuted the sentence of being hanged, drawn, and quartered to beheading. "The King is good unto me," More said in humble acknowledgement of His Majesty's benevolence.

From the scaffold Thomas asked prayers of the witnesses, both for himself and for the King -- that it might please God to give him good counsel. More added that he "died the King's good servant but God's first."

When Thomas kneeled a few stray hairs of his beard fell across the executioner's block. As he adjusted his errant whiskers More addressed himself to the axeman: "Don't cut my beard -- it has not been accused of treason." More pardoned the executioner, who then removed his head from his body with a single stroke of the axe.

There is a tendency these days to see in More merely a single individual standing up against institutionalized tyrannical authority. Such are the fashions and prejudices of our democratic age that it presumes monarchy is synonymous with despotism and that the man who stands firm against it for the sake of his conscience is to be commended on that ground alone.

Sir Thomas loved his country and his king; he was no rebel, no anarchist, no allegedly reforming revolutionary throwing off an oppressor. He would have dismissed as absurd the notion that his individual conscience was in itself worthy of admiration simply because it was his own. More knew that what made his conscience worth mounting the scaffold for was its conformity to Truth itself. A man was responsible for the formation of his own conscience, and it was his obligation to see that it is formed properly. But dying for a conscience just because it was the individual's? That would not be even utopian, it would simply be preposterous. God gave man an intellect by means of which he can know truth from falsehood and right from wrong.

The accepted messenger of Truth in More's era was the Catholic Church, an institution to which Thomas was joyfully devoted. And not that he looked the other way at the failings of individual Churchmen: it was More himself who said, "The world is tired of the clergy, but the clergy are not tired of the world." More was also an accomplished statesman, seasoned diplomat, and witty humanist who quickly penetrated to the heart of a matter -- thus, at his execution there was for him no anesthetic of a fanatic's wide-eyed stare. He met his end with an innocent mirth, an unaffected and steady gaze, and a soul at peace after having performed its duty of doing the right thing at the right time for Christ's sake.

Thomas More was canonized in 1935 -- the 400th anniversary of his martyrdom. In raising St. Thomas to the altar Pope Pius XI not only commended to our attention a holy and heroic model, he pointed to an example of how to conduct one's self in the face of absolutist governments (e.g. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia). God has His rights in society and His claims on our allegiance, our affections, and our intellect, the Church was saying. Just ask St. Thomas More.

* For all his concern over securing a dynasty, Henry's six marriages produced only one sickly son (Edward) and an insecure succession with two princesses (Mary and Elizabeth). None of them produced heirs -- thus, in spite of Henry's machinations and politicking and murders and schism, his line ended within a generation.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Man Decapitates Wax Hitler Figure

Today the Berlin branch of the London-based Madame Tussauds wax museum opened with a new wax figure: Adolf Hitler.

This morning the museum's second visitor knocked aside the museum's manager, jumped the barrier, and ripped off the wax Hitler's head.

His mission accomplished, the protester then surrendered quietly to police.

Friday, July 4, 2008

God Bless the USA

This rendition of God Bless the USA was performed by Anthony DeLallo, the son/nephew/cousin of some friends of mine -- see Anthony's YouTube Video.

It turns out Anthony has one of these surprise good voices -- i.e. a few years ago he opened his mouth to sing something, and everyone around him sat up and took notice. He's been singing ever since, and has produced a few music CDs along the way.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Not Yet 2:00

"I did my best for you, son. I gave you all I had. More than anything I wanted to pass on to you the one heritage of the men of our family, a certain quality of spirit, a sense of duty, a nobility worn lightly, a sweetness, a gentleness with women -- the only good things the South ever had and the only things that really matter in this life..."
-The Moviegoer, p. 224; Walker Percy

Southerners are gifted at imagining what might have been. It is a melancholic quality, I think, they share with the Irish.

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.
- The Ballad of the White Horse, Book 2; G.K. Chesterton