Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why you should still read Rolling Stone

The all-time, all-media pinnacle of year-end journalism, outside of the New Year's Eve column I used to do before Authority decided it was insufficiently deferential, was Esquire Magazine's Dubious Achievement Awards.
That went away several years ago, and nothing has come close to it since. When I see "The year in review" features elsewhere, I barely glance up.
Fly with us now to last week, when another issue of Rolling Stone showed up in my mailbox.
I let my subscription lapse long ago, around the time Hunter Thompson left, but the magazine still shows up regularly, sits around the house for a week or so, then goes out with the trash.
This was the "Special Double Issue," though, with a cover blurb for "Hot Republican Gay Sex." Nothing cheers me up like Repubs in disgrace--the dance of the hypocrites never gets old--so I kept it around.
You need to find a copy. I didn't keep close track this year of the kind of dumb-assery that makes a good year-end list, but Rolling Stone did. With full credit to the magazine, let me just give a few highlights. There are pages upon pages of this stuff:
  • A photo of Arizona Sen. John McCain in Iraq, with excerpts from a speech he gave citing how safe it was and how his visit was proof the war was just and necessary and Being Won. McCain wore a bulletproof vest, didn't leave the "green zone" compound and was escorted by 100 soldiers, two Apache helicopters and three Blackhawk helicopters.
  • A reminder that when recent intelligence reports revealed that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program more than four years ago, President Bush insisted the news validated his repeated (and continuing) claims that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program.
  • Further reminders of ways the Bush administration has honored veterans this year. Among other things:
  • Iit required that soldiers discharged before the end of their term of enlistment because of battlefield injuries repay their enlistment bonuses.
  • It sent the most experienced National Guard unit in Iraq home after 729 days when 730 days would have qualified the soldiers for education benefits.
  • It forgot, oops, to include 20,000 cases of brain trauma from the official list of troops injured in Iraq.
  • As the cover promised, the magazine listed five Republican officials who have been outspoken gay-bashers, but who have been charged with or found guilty of various types of homosexual behavior in public or involving minors. One, the national chairman of the Young Republicans, admitted he'd performed oral sex on another man, but claimed, "I wasn't in my right mind. I wasn't thinking." All records of his tenure at the top have disappeared from the Young Repubs' Web site.
  • Recalled that in an Associated Press survey taken in late 2006, 25 percent of respondents said they expected Jesus Christ to return in 2007. As of this writing, he has 27 hours to make his move.
Makes me wish I'd done a year-end piece of my own. I even tried to start one today, but all I could get down was, "Rudy Giuliani . . . ."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why CAN'T we talk about religion?

Discussions of religion in politics generally are conducted quietly in the United States because it's considered inappropriate to notice, except among bedrock fundy Christians. In that group, it's almost the only thing they do notice, but they're so wrapped in self-righteousness it never occurs to them it's not OK.
About the only time that rule gets broken is when the candidate himself brings up his faith. Kennedy did it in the '60s with Catholicism, and Mitt Romney did it this year, though he managed to give an entire speech about his beliefs almost without uttering the word "Mormon."
I wonder, though, why we aren't more open about this.
Full disclosure: I'm a devout doubter. I don't actively disbelieve--I have prayed in foxholes, imploring the Lord (or whoever was listening) to spare me at the same time I was trying to scratch down another couple of inches with my fingernails. I've prayed in hospitals, and likely will again.
In my heart and in my head, though, I don't believe my prayers helped. God (or whomever) presumably knew where I was and knew my circumstances. It seems vaguely insulting to remind him ("Father, you know there are 117 of us in this airplane . . ."), and in any case I can't think of a single reason a sensible deity should have spared me and turned his back on so many of stronger faith. Either I was the Chosen One, which no one has believed since my mother died, or it was pure chance.
We, ah, seem to have digressed.
My point (for all I can remember, way down here) is that religion is not only a legitimate thing to consider in casting a vote, it's a necessary one. Of course each of us should be free to worship as we choose and to follow the god we see--but if someone's beliefs run contrary to yours in any area, including religion, what's the point in pretending they don't?
Faith is a major factor, often the most important factor, in many people's lives, so why should we ignore that? I won't vote for a person who's shown a disregard for the environment, or one who wants to make abortion illegal, or one who doesn't see the importance of funding education even if it means raising my taxes. Others may disagree with my positions in those areas, but no one would question my right to consider them in casting my ballot.
Religion, for many people, is a far more powerful force than any of those. Why should it be off limits?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

10 Signs Your News Source is Mailing It In

In some places they’re called “evergreens,” those stories you see year after year: Last day of school, reminders to check your tire pressure, the annual pardon of the White House turkey (this year the turkey was the one on the right).
Reporters hate them. They do them only because editors tell them to. Since most editors were reporters until they got out of journalism to chase the money, I’ve often wondered when the change takes place. At what point in the slog up the ladder does a lively writer start believing readers need to be reminded that when temperatures dive, they should wear jackets?
Christmas is the high season for stuff like this, because there’s not much real news and half the staff is using up the vacation they couldn’t get approved in July. At some newspaper or TV station right now—hell, at hundreds of them—an editor is telling a reporter to see whether the stores are full of people doing last-minute shopping. On Wednesday morning, the same editors (or their holiday fill-ins; no difference) will want an analysis of whether shoppers are taking advantage of post-holiday sales.
Watching for these things, it turns out, is a quick way to tell if your news source is doing its job. When updates on Britney Spears or late-breaking flashes on the biggest-grossing movie of the weekend outnumber stories containing actual pertinent facts, it’s a clue: Look elsewhere for the information you need, say, to make an informed political choice.
With an eye toward helping you make these determinations, here are 10 Signs Your News Source is Mailing It In:
  1. It contains more than one mention per week or one picture per month of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears or anyone in their families in any context not involving a crime sufficiently heinous to be mentioned if it were committed by a manicurist from West LA.
  2. Any headline or major story begins with the words “Gas prices . . .”If you have to be told what gas prices are doing, they aren’t affecting you. If whatever they’re doing is affecting you, you already know. Gas price stories are classic space-fillers, the kind of thing some editor is sure to bring up in every meeting because he can’t think of anything else.
  3. It documents crowds in places that normally draw crowds. A throng at the mall on Dec. 26 is not news.
  4. At the end of a holiday weekend, it tells you the roads were crowded. This is particularly lame in newspapers, where the best they can do is let you know on Monday morning that if you came home Sunday night, you probably got stuck in traffic.
  5. It contains any reference to how you should dress or where you should set your thermostat for a given set of weather conditions. Television is reliably idiotic about this: “It’s going to be in the teens tonight, so you’ll want to crank up the furnace.” Whew, saved me from turning on the air conditioner five months early.
  6. It warns you to slow down in bad weather. Sure, it’s good advice. But anyone dumb enough to need a reminder is too dumb to heed it.
  7. It says, “Store valuable items out of sight and lock your car.” You know all those times you left the Macy’s bags on the hood just for a minute while you ran into Starbucks? Well, now you know not to do that.
  8. It passes along as God’s revealed Truth the contents of any White House report released on a Friday afternoon.
  9. The term “white Christmas” appears after Dec. 20.
  10. It gives you one more goddamn story about parents “frantic” because they can’t find a Wii. Granting that you want to do what you can for your kids, teaching them that everything isn't instantly available is not a bad lesson. Buy them a book, then read it to them.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On being Mr. Terri Farley, husband of the author

If you live long enough, you'll accumulate your share of humiliating experiences, and if some portion of your life is semi-public, you'll occasionally run across people eager to remind you of them. A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a reader--a girl, or I suppose a woman now--who wanted to know if I was the same Cory Farley that Mike Dixon and Craig DuLac pantsed on the playground at Goodwin School in 1958.
No, that was some other Cory Farley. There were dozens of us in middle school in those days.
One you can't lie your way out of, though, is being the consort of the author at a Book Signing.
Some readers know my wife is a young adult novelist . . . that is, a writer of books for young adults; she herself is fully mature. She's done three dozen or so, and every 10- to 14-year-old on your Christmas list would love a couple of hundred copies.
We'll come back to that.
My part in that phase of Terri's life used to consist of taking the children to the zoo so she could work, then coming home to cook dinner. Now that the kids are grown and she's solidly in the Medium Time, though, I'm allowed to accompany her to signings. She introduces me to bookstore owners and managers as her husband, but what they hear is "roadie:" I'm the guy who carries the boxes, tracks down the extension cords, finds the circuit breaker when it trips and runs across the mall to buy new pens when the kids walk away with hers (tip to aspiring writers: Never sign with a pen you're not willing to lose).
Terri will be signing Saturday at the Barnes & Noble on South Virginia Street (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; that's as close as we'll get to a sales pitch), and I'll be in the background, mostly out of habit. She gets decent treatment these days: plenty of books on hand, people to fetch coffee, somebody to manage the lines.
Best of all, there are lines to be managed. I rarely have to sit across from her in an empty corner of a bookstore any more and rave in my LOUDEST VOICE about how my grandchildren just LOVE her books and is she POSITIVE there are only 30-odd of them because I SURE WOULD LIKE TO GET MORE FOR ALL MY FRIENDS' KIDS!
It was not ever thus. We did two hours in Seattle one time and sold two books. When we left, the manager gave us a bill for the coffee he'd provided. In San Antonio the signing coincided with the opening of a high-end men's hair place. Between 10 a.m. and noon, I and about 30 other guys got haircuts, but only half a dozen kids came to see the author. When I told the woman doing my hair why I was in town, she walked away from the chair, went next door to gape at the writer (who, she confided, "looks just like a normal person"), then came back empty-handed.
Terri did draw a crowd in San Jose, not all of them her mother's friends--but the store hadn't ordered extra books. The kids went home mad, some with autographs on the palms of their hands. In Hawaii we got bad directions from the hotel desk and went the wrong way around the island; the kids went home mad without autographs anywhere. In New Orleans . . . never mind New Orleans. I understand it's mostly dried out now.
But she'll be on her home turf Saturday. The pens are packed, the books are in stock (allegedly; we've heard that before), the author is primed. You can strike a blow for juvenile literacy and finish your Christmas shopping at the same time, and incidentally take advantage of our One-Day Only Special Offer:
If you buy more books than you can lift, the roadie will carry them to your car.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White House fire a Christmas miracle for the GOP?

Details are still sketchy, but the aware reader will have heard that a fire broke out this morning in a room "adjacent to Vice President Dick Cheney's ceremonial office" ( It was put out with "no loss of life," though a Marine reportedly was injured when he broke a window to escape the smoke.
Can I be the only person whose initial reaction to this--the first thought, before I'd even heard the full story on NPR--was, "Well, so much for the evidence"? A pre-noon scan of some relevant blogs shows that I'm not.
Evidence for what? I have no idea. The CIA torture tapes? Secret notes the Dickster sent Scooter, telling him to get rid of those troublesome U.S. attorneys? Memos from Turd Blossom explaining how they'd cover up whatever it is they were interested in covering up at the time? I don't know.
It doesn't matter that I don't know. It doesn't even really matter that the fire might have been a genuine accident (somebody happened to tape the lever down on a Bic lighter, then, oops, drop it into the wastebasket where they were storing the records of Big Broadcasting's contributions to ensure deregulation of media ownership? Happens all the time).
What matters is that this godawful lying, conniving, undercover administration has so destroyed the trust between Americans and their government that all but the blindest and dumbest (by which I mean the 30 percent who apparently will stick with Bush through deceit, war, wholesale slaughter and parting out the environment to the highest bidder, though not if he insists on letting immigrants' kids go to school) . . . all but those few, when they heard news this morning of a fire in one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the nation's Capitol, must have thought, "The bastards will get away with it, too."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Will it take a loon to win the GOP primary?

Conservative keening aside, most journalists I know aren't particularly liberal, and nearly all of them regardless of politics work hard to keep their opinions out of their stories.
Objectivity is a regular topic of newsroom meetings and a constant consideration in editing, to the extent that the finished stories sometimes misrepresent reality. Concepts like "mainstreaming" and "diversity" are worthwhile when they insure that every facet of society and every angle to an argument is presented, but even a good idea can be carried too far. Hang around reporters, and eventually you'll hear someone say sarcastically, "I've got the City Council bribe story wrapped up, but it can't run until I find a 300-pound Samoan lesbian to comment" (no complaints from offended 300-pounders, please: I'm just making the point that no segment of the fringe is considered irrelevant).
A classic example, one I witnessed personally: A team of reporters worked for days on a story about sexual abuse of children. They did a good job on it, found solid sources and were ready to go.
An editor congratulated them, then said, "But for balance, we need something from the point of view of a molester. Can you get that by Friday?"
A lame joke, to be sure--but they took him seriously. The doctrine of impartiality was so ingrained that they went muttering off to lunch wondering where they'd find a baby-raper who'd go on the record.
Hold that thought while you consider this:
Has the Bush administration so contorted the meaning of "Republican" that none but the loony has a chance to win the GOP primary?
What that has to do with objectivity is that I'm trying to be objective: I look at that line-up, and I see . . . weird people. I mean truly weird, far-from-the-mainstream-but-trying-to-pass hardcore ambition-crazed no-foundation cheeseballs. With nice suits, but still.
As Jon Carroll said last week in the San Francisco Chronicle, "the sanest one . . . is a former POW, and he thinks the Iraq war is a great idea. And you think Hillary Clinton is going to have trouble running against one of these guys? Please."
Carroll writes in San Francisco, of course, and he's a known lefty. He's exposed to California Thinking.
I'm a lefty, too, but I write in Reno and I'm exposed to Reno thinking. That's why I believe Hillary Clinton is going to have trouble running against those guys: There's a level of inchoate distrust and fear about her out there that Carroll probably doesn't see in his mail.
I've suspected this for years, but it didn't really come out until she began to run seriously for president. Since then, I've heard everyone from physicians and CEOs to busboys express their disdain and general fed-uppedness with George Bush, but follow it with something like, "but I could never vote for Hillary--she scares me?"
"What scares you about her?" I'll ask.
Well, they don't know. Remember how she argued for universal health care in 1993 (good thing the Repubs fought that off, or our health care system might be a real mess now)? There was that, and she's ambitious (while the rest of the candidates just sort of shambled into the race by accident?). She's too, you know, Hillaryesque.
I'm not, in fact, a big Hillary fan. I liked Bill a lot at first, but he turned into such a Republican in his last couple of years I lost faith in the whole family, at least until Chelsea's ready (not to digress here, but haven't the people who criticized the Clintons for the way their daughter was raised been quieter than church mice about the Bimbo Twins?).
Carroll nailed Mitt Romney, too. I hate to plagiarize (more accurately, I hate to be seen plagiarizing), but no one's described the Mittster better than this: "(He) looks like the typical high school suck-up, the kid whom everyone hated . . . He also had Daddy's money, and he looked as if he had Daddy's money."
Giuliani has nothing but 9/11, unless you think the GOP base is going to get behind a serial bridegroom. Ron Paul is a member of the most dangerous and delusional subculture in politics, those who believe government is inherently evil and taxes are inherently bad. Mike Huckabee is too religious; the only reason Romney's getting raked for that and he isn't is that many voters don't understand Romney's Mormon faith and are suspicious of it. Huckabee's at least from one of the normal religions (just so we're clear: I have no problem at all with any religion, but I do have problems with followers of all religions when their dogma shapes their decisions. Plus there's that annoying holier-than-thou thing, the leading characteristic of neo-conservo-Christianity, plus based on the debates, Huckabee's grasp of international affairs seems to equal Winnie the Pooh's).
I'm not saying, exactly, "Vote Democratic." What I'm saying is, "Maybe give your vote some thought this time."

Friday, December 14, 2007

By your gifts they shall know you

If I had a personal trainer, his Christmas this year would be less merry than he might expect.
Forgive the masculine pronoun; normally I try to be gender neutral. The fact is, though, that a personal trainer would have to see me with my shirt off, and I’m not man enough these days (more accurately, I’m too much man) to go around like that in front of a strange woman even if I've paid her first.
But I’m man enough to look any trainer in the eye and say, “Your Christmas gift is going to be smaller than you anticipate, Body-Fat Boy.”
What brings this to mind is a story I read the other day on something that's apparently a puzzle in some circles: At Christmas, how much should we give the people who do all those little services we’re too lazy to perform for ourselves, or that we may forget are done at all?
It wasn’t exactly a six-paragraph demonstration of what’s wrong with journalism today, but it was out on that edge.
In addition to personal trainers (hang on—I’ll tell you in a minute if you “gifted” yours appropriately), it included manicurists, hairdressers, teachers, pool cleaners, a regular waiter or waitress and even cops.
The idea that we owe a Christmas gift to everyone we deal with may be novel to you (it was to me), but apparently we haven’t been paying attention. This story pretty much assumes that everybody gets something, and that it will be in the form of cash. The only question is how much.
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all rule, here it is: the cost of one regular session of whatever they do. If you normally pay your hairdresser 50 bucks (is that ballpark? I have no idea), then this week you should duke her 50 extra, for the cause.
What cause? ‘Cause it’s Christmas. You don’t want to be thought cheap, nor to have your hair come out orange, either. Thus we’re held hostage by those who serve us.
This rule, the story said, can safely be applied to most service employees with whom you have a regular relationship. It won’t work for mail carriers, who can’t accept cash (gift cards in small amounts are OK), or with trash collectors, who “should” get $10 to $30 apiece, which means you have to stay home on trash day to count how many guys are on the truck.
Notable among the other exceptions were personal trainers, who (at least according to personal trainers) customarily get more generous remembrances.
That kind of sourcing was one of the problems with his story: To find out the usual gifts for people in various jobs, the reporter asked people in those jobs, who strike me as not necessarily impartial.
That aside, though, if you have a trainer, you may be relieved to learn that he or she will not be insulted by a gift of $100, though “some” say they’ve gotten as much as $1,000 and $400 “isn’t unusual” (just for fun, I’d like to check those people’s tax returns and see how many declared that kind of giftage as income).
Who really gets screwed, though, is teachers. As usual.
Tipping them in cash, the story said, "isn't customary." It's all right to give your trainer a C note. Your kids' teachers, though, operate under different rules.
That section of the story started fine: Rule No. 1 of teacher-gift selection, it said, is to avoid mugs or anything with an apple on it.
Good advice. My wife taught for 30 years, and when she retired, we had to haul mugs and wooden/ceramic/plastic/macramé apples away in crates. She has fond memories of many students, but we don’t need no more damn apple stuff, except pies.
Then it went bad: “Instead,” the story counseled, “consider donating a book in the teacher’s name to the school library.”
So your housekeeper, at Christmas, should get “one to three weeks’ salary” directly in her hand, while a teacher gets a book off the Special Values table at Barnes & Noble, and it goes to the library? I ran this idea by a couple of teachers, including the one with whom I share a toothbrush rack.
“It’s because we’re ‘professionals,’” she said. “We’re supposed to be in it for the kids.”
Oh, right. Like professional athletes or lawyers, except you're not allowed to go on strike.
"That's pretty much it."
People in most other businesses, though, apparently are inclined to swallow their pride and take your filthy money. Some starting points:
  • Your gardener will not be offended by $50 to be split among the crew.
  • The guy who cleans the pool gets the cost of one cleaning.
  • Nursing homes generally prefer gifts for the whole floor, like candy or a food basket, rather than individual presents. Private nurses, who often are closer to both the patient and the family, are treated as family members and get gifts commensurate with that status.
  • Mail carriers, as noted, can't take cash but can take cards, candy, stuff like that, as long as the value is less than $20.
  • Retired newspaper people amusing themselves with blogs traditionally receive $200 or more in small, used bills

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eight ways to a merrier Christmas

Off to start the shopping today with three vague goals and one firm one.
We'll leave the vague ones alone, else there'll be no surprises. The firm one, though, was that I would notice something cheerily Christmaslike and be uplifted by it.
This Space has long-standing problems with the yuletide season, not all of them because it's cold enough to freeze the brass off a bald monkey.
The whole Buying thing, for a start, grinds me down. Giving a gift, however heartfelt, isn't enough. It has to be the perfect gift, one the recipient has always wanted but never would have thought of.
I'm not a religious person--Christ didn't die for my sins; I hadn't committed any yet--but one more fool talking about "giving the kids a great Christmas" when he really means scoring a Wii when the neighbors couldn't could push me over the edge. Call me Scrooge, but I think it's possible to know the true meaning of Christmas without melting down your Visa card.
Back when I had hopes, I used to imagine a consumer rebellion: What if people just quit buying?
Not permanently, mind. I had in mind a temporary boycott, like those silly No-Gas Days that are supposed to bring the oil companies to heel, and might if we didn't all fill our tanks the day before. For just one Christmas, what if all the downtrodden consumers agreed to observe the holidays in some fashion that didn't lead to bankruptcy, societal bloat and environmental ruin?
My personal Christmas wouldn't be religious; that's just not important to me. It would include family, a few friends, maybe a football game at the park or on television. If you want to devote it to worship, though, we still have something in common: Neither of us needs to spend ourselves into sleeplessness.
But that, as I said, was back when I had dreams and thought the world could be perfect. These days I'll settle for just not being pissed off.
I felt bad about selling out like that, and reluctantly mentioned it to a friend.
"So?" he said. "Not being pissed off is the best anybody can hope for."
It follows, then, that not pissing people off is the best anyone can do. Which brings us, willy-nilly, to the Eight Rules You Must Not Break Between Now and Christmas. Remember these and see if your life goes more smoothly:
8. Take the first open parking spot.
You've seen it many times: In search of a slot that will save 15 seconds of walking, a driver will spend five minutes idling while somebody finds her keys, opens the SUV, unloads four shopping bags, straps two kids in, then makes a cell phone call before pulling out.
Take the open spot. You'll be ahead in the end.
7. Avoid boorishness.
Wednesday in front of Kohl's, I saw six cars back up behind a man who idled at the red curb while his wife (or whatever) went into the store. He sat there despite the Christmas crush and a couple of polite taps on a couple of horns. When somebody finally leaned on the button, he waved impatiently and whined, "I'm waiting for my wife."
The guy behind, in an old pickup with a push bumper, dropped into low range, edged up behind the offending vehicle and gently pushed it a few feet.
"Move it or I'll shove your *** into the street," he bellowed.
Any responsible adult, of course, has to deplore this kind of vigilantism. For my part, I gave the guy a thumbs up and envied him the rest of the day.
6. Remember you're shopping in the 21st century.
The clerk doesn't know if a garment runs large, small or true to size, whether it will shrink, fade or stretch or how it should be washed. The clerk can barely find the break room. Do the best you can from the label and keep the receipt.
5. Never count out more than five coins.
If the tab is $11.23 and you have a quarter, whip it out. If it's $11.88 and you have three dimes, five nickels and 33 pennies, keep it to yourself.
4. The clerk is not hitting on you. It's her job to be nice.
3. When the checker says, "How are you today?" she doesn't want a detailed answer.
"Fine" is fine. Keep the line moving.
2. Can't find something? By all means ask. The employees are there to help.
The time to ask, though, is when you're out on the floor, wandering among the merchandise. If you wait until the checker has rung up all your items, has a finger poised over the TOTAL key and asks, "Will there be anything else?" the only acceptable answer is a clear, "No, thank you."
1. Think ahead.
You're making a purchase, right? You'll have to pay, right? While the clerk is ringing things up, then, would be a convenient time to find your wallet/cash/debit card/checkbook, and perhaps a pen, and--dare those behind you hope?--even your ID. Just on the off chance that you might be asked to show it, I mean.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cabela's a bust for Boomtown?

The Reno City Council, or at least that portion of it that's still buying the All-Growth-Is-Good argument that was so relevant in the 18th century, may have found another way to undermine its own ideology with the giveaways that brought Cabela's to Verdi.
"It's been really slow," a Boomtown employee said this week. "Cabela's hasn't done nearly what we expected."
For those who think "a Cabela's" means to sing without accompaniment, here's a refresher: Cabela's is a large, Midwest-based supplier of mostly hunting and fishing gear. It's not a sporting goods store in the stick-and-ball sense, but if your outdoor interests run to blood sports, you can find the implements you'll need to take down everything from bluegill to Cape buffalo.
Don't read a value judgment into this; I'm not making one. I've already spent a couple of hundred dollars in the Verdi store. For my everyday outdoor needs, though, I'll stick with REI.
To entice Cabela's to Reno, the City Council cut a deal. I've forgotten the details, and they aren't important enough here to look them up; it was pretty much a standard business-government accommodation, involving tax breaks, annexation (against the wishes of most Verdi residents including--full disclosure--me) and favorable zoning, all based, if memory serves, on a projection of about 4 million customers a year.
That seemed, at first, a doable number (I know "doable" isn't a real word, but it fits here). Cabela's is a huge draw among people among whom it's a huge draw. I pulled into the parking lot of the store in Sidney, Neb., at 6:30 on a Tuesday morning a few years ago, and there were nearly 400 people waiting for the doors to open,
Then the projections began to slide. Last time I read about it, a year or so ago, I think it was down to 2.5 million (see previous comment about specifics). A highly-placed city official, unnamed here for the same reason the Boomtown employee is unnamed, told me he was thinking of asking the Council to reconsider its deal.
By then they were moving dirt, though, and the colony of yellow-bellied marmots that's entertained generations of Verdi kids had been paved over, and the city official kept his mouth shut. So now we have a store.
Government did what it could to pump the thing up. For a week before it opened, for instance, highway signs notified drivers that "EVENT PARKING" should use Exit 4. Nobody in my neighborhood, a mile from the Exit 4, knew what event they were talking about, but it certainly generated interest that wouldn't have been there otherwise.
I went up on opening weekend, and it was busy but not jammed. The following week I passed through again, and I saw lots of shoppers but, I thought, relatively few buyers.
Yesterday, Monday, I went in to buy some hiking socks and wandered through the place. There were people looking at the mounted animals (taxidermy, not demonstrations of breeding habits) and admiring the fish in the big aquarium, but in the checkout line I had only about a one-minute wait, and the two customers ahead of me covered their purchases with single $20 bills.
Done with that, I walked over to Boomtown to buy a San Francisco paper and pick up a cup of coffee. That's where I met the employee, who saw my Cabela's bag and revealed what I have no reason to doubt: At least for now, at least for Boomtown, Cabela's is a bust. The marmots died in vain.
"No help at all?" I asked. "Those stores draw a lot of people."
"Maybe a little in the restaurant," he said. "I guess they're not gamblers."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

And a merry Christmas to all but three of you...

Out to the Leviathan of retailers this morning, and I wasn't 20 feet inside the door before I recalled the long-ago words of a friend.
"I don't go to W**m**t," she said, "because every time I do I see children being abused."
To be fair, that was back before the W-store was accepted by soccer moms and latte dads. You might go there, but you didn't want anybody you knew to see you there.
I still feel a little like that, to tell the truth, mostly because of the Arkansas company's alleged abuses of employees. But it does seem to be making efforts, and as the public consciousness has begun to green up, Walmart has made motions in that direction, too. I've begun to look upon it as the Arnold Schwarzenegger of retail stores: I suspect they're both motivated more by polls than by ideology, but if they're doing what I want them to, do I have the luxury of caring that it's for the wrong reasons?
So I walk in the door, and as I pick up some coffee at the in-house McDonalds, I overhear a couple with two pre-school children.
"Finish your Coke," the woman said, "or I'll smack your ass."
This is the kind of thing that makes me think you ought to have to pass a test before you can become pregnant.
I'm not a McDonalds-hater. I can enjoy a Quarter Pounder any time of the day or night, and the only french fries I like better than the clown's came from my mother's kitchen.
What logic, though, what sort of thinking, lies behind a statement like this?
First, there's the Coke. McDonalds has orange juice and milk, which have their nutritional drawbacks but at least aren't sugar water. Why would you order Cokes for two toddlers, and if you did it as a treat, why would you do it at 7:30 in the morning? And if you did that, why would you insist that they finish the Cokes? And if you did insist for some reason (maybe it really does help the starving children in India), why would you threaten to beat them if they didn't comply?
So that was one. Here's two: In the grocery section, where a woman was filling her cart with crap like Lunchables, ranch-flavored chips and Pop Tarts, I saw one of her kids swat at the other one, presumably for some offense I missed.
"Don't hit!" she snapped, slapping at the miscreant. "Do you want another spanking?"
So that was two. Here's three: As I loaded my car, a woman in the next space left her cart on the incline and opened the back of her SUV. As she passed sacks into the back of it, her son, maybe 2 years old, rocked back and forth in his seat. The motion started the cart rolling toward me, and I reached out and stopped it.
"Runaway baby," I said when she approached. "He nearly escaped."
"Runaway baby" is a stock phrase at my house, from a game I played with my kids 20 years ago. I didn't expect her to know that, but I did sort of anticipate a smile or some other acknowledgment of my hero status.
"You take care of your kid, a**wipe, and I'll take care of mine."
I bit back my first response, which ended in "you," and my second, which began "Kiss my." I considered saying "Merry Christmas," but discarded it as too wimpy, and probably too subtle.
"I'm sure you will," I said finally. "And it's a shame."
I should have gone with the first one.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Bush: Willful ignorance or just a liar? Discuss...

More on this later, unless not, but I've been listening to the fluffle over Bush/Iran/nukes/Cheney as Puppetmaster (like that's a new concept), and nobody seems to be addressing what looks to me like the main point:
Bush either knew and lied, or he didn't know. There are no other possibilities.
For the life of me, I can't decide which is more likely or which would be worse: A president who pays no attention, or one who just makes crap up to support his ideology.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Won't be long before the underwear are flying

Well, now we know how long it takes to get bored with being a househusband.
Two and a half days.
That’s how long I’ve been retired, and how long I’ve been tending to the duties I always envisioned would be handled by a supermodel with a penchant for scrubbing and a nice touch with sauces.
Two and a half days, I confidently report, is enough.
I’m not a stranger to the job. I’ve done a third of our cooking forever. Terri hates laundry and I hate washing dishes, so we accommodate each other there. Most other tasks, we either alternate or work in what probably looks like companionable silence, though a better phrase might be “sullen acquiescence.”
Our problem is with . . . well, cleaning. We just don’t--what’s the phrase I want?—we don’t do it.
Our retirement plan, insofar as we had one, was that I’d work two or three more years, Terri would finish out her book contract (you’ll want to check that out, by the way,; someone you know would love a few hundred copies for Christmas), then we’d ease into our sunset years together.
As things turned out, my sunset years arrived by corporate fiat in the same week her contract for eight more books arrived via FedEx. That made my decision easier, but she had issues with staying home to work while I toured Europe, or for that matter went to McDonalds.
“You’re not going alone,” she said flatly.
“So I can take a date, then?”
We haven’t stayed married for 34 years by being rigid, though. We worked out a compromise: She’d bring home the bacon, and I’d do everything else.
It embarrasses me to admit how complacent I was about that. Like many males, I figured I’d bring the efficiency and organization of the workplace to bear on the problems of the household. Couple of hours a day, cut to 45 minutes after I got the hang of it, and I’d be rolling in gravy.
I forgot that the reason I became a columnist instead of getting a real job is that it requires neither organization nor efficiency. For 25 years, I’ve sat down three times a week, typed the first 500 words that popped into my head and knocked off. Terri, meanwhile, taught a generation of high school kids, raised two children to unindicted adulthood and, in her spare time, created worlds in her head that people are willing to pay to enter.
The first day, I walked the dog, went into town for coffee and cooked a great dinner, a recipe I’d been wanting to try. Not a bad two hours’ work. Somehow, though, it consumed 10 hours.
I learn from my mistakes, though: On Day 2, I tackled an upstairs room that’s accumulated a few stray items over the years . . . OK, a few feet of stray items. One kid moved out, one moved in, and when she left again, an avalanche of thong underwear, tank tops and shoes spread across the floor. I sorted, boxed, muttered, stacked, hauled a load to the Salvation Army and one to the dump. Then, as I drove home at what felt like about 1 p.m. but was actually 4:30, my cell phone rang.
“I’m on my way,” Terri said. “What’s for dinner?”
”It’s a surprise.” It’s a frozen pizza, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Today was Day 3. Spurred by patches of visible floor, I went outside for a lawn rake and used it to gather the remaining clothing into a pile (I’m not making this up. A rake works great for moving small items around on a carpet). I bundled them into two trash bags and stacked them by the door, freeing 120 square feet of floor space.
“All right,” I thought. “That’s a solid day’s work.” It was 10:30 a.m.
I knocked off anyway. Tomorrow, though, I’ll get organized. Then watch the thongs fly.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Whatever happened to checking the facts?

You may have read, on a Reno-based Web site I won't name (its initials are rgj), of a program to cheer up wounded soldiers by sending them a note or letter.
"Some of these fine men and women have been severely wounded," the brief said in what sounds like a slightly rephrased news release. "(They) will live the remainder of their lives without arms, legs, feet and/or hands. Some have lost their hearing or have been blinded . . . ."
Absolutely true. As a medic in another war, I saw hundreds of soldiers and civilians like that. I remember many of them clearly four decades later; that's one reason I wonder sometimes if war is really a good idea.
"By sending them a gift and a note or letter," the story goes on, "we let them know that we have not forgotten them and that we are grateful for their tremendous sacrifices." It lists--accurately, I'm sure--several gift suggestions: Candy and treats, telephone cards and "current release DVDs." I'd add bottled salsa to that--military food is famously bland, and I used to love getting spicy stuff in my CARE packages from home. There's an address for "Any Recovering Soldier" that supposedly will get the packages in the vicinity of the intended recipients, where they'll be distributed.
What's not to like about this idea? Support the war or oppose it, those are somebody's babies lying among the scampering rodents in those neglected, Bush-strangled VA hospitals.
The chance of any wounded soldier actually receiving one of these gifts, though, apparently is zero., among many other sources, notes:
"The U.S.Postal Service will not accept mail to 'Any Soldier' or 'Any Wounded Soldier' or the like because . . . it could be providing a conduit for those who might do harm to services members. Such offerings are either returned to the sender . . . or donated to charities. Similarly, military hospitals will not accept letters, cards or packages addressed in such manner."
Walter Reed Army Medical Centers confirmed the information in an official statement, citing a 2001 decision by the Department of Defense. If you want to help the troops, it said, "please consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops." You can find a list at

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Has the Bush turnaround begun?

When the Final Accounting is done, one thing is certain: George W. Bush will be among the worst presidents of all time.
It's absolutely beyond debate now. Bottom three, for sure (I can't think of who might lift him out of dead last, but I took American History too long ago to say there wasn't somebody so blind, depraved and addled by his own ideology that he might boost Dubya out of the cellar). Compared to Bush, Richard Nixon is Albert Einstein in shining armor, rescuing babies and bringing a cure for cancer. The American people have caught on, as polls have shown for months.
And yet there is talk of a resurgence.
Most of it so far, to be sure, has come from the Pentagon and the deepest, unmovable bowels of the Republican party. But it's beginning to spread.
"The surge is working," says the military, which executed the surge.
"Our military says the surge is working," says the GOP, which conceived the surge and has made itself the sole source of news about its effectiveness. "Al Qaeda and its North American wing, the Democrat party, are giving ground."
"The administration says the surge is working," parrot the national media, still trying to ignore the way they cowered and cringed before the frenzy of symbolic patriotism after the World Trade Center attacks. Flags fluttering from the antennae of 50 million SUVs made editors and publishers all over the country forget that their duty was not to their advertisers or stockholders, but to their readers and viewers.
Two months after the 9/11 attacks, when the president's approval hit 85 percent, I wrote that "Osama bin Laden is George Bush's best friend. If it weren't for him, Bush's approval rating would be 32 percent and falling."
It took awhile, but 60 days ago the president's approval was 32 percent and falling. I gloated unbecomingly.
It isn't much above that now . . . but the slide seems to have stopped. After just the faintest, undocumented reports of unspecified "improvement" in Iraq, a Pew poll has found that "nearly half" the American people believe the war is going well, up from one-third in June. That's had its effect on those Democrats, still a majority, who've lacked the stones to take on the president or the wit to deal with charges that questioning his policies is treason. Some of them now are backing away from criticism of the war, fearful that if the U.S. salvages something the GOP can call a victory, they'll be counted among the defeated.
And the president's approval ratings are creeping up. The San Francisco Chronicle speculated Sunday that if there's a perception the troop surge has worked, "President Bush could be off the ropes and Republicans back on the offense. The Democratic Congress and presidential candidates could lose their footing on their biggest issue, and U.S. troop commitments and war funding could be set on a higher, more permanent trajectory."
Well, wouldn't that be good news?
Violence in Iraq has not ended. It is now about where it was in January 2006, when the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra set off what most agree was a civil war: Just your average 50-or-so-a-day dead folks.
According to the pollsters, though, if things continue as they are until spring, when Gen. David Petraeus says the surge must end, then all the lies, the years of administration bungling, the equivalent of the population of Sparks dead in the desert, two generations of Americans buried in debt and hatred for the U.S. spread throughout the Muslim World, all will count for nothing. The news will be good, and the president will be off the ropes.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

How deep is that Slough of Despond, anyway?.

Leaving a semi-public job after nearly 30 years turns out to be a very public process.
My Former Employer was scooped on my departure by other local media (which is not to say I regard the event as newsworthy except in a personal way). If the Reno News & Review and Channel 8 hadn't noted an exodus of experience from the F.E., I think it would have brushed it off with a brief on Page 9 and hoped it would pass unnoticed.
But that's not the story. The story is that as soon as word got out, people began talking to me about it. Nearly every one of them, once they got past the pro forma "Lucky bastard" or "I'm so sorry," wanted to speculate on how the trend of hacking back the workforce was affecting them. Based on what I've heard over the last couple of weeks, hardly anybody feels secure in his or her job anymore, and almost no one assumes impregnability from "market forces" or whatever euphemism is in fashion these days for laying off workers until the job can't quite be done the way it should.
I'm not generally a big Office Morale guy. You get paid for work because it's something you wouldn't do voluntarily. It's nice if you don't hate going in every day, but if there weren't somewhere you'd rather be, they'd call it "play" and charge you for it.
No good can come, though, of keeping your employees on the edge of either collapse or rebellion all the time.
In the last three weeks, I've seen that everywhere: supermarkets, television stations, a hospital and notably in state offices, where initial skepticism over Gov. Jim Gibbons has turned to outright loathing.
If I'd thought about it, I would have expected it among people 50 and older. I can't even criticize it much, from a business standpoint. My F.E. can hire two young reporters for what it was paying me, and they'll do three times the work with half the detectable bitching.
The work may not be of exactly the same quality. Increasingly, though, across society, that doesn't matter. A generation of Americans has become inured to crappy service and declining standards; most people won't even notice. And most of those who do won't bother to complain, because who wants 15 minutes of a recorded voice saying, "Your call is very important to us "?
Baby Boomers all over town, and presumably all over society, are becoming aware of that. Many of those lucky enough to be able to get out are doing it. Many of the rest are hunkering down and trying to ride it out, counting the days until the kids get out of college.
What surprised me was the number of younger people caught in the same noose. Up there a few lines I mentioned "detectable" bitching. You don't hear much of that from young workers because they know they're a supervisor's whim away from unemployment.
Many of their smiles are forced, though. They've seen how big-B Business works these days--they've never known anything else--and they've lost faith in the American Dream. They're hired cheaply, put on part-time so they don't qualify for benefits, get plugged into undersized staffs where they're expected to do too much work with minimal training.
It's all fun and games when they're fresh out of school, with a little apartment and a halfway cool car. As they pass through their 20s and begin to realize they aren't immortal, though, they look to the future, and what they see is bleak. There's little indication they'll have even the basics their parents take for granted: a home, security, affordable care when they're sick. Hard work no longer guarantees success, because the minute the shareholders start to whine, you'll be on the street anyway. Might as well do just enough to get by, spend three hours a day on YouTube and keep an eye out for the next crappy job. We're going to regret this someday.