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Collected editorials

The Good Citizen Harter

I don’t make this stuff up

According to a Reuters story a branch of the Bank of America refused to cash a check for an armless man because he didn’t give them a thumbprint. It seems that his wife had an account there and had written a check for him to cash. The bank said that sans thumbprint he could only cash the check if he opened an account there or if he produced his wife.

I tell you, I don’t make this stuff up.

The Good Citizen Harter

The resemblance of the title of this month’s editorial to the title of a novel assigned to English students back in the days when literacy was part of the curriculum is entirely accidental.

August certainly has been a busy month for good citizen Harter. For example, I have compiled a resource guide for Highmore and Outlaw County. It’s quite a useful little document if I do say so myself. (And I do.) The original idea was to provide essential information for newcomers to the community. It has expanded beyond that to be a resource guide for all kinds of services available in Highmore and Hyde County. It has information about everything from who to talk to get connected to utilities, to call to get your drive way plowed to where the ATMs are. Think of it as a yellow pages on steroids. It may be that this is something that can only be done in a small community. It is a lot of work to gather all of the information, decide what belongs in it, and compile it into a readable document. In a city the sheer volume would be prohibitive.

Highmore has both a community garden and a farmer’s market. They are on a modest scale and the labor is all volunteer labor. I participate in the weeding and harvesting, though I admit that there are others that do more of the work. I am one of the people who works the stands at our farmer’s market. We do this once a week from 4:30 to 6:30 on Wednesday afternoon. The scale is modest. We set up a couple of folding tables and pile them high with boxes of vegetables and baked goods. Last year the farmer’s market was me selling vegetables from the garden. This year there are several people preparing and selling garden produce. We aren’t the only ones there; there is a chap who is selling grass fed beef. As I say, it’s modest, but it’s fun and people get to shop a bit for produce that is fresh from the dirt.

Hyde County is establishing a community transit system. This is a project driven by Deborah Rinehart, who is the real Good Citizen in these parts. The deal on this is that there is a government program to subsidize rural community transit systems. I don’t know all of the details on this so don’t ask me. What it amounts to is that the program puts up about 80% of administrative costs (keeping financial records, paying for insurance, etc), 75% of vehicle purchase costs, and 50% of operating costs, i.e., gas, driver’s salaries (if any), and maintenance. The community ponies up the rest. Part of the community share comes from fares, although these are meant to be low and do not cover costs. The remainder has to be raised within the community, either by grants from the local governments, or by community fund raising or both.

Please to understand that this a modest operation. The River Transit people in Pierre loaned us a couple of vans while we were get organized. There was no money for drivers – part of the deal was that we had to provide volunteer drivers. This was no problem. She Who Talks People Into Doing Things found a couple of fish, er, volunteers. The, ah, volunteers really enjoyed hauling people around. This was good. Unfortunately the first round of volunteers discovered that they didn’t want to continue hauling people around. She Who Talks People Into Doing Things went to plan B – she called upon her ever reliable volunteer, the fish that bites at all baits.

That would be me.

So it is that I have been driving people around, mostly to Miller and Pierre where people have medical appointments of various kinds. The community has gotten behind this project and apparently we are going to get our own vehicles and pay our drivers. I can summarize all of this with a little bit of Q and A.

Q: Well, Mr. Harter, what did you do before you retired?
A: I ran a small computer software company that provided key software for major corporations.

Q: That sounds very interesting. What do you do now that you’re retired?
A: I drive a bus.

Q: Er, ah, yes. How fascinating.

Parsing a sentence

One of the classic sentences that cunning linguists are asked to parse is “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

I don’t quite understand why this is a problem. Apples and oranges fly like bananas, i.e., badly or not at all. In general, fruit flies in the same manner as bananas fly. When thrown fruit flies in an erratic trajectory and not very far. On the other hand time and arrows fly swiftly on a trajectory. The point seems clear enough. The captious might object that the comparison is awkward, that fruit and time do not coordinate. A deeper reading will show that this is not so, but I will leave that to the reader.

Ron White on vegetarianism

I did not climb to the top of the food chain just to eat a carrot.
– Ron White

Sleepless in Seattle

One of those lessons in life that one should learn is that one should always have a friend who has a fifty foot boat. Our Lady of the Large Black Dog is such a person. She has a friend named Nita who is married to a man named Tom who has a fifty foot boat. Nita is a good South Dakota gal. (It seems that adult females in South Dakota are gals; there are some obscure rules here that I haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet.) Nita and Deb used to ride on wagon trains together and do other things good South Dakota gals do. Some how Nita ended up in Seattle where she met and married Tom, a former vice president of Boeing. She and Tom spend much of their time on his fifty foot boat.

Nita and Tom had been urging us to come out to Seattle and share the delights of the boating life. This was not easy to do – it’s hard to find the free time for travel and vacation. However in mid August we managed to make it out for a few days.

The trip began with a drive of 250 miles to get to the airport. We have a choice in these matters. We can drive 250 miles to get to Rapid City, SD, or 190 miles to Sioux Falls, SD. These aren’t our only options – there are airports in Pierre (50 miles) and Huron (70 miles). However the latter two are puddle jumper airports with very bad connections. What is more, neither town has a kennel where we are willing to leave the Large Black Dog. So it comes down to driving to Rapid City or to Sioux Falls. In this case the connections were better from the Rapid City airport.

I think that pretty much defines South Dakota. It’s a place where you drive 250 miles to get to an airport.

Tom and Nita met us at the airport with Nita’s Cadillac Escalade pickup. I previously had no notion that there was any such thing. If you are going to drive a pickup this is definitely the way to go. We drove out to the marina where Tom’s boat was parked, er, docked. (They dock boats; it is sort of like docking pay, only different. It costs money either way.)

The plan was to go out for supper. However the first order of business was to get settled in the boat. The next order of business was to sit in the salon and chat and drink wine and nibble on cheese and horse dovers. After we had done this for a while it became clear that there was no need to go out for dinner.

Let me explain about this boat a bit. It really is quite amazing. There is a good sized room called the salon; it’s where one dines and socializes. There is a kitchen area off of it that has a fridge, a stove, a sink, and some very ingenious cabinetry. (The kitchen is actually a galley, which is what you must be sure to call it when you are on the boat.) Then there is the state room which is the master bedroom. It is large enough for a double bed and a surprisingly large amount of closet space. It also has its own head – that’s a bathroom for you land lubbers.

Towards the front of the boat there is the guest bed room. This is another state room, though I don’t recall exactly what kind. On one side there were two bunk beds, and on the other there was a top bunk, but the space beneath it was enclosed storage space. Our Lady volunteered to take the bunk above the storage space and let me have the bottom bunk. Have I mentioned that she is a wonderful lady. Count on it, she is.

There was only one slight catch. I often have trouble sleeping in my first night in a strange bed. This is particularly true when I have to go to bed at more or less the same time as every one else – my normal hours are about four hours out of sync with the rest of the world. It also is the case when the bed is very narrow (my normal sleeping habits include covering points south, north, east, and west in a bed), and even more so when the bed tilts toward the deck (that would be the floor for you land lubbers). I pushed myself up against the bulkhead and pushed a surplus of blankets into a corner and tossed and turned as best I could whilst plastered against the bulkhead, all the while hoping that I didn’t fall out of bed if ever I actually got to sleep, which I was certain that I wouldn’t.

Have you ever seen the movie, Sleepless in Seattle? Now you know what it was about. To be pedantically correct, my first night was Sleepless in DesMoines. That would be DesMoines, Washington rather than DesMoines Iowa, where Deb’s son Nick has a promising law career.

I actually did get a few hours sleep, perhaps one or two, and awoke fully rested, albeit about an hour after every one else. That morning we inspected Tom and Nita’s land based quarters. We may have done some shopping – this trip seemed to have involved an inordinate amount of shopping. She Who Shops Up A Storm could tell us – I have a bad memory for shopping, except for book stores and vintners.

The Despoiling of DesMoines having been completed we set course for Seattle. That is, Tom set course for seattle, ably assisted by Nita. My contribution was to wander about and try to stay out of the way. We arrived at Seattle and the ladies set off to despoil Seattle, accompanied by their favorite beast of burden who was there to carry packages.

That would be me.

There followed two days of intense shopping. Most of this was done at Seattle’s Farmers Market, which is somewhat larger than down town Highmore. It is an amazing place. There is a block or two of rows and rows of fresh flowers, excessively modestly priced, a wide variety of fresh food, including huge, perfectly peaches, and the fish place. Deb got to see them toss the fish. There is this sea food place where they will toss big fresh fish, e.g., salmon, over the display cases to the checkout counter. The place has become quite notorious since PETA picketed them. It seems that PETA felt they weren’t showing fish the proper respect. I might agree if fish had ever shown me proper respect.

Let it not be said that I did no shopping of my own. I got a pair of bottles of fancy olive oil and vinegar. I discovered a leftish bookstore that tickled my nostalgia for the years when I lived in the People’s Republic of Cambridge. I purchased a used copy of Davies’ “The Goldilocks Enigma” and my prize, a scholarly treatise entitled “The Mouth That Begs, Hunger, Cannibalism, and the Politics of Eating in Modern China”. I haven’t waded through it yet, but when I do I will write one of my usual brilliant reviews. The title provoked a certain amount of merriment and wonder in my hosts.

I also purchased a nice little Xmas present for She Who Wants To Open Her Presents Early, but she shan’t see it until the appropriate time.

The ladies discovered a clothing store where they spent half of eternity trying on different things. This is inevitable. I think if they were lost in the middle of a desert they could find a clothing store within half an hour. Half an hour is NOT the amount of time they spend in such places, though. All such places have chairs reserved for hapless males who must sit and wait. This one caught up on his reading.

Somewhere in the middle of the orgy of shopping and feasting we took time of to attend a play. Tom is a patron of a Seattle theater. It is a real theatre, which is to say that it has the traditional gimcrackery on the walls and ceiling. I was particularly taken with on the ceiling that was poised to fly down and consume us.

The play was a musical version of the movie, “Catch me if you can”. What is more, this was the world premier. Apparently Tom’s theatre is one of the starting points for the pre Broadway tryout circuit. It was quite well done and has a fair shot at making it on Broadway.

Having despoiled Seattle we went off to a bay where we parked, er, anchored overnight. I think that Tom wanted to convince us that they didn’t spend all of there time in marinas. In the morning Nita and Deb went off kayaking. Nita and Tom do that regularly. This was Deb’s first time. I volunteered to stay on board and make sure that the big boat didn’t sink. Tom and Nita told Deb how wonderful kayaking is and how easy it is. There were entirely truthful except that there were a couple of details that they were silent about, namely getting in the kayak and getting out. The thing is, you can’t step into a kayak. You sort of have to roll into the kayak from the boat when getting in and roll out of the kayak into the boat when getting. This may not sound easy but trust me, it sounds a lot easier than it is.

They managed to get her into a kayak without too much difficulty. Once in, she decided that it was a wonderful experience. She and Nita paddled about the bay for several hours inspecting sea life as it is lived in the sea. Then came the moment of truth – she had to get back into the boat. They had forgotten to mention that getting out of a kayak is much trickier than getting into it. (Actually they hadn’t forgotten it at all.) After several attempts by Deb to maneuver her kayak underneath Tom’s boat she managed to extract herself from the kayak without falling into the bay. The process was, well, interesting. The final afront to her dignity came when she learned that Tom had proposed that this would be a good time for Nita to practice on lifting somebody aboard with the winch.

Once we had everybody back on board we set off to Gig harbor where we dined on fish and chips. Naturally there was some shopping. The rituals of making port completed, we went back to DesMoines where we caught a good night’s sleep. The next morning we flew back to South Dakota.

I guess one can sleep in Seattle after all.


In order to live off of a garden
you practically have to live in it.

To Serve Man

In the Humanoids the all powerful robots are required to “serve and obey, and guard men from harm”. So how do all powerful robots serve man?

In Japan they are doing clever things with robots. A recent development is the wine tasting robot. The robot doesn’t actually taste the wine. According to an AP article the robot uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of objects placed near its left arm. It can identify dozens of brands of wine, and a variety of cheeses and hors d’oeuvres. Not only can it identify the kind of wine, it can tell you what kind of cheese would go good with it.

There are still some glitches, or at least the author of the article thought they were glitches – “When a reporter’s hand was placed against the robot’s taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.” These are not mistakes – the robot correctly identified long pig.

So how do robots serve man? With fava beans.

Blame NESFA for this one.

This page was last updated September 9, 2009.

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Collected editorials