Documented Worker, al-Qaida, Inc.

News Item: The picture that emerges from what is one of the largest stashes of al-Qaida documents to be made public shows a rigid bureaucracy…obsessed with documenting the most minute expenses. (Associated Press, December 30)

To: Field Commanders with al-Qaida in the Bowels of the Great Satan

From: AQ Home Office

Re: Expense account procedures

Reminding agents in the field of the requirement to submit expense records in triplicate to ensure prompt reimbursement. Per section 3.0247 of the Employee Handbook, “expense account rectitude” determines 20 percent of one’s Lifetime Achievement Bonus, rounded up, of course, to the nearest whole virgin.

To: Home Office

From: Yahya Khalid, Commander, Big 10/16 Branch AQ-BGS

Re: December 2013 expense summary:

  • Macaroni — $4.50
  • Meat — $10.75
  • 2 cartons tea — $1.20
  • 2 soaps — $1.60
  • AXE Deodorant Body Spray Apollo® — $6
  • Domicile doorman (a) — $25
  • Sporting headgear (yellow, triangular, simulated cheese design) — $19
  • Repair of car — $88
  • Taxicab fare — $13
  • Domicile doorman (b) — $30
  • Fighter advances — $490
  • Trip for spreading propaganda — $200

To: Yahya Khalid, Commander, Big 10/16 Branch AQ-BGS

From: Abi Abou Omar, Director, AQHO Accounting

Re: Clarification request — December 2013 AQ-BGS expenses

Require explanation of the highlighted items in your last expense report (attached). Failure to provide adequate expense rationales as indicated is punishable by the forced detachment of the terminal, prehensile portion of the offender’s upper left limb, per section 8.111 of the Employee Hand-Relinquishment Book.

To: Abi Abou Omar, Director, AQHO Accounting 

From: Yahya Khalid, Commander, Big 10/16 Branch AQ-BGS

Re: December 2013 expense justifications

In the name of The Martyr Who Now Resides in the Uncharted Depths of the North Arabian Sea, I swear that the following expenditures represent true and fundamental usages of allocated organizational funds, essential for successful, undetected surveillance of the Great Satan. Specifically–

  • Item AXE Body Spray: Scented aerosol to mask the odors of the infidel masses. (In this case, the capitalist honorific ® is well-earned.)
  • Item doorman (a): Monthly gratuity required in exchange for the pretense of ignorance of tenants’ arrivals/departures and/or non-conversance in English in response to inquiries from authorities.
  • Item headgear: Field disguise required for surreptitious movement among the indigenous peoples of northern dairy regions.
  • Item car repair: Overhaul of satellite radio receiver to restore daily access to inspirational music channel Jihadi Jam.
  • Item taxicab: Transport whilst car in shop. Unsolicited excess blank receipt forms attached as evidence of routine Western corruption.
  • Item doorman (b): Monthly “informant trust-building” expense for participation in weekend gambling rituals involving foot-ball, the local equivalent of buzkashi, which substitutes an inflated swine-skin bladder for the customary headless goat carcass.
  • Item fighter advances: Monthly payments for tent readiness expert, daily sustenance preparation specialist, tea wrangler, and massage-adept security professionals (2).
  • Item propaganda trip: Field research into the objectivization of woman by means of the rhythmic self-removal of traditional garments. Expense covers printing of shaming flyers to be placed on the windscreens of patrons’ parked cars in addition to multiple visits to ascertain the proper number of flyers needed on “2-4-1 Night”.

To: Yahya Khalid, Commander, Big 10/16 Branch AQ-BGS

From: Abi Abou Omar, Director, AQHO Accounting

Re: Graphic documentation request — December 2013 AQ-BGS expenses

Approval of “propaganda trip” expense reimbursement requires the submission of photographic evidence of aforementioned female degradation, delivered to the accounting director’s personal Dropbox site. Praise be The Almighty Limited Liability Corporatehood.


Yawn, Ouisconsin

Here’s an excerpt from my soon-to-be released unauthorized catalog of spurious knowledge about the Ouisconsin Territory. (The inspiration, W. T. Purdy’s 1909 “March-Song and Two-Step,” is better known as the University of Wisconsin fight song.)


Yawn, Ouisconsin, 
Yawn, Ouisconsin
Plunge onto that couch
Gorge on chips and cheesy dip
To exercise your jaws 
Yawn, Ouisconsin, 
Yawn, Ouisconsin
Napping’s not a crime
Catch, fellows, forty winks
Before bed-time

Forgotten books: Big Red

Safe in an armchair, contemplating Nature, red in tooth and claw…

I was raised in a community that considered hunting for food to be as natural as driving a car or tractor. I didn’t hunt, but I knew the basics of gun ownership. As a kid I even once qualified for the National Rifle Association’s basic marksmanship certificate (way back when the NRA was primarily a gun safety organization).

Big Red cover Similarly I never owned a dog in my youth, but I knew what it was like to be around dogs, to have them underfoot, and making noise, and nosing in the grass for something to eat and then roll in.

I don’t remember how I discovered Jim Kjelgaard, or which of his nearly 50 juvenile books I read first. Big Red is the one that sticks in my mind, although when I re-opened it for the first time since the 1960s, I didn’t remember much plot or character detail. What did surprise me was how quickly the book drew me into the adventure of a seventeen-year-old Danny Pickett and his champion Irish setter. Surprising, mostly because Big Red features the kind of stirring, archaic prose that might’ve inspired a young Teddy Roosevelt:

Line drawings, Shannon Stirnweis.

Any mongrel with four legs and the ability to run could hunt varmints. Danny looked fondly at the big setter. The first man who had dreamed had dreamed of a dog to hunt birds, and to make Red a varmint dog would almost be betrayal of that man and all the others who had striven to make the breed what it was.

What makes this potential fustiness go down so well is the homely speech of the outdoorsmen who live harmoniously in Kjelgaard’s imaginary wilderness:

Ross [Danny’s father] gulped, and then grinned. “Don’t even trouble your head about me. I’m no tenderfoot deer hunter, as has to git his game the first day or he don’t git it.”

The result is an adventure on the scale of Treasure Island or Captains Courageous.

Line drawings, Shannon Stirnweis.Like them, Big Red is firmly a chronicle of its time–earnest and epic.

Tellingly, the animals in Danny’s world are heavily anthropomorphized. Danny lives in a world were “monster bears” exhibit “customary cunning”:

The savage, silent, head-swinging bear still roamed the Wintapi, an implacable, hating enemy of all the humans who trod there.

Kjelgaard’s vivid images can stop a reader in his tracks with their precision: “A couple of crows cawed raucously from the top of a beech, and flew on the devil’s business that their kind are always about.”

Crows have their place, however, as does all life. The book presents class hierarchy as an unquestionable given. Danny calls the wolverine that raids his trapline an “Injun devil” with provincial thoughtlessness. And Danny and his father live “by the grace of Mr. Haggin” on the wild edge of their wealthy patron’s “carefully nurtured” estate.

Line drawings, Shannon Stirnweis.The book is unabashedly masculine. Its only female character is one of Mr. Haggin’s managers, a “quality woman” visiting from Philadelphia who commits the cardinal sin of valuing Red only as a decorative possession. The bulk of the remaining 200-plus pages focusses on the important manly concerns of trackin’, trappin’, skinnin’, shootin’, fightin’, and rustlin’ up some hearty grub.

Yet for all the shortcomings of its age, Big Red is still worth reading.

Big Red is a detailed catalog of outdoor craft. Danny is an excellent woodsman, whether bleeding a dead bull (one of the bear’s victims) to preserve its meat for the landowner, or outwitting a bear on the run. Even the book’s exaggerated anthropomorphism is grounded in a detailed knowledge of animal behavior that makes its many descriptions pulse with life.

And a young reader could do a lot worse for a role model. Red’s journey from raw potential to disciplined perfection is the result of Danny’s fundamental kindness and unwavering vision.

Ross scoffed at the notion that a whipping would hurt him, but Danny knew better. Red had depths of feeling a sensitivity that he had seen in no other dog, and he was proud, He wouldn’t bear the lash any more than would a proud man.

Line drawings, Shannon Stirnweis.Danny’s trust pays off. In maturing, Red’s good nature blooms, as does his selfless courage in defending his beloved Danny from the mortal threats that lurk in the wilderness. Their united battle to defeat the marauding bear provides the ultimate measure of their partnership.

The best way to appreciate Danny Pickett as a protagonist it to compare him to his fictional contemporary, the far more well known Holden Caulfield. That famously cynical, rude, superficial, selfish, narcissistic twit is Danny’s antithesis.

In contrast, Danny embodies the highest traits of his species–smart, hard-working, uncomplaining, generous, and brave. The kind of honorable young man who deserves the hero worship of the noblest of dogs and the most jaded of contemporary readers.

Why I read the daily newspaper comics

When I was a kid, we called them “the funny pages” whether they were or not. I still read them daily, although I’m starting to skip some, especially when my grandson and I curl up with “the funnies” together. You try explaining Dr. Morgan to a three-year-old–it’s beyond my abilities.

Why bother with the daily comics any more? I know they’re a ridiculous waste of time, but sublime moments like the one below make it all worthwhile. Too bad that Roy Lichtenstein couldn’t see this panel.


Background: This is part of the current storyline about spousal abuse, the less common kind. Despite being a year older than I am, Rex Morgan is still pushing the envelope.

Her and me are on the way

Recently a friend and I were discussing what’s known in some circles as “substandard English.”

To be specific: Her and me were having a little conversation about “her and me.”

My friend confessed to thinking poorly of native speakers who habitually violate rules of grammar. One of the most grating errors for her was the use objective pronouns as the subjects of a sentence (For example, “Him and me are having an argument.”) My friend felt badly about her reaction, but said that she couldn’t control it, even with transgressors she thought well of otherwise.

Her-and-meI commiserated. A sentence such as “Him and me went to the mall” has a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard quality to my ear. But while I agreed that this particular usage was lamentable, I predicted that it would become acceptable English within our lifetimes.

If a language is alive and well, changes are inevitable. (Latin’s not evolving much these days.) But that doesn’t mean that all changes come easily.

On the one hand, changes that are useful, such as words to describe technological developments, will be quickly absorbed. They don’t sound wrong, they just sound new.

But changes that aren’t useful, such as the use of “her and me” as paired sentence subjects, will meet resistance from everyone for whom they sound incorrect.

Curiously, speakers who would say “him and me ate breakfast” would never say “me ate breakfast” or “him ate breakfast.” Apparently using a single objective pronoun as a subject still sounds improper even to the language barbarians among us.

That’s why, on October 7, while scanning a brief item in the “On Campus” section of the Wisconsin State Journal, I was stunned to encounter the following passage:

Her and others in the Hmong community criticized the university…

and worse, because it seemed a further degradation:

Her is a Madison-based advocate…

I choked on my coffee. If this was acceptable to my local newspaper, then my prediction was fulfilled and my lifetime was going to be a lot shorter than I’d thought.

Then, on my way to the depths of despair, I noticed that the offending sentence referred to a man named Peng Her. Relief was immediate. Not yet, I thought. Not yet.

Still, it’s only a matter of time.

Is this seat taken

I’ve signed up for the 31 Plays in 31 Days project, committing myself to daily playwriting throughout the month of August. The project includes a pre-challenge warmup of 256-(alpha-numeric)-character plays. Here’s today’s play:

    • MAN: Is this seat taken?
    • WOMAN 1: (Looks him over, frowns) Yes.
    • (Man leaves)
    • WOMAN 2: No one’s sitting there. Why’d you send him away?
    • W 1: These latecomers need to learn that we who came earlier get to decide.
    (Curtain rises on “Damned Yankees”)

What’ll it be

I’ve signed up for the 31 Plays in 31 Days project, committing myself to daily playwriting throughout the month of August. The project includes a pre-challenge warmup of 256-(alpha-numeric)-character plays. Here’s my play for July 30:

    • BARKEEP: What’ll it be?
    • PATRON 1: Wry. Make it a double.
    • B: (Smirking) “Love makes the world go wrong.” “Jesus saves; Madoff promises triple-digit returns.”
    • PATRON 2: I’ll have a white whine.
    B: (Querulous) “Why do I have to be in the minority?”

Up in smoke

I’ve signed up for the 31 Plays in 31 Days project, committing myself to daily playwriting throughout the month of August. The project includes a pre-challenge warmup of 256-(alpha-numeric)-character plays. Here’s today’s play:

    • CLERK: What can I get you?
    • GUY: Cigarettes. Carton of Marlboros. And a lottery ticket.
    • C: Sure. You must be feeling lucky. The odds certainly aren’t in your favor.
    • G: It’s a 40-million-dollar jackpot. Why not?
    C: I was referring to the smokes.