Murphy’s Law, Curt’s Corollaries

You know those days where everything goes perfectly, where you can do nothing
wrong and even
your
mistakes
make the world a better place? Me neither. I’m well acquainted with the opposite
sort of day, though. Sunday and Monday were both that sort of day for me. Some
things I (re)learned:

  • If something can go wrong, it will.
  • If there are a number of things that can go wrong, the thing that will
    go wrong is the thing that will make you feel stupider than any of the other
    possible wrong things.
  • A church’s air conditioner will choose the first hot—and the most highly
    attended—day of the year to stop working.
  • If you sing in your church’s praise team and you know the words and bass
    line for 49 of the group’s 50 songs, the one song you will be asked to sing
    in front of the church is the one you don’t know.
  • If you try to save money by buying an air conditioner (window unit) that
    has been labeled "return," there will be something wrong with it
    in spite of the stickers on the box proclaiming it fully intact and functional.
    This is especially
    true if:
    1. you have to carry the 63-pound (28.5kg) box up a flight of stairs.
    2. you make the purchase over the misgivings of your wife.
  • If you go back to the store and get replacement parts for the air conditioner,
    you will find when you get them home that they are for a different model
    of air conditioner.
  • If you think you can fix a leaky bathroom faucet, you can’t. (You will
    even completely forget how to spell faucet when called upon to do
    so.)
  • If you mount a waterproof CD player in the shower, it will crash into
    the tub within three minutes.
  • If you try to salvage a bad day by taking your wife out to dinner, the
    food will taste nasty to her pregnancy-enhanced taste buds.
  • If you try to salvage the evening by taking your wife to a movie, you will
    arrive at the movie fifteen minutes late instead of fifteen minutes early
    due to bad information you got from a Web site.
  • If you have a good wife, she will love you even on bad days when you’re
    feeling about two inches (5.08cm) tall.

His and Hers: Literary childhood

His and Hers is a weekly discussion of a question or topic relating
to marriage. On Friday, my wife and I each write our thoughts on the week’s
topic. I invite others to do the same with their spouses as an exercise in
celebrating marriage.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Mrs. Happy’s response

Guess How Much I Love You, because it’s precious and cute and
Curt gave me a copy for Valentine’s Day one year.

Curt’s response

The House At Pooh Corner, because it makes me grateful,
wistful, regretful, laugh-out-loud happy, tear-spillingly sad, and warmly affectionate
toward every character.

On blogging

I recently finished reading Blog by
Hugh Hewitt.
I’m a little behind the curve on that, since everyone else read and reviewed
it three months ago, but better late than never. The book deals mainly with
political blogging and the influence blogs have had on the coverage of news
stories. I
found it fascinating even
though not much of it applied to me specifically. More than anything, his diatribes
against mainstream media arrogance reminded me of my college days.

My bachelor’s degree is in journalism, but I have never worked for any sort
of journalistic enterprise. I chose journalism as a major because I wanted
to write for a living. I rejected it as a career because the more I studied
it, the more I hated it.

First of all, in order to be a journalist, you have
to eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and bleed news. A journalist is never off
duty, and I desperately wanted a job that provided a definite daily quitting
time.
I had horrible visions of being on my honeymoon when some psychopath decided
to assassinate the president a block away from my hotel. If that happened,
I’d have to leave my bride in the hotel and cover the story, and the interruption
to my honeymoon would tick me off more than the death of my country’s leader.
Anyway, my point is that professional journalists consume and are consumed
by their work, which often leads to a terrible arrogance and condescension
toward any non-journalist who dares to have an opinion about anything of public
significance. I wanted no part of that.

Second, journalists are trained to exercise "news judgment," which means
they decide what people need to know. I remember one time a guest speaker gave
a lecture to my reporting class concerning coverage of a presidential election.
He said that every election has five main issues, which are decided by the
media. I raised my hand and said, "Do you mean that the media somehow discerns
the five main issues the public cares about, then reports on them?" He answered
clearly, "No. The media decides the issues. Public sentiment doesn’t enter
into it." I remember another time I was being interviewed by a panel for a
newspaper
job, and a senior editor from The Dallas Morning News asked me about
a "quite sophisticated" (his words) essay in which I had opined that newspapers
should focus more on explaining why particular events are important than why
they happened. I told him people need to get some sort of value from their
news, and news articles don’t usually deliver that. It turns out that I was
ahead of the curve with that remarkable insight, since a lot of newspapers
were experimenting with a concept called "community journalism" that I (at
the age of 20, with no experience and only one year of journalism coursework)
described in my essay without ever having heard of it. The editor was visibly
impressed, but I didn’t get the job. It’s just as well.

Another thing is that news as it exists in newspapers, magazines, and television
does not communicate everyday reality—it focuses on aberrations of reality.
But when you eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and bleed news, your perception of
reality
is as distorted as 60 Minutes—maybe
more, because you see a lot more than what gets published. Again, I wanted
no part of that.

And lastly, most journalists make peanuts for wages. I would have been miserable
as a journalist, and I didn’t want to be miserable
and penniless.

Getting back to the book, Hewitt is pretty certain that the blogosphere is
to the mainstream media as Martin Luther is to the Catholic church. Even his
supporting
points
seem
to
argue against that, drawing a closer parallel with Gutenberg than Luther, but
whatever. Blogging certainly has an impact, and no one can credibly argue otherwise,
though many have tried. But I think the impact of blogs is not precisely what
Hewitt expounds in his book.

Blogging is journalism minus all of my objections:

  1. A guy can blog when he
    wants and rest when he wants.
  2. The public sets the agenda, not the networks, The New York Times, or Newsweek.
  3. Good bloggers can make everyday reality compelling and readable, thereby
    presenting a mostly balanced view of the world.
  4. I haven’t made any money off of blogging, but I’m not penniless.

Another plus about blogging is that a blogger doesn’t have to cover what an
editor tells him to cover. If I were writing for the Austin American-Statesman,
I wouldn’t be able to focus my efforts on celebrating marriage. I’d have to
investigate the academic performance of a University of Texas football player
or interview
an environmentalist about pollution in the natural springs or fill five inches
of newsprint with some junk about the city council. I wouldn’t be filling a
miniscule niche like I do with this blog.

One idea in the book that I had not thought about was the influence small
blogs can wield. When I began this blog back in August of 2003, I was the only
marriage blogger I was aware of. Now this blog gets about 1,300 visits per
week, according to Sitemeter. That’s not exactly spectacular in the grand
scheme of things, but there are now quite a few other blogs devoted to marriage,
and many more that
regularly
deal with the topic. Our combined readership is certainly significant, and
may some day convince people that marriage is a wonderful gift of God rather
than the aberrant plague the mainstream media portrays.

Seven years ago

May 23, 1998. I will never forget that date. The day itself is sort of a blur.
Too many things happened, too many people were involved, and too much adrenaline
flooded my brain for me to remember many details. I do remember standing at the
altar as the music started to play.

The flower girl and ring bearer, both terrifically cute, walked down the aisle
together. Then our youngest bridesmaid walked out, devastatingly adorable,
and stirred some emotions deep inside me. Then came my sister, who brought
all those emotions to the surface until they escaped in the form of tears.
I tried pushing them back as the next two bridesmaids took their places, but
the floodgates opened when the most beautiful woman I had ever seen emerged
from the back of the chapel. Her father led her to my side, where she pledged
her life to me and accepted my life in return. I didn’t stop crying until we
left the chapel, at which point she began bawling (and laughing) uncontrollably.

Matt, a friend of mine from college, acted as both a groomsman and a singer.
Since he has such an amazing gift for song, he had taken part in many other
weddings, but he told me later that mine had an abundant sense
of happiness (I think it was obvious my tears flowed from
overwhelming joy) that he had never witnessed in any other wedding. It certainly
was the happiest day of my life.

Notice that I said it was the happiest day of my life. Every day
since then has competed for that title. Not every day of marriage has been
happy, of course, but they’ve all been worthy of celebration.

RLTB

Our seventh wedding anniversary trumps blogging today. For your reading pleasure,
though, here’s a sonnet (No. 130) by William Shakespeare that we both like:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go:
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Marriage links for the week

Maggie shares a powerful
story of how grace and forgiveness toward her husband have turned her life
around: "God has changed
me. I think
he’s
just
handed
me
the miracle I’ve been waiting for, though it looks nothing like what
I thought I needed. I know I need to go to my husband and tell him how wrong
I’ve
been. I want to ask his forgiveness." Read
the whole thing
.
Seriously, read
the whole thing
.

Nancy and her husband recently celebrated their 25th
wedding anniversary
.
We will celebrate our seventh on Monday, and it sounds like we already have
a lot in common with them.

Julie Anne Fidler offers some thoughts on the
value of commitment
in the face
of divorce-level difficulties.

Violet outlines how respect
for her husband
and other Biblical principles
help her decide how personal to be on her blog. (Thanks to Irene for this link
as well as the previous three.)

If you look in the sidebar under the Marriage-Friendly heading you’ll
see a new link to a blog called Lessons
From the Road
. It’s written by Steve and is devoted to writings about marriage
and parenting. If I linked to the relevant posts there, it would end up looking
like an archive listing for the entire blog, so just go ahead and check
out the whole site
.

An article in The Detroit News explains how marrying for love creates
some interesting
social paradoxes
. (Link via Miss
O’Hara
, who also links to a great excerpt
from the book Your Wife Ain’t Your Momma.)

His and Hers: Between the moon and New York City

His and Hers is a weekly discussion of a question or topic relating
to marriage. On Friday, my wife and I each write our thoughts on the week’s
topic. I invite others to do the same with their spouses as an exercise in
celebrating marriage.

What is your favorite thing to do in New York City?

Mrs. Happy’s response

Watch people. NYC has the most eclectic mix of humanity anywhere.

Curt’s response

Go to Broadway shows. Live theater is more visceral and immediate
than film, and at $85 per ticket it’s only slightly more expensive than a
movie
and popcorn.

Marriage class

The New York Times is running
a series of articles on class divisions in the
United States. Today’s
article
(registration required) focuses on a couple who married across
class lines:

The religious difference—he is Roman Catholic, she is Jewish—posed no
problem. The real gap between them, both say, is more subtle: Mr. Croteau
comes from the working class, and Ms. Woolner from money.

The husband is a high school dropout
and a car salesman. The wife, the daughter of a doctor and a dancer, is educated
and wealthy. According to NYT, this is a problem because "in a quiet way,
people who marry across class lines are also moving outside their comfort zones,
into the uncharted territory of partners with a different level of wealth and
education, and often, a different set of assumptions about things like manners,
food, child-rearing, gift-giving and how to spend vacations."

I thought four things as I read this:

  • Pretty much every man marries out of his league. Adam did. I did. A good
    wife makes a man better than he ever could have been without her, no matter
    how much money she has.
  • The title of the article is A Marriage of Unequals with the subhead When
    Richer Weds Poorer, Money Isn’t the Only Difference
    . Maybe it’s just
    because I come from a working class background, but that strikes me as
    a little offensive. Hasn’t the Times received enough bad press
    for its hidden bias without baldly spelling it out on the front page?
  • If a religious difference is
    no problem (especially between a Catholic and a Jew) , then there’s no
    real religious difference. Why even bring it up?
  • How is this news? Or even a human interest feature story? Every couple
    in the world has to move into the uncharted territory of partners who did
    not
    grow
    up
    in the
    same
    house
    as
    each other.
    My wife
    and
    I come from
    similar backgrounds, and we’ve had to make some painful adjustments
    to our habits and assumptions.

My World Studies professor in college was a conservative Christian. He required
us to read the NYT every day because, despite its liberal slant, it was still
the finest news reporting organization in the country. I really don’t think
that’s true any more.

Alive, well, and living on Long Island

In a recent comment,
my father asked for an update on the
goose
that made
its nest outside the offices of the American Institute of Physics. I have been
meaning to write a summary of my experience with that goose, and this seemed
as good a time as any to finally do it. What follows is sort of a diary of
my observations. If any of my words concerning the goose seem harsh, please
keep in mind that I was an unemployed expectant father at the time and had
some stresses of my own to deal with.


Monday | April 11
| 2005

There was a goose in front of the office building when I got to work this
morning. I’m a little afraid of geese because they’re big enough to inflict
serious
bodily damage, but they’re still birds, which means you would
feel guilty if you kicked one. It’s a no-win situation for a mammal like me.
Anyway,
this
goose
was standing
to the left of some steps I needed to descend, so I passed him as far to the
right as I could. He paid no attention, which was fine with me.

At lunchtime, I went out to my car to get some change for a coke. I had my
head down as I walked down the steps, so I didn’t notice goose until
I was barely three feet away from him—close enough so that he could fracture
my right kneecap with the flick of an appendage. I kept walking purposefully,
but he had me in his sights. He stared viciously, then thrust his head forward
like a snake and hissed. I did not know until then that a bird was capable
of hissing. It scared me a little, but I kept walking and he left me alone.
A man who was loitering outside the building chuckled and said, "You walked
past his nest."

I turned around and saw that, sure enough, in the bed of greenery that bordered
the steps sat another goose, presumably on some eggs. A mental image formed
in my mind of the two geese searching for a good nesting location. The gander
sees this tidy little spot and says, "There’s the place. That’s
where we make our nest." The female replies gently, "Honey, it’s
kind of far from the water, don’t you think? And all that concrete surrounding
it might mean that humans will be around after the weekend is over. Why don’t
we try to find something a little closer to the beach?" The gander insists, "No,
no. This is the spot. The bushes and the trees are pretty. The ocean’s
just a couple of miles away. If any snakes come hunting eggs, we’ll see
them slithering long before they get close enough to do anything. And there
aren’t any people around. Don’t you worry your pretty little head.
I’ve got it all taken care of." So the female respects her mate
and—against every instinct she has—lays her eggs in that place.

And
two days later the gander is hissing at me. What a moronic bird.

Tuesday | April 12 | 2005

I hate that stupid goose. I want to hate him for his gall and his sense
of entitlement, but I don’t think that’s his problem. I think he knows he’s
in over his head. I think he knows he can’t protect his nest, his mate, or
his
eggs
from
the
thousands of humans he sees every day. I think he’s terrified all the way
down to the webbing between his toes, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
He stands
at the top of the steps daring anyone to pass within reach of his club-like
wings, trying with all his might to intimidate everyone with his aggressive
glare that he hopes veils his debilitating insecurity. He
knows
he
has
humiliated his
mate
and
is
unworthy of
her devotion. He knows he has been found lacking as a father even before
his goslings have seen the
sky,
but he
also
knows he
must
carry
on even though he’s doomed to failure. It angers him, and there’s no fixing
it, no forgiveness, no reconciliation, because he himself is the one he blames,
and rightly so. I just wish he wouldn’t
take it out on the world around him.

I don’t resent him for thinking he has the right to inhabit that spot—I
despise him for putting his family in an impossible situation. But I also feel
a little sorry for him.

Wednesday | April 13 | 2005

I can’t despise the goose any more. He’s just too pitiful. The constant stress
and self doubt have snapped some vital part of his brain. This morning he was
wandering around the courtyard spreading his wings and pecking at the air,
where I have no doubt
he saw a legion of invisible enemies. When I left, he was pecking
a parked car, vigorously defending his nest against a ghoulish reflection of
himself in the red door panel. His poor mate dutifully sat on the eggs all
day, facing
a bush so
she wouldn’t have
to meet
the stares
of passers-by.

Thursday | April 14 | 2005

When I got to work this morning, I didn’t see the gander at first. The female
was still sitting on the nest, but he had curled himself up in the middle of
the courtyard so that he looked more like
a
pile of feathers than a bird. He seemed to be inhabiting a mental dimension
somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, his body vibrating with a tension
that would not let him go, his head barely tucked beneath his wing. Four days
of unrelenting fear had pushed him to the brink. I couldn’t tell if he was
fighting for his sanity or accepting his decline into oblivion. I couldn’t
concentrate all day for worrying about him.

When I walked to my car at the end of the day, the goose was more relaxed
than he’s been all week. He was sauntering around the nest, alternately pecking
at bugs on the ground and exchanging some sort of goose communications with
the female, who had turned her back to the bush and faced the world for the
first time. I noticed that someone had placed a bowl of water and a bowl of
what I took to be goose food beside the nest. It’s amazing what one simple
act of kindness can do.

Friday | April 15 | 2005

The female’s mortification has transformed into honor.
The gander’s insecurity is now humility, his braggadocio now true confidence.
Today he strutted around nodding his head to people as they passed by (though
I may have imagined that), and I think if he could have handed out cigars he
would have. The female still sat on the nest, so I don’t think the goslings
have hatched, but the time is definitely drawing near. My stint at this office
as a temp ends today. Though I will not miss the job, I will be sorry to miss
the birth of the baby geese.

Monday | May 16 | 2005

I drove by the old office today to see if the geese were still there. They
seem to have abandoned the nest, but I found them less than a block away looking
like a real family. The female was sitting under the shade of tree with two
fuzzy, yellow goslings nestled against her side. The gander looked on proudly
from a few feet away. Not even a sparrow falls without God knowing it, and
He certainly took care of this goose family. Even so, I bet next time they
build a nest, they’ll find a place far away from sidewalks.

Tooting my own horn, Taps style

Response to the new design here has been mostly positive, but I expected that.
People who don’t like it are probably just not saying anything. One commenter
said, "your old blog was prettier…." Jerry has
told me in person that the design doesn’t match the content. And Mrs. Happy
objects: "It looks all suave and stylish and doesn’t express who you are
at
all."

One frustrating
thing about Web design is that when you do something that’s technically cool,
non-Web people are unimpressed. At my old site, I had a CSS-only three-column
layout.
Not
one table. Not one. That’s amazing, but one has to understand the issues involved
to be impressed; as far as my wife is concerned, three columns are as simple
as two clicks of a button in a Word document.
On
this
site,
the
stretchable
banner
is
a
feat
of
CSS I am proud to claim. It took me several days—longer than it should have,
I know—to
figure out how to do it, but I’m astounded at my own innovation. Oh, and do
you see that little line between the sidebar and the main content? That wasn’t
easy either. Sadly, most people don’t know that it’s difficult, assume it’s easy, and focus instead
on the way it looks.

Both Jakob Nielsen and Dean
Peters
have said repeatedly that good and usable should
trump technological coolness every time. I thought I had learned
that lesson, but maybe I’m too enamored of my modest technical accomplishments.
I’m certainly not giving up on this current design, but any constructive comments
concerning the usability or look-and-feel are welcome.