Friday, July 29, 2005

the artist triumphant

I had a rather amusing experience with Evangeline today when I was taking her to run some errands in the afternoon.






Eowyn has been experimenting with computer illustration as well

Evangeline has been experimenting with computer illustration as well. This is her depiction of the sun, from a recent drawing of "Abiyoyo."


For about six months this year, Evangeline took art lessons over at the Art Academy of Hoover Point. I've been unsure about enrolling her in any further courses because we had a few problems with her behavior. Essentially, she and her teacher had a few personality conflicts on a couple of the assignments. Evangeline, being 5 years old, didn't want to do some of the projects a certain way, and the teacher, being, well, a teacher, wanted Evangeline to do the project as intended and there were a few occasions where Evangeline sat on the floor, under the table, or curled up on her chair and refused to do anything at all, driving her teacher absolutely nuts. (I have to stress that this was the exception to her behavior, and not the rule, but it was annoying enough that we've been debating the wisdom of enrolling in a fall course.)

Anyway, that's all background. Today I had to zip by the academy to pick up some papers from the director for an arts festival I'm helping to prepare. I'm expecting a quick in-and-out affair.

Well, as soon as we pull into the parking lot, Evangeline lights up so brightly I can see it in the front seat. The car is no sooner parked than she has unbuckled her seat belt. By the time I had Rachel unbuckled, Evangeline was not only out of the car, she was ready to go inside.

Rachel and I got inside just in time to see Evangeline coming back from the rear of the art academy, where she had washed her hands and was now all prepped for class.

The art director - who has always loved Evangeline and should not be confused with the teacher Evangeline had for the spring session - saw the look on my face and busted out laughing.

What could I do? It was a drop-in period where anyone can come in from off the street and do an art project. I picked up the papers I needed, then Rachel and I went off and left Evangeline to enjoy art class for the next two hours.

Incidentally, the summer program is much different from what I had expected, pricingwise, timewise and schedulewise, so Evangeline also appears to have wormed her way into regular art lessons over August, too. But I'll be damned if I'm taking her to a jewelry store when she's a teenager.





Evangeline also drew all these women with nothing but a mouse and Microsoft paint, for a Superman picture I started. I like her technique and the individual touches she brings to these figures.





Friday, July 22, 2005

bragging rights

Since I've been staying at home with the kids, I decided to keep up with the homeschooling program over the summer, since it helps to fill the long and empty hours between breakfast, when Natasha leaves for work, and dinnertime, when she comes home and the day falls into the inexorable slide through our bedtime rituals. Yes, even though it's mid-July, Evangeline is getting no summer vacation from homeschooling.

I've been really impressed with her reading prowess. Natasha started her on the basics last summer, while I was still working at WCN Newspapers, leading her through a series of Bob books and a Hooked on Phonics curriculum we had borrowed from the library. Once Evangeline got the skills down, she's been reading up a storm. I usually have her read a Bible story first thing in the morning, and will read a history or science text with her before lunch, and so on. Though I lack the expertise to say for certain, I think she's reading on a third grade level, or possibly higher. Today, on her own initiative, she picked up her Spider-Girl comic book and read it for about 45 minutes, including time in the car. Wednesday night, I gave her the first volume of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series, and explained how it was a true story about pioneers during the nation's westward expansion. (We've been reading about Lewis and Clark lately in history.) She read that for about half an hour, even though Rachel was watching TV in the same room.

She's also doing a bang-up job with math. She finished a math exercise book today that dealt solely with addition, but included double-digit addition and addition where you have to carry numbers into the tens column. She still uses her fingers, but she's getting probably about 90 percent of the problems right.

The area where I've been most impressed lately, though, has been writing. To get her used to putting thoughts to paper and to help her find a safe way to express herself (plus to keep her practicing her penmanship and related skills), I bought Evangeline a 100-page notebook in May. The idea was to have her write two sentences or so every day, about whatever she wants, and gradually steer her toward mastering different aspects of writing, like neatness, direction of letters, sizing and capitalization. I haven't cared too much about spelling, since I figure that'll come in due time and is less important right now than just getting used to writing.

I won't say I've been as diligent as I would have liked in having her write daily (though I've been much better this week), but even so, the change has been remarkable. Her first entry, dated June 3, 2005, starts off something like this: ZOO We EOWYNan. nOCk nOCK Who'S there? BO. BO WhO? BOPeP. MOMMY iS MY MOMMY anD MY SiSter'S MOMMy to.

Tuesday, though, she wrote this: Onse there was a happy Girl and the Girl was so happy that she Just went away. the end. I have to male my boy!

And today, she sat at the table and penned this entry:

A Girl Wanted an Ice cone but the Girl's mom woudn't let her only girl have any ice cones and only the girl's dad would let his only child have an ice cone any time she would want an ice cone! the end. A boy was with his mom evry bit of the day and the boy Slept with his mom evrey night!

It's a run-on sentence, to be sure, and she still needs to work on capitalization, but that's pretty impressive for someone the district considers too young to be in kindergarten. She's being more consistent about making her lowercase letters smaller than the uppercase ones, she's getting the spelling mostly right without asking us, and she's communicating fairly complicated thoughts in writing. (And I would be impressed even if the nice parent in the story weren't the father.)

Rachel and I meanwhile have experienced a renaissance in our relationship. Initially, Rachel took it pretty badly that I had become the stay-at-home father. She stopped taking naps even though she needed them -- she would throw a fit if I tried to get her to take one -- and we've had a few problems now and then with things.

Well, sometime last week Rachel started taking naps again. I ask her if she was ready to go upstairs for a nap, she picks a book for storytime, and then we lie down side by side on a bed for a few minutes, and she's out like a light. Tremendous. Last night, Natasha went to read her a bedtime story, and Rachel insisted that she wanted Daddy to read to her. It was a wonderful feeling, since there have been many times she would get upset if I tried to do anything with her while Natasha was around, even as simple as buckling her car seat for her. Once when we were playing hide-and-seek, she found me "hiding" on top of the bed, and even gave me a kiss, "to break the witch's spell," as she put it.

I was reminded today at the park at how different from her sister she is in some ways too. One of the playsets at the park is a blue plastic jungle gym with levels that I would have thought too far apart for her to climb. Shows how little I know. The little monkey climbed to the top of the jungle gym as fast as her sister, who is 3 years older than she. A little down from the jungle gym is a conifer that appears to have grown specifically for little children to climb. It has three main branches that at various points are practically parallel to the ground; elsewhere they slope gently upward, and are covered with short but sturdy branches that are perfectly suited for small hands to grab. Last week, when we visited this park for the first time, Rachel climbed higher on it, with no assistance, than Evangeline would climb on it with me standing right there and offering to help her.

And did I mention that she also likes Spider-Man? (Of course, that might not mean too much. She also pretends to be the Green Goblin, and just today had me draw a picture of her wearing a Green Goblin T-shirt and brandishing one of the Goblin's pumpkin bombs.)

So the girls are fine, Natasha is fine, and even though I am a mean, rotten-scoundrel parent, I am fine too. Couldn't be happier, actually.

frank miller

Recently got into a discussion about Frank Miller with a friend of mine who is majoring in comic book illustration, in a roundabout way. Because Indigo liked the "Sin City" movie, I had sent her a news article about a fan biting the nose of somebody else who had seen it, when they couldn't agree on the movie's merits.

My friend noted that while Miller is held in high esteem in comic book circles, his work suffers from one significant problem: All his protagonists are tough guys with mental issues.

She's right. Miller does specialize in Macho Men with Mental Problems, doesn't he? Batman and Daredevil were relatively clean-cut, respectable heroes until Miller took the reins and started exploring what would possess a millionaire playboy and otherwise happy lawyer to dress up as a bat or in red leather, and go out and start beating people up.

Before "The Dark Knight Returns," Batman was about as dark as Bozo the Clown. The Caped Crusader gig was, at best, something millionaire Bruce Wayne did to hide his double identity as a detective. It also was often a pretty campy thing, not too far removed from the Joel Schumacher movies or the Adam West series. Take a look at the odd villains in the Batman lineup: the Mad Hatter, a character taken right out of Alice in Wonderland; Solomon Grundy, taken from a nursery rhyme; the Penguin, an odd little man with a waterfowl fetish and not so different in appearance from his namesake; the guy, whatshisname, the ventriloquist with the dolls that came to life and control him; the Joker, a criminal prankster based on a playing card; King Tut, and so on.

Jim Starlin, I think, was writing Batman at the time of "The Dark Knight Returns," and his hero is decent enough, but not particularly intense. He's just Bruce Wayne in a suit, and he just keeps going because he's a hero. Miller turned Batman on his ear, and gave the character an edge never seen before. In Miller's treatment, Batman was the real identity; Bruce Wayne was his cover. He wasn't a hero in the classic sense -- he was a man driven by anger and guilt over his parents' deaths, and trying to save them by proxy, by stopping crime in Gotham. Miller gave Batman a disdain for Superman and his simple-minded moral code of salute the flag, follow orders and eat lots of vegetables -- a disdain that would have been unthinkable before -- and completely redefined Batman for all time. Even the villains who appear in "The Dark Knight Returns" -- Two-Face, and the Joker for example -- come out as actual menaces, not as, well, comic book chatacters. Everyone who's written Batman since has been writing -- or trying to write -- Miller's Batman, not Bob Kane's.

Up until last week, the only Miller Daredevil I had read with any great interest was the "Born Again" story arc, now available as a Daredevil Visionaries volume. He's definitely a tough guy with mental issues, but it's an interesting work because it's a story where Miller gives Daredevil's secret identity to the Kingpin, and invests Daredevil with a lot of Christ imagery. "Dark Knight" showed Batman getting back into the swing in middle age; "Born Again" shows Daredevil falling out of the swing and getting run over by a truck. (It also has the single best Avengers cameo I have ever read.) Both treat their heroes as superheroes.

Still, while he might stick with one essential theme, Miller's seminal work on "The Dark Knight Returns" was groundbreaking, for the simple reason that no one up to that point had seriously explored the psyche of a superhero. Miller acknowledged right off the bat that to be a superhero, you had to be obsessive and have some serious unresolved issues. Miller's "Dark Knight" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen" changed the direction of superhero comics for an entire decade, and everyone started to deconstruct superheroes and explore their dark sides, and churn out more and stupider antiheroes. (For this reason alone, most 1990s superhero comics are shit, and worth even less.)

Even "Ronin" continues with the tough guy with mental problems, since the Ronin is essentially the escapist fantasy of what the reader assumes is a minor, unimportant character -- and "Ronin" is also a groundbreaking work. Although Miller uses it to explore a couple ideas he had used earlier in "Daredevil" about a homeless community living in the sewers of New York, "Ronin" represented a completely new artistic style in American comic books, infused with cool greens and other soft colors. It's nowhere near as garishly bright as most superhero comics, and even his pencils are different, though as someone who's a writer and not an artist, I'm not sure I can do it credit in trying to explain. It's, I don't know, softer yet dirtier somehow? He doesn't use as many straight lines, particularly with the people out on the streets of New York and under it, to create the effect of a world in decline and rapidly approaching ruin.

The story itself also is unlike anything previously seen in American comics, and reflects the influence of manga and Japanese storytelling in general, at least a decade before manga started to have as large a presence in American comics as it does today. It's set around a samurai who failed to save his master from death -- thus earning him the disgraced title of ronin -- who is reincarnated into a futuristic New York, where he is battling the demon who slew his master, amid a science fiction backdrop. There's nothing superheroic or Western heroic about the battle at all; it's a private grudge match, and when your average schlob gets involved, he's as likely to get killed as not. (Those average schlobs really add a lot to the story, by the way. They add a lot of color, characterwise.)

When you get down to it, Frank Miller has been one of the most formative voices in American comics in the past 20 or more years. He may have had one principal character whom he kept playing with in different settings, but he's done a tremendous job in the process.

Monday, July 18, 2005

take my dog's ... fleas

Remember that really cool ending to the inaugural issue of "Preludes and Nocturnes?" Dream has just escaped from Burgess' circle, and had his long-awaited confrontation with Alex. As it wraps up, he turns to Burgess and says, "But come, I have a gift for you, to repay you for your years of hospitality. I give you eternal waking."

I feel right now like Sandy has given us her own parting gift as a way of saying thank you for all the years of hospitality we extended to her. Despite a good flea bath, despite the Frontline advanced flea and tick protection, despite our use of flea collars, Sandy has left us a veritable menagerie of a dog's favorite pets.

Our house has fleas. Their eggs are in the carpet, and they keep hatching and getting onto us. I have a couple flea bites, Natasha has a couple more, Evangeline has some, and Rachel's legs look like so much raw meat. (I suspect that we had this problem growing up in Saunders Station too, since we had a dog there, but I assumed at the time, in youthful ignorance, that the bug bites were from mosquitoes.)

What to do? I don't want to bomb the place, because the toxins in flea poison can be even worse than the fleas themselves, but the things are bloody near impossible to vacuum up. I can get beneficial nematodes to treat the lawn with, and I suspect I will, though the ladybugs we have naturally are already working on the problem out there, I'm sure.

Earlier today, I made up a boric acid mixture and walked through the house, sprinkling it on the carpet. Boric acid is less toxic to humans than table salt is, and not very irritating either, but it does have the effect of acting as a desiccant, which means it should kill the flea larvae before they can hatch.

Here's hoping. Fleas are bad enough when they're on the dog. It's even worse when the dog is dead and they're still alive.

Battle for the Supreme Court

Interesting article on Belief.net about the push from the Religious Right to determine the next Supreme Court appointment.

I do believe this person has articulated fairly well one of my chief concerns with the strident efforts of the Religious Right to demand specific outward forms of behavior, belief and attitude from our elected and appointed officials. "Christianity Today" had another article, about Gonzalez and how the Right is accusing him of not being pro-life enough, when ironically his "pro-choice" decisions reportedly are based on his understanding of the law, rather than on his personal beliefs. Issuing rulings based on personal beliefs is what the Right calls, with a measure of accuracy, "legislating from the bench" and takes a good deal of umbrage at.

Politics masquerading as religion is distressing to see. Christ came to set us free; too often when the Religious Right or the Religious Left dabbles in politics (though we see more of this from the Right than the Left, which is only now speaking up), the goal is not to liberate people as much as it is to make people behave in a manner that we consider acceptable (no gay marriage, no foul language, no obscenity, and so on). Controlling people is not what Christ is about. Why is that people who call themselves his followers engage in it so readily?

God forgive us all for taking our eyes off the Cross, and being more concerned with having others do his will than with doing our will himself.

rebuilding the temple

Just to inform those who have been watching with all diligence for the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem: There has been a slight change of plans. Reconstruction of the Temple began this morning, in my kitchen.

Solomon built the original Temple with stone from the finest quarries, and with nothing but the choicest cedars from Lebanon. The new Temple is being made from the finest Popsicle sticks available. They have been mined from Popsicles of many flavors and hues, and purchased at the local crafts store.

Solomon hired many craftsmen and spent years completing the Temple. We have employed the services of a 5½-year-old girl and her father. The girl is applying glue with due diligence, and her father is working on a way to get the walls to stay standing. When construction finishes in the next few days, we expect the Temple will have an outer court for Gentiles, an inner court for the Jews, and the Most Holy Place. I have no idea what will go there since the local crafts store does not sell miniature Arks of the Covenant. Perhaps we will place "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in there instead.

Worship will be very difficult for anyone who desires to entire the Temple and make offerings. We have heard rumblings among the Fischer-Price people and from the host of Polly Pockets that they may make the pilgrimage.

The occasion for the Temple's reconstruction? A certain 5½-year-old read her Bible today and learned about Solomon's Temple, and decided it would be a fun craft. I'm sure you're familiar enough with biblical prophecy to realize that the prophets said nothing about "arts and crafts" coming into play with the third temple. That being the case, if I can find one small enough, I'm going to sneak a purple hippo into the Most Holy Place and call it the abomination that causes desolation.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

hitting the (comic) books

I took the girls to Barnes & Nible today to pick up the "Strangers in Paradise" collection "Molly and Poo" for Niki's birthday. (I tried getting it from Amazon, and they kept pushing back the shipping date, and then from Overstock, and they canceled it, and well ...) Naturally, since we there anyway, I checked their graphic novels section, and splurged on a Daredevil Visionaries collection by Frank Miller that includes the entire Elektra saga. I had never read it before.

Wow.

I was really impressed by it. Miller wrote and drew this when he was in his early 20s, and it holds up pretty well. There's a tremendous intimation of passion between the two, but he never really does more than suggest it. There are occasional exchanges -- a kiss or two -- but mostly it's suggested in the way Elektra tails Matt to protect him from one person or another, or the way she bandages him after he's been hurt -- and of course when she spares Foggy just because he recognizes her.

The story also has the sagas of Bullseye and the Kingpin interwoven through it. When he first appears, Bullseye is suffering from a brain tumor that is causing him to suffer a paranoid delusion that everyone is Daredevil. I don't know much of the backstory there -- I never cared much for Daredevil, aside from when Miller wrote it -- but apparently Daredevil had saved Bullseye's life in a previous story. Bullseye's growing obsession with killing Daredevil, plus his determination to "prove" himself to the Kingpin and the rest of the underworld, make him a much more compelling criminal than I had imagined from the little I knew before.

Kingpin was pretty interesting too. I think of him mostly as a Daredevil nemesis because of Miller's "Born Again" story arc, but I think I was mostly familiar with him from the Spider-Man comics. (Miller apparently made a pointed effort of borrowing or stealing as many Spider-Man foes as he could while he was on Daredevil, Kingpin being one of the most successfully stolen.) At the start of the volume, the Kingpin had left behind the criminal underworld but was being pushed back into it, unwillingly, by one of his assistants. By the end of the volume, he was back into it with a vengeance, making him a tragic figure. I can't think of him as a sympathetic character, but perhaps I should -- as noted, he had left that world behind for the sake of his wife, and was drawn back into it against his will. Interesting stuff.

I probably could say things that are more coherent, and I probably will once I've had time to digest it some more, and probably read it a second and third time. I always do that when I get a new comic, because I want to absorb it completely, and you can never do that in the first reading.

This also means I have a redundant Daredevil volume. The Visionaries collection includes the entire trade paperback "Gang War" or whatever it was called, which skipped over the Elektra saga, skimped on Bullseye and focused mainly on the Kingpin's return, even though some of the missing issues were essential to understanding a subplot involving Ben Urich and his investigation into a corrupt mayoral candidate.

At least I think it's redundant. It's possible that "Gang War" includes a few earlier issues, like the one where Daredevil gets his hide beaten by the Hulk and Urich figures out Daredevil's secret identity. (In a nice touch, Bullseye also figures it out and tells the Kingpin, but it ends up neither man considers a blind superhero to be a believable scenario. Later, in "Born Again," the Kingpin decides that Murdock is pretending to be blind after Karen Paige sells Matt's identity.)

Anyway ...

I also bought "Trinity," a graphic novel about the first meeting of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, just because it was written and illustrated by Matt Wagner. An utterly incredible comic. I love Wagner's writing. He gets the characters so exactly right. Batman's reaction to the invisible jet: "I want one." Superman's reaction to Batman's gadgets and subterfuge: "Bruce loves his surprises." And the initial meeting between Batman and Wonder Woman, where they nearly come to blows -- excellent. Completely believable.

Wagner also makes good use of Ra's al Ghul and Bizarro -- two villains I've never found that interesting. Ra's al Ghul seems to exist mostly to show how tough and clever Batman is, and Bizarro is, well, usually just a retarded anti-Superman. While I can't say I'm eager to see either one in another comic, I thought the interaction of them here was pretty good. Ra's al Ghul actually comes across as clever and resourceful, rather than merely thinking himself to be so, and Bizarro is a little comical, particularly the way he gets duped into thinking of Ra's al Ghul as his friend, and calls him "Racer Cool."

Aside from that, I bought myself a new Bible, since the old one is falling apart, and a copy of Philip Yancey's "Disappointment with God." I'm still reading the latter, but I have to say that he's given me plenty to think about, ranging from his description of the divine romance from God's side, down to "Disappointment with life should not mean disappointment with God."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

balloonmania

We just got back from a library event where Evangeline was happily occupied for about 1½ hours, learning to tie her own balloons, along with about 25 other screaming children. (The only downside was when the balloon lady made only one Spider-Man balloon and didn't have time to make them for other children.)

Rachel and I stayed out in the children's section of the library and played with dolls, did puzzles and read a couple books. About 20 minutes before the balloon class ended, the librarian asked if Rachel would be interested in coloring a dragon scale for some sort of thematic display they have -- and then gave me a dragon scale too, because they really needed to get all the scales colored and illustrated, and all the children were busy with the balloons.

So for the next 20 minutes or so, I drew pictures of Violet and the other Incredibles, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman and Green Lantern. And of course I helped Rachel draw pictures on her scale too. Still, it was kind of fun. I looked around for the finished collection of dragon scales when we left, to see if I could spot our artwork, but no look. Maybe next week, when we go back to see the Reading Fairy.

a messy faith

I set up a new mailing list today on Topica, called "A Messy Faith." My idea was to great a mailing list where I would send out articles/columns/musings/whatever you want to call it, essentially insights gleaned from my own spiritual journey.

I suppose, like every other writer on the face of the earth, I labor under the misapprehension that I have something to say that needs to be expressed somehow. Hence my thought of creating a list where I present my faith-related experiences and struggles openly. (Well, more or less. Personal problems are no one else's business.) It creates a platform to share my inner thoughts on such things.

In some ways it's an outgrowth of my efforts at prayer-journaling. I find it helps me focus on my prayer to write everything down like that. I did something like that a few weeks ago and my editing skills kicked in and forced me to face a lot of constipated thinking and excuses I had just been accepting. So I figure, if I'm going to do this, why not let someone else benefit from it too? That ties into my teacher nature, and you never know — it might help me get a raised profile as a writer and get me some of the inroads I'd like careerwise. If nothing else, it'll give me clips. (I've decided to set up a separate blog to archive the posts.)

Disagreement with my thoughts, of course, is not only expected but welcome. I just don't want don't want to turn it into an e-mail version of CHRefugee, for reasons having to do with the diversion of time from family that such a thing would result in. I can set up a separate list for discussion, or convert this to one with moderated discussion, I suppose, but that would depend upon the interest levels.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

born again?

When I get asked if I am "born again" or evangelical, I no longer know what to say.

One of the many times online I refused to describe myself as an evangelical and it prompted the usual litany of "What do you mean?" and "What do you call yourself?", I had the presence of mind to describe myself just as a sinner who had found the Cross and was clinging to it in repentance. People shut up in record time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

sandy's dead

We just had to put our dog down last Thursday. The poor girl has been having trouble walking, her appetite has been fading, and she started having seizures last Monday. (We only realized she had had a seizure Monday after she had another one early Thursday afternoon, and we noticed her condition afterward was identical to what we had found her in when we came downstairs Monday night.) The vet, who was very sympathetic to our situation, believes Sandy had a brain tumor.

Losing Sandy has been a lot harder on Evangeline than I had expected. Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, we went out into the back yard, and she just quietly walked up to where we had buried Sandy, and stood there. Today she said she heard a dog snuffle here in the house, and that means that Sandy must be alive again.

Yowch.

We've talked a couple times now about death, and I've assured her that Sandy will be raised to life on the Last Day and will join us in heaven, but it still stinks to see her torn up over her dog's death. (Chances are we're going to get a new dog by her birthday in October, but we want to make sure she has time to get over Sandy's death first.)

the frustrated patriot

I'm a patriot. By that I mean that I love America. I am not ashamed to be an American, and there are many things my country has done of which I am justly proud, from the technological achievements that catapulted America to the forefront of world industry, and its concern with human rights and welfare, not just here but globally.

I love my country, and there's a lot I could say, but it's been said better by many others.
There are things I don't like about my country. One is the assumption that anyone who criticizes our country's actions or finds fault with our country, its institutions, or its policies is not worthy of being an American, is unpatriotic, or even hates our country.

I love the fact that we have a democracy, and I love the idea that anyone can rise from obscurity to the White House, in that delightful "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" sort of way. I don't love the stupid two-party political system, and I especially don't love the incredibly ridiculous partisan bickering that we all engage in. I outright cannot stand how heavily stacked things are so the two entrenched parties can retain their power and shut out potential upstarts who might not only upset the apple cart, but take it away from them.

Here in New Jersey, voters have no choice in our primary elections. The county chairmen and chairwomen determine it all in the name of party unity, and the only bone that they throw to is to ratify their decisions. This year we could have had a decent Democratic candidate for governor, but a millionaire with a kickass fund-raising prowess decided he would rather run the state than be a nobody in the Senate, and so he manuvered left and right in early spring to lock up the party nomination before the rest of us could vote.

I did a write-in vote anyway, as a useless protest. I also had to get a court order allowing me to vote, but that's another complaint for another time. Suffice it to say that my children had an unforgettable civics lesson on how important our right to vote is.

As bad as our state and local elections are, national elections are even worse. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) lost the GOP nomination five years ago because he wouldn't toe the party line; Bush lost by huge margins in Michigan and other states where they have open primaries, but he was seen as a better conservative image, so he was given millions more to waste on attack ads and dirty campaigning so he could win the party nomination.

I've thought of seceding, but that secession doesn't have a very proud or glorious tradition in our nation.

I don't love that we've never had a woman or a black for president. I also hate it that politicans feel they must feign or profess deep Christian faith to win. The only non-Christians, at least depending on how you define the term, I can think of in our nation's history to hold the top seats were our Deist founders. I hate that this is true of our vice presidents, and for our congressional seats as well. (There are a few women in line to run in the primaries at least.

Hillary is going to seek the Democratic nomination in three years, although I think she won't succeed.) The white Protestant male syndrome is pretty old.

I also really don't like having George W. Bush as my president, but I didn't like John Kerry, either, and I really don't like that we had only two viable choices for president. The fact that neither of them was a person I want to lead me is even more upsetting to me.

Some day, and I hope to see it happen, someone will run for office who will blow the two reigning parties out of the water because of an ability to inspire, because of a vision that we can all reach for, and because this person really is able to unite us, despite the thousand tribes that we have divided ourselves into. In the mean time, I wait.

And I hope that the office is still worth running for when that candidate does arrive.