How's the shoveling?

How's the shoveling?

Let's just dispense with all the sanctimonious nonsense about being above doing that sort of thing and acknowledge that, for the last 48 hours, you've been engaged in a pursuit that has swirled across Northern California and Southern Oregon with more power than a sharknado.

Yes, admit it; you've spent the weekend on the Back 40 digging at the roots of aging trees (like that couple escaping the Google cartographers between here and Sutter's Mill) in search of rusty tin cans filled with gold "¦ or at least the $470 million in Bitcoins that suddenly vanished last week.

That's a lot of money to lose in one fell swoop, even if the only place you can cart around that much virtual cash in your pocket is on a holodeck.

There hasn't been this much excitement over buried treasure tucked under the roots of a tree since (SPOILER ALERT) Red found the cigar box of cash and sundries that Andy left for him and then high-tailed it to Mexico.

I don't know about your plans for redemption, but the first thing I'd buy with a chunk of that virtual currency is a $50 piece of nothing.

Dutch sculptor Pim De Graaf has been offering nothing — or, rather "Nothing" — since just before the holiday season, and has been selling out, so to speak. De Graaf's "Nothing," mind you, is a block of painted wood.

Doesn't do anything except sit there, so it's like your brother-in-law ... except you don't have to feed it. This pet rock without the personality is meant to be a reminder that (NEWS ALERT) we spend too much time buying things we don't need.

"I didn't want it to be too cheap, because I wanted people to take it seriously," De Graaf says of the $50 price tag. "On the other hand, I didn't want it to be too expensive, because it's ... nothing."

Wonder what the trees think of all this — either being chopped into Nothing-ness or pillaged for hidden treasure?

Better still, I wonder what the Vulcans — or whoever is out there — think as they watch our meager little planet spinning in circles from one of the 715 planets accounted for this week in the latest research from NASA's Space Telescope.

Among other things, the researchers said that the number of Earth-sized planets discovered in this "mother lode" increased by 400 percent — including four planets found to be in the fabled "Goldilocks zone," wherein the conditions for organic necessities (water, oxygen, WiFi) were said to be just right to sustain human life.

It's particularly human to believe that life on other planets would need our must-haves in order to exist. That sort of hubris is the air and mother's milk of political debate "¦ but you do wonder whether societies on other worlds spend much time focusing on such crises as whether Barbie should have posed for a swimsuit in Sports Illustrated.

People, get over it; it's a tasteful one-piece, for heaven's sake.

Or, so I'm told.

Besides, we have more pressing matters at hand — such as whether angel's food cake can really be considered a statement of religious freedom.

I can't speak for you (we have our — SHAMELESS PLUG — Columnist for a Day feature for that), but wedding cakes have two purposes: a) to be shoved into the maw of the recently hitched, or to be kept in the freezer to be tasted again a year later "¦ if the marriage has lasted that long.

More often than not, the remainder gets discarded faster than bridesmaids' dresses "¦ which makes this spate of usually sane folks getting their semordnilap self-righteousness stressed over desserts so depressing.

Which came first: The egg cream in the batter or the chickens trying to cross the road so as not to recognize a couple in love who want the same social — and legal — status as they have?

There's a ballot initiative meandering its way toward the statehouse in Salem that would allow businesses to deny service to gays, without legal blowback. No Shirts. No Shoes. No Heterosexual Spouse. No Service. ... It's a statement of religious freedom.

The concept, as I understand it, is that it's the wedding cake bakers and other businesses owners who are the pauladeenish victims of prejudice and religious intolerance by "¦ umm "¦ by not being able to, well, select who they don't have to do business with.

"Our initiative will protect an individual from being coerced to participate in a same-sex ceremony in violation of their conscience for fear of retribution," according to a statement from Friends of Religious Freedom, which backs the so-called Protect Religious Freedom Initiative. "It does not seek an 'exemption' from providing service to individuals."

The proposal — a similar concept of which was vetoed last week by the governor of that liberal bastion of Arizona — spins the meaning of the discriminating customer in an entirely new direction.

There's a great many layers to this issue, so it's a good thing that it's headed to the statehouse and the courts and the ballot boxes "¦ from which clarity and common sense are dispensed with such soothing regularity "¦ but you'll excuse those of us without a pit bull in this fight if we are having a difficult time following where the lines are being drawn.

Take, for instance, the Dorchester Conference — the annual Republican retreat in Seaside where the party leaders gather to clarify their agenda and push toward Election Day.

There's now a group of conservative Oregonians who find the history of Dorchester a tad too portside for their cup of tea and will hold their own shindig the same weekend.

Nothing says party unity like competing, retreating factions who (conceivably) can't even agree on a dessert caterer.

Somewhere out there on a Goldilocks planet, we humans are being spied upon with whatever the spying species calls bemusement. As with the shocking revelation that (THIS JUST IN) the NSA and Britain's GCHQ have been watching webcam videos of Yahoo! customers.

"Unfortunately," a report from the GCHQ stated, "it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person."

Well, they don't call it Yahoo! for nothing. On the other hand, how many bitcoins would you bet that those people can buy wedding cakes?

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at