Thursday, June 29, 2006

DC Flooding

From an MSNBC article about flooding in DC and Maryland:

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - Floodwaters rose in town after town along the upper Delaware River on Thursday, threatening thousands of homes and businesses along the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Do these people not know they are living next to a river? Who told them to build there? And a levee, please! I mean come on, it's not like someone forced these people to live next to a raging body of water in a state well known to have rain. And to make things worse, they're right up next to the Atlantic Ocean! Get real, that's nothing but a huge reservoir of water just waiting to flood them out.

Why should we, the rest of the nation smart enough not to build next to rivers and oceans in a rain-plagued state, have to pony up any money or caring for these idiots? I say, let them drown, it's their own damn fault!

This message brought to you by the New Orleans Chapter of Irony, Inc.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Double Dose of Bad News

I'm leaving in a few minutes to take our Shiloh Shepherd, Flash, to the vet for surgery. He has a bone spur in his elbow that's making it very painful to walk -- he gimps around the place like a drunken pirate. They can do it via laparoscopy, so hopefully the recovery time won't be too bad.

In much worse news, our good friend Lori, who Annie has known since high school, is having to go in this morning for more tests on a lump in her breast that came back as cancerous after a biopsy.

Sickness and pain are as much a part of life as beauty and joy, but that doesn't make it any eaier to cope with or understand. Lori's a very tough customer, one of the nicest people I know. We all hope that maybe the test was mistaken somehow, or that the tumor (if that's what it is) turns out to be benign, but breast cancer is a very, very scary phrase. We're all hoping and confident that it'll work out all right after it's all said and done, but if you have a spare moment in your day, please think positive, encouraging thoughts about her.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


My nephew Nick is living in Taiwan, teaching English and DJing at clubs. He's got quite the life. He just sent an album of photos, and one of them in particular caught my eye. I like it because I think Nick represents that part of all of us that wants to party and give the finger to convention.

You go, Nick! You can click here to see his entire album. I've never even been out of the country, so it's all like a magical fairyland to me.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blast From the Past

I was digging through some old files the other day, and came across this essay from January of 1987, almost 20 years ago. I was 16 at the time, in high school, and we had to write a "Personality Sketch" for our Sociology class.

Outwardly, I am an extrovert, always trying to be part of the group, cracking jokes, always trying I am contributing somehow to the group experience. Sarcasm is a trademark of my humor, but often it goes too far, and someone gets hurt. In my approach to life I am basically laid back. I try not to let things bother me too much. But I have an awful temper, and I am often extremely stubborn. I can be extremely obstinant over stupid things.
Even though my dealings are mostly on an intrustive, extroverted level, I really am an introvert at heart. At times I feel truly lonely, and my (outward) personality is, to a large extent, an attempt to hide this insecurity. However, I really do like people, and I try to live each day as if it were the last.

Man, 20 years and not much has changed. I can't tell if that's really depressing, or oddly comforting.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mia My-o

"That's the biggest damn dog I ever saw ..."
We have a new resident here at Shiloh Falls -- Mia the Briard. Annie saw her at the local shelter and fell in love at once. Technically we're fostering her, but I think we all know how that's gonna end. She's only been here two days but she already is fitting right in, barking at me when I come in the bedroom (where clearly no husband has a need to be), chasing the horses and donkeys along the fenceline, and filling her fur up with burrs.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful ...

  • Me (at work on the phone with Annie): So how's it going at home?

  • Annie: It's hot!

  • Me: Hot? How hot is it?

  • Annie: Effing hot, that's how hot it is.

  • Me: Effing hot? How can you tell when it officially gets to 'effing hot'?

  • Annie: Well I can't tell for sure, but it definitely looks effing hot from where I'm sitting on the bed, in the air conditioning, looking out the window.

  • Me: You mean you haven't even been outside yet?

  • Annie: Hell no I ain't goin' outside, it's effing hot!


Monday, June 12, 2006

Oh Give Me a Home ...

As I was driving to work the other day, looming up out of the mist in the field at the end of our neighborhood road were these two fellows, a mother and her calf.

Yes, those are buffaloes.

As you know, our home is here and, in fact, the skies have not been cloudy all day for quite some time. We also have deer at our property.

Now all we need are some antelope and we'll be set, except for never hearing a discouragin' word ... Maybe ear plugs?


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Closet Columbo

Hi, my name is Jeff and I have a problem: I like to watch "Columbo".

"Columbo" was a series in the 1970's about a rumpled LA detective played by Peter Falk. Why I've become addicted to it I have no idea, but like much in my life, I blame Dell Computers.

When I worked for Dell upon first moving to Austin, they had me on a horrendous shift, on the clock from 4 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning.

On Tuesdays through Fridays.

That meant that not only was I working when all other people my age were partying, but I only had one weekend night in common with the rest of humanity. As a result, I didn't socialize much and found myself parked in front of the television in the middle of the day most days.

That's when it happened.

A&E started showing reruns of Columbo every day, and I got totally sucked in. I went so far as to learn how to program my VCR so I could tape every show. I still have most of those tapes, meticulously labeled, and the old checklist of episodes I used to keep track of what I'd already seen.

Pathetic, I know, but then so was my life at that point.

Now I own the first four seasons on DVD and the next one should be coming any day now. I also TiVo some episodes from later seasons, and watched one earlier today. One of the things I like about it is spotting famous actors before they were famous. In this particular one ("How To Dial A Murder"), a very young Kim Cattrall and Ed Bagley, Jr. showed up.

One of the other fascinating things to see (besides the episodes themselves, which are all very good) is how technology has changed since these were filmed. In one early episode the criminal is traveling by plane, and it was completely unlike today's Southwest Airlines-inspired cattle-car experience. There was a lounge on the plane with a piano, stewardesses with trays of drinks, people smoking and laughing it up ... it was like a Vegas hotel with wings.

Then of course was the episode featuring a newfangled device that the murderer used to stage his alibi -- a phone voice recording machine! Columbo had never even seen one, and he had to have its purpose explained to him.

Only the richest of the rich had car phones. There were no desktop computers, and in one adventure featuring none other than Martin Sheen ("Lovely But Lethal") you got a scene with the ultra-advanced room-sized corporate computer complete with tape reels and a teletype machine for output.

What strikes me about these technological innovations is how they're used -- as pieces in a murder plot. The devices seem so dated now, so archaic, but the motivations of the people behind them are as timeless as humanity itself. Greed, lust, revenge, hatred, rage, all the old sins with new enablers, unchanging backdrops against which our morality plays and technological advances perform.

I guess "Columbo" is just one more piece of the Geek puzzle out here in the country. I sometimes feel like technology is passing me by as well, outpacing me like it has these old episodes, but at the same time I'm comforted by that thought that some things are eternal. Murder, yes, but also justice, and people like Columbo who use nothing more complicated than the power of their minds to make sense of a world that sometimes seems mad.

Oh, and just one more thing -- if you get the chance, tune in to one of those old shows. I think you'll like them, too.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Catching Up

I want to apologize for the scant posting of late. I recently got two freelance gigs that are both rush jobs due the last week of June, and I have been working on those pretty much every free moment. Plus Blogger's been down for a couple of days and wreaking havoc across the blogosphere, so that hasn't helped. Also, um, let's see ... the moon was in my eyes and, er, I had vicious bone cramps and ... well. Clearly, I just suck, I am sorry.

So I figured I'd catch up here with some quick updates.

  • One of the two freelance gigs is with a major comic-book icon, and I am so thrilled I can barely contain myself. I can't say anything officially until it's launched, unfortunately, but it's pretty cool.

  • The fledglings in our porch nest have taken flight! They tumbled out of their nest and into the air. At last report the parents still have their dive-bombs ready to fly, but hope not to have to unleash them for some time. Even Annie's annoyed by now.

  • It hit 100 degrees here yesterday and there's no end in sight. Wonderful. My "You don't have to shovel heat off your car in the morning" excuse for not moving to the Great White North is looking lamer every day.

  • The great "Is that donkey pregnant or not?" debate rages on, but no donkey babies yet. We've got our fingers crossed.

  • We have a new niece! Annie's brother Billy had a beautiful baby girl a few weeks ago and we trucked into Austin for a viewing.

  • My birthday was on June 1, and in addition the the great support of my immediate family (thanks y'all!) I was particularly touched by contacts from my Aunt Bev and Uncle Jim in New York, Aunt Claudia and Uncle Howard in Lake Charles (Louisiana), and my nephew Jason. It was as sweet as it was unexpected to hear from them, it really made my week.

I'll try to post something more substantive this week when my eyes uncross from staring too long at the computer monitor working on the projects.


Monday, June 05, 2006

7 Birds for 7 Bertramites

There's a great scene in the classic musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" that my brother-in-law John spotted. The female lead is coming up over a hill with her beau, singing merrily along, while birds whiz past the couple at high velocity. You have to watch closely to see it, but one of the birds blazes past them and WHAM! Smacks dead into the scenery backdrop behind them, painted to look like the open sky, and drops stunned to the ground.

There's nothing like a good bird stunning to make a ghastly chick-flick musical bearable. I think John wore out the "Rewind" button on his remote going back over that sucker again and again and again.

I think about that every day when I look out our living room windows. The four little baby swallows in the nest under our porch are constantly crying in pitiful, screechy little voices that remind me of the women in that movie, desperately singing their little hearts out hoping for their deepest desire -- a husband. If you step outside the door the parents come flying in from out of nowhere to buzz your head and try to drive you back inside, which conjures up the same feeling I get watching "Seven Brides" -- the urge to flee at a high rate of speed, and possibly find some sort of stick with which to gouge out my own eardrums to stop the torture.

I need to go buy me one of those fake backdrops, maybe I'll get lucky and the swallows will stun themselves silly flying into it and I can finally enjoy my back porch again.

NOTE: No actual birds were harmed in the writing of this post. Or in the filming of the movie, they were fake birds. I should be so lucky, but our swallows are all too real. Sigh.


Thursday, June 01, 2006


I went to my nephew Chris' high school graduation last week in Houston. I find milestone ceremonies like this very interesting, revealing what we as a society value. Weddings, funerals, medal ceremonies in the military, political swearing-in inaugurations, graduations, all are considered "Events" in our culture, bringing families back together from across the map and whole communities out in support. Every aspect is steeped in tradition and meaning, from the color of the bride's dress to the way the flag is folded at the end of a medal presentation.

At the graduation, I tried to take a step back, attempting to look at the whole thing with fresh eyes. The graduates marched in, all looking virtually identical in their caps and gowns -- no distinctive footwear or decorations allowed -- and then were seated alphabetically, teachers at the end of each row. Eventually their names were called in the same cadence, a measured procession across the stage like figures in old-fashioned clocks, mechanically marching across in their precise patterns. "Don't do anything to embarrass yourself or us," they were told before they could take the walk.

A handshake, a pause while the empty diploma case is handed off for the camera flash, then off-stage quickly, make room for the next berobed teenager, and back to their precise, alphabetical seats while the machine grinds on.

And finally, when the ceremony is over, what is the graduates' first act as "free agents"? They rip off their uniform hats and fling them in the air, as if finally freeing themselves from straitjackets.

So what, then, is it that we're showing we value in this ceremony? It seems to me that really what we were celebrating was uniformity. Conformity. Sameness. An abnegation of individuality.

Those aren't necessarily BAD things, but I found it sad. The speeches all talk about how these young people stand at the beginning of a great journey, their first chance to set their own course and plot their own destiny. And yet we commemorate it by grasping at our last chance to shove them into a pre-set mold, wiping away any marker of individuality, greedily taking advantage of our last chance to show them what it means to be part of the machine.

It reminds me that our schools were essentially founded to groom good factory workers. We need people who can start and stop what they are doing on a schedule, at the ring of a bell or the blowing of a whistle. Factories need workers who can sit in one place for long periods of time and do the same thing over and over. Anything that would disrupt the uniform action of the assembly line is to be ruthlessly suppressed.

It works, and works well -- at producing factory workers. But how do we prepare the people who will one day own those factories? How do we communicate the values we seek in our leaders, the people who will create new industries and new factories no one thought of before? Where do we fit those people who refuse to conform, to look like everyone else, to walk the line and not question?

Looking out at row after row of black-robed students, I knew that there were some there that would break out of their constraints and become confident, brave, insightful leaders. America has been better than any country in history at doing so, after all, and this generation will be no exception.

I just wish we could find a way to let them know that we appreciate that spirit of enterprise, that sense of individual achievement, that uniquely free-wheeling American can-do sensibility, in their graduation ceremonys.

After all, milestones like this reveal what we value as a society; we should pay more attention to exactly what they tell us.