Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A few shots of Riverbanks Zoo

It's been a really busy month with the holidays disrupting both work and home life. But Miss Wiggles and I make it a habit every Sunday to visit Riverbanks Zoo here in Columbia to see the animals. At least they are safely enclosed unable to hurt anyone else. I wish I could say the same about the state legislature.
This fellow is enjoying the morning sun and I guess contemplating Quantum Physics and
Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This is after he ran down from the small hill in the enclosure and rammed the window in front of me then sat down like you see him, picked his nose, and then ate his buggers. That being the case you are probably looking at the future football head coach of the University of South Carolina.

No this is not Dick Cheney despite what the sneer on the face might suggest. I do not like gators and no matter how many years I have come to the zoo first with Spoilboy, who now thinks the zoo is uncool, and now Wiggles I hold my children tightly anytime I get around this gator. Strangely sharks I can handle to a great extent but this fellow and others like him gives me the creeps. While Wally Gator and his cousins might have been endangered a few decades ago down on the coast they have rebounded with a vengeance and in many cases developed a taste for small dogs. Of course with development on the coast stripping huge areas of what was once wetlands and swamps I'd hazard a guess that most of those I call newcomers have no idea of the nature of the environment these fellows once enjoyed around what is now their McMansions so I'll call a few missing dogs an even trade.

Miss Wiggles here is enjoying the company of five lorikeets feeding off the sugar water the zoo sales for them. This is actually parrothead training for Wiggles whose final exam will be a Buffett concert sometime in the future. There is some danger associated with these little fellows. They have a nasty habit of pooping on you if you move the sugar water away too fast. It should please everyone to know Wiggles passed this training with out receiving a special gift from them. I was not as lucky and got hit three times.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Parrothead movie review: I am Legend

There are three fictional things that can play hell with my subconscious causing me to have nightmares as I sleep once those demons prowling around the cobwebs in my head have been rattled. A better adjusted civilized person might avoid rattling those demons. But as I have been told time and time again by many I’m far from being well adjusted and let’s just not go into me being civilized, that subject is just far too messy.

The three fictional demons that I enjoy shaking up from time to time are unique to say the least and honestly many will find them bizarre. While I admit they are comical I know they represent deeper, serious fears about the world but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to play with them from time to time. One of the three is zombies (yes zombies, I’ll just wait for you to stop laughing…) so when a good book or movie comes out involving the undead or deadish I’m quick to make my way to the bookstore or theater so I can catch it. With release of the new Will Smith movie “I am Legend” Friday night I was first in line with my jumbo tub of popcorn and five gallon Coke. First off let me state so the zombie masses won’t be offended, you know political correctness has to be observed, the movie technically has no zombies. But it does have zombie-like sufferers of a genetically altered virus that carries the vampire-like trait of being severely burned by normal sunlight. With that out of the way I’ll get on with the review.

The movie opens with scenes of a New York empty of people. You quickly see the main bridges to Manhattan blown apart and I believe the entrance to a tunnel flooded with a multitude of cars surrounding the entrance mostly submerged in water all facing in the direction out of the city. Further on in the city cars lay abandoned strangely parked like they should and grass is springing up through cracks in the pavement around them. In the distance you catch glimpses of entire buildings wrapped in plastic with the word “quarantined “ written in huge letters across the plastic. Deer are running freely through the streets being hunted by a lioness bringing home the venison in this case for a New York version of Simba and lion cubs that probably are escapees from the Central Park Zoo. We are introduced to the character of Robert Neville as he races through the streets in a bright candy red Mustang hunting the deer. He corners one deer and is taking aim on it with a rifle only to have that lioness come and take the kill first. Such is life in the Big Apple four years after a man-made pandemic may have killed off the entire human race except for the one man who was charged with finding a cure before it spreads through North America as it did the rest of the world.

As Robert Neville goes through the motions of living we are offered flashbacks of what lead up to this situation. One flashback shows an interview with an apparently British genetic researcher which has her describing how she used an engineered virus to treat cancer and how in over ten-thousand test subjects all ten-thousand were cured of the disease. Later we learn that her cure kills most of her patients with a few developing rabies-like symptoms that can infect both by touch and airborne means. Away from the flashbacks Robert spends his days on a strict schedule as soon as the sun rises in the morning with his only companion a young German Shepard. Robert and his dog Sam eat, exercise, look for supplies throughout the city, and at noon wait at a certain dock hoping that someone else hears his pre-recorded radio broadcast in which calls for anyone alive to meet him there. But in the late afternoon Robert and Sam hurry back to their very well fortified house in which he kills the generators, closes the armored shutters, and then they bed down in an old bathtub. As night fully closes in strange monstrous cries can be heard in the streets surround him.

As the movie proceeds we learn that Robert has not given up on finding a cure to the man-made disease that destroyed civilization. And after some promising results on a lab rat he goes out to capture an infected human subject to test his vaccine. The capture of an infected female from a hive hiding in some dark building highly upsets the hive leader which sets out to even the score with Robert. Despite the easy but determined exterior the character of Robert Neville at various points begins to show the darker aspects of someone who has lived alone for four years after the end of the world. The carefully crafted routine that keeps him alive quickly begins to unravel after a tragic loss in about the middle of the movie. His ghosts are numerous and unrelenting even as he continues to pursue a cure for the disease that killed humanity when all seems lost. They soon begin to get the better of him leading to a point where he almost succumbs to the stress and loneliness that he daily faces. As with most action/zombie films the climax has several surprises being introduced and a glimmer of hope at last seen far in the distance but Robert’s time is running out and the infected inhabitants are watching his every move waiting for him to slip up.

Some will come away from this movie unhappy for several reasons. One reason is the semi-religious nature of the insight that points the way to a cure some will say was a copout. The hopeful nature of the movie’s ending is another although my telling you this in no way ruins the movie. For many fans of this science fiction sub-genre both are major sins that usually have all the heroes dying tragic and violent ends. Frankly I walked out of the theater quite satisfied with the hope the movie left ever so slightly burning. For those unaware, and you might be very surprised by how many there are, the world around us is already in a pretty sad state. The evening news many days has all the earmarks of a B-movie disaster flick from the 80’s. From an incompetent sulking president going shill saying World War 3 is around the corner and the bogeyman is under your bed to the occasional news reports of an Ebola or bird flu outbreak someplace in the world and how it may finally be contagious. The educational cable networks regularly broadcast shows listing the numerous ways the world can end from gamma ray bursts that sterilize the entire planet to the ubiquitous asteroid or comet impact that at best sends all of humanity that survives back to the stone age. So I don’t need or want anymore hopeless fictional situations. I had no problem with the “sloppy and simplistic ‘We Are the World’ sentiments” the movie relied on at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and for those not complete cynically about the nature of humanity and what may exist beyond our means to measure and analyze I have to recommend it. I take my little bit of hope anyway I can get it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Home Owning Apocalypse

It's not the American dream, it's an adventure! At least that is what I tell myself.

I long ago started hating the house we currently live in now. As hates go it’s a small thing brought on by equally small causes but they are well earned. But as with many things the fault rests with me for us buying the place. One of the many requirements to adopting an orphaned Chinese girl was for the baby to have a room all to itself. I guess the reason for this was to insure that the parents receiving a baby had the financial means to care for it. The home Dragonwife and I owned at the time of us starting the adoption process was a nice three bedroom house that we had built right after she and I were married in 1993. That house had a wrap around front porch, a huge extra room where the garage would have been we used as a sun room/den, and a corner lot with a good sized front and backyard. Instead of staying at that house Dragonwife and I reasoned that we needed an extra bedroom for guests, a bigger kitchen to store Dragonwife's odd and varied collection of cooking/torture devices, and with the neighboring school district far better (as compared to what is normally in South Carolina) than the one we lived in then we began fixing up what we had and began looking for a new house.

A few tense and crazy months went by as we fixed up the house getting it ready for being listed. Dragonwife wanted it ready for a spring listing and some of her less admirable traits surfaced as we worked to meet that schedule. My mother-in-law came to help one week with making new curtains and I swear she and I came close to taking out a contract on Dragonwife who seemed to be channeling a combination of Martha Stewart and Hitler's personalities in her demands and expectations. As I wrote earlier one of the requirements for adoption was a room just for the baby. An in-home inspection by the American adoption agency handling our paperwork would be making sure we were meeting all the needed steps. That inspection was tentatively scheduled for the following fall and whether we were moved or not after that inspection we were frozen in whatever house we lived in until we had the baby. Moving before we had the baby would require a new inspection and amended paperwork delaying the date we would get the baby. The last month before the house was listed was a busy one with me, along with my co-workers, working to get the new manufacturing plant I was employed at operational. The manufacturing plant I was working at made fiber optic cable and this was the 2000-2001 time frame right before the telecom bubble popped and Tom Friedman and I each in our own way started finding out that the world was flat. He would go one to write a best seller and I soon would be laid-off but I digress since that is a whole other post.

As we fixed up the house weekends would have Dragonwife, a much younger Spoilboy, and me cruising around looking at the various houses in the area we wanted to be in. Several times we found the perfect house and walked out of it each time hoping that it would still be available when we were ready. Luck, fate, or a seriously demented god would not have it and each was slapped up the very next time we rode by the place but we hoped that when our house was ready a new perfect place would be found. Luck, fate, or god went on to a new more demented trick because our old house was listed on a Wednesday and we had a contract on the house with a buyer two weeks later. It was now a race to find a new house that met all of Dragonwife's needs before the new owner's brought the county sheriff to the door to have us thrown out. Now after work during the week and all weekend Dragonwife would be buzzing neighborhoods with our realtor trying to once again locate a house with the proper color, builder, size, location, style, floor plan, and any number of other factors. Dragonwife had worked herself into a shark-like frenzy shooting down a whole host of homes for the strangest of reasons that made no sense to me. Our realtor, in my opinion, while doing a great job getting our house sold completely failed in guiding Dragonwife to a set of reasonable expectations with all her requirements. One exception during this period was a house that met everything Dragonwife wanted except price. About 12,000 dollars separated the owners of a very pretty yellow two story with bay windows with our highest price we would pay. The house in question had been on the market for several months and Dragonwife and I made our best offer hoping it would be taken. They turned it down flat. A little over a year later we rode by that house again seeing that the occupants were having a yard sale. After stopping we soon learned that they had just bought the house from the very people that turned us down. The previous owner's marriage went from bad to worse and were forced to sale the house for far less than the offer we made. Dragonwife and I that night had many margaritas over that whole misguided affair.

We were down to two weeks before the contract on our old house would close forcing us out into the streets. All possible options boiled down to the restrictions placed on us by the home inspection even though I floated the idea of moving into an apartment while building a house that Dragonwife could deal with in the mean time. As Dragonwife went back out the following weekend to look some little voice in the back of my head told me to keep my mouth shut when she came back later asking me to ride with her and see the three houses she had visited that day. In fairness I have to add that I shot down a couple of houses earlier in the search for not having a fence since at that time we had two dogs and Dragonwife had some elaborate plan about caring for them while we were at work that I just didn't think would work. The three houses she had saw that day all had fences and met most of her demands. The first one she showed me was good except it had a huge drop-off just on the other side of the backyard fence into a kudzu dominated abyss that I could see Spoilboy or the future Miss Wiggles falling into the second watching eyes drifted away. The second was nice but I felt needed far more work than the price they were asking called for but it was the one we should have taken. The third, and the one we bought, looked nice at first but we should have looked just a little harder to see the things that would have had us running away from the place. Its one true beauty was that the front and backyard were nicely landscaped. It a fit of utter stupidity when asked which of the three I liked I tried to joke that the third was the one that "spoke to me". I have yet to live that one down and more than likely never will, even with myself. Dragonwife, who hardly ever listens to me to begin with, made an offer on the house that was accepted far faster than I liked.

Like the Bush administration signs of how much of a disaster the new house would be were there from the beginning. With the buyers of our old house breathing down our necks to get out the sellers of the new house wanted more time before they moved out. They said that the home they were building would not be ready for at least a couple of weeks leaving Dragonwife, Spoilboy, and me conceivably flapping in the wind for at least one week, but some sort of agreement was arranged with the sellers even though I felt their attitudes were in the wrong place. Separate from the adoption home inspection we hired an inspector to check the state of the house we were buying. The expensive inspector provided us with a nicely printed report on the house with only a few minor items to be fixed. One small footnote in the back of the report raised both Dragonwife and my eyebrows. When the inspector went through all the sellers kids was each taking a nap in separate rooms preventing him from checking those rooms. It was then I wished we had added the precondition on a good inspection because if we had I personally would have halted the whole damn sale. Dragonwife, who I expected to raise holy hell, wimped out and said just to live with it. When the sellers moved out we did our final walk through and were stunned to see all the damage that pictures and furniture had hid from us, our realtor, and the inspector who by this time was beginning to think had been paid off by the sellers. The numerous family pictures that literally almost covered the walls hid a galaxy of small and medium holes as pictures were moved and added. Small floor rugs on top of the carpeted floor through out the house had hid the fact that the carpet was real loose and had been installed badly. Carefully placed items in the kitchen hid stains on the flooring in that room. And the couch in the living room had hid a rather large hole in the wall behind it.

After all the schedules of the buyers of the old house, sellers of the money pit we were moving into, and ours were juggled a date to move was set. I know God had a part and a good laugh on this one item since the moving date fell on a National Guard drill weekend for me and no, neither my First Sergeant nor battery commander saw fit to allow me to skip drill that weekend s I could be home for the move. The best I was able to arrange was my First Sergeant grudgingly allowing me to leave one hour early, around 4:00pm that Saturday afternoon but I had to be in formation the regular time Sunday morning. Dragonwife had already hired a moving company along with asking her parents to come up and help with the move as I sat in class after class that Saturday listening to how to apply a field dressing and which aircraft was friend or foe along with other classes because the security of the United States absolutely required my presence. I got home just in time to help transport the dogs over along with the lawn tools and mower. The following days would reveal that when electrical devices were plugged in the outlets had so badly been installed that they were also pushed back into the wall as something was plugged in. Removing the curiously over sized outlet cover would show not a neat rectangle cut into the drywall where the outlet rested but a hole that looked like the builder had just punched a hole in the wall with a hammer were he thought the outlet might go. Outside flood lights were burned out, windows were badly installed, and a whole host of other items were found as we settled in. Home improvements began almost immediately and I'm sure I am the reason this godforsaken area has had an explosive growth in the number of Lowes and later Home Depots.

Gallons of paint for every room, new light fixtures, patched and fixed walls and windows, and secured electrical outlets later (about six months) the house actually began to take shape. Being laid-off in early 2002 along with Wiggles getting home in 2003 put a hold on a lot more improvements. With the diaspora of kids the ages of my mine from the neighborhood we began getting ready to sale the money pit. Just our luck, or maybe God again but what had been a red hot sellers market in our area up and died like Rick Springfield's singing career as the sub-prime meltdown hit. But along the way to this point we wore out two heavy duty garbage disposals, melted down one of the garage door openers for reasons I can't figure out, and suffered three separate lightening strikes on the trees in the yard. Each requiring massive cutting to remove them from view, more evidence that God is enjoying this at my expense. Due to the normal wear and tear of people living in any house I have found that I have had to repaint much of the walls I had already done and am now looking at repainting the living room again. At least the inside is done except for the living room, which I will do, and the upstairs room which we will have someone else tackle. That is if I can keep the gremlins of entropy, my children, from having me go back again and repaint or fix their latest attempt at driving me crazy before the housing market comes back. One thing I know for certain, it’s going to be a close race!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Looking for the temporal post office

Colonel Colonel tagged me with the meme, created by Malach ,to write a letter to myself when I was 13. My response is very late and for that I apologize. Work has been a major pain along with my son and a few friends playing his "Guitar Hero" video game tonight while I try to write. Sweet Jesus I can't believe I actually listened to the crap coming from his Wii. For that reason I'm also going to skip tagging five others for the meme. If I don't go downstairs and get away from one more rendition of "Anarchy in the UK" by the Sex Pistols I will not be responsible for my actions.

Yo, Beach Bum you just turned 13 and your older self from the funky doodle year of 2007 found a great way-back machine on eBay (I’ll explain later) and due to an awesome meme floating around on the blogosphere (Yeah, I’ll explain that one as well) decided to drop you a little heads up on the coming events in your life as the 20th century closes out and the 21st century comes marching in.
First off, you are now living with your grandparents permanently after a really bad incident with your mom’s nut job of a boyfriend. You are pretty far behind in school and will need to really buckle down to catch up. But you will, your English teacher, Mrs. Rogerson will take a real interest in you next year and just go with the flow. You will try and buck the system but she will turn out to be one tough cookie. And you will actually come to like Dickens, Steinbeck, and Twain. Really! And no poetry and you will never get along just accept that your brain ain’t wired for it. Ogden Nash is about the best you will understand.
If you find yourself alone with one of the cute blond girls in your seventh grade class go ahead and try to kiss her. She will tell you in high school that she had a huge crush on you but couldn’t get your attention even though you are just really shy. She ends up married to a judge many years later but don’t blow away the chance for a little fun.
High school will be kind of weird for you. Out of all the groups floating around like the surfers, jocks, nerds, and rednecks you will hang out with all but never really fit in. With one of your uncle’s longboard you will learn how to surf but the other guys will be riding short boards and have some sort of attitude about it. You will play basketball during the freshman and sophomore years but not really enjoy it. While you have the height the other guys run circles around you. You will have caught on in school by this time and fine out that you ain’t that dumb. The nerds will try and draw you into dungeons and dragons but the rule book will be larger than the Georgetown telephone book and take away time from the beach. So when they come with all the D and D stuff and a strange gleam in their eyes, run fast. The rednecks will be the most curious of groups. Most of the people you know in school will be rednecks and you will cut class a few times while smoking some reefer with them but you will turn away because they will be severely raciest and that will just bug the utter shit out of you. Just continue to be the laid back dude and sit next to the first girl you see in your biology 2 class, it will be worth it.
In your senior year you will join the National Guard and do basic training and the Advanced Individual Training at Fort Bliss, Texas. DO NOT go to Juarez, just stay in the barracks or hook up with some of the other guys and go see Red Dawn again. Don’t ask just stay away but you do not want to spend the night in a dumpster as several Mexicans look for you.
After you return home from your training you will spend two years floating around working a job that you will come to hate. At this point while you make up your mind to go active duty in the army the best thing for you to do besides running up and down the road to Myrtle Beach would be for you to at least take some classes at the community college. But do take the lifesaving job at the water park, the chicks there will be awesome.
When you finally decided to go active duty don’t pick Fort Carson, Colorado. You will have the option to go to West Germany, do it. First, you will make it to Colorado in July but by December will have seen enough snow for the rest of your life. And except for precipitating in a REFORGER to Europe for five months and a much shorter trip to Honduras a couple of years later you will stay there your entire active time there. But your youngest brother, Joe Cool, will fly out to ride back home with you. He and you will make a side trip to New Orleans and have one of the best times of your lives. Stay an extra couple of days, the city gets blasted by a hurricane in 2005 and will not be the same.
You finally get to college, at least the local community college, and will earn an Associate Degree in electronics. Grandpop will have passed recently, one of the reasons you left the service, and you will live with Granny as you go to school and work a part-time job. Take some time with her, she is really lonely and needs someone to talk with. You will take her to the beach one time, having a good lounge chair for her to sit in while you surf. She will freak over it because she enjoyed it so much. Do it more than once bonehead.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that in 2007 you have two fantastic kids from a lady you will meet at a Buffett concert. You will not want to do anything that might screw up the timeline and cause them not to be in your life. But in 1991 you will meet a special lady at the movies and think seriously about making a permanent relationship with her. What will change your mind will be a less than mature attitude from her that worries you about how strong her feeling really are about her and you. If you want to change events think hard, she is fun, cute and laid back. The lady you marry is smart, witty, and so intelligent she at first blows you away. After you are married though as soon as you say “I do” it all changes and gets really bad in later years with her being obsessed with ever small detail in life and controlling it.
After jumping from a few too many jobs you will find a job as an electronic technician at a plant making fiber optic cable. You will love what you do, how they treat their employees, and will be told due to projections that see a never ending demand of fiber optic cable will have a chance to move up quickly. Well around 2001 the bottom falls out of the industry and while you will hold on to early 2002 you will get laid off. But here’s the rub, after getting laid off again just three months after you find another job you will fall into the best luck of your life and find a job as an X-ray repair technician. It will not pay anywhere near what you were making but if you have patience and can ward off your wife’s fits over that fact it will pay off in the end. One word of warning when the fiber optic plant calls you back hang up the damn phone. The company you loved changed greatly over the time you were away and you will realize just one week after you return that you made a mistake. And one month later when you call the X-ray repair company you were working for to try and get your job back it will already be filled. If you do go back for the money you better be ready to cowboy up because it will be a miserable time working by yourself during third shift. The saving grace though will be another hospital job that will open in 2005, but the equipment you work on will be different.
In the big year of 2000 the biggest doofus in the world will be “elected” president essentially by five fat guys on the Supreme Court. Grab a good hold on your knickers and be ready for a nightmare of a ride because that bastard will do his best to piss away all the goodwill anyone else in the world feels for the USA. The Texas Doofus, a Jabba the Hut political manager, an ass sucking little weasel of an Attorney General, and a pompous heart diseased, draft dodging, hypocrite from Wyoming will also do their best to take advantage of an attack on the US and sow as much fear and discord in America to gather as much power and privileges they can. The pisser of it all is that Doofus and his team have more or less gotten away with it for now.
All in all in 2007 from where I’m sitting you will feel many things are not perfect with your life. Many of the decisions you made along the way were about as outright stupid as they come. But the best thing you can do is keep close to your family. Do your best to overlook what you see as their faults. Because dude you will have a butt load of your own. Take care of your kids and do your best not to sabotage the tour bus your wife and her fellow attorneys use to attend the annual shyster convention in Myrtle Beach, no matter how much you might be celebrated as a hero.
Oh yeah, eBay and the internet. Screw it, read a book and find out about it on your own.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dreaming for some rainy days

My in-laws purchased some nice property on a cove on Lake Marion several years ago and built themselves a retirement home to enjoy some quite time out of the crowds and rush of everyday life. Unfortunately, an over abundance of nice sunny days has gone from a blessing to a curse with their cove drying up stranding their and all the neighbors water craft on what is now mud flats. In the distance you may be able to see the white PVC pipe that they and others have had to extend to supply water for their lawn sprinklers until it was banned. As I walked the dried sandy areas I found thousands of tiny fresh water clams that had long since died due to the receding water. I also found very fresh deer tracks in the sand all leading to the puddles further away in the mud. Examining the pier supports you can see where the water level went up to before the drought. I touched a nerve on my father-in-law as I returned inside the house exclaiming how bad the situation looked. A house on mud flats is worth far less than a house still on the water. I'm unsure of how much rain it would take to return the lake back to it's original level but all estimates I have heard would require far more than it looks like we will get anytime soon. I think that was the biggest reason my father-in-law is touchy on the subject.

This looks out in the direction toward the main part of the lake. I was half tempted to try to walk out to where the new drought induced shore line is but got called back by Miss Wiggles who wanted to come and for several reasons at the time that would not have been a good idea. Actually the most disturbing aspect of this drought for me was seeing that land grasses have begun their invasion of the cove. I didn't get any pictures from other locations as we were driving away but these cove residents have it only a little worse off than others in the area but the lake level is still falling. While I'm in no way worried for the richer folks and the disposition of their boats and jet skis others in the area have a far more practical need for the water in this lake. Like Atlanta residents getting their water from a lake, many residents in this area get their tap water from this lake.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Racing to the bright future

I've got my sunglasses and my tickets out of the country.

With China and India racing to see who will be the new 21st century superpower to compete with the United States I sometimes just think it would be better for them just to sit on the sidelines and laugh as this country falls apart. With the media seemingly far more concerned with celebrity interviews, the latest escapades of OJ Simpson, Brittany Spears driving without a license, and who has an expensive haircut while civil liberties are tossed into a waste basket. Along with the stuttering fool living in the White House posing with Middle East leaders trying to play world leader and having something in the history books other than causing death and destruction there yet more signs point to the collapse of an already strained educational system. Some small Mexican village is still my idea to expatriate to but I've become interested in New Zealand now and finding some small town on the southern island there.

AIKEN, SC (WIS) - Authorities say a bank teller in Clearwater had a million reasons not to open an account for an Augusta, Georgia, man.
Aiken County Sheriff's spokesman Lieutenant Michael Frank says 31-year-old Alexander D. Smith tried to open an account Monday with a fake $1 million bill.
Franks says the employee refused to open the account and called police while the man started to curse at bank workers.
Frank says Smith has been charged with disorderly conduct and two counts of forgery.
Authorities say the federal government has never printed a million-dollar bill.
The largest denomination of currency ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was the $100,000 Series 1934 Gold Certificate featuring the portrait of President Wilson.
Those notes were printed from December 18, 1934 through January 9, 1935 and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury Department.
The notes were used only for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saying Goodbye

As they say about life “it never just rains but pours. I just returned home from spending the better part of the weekend up in a North Carolina hospital saying goodbye to by mother. She is once again on a ventilator without any response to any stimulus to the outside world and has been that way for about two weeks. The decision has been made that if she does not show any improvement by Tuesday morning the doctors have recommended, and my brothers, sister and I have agreed, that she should be removed from the ventilator and allow nature to take its course. A few who read my previous blog may remember that she was in a similar situation last year and that the doctors caring for her then had told my siblings to call the family together because they gave her only a few days to live. But just for the sake of clarity I will back up and fill those who might not know in.

My mother’s habits literally for decades were the worst possible behavior one could pursue. All jokes aside the self destructive behavior she wallowed in during the 70’s after the divorce from my dad marked my siblings and I very badly and it took us years to come to terms with the her baggage and its effects on us. But situations never are stagnate and several factors reined in the worst, but not all, aspects of her behavior as the years went by. But the damage was done and has now finally come to the forefront. Due to a progressively worsening heart condition a defibrillator was implanted in her chest about eighteen months ago to try and control her erratic heartbeat. Her doctor then, repeating something she had been told since the mid-80’s, said never again should she smoke another cigarette. And for a few months I believe she obeyed her doctors. Around October of last year her condition started to worsen considerably forcing her to move in with my brother Joe Cool and his wife on a semi-permanent basis with only brief visits to her house where most of her stuff was still located. Around the first of November last year her defibrillator started going off several times a day with her being admitted to the local hospital and soon finding herself in intensive care and on a ventilator. Treatment for her heart was severely hampered by the emphysema she had developed from smoking since her 20's. Drugs that treated one illness were hurt by drugs given for the other. It was on a late Sunday afternoon last year as I was getting ready to take the kids back home that the doctor came up to tell us that despite their best efforts he expected her to only survive a few more hours. As I drove home I fully expected to have to turn around and return. Happily and ever so slowly her condition improved to the point that she was able to leave the hospital a few months later. But not before my siblings and I spent considerable time and money trying to many sense of her financial situation. And not before finding a receipt for a partially empty carton of cigarettes that were bought just about the same time her medical condition fell apart. A major blessing about my mother’s recovery that I can’t leave out was the fact that we would not have to hide her passing from my grandmother whose health was worsen even then leading to her passing in early 2007.

Adding insult to injury after she returned to Joe Cool’s house and care her ill-rational behavior reemerged forcing my mother to move into Uncle George’s house down in Georgetown after Mrs. Cool had done everything she could to make my mother comfortable and welcome. As the months went by mother’s condition improved to the point she returned to her own house and with the aid of her home computer actually resumed her medical transcription job. Her leaving Uncle George’s house was not something approved of by the family or her doctors but she refused to listen and like many times in the past she went her own way. All that changed four months ago after she fainted at home due to her heart condition and was rushed back to the hospital where she stayed until about a month ago when she was admitted to a nice nursing home in North Carolina. The doctors had warned my mother that her reprieve from what she went through last year was something that could disappear in an instant. About two weeks ago she was returned to a hospital and quickly was back on a ventilator after her heart stopped but was restarted.

Her condition is even direr than what happen last year and she has not been awake since the day she was admitted. The scores of men and women that have taken care of my mother since last year have been the best to her and every member of the family. Given her condition this time I hold no hope for another miracle and have made my peace. My concerns are with my sister’s children who are far closer to my mother than mine. Joe Cool who took the lead in getting her affairs in order since this roller coaster began and is not as strong as he likes people to think. And strangely enough my mother-in-law who herself is even now in the hospital recovering from a knee replacement. They had struck up a friendship when Dragonwife and I were married and have maintain it even though my mother has been a far poorer friend to my mother-in-law in many ways. You might ask why and I writing all this? I have no real idea since many quite frankly do not want to know all the dirty details of their own family much less someone only known over the internet. My whole reason for even beginning to blog was just to blow off steam and maybe under the rarest of conditions bring a laugh to some far flung soul. About the only thing that comes to mind for my little mental meanderings tonight was to tell people that even in the closest families expecting someone else to organize their affairs in the event of illness or disease is asking too much. The legal loops alone we have jumped through have been many, and that’s with my attorney wife taking care of many things. I’m tired and calling it a night. More than likely I will not be around much the coming days, even though I may drop in just to get this stuff off my mind, and hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just another boring Halloween

Miss Wiggles was the first to notice the Halloween stuff on the shelves at one of the stores in our area. She and I were in a drug store picking up a prescription for Dragonwife who was home nursing a late summer pollen induced migraine. We were leaving the store when she broke away from me and ran over to the aisle where all the cute little customs of ghouls, vampires, demons, and maniac axe murderers had been setup to play with the highly overpriced, cheaply made, Chinese imports that stood a good probability of containing toxic amounts of lead. I set aside the ever present unanswered question of how in the world was it economically viable to produce and ship such trivial items across the Pacific so I could make sure Wiggles didn’t reduce the aisle to anymore chaos than it already had been done to it by previous other rugrats before her. As we checked out the various ghoulish toys I saw no reason to stop her from playing with the three foot tall dancing mummy figure as it twisted to the beat of “Monster Mash” but I must admit the thought crossed my mind that simulated blood soaked wrappings around the mummy’s mouth, I guess suggesting the mummy had a taste for human fresh, was a not something that would usual inspire a fit of giggles from my daughter. A tongue-and-cheek scary SpongeBob Squarepants episode will have her running to us for protection from whatever might be trying to scare the undersea inhabitants of Bikini Bottom. I let her play a while longer with several other items but finally had to tear her away so we could get home. Forcing her to put down the blood stain hatchet caused quite the stir, especially when she tried to bury it in my head Lizzy Borden style. Once we were in the car I did have to explain to her that Halloween was still a good while off since it was just the first week of September. I tried not to think how she might act in other stores as we got deeper into the Silly Season on the way to Christmas with all the glitz and hyper-commercialism.

For Miss Wiggles the days counted down far too slowly till Halloween. Just the thought of an almost unlimited amount of candy being given to her was enough to inspire a pseudo-sugar rush on its own. But the day did arrive and after a speedy dinner she donned the fairy custom. She and Dragonwife had picked it out several weeks prior from her extensive collection of princesses, fairies, and pixies collection of customs. Now I have to add that I saw, and still see, no difference between the appearance of a fairy and that of a pixie. But I have long since given up raising any question of the subject since I get looks questioning my basic common sense and intelligence from Dragonwife and Wiggles over the subject and see no need to make the matter worse. But much to my surprise, which it shouldn’t have been, right before we are about to walk out the house Dragonwife yells out asking Wiggles if she wanted to wear a different custom. And, of course, the answer Wiggles gave was yes so I spent twenty minutes waiting while Dragonwife and Wiggles went back into the huge mass of customs and assorted accessories trying things on only to walk back out wearing the same thing she had on before. Once again I kept quiet knowing the look I would receive if I raised any question. But I swear to God in heaven that if I ever find myself with them while they are shopping I will just find the nearest bar and start drinking until they come back for me. If they have to carry me out, well that’s the price of me being trapped in a situation I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The neighborhood we live in is rather small with few kids the same age as my children but it was flooded with imported kids and parents trying to maximize the candy booty and keep the local dentist special interest group fully employed. People talk about a military/industrial complex, hell that’s nothing to the apparent candy confection/ADA complex and their blatant axis of evil promoting dental decay so they can keep themselves in Benz’s and mansions. My children’s dentists, hiding behind his friendly and caring behavior is just as bad as Saddam and laughs at the end of the day as he drives off to his 5000 square foot house on the lake.

Not long after that we walked through the streets as Wiggles pursued her sugary crack with complete abandon. We easily passed several clusters of people walking their own tiny costumed tykes around trying to keep up with them. By this time darkness had completely fallen and the various groups around us seemed to emerge and disappear out of the darkness silently and quickly with only the footfalls of little feet making way to another front porch. At one front porch Wiggles was engaged in conversation with the lady of the house being told, for what might be the fifty millionths time, how cute and pretty she was when I heard the footfalls of several more costumed monsters approaching. The newly arrived rugrats turned out to have a couple of Wiggles’ kindergarten classmates to which precipitated a brief but exuberant reunion and our joining them on what remained of our rounds in the neighborhood. I must admit to a slight frustration with Wiggles at this point. The couple running herd on the four kids Wiggles had volunteered us to join were nice people but I just was not interested in running with them. They were from outside the neighborhood and had just begun their rounds but the main reason was that earlier the gorgeous blonde neighborhood divorcee had caught up with us, she with her niece, and acted like she wanted Wiggles and her niece to get to know each other. I was more than willing for the two to become friends for no other reason than to silently entertain erotic fantasies with said neighbor as we escorted and developed the budding camaraderie between the two young girls. But Wiggles did not want to go the same way they were walking and put up enough of a fight that I did not want to have a scene in the middle of the street. So the blond divorcee and her niece disappeared into the night and I ended up walking around with the nice but very chatty couple. My disappointment was soon abated and it wasn’t long before I was beginning to enjoy their company.

We were soon laughing our butts off about a whole host of different subjects, namely the antics of our children and their crazed behavior in pursuit of free candy. The tone from my companions clearly had them believing that adults would never act in such a childish manner so I carefully avoided mentioning how some adults act at major sporting events or when crazed movie fans see their current hot movie or television idol. How might I have known that the couple I was walking with might have been offended by pointing that little matter out? The husband was wearing University of South Carolina Gamecocks cloths from the hat on his head to the university colors on his shoelaces. His wife was wearing a sweatshirt that exclaimed she wanted to have Brad Pitt’s baby in rather colorful terms that I sure would have had Angelina Jolie out to kick her ass. As our attention returned to the children we were somewhat surprised to find Wiggles and the four other kids spread underneath a street light with all their candy on the ground. What was going on was a kindergarten age commodities market as the kids wheeled and dealed candy they wanted versus what they didn’t want. It was getting rather late by this time and after giving the young Trumps, Bloombergs, and Buffetts (Warren, not Jimmy) time to complete their deals and then we collected our young ones and made our way home.

You would think the adventures for Halloween would be over by now, but that would not be the case. Dragonwife had been doling out the candy since the little scurrying ghouls had started coming to the door before sunset. So by now as Wiggles and I returned her attention span was past exhaustion and her desire to be doing something else was pretty extreme. Upon our arrival home she had pretty much tossed the candy bowl to me and ran off to have a shower and “collect her thoughts”. Wiggles marched off to have a bath still grumpy about how one part of her candy dealings fell through. I set myself on the couch with a well earned Corona to greet the dwindling number of candy beggars while watching a Scrubs rerun. Several groups came and went with little beyond me making a big deal over the various customs being worn by some of the younger children wanting to give them a warm welcome. Sometime during the second episode of Scrubs I was about to turn off the porch light and pop the top on my third or fourth beer when the door bell rang again. JD, the main character of the show, being as zany as usual was doing his best to sabotage yet another relationship with some gorgeous babe while making deep meaningful comments about the human condition. I tore myself away from the show after the second ding dong of the doorbell expecting one last grouping of tiny tots looking for the sugar handout. What I got after opening the door almost had me drop my beer and that is something I never do. I didn’t find young children standing at my door with a mom or dad in the background watching over them. What I got was a girl at least high school and more than likely older in a very sexy, low cut witches custom nicely showing off her upper and lower physical assets. Beside her was a guy dressed in a very detailed and apparently expensive vampire custom complete with bloody vampire teeth. His most striking feature was at least a three day growth of beard that placed him the same age as the girl. Behind them was a Captain Jack Sparrow and much to my surprise was another girl dressed in a Hooters waitress custom more than ready to assume the actual duties at that much maligned establishment. The sexy vixen witch walked up to me and in a low sultry voice that had turned me to putty in a microsecond said “trick or treat”. Despite the fact that the three others in the group broke out into intense laughter, at my expense, I was still ready to give the witch and her pseudo-waitress companion anything they wanted in the house short of my children. Even though I was puzzled about the over aged visitors at my doorstep I was able to collect a couple of meager wisps of thought and found the means to ask them about their choice of holiday activities. They turned out to be students at the local community college, and yes the vampire and witch were in a relationship as were Captain Jack and the very lovely waitress that was not as friendly as the other three. They had done the party thing earlier and on a whim decided to relive their youth by going trick of treating. The college kids and I actually got into a conversation on my porch even after I had handed out the rest of the candy to them. After Captain Jack only half jokingly asked for one of my beers it was my turn to get a laugh at their expense. The fact that my eyes kept drifting back to the ladies seemed not to bother them of their boyfriends. I found them funny and smart with all four having real plans for their lives. They were not caught up the over ambitious career craziness many their age develop trying to make their first million by twenty-five. They all expressed a desire to enjoy life rather than be a slave to a mortgage, two fancy cars, and 401K. I’m sure Dragonwife would have been appalled with their attitude and would have tried to lecture them to mend their ways. I watched them; some more than others, walk away into the dark. By this time Scrubs had gone off and John Stewart was on now explaining some facet of strange right-wing behavior. Dragonwife came into the room soon after all fresh and clean and asked if anything exciting happened after she left. I told her no, just another boring Halloween and took a sip of my beer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Rare Honor

It was a warm sunny afternoon recently as Dragonwife and I walked up to the park shelter where one of the little girls that my daughter attends daycare with was having her birthday party. Miss Wiggles, my daughter, had already ran ahead and joined the gaggle of other four and five year old little girls playing in a sprinkler. Dragonwife and I introduced ourselves to the birthday girl's parents and took a seat at one of the picnic tables under the shelter. After the cake, ice cream, and presents were opened the girls ran off to play and the parents, while watching the kids, were able to kick back some and really talk. Dragonwife was in deep conversation with another mom and I looked up to see this old gentleman standing before me and introducing himself.

He was the great grandfather of the birthday girl and he wanted to tell me how cute my daughter was and how much she looked like a little girl he had tried to take a picture of in China during World War Two. He went on to tell me that he had served in the Air Corp and had first arrived in that theater at Bombay, India. He was an enlisted man serving as a gunner and radio operator on a B-25 bomber. He told me how his unit worked their way up to the Himalaya mountains in military vehicles not really made to operate at such a high altitude, breakdowns were common. But that the officers got fly over the mountains, or "the hump" as he called it, rank had its privileges just as much back then. The enlisted personnel had to drive over them in a convoy which was a logistical nightmare resulting in some issues that endangered the mission after they made it to the location were a base was being setup. The trip over took every ounce of strength he and the other members of his unit had to make it over the mountains. The cold, lack of sleep, and food were issues that not many people these days could handle. But his unit did and went on to run operations against the Japanese deep inside Chinese territory. As a very sad expression came over his face he told me about a little orphan boy his unit had taken in while there and how they had to turn him over to an orphanage after the war ended. I could tell leaving the little boy behind had deeply affected him. When the war ended he and many others went to Shanghai to catch a Liberty ship to come back home. Given what I have read about those hastily constructed tubs sailing back to the states in a Liberty ship was probably an adventure all by itself. We are not talking about a Carnival Cruise ship in any way. But due to sickness he ended up staying sixty days in Honolulu to recover. While recovering he did have a lot of free time and that even in 1945 the beach where Diamond Head is visible was still mostly green vegetation and not the gray concrete of high rise resorts. Before I could even open my mouth he said that seeing pictures of the same place now makes him sad because it truly is a paradise lost because of the over development. His voyage onward to San Francisco was again on a slow Liberty ship which made him wonder why he left Hawaii while crossing the rest of the Pacific. His voyage concluded as he stood on the top deck of the ship and watched as he passed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. He was lucky that he got a chance to fly the rest of the way home and how he spent the next few years getting married and starting a family.

I could tell that there was a strength to this man that is missing from a lot of people in this country these days. Growing up during the Depression and then having to fight in some of the worst conditions a person could find himself. Don't believe me? Try going from a flat, low altitude area and then go for a short run in say Colorado Springs like I did after just a few days there from my time serving in the army at Fort Carson. That short run felt like it would kill me, and that was just close to the Rocky mountains. His unit had to drive over the Himalaya mountains.

I could have listened to him far longer but the party ended and his lovely wife was ready to go home. It was a true honor to meet that man and hear his stories about a world and a people that are long gone.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tiny fighters and miracle workers

This past weekend I came in late Saturday night to help with the daylight savings change over on the various clocks in the hospital. The facility I work at was originally built in the mid-70's and has grown, like most hospitals, ever since and timekeeping is on a hodgepodge of different systems. Each time keeping system has it own characteristics and behaviors and at the very least has to be monitored to make sure they adjust themselves correctly during the Fall and Spring change overs. In a more recently constructed hospital all or at least most the clocks will probably be linked to one central time keeping computer which even given Congress's attempt to save fuel by manipulating day light hours would adjust all the clocks accordingly right at the appointed time with only some guy in IT watching.

Despite the fact that I've been working here for two years there are still many places in this facility I have yet to travel. My sterilizers, surgical tables, surgical lights, and the occasional simple X-ray room repair keeps me pretty restricted to just a few floors. So after meeting the late night changeover group in the basement the various two man teams struck out to complete the mission. My teammate, who I will call Captain Flash and as far as I was concerned the leader of our team because of his greater seniority, and I went straight up to the floors he was most familiar with to work with some of the more fussy clock systems just to have them done. As Murphy Law would have it that system's main computer for some reason only it would understand decided it would have nothing to do with the changeover forcing us to walk through and manually change the time. One of the departments on the disagreeable system in which we had to walk through was neo-natal intensive care unit. Walking into the first of three wards of that department frankly astounded me. It, along with the other two, had an almost cathedral-like ceiling rising at least twenty to thirty feet up with a huge rough triangle-shaped window at the top. Accompanying the cathedral-like look of the ward was a reverent silence that I'm sure remains during the hustle of a normal work day. Incubators looking like something from the far future lined the walls on either side each with a display screen mounted nearby showing the vitals of the infants inside. Both Flash and I knew we needed to make the times changes and leave as quickly and quietly as possible due to the tiny patients and their miracle working nurses and doctors. But I was shocked to do a rough count of at least twenty incubators in the first ward, all of them occupied. If forced I'm sure the staff could have fitted in about five to ten more but with the patients they had then they didn't have much room between the units as it was that night. One of the clocks was situated on a wall right behind one incubator and as I passed it to make adjustments I saw the tiny infant laying inside it. Underneath all the tubes and wires laying on a white sheet was a baby that I swear was smaller than my hand. Even though it never moved the steady electronic beeps and strong lines coming from the display screen showed it was still fighting. The other two wards each held similar, if not more, little ones like the first and Flash and I quickly made our adjustments and left whenever we got close to them. In the second ward as we were making adjustments several of the incubators began alarming. Worried that something bad had just happened I quickly looked to Flash and he must have saw my concern because he just shook his head no and went on with our task. The nurses in that ward got up from their workstations and in a very calm manner went about checking the shrilling units and after making a few adjustments returned to their seats. In the third ward I saw one little fellow, making a huge fuss, being removed from the incubator with a nurse taking the infant over to a rocker and rocking it till he or she quieted down. That baby looked pretty big and may have been close to leaving, I hope he or she keeps its fighting spirt because given the issues with low birth weight babies it will need every scrap of fight its got.

Questions that I never could ask whirled around my mind as Flash and left that department. Was the number of infants in the intensive care wards normal or had we just walked in at a busy time? If that number was normal what is the main reason for such a full room since I'm sure any designer worth his or her money would have built an excess capacity in case of an emergency? And like I wrote earlier they could have fit a few more units in, but not much. I'm sure the cancerous urban sprawl the Midlands has seen in recent years has something to do with the increase but surely not all. Several times I've read reports that infant mortality in this country is on the rise and while it would not be responsible for me to speculate I must admit the thought crossed my mind as Flash and I went on our way. Has prenatal care fallen so much that our fast food, couch potato lifestyle has worked its way to endangering our very children before birth? The only thing I was certain of was the dedication I saw on the faces of the men and women working that department. While adults can usually make their issues and concerns known to doctors and nurses looking out for them the tiny ones I saw that night couldn't, their entire existence depended on the knowledge and dedication of those trained professionals standing by waiting for the worst but hoping for the best. My final thought on the manner as we continued on was my hope that I could avoid that department from now on, I don't deal well with suffering children. And God forgive me because this was not meant to be political post but apparently some of our leaders can.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

American Idol winner, 2022

Spent last weekend at Joe Cool's house in the upstate of South Carolina. My brother and his wife, the lovely Mrs. Cool, pulled out the musical gear and we all had a Jimmy Buffett, John Denver, James Taylor, Toby Keith, and Dolly Parton concert in his house. Miss Wiggles is pictured here singing her favorite Buffett song "Bring back the magic". Which I might add has been her favorite for quite sometime and is very good at it. Everyone had to sing one song and I, feeling very toasty, sang the infamous Buffett tune "Why don't we get drunk and scre...." Since this is a family site I can not finish the title of that song but everyone should get my drift of the complete name. Spoilboy is currently using the computer along with several of his posse and I will have more to publish by tomorrow night. I really need to get a laptop.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Small Matters of Preteens and Computer Viruses

First off let me go ahead and state that Darth Spoilboy has not been harmed in any way. That the fault causing the unfortunate situation, a virus infected hardrive, with the main computer at the house and the aftermath as I try to restore it back to its full function rests solely with me. But I must admit that the temptation to ship Spoilboy off to Gitmo lasted for about as long as it took me to find the recovery CD, insert it into the disk drive, and begin to wipe out all the files that I remembered I had not backed up due to laziness and simple forgetfulness on my part. Now Spoilboy has not gotten off scott free by any means, while I take the blame on what happened I have promised him upon the pain of death or even worse the selling of his Nintendo Wii and the as yet to arrive "Guitar Hero" he is to never ever in all the years he has left to live in my house to download another game off the internet.

This all began on his last trip to San Francisco in which he spent two weeks with Dragonwife's sister, Lady Trump. The simplest back story on Lady Trump is that after spending a good number of years scaling the corporate ladder in such places as Washington DC, Atlanta, and finally San Francisco she jumped out of a dot com business with a nice golden parachute ever so slightly before the internet bubble busted. The internet company she last worked for sold used cars online and had established several huge staging areas across the country where incoming cars were processed to be sold. The car Dragonwife still drives was bought from her sister's company and the Atlanta processing center where we picked up the car I swear was bigger than some army bases I've been on. Even though the company Lady Trump worked for is on the trash heap of internet history and forgotten it isn't any big deal since so many others ended up the same way but I wonder every now and then what happened to the huge nearly identical processing facilities the company ran. She was truly running with some big boys and girls who could sink such startup money into such a venture.

Like they teach fighter pilots to use the materials of their parachute for survival after they are back on the ground Lady Trump used her golden one to setup a decent consultant business on the west coast. What she consults on is beyond the comprehension of this simple Lowcountry boy but I'm told its expensive and requires a minimum of a couple of days before she will even talk with a potential client. Given the cost of real estate and general living in the San Francisco area along with the money it takes to have a full time nanny for her adoptive daughter, Miss Materialgirl, its easy to guess Lady Trump ain't doing too shabby. During Spoilboy's visit he was introduced to the wonderful world of MP3 downloads by Miss Materialgirl's exotic nanny using some sort of paid subscription service called either "Rocket MP3" or "MP3 Rocket". When Spoilboy got home he used, and borrowed against, his allowance to pay the forty dollar fee to get a lifetime membership and began downloading songs as fast a our dial-up connection would allow. Yes, we still have dial-up, and its a real pain but that's a small ongoing conflict with Dragonwife I'm not ready to engage all my forces in to change. I have my own agenda, namely to get another surfboard and wetsuit, but that a mid-life crisis post for another time. I curiously found myself pushed out of the family room where the main computer is located due to Spoilboy's taste in music and that given he is in middle school now his rather strangely early and heavy load of projects requiring research. Either Dragonwife or myself review his assignments and as long as he brings back the proper grade we let him have his privacy to do his work while listening to his music. The fact that I'm relegated to the backup computer is small potatoes as long as he keeps bringing in good grades.

The currents problems began when late last week I noticed Spoilboy playing with a new computer video game that looked like something from the 80's. It consisted of two tanks on opposite sides of a mountain shooting various types of weapons over the peak to wreak havoc on each other. The graphics were very primitive and at first reminded me of what I'm sure is still the favorite game of conservatives still dreaming their own version of Star Wars ,"Missile Command". I asked Spoilboy where the new game came from and he said that his MP3 download service also offered video clips and games. A few alarms went off right then but Miss Materialgirl's nanny had assured him that every aspect of the service was safe and legitimate. The fact that it was easy to surmise my son had developed a crush on Materialgirl's nanny while on his visit and would have danced a jig in a dress at school had she asked I believed that the service was safe. Being honest here, I've seen pictures of Materialgirl's nanny and if she asked me to dance naked at the local Wal-Mart I more than likely would, she is a hot dark haired twenty-something with a stunning smile. Later on though early last weekend Spoilboy surfed over to the actually website the game came from and downloaded several expansion packs for the tank game. There on out the computer began a slow meltdown. The first issue were strange pop-up advertisements that said they could fix whatever bugs might be bothering your computer. The pop-ups were appearing on small windows of Internet Explorer over my normal browser Mozilla's Firefox. I had not had a pop-up issue since I started using Mozilla and was surprisingly bewildered to have them surface again. At first I had no idea why this was happening and actually wondered if the newly installed Microsoft Office 2007 that we bought just so Spoilboy could have Power Point might be the cause.

Hindsight being what it is I should have started saving files right then that Saturday because by Sunday morning the virus had worked its way enough that as soon as a pop-up appeared it knocked whomever was using the computer off the internet. I was watching "Meet the Press" right then and said it would wait. I think it was the show with Stephen Cobert announcing his run for president and I was not about to miss whatever he had to say. Its really sad that I would hold everything else up for a political comedian but would have went running upstairs had that segment had just about anybody else on, both Democrat or Republican. By the time I did make it upstairs the situation had deteriorated to the point that as soon as you tried to launch a program the computer would shut down and reboot itself, only to do the same thing again. The course of action after that given the lack of time I had was to run the recovery disk and slowly bring everything back to where I had it. Spoilboy was completely oblivious to what had happened and it took questioning on my part, no I didn't waterboard him, to understand why the computer went tits up so fast.

Usually I'm almost religious about backing up files to CD's but had not done so far longer than I even now want to thnk about due to work, both on the job and at home, sheer laziness, and because Spoilboy had taken up so much time doing homework. While a bunch of files were meaningless junk I did lose almost all my stuff from my last blog "Ramblings of a Lexington Parrothead". It was burned to a CD that Miss Wiggles at some point found and broke. At the time I said no worries because I had also stored it on the main computer's hardrive, boy can I be a dunderhead or what? The other set of files I lost were about 300 to 400 pictures that I was one set away from burning to a disk. Included in that lost set were all the pictures from the 2007 Disney trip and some damn good shots of a butterfly garden at EPCOT. The one surviving picture is of the shuttle I took going into orbit from Vero Beach which can be seen one of the early posts on this blog. Like I wrote earlier this is mainly my fault and if the worst thing Spoilboy ever does as a kid is screw up the computer I will consider myself very lucky. But given the expensive computer video games Spoilboy abounds in I have told him the minute I find a downloaded game again I will hang him upside down from the family room window. He came back saying, with a poop eating grin far more serious than I would expect from someone his age, that since my memory about backing files up is being affected by my advancing age he will help me to overcome my growing limitations. Sometimes the truth really hurts, and its made even worse coming from a slightly smart ass son.

Going to the upstate for a couple of days, everyone have a great weekend.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Bogeyman

Just don't look into the mirror, you may not like what you see.

Many times in the past I have attempted to get one of my brothers, whom I call the Pastor, to engage in my blog by getting him leave comments so we could more readily discuss the issues that separate us. As his code name implies he is an evangelical Christian and takes his faith very seriously and this post is in no way an attack on his beliefs. While I have my own frayed and tattered faith, uncertain in many aspects of life the Pastor rides along with great certainty and assurance in God's plan and his part in it. Our disagreements are many but we are generally able to discuss them without digressing to grade school level but since we live in separate parts of the state and our lives fling us in different directions we very rarely get into the deep discussions we once were able to engage in.

In the past my positions on issues have, and will continue, to take a crazy zig zag path as I try to figure things out as I go. I have a very short half-life when it concerns ideologues and the enforced party line. But if I'm forced to classify myself beyond the generic safe term of Independent I would have to say that I'm a Libertarian with progressive valves or a Progressive with libertarian principles. If this sounds like I'm making things up as I go along, you should award yourself a nice warm gooey chocolate chip cookie. Hell, once I figure out all the crap associated with life in these United States I plan on writing a book with all the answers and getting filthy rich then retiring to an old fashion estate on some island in the Caribbean. On the other hand, once I believe I think I've figured anything out to a great detail it will more than likely be time to call out the guys with the butterfly nets and have my ass thrown into some padded room. So when you throw the Pastor, with his rock hard faith, and me together with my eclectic and disjointed beliefs the discussions are bound to be lively but never boring. But like I wrote earlier such events are rare and the Pastor, while freely surfing the internet at home, is just not one to engage in debates in an internet environment. But that does not stop him from reading my blog then calling my house and waking me up say around 1:00am in the God forsaken morning like he did recently. The Pastor is a long haul trucker and at times his route can bring him home late at night and since he's now almost wired to such times he usually can't sleep until he unwinds and I receive a late night verbal assault over the phones which are tiring but he is my brother after all.

A couple of times recently I have used the phrase "government approved bogeyman" to describe the people and organizations we are suppose to be fighting in what is more generally called the "War on Terror". My term is used in a derogatory manner to mock the fear mongers in the media and government who have used the attacks on 9/11 for their own political purposes while branding those that oppose them as cowards at best or traitors at worst. My dear brother called me up in the middle of the night to ask me what the heck did I mean by using such as phrase and didn't I know that the nasty Osama had just released a tape wanting either kill us all or have us convert to Islam and follow his way of life. The Pastor had really worked himself into a huff over my cynical remark and as he ranted over the phone (he was paying for the call) I calmly and coolly collected my meager wits by pouring myself a glass of milk and looking for the damn Chips Ahoy cookies hoping my son, Darth Spoilboy, had not bogarted them again while waiting for my brother to chill out.

I’ve got to admit that I didn’t really listen to his rant because I had heard many times before and I was far more concerned about the missing Chips Ahoy cookies. But my dear brother typifies the worst in the armchair commandos that have mysteriously dominated the debate of the Iraq war and the general War on Terror as defined by the Mad Master Ferret. (That’s George W. Bush for those not paying attention.) First off my brother has never served in the military but after what may literally be hundreds of hours of watching the Military and History Channel he will offer his “expert” opinion on just about any subject related to soldiers or military operations. Now I’ll go ahead and state that being opinionated about military subjects while never having served does not disqualify you from being knowledgeable on the military or being able to offer relevant facts in a discussion but you should at least realize that others more experienced might know more than you do. Hell, I served twenty-one years and I’ve been proved wrong many times on a wide array of points, but I have stones to admit it. But far too many times I have been drawn into discussions by those armchair commandos expressing military tactical opinions wanting me to endorse their positions only to have a sour look come across their face as I contradict them. One of the more senior electronic technicians at my last job wanted me to endorse his “kill’em all and let God sort them out” expert opinion when the Iraq war started to go sour. I tried to inform him that there was a great deal of history, the Crusades, involved here as well as the Ferret’s new stated mission of creating a shiny beacon of democracy in Iraq for the rest of the Arab world to copy. As gently as I could to not hurt the inspiring Napoleon’s ego I told him that mounds of decaying bodies do little to endear the population to new and alien political processes imported by infidels . I know my brother and more than likely my former co-worker still hold to the idea that if the Iraqis just behaved as good little boys and girls and listened to the mighty and wise Americans, who have their best interests at heart, they would soon be up to their eyeballs in Wal-Marts and Best Buys living off the credit cards just like real Americans. And those Iraqis that don’t want to behave? Well, the Ferret has said many times that you are either for us or against us.

But the main thrust of my brother’s call had to do with my lackluster opinion of the “War on Terror.” John Edwards not too long ago said something about it being just a bumper sticker slogan and in its current form I happen to fully agree with him. The day after the 9/11 attacks the world stood with us mourning our losses and offering their support in seeking justice. But our glorious leader instead of calling the nation to war told us to go shopping and travel. Honestly, that should have alerted us right there to something very smelly and I’m sure some future historians will earn their PhD’s trying to explain that one. But as much as I love my brother his kind refuse to look beyond the creeping fascism and wolf pack patriotism of the War on Terror. They are strong on killing but very weak on the conditions breeding the extremism we face in the Middle East. Yes, we were victorious in overthrowing the Taliban and Saddam but our “reconstruction” efforts have been, and I’ll be unduly kind in my adjectives, uncoordinated and piecemeal subject to outright cronyism. As my brother wound down from his rant I tried to explain that even the conquered nations of Germany and Japan after WW2 were rebuilt and administered with intelligence, that able bureaucrats were more important than a person’s political affiliation or stance on abortion. And that our ignorance in Iraq was just the tip of the iceberg of how we have bumble around the entire region for decades throwing unqualified support, along with blank checks worth billions to Israel conveniently turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions of others. Of course that did not sit well with him; I dared to question the righteousness of our only true friend and God’s people in the Middle East.

I must admit that by this time not only was my patience wearing thin. I found only crumbs in the Chips Ahoy bag after finding it hidden among the pots and pans and the jelly sandwich I made in its place was not satisfactory. I offered my brother this parting explanation on the situation. Yes, we were attacked by cowardly bastards that wished to spread terror and kill as many people as possible but our leaders have taken Al Qaeda objectives for their own. Not a month after Saddam’s government fell in 2003 the morning propaganda team on Fox News was spreading rumors that the WMD’s we were told we went into Iraq to capture had somehow magically been moved into Syria. This despite the fact somehow the very satellite pictures that seemed to confirm some sort of WMD program in Iraq somehow missed the massive logistical effort it would have taken to move very dangerous chemical or biological weapons over bad roads and rough terrain. As the Iraq war turned into a nasty quagmire the Bush team sold us a bill of goods that we were fighting Al Qaeda over there so they wouldn’t fight us over here. They massaged and stroked the fear that the bogeyman would see a defeat in Iraq as weakness with them rushing over here to conquer the weak and timid Americans. This is ignoring the fact that with the majority of American ground forces, both active and National Guard, either serving in Iraq or recovering from Iraq duty with readiness a major issue an Al Qaeda attack on American soil would be a major victory on their part almost assuring that a huge movement would appear demanding American forces return home. But Bush would not stop there, in announcing his new fangled Surge to assure victory in Iraq a new bogeyman was needed. Iran is now being played as the reason why the Iraq war has floated down the poop creek and to stoke the fires of fear even more the same people that assured us about phantom Iraqi WMD’s now tell us with a straight face that Iran is rushing to develop nuclear weapons and demanding that we attack now to prevent the appearance of a mushroom cloud over some American city. So, I told my brother, you will have to excuse my tiny grain of cynicism concerning the latest bogeyman we are suppose to huddle in fear of hoping for our savior Bush to defeat. I tried to explain to Pastor that one time American might did not rest alone of how many laser guided bombs we could deliver on target. One time the sheer weight of our ideas brought down the Soviet dominated governments in Eastern Europe along with the Soviet Union itself. One time America was viewed as the “city on the hill” where liberty and justice, while far from perfect, was the going concern with people working to make it better. I did admit to him that now it’s hard not to think that all we are doing is just treading water with everyone just trying to protect their lifestyle and to hell with everyone else. That thirty or even twenty years ago the hair splitting question about what is or is not torture would have meet with howls of outrage by both Democrats and Republicans. Now, many of the armchair commandos actually chuckle about waterboarding and dismiss imprisonment of people without due process. The scarcest thing for me is the reaction, or lack of one, from Mr. and Mrs. John Middleclass. The Middleclass live in a splendid isolation with the Iraq war a distant echo only heard briefly on the nightly news between segments on the latest antics of washed up pop stars or spoiled politicians. Since more than likely they have no family member serving in harm’s way they only connection they have with death and destruction is on the X-box playing some war game. They are told to expect the bogeyman to attack at any moment but not to sacrifice or share the burden being carried by those fighting or their families. So I told my brother from my point of view I'm not going to be scared by the latest bogeyman we are warned might be hiding close by waiting to attack because damnit it the scarcest looking bogeyman I see many times are the banal, lazy Americans demanding that the world bow to their spoiled desires. After I finished my rant I waited for a response from my brother but found that at some point he had hung up, Oh well, this should really piss him off.

A Day in Charleston

The family had been attacked with an early assault of strep throat and everyone feels wiped out. I feel pretty crappy and hope like hell that the bogeyman post above makes some sort of sense. If its doesn't the following is an approved for families rerun of the Lexington Parrothead. I'm going to crash and will be back to my friends tomorrow. See y'all!

Way back in the spring of 2001 part of the adoption process for Miss Wiggles involved Dragonwife, Darth Spoilboy and myself traveling down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit the US immigration office to fill out some paperwork and jump through a few hoops for good old Uncle Sammy. This Lowcountry boy fell in love with “The Holy City” many years ago before the advent of gross consumerism which is ubiquitously symbolized in your local Wal-Mart. Many of my posts sing the glories of growing up in such a small town as Georgetown, South Carolina away from the even then rat race madness of the evil big city. But Georgetown in the late 60’s and 70’s fell short when it came to the purchase of major items such as appliances, cars, or even things likes formal suits for important events. On such occasions a trip, sometimes bordering on an epic journey, had to be organized to one of the many businesses located in Charleston that could handle our needs. Many times as I was growing up my family would travel to Charleston to conduct whatever important business was needed but after that we would always make time to see some of the history of that beautiful city. So when the adoption process for Miss Wiggles got to the point that we had to make a personal visit to the closest immigration office I was a small kid again looking forward to another epic journey to a city I love.

The three of us entered the immigration office about thirty minutes after it opened and saw that the waiting area was already standing room only. The gathering of humanity already there came from all corners of the earth. I talked with a couple of engineers from Germany, a doctor from India, a family from Kenya, and many others all looking to come to this country to better themselves. Spoilboy was about six at the time and while navigating the red tape was a pain seeing him exposed to the many other children also there with their parents was a good learning experience for him. The US immigration office in Charleston back in 2001 was a testament in bureaucratic red tape. The main mission of our visit was to fill out paperwork concerning the adoption of an orphan Chinese infant and to have our fingerprints filed with immigration. I thumbed through the various files as Dragonwife filled them out, she is an attorney, I found out that the mighty US government seemed to need assurance that we were not about to bring anyone dangerous into the country. Given what was unknowingly hanging over our heads a few months down the road in September I hope I won’t be considered too harsh when I write that overall in my humble opinion that orphaned Chinese baby girls should have been the least of their concerns. If the ridiculous paperwork wasn’t enough our encounter in the immigration office turned comedic when none of the staff at work that day could not figure out how to operate the high-tech device used to take a photo copy like picture of our finger prints. While Dragonwife was busy with some finally paperwork I overheard a couple of the staff about to recommend that we come back again next week when the person who definitely knew how to operate the device would be back at work. Volcanic vapors began seeping from the Dragonwife’s ears as the staff began hinting at such a course of action. Luckily a senior staff person came from the inner offices to take charge and was able to get us along with several others needing fingerprints taken processed and out the door.

It was early afternoon but after the normal lunch time when we stumbled out of Uncle Sam’s then only den of torture and began making our way up Meeting street looking for some small café that Dragonwife had read about in her Martha Stewart magazine. I’m not big on Martha but I have to give the devil her due because that little place, whose name I have long forgotten, served up a fantastic lunch that did much to settle our nerves after spending the entire morning tangling with our benevolent government. I had a She-crab soup and grouper sandwich that even now I consider one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. Throw in a bright sunny day, a light breeze, and a very comfortable temperature sitting outside on the patio of the café close enough to the harbor to have a small view of the water and I experienced something as close to heaven as I may ever see. The one and only problem was a Yankee waiter that got snotty when I asked for sweet tea as my beverage. When I asked for sweet tea that waiter’s lip drew back into something that would later be described as a Cheney-like sneer that even now gives me the creeps. He rudely remarked, in a Boston accent, that they did not serve sweet tea and that there was sweetener on my table which I could use, he then quickly turned away going off to check on other patrons. Dragonwife's stern look prevented me from getting up and re-opening the old national wounds by pounding his New England head into the fine Southern cement making up the patio. All I could do was enjoy my food and surroundings and lament the slow encroachment of Northern practices of serving unsweetened tea in what can be called the heart of the South. Honestly, I have engaged in many debates with what I will call neo-Confederates over the circumstances and the outcome of the Civil War or what they still call The War of Northern Aggression but the insidious practice of unsweetened tea so disturbed my Southern sensibilities that for once I wished the South had won the Civil War.

After our marvelous lunch we walked about The Holy City taking in the sites close to the café for a little unorganized sightseeing, for Dragonwife this was quite an accomplishment in going with the flow. Dragonwife is almost genetically incapable of just “hanging loose” everything, including vacations, have to be planned down to the minute like a major military operation, think D-Day. In normal circumstances she would have had us on one of the many tour buses that shuttle the hordes of tourists around the city at predetermined sites with strict times frames on how long you can stay. Only the uncertainty of the immigration office prevent us from being turned into tourist cattle seeing all the normal sites, many are good historical sites but just as many are old fashion tourist traps. I have always been one to explore on my own and as we walked past an ancient graveyard beside an equally ancient looking chapel I felt the old impulse “…to boldly go…”.

Walking past the small wrought iron fence surrounding the graveyard I was already fascinated by reading some of the words on the tombstones of those who were buried there. Many had testaments about how the person died and due to the years engraved on the tombstones I could tell most were from the colonial era about ten to twenty years before The Declaration of Independence. Basic math clearly shown that life was short and things we ignore due to the advancement of medical science could have easily killed you. Needless to say there were a very high number of infants buried there along with many children who never made it past the age of six. Looking at my son I said a small prayer of thanks that he was healthy and relatively well fed given that his favorite food was the chicken nuggets the burger clown passes off on the spoiled American children of tired parents. Wanting to make sure everything was okay I looked around and saw that even Dragonwife had become engrossed in the history literally carved in stone around us. Spoilboy had wandered over to an oak tree to watch a par of squirrels scampering around doing squirrelly things but upon smelling the leftover French Fries from the bag he was carrying around from the café they became extremely interested in him and began what seems was a conversation with each other on how they could get part of his goods.
Farther down inside the cemetery I had noticed several curious looking graves. A huge one piece slab of marble was resting on a rectangular platform which extended about two feet above the ground. I know next to nothing about cemeteries so I have no idea why these graves were raised up off the ground. On these types of graves all the personal information about the person was carved on the horizontal slab. As I continued to walk around I noticed one of the slabs had been cracked in the middle and as I tried to read the weathered stone I noticed enough of it was broken that I could almost see inside the cavity that I guess existed between the marble slab and the ground. I began to wonder if this was some type of “cheap” sepulcher and despite how gross it may seem my curiosity had me trying to see inside the darken space. I almost began to believe I could see something and called Dragonwife over to show her. As we read the information about the man under the broken slab, directly across from us we began hearing a rustling in the tall grass and we both looked up in time to see an rather large rat take a huge leap out of the grass hit the toe of my left sneaker leap up gain to disappear amongst the other graves. I caught a good glimpse of the airborne rodent right before it hit the toe of my sneaker and I will swear to my dying days that the damn thing was smiling at Dragonwife and myself. As it scampered off, and I know everyone will think I’m absolutely bonkers for this, but the first word that came into my head was “cool”. Dragonwife, who had been standing right next to me, was gone. I looked back down the main path toward the street, at least seventy-five yards away, and I saw that she had already made it to the street and had somehow grabbed Spoilboy in the space of a few seconds. I had never seen her move so fast in my life.

Much to my chagrin the incident with super-rodent had completely ruined the rare mellow mood of Dragonwife and all she wanted to do was after that was find the car and make our way back toward home. But I had fun yanking her chain along the way about my marvelous new idea about how to keep her motivated in her exercises. And all we had to do was make a quick stop at a pet store.