Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanksgiving @ the Beach w/Jane

BussStopThanksgiving is our dog Jane's birthday, as close as we can figure. This year we celebrated her third birthday with a trip to the beach, a place she had never been. We rented a wonderful old beach cabin, the Buss Stop. There are not many of its vintage still standing at Surf City, on Topsail Island just north of Wilmington.Buss-Interior

Small by today's standards, it suited us just fine. The aged pine paneling, low ceilings and appropriate beach funky interior - shells, lighthouses and fish images everywhere - were just right.

The owners have made the house pet friendly with a fenced yard. Beach access was across the road. Beach-Lucky

Even when the temperature dropped and the wind blew, it was comfy. The sign hanging in the living room summed it up.

The weather on Thanksgiving day was great; we ate our midday turkey dinner on the porch. It was about 70. TV football and beach reading followed.Surf

Then Friday the wind turned from the north. It might have reached 50, but I doubt it. Still the sun was shining and we took a walk on the pier and watched the fishermen and surfers. Surf City lived up to its name.

Jane@Beach1Jane seemed to enjoy her trip. Her ears stayed up and her nose twitched the entire three days. After a couple of waves surprised her on the beach she showed a healthy respect for the surf. She was well-behaved, especially on the beach where she made new two and four-legged friends. It was fun to enjoy the beach and ocean through her eyes.

It was only a short visit to the coast, but it was great.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hurricane Season

Hurricane season will officially be over in a week. Most will be happy to put the 2005 season behind them and not think about these storms for another six months. Others can't; still others shouldn't.

katrina Both Nova and Frontline last night were devoted to Katrina. Nova covered the science and Frontline the politics - Nova the natural disaster, Frontline the man-made one. While both were predictably a bit too New Orleans centered, they distilled into two hours what happened and why, and were excellent. If you missed these broadcasts or not, the websites devoted to these programs - where the links above will take you - add even more detail.

I have been meaning to remind my readers that Mike Keller and Josh Norman, two Sun Herald reporters that I blogged about after Katrina are still posting. In many, many ways their blog, Eye of the Storm, is more interesting now than right after the storm. Any fool can sound like a great reporter during a catastrophe; they are reminding us the story is still unfolding and that they are paying attention.

If any good can come from what happened to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast both PBS programs provide as good as direction as any to finding it. If we are able to learn something from Katrina, Mike and Josh will notice.

Big ifs, those.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Many Happy Returns

Birthday Party3Saturday was my mother's 87th birthday. My sister and her husband hosted a party that afternoon at their home in Richmond. Surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and in-laws, mother seemed happy. She said that all she wanted were hugs. She got them. Here she is with her best camera smile.

Birthday Party1A special guest was Aunt Jean, the wife of my father's brother Pickett. She is 92.

After the party my brother-in-law, wife, and I took her home and we visited a while with Pickett, who at 95 did not feel quite up to making the party himself. It was great seeing both of them.

Birthday Party2Here is mother with a small card given to her by my daughter.

After the party my daughter left tailing her cousin Adam in her new ride - a tangerine Honda Element - for the paved part of Virginia. She and her fiancee had tickets to see the Dalai Lama in D.C. Sunday afternoon. She was stoked.

I expect she will blog about her weekend soon.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Harrison Bergeron

Welcome to the Monkey HouseIn 1961 Kurt Vonnegut published a very short story that began, "The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal." The story was Harrison Bergeron and, as the paragraph continued,
They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
The story featured the Bergeron family: George, Hazel, and their fourteen-year-old son, Harrison. As we meet them they learn from the TV news that Harrison has just become a fugitive from justice having "...just escaped from jail, where he had been held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government." The TV continued, "He is a genius and an athlete, is under–handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous."

Vonnegut's story struck a nerve or two in the collective consciousness. Over forty years later the term "Handicapper General" and the character of Harrison Bergeron appear from time to time in political discourse. There was even a TV movie in 1995.

But when I read the story in Welcome to the Monkey House I was struck by the device used to insure that Harrison's father George did not stray too far above the mean, the mental handicap radio in his ear. As Vonnegut described it,
He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.
A variety of sounds were used. Vonnegut mentions a buzzer, somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer, a twenty-one-gun salute, a siren, the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges, the sound of an automobile collision. Well, you get the picture.

It finally dawned on me the other day that without the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments, or the efforts of a Handicapper General, we now have similar devices in wide circulation. Citizens, especially our young people, are wearing them voluntarily, often listening to sounds not far removed from the government broadcasts of 2081.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Special Place in Hell - Part Four

When my wife moved to our small city several years ago high-speed internet access was not available through our local cable provider, Adelphia. So she opted for a BellSouth DSL line. Soon after I joined her Adelphia began offering internet access with rates - bundled with cable TV service - that beat BellSouth. Since we were very satisfied with cable-based service where we previously lived, we went for it. We are now regretting the decision.

From the beginning our internet service would come and go. The TV picture quality, while never great, remained OK. Sometimes the internet outages were only for a few minutes; other times hours would pass. Finally, after a couple of months and a particularly long outage, I called Adelphia to complain.

Even though the local Adelphia office is just down the road, all service is scheduled at a customer service center somewhere at the end of an 800 number. So I explained our situation and we scheduled an appointment some days hence. Shortly the internet returned. By the time the service person appeared the internet had been working fine for several days. He said that they had been working in the neighborhood recently and that may have caused my disruption. He left, checking nothing, and in the weeks that followed the intermittent problem returned.

Eventually I called the service center again and we scheduled another visit. This time the service person did not appear as scheduled. Since I had been spending large chunks of time this summer on the road, I let it drop and did not complain again until the next long - over the entire damn weekend - outage. The following Monday I appeared at the desk at our local Adelphia office and told them we wanted to receive high-speed internet access. When I was told that they would be happy to sign us up I replied that we were already signed up, our service was lousy and we wanted what we were paying for. The shocked lady said they would be happy to schedule a service call. I told her I had done that but the last time no one had shown up. She disappeared in the back and returned saying a service person would be at my house in two days, in the morning between the hours of eight and noon. I thanked her and returned home to find the internet working fine.

The internet connection remained OK and on schedule the service person arrived. He checked the signal strength at the cable modem in the house and said it was good. However, I had noticed some rather funky cabling around and under the house, so I asked him to check out a cable that ran from the "head in" box around the corner of our deck and disappeared under the house through a vent grate. Two cables had been joined by a typical coax connector that was hanging in space, exposed to the elements. I thought that odd. He took apart the connection and said that water had gotten into the cable. He replaced the connectors and said that had probably been the problem all along. I felt a bit silly; I could and should have fixed that problem myself. I thanked him and he left.

The intermittent outages returned. Two weekends ago the outages became longer and more frequent. I took apart and cleaned the suspect connector; still the flashing light on the cable modem. I replaced the connector; it was no better. Monday I called the 800 number again. Trying to be helpful I also mentioned that along with the internet problems that the signal quality on my TV became worse on the higher channels, but that it improved markedly from channels 100 up. With that the internet service rep said the TV problem needed to be checked out first and I needed to be transferred to another department. She further stated that only after the TV service call could a visit from the internet service person be scheduled. Then I was transferred. I told my story again and was told it would be over a week until a TV service visit could be scheduled. I told this service person by that time I could have a DSL and Direct TV installed - and just might. Now with a slight edge to her voice - she must have noticed mine - she told me again they would be happy to schedule a visit, Tuesday next. She said they had no openings until then. I said fine.Coax Cable

By this time I was pissed off. With no internet and over a week until an initial service call, I had to try something. I decided to replace the cable from the "head in" box entirely. I found a replacement cable after going through my coax collection in the garage. I then opened the "head in" box, disconnected the cable and worked the downstream cable away from the crack between the decking and the house siding. That was when I saw the duct tape. The cable had been damaged, torn through to the core, wrapped with now-weathered silver duct tape, and jammed into the vertical corner of the aluminum siding. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

My wife then told me that after she had adopted two pound puppies a couple years ago they had chewed the cable causing the TV to go out. She called the Adelphia service people, they came to the house, and she left them on the deck while she went to work. Since the TV worked after she returned she had thought no more about it.

So what I was holding was an Adelphia service repair, carefully placed out of sight in a crack in the siding. I replaced the section of cable, the internet service returned, and I began to look forward to seeing the service person in eight days. I wanted his side of the story.

Last Tuesday morning I received an automated recording from Adelphia reminding us that a service call had been scheduled between the hours of 8 AM and noon on Wednesday. Not what I was told but OK, I could wait another day. Wednesday came and went, no service person. None Thursday; none Friday. None this week. No calls explaining why they were not here. The internet has worked fine since I replace that cable.

So I have decided to post this rant. Of course it does no good. The back story is that Adelphia has been in chapter 11 bankruptcy since 2002. The founders of Adelphia, the Rigas family, seem to have used the company as their private piggy bank, diverting money for their own purposes that could have been used to insure good service for their customers. In case you missed it, the Securities and Exchange Commission described it as, "...one of the most extensive financial frauds ever to take place at a public company." Some family members are facing major jail time for fraud and tax evasion. Most of Adelphia's cable assets have been sold to Time-Warner, which takes over next spring.

It is hard to pin any specific act of local incompetence on corporate malfeasance. But I suspect a connection between that duct tape and the billions looted from Adelphia by the Rigas family. When we read of corporate criminality - WorldCom, Enron, Tyco for examples - the fallout from these acts affect us all, not just stock holders. This criminality will continue until we elect public officials who will pass and enforce laws that finally discourage these breaches of public trust. Unfortunately the bunch calling the shots in Washington now seems more interested in promoting the interests of big business than regulating their behavior. Until that changes expect more duct tape solutions to your problems.

So I would like to reserve a Special Place in Hell for those criminals at Adelphia and at least a glimpse of the fiery furnaces to the guy with the duct tape.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Roses Are Red, Sometimes

Roses I have never been a roses person, too many unpleasant experiences with thorns as a child I suppose. But my wife likes roses so last spring I planted these for her in our front yard.

They are miniatures, Sweet Melody. I bought them at the NC Farmer's Market in Raleigh. It is November and the photo does not do them justice. Soon they will need a trellis.

I could change my mind about roses.

Friday, November 04, 2005



Last July I posted about The Economist, the news magazine. I mentioned,
"Of special note are the illustrations which frequently express an often bizarre British sense of humor that counterbalances the relatively dry, businesslike prose."
This was the cover of the issue I had waiting for me when I returned last Sunday. I really liked it. I am all about sharing...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Odds & Ends

As has been my modus operandi for the past months, I have been on the road. I returned to base last Sunday night and have been debriefing, decompressing, and decomposing (not writing) ever since. As usual, I went to Virginia with multiple items on the agenda.

Thursday, I submitted my step-father's estate inventory at the county seat. Even though his will and estate are relatively straightforward, administering any estate requires care. So far, so good.

Next was a trip to my mother's safe deposit box to retrieve some stock certificates. Now these assets of hers are safely being held by her brokerage. After that it was on to Richmond and my sister's - with mother riding shotgun.nnmap

I had planned to use last Friday as an opportunity for a day trip to the Northern Neck and another courthouse. I felt like I needed to learn more about some land my mother has an interest in and to determine what building restrictions apply to her waterfront property. To my surprise mother said she wanted to go with me. We had talked about taking a road trip to her family home grounds for several months, but she had resisted every date I suggested. Since my step-father died last spring she has gone through spells when she just wanted to do little more than curl up on her favorite couch in the sun room. Not good. So when she said she wanted to go with me and spend a few days in Richmond with my sister, I was very pleased.

So after spending Thursday night at my sister's we headed up highway 360. The weather was great. After the usual wonderful lunch at Lowery's we hit the courthouse about 1:30. Mother had been very chatty, point out places of interest and the falling price of unleaded regular. I think my favorite moment was when she said, "There was a girl I used to know who lived over there. She married some boy - I forget his name - but he died." Moments like that and I fear I know why my daughter calls me Captain Tangent.

Mother stayed in the car - sleeping mostly - while I provided friday afternoon entertainment at several county offices. I was a bit surprised, but in a little over an hour I had all the information I needed. We then drove to what is left of her family farm - it is a subdivision now - then scouted the other track of land she owns with her brother. We trespassed down a farm road looking for her old family graveyard. Never found it. Mother then decided she wanted to visit a few local communities. This little side trip added a couple of hours to our drive but she enjoyed seeing places again and remarking on what had changed and being pleased at what had not. It was after dark by the time we returned to Richmond, dinner, and a good night's sleep.

Saturday was the event that had prompted my trip north in the first place, the reunion of three classes at the high school where I worked in the mid 70's. Before checking into the hotel mother, my sister, and I visited the new home of my nephew and his bride. They have been renovating a row house in an increasingly trendy section of Richmond. They have done a great job, have clever plans for more work, and it was wonderful to visit with them.

The reunion was great. I saw loads of folks I had not seen in ~25 years. Everyone seemed to have a great time with the socializing starting at three in the afternoon and lasting well past when I went to bed around one. Unfortunately I was was the only faculty member there. I would have liked to have seen some of my old colleagues.

As expected most of us had more weight and less hair. I remember those classes fondly as a very special group of young people. It seems as adults they have retained that character. Several people I expected and wanted to see were not there, but I had several wonderful extended conversations with folks I had not thought of in years. Two of my favorite students who I had not lost touch with were there as expected. Just the time spent with them that evening - and breakfast the next morning - made the trip for me. The rest was a happy bonus.

About noon I returned to my sister's house and mother and I headed south. After getting her situated back home I treked south and home. Even learning that my fantasy football team had again lost - rant coming soon - could not take the luster off a great trip.

Now I plan to take advantage of a spell of dry warm weather to do some outside work around the house - roofing work mostly - and catch up on my blogging and correspondence.

Save the Bay.