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log entries
May 2001


 

Tuesday, 1 May 2001, 5:40 pm

The train goes by.

I don't really hear it, even at two in the morning, but just the same, I know the train goes by. There's an east-west freight line that approaches to within 600 yards of my bedroom window, and it crosses section-line roads half a mile from me in either direction, so the train, as a safety measure, will sound its horn. It doesn't sound quite like anything else. The occasional police siren, the storm-warning horns, the yelp of the ambulance — all these things will rouse me from my fitful semi-slumber, not because they're any louder, but because they announce that something is wrong, something must be done quickly, something will never be the same again.

But when the train goes by, even if I hear it, I don't really hear it; it's part of the aural landscape, part of the regular routine, a reassurance that the world has not come to an end, that shipping and business and life go on. "All is well," as the town crier used to say in places like Woodbury, Connecticut, where the clock in the tower of the First Congregational Church sings the hour, in the middle of the day or in the dead of night, stirring up complaints from people who don't understand — or have forgotten — what it means when the train goes by.

Wednesday, 2 May 2001, 7:35 pm

If the Bush administration's call for a new missile defense system sounds an awful lot like a couple of six-year-olds trying to snag every last Pokémon card, well, shucks, Mom, the Pentagon hasn't had any new toys in ages, and some of the ones they did get really sort of sucked.

Then again, it's not like the Russians pose much of a threat anymore; yeah, they've got missiles, but maintenance on them eats up a tidy chunk of the military budget, and if they want any more, they're going to have to have a whole lot of bake sales. As for the Chinese and the North Koreans, they do love that old-fashioned Communist bluster, but they're just as hard up for hard currency, and what's more, Beijing seems to be running out of Democratic candidates to finance.

Thursday, 3 May 2001, 5:20 pm

Yet Another Life Lesson Dept.: It may or may not be true that all the good ones are taken, but it is definitely not true that all the taken ones are good.

On the good side of the ledger, happy birthday, Mrs Vanderhorst (not her real name). All these years, it turns out, I've been celebrating it on the wrong day. There's always, of course, the question of whether I had any business celebrating it at all, but there are times when memory — even a wayward memory like mine — trumps propriety.

Friday, 4 May 2001, 5:10 pm

You can still ask Jeeves, but for non-canned responses from actual humanoids, the place to go was WHquestion. Unfortunately, the key word here is "was".

After an unexpectedly warm and dry April, it's starting to look more like a typically soggy Oklahoma spring. May traditionally is the wettest month — in an average 33-inch year, May accounts for about five — and from the looks of things, this damp pattern should hold up through the weekend (figures, since it's the first weekend I've had off in a while) and into the middle of next week. I'm not particularly perturbed by this, though it would definitely bug me if I rode a motorcycle.

Saturday, 5 May 2001, 4:10 pm

The amount of vehicular detritus cluttering up the back lot has increased by a third, or maybe more if you're scoring by mass. Joining the ancient Ford sedan and the less-ancient Dodge minivan stuffed with trash bags (and I don't want to know what they're stuffed with) is a late-Seventies Buick LeSabre with an expired registration (two years ago) whose paint job over the years has devolved into colors that exist only in snot. The possessor ("owner" might be pushing it) of this carriage du merde evidently is concerned for its safety; the front wheels have been removed — the hubs rest on a swiped railroad tie — and it's parked at a 50-degree angle, making it quite difficult for anyone to park anywhere nearby. However, there is no trunk lock, so the likelihood that there's a corpse in the back is, I infer, fairly low.

Last night's storms blew through with medium ferocity; the main event was listening to the local weather guys spending half the time explaining how this was nothing like two years ago when the F5s came to town and cut a mile-wide swath through homes and parks and strip malls. I guess they figure we really need the assurance — or perhaps we just need Fox NFL Sunday weather reporter Jillian Barberi, who explains her popularity this way: "I have breasts and I can deliver accurate forecasts." Gary England, eat your heart out.

Sunday, 6 May 2001, 3:45 pm

Today, updates on yesterday's items.

Apparently the Big Booger Buick isn't necessarily going to be abandoned here just yet; somebody rolled a couple of tires under its front end and backed it into a parallel position that blocks no one. I didn't check to see what happened to the railroad tie.

As for the weather, which often as not fails to do what it's predicted to do, meteorologist (and chaos theory godfather) Edward Lorenz, in a lecture subsequently published in the book The Essence of Chaos, offers this observation:

"To the oft-heard question 'Why can't we make better weather forecasts?' I have been tempted to say, 'Well, why should we be able to make any forecasts at all?'"

Monday, 7 May 2001, 8:10 pm

Pray for beer:

Our lager,
which art in barrels,
hallowed be thy drink,
thy will be drunk, (I will be drunk),
at home as I am in the tavern.
Give us this day our foamy head,
and forgive us our spillages,
as we forgive those who spill against us,
and lead us not to incarceration,
but deliver us from hangovers,
for thine is the beer,
the bitter and the lager,
forever and ever,
Barmen.

And with that, I have to go shake the dew off the lily.

Tuesday, 8 May 2001, 7:25 pm

Online journals and diaries and other forms of personal expression account for an increasing amount of my Web surfing, and being excessively analytical by nature, I occasionally find myself wondering whether I'm doing this out of some idealistic notion that the personal has a far greater intrinsic value than the commercial — "The present-day independent content producer refuses to die!" says Zeldman, with nods to Varèse and Zappa — or if I'm just indulging myself in some form of voyeurism.

The cynic in me wants to declare the latter, that I only read these things for cheap laffs and prurient thrills. But this declaration won't hold up under scrutiny. Most of the things I pass on to others, or that I mention here, are neither rib-ticklers nor French ticklers; they're simply things I thought were worth repeating. I suspect most operators of serious Web logs (I don't think this little backwater of mine qualifies as "serious" just yet) use similar criteria; they share what they think, filtered (or metafiltered) through their particular worldview, is worth sharing. It's impossible for me to read a good online journal, even if the topics are wrenchingly painful, without being grateful to the person who made it available to you and me.

And this, perhaps, is why I don't worry so much about the Net subsuming all human interaction in a vast miasma of strained superficiality. No, I don't know the writers the way I know my best friends; but were it not for the Net, I wouldn't know them at all. Even with a screen or two and however many lines of wire, of fiber, of code between us, we still connect to one another. Surely that's worth something in this alleged Age of Isolation.

Wednesday, 9 May 2001, 5:30 pm

I spent three paragraphs yesterday nibbling at the edge of what keeping an online log of this sort is all about, and then came across this, courtesy of Lisay:

"...since i'm too lazy to write emails, this is my way of saying that i am still alive."

The crux of the biscuit, indeed.

Meanwhile, the state has enacted another so-called reform: they have discontinued the annual (and highly unpopular) motor-vehicle inspection. Mechanics didn't like it because even if they really dug deep into the guts of the machine instead of a perfunctory hand-wave sort of thing, it still only brought in $4; drivers didn't like it because (1) if they passed, they considered it a waste of time and (2) if they failed, they had to spend the bucks to get the offending component fixed. As of the 25th of August, it's gone. Of course, I'm due for one more between now and then. Some law-enforcement types have said that in view of the law's upcoming extinction, they won't be ticketing people with expired stickers. Unfortunately, not all of them have said that, and I have no doubt that somewhere in this state (probably Tulsa, or worse, Delaware County) there is a police department that sees this as a window of opportunity for some undeserved revenue.

Thursday, 10 May 2001, 8:50 pm

It must be virus season, and I don't mean the sort for which one drowns oneself in NyQuil. A couple copies of Magistr found their way into my mail this week, and while I didn't take the bait in the attachment — this makes an even dozen bullets dodged since the beginning of the school year — I'm still rather disturbed that these things are getting as far as they do.

And if ever again I spend a decade in a brothel, I'm going to insist on owning my very own bed.

Friday, 11 May 2001, 7:50 pm

Doing the right thing is just as hard as Spike Lee said. Even reluctant supporters of the death penalty — and possibly a few opponents — are impatient to see Timothy McVeigh go down for the count, but John Ashcroft, whose support for capital punishment is by no means reluctant, has ordered that evidence withheld from McVeigh's defense counsel by the FBI must be reviewed and that McVeigh's execution will be stayed thirty days. This will probably cost him some Brownie points in a few circles, but this is, to me at least, more evidence that Mr Ashcroft takes the position of Attorney General very seriously indeed, and that despite my serious misgivings about some of his positions, he is proving himself worthy of the job.

To a friend in L.A.: Hang in there, kid. We're all rooting for you, even way out here in the flyover zone.

Saturday, 12 May 2001, 5:35 pm

Most mission statements, after you strip away the platitudes (and sometimes before you strip away the platitudes), are complete and utter, um, bovine excrement. Of course, the very word "most" implies that there might be some that aren't.

Signs That My Personal Power Is Overrated, Part I:
The guys who tend my 401(k) have sent me an application for one of their new Web-based checking accouts. It has evidently never occurred to them that the only way I could possibly have built said 401(k) into the low five figures was by keeping my checking account in the high two.

Signs That My Personal Power Is Overrated, Part II:
A downsized dot-comrade from San Francisco actually emailed me a résumé. In Adobe Acrobat format, yet.

Sunday, 13 May 2001, 11:00 am

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket and it ends up covered with fluff; it's a sad week when we lose both Perry Como and Douglas Adams.

This being the day on which we celebrate the putative joys of motherhood, it is very much apropos to point out that not everyone is ready for such a major undertaking, and if you're of an age where this could be an issue, you should know that there are alternatives.

Monday, 14 May 2001, 7:05 pm

Clarence Thomas and the Supremes have ruled that Congress never intended that marijuana be used for legitimate therapeutic purposes. Of course they didn't. If they had, they would have been pilloried by that odd bunch who think Clarence Thomas, who comes down on the side of the government more often than not, is nevertheless somehow some sort of freedom fighter — and we all know how much Congress hates being pilloried.

In a development of comparable usefulness, the American Meteorological Association is preparing to roll out new technology which would give weather forecasts the force of law, and would hold states responsible for departures therefrom; if The Weather Channel says it's going to rain in Florida, it had damned well better rain, or Tallahassee will have to answer to Sharon Resultan.

Silly, you say? No more so than this medicinal-marijuana business. I'd bet a month's supply of Avalide™ (irbesartan/hydrochlorothiazide) — $37.50 (Canadian) in Saskatchewan, $58.79 (US) down the street at Eckerd's — that if the likes of Bristol Myers Squibb owned a patent on cannabis, this drug case would never have made it to the Supreme Court. The usual suspects, it's safe to assume, are delighted with having won this battle, conveniently overlooking the fact that they lost the war years ago.

Tuesday, 15 May 2001, 5:35 pm

While playing the race card used to be considered the next-to-last refuge of the scoundrel, it's become such an integral part of what passes for political discourse these days that the pols are falling back on its rhetoric even when no tinge of ethnicity is involved.

Today, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), having failed to persuade the Democrats that the people who pay the most income tax should get the most tax reduction, pulled this card out of his sleeve:

"There's one form of bigotry that is still acceptable in America — that's the bigotry against the successful."

Shortly thereafter, Gramm filed a complaint with Jesus Christ, claiming that Christ's statement about rich men and camels and eyes of needles and such was blatantly prejudicial. No response from Christ as of this writing.

Wednesday, 16 May 2001, 7:55 pm

Add to my existing list of pipe dreams (tripling my wage, finding my dream house, wangling Yasmine Bleeth's phone number) the fervent hope that Microsoft, in its capacity as steward of the WebTV service, will find a way to add the ability to read Adobe Acrobat files to its television-based browser. As a practical matter, WebTV users make up only one or two percent of the user base out there, and while I have nothing on this site that looks particularly heinous on your grandmother's 21-inch Zenith, I put out a lot of PDFs at work, and the powers that be tend to frown on tech-support calls that end with "Get a real computer, fercrissake."

(Yasmine Bleeth? Sheesh.)

Thursday, 17 May 2001, 10:25 pm

I don't know which is more startling: the fact that the World Wide Web is ten years old, or the fact that I've been cluttering it up for more than half its existence.

You and a handful of others have been putting in twelve-hour days, sometimes even fourteen or fifteen, in order to clear up the backlogs and meet the deadlines. What is the reaction from the top cats?

  1. "Thanks a bunch. We really needed this. Soon as we have time, we'll do something for you."
  2. "Thanks."
  3. "How come there's so goddamn much overtime this month?"

If you're the one in twelve million who can actually answer 1. with a straight face, please pass along the appropriate address to send my résumé.

Friday, 18 May 2001, 5:20 pm

My Own True Hovel is, in fact, a multi-family dwelling, in a loose sense of the term, and therefore it is incumbent upon me to provide the unit number when submitting my mailing address for anything. (As Foghorn Leghorn didn't quite say, "Fortunately, I keep my units numbered for just such an emergency.")

Twice this month I have ordered merchandise online, carefully specifying the aforementioned unit number, and twice UPS has sent me a nastygram saying that such-and-such was not deliverable because the unit number was not given. Somebody's circulating some dubious FORM scripts out there.

Not quite two inches of rain this morning, not quite two hours before dawn, and with the inexplicable absence of wind, walking outside this afternoon was like striding into a sauna. (If you're reading this at dinnertime, I apologize for the visual of me in a towel — or worse, out of one.)

Saturday, 19 May 2001, 5:00 pm

Another 60-hour week, from which scarcely 60 seconds of actual benefit for the human race (not to mention its trusting companion animals) could be derived. Fortunately, I have learned the advantage of keeping one's conscience locked in the closet.

The Cola Wars continue apace. As I was wheeling into the supermarket today, a giant inflatable Coca-Cola bottle proclaimed the appearance of a traveling lunch wagon at which said soft drink was the One True Beverage, while on the curb in front of the store, a visibly-fatigued figure started another lap of the premises with his Pepsi sign.

While not everyone has embraced Zoom Zoom as a mantra, Mazda is finally starting, after years of ineptitude, to come up with advertising worth quoting. A recent 626 spot shows your basic towheaded kid (not the usual urchin associated with this campaign) looking wistful under the tree, asking, "Daddy, what's it like to drive?" The old man starts looking kind of wistful himself, the Zoom Zoom theme cranks up, and shots of Dad and kid swinging around are intercut with shots of 626 sliding around, while the voiceover delivers the zinger: "Remember how it felt? That's how it feels."

Sunday, 20 May 2001, 11:35 am

Today's spam for the "Ultimate Internet Marketing Tool" starts with a complaint about "the many internet copyright pirates, and those who have copied and released our products without our permission or consent," and goes on to offer the usual list of email addresses for far less than the usual $999 US. If this sounds rather like Bill Gates bitching about Altair BASIC, well, so far Bill Gates has never asked me to fax my credit card number to Miami while sending me spam through an ISP in Egypt.

The spam also contains this cryptic comment:

This message is not intended for residents in the States of WA, NV, CA, TN, RI, NC & VA. Screening of addresses has been done to the best of our technical ability.

While I don't live in any of those seven states — if you do, and you got a copy of this, let me know — I got four copies of this thing, which tells me that their technical ability is probably not something of which they should boast.

Remember the Big Booger Buick? It hasn't moved an inch in two weeks, and while the two hideous fake wire wheel covers under the car's nose surely wouldn't impede the car's forward progress, the two drive belts dangling in front of them indicate some problems. Of course, belt replacement, as late as the Seventies, could be taught to middle-school children with at least average dexterity, but the arrival of horribly complex automotive devices that require $75-an-hour service has made this arcane art obsolete.

Monday, 21 May 2001, 5:55 pm

Who is George W. Bush's biggest fan? Certainly not I. But I doubt even his detractors would countenance some of the antics at the Yale commencement; all right, maybe he isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but an awful lot of us couldn't have gotten into that shed in the first place. (Disclosure: I did not apply to Yale, though I was accepted by the one Ivy League school to which I applied. I have no reason to think I would have done substantially better than Dubya.) The very word "commencement" signals a new beginning; it's no time to trot out old woes. There will be ample opportunity to complain about the President the rest of the year. The rest of his term, even.

And just for the record, he picked up a point or two in my personal poll. "Life takes its own turns, writes its own story," said Mr Bush. "And along the way, we start to realize that we are not the author." Well said, sir. May we both remain on good terms with our proofreaders and our editors.

Tuesday, 22 May 2001, 5:40 pm

As life goes on, more of my regular reads perish. Greg Knauss has put off An Entirely Other Day until some entirely other time; Dack Ragus has backed away from dack.com. Suggestions for replacements are welcomed.

And on a more personal note: happy birthday, C (for once, a correct initial). I know I gave you way too much crap over the years; I hope it's far enough behind you now that you don't notice the sheer volume of it. And besides, on that family and motherhood stuff, you do good work. Not that you're wanting to try it again anytime soon, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 23 May 2001, 6:10 pm

With Senator Jeffords poised to leave the GOP behind, the Democrats will be leading 50-49 in the Senate, which puts them in the hitherto-unattainable position of being able to ignore Hillary Clinton without guilt. Given Jeffords' lack of enthusiasm for most of the Republican agenda, I suspect there will be some ill-masked glee on both sides of the aisle.

Fallout from the Kaycee Nicole business has apparently brought Metafilter to its knees, server-wise, and while it would be hypocritical in the extreme for me to criticize the perpetrator, I will point out two things here:

  1. This is a real community, dammit. Forget that individuals-in-isolation crap. I know an outpouring of caring and affection and, yes, the L-word, when I see one.

  2. Those who confine themselves to virtual relationships should not expect to find themselves less vulnerable.

Oh, and happy birthday, Dawn. I bet you look just as tousled and fourteen as ever.

Thursday, 24 May 2001, 7:50 pm

Undoubtedly due to some oversight somewhere, I somehow received a piece of third-class mail today that was not trying to sell me insurance. So surprised was I at this development that I decided I would actually accept the advertiser's offer.

Heady with delight at having recaptured control of the Senate, or more precisely, having had it handed to them on the proverbial silver platter — "Thirty pieces, more or less," sniffed Trent Lott — the Democrats are reported to have made an offer to Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), terms undisclosed at this writing, contingent upon his changing his registration from Living to Dead.

Friday, 25 May 2001, 5:30 pm

I am now closer to fifty than to forty-five. Geez, what a thrill.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder: what possible evolutionary advantage, other than the mundane task of weeding out the old and infirm, can there be in chest pains?

Saturday, 26 May 2001, 4:45 pm

In the late Seventies, I started working with computers, and I took an immediate dislike to them. Informed that someday mere mortals could possess the sort of devices that then cost many thousands of dollars, I said something to the effect that "I don't care if they're $199.95, there's no way in hell I would ever own such a thing." Not too long after that, I acquired a Commodore 64, for something less than $199.95.

This particular memory came back to me this morning, along with a later statement I had made along the lines of "What would I ever do with a cell phone?" At the time, of course, I was buying a cell phone.

The next step, I suppose, is to make a list of all the products and services I have denounced over the years and see how many of them I actually wound up buying, but I'll save that project for some unspecified future time when I'm feeling insufficiently dense.

Sunday, 27 May 2001, 3:45 pm

There's a story in this somewhere. I mentioned yesterday that I had acquired my first wireless phone (I actually typed "phobe" the first time through, and there's a story in there somewhere too), and it took about half an hour to set preferences for the seven or eight thousand options available, though I will readily admit that I spent twenty of those thirty minutes getting the device to play Keith's guitar lick from "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" when it rings.

The American wireless market is about as wide-open as you can get, which means that there is going to be serious competition, even in areas where there's little benefit to having competition at all. While we're fighting over the relative merits of CDMA versus TDMA, most of the rest of the world has adopted the GSM standard. This means that you're going to have to buy new hardware if you take that trip to France this summer, which probably won't bother most people — but it also means that if you change service providers, there's a good chance you're also going to have to change phones, which will.

Faced with this dilemma, I said "Screw this," and bought a GSM phone. Admittedly, GSM operators on this side of the pond tend to use a different frequency band — 1900 MHz, instead of the 900 and 1800 MHz bands prevalent elsewhere — but if we're ever going to get to one planet, one communications system (if you're planning on bleating about the New World Order, save it for your fellow paranoids), this strikes me as a hell of a good place to start.

Monday, 28 May 2001, 11:00 am

The sun comes up early in mid-Missouri on the first of April, but we were already awake. Sort of.

It was 5:02 am, cool and damp getting a head start on its way to becoming warm and sticky, and we were standing outside on the gravel wondering what would happen next. Most of us were eighteen or nineteen, but the adolescent bluster that had sustained us for the last few years had vanished with yesterday's sunset and our arrival at Fort Lost-in-the-Woods.

Not all of us wanted to be there. Our company seemed evenly divided among draftees, Reservists and the so-called "Regular Army". "RA, Drill Sergeant!" I recited as I moved up the line to the mess hall. The Drill Sergeant managed to look both scary and unimpressed at the same time.

Very little in that spring of 1972 made a whole lot of sense to me. "Hurry up and wait" was the order of the day. The story goes — I'll probably never know for sure, and maybe I don't want to — that after we finished training, the Army arbitrarily dispatched everyone in the company whose surname began with A through G to Vietnam. My H and I eventually landed in the Middle East, where there was arguably just as much tension but definitely a lot less live ammo.

If there's a lesson in all of this, it's that sometimes, whether we wear the uniform or not, we have to go through things that don't make a whole lot of sense, on the off-chance that it might do some good somewhere down the line. Many men went through the same things I did, and not all of them got to come home. Perhaps their deaths didn't make a whole lot of sense, either.

Their lives, on the other hand, most certainly did.

Tuesday, 29 May 2001, 5:25 pm

Yecch. I feel like — and probably look like — that shlub in the NyQuil ads. And best of all, I can't take any sleeping pills; they interact badly with my tranquilizers. So I get to thrash myself to sleep, and I don't mean musically.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has ruled that Tiger Woods can play in the Special Olympics if he wants. Or something like that.

Wednesday, 30 May 2001, 6:15 pm

Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) has never been one of my favorite people, but I've never known anyone who wasn't actually slotted above me on an organizational chart who was wrong all the time, and while I'm not sure why he decided to pick on traffic enforcement by photograph — did he get a ticket or something? — it's about time someone outside the relatively-narrow pool of car enthusiasts screamed about these things. Certainly no one is in favor of running red lights, and no one except maybe Brock Yates is in favor of ignoring reasonable speed limits (hint: 20 mph through the whole 100-yard expanse of Snake's Navel, Kansas is not "reasonable"), but traffic cameras, quite apart from that whole Nineteen Eighty-Four business, serve mostly to provide maximum revenue with minimum effort to governmental units, and dammit, if I have to work for a living, so do they.

And while I was working for a living today, I made the mistake of saying something nice about someone's garb, and was not-quite-icily reminded that "You focus way too much on what's outside." Well, maybe. On the other hand, what's inside remains even farther out of reach.

Thursday, 31 May 2001, 7:35 pm

As everyone in the 405 area code probably knows, the North Canadian River, which twists and turns and otherwise meanders through the middle of Oklahoma City, usually needs mowing at least once or twice a year. And though I've been around here for a quarter-century or so, I still marvel at those rare occasions when the North Canadian actually looks like a river, with, um, water and stuff. Five inches of rain in three and a half days will do that.

The local Mazda store has sent me a recall notice for Sandy, which I found perplexing. The prescribed remedy for the defect in question is fairly piddling, but what I want to know is this:

  1. Why did this come from the dealership, and not from Mazda North American Operations?
     
  2. And if notification began in April 2000, at which time this car was still sitting unsold in Texas, why wasn't it fixed then?

Answers will be sought next trip to the dealership, which will be Real Soon Now.

 


 | Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill