Sunday, December 30, 2007

Twitter Me


Twitter is a the next big thing that is happening now. It's like instant messaging in 3-D and without being instant. Like text messaging on your phone when no one answers. I'm really not sure why it's becoming so popular, but there is a buzz surrounding it. I fully expect Google or some other big company to swallow it soon. I bet you could make some nice change if you invested in Twitter.

Here's another goofy application


She is your virtual personal assistant. She will email you reminders of appointments. I actually would tend to use email reminders. I've tried PDA's and can never seem to find the time or patience to enter all of my appointments into a calendar. However, I'm always using email. It would be very easy to fire off an email to Sandy and have her email me reminder emails for my appointments.

Anyway...back to my Lizard Avatar in Second Life. Hiss Hiss

Friday, December 28, 2007

Science Friday on Second Life

I'm sitting in a virtual world with a big white rabbit and some other very strange looking creatures in my Second Life world waiting for the beginning of Science Friday with Ira Flatow. This virtual world is a little like Alice in Wonderland on crack, too.

Here's what it looks like

I'm just outside the picture. My Avatar has red hair and green dragon scaled skin with a tye-dyed shirt and black pants w/white socks.

Life is strange.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Children's Story

Children’s Story

Dateline: Somalia - Late 1992 and 1993

U.S. Marine and Ranger units, at the urging of the United Nations, establish a presence at the Mogadishu airport. From there they struggle to maintain civil order and deliver food supplies to a starving population. Along with the famine, all semblances of local civil government and authority had long before evaporated. Chaos rules and lawlessness is the weapon of choice.

My sister and I took my mother to a local hospital earlier today for a routine ultra-sound test. My mother had recently suffered from a very nasty stomach virus, and her doctor wanted to peek at her kidneys to make sure they looked sound after the illness.

I escorted my mother into the first waiting room while my sister parked the car. The receptionist didn’t really say anything to us other than, “Have a seat over there.” So we sat down beside a beautifully decorated artificial Christmas tree near the front of the room. Above us in the corner of the waiting room was a television that was showing the last few minutes of the CBS Morning Show and then Regis and Kelly. Kelly was showing off her fitness routine and flashing her tight work-out outfit which accented her tight abs as well as her muscular shoulders and biceps. She was sort of loud, and I had no volume control to make her get quiet.

Across from us was a gray-haired lady sitting in a wheelchair quietly reading a newspaper and beside her was her daughter who seemed to be looking toward the corner of the waiting room off to my right. Sitting to my right a couple of seats down was a trim lady who was probably in her thirties. She was involved in an intense conversation with a man to her right sitting in the corner. He was obviously the object of attention for the lady across from me as well.

After my mother settled in, my attention was drawn to the conversation that the man in the corner and the lady next to him were having. It was most amazing.

The man was obviously a soldier. He was a rather short but very stocky guy with military tattoos on his thick biceps. He wore desert camouflage shorts and an Army Ranger camouflage hat. What made him stand out, besides the animated style in which he was telling his story to that stranger in the waiting room, was the large white neck brace he wore. How he came to wear that brace and other details from his life revealed in the fifteen minutes I audited (with their tacit approval) their conversation comprises an amazing tale.

The man, who I’m calling Waldron, is/was an Army Ranger. He was injured severely when he “fell out of a plane” not too long ago. I took that to mean that he was doing parachute jump training and had a mishap. He survived the fall but sustained a broken neck and had his back fractured in three places. He said that he had over thirty rods and many pins holding him together. At one point in the conversation, he removed his neck collar and showed us a vertical surgical scar that ran all the way down his back.

It was at that point that I stood up and interrupted the conversation to let them know that I was listening and asked him where he was stationed when he was injured. He said that it was a training exercise at Fort Belvoir. U.S. Army Reserve units routinely train there.

Waldron continued with his story. He seemed so upbeat and positive despite obviously dealing with injuries that cause him constant pain. The pain that he suffers is nothing, he told us, compared to his experiences in Somalia back in 1993. He was part of an Army Reserve force (most likely MP’s as I think that was the group that deployed from Virginia) that took part in the 28,000 troop humanitarian mission to restore order and feed the starving millions in Somalia.

Waldron told us that the Marines had established a beachhead at the airport in Mogadishu and then secured the whole compound with razor wire fencing. A few days after the initial thrust, his group landed at the airport and began their mission. Waldron said that on the first day they were there, they were immediately struck by the horrible physical condition of the people that stood outside the airport compound fence. These soldiers from Virginia had never seen the full effects of famine. On one side of the fence, the soldiers had all the food and supplies that they needed and much, much more. Yet on the other side of the fence, children were starving to death right before their eyes.

The airport facility was very secure with regular patrols coupled with a tall razor wire fence surrounding the compound. However, Waldron told us that he and his friends noticed a section of fence which had a very small hole at the base. This wasn’t a large hole by any stretch of the imagination, but it was large enough to pass items to the other side. So he and his buds gathered up all the extra food from their rations along with any other food stuff they could find and began sliding it all through the hole to a few starving children on the other side.

The next day, more children showed up at the hole, and they repeated the same ritual. This went on for a couple of days. Each day, more children would show up, and the soldiers would do the best they could to send them food through the hole. After a few days, Waldron said he noticed that some of the boys who had been coming back day after day had obviously been beaten. They had cuts all over their faces and black eyes. Concerned, Waldron found a boy who spoke some broken English and asked the kid what had happened to him. The child told him that their parents had found out that they had been eating and not bringing the food home to share. The parents took their displeasure out on them.

Waldron didn’t leave Mogadishu the way he intended. Based on what he told us, what happened to end his Somali tour might have occurred on that fateful October day in 1993 that has since been immortalized in the movie “Black Hawk Down” or it may have happened during a regular city patrol. I wasn’t sure which. He said it was his own stupid fault. He simply froze.

On that day, Waldron was on an urban patrol in the streets of Mogadishu. Every movement on the streets and in the shadows was important to note. He said you have to see everything and be prepared to react instantly to danger or perceived danger. As he turned one corner, he came face-to-face with a young boy, no more than ten years-old. The kid was smiling at him and holding an automatic weapon. For a second, he thought of his own boy back home in Virginia who was about the same age, and in that instant, that smiling child shot Waldron in the stomach. “It was my own stupid fault.” I noticed tears forming in his eyes as he told us that he managed to raise his weapon and shoot the kid before the kid could finish him off.

I looked away from Waldron at that moment, to give him a moment with his quiet thoughts. The lady next to him was shaking her head and crying. She reached her hand across the empty chair between them and placed her hand on his. The lady across the room was shaking her head sadly from side-to-side. The image he painted of that ten year-old boy smiling at him will stay with me forever.

Moments after Waldron told us his tale, he was called by the receptionist and taken for his MRI. I stopped him as he was leaving and wished him well thanking him for the story. He looked back and said with an upbeat voice, “Thanks man. You take care.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007


A reflection on the 2007 Virginia Tech football campaign


"More importantly, to focus on the national championship is to take the enjoyment out of a great season like the one we just witnessed, a season in which players, coaches, and fans all grew and changed for the better."

Will Stewart of said it well. My "malaise," however, was intense and deeply embedded. Here's what I said about it back on September 16:

“I suppose I could lay part of the blame on the tragedy of April 16 or perhaps on the interjection of big business into college football …Maybe that’s what it is. The Innocence of Virginia Tech seems to have been replaced by the Corporation of Virginia Tech. In response, Football just doesn’t seem to be as important to me this year, and that’s an empty thought all by itself.”

I felt then and feel to this day that the Corporation of Virginia Tech working counter to the Energy of Virginia Tech. Early in the season, I was feeling boxed in by rules and regulations. The protagonist in that memorable 1970 Five Man Electrical Band song, “Signs,” captures my state of being earlier in the year.

Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

Stop sticking it in, no more Hokie Club donations to the Marching Virginians; Hokie Respect crammed down my throat. I felt smothered by a Big Brother who seemed only interested in lifting cash for inflated season tickets and $4.00 Cokes out of my wallet.

Then something happened. The crowd grumbled about all the “respect” and the administration seemed to back off a bit. With “Stick It In” gone, the students began exploring fresh, new ways to raise the enthusiasm level in the stands. Reinventing yourself as a fan base keeps stagnation at bay. I cut back from two $4.00 Cokes to just one per game.

Then Tyrod (Taylor-QB) got hurt. Sean (Glennon-QB) reentered the “Team” with a fresh outlook and a newfound fearlessness. Suddenly, the focus of the fans began to turn away from the dark practices of Corporate VT and focused instead on the raw beauty and innocence of the game.

Each game meant something. Every player needed to step up to a new level. Fans were called on by the team to be there with unbridled support. Who can forget standing and screaming in the BC rain for three and a half hours and being hoarse for a week afterwards? It was like the old days of innocence when everything was new and a challenge. In the case of that BC game, things didn’t work out in our favor, but we as a united team did not give up. The same intensity was there for the FSU and Miami games. Then we overflowed Scott Stadium capitalizing on their foolish “Orange Effect Day,” turning it into quite a lovely “Orange and Maroon Effect Day.” The ACC championship game was played on that same razor’s edge. Thrilling and victorious. Malaise wiped away by unfiltered energy.

I’m so glad we found ourselves this year on so many levels. After such a horrific spring, we were blessed by a special football season. In no way does a good football season erase the pain of April 16, but in a small way it has given us all a diversion. I worry that Corporate Virginia Tech will not back down for long, however. I’m not sure we can count on such a special season every year to save us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Almost in the Spirit

About the last thing on my mind lately has been blogging.

Christmas spirit has come slowly to me this year. I did force myself outside to string together a few chains of lights on the bushes in front of my house. I was moved almost to the spirit as I followed an Isuzu Rodeo down the road the other day as it hauled a Christmas tree home...

I followed the SUV right to their house and watched as kids tumbled out and into the house for hot chocolate. A young husband, a smiling wife, two laughing kids. I walked into the garage with dad and watched as he prepared the tree to bring in. His two kids were racing around him spilling globs of hot chocolate all over the concrete garage floor as he readied the stand. Then when the moment was right, he hoisted the tree into the living room. I watched quietly in the corner as he and his wife strung lights around it. The kids were reaching for the ornaments as soon as the lights began going up, so the smiling mom had to keep telling them to be patient. When all was electrified, the kids began placing their favorite ornaments.

"This one's mine. I made it a long time ago," said the oldest boy.

Mom replied, "Yes, that's one of our favorites."

"This one's mine!" The littlest one said.

"Yes sweetie, it is."

They all danced as they loaded the tree with ornaments.

They were all so happy. They were all so joyful.

After the angel topped the tree, I slipped out of their house as invisibly as I had entered and drove away.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

College Football Chaos

College Football Chaos

Nuts to the 2007 College Football Season

The college football season is coming to an end, and as I sit here on this Sunday morning, there are people gnashing their teeth over perceived slights and others selling rosewater to the masses. Who will play in the big championship game in January? This is only a question today because Missouri and West Virginia, the two top ranked football teams in the country, both lost last night in their final regular season games.

USC has no business laying claim to the title game. Pete Carrol, their coach, claims he’s not politicking but then complains that their troubles this year (losing to a 40 point underdog-Stanford) stemmed from adversity...all teams face adversity.

LSU has an argument, but you can't escape the fact that they had a late season loss to an unranked opponent (Arkansas). Their other loss was also to an unranked opponent (Kentucky). Adversity? You bet, but every team faces adversity.

Ohio State has less of an argument for the title game. They play in a weakened conference and only played one ranked opponent all year. They had the luxury of feasting on lesser competition and sitting on the sidelines while other teams slugged it out in conference title games. Whichever team plays OSU will be drooling at the opportunity.

Georgia, technically, should slide up the ladder, but the whole "not winning the conference" thing is a major roadblock...even though Richt is quick to point out that there is no rule against it. They had some adversity early in the year that led directly to their two losses (young QB, young O-line), but all the teams (except Ohio St.) faced adversity.

Kansas is being overlooked, and rightly so. They lost head up to Missouri and really shouldn't be ranked where they are to start.

Oklahoma is playing powerful football now, but you can't run away from the past. They lost to two unranked teams they should have beaten, Colorado and Texas Tech. How can that be ignored?

Now as you might know, I have a bias toward Virginia Tech. Admittedly, I am passionate about my school. My years as an undergrad at VT grow more romanticized in my mind and dearer to me as I grow older and older. Yet, even though VT is in the mythical national championship hunt, I can’t see them as being chosen for the marquee game.

VT certainly can't seem to run away from the past. Getting pasted by a monster that doesn't exist anymore is hard for the nation to forget. If LSU and VT were the same teams they were back in September, I'd vote LSU in the game in a heart-beat. But they aren't. Injuries and discontinuity have made LSU a shell of it's former team (a very strong shell though). VT faced adversity like the other teams, even more than most. They had to overcome real offensive issues and find a way to win while they healed (Ore) and learned (O-line). Toss into the mix QB changes and major injuries to key players (Center, tackle, linebacker, and qb ) and you would have to wonder how we even survived.

Our schedule saved us. It was weak up the middle when we were struggling to find our identity. I would even argue that our recent four game roll was over paper teams. GT, FSU, Miami, and UVA were teams that all had issues. GT was over-rated with a Pop Warner QB, Miami and FSU were storied traditional powers on the skids, and France held a paper ranking after sucking on lollipops all season. They sucked on those lollipops a long time each game while most real teams would have crunched the suckers quickly.

In the end, I'm pleased as punch that Virginia Tech is where they a BCS Bowl and in the discussion for the MNC, but I don't think they deserve the big game. The thing is, I don't think there is a team that deserves to play in the MNC this year. I hope the whole thing gets so muddled that the NCAA will have to go to a playoff scheme.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pullman Attacked

Pullman Attacked

Perhaps, I’ve finally to gotten old enough to be wise or maybe I’m just an old, wise fool. When I observe movements to boycott movies, it reminds me of movements down through history that have banned books. As an American, unbridled access to literary works and information is one of my most cherished freedoms. I respect the right of people to choose not to read a book or not to see a certain movie, but I believe that when governmental institutions allow for literary and theatrical works to be censored in this way, a significant piece of freedom is tarnished.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, specifically the movie version of The Golden Compass, is being attacked because Pullman, according to the censorship movement, is an atheist and killed God in the book/movie.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is not unknown to me. About ten years ago when The Golden Compass was released in America, my ten year old son, who was then and still is a voracious reader, picked up the book and found himself immersed in it. After he finished the book, both my wife and I read it and were blown away by the story, too.

In the book, Pullman created a reality that is eerily close to ours, yet with subtle differences. He also created parallel universes where what we view as normal would be viewed as being absurdly ridiculous. From the very beginning of his tale until the last word of that first book, I was immersed in these universes. Quite honestly, The Golden Compass is the best adolescent fantasy I’ve ever read. The ensuing volumes, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, have a relentless drive and dimension.

In addressing the contention that God is killed and that religion is attacked in the series, I would say that I disagree. Keep in mind that this is a fantasy series. The characters exist in various universes. It is true that the antagonists are members of the entrenched institutional church that rules the land with an iron-fist using the politics of fear to keep the inhabitants oppressed. However, Pullman never draws a direct correlation to any organized institutional religious group in our real world. Others outside the story frame have made those connections. The contention that God is killed is a superficial translation of the written word in my view. I the titanic battle more as the death of a mythical god, like if Zeus were overthrown (I’m sure that might displease those who still worship the Ancient Greek gods).

What I think is being lost in the turbulence of the issue is that His Dark Materials is simply a whacking good tale. Since I read through the series once, I’ve gone through and reread the books two more times which puts His Dark Materials on par with JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams’ Otherland, CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia on my personal fantasy wall of fame.

For Another Perspective on His Dark Materials

More on Banned Books

"Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance."
-- Lyndon Baines Johnson, February 11, 1964

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Country Cousins Come A'Visitin'

On November 24, Virginia Tech met UVA in football for another round of the annual rivalry. This year there was a lot on the line. This is a recounting of my experiences at the game, a complete Virginia Tech victory...again.

Country Cousins Come A’Visitin’

Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.

Voltaire, the great French philosopher and writer, also said, “Prejudices are what fools use for reason.” As the week of the great intrastate rivalry game approached a great sense of anticipation ruled the sport world in these parts. Media did their best to pry controversial bulletin board material from the tight-lipped players. It seemed that this time, the game would simply have to be decided on the field.

Yet, in direct contrast to the players and coaches, the fans from both sides filled message boards with flamboyantly flatulent proclamations and puffed up predictions. I suppose the fact that UVA (a.k.a. UVA-C, DSU, France) was forced to admit that the game was both a rivalry and an important event sparked the pre-game hullabaloo.

Tickets for the game at the Carl Smith Center at Scott Stadium were selling at a premium price and were hard to come by…except for the 15,000 or so Hokies who managed to find them. You could see huge sections of solid maroon and other maroon dotted all around the stadium in delightful patches. It was as if UVA-C fans wanted to share the rarified Jeffersonian air with their simpler cousins from the south. In a generous sportsmanlike gesture, DSU decided to make it an “Orange” game. Consequently, the visiting gridiron farmers from the hills felt right at home when gazing upon the organic wall of humanity in the complex modern athletic facility: fields of orange and maroon, just like their home.

On a serious note, I certainly enjoyed my visit to UVA yesterday, and not just because our football team dominated the game and deflated the Hoos. My wife and I were genuinely moved by the efforts that the institution of UVA went to show respect and compassion in light of the tragedy in April. The mass band at half time was powerful and moving. I’ve never seen 600 marching band members successfully maneuvered around a football field like that before, and their sound was excellent. The pre-game featured a moment of silence for the victims of April 16, a fly-over, a solo saxophone rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, and respectful presentations.

Even the cartoonish Cavman refused to kill the Hokiebird on the mumbojumbotron. Instead, he growled that their disagreement should be settled on the field…no cannibalistic Thanksgiving feast where Cavman vanquishes his opponent then eats him. It was all so very well done and much appreciated by my wife and me.

In addition to the actual game festivities, I was shown great hospitality by my Hoo host who led me to a delightful and friendly tailgate beside the stadium. The tailgate owner then proceeded to introduce me to the most unusual and tasty morsel I’ve ever had at a picnic. She had made pumpkin muffins with lots of butter and added cranberries. Then she halved them and placed thinly sliced turkey and ham between the halves. The result was a most delicious turkey/ham muffin.

Of course, I have to bring up some other things that I noticed or that happened to me at the game.

1. I got a charge out of the two orange painted students who passed me on my way in to the stadium. They took the time to paint clever blue ties on their chests for added detail. As they walked by me, one of them shouted in my face, “WELCOME TO UVA…WHERE REAL FOOTBALL IS PLAYED!” I just smiled and walked on.

2. I really enjoyed the UVA guy who was busted while sitting behind me. He had been drinking at the game. I’m not sure how he managed to get alcohol in to the stadium, but he managed somehow. Anyway, sometime in the second quarter, a police officer stopped by my row and stared straight at me and began motioning for me to exit. I looked at him guiltily and realized that he wasn’t speaking to me or to the two people beside me. Instead, he was after the guy behind me. Although drinking, the guy behind me was very nice and very much under control the whole game. He didn’t even throw up on me once. Anyway the cop motioned for him to leave again and said, “…and bring the bottle, too.” So he got up and with his empty fifth of Gentleman and exited the stadium. About ten minutes later, he came back and explained that when he showed the guy his military ID, the police officer just let him come back to his seat (minus the bottle). Anyway in the third quarter, the guy left and returned about twenty minutes later with another fifth of amber colored liquid. Where he went, how he got it…I have no clue.

3. It turns out that there were Hokies everywhere. One was sitting two seats away from me. “Steve” was vocal but respectful. Steve, in combination with me, was just about more than this Hoo in his hunter bibs, NASCAR hat, and Jeff Gordon sunglasses two rows in front of us could take. You could see his face get redder and redder from the first moment he entered the stadium. He definitely did not like Hokies being in Hoo seats, and he was a volcano ready to erupt. So when France made a good play in the second quarter, the NASCAR Hoo stood and screamed, “Take that, Mother Blanker.” This large man’s edgy muscles were twitching. That’s when a bigger, older man, I assume his father, leaned over two seats and grabbed him saying, “You get yourself under control or I’m not bringing you to any more games!” He was quiet and red the rest of the game.

4. My Virginia Tech sweatshirt got me in trouble when I entered the stadium. My Hoo friend had directed me to stuff a two-pound bag of peanut M&M’s in my sweatshirt pouch. I asked him if I was allowed to bring in such treats, and he said they really didn’t care. So when I went into the stadium, the event staff soldier asked me to show him what was in my pouch. So I showed him my gloves and mentioned that I also had a bag of Peanut M&M’s. He told me that I had to either throw them away or leave them behind. So I placed the bag on top of the trashcan for adoption. Meanwhile, my Hoo friend entered the gate right beside me and walked right through with his large bag of pecan halves.

5. The Hoos in the area I was sitting, along with all Hoo season ticket holders, are about to go through reseating. I told them how sorry I was to hear that and how reseating sadly changed the atmosphere in Lane for the last few years. I was very surprised to find out that my seats yesterday, something akin to Section 16/18 in Lane, require no gift to the athletic foundation in order to have the right to purchase.

All told, the whole trip to France was enjoyable. I didn’t need a passport and the views from Mr. Crozet’s montagne were breath taking.

Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Feast

The Feast

Thanksgiving is the most important family gathering of the year (even more than the Kentucky Derby) for my clan.

This year, my oldest brother's girlfriend volunteered to host the family gala at her Blacksburg home.

So my wife, two teen-aged children, and I arrived at about 1:30 and chatted with everyone before the 3:30 dinner. We were able to reconnect with my brother and sisters and all of the associated people: nieces and nephews, etc. Only my middle brother and his family were missing this year. As we laughed, chatted, and talked fantasy football smack (we have a family league) we caught up on all paths we've taken over the past year. Some were on the upswing. Some are dealing with incredible stresses. Others were dealing with tough problems. Yet no matter what is tossed our way, we all seem to embrace life and relish the times we gather together.

We also got the opportunity to meet the hosts' family. She has two lovely teen-aged daughters, and she also invited her brother's family. Within a few minutes, we were all talking and sharing stories like we'd known each other for years and years.

The meal was outstanding with twenty-two people gathered in one long room at one long table. Food and wine were plentiful. Turkey, mashed potatoes, rutabaga (my favorite), peas, corn, cranberries, stuffing, gravy, and Graham Beck Champagne. I've rarely felt so thankful or comfortable.

After sitting around for a bit, my brother, oldest nephew, the host's brother, and I moved upstairs to a quiet room and began jamming. It's sort of a tradition. We usually sit around and play music just for grins. Over the years, the music has actually gotten better and now it's gone from just something my brothers and I would do just to pass a few beers to something people call for as a primary entertainment event.

Tony, the hostess' brother, plays an excellent mandolin and guitars as well as vocals. My brother, Joe, plays guitars, banjo and sings, and my nephew, Jesse, plays guitars and sings. I tag along with my collection of harmonicas, whistles, and spoons.

Tony led us in an excellent rendition of "Arkansas Traveler" and Joe led us in a wide variety of John Prine tunes. Jesse specializes in Johnny Cash songs with a voice eerily reminiscent of the great one.

After messing around for a few minutes, we were called downstairs to play for the whole group, especially my 83 year old mother who enjoys the celebration of music more than anyone I've ever met.

My highlight was taking lead vocals on the song "Froggie Went A'Courtin'". I used the John McCutcheon version to base our lyrics since as a traditional song, the lyrics have changed over the eons. This whimsical ballad is challenging to sing due to the delicate chorus...

Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride
Rinktum body minchy cambo
Sword and buckler by his side
Rinktum body minchy cambo

Kimaneero down the Cairo, Kimaneero Cairo
Stradda-ladda-ladda-bobba-ladda-bobb- linktum
Rinktum body minchy cambo

All told there are about fourteen verses in the song along with a couple of instrument and jig breaks that all takes about fifteen minutes to complete. By the end, I was sweating like Robert Plant singing “Stairway to Heaven.” Quite a rush, especially seeing my mother smiling and clapping loudly.

The play went on for four hours with Jesse, Tony, and Joe taking turns leading us into impromptu song after song. The conversation between songs would always go something like this,
"Do any of you know _____."

"I've heard G?"

"Yeah, that's be good."

Then they'd launch into the song with daring and energy. Sometimes they messed up and everyone would break out laughing; but most of the time, music was made.

We had actually printed the lyrics to many of the songs, so many would join us and sing along. My daughter, sister, nieces, and the hostess' daughters were especially active in singing and dancing. I couldn't help but grin through my harmonica.

My family gathered me up around 8:30, and we headed back to Roanoke. I was assured that the music would go on until late in the night. As I was leaving, my brother-in-law, Gordy, had taken up a guitar and was about to play.

As I was walking out the door and in to the brisk Blacksburg breeze under a starry sky, I couldn't help but wish Thanksgiving could go on forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Great Turkey Drop

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. To celebrate the day, I bring you my favorite television comedy spot of all time..." sacks of wet cement!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fish School

A Voice Thread is an interactive slide show. Viewers are able to see the pictures, listen to or read the comments from the maker, and respond in text or voice to what they are viewing.

This thread is from my friend, Megs. She and her husband are currently diving off the coast of Mexico. Megs has created this thread for students back in Roanoke.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007



something craved, especially an intravenous injection of a

narcotic drug; "she needed a fix of chocolate"

Beggars’ Circus has released their third compact disc, Stolen Heart, and it is packed with Celtic flavors. Their fan is ecstatic.

The group, which consists of Tim Summers, Michelle Lawrence-Walker, and Mary Beth Coffey, is based in the Roanoke/Floyd County area and performs all over the region at festivals and celebrations. Their first CD was entitled Peddlin’ Bedlam which was followed a couple of years later by Moor For the Asking.

The new CD, Stolen Heart, is contains a spiffy mix of traditional reels and tunes.

This review consists of an insightful and sometimes witty look at each track from the new CD. As an added bonus, you will be able to directly link to a snippet from each track (in progress) so that you can validate my insights.

Sarn Mere

No doubt I will mention it over and over here that Michelle Lawrence-Walker is a superb wind player. Sarn Mere is hauntingly still. Every breath Lawrence-Walker takes sounds as if it will be her last. Mary Beth Coffey’s resonating viola walks solemnly beside Lawrence-Walker’s flute. It’s as if some doom is being visited or retreated from.

Behind The Bush In The Garden/The Rose of Castleton

Beggars’ Circus provides no clues as to the meaning of this woven piece. Perhaps they are simply allowing me to make up something…and that’s okay by me.

Castleton is a small village in the Peak District in Derbyshire. It’s most famous for the stunning Peak Cavern. This cavern, which has the largest natural cave opening in the British Isles, is also known as “The Devil’s Arse” and is home of the headwaters of the river Styx.

Throughout the piece, the trio happily dances on the devil’s arse.

Julia Delaney

Eileen Ivers performed this tune on her debut solo album, Traditional Irish Music, in 1994. The earliest recording of the song, however, dates back to 1903 according to the Irish Folk tune index.

As a consumer of this music, I find this piece to be driving somewhere, hard at it and percussive.

Paddy’s Lament

Tim stands alone behind the microphone for this song. To say it’s grim and depressing is grossly insufficient. It’s a downright hopeless tale, the kind that Beggars’ Circus brings forth with relish.

I spoke with Tim for some time about this song, and the more we talked about it, the more it struck a chord with me. IN the song “Paddy” leaves for America to see if he can find a way to feed his starving family back in Ireland. As he gets off the boat, he’s conscripted into Lincoln’s army and sent off to fight the Confederates. In the process, he loses a leg and his dreams.

Paddy’s tale isn’t altogether much different than my Polish grandparent’s tale. Some forty years after Paddy came to America, my grandfather came over to find work and to feed his new family. Eventually, he sent for my grandmother and his baby daughter. The voyage for them was very difficult and the baby contracted measles and was taken from my grandmother. No one ever saw her again. It is assumed she died on ship. My grandmother was heart-broken, confused by the foreign language, and angry. When the officials tried to give her someone else’s orphaned baby to take the place of her lost daughter, she refused. Paddy’s and my grandparent’s tales were more the norm rather than the exception, I think.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From the Wide World of Wackiness

I accept it as my solemn duty as keeper of this blog to bring you those things which inspire and complete me. Because after all, this is all about me.

I returned home from a long day of school and meetings this evening, a day that included regular school stuff, a missed meeting, a dinner meeting, and a politically charged school board meeting. I was plumb wiped out. That's when my daughter came to my rescue.

Here is what she shared with me first...

Needless to say, Daft Hands demonstrates some amazing digital dexterity and a unique sense of timing.

The second video she shared with me struck me as being one of the most absurd pieces I've ever seen.

Young Jonathan from somewhere in the USA is interviewed by a local reporter. What he has to say that day has cut through the infernal murmur of world chatter and emerged as the most definitive statement of the year.

Jonathan's admonition has made him a You Tube star like Jake Shimabukuro the Ukulele player,the toilet flushing cat, and George Allen.

This follow-up video is a real report from the same news reporter. She tracks young Jonathan and finds out what he's really like.

Harder and faster makes better turtles, Macacas.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Shattered Serenity

Shattered Serenity

Morning birds serenade my sleeping soul. I lay in my bed with the birds chattering about as they search for their friends and mates after the long dark night. They’re so busy.

Every so often I find myself slumbering in the early morning, trying to take a few extra minutes respite from the day’s business. Swallows dart in and out of the early blue sky, seen only through the lazy slits of my eyes. Sea gulls laugh as they play tag in the air. In the distance I hear the morning bustle of the city grinding to work without me. Boats are heard meandering up the river, but my head is much too comfortable to rise from my soft four-poster feather bed with its milky white sheets and downy comforter to gaze upon them.

There is a hint of a coming cold winter in the air; an edgy exhale, a river breeze, flowing over my face. When I breathe out, I can see my breath in the morning sun through my half open eyes. As my breath floats away from me and passes between the rising morning sun and my unfocused eyes, it creates beautiful patterns and designs. It’s like looking through a prism. For minutes, I play with the design by altering the amount I squint into the rising sun. Open them a little more then close them a little more. The design before me changes like my own kaleidoscope.

I’m more relaxed than I ever remember being before, and I think I can lay propped up on my bed of pillows forever. Bliss. Serenity. It doesn’t really strike me as being at all unusual that my bed is outside or that it is situated dead-center on the main runway at National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Tranquility is shattered and my reality is splintered. A roar suddenly enters my head from the sun in front of me. My eyes are jolted wide open, but I’m blinded by the full sun’s glare. The gentle breeze becomes a wind rushing at me. Somehow I briefly elevate above my bed to see myself sitting up in a four-poster bed squarely in the middle of the busy landing strip at National Airport. The Potomac lays beside the runway with rush hour traffic streaming across. Planes are stacked up awaiting take-offs. More planes are stacked in the sky awaiting landing.

Back in my bed with my eyes blinded by the sun, the roar grows louder and louder. It can only mean one thing. At that very moment of realization, I see a dark shadow emerging from the sun. Giant wheels and the underside of a huge Boeing 747 are within inches of pulverizing me like the monstrous Godzilla squashing me with his massive left foot.

With virtually no time to react, I scream as I dive out of the bed and roll, hoping to create enough space between myself and that crushing metal beast.


The plane finishes its landing and smashes the bed just mere feet away from me, pulverizing it into tiny pieces. I am left laying on the runway breathing in and out rapidly, still alive!


“A big jet was about to land on me…” I mumble.

“I don’t care. Get back in bed!”

That’s usually when I wake up. I’m always on the floor. I’ve always just kicked the devil out of my wife, and she’s always unhappily awakened from her peaceful sleep. Sometimes I find that the next morning I’m bruised all over from diving out of the bed and smashing into the furniture. It’s really one of the more embarrassing nightmares.

I slink back into bed, roll over onto my side for better protection, and try not to think about jets.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Live From New Jersey

The following selection was constructed on Sunday morning following the 2007 Breeder's Cup Championships at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Live from New Jersey

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m just slowly coming back to the living after a whirlwind 72 hours. As some may recall, after the football game Thursday night (VT lost to BC 14-10 at the last second), I got home to Roanoke at about 2 in the morning. Then it was up at 5:45 for work. I left work around 11:30 and hit the road heading for New Jersey, specifically the Breeder’s Cup Championships at Monmouth Park.

For those who aren’t initiated, The Breeder’s Cup Championships are a series of races over a two day period that pit the best and most proven horses against each other in different classifications and distances. Horse racing in America shuts down for this weekend just so these races can have the undivided attention of the racing world. ESPN gave up an afternoon of Saturday football just to cover these races on their number one channel.

I really hadn’t been to Jersey for any length of time before, and in my little spot in the road called Cranberry, NJ, I’ve found the people to be very nice, although I really haven’t come across too many that speak English without a foreign accent. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a true Jersey accent from English spoken over Spanish.

Another thing about this part of Jersey is that there are a lot of deer on the roads at night, and they are very fast. Thankfully, one was just fast enough to dart safely across the road in front of me and the car that was passing me last night as I was traveling RT 33. That deer flashed across from the median as a brown blur like a horse making a move down the stretch. It missed the front of my car by about 6 inches.

Roads in Jersey are unusual for a Virginian. The road signage in this county is severely lacking. There are seemingly street name signs posted in the center of traffic light standards; however, those signs always look bleached out at night. Another odd thing is the whole idea of making any kind of turn. Basically, you can’t do it. To make a left turn, you have to get in the right lane, exit, and loop around. Also, you can’t make a right turn at a traffic light intersection. Instead, you have to know that there is a right turn exit hidden directly behind the sign telling you that you can’t turn right at the light ahead. An out-of-towner doesn’t have a chance.

The races yesterday (Saturday) were amazing. My two sisters and I brought the torrential rains with us from Roanoke. So I pulled out my still soggy football rain gear and put it on. Our seats, although extremely expensive ($100…for the cheap seats), were located far into the first turn. Before I saw them, I thought that was such a rip off. Once there, however, I realized that I would have an incredible view of the whole place. We were sitting in nice, chair-backed bleachers located within ten yards of the outer dirt track. We had a perfect and close-up view of the horses jostling for position on the first turn and accelerating through to the backstretch. They had trucked in lots of port-a-johns and betting machines for us folks in the far turn. It was like we were segregated from the main grandstand and had our own track just to ourselves. Many people didn’t show for the races because of the rain and the extremely steep ticket prices, so we pretty much sat where we wanted.

The races were all awesome over a most sloppy mud track and a boggy turf course. Obviously, the head-liner today is Curlin’. That horse just exploded on his stretch run in the championship mile and a quarter classic and tossed aside my favorite horse, Hard Spun. Hard Spun had the best first turn of any horse that raced yesterday. He was dug in to the slop and made the sharp turn with power and perfection. Thanks to Hard Spun rabbiting around at incredible fractions, Curlin’ ended up tying a track record that had stood since 1963. The field in that race was the strongest I ever remember seeing in one race before. Five true champion contenders: Curlin’, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron.

There were some other massive performances. Two horses with Virginia connections won two major races. Kip Deville, who once visited Colonial Downs and ran in the Turf championship there two years ago surprisingly, won the Mile. English Channel, the greatest horse to ever race in Virginia (VA Derby winner), blew away the touted field in the B.C. Turf. Especially enjoyable was how Channel won powering away from the field led by heralded Dylan Thomas from England/France. Another performance worth noting was Midnight Lute in the Sprint Championship. This is one massive horse and he plodded through the extreme slop with seeming ease to smoke the tough field. If you are looking toward the future, keep your eye on War Pass. This two year old dominated the Juvenile championship. Juvenile winners don’t always head to the Triple Crown races next spring/summer and do well, but it will be very hard to overlook this horse now.

As many of you know, I really don’t bet much at the track. I went in yesterday and placed bets on 8 races. My bets totaled $60. I ended up doing respectably well and came out roughly even for the day. My sisters both did very well. They probably bet about $100 a piece and came out with double that.

We were also joined by our family’s long time friend who we all met at Virginia Tech many years ago. He was a perpetual student, so he came to know our whole family as we cycled through the school. He and his wife are real students of the racing game. They own/rescued three thoroughbred racehorses and care for them beside their tenant home on a 6,000 acre horse farm in NOVA. Our friend is especially savvy with his wagers, and rarely loses big, but he sometimes does hit big. Anyway, yesterday, he was commenting that all of his handicapping skills were pretty much thrown into the muck. Soggy turf and mud is a great equalizer. It can also bring out stunning performances from horses that just get it and stinky performances from horses (Lawyer Ron) that despise it. So our friend started goofing around with some cheap exotic picks. Just before the Turf Championship he placed four Superfecta Quick Picks. That’s similar to a lottery ticket where the computer makes the picks. English Channel powered to his win and my friend realized that he lost his regular bets and began double checking his Quick Picks…that’s when a goofy smile came over his face. His last Quick pick had the correct four numbers in order…and he had accidently placed $4 bets on each pick instead of the usual $1…so he won 4X the amount. That Superfecta paid $1,280 X 4. Amazing stuff. To see that look of shock and surprise come across his face made my whole trip worth every penny I spent on the $6 foot long hot dog.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beatles On My Porch

Beatles On My Porch

On February 7, 1964, The Beatles flew to America, coming across the pond and landing in New York City. Two days later on February 9, they played live on the Ed Sullivan Show. On February 11, they slipped down the coast and played their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C. Without a doubt, they were an instant hit and immediately became international super men. From then on the world was watching every move they made.

Coinciding with the release in America of their 1965 mega-hit album, “Help!,” The Beatles came to America for a second tour. Lost in the hoopla of that visit was a concert the Beatles gave on the side porch of a small, two story Cape Cod-styled house at 2129 Garstland Drive in Roanoke Virginia. In attendance were the owners of the house, Jeane and Joe Ryder, their five children (one infant), and several neighbors who were enticed to come over with the offer of ice-cold lemonade. There was no press. The only camera was Joe’s silent 8mm wind-up K-Mart camera.

Well, hopefully you know enough about the Beatles to realize that they never came to Roanoke, Virginia, let alone the house in which I grew up. However, a faux-Beatles group did “pantomime” a concert one summer afternoon in August of 1965*at my house.

Hatched in the creative imaginations of kids who lived in a time when entertainment was something that had to be conjured from within, my sister and brothers came up with the idea of performing a Beatle concert on the side porch. My eldest sibling, Becky, was the natural leader of the gang. Since she was a long-time pupil of Miss Mona at Miss Mona’s School of Dance and since she possessed the only known collection of Beatle 45 rpm records (singles) in our family, she took charge. Becky drove the choreography, designed costumes- complete with Beatle wigs, created the set list, and publicized the event in the neighborhood. Becky was a veteran of side porch neighborhood performances. She had staged plays, skits, variety shows, and dance routines in front of eager, generous crowds of neighbors and relatives. No one in our family was more qualified to produce Beatlemania in Roanoke.

My brothers, Jody and Greg, built the guitars out of broom handles and wood blocks. They also assembled an excellent trap drum set out of garbage cans. While Paul’s bass guitar was a rather ordinary left-handed mop, the George Harrison guitar was a thing of beauty. In fact, it was designed with a hand-crafted (nailed) wooden handle attached to a varnished wooden block that had been pre-shaped with a saw (I suspect my father helped with that). Strings were attached to the guitar neck and attached in realistic fashion to the wood block. I wished I could play that instrument, but I knew that I was lucky to just be included.

Casting was a matter of matching personalities to Beatles. Our neighbor, Toni took the role of Paul McCartney. Jody drew the part of John. Greg became George, and I drew the Ringo assignment. The preparation and practice were intense. For days, Becky pushed and pushed us to bring forth our inner Beatle. For me, it was easy. I was just five years old and that was an advantage in creating my Ringo. After all, Ringo was widely known as being the most childish of the Beatles.

On concert day, Becky sent us out to the neighborhood to herd the neighbors over to the grassy area beside the side porch. They knew the drill. It was another in a long line of “shows by those Ryder kids.” Pitchers of lemonade and Kool-aid were set up on a table beside the porch to refresh the guests and make them feel comfortable. Lawn chairs and kitchen chairs were carefully placed in the grassy area in front of our porch stage in rows. The porch stage itself was adorned in Beatle signs and the instruments were carefully placed on the stage awaiting their masters. My father carefully wound his 8mm movie camera.

My brothers, Toni, and I waited nervously, resplendent in our Beatle outfits and wigs, in our living room which adjoined the side porch. Besides my wig, I wore my Sunday best white shirt and thin black tie. Our look was obviously patterned after the cover of the “Help!” Album.

“Ladies and gentlemen…THE BEATLES!!!!!”

We came charging out and took our spots on the stage. Becky dropped the needle of her record player tone arm onto the worn 45. After the telltale scraping that only loved vinyl can share, John and the Beatles launched into it…


Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me?

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I've never done before.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me.

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured,
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round.
Help me, get my feet back on the ground,
Won't you please, please help me, help me, help me, oh.

We were one hot band, milking the crowd. I was smashing my garbage can drums while my brothers and sister air-banded their parts convincingly. My father darted all around the front of the stage like a modern rock concert videographer filming this memorable performance in Chaplin-esque style. There we were, lip-syncing on a silent movie.

After two minutes and twelve seconds, the final “oh….” was vocalized and the final chord struck. We stood and the crowd went wild with whistles and applause. Together, we moved to stage front and took our best “Family Von Trap” bow. After signing a few autographs, the crowd began to thin, and we were left to rehash the gala concert for days and weeks to come.

On a gentle August 1965 afternoon in Roanoke, Virginia, The Beatles took over my side porch.

*The dates and events, the principals and roles, the setting and sequences have all been reconstructed from my foggy memory. I make no guarantee of the accuracy of this story. What I know for sure was that there was a side porch Beatle performance, it happened in the 60's, and I was Ringo. The rest of the story...well, you know....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Magic Agenda

The Magic Agenda

I was thinking this evening about what I wanted my next United States President to be like. What kind of leader? What focus? I've come up with a simple list of five key areas that I feel need to be addressed soon by the next President.

1. Iraq War and Aggressive Posturing Must End

America was led blindly into a pit from Hell when we were sold the idea of WMD's in Iraq. That initial lie has been compounded since with lie upon lie in increasingly futile attempts by the administration to justify their egregious mistakes. We need a President who will dig us out of that pit. Our troops deserve to be used to defend our Nation instead of in arrogant attempts to build nations. Additionally, we need a President who sees our country as a vital member of the world community instead of the self-anointed leader of the world. Walt Disney was right, "It is a small world after all."

2. National Unification

The citizens of our country are polarized. We've been divided into two camps that despise each other. The political parties feed the boils of division while the media pricks those festering boils. We need a President who will unify this country. We need a true leader.

3. Health Care

Our health care system is broken. Fees are out of control. Prescription drug costs are ridiculous. Care has become compromised. The excluded in society clog the arteries of the emergency care system. I cried last week as my 79 year old father-in-law was forced to wait for treatment in a hospital emergency room for seven hours with the incision from his recent triple bypass leaking blood down his shirt while destitute people with colds, homeless pregnant women, and people with no insurance jammed the room on a Sunday trying to get the most basic treatment. My mother, a very wise and smart woman, planted a value in my soul that directs me to fight for a society that doesn't charge for the basic needs of life. According to Mom, food should not be taxed, shelter should not be taxed, and free, appropriate health care should be available for all.

4. Education

Our public schools are in crisis. It's a quiet crisis that you don't hear much about. Schools are situated squarely between two disparate forces. ESEA, a.k.a. NCLB which is about to be renewed, demands that by 2012 100% of all school children will be able to pass approved state measurements. The penalty for failure (less than 100% success) is that these schools run the real risk of being shut down or having their funding revoked. At the same time, schools are handling a more diverse and challenging school population every year. The numbers of non-English speakers entering our schools has jumped dramatically in the last three years. Yet, these children who can't read and write in English are still expected to pass tests in English by the end of the school year. We are rapidly coming to a point when schools will implode. We need a President who will lead the Congress to develop sane accountability measures and who will provide real, positive direction on the immigration issue, not lip-service.

5. Social Security and the Budget Deficit

The next President will get us out Iraq. Billions of dollars, formerly spent on that disastrous "war" will be free to shore up the ailing Social Security system and to help retire the budget deficit.