15 December 2013


This is a test post, please disregard.

19 January 2010


In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I took Andrew to see Avatar (no, it's not completely unrelated -- Brother Martin was a bit of a sci-fi fan). Neither of us really wanted to go, but it was the only movie that didn't star vampires, rodents, or Alec Baldwin (a bit redundant, perhaps). We had to get out of the house, because the girls had a friend over, and Betsy's sister was coming to visit with her two girls. Total hen party, we had to escape.

The movie is a visual spectacle, although the story is effectively a warmed-over version of Dances with Wolves. The tall blue people live in community with nature, and the evil space-Americans want to come and take their land and natural wealth.

Let's deconstruct the deconstruction for a moment, mmkay?

First, what sort of message does this movie (and the dozens of others from the same template) give us? That outsiders should not come uninvited into a strange land and partake of the local wealth? Sounds reasonable, until we consider that illegal immigrants from Mexico are coming into the US uninvited to partake of the local wealth. Oops, didn't think of that!

Second, what sort of culture do these blue people have? Is it really something that any modern American of any stripe would want to live under? Granted, I have only slight clues from which to judge, but here are some key aspects of their culture:
  1. Arranged marriages.
  2. Hereditary leadership.
  3. Strict religious observance.
  4. Lifelong pair bonding beween male & female (evidently premarital, extramarital, and homosexual relations would be impermissable).
  5. Primitive technology. No phone, no light, no motorcar, not a single luxury. No TV, no blockbuster 3D movies, no snarky blogs.
  6. Entrenched warrior class. These people can't be all that sweet & peaceful if they have a warrior class. These blue guys aren't Smurfs, they're more like the Irish, who fight among themselves until the English come along.
  7. Extraordinarily conservative society. If they've lived the same way for centuries, then that's pretty much the textbook definition of fundamentalism.
I'm old enough to remember when movie bad-guys all had Russian accents, or German accents, or British accents, or some mottled hybrid of the three. Now, the Shibboleth for movie bad-guys is some combination of white, male, American, military, Christian, Republican, with a good job. The formula works on Law & Order as well. And they say that profiling is illegal!

Anyway, Andrew didn't much care for Avatar, and in a way I'm glad. He's more focused on current reality, than on imagined futures that can't happen.

16 December 2009

AAA maps

We're taking a trip over Christmas, and we're not visiting relatives. We're going to Savannah, Georgia. It's a nice place, we know no one there, and it's full of history, or something. It has a busy port. It also happens to be a good overnight stopping place if a family were to drive to Orlando, Florida -- not that this is relevant, just a useless tidbit.

I went online about two weeks ago to order AAA maps. They came in the mail, but we determined this week that we neglected to order one map we needed. Betsy visits our local AAA office in person to get that map. First, the main receptionist speaks to her in the hushed sotto voce tones of a librarian. Are people studying here at the AAA office? Betsy tells her what she wants in her normal voice, and the receptionist logs it into their computer system, which tracks and assigns work to the various sections of the office: maps, travel agent, membership, insurance, etc. Betsy then proceeds to the map desk, where a pleasant young woman sits, waiting for her computer to register the assigned task from the receptionist. Evidently my wife moves faster than electrons, because she arrived at the map desk well in advance of her map order. Betsy paced uncomfortably, unsure of the protocol. Should she just verbally announce the one map that she wants, as people did in the previous millenium? If she did, is the woman allowed to act without authorization from the computer?

Did I mention that Betsy is the only customer in the entire establishment?

Finally, the computer pops up with instructions, and the clerk leaps to life. Betsy has her map of Georgia, and makes her escape.

Why couldn't the receptionist have just hollered, "Hey Sylvia, we need a Georgia map," rather than waiting for the computer to tell her what to do? Would that violate the whisper-only policy at the AAA? Did they put this system in place to protect AAA member confidentiality? After all, what if someone comes in looking for AAA discounts on bordellos or dog fights or something?

13 December 2009

Cat d├ętente

An abandoned young cat found us a few weeks ago, and after the inevitable failure of a multi-pronged campaign to find his owner, the rest of the family besieged me to keep him. The only two dissenting votes were mine, and that of Max, our pre-existing cat.

Max has behaved much like a middle-aged TV star, threatened by a younger, more youthful starlet. He's forced himself into acting more cute and playful around us, while exhibiting a thinly-veiled hostility towards Oreo. Oreo, for his part, has tried to remain non-threatening towards Max, and acknowledge him as alpha-cat. I've sought to reduce tensions by providing two litter boxes, two food bowls, and showering each of them with reassuring attention and affection. They now co-exist for hours without incident, much like People's Republic of China and the USSR in the 1960s. Perhaps I'm the Henry Kissinger of cats.

Speaking of ol' Hank, my wife Betsy insists that his accent is fake. She thinks that he affected it in his youth, playing on the American presumption that anyone with a German accent (and lacking a toothbrush mustache) must be smart (cf: Albert Einstein). She's heard him speak German, and he's terrible. Also, she tells me that his older brother speaks English largely indisinguishable from native-born Americans. Since it's harder for older children to pick up a new language, how could the younger brother have a thick accent while the older lacks it? Didn't they both escape from the Nazis and move to the US at the same time?

My wife ... queen of the pointless conspiracy theories.

07 December 2009

Upsetting snack

A few days ago I'm at the office, talking with the brigade S1 about something. As we're discussing, we're walking around and talking, as people do. I think nothing of it, as he goes to his food stash in the corner to pull out a can. It's mid-afternoon, and he's getting a snack; no big deal. As we're still hashing out the issue, he takes his red can of Campbell's tomato soup, pulls the lid off the can, and proceeds to lift it straight to his lips. I issued a direct order to him: "You will not drink that room-temperature condensed soup straight from the can! This is not a homeless shelter." He seemed quite puzzled by my horror, although he did grudgingly comply.
I don't consider myself a food snob, but -- sheesh -- I do have some standards.

01 December 2009


A stray cat showed up on our property recently. He had a flea collar, so we knew he belonged to someone. We canvassed the neighborhood, and put up signs, in the remote chance someone would claim him. The children, of course, have become attached to him. They named him Oreo, because of his obvious resemblance to Alfonso Ribeiro. Our current cat, Max, remains unimpressed by his cuteness and polydactyly. We thought we had a family to adopt him, but alas, generations of bland Anglo-Saxon interbreeding have left their two children with manifest allergies. Now we have the unwelcome responsibility to take him to the Cat Gulag, otherwise known as the animal shelter.

30 November 2009

Comic genius

My wife Betsy is a comic genius. Most people don't know this, because they don't pay attention to her closely enough. I think she's an absolute riot. When I was in Bosnia on the peacekeeping mission years ago, once she wrote me a letter consisting of a single paragraph. It took me twenty minutes, literally, to finish the letter, because she made me laugh so much. If you don't believe me, you can ask SSG Billy Corns, he was there with me, and thought I was a nutcase.

Since Betsy and I have been together for so many years, I know her so well that I can now anticipate in advance what she's likely to think or do or say. This is quite a timesaver. Sometimes, I'll sit with her, and think about saying something. Then I think what she'd say back to me, and how I'd respond, and how she'd respond to my response. Then I start laughing, because in my head she really zinged me. Not only is she funny in reality, she's also funny in theory. Meanwhile, back in the real world, all she sees is me laughing for no apparent reason, which makes her agree with Billy Corns.

I liken these internal conversations to the famous Schroedinger's Cat thought experiment. Until I actually posit a statement to her, Betsy's possible responses are part of a quantum system which remains a linear combination of states, each of which resembles different classical states. Only until I speak out loud and she responds will the superposition of her response collapse into a definite state, measurable by classical methodologies (such as hearing).

In this way, Betsy combines the best of a real wife with the best of an imaginary wife. She's the full package!

07 November 2009

Dumb hair

My boy Andrew has a bad habit of flattening his hair constantly, in the manner of the Caesar cut. I think he's trying to look like Rex Harrison or something. Then again, who doesn't want to look like Rex Harrison?

Of all the stupid things he can do to his hair, this is pretty mild. I can live with it. One of our friends' boy used to have girl hair -- not merely long hair, but girl hair. He has since cut it to a normal length, but left a four-inch rat tail. Evidently he styles himself after Anakin Skywalker. I guess that means he wants to grow up to be a bad Canadian actor.

03 November 2009

Election Day

My wife Betsy has served as an officer of the election (poll worker) many times. She did it as a lark one time years ago, and then found it rather meaningful, so she continues. It's important to be part of the election process, and we've all learned from her experience. For example, don't ever "write in" a candidate, because it's a real pain for the poll workers to track. Her stories of how seriously she and her colleagues take the election rules give me confidence in our system of governance. Her presence at the station also lowers the average age of poll workers by thirty years.

01 November 2009

Time change

I have 173 items in my life with timepieces in them -- electronics, appliances, vehicles, and even clocks and watches. A few of them change time automatically, but most don't.

Tell me again why we play this semi-annual game with the time. "It gives us more time in the morning." No, it doesn't. We have the same amount of time that we always had, we've just adjusted when we arise to utilize the daylight. We confuse our pets, who tell time with their circadian rhythms, by suddenly adjusting when we feed or walk them in the morning. It takes our cats and dogs a few days to adjust. They just chalk it up to one more inexplicable human behavior. The cats and dogs have this one right, I must say.

My wife is a sworn enemy of the wind chill factor, but she loves daylight savings time. She's a big fan of clock games in general. She has deliberately set our bedroom clock eleven minutes fast. Why? So I have more time in the morning. Duh! You don't have any more time than you already did, you're just calling that time something different. But I need more time to get ready, so by setting the clock eleven minutes fast, it gives me a buffer. If you need more time in the morning to get ready, why not just set the alarm to ring eleven minutes sooner? You don't understand! No, I understand all too well.

24 October 2009

New lieutenants

October is the time when we harvest the winter crop of OCS lieutenants. We get a bigger batch in the summer, but we get a few in winter as well. I represented the command at the OCS commissioning ceremony, and spent some time in conversation with the two lieutenants slated for our various Engineer units.

No, the picture isn't distorted, the fellow in the middle is indeed a moose. Notice that he earned an award that day for having the highest physical fitness performance of the entire OCS class (or could you tell?). I'm sure his distant ancestors wreaked havoc on invading Romans. I trust he won't follow all his ancestral warrior traditions.

I guess this cake thing is Army-wide, not just in Afghanistan.

12 October 2009

Faneuil Hall Marketplace

No trip to Boston would be complete without a visit to Faneuil Hall Marketplace. The food complements the street performers nicely.

Who would have thought that Larry Bird's feet weren't much bigger than mine?

Charlotte has no idea who Red Auerbach was. The Celtics sure could use him again.

Charlotte much preferred this "statue," who was really a street performer with remarkably durable skin.

Family grave

I never knew, until my father mentioned it, that some of our relatives were buried just a few miles from his house.

11 October 2009

Family party

My father had all the local Ritchies over to his house for Chinese food. That's what working-class Irish do to celebrate an important event: they have Chinese food. We got take-out from a great place in Putterham Circle, in Brookline. My father has long researched the symbiotic relationship between the best Chinese restaurants and Jewish neighborhoods, so he knows exactly where to go.

Great-Grammie Ritchie took center stage. Her eyesight isn't great, but her mind is just as sharp and opinionated as it ever was.

10 October 2009

Visit to Brian's house

While in Boston, I visited my friend Brian, and his wife Debbie and son Brendan. They live only a few miles from my father.

Poor Charlotte found herself the oldest child, with all the implied responsibilities. Debbie's friend was also visiting, with her two young boys. Thus Charlotte had to deal with three boys ranging in ages from four to eight. She stepped right up and tried to manage them, to allow the adults to gab. I'm so proud of her maturity and responsibility. In this photo, look how smart she is -- she knows that smothering leaves less evidence than any other method.

Brian put on a classy spread, to include freshly-squeezed peanut butter.

Boston pilgrimage

I took Charlotte to Boston for the Columbus Day long weekend. Since she was the one child who consistently did more to help her mother during my absence, she earned this special trip. The other two stayed home. Surprisingly, they had absolutely no jealousy or animosity. I'm still trying to figure out that one.

We visited the Topsfield Fair, America's oldest agricultural fair. Charlotte, the future veterinarian, delighted in all the animals. She and Grammie took a ride on an elephant. I, for one, never knew that elephants were native to Massachusetts. We all learned something that day.

We went to the North End of Boston to visit Uncle Jerry, my mother's uncle. He is one of the last two of the ten children that included my mother's mother. He lives alone in his three-room apartment, where he had lived for decades with his late wife Catherine, across the street from the Old North Church (of "one if by land, two if by sea" fame).

Everyone loves Grandpa's 1962 Corvette convertible.

This just in ...

Latest news from Stockholm. President Obama has won the Nobel Prize in Economics, for balancing his checkbook.

09 October 2009

Is this a joke?

What the frakking heck is this foolishness? Do the Swedes celebrate April Fool's on a different day?

Perhaps next year they'll award the prize to someone with a similar history of accomplishment (e.g., a cartoon character, a carbon metal rod, or a houseplant).

06 October 2009

180th Engineer Company

One of my Engineer companies returned from Iraq, and a bunch of people showed up to welcome them to their home armory in Powhattan. Even Governor Kaine was there. He's a lame duck, because Virginia doesn't allow a governor to succeed himself, so I suppose he's got plenty of free time. I had worried that he'd be unemployed in a few months, what with the job market so dicey right now. Then I remembered that he has a second gig he can concentrate on. That's good, because it would be terrible to see him unshaven by the side of the road, holding a crudely lettered sign stating, "Will govern for food."

Strangely, the two candidates for governor did not show up to campaign. I figured each candidate would try to bask in the reflected glow of affection for these brave men. It would get awkward of course, as the crowd gathered around their favorite, and then had a West Side Story dance-off to decide the winner.

05 October 2009

What the heck?

A year or so ago, Richmond mayor L. Doug Wilder refused to provide public money to finance a new stadium for private profit, and so our Braves baseball franchise returned home to the mother ship of Atlanta (how lame is it to have your farm team in the same metro area as the pro team?). Somehow, Richmond has managed to survive so far without a mediocre team playing a dying sport.

Another double-A baseball team has decided to abandon Conneticut for the greener pastures of the Old Dominion. There's currently a contest to name this new team. All of the current possibilities are absolutely dreadful. Rhinos? Oh, I see the connection ... those huge herds of armored beasts roaming central Virginia. Hambones? Generations of junior high school boys yet unborn will delight in mocking them. Flying squirrels? Feh.

Now here's something we hope you'll really like.

02 October 2009

New armory in Fairfax

Because our TAG remains well-connected in commonwealth affairs, he managed to snag us a former State Police building for use as an armory for our Data Processing Unit (DPU). The DPU is sort of the high-tech Special Forces. They're special in both the good ways and the bad ways.

This facility is much bigger than the portion of the Manassas armory that they currently share with two other units. The main concerns revolve around the fact that until recently it was the forensic laboratory for the VSP. That means that it has a large area for cutting up corpses. Ick. In addition to an environmental investigation for mold and blood-borne pathogens in the ducts and plumbing, we also need to consider bidding a contract for ghost mitigation.

29 September 2009


Check out the Wordle representation of my blog.

Wordle is a utility that graphically represents words by frequency in a text. I'm sure it has some legitimate academic uses, but at the moment I'm unaware of them. It's still interesting in ways I haven't explored.

28 September 2009

Armadillo memories

My Charlotte has always wanted to be a veterinarian. I'm just glad she wants to be something that's a real job. Too many young girls aspire to be cheerleaders or princesses or mermaids or some schlocky animated movie fantasy, rather than an actual, achievable career. Her younger sister Angela had previously wanted to be a nurse (again, a real job), but recently she announced that she wants to be an electrical engineer. Score! I was happy with nurse, so I'm overjoyed at electrical engineer. One unresolved question is how a seven year-old girl learned what an electrical engineer is in the first place. I think I was thirty before I understood what an electrical engineer does. It must be all those science camps we send her to in the summer.

Today I find my future veterinarian Charlotte studying armadillos. That brought forth a number of armadillo-themed jokes and stories from me. While stationed at Ft Sill, OK, for artillery school, a few of us took a long weekend to visit Dallas. I found it odd that as soon as we crossed the Texas border, we started finding dead armadillos by the side of the road. How do they know to die on the Texas side of the border? The armadillo's defense against danger is to roll into a ball, which makes sense when confronted by a small predator. It doesn't work as well against a Ford F-150 traveling at 75 mph.

This is the Texas version of the famous "why did the chicken cross the road joke" (the original version of which Aaron told Moses to cheer him up during a battle with the Amalekites).

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To show the armadillo it could be done.