Thursday, May 29, 2008
Our visits to shade tree mechanics and various car lots was not exactly the type of tour itinerary the local chambers of commerce would probably recommend for visitors to the Texas pine forests, but it was interesting. Got to see several very sad looking downtowns, the courthouse squares that once were the center of economic and community life for towns like San Augustine and Hemphill but now just look abandoned. San Augustine's is actually healthier looking than some I've seen (Jasper's is like the aftermath of a disaster; completely ringed by vacant buildings with not even a bail bondsman or a lawyer's office to be seen), but even in San Augustine there's one entire side of the square lined with empty store fronts, and quite a bit of the rest is occupied by "antique" stores. I don't think there's anything in any of the buildings on Hemphill's square -- maybe an insurance agent, but that's it. No stores, not even a coffee shop that people with business at the courthouse might stop in before or after going to pay for license plates. It's not as derelict looking as the Jasper square, but not by much.
It's a shame from a historic preservation point of view, of course, because those empty decaying buildings are often quite interesting -- much more fun to look at than the basic metal pole shed that gets thrown up these days when Family Dollar comes to town. Nothing against Family Dollar -- I'd rather shop there than at the Evil Empire -- but they don't exactly have the 21st century equivalent of McKim, Mead & White designing their stores. Not that Family Dollar would ever locate on a courthouse square; Family Dollar, just like its bigger box competitors, wants to be on a busy street or highway and not tucked away where there's less vehicle traffic. It's an old pattern, of course. This country is full of town sites where communities dried up and blew away when traffic patterns shifted. In Hemphill you can even date when the shift away from the square began -- there's a very nice 1960s brick bank building done in a kind of futuristic heavily influenced by the Jetsons style that's oriented toward the highway that bypasses the square about two blocks to the east. It seems likely the Texas DOT re-routed the highway circa 1960 to bypass the square instead of looping around it, and businesses began mutating towards strip development instead of being centered on a square shortly after.
So what happens when people start doing less driving? Good question. They're still not going to be walking to the local town squares, not in rural areas like this one. The YD tells me that when she first got here last fall and asked about where to shop, she was told most people in this area go to Jasper (~45 miles away) to shop at the Evil Empire because the Brookshire Brothers store in Hemphill isn't very good. Having been in that Brookshire Brothers store exactly once, the only problem I saw with it then was it's a whole lot smaller than the Publix I'd gotten used to in Atlanta, but perception is everything. And, given the love affair Texans seem to have with both trucks and driving, gas is going to have to get much, much higher per gallon before they start re-thinking driving anywhere -- one of the problems we ran into while car shopping was that 90% of the used vehicle inventory on most car dealers' lots was trucks. Big trucks. Full size or better trucks with quad cabs and dual rear wheels.
I would love to know how people are managing to buy those vehicles. Texas is not noted for high wages in general and the cost of living doesn't seem to be appreciably lower here than anywhere else in the country. YD pays as much in rent here as she would for a comparable house in Omaha. Maybe it's more creative financing, like with the strange schemes the mortgage industry developed to fuel the housing bubble. Or maybe the reason those quad cabs are popular is that for more and more people the trucks are becoming their primary residence. I have a lot of days when I wonder just how average people, the ones who fall someplace close to or below the median household income for the U.S., manage to survive.
In any case, the Texas phase of the vacation is about to end. Did not get to do the one thing I had hoped to while here -- confer with the owner of the sawmill house -- as he's on a fire detail somewhere out west this week, but that can always be done via telephone or e-mail. Overall it's been a nice visit with YD, and, if the weather forecast wasn't for 90s with humidity to match, I'd say I hate to leave.
The news has been on in the background as I've been getting the morning caffeine fix while typing this, and I am tempted to do a rant about feckless weasels like Scott McClellan (as in "where were your balls when they would have done the country some good?!") but I'm not even going to do a link. Anyone who's reading this and is interested has either already done his or her own rant, or simply doesn't care. Besides, it's time to get dressed, throw the suitcase in the truck, and hit the road.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Your organization's Internet use policy restricts access to this web page at this time.
Reason: The Websense category "Sex" is filtered.
No Wolf Blitzer for almost three weeks. It's going to be wonderful.
[Note to self: pack lots of mosquito repellent.]
Blogging--It's Good for You
The therapeutic value of blogging becomes a focus of study
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
I always thought of self-medication as involving kegs or qualudes, not keyboards, but I'm not going to argue the point.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I'll be back in east Texas next week. Here's hoping the house still looks as eligible the next time I see it as it did eight months ago.
Computer charged to Ga. Tech used for porn, documents show
Employee fired last fall, charged by GBI with theft
A former Georgia Tech employee who was recently charged with theft as part of the ongoing state purchasing card investigation used the computer, Web cam and headset she bought with her card for pornography, documents show.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
No Crisis For Boys In Schools, Study Says
Academic Success Linked to Income
A new study to be released today on gender equity in education concludes that a "boys crisis" in U.S. schools is a myth and that both sexes have stayed the same or improved on standardized tests in the past decade.
The report by the nonprofit American Association of University Women, which romotes education and equity for women, reviewed nearly 40 years of data on achievement from fourth grade to college and for the first time analyzed gender differences within economic and ethnic categories.
The most important conclusion of "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education" is that academic success is more closely associated with family income than with gender, its authors said.
Go check out the rest of the article. It's definitely another one of those "Doh" moments where social scientists affirm what anyone with two brain cells to rub together would recognize as being fairly obvious to begin with.
Of course, I've no doubt some of the right-wing "men are victims of power hungry feminazis" wackaloons out there (the name Phyllis Schafly comes to mind) will claim the fact the study was done by the AAUW renders its conclusions suspect, but from what I can glean from the news article the methodology and data sources used meet all the criteria for solid research.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Some of the mixed feelings come from remembering what we left behind -- the 1920s Craftsman bungalow with the great front porch, the quiet neighborhood, and an actual yard -- as compared to what we've got now; some is probably lingering culture shock, both professionally and away from the office. The work I do now is generally interesting and possibly important, but there's no way sitting in a cubicle editing an article on one particular aspect of tuberculosis is ever going to be as much fun as hiking the backcountry at Buffalo National River or getting out on Lake Superior at Apostle Islands.
Addendum: Then again, I did get handed an assignment last week that encouraged me to dream up a nasty contagious disease that started off looking sufficiently benign to lull clinicians into not worrying about it immediately but then had victims dropping like flies -- it isn't every day that a person gets asked to channel Stephen King. I have to admit that this job, too, has its moments.
"I might have some good news for you when I get up there."
"I need some good news, and you can believe it. When are you coming up?"
Saturday, May 17, 2008
In any case, being willing to do almost anything if it provides an opportunity to escape from the cubicle (including, obviously, being exposed to unknown pathogens), I volunteered. Yes, I said, put me on the list. I then forgot about it. I am super low in seniority among the writers at LNA -- there's no way I'd ever get tapped. I was, of course, wrong. Turns out only two or three of us wordsmiths volunteered, and, no surprise here, we've all been at LNA for less than two years. As with bureaucracies everywhere, apparently the only people who ever volunteer for anything are the folks who haven't been at LNA long enough to have their curiousity and/or ambition extinguished.
This week I began the process of getting all the various bureaucratic hurdles cleared that will allow my name to be added to the response list. Yesterday I passed both the physical and the respirator training. Next week I'll start the paperwork in motion for the other items on the list -- but the biggie was the physical. However, being middle-aged and sedentary aren't the handicaps I'd feared they would be. It appears the major qualification for being judged physically fit was simply being able to breathe and walk unassisted, although they did do both a lung capacity test and an EKG to confirm the visual evidence. So who knows? Maybe I will get to escape the cubicle occasionally after all.
[The respirator is a glorified dust mask. I will never, ever be one of those people at LNA who get to wear the nifty spacesuits with a self-contained air supply. ]
Friday, May 16, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Racist Incidents Give Some Volunteers Pause
For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.
Doesn't surprise me much as I've been the recipient of some pretty twisted and hateful e-mails forwarded by acquaintances whose politics are a tad more to the right than my own. I do have a fairly good idea of how the wackaloons back in the hollers, so to speak, are thinking, but I can see how it could all come as a shock to college kids who are obviously far more cosmopolitan and open minded than the small-town Bubbas they're running into.
Saying it's been unreported is kind of an understatement, too. If anything the MSM media has been falling over backwards repeating a "racism is dead/racism doesn't exist/Jeremiah Wright is delusional" mantra.
Oh well, I'll just keep my fingers crossed that the most ignorant members of the general population are also the same folks who are too lazy (or stupid) to bother to register to vote.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Friday, May 9, 2008
Turns out this 18-year-old naif had taken some rather intimate photos of herself -- showing off the new Wonder bra for the boyfriend, perhaps, or just indulging in fantasies of being a Victoria's Secret model -- using her cellphone. She left the photos on the phone, then brought it to the store for some unspecified reason. (In their usual fine style of reporting only 1/5th of a story, the TV newshounds fail to mention whether she needed to have it serviced or if she was turning it in after closing an account.) Suddenly her private photos weren't so private anymore. And she's shocked. And outraged. And generally freaking out because people she doesn't know have seen her in her unmentionables.
Here's a hint, kid: if you don't want the whole world to see you flaunting the new thong, don't take a picture of it to begin with. Or, if you are dumb enough to play at being an exhibitionist, delete the photos before handing the device they're stored on to a total stranger.
Ah, the innocence of youth. . . I'm not sure which amuses me more: her initial dumb mistake with the photos, or the fact she was willing to go on local TV to tell the whole world she was an idiot.
(Kids today have no clue about the levels of protection against future embarrassment offered by the now defunct technology of Polaroid film -- only one copy of the money shot, and it could be shredded.)
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Atlanta police charge men with stealing manhole covers
'Not a prank': 28 manhole covers still missing in Cherokee
Manhole covers are apparently disappearing because they bring in approximately $15 each when sold as scrap metal. I'd heard of thieves stripping copper wiring and pipes from vacant buildings, but copper sells for a lot more per pound than cast iron. Things are indeed getting tight when the crooks start hunting out the low value metals.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Happy birthday to me, and my cousin Waino, and my friend Ann. We were all born on the same day in the same year in what now feels like long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. I'm on one end in the back row in the photo, Waino's on the other end, and we were definitely a whole lot younger then. (I've stayed quite young; Waino's gotten really, really old.)
This is one of those birthdays that gets referred to as the "big [number I'd rather not think about] 0." Naturally, just about every greeting I've received has had that number emblazoned on it, front and center, including the card my mother sent. Ever notice how it doesn't start turning into the big whatever until it's associated with becoming older than dirt? It's not the "big 2-0" when a person turns 20, and for sure it's not the "big 1-0" when you hit ten.
Oh well, no matter how a person feels about aging, it does beat the alternative.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Thursday, May 1, 2008
As Carl poika would say, Hei hei. Now get out there and enjoy the day.