Monday, October 31, 2005

Outsiders, Indeed

I had a chuckle this morning when I read a story on the Washington Post web site about a group of modern-day "Minutemen" patrolling the US-Canada border in northern Vermont.

The article -- On Patrol in Vt., Minutemen Are the Outsiders (registration required, I'm afraid) -- details the story of a group of folks from Massachusetts who have taken to watching the northern border in the same way that a group of what appear to be vigilantes has begun "guarding" the US-Mexico border in Arizona.

It was amusing to read that they are not sure exactly where the border is, that they have at least once mistakenly wandered into Canada, and that they were reduced to sitting in lawn chairs and watching a field.

What struck me most, though, is how they are missing the fact that the real citizen guards on the northern border are the people who live on that border. Families and friendships in that region straddle the border. The local folks may at times treat the border as their own private passageway, but they also make sure that it is only locals who may pass.

We spend time in northern Vermont each year. I've gotten to know a few farmers and landowners on the border. They have ways of moving things across the border but they also know who and what should move across the border. If anyone not in the community tries to get across, they'll sound the alarm. They know how to contact the federal authorities. And there is no other group that knows the whole of that border as well as the people who live there.

I understand, of course, that the "Minutemen" are just trying to make a point about what they see as a failure of the federal government to secure the borders. But they are insulting the people who live there and who already take their stewardship of their border very seriously. And, to me, the Minutemen look silly.

Three Pumpkins

Three Pumpkins
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Colleen's, mine, and Christina's. What you'll see at our house this evening.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rehoboth Beach, Off Season

A Beach Hotel
Christina is playing with the Youth Bell Choir at Epworth United Methodist Church, in Rehoboth Beach. As a result, I have about 45 minutes of free time in Rehoboth each Thursday evening and have started collecting off-season, beach at evening photos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Your Chance to Vote for One of Our Own

Congratulations to Carl Giffels, of Rehoboth Beach, who is one of the finalists for the October 17 edition of the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest (Contest #23). Voting is open now.

Contest #23 features two butterflies on a branch, talking. One is a traditional monarch-type butterfly. The other has wings inspired by Mondrian.

Mr. Giffels' caption is
It's not traditional, but I find it attracts a more mature type of female.
I'm jealous. I've entered a caption in almost every contest. I haven't made the finals yet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We Won't See Much More of This for a Few Months

Tree and Sun, Medium View
This is the tree in our side yard last Sunday at about noon. The leaves were just starting to turn. Now, with a northeast storm and the remains of a hurricane converging off the coast of the Delmarva peninsula, we've had just about enough wind and rain to strip many of these leaves away. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we'll see much fall foliage on this one this year.

In the spring, this tree will put out a multitude of purple buds along its branches for the space of a week or so. It is briefly glorious.

I have no idea what this tree is called in polite society. We call it the purple tree and we are rather fond of it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Update: Progress at Woods of Mahaffie

I was pleased to see a comment today from the Realtor developing the Kansas neighborhood I posted about back in March, the Woods of Mahaffie. This is the new development bearing my family name that is going up in Olathe, Kansas, where my geat-great-grandparents ran an Inn and Stagecoach Shop that is now a county historic site.

The Realtor took exception to the characterization of the plot map as "kinda cookie-cutter." That was the reaction of some of my land use planner colleagues.

The comment led me back to the Woods of Mahaffie web site where I was pleased to see that roads are in place, models have been put in, and lots are starting to sell. The plot map has been prettied-up and there are now pictures of the neighborhood's progress. Scroll down for the pictures and be sure to click the link for the larger format plot map.

It's not really that bad-looking a neighborhood. It looks like it ties into the developments around it and would be a walkable part of the community.

I joked in March about getting my family to buy up the lots. I still think at least one of us should invest. I was rather tempted by Lot 16.

I guess I'd need to do the due diligence and find out what the market in Olathe looks like, long-term, before investing. I doubt we'd be able to get the girls to agree to a move out to Kansas, but maybe Karen and I could retire there. I doubt they have hurricanes, northeast storms, or other coastal flooding threats.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Wisdom From Tom Starnes

Tom Starnes is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Rehoboth Beach and attends the Church that Karen attends. He served briefly as an interim minister there and occasionally returns to the pulpit on a fill-in basis. I know him mostly from fellowship golf outings, social occasions, and as a minister whose sermon style and substance Karen respects.

Tom is also a member of the News Journal newspaper's Community Advisory Board. He had a "Community View" column in this morning's paper, Aging brings realization that truth often straddles the line, that caught my eye and confirms Karen's opinion.

Tom starts with the biblical story in which a judgmental crowd is dispersed by Jesus with the admonition, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It's certainly a story we've heard before, whether we are Christians or not. Tom focuses, though, on a detail that is not a part of our collective awareness. He quotes the disciple John: "They went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest."

Tom's point is that as we get older, we become more aware of our own faults and more aware that the world is not a place of black and white, pure good and evil, or perfectly clear situations. There are shadings.
Age does this -- to most of us, anyway. It opens us up to new truths and experiences, making us less judgmental and less sure of some of our cherished opinions.
In a few short paragraphs, Tom Starnes applies this wisdom to a gentle admonition of the President over the nomination of Harriet Miers. He applies it to the question of gay rights. He uses it to warn us to soften our cherished opinions with a pinch of self-doubt.

This, I think, is the nugget:
...for most of us, as the years pile up we come to understand that more often than not, truth isn't out there at either extreme. It's generally found somewhere in the middle.
I keep thinking of this as I read the varied opinions and counter-opinions of blog writers in Delaware and around the world. So many of us are so tightly tied to what we think that we fail to test, to probe, to question our certainties.

The truth is often in the middle. If we continue to use only language that precludes the existence of a middle, we may never speak it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Art in Motion

An artist named ChiaNi, who posts some of her work on Flickr, has been working on a series called Mona Lisa step by step.

The start of the seriesIt is based on her recreation of the Mona Lisa, using her own face. ChiaNi paints on a digital canvas, combining digital photos and mouse-strokes in PhotoShop.

She most often creates self-portraits in a variety of styles.

I recommend having a look at the slideshow version of her Mona Lisa series. Set the timing to 1 or 2 seconds. It's rather cool.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On the Road Today

MonkeycycleSome days, the roads of Delaware have so much to offer, if you keep your eyes open. (Don't tell me these roads aint got no heart, you just have to look around.) Today was one of those days for me.

This motorcycle/monkey combination, for example, was at a small shopping center off Route 10 near Dover Air Force Base.

It seems like there must be some reason for this, but I can't figure it out.

Meanwhile, out on Route 10, I found a dedicated young pooch acting as co-pilot in this car.
Mother's Little Helper
There were actually two of these guys, the other one ducked down just before I got my camera up.

Finally, on my way home, I spent some time behind this van.
Spongebob Square Van?
I found myself singing the rest of the way home:
Who lives in a pineapple
Under the sea?
Could it be, SpongeBob Square Van?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Too Many Meanings

This morning, I stopped by the Beebe Hospital off-site lab to get a vial or two of blood drawn. I get blood tests every month to make sure that my blood's clotting properties are what my doctor wants them to be as we treat my blood clot problem. This is minor, health maintenance stuff.

This morning, as I sat waiting for the technician to (delicately) shove a needle into my artery, I found myself looking around at a collection of Halloween decorations. The room was tricked-out with a cardboard skeleton and a mess of fake spider-web, complete with tiny plastic spiders, tacked up in several corners. There may have been paper pumpkins and black cat cut-outs pinned to the walls as well. I was only there a moment or two and don't clearly recall.

It got me thinking (as I tend to do). My health issues are not dire; I'm responding well to treatment. But I know there are folks dealing with serious health problems who must frequent that place. Are Halloween skeletons really as light-hearted in that office as they are in others?

I'm fairly certain I saw no cardboard tombstones tacked to the walls, thank goodness. That would be a bit too close for comfort.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Guests Usually Are Temporary

I attended a statewide technology conference at the Sheraton Inn, in Dover, today. The Sheraton is getting a bit of a make-over and has shifted things around during construction.

When I rolled up this morning I was greeted by a sign directing me to "Temporary Guest Registration."

I knew what it meant, but I was troubled every once in a while during the day by the notion that there might also be permanent guests.

Another Lovely Evening

A Mackerel Sky
I looked up from a parking lot near Five Points this evening and saw this wonderful Mackerel Sky. It was a pretty day today, with bright blue skies. I like that.

The two weeks we had of gray and rain and drizzle put a damper on photography for a while. We were lucky, of course, compared to other folks who got too much rain too quickly and are still dealing with flooding.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Anonymous Web Posting Can Lead to Abuses

I try to track as many Delaware weblogs as I can. I do this partly for work and partly out of my own interest in what's going on in my home state.

Every once in a while, though, I come across a site that makes me cringe.

I've been watching the "community blogs" offered by the Delaware State News' Newszap site. This site used to suffer from embarrassingly bad web design and was almost unreadable for that. Lately, they've done a very nice update, creating what could be a valuable community resource. Unfortunately, the level of input -- for the most part -- is painful.

The site allows completely anonymous posting. Users can register, but don't have to. In general, I don't think that anonymous blogging is a major problem. Many bloggers work behind screen names. They often have their own sites or at least take part in moderated on-line forums and are registered somewhere. If nothing else, a site administrator can ban them (until they invent a new sock puppet).

But completely anonymous and un-moderated blogging -- apparently the case on the Newszap site -- can lead (warning: links lead to hate-filled invective) to posts such as "How Diversity Dumbs Down DelDOT" and "More FACTS blacks dont want you to see."

These are ugly and deeply negative web postings that serve only to fuel argument and reciprocal hatred. They cry out for moderation, both on the part of the posters and of the site itself.

As far as I can see, there's little or no site moderation on the Newszap site. I'm not surprised. The State News has long published an anonymous comments section in their print editions. They call it "Sound Off" and it too has had its share of awful offerings. But with Sound Off, there is at least an editor to hold off the truly nasty comments.

That doesn't seem to be the case with the Newszap "Blogs." I think the site would be better for some regular moderation from the staff at the State News.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What Happens...

seeing through to the other side
Originally uploaded by clickykbd.

...when you set your camera for a long explosure, then toss it up in the air?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Obituary That I Find Charming

Rest in Peace, Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, of Illinois.

His Chicago Tribune Obituary Notice asks "in lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans." It also notes that he had been invalided out of the Army during World War Two but "forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country."

Mr. Heller's final wish has found an on-line afterlife; a Google Search this evening on "Theodore Roosevelt Heller" found over 300 hits. His obituary's on-line Guest Book is now up to 16 pages.

Update (slightly less than 24 hours later): Almost 600 Google hits and 19 pages.

Petty Complaint Number 3,576

Here is something I've noticed among drivers: leaving a full car-length between yourself and the car ahead of you when stopped at a red light.


Maintaining proper distance from other cars while riding down the road is important. It's wise to leave plenty of stopping distance. I think it makes sense to keep your distance when in stop-and-go traffic. But, while waiting at a traffic light?

It's not usually a major problem for me, of course. There are times when I'm blocked from entering the turning lane by the car that waits a car-length back. That has cost me a traffic-light cycle of waiting time more than once. But I am patient; I can handle this.

Still. Why?

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Theory of Relative Coolness

Driving today and listening to satellite radio, I heard a DJ fire off The Clash's version of I Fought the Law.

It's a great version of the old Bobby Fuller Five song and a fine rock tune, but I would have preferred some earlier, harder, punk-rock Clash.

Then I realized that it could have been worse, that he could have played Rock the Casbah, one of the few Clash songs you ever hear on commercial radio. That one is also a good song, but has almost been ruined through repetition.

It got me thinking about gradations of cool in choosing tunes to play by bands like the Clash or, for that matter, The Dead, Phish, or other popular but far-from-the-mainstream bands. (Note to younger readers: This will be true for today's great bands; it just takes a little time for things to get to this point. These are the ones I know about from my generation.)

If you really want to play a great rock song by the Clash, you should play something from an early album. I prefer things like Safe European Home or White Riot. But those are tunes for purists. I Fought The Law is a safe, middle-of-the-road choice. Those who don't really care will play Rock the Casbah.

There are levels of cool in cases like these.

Coolest is something from early days that shows the promise and potential of a band, but came out before they became widely known.

Pretty cool would be something from when a band started to make an impact on the larger audience.

A little lame is to play that first hit song, the one that brought he general public into the audience.

Lamest is to play the song that many people like, but a majority of those folks would hate the band's earlier stuff.

Yes, I am a music snob.

Eleventh Golf Game in 2005

A Bad Day of Golf...Andy Southmayd and I played 18 holes today at The Rookery, a few miles north of Lewes. As State employees, we get Columbus Day off. Our wives and kids, as teachers and students, do not. That is not particularly fair, but it does mean that we can play golf without sacrificing a day-off with our families.

I played badly, with the usual few good shots and a hole or two on which I scored par or only one-over par. Those holes are how the golf-gods hook you and make sure you'll come back for more.

It was a grey day, threatening rain but never really carrying out that threat. In fact there was some doubt, looking at the forecast, whether we'd be able to get out and play. It never did actually rain on us, but the course was soaking wet; by the end of the day, so were we.

A very wet course has some consequences. You don't get much of a fairway roll, just a short rooster-tail effect. In very wet spots, getting the club-head under the ball -- which should leave a large divot and a lofted shot -- results instead in a deadened, dredged muff as the mud sucks the power from the club. And, it can be harder to read the speed of the greens.

These are all excuses, of course. I'm a terrible golfer. But I do enjoy trying.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

A Trip to Atlantic City

The FerryKaren and I took an overnight trip to Atlantic City this week-end to see the John Mayer Trio in Concert. Colleen and Christina stayed with their buddies the Southmayds; we spent an expensive night in the luxury of the new Borgata Casino and Spa.

The ride across the Delaware Bay was rough. The weather was overcast, rainy and windy. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry was rocking as it steamed across the mouth of the Bay. Long, large waves were rolling in from the Atlantic. Towards the end of the ride I looked out and caught another of the Ferry fleet coming out of the mist from the Cape May side.

I found myself thinking of those old movies of merchant ships plying the stormy North Atlantic in defiance of German U-Boats during World War Two. I find romanticizing the view helps stave off sea-sickness.

Atlantic City itself was a whole new thing for us. We're not really casino-going people, Karen and I. The Borgata is one of the newer things in Atlantic City. It is said to be the tallest building in all of New Jersey and seems to contain a whole city indoors. There were people of every age, color, ethnic background, and level of taste wandering the Casino, the marble-paved shopping area, and palatial hotel lobby. Half of them were smoking.

Karen noticed that every second person seemed to be carrying a dress shirt, on a hanger. We haven't figured that out yet.

The John Mayer Trio was great. John Mayer is best known for a string of fresh, light pop tunes. He's also a demon guitar player with a strong sense of rock riffs. He'd been on tour as opening act for the Rolling Stones; we caught him on a rare night on his own. He was clearly having a blast, playing what he wanted when and how he wanted. There were really only two of his hits in the set (at least that I recognized). One was in the encore.

During the set, Mayer played, and channeled, Ray Charles, Jimmy Hendrix, and James Brown, among others. He mixed-in quotes from a variety of sources and was clear, fluid, and powerful as a guitarist. He has an interesting way of turning what he plays into a full-body dance, with the guitar as his partner.

It wasn't what we'd been expecting, based on what John Mayer music gets played on the radio, but it was a great show.

Now we're back and getting ready for another week of school and work.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

A Lovely Evening in Rehoboth Beach

I took a brief stroll down the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk this evening. I had dropped Christina at the Methodist Church for Children's Bell Choir practice and had a short while to myself. I thought it would be pleasant to have a look at the ocean. It was a lovely evening.

Sunset Flags, Rehoboth Beach Bandstand
It has been warmer than one would expect for October and, more to the point, still depressingly humid. It was raining on my ride home from Dover, but skies at the beach were mostly clear and the temperatures were low enough to make the humidity bearable.

It was good to take a gentle walk. It's just about time for me to start working back into some form of work-out. My blood clot treatment is coming along well enough that I don't really have the excuse to loaf anymore. I've started taking the stairs at work again -- some -- and I should start a regular program of walking to get back into something approaching shape.

This sort of walk will be just fine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Somehow This Just Looks Wrong

I guess I just don't see this "mag-wheel" look (If that's the right terminology) on this car. Just strikes me as the wrong choice.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

My Niece Will be Living in Usti nad Orlici!­

My niece Isabel is moving to Usti nad Orlici­, a town in the Czech Republic. (My best guess pronunciation is ooosh-tee nod or-LI-chee)

Isabel is a year or so out of college. She's been casting about for the right way to share her gifts with the world and has decided to teach in the Czech Republic. I think she will be teaching English; she'll be learning Czech. She wrote recently to say she has almost finished her training in Prague and is looking forward to the "lovely flat" that she gets as part of her payment for teaching in Usti nad Orlici.

I think she'll do well. Isabel is an open, friendly, very likeable young woman. Her's is a good face for the US to present to the world.

Once She learns Czech, maybe Isabel can translate the rest of the Usti nad Orlici web site for us?