Monday, January 30, 2006

I wish I was 18 again

It's fun to have a post office box instead of home mail delivery. It's like living with Monty Hall... every day, what's behind door number three? It's usually bills and junk mail. Sometimes it's a magazine or a postcard or a card. The canary yellow "package slip" always takes my breath away: is it a present? Did I buy something online? Is it just a lame oversized catalog?

Today, I went to the mailbox, to find my first ever credit card offer from the AARP. Which put me in the perfect frame of mind for the advertisement to come meet the new Board Certified Urologist at the hospital.

Great. So how was your Monday?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

We all want to change your head

Today is National PATRIOT Act Call-In Day. If the overreach of executive power worries you, if disregard for the First and Fourth Amendments offends you, if you don't think the American experiment is over just yet, please pick up the phone and call both your Senators and your Representative.

The USA PATRIOT Act (which should always be capitalized, because it's an acronym) does accomplish a lot of needed reform. The reauthorization bills are specifically looking at the areas which were hastily pushed through out of fear. Please ask your Congresspeople to support the Senate version of the bill, which better supports both civil liberties and security.

When you call, ask Members of Congress to fight for:
  • The inclusion of language in Section 215 requiring a statement of fact linking the person whose records are sought to a terrorism investigation.

  • The inclusion of language allowing a Section 215 recipient to pose a meaningful challenge to a FISA Court order.

  • The inclusion of language allowing a Section 505 recipient to pose a meaningful challenge to National Security Letter.

This is a natural bipartisan issue, so don't be afraid to call your Congresspeople, whether or not you usually agree. You might be pleasantly surprised.

A phone call is the best way to get your message across, especially if it's coming as part of a large, coordinated demonstration. It's an immediate way to make sure the Congress knows where the mainstream stands. But if a call's not in the cards today, please consider a paper letter or even an email. Any contact will help strengthen the supporters of the Constitution, and cast at least a little doubt on those who will sacrifice liberty for temporary safety.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nobody loves me but my mother, and I think she might be jivin' too

B.B. King Tour Poster
The blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making other people feel worse. - Bleeding Gums Murphy

Herself and I went to the Palace Theater in Columbus last night to see B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. This was our big Christmas present to each other; she bought my ticket and I bought hers.

I knew the name Bobby "Blue" Bland, but I didn't know his music. Turns out he's a vocalist, working in a real smooth, R&B style these days. Bland's voice has clearly taken a hit over time; actually, when he sat down, I was kind of worried. But as he warmed up, flashes of brilliance shone through, whether it was the blues of "Stormy Monday" or a soul take on Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again." He had a lot of fun with an audience sing along on "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," and discovered quite a talented 10-year old in the audience.

OK, let's be honest. This night was about taking B.B. King off the "See Them Before They Die" list. (And you gotta figure that a fat 80 year old diabetic goes toward the top of that list.) Well, B.B. came out and blew the doors off for an hour and a half, with every lick he ever had still in fine form. Frankly, he could've played "How Blue Can You Get" and "The Thrill Is Gone" and I would've been happy, but he threw in "When Love Comes To Town" and "Just Like A Woman" and a hell of a riff on "Summertime," and I was in heaven.

King is an amazing stage presence. The man can chair-dance better than most people dance on their feet. (I may have picked up a move or two for my own chair dancing.) It was just amazing to feel that much energy coming off a man who never left his chair. For a virtuoso, he's also a very giving performer; every member of his band got solos, and lots of recognition for them.

I've seen some bands play their bit and be done; I've seen some leave everything they had on the stage. B.B. seemed to be gaining momentum when the roadies started circling the stage. His manager actually had to come out and say it was time to go. I think if not for the house rules, he would've played another half hour or more. We stood at the stage door for probably half an hour, hoping he'd show up and autograph that poster. We never saw him, but I'm still not convinced he was on the bus and not wailing away back in the green room.

B.B. said he doesn't know where this "last tour" business came from, and that he'd like to come through Columbus again sometime if we'd have him. Good news for us all. If you get the opportunity, don't miss him.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

For the help that we can bring We can change the world

Six years ago, due to misunderstanding some directions, we got on New Orleans' Leonidas bus line. At the time, that bus went through some really rough blocks... areas where, as near as I could tell, the bus was the only city service being reliably delivered. The bus was a vital social center as well as necessary transport. The driver knew the neighbors, and chatting on the bus was how they all checked up on each other. Still, it wasn't a neighborhood we planned on discovering on foot. So we sat there, not even knowing that the bus had hit the last stop. The last guy to leave, an old black man with a cane, remarked to the driver, "hey man, you got some white kids left on your bus."

I wonder what happened to him. I hope he made it.

I intend to have this trip to New Orleans stick with me as vividly. But I'm not a scared kid stuck on a bus anymore. The world did not stop spinning on its axis because I didn't go to work or check my email or watch TV or drink beer for a week. I can put all those good things aside for a while, and give that time to changing even a handful of lives.

And so can you.

It's amazing what a difference even a small amount of money can make. Seriously, there's a need for $20 pushbrooms and $30 wheelbarrows. Even $7 worth of water can keep a work crew hydrated on the job for a couple days. If you can dig deep, great. But can't everybody with Internet access dig up 10 bucks? Five?

We can't just pay off all the pain and injustice out there. (Although it's a start.) Call your Congresspeople to ask them what they're doing about Federal rebuilding money. Write your local paper and ask them to run more stories about what your community is doing for evacuees. Find a group that's going down to the Gulf; go if you can, but even if you can't, I guarantee you they'd appreciate a cooler full of peanut butter sandwiches.

Our trip was in cooperation with Episcopal Relief and Development and we were hosted by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Orleans, if you'd like to help me say thanks to my hosts.

It is incredible what even a small kindness can accomplish.


The students are already talking about another trip in March, during a time when I will not be able to go. I feel like my big challenge, having proven that I'll travel 20 hours to help someone, is to prove that I'll cross the street to do it.

For starters, I know nothing at all about our local disaster plans. It's a civic duty to know what they are, and to weigh in on the parts that might not be fair or not seem smart or have been left out. I have no idea how to research that, but if I figure anything out, I'll let you know.

And I don't know enough about our local social safety net. I do know that our local Habitat for Humanity chapter is extremely active, and that in a well-organized group, all skill levels can be productive. I need to stop wanting to be active, and just act.

(Of course, there's plenty of good causes. I support all those folks on the right there, and Swankette has news about a charity fighting homelessness which is trying to meet a matching grant.)


I saw a great prayer on a bulletin board when we stopped over at the University of the South. I'll close with it:

A Franciscan Blessing
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I'm a dreamer but my heart's of gold

Oh, Lord, but it's good to be in my own home. I think the endorphins ran out Saturday; I don't think a bus ride is supposed to make me as sore as it did.


After 4 days of looking at spraypainted messages from the LASPCA documenting animals found, not found, or found dead, I'm really happy to be home with my cats. Which doesn't even begin to compare to how glad I am to be back in Herself's safe and loving and proud arms.


On Friday, I saw the Ninth Ward, where the structural damage from the flood was the worst. Even after 3 days, I was shocked to see genuinely destroyed houses, knocked off their foundations, roofs and porches collapsed and some completely burned out. A lot more obvious rental properties in that area... and I wonder what resources the renters are drawing on. I wonder what I would've done when I was renting.


Thanks for the comments; they brought me a big smile when Herself read them over the phone to me.

Hugh: thanks for the brooms. They were the tools we needed most. (We brought plenty of hardware and not nearly enough to clean up with. The other thing we really could've used was a wheelbarrow or three.)

Tom: No crawfish, but a great muffaletta and some fabulous homemade gumbo.

TRP: As you know, we have a philosophical difference about "us" and "them", but we share the ethical belief that we need to keep working to enlarge our definition of "us". That was my point, although I'm not sure it came through in that post.

Matt and everyone else: thank you for your prayers. We arrived home with all the people, fingers, toes, and eyes we left with, and only a few extra minor scratches, and I thank you for asking for our protection.


If you're reading this through Bloglines or Firefox Smart Bookmarks (or maybe some other RSS readers), you may've missed some audio posts. I think those posts are the things I've written which are most like journalism, and it's a much harder format to write in than I'd realized. I've got so many notes; distilling them down to the core message, on a tight deadline, was a big challenge. So here's my shoutout to great journalists.

On the other extreme, my brother gave me a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces for Christmas, and I figured it'd be good reading for this trip. I haven't finished it yet, but it's been terrific. And writing less like Ignatius J. Reilly has become a major goal...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, January 12, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Somehow I know you're still there

Tomorrow is the feast day of Mary, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, patron saint of New Orleans.

Tomorrow is also the day when I get on a bus at 9 AM to drive down to New Orleans and work on rebuilding.

How about that?

Thanks to the students who organized this trip, and the Episcopalian Dioceses (local and in New Orleans) who we're working with.

Lafitte, we are coming.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Just exactly what the facts is

According to StatCounter, 85 of my last 100 page loads have come from computers using either Windows XP or 2000. I have a message for the owners of those computers:

Run Windows Update. Run it now now now.

Just trust me and come back and I'll explain why.

Back already? See, that wasn't so bad.

OK, here's the deal. As you might already know if you're reading Chesterley, there's a new significant security hole in Windows. To give you an idea of how bad this is, Microsoft announced that they would issue a patch on their regular schedule, next Tuesday. But the hole has been so widely exploited (and so widely reported on) that they released the patch 5 days early, around 5 PM EST today.

(I do this for a living. If you can pressure Microsoft into releasing something early, it's major.)

Willya open up Internet Explorer and run Windows Update already? If your computer is set up right, you may even have a little Windows icon down by the clock on your menu bar telling you to install this update. Do it, reboot, come back.

Sticking around for more info? My, you are stubborn. ComputerWorld has a particularly good discussion of the WMF vulnerability if you'd like, but here's the end user translation.

Windows Metafile (WMF) is a graphics format which can execute code. At the time, this seemed like a really good idea, because it improved things like print queue management. WMF files are now used for anything, from Office clip art to Web design to creating the previews of documents you might see in Windows Explorer.

Since this was announced on December 27th, somewhere over 100 "exploits" of this hole have been written. The lucky people are just getting a whole ton more popup ads than they used to. The unlucky ones don't even know their computers have been stolen; the box is still present, but the guts belong to someone else now.

And since this is a virus that travels in a graphics format, you can get it through pretty much everything that doesn't run in a command shell. Email exploits were the first, followed quickly by instant messenger attacks. Scuzzy website operators put them on their websites to spread spyware. What really scares me is that legitimate web sites were hacked to include WMF graphics, which means you could've done everything right and still gotten hit.

So to sum up: patch your operating system. Keep hitting "continue" or whatever else the affirmative option is until Microsoft tells you there's nothing left to install. Then, make sure your antivirus software is getting current updates.

If you're one of the 4 users of Windows 98 or ME, Microsoft has decided not to patch your system because it's too old. If you want a secure computer, you have to upgrade the OS. Sorry.

And if you're a Mac or Linux user? Don't look so smug until you've updated your patches and your antivirus definitions. We only get to be smug as long as it doesn't happen to us.

Once your system is properly secured, permission to Yippee Dance is granted.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What comes is better

Nice big pot of hoppin' john simmering on the stove. New haircut. Cleared a ton of space in the "throw stuff here" room. Washington won the NFC wild card. No hangover; no leaking roof. I'm having a pretty good feeling about this year, I don't mind telling you.


Tom Bodett says there's no reason to take our small grudges with us into the New Year, and I think he's right. People will be plenty annoying anyway; might as well give them a clean slate. And, for that aggravating thing that you wish to hell I'd stop doing... I'm sorry.


If you haven't read Good Omens, you really should. It's a cute little comedy about the Apocalypse. Crowley and Aziraphale are the demon and angel who realize that they rather like Earth, and have some interest in keeping their cold war from getting hot. Their New Year's Resolutions are online; it's probably worth it to check them out, just for your own safety. (Whichever side you're on.)


And if Neil Gaiman can recycle his New Year's wish yet again, then so can I:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't to forget make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.