the footsteps of my venerable ancestors

I’ve been looking through the U.S. Military archive on, which is available for free until June 6 in observance of the anniversary of D-Day. I’ve found some interesting material. I found the draft registration card for a great-grandfather on my Mom’s side. The man was 63 years old at the time; his son was in his 30’s and served in the Glider Corps. in Europe. I also found a scanned ledger page from the U.S. War Department listing a great-great-grandfather on the Geek family side as a prisoner of war in 1865. This is more likely a record of his surrender along with the rest of the 16th Confederate Cavalry in May 1865 — according to sources on the Web, the whole unit was interned for 10 days then paroled.

The whole thing turned out to be a very interesting exercise. Neither of the two documents that I found was in the archives of family historians on either side of the family. On a more personal level, I had heard different stories about my family’s involvement on the Confederate side in the War Between The States, as my people (on one side) call it. I now have hard information about one of my ancestors. I am told that another ancestor fought in the Battle of Vicksburg on the Confederate side. I will be asking my Uncle, the family genealogist, for more information shortly.

I am also surprised at the spotty nature of the U.S. Military archive. The draft registration for my great-grandfather is in the archive, but very few of my other relations are mentioned, even though they lived in the same small town. My Dad’s time in the Army is not documented, and a cousin’s time in the Navy at the close of World War II is not documented either. Genealogy is obviously the business of scraps and clues, not well-organized archives.

sometimes I am a little dim

Sometimes, I can be a little dim. Take this morning, for example. My manager has a weekly staff meeting by conference call Tuesday mornings at 9am. I was running late this morning, and found myself stuck in traffic at 9:05am thinking “I should have stayed home so I could use the phone for the conference call”.

Then the fact that I have a cell phone hit me. Duh.

what a thousand dollars gets you

Mrs. Geek and I made our first pilgrimage down to a nearby outlet mall in about a year. We spent about $1000. We didn’t necessarily mean to spend that much, and I don’t mean to write this entry to show off. Neither of us had really done much of a wardrobe update in about a year, or in the case of my shoes, two to three years. By this, I mean to say that we mostly got stuff we believed we needed.

Here’s how it all it broke down:

  • For him:
    four pairs of khaki pants, six pairs of dress socks, one pair of dress shoes, six pairs of briefs, one pair of athletic shoes, twelve pairs of athletic socks, three polo shirts, one linen dress shirt, one pair linen dress pants, one cotton dress shirt
  • For her:
    one mexican print skirt, one peasant blouse, one pair of linen crop pants, three ribbed tank tops, two v-necks, two crew shirts, one pair of Keds, five bras, and two packages of undies
  • For both of us:
    one Disney smoothie cookbook, one box of Cafe Du Monde Beignet Mix, one ceramic fondue set
  • As gifts:
    two Waterford vases as wedding gifts for the two weddings we attended last summer (yes, we’re bad…), one Waterford votive for one of Mrs. Geek’s relatives, one set of baby girl’s clothing as a shower gift

Mrs. Geek and I think we did pretty well on value. Most everything we got was on sale. Pretty much all of it was needed. Now the post-consumer guilt is setting in. *grin*

the matrix has us

I happened to catch the new episode of the PBS series Frontline entitled Spying On The Home Front. I have to say, it scared the bejesus out of me and pissed me off at the same time. Why? Well, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if you’ve been paying attention to news stories related to the NSA wiretapping scandal, it seems like a very reasonable and likely that copies of the very bits I use to submit this entry to and the bits you, fair reader, use to display it on your web browser, have been scanned and analyzed for content by a computer run by the NSA. Is anything that I’m writing likely to trip any kind of alarm? No, but the fact that anyone in the government is even looking without my consent just makes bile rise in my throat.

This fascinating bit of television arrives on the heels of testimony of James Comey before Congress about the history of domestic spying during the last five years. It’s a pretty spectacular tale. Mr. Comey was acting Attorney General in March 2004 while then Attorney General John Ashcroft (the man who lost his Senate seat to a dead man) lay in the ICU with pancreatic problems. When a Department of Justice review declared that a warrant-less wiretapping program that had been in place for 2.5 years was likely illegal, senior White House officials (including current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) attempted to lobby John Ashcroft in his ICU hospital bed to re-authorize the wiretapping program anyway. (More about this and other nefarious doings of our government in a 6-Feb-2006 article in Newsweek here.)

The root of this whole problem is that we live in a country where our President wants to be King, at least for another year and a half. This is the “don’t worry, trust us” Presidency. Unfortunately, the conduct of the war, the cleanup after Katrina, the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, the outing of Valerie Plame and on and on and on… show just how inept this government is. Do I want them to have unfettered power to monitor my every move as if I am a potential criminal? “The intent is good” say the President’s allies inside the Beltway. Well, we all know about what the road to Hell is paved with, don’t we?

And what is the government’s justification for this abuse of liberty? According to John Yoo, this is justified because the powers of the President are virtually unfettered in time of war. My response to that statement is this: are we really at war? There is no draft, no rationing, no attempt to put the society of this country on a war footing. No, there is only an attempt to assume power and stick with an agenda that has become increasingly unpopular all out of stubbornness as much as anything else. Ultimately, we are talking about a cultural conflict in the making… not a military conflict that can be started, fought, and finished. Are we ready to have the President of the United States gradually assume near dictatorial powers over the course of decades? The Cold War lasted over 40 years. Are we ready to for the Al Quaeda War last just as long?

Until we have an open, public debate on the subject, the Matrix truly has us. Forget a large virtual reality used to service artificially intelligent computers, between the government and the security industry, it is possible to track nearly every move you make. Stop at 7-11 to get a Big Gulp? They know where you are. Make a phone call or connect to the Internet? They know where you are. Go to Vegas? They can follow your every move outside of your hotel room and public restrooms if they want to. Scary. Scary. Scary.

cast iron

I had a chance to speak with my Dad this weekend. Usually, my Mom, Dad, and I conference call it together, but my Mom had a prior engagement on Saturday and that left a couple of hours for my Dad and I to make a go of it ourselves. We ended up talking about a wide range of subjects, ranging from financial matters (including the history of the mortgage interest tax deduction), job issues, and (thanks to this article) cookware.

The talk of cookware brought out a true nugget of life growing up in the Land Of The Confederacy. Grandma Geek, my Dad’s mother, used to cook almost daily with one or more cast iron skillets; hash, corn bread, fried chicken, collard greens, dinner or supper, cast iron was the workhorse of the stove top. During all this daily use, residue would build up. Once every month or two, Grandma Geek would make my Dad build a fire in the back yard, and put all of her cast iron cookware until it almost glowed red. This effectively created the effect of putting the cast iron in the cleaning cycle of a self-cleaning oven; everything on those pans was burned away to small bits of ash. Of course, nothing cooked with those cast iron skillets came out quite right for about a week afterward — until a new coat of “seasoning” built up.

This story has particular significance to me because it is part of one of my few memories of Grandma Geek. I met her maybe half a dozen times in my life. I can recall her in the kitchen of her house talking about how she used to make my Dad go out back and clean the cast iron. I don’t know why I held on to this particular memory… but it is one of only a few that I have of her.

smoke on the water

We had a tiny bit of excitement here that Chez Geek as I was getting home from work this evening. There was a fire in the apartment next door to ours. As you can see, the local fire fighting establishment turned out in force. Someone left a stove grate on all day. All came out well, but it provided a few tense, uncertain moments.

Here is how it played out. I first became aware of the problem when I got a call on my cell phone from Mrs. Geek. I was at the grocery store trying to find some mixed vegetables to make pasta primavera for dinner. Mrs. Geek needed the number for the apartment building manager because the smoke alarm in one of the apartments was going off. I gave her the number and thought “Fine. Someone probably burned their dinner. The manager will have this sorted out in no time.” It’s happened before.

I knew things were a little bit more serious when I was walking down the hall toward our apartment. The manager was getting the fire extinguisher and fire hose(!?!) out of the fire safety cabinet in the hallway. He was opening the door to the apartment next to ours, and the apartment was ceiling to floor smoke. He covered his face with his hand and the collar of his t-shirt, and another building resident did the same. They went in and out of the smoke filled apartment a couple times, returning to the hallway coughing.

Things got even more serious from there. Someone called 911. First the police arrived. After several tense minutes, and some preliminary searching to determine if anyone was inside the apartment, the police told the rest of us (who were standing around, watching the action) to leave the building. Mrs. Geek grabbed her notebook computer, our wedding album, and our honeymoon album (ever the scrapbooker she) and I grabbed a bag with my iPod and tried to make sure that all the computers in the house were shutdown.

A couple more minutes later, the fire department arrived… first one engine, then another, and another, and another.A few firemen scrambled up to the apartment in question, led by the other building resident who followed the manager in for the initial survey. The front door to the building closed behind the first group, and I rushed forward to unlock it… because (as they put it) they “didn’t want to break it down”. Mrs. Geek, ever the school teacher with disaster training, then began moving people off the sidewalk in front of the building to the sidewalk across the street.

For several minutes, we watched the building nervously waiting to see what would happen next. I began to feel more relieved when I saw a fireman pull up the blinds in one of the windows of the apartment in question. A window was opened and smoke began pouring out. I knew from basic chemistry, that the last thing a fireman would do is purposely open a window if a fire was raging inside; that would only provide more fuel for the flames. A short while later, a police officer who had been directing traffic away from all the fire trucks informed us that it was a small fire from a stove grate and that we would be allowed back into our building as soon as the smoke was vented out of the building.

*whew* We need to get our renters insurance in order!

In the meanwhile, it seemed appropriate to get out my old tape copy of Deep Purple’s Machine Head and play “Smoke On The Water”. The album was featured on Classic Albums on VH1 Classic. The coincidence of events and lyrics was just too strong to ignore.