Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Little Odd is, by and large, a typical all-American kid. Of course, what all-American means has changed over the years. When my dad was eight, the Depression was still lingering, and World War II was almost four years in the future. When I was eight, Jimmy Carter was the President-elect, disco was dying, and cassette tapes were the rage. So Little Odd will have to look back and figure out what was what in his day. But in 1938, he would have fit in as a 'normal' boy, and the same can said if he'd been cruising my neighborhood on a green plastic skateboard.

L.O. likes baseball, and he loves football. He avoids vegetables without being too obvious. He doesn't shampoo his hair when he showers most nights, although he wets it down, mostly. He eats a lot of Popsicles during the summer, so much so that his lips take on an unnatural orange, purple, or red hue for entire days. He wears pajama bottoms but no pajama tops; the bottoms he favors this summer are starting to show his growth and its threadbare knees. He loves his sister, unless you ask him. He gets along with his sister, or at least until he doesn't. He wakes up early so he can watch extra t.v. and not fuss with anyone over the remote; after all, it's summer and we are pretty loose 'bout screen time if there is no bloodshed.

He got his first athletic cup today, and after figuring out which way is up, came out to the garage where I was working so he could show me how hard he could smack his fist into his crotch. He was wearing a t-shirt and some funky Underarmor boxer cup-holder pants, and he stood beaming in the driveway smacking his front goods. As he slapped and danced like a drunk monkey, he quipped, "Mom says I have a huge package!" I kept a straight face and made him promise to not tell his principal, who happens to be be Mrs. Odd's boss, that or any details about his cup.

He likes frogs, toads, dogs, tigers, and whales. He thinks the Patriots should sign T.O. He plays so hard some days, it is tiring just to look at him. He wants to have really long dude hair, because either some kid in his class does or because Tom Brady does. On this topic, I can't be sure who influences him more, and it could be both equally. His coif looks vaguely Leif Garrett/Shaggy/Joaquin Phoenix ... think Commodus in Gladiator. And he went through a phase when he was mad about creating origami. He is getting so big, I strain to carry him to bed when he falls asleep downstairs. I used to pretend to strain when I lifted him up, whereas now I pretend it doesn't hurt. Go figure.

Like I said, he is all boy. Willing hugs for mom, subtly less so with me. His is pure joy; happy, healthy, funny, strong, smart. His Achilles' heal turns out to be silverfish, these creepy, two inch long bugs that crawl out of our drains in the basement. I guess his imprinting moment came when he was in the family room in the basement, half watching t.v., half napping. Apparently he sort of felt something on his face, so he swiped it away, and lo and behold, a two inch furry, alien-looking critter was crawling across his head. It was hard to tell exactly what unfolded, as he stormed up the basement stairs screaming at the tops of his lungs, flailing like a marionette puppet on speed.

With all that he has going for him, I guess a little irrational bug fear is totally fine. And to be honest, silverfish are just a bit too freaky for me, too. I guess that makes me just like Little Odd.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Be bery, bery quiet...

You, dear reader, are aware that The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles on the expanding role of "security" in America, in response to the 9/11 attacks. The authors of the series have spent two years investigating the ever-expanding super-secret world of secret security secretly designed to keep secret America's secret security. They secretly put together all the secrets they learned on a secret website & blog called www.TopSecretAmerica.com. They describe our secret security and intelligence structure, which has secretly become so bloated and "so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer." (AP) I kid you not, this is true.

Here's some of what they learned (...and don't tell anyone, as it is secret):

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on Top Secret programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at over 10,000 locations across the country. Um, that's like more than a hundred.

Over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret clearances. Where do I get me one?

In the Washington area alone, 33 building complexes for Top Secret work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. When you go out and count them yourself, please remember to do so discretely.

The (aforementioned) blog will anchor the Top Secret America site providing updates on Top Secret America coverage, original journalism and insight around related national security matters...including a searchable database illustrates information about government organizations that contract out top secret work, companies they contract to, the types of work they do, and the places where they do it. Okay, I pretty much stole most of that paragraph from the AP verbatim. But it makes it even funnier.

A map displays locations of all the clusters of Top Secret activity and some basic information about those areas. In case you get lost?!?

Each of nearly 2,000 companies and 45 government organizations has a profile page with basic information about its role in Top Secret America. Um, really? A profile page for all of the top secret work? How secret is this whole thing anyway? Come on, you can tell me.

... readers can filter searches by companies doing a specific kind of work, all companies mentioned in the story, or all companies with more than $750 million in revenue.

The Post estimates the number of contractors who work on Top Secret programs to be 265,000. Let's see... $40,000 (median salary that I made up...) times 265,000 equals $10,600,000,000. A year... What do you think they spend at Staples on office supplies?

The NSA plans to expand by two-thirds its current size over the next 15 years. Giggle. I thought the NSA was supposed to be ... well, secret.

Do you get the feeling that Elmer Fudd would do a better job of keeping a secret?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


No, Van Halen fans, I'm not talking about "Hot for Teacher," although ...heh, heh... I am always hot for teacher. Mrs. Odd is, of course, a teacher and a major distraction for boys above a certain age!

In this case, it is Mr. Orwell and his wee narrative I reference. I read it in 9th grade, which was like, um, forever ago. Or in other terms, 1984 (...the year, not the book) was still in the future. It was one of the few pieces of literature I read in school (as in involuntary, compulsory, 'cause They said so...) that I liked and sort of got the point. I remember distinctly feeling creeped out by the idea of a wall-sized t.v. that never turned off and constantly being monitored. Omnipresent screens, poli-business mega-entities, loss of individualism. It was, frankly, scary-assed fiction.

So I found myself on JetBlue flying to the New Orleans a week or so ago, and I got to thinking about the seat back in front of me. Now there is a phrase I never imagined I'd write. But I did truly find myself contemplating the seat back in front of me. If you have flown JetBlue or other carriers recently, you know what I'm talking about. There is an 8" screen embedded in the rear of the headrest, so you can watch whatever you want to watch during the flight. Or can you?

Okay, so it wasn't a huge wall-sized screen, but when it's only eighteen inches from your face, does the size really matter (Okay, size matters...snicker, snicker)? And you know what? You can't turn it off. Nope. You can dim it 'til it's dark, but "off" is "off" and "dim" is "on, just not bright." Okay, Mr. Orwell, nice call.

So what did I do? I took a picture of the screen, which shows a slightly plump woman staring back at me, hands open in what can only be described as a beseeching gesture. She's sitting on what looks to be comfortable living room furniture, and she is trying to make eye contact with me, I swear. Yeah, I took the picture with my iPhone, which I rarely use as a phone but use constantly to check e-mail, take pictures, watch YouTube videos, and plan my life. The irony of having a computer-camera-radio thingy in my hand, on an airplane, taking a picture of t.v. that doesn't really turn off struck me as very nicely Orwellian. Again, Mr. Orwell, well done. Oh, then I posted the picture to Facebook, so my friends can keep track of my very interesting life.

Let me be clear here, in case you were wondering. We were not going to New Orleans to do mission work. We were going to New Orleans because no one in New Orleans knows who we are, and we wanted to let off some steam. A little of this, a little of that. But a little of this or that without our neighbors leaning over our table or the chance encounter with a student. So, no cameras was the rule. Turns out we sort of ignored the fact that our phones are cameras, but we were pretty good about not taking pictures of every moment, snaring just a few snapshots to capture the crazy that is New Orleans. But I couldn't help notice how many cameras there were, stuck to the sides of buildings, light poles, in lobbies, outside clubs. Even in a city where being anonymous is a right, we still were being imaged an awful lot. How anonymous were we?

People talk about not wanting Big Brother in their lives, but I get the sneaking suspicion that is all talk. Maybe it's a post-9/11 thing, or an outgrowth of the technology boom, or that we are all a bit A.D.H.D., or that we are self-important and need to prove our worth to everyone else, or that we just like gadgets, but for for all the blather that we want privacy and no interference from outside forces, we do spend a lot of time and treasure guaranteeing the opposite is true. I find the irony of this so delicious, I think I'll share my thoughts with some complete strangers. Oh, wait...