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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Changing All Those Changes

February 5th, 2009 by Bradley Denton

 Here They Played, and Still Play, Rock and Roll

At midday on Friday, June 19th, 1987, while en route to a convention in Minnesota, Barb and I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa. I had just started writing my second novel, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and Clear Lake was a logical place to take some pictures and do a little research. It was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson had played their last concert on February 2, 1959.

At the Clear Lake Public Library, a helpful librarian told me a story about Buddy’s glasses. It seems that someone (the county coroner?) from Mason City (the county seat) had taken the glasses from the site of the plane crash . . . and as far as the librarian knew, they were still locked up in a desk at the courthouse. Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, had even asked for them – and had been refused. The county, for some odd reason, thought they should hang on to them . . .

Read More »

Posted in Barb, Bob Y., Brad, Fun, History, Maureen, Music, People, Personal History, Pop. Culture | 10 Comments »

Backyard Sex, Part Deux

January 15th, 2009 by Bradley Denton

Dinosaurs 

We live in a semi-rural area. Well, mostly rural. We have houses and running water, but no streetlights, fireplugs, police officers, or Britney Spears sightings. (One good ol’ boy at the local hardware store actually swears that “Britney Spears” is something a spaniel does during a duck hunt.)

Another thing we don’t have is zoning restrictions. So even though we may look like a residential neighborhood from some angles, other angles will reveal that various folks have stocked their back yards with chickens, geese, sheep, goats, and donkeys. And they’re perfectly welcome to do so – ‘cause here along the Travis-Hays county line, a man’s home is not only his castle, but his Little Reata. (Just hit Netflix and rent “Giant.”)

Here at Casa Ramrod, all we have in the back yard are dogs. Or at least, that’s all we intend to have. In practice, at one time or another, we’ve also had squirrels, opossums, and armadillos (visually confirmed) as well as raccoons, bobcats, and skunks (otherwise confirmed). The occasional family of deer hops the fence. Plus, our veterinarian’s bulletin board sports a few too-curious-for-their-own-good doggie photos that provide direct evidence of porcupines in the vicinity.

But all of that’s not enough animal life for one of our nearest neighbors, who has gone the aforementioned chickens-geese-sheep-goats-donkeys route. He has even expanded his own Little Reata by fencing off some of the utility-easement alley behind our properties. All of which is cool with us, by the way. The more fur and feathers, the merrier. (Or at least the furrier and featherier.)

Our dogs Lucy, Linus, and Tillie were cool with it too . . .

. . . until the day the emus showed up.

Read More »

Posted in Barb, Brad, Daily Life, Dammit!, Dogs, Personal History, Sex | 7 Comments »

The Wedding of the Century

November 30th, 2008 by Rory Harper


Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you — Mr. Jesse Hawkins and Mrs. Rachael Hawkins.

 

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They were married last Saturday afternoon in an outdoor amphitheatre at Brownwood State Park, to my delight and to the applause of approximately 45 friends and family.

 

This is the terrible loss that I suffered, mentioned in my previous post. I gave up my most beloved daughter – but gained both a wonderful son-in-law and a vast herd of cattle in payment.

 

More below the cut.

 

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Posted in Barb, Bob Y., Brad, Caroline, Hope, Maureen, mp3, Personal History, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory, The Dude | 9 Comments »

This is not a Red State/Blue State thing

November 19th, 2008 by Steven Gould

These are the states I’ve visited in my life. (That I remember–as a child my military family moved a lot so it could be more.)  I guess we know who to blame global warming on.


visited 42 states (84%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or try another Douwe Osinga project

Seen over at Mad’s LiveJournal.

Posted in Mad, Personal History, Steve | 2 Comments »

Welcome to the Future

November 5th, 2008 by Steven Gould

Thanks electorate.  Thanks poll workers.  Thanks for a clear and indisputable result.  I am very happy that we’ve got an election that isn’t settled by the Supreme Court.

My only disappointment is Prop 8 in California, a piece of hatred in a night that will otherwise go down in history as a celebration of diversity and hope.

Posted in Dammit!, Personal History, Politics | 4 Comments »

McCains

October 17th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

Apropos my post the other day about the historical familial connections between slaves and slave owners, here is a profile in the Wall Street Journal of the McCains: descendants of the slaves McCain’s ancestors owned. Serendipity doo-dah. Via Suburban Guerrilla.

Posted in Daily Life, History, Morgan, Personal History, Slavery | Comments Off

The Twin Provenances of Sin and Courage

October 13th, 2008 by Morgan J. Locke

I want to confess something I’ve never told anyone before.

Occasionally I meet someone with my surname, and when that happens, we often wonder together whether we are relatives–whether somewhere in the past we share a common ancestor. We compare notes about our families. Are we related?

Here’s the confession part: I am white, and have never met a black person with my own surname. And I have always had low-grade anxiety over what I would do if I did. Because slaves often ended up with the same surnames as their owners. And I have ancestors in the south, so it seems likely that there are descendants out there of slaves that my ancestors owned.

What could I say to this person? Certainly not: let’s compare family histories and see if my great-great-grandpa owned yours. In short, I am ashamed of my slave-owning roots. (And no, I’m not certain I have a slave-owning ancestor. But it seems likely, knowing what I know of my family’s history on that side: where they lived [Virginia starting in the 1700s] and what they did for a living [farming]).

This is something that has percolated in the back of my mind for years. But I’ve never said anything to anyone about it. It’s been my dirty little secret.

So, I had a conversation with my mother this weekend. My niece is about to wed, and folks are coming into town for the wedding, and family stories often surface around these kinds of events. My mother mentioned that I had an ancestor, a great-great-grandmother in Michigan, whose husband fought and died in the Civil War. It turns out this ancestor of mine was a member of the Underground Railroad, and had a home with a secret underground room. She helped runaway slaves cross over into Canada.

As my mother told me this, I felt relief. Yes, I almost certainly have some truly oppressive assholes for ancestors. But I am thankful that I also have one who had the moral courage and good judgment to be on the side of the angels.

So, in commemoration of those who–

  • Lived and died in bondage (we recall your suffering and grieve for your hurts at the hands of your oppressors);
  • Had the chance, and took their courage in their hands to flee (we rejoice that you found your freedom); and
  • Participated in the Underground Railroad, and aided escaping slaves (we honor your willingness to do what was right).

here is a multi-media site with maps, information, photos, and recordings about the Underground Railroad. Celebrate freedom. Click the pic and enjoy the ride! (And PS, Thanks, G’G’Gramma, for giving me something I can be proud of, from an ugly time in our nation’s past.)

Posted in History, Morgan, Personal History, Slavery | 3 Comments »

Stuff We Did This Weekend

August 3rd, 2008 by Rory Harper


You know how I am… It’s all a blur to me. I kinda almost remember stuff. Sometimes.

 

Lessee… what did I do this weekend? I remember riding into Austin on my Shadow on Friday evening. She Who Is Awesome and Jesse and I ended up eating dinner at the all-you-can-eat place, because the upscale places were all overloaded with those people who are about three cuts above my normal social class and prefer the restaurant music to be so GODDAM LOUD that you can’t hear your own intestines explode when the salmonella kicks in.

 

I normally don’t like the all-you-can-eat food places, but this one was quieter than usual and the food was extremely tasty, and apparently did not contain any salmonella. Jesse was taking us out to celebrate because he just got a new job installing cutting-edge solar technology to power laser-beam death rays on people’s roofs. I spilled ice cream on my shirt and licked it off, but it didn’t get really clean, actually.

 

Jesse had to go to bed early because he had to go in the next morning to start collimating the death rays. Me and Rach rode over to the nearest movie plex and saw ‘The Dark Knight’. I kinda remember it being pretty good. It was long, but didn’t seem that way at the time. I didn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom even once during the movie, which was nice.

 

Slept very late Saturday morning. Washed clothes, as I had forgotten to bring any clean underwear with me. Took a shower, and got back into the sweaty underwear, as the clean underwear wasn’t dry yet. Yeah, I know – gross.

 

Got to band rehearsal after the scheduled begin time that afternoon, as usual. We jammed out until about nine. We were mind-blastingly great, as usual, and everybody even seemed to enjoy it, despite the mandatory bitching and whining. I got to play loud, some. Caroline’s cello solo on the not-quite-last song (which is a secret song for the wedding gig, so shush!) was sublime.

 

Jesse was out shooting pool with friends when I got back to the apartment, so me and Rach wandered off and had TexMex at this quiet place tucked away in the wilderness that is Pflugerville. It was late, so we were the last customers to leave before they closed. I left a larger than usual tip, because I felt guilty about that.

 

We weren’t tired yet, so we rode off down I-35 looking for trouble, and… What did we do then?..

 

Oh, yeah, now I remember.

 

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Posted in Art, Daily Life, Geniuses, Personal History, Rachael is Awesome, Rory | 10 Comments »

The Internet Is For . . . Sociopaths

July 11th, 2008 by Bradley Denton

He's out there.

In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.

That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.

Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well – or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didn’t you?

Well, thanks to the Internet, he’s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I don’t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as I’ve noted before: I don’t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I don’t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)

What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.

I’ll attempt to explain.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia – a dubious source, but since it’s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The only one of these characteristics that this guy didn’t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.

But as for the rest – you better believe it. Six out of seven.

Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and you’ve got Poison.

Read More »

Posted in Barb, Brad, Dammit!, Education, Health and Safety, Horror, People, Personal History, You | 13 Comments »

Interesting Nice Friendly Jellybrain

June 8th, 2008 by Rory Harper

I haven’t written here much for quite some time, and feel nauseous guilt about it. I’ve failed in my commitment to my fellow Brainiacs. (Not that they’ve done much better lately. Hah! ….Wait….That wasn’t nice…Or friendly….)

Not Actually Doing It behavior is a constant theme in my life. I often ponder and perfectionize, rather than acting. I go through periods where I just soak up info and rest and am practically inert socially. I’m frequently abstracted and divorced from daily reality. I don’t answer e-mail or return phone calls or seek out companionship. This can go on for months. I call this my Hermit Phase. Until a few weeks ago, I was convinced that this was a serious personality flaw on my part.

But now I know better. I’m not bad, I’m just INFJ. We do those things.

A significant part of the work I did with clients when I was a counselor involved normalizing their behavior. They’d come in feeling damaged and inadequate, blaming themselves and thinking that no one else was like them or had reacted like them to the trials and opportunities that life commonly hands out to us all.

So, you have trouble sustaining long-term intimate relationships? Other people do, too! You hate your job? Everybody hates their job! Methamphetamines? Its a goddam epidemic!

Once you get past those feelings of having unique and insoluble problems or defects that no one else has experienced, you can start looking at ways other people like you have found to cope, overcome, change, mitigate, or even accept them.

But it’s really, really, really difficult to accept your quirks and perceived failings, after a lifetime of internalizing that there’s something inexplicably wrong with you.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based on Jungian theory, and is extremely popular these days in corporate settings. The idea is to fit people and teams together to match their inner needs and compatibilities. Which, uh, is a bunch of bullshit, as far as I’m concerned.

People love the test and feel that it describes them well. It’s enticing that it’s a no-shame no-blame test. It just tells you in what ways you’re wonderful and that you’re okay. It’s great at helping you to accept yourself and not feel weird.

There are areas that you might want to examine, of course….

The MBTI is a for-cost test, but there are a lot of copycat versions floating around out there on the InterWebs for free. A popular one is at HumanMetrics and another is at Similar Minds.

I get almost identical results from both, and a few others out there. Sometimes I show as having a razor-thin INTJ classification, by about 1%, rather than INFJ. I’m sorta okay about that. INTJs are pretty cool, too, though not as cool as INFJs.

The MBTI correlates, some, with the Big Five test, which supposedly accurately addresses the best, most current psychological theories. But I don’t like the Big Five so much, because it says I’m neurotic. And that the MBTI is flawed. To Hell with them evil Big Five people.

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Posted in People, Personal History, Pop. Culture, Rory, Science, You | 11 Comments »

Who Do You Love?

June 5th, 2008 by Bradley Denton

What Mr. McDaniel Made 

On Tuesday, I had lunch at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in the world, which happens to be located five minutes from my house. My favorite barbecue joint is maybe another minute beyond that. There’s a terrific pizza-and-burger joint nearby as well. Manchaca, Texas is a near-paradise in this regard. And we just got a deli, so I’ll have to check that out. If it’s any good, I may never leave this ZIP code again.

In the booth next to mine at the Tex-Mex joint, two gentlemen were having an animated conversation in Russian. One of them sounded pissed-off about something, but I could be wrong about that. Anyone speaking Russian always sounds a little pissed-off to me. (Ditto if they’re speaking German.) (Or English.)

I had never heard anyone in Manchaca conversing in Russian before. Our two most common languages around here are Spanish and GoodOlBoy. So as I was leaving, I thought about pausing beside the two gentlemen and welcoming them to Central Texas, since they obviously weren’t from around here. But at the moment when I might have done that, one of them was gesturing with a crushed quesadilla. So I kept walking.

Now, if I had actually stopped and spoken with them, what would I have said after welcoming them to this small chunk of the world?

Well, I might have asked the same question the restaurant host had asked as he’d seated me. He’d seen that I was carrying the new issue of Rolling Stone with B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, and a few others on the cover — and he’d asked me:

“You know what happened yesterday, right?”

Oh, yeah. I knew. So he and I commiserated over it for a few minutes.

And later, as I left the restaurant, I found myself profoundly satisfied to live where I live.

It ain’t perfect, and there are too many born-again churches and Bush/Cheney bumper stickers for my personal taste. But on the other hand –

It’s a place with tremendous brisket and chimichangas. It’s a place that now has at least three conversational languages (four, if you count Baptist). It’s a place where the veterinarian knows the names of all your dogs, both living and passed-on, and buys your books to boot. It’s a place where harp legend James Cotton sometimes shows up at the local bar just to jam with whoever’s playing that night. It’s a place where black buzzards stand guard on cell-phone towers, protecting the community from the Evil Dead. It’s a place where the volunteer fire department serves breakfast five days a week.

It’s a place where we’re glad there was a Bo Diddley.

You know what happened Monday, right?

And if you answered “Yes” to that question, here’s another one to answer just for yourself:

“Who Do You Love?”

Posted in Brad, Daily Life, History, Music, People, Personal History, Pop. Culture, You | 6 Comments »

But Would You Want Your Daughter To Marry One?

May 11th, 2008 by Rory Harper

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I think there’s a good chance that my entire post for tonight is NSFW, so you’ll have to go below the cut for it…

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Posted in Dammit!, People, Personal History, Politics, Rachael is Awesome, Rory, Science, Sex | 12 Comments »

Happy Birthday, Jack

April 29th, 2008 by Steven Gould

Jack Williamson died a year-and-a-half ago (November 10th, 2006 at the age of 98) but if he’d made it to today, he would be a century old.

May I propose a toast.

His niece, Betty says, “Jack would probably either have a gin and tonic or a tall buttermilk….”

Here’s some of the previous posts we did here about Jack.

And These Are Just the Novels

A Sky Thick With Stars

Laura J. Mixon on the Jack Williamson Memorial Service

Legacy

The House That Jack Built

An Undeserved Honor

<Raises glass> To Jack.

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Personal History, Science Fiction, Steve, Writing | 2 Comments »

A Minimal Level of Fame (beta version)

April 15th, 2008 by Steven Gould

I went to our doctor today. (Noble Girl has an ongoing sinus infection.) I’ve known our doctor socially for a long time before she became our doctor so when I showed up with Noble Girl she said, “Speak of the Devil!”

Seems that, for the second time in a little over a month, she’s been cleaning the iguana cage and, on putting fresh newspaper in the bottom, has found my face looking up at her.

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Posted in Daily Life, Noble Girl, Personal History, Steve | 2 Comments »

Pessimism – Part Two

April 14th, 2008 by Rory Harper

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

It’s half-empty.

And there seems to be a crack hidden in its base that’s sucking the remaining liquid from it as I watch.

You’re a smart, reality-based person, or you wouldn’t be reading this. So you have the same problem that I do – which is that all the research indicates that pessimists have a firmer grasp on so-called reality than do optimists. It really is as bad as we think it is, and it’s going to get exponentially worse. That’s the fact, Jack.

So — Would you rather be delusionally happy, or would you rather be right? Yeah, me too.

I don’t know how I got to be such a pessimist. Oh, sure – George Bush. As with the rest of us. But my world darkened long before his evil shadow spread beyond Texas.

Perhaps it started the day I realized that I’d probably never be an astronaut, which was my secret ambition when I was 12. Worse, being an astronaut became less cool than it should have been. NASA screwed the pooch when they didn’t make Chuck Yeager an astronaut. Dammit, he should have been the King of the Astronauts. If Yeager couldn’t be the poster boy for space exploration, the world was a dismal place.

I also stayed in a marriage that made Satan laugh, for about twenty years longer than I should have. If I’d been smarter, I’d have just stolen some eggs and created Rachael in a castle tower hidden in the Carpathians.

Pessimists generally blame themselves when things go badly. If I’d been a better, smarter, more disciplined person, the world as we know it would be much improved. If only I could have persevered and built my time machine and gone back and strangled all those bastards in their cradles! You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who’ve wrecked it for everybody else. It would have kept me busy and happy and productive for a dozen years. And my allergies would trouble me much less today, too.

The weight gain might have been inevitable, though I suspect I could have avoided it if I was a better person. It was a mistake to move to College Station, because it’s completely full of Thems, and has almost no Uses. And what’s with all that white hair? Especially in my ears?

Here are the two cognitive mistakes that I constantly make, which trigger my worst bouts of pessimism:

  1. I can’t tell the difference between events that I can affect in some way, versus those that will crush me no matter what I do. It all feels the same, and this completely immobilizes me on occasion, because there’s ALL THAT BAD STUFF that’s unmanageable.

  1. I focus on the wrong time periods. I experience negative emotional and cognitive internals because I frequently dwell upon the mistakes I’ve made in the past, and fear what’s going to happen in both the near future and the much farther-along End of It All.

Swirl these two bad mental habits together, and it’s tough to even keep looking at the glass. Stephen Petranek’s sorrowful TED presentation makes for a perfect example of the combination punches that can be created with this mix. I just want to crawl off and hide in a culvert somewhere, hoping to avoid the worst. Of course, it’ll rain then, and the culvert will quickly become more than half full.

So, I’m going to try to make some changes. I’m going to focus on issues where I have some chance of at least optimizing my outcomes in an uncontrollable environment. And I’m going to try to stay in the present mostly, and then plan for the intermediate future, right beyond all the terrifying near-term future events that I’ll struggle to survive.

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Posted in Daily Life, Environment, Personal History, Politics, Pop. Culture, Rachael is Awesome, Religion, Rory | 9 Comments »

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