The Hess Report

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The State of Life

Mornings have been brilliantly clear at our house. I usually leave between 6 and 6:30 a.m., so it's still dark, and Orion, which has always been my favorite constellation, has been riding right overhead every morning. Venus has been just above the hill to the east, so bright that it looks like a stadium light. It's frosted once so far this month.

Lucy is loving her second year of preschool, and also loving the mornings she gets alone with mom!Joy, now that Maddie is in first grade. Maddie had her to herself for almost three years until Lucy showed up. Now it's Lucy's turn for at least a little bit of prime parental attention real estate.

Maddie enjoys first grade. She has a great teacher. She's starting to make some friends, which is good, as her best friend moved away over the summer. Second time that's happened to her. She's playing soccer again and is liking it much better this time. She's a cold weather kid, like I was.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Just a little update to the look of the site. Still nothing fancy, but that's the way I like it.

But What Have They Done To You?

I love to wrestle with my kids (4 and almost 7). It's fun, good exercise (for them, duh), and, I suppose, somehow mildly educational. They like to pretend that they're super heroes (Pinkie Twinkie and Lavender Flower) fighting the evil Hedgehog Head (me). Or, we play a game called Trap and Rescue, in which I grab one of them whom I threaten to bite/tickle/hoist, whereupon the other one "sneaks" up on me and clobbers me with a pillow or a kick to the kidneys. The one who was captured then escapes, but I grab the one who just attacked. Repeat. Sometimes, if they both have me pinned down, I turn into the Hulk and they laugh and squeal as I hurl them through the air and onto the couch. It's fun.

Screech your tires and shift gears now. As everyone knows, three years ago Islamic fascists murdered three thousand Americans. Since then, they've likewise killed hundreds of others around the world: Christian, Muslim, Jew and unaligned. The U.S. and coalition nations have expended at the very least a thousand military lives fighting them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other, less well-disclosed theaters. But unless you know someone, directly or indirectly, who is one of those casualty statistics, what have the terrorists really done to you? Made you wait an extra hour or two at the airport, mostly due to unnecessarily PC searches and screening? Cost you some $ at the gas pump, more due to fears of instability in the oil supply than actual shortage? Have they really affected our daily American lives all that much?

Errrrch! Whip around the corner and shift again. I followed the Beslan siege via a website whose owner was watching local Russian TV news and translating into English. My first thought was that everyone in the school was as good as dead. Russian forces were in a terrible position, tactically. The fact that the terrorists had been able to have explosives built right in during construction about as bad as it could be. As the siege dragged into several days, I began to wonder if maybe there could actually be a decent, humane resolution. I don't believe that God intervenes directly in the natural process of the world. Therefore, I don't believe in praying for specific things to happen, or for wrongs to be righted, or for the sick to miraculously become better. But I found myself praying for these people. But then, apparently, someone either got too jumpy, or a detonator malfunctioned, and some of the structural explosives went off. Chaos ensued, including terrorists masquerading as wounded civilians, free fire directed at fleeing children, and furious locals accidentally shooting Russian commandos in the back. Hundreds were killed. Hundreds more were injured. I just read a partial listing of the gruesome hospital report this morning. It was very nearly the worst possible outcome.

Afterward, stories emerged from the survivors. In case you weren't aware, the terrorists had herded everyone that had not been killed in the initial assault into the stifling gymnasium. Whole families. Kids: babies through teenagers. Moms. No men, because they had all either been shot or blown to bits in a hallway by one of the suiciders. Over the next several days, the kids were told that the school's water was poisoned, so they had nothing to drink. They had to watch as the terrorists shot other kids, as insane fanatics blew themselves and others up with bomb-vests, as some of the evil bastards bayoneted infants and toddlers. They had to listen as teenage girls were dragged into another room and raped. The aforementioned website owner posted screen captures from Russian TV which were much more graphic than anything we saw in American coverage of the attack. I don't normally seek out this sort of thing, but as I had followed the whole thing so intently, I almost felt I was morally obliged to witness the carnage that the Islamic terrorists had wreaked on the little bodies. This was absolute barbarity. The equivalent or worse happened in Rwanda, during the Nazi advance, in the South Pacific as the Japanese military devoured everything in its path, in the Sudan right now. But I didn't follow those like I followed this.

This hit me. I felt it, and it hurt.

Which brings me back to the beginning, and what the terrorist have done to me, personally. I can't wrestle with my girls anymore. I've tried a couple of times, but I've had to stop. Maddie will say: "I'm tough. My dad taught me how to fight!" as she attacks, game for whatever I'll dish out. And I see some kid in Beslan try to stand up to one of these armed barbarians, and get stuck through the stomach with a bayonet. The picture rises in my mind, and it won't go away. The girls want me to throw them onto the couch, and all I can see is some poor terrified toddler hurled with full force into a cement block wall. I cradled my girls frail little bodies when they were sick or sleepy or just cuddling, and I know what that would do to them. Or they pretend that they really really have me pinned this time, and usually I would pretend that they had, but I'm stuck with the graphic knowledge of exactly how easily the casual violence or a grown man can negate even the most outrageous fury of a child. As I said, I can't wrestle with them anymore.

I'll keep trying, though, because I think it's a valuable way to spend time with them. They enjoy it. I keep working at it, and each time I've tried, the thoughts of Beslan get a little further away.

It's funny that I've written this, as I can't even talk about it out loud. I actually don't think I could force these words out of my mouth. But writing it is a way of tricking myself into letting some of it out. While I'm writing, it feels private. Only a few simple clicks though, deliberate efforts of will, and it's out. Maybe it will help me to wrestle again sooner.

Note: On the off off chance that some terrorist sympathizer or America-hater reads this at some point and thinks: Ha! We must be hurting them! What a sorry whiner! I have this to say: incidents like this one, though they hurt us, only increase our resolve that our children will not grow up in a world upon which you evil swine have even the slightest influence. If you come to our country and try this, you'll find out that what you think of as jihad is just a passing fad. You'll learn what a real holy war looks like when an entire nation of well-armed, quickly-deputized men and women hunt your sorry asses down and send you screaming straight to Hell. A victory for you? I don't think so.

Got to go now. I hear the kids outside, and I think they need a hug from their dad.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More Do-It-Yourself Fun

For the last couple of months, I've been collecting parts and information for building a home movie projector. Of course, you can buy one for as little as $800 (or much more for a good one), but I don't have that kind of money loitering around the home entertainment parking lot.

So I obtained the following:

Sharp QA-1650 LCD projection panel w/backlight: $113 on eBay.

Overhead projector: free, as junk, from an unnamed source.

4'x8' white Masonite board: $12 at Busy Beaver.

25' s-video cable: $10 on Ebay.

The projection panel is what makes the whole thing work. Before the advent of all-in-one projector units, businesses used panels like mine to accost people with Powerpoint presentations. New, the units ran into the thousands of dollars. As they are now obsolete, you can pick them up on eBay for considerably less. They look like a normal lcd monitor, except they have no backlight. The one I bought has a detachable backlight, so you can use it as a standard lcd monitor if you so choose. It also accepts video input for different sources: VGA (standard computer), composite RCA video (low-quality crappy TV signal), and s-video (better quality TV signal, used on mid-range DVD players and video games).

I refurbished the overhead projector: cleaning and repositioning the optics, replacing a shattered mirror, and performing some physical repairs to the case to reinstate proper air flow. Bad air flow in an overhead projector will cause the bulb to overheat and expire prematurely.

So, you sit the lcd panel on the overhead projector, mask of an light leaks if you're a purist, run your s-video cable from your DVD player to the panel, and turn it all on.

Friday night, I set the girls up to watch The Little Mermaid for our trial run. The movie was projected onto a 4'x8' piece of white wallboard, and at the 16:9 aspect ratio of the show filled up a full 4'x7' area. To those of you too lazy to do the math, that's basically a 96" screen. And it looked great. It had a bit of glare off the wallboard, which had a glossy finish, but some steel wool should take care of that.

I can set up the whole thing in about five minutes, and the girls absolutely love it. I'm quite happy, too. There's almost nothing better than building something yourself and having it turn out even better than you had hoped.