Grandpa Kewl

Where The Stars And Stripes And The Eagle Fly – Arron Tippin


Arron Tippin

The Lyrics:

Well if you ask me where I come from
Here’s what I tell everyone
I was born by God’s dear grace
In an extraordinary place
Where the stars and stripes and the eagle fly

It’s a big ‘ol land with countless dreams
Happiness ain’t out of reach
Hard work pays off the way it should
Yeah, I’ve seen enough to know that we’ve got it good
Where the stars and stripes and the eagle fly

There’s a lady that stands in a harbor
For what we believe
And there’s a bell that still echoes
The price that it cost to be free

I pledge allegiance to this flag
And if that bothers you, well that’s too bad
But if you got pride and you’re proud you do
Hey, we could use some more like me and you
Where the stars and stripes and the eagle fly

Yes there’s a lady that stands in a harbor
For what we believe
And there’s a bell that still echoes
The price that it cost to be free

No, it ain’t the only place on earth
But it’s the only place that I prefer
To love my wife and raise my kids
Hey, the same way that my daddy did
Where the stars and stripes and the eagle fly

Where the stars and stripes and the eagle…fly
Where the stars and stripes and the eagle fly

Other than being one of my favorite patriotic song, this song has a special place in my memory as a consequence of where I got to play it….loud.

But, before I get to that….

I was about 17 years old or so, attending St. Leo College Preparatory School and helping to run the library. It was the summer before my Senior year. Given that I had free reign of the library and a lot of free time on my hands for literally the first time in 4 years, I took advantage of that to do a lot of reading…my favorite pass-time. The library had a large selection of older magazines and I can still see one of those rooms in my minds eye. I walked out of the library, not sure what I might have been reading, and as I passed the Monk’s building on my right and headed up the central area to the dormitory, I had a sudden thought that has stuck with me over the years….I was struck by the fact that I was very fortunate that:

  • I was born white
  • I was born a male
  • I was born in the Unites States of America

Something rather remarkable I think for a kid my age. I can still remember exactly when and where this occurred. Give the climate that existed in the world at that time, 1962, all of the above were true. not necessarily right or good…after all these were the days when racism was still very much alive and a way of life in Central Florida and the days before the world heard anything about woman’s rights or liberation theory. It was simply a recognition that those circumstances of my birth made my life easier. And all of that was “by Gods dear grace”. Yes, by the way, I remember the signs “Whites Only”, etc in the gas stations and on the water fountains. If you ever see the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson, the scenes in central Florida during spring training are an exceptionally well-done depiction of those terrible times. I know, I was in High School not far from where some of the scenes in the movie took place.

The changing times have mostly, but not entirely, eliminated the advantages and/or disadvantages associated with the first 2 of those 3 conditions. Certainly the institutional aspects of racism no longer exist although it still exists in the hearts of some. Personally I would guess that in a crowd of any random 100 persons in any shopping mall you will find 8-10 in that group that still harbor racist feelings as I would define them…namely the judgement of the qualities or capabilities of an individual based solely on their skin coloration. And that certainly cuts across all demographics…whites can harbor racist feelings against Blacks/Asians and certainly the reverse is also true…altho we seldom hear about that “reverse” version of racism. I also deem racist those who consider some groups incapable of learning or growing due to their race…and that includes a lot of so-called liberal folks who feel that they must make allowances for the intrinsic inability or unwillingness of Blacks to succeed due simply to the fact that they are Black. It is what George W. Bush labeled “the soft racism of lowered expectations.”

Having lived thru these times, I know what “institutional racism” looks like and I reject the claim that it still exists as such today. The only so-called “institutions” where racism continues to thrive are the fringe groups like the remnants of the KKK and most recently the “Black Lives Matter” group. Make no mistake…I despise racism; I’ve seen it up close and personal.

But the third of those items still remains today. Being born in the United States of America gives one a distinct “leg up” as far as one’s potential future is concerned. Sure, every year we hear some survey about how other locations/countries are “happier” or “better places to live” than the USA but I sure don’t see very many persons migrating from here to Sweden for instance…or to any other country for that matter. But, there are sure a lot of people that want to come here and nowhere else. Like it of not, and I do like it, America is still, as Ronald Reagan put it: “The Shining City upon a Hill” and “the last best hope of mankind”. Reagan once gave a speech with that title and it remains one of the finest examples of American thought. A complete transcript of the speech can be found here. I personally owe that man a great debt which I’ll describe elsewhere.

It is “fashionable” in our politically correct world to look down on those of us who have strong feelings of patriotism. Our progressives now expect us to think of ourselves as “citizens of the world” rather than citizens of the USA. Pure bullshit. The “world” does not give a hoot about your freedoms, speech, thought or religion…the “world” predominantly oppresses women and hates Jews and wants to kill all of the gays. The “world” generally also hates America and our value systems…or is at the very least jealous of us. Try being a trans-sexual in China, or a Christian in Iran….So I’m proud to be an American…and I’m one to unapologetically stick my “thumb in the eye” of those that are not…

Now…for my special memory of playing this song, a bit of background…

For about 7 years I worked on a contract supporting the Federal Agency known as “The Architect of the Capital”. My company won the support contract sorta as an unexpected lark and I was detailed there to support their Microsoft SQL Server database operations even though I had zilch experience with Microsoft’s database product. I had some 10+ years supporting a variety of Sybase database operations at HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and since Sybase Adaptive Server was somewhat similar to SQL Server and there was no one else available, I went. Sybase had partnered with Microsoft to do the initial development work on SQL Server which explains their similarities in one of the greatest errors ever made by a company….on a fake promise to offer Sybase on Windows platforms as a prize, Sybase showed Microsoft engineers the inner workings of the best database software on the planet but once SQL Server was built, Microsoft threw Sybase under the bus and dumped them….Sybase never recovered and has since faded from the scene.

“The Architect” is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the U.S. Capital complex, including the Capital building, the buildings used by the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court, hence the name. As an employee there, I got to spend a fair amount of time wandering around in the buildings, especially the Capital. Some of the permanent folks were kind enough to give me personal tours of the lesser well known parts of the building as well as getting me into the most secure locations, such as the Senate Chamber. The highlight was a tour of the Capital dome, which I have a bunch of pictures of. The view from the top of the Dome.


And me….


The location where these were taken is inside the red circle in the picture below.

Capitol View

From that spot I could also see planes landing at Reagan National Airport as well as the disguised locations where defenses were in place on the tops of some of the buildings. It was pretty clear that it would take only a very few seconds for one of those planes to be diverted into the Capital…with almost no way to stop it. Pretty sobering view. There is a story about 9/11 in that thought but reserved for another place. But, back to the main thread here…

The single key function that the Architect IT shop performs every 2 years is known as “Congressional Moves”. This takes a bit of explanation and is a consequence of the election that takes place every 2 years where all of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate (one-third only) stand for reelection. Consider this – each member has to have a room to operate in somewhere in the complex and not all rooms are created equal. The House, for instance, has offices in 3 separate buildings:

  • The Cannon, completed in 1908
  • The Longworth, completed in 1933
  • The Rayburn, completed in 1965

The room suites in each building are generally better and larger in the older buildings, making the Cannon the preferred location. So, in an effort to minimize the finagling that goes on associated with a member receiving a room, a quite complex set of rules have evolved over the past 100 years or so that determine how room assignment works. It has to be non-partisan and as even handed as possible to avoid chaos and competition. It also has to recognize seniority.

Sitting in the Committee Chairman’s seat during the planning sessions, a location where everyone wanted their picture taken and I obliged:


I once opened a random book in one of the back chambers of a committee room and out fell a page related to the rules from the 1930’s. So the current  rules operate something like this:

  • Members are grouped according to their “class”, class being defined as the number of terms they have served. members who have all served 10 terms are in class 10 for instance; those that have served 2 terms are in class 2.
  • This has to also take into account members who have won & then lost and then won again (not very common)
  • This also has to take into account members elected in “special elections”, namely those associated with an election that takes place outside of the normal 2-year cycle as a consequence of the death or resignation of a member. They follow the regular members of that class in the order of their special election.
  • Age or sex or political party are not relevant in any way

At the beginning of the process, all rooms are considered “available”, especially those that were occupied by members who were either defeated or retired, unless a re-elected member chooses to remain where they are, in which case their room is not available. The members, starting with the oldest class then have the options:

  1. Remain where they are
  2. Draw a “chit” from a box with a number on it
  3. After all the members of the class have made their pull from the box, the room selection process can begin, starting with the person with the lowest number and proceeding to the one with the highest number.

Think of the traditional lottery setting: a box or cylinder is filled with unique numbers, starting with the number 1 and running to 100. The box or cylinder is shaken or tumbled to randomize the numbers. A person draws a number from the box…in this case, each member of the class draws a number. That selection process itself is purely alphabetical.

The members are then allowed to select a new room from those that are available. It gets particularly interesting when an older member has retired, making some primo location available, setting off a high-stakes shuffle.  It gets more complicated as the member making a choice of a new room has 24 hours in which to change their mind and decide to remain in their current room, or, and this is where it gets really interesting, a room selected by a member who drew a lower number. That’s known as “bumping” and can set of a real scramble.

The current box and chits involved has been in use for decades…Here it is during one of the sessions (a video below):


So the oldest class goes first, then the next and then the next until all that are left are the Freshmen, which is another story altogether. In the end, all the members have a room and all the rooms are occupied, again, generally in the order of the age of the buildings as the most recent building, the Rayburn, has the smallest rooms with the least desirable locations and usually modular furniture. The entire process takes 8-10 days or so to complete, depending upon the starting date and the number of weekends involved.

Now…my personal part in this

Once the entire process was all manual with all the records being kept on paper. That changed a number of years back with the advent of computers. Now, the process is heavily dependent upon technology requiring several databases and database servers (that was my part) along with a super-redundant network backbone with all sorts of redundancies built into everything. It is overkill to the MAX. The proceedings are broadcast over the internal House video feeds and the computer records must be available online 24/7 with absolutely no acceptable downtime. The paper records are even still kept as a final backup. The reputation, and budget, of the Architect depended greatly upon the success of this operation as the entire House membership was involved and the process was extremely visible. The drama and tension are high…..

So I built or maintained the database server and related databases along with the required backups and fail-over processes. I was also required to monitor the operation and availability of those items in real time. That meant, and this was the really kewl part, that I got to sit in the very room where all this took place…and even see some of the members that I knew of and personally supported. For 3 cycles, I took a part in all this and it was a lot of fun. The process took place in one of the formal committee rooms and I usually was placed in the extreme left of the back row of the “dais”, which is the name of the raised seating area for the members of the committee.

In that spot during a dry run:


I made much of the fact that it was not good enough to be remote from the proceedings and that “for immediate response as required”, personal presence in the room was mandatory. Only once, leading into the 2010 cycle, was that questioned and the fact that in an earlier cycle, I had personally “saved the day”, so to speak (a bit of a deliberate exaggeration) was recalled by some of the staff and the issue resolved to my satisfaction.

A few choice memories:

  • I watched folks like Nancy Pelosi appear
  • I saw, and poorly photographed Michele Bachmann in the room
  • I was there when the Freshman class of 2010, a huge number of new Republicans, came into the room and held quite a high-five celebration
  • I saw Daniel Webster, Congressman from Florida in his first year, who remains to this day one of my personal favorites for his staunch conservatism.
  • I saw a staff member personally fired, repeat fired, in the room by his Congressman because he screwed up the process and picked the wrong room
  • I watched as a very alert staffer managed to select a real choice room on a Saturday when an earlier choice was vacated and then some 20 other staff members came piling into the room…they had been watching the proceeding on in-house TV broadcast and the alert gal had patiently staked out a chair in the room.

And the key here….in the last two cycles I was given official permission to take whatever photographs I wanted so long as I did not get in the way or disrupt the proceedings…and photograph I did.

There are some pictures from the planning and training sessions we went thru:

These are from the sessions, including 2 of my favorites, Michelle Bachmann and Daniel Webster

And last but certainly not least, the best of the staff…in disguise:


That’s me on the far right.

I also took some not so great video:

Here’s the Lottery Box in action:


Here is Michele Bachmann making her selection…usually a staff member did the actual selecting (except in the Freshman Class):


This is what the Freshmen Class day looked like….rowdy bunch in 2010 for obvious reasons. Was a really kewl celebration.


Here’s the celebration when the #8 was picked…a really low umber is best of course.


And finally the lowest possible number is picked…



As I said, this was a special time to be present and I have fond memories of it all.

We’re getting close to the punch line now…hang in there…

Years ago I started making DVD slideshows of my vacation pictures using a piece of software called “Memories On TV”, something I still do and did as recently as 3 months ago for last years winter vacation to New Mexico. It allows one to make a video presentation of pictures, together with transition effects between pictures and, most importantly, set to music. The result plays on a DVD player and is watched either on a computer screen, or better yet, on a TV or, best of all, on a big projector screen. Ah, the music…..that’s often been the most difficult part of the process, to get the exact right picture to appear at the exact right time to match up with the lyrics of a song.

So for the second and third cycle I was a part of, I took a couple hundred pictures during the preliminary planning and testing and all through the actual process. As soon as the third cycle (2010) ended I then built the DVD slideshow. Now, take a wild guess as to what the very first song was that played…..if you’ve not figured that out, you’re not paying attention…:)

Shortly after I built the DVD, I had the opportunity to show the results to the staff. Actually, it was a command performance that many wanted to see, our contractors as well as the House and IT staff. The DVD played from one of the servers onto that huge drop-down presentation screen you see in the pictures and the sound played thru the room speaker system.I had control of the presentation, and most significantly, the VOLUMN control. When this song came on, I cranked the volumn up….way up….so far up that the room vibrated and the song could be heard all over the building. We got a complaint or 2 which I ignored other than to turn the sound down.

So…every time I hear this song, it takes me back to that afternoon when this song rocked the United States Capital Building.


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