Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jim Baen Shears Sheep Several Times

Jim Baen has launched a new, electronic magazine, Jim Baen's Universe! While subscriptions start at $30, they range up to $500 in a multi-tiered subscription scheme.

"Wait," I hear you cry, "How can you sell identical digital bits for vastly different amounts of money?"

Child, child.

Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle! Jim is selling Tuckerization rights to future writings by his stable of writers.

For a mere $100 you get limited Tuckerization:
Your Tuckerized character will be a minor character with a name but no dialogue, unless the author decides to expand their role, for his or her own dramatic reasons.
In the $250 membership, things improve:
Your Tuckerized character will be guaranteed to be a secondary character in the story, not a minor character.
But way up in the $500 memberships things get very tony:
Very extensive Tuckerization rights, if you wish to exercise them, by any author in the Tucker Circle , in either a book or a magazine story. You can choose the author, and indicate a preference as to book or magazine story. Your character will be a secondary character in the story, AND you get to choose whether they’re still alive or dead at the end of the story.
But wait! There is a catch!
Fair warning: Do keep in mind that in the event your character appears in a series, if you want to keep him or her alive, you’ll have to renew your $500 membership next year. Yes, we know that’s evil. We’re professional scribblers, what do you expect?
Evil? Jim's stable boils an honest pot, so I'll be subscribing. But I think I can pass on the chance at a private meal with one of the Baen authors (it would seem rather uncomfortable to me) and the ego-feed of seeing my name used in a Sci-Fi series.

Geeze. What if your namesake was a really evil character? I don't mean cool-evil like Ming the Merciless, but disgusting-evil, like Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. I guess you pays your money and takes your chances.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not Again!

Yet more Bible illiteracy, this time from someone who must know better: the Reverend Jesse Jackson!
"The ideologues over at Fox News have decided that to save Christmas, we've got to insist that stores advertise 'Christmas sales,' not holiday sales, and that cards wish people a 'merry Christmas,' not a happy holiday. Behind their moralizing, these folks are trying to use Christmas for petty political purposes. But that's not what the Christmas story is about either. It's about a couple--Mary and Joseph--forced by an oppressive government to leave their home to travel far to be counted in the census. They were homeless in a strange land."--Jesse Jackson, Dec. 20, 2005
Jesse, you don't have a political purpose in your remarks?! Let me state my viewpoint. I don't watch Fox News. Heck, I don't pay for cable TV (I'm too cheap!) But just looking at your statement, I can see a couple of problems you may want to address.

Okay, Jesse, stay with me here. You may have heard this before, but this time pay attention:
Luke 2

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

So what do we know about the Holy Family? They had an oppressive government all right, in that we agree. But how did we know it was oppressive? That government wanted to tax them! It wanted to hide that tax with the sham of a census.

But where were did they wind up? In Joseph's own city! I am sure that they felt like strangers, but it was Joseph's ancestral homeland. They stayed there for some time, maybe years, until Herod decided to practice a little retroactive population control. (But that's an issue for a different post.)

And the Christmas story, Jesse? It's not primarily about Joseph and Mary, as you well know. It's about the Incarnation.

I'll give you the same advice I gave Nancy Pelosi: cut the glittering generalities; and speak the Gospel.

They Gave at the Office

Democrats continue to bang away at their "religion gong," assuring all us benighted Evangelicals that they do, too get this "faith thing." The latest exhibit is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's Jeremiad against the Republican budget resolution:
"Mr. Speaker, as we leave for this Christmas recess, let us say, 'God bless you' to the American people by voting against this Republican budget and statement of injustice and immorality, and let us not let the special interest goose get fat at the expense of America's children.

"The gentleman from Washington [state], Mr. McDermott, quoted the prophet Isaiah. And as the bible [sic] teaches us, to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship, to ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us. Let us vote no on this budget as an act of worship and for America's children."
Wow. So voting against the Republican budget is like going to church?! Oh, man! No wonder we don't see you guys in church! You gave at the office!

Nancy, do you want to give me chapter and verse on that doctrine that you just declared?

Okay, maybe I can help you Nancy. Maybe you were referring to this:
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

You see, Nancy, you gotta get past those glittering generalities of "God's creation" and jump right into the concept of hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned people.

But maybe you were right to be vague about this scripture, Nancy. It deals with judgement at the end of the age. You know that stuff that we Evangelicals just can't shut up about.

In fact, this parable comes from St. Matthew's 25th chapter--right after the Parable of the Talents. You remember the Parable of the Talents, don't you Nancy?


Don't feel bad. John Kerry read right through the New Testament and missed it.

If your going to bash Republicans with the Bible (note the capital letter used for a proper name) you are going to have to do much, much better than this. You are just embarrassing yourself.

Absolutely the Best Blog Headline of the Month

Geoff Robinson over at Faith, Beer, and Other Things (which in itself is a great title) has my undying appreciation for a wonderful post headline:

The Fool in His Own Heart Says "Multiverse"

Which title spins off Biblical knowlege, cosmology, and Science Fiction in a great three-bank shot.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Magnet Madness

Okay, this will be my final post on the "flaming hypocrite" fish.

The company that markets the magnets, Reefer Magnets, is featured in a Skagit Valley Herald story:
A political parody of the ichthys, the Christian fish symbol, has put Washington state Democrats in some hot water and cast a spotlight upon a Mount Vernon activist who wants marijuana legalized.

Allison Bigelow did not create the facetious fish, but her company, Reefer Magnets, owns the copyright and sells it on the Internet.

“I didn’t make it,” she said. “Now I’m the one in the hot seat.”

The parody is a car magnet with a cross and the word “hypocrite” inside the fish.

The magnet comes on a piece of poster board with phrases meant to illustrate hypocrisy between Christian values and what some consider twisted morality of some of society’s Christian leaders, especially those with a hand in politics.
So what are these phrases that provide clues to the "twisted morality" of some of society's Christian leaders?
Love thy neighbor
An eye for an eye...
Blessed are the peacemakers
Who would Jesus bomb?
Armeggedon outta here
Thou shalt not kill
Pro-life? Pro-war?
Oh, Lord, won't you buy me...
Beware of false profits
I don't know about you, Faithful Reader, but this does look like the result of some heavy critical political analysis...arrived at sometime after the fourth or fifth bong bowl.
She sees the media attention as a chance to talk about the real aim of Reefer Magnets and her efforts to educate and advocate for the decriminalizing marijuana.

“In my opinion, we wouldn’t be such a warring people if we used more cannabis and used less alcohol,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow has marched in anti-globalization and anti-war rallies in Seattle. She has written letters to editors and voted for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in 2004 if only to vote against President Bush.

“I’ve done everything I can, but I still feel I have blood on my hands,” Bigelow said of the ongoing war in Iraq...

“We don’t need to be in a war for oil because we have industrial hemp,” Bigelow said. “If you look into all the little things that hemp can do, you’ll understand. We wouldn’t be killing people for oil.”
It's all about OIL! In the words of Billy Bob, "It's like I'm playing cards with my brother's kids."

These people are quite beyond parody.

This whole issue was raised because some dim bulb over at Washington State Democratic headquarters looked at wooing the disaffected evanglicals, or alternately, giving the Evangelicals the boot and securing the hemp-oil reefer vote.

Put on the pilot's jacket, guys, cause it's MISSON ACCOMPLISHED!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Democratic Chairman Bails With Fork

In response to the outcry over the fish magnet offered on the state Democratic Party web store, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt had the item yanked. Tuesday Berendt said, "The moment I became aware of it, I insisted it be taken down. I'm sorry if anyone was offended. It's embarrassing."

You insisted Paul? Was there opposition to the directive? Who's in charge over there?

So where does the fish come from? According to the Seattle Times:

The fish magnet is copyrighted by a Mount Vernon company called Reefer Magnets. The company mostly sells magnets with pro-marijuana messages such as "Hemp is Patriotic" and "Jesus is coming, roll another joint."

Berendt said he wasn't sure what the fish symbol is supposed to mean but said he thinks it is aimed at "people who claim to be pro-life but are for the death penalty."

Paul, it's time to file a malpractice suit against the doctor who installed that tin ear.

Lots of people who are truly pro-life see a great deal of difference between a unborn baby who has never hurt anyone and "Tookie" Williams who, after killing (at least) four people, had 25 years of appeals and court motions before the order of the state was carried out. Refusing to acknowledge that this position can be taken by thoughtful people (after a lot of reflection and inner turmoil struggle) is to live in a Romper-Room world of primary-color moral distinctions.

The issue goes a lot deeper than the brief appearance of a piece of anti-Evangelical litter (Why not include that "Jesus is coming, roll another joint" magnet?). The problem is that someone thought that placing that item on the store page was funny or clever. Someone approved this item; someone at your Washington State Democratic Party headquarters thought cocking a snook at Evangelicals by including that nasty little piece of litter was worth the effort.

That means that whoever did this thought that Evangelicals were

  1. too stupid to know they were being mocked
  2. not worth the effort to accommodate
  3. not a group that is worth including in the Democratic Party.

Works for me! Count me excluded, Democratic website operative!

Monday, December 12, 2005

How Democrats are Loosing the Evangelical Vote Part MCXIII

I'm not somebody that slaps bumper stickers onto my car. There are many worthy causes and viewpoints that I uphold and support, but are unrepresented on my bumper. In fact, this reluctance has annoyed Mrs. Islander for years.

I have been a member of a Pentecostal church of one kind or another for over 20 years, yet my car does not sport the little chrome "fish" one often sees here and there. This is not to say I despise these badges of viewpoint. I find the more restrained ones kind of classy, quite unlike the "I Found It!" and "Honk if You Love Jesus!" bumper stickers.

When I first saw the "Darwin" fish-with-legs I almost ran off the road laughing. Though it was derivitave, it was smart, cute, and had the advantage of gently turning the Christian "fish" into the setup to the "Darwin" punchline. The Christian "fish" eating the Darwin fish was less funny, but still tasteful.

But there have been lots of less tasteful and cute products out there. At top right is one that was offered for sale by the Washington State Democratic Party.

I it just me or is the party just clueless? Lots of ink has been spilled by Democratic advisers since the 2004 election in trying to understand why they are doing so badly among Evangelicals. I gassed on about it myself.

But, folks, if a state party is so clueless that they cannot see that this kind of imagery offends the very people that they need to capture in 2008, they are beyond hope.

The original page was taken down, but the image was captured and can be seen at:

Monday, December 05, 2005

Varieties of Sleep

Warning: this is a post of the Seinfeldian variety. That is, it's mostly about nothing.

A few weeks ago, after haven taken the grand-Islanders Trick-or-Treating, I was lying, exhausted, in bed on the edge of sleep. As I snuggled down into the covers, hearing the cold wind moan outside my window, it occurred to me how much this sensation differed from falling asleep outdoors in daylight.

I know, Deep thoughts, Maynard. But I warned you.

Falling asleep outside is a light sleep. It is as though a part of my brain stays alert for unfamiliar sounds or the approach of unexpected presences. Even with this lack of depth, few things are as sweet as lying warmed by the sun, lulled by the humming of bees and the scent of green, growing things, and just drifting imperceptibly to sleep.

Falling to sleep with the sound of ocean surf produces in me a sleep that is almost like being drugged. Once, Mrs. Islander and I got away for the weekend to a costal hotel, sleeping in a room that overlooked a Pacific beach. I could almost feel the work-a-day stress sliding off of me like a heavy coat. That night, to the sound of the waves, my sleep was insensate.

Falling asleep in a warm bed during a cold winter’s night is sleep filled with the smugness of your isolation from the discomfort outside. Mrs Islander and I enjoy keeping a window ajar year ‘round, so the air on our faces is cool. This causes the warmth of the quilts and comforters to be that much sweeter.

When I was a child, sleep seemed an interruption of long, glorious days. I fully understand why a child cries at bedtime. When I was a solider, sleep was a wonderful break from the stesses of martial life. (In fact, in boot camp I discovered how to fall asleep anywhere, anytime I had a few spare minutes. It's a talent that I sadly had to unlearn.)

Now, as I enter my mid-fifties, I find that my only bars to sleep are the aches and pains that the flesh is heir to. And for that I have ibuprophen.

Taleena Takes Me to Task

Taleena over at Sun Comprehending Glass takes me to task because in this post I speculate aloud about the chances of a couple of social moderates capturing the social conservative's vote:
Wither "Social Conservatives?" What will 2006 and 2008 bring? I think that rank-and-file social conservatives will vote for a McCain or a Guliani, if they feel that they have a conservative Supreme Court to guard the legacy of their gains of the last 20 years.
I found Taleena's response puzzling:
I think he over estimate's McCain appeal and I stand by my earlier comment:
"Social conservatives" will be split down big vs. small government lines in '06, but will ultimately back a tough Hawk in '08 as Western Europe slides deeper into dhimmitude.
...and so I commented:
Do we have a bigger hawk on the national Republican scene that McCain? Do not the centrists voter swoon at his name? Has he not traction among the moderate Democrats as the anti-Bush?
Taleena replied:
Centrist swoon over Guiliani too, and the first amendment travesty McCAIN-Feingold will not be forgotten. Neither will his flirtation with running as a third party candidate. Guiliani also has traction among moderate Democrats.

Since when has Howard Dean hesitated to use Christian in demonizing the R's? Neither has he or other leaders in the D's concealed thier disdain for Israel either. Sure libertarians are a small to smaller group of people (depending on where you live) but I wonder how long even socially liberal libertarians (like Glenn Reynolds) will put up with the creeping and not so disguised socialism on the left?
This has gotten too long for comments, so I'll post my reply here:

Again, two points I'll contend:

Centrists may have swooned over Guliani, but unless he's got a great new campaign line, he is rapidly approaching his "sell by" date. 2001 was a presidential term ago and there have been no new terrorist attacks on U.S. soil (thank God!) In the meantime Guliani has not held a national post or pulpit. I would have nominated him first head of Homeland Security, but that did not happen. What has he been doing? What compelling narrative can he relate?

I think that the outrage over the McCain-Fiengold campaign finance debacle is kept alive only in the hearts of hard-line anti-McCainers and First Amendment zealots. (I consider myself in the latter category.) But I really think that that kind of outrage gets very little traction in the general public who still think the problem with the political system is too much "special interest" money. Ironically, MacCain is going into 2008 with a guaranteed pipeline to mainline Republican donors. He is going to appeal very strongly to the anti-Hillary crowd.

Howard Dean presents the Democrats incoherent political voice about Christians. (He is joined in this by John Kerry.) He wants Christians to vote for the Democrats, but expresses contempt for their gullibility in voting for Republicans. He claims to be a Christian himself (which he may be, that judgment is reserved for Another), yet he has only hazy ideas about where the books of the Bible are located.

Glenn and many other libertarian thinkers identified with the Republicans during the Reagan years, due to the Gipper's stance that, "Government isn't the solution, government is the problem."

Many libertarians jumped the Republican ship when GWB announced "compassionate conservatism." The only thing that kept people like Glenn around was the cold-eye realization that post-911, the Democrats had zero foreign policy credibility. Whatever you thought about the Republican's domestic agenda (not much) we could argue about later, after the people that want to kill us are dealt with.

UPDATE: After posting the last couple of paragraphs, I realized I may have oversimplified to the level of untruth. There are many Democrats with loads of foreign policy smarts. The problem for the Democrats as a viable opposition party is that those grown up voices are being shouted down by the (increasingly misnamed) and the Kos Kids.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Deconstructing the Social Conservative Vote

In response to Taleena's comment to an earlier post, let me deconstruct the "social conservative" vote.

"Social Conservatives" = "Political Christians."

There. Having in one fell swoop decrypted 50% of current political newspeak, let me expand my remarks:

Catholics = Traditional blue-collar lunchbox Democrats. The Democrats ran working class Catholics off the reservation in 1973 with their embrace of Roe v. Wade to the exclusion of all else. Non-pro-abortion candidates were barred from speaking at national conventions and from having any voice in platform committees. Made the jump to Republican identity with Reagan's 1980 campaign. Still feel more comfortable with the Dems social emphasis. Would bolt in a New York minute for a pro-life Democratic candidate.

African-American Christians (AME and others) = Since 1964 Democratic. Their shift from the Republican Party is the second greatest political blunder in modern US history. When the Party of Lincoln® stood by during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, even the Democrats freezing black delegates out their 1964 National Convention couldn't stop the tide. Except for a few free-thinkers, this block is has linked cultural, church and political identification together in a way only dreamed of by Jerry Falwell at the height of his mid-1980s power.

This block has stood by the Democrats through 30 years of neglect and abuse and I see no sea change coming. The continued trashing of conservative blacks such as Thomas, Rice, and Steele shows how diligently the A-A community polices itself to repress aberrant voices. However, the rise of A-A leaders such as Barak Obama may indicate a new insistence that the Democrats respond to a wider spectrum of A-A concerns rather than the hustlings of a few poverty pimps. (Al Sharpton, call your office!) While the RNC has continued to reach out to black groups such as the NAACP, expect few black Christian voices to speak out for Republican candidates in 2008.

Evangelical Christians = Solidly Republican. (Who everybody thinks about when you say "social conservative") The greatest political blunder in modern US history was when Democrats, drunk with political power of Watergate, were goaded by their most left-wing elements to demonize Evangelical Christians. For most of my lifetime, most Evangelicals had an other-worldly focus, tending to ignore political involvement (seeing it akin to re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic). But the leftward swing of the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and 1970s radicalized some evangelical leaders.

Their political concerns reviled by the DNC, shut out from main-stream media, Evangelicals had formed a parallel cultural, social, and educational structure. Many Evangelicals, untutored in either Theology or Political Science, were easily directed by para-church leaders to the Republicans. Evangelicals saw the world (and hence the political process) as an arena with good guys and bad guys. People who went to church tended to be good guys. People who said you were an ignorant, snake-handling, redneck for going to church tended to be bad guys. And the more Evangelicals swung rightward, the more the Democrats demonized them. It was a self-reinforcing feedback.

Evangelicals have been Republican's most stalwart base, sticking with the party even when they were marginalized. Since 1984 every Republican presidential candidate has had to have a "born again" story to include in their stump speech. GWB quite frankly has a stem-winder.

Wither "Social Conservatives?" What will 2006 and 2008 bring? I think that rank-and-file social conservatives will vote for a McCain or a Guliani, if they feel that they have a conservative Supreme Court to guard the legacy of their gains of the last 20 years.

Will Democrats be able to tell a convincing narrative to Evangelicals? Perhaps. Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia might be able to do so. But to do so he will have to Square the Circle and Untie the Gordian's Knot, both of which I will detail in a later post...

Blasphemy in Narnia

Todd, over at Life on a Pacific Island, has a posting about C.S. Lewis's reservations about live-action versions of the Narnia chronicles. Todd says, essentially that if only Lewis could have seen Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, he would have rested easily.

Here is the relevant passage:
...I am absolutely opposed – adamant isn’t in it! – to a TV version. Anthropomorphic animals, when taken out of narrative into actual visibility, always turn into buffoonery or nightmare. At least, with photography. Cartoons (if only Disney did not combine so much vulgarity with his genius!) wld. be another matter. A human, pantomime, Aslan wld. be to me blasphemy.
I think what Lewis is objecting to is the grotesquery of portraying the godhead in pantomime. I feel rather certain that Lewis would never object to the convention of of the masque, or to the portayal of the godhead in passion plays. It is the pantomime that raises his ire.

However, Lewis seems to feel that animation would be an acceptable. And how is Aslan portrayed in the upcoming movie? Digital animation.

I think that Lewis was very close to correct when he uses the phrase "buffoonery or nightmare." I have seen the trailers and, while I saw no buffoonery, the moment when the wolf turns to the camera and speaks is going to be nightmare fodder for many children.

Of course, years from now, small children will see this movie and smile to themselves at the simplicity of the animation, wondering how mother and father could have been at all upset. But the first generation of children seeing this movie in theaters are going to be profoundly impressed by this telling of Narnia.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Happy Birthday, WFB

I love stories about the behind-the-scenes activities that make up a great political campaign. I have an odd sort of soft spot in my heart for the 1964 Republican party who, in nominating Barry Goldwater on the first ballot, showed the world that they would rather be right than be successful. That's why I enjoyed the following anecdote about a wonderfully hare-brained scheme cooked up by William F. Buckly:
William A. Rusher
Connoisseurs of conservative intrigue are largely unaware of a remarkable idea that occurred to Bill Buckley in or about the late spring of 1964. Barry Goldwater was well on his way to amassing the number of delegates that would (and eventually did) assure his nomination for president on the first ballot at the Republican convention in San Francisco in July. But thereafter he would have to face President Lyndon Johnson in the general election in November, and not even Barry’s warmest admirers were very optimistic about his chances of beating the formidable Texan, who had succeeded the martyred John Kennedy just a year earlier.

It was at this point that the ever-inventive Br’er Buckley hit upon an idea that would, to put it mildly, have transformed the campaign: Nominate Dwight Eisenhower as Goldwater’s vice-presidential running mate! No one was eager to be the person to ask Ike (who at this point was three and a half years into his retirement in Gettysburg, PA) for his consent. But Bill, consumed with enthusiasm for the idea, was willing to let that problem slide while amassing support. He consulted constitutional lawyers, who assured him the Constitution didn’t bar the nomination. (The Constitution would prohibit Eisenhower from running again for president, but not for vice president.) And I believe he managed to enlist Admiral Lewis Strauss, one of Washington’s wise men, in the cause.

But that was about as far as the idea got. The scheme turned out to be one of those in which Bill’s awesome ingenuity simply overpowered his political practicality. But what a race it would have been: Goldwater & Eisenhower versus Johnson & Humphrey!

William Rusher served as publisher of NR from 1957 to 1988.

The link above points to many fond stories about Bill Buckley on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

If I can add my own story. (And why not? This is my blog!) I was a young man, raised in a warm, wonderful family of FDR Democrats. I was taught to properly despise Republicans as the party of the rich. But two things happened:
  • First, I got a job and saw what the effect of government spending meant to my working-lad's paycheck.
  • Second, I discovered Firing Line and weekly saw the zest, brio, and bonhommie that characterized Buckleyism.
I was heartbroken when Firing Line went off the air, and I have found no replacement with the wit, depth, and plain good manners of it. Today's conservative media folk tend to be too poplulist and too ready to descend to the pit. This method has its rough attractions, but it at best provides new facts to buttress already-held positions, not incisive analysis and persuasion to re-align the viewpoint.

So here's to you, Mr. Buckley! I wish you many happy returns!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Republicans should Worry?


WHY THE REPUBLICANS SHOULD BE WORRIED, and the Democrats should be seizing opportunities: Driving in to work this morning, I heard this guy talking on the Hallerin Hill show, and he noted that he votes for the Republicans because of their stance on money and taxes, but that he agrees with the Democrats on a lot of other issues. If the Democrats would just lose their hostility to the idea of people getting rich, he said, they'd have his votes and millions of others.

I think that's probably right -- and I'd guess that Gene Sperling does too. That's why, as I suggested in my column yesterday, it's important that the pro-growth Democrats get a hearing. And while Republicans might prefer that they lose out, the truth is that sooner or later the Dems will be back in, and we'd rather see them sensible on economic matters when they are.

Of course, there's still the whole national-security issue, which for me is more of a dealbreaker than the economics. But I'd like to see more sense on that front, as well. Karl Rove may prefer the Democrats to chase the Democratic Underground vote and marginalize themselves, but I think the country would be better off if they moved in the other direction.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Price of Fame

I've often thought that being famous would be unpleasant, and so have never been much interested in magazines about celebrity. James Lileks briefly sums up much of my thinking:
If I'm in the checkout line and I see two mags, one of which says, BIRD FLU WILL KILL US ALL, the other of which says CAMERON DIAZ'S ACNE HEARTBREAK, well, I'll go for the former. Because Diaz's skin condition is something I can get around to later after we've buried the dead. And if it's cleared up by the time the pandemic subsides? Happy ending for everyone.
Of course my chances for fame peaked in the 1980's when I appeared on a local Portland, Oregon television game show.

Won four nights running, choked on the fifth night.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Avian Flu, Another View

Glenn Reynolds posts this email from a reader who should know:

As a medical researcher, I want to make a gentle but sincere plea to the blogosphere to calm down this flu hysteria just a bit. The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to "superinfection" by bacterial illnesses - in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty. Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century - these are currently vastly improved as well. Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the "elderly" today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before. Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis. Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No - my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.

Patrick Cunningham M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Section of Nephrology
University of Chicago

This follows much of what I have been thinking. (Way to go, Doc! You agree with an poorly-informed layman!) This is not 1918. Contra Reynolds, most deaths in 1918 seemed to be caused by pnumonia. And there now exists a vaccine for the most prevelant kind of pnumonia.

An interesting program concerning local strategies on dealing with a influenza pandemic was aired this weekend on our local PBS affiliate. As a major Pacific port city, we will probably see the disease before the rest of the country.* One of the points made was one my mother used to make: by the time a person shows symptoms, they have been contagious for a couple of days. This means that quarantine would be used at first to slow the progress of the disease, but effectively abandoned after very few days.

Instead, the worker suggested "social distance." That is, the closing of schools, theaters, and businesses. For a high-tech worker like myself this may not be such a burden. But what a dislocation for the retail economy!

*If it comes. I know that it's not a certainty, but contingency plans are about possibilities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Obligatory "Serenity" Review

I saw Serenity opening weekend and I loved it. Mrs. Islander (who has been driven crazy by my incessant playing of the DVDs) also loved it. We both stayed through the credits and enjoyed the guitar rendition of the TV theme at the end.


While I enjoyed the movie, I have come to the conclusion (shared by David Edelstein over at Slate magazine) that the television show is better. Why?

Joss Whedon does two things better than almost anyone writing screenplays today: he builds great ensembles through writing superior dialog that builds character relationships; and he tells stories about big subjects with a light and deft hand.

The first of these talents blooms best in an extended, multi-episode format such as a television show. For example, the conflict between the Simon and Jayne is so well developed that, by the episode "Jaynetown," Simon's line "No, this is what it feels like to go mad!" carries a payoff far outweighing the setup of the previous 15 minutes.

The second of these talents, handling weighty issues with a light hand, is nice in a two-hour movie, but essential on the small screen. Quite frankly, the reason that so much television science fiction leaves me cold is the blunt club labled "importance" that most shows use to beat their audience soundly at least once an episode. Apparently, this beating is how those show's creators reassure themselves that they are creating more than mere "escapist" fiction. Star Trek was famous for its "message" episodes. Though they are often revered today, quite often those episode were the lamest. Let This be Your Last Battlefield, anyone?

By developing wonderful characters through great dialog and believable relationships, Joss lets the story carry the weight of significance. His characters rarely spout long didactic monologues explaining to each other why they are proud but free rebels. Mostly they complain that the food is lousy and that the ship is falling apart around them.

Joss Whedon has said that in the movie he collapsed the Simon-River storyline down from three seasons to two hours. How I long for those seasons! The places that they would have gone to! We could have learned the secrets of Shepherd Book, seen Jayne engage in more "thrilling heroics," and perhaps run into Saffron again.

I realize that we don't live in a perfect world and that it's not called "show friends," it's called "show business." I have enjoyed the movie "Serenity" on the screen and I will buy it when it comes out on DVD. I will hope for more stories of this band of scalliwags.

But I will always turn first to the "Firefly" DVDs. Hey! I think I'll just pop in "Our Mrs. Reynolds,"...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best Practices

I am compiling a style guide for my shiny new publications department (as a Wiki!). Part of that style guide is a list of "Best Practices," which for me resolves to a "must-do," "don't-do" list. The faithful reader is encouraged to submit additions.

== 10 Things You Must / Must Not Do ==

  1. Always ask yourself, “How will this read to outsiders.”
  2. Never assume your document will be read only by people for whom it was intended.
  3. Always use the styles, templates, and font families specified by Publications and Marketing that provide a consistent “corporate voice.”
  4. Never invent a new style for a single document.
  5. Refer to the Style Guide. The Style Guide is your friend. It saves you from having to make a dozen nit-picky decisions every day.
  6. Never attempt humor in corporate documents. When humor misfires, it makes everyone look a chump. (“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” -the last words of Sir Donald Wolfit, British actor and director)
  7. Prefer the active voice.
  8. Don’t count on mechanical tools to relieve you of the burden of proofreading your document for sense and correct usage. If machines could write, they would already have your job.
  9. If possible, set a piece of writing aside for a short period before proofing—this separates you from the “heat of composition.”
  10. Remember that there is always one more typo.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Tired Whining of Barry Lynn

On December 9th, 2005 a movie is being released which I am anticipating more than I anticipated Serenity. (And the faithful reader will know that I was crazy waiting for Serenity.)

That film is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

If you are unaware of what The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is about, meet Mr. Google. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is being produced by Walden Media. Walden Media has been creating a slate of family-friendly movies, including: Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlotte's Web, Around the World in 80 Days, and many more.

Of course, times being what they are, no good act goes unpunished. Don't you know that it's all a plot by those intolerant Republicans? (h/t Taleena)

The movie is being co-produced by Disney and Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire. Anschutz, his family, his foundation and his company have donated nearly $100,000 to Republican candidates and causes in the past three elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Worse, the movie actually deals with religious themes. Not that there's anything wrong with that; but they are Christian themes! That obviously means that we can't talk about it!!

Apparently, Jeb Bush, that scalliwag, set up a reading program for Florida kids. It's called, creatively enough, "Just Read, Florida." The state is partnering with the private sector to juice up the program with some bling.* The Walden Media company put up prizes for book-film tie-ins that they are promoting. First book? Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen's children's book, Hoot. So far, so good. Cool, local son and all that. But what's up next?

You know that with a name like "Bush" he has to have some dark, occult motive.

It's that movie that's coming out December 9th.

Another contest, more prizes:

The $150 million film opens Dec. 9, and three sets of winners will get a private screening in Orlando, two nights at a Disney resort, a dinner at Medieval Times and a copy of the C.S. Lewis children's novel signed by Jeb and Columba Bush.

So his sinister plans are revealed at last! This has the usual outgassing by the same, tired, voices. Cue Barry Lynn:

"This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ."

And y'know, we can't talk about that man.

The state's Just Read, Florida Web site links to Walden's, which then links to an "educator's discussion board" — the most popular thread of which is about a "17-week Narnia Bible Study for children."

So to be violated by this unholy alliance, a child would would have to

  1. Surf to the Florida State site
  2. Click through to Waden Media
  3. Click through to the "Educator's discussion board," (which all children will do)
  4. Click onto a discussion of a bible study (a real alternative for those hacker d00dz)

Four degrees of separation. The horror; the horror.

Barry, I've got bad news for you. On the internet no one knows you're a dog. I don't post a big blogroll and I am sure that I am some small number of clicks away from material that is completely inappropriate for viewing by children. Why don't you take that crap on, Barry? Insist that inappropriate material on the internet be placed on domains that are easy for parents, schools, and libraries to screen out? Maybe your Hollywood contributors would take that amiss?

But wait, there's more guilt by association!

Disney and Walden have hired the same company that promoted Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to try to reach religious moviegoers about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, according to published reports.

This apparently is Grace Hill Media, a company that promoted Joss Whedon's Serenity to try to reach bloggers.

But take it away, Barry:

Lynn, a Unitarian minister, said he loves the book as well as the others in the Narnia series because of their Christian themes, but believes it is wrong for the government to sponsor a contest that essentially promotes one religion.

"This would be like asking children to watch the movie The Passion of the Christ and to write an essay with the winner getting a trip to Rome," he said.

Lest you be confused, Barry Lynn may love the books, Barry Lynn may be a Christian himself, but his head is firmly planted in places that are impolite to mention.

Barry, why don't you admit it: you couldn't care less about "the children." You care about your narrow, cramped and mean view of the constitutional freedoms that are being exercised by people that are happier, smarter, and more free that you have ever known. You care about pandering to your Hollywood contributors. You have completely unmoored you boat from reality.

(That idea about a trip to Rome is a great idea, by the way. Even to a Protestant cracker like me!)

* Oh dear, did I just type "bling"? I blame it on the heat of composition.

The Bluest Skies You've Ever Seen

...are in Seattle. That's what Perry Como sang for the TV series Here Comes The Brides.

This is the kind of day that keeps people sustained through the grey, damp winter and spring. It's a cloudless day, mid-to-upper 60's, humitity is 57% with a light breeze from WSW.

Pomona, now is mid-80's, but with humity at 22% it seems cooler (that's what I told the chicken in my oven). Austin is 80 with thunder and humidity at 80%. Yow!

And so I'm out to suck up as much of this day as I can.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You Can't Take the Sky From Me

In an almost dreamlike way, I have received the news that I have press credentials for an advanced screening of Joss Whedon's Serenity. I am not quite the fanboy over "Firefly," (the television show that is the basis for the movie Serenity) but I have watched every episode as it aired, bought the DVD box set and have driven Mrs. Islander nuts with repeated viewings, loaned the DVD set to several people, and have been on tenterhooks since the movie's distribution was delayed from May to September.

How is this not the behaviour of a fanboy? Well, I don't wear a yellow knit toque, nor do I wear a brown duster.

Part of the agreement for receiving the press credentials was that I would write up a review of the movie in my blog. So far, my blog has an audience of 3. So for all three of you, tomorrow sometime, I'll provide an unbiased, spoiler-free review.

Favorite Serenity quote:

"Think of [Serenity] as Star Wars, if Han Solo were the main character, and he still shot Greedo first."

UPDATE: Zoot aloors! I may have spoken (written) too soon. Several prominant bloggers have referred to receiving a confirmation email from Grace Hill Media. I have not received the mail, but then, I registered on a website that provided immediate confirmation.

I'm scheduled to take off in an hour!

UPDATED UPDATE: Carumba! I just called Grace Hill Media and the very nice woman told me that the Town Hall site was overwhelmed and if I didn't receive a confirmation email, then my name "is not on the list."

The Bad News: I have to wait until Saturday.

The Good News: My money pumps up the opening weekend box office receipts.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Presence of Mind

I have always been the kind of person who has within himself a kind of interior dialog, a sense of riding around in my head about an inch behind my eyeballs. I have always had a sense of myself as an observer of my own life. Though Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, this is kind of self-referential detachment is not without a price.

There have been few moments experiencing that life when that sense of detachment wasn’t there. Seeing the sun setting behind the Olympics, sitting on the grass at the Hollywood Bowl listening to Barry Tuckwell perform a Mozart concerto, or even lying in the arms of a beautiful woman, The Observer was recording, commenting, assessing. The Observer didn’t always use words, but his knowing presence was there all the same:

So, this is what the John Donne meant in that couplet! I wonder if I’ll ever see a green flash. How much better this sounds than the studio sessions!

Last Saturday morning I completed my first test in Aikido, the test for Go-kyu, or fifth rank. I have been preparing for this test since I began taking the training six months ago, and preparing in earnest when I was informed by my sensei that I would be testing over a month ago.

For three or four times a week for the last six weeks, I have been on the mat, training for this test. I selected my test partner and worked on the six required techniques again and again. I became like Sugiyama-san in Shall We Dansu?, stepping through the footwork as I waited at the bus stop.

So Saturday came as a kind of release, the culmination of my work. I was rested, alert, and mentally prepared. We began the class, sitting seiza. Pierce Sensei called two other students to test before me. I watched their testing with a critical eye, but I was stepping through each technique with them, feeling the movements as I sat there.

Then Pierce Sensei called me. I bowed and thanked him; I then stepped to face my testing partner and bowed. We approached Pierce Sensei and bowed, then stood and bowed to each other on the mat. (In Aikido, when in doubt, bow.)

And that’s when the Observer lost it. The Observer was so shaken that he couldn’t think of a single technique’s name, much less how any technique went. My mouth told my partner, “Shomen-uchi irimi-nagi,” (an overhead strike countered by an entering turn and throw). The Observer was dumbstruck. He had worked so hard on driving the rest of the mind and body on this technique, reminding them to step behind the opponent, finish the throw with a vertical circular movement and a hip twist to arrive at sword stance. And now the rest of me was just going ahead and doing it without letting The Observer steer the car.

After the first technique, The Observer tried to exert his control. “Ok, ok. That was good, that will do. Let’s move on to the next technique…What’s the next technique???” The Observer had no idea what was next. “Just give me a minute! Just give me a minute!”

The mind and body spoke again, Shomen-uchi ikkio.” My partner stepped in with the attack and again, the mind and body countered, side-stepping the blow, catching the hand and turning the attacker’s strike back onto himself, displacing the attacker’s center.

On and on the test went. Mune tsuki kote gaeshi, ushiro ryotetori kokyu nage, each technique demonstrated on left and right hand attacks.

By this time The Observer had completely lost it, breaking down to a yammering babble, “Wait a second! Wait a second!”

Later that day I realized that I had completely lost “presence of mind.” My Observer had completely lost control of the situation. It wasn’t pleasant. For several hours I was really unable to recall anything but isolated flashes of what had happened during my test. I felt that I had done poorly, though observers said that I had done well.

Later when I told Mrs. Islander what I had experienced, she fell on the floor laughing. She immediately called up the Older Daughter and stuck the phone in my hand. “Tell her what you told me.”

I’m happy that I provide such entertainment for my family.

I guess in Freudian terms my Ego had supplanted my Superego. In Transactional Analysis, my Adult had taken over from my Parent. In Jungian terms, who knows? Perhaps the Warrior had supplanted the Sage.

What does this mean in The Larger Sense? Has Aikido tapped into the fault line between what I am and what I think I am? Is this territory that I need to revisit?

I dunno. I’ve been told that the Go-kyu test is the most difficult, because it is the first. I guess I’ll find out when I receive my next invitation to test. For right now, I'm giving the Observer a break.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cultural Literacy

There is a good article today over at about the sad state of Biblical Literacy:

Do we need to know what it says in the Bible? Are we somehow illiterate if we don't? Up until, say, 100 years ago, biblical literacy would have been practically mandatory. If you didn't know what "the powers that be" originally referred to, or where "the writing on the wall" was first seen, or what was meant by "the patience of Job," "Jacob's ladder" or "the salt of the earth"--if you didn't know what an exodus was or a genesis, a fatted or a golden calf--you would have been excluded from the culture. It might be said that a civilization consists, at its core, of these easily transmitted packages of implication. They are one of the mechanisms by which cultures can be both efficient and rich. You don't have to return to first principles every time you wish to communicate. You can play your present tune on a received instrument, knowing that your listener hears not only your own music but the subtle melodies of those who played it before you. There is a common wisdom in common knowledge. But does this Bible-informed world still exist? I would guess that on the whole, and outside committed Christian groups, biblical literacy is a thing of the past. That long moment of Christian civilization is over. The lingua franca of modern, English-speaking people is not dense with scriptural allusion, just as the conversation of educated people no longer makes reference to classical civilizations. If you dropped the names nowadays of Nestor, Agamemnon or Pericles--every one of which would have come trailing clouds of glory up to a century ago--you would, I think, draw a near total blank from even educated listeners.

This is doubly poignant for me, as someone who communicates for a living and who grew up in church that required its children to be biblically literate, and to, in fact, memorize large chunks of the Authorized (King James) Version. When we loose the shared heritage of these common stories (not only Biblical, but classical), we loose an ability to communicate, or at least, the task of communicating becomes much more difficult.

Even if we retain some of the terms, we are adrift from the meaning behind the terms. People may understand when I say that I "escaped by the skin of my teeth," but why would people "beat their swords into plowshares?" Losing the original context we loose all of the implications of the original meaning. Why would the lion lay down with the lamb? Why would the lamb put up with it?

There is a wonderful rant by Bernard Levin that shows how much we are in danger of losing when we do not attend to our cultural heritage:

If you cannot understand my argument and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master) , laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort, or too much of a good thing, you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a forgone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is ours and that the truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a doornail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.
Sadly enough, many of the wonderful turns of phrase in the preceeding (large) sentence would be "Greek" to many people today.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Sad Dishonesty of Garrison Keillor

I have over the years enjoyed the radio work and writings of Garrison Keillor. I began listening to "A Prarie Home Companion" back in the 1980's. I bought cassette copies of my favorite shows. (My all-time favorites are "The Royal Family," and "Tomato Butt.") I bought Lake Wobegone Days, Leaving Home, and WBLT. I truly identified with his journey from small-town boy to a grown-up bemused by the changes in the world around him.

So it really hurts to read what Mr. Keillor thinks of me. I seem to be some sort of monster in his eyes:
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.
Apparently, long ago we were lovable:
Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned—and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.
Oh my.

I guess that Mr. Keillor is abandoning the characterization of Republicans as "Babbits" and McCarthyites who chained thier wives in domestic slavery. I guess those genial Rotarians weren't the scourge of American arts and letters after all. Calling Allen Ginsberg! Telegram for Henry Miller!

So the 1950's Beat movement, the Feminism movement, the 1960's Student Radical movement and the rest were all just faux pas?

I look at the description of Keillor's book, Homegrown Democrat, and marvel at its unconcious irony:
In a book that is at once deeply personal and intellectually savvy, Homegrown Democrat is a celebration of liberalism as the "politics of kindness." In his inimitable style, Keillor draws on a lifetime of experience amongst the hardworking, God-fearing people of the Midwest and pays homage to the common code of civic necessities that arose from that tradition. He skillfully asserts the values and politics of his boyhood--the values of Lake Wobegon--and reserves the right to toss a barb at those who disagree. A thoughtful, wonderfully written book, Homegrown Democrat is Keillor's love letter to liberalism, the older generation, JFK, and the yellow-dog Democrat city of St. Paul that is sure to amuse and inspire Americans.
The "politics of kindness" ???!!???

I am amazed that Mr. Keillor's nostalgia for that past seems to have blinded him to it's conflicts and consequences. If he cannot see the differences between the 1955 and 2005, many of the rest of us can.

The changes through which the Republican party went were in response to the political and social calamities that the country endured in the 1960s and 1970s and the defeat that it experienced in 1964. The Republican party became in the 1990s the majority party in the United States. It won elections again and again. There is no cabal, there were no "stolen" elections.

People voted Republican because they didn't like or didn't trust the Democrats. If that hurts your feelings, I am sorry. Now dry your eyes and blow your nose.

The Roar of Dinosaurs

Peggy Noonan has a thoughtful column today in the Wall Street Journal. In it she voices the concerns of conservatives over the Bush administration's spending policies. The point she makes is that we are straying from fiscal conservatism into an unknown future without any discusion about this major change of course:

Here are some questions for conservative and Republicans. In answering them, they will be defining their future party.

If we are going to spend like the romantics and operators of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society;

If we are going to thereby change the very meaning and nature of conservatism;

If we are going to increase spending and the debt every year;

If we are going to become a movement that supports big government and a party whose unspoken motto is "Whatever it takes";

If all these things, shouldn't we perhaps at least discuss it? Shouldn't we be talking about it? Shouldn't our senators, congressmen and governors who wish to lead in the future come forward to take a stand?

And shouldn't the Bush administration seriously address these questions, share more of their thinking, assumptions and philosophy?

It is possible that political history will show, in time, that those who worried about spending in 2005 were dinosaurs. If we are, we are. But we shouldn't become extinct without a roar.

Now, I don't think that this changes "the very meaning and nature of conservatism." Conservatism is, tautalogically, conservative. What it changes is the direction and platform of the Republican party.

I do think, however, that Republicans will have this discussion that Ms Noonan wishes. It is going to be the primary season leading up to the 2007 Republican National Convention.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Preparing for The Big One

I ran across another item to add to my disater-preparedness to-do list: the home inventory.

A home inventory can give you a good overview of what you have and where you have it. (Camcorder, upper shelf of hall closet.) This facilitates two actions: grabbing what is truly valuable when it's time to bug out, and recovering after it's over. I am not currently carrying renter's insurance, but I plan to become a homeowner in the next few months and this can substatiate and speed the claims process by a bunch.

It may take a few extra hours, but just jotting down a list as we move stuff into our home could eliminate a lot of the, "Where's my super-suit?" dialog.

Also: Taking digital pictures of each room, and shots of valuable items (TV, Computer, etc.) to illustrate the inventory would be helpful. The pictures could be burned onto a CD-ROM disk that is then kept with the valuable papers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Big One

Major Quake Could Be Worse Than Katrina

Asteroid Strike Almost Certainly Will Be.

Geeze, I wish is that these stories would provide a little context. A category 4 or 5 hurricane strike (Katrina was a category 4) was inevitable, but the odds of it landing in any particular year were judged to be 0.5%. That’s why there wasn’t a Manhattan-Project-type flurry of levee and seawall construction during the last, oh 50 years. That's why people continued to live in a city below sea level. They were on a roll, playing the long odds.

That's why people live in Los Angeles.

If you roll the dice for long enough, you'll crap out.

I have heard a lot in the last week or so about how residents of the Gulf coast would refer to the coming “Big One,” the storm that would descend like the wrath of God and scour the land. Lot of evacuees from New Orleans talked about the fatalism that was common in the city concerning its eventual destruction.

All these remarks have an eerie similarity to the talk I grew up with in Southern California concerning the “Big One,” the earthquake that would destroy the “50 suburbs in search of a city” that is Los Angeles. As a kid I did the duck and cover drills not only for the Bomb, but also for the Quake. Our boogeyman was the San Andreas Fault and it was there and we knew that it could kill us.

(Nowdays I worry about the Juan de Fuca plate. According to some Canadian Scientists, the Pacific Northwest's Big One could happen anytime now. Which of course just adds to my list of worries...)

For all the hand-wringing and chin-pulling over the events occuring in New Orleans in the last month, (and the number is depressing) the death toll is hovering around 1000. With days to prepare, hundreds of thousands left the New Orleans in time. If the "Big One" hits Los Angeles, there will be no warning.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Update to "Avian Flu"

Apparently the Avian Flu (see below) lacks the ability to be transmitted from human to human. All cases have so far been from bird to human (hence the name...).

...It [Asian flu] kills 100 percent of the domesticated chickens it infects, and among humans the disease is also lethal: as of May 1, about 109 people were known to have contracted it, and it killed 54 percent (although this statistic does not include any milder cases that may have gone unreported). Since it first appeared in southern China in 1997, the virus has mutated, becoming heartier and deadlier and killing a wider range of species. According to the March 2005 National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine flu report, the "current ongoing epidemic of H5N1 avian influenza in Asia is unprecedented in its scale, in its spread, and in the economic losses it has caused."

In short, doom may loom. But note the "may." If the relentlessly evolving virus becomes capable of human-to-human transmission, develops a power of contagion typical of human influenzas, and maintains its extraordinary virulence, humanity could well face a pandemic unlike any ever witnessed. Or nothing at all could happen. Scientists cannot predict with certainty what this H5N1 influenza will do. Evolution does not function on a knowable timetable, and influenza is one of the sloppiest, most mutation-prone pathogens in nature's storehouse.

I am not completely comforted by this. Influenza virii change protein coats the way I change my shirt. The ability of Avain Flu to jump human-to-human is just a few seasons away. Its mortality rate is ~50% and the vaccine manufacturers are pounded daily by the groups for giving their children autism.
Worry will continue...

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Rule of Engagement

CBS's foray into the blogosphere, The Public Eye, has a neat little sidebar called The Rules of Engagement. It's so neat, I'd like to take it home and adopt it for my own:

Public Eye is going to have some pretty strict rules of public etiquette. People who want to post comments on Public Eye and join in our debates and conversations are going to have to follow our rules. We know that not all Web logs are like that, but this one is. If it's any comfort, the Public Eye team promises to follow the same rules. And we'll try our best to be clear about what the rules are. When they change -- and they will -- we'll let you know.

There’s legal language nearby. Here's the plain English: no libel, slander, no lying, no fabricating, no swearing at all, no words that teenagers use a lot that some people think aren't swearing but we do, no insulting groups or individuals, no ethnic slurs and/or epithets, no religious bigotry, no threats of any kind, no bathroom humor, no comparing anyone to Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. We expect heated, robust debate, but comments should be polite and civil. We consider Public Eye to be public space so behave and write accordingly.

Yes, what is not allowable is subjective. Public Eye and absolutely reserve the right to remove posts we think break any of the rules or the spirit of the rules and we reserve the right to ban individuals from commenting. We will use language filtering programs to block certain words and we will use human editing too.

Comments should be limited to the topic of the original Public Eye posting and should always be discussions about news, journalism, public affairs, and politics -- public things. This blog is not the place for private conversations, no matter how innocent.
" words that teenagers use a lot that some people think aren't swearing but we do..."

I wonder if that includes "bitchin," a term that, in my teen years would get my mouth washed out, but of which I still don't know the meaning.

More Avian Flu

Taleena comments:

Disaster Planning in this state was recently evaluated by a Representative who is also a National Guard. I was greatly reassured by his assesment of preparedness on a state level.

I have talked to the kid's pediatrician about avian flu and am less unhappy about US preparedness than I was. Whether the avian flu will jump to humans and IF our medications work on it is another ball of wax.

Avian Flu has made the jump to humans in Southeast Asia. The question has become: how contagious and virulent are the strains that have made the jump, and how effective are our current public health treatments and measures.

As to treatments, apparently current antivirals are effective, a vaccination would be much more effective.

As to the public health issues, the reason that I recalled the Swine Flu scare is that it became a metaphor of government incompetence in the late 1970's and helped keep President Ford from re-election.

Recall also the bioterrorism scare in 2002 and the debate about the availability and safety of smallpox vaccine. Was there enough vaccine? Who should be vaccinated? When public health officials and other first-responders began declining to receive vaccination, it was a political death-knell to the program. Again, it made the current administration look incompetent.

Recall last fall when early indicators seemed to show that the prevalent influenza strain of 2004 was going to be especially nasty and that there was not going to be enough vaccine. After a public scare and people scalping non-FDA-approved vaccine doses in grocery stores, the feared pandemic did not occur.

These events are the equivalent to the repeated calls to evacuate the low-lying Gulf coast areas in the face of an approaching hurricane, then having the hurricane swerve or lose severity. Prudent people evacuate with all the attendant costs and risks, then return to find imprudent people have suffered no loss.

The ghosts of the Swine-flu and smallpox campaigns have got to chill the counsels of any administration considering a large-scale vaccination program. Vaccination for any disease is not a zero-risk action. It must be balanced against the probability of infection and the danger of the specific disease.

Public health issues are a thorny problem to libertarian and small-government people like me. It is a case where collective action may be honestly mandated and those that do not cooperate can be honestly compelled. What I demand, though, is that those in charge of public health issues be competent and virtuous. (Which statement has made my inner libertarian put the noose around his neck and kick away the stool.)

What do I propose to do myself? Keep an eye on the news about Avian flu. Become a bit obsessive/compulsive about hygiene and washing my hands after being in public. Worry.

UPDATE: Apparently the Avian Flu lacks the ability to be transmitted from human to human. All cases have so far been from bird to human (hence the name...).

I am not completely comforted by this. Influenza virii change protein coats the way I change my shirt. The ability of Avain Flu to jump human-to-human is just a few seasons away. Its mortality rate is ~50% and the vaccine manufacturers are pounded daily by the groups for giving their children autism.

Worry will continue...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More to worry about--the Avian Flu

People over a certain age remember the Great Swine Flu scare of 1976. On Februray 5th of that year, an Army recruit at Fort Dix, New Jersey said he felt tired and week. The next day he was dead. The public health officials of the time saw good evidence that the disease that killed the recruit was closely related to the "Spanish" flu that killed up to 100 million people worldwide in 1918-1919.

The disconnect between the public health concerns about a new pandemic and the media's response is alarming.

If the scientific complications of the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP) were not enough, the media only helped to make the situation worse. First of all, while the program received broad support at its inception, the press was quick to criticize the program once no new incidents of swine flu appeared in the months after the Fort Dix affair, and emphasized the criticisms of people such as Albert Sabin, known for his polio vaccinations, who originally supported the project, but later pushed for a stockpiling of the vaccination. The press did more than just discourage the immunization plan, for they also helped to push the program forward. In August, when the NIIP appeared likely to never get off the ground, an outbreak of a particularly lethal strain of pneumonia occurred at the Pennsylvania State Convention of the American Legion, killing 29 of 182 cases. While it was later discovered that the disease, called Legionnaire's Disease, was caused by a relatively unknown bacteria, and was in no way connected to swine flu, the press had already played its part. Immediately, despite no evidence to support the claim, the connection was made in the media between the Legionnaires' Disease and swine flu. This was enough public agitation to push necessary legislation through congress, allowing the NIIP to go forward. While the press had helped to save the immunization program, it had done so using extravagant claims, and it might have proved useful if the NIIP had not survived at all. Another example of sensationalism in the media occurred when a few days after the beginning of the immunization program three elderly people died at a vaccination station. Once again, while there was no evidence that the deaths were related to the vaccine, the press quickly exaggerated the story, creating an imagined "body-count" of vaccine victims. The hysteria that followed caused nine states to close down their immunization programs until the CDC announced decisively that the deaths were in no way connected to the vaccination. Judging from these incidents, it is not surprising that the press acted little differently when the actual connection between GBS and the vaccine was discovered. While the press can be slighted for its sensationalist portrayals of the immunization program, the leaders of the program should also be held responsible, for not creating a better relationship with the media, and not using this source as a way to educate the public about the program and influenza.
So why is this important to me now? Because we are looking at another possible influenza pandemic and the authorities seem as clueless as ever:

You think Katrina was bad, imagine a bird flu pandemic which will spread from country to country. The UN and WHO will be in the position of the federal government!

You think the Katrina situation was confused, imagine what an avian flu pandemic would be like: poor countries trying to cover-up cases while the outbreak becomes increasingly widespread while the UN/WHO stands by impotently.

A top H5N1 researcher Yi Guan agrees with me

He urged the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization to take a more direct role to avert the looming pandemic, which he believes will happen if aggressive action is not taken
"The WHO and FAO must set up a joint expert team. They must get into the (affected) countries and compel them to make changes, take drastic action. The U.N. must say that if you don't follow suit, you will be punished," said the scientist.

A plan that included close surveillance, rapid quarantine, stockpiles of antiviral drugs (and hopefully a vaccine) might be enough to halt spread of the virus andprevent a pandemic, but right now it seems unlikely that will happen. The idea of UN punishment as a stick is, unfortunately, almost laughable.

I'd be a lot happier if Congress and the media would focus on what to do about the next predictable crises, not on what went wrong in Katrina. 1,000 dead seems to be the upper limit on the number who died in Katrina. The number who'd die in an epidemic could be 4 or 5 orders of magnitude large.
So my disaster planning needs to include disruption of services due to quarantines.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

…And speaking of the Katrina disaster…

…And speaking of the Katrina disaster…

Though the media are focusing on New Orleans, Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and the damage extended well into Alabama. Apparently the state governments there reacted appropriately. I don’t want to trade in stereotypes here, but how bad is your state government when it is less effective than Mississippi and Alabama? I'm an implacable opponent of my Governor Christine Gregoire but she doesn't seem as inept as Governor Blanco.

In any case, the last few nights Mrs. Islander and I started talking about disaster preparedness. While the example of the Superdome is extreme, it does point out the problems of not preparing for and not responding correctly to an emergency.

We seem to be ahead of many of the poor families paraded before the television cameras: we own a minivan and a small pickup truck, we are married with all of our children grown and living on their own, we have some small money in the bank for emergencies.

But. We live on an island, connected to the mainland by two ferry lines and a rather dramatic bridge. Our children (and grandchildren) live on the same island.

Here in the Puget Sound, the dangers of catastrophic weather are rather low, but we do have the full menu of seismic events, including volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. These events do not generally provide a lot of warning before they hit, but there are exceptions:

He [Harry Truman] became a minor celebrity during the two months of volcanic activity preceding the [Mt. St. Helens] eruption, giving interviews to reporters and expressing his opinion that the danger from the volcano was "overexaggerated". He died in the blast, along with 56 other people, and his body was never found.

So, living on an Island as we do, what considerations must we have for coping with an emergency?

We live (currently) on high ground, so immediate danger from a tsunami is limited. The major volcanoes in the region (Mount Rainier and Mount Baker) are well to the east and downwind. Earthquakes are the ultimate crapshoot. So the most preventable danger seems to not lie in some sudden, overwhelming catastrophe, but from the secondary effect of a disaster. The major danger is disruption of the civic infrastructure and civil disorder.

Remember, most people that died in New Orleans died not from the hurricane, nor even the flooding when the floodwalls gave way, but from heat and dehydration when city utilities stopped and they couldn’t drive to the Piggly-Wiggly.

Way back in 2002, Tom Ridge had the Department of Homeland Security devise a kits that would be provide a three-day bridge from the time of a disaster until help could reasonably arrive. Wizbang Blog gives a list for a kit that costs less than $50, but even I don't care for Dinty Moore beef stew that much.

In the unlikely case that we needed to evacuate the Island:

  • This summer Mrs. Islander and I picked up a couple of sturdy ice chests (not the flimsy foamed polystyrene kind). It would take less than five minutes to fill them with food and throw them into one of the vehicles.
  • We need to get some water set aside. Quickest and easiest: Safeway and Albertsons are selling gallons of spring water for a buck.
  • We have a variety of pet carriers. We plan on taking Selkie the dalmation and Daphnie the old siamese with us. (The other two cats are pretty-nigh uncatchable in an emergency. They are On Their Own.)
  • I just thought that I need to throw some hard-wearing clothes into a duffle. Fixing a flat in dress pants and shoes doesn't seem smart. Warm coat. Raingear.)
  • Having emergency contacts out-of-state is very important. The Airedale is using his parents in Tennesee; I am proposing my brother in California. This is not either/or. Redundancy is a feature. We need to make up a call list and get it to everyone.
  • If an emergency hits during a weekday, it's a good bet that the Geek and I will be in Seattle. We need to plan a possible mainland meeting spot that doesn't require anyone to try to enter the city.
For quite a while in the 1970's and 1980's I was an armchair survivalist. I read a lot of Bradford & Veena Angiers and Dean Ing. Now seems to be a good time to review some of these old lessons.

The best part of all this is that we live in a very wealthy country, with truly robust infrastructures. The fragility of the system seems to be in the immediate.

Reading list:

Pulling Through by Dean Ing
At Home in the Woods by Bradford and Vena Angier

More Later....

Jetpacks over New Orleans

Scott Edelman has an editorial over at entitled: The Odds of Being Uneven. It's a thought about how the fruits of science and technology seem to be poorly distributed among the population. He quotes William Gibson's aphorism, "the future is already here—it's just unevenly distributed."

I sent a reply to and to Mr. Edelman that I am adapting for this post.

Certainly the problem of uneven distribution of the fruits of scientific and technological advance is one of great challenges of our age.

However, the challenge needs to be seen in two segments: those who cannot take advantage of those fruits, and those who (for various reasons) choose not take advantage. In the first segment we have those have no access to the "Future," those for whom geographic or cultural isolation bars them from those fruits. These can include indigenous peoples living in the Amazonian rain forest or sub-Sahara Africa. Bringing the future to these peoples seems almost straightforward. Our problem lies with the other segment.

Those that choose not to take advantage of the future include anti-technology groups such as the Amish, various counter-culture “simplicity” advocates, populations living under Sharia law in many Middle-Eastern countries, and regrettably, many inner-city poor.

For those that have seen the “future” and turned away, I can say no more than to promise I won’t fly my jetpack over their compounds and scare the livestock. Yet even these people must come to some accommodation with the future. (Stephenson’s The Diamond Age posits them selling status-bringing craftwork to those whom technology has provided wealth.)

Those whose access to the future is barred by cultural taboos are the subject of a whole ‘nother editorial.

But problem of the American inner-city poor is not that they do not have access to the “Future,” that is, the fruits of science and technology. It is that many of them do not understand how their futures must change how they behave in the present. Poor people have a lot of trouble envisioning the future and then planning for it. One must plan to finish high school, one must plan to take an entry-level job, seeing it as an entrance to to working world, one must plan not to have illegitimate children.

And by poor I do not mean those who do not have money at any particular instant. I have been broke and homeless in a strange city during one of the technology busts of the 1970’s-1980’s. Poverty is a cultural problem that has resisted the best efforts of armies of dedicated social-service workers funded with multiple trillions of dollars over the last three decades.

Edelman writes:
What the despair dredged up last week showed was that those with access to cars and credit cards (all 20th-century inventions) could at least make an attempt to escape, while those without could not.
Cars and credit cards were accessible to almost anyone in New Orleans who behaved in ways that made them available. The problem was not access. The problem was that their behaviors made the fruits unavailable. To cite an gedankenexperiment, if I drive drunk and have my car seized by the police, I will not have a car to evacuate. More commonly, if I cannot (or will not) hold down a paying job, I won’t have a credit card to fund my evacuation. This is not to blame the victims trapped in New Orleans by the flooding, which people included many wealthy tourists who were abandoned in their hotels. These people were failed by their mayor, their police department, their governor and the federal bureaucracy.

Again, Edelman writes:
I still believe in the future. But we must engineer its approach so that its fruits will be shared by all. Humanity has always been separated into the haves and the have-nots. We have just been reminded of the consequences of that. As the promises of science fiction continue to come true, the gap between those two groups will grow even larger. Isn't it about time we spent as much time and energy solving that problem as we're doing on creating cell phones that will download clips from American Idol even faster for those who can afford them?

Because when I finally am flitting through the skies strapped to my personal jetpack, I don't want to be looking down at those living in poverty below.

I want all of us to be flying high together.
I, too, want all of us (who so choose) to revel in the promise of the Future. The problem that we must address is not how to shower (distribute) material things onto the poor, for everyone must have a choice to accept or reject the Future. But rather, how can we develop social safety nets that do not provide a disincentive to the virtues of industry, thrift, and personal responsibility?

Blog List


Blog Archive


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution2.5 License.