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 OpinionJournal.com 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 CBSNews.com 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.
"...no 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 SciFi.com 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 SciFi.com 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?

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