Monday, March 31, 2003

“The Planet Is Doomed”

Notes from the front line of college teaching, as reported by my cousin Cindy:

I just started the ecology section in my biology for non-majors classes. I had to spend 10 minutes yesterday convincing one of my classes (23 out of 28 students!) that fire is not a living thing (and some of them still did not believe me — one woman with teenaged children also tried to tell me that water was alive).

And these are all high school graduates!

One of my fellow teachers said, "So, they think every time they strike a match, they are creating life?", what gods these mortals be.

Plaaaaaaaaay Ball!

With high hopes, with desperate prayers, the season begins. And the Sporting News thinks the Phillies are going all the way in 2003.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Friday Five

1. What was your most memorable moment from the last week?

Tuesday about 4PM. I'm still in shock.

2. What one person touched your life this week?

Touched in a good way? Michele, as always. My friend Joe, who made sarcastic jokes that made me laugh when sympathy would have broken me.

3. How have you helped someone this week?

I've written thoughtful answers to a bunch of LJ posts. I've done my job at work, therefore ensuring that many people can use the new software with ease (when it comes out).

4. What one thing do you need to get done by this time next week?

Get birthday presents for Michele and my boss. Their birthdays are one day apart.

5. What one thing will you do over the next seven days to make your world a better place?

I'm making chili and cornbread tomorrow, which will make the D&D folk happy, and I'm putting together the joint birthday party for the three Aries members of the group.
Does Pennsylvania Suck?

Neil Gaiman's daughter says yes.

A Thought on Monsters

The monsters of our childhood do not fade away, neither are they ever wholly monstrous.
—John LeCarre

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Letter to an Unknown Iraqi: The Urge to Help, The Obligation Not To

An extraordinary essay by Ariel Dorfman. He was a political exile from Chile; he explains why he believes the war in Iraq is a bad idea, even though Saddam Hussein is undoubtedly an evil ruler who tortures and murders his own citizens.
Sure, We'll Rebuild as Soon as the War Is Over

Mark Fiore demonstrates reconstruction — I mean, rebuilding the nations devastated by war. The cartoon requires Flash.
New Mirror Site for Salam Pax

Salam Pax, the blogger in Baghdad, has a new URL and a mirror site in Santa Clara. So many people were worried about him over the weekend that the server crashed.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Recent Reading

Why We Hurt, Frank T. Vertosick Jr. Interesting look at causes and cures for various kinds of pain. Written by a neurosurgeon. It’s good but not great; the author never offers the insight into disease, pain, and personhood that characterizes his distinguished colleague Oliver Sacks. Still, worth getting from the library.

Crimes of Passion: An Unblinking Look at Murderous Love, Howard Engel. Annoyingly faux-scholarly look at true crime, without offering much in the way of new insight into why love goes wrong. The pedestrian style makes it no fun to read, while the many minor inaccuracies cast doubt on everything he writes. A fair bit of it seems to be cribbed from a couple of sources.

The Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers. Using information gleaned from Sayers’ writing, Walsh comes up with a new story of Lord Peter and Harriet Vane during the early period of World War II. It’s OK, definitely worth the trip to the library, but the dialogue doesn’t sound like the characters, and too many plot elements are swiped from the earlier books. Also, what happened to Mango, Harriet’s maid? If she’s gone off to do war work, we should be told. Not nearly as good as Thrones, Dominations, in which Walsh completed a Sayers manuscript. I could see the seams in that one, but I’ve gone back several times to reread it anyway.

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz. Fascinating, even-handed look at the voyages of Captain Cook. Examines everything from the conditions of life on board a sailing ship to the effect Cook and those who followed him had on the societies he discovered. Plus examinations of modern Tahiti, Australia, and other far-flung places Cook reached. I was left marveling at the courage of the captain, but also lamenting the way European culture and germs destroyed other societies. Highly recommended. So is Confederates in the Attic, a previous book by the same author.
Springtime Update

Even in sunny California, there are seasons. Now that we’ve passed the Equinox, the wisteria are in full bloom, heavy clusters hanging like pale grapes. The rosemary is also thick with blossom. It comes in two colors, lavender and blue, which would be lovely planted together. Rosemary here is not confined to herb gardens or sheltered windowsills. It’s a tough, drought-resistant plant that grows so rampantly it’s used as a ground-cover and in the median of highways.

The orange and lemon trees are heavy with fruit. I think we’re going to make more lemon-ginger marmalade with the lemons from our tree. Actually it’s a neighbor’s tree, but one branch hangs over our fence, and we pick the lemons from that. We do have a couple of orange trees of our own.

The view from my bedroom window is a Cezanne painting: the sky, a neighbor’s red-tiled roof and creamy ochre walls, the silvery green leaves of a eucalyptus, and the brilliant emerald and orange and yellow of the citrus trees. Soon enough I’ll be putting up the dark, heavy curtains to keep the heat out, so I enjoy it while I can.
Help, Help, I'm Being Repressed! Come See the Violence Inherent in the System!

You are the disgruntled peasants. You are outspoken
and believe that Arthur should not be King
because "strange women lying in ponds
distributing swords is no basis for a system of

Which Monty Python's Quest For the Holy Grail character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Friday, March 21, 2003

Something Practical to Do

Whatever your take on the war. there's something kind and practical you can do for the soldiers: send them books. This site explains how and offers you a chance to send a soldier something s/he wants to read.

I know where some of our books are going.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Wow, It Finally Works

I've been unable to post here since Monday. No matter what the content of my post, I keep getting the 203 error, which is supposed to show up only if you're posting ampersands and other symbols the Bloggerbrain can misinterpret as programming instructions. So I'm trying the little "Blog This" program, hoping it will work better than the old-fashioned way.

Note on Thursday night: It didn't. I kept trying to edit and republish the post, but that didn't work either — until now.

Monday, March 17, 2003

News of the Bay Area Weird

Hey, we made the papers!

In November, the new Kaiser Medical Center hospital in Fremont, Calif., staged a special ceremony, by the hospital's chaplain, using symbols and inspirational words on rocks, to battle "spirits" that some nurses believed were responsible for beds moving and doors slamming on their own.
Tragically Apropos

September 1, 1939
W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
A Note for My Friends Back East

It's warmer today in Binghamton than it is in Silicon Valley.

Do feel free to gloat.
I am Murdock

They call him "Howling Mad" and with good reason. Once a top notch pilot, the pressures of war left Murdock mad. He is known for his smirk, variety of personas and overall mental instability. When he isn't spending time institutionalized, Murdock is using his flying skills for the A-Team, driving B.A. nuts and talking to his imaginary dog.

Which A-Team member are you???

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Pasta Ramblings

Homemade pasta really is a world of difference from store-bought, but it needs to be made and treated right.

Ingredients matter. Use the freshest possible eggs -- straight from the farm, if you can. I like to use a mixture of semolina and all-purpose flour. Recipes that include oil, water, or salt result in pasta with an undesirable slick texture. Adding herbs and other goodies (tomato powder, chipotle powder) can make fabulous pasta.

Also, the homemade pasta made by an Atlas-style machine (with little rollers) is far superior to the extruded kind (which always reminds me of a Play-Doh toy I had when I was about 3). That's because extruded pastas (spaghetti, elbows, sometimes angel-hair) must be made with 100% semolina and dried to get their full rich flavor. The home machines just don't have the power. If those shapes are what you want, buy a good brand of dried pasta -- the Italian ones are best, and not expensive, usually.

If you're using the machine with the little rollers, you have to set them at the widest possible opening first, then progressively thin the pasta. That's what develops the gluten and gives fresh pasta its lovely resilience. If you force the dough through on the narrowest setting without stretching it first, it shatters. I don't mean it ends up in shards on the floor, but the internal protein bonds break, and your pasta loses all its bounce and savor. It also tends to cook into an unholy slimy mess.

After each strip emerges, lay it in a single layer on a linen dishtowel. (Cotton is OK, terrycloth is a bad idea.) The woven surface marks the pasta, and you get lovely slight irregularities of surface. The sauce clings to these -- mmm, yes. If you're short on room, you can add a layer of dishtowels on top of the first, then add more pasta. Stacking the pasta itself is counterproductive.

Cook it al dente. No point in making it mushy. The pasta should have the texture and allure of a woman's breast -- springy, resilient, alive under your teeth.

Angel-hair pasta really demands a very light sauce -- tomato-cream, say, or broth. A thicker but still mainly smooth sauce for spaghetti or linguini or fettuccini, a chunky sauce for shells or penne.

I was thinking of making homemade pasta yesterday, but ended up spending the afternoon with H&R Block. (Who at least had good news for me -- whee, a tax refund!) After D&D was over, though, I cooked tricolor rotini, pureed some roasted red peppers, and made a sauce with half-and-half and a smattering of herbs. Steamed some asparagus, heated artichoke hearts, et voila. A good dinner on the fly.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Ya Gotta Believe

Tug McGraw is in intensive care with two malignant brain tumors. This is the man who pitched the spectacular final out of the 1980 World Series.

Baseball is designed to break your heart. Yes. Because those lovely boys die young, or they get older, they get sick, they die. Athletes flower so fast. Wise lad, to slip betimes away.

No. Damn it, don't slip away. I'd rather have athletes (and poets, and musicians, and soldiers, and everybody) grow into cranky old codgers than die young and pretty. Why is this hitting me so hard? Because too many people in my life have died young and pretty. I want us all to get old together. I want to die at 95 or so, scandalizing the staff at the nursing home right up to the end.

Tug, be well. We love you.

Quotes from Tug

"I dunno. I never smoked any Astroturf." - Asked for a preference of grass or Astroturf

"I have no trouble with the twelve inches between my elbow and my palm. It's the seven inches between my ears that's bent."

"Kids should practice autographing baseballs. This is a skill that's often overlooked in Little League."

"Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish Whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."

"Ten million years from now, when then sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody's going to care whether or not I got this guy out."

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Ghost Towns

A few weekends ago, I went off to a sale on a bright Saturday morning. A restaurant in Palo Alto was closing, and I was hoping to buy some dining-room chairs. (I got them, too, nice comfortable ones for $5 each.) The directions from Mapquest were flawed, unfortunately, and I spent an hour cruising around the wrong Charleston Road until I gave up, stopped for lunch, then found the place by accident.

But it’s not the getting lost that matters. It’s what I drove through, looking for the place.

Miles upon miles of industrial parks, fine buildings, vast parking lots, elegantly landscaped grounds decorated with monumental statuary. I know some of those companies. I passed outposts of IBM and Loral and Lockheed Martin and NASA. This is where Billy used to come when he flew west to Silicon Valley: to the defense contractors clustered against Moffett Field like piglets rooting at a sow.

In that hour, I passed dozens of familiar companies, hundreds of unknown ones, but I never saw another car, not parked, not driving. This is Silicon Valley; people work on Saturday morning. When they have jobs. Nine buildings out of ten were placarded with the names of realtors. For Rent or Lease.

I drove out along Bayshore Road, with eight screaming lanes of 101 on the west, the quiet marshes of the bird sanctuary on the east. I saw apartment buildings, office buildings, with boards crying out: Move-in special! First four months free!

This is Palo Alto, where a cramped 3-bedroom, 1-bath house will easily run you more than a million. Two million will get you something with 1500 square feet. The nice houses go for three times that and up. And these are houses in town, with small yards. Palo Alto, home of Stanford, an absolutely lovely small town, one of the most desirable places to live and work in the whole country. The real estate prices I’ve quoted here are from today’s ads, and they’re lower than they used to be.

The empty industrial parks of Palo Alto aren’t alone. I’ve seen them in every high-tech outpost of San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Hayward, San Francisco. The stores are closing, too, and the restaurants: the secondary businesses that rely on workers with money in their pockets. All up and down the coast there are workers wondering where their jobs went and how that $230 a week is going to keep them going until they find another job. And those benefits are before taxes. (Yes, they tax unemployment here.)

Almost every week, one of the South Bay NaNoWriters has layoffs to report. A number of us have lost jobs since November. Even more have had layoffs in their companies. When you’re the only one left from your department, you tend to feel like you dodged a bullet. Everybody is scared.

from the San Jose Mercury-News:

California's latest revised employment figures showed Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County alone lost 191,500 jobs -- or nearly one in five positions -- between the employment market peak of December 2000 and January 2003. [snip]

Boom-and-bust cycles are certainly nothing new to the greater San Francisco Bay area. But the damage wrought by the dot-com implosion has been broadly felt since so many area companies fed from the New Economy trough.

"This one is the worst .... This time it's everybody," said Jeff Hellman, an out-of-work software tester who is hoping to make a living by playing guitar outside Silicon Valley-area coffee shops and selling his own recordings.


Santa Clara County includes such tech-heavy cities as San Jose, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto. It absorbed about half of the state's post-boom job losses and had a January unemployment rate of 8.6 percent -- above California's 6.5 percent and the national average of 5.7 percent.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

No More French Fries!

From a friend:

In honor of the bold and decisive move by the House of Representatives to change the names of french fries and french toast in their cafeterias, I've got some other things we should change the names of.

French kissing will henceforth be called "freedom kissing."

French ticklers will henceforth be known as "liberty hole scrapers."

French vanilla should be called "the flavor of white people."

Actor French Stewart will be called "Pakistani Stewart."

All archived episodes of the 1970's show A Family Affair will be re-dubbed; Mr. French will be called "Mr. Theeconomyisstrongandsound."

Ile de France cheese will be renamed "Smells like Lynn Cheney."

Yoplait is a French name; that yogurt must be renamed "Freedom Spooge."

Ditto for Perrier; let's call it "Trickle Down."

French braids; this cannot stand. Henceforth, they'll be renamed after the President of the USA, and those who wear them will have Bush on their heads.

French onion soup will now be known as Guatemalan onion soup, because I said so.

The Tour de France bicycle race is to be renamed "The Tour of that Country that Refuses to Do What We Tell Them, Those Sons of Bitches. Nyeh Nyeh Nyeh."

The Statue of Liberty was made in France. It must be destroyed as quickly as the principles for which it stands.

All American cities with French-sounding names (Lafayette, Baton Rouge, etc.) should be bombed flat. Any individuals living there are obviously anti-American, or else they would have changed the name by now. Survivors will thus be shipped to France... which we'll then bomb.

All French-speaking Canadians MUST learn Spanish and stop speaking French, or we're GOING INTO CANADA WITH SIX-GUNS BLAZING. YEE-HAH.

The US government will hereafter be called "A Bunch of Rich People Who Really Don't Like That Country Whose Name We Won't Say."

We can't get health care out of these schmucks, they can't fix the economy or figure out how to keep schools open, or even reimburse states for the costs of security incurred because of blowback from 40 years of insane policies... but damn, they sure can rename french fries.

Did you ever get the feeling that the Three Stooges were really the ones in charge?

Monday, March 10, 2003

A Miracle Drug?

If this works, it could change my life.

Trial Drug Fends Off Peanut Allergies
March 10, 2003 01:10:34 PM PST, HealthScout News

By Amanda Gardner
HealthScoutNews Reporter

MONDAY, March 10 (HealthScoutNews) -- A new drug may ease the worries of the 1.5 million Americans whose peanut allergies have them or their loved ones wondering whether their next meal could be their last.

The experimental medication, called TNX-901, increases the threshold of an allergic reaction from half a peanut to about nine peanuts. While that may not seem like much to peanut lovers, it has been estimated that most of the 50 to 100 deaths each year from peanut allergies occur after ingesting only one or two nuts.

Although a new study on the drug was limited to those with peanut allergies, researchers say it could have a much wider impact.

"This drug may well also apply to other nut allergies and other food allergies, so it could affect 6 to 8 million people," Dr. Donald Leung, co-lead author of the study, said at a news conference Monday.

People with peanut allergies live in a culinary minefield, because their condition forces them to eat defensively. They or their caregivers -- the problem is worse among children, who don't always know better -- must examine ingredient labels with a fine-tooth comb, study the manufacturing process to learn whether a food could possibly be contaminated with peanuts, and ask detailed questions about restaurant fare.

Avoidance has always been the best way to deal with the allergies, but it's not always possible. Lacking that, the most common treatment for someone who has an allergic reaction is to take shots of a lifesaving drug called epinephrine. However, studies have found that only a "small minority" of those with allergies carry the remedy, which is commonly known as an "epipen."

TNX-901 is the first drug that could prevent the reactions in the first place. The Food and Drug Administration granted it fast-track review status last September. This study is what's known as a Phase 2 review, in which the drug is tested for both safety and effectiveness.

Dr. Hugh Samson, co-lead author and professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, estimates that the drug is three to four years from the market, assuming it wins FDA approval. However, legal problems have delayed the third and final part of review process, in which a drug is tested more widely.

"It's not a cure, but it is a buffer that would protect against most accidentally ingested peanut reactions," says Traci Tavares, a spokeswoman for the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network in Fairfax, Va. "Folks with peanut allergy have never had that peace of mind. By boosting the tolerance like this, it staves off what could be a life-threatening reaction and provides the added benefit of safety, so it's very exciting."

"I don't think anyone can accidentally eat nine peanuts," adds Dr. Clifford Bassett, an adult and pediatric allergist at New York University Medical Center and a member of the public education committee of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). "In those peanut-sensitive individuals, particularly young children, this can save their life. It will be a very, very important medication in that segment of the population."

The research was presented Monday at the AAAAI's annual meeting in Denver, and is also being published in the March 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

A second study appearing in the journal may help explain why food allergies, including peanut allergies, are on the rise. This research found that children who are exposed to products containing peanut oil, nut oils, and proteins and soy oil through inflamed skin areas (due to eczema or other conditions) may become sensitized to the ingredients. Also, children who drank soy milk or soy formula seemed to have more peanut allergies.

"There's a potential for foods to penetrate the skin even if a toddler is avoiding peanuts in his own diet," says Dr. Gideon Lack, lead author of this study and a consultant in pediatric allergy and immunology at St. Mary's Hospital at Imperial College in London. "His elder brothers and sisters are picking him up while eating peanut butter sandwiches. It's not necessarily consumption of the food that is leading to the allergy."

All a child needs is to just inhale vapors, Bassett adds. In one extreme case, a child Bassett was treating broke out in hives every day when her father came home. It turned out to be a reaction to the nut oils in her dad's shaving cream.

The allergic reaction takes place when the body's immune system tries to protect itself from a substance it mistakenly identifies as harmful. The body creates IgE antibodies against the food, and the antibodies can cause something as minor as an itch or as lethal as stopping breathing.

TNX-901 is a monoclonal antibody, a bioengineered drug that seeks out a specific target. In this case, it binds to IgE and prevents the allergic reactions before they start.

As the investigators on this study acknowledge, it would be completely unethical to purposely induce severe allergic reactions. In this trial, rather than using peanuts, they used peanut flour to elicit less severe, controlled responses. The 81 individuals who completed the study received either a placebo or 150-, 300-, or 450-milligram injections of TNX-901 once a month. Blood levels of IgE were measured throughout the trial.

The higher the dose of TNX-901, the better the protection against an allergic reaction. Most patients in the 300-milligram and 450-milligram groups could eat the equivalent of six and eight peanuts, respectively, before having a reaction. In addition, 24 percent of patients who received the highest dose and 21 percent of the individuals in the 300-milligram group were able to consume the equivalent of 24 peanuts with no reaction. When they did have a reaction, it was generally less severe.

Patients would have to get shots regularly and would still have to watch what they eat, say the investigators. "At this time, the drug is given once a month with injections but we are looking at other protocols," said Leung. "It would have to be ongoing therapy because it's not a cure."

But he added, "Many patients do get allergy shots once a month. It's a perfectly reasonable therapy."

The cost of the drug, and whether it will be covered by insurance, is not known yet, according to its makers.

Litigation over development rights among the three companies involved with the drug -- Tanox Inc., Genentech, and Novartis -- may delay the final phase of trials, however. "We don't know when Phase 3 is going to happen," confirms Michelle DeSantis, a spokeswoman for Tanox in Houston. "We are all in communication. That's always a good sign, and it means that things are moving forward."

I'm trying to imagine or remember what it would be like to eat at a friend's house, to venture into new restaurants without terror. I would still need to give the celery speech. But death by celery just might stop being an option.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Another Installment in the Continuing Series

Great 404 message.
From the Ministry of Silly Wars

Received in email from my dear friend Joe.

A letter to the London Observer from Terry Jones (yes, of Monty Python).

Letter to the Observer
Sunday January 26, 2003

I'm really excited by George Bush's latest reason for bombing Iraq: he's running out of patience. And so am I! For some time now I've been really pissed off with Mr Johnson, who lives a couple of doors down the street.

Well, him and Mr Patel, who runs the health food shop. They both give me queer looks, and I'm sure Mr Johnson is planning something nasty for me, but so far I haven't been able to discover what.

I've been round to his place a few times to see what he's up to, but he's got everything well hidden. That's how devious he is. As for Mr Patel, don't ask me how I know, I just know - from very good sources - that he is, in reality, a Mass Murderer. I have leafleted the street telling them that if we don't act first, he'll pick us off one by one. Some of my neighbours say, if I've got proof, why don't I go to the police? But that's simply ridiculous. The police will say that they need evidence of a crime with which to charge my neighbours. They'll come up with endless red tape and quibbling about the rights and wrongs of a pre-emptive strike and all the while Mr Johnson will be finalising his plans to do terrible things to me, while Mr Patel will be secretly murdering people.

Since I'm the only one in the street with a decent range of automatic firearms, I reckon it's up to me to keep the peace. But until recently that's been a little difficult. Now, however, George W. Bush has made it clear that all I need to do is run out of patience, and then I can wade in and do whatever I want!

And let's face it, Mr Bush's carefully thought-out policy towards Iraq is the only way to bring about international peace and security. The one certain way to stop Muslim fundamentalist suicide bombers targeting the US or the UK is to bomb a few Muslim countries that have never threatened us.

That's why I want to blow up Mr Johnson's garage and kill his wife and children. Strike first! That'll teach him a lesson. Then he'll leave us in peace and stop peering at me in that totally unacceptable way.

Mr Bush makes it clear that all he needs to know before bombing Iraq is that Saddam is a really nasty man and that he has weapons of mass destruction - even if no one can find them. I'm certain I've just as much justification for killing Mr Johnson's wife and children as Mr Bush has for bombing Iraq. Mr Bush's long-term aim is to make the world a safer place by eliminating 'rogue states' and 'terrorism'. It's such a clever long-term aim because how can you ever know when you've achieved it?

How will Mr Bush know when he's wiped out all terrorists? When every single terrorist is dead? But then a terrorist is only a terrorist once he's committed an act of terror.

What about would-be terrorists? These are the ones you really want to eliminate, since most of the known terrorists, being suicide bombers, have already eliminated themselves.

Perhaps Mr Bush needs to wipe out everyone who could possibly be a future terrorist? Maybe he can't be sure he's achieved his objective until every Muslim fundamentalist is dead? But then some moderate Muslims might convert to fundamentalism. Maybe the only really safe thing to do would be for Mr Bush to eliminate all Muslims?

It's the same in my street. Mr Johnson and Mr Patel are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other people in the street who I don't like and who - quite frankly - look at me in odd ways. No one will be really safe until I've wiped them all out. My wife says I might be going too far but I tell her I'm simply using the same logic as the President of the United States. That shuts her up.

Like Mr Bush, I've run out of patience, and if that's a good enough reason for the President, it's good enough for me. I'm going to give the whole street two weeks - no, 10 days - to come out in the open and hand over all aliens and interplanetary hijackers, galactic outlaws and interstellar terrorist masterminds, and if they don't hand them over nicely and say 'Thank you', I'm going to bomb the entire street to kingdom come.

It's just as sane as what George W. Bush is proposing - and, in contrast to what he's intending, my policy will destroy only one street.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I Haven't Posted a Quiz Here in a While

You're Casablanca!
Sweeping drama that will continue to be a classic
for years to come. Though you might want to
learn a new piano tune or two.

** What 'Classic' Movie are You? **
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, March 05, 2003


Some quotations from Toni Morrison:

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it. "Here," she said, "in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it."

If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.

Freeing yourself is one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.

The function of freedom is to free somebody else.

When there is pain, there are no words. All pain is the same.

Liberation means you don't have to be silenced.

There is really nothing more to say-except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.

Like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous.

The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.

... [Without ghosts] I would have been dependent on so-called scientific data to explain hopelessly unscientific things.

I'm just trying to look at something without blinking.

The problem I face as a writer is to make my stories mean something. You can have wonderful, interesting people, a fascinating story, but it's not about anything. It has no real substance. I want my books to always be about something that is important to me, and the subjects that are important in the world are the same ones that have always been important.

What I think the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.

In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.

Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.
From Now On, I May Have to Take the Train

Bad news for those of us who have been through hard times, messy divorces, layoffs, or other periods of instability. Or who just have a hard time paying bills on time.

From Joe Soucheray, a columnist for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has a new plan in which it intends to check your banking and credit records and then issue you a color-coded rating. If you are green, you are good to go. If you are a red, you don't fly. The people rated yellow will get just a little extra attention.

When I called Tim Anderson, deputy executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, to ask him about the program, he said, "What are you asking me for?'' It was the old play on, "Don't ask me, I just work here." Anderson gets his orders, and he follows them. What I wanted to know, for example, was how the color coding was going to be used. He explained it, and I think I understood. If you go red, you become a "selectee.'' The feds would call Anderson, and, depending on the gravity of the red, Anderson would have to involve the FBI. It seems reds wouldn't get off the ground.

The computer checking of passengers — nosing around in your banking and credit histories — would pre-emptively decide if we were going to fly or not and under what color.

According to news reports, the program is called CAPPS II, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. . . .

Among the many questions that might be asked: What evidence does the government have that the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers had bad credit histories, or even any credit histories? And what does a missed utility bill have to with terrorism as it is practiced by Islamic madmen?

More details from the Washington Post Tech News section:

Under an open-ended contract, Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin will be responsible for creating a computer network that will instantly authenticate the identity of every passenger, match the name against a government watch list, and determine whether that person's background and behavior constitute a terrorist threat.

The system, known as CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II), will rely heavily on commercial data warehouses containing names, telephone numbers, former addresses, financial details and other information about virtually every adult American. It will rate passengers using a color code: red for immediate threats, yellow for people with questionable backgrounds and green for the vast majority. The rating will be given to the airlines for decisions on whether a passenger should be allowed to board or be subjected to additional questioning.

While TSA officials yesterday declined to describe precisely what will determine threats, documents and earlier interviews with people familiar with the network indicate that it will explore whether an individual is "rooted in the community" or matches the terrorist profiles developed by intelligence agencies. Officials said they will not create a central file of passenger information.

In the coming weeks, Lockheed will begin working with International Business Machines Corp., Delta Air Lines and other companies to create a model program and test the classified data network. Officials said they hope it will begin screening all passengers no later than June of next year.

June of *next* year. That's a relief. I can still go home this summer for Jessica's second birthday party.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Spring Cleaning

The impulse toward spring cleaning must run in my blood, as deeply embedded as the other familial quirks: building stone walls, lusting after houses, ecstatically sniffing spices. (We also have an inherited propensity toward sawing the legs off furniture, but I try not to give in to that temptation.) I woke up Saturday with an ungovernable urge to organize and clean and sort, and by God I did. I hope the urge lasts another few weeks. The work done on my office was deeply satisfying, and there are still more boxes in the garage.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, also the signal for a kind of spring cleaning. I haven’t always followed a Lenten discipline, but this year I plan to. Nothing as simple or (alas) as easy as giving up chocolate, but a discipline that will help me focus on the spiritual and psychological issues I need to work on. Probably a form of walking meditation — I desperately need the exercise, and I hope I am ready to start dealing with body issues. What better time to do that when we are considering the meaning and effects of the Incarnation?

Walking? Doesn’t that reduce Lent to a New Year’s Resolution, and the Passion of Christ to an exercise program?

It’s petty, yes, but this year, for me that’s the point. I was born into a body. Caring for the spirit has always taken precedence; I’ve had almost a Gnostic contempt for my own flesh. I had excellent reasons. My body has never worked particularly well; I was clumsy, physically slow, maddeningly uncoordinated. (I couldn’t tie my shoes until I was in third grade. I read Gone with the Wind in second grade.) My body was the source or conduit of pain, the locus of shame and rape and uncontrollable rage and fear. I always had digestive problems, and I developed chronic bronchitis at seven, lethal food allergies in my thirties.

Now, when we celebrate and mourn the earthly life of God, the strange episode in which the Almighty took on flesh and became a humble carpenter, now is the time for me to consider what my body means. It’s going to be a long journey, much longer than the forty days of Lent. Wish me luck.

"There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation."— Madeleine L’Engle

Monday, March 03, 2003

An Urgent Message from the Management

I just got email from the company president, asking me to stop by his office.

My Girl Scout cookies are in.
Poetic Justice in Massachusetts

Come on, let's party!

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Happy St. David’s Day!

I always celebrate this saint's day. Not only does it mark the end of February (cruellest month of the year, T.S. Eliot notwithstanding), it's also a Welsh national holiday. And of course I first went to college in St. Davids, PA.

Back in the Philadelphia area, March 1 is often the start of spring. That's not an issue here. We haven't had a frost in more than a year, and we put in the garden a week ago. We started with spinach, peas, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. Later on we'll add peppers (sweet and hot), tomatoes (slicing and sauce), squash, and various other delectables. Most of the herbs are perennials.

Though today was also the first day of NaNoEdMo, I couldn’t start editing the novel. I’m not done with the first draft yet, though I did compose 50,000 incoherent, rambling, and inconsistent words in NaNovember. So I spent the day working on my office, which had become a repository for things unwanted elsewhere: unshelved books, teetering stacks of CDs, files that really belong in permanent storage, tote bags stuffed with unfinished cross-stitch projects, and boxes of junk from the whole family — clothes, ornaments, electronic gadgets — to sell on eBay or take to Goodwill.

So (in the intervals of doing four loads of laundry and various other housework), I sorted, shelved, unpacked, arranged, discarded, and organized. Michele came up in the evening (she and Paul played D&D all afternoon) and helped with hanging pictures, putting up and filling an additional bookcase, and consolidated the rest of the boxes . It looks completely different, and it’s going to be usable. That’s a big step forward.

It was a productive way to spend the day. The physical labor helped me burn off some of the stress of the week. I’ve got a solid sense of accomplishment. Also, I was starved for solitude. Though there are more entertaining ways to spend a day alone, this was, I think, the best thing I could do for myself.

Tomorrow is church; I’m first reader. We have an adult education meeting afterward. I’m going to skip the NaNoWriters and try to spend some more time in the office — maybe even writing.
A Diplomat Resigns

Snippets from the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

This Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?


When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Word of the Day

Revoltertainment. Self-explanatory, and all too common on TV. Term created by Warpsmith.