Monday, October 06, 2008

Closing My Eyes, Crossing My Fingers . . .

knocking on wood, praying, begging, pleasepleaseplease.

Phillies versus the Dodgers, best of seven, for the National League championship and a shot at winning the World Series.

(Sorry, Cubs fans. Some of my best friends are disappointed.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Goodbye, Dear Del

It's all over the Internet: Del Martin has died. She is survived by her widow, Phyllis Lyon. After half a century together, they were the first couple married in 2004, when San Francisco defied the state and started holding same-sex marriages. They were the first married this year, when the California Supreme Court struck down the barriers to same-sex marriage.

Four years ago, when their marriage was invalidated, Phyllis Lyon said:
Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time.

Thank God they had a few short months of legal recognition. But even that can be taken away, Don't let it happen. Honor Del's life and commitment by defeating the California marriage ban.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Good Night, Sweet Pitcher

Dottie Wiltse Collins, one of the best pitchers in women's baseball and the moving force behind the alumnae organization of retired players from the women's leagues, died on August 12 at the age of 84.

A powerhouse pitcher who could throw overhand, underhand, and sidearm, she pitched two no-hitters within a seventeen-day stretch. Collins won more than 20 games each of her first four seasons as a pro. In her best year, 1945, her record was 29-10, with a 0.83 ERA and 293 strikeouts. She once pitched -- and won -- both halves of a doubleheader, and in 1948, she played until she was four months pregnant.

Her work to gather and preserve the history of women's baseball inspired the movie A League of Their Own. More important, the memorabilia she helped gather is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY. Where she belongs.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sekrit Religious Messages Decoded
Sometimes you need an ex-Baptist to translate current political rhetoric. (Ex-Baptist, but still very much a Christian.)

“It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others,” he wrote.

I've seen various people bitterly complaining that McCain insulted D&D players and by extension all geeks. He did deliberately evoke a lot of nasty stereotypes, and he is already in disfavor with many of the computer-literate for his own unwillingness to deal with technology. From my POV, this is all to the good. By the time the campaign is over, I hope he will have alienated the gamers, the geeks, and every other human being so that he ends up with just one vote in his favor.

I've also seen plenty of people laughing -- with reason -- at the notion that D&D players are likely to be Obama supporters. The gamers I know range from hard-core libertarian ("any fourth-grader should be able to buy heroin with the money zie has earned") to a deeply conservative Iraq War vet to a red-diaper Marxist-Leninist. Many, many gamers are at least fiscally conservative, and a good many have served their country. There was even a games-for-GIs initiative a few years ago -- remember?

This is not surprising. One of the reasons I rarely game is that so many gaming scenarios are morally simplistic, good-versus-evil morality plays, in which the Bad Guys are readily identifiable by their appearance. (A good GM can make a huge difference. Also a great gaming system like Cat.)

But neither the insult to gamers nor the linking of Obama with D&D was gratuitous. Weird as it may seem, this throwaway line was designed to make Obama look like a minion of Satan -- very much like the Internet ads implying that he is the Anti-Christ. Even Tim LaHaye, senior author of the Left Behind series, saw the allusions, and he is no milk-and-water liberal by any stretch of the imagination.

I could give you examples from my own experience, but I'll let others speak for me.

Some quotations from Evangelical writings on RPGs:

RPGs encourage Satan worship:
The words demon, devil and hell appear a total of 225 times in eight pages of Deities and Demigods (pages 16-23), and encourages the worship of them as lesser gods (page 105).

The D&D universe is not Christian:
This problem is that the cosmology of D&D is fundamentally anti-Biblical. Many of the defenders of D&D make the common mistake of assuming that because there are roles in the game for "clerics," this makes the game alright. They make this mistake because they equate Roman Catholicism and its robed clerics for Christians. They do not understand that one can be a cleric (Muslim, Buddhist, etc.) and not be a Christian.... But any game which draws people away from a true understanding of Jesus, God, salvation and the cosmos IS soul-destroying in the truest possible sense of the word. That is incalculably worse. We only have our bodies a few scant years before they turn to dust. Our souls we will have forever, and what if they have been destroyed by playing D&D? They may well end up in the fiery blackness of hell.

It lures young people into the occult:
I myself became very interested in occult things due to the constant reference to it in AD & D, and I believe that over a period it would be very hard for a non-christian to resist the attraction of the descriptions of evil things in the AD & D rule books.

Satan is like a roaring lion, prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). How delighted he must be when someone starts becoming interested in him due to descriptions in the AD & D rules.

You become what you pretend to be:
The bible is the final authority on right and wrong, and if God declares in the Bible that prostitution, rape, stealing, mutilation, murder, human sacrifice, worshiping other gods, casting spells, using magic, and practicing necromancy are wrong, then should one pretend those things or become involved in a fantasy game in which one participates by imaginative role playing? NO!

Evangelicals take words and imagination more seriously than almost any other group I can think of. In gamer terms, many of them are rules lawyers, constantly obsessing over what exactly The Book says, but they honestly, profoundly believe that what's at stake is their immortal soul. And yours.

So, knowing that, it's easy to see that the linkage of Obama and RPGs is not innocent or accidental. It was a coded reference and a subtle character assassination.

There is a certain irony to the fact that this disingenuous little statement was made in defense of McCain's story that a North Vietnamese prison guard, secretly a Christian, connected with him by drawing a cross in the dirt with his toe. The world is full of secret messages.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visions of Iceland

Joe Decker's book, Saga: Visions of Iceland, is well worth buying. (Or getting as a birthday present, which is how I got my copy from Debbie..) The photographs are superb as always, and the printing is up to his demanding standards. Seen through Joe's eyes, the stark, dramatic scenery of Iceland becomes almost abstract.

Some images are subtle, nearly monochromatic studies in pure form or pattern, like Black Mud Swirls. The pure black volcanic sands are background and foil to incandescently verdant grass in Grass and Volcanic Alluvium. This high-contrast image with its expanses of deep black and subtle layering of light must have presented serious printing challenges, but it looks good on the page.

Others show sky and land bleakly glacier-colored, grey and blue; rainbows, waterfalls, quiet streams; sunsets as bright and ominous as new lava flows. Decker sees and conveys the beauty in small details and broad landscapes.

The book is hardbound with a dust jacket. Bonus: the author picture (taken by Josh Andrews) is a vivid and revealing portrait of Joe.

Joe Decker is an internationally known, award-winning nature photographer who just keeps getting better and better. Buy his work now, before the price goes to Ansel Adams levels. Yes, he is that good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quote of the Day

What really shapes and conditions and makes us is somebody only a few of us ever have the courage to face: and that is the child you once were, long before formal education ever got its claws into you -- that impatient, all-demanding child who wants love and power and can't get enough of either and who goes on raging and weeping in your spirit till at last your eyes are closed and all the fools say, "Doesn't he look peaceful?" It is those pent-up, craving children who make all the wars and all the horrors and all the art and all the beauty and discovery in life, because they are trying to achieve what lay beyond their grasp before they were five years old.

Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels

Friday, August 01, 2008


Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.--Ansel Adams

For me, his words evoke that country even better than his photographs of it. The iconic images of Yosemite are great art: black-and-white studies in line and form: very fine photographs of an important landscape.

Powerful as they are, they can't evoke the sublimity of the place. I'm damned sure that I can't, either. That's why I've taken more than a month to even begin to fumble my way toward a post about Yosemite. We didn't go for a visit; we drove through the High Sierras on our way to Las Vegas.

Photos shrink the magnificence into a two-dimensional rectangle that can be held in the hand -- just another object humans can look at, which will disappear when they close their eyes. This distorts and reverses the proper relation of human to landscape. Yosemite -- all of the Sierras -- are overwhelming, enfolding. You can't close your eyes and make it go away. You can't control it or ignore it. When you are in that country, you are subject to all its laws, and no plea of ignorance or good intentions can save you. The mountains are implacable, indifferent, stark.

And yet my spirits rise the moment I go from flat land into hills, and in the Sierras I was giddy with it. (Yes, some of that may be due to thin air, but it starts immediately. I love mountains.)

Approaching Yosemite from the west, we climbed and climbed from the level, densely cultivated Central Valley. As the altitude increases, population decreases, and orchards give way to pines and fir trees. Even the greatest photo can't convey that Yosemite is not one image, a single view carefully shot so that the power lines and fast-food places don't show. Yosemite is wilderness embedded in wilderness. The mountain range runs for 400 miles north and south -- much of it wild, because the altitude is so high, the snow so deep in winter, the escarpment lethally steep. Yet it is within a few hours' drive of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

On the western edge of the park are a few hamlets and millions of conifers (lodgepole pines, incense cedar, Coast Douglas firs) on steep hillsides; inside, a few park buildings and a couple of roads open only a few months of the year. Even the tour buses cannot diminish the utter wildness of the place.

On the way to the park, I kept seeing warnings that it would cost money to get into Yosemite, but none of the signs indicated how much money. (It was $20 for a passenger car.) I'm used to parks being free. In California, many state parks charge an entrance fee of $5 or so, and still the state park system is crumbling. Yosemite is a national park, though, and none of the other ones I've been to (Valley Forge, Gettysburg) have charged admission fees.

We skipped the loop road that tours the Yosemite Valley and showcases the waterfalls, El Capitan, Half-Dome, and the other famous sites and sights. (To give an idea of the scale of the park: it covers 1200 square miles, about three-quarters the size of Rhode Island.) But the road to Tioga Pass is magnificent enough; the road itself, made of the local granite, sparkles like snow. And we kept stopping (Look, snow! Look, a river! Look, Olmstead Point!) and looking. And lamenting that we didn't have a weekend, a week, to give to this landscape.

From the overlook at Olmstead Point you can see through oceans of air down the valley to Half Dome. People who love flat land talk about the big sky, but mountains offer something better: the sensation of dwelling within the sky. Olmstead Point does not quite hang out over space, but it gives a view down the valley of sheer glacier-scoured mountainsides. There's also a cast-bronze scale model of the viewable area -- Half Dome and all -- so you can see and touch the shapes of the mountains.

I was having geology-geek orgasms all the way -- the local geology is utterly spectacular. Spotting moraines and glacial erratics in the High Sierras is disorienting for me; the glaciated places where I have lived are much lower and much more seriously ground down. And until now I've never seen glaciers in action, carving their characteristic U-shaped valleys, scooping lakes at different levels in the mountains.

And glacial polish! In the east I'd seen it only as a little shine here and there. In the Sierras, vast shields of granite are polished almost to a gravestone gloss. With their joints, they look almost fake, almost like poured concrete, but it's real, all right. I spotted several intrusions -- dikes or sills -- where long ago, hot magma had forced its way into the granite. And more than one xenolith, a stone that had fallen into the granite when it was still a bath of hot magma and now hung suspended like fruit in a Jello mold. I was even lucky enough to see a xenolith that had been split by an intrusion -- one hell of an angular unconformity. Unfortunately, my picture of it didn't come out.

When the polished granite expanses are cracked, plants take root: small cushiony plants with brilliant fuchsia flowers, or tree seedlings. When the trees survive, they eventually split the boulder they took root in. I found this tough persistence of life extraordinarily moving; it's what my first Joe Decker picture shows. (Not incidentally, that photograph was taken in the Eastern Sierra.) A bristlecone pine not just clinging to life on the edge of the abyss, but beautiful in its twisted starkness and its determination to endure.

The High Sierras are an extreme environment, but there are places where bare granite gives way to something more hospitable. After the windswept grandeur of Olmstead Point comes Tuolumne Meadows, a tender, verdant landscape so welcoming it brought tears to my eyes. This level water meadow is lush with grass and bright with wildflowers.

We went out through the pass (at nearly 10,000 feet) and down into the rich world of the Owens Valley.

It's easy to see national parks as a kind of zoo designed to cage and display geological freaks. Despite its extremes, Yosemite isn't a freak. A magnificent landscape; a world of half a dozen ecosystems; a place of dry, tingling air fragrant with pine and fir. Magnificent, unique, but not alone: one part of a vast mountain range. The next valley over, Yosemite's twin, is Hetch Hetchy, which was dammed in 1923 to provide water and power for the San Francisco Bay Area. I drink the waters of the Tuolumne every day.

Watch a day pass in Yosemite with time-lapse video.

Monday, July 21, 2008

ANNALS OF PTSD: One More Casualty

Joseph Dwyer was a hero who became famous for carrying a wounded child toward help, an act of courage documented in one of the most famous photographs to emerge from the Iraq War.

A medic from Long Island whose brothers were cops, he joined up after 9/11. He cared for the wounded on the battlefield as the army fought their way from the Euphrates to Baghdad. When medics are under fire, they don't shoot back. They're too busy putting pressure bandages on sucking chest wounds, or tying tourniquets on the remains of a limb, or strapping their wounded friends onto stretchers. He was decorated for his courage with a Combat Medical Badge for service under fire.

He came home safely from Iraq, but he couldn't get the war out of his head. The VA gave him medicine and inpatient treatment, but they weren't enough.

Imagine the endless nightmare of war superimposed on your normal life -- ordinary sounds threaten death, roadside litter becomes an improvised bomb. Imagine the heart-pounding terror every time someone knocks on your door. He lived in that hell for five years. Finally he died there.

Technically, the death was from a drug overdose. But when you're frightened sick all the time, unrelentingly, any drug that will give you surcease can be an unbearable temptation.

I hope he has found peace and rest now in a place without gunfire. I pray that his wife and daughter, his friends, his family, will all find consolation. But for those who live with this pain, there is very little consolation.

PTSD destroys lives, and it can spread to your partners and into the next generation. My father was a medic in the Korean War. I'm sure that some of what he did to me, some of the living nightmares i still fight, came from the battlefields of Korea.

In "Let the People Speak," Stephen Fry interviewed various (possibly fictional) members of the British public about the first Gulf War, which was then beginning:
"Let's get one thing straight," said a doctor from Long Melford. "Soldiers are made from flesh and bone and tissue that is, as Wilfred Owen said, 'so dear achieved.' It has taken them from 17 to 30 years to grow into what they are. In seconds it can be a tangle of blood and smashed material that can never be put right again."

. . . "Are you in the business of comforting the enemy?"

"No, I'm in the business of repairing flesh. Just be sure. For God's sake be sure."

Minds can be smashed beyond all repairing, too. It took 26 years to make Joseph Dwyer into the kind of man who would rescue a wounded child under fire.

It took 91 days on the battlefield to destroy him.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

After 32 Years, Network Still Nails It

Network is probably the greatest rant movie ever made. (I can't think of another contender with so many great rants from so many different characters.) And this rant (newscaster Howard Beale's magnificent on-air breakdown) seems eerily on-target for life as it is today.

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.

[shouting] You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell,

'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!' I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it:

[screaming at the top of his lungs] "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

Not a Goddamned thing has changed except that we now have video games and the Internet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Officially Cheerful

Had a rough day? Stressed about the looming Apocalypse and your dwindling bank balance? You need James Lileks. You need The Institute of Official Cheer. It's got everything, all enhanced by elegantly phrased snarky commentary:

* Clothing ads from the 1973 Sears catalog! Go ahead and laugh. But dammit, we thought it was pretty. Except the plaid pants. And some of the hairstyles. And all that polyester. No, I didn't buy my clothes from Sears--that was too fancy. What Ma didn't make, we got from Eynon Drug.

* Elvis meets Liberace! And other all-too-memorable publicity shots.

* Sometimes meat likes to dress up and feel pretty. A sample of the joys of The Gallery of Regrettable Food -- actual food illustrations and photography from the Depression through the swinging 70s. There are a few recipes, but the focus is on the unappetizing pictures and Lileks's delicious commentary. Imagine the mind that could dream up hot dogs in aspic. No, don't. Not if you're eating. Or about to eat. Or ever want to eat again.

Most of the content in Lileks's books is no longer on the website, but truly they are worth buying. (I keep an eye out at used bookstores and library sales; so far I've picked up two, plus a book of essays.) He describes a loaf of mottled red meat sludge in aspic as "a core sample from a mass grave." He tells the hidden stories of the people in those illustrations. Truly, he is the MST3K of old advertisements -- and his wit is as sharp as his eye. (He also posts a lot of other useful and interesting material, including old photos of Fargo, ND, and Minneapolis.)

The effect of reading anything by Lileks is, first, laughter, tinged with horror. Then, as you read on, uncontrollable spasms of laughter. Then choking, screaming convulsions of something that might be laughter or agony, garnished by tears. Then full-fledged hysteria. It's absolutely guaranteed, and it's one of the best ways I know for dealing with a horrible day.

Why yes, I had a . . . regrettable day. Any day in which one's automobile, freshly emerged from the shelter of a warranty period, demands repairs that will cost almost a month's rent (which, incidentally, has just been raised again), that day cries out for Official Cheer.

(It worked, too.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

IN MEMORIAM: Thomas M. Disch

He wrote beautiful prose. He wrote beautiful poetry. The rage and pain and beauty of his work shone like supernovas at sunset. He was viciously original and sometimes just vicious.

He was notoriously hard to deal with -- his LJ demonstrates his prickliness and anger. Those may be characteristic of a man who never learned to defend himself against the world or his own deep pain. (No, that's not just something I say of the honored dead. I have loved, do love, a few people like that.)

He killed himself on Independence Day -- surely a comment and a message to us. And his magnanimous, lyrical descriptions of life after death in The Businessman give me hope. Perhaps he has found his way toward that heaven where suicides learn to cope with life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Remembering History

On June 25, 1876, the Sioux and Cheyenne (under the leadership of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse) defeated the Seventh Cavalry (under George Armstrong Custer) at the battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer's detachment was wiped out. The other squadrons, under Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen, suffered serious losses and fled.

Custer died because he made overwhelmingly bad decisions. He underestimated the number of his enemy. He planned his strategy without knowing what kind of ground he would need to cover. He thoroughly lived up to his standing at the very bottom of the West Point Class of 1861.

But the war for the Black Hills -- sacred ground to the Sioux and Cheyenne, a source of gold for the whites -- was not over. Within a year, the Indians were defeated, and their lands were taken away. It is particularly outrageous that one of their mountains was later carved into the likeness of four dead presidents.

Today is a day to ponder the racism, arrogance, and stupidity of some American leaders, civil and military. To remember that, instead of being the good guys, the US government can act with evil, and that they do so on behalf of every American of any race, creed, language, gender, and political opinion. To mourn for the soldiers who died on both sides, not forgetting the humanity of our enemies or our own troops. And to resolve never again to allow this kind of shameful behavior to stain the history of this nation.

Lakota Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

White Scout's Account of the Battle.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. If you haven't yet read this well-researched, meticulously documented book, read it. After nearly forty years, its narrative has not lost its power to shock or to move.

Little Big Man. Dustin Hoffman as a 101-year-old white man raised by Indians. This underrated movie intersperses hilarious satire with utterly shattering scenes of the white war against the Indians. Arthur Penn directed just three years after his landmark Bonnie and Clyde. Features Chief Dan George, Faye Dunaway, and Richard Mulligan (later a star of Soap). Mulligan's turn as Custer is worth the price of the DVD.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Better Than Bloomsday

Legal same-sex marriage starts today in California.

A very happy wedding season to all who can finally marry their partners, and may you live to see your marriage recognized and respected everywhere in the world.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

As Nanny Ogg Would Say, Tempers Fuggit

I went to Office Depot today, looking for a replacement stylus for my Palm. It's not new -- I replaced my old M100 a year or so ago, choosing a low-end, monochrome model fine for my basic PDA uses -- ebooks and backgammon, with occasional calendaring.

I wandered through the aisles, wondering where the PDA displays were. Not with computers, not with calendars, not with software or cameras or cables. The clerk had never heard of a Palm, a handheld, or a PDA, much less a stylus.

After some fruitless paging, I eventually found an older employee who told me they no longer carried any PDAs or accessories.

They're outdated.

Monday, May 19, 2008

May We Have the Envelope, Please?

The National Trust’s 2008 list of Most Endangered Places is out. This annual rite gathers historians, naturalists, and architects in nail-biting suspense. What monuments to our heritage are closest to being razed, paved, or mutilated? Which historical sites, architectural treasures, cultural resources, and natural landscapes should we visit now, before they vanish forever?

Among this year's lucky winners I found the spectacularly elegant Boyd's Theater in Center City Philadelphia. It's an eighty-year old movie queen, the architectural equivalent of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. It was the first of the great Art Deco theaters, and it is the last movie palace in Philadelphia.

The Boyd used to be the SamEric, which closed in 2002, and I have very fond memories of its spacious auditorium and fine acoustics. The Boyd was convenient--a block from Rittenhouse Square, close to bookstores, restaurants, and transit. Nearby was a small State Store where, one sultry night, my date and I picked up a flask of Old Granddad to smuggle into the theater. The film was noir, the stars were Nicholson and Lange, and between the bourbon-fortified fountain Cokes and the Art Deco ambiance, the movie looked wonderful. No big-screen TV can do what the Boyd did so well.

Another old friend made the list. The entire California state park system.

The state park system is falling apart. There's no money for maintenance, and hasn't been for years. I was appalled when I first went to a California park and was charged an admission fee, but taxes won't cover operating costs. And this is a tragedy.

California is one of the richest states by any measure and one of the top economies in the world. It hosts the insanely lucrative high tech and entertainment industries as well as its vast and productive agricultural sector. From wine to lettuce, carrots to cotton, California produces more. Think Wisconsin is the dairy state? Think again. We're number one. And there are plenty of other industries -- fishing, manufacturing, lumber, tourism. The real estate is some of the most expensive in the world. And, at least in Silicon Valley, you can meet millionaires and billionaires any time you go to Fry's computer store.

The parks preserve wild lands, protect redwoods, open history to visitors. They save the smaller patches of the great historic redwoods and joshua trees and offer sanctuary to birds from egrets to condors. Once you've seen the bleakly indifferent peaks of the Sierras, the passes deep in snow, the brutally sheer mountainsides, you gain a new comprehension of the courage and fortitude of the people who crossed them in wooden wagons -- or who died on the frozen heights above the lushly blooming valleys.

The parks provide recreation and education and green space. In the state that boasts Big Sur, Death Valley, Yosemite, and the Avenue of the Giants, the state parks shelter the smaller local spaces where people can picnic, camp, hike, watch birds and wildlife, or frolic with their dogs. One of the things that makes the crowding of the East Bay endurable to me is the presence of parks, acres of countryside I can visit easily and always see on the horizon. They keep our spirits going.

This state can afford to preserve and share its magnificent natural resources and historic heritage. If California is punished by God with a disaster, it won't be for recognizing love and commitment between same-sex partners. It will be for allowing greed to destroy our endowment of history, landscape, and human potential.

Link to list from Still a Ways Away.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Four Years and Several Months Ago . . .

Gavin Newsom celebrated Valentine's Day by opening marriage to same-sex couples. My friend RJ and I joined dozens of other volunteers to help celebrate marriages in San Francisco City Hall. People were coming in from all over. I get teary-eyed just at the memory -- the joy was palpable, and shared among so many people.

Now what we did then has been upheld by the California Supreme Court. We now have marriage equality -- if we can fight off the various attacks on it.

A deep, deep joy.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Small Rewards

I always want to know where the roads go. Saturday I found one of surpassing beauty -- a winding country road, flawlessly cambered and almost empty, snaking over hills. It ran through chaparral, grassland, oak hills, even a redwood forest damp and sheltered enough for ferns -- a rare sight here. Every turn brought a new prospect: hills, valleys, woods, the Bay glittering in the sun, a reservoir mirroring the sky.

Except for bicyclers, the road was almost deserted on a Saturday afternoon. I bet it's even better on a weekday afternoon, when the bike-riders are off at work. A place to stretch my reflexes and my eyes, to dawdle or zip as the mood dictates.

Best of all, this road is not forty miles away, across the bay and up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It runs from Hayward to Oakland. You might know it as A Street or Redwood Road. I've driven sections of it a thousand times but never, before, beyond the high school, where one turns off to go to the Episcopal church.

That road felt like an extraordinary gift from the universe. Or maybe part of God's Frequent Seeker Rewards Program.

For most of the time I've lived in the East Bay, I haven't had time or energy to go exploring. Particularly when I was making the vicious commute to Palo Alto, the last thing I wanted to do on weekends was drive anywhere.

The life I was living prevented me from doing the things I loved and wanted -- the big things, like writing fiction, and the little things, like exploring country roads. And the things I substituted for what I really needed were both insufficient and expensive.

And it's not a question of leisure versus work. I am working now -- working damned hard, in fact -- but under conditions that are much more conducive to my being able to function day to day. I'm cooking and eating a variety of foods, I'm able to give more energy and love to my partners, I'm doing better with life maintenance chores, and I am even unpacking boxes and sorting possessions. Someday I may no longer be living in an apartment that looks like I moved in an hour ago.

Clearly this is something I need to consider when I look for the next job. It's almost a tautology -- when you're living the right life, you'll get the things you need, because by definition the right life is the one that feeds and nurtures you. But why is it so damned hard to remember that?

By "getting the things you need" I don't mean that you'll become a lottery winner or be protected from all loss and grief. I am not one of those prosperity Christians who thinks that prayer exists to beef up your bank account. Mine will undoubtedly shrink, in fact, and that's OK.

Maybe it's easier to see it the other way around: a job that twists your soul, a marriage that gradually erodes your sense of selfhood, a life where you have to deny who you are and who you love are bound to make you miserable. They will have compensations, of course, otherwise you wouldn't stay long enough for it to become a problem. But they have high costs, and they swallow the energy you could be using for something more productive.

The rewards of the right life (or miseries of the wrong kind) are not in the nature of arbitrary reinforcement from a Skinnerian deity with a sadistic sense of humor. They're much closer to the laws of physics. Defy gravity at your peril, and don't blame the mirror when the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

I was talking about this with Michele when I was struck with a another aspect of the issue. The work to build the right life may hurt like hell. It may even seem worse than the familiar wretchedness of the wrong one. But it pays off -- and that positive payoff is something I consistently forget to include in my cost-benefit analysis.

There are excellent reasons for that quirk of psychology. But it's useful to remember that it isn't usually true any more. Asking for what I want, trying to get what I need, making changes -- these do involve some frustration and pain, but these days when I do them, I also actually get what I want without having to pay a cost too high to endure. This is what I have to convince my protective back-brain, which doesn't want me to throw away whatever I have now in hopes of a better future. It learned too early, too thoroughly, that asking for change brought things much worse than whatever I was enduring.

I have a huge chunk of work to do in therapy about reconnecting with my body, and I have been seriously considering not doing it. What's the point? It's going to take years of work and a lot of misery, and I'm 48. Why bother? By the time it's done I'll be old and close to death. The alternative to doing it will probably be shortening my life by some unknowable number of years. And I was very close to saying that an earlier death was preferable to fighting this war.

But maybe, if I do it, I'll get rewards I never even thought of. I didn't quit my job to write so that I could find beautiful back roads or eat a better diet. Those were bonuses. I bet there will be bonuses to the bodywork, too -- things I cannot imagine now.

Worth trying.

Another Frequent Seeker Reward: free MP3 of Dirty Town, the new Steve Winwood single. I've been waiting for a good new Steve Winwood album. This looks like I've got my wish. The verses may not be not great songwriting, but the choruses and riffs are catchy, urgent, compelling.

Winwood's voice is deeper, maybe a little hoarser, than his voice when he was the fourteen-year-old lead singer of the Spencer Davis Group. His keyboard line starts like a lonely blues song but breaks into a rock anthem -- and nobody writes better rock anthem than Winwood at his best.

Eric Clapton's godlike guitar sounds more like the passionate, protesting wail of the Cream years than the magisterial resignation of some of his recent work. Which is not to say all of his recent work has been rockless -- have you heard the Cream reunion album? Blew me away. They are still damned good -- better than anybody else -- even if Ginger Baker looks as kippered as Keith Richards.

Definitely worth the download. Amazon has an MP3 downloader, but it only works with Mac OS 10.4 and up, and I'm still running 10.3.9 on the laptop. Nevertheless, I had no trouble downloading the song.

Monday, April 28, 2008

While the Jury Is Out

The Hans Reiser murder trial has almost all the classic elements of a great criminal proceeding: a prominent defendant, the mysterious vanishing of a lovely young woman, a pair of orphans, bizarre friends and relatives, kinky sex, hints of espionage and international crime, a bitter divorce, charges of embezzlement, and an unusual mental health defense.

All that's missing is any trace of Nina Reiser, 31, beyond a few bloodstains.

But the Reiser trial is also peculiarly Silicon Valley, given its mix of money, high tech, Craigslist, BDSM, playful transvestism, Burning Man, the Berkeley Bowl, and Asperger's Syndrome. The trial is getting gavel-to-gavel coverage, not just in such local papers as the Chronicle, but also in Wired. Their case timeline is helpful in trying to follow the story.

A former Alameda County public defender, Jay Gaskill, is also blogging it, and his blog is absolutely invaluable for the clarity and special knowledge he exhibits.

The lady vanishes

On September 3, 2005, Nina Reiser took her kids grocery shopping at the Berkeley Bowl. Then she dropped the kids with her estranged husband, who was living at his mother's house at the time. (His mother, a 64-year-old artist, was away at Burning Man.) They were in the midst of a genuinely nasty divorce.

Nina Reiser hasn't been seen since. That night she missed a date with her boyfriend, whom she had met on Craigslist; they had been thinking of moving in together, or even getting married.

On September 5, Hans Reiser went to pick up his kids at school, although it wasn't his day to do so, hours before he supposedly became aware that Nina was missing. Oh, and his small car disappeared for weeks; when it reappeared, the passenger seat was missing and the floor was awash in water. He had hosed it out -- just as he had hosed down his mother's driveway just after the disappearance. He claims he was living in the car, although his mother had to rent another one for him to drive.

September 9 her minivan was found a few miles away, still full of groceries. Billboards appeared in Oakland, then all over the East Bay, including my neighborhood.


Within weeks Hans Reiser was fighting for custody of his children. The Oakland police were watching him -- hell, I'd watch anybody whose spouse had disappeared and who had reacted by living full-time in a sports car, especially if they were taking professional-level evasion measures against surveillance. (The 1988 Honda CRX Si was a two-seat hatchback sports car. Not exactly like moving into a Land Rover.)

His father offered a reason for the anti-surveillance measures: he testified that, a week after Nina disappeared, he told his son to be careful of the Russian mafia and the "techno-geek S&M crowd."

On October 10, 2006, Hans Reiser was arrested for murder. He claims Nina Reiser framed him for her murder: that she simply went home to Russia (where their children are now living with their mother's family), leaving him high and dry. Along with $4500 in her bank account, $2000 in her apartment, and a mini-van full of groceries she never unloaded. Not to mention that Nina had just accepted a job offer to help Russian immigrants with their health concerns.

Hans Reiser, a prominent Linux guru, developed the ReiserFS filesystem. He has explained all his strange behavior after his wife's disappearance as the result of Asperger's Syndrome. In Silicon Valley, Aspies rule. Many of the stars of the high-tech industry are far from neurotypical.

(Speaking as a member of the techno-geek S&M crowd, I suspect this area may be one of the few where Hans Reiser could get a fair trial. His repeated courtroom outbursts, rambling monotone delivery, and paranoid behavior after the disappearance don't look good, but people here do understand that computer geeks are often a little strange in their behavior. Very few of them commit murder.)

Into the Labyrinth

Nina Reiser, trained as an OB/GYN in her native Russia, is often referred to as a mail-order bride. She did apparently have her name in a Russian dating catalog. However, according to one source, she was the translator accompanying another Russian woman to an arranged date with Hans Reiser.

They married in 1999; she was five months pregnant. Even in Silicon Valley, the Reisers' wedding was unconventional. It featured a belly dancer and a Minotaur leading the pair through a stone labyrinth -- not exactly auspicious symbolism, since the Minotaur fed on human sacrifices.

Friend, lover, adviser, and more

The maid of honor was a male truck driver in drag: Sean Sturgeon, founder of the Lake Merritt Socrates Cafe, and Hans Reiser's close friend and financial adviser. Later, Sturgeon became Nina's lover. Nina broke up with him because she didn't enjoy BDSM.

In addition to his sidelines in amateur philosophy, truck driving, wedding attendance, BDSM, adultery, and financial advice, Sean Sturgeon claims to be a serial killer with 8 or 9 notches on his belt, although he says he didn't kill Nina. Nobody seems to have arrested him.

The war between the Reisers

The marriage produced two children, whose rearing and education were the focus of enormous conflict between the Reisers. The emails Nina sent seem reasonable; they were produced in court.

Reiser continued traveling to Russia on business, being gone months at a time. When he was home, he wanted to teach his children -- especially his 5-year-old son -- how to survive. His idea was to play violent videogames like Battlefield Vietnam with young Rory. In that game, napalm explosions envelop villages in fire, bodies are hurled through the air, and, when shot, characters collapse to the ground and choke on their own blood, realistic sound effects included.

Rory started drawing violent pictures that worried his mother and teacher. According to the teacher, Rory had become hostile; he said to her, "I don't need to listen to you, you’re a woman. Women shouldn't have rights in this country." And Nina became afraid that her son was getting PTSD from the violent films and videogames.

Means, motives, opportunity

During the vicious divorce and the murder trial, the prosecution characterized Nina Reiser as a loving mother who would never abandon her children. The defense has accused her of being a terrible mother, of having connections with the Russian Mafia and the KGB, of making up diseases for her son to get attention for herself, and of embezzling funds from her husband's company. How much this is the usual blame-the-victim tactic and how much is true, God knows.

Could Hans Reiser be violent? At one point he pushed Nina violently enough that she got a restraining order. And an experienced Oakland cop, now retired, advised her to get a gun.

The money is an issue: Hans Reiser claims Nina was embezzling, but he also owes or owed her large sums in child support. The company Namesys was in some financial trouble, and Hans had publicly complained that Nina and the kids were a financial burden.

The high-tech angle continues into other evidence. Reiser pulled a couple of hard drives from his computer and entrusted them to his lawyer. Nothing of interest was found on them when the police tech expert examined them.

Much more to the point, when the minivan was located, Nina's cell phone was inside with its battery removed -- a way to make sure that it couldn't be tracked. Hans Reiser's cell phone was either turned off or had its battery removed for several days around the time of the murder.

The jury has been two days. At this point, the sketch artists are sketching each other.

If he did it

This case is heartbreaking, because I do think Hans killed Nina, but I believe he did it in defense of his children -- or rather, in defense of the child he had once been.

Hans Reiser was a boy genius who dropped out of school after eighth grade because, as he said in an interview before the disappearance, I . . . couldn't handle junior high school and the insistence on sitting in neat rows. He was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley when he was just 15.

Like a lot of geeks, Reiser had a miserable time being teased and bullied in school. Reiser said, "All of my life people have been doing things like... in grade school, kids would pick on me, they would chase me. And I had a talk with my parents, it takes two to tango and you should use words like this, you should run away." As an adult, he became a Judo black belt.

Is it any wonder that he insisted that his boy watch bloody movies and play violent videogames? He wanted to prepare his son for life -- to protect him from bullies.

Hans Reiser's emails are full of concern for the children, but not in an day-to-day fashion of providing shoes or meals; he was worrying about their future. He scorned the local Montessori school, saying Ordinary people cannot educate genius children. It does not work. And he was obsessed with getting them into the highest status, wealthiest social circles.

When his attorney brought up the children, who are now in the custody of their grandmother in Russia,
Reiser broke down and began weeping, saying his children were "really important to me" and deploring that Nina had accused him of causing his son to have traumatic stress disorder because of violent computer games.

Nina seems to have been a warm, loving mother; a charming and beautiful woman; a person of intelligence and heart. Despite the smear campaign, she comes across as a decent human being. But to the eye of someone like Hans, her desire to protect her children from early exposure to violence must have seemed like the ultimate cruelty. In his mind, she was sentencing them to the kind of misery he had gone through. Only his toughening-up technique could help them.

I think he killed her in a sudden rage, strapped her to the car seat, and dumped it somewhere in the mountains or even in a reservoir. I think the sour-milk smell he was obsessed with washing out of his car was really the smell of her dead body. Sour milk stinks, yes, but it's also the ultimate symbol of bad mothering, and that in Hans's eyes was Nina's crime. Probably there was a smell only he could detect -- the stench of his own guilt.

ETA Convicted of first-degree murder. "I've always been a good father to my children," Reiser said as he was being led out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eviction Wars

In Pacific Heights a charming young couple buys a house in San Francisco and rents part of it to the tenant from hell. The opposite story seems to be happening South of Market, where a charming young couple bought an occupied building and tried to evict all the tenants. One, a disabled man, got a year's extension -- rental laws in SF generally favor the tenant. And according to the San Francisco prosecutor's office, the landlords did everything they could to get rid of the guy.

Now, over the years I've had some bad landlords -- ones who refused to do essential repairs, sexually harassed me, stole my possessions, and repeatedly walked in on me with no notice -- not even a knock. One sold the house from under me and gave me ten days' notice to move. On the day I moved in to a different place, I called to report that the ceiling was pouring water, which was three inches deep on the floor. She replied, "What do you expect me to do about it?"

None of my stories come close to the prosecution case against this couple. In addition to using the usual tactics (noise, utilities shutoffs, nasty notes), they are accused of falsely reporting to police that a homeless man was living in the building; the cops came in with guns drawn, but the landlady admitted she knew the tenant. They allegedly had a contractor cut a large hole in his floor and then remove walls from underneath his apartment, making it uninhabitable. The newspaper reported that some of these allegations are upheld by independent witnesses.

The landlords got a restraining order after they received threatening emails in the tenant's name. The prosecution alleges that the landlords forged the emails and even sent nasty emails to his lawyers in his name.

There are several ways to view this. Possibly the landlords are greedy, entitled, and ruthless. Possibly the tenant is amazingly clever at framing them to look like monsters. But I can see ways it could happen without actual certifiable insanity or even more than everyday evil.

I've bought and sold three houses, and I have rented, and I have shared space with housemates and family -- and they're all potentially volatile situations. We're talking huge freaking amounts of money, personal territory, and all the emotional and psychological complexes people have around their home. It's guaranteed to be a real mess.


The Landlords buy the place (apparently stretching their finances to do so) intending to move in themselves, maybe selling some share as tenants-in-common. They'll fix it up, sell the Palo Alto place, and live happily ever after.

Given Ms. Landlord's real estate expertise, they think they can easily get Mr. Tenant and all the other tenants out.

Then Mr. Tenant digs in his heels and gets an extension. Maybe there has been some argument. Everybody feels angry, and there gets to be some personal feeling in this.

The Landlords have ongoing money pressures -- they're paying two mortgages, they're stuck with this guy, and they're feeling aggrieved. They get angry and resort to childish tactics. Maybe they have entitlement issues. Maybe they're really scared and angry about the money. This guy has no right to be in their space!

The nastier they get, the more Mr. Tenant digs in his heels. He's got migraines anyway and is cranky from the pain. All their assaults are not going to make him feel any better or any more able to find a place quickly. Or any more interested in helping them find any easy solution.

Ms. Landlord may feel a lot of pressure because this was her idea -- she thought they could do the deal, and now they're stuck paying a lot of money on a totally unusable property. It's theirs, and they're caught. Mr. Landlord is pissed, too. Maybe he blames her, or she feels like he does, and she passes on the anger and blame to Mr. Tenant.

So they try harder and harder to get him out -- Mr. Landlord with high-tech, Ms. Landlord with direct solutions like, you know, arson or calling the cops.

And they all end up in court. At least nobody's dead -- New York City had at least one murder over a disputed eviction.

I'll be watching for the results of this trial.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Here Begins the New Life

The Night Prayer, from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done.
Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
New joys, new possibilities.

in Your name we pray.

More New Zealand prayers set to music.

I have left the job. Starting Monday, I will be a full-time writer for at least three precious months. For the moment, I am simply very tired.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ju$t a $imple Pre$ident

From a PBS interview:

GHARIB: Well, you’ve pressed OPEC to increase oil production –

BUSH: I did.

GHARIB: And they didn’t do it. Let’s say that OPEC did pump more oil. How much do you think that that would bring down oil prices, by $20, $30?

BUSH: You know, I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask the experts that. I’m just a simple president. But I really don’t know what it would do. I do know that the main problem is supply and demand and excess supply obviously would help.

Watch the video. And weep for your country.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Match It for Pratchett

From the noble and determined Pat Cadigan:

Today, it was announced that Terry Pratchett has donated half a million pounds to Alzheimer's research. Hearing that, it occurred to me that if half a million of us all donated a pound to Alzheimer's research, we could match his donation and make it an even million.

So whaddaya say, guys? It's a pound. That's about 2 bucks US dollars, give or take a couple of (US) pennies. You can spare that much. Go here and make your donation. Tell them it's in honour of Terry Pratchett.

Let's do it!

f you don't live in the UK, you need to click the "don't know postal code" link.

You can also give in the US to the Alzheimer's Association.

The Canadian Alzheimers Association.

Terry's speech:

There's nearly as many of us as there are cancer sufferers, and it looks as if the number of people with the disease will double within a generation. And in most cases you will find alongside the sufferer you will find a spouse, suffering as much.

It's a shock and a shame, then, to find out that funding for research is three per cent of that which goes to find cancer cures. Perhaps that is why, for example, that I know three people who have successfully survived brain tumours but no-one who has beaten Alzheimer's...

I'd like a chance to die like my father did—of Cancer, at 86. (Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time). Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things. He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was. Right now, I envy him. And there are thousands like me, except that they don’t get heard.

So let’s shout something loud enough to hear.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Mathematics of Fraud

President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

Not that any of this is a surprise; it's the strict tabulation of the minimum number that catches the imagination here.

What can you do with 935 false statements? With that number of deceptions, a family of two adults and three kids could each tell a different lie every day to skip an entire year of work or school, with enough falsehoods left over to excuse the family from church, synagogue, or circle for all but three weeks a year.[1]

But nobody could get away with that. The adults would lose their jobs, and the kids would be chased by truant officers. The Deity or Deities involved have their own ways of responding. Let's see what those 935 lies have actually bought.

Category Total Number Number per Lie Notes
US soldiers killed 3,931 4 Four soldiers--enough to start a band, though most of these kids are a year or two older than the Beatles were. It's actually 4.2 something, but all numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number.
US soldiers wounded[2] 28,938 31 What does it mean to be wounded? Imagine it: 31 wounded soldiers, an entire classroom of healthy young men and women who will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the physical and emotional scars of this war.
Iraqi civilians killed 80,621 86 A smallish symphony orchestra might have 86 players. My annual family reunion usually draws that many -- five generations of preachers, nurses, housewives, writers, farmers, social workers, and truck-drivers. The country church I grew up in might be that crowded at Easter. Data is drawn from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures to produce a credible record of known deaths and incidents. I selected the lower number for my computation. Other estimates are far higher: A study published by the Lancet says the risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq is now 58 times higher than before the US-led invasion.[3]
Journalists killed 125 0.1336 The figure of 125 killed does not include the 49 journalism support workers killed or any of the abducted journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists . . . considers a journalist to be killed on duty if the person died as a result of a hostile action—such as reprisal for his or her work, or crossfire while carrying out a dangerous assignment. CPJ does not include journalists killed in accidents, such as car or plane crashes, unless the crash was caused by aggressive human action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire). Nor does CPJ include journalists who died of health ailments. Note that it takes approximately eight lies to kill a journalist.
Direct cost to US taxpayers $488 billion $521,925,133.69These numbers are incomplete--just to the end of 2007; they do not begin to cover the ongoing medical and psychiatric needs of veterans, for example, or the cost of rebuilding Iraq, or the interest our grandchildren will be paying on this monstrous debt. They are also hard to grasp. For each lie, we could have built a new medical school, and still have had enough left over to put 1,918 kids through a year of Head Start. Or we could skip the med school and the education, and just buy 2,372 lucky families a new house at the national median home price of $220,000. For every lie.
Cost so far to taxpayers of Oakland, CA $574.7 million $614,652.41 Each lie would pay for 27,938 copies of Ruby K. Payne's excellent A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Or they could have put almost nine new cops on the streets for each lie.
Oakland children who could have been provided with health care 214,364 229 That's right--every lie could have given health care to 229 kids. Instead of killing 4 American soldiers, wounding 31, and killing 86 Iraqi civilians. How would you rather spend your tax dollars?


[1] Based on these assumptions: both adults working a 5-day work week, minus the US-average 13 days of vacation; a school year of 180 days; one religious service per week and a year of 52 weeks; the excuses for missing religious services apply to the whole family.

[2]What does wounded mean?

"I think maybe I just need a couple of days without getting blown up." Three articles plus interactive multimedia. But the pictures, distressing as they are, show just a little of what happens. A few smears of blood, an incision, an expression of dazed pain. They don't show shattered bones or gaping wounds. They don't need to.

Struggling Back From War's Once-Deadly Wounds
The survival rate among Americans hurt in Iraq is higher than in any previous war - seven to eight survivors for every death, compared with just two per death in World War II.

But that triumph is also an enduring hardship of the war. Survivors are coming home with grave injuries, often from roadside bombs, that will transform their lives: combinations of damaged brains and spinal cords, vision and hearing loss, disfigured faces, burns, amputations, mangled limbs, and psychological ills like depression and post-traumatic stress.

Wounded soldiers often economic casualties
Economic forecasts vary widely for the federal costs of caring for injured veterans returning from the Middle East, but they range as high as $700 billion for the VA. That would rival the cost of fighting the Iraq war. In recent years, the VA has repeatedly run out of money to treat sick veterans and had to ask for billions more before the next budget.

"I wouldn't be surprised if these costs per person are higher than any war previously," says Scott Wallsten, of the conservative think tank Progress and Freedom Foundation.

[3] I could not find a reliable estimate of the Iraqi wounded. The number must be immense.

What are they stealing from you with every lie?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Honest, It's Not What It Looks Like

It isn't really a . . . .

Coochie, it's a couch. Best joke so far: "My boyfriend loves it, but he couldn't find the pillow!" (Heard from someone at work, who got it from a friend.)

Taxi, it's a baby bootie. From .

Cannoli. Or a tin of anchovies. Or whatever. It's an amazingly cool crocheted toy.

Piece of sushi, Maguro or ikura. It's candy.

Landscape, it's a lot of food amazingly arrayed. Go through the photos and check out the bread mountains, cumin-paved roads, and sunset ocean of rippling salmon with a beautiful pea-green boat.

Face, it's a house, a cheese grater, a mushroom, a sneaker sole.

Boring old web page, it's an extravaganza of optical illusions. Also, check out the nifty bridges.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Macworld Keynote Speech condensed by almost two orders of magnitude.

Best moment: watching the Air sliding from an ordinary manila envelope . . . I am in awe.

I remember the first laptop I fell in love with. I was a tech writer when the Gavilan, sometimes touted as the first laptop, was announced. God, how I lusted after that sleek, sexy machine! As the reviews said, It was just too much state-of-the-art stuff in one package.

A 9-pound, 5MHz laptop with 64K of RAM , no hard drive, a 300-baud modem, a 400 x 64 monochrome display screen (plus connections for a monochrome monitor!), and an optional four-pound printer. All for only $4,000.

So, no, the Air at $1799 doesn't look bad at all. On the other hand, I'm never in any rush these days to buy the latest technology. It will be faster, sleeker, and cheaper in 15 minutes.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Storm Front

There are sandbags in our courtyard at work.

Although this may be helping keep the conference room dry, the water's ankle-deep in most places, and going to the bathroom means wading through the lake.

It doesn't rain often out here, but it makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in frequency. Some parts of the Bay Area have had eight inches of rain since the first storm hit yesterday -- and when the current storm blows itself out sometime tomorrow, a third will move in with more wind and rain. High winds knocked over a tractor-trailer on one bridge, after which the authorities wisely closed it until further notice. Streets are flooding, power is out, and the mountains are experiencing blizzard conditions -- winds over 100mph and blinding snow.

Snipped from the official report:
Winds in the coastal mountains either side of the Oregon-California border gusted over 150 mph during the morning. Winds gusted to just over 100 mph on the hill tops around Oakland and San Francisco, causing tree and power line damage. . . . Heavy rain totals in the coastal mountains north of San Francisco have reached 8 inches. Heavy rain is gradually shifting southward from northern California into central California and finally into Southern California. Rain totals will range from 2 to 5 inches in the valleys and along the coast to as much as 1 foot in the coastal mountains. Flash flooding is likely along the entire California coast and will not be confined to burn areas. . . . In the mountains of California, hourly snowfall rates could reach 6 to 8 inches. Snow accumulations between 2 feet (valley floors) and locally 12 feet (ridge tops) will bury the Sierra by the end of the weekend. White-out, blizzard conditions will make any travel through the Siskiyou and Sierra Mountains deadly. Damagingly strong wind gusts will continue over California especially in the vicinity of a strong cold front, ranging from between 50 and 70 mph at the lowest elevations to as high as between 150 and 200 mph at the ridge tops of the Sierra. Strong and damaging winds will also impact western Washington and most of Oregon, where winds could gust over 60 mph. Swells along the Washington, Oregon and northern California coasts will peak between 30 and 35 feet overnight and high surf warnings have been issued.

Note to non-Californians: this office building, like many out here, is designed as a series of suites, each opening onto an open central courtyard. The second floor has a walkway all the way around.

This floor plan is admirably adapted to the climate here, and it allows both privacy and shared public space. A company can rent one or many suites, so the space is flexible. Originally used for domestic architecture, this style is a descendant of the grand haciendas, which housed not just nuclear families but multiple generations of family and servants.

The adobe haciendas were and are beautiful buildings, cool, comfortable, elegant. This building, like many, borrowed the floor plan but skipped the Spanish Colonial architectural motifs: no red roof tiles, for example, or Moorish arches. And unfortunately, no drains in the paved courtyard, although we do have a redundant fountain.

Northeasterners visiting here often feel uneasy; these buildings strike them as too informal to be businesslike. Going outside to visit a colleague in a different suite (or the lunchroom, bathroom, conference room) seems undesirable and distracting. Part of the problem is probably climate-related. The open-courtyard design makes no sense whatsoever in any climate less benign than California's. My first thought on seeing those external corridors and staircases open to the sky is still "What happens when it snows?"

But I suspect that the issue is less practical than that. The hacienda- style floor plan is familiar to Easterners as the basic design of a Motel 6.