In which I experience three different kinds of natural disasters in one week

Worth noting first off that unlike the people whose lives have been turned upside down by these events, my experiences were more tangential, while still very real.

Event #1 - hey, was that some kind of shaking going on?

Magnitude 5.9 earthquake hits Virginia, and at some point shortly thereafter I turn to my coworker and ask, "are we having an earthquake?' The sensation was subtle but noticeable, a bit like the dizzy feeling one gets from a head rush, or perhaps the spins one gets when drunk.

Event #2 - that seems like one big campfire, oh wait, that's a wildfire.

Joining the Marabellas (dad, sister and significant others) in Yosemite National Park (more about this in a subsequent post) we learn on our second day there that an RV's propane tank has exploded and started a wildfire just a few miles from where we're staying. Later, the power goes out and we begin to speculate about the reasons and the timing - we also begin urinating outside because the plumbing system is fed by by a pump that is no longer operating. Even later, a park ranger shows up (armed) and takes our names before informing us that there's a good chance we'll need to be evacuated and if they come back we should be prepared to leave immediately. We pack things for our escape, and wonder what the fuck we're going to do then.

Luckily, through the quirks of weather and the work of the Park Service, we did not end up needing to evacuate and even got power back, such that we were able to enjoy the last couple of days in and around the park as if nothing was going on. We did get some impressive evenings of smoke enhanced sunsets, and some impressive views of the fire from above (pictures in a subsequent post).

Event #3 just like Planes Trains and Automobiles, minus the train and with less sleeping.

Attempting to return from Yosemite on a flight from San Francisco to Boston ended up as quite an adventure. The flight was canceled due to IRENE! and all attempts at getting back to Boston proved fruitless (if your flight is canceled due to weather the airline has to get you home, but isn't required to do it at any particular time, so it was really looking like it would be 4 days spent in airports hoping to fly standby). They could get us to Chicago, which seemed like a better bet for getting a flight to Boston, and if worse came to worse was within a plausible driving distance, so off to Chicago it was.

Mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground in SF for an extra hour and a half (I think the black box box was having software problems) and so meant getting to Chicago after 11:00pm. All of the United customer service desks in Chicago were closed by the time we got in so we called the airline to see if our chances of getting home had improved. No. This was Sunday night. The earliest they might be able to fly us home was Thursday. And because it was weather related, they owed us nothing, so we were faced with the prospect of spending hundreds of dollars a day for shelter and food, while also spending every waking hour at the airport trying to fly standby. Talk about a shitty vacation. So we went to a Best Western by the airport to get a night's sleep and then resolved to rent a car and drive home.

Rental cars are expensive if A) you want to drive it one way, and B) there is an insane amount of demand to do A. Still cheaper than staying in Chicago for four days, but it meant we were going to drive it in one day, 1100 miles and approximately 17 hours (and this was to the Boston airport so we could get our own car and drive home).

Drive out of Chicago, across Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and into New York (almost all of which is toll roads, so we're $30 poorer for that) with little problem (2011 Ford Fiesta proves to be both pretty comfortable over long distances and a decent little gas sipper). Soon after driving into New York we see a sign proclaiming 'all traffic must exit at Exit 34a'. Where the fuck is exit 34a? Why do we need to exit? Asking various toll collectors finally found out the why -Irene caused flooding had closed the road, and eventually we learned that exit 34a was just east of Syracuse. Not terrible, that's pretty far across the state, and we assume that the detour will be localized and quickly dealt with. Wrong. The detour involves driving more than an hour out of the way, down I81 almost to Binghamton, and then east on I88 to just north of Albany, and even this detour contains it's own sub detour, around some fallen power lines on local roads. It's now midnight and we've been in the car for 14+ hours with 3+ more to go.

After a recent conversation with someone who had tried one, I drank a 5 Hour Energy so I could make the final leg home through the middle of the night (they really do seem to work, without the jittery stomach rot of too much coffee or soda). Down into the Hudson Valley, over the Berkshires in western MA, and the long slow decent into Boston. There's no easier time to navigate Boston than 3 am and dropping off the rental car, getting our car, and getting home was generally uneventful. We walk in the door at 5:00am, 19 hours after leaving Chicago. It is Tuesday, we were supposed to be home late Sunday night, so roughly 30 hours of our lives has been sacrificed to IRENE!.

And so it was.


Irish are Elves?

Using the expiring streaming queue to guide some of what I watch on Netflix had me watching Michael Collins recently. He was one of the leaders of the Irish rebellion after WWI that lead to a deal between the Irish and English that created the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
I've been pretty ignorant of both the timeline (centuries of conflict) and details of this famous feud, and the movie helped on at least a portion of that front. A particular detail that I wasn't aware of was upon achieving the deal with England (voted for by a majority of Irish) the rebels split and immediately began a civil war that lasted until Michael Collins was assassinated, at which point everyone seemed to decided - oops, yeah that was too far. Then it reverted back to just fighting with England via the IRA - the conflict we know a bit better.

For some reason the story reminded me a bit of the Elves from the Silmarillion, not necessarily for any specifics, but more in the self-inflicted tragedies that follow on tragedies from without. Ultimately the elves were responsible for all the bad shit that befell them, but occasionally they did rally to deal with a common foe, only to betray one another almost immediately after.

Always a good time to smack down the Elrond, "men are weak" comment. "Yeah? Fuck you elf."


Brushes with greatness...

We attended a memorial service this last weekend for a man whom we'd met at Christmas brunches and the occasional Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's over the last 6 years or so. He died last November at the age of 86 but for various reasons the family had put off the service until now.

I'd had a few conversations with him at those events we attended together (I am terrible at engaging people in small talk), but never anything of substance and certainly never anything that would have clued me into the fascinating character that he was. I talked to his wife more. She was a woman of Japanese descent who had been interred as a child during World War II in Idaho, after being relocated from Seattle. Later she attended the Graduate School of Design at Harvard and was one of the first woman to graduate from there, and had done so while simultaneously pregnant with at least one child. Despite her diminutive size, this was clearly a very strong woman.

Our connection to them got slightly more interesting as it turned out one of the couple's daughters had married a gentleman from SW Iowa and their son was looking to attend ISU's architecture department. I'm not sure what influence we had on any of this, but they were certainly always forthright in thanking us about whatever that role had been and to tell us the latest news from their grandson. Also interestingly, the other grandson had attended West Point and was serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, but only interesting in the sense that the military trajectory is not one you'd expect from such a family (though it gets more interesting).

But back to the gentleman who had passed. The impression I'd gotten from him over the few interactions we had was one of a lovely gentle soul, but nothing by way of his history or even much about what he had done as a profession, though I'd gotten the gist that he was some sort of engineer or physicist.

I learned vastly more from the memorial service, including some probably more important details about his interactions with others and his remarkable nature, but the story of his life was fairly mind blowing.

  • He was the son of a renowned classical pianist.
  • After spending one year at the California Institute of Technology he was recruited by the army to be part of the Manhattan Project, for which he first got a year of special training in PA before moving to Los Alamos at roughly the age of 20 to be part of developing the atomic bomb. This had a profound affect on him (as it seems to have had on most involved and as you'd expect) and was not something he apparently talked about much.
  • While later working for the Army near Boston he started two companies to develop speakers. KLH where he was the H to Henry Kloss' K and Advent, both names that my run ins with stereo equipment had planted in my head.
My point here is not to drop names or wow anyone with my fortune of having known this man. It's really a wistful lament that my lack of social skills meant that I missed out on learning what such a man could say about the world, and perhaps a bit of realization about the things hidden in unexpected places.

Carry on.


Who Knows

Not sure if the new look (inspired by wandering into Stephen's blog) will cause me to write more, but maybe...


Sore losers, racists and their alternate reality: a stem-winder.

(This one is for TClog, who apparently has been missing my rants)

I have the good fortune of not knowing many lunatic Republicans, and that’s saying something given how they seem to be coming out of the woodwork these days. Perhaps the ones I know are smart enough not to get me going, but I don’t think that’s true. Mostly I think it’s that New England has driven most of the lunatics out. There are certainly the libertarians holed up in the backwoods with their guns, and plenty of truly conservative people, but the apoplectic crowd that dominates the political news these days is largely absent.

But, even though I don’t have the chance to ‘converse’ with these fucking idiots very often, I read and see what they say. I’m aware of all their talk about ‘taking the country back’ and ‘not recognizing the country they grew up in’ and all their blather about big gubmint, out of control deficits, and the like. I’m here to say that, while their may be a teeny tiny kernel of actual belief buried deep in the dark heart of their statements, 99.99% of it can be attributed to sore-loserism and latent racism. And to avoid the inevitable loss of credibility by playing the race card, I’d say the racism part is the lesser of the two, but it’s not some fringe motivation that can be attributed to only the nuttiest of the nutty.

The easiest things to refute are their concerns about big gubmint and the deficit/debt, for you see, when their chosen leaders were in charge (Saint Ronny and W – they didn’t like HW because he raised taxes to fix the deficit) , both of those things grew at an amazing rate.

I may not need to remind you that W inherited a budget surplus, with the debt on track to be paid off (this as the result of a vibrant *tech-bubble* economy and some efforts by the Clinton administration to get things on a better course – partly taxes, partly pay-go, partly other stuff). They were so concerned about the ‘negative’ impact of the surplus that they thought we should return to a deficit and ultimately to an enormous national debt. They did this through three principle means: huge tax cuts for the wealthy ($1.6T worth – keep in mind the so-called stimulus bill was less than half of that), Medicare Part D (the prescription drugs for seniors bill – which they lied about the cost of to congress, and specifically forbid Medicare from negotiating drug prices) and ‘emergency’ funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (this despite the years and years they dragged on). I think you can make the case that some of this spending was for the right reasons, but nonetheless it exploded both the deficit and the debt. These are very fiscally responsible people….

They created a terrifying enhanced role for the government through large chunks of The Patriot Act (the very name of which cowed legislators into supporting a draconian surveillance state). Medicare Part D required an army of people to manage, and the number of ‘contractors’ toiling in our various wars and spy agencies is truly mind boggling. Those that claim to desire keeping the government out of their lives should have wanted nothing to do with any of this.

So, their concerns about big gubmint and ‘out of control’ deficits are rank hypocrisy and ultimately tied into them being sore losers. It’s not their guy running the government, so now all of a sudden they are deeply concerned about all of this. They’re liars. They don’t give an actual shit about those things, they only want to be running things again.

The racism charge is a bit trickier, because almost inevitably when you talk about racism people start imagining the Ku Klux Klan and lynch mobs. But racism is far more subtle and insidious than that. Recall from Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia (spring 2008) the story of his white grandmother crossing the street to avoid black people. This is racism. It’s an innate fear/unease of people different from you. You may not want them beaten or hung, but you don’t want them living near you, and you most certainly don’t want them ‘in charge’. Racists (perhaps xenophobe is the more accurate term – and no, not the Nintendo game, although clearly I showed some deep expertise on the subject) assume people different than them have different motivations than they do. Somehow the commonality of the human condition, the hopes and aspirations that they themselves feel, are more noble than those experienced by ‘the other’. ‘The other’ is always looking to take from you, is always looking for the easy way out, is always looking for a way to change the life you know and are comfortable with. ‘The other’ eats strange food, talks funny, etc. Of course, ‘the other’ is really just trying to get ahead, trying to make it so their children have a better chance than they did, pretty much aspiring to all the same things that everyone else is. But the racist/xenophobe sees the world in a very primitive zero-sum way. If someone else gets ahead, then they must be getting it from me (or people like me), as if there was only so much ‘ahead’ to go around.

The interesting thing is that most of ‘the other’ that they fear are poor people, but they attribute their stereotypes to ethnicity rather than economic circumstance. They miss the commonality among those at the bottom – that they are poor and have very few opportunities. They also have no where to go but up, and since the xenophobe thinks there is only so much up, they feel threatened.

But the racism moves to a different level when it comes to Obama (though this mostly affects the fringiest), for he is as much like ‘us’ as he is like ‘them’. He and his family resemble everything that white middle-America strives for, but they’re black. Church going (more actual church attendance than W), lovely well-mannered children, a dog, well-spoken, well-dressed, well….pretty much everything America claims to want you to be. Just by being black (and maybe having a funny name) they somehow have nefarious intentions, particularly as it involves changing things that have served white people. It seems fairly clear to me that he’s a champion of reducing inequality and the simple fact is that non-whites are disproportionately worse off than whites may make it appear that there is some sort of favoritism. But the fear is bereft of facts and amplified by the latent racism.

And through it all the country is mired in an economic catastrophe, and nothing amplifies people’s innate fears like the stress that comes with not knowing how things are going to turn out. I’d bet money that there was a spike in racist sentiment during the Great Depression, for none of these fears are new or novel.

So when your asshole neighbor or coworker complains about how Obama is a socialist and that things were better before, tell him/her to suck it (arguing actual facts with assholes gets you nowhere).


Great stuff...

Animal cams!

This would be easier if Mighty Clog were on Facebook.



Yojimbo - 1961 Akira Kurosawa movie that was the inspiration for the Clint Eastwood character in the 'Dollars' movies.

Masterless samurai comes to town on the brink of collapse as two rival gangs fight for control. He uses his skills to help the regular townfolk rid themselves of the gangs and the strife that comes with them. Toshiro Mifune stars, as he does in most of the Kirosawa films you may have heard of - Seven Samuria, Roshomon.

A really good movie with some great cinematography. A great early scene features a dog carrying a human hand in its mouth to indicate the level of decline the town has experienced.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly - 1966 Sergio Leone movie featuring Clint Eastwood as The Good, Eli Wallach as The Ugly, and Lee Van Cleef as The bad. Wallach really gives the stand out performance of this movie.

Not sure how I managed to live to 38 without seeing this in its entirety, but I can admit that it's true. I watched the new 'Expanded Edition' courtesy of Netflix streaming, a 2:58 minute whopper of an epic. (The original version was still pretty freaking long, at 2:41)

Lots of great things, both from an acting point of view and a directing point of view. Very surprised by the scope and epic nature of the movie with huge sets and cast of thousands. I think I'd always assumed this was more like the austere 'Dollar' movies, but it's really more in line with either the bible epics of the day or it's young grandchild, Dances with Wolves.

Clint is good as the pretty boy 'blondie', and the hair, so luxurious....

Both highly recommended.


HP and the HBP

The movies (as with the books) continue to get better (and clearly there is some correlation). Once we left behind the sucktastic world of Chris Columbus, we've been treated to a pretty solid series of movies, each remaining true to the general feel while allowing the influences of the varying directors. So it is with the latest, number 6 of what is now 8 - yes they opted to split #7 into two, with the last coming out in the summer of 2011, ten years after the first. Holy crap.

Other than to say it is worth your while, especially to experience on the big screen, I have only a couple of nits to pick, and then a return to the meta narrative that has framed these conversations from the beginning. Spoilers ahead...

The biggest little nit in #6 regards the manner in which Harry witnesses the death of DD at the hands of Snape. In the book he was an entirely reluctant (having been frozen in place under his invisibility cloak) witness, while in the movie he has been compelled by DD to watch and do nothing. This choice, while somewhat understandable given they chose to forgo all plot points related to silent spell-casting, is completely at odds with the very nature of Harry. While he was able to abide DD's wishes in the cave in order to secure the alleged horcrux, there is no way in hell he would stand by and watch Snape kill DD without being restrained. Harry hates Snape about as much as he hates inaction. Harry's constant willingness to throw himself into the fray, despite the misgivings of all around him, is part of what makes him such as appealing character. Harry is selfless to a fault. Showing him otherwise is an affront to his character.

The second nit regards the lack of pageantry surrounding the death of DD. The song of Fawkes the phoenix, the respect shown by merpeople and centaurs alike, and the general sense of gravitas that should go along with his passing has been left out. Perhaps this becomes the beginning of #7 or finds a home in an expanded DVD edition, but either way, that seems wrong. After 2:33 minutes, another 5 showing the importance of this event should have been included. They could have still returned to the discussion amongst Harry, Hermione and Ron in order to allow the audience to leave buoyed by their resolve, but DD should have had his moment.

Third nit: burning down The Burrow? I understand that the whole wedding plot in #7 could be difficult to make sense of, and could possibly be left out, but good grief, burning down the Weasley home really seems to have been unnecessary.

And now for the meta. No one seems to have read or found interest in the previous posting about how HP would have been better as TV, but I think the idea of a denser, more serialized HP would have been great. So much has to be left out of an 800 page book to fit it within the running time of even a long movie, stuff that matters, and stuff that helps put flesh on the bone of the detailed world that JKR created. Dozens of minor characters and the little details of their lives. all of them helping to round out and make Harry Potter real; most of it flushed down the toilet. It's a bummer. 7 years of 22 episodes (or perhaps combining books 1 and 2 into one season) could have really been magical.

The other meta is the decision to eliminate Harry's inner voice from the movies. So much of the books is in Harry's head, and while Daniel Radcliffe (along with all of them) is really coming into his own as an actor, you simply can't get all the details across with a look. Perhaps it would have been hokey, but it seems like it would have been worth a try, in some form or other.

And none of this to say that I don't like the movies. I do.


Harry Potter the TV show?

Good post here.

More on the latest movie coming soon.


Ends justify the means: what ends exactly?

We all know that the Bush administration stretched or broke the law in the supposed interest of fighting the War on Terra(tm). The latest seems to have Cheney specifically ordering the CIA to not tell congress about some secret program they were operating, possibly with the express intent of assassinating top al Qaeda leaders.

Since they only ever seem to kill/capture the supposed #3 (the most dangerous job on the planet), can we definitively say that Bush et al were the most incompetent boobs in history? If Cheney sees only ends and cares little for the niceties of means, and he consistently failed to achieve those ends, what does that say?

I'd actually bet money that this latest intrigue involves a program far more sinister than assassinating bin Laden...something done by the CIA on American soil, or creepier.