Monday, January 31, 2005
I couldn't get enough this weekend. Saturday night, a couple hours after voting started in Iraq itself, I watched the Fox News coverage, and there were videos of a dozen or so people walking to the polls. Geraldo was thrilled, but it didn't seem like the turnout was very heavy to me.
Then Sunday morning, as the polls were closing, I watched, and the videos showed hordes of people heading off to vote and standing in line to be frisked and allowed into the polling place. By then, Geraldo was beside himself.
It's hard to understand how people can watch the Iraqi voters and not be moved. The joy on their faces as they held up purple ink-stained fingers for the cameras, or as the men danced in the streets, was unforgettable. One woman I heard on the radio said, "Our country has been born again."
A couple brothers in Iraq have been blogging for over a year at Iraq the Model, and their posts for yesterday ("The people have won") and today ("The day after") are not to be missed. One line has been quoted on Fox News, I believe by Fred Barnes, and by Hugh Hewitt on his show: "I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants." And that's exactly what Iraq's voters did Sunday.
I am so proud of the steadfastness of President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and all the other leaders who have stood with the coalition in Iraq. I'm proud of the troops, both the coalition forces and the newly trained Iraqi military and police. And I'm proud of the people of Iraq who walked in defiance of terror to cast their votes.
A friend emailed me a quote he heard from a caller on Dennis Prager's show. The man had been opposed to the war in Iraq until Sunday. He said, "This is the best tasting crow I've ever had to eat." It seems even some people on the left finally get it.
But not everyone. There are still the naysaying mouthpieces of the Democratic Party, of course. But I asked someone at work, who is originally from Iran, what his take was on the Iraq elections. He was skeptical. He said it's like taking a kid and sending him off to college. If the kid isn't ready for college, there's no way he can succeed there. It's the same way with Iraq, my co-worker said. They have lived under a strongman's thumb for so long, they don't know how to rule themselves, so he doesn't expect them to do well with democracy. He said Iran is doing a better job of heading toward democracy, because they're not trying to get there all at once. They've done the strict theocracy already and have loosened up some, and the democracy movement is working its way into society. He thinks they'll be ready before Iraq is.
We'll see. For myself, I'm not ready to give up hope. I'm not ready to sink into skeptical pessimism. After all, how ready was our country when we first started? And yet we made a pretty good go of it.
Congratulations, Iraq! May you show yourselves worthy of walking the path to liberty that you have begun.
Friday, January 28, 2005
Hugh's favorite voter was the 19-year-old whose mother is campaigning in southern Iraq. She's on the ballot, in part because there is supposed to be one woman on the ballot for every two men. But my favorite was the man who drove down from Tracy, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area--a drive that takes the better part of a day.
When Hugh asked why he came so far, the man said that the people in Iraq are risking their lives to vote. It's the least he can do to drive a long way to do the same.
Voter after voter, both on Hugh's show and on Fox News from the Michigan voting site, expressed similar sentiments. They vote in order to help bring real freedom to Iraq. They vote for the sake of family members still there. They vote in memory of family members no longer with us. They vote because this time, voting in Iraq means something.
I was so stirred by the hope and the optimism that fills these voters.
Hindrocket at Powerline has a heartwrenching picture, as well as a prediction about the violence. Let's pray this election stirs the Iraqi people to work even harder to eradicate the terrorists who would destroy their nation.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
I sit here trying to define the feeling that weighs heavy on my heart, but I can't find the right words. In 1997, I went with a group on a missions trip to Poland, and we visited Auschwitz--and Treblinka on another day. Auschwitz was the German name for the town of Oswiecim, where the barracks for the Polish Army was converted into a concentration camp in 1940. Later, when the ovens at Auschwitz were unable to keep up with the demand, the Germans built another camp at Birkenau, practically next door. Birkenau, sometimes called Auschwitz II, was designed for efficiency in the killing and burning of bodies.
Our group entered Auschwitz on a morning that was pouring rain, and it seemed right that it was. The hardest part of the visit was all of it. The Nazis who had run the camp saved everything of value from their victims. It was all sorted: shoes, luggage, kitchen items, crutches and prosthetics, and hair. Before the Russians liberated the camp, all these sorted items were shipped back to Germany, where the German citizens were told that the other European countries had donated these items to the cause. The human hair was used in making stiff fabric, which was then given to the Germans.
The Nazis had tried to destroy the evidence of what they were doing at Auschwitz (as they had successfully destroyed Treblinka), but the Russians came too quickly. So the museum still has display cases of the sorted items that were awaiting shipping when the soldiers arrived. One of the members of our group wore a leg brace and used a cane from having had polio when she was young. The display case of the prosthetics and medical devices were a vivid reminder that had she been living in Poland at the time, she would likely have "donated" her leg brace to the Nazis. And in the display case of hair, a thick dark braid lay atop the other hair. It took my breath away, because I wore my hair in a braid on that trip.
In another part of the musum is a piece of art that captures the essence of what the victims experienced there. It speaks for itself.
The biggest lesson I took from this visit to Auschwitz is one I don't hear very often when people speak of the Holocaust: Deep in the heart of each one of us lies the capacity to commit this kind of atrocity. There was nothing special about the Germans that made only them capable of Auschwitz. Indeed, proof of the universality of evil has shown itself in Cambodia, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and countless other places and times. We are, none of us, immune. It is the way we are shaped by our upbringing, by society's pressures, and ultimately by the grace of God, that we are able to rise above evil and do good with our lives.
May we always remember what was done at Auschwitz, and may that remembrance spur us to prevent its happening again.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The article reminds me of growing up in San Diego, where the zoo regularly had two-headed king snakes on exhibit. Here's a link to an item on two different 2-headed snakes. The thing that fascinates me about the lamb and the snakes is how the one-bodied animal is able to function with either two brains (the snakes) or with what looks like a shared/blended brain (the lamb).
One of my favorite classes, when I was getting my bachelors degree in Psychology, was The Brain and Behavior. The lamb article says that "both heads bleat together when the lamb sees people approaching." Do they bleat exactly together? If so, then their brain probably has one vocal center that controls both heads. The picture shows the two heads feeding. Is this also a shared process in the brain, or are their mouths controlled separately? We can sometimes learn more about the functioning of normal brains by studying the abnormal ones.
I remember reading a different article about the corn snake at the SD Zoo (long, long ago), and it said they had to feed the two heads separately, holding one head down with a branched stick, because if both heads fed together, they could die when the food on both sides made its way to the junction of their digestive tracts. It seems as though the lamb could have a similar problem, but maybe in the snake's case it's a matter of the food being bigger than the snake's head.
This article reminds me how incredibly rare conditions like this are. We count on nature being consistent within certain limits, and usually it is. Lambs have four legs, two ears, a swishy little tail, one head, and they grow wool. Which is why this lamb is news. Sometimes nature just likes to throw us a curve.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
“On balance it is probably healthier if religious conservatives are inside the political system than if they operate as insurgents and provocateurs on the outside. Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics. The same is true of the left. The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam turned into street warfare partly because activists were locked out of their own party establishments and had to fight, literally, to be heard. When Michael Moore receives a hero’s welcome at the Democratic National Convention, we moderates grumble; but if the parties engage fierce activists while marginalizing tame centrists, that is probably better for the social peace than the other way around.”
Hugh "[invites] comments on this passage, what it says about the author, The Atlantic, and the left's understanding of the Christian culture in America in 2005."
In fairness, Hugh invited Jonathan Rauch on his show and gave Rauch a chance to explain or rethink his conclusion in light of Hugh's questions. I thought Rauch was a reasonable man, open to discussion and willing to revise his opinion. He admitted that he had written this passage quickly, and after Hugh's careful description of how Rauch's words might be received by religious conservatives, Rauch said that if he could do it over again, he would have written it more carefully.
I must confess I was favorably impressed by Mr. Rauch. I've heard so many left-leaning guests on the various talk shows I listen to, and the majority of them seem to dig in their heels and refuse to consider other viewpoints. Kudos to Jonathan Rauch.
But, even with his willingness to have changed this passage, it's still so revealing. There exists shortcut terminology about conservatives that is meaningful to the left. "Better they should write anti-abortion planks into the Republican platform than bomb abortion clinics." Of course, when the left thinks of the far right they think of abortion clinic bombers. This is their image of the very religious. Violent. Terrorists, with a small "t."
What, though, is their shortcut term for the extreme left? "The clashes over civil rights and Vietnam..." Idealists. Activists.
The issue is the left's uneven contrasts. They cite the clinic bombers as typical of the extreme right, even though these bombers have been soundly condemned by leaders and spokespeople for the entire spectrum of secular and religious conservatives. The proper contrast on the extreme left would be the criminal behavior of the radical environmentalists. But that's not what gets mentioned, and I don't remember this behavior being condemned by the left.
What all this says about the left is that they see themselves as the only true idealists, the only believers in what's really important. They see religious conservatives as deluded--maybe not on the fringe of lunacy, but headed in that direction. The left sees the criminal element on the left as outside the left's mainstream, but they see the criminal right as being the natural extension of right's mainstream. And they don't see a problem with that.
Unfortunately, the right needs to be careful they don't do the same thing.
Teflon at MoltenThought does a thoroughly tart dissection of Rauch's main point--that embracing the extremes reduces radical behavior.
After work, when she came home, she pulled out her wallet to give me my money back, but something was wrong. Her lunch had come to $5.09, so she had given the girl $21 and got a bunch of coins and some bills back. But she had four, not three, five-dollar bills in her wallet.
Pride and Joy talked through the events, just to make sure that what she was seeing was really true. Then she asked me if I wanted to go with her to give the sub shop their money. Of course I did!
She spent longer than we expected in the shop. One of the other workers from the theater was there on his break, and he was so impressed that she was returning the change, he bought her a cookie. He said, "I would've kept the money."
The two shop workers, especially the one who had given her the excess change, were impressed too. They both said they would have kept the money if it had happened to them somewhere else. One of them said she'll buy PJ a sandwich the next time she comes in for lunch, and the girl took down PJ's name to give to the owner of the shop.
So my Pride and Joy, for turning in $5 that wasn't hers, got a cookie and the promise of a $5 sandwich, and most important, she got the satisfaction (and clear conscience) of doing the right thing. Plus, she's got a mom who's so incredibly proud of her, I can't begin to describe it.
Monday, January 24, 2005
I read a review of "Coach Carter" about a week and a half ago--long enough that I don't remember where I read it or who wrote it. The reviewer didn't like it all that well. And as I read the review, I realized that he was telling his readers more about himself than he was about the quality of the movie. His tone was that of the Professionally Jaded Reviewer. He blasted the movie for being too predictably uplifting, like "Stand And Deliver" and its ilk, and complained that there wasn't more emphasis on father-son conflict. His review made me wonder if he still has even the tiniest piece of himself that can actually enjoy a movie. I suspect the only movies he approves of are the "daring" or "courageous" movies that leave a bitter aftertaste of disturbing images in the hearts of the viewers.
That said, and at the risk of revealing more about myself than the movie, here's the review.
"Coach Carter:" Loved it. Not being someone from the inner-city environment (I grew up in lower-middle-class suburbs, where half of the neighbors were either active or retired Navy--we were active), the movie struck me as true-to-life. Some of the incidents ran counter to the typical Hollywood spin. While Hollywood would choose certain parents to be Carter supporters and others to be his opponents, in the movie, the same parents bounced back and forth between support and opposition. And some events failed to live up to fairy-tale outcomes, but instead showed the pain and irony that real life offers.
Samuel L. Jackson was ideal as Coach Carter. He was hard because he had to be in order to help these boys who became part of his heart. He never became emotional when he delivered or stuck to his rules, but the lingering of the camera in closeup told of the emotion Carter wouldn't allow to show.
Rob Brown, last seen by me in "Finding Forrester," delivered a fine performance as Kenyon Stone. His is the face of a young man without an edge, someone who does his best to do right within his world. By contrast, Rick Gonzalez portrayed Timo Cruz with the edge we might expect for someone who has had too much hard living. He was always believable, in his anger, in his pain, in his cocky self-assurance, and in his need for the team.
"Coach Carter" delivers. The characters feel real, the tone of the school administrators finds the right mix of disillusionment and desire for better. The basketball scenes don't dominate the story, but they lead to a gripping finale. It's a movie that satisfies, one I recommend. I may even buy it when it comes out on DVD.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
I saw Dick Cheney get sworn in, and I was surprised that it was Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who swore him in. Somehow, I'd assumed that Chief Justice Rehnquist would do the honors for the Vice President as well as the President. How fitting, though, that it was the Speaker of the House swearing in the man who presides over the Senate. With Hastert and Rehnquist there, the inauguration brings all three branches of the government together for the ceremony that symbolizes the peaceful continuation (or transition) of power in our nation.
Shortly after the beginning of President Bush's inaugural address, I got a call about work and could hardly ask them to call back later. So I missed most of what he said. At lunchtime, as I drove through Taco Bell, I heard Dennis Prager, in response to the speech, asking his listeners if they believed America has the mission to spread freedom to the world. For my part, I believe we do--as do all free nations. I don't see it as a military necessity to depose all dictators immediately, but all who value freedom should value it for all and should work to encourage it in other nations. Jan Egeland of the UN charged America with being "stingy" over tsunami relief. But I contend that free nations are most stingy when they are content to rest in their own freedom without sharing that precious gift of liberty with other nations.
After I got home, I read the text of the Presiden't speech. And something stirred inside of me as I read it. I recognized the parts that Hugh Hewitt played on his radio show this afternoon, the same parts he highlighted on his website. While I agree with Hugh that the President's two questions are key to understanding the speech, the words that resonated with me were nearly at the end. "When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, 'It rang as if it meant something.' In our time it means something still."
Liberty means something still. If it ever ceases to mean something to the soul of America--if peace (the kind that fears to make waves) or world popularity or the nanny state means more to us than liberty--then America will cease to be great. We will become just one more stingy nation among many.
But President Bush has made it clear, in his inaugural address, that he does not intend for our nation to abandon the principles of liberty. "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul."
May we have the strength to see this vision through.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I'm going to bed now.
I used to work as a computer programmer for Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), from late 1985 to April of 1988, when USAir bought us out. About every quarter they published a magazine for the employees, with stories about where PSA was going and usually a story about some part of the company history.
In one issue, the history article was about the time PSA decided to improve the flights on their main route, LA to San Francisco, by using jumbo jets. More seats = more passengers = more profit. So they bought some Lockheed L-1011's and put them into service. Unfortunately, it took 90 minutes to get all the passengers on the plane--for a 45 minute flight--and then they had to get everyone off the plane at the destination. Within a matter of only a few weeks, PSA admitted their mistake, sold off the L-1011's and never used jumbo jets again.
This is what that Airbus A380 reminds me of. How big can their market be? They're going to have to ignore all the airlines with shorter routes, which would limit the A380's potential buyers.
Today, Hugh Hewitt linked to a new blog by Boeing VP of Marketing, Randy Baseler, who discussed the unveiling of the A380 in his January 18,2005 post. First, he congratulated Airbus for their achievement. Then he said, "Along with the A380 being an engineering marvel it also represents a very large misjudgment about how most passengers want to travel and how most airlines operate." He is a master of diplomacy, which is one reason he is a VP and I'm not. Mr. Baseler cites recent trends in jumbo jet use:
Consider that Airbus says London's Heathrow will use the most A380s during
the next two decades. Yet, the 747's share of departures at Heathrow hasn't
changed during the past twenty years. Airbus lists Tokyo's two airports and Hong
Kong's as major A380 hubs. But at those three airports, the 747 as a percentage
of departures is about half of what it was in the 1990s. If large airplanes
solve congestion, the 747 departures would have been going up.
From my own experience, the bottleneck of the air travel process is at the gate. It's going to take more ingenuity to get the A380 loaded than PSA was able to muster, or these planes are going to have to be fabulous to make them worth the wait.
It's possible these new jets will catch on, but I think I share Randy Baseler's doubtful assessment of their future. What a stupid idea.
I decided last night that I wasn't going to post about her, because my mama raised me to be nice. But then Laura Ingraham played many of the same clips from the hearing this morning while I was driving to work. So I've got Barbara Boxer's voice running through my head, and I'm repeatedly appalled by her.
I don't have time to go point-by-point through the transcript (it's my lunch hour), but I have got to wonder why anybody ever voted for this woman. Thrice! She's been in office for 12 years, and if anybody ever listened to her say anything, they wouldn't vote for her to save their life. I still haven't decided if she's as unintelligent as she sounds (between her and a tree stump, the stump has a higher IQ), or if she just plays dumb for some unfathomable-to-me political purpose.
The kicker in her opening statement at Dr. Rice's confirmation hearing was right in the beginning, when Sen. Boxer condescended to give advice: "And if you're going to become the voice of diplomacy -- this is just a helpful point -- when Senator Voinovich mentioned the issue of tsunami relief, you said -- your first words were, 'The tsunami was a wonderful opportunity for us.' Now, the tsunami was one of the worst tragedies of our lifetime -- one of the worst -- and it's going to have a 10-year impact on rebuilding that area. I was very disappointed in your statement."
How could anybody believe that "'The tsunami was a wonderful opportunity for us" was the sum total of Dr. Rice's viewpoint is astounding, and yet Sen. Boxer would have us believe that. For Sen. Boxer to pick and choose, cut and distort, and then expect respect from the other sentors and her constituents--and maybe even expect thanks from Dr. Rice for Sen. Boxer's helpful advice--is beyond the pale.
As a Californian (who not only voted for her opponent, but donated money to his failed campaign to unseat her), I apologize to the country for our state's having inflicted this woman on the nation for six more years.
Those two statements are supposed to go together like cookies and milk. But they don't right now.
We're having a Santa Ana, so the last couple days have been getting to 80 degrees. The winds have been blowing pretty good at work. At home, though, when I take my dog Abby outside, the air is still, the stars are out, and there's a soft rustling of the palm trees high up above the houses.
We don't have air conditioning. Only ceiling fans. After moving the piano, we turned on all the fans and headed off to bed. Abby didn't mind, but I couldn't get to sleep. The sheets were too warm, my jammies too restrictive, the fan too noticeable after the long silence, with its rhythmic "ahbm, ahbm" sound, so I got up to write this--on paper.
I don't want to change to regular sheets at 11:00 at night, but I need the sleep. I'll try again with the flannel. Maybe it'll work this time. It is winter, after all.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
I got the critical things unpacked right away: the kitchen and bathrooms, computer desk, furniture, and my books. The rest of it stayed in boxes shoved in the family room or the spare bedroom, and I've managed to live without most of it just fine. But things have finally hit critical mass.
In my first post, I mentioned that I want to change careers. If I do, then I'd be quitting my job at some point and staying home a lot of the time trying to get travel work. But the chaos that surrounds me at home is an emotional drain that would interfere with my ability to focus on my new career. There's something about disorder and clutter that calls attention to itself, like the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" that yells, "Feed me!"
I can't get started in travel, because I don't have a clear work area. It sounds stupid, but there's meaning beneath it. The work that I want to do requires that I be able to keep order and schedules and good records, but if I don't have the confidence to do that in my own home, how will I have the confidence to do that for a living?
Over the weekend I sketched out a plan for how to rearrange the furniture (assuming the boxes are gone) in the family room, where the computer stuff is. Tonight my daughter and I tackled part 1. We moved boxes and an old stereo cabinet out from under a window and put the piano in their place. Tomorrow we'll move the file cabinet to the piano's old spot. This will get the office-y things on one end of the family room and the casual seating on the other end. Then I start going through the boxes and separating everything into Keep, Trash, or Give Away. I need to get that room to the point where I can look in it and feel "aahhh!"
Then I can get busy pursuing the new career, while I work on the rest of the house (which is less intimidating) as I can.
It's time. It's way past time.
Monday, January 17, 2005
To explain, The Bread is a daily (workday) Christian devotional, not to be confused with The Daily Bread. It was started in the mid 1990s by someone at the Taco Bell headquarters as a devotional he sent to his Christian coworkers who were interested in receiving it. Later, it expanded to having about a dozen (give or take a few) "Bakers" who take turns writing it. Most of them don't work for Taco Bell or its affiliates anymore, but we keep writing. I've been one of the Bakers since, I think, early 1996.
But I've discovered, since I started this blog a couple weeks ago, that I can post something and have fun with it, but it's hard to sit down and write a Bread. Both are about what's going on in my life, except one is easy and one is difficult. Why?
It has to do with the importance. Skye Puppy is, as Lileks describes his Bleat, "dashed-off tripe," or at least it's as important to people's lives as dashed-off tripe. But The Bread is about God's Word and how it relates to my life and how it could relate to the readers' lives. And that makes it anything but tripe, which means that I had better not just dash it off and call it "good enough." I firmly believe that I will be called to account someday in eternity for the Breads I wrote and how I handled God's Word in them.
There are Breads I've written that I've poured my heart into, and people have replied that they're embarrassed for me because of how open I was about the ugly parts of my life. Other people thanked me for the very same Breads, because their lives got just as ugly, and my Bread gave them hope. It's worth every tough moment of baring my soul in the Bread to know that it has meant something to someone else. And that's my prayer with every Bread: that each one I write will touch even one person who needs just those words.
I just got an email this morning from a Bread reader who said she dropped off the distribution list when her email address changed, and she wanted to know if I had written any more Breads in November or December. She wrote (I've edited it a little), "I have saved your devotionals because they minstered to my spirit and I'm hungry for more."
What an incredible, undeserved, gift from God it is to receive something like that. To have my mistakes, my heartaches, my anger and all the rest, minister to someone and make her hungry for more is more than I could ask. It's more than I deserve. God is good.
Still, I write this post without much burden, and tonight I have one more Bread to write. Which one is more important? No contest. But I'll be back here tomorrow sometime, nonetheless.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
He asked me questions about blogs, which I tried to answer. It's a challenge to explain "Rathergate" and "Christmas in Cambodia" well but without excruciating detail. And why do people blog, and how is it different from newsposts? (I had just sort of skipped the whole newspost phase, so I had to skirt around that question.) All of this was a little tough, because I haven't read Hugh's Blog book yet. But I was talkative today, because I've been speech-deprived from working pretty late all week, so I took on the challenge.
Then the bookstore set up the table and stacked up the books--a lot fewer than they had ordered--and I went to start the line. A woman with a one-year old in a stroller came up behind me, and we talked. Her husband is the big Hugh Hewitt fan in their family, and he's away on business. So she's getting the book signed as a surprise for him when he comes home next week. Her daughter was quiet the whole time.
After a while, I recognized Duane, Hugh's producer, when he arrived. I wouldn't have known who he was before last week, when he posted pictures on his website. I caught myself checking the size of Duane's forehead to see if it was anywhere near the size Hugh says it is, but knowing at the same time that it couldn't be (it wasn't). Soon after that, Hugh came in and the signing got started. Hugh said that babies go first, so I motioned the mom to go ahead of me, but she said she'd go after me.
Hugh was friendly, and seemed to recognize my name from the few times I called his show. He signed both my "Blog" book and "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat" and asked about my blog. Then it was the mom's turn.
Nobody was talking to Duane, who was stationed a little behind the table, so I talked to him for a few minutes about his Where In The Blog Is Hugh's Book contest. We both liked the Best of the Blog-hicans entry best, but we were outside the will of the people. He was so understanding about my being in the starting stage of blogging and encouraged me to keep at it. What a great guy.
For a day that had me going to a don't-harrass-people class at work in the morning, falling on my butt in the Franklin Covey store after the class, dumping my lunch (with sauce) on myself after that, and facing an afternoon of frustration at work, it was a wonderful way to end.
Thanks, Duane & Hugh!
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
They had predicted that Tuesday would have a torrent that dwarfed Monday's showers, so I wore my neoprene sandals to work for walking through a flooded parking lot and carried my better shoes & socks in my tote bag. When I left home, the inch-deep pools in the yard next to the driveway were full and it was raining. On the drive to work, though, the rain stopped and I saw a color in the sky I haven’t seen for a while: blue. By the time I got to work (60 miles from home), the sky was clear of all but a few white clouds in the east and my car said the temperature outside was 58. I put my good shoes on in the car and went inside.
At lunchtime, I ventured outside for lunch for the first time in three working days. The rain was still gone, the sky still blue, but the wind was blowing strongly with a cold edge to it—not a bite in it like in places that have winter, just an edge. It’s the kind of wind that blows your hair in front of your face so you can’t find your car, that makes you pull your coat around you for better warmth, that says, "now this is weather."
In California, we don’t usually get weather. We spend half of the year with an absence of anything in the air besides temperature. Sure, we get June Gloom: about a month or so of solidly overcast skies that promise moisture but never deliver. And we get 100-degree heat in August or September that makes people pull their fans out of the back corner of the garage (or the lucky few turn on the air conditioning), but nothing else comes with the heat. So when we get weather that people in places with actual seasons consider part of normal living, we’re surprised. Heavy rain is a challenge. Blustery wind is an adventure. Rainbows are so rare they’re like seeing the crown jewels.
But sometimes, because we don’t get it often enough, we’re unprepared and the weather kills. If you feel led, you can contribute to help the victims of the California mudslides through the International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES), a Christian charitable organization that keeps its overhead low by using volunteers from unaffected churches near the disasters to provide relief.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Then I read this guest column today in Accuracy in Media, about the risk to our country from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear weapon exploded at high altitude. The results are just like the book.
Our country is unprepared to deal with a nuclear explosion at a high altitude. The danger would be more than merely life or limb. A nuclear explosion over Chicago, for example, could plunge a large portion of our country into darkness, with electricity lost for days, even months, perhaps in some places years. All computerized activity in the region would cease. The culprit: High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse.
We are "unprepared." And the effects would be devastating to us:
Here is some of the damage that stands to occur immediately after an attack unless sensible "hardening" precautions are taken to protect data and systems. They are:
Electronic records in computers, such as your savings and checking accounts, would be inaccessible.
Your telephone line, even for a cellular, would go dead.
The systems that operate petroleum refineries would be stopped, forcing energy production to halt for some time.
Transportation would be disrupted. Car and truck engines, train engines would be
disabled. Traffic signals would become inoperable. Our air traffic control system would cease to exist.
Calling 911 would be a thing of the past.
Our cars wouldn't start. I don't say this as some spoiled Southern Californian who "just couldn't survive" without a car to drive down the street to the mailbox unit. People like me couldn't get to work (if our workplace is still functioning), because it's too far away without cars, trains, or buses. I could see great demand for those old 1957 Chevy Impalas with the giant fins on the back, because they were made before computers took over the engines of our cars. But would they start? Is there something magnetic even in the old engines that would be disabled with the rest of modern technology? Would we have to go back to the crank-start cars? Or, would horse-and-buggy be our only options? And if we could use the old cars, would the gas pumps even work?
I'm not normally an alarmist, and I don't bring this up as a way of shrieking "The sky is falling!" What I want to know is, what can individuals do that might help protect some of what we have? This column only addresses the measures that the government could/should take to protect the country.
I applaud Rep. Bartlett for putting (or trying to put) pressure on Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to get some protections in place, but what can I do to protect the technology in my home? If I buy one of those lead-lined aprons that x-ray technicians wear and draped it over my computer when I'm not using it, would it protect my data from EMP until the electricity came back on?
Who has the answers, and how will we find out?
Friday, January 07, 2005
I love Rain-X®! Rain-X® will save you from having to buy new wiper blades, which is what I need since I never figured out how to replace them and I'm too cheap to pay a repair place to do it for me.
From their website, I can see they have a new-improved version (the Rain-X® Windshield Wax at the bottom), but I still have the old pre-improved bottle at home, and it's fabulous.
The weather forecast said we'd be getting a major storm today, and since my daughter's car has wipers that just smear the rain into a semi-opaque mess, I decided that some Rain-X® was in order.
Of course, I didn't decide this until bedtime. So, shortly after 10pm I went out with the Windex & paper towels, flipped up the wipers on both cars and started cleaning the windshields.
The new neighbors' dog noticed I was there and started barking--the kind of robust bark that makes a dog owner proud not to have one of those little yappy things. Then somebody yelled, "Shut up, stupid dog!" but I couldn't tell if it was the owner or another neighbor. Either way, the owner could be in trouble with the association, because barky dogs aren't allowed outside after 10pm (we live in a strict house-dog neighborhood).
Once the windshields were clean, I applied Rain-X® to both cars, applied some more Rain-X® to both cars, wiped both windshields with a damp rag, then with a dry rag. Done. Flip the wipers
back in place and go in. It's work getting the Rain-X® ready, but boy oh boy when the rain comes!
This morning I headed off for work, and the rain started slowly. The raindrops just beaded up and rolled off the windshield. The faster you drive, the more the window clears. I didn't turn on the wipers until I was halfway to work, and then only once in a while when the rain was more of a mist than a downpour.
No more having to look above or below the wiper-arcs of smudged, missed rain. No more filmy wetness blurring my view of the road. No more kicking myself for not having put on the Rain-X® sooner. Now I get a clear view of the road in the heaviest rain when other drivers are straining to see the front of their cars.
Life is good! Thank God for Rain-X®.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
I've found over the years that dog stories are the perfect measure of a person's sense of humor. In fact, I use one story for some of the people I meet, to help me know whether I've met a kindred spirit.
A woman I used to work with, Kelli, told this story about a man she used to work with, John. Whenever John was oncall at work he had to carry the pager. This was Long Before Now, when pagers only beeped or buzzed. Since John absolutely HATED to be woken up by shrill piercing noises, he would set the pager on vibrate, clip it to his dog's collar and go to bed. If work paged him, the pager would buzz, waking up the dog, who would bark, waking up John, who would unclip the pager from the dog's collar and call work to see what the problem was.
I get one of three reactions when I tell this story: 1) They laugh; 2) They say, "Oh;" 3) They get angry and tell me how cruel that is to the dog.
There's no help for it: Person 3 I just avoid like the plague.
I can get along fine with person number 2, but there's no real connection, and the relationship will never advance beyond acquaintance.
Now, it's possible that sometimes I don't tell the story well, and I might get reaction 2 for that reason, but if the person laughs (especially if they laugh again a little later when they picture it again) then I've found a new friend.
half? You'd think I'd know my way around by now. Uh uh.
Today I finally fell into old-habit mode and sent my print to the mainframe printer on the 9th floor and had to go down there to fetch it. I took the elevator down, grabbed my print, and headed up the stairs. Operating on autopilot: Out of the stairwell. Through the door. Turn left and around the corner. Down a ways and turn into my cubicle. Only it had somebody else's name on it. Somebody I've never even heard of.
It wasn't just a case of turning an aisle too soon or too late. I had no idea where I was (other than on the 10th floor). I looked down the main walkway, and all the cubicle walls were pristine, not like where I sit, where the walls have smoked-plastic mail slots hanging off them.
Of course, the answer was to Keep Going, which I did. I passed Administrative Assistants whose faces I recognized from the Break Room, but who I had never seen in their natural habitat. I passed fishbowl offices adorned with names I knew as the ones that get spoken in hushed tones. The very air in the executive area radiated the message, "You don't belong here...."
I kept going. I didn't belong there.
After turning another corner and going halfway down, I saw a name I knew. Filled with renewed confidence, I found my cubicle and got back to work.
It's hard to say what the problem is, exactly. Put me inside a building, and I'm completely disoriented. I have to look out a window and find landmarks, or I have no idea which way I'm facing. So I have no assurance this won't happen again.
But that's okay. I've gotten used to getting lost. The trick is to keep going in circles until I find my way home.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
This could work out well, because NASA sent me an email with a link to their article about Comet Machholz (never heard of it before). It's going to be nearest to the Pleiades this Friday night (01/07/05), and if the weather manages to stay clear, I just might be able to see it (possibly visible with the naked eye, definitely visible with binoculars). The article has a link to a star map to help with finding both the comet and the Pleiades, plus there's a smiley sun wearing a "News" hat that you can link to for getting NASA's regular emails yourself. They usually include news about sunspots, solar flares (which cause the Northern Lights), planetary activity, and a bunch of other sky adventures.
I hadn't cared much about the sky, until a friend of mine (who has gone back to school to get her degree in astrophysics) introduced me to the stars. With her help, I got a telescope, and I take it with me when I go to the desert. It's amazing the difference between how the Orion Nebula (the center "star" of Orion's sword) looks outside my house and in the desert. At home, it's just a smudgy thing in the eyepiece, but out where the sky gets really dark, it's stunning.
I'll be looking for clear skies this Friday, or even Thursday, but I won't be able to get to where it's really dark. Even so, a smudgy comet is still a comet. Happy viewing.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
This past Christmas (a week and a half ago), I officially became middle-aged because my youngest turned 18.
I'm still trying to adjust to the idea--not because I'm afraid of feeling "Old." Heck, by definition you can't be old if you just turned middle-aged. It's because for so long, I've tried to figure out what I want to be when my kids grow up, and now they are, so now what do I do? "Punt" isn't the most practical advice.
In my career, I'm a dinosaur (mainframe computer programmer). I've done it for 27 years, and it's served me well. I speak COBOL, but almost nobody else does. They don't even teach it in computer school anymore (and if you're in computer school and they're teaching COBOL, flee! There are no COBOL jobs). But I've had enough of it. Been there, done that too much, don't want to do it one minute more than I have to (I still have to, though. My daughter may be 18, but she's not done with high school yet).
For a while, I toyed with the idea of buying a bed & breakfast and letting it support me. I found a website that lists inns and B&Bs for sale, and quite a few looked affordable and lucrative all at the same time. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this is not the life for me. When you own a B&B, you're married to it. But I have got to travel. Plus, I hate to clean and I'm not that crazy about cooking when I have to. I was born without the hospitality gene.
Then I found an online class on how to be a tour director, which is perfect. No cooking, no cleaning. I'd get to talk to people and tell them interesting (and sometimes disgustingly fascinating) things about the places we go, while making sure we get there on time. Now that the holidays are over, I've got to try to find some local work on weekends (can't quit the day job yet) and see if I can get started on the new career.
It's good to think about what I want to be when my kids grow up, because then I don't have to grow up, myself. I think I'm going to like this Middle Age thing just fine.