Monday, December 31, 2001

Here's another way to look at 2001: If, one year ago, you had invested $1,000 in Enron stock, today your investment would be worth $7.43. If, instead, you had invested that $1,000 in Budweiser (not Anheiser-Busch stock, but just 12-packs of Budweiser beer), today your investment would be worth $14.68 when you turned in the empties.

Repeated here, for the benefit of those who missed it the first time, is my favorite joke of the year:
Q: How do you get the dot-com CEO off your front porch?

A: Pay him for the pizza!
Here's a look at the actual list and results of Silicon Valley IPOs for 2001.

Live, from Silicon Valley, this is Ken, saying, "Good night. Happy New Year. And Buy Beer!"

Sunday, December 30, 2001

I suppose it's about that time for a year-in-review type post where I get all serious about my accomplishments (or lack thereof) over the past twelve months, and my good good intentions to do something more positive in the coming twelve months.

2001 was an interesting year indeed. On the personal side, I was fully employed for about five months (two at the start, three at the end), sort-of working (part time, as an "independent consultant") for about five months (in the middle), punctuated by about two months of no work at all.

On the public side, well, hell, I'm sure you've heard about what happened on September 11 and the ensuing war by now. That pretty much obscures just about anything else that may have happened, although I seem to remember something about the year starting with the Supreme Court picking a new puppet president, but it's all kind of foggy right now.

I was at the chiropractor a couple of days ago (yeah, I threw my back out again) and he asked if I had any resolutions for the new year. I hadn't really thought about it, but off the top of my head I said, "Try to remain employed." It seemed like that would require enough effort - no point in getting it mixed up with a bunch of other stupid resolutions about losing weight, getting rich, or finding the key to inner peace and happiness.

The next day I saw an article someplace (I don't recall where, sorry) about how detrimental new year's resolutions really are - far worse than the vices they're designed to rid us of. The reason is simple: holidays are stressful, change is stressful - only a friggin' moron would try to combine the two and expect miracles overnight. Then there were some statistics on kept resolutions and broken ones and, frankly, your resolutions don't stand a fighting chance.

The article was a little nicer about it than that, but the message was the same: making resolutions you know you can't keep is guaranteed to lower your self-esteem when you fail, which you will, which will make it even harder for you to [loose weight, get rich, find the key to inner peace and happiness, etc.] when you do get around to it.

So, no other resolutions for me. Just, "Try to remain employed." "Try" being the key word.

Of course, I have one or two other goals in mind - but I'm not going to make big-deal resolutions out of them, or be foolish enough to announce them publicly here before I'm sure I can pull them off. You'll just have to keep reading my blog through 2002 to find out if I'm successful.

Saturday, December 29, 2001

Damn. And they didn't even give me a gold watch! Oh, I guess I should let you know, I'm no longer a "contributing editor" to Suite101.com. This time it was their decision, not mine.

This email I just sent off to the almighty Jason@suite101.com should explain it all:


Hi Jason:

I've been going crazy the last couple of days trying to figure out where you moved the "edit my topic" functions. This morning, on the homepage of my topic, I noticed this fine-print at the top, "this topic has been retired."

I think it would have been polite of you to notify me of my retirement, and maybe even to explain why and give me a chance to correct any problems. Just dumping somebody without telling them is really not a good way to build good community relations.

If you could possibly take a moment to let me know why I'm no longer welcome at Suite101, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thank you,

Ken Goldstein
former editor:
http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/third_party_politics

Friday, December 28, 2001

This morning I've done a bit of housekeeping on my web site, cleaned up a few links and such. The biggest change you'll see is several "new" articles added to the politics section. These are mostly stuff that was originally posted in my Suite101 column, but are now available on my site (quicker loading too!).

Check 'em out here...

Thursday, December 27, 2001

New Weapon in War on Karaoke -- Tanks
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has launched a stern crackdown on Cambodia's nightlife, unveiled a new punishment Wednesday for rogue karaoke bars -- destruction by tanks.

"If we know of any karaoke parlor still open, go to close it immediately and take tanks to knock it down," Hun Sen told a military commander during a speech broadcast on state radio...

read the rest of the story (Yahoo! News)
All I can say is, it's about damn time!

Also in the news: Women Line Up to Exchange Unwanted Lingerie

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Those of you who celebrate Christmas probably will never understand just how odd this day is for the rest of us. It's a day off - that's good - but with nothing to do.

We wander the streets looking for any restaurant or shop that might be open, and find our towns and cities to be deserted - ghost towns. Maybe we find a movie theatre that's opened, and have a private screening of some hit film. Have you ever seen "The Omega Man?" Rent it. That's what life is like for non-Christians on Christmas day.

Usually, we find the only public place that's opened for business is Denny's, or some other national chain. Then we realize that they're only open because they don't care about giving their employees a holiday off. Which only ends up making us feel guilty about going out and expecting life to go on as usual. Sure, it's just another day to us, but it's an important religious and cultural observation to most everybody else.

I don't know what our plan is yet for today, but I'm sure it will take some variation of the above. Just in case, we are prepared with several rental movies to watch on DVD, a cheese ball, a stick of salami, a fresh loaf of sourdough, and plenty of wine. I'll speak with you again when it's all over.

And now, the news: Man Exits Bunker When Beer Thirst Overtakes Xmas Dread

"So this is Christmas, And what have you done?
War is over, If you want it." - John & Yoko

Monday, December 24, 2001

Looking at the fundamentalist Islamic extremism that led to September 11 (and its aftermath), it has been suggested that the world would be a much safer, happier, place if everybody were were agnostic. The same sentiment has been expressed before, in response to examples of fundamentalist extremism from all the worlds religions.

The point of this theory is that the promise of a better world to come (after death), is an inducement to volunteer for martyrdom. Those who are unsure of an afterlife are more inclined, according to the theory, to keep the peace, and try to get the most out of this life without risking loss of life or limb.

It's an interesting theory and, on the surface, I'm almost tempted to agree with it. If religion were truly the only "ism" to arouse such fanaticism and evil, then this would explain everything and offer a simple answer. Unfortunately, to make the theory work, it would have to be expanded to every other "ism" as well: Communism, Fascism, Imperialism, Protectionism, Expansionism, Nationalism, Patriotism, and the list goes on. People have been, and always will be, able to get worked up into war fever over any and all sorts of ideologies and beliefs.

So, for the sake of security, let's say we do expand the theory to all "ism"s. We ban the teaching of anything to believe in. No more war, but in how many other ways would this cripple us? Without anything to believe in, what would humans be? Sure, there'd be no motivation for evil, but what would motivate us to create all that's good in the world?

Better to stick with our beliefs, but beware of fanaticism and be tolerant of the beliefs of those around us. And on that note, I wish you all a Happy X-Kwanzakah.

Friday, December 21, 2001

Study Suggests Why Red Wine Does a Heart Good. Now that's a holiday present I can use!

Finally, something beyond the "French Paradox," which raised a lot of eyebrows as an unscientific excuse to drink too much - The actual identification of the precise compound that's found in red wine (not white wine, not any other alcohol) that actually reduces risk of heard disease.

This is great cause for cheer. Luckily, we have an invitation to a barrel tasting at Woodside Vineyards for tomorrow. I know we've got other errands to do as well, but this one's for my health.

Thursday, December 20, 2001

From Yahoo! News:

World's Funniest Joke Revealed After Internet Vote

LONDON (Reuters) - The world's funniest joke, voted by popular demand over the Internet, was unveiled on Wednesday by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) after an experiment lasting three months.

Famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his gruff assistant Doctor Watson pitch their tent while on a camping expedition, but in the middle of the night Holmes nudges Watson awake and questions him.

HOLMES: Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce.

WATSON: I see millions of stars, and if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it is quite likely there are some planets like earth, and if there are a few planets like earth out there there might also be life.

HOLMES: Watson, you idiot! Somebody stole our tent.

The BA said the joke was the most popular among 10,000 submitted, being chosen as the best by 47 percent of the 100,000 people from more than 70 countries who took part.

The jokes can be seen, made and rated on www.laughlab.co.uk.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The other shoe dropped today. As I mentioned last week, I was afraid that a meeting today with our company controller would end with us having to lay off the junior member of my staff, and it did. Luckily, we were able to ease the blow slightly by giving her notice that the position will be "defunded" in mid-January and that she'll receive one week's severance pay beyond that.

I don't know if it's better to have three weeks notice that you're losing your job, or to just get it over with in one day, but at least she's got another month of income and some time to get her job search organized.

Not the most fun I've had in my two-and-a-half months with CompassPoint, but hopefully that is all the damage we'll have to sustain before the economy picks back up again.

Why are we in financial trouble? Because we provide training and consulting services to nonprofit organizations. These "armies of compassion," as Gee Dubya has been referring to charities, have never been as well-funded as our armies fighting other wars (drugs, terrorism, Clinton), and have been hit particularly hard by September 11.

What's being revealed is a fatal flaw in the 1996 Welfare Deform (not a typo) law. The premise of those "reforms" was that the growing economy would fund a vital voluntary sector that would take care of any social problems as the government got out of the caring business. Now, as program beneficiaries begin to hit their five-year life-time limits, just as the economy hits the toilet, and whatever charitable giving that's going on is all being directed towards New York... Well, you can begin to see the problem. And don't say I didn't warn you back in 1996.

Here, read more about it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

The bad news: Tom Green and Drew Barrymore have called it quits after only six months of their fairy-tale marriage. The good news: Drew is available again!

Here's a clip from a newsletter I get called TechSoup, which is about technology issues for nonprofits, but has some articles of interest to a wider audience. I think this is an interesting warning. I also highly recommend reading the article the reference in the link:

> First there was Goner, now we have Gokar. I'm sure there will be a
> new computer virus to worry about tomorrow. But all these viruses
> and worms have something in common- they attack and spread through
> standard email software and operating systems.
>
> It's interesting to look at viruses in the light of TechSoup's
> recent discussions and articles on alternative software. Has our
> widespread dependance on certain products made us vulnerable to
> attack? Does the convenience of standardization come at the expense
> of security? If the software we used was diversified, would it be
> more difficult for a virus to propagate?
>
> An interesting article on this subject was published last year on
> CNET. I invite you to have a look:
> http://www.cnet.com/insider/0-121949-7-1896731.html
>
> -Sheetal Singh
> Content Manager, TechSoup.org

Monday, December 17, 2001

This weekend we did the whirlwind family tour of Los Angeles. We flew down Saturday morning, went directly to a third birthday party for the baby of one of Leslie's cousins, we visited her grandmother, then went (with her parents) to a Hannakah party at my parents house, stayed Saturday night at my folks, and on Sunday went to see my brother's new condo before flying back late Sunday afternoon. We pack a lot in to a thirty-hour trip.

Once again, despite all the warnings, the airports were no problem at all. We got through the added security quicker than we've ever gone through the old lax security. In fact, coming home, we arrived so early, and got through security so quickly, that we were able to come home on an earlier flight than we'd scheduled. And, once again, the long-term parking lot at San Jose had large sections that were completely empty.

Maybe next weekend, closer to Christmas, it will be crazy. But this weekend was some easy traveling, judging by the San Jose and Burbank airports. Anyway, it's good to be home.

Friday, December 14, 2001

Yesterday, the staff at my office decreased by one as the layoffs started. I've been expecting something like this for a couple of weeks, and just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Surprisingly, it was not the person I expected to be laid off. It was somebody who'd been there for many years - the second longest tenure in that office. The person that I expected to be first on the list? It's looking like that will still happen sometime next week.

How does that make me feel as the new guy? A bit uneasy, sure. But these types of cut-backs are based on which positions are optional, not which people are not performing, or by strict seniority. So, I should feel lucky, and in some sense I do, that I'm in a protected position. But I feel a little guilty anyway.

As bad as I had it being unemployed and/or under-employed for most of 2001, the people being laid off now are going to have an even tougher 2002.

Here's a little statistic for you: Since September 11, over 100,000 Californians have lost their jobs. And the final, year-end numbers aren't even in yet. Yeah. A bit uneasy.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

If the world were merely seductive,
that would be easy.
If it were merely challenging,
that would be no problem.
But I arise in the morning torn between
a desire to improve the world
and a desire to enjoy the world.
That makes it hard to plan the day.
-- E.B. White --

Unfortunately, it really does feel that there is that choice some days: improve the world or enjoy it, but not both. My chosen career in the nonprofit sector is geared towards fulfilling the desire to improve the world. Lately, with this new job however, it's been getting in the way of my writing, and other pursuits to enjoy the world.

But I know that a balance can be achieved. I've achieved it in the past, and I know I can get there again: to that spot where the line between enjoying and improving blur. That's when you know you're doing something right. That's when it is no longer hard to plan the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Another tale of the stress getting to people: A regular substitute at the school where Leslie works showed up for work the other day in dirty sweats, mismatched socks, and bedroom slippers raving about security. Her husband was called to come collect her and another substitute was assigned to cover the class. Three months later, and some folks just aren't adjusting to life in wartime as well as others.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Money may not buy you love, but it certainly can buy you a city. The final campaign spending data has been released on Mike Bloomberg's successful bid for Mayor of New York. All previous spending records were smashed by his $69 million spent - or about $92 per vote - nearly all out of his own deep pockets.

For comparison: Bloomberg's opponent, Mark Green, "only" spent $14 million to come in a close second. In 1992 Ross Perot spent a total of $62 million on his failed presidential bid. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio combined spent $69 million in their battle for New York's Senate seat last year.

During the campaign, Bloomberg fed the media the standard rich-guy candidate line of, "If somebody wants to go out and take their own money to try to make the world a better place, I can only tell you my hat is off to them." Critics, such as Common Cause, however, contend that, "wealthy candidates fuel the campaign money race, create cynicism among the young and make it difficult for less affluent candidates to win races."

Sunday, December 09, 2001

As much as I'd like to post here every day, it just hasn't been happening lately. Partly, I blame it on work. I've been concentrating on trying to make a success of this still new job, and that has been to the exclusion of a lot of other activities.

Partly, also, I'm just sick of the war, and the recession, and most everything else going on in the world that there might be to comment on. I'm attempting to be oblivious to the shit hole the world is becoming, but it's not quite working. I'm still aware that the world is a shit hole (and a dangerous one at that), I'm just not commenting on it.

But, mostly, it's just 'cause I'm busy, man.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

The statistics are coming in: Not every sector of the economy has been slowing down this fourth quarter of 2001. The following three areas have shown tremendous growth: prescription sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and distilled spirits (booze).

And, of course, there's the following: Charities report less funding, higher need in wake of Sept. 11.

And, finally, the quote of the day: From one of the members of Destiny's Child, which has apparently decided to take a break, "You know how the Beatles broke off, they all did their solo projects and they came back together and they were even stronger." Ummh... Huh?

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

The jig is up, or at least, it's very close to being up, for Yasser Arafat. There's no question that he started out as a terrorist: the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics is what made Arafat's reputation. Twenty years later came the peace process, and there were times he seemed genuinely committed to it.

Many people, myself included, were taken in by Arafat's work towards peace and condemnation of terrorism. I was not alone in feeling he must be an extremely brave man to make such a stand and take such a bold position.

But the terrorism has not stopped. Each cease-fire has first been broken, not by Israeli missiles, but by Palestinian bombs. Arafat has claimed to be trying to quell the violence. Each time a few people are arrested by the Palestinian Authority, each time Israel says Arafat didn't do enough and goes overboard (in the eyes of much of the world) in retaliation, and each subsequent cease-fire is broken again by the PLO.

Looking at the pattern, and particularly at the events of this last few days, one must reach one of two conclusions:

Either 1) - Arafat's commitment to peace is a sham. It's been lip-service designed to increase his image outside of Palestine, with a wink to the terrorists whose work he still supports (if not actively plans).

Or 2) - He is committed to peace, but is not actually in charge of a damn thing. He's a well-meaning, but powerless old man whose title of "President" is an honorarium only. The power lies elsewhere.

Either way, his time is up. There's no point in continuing to negotiate with a man who is either a liar or a fool.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

And now the tale of my 48 hours in Tempe...

I knew about this meeting about a month ago, but it was by invitation only and I was told that there wasn't room to add me to the list. Okay, no big deal, but just in case they'd reconsider, my boss wrote the organizers a letter explaining why it would be important for me to be there. That was a month ago.

Wednesday morning I got a phone message from Arizona that I was expected at the meeting (beginning at 7:15 AM, Thursday), that I was already booked into the hotel, and that they'd reimburse me the airfare to get there. I quickly found a flight for latter that day, ran home to pack a bag, called Leslie at school to let her know I was going, ate lunch, and ran to the airport. I was checking into the hotel less than 12 hours after finding out I was going.

The Flights:

The added security measures slowed things down a bit, but not terribly. There were a few National Guardsmen with big, nasty looking machine guns, but it wasn't an overwhelming armed presence; the airports were busy enough that it was just "added security" and not a threat. I did have to show my ID three times: checking my bag, checking in at the gate, and boarding the plane. In addition to that, I needed to present my ticket going through the security checkpoint. I checked my luggage (with cell phone and all electronics packed) and only carried a paperback book to avoid potential searches and slowdowns.

Of my four flights (I had to stop in San Diego each way - no direct flights when you book at the last minute), the first was 100% full, the second was nearly empty, and the two on the way home were each about 80% full. Other than that leg from San Diego to Phoenix, it didn't seem like the airline (SouthWest) was hurting any.

One place the cut in folks flying did show was in the long-term parking lot at San Jose. I pulled in to find the whole back section nearly empty and got a spot right next to the shuttle stop.

Phoenix/Tempe:

Thursday afternoon we had a little break before dinner, so I took a little walk around downtown Tempe, which consists of about five blocks of Mill Ave. This section of town may as well be called "little California" - First thing I saw was Gordon Biersch (of Palo Alto), then there was Crocodile Cafe ("California Cuisine") and PF Chang's (Hollywood-style Chinese). The other shops and restaurants were generic America: Gap, Borders, Hooters, Z Gallerie...

I did find one local shop of used books, antiques, and tourist crap that was kind of fun. All in all, it only took about an hour to "do Tempe." It seemed like the whole neighborhood was fairly recent development. Considering the proximity to the University (a couple of blocks over), it's a district with a lot of promise if only a little more local color were added.

The most interesting thing on my walk was a conversation with the only homeless person I came across. He was selling [free] newspapers and dining advice. He called himself the "Mill Avenue Restaurant Critic" - I didn't ask how a homeless guy got to know about all the restaurants.

I wasn't looking for food (for a change), but we got to talking and I gave him $1 for the [free] paper. He asked where I was from and I said the San Jose area, to which he guessed Los Gatos. When I said yes, he joked that if I lived in Los Gatos, I could give him $2 for the paper, to which I explained that I work for a nonprofit organization.

That led to more talk - When he was married and living in New York, his wife worked for a nonprofit - Then, after he left New York, he lived in the hills between Santa Cruz and San Jose for a while, and we knew a few of the same places. Great. The person in Tempe I have the most in common with is the homeless guy; the Mill Avenue Restaurant Critic.

Beginning Friday afternoon was the big annual Tempe arts festival out on Mill Ave., and a few of us with a couple of hours to kill between the conference and our flights went to check it out. Each of the crafts dealers I got to talking to turned out to be from the Santa Cruz area. After a little milling around that, we decided our time would be better spent drinking.

We found the patio of the Bamboo Cafe (another chain) overlooking the arts fair and shared a couple of pitchers of "Cool Banana" (dark rum, bananas, banana and coconut liqueurs, orange and pineapple juices) and an appetizer sampler platter with calamari, ribs, and the second-best potstickers I've ever had (best: Brandy-Ho's, San Francisco).

And then it was back to the airport where I heard the news about George Harrison, which I wrote about yesterday. And, now, we're all up-to-date.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Yesterday afternoon, November 30, 2001, at about 6:00 PM (Arizona time), I was walking through the Phoenix Airport ("Sky Harbor"). I'd just checked in for my flight back to San Jose, and decided to take a quick peek into the gift shop. Above the register a TV was tuned to CNN and I heard that George Harrison was dead.

Although we've known for several months that this was coming, it still shook me, the world tilting a bit of kilter, gravity failing for a moment, and I had to grab onto a shelf of knick-knacks to steady myself while I tried to breath. Slowly, I made my way back to my gate and waited to board my flight.

First thoughts are odd; mine was of the joke in Shallow Hal about a Beatles reunion (with Eric Clapton filling in for John) and how this eliminated the possibility of such a fantasy coming true. Through the flights home (yes, flights, part one to San Diego, part two to San Jose) I buried myself in my book and tried not to think about this loss.

Today I'll begin mourning the loss of George, and hope to learn something from his life and his personal strength as the spiritual center of the greatest cultural phenomenon of the 20th century.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

In a couple of hours I'll be flying for the first time since September 11. I'm not nervous about the flight, but I am anxious about the situation in the airports (going from San Jose to Phoenix) - how much hassle it will be, how long the delays will be, etc.

Saturday morning I'll fill you in on the adventure, and anything learned.

(Weather forcast: Days in Phoenix/Tempe area are ten degrees warmer than San Jose - Nights are ten degrees cooler. Outlook: Sunny.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Today's Mercury News included an empty grocery bag with instructions to fill it with "nutritious, non-perishable foods" and bring it to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The paper included the following note from the Publisher:
"Dear Reader,

"The economic downturn and events following the Sept. 11 attack have affected many people in the Bay Area. There's an easy way for you to help those with the greatest needs..." (Read the rest of the note)
I want to thank the Mercury News, and congratulate them on this meaningful show of community leadership.

In other news, I neglected to comment on the latest results from the Microsoft anti-trust suits. The software behemoth has agreed to donate software and used computers to low-income schools as part of its bid to not be broken into several smaller companies. Before anybody jumps for joy over the donations, consider what "used computers" means. Support, anybody?

Let's see... Microsoft's "punishment" for monopolistic practices is to place their software into schools, one of the few markets where Apple still has dominance. What's next? Punishing Peeping Toms by sending them to nudist camps?

Monday, November 26, 2001

In case you needed any more proof, Economic Panel Says U.S. Has Been in a Recession Since March. Now all those people who are out of work, and those of us who were lucky enough to find new jobs (at less pay than we had last year), can stop blaming ourselves. (That was meant to sound sarcastic, by the way).

Well, the weekend is over, the in-laws have gone home, it's another busy week at work, and it's damn cold outside. At least it stopped raining, but winter has definitely arrived. I think I need a new coat.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I haven't posted since Wednesday. It's been an emotional and important few days with my in-laws, and I'm going to see if I can describe some of what's been going on, without invading their privacy too much.

My sister-in-law (my wife's younger sister) has been estranged from their parents for about six or seven years. Until this last Wednesday, it had been nearly three years since they'd even been in the same room. She lives about half-an-hour from us, in Santa Cruz. The parents live down in Malibu (about 400 miles). We (Leslie & I) have been in touch with her sister all along, and have in some situations been stuck in the middle, messenger, position.

The sister and parents began communicating again by letter only a few months ago (before 9/11). After 9/11, Leslie and I decided to try inviting all of them to have Thanksgiving with us, just to see if we could get them altogether.

The sister declined the Thanksgiving invitation, but it led to two invitations from her: For us all to have brunch in Santa Cruz with her on Wednesday, before Thanksgiving, and for the parents to join her at her counseling session on Friday (yesterday) to discuss their problems.

We were all nervous going into Wednesday's brunch, but it went very well, and by the end everybody seemed genuinely relaxed and pleased to be with each other. This was the first time the sister and the parents had been together in nearly three years, and their first communication that wasn't by short, written notes. As we left the cafe, the sister sounded very sincere as she apologized for not being able to join us on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Leslie, her parents, one of friends with no local family, and I all had a great Thanksgiving dinner with much laughter, but the Friday session was, of course, on our collective minds.

Leslie & I drove her parents back to Santa Cruz on Friday and dropped them off at the counseling session. We drove out to West Cliff, overlooking the beach, and spent that very long hour watching the surfers. When we met them again, outside the counselor's, the three of them looked like a family again, and were continuing to talk, and even smile.

We first all went to the sister's house (the parents had never seen it), then to the Saturn Cafe, where we sat, talked, laughed, had a small snack, and just hung out together, as a family, for a couple of hours beyond the scheduled meeting.

Today's plan was for the sister to come over here, to Los Gatos, to meet us all for brunch - an additional meeting, not in the original plan. Right now, however the rain is coming down in buckets and there's a powerful wind, so I'm not sure if she'll make it. It's only 25 miles from here to Santa Cruz, but the mountainous stretch of Highway 17 that separates us earned its nickname "The Haunted Highway" from people crossing it in weather like this. Hopefully, it will let up in the next hour or two and allow this reunion to continue.

Whether or not we do all get together today, the last few days have been an historic event for the family. It doesn't solve all the problems, but it makes broad steps towards a reconciliation that has, at times, seemed an impossible dream. And that's my Thanksgiving story.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

"Give thanks. Then give."

What do you call the day after Thanksgiving? It's a Friday that most of us get off as a holiday, but what holiday is it? That question has finally been answered as the Holiday formerly known as "the Friday after Thanksgiving" has been christened "Giving Day."

"Continue the spirit of Thanksgiving by celebrating Giving Day," the Giving Day website suggests. They don't tell you what to give, or to whom, but give ideas on how your time, money, old furniture, and commitment can help for some cause you believe in.

They explain the new "holiday" in three easy steps:
· Step One: Make a Giving Day Commitment - Do that today by thinking about what causes are important to you, and how you could help this week. Write down your commitment on your to-do list for Friday.
· Step Two: Begin on Thanksgiving - Get the word out by sharing your commitment and the concept of Giving Day with your family and friends over Thanksgiving dinner. Don't be shy, remember how appropriate this is on Thanksgiving.
· Step Three: Follow Through - On Friday write that check, or sign up for those volunteer hours, or drop that old stuff at Goodwill, or whatever else you committed to.

In the spirit of Giving Day, I'm challenging everybody who reads this to call their local food bank and find out what they still need for Thanksgiving, then bring it to them today. I just dropped off a 20 pound turkey on Saturday, and may try to do another drop today.

Find out more and get ideas on how to celebrate Giving Day: Giving Day (.org)

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

You perform a selfless act one day. While asleep that night, the "powers that be" grant you a reward. You are allowed to be a witness to three events, anywhere, at any time – any three events you wish. What are they?

Well, that's an interesting journal prompt. I don't know if the scenario is very believable - usually when I think about such things it's more the result of magical powers, I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched style - but I'll take a stab at it.

· The signing of the Declaration of Independence (Remember that not everybody signed it on July 4, 1776 - It traveled around with people adding signatures for years. So, I'll have to travel around with it).

· The first moon landing (Of course, to witness it properly, I'd have to already be there on the moon, beating Neal Armstrong to the punch - That's one big step for Ken!).

· The assassination of John F. Kennedy (I want to arrive a couple of hours early, set up some video cameras pointed at some key locations, and find out what really happened).

And now, the news:
Family Counts Cost of U.S. Food Aid 'Bomb' - US Aid package crashes through roof of home: "We'll do a test and feed it to the chickens first and then see if we can eat it."

Monday, November 19, 2001

Yesterday my brother, Miles, and I went to the Auto Show in SF. No, I'm not buying a car at this time, it's just a "guy thing" to go to the auto show and pretend. Attendance was good, but not as strong as previous years. Whether it was because of the economy - people can't afford to even fantasize about new cars? - or because of terrorism - they're afraid to be in public spaces? - I can only guess. But their loss was our gain, as we were able to get into all the cars of our choice without fighting any crowds.

A few notes:

Cadillac - What the hell's wrong with these people? Of course, I was never one to fantasize about Cadillacs to begin with, but damn these things are getting ugly. Luxury cars that have the front end and grillwork of a truck? I don't think so.

Chevy, Pontiac, Buick - Crap! It's not just Cadillac, it's the whole GM family that's emphasizing the front grill, doubling the size of the logo, and looking uglier than ever. GMC has taken over the corporation, and there's nothing that isn't truck-like anymore. No wonder Oldsmobile was the line they cut: no trucks. - Bad news: Chevy's not going to make the Camaro Z28 after this year. I'll have to buy one - not as a mid-life crisis car, but as an investment: it's sure to be collector's item.

Acura: I used to think of Acura's as just overpriced, dressed up Hondas (not that Honda isn't overpriced on its own), but I did sit in a little RXS that got me rather excited.

Saturn: Ignoring their new SUV (which, for an SUV, isn't so bad), I was pleased with their lack of changes for the coming year. A good product that's still looking like an excellent value. I'm not ready to trade in my '98 SL2, but I would consider owning another Saturn if I did.

Mazda: Zoom, zoom. That Miatta is one highly affordable little sports car. If I'm going to have a mid-life crisis and buy a two-seater, this would fit the bill without breaking the bank. Something to think about.

VW: I've owned two VWs in the past (an '84 Jetta and a '94 Fox), and would enjoy getting into another. At this display I was fantasizing a Jetta for Leslie and a Passat for myself.

Audi: Of course the little TT is another great mid-life crisis car, but the whole line appealing. If you want to buy me a car for the holidays, anything Audi will do - from the smallest to the largest.

Chrysler: Leslie likes the PT Cruiser, and this was my first opportunity to get in one and check it out up close. I must say I was pleased, which doesn't always happen when I look at Chryslers.

BMW: With all the emphasis in this show that was put on SUVs and other truck-like vehicles, and other stupid design choices, I must say that BMW is one company that still gets it. Yes, they're now making SUVs, but they didn't let that take over the whole line. These are cars you can live in. And you might have to, seeing as the price tags for some of them would be a healthy down payment on a house. I'll take a Z3 for my mid-life crisis days and an M3 sedan for the rest of the week.

Ford/Lincoln/Mercury: The new Ford T-Bird is on my list of fantasies. I was also pleased with the Mercury Cougar for some thrills.

Saab: A perennial favorite, for good reason.

Well, I'm sure there others - I drooled over a lot of leather - but that's what I can remember off the top of my head this morning. I (hopefully) won't be looking for a new car for myself for a while, but Leslie's had her Toyota for 11 years, and we need to start thinking about her next car sometime in the next year.

Sunday, November 18, 2001

Well, yesterday I went and did it! I bought a DVD player. It's a TEAC five-disk changer with very complicated remote with tons of buttons and things (it scares Leslie). After a rather lean year, I felt the need to do something crazy and add to our entertainment system. After many weeks of research and deep thought, I just did it.

First disk: Monty Python and the Holy Grail Special Edition. Lots of fun; listed to rude commentary from Cleese, Idle, & Palin, watched the Japanese version with poorly translated English subtitles, the Knights of the Roundtable number re-shot with Legos, the BBC documentary on the making of the movie, and there's still many more things to play with over the two-disk set. These DVDs are fun!

And, of course, I have a wish-list for disks I'd like to have:
· Citizen Kane (w/ extra documentary feature "The Battle for Kane")
· The Godfather (full set)
· This is Spinal Tap
· The Kinks: One for the Road

Of course, I wasn't completely greedy yesterday. I also bought a 20-pound turkey to drop off at the food bank for their Thanksgiving holiday food drive. I still feel just a little guilty about blowing $150 on a toy, but I suppose I could have done a lot more damage than that.

Saturday, November 17, 2001

From about January of 1987 to June of 1989 I lived in a studio apartment in North Hollywood. One "furnished" room with a bathroom and a small kitchen, it was not the smallest apartment I've ever had (that would be in Santa Cruz), but it was the most depressing place I've ever lived.

Tucked into the corner of Sherman Way and the 170 freeway, it was also directly under the flight path into the Burbank/Glendale Airport, not too far to the east. Looking out my window, first time visitors would duck wide-eyed as they saw the approaching planes, afraid they were so low they'd hit the building.

The complex itself was a sea of concrete without so much as a single tree, shrub, or garden, or even two square feet of bare earth in which to plant any of the above. Rising from the concrete were eight identical buildings, each with twenty (or more?) identical apartments, with the same tacky, pressboard furniture with the green naugahide accents.

My upstairs neighbor ran a drug lab. Poorly. Several nights a month there'd be the noises of several people working in the apartment from about 2 to 5 AM which sounded not unlike a bowling alley. Several other nights each month there'd be the sounds of him getting the crap kicked out him and muffled shouts about the location of the money.

About the best thing that could be said about that apartment was that it was within walking distance of the K-Mart and a strip club. But that's a story for another day.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Is this really the "return to normalcy" that we've been waiting for? Gary Conditt is back in the news. Enough said.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Well, the Taliban have been routed out of Kabul, but don't fret - Our leaders assure us that the lack of an enemy is not a deterrent to continuing the war effort for some time to come.

In fact, our good friends and allies in the Northern Alliance may well turn out to be perfect for the role of the enemy as news of atrocities comes out of the cities that they've liberated. There's no real surprise here: The reason the Afghani people originally welcomed the Taliban is that they put an end to the kind of violence and anarchy that the warring factions of the Northern Alliance had put them through. Of course, I'm not one to say "I told you so" - but I think I did.

The big problem now will be one of "nation building." Remember, it's not really a "democracy" when it's installed by a foreign conqueror. We're actually disadvantaged by the quick fall of the Talilban because there's no clear sense of any local and sane group that could run the country. There's local, and there's sane. Just not together.

In other news, an online writer buddy of mine, Doris Lane, has a new blog: Neptune's Daughter Blog. Give her a visit. She's witty and intelligent and kindly quoted from my Veteran's Day ramblings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

First, all donations to the Red Cross 9/11 Fund were to go to victims of the September 11 attacks. With donations higher than anybody could have imagined - far greater than donations for any previous disaster - the Red Cross announced they might hold back some of this money in a reserve in case of any further terrorist attacks.

I, apparently, am the only person on the planet who thought that was a good idea. Forget the bombing of Afghanistan, the firestorms started over the Red Cross announcement were as unprecidented as the original donations were. Okay, the Red Cross said a couple of days ago, if you don't like that you can request a refund of your donation. Now, they've retracted that statement, and again announced that all donations will go to 9/11 related victims.

And there was much rejoicing. At least until the next disaster, when people look to the Red Cross and can't figure out why they're broke. Frankly, most people have a highly unrealistic idea of what nonprofit organizations do and how they work.

Fox News' O'Reilly has been spouting off about incompetent nonprofits because they might actually want to take a portion of those donations to cover overhead. O'Reilly conveniently forgets that a big chunk of those donations came by credit card, and that the credit card companies are going to charge the Red Cross, United Way, etc., about 3 or 4% fees on each of those donations. Three or four percent of hundreds of millions of dollars adds up quickly. If that money can't come out of the 9/11 donations it's going to come out of other programs, pure and simple. The only other alternative is bankruptcy. Don't yell at the nonprofits, yell at the banks.

Another reality that most folks weren't aware of, but are now harping on nonprofits about, is that victims don't simply "get the money" - they must apply for the funds through a formal process. To the extent that this is the nonprofits idea, it is only to prevent fraud. The bigger reason for the bureaucracy involved has nothing to do with the nonprofits themselves, it is the idea of the IRS and your United States Congress. You see, those Washington types never trusted nonprofits, and don't trust them to give their money away to people who really deserve it, and so require this bureaucracy "for your own protection." If the charities that are being criticized for their bureaucracy were to just hand out cash without any paperwork, they'd lose their nonprofit status and have to pay taxes on their assets. That's taxes that would have to be paid out of your donations, further reducing the amount that would actually go to 9/11 victims.

Well, I for one am saddened that public hysteria won out over common sense and that the Red Cross caved in. Keeping a terrorism victim reserve fund would have been a brilliant strategic move. It's something the president should have spoken up and thanked them for. Instead, out of one side of our leaders' mouths (politicians and the media) they tell us to watch out for the next attack, and out of the other side they tell us we can't prepare for it. And did I mention that war is peace?

Monday, November 12, 2001

It's a rainy Monday morning, and a holiday for many, but I'll be heading for work shortly. Not that I don't enjoy taking a day off to honor veterans, it's just not one of the holidays we get at CompassPoint. I suppose at some point it was negotiated away in favor of another paid day off - maybe Martin Luther King's birthday, or that extra day off for Thanksgiving. Still, two months after the WTC attack, it now seems odd to not be taking Veteran's Day.

About an hour ago a plane crashed in Queens, NY. It was an American Airlines flight from New York to the Dominican Republic, and it crashed shortly after takeoff. So far there's no suggestion of cause, but I'm not the only one who's first thoughts were of more terrorism. Maybe we'll know more later in the day, or maybe not.

On the news last night was talk that an intercepted video tape, supposedly meant only for Osama bin Laden's supporters, contains the closest thing to a confession yet regarding September 11. Not terribly surprising. According to a Pakistani journalist who recently interviewed bin Laden, Osama is claiming to have nuclear weapons and is willing to use them against us if we use nukes against him. That he has access to the weapons is somewhat believable. That he has a means of delivering them to the mainland of the US is highly doubtful.

So, what to do on this day to honor veterans? Go to work and continue to live my life to the fullest, without worrying about terrorist attacks. Be grateful that those who are veterans survived their service. And pray that those who are fighting now in Afghanistan will soon be veterans rather than combatants.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

"[Creativity] is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E.L. Doctorow

I suppose that's true, and has generally been my [somewhat limited] experience. Of course, sometimes I wish it were different. I sometimes wish I knew exactly where I was headed and that the writing was just a technicality. But each time I think I've got the story mapped out completely in my mind before I sit down to type it out, I find myself taking turns and going down avenues I'd never even imagined on the map. Sometimes I'm as shocked at what my characters say and do as my readers are.

And that, I suppose, is the beauty of the whole thing. If the actual writing were just a technical exercise, simply typing up a story that was already whole, it wouldn't be half as much fun, as rewarding, or as painful. Sure, the roadblocks that send you on these tangential paths are frustrating, but they often bring us to places more incredible than we'd imagined while dreaming the story up in the shower.

Saturday, November 10, 2001

I spent the last two days at the annual conference of CAN, the California Association of Nonprofits, and it didn't leave much time for posting here - I apologize.

This conference normally draws about 500 attendees each year, and this year's expectations were for about the same. Except only about 250 showed up. Fear of travel and of being in public spaces was believed to be the excuse given by most of those canceling.

Today it's been raining off and on, and by about 4:00 it was already so dark I thought it was getting towards 7:00.

A big decision made: I need paper in my life. Yes, after about 2-1/2 years of using the Palm III as my only organizing tool, I've gone and refilled by binder with paper for scheduling. I dread having to transfer my address book back to paper, so I'll probably carry the Palm within the binder for a while and use both.

I found I needed more note taking capacity than the Palm allowed, and was carrying that, plus a folder with paper, both in a briefcase. In other words, for the convenience of the Palm I was carrying around more weight than if I just used the damn Franklin planner binder and took notes in it. So there you go. So much for technology ruling the world. Or my life.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

You are having an intimate dinner party for 5, Who would you invite? No, not family, friends or business associates. People from the arts, sciences, history, movies, dead or alive?

When John F. Kennedy was president, he hosted a dinner at the White House for Nobel Prize winners. Gathered were the greatest minds alive at the time. In his remarks to the group, JFK said something to the effect of, "This is the greatest assemblage of brain power this room has ever held since Thomas Jefferson dined here alone." Jefferson would be first on my list.

On Jefferson's tombstone no mention is made of his having been president, or secretary of state, or any other office or title that he held. What it lists are accomplishments he left behind: Author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and founder of the University of Virginia.

When Jefferson was president, one of his dinner guests had to be sneaked in the back door because he was considered too radical and dangerous. That was Tom Paine, author of Common Sense ("For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king") and the American Crisis ("These are the times that try men's souls"), two publications that did as much (or more) for the cause of American independence as Sam Adam's little Tea Party in Boston.

After the American Revolution Paine went on to France where he got involved in their Revolution. At one point during the French Revolution, Paine was imprisoned and marked for death - a fate he narrowly escaped. By the time he returned here, this country had moved past its revolutionary furor and failed to welcome him back properly, with the exception of Jefferson, who had to sneak Paine into the White House for dinner. Paine can come to my party too, but he can use the front door.

While we're on a revolutionary track here, we need to segue into somebody with a sense of humor. To fill that position I'll invite Abbie Hoffman, the performance artist clown prince of the 1960's revolution, Hoffman took political action to the next step of media event. As much as the mainstream press hated him, they had to cover his outrageous acts (like levitating the Pentagon to exorcise its demons). Hoffman, working on the Hollywood adage that even bad publicity is good publicity, played the negative coverage into a platform for his views on equal rights and ending the war in Vietnam.

To provide a little music I'll add a one-time associate of Hoffman's, John Lennon, as my fourth guest. He can help with the music and the humor level, as well as participate in the political discussions.

I think I'll round off this particular evening with a guest who was simply too intellectual for Hollywood, Orson Welles. After creating his greatest [completed] film, Citizen Kane, at age 26, Hollywood turned on him. He couldn't make the pictures he wanted to, and was often reduced to filming second rate scripts to survive. Even those (see Lady From Shanghai) he turned into classics. Eventually he turned his back on Hollywood, and the world lost out on sharing in his creative genius.

So, that's the five for tonight's dinner party. Ask me again tomorrow and I may have a completely different list. I didn't think too much about the guests until I typed each name. Better planning would have resulted in a few female guests, too. I apologize for that. In fact, is it too late to call Grace Kelly? Oh well. Maybe next week.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Do you have a name for your car? If so, what is it and how did it gets its name? If not, what would you name it and why? Could it be Christine?

My first car was Sherman. It was actually the first car for two of my friends and myself. It took three of us to own it, and it cost less than $100. During high school we bought it off our film teacher and mentor in exchange for doing yardwork and gardening and some small amount of cash. We cleared away the jungle that his property had become, and dug out the remains of this ten year old (a 1968 or '69?) Pontiac station wagon the color of L.A. sunshine (primer gray with rusty brown splotches).

To start Sherman required getting beneath the car with a crowbar and pushing the flywheel into the correct position where the one remaining gear would catch the ignition. Not too elegant a move on dates, but it worked, and it got my buddies and I out of my mother's car.

Sherman had two stories for his name. The first was that he was named for the Sherman Tank, and that was certainly fitting. But in truth, Sherman was named after Mr. Peapody's pet boy, Sherman, of cartoon fame and the Way-Back Machine.

Next came my "real" first car, a little yellow Mazda RX3, known as My Sharona (it was the summer of '79 and the Knack were at their peak). Sharona was followed by a black Datsun 310 with the name of Sheena, and to paraphrase the Ramones, Sheena was a punk rocker. Sheena bore the license plate LO BDGT, and her theme song changed from the Ramones to the Kinks, Low Budget, but her name remained the same.

After Sheena melted down on Highway 101, just past the exit for Avila Beach, I got Joan Jetta, a gray '84 VW Jetta (obviously), named after the former Runaway, she Loves Rock 'n' Roll, Joan Jett. Not that I was ever such a huge Joan Jett fan, but the name just sort of fit, and I don't question these things.

Joan Jetta proved to be my last named car. My current gold Saturn is only known as the Saturn. I've searched for name, but nothing has come. These things happen in the first days of ownership, or they don't come at all.

Dave and Bill in Sheena
Dave and Bill getting lost in Sheena

Saturday, November 03, 2001

Three little wishes...
  • World peace (Okay, not such a small wish. Sue me)
  • Inner peace for myself and those close to me
  • Health for all I know
Three little mistakes...
  • I refuse to answer this one. Not that I haven't made mistakes, but I'd rather think of the opportunities that came from them and not fill up my life with regrets.
Three small goals...
  • A short story in a national journal in 2002
  • Zero debt by 2003
  • A house by 2005 (there goes the zero debt!)
Three places to go...
  • The Caribbean (specifically Cuba and Puerto Rico, but Jamaica will do. Any island with rum, you know?)
  • Russia, Lithuania, and the Ukraine (the "roots tour")
  • Scotland (I just think I'd like it there)
Three things you've done this year...
  • Lost a job
  • Wrote a lot
  • Found a job
Three small irritations...
  • Stupid people
  • Narrow minded people
  • Surveys like this

Friday, November 02, 2001

FBI Says West Coast Bridges Targeted (Yahoo! News)

Our Governor, Gray Davis, announced this yesterday and within an hour it was all over the radio. Of course, he only emphasized the four possible targets that are in California (the Golden Gate, the Bay Bridge, San Diego's Coronado, and the something Thomas Bridge in L.A.). After all, why bother mentioning that seven other western states were included in the FBI warning? The terrorists aren't dumb, they're not going to waste an action on some stupid bridge in Oregon.

Here, in the Bay Area, we of course assume it will be one of our bridges. The Golden Gate is a symbol known worldwide. We assume everybody knows about the engineering marvel of the Bay Bridge as well. Sure, the Coronado Bridge is nice, but we can't believe it's that strategically important or picturesque. And the whatever-it-is Thomas Bridge in the port of Los Angeles, who the hell's ever even heard of that? Give me a break. Most Angelinos don't even know they have a port, let alone a suspension bridge.

In fact, if the terrorists choose one of those other bridges, we'll be downright insulted. We've got our pride too, you know?

Today, of course, the debate was over how stupid Gray Davis must be to have made that announcement based on uncorroborated reports. The White House scolded poor Gray, then sort of apologized. Gray is just pleased to be back in the news, reminding people that Yes, California does have a governor.

I guess the main reason for my flippant attitude is that I can't see how having this knowledge is going to help anybody or anything. If somebody wants to blow themselves up and take a bridge out with them, there's nothing that can stop them.

Well, almost nothing. Only by thoroughly searching the trunk, under the hood, and under the seats of every single vehicle passing over each bridge could they claim to be doing "all that is possible" to prevent this rumor from becoming fact. But that's not going to happen. To set up such an operation just for the west-bound traffic on the Bay Bridge would back traffic up as far as Davis (the town, not the governor). We wouldn't stand for those kinds of delays.

So, if we're supposed to get on with our lives as normal, and not let the terrorists scare us into bunkering up in our homes, what good does it do to know that these bridges are targets? Most of us already figured out that the Golden Gate would be a pretty good American symbol for terrorists to mark for destruction.

In Davis' defense, if he'd said nothing and one of these bridges is hit, he'd be crucified for concealing information that could have saved lives. And, of course, if one of these bridges is hit, I'll look like a total asshole for having joked about it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

First, a follow-up to the item I posted the other day about the "economic stimulus plan" that the House just passed. I'll share with you part of an email that was forwarded to me:

> In this time of national crisis, amid calls for sacrifice, we're deeply
> troubled by the choices of the Republican party's right-wing leadership.
> Here's their idea of an economic stimulus package*:
>
> $1.4 billion for IBM
> $833 million for General Motors
> $671 million for General Electric
> $572 million for Chevron Texaco
> $254 million for Enron
>
> This is war profiteering, and it's just plain wrong. Yet the House has
> just approved it, on a virtual party line vote, ending the recent spirit
> of cooperation in Congress. Speak up with us before the Senate acts:
>
> http://www.moveon.org/warprofiteering/

Second, here's your Halloween scary treat:

> BOSTON (New Scientist, Oct. 24) -- Tests of a controversial weapon that is
> designed to heat people's skin with a microwave beam have shown that it can
> disperse crowds. But critics are not convinced the system is safe.
>
> Last week, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New Mexico
> finished testing the system on human volunteers. The Air Force now wants to
> use this Active Denial Technology (ADT), which it says is non-lethal, for
> peacekeeping or riot control at "relatively long range" -- possibly from
> low-flying aircraft.

When I first read about this I thought it must be a hoax. A microwave beam, pointed from a helicopter, that could make a crowd disperse (and, possibly, expose them to all the myriad dangers of radiation exposure)? I figured it couldn't possibly be true - the trick, not the treat - until I found verification on the Air Force's own web site.

- Read the official version here -

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

"All these concerns deserve to be answered. No one who raises doubts is an appeaser or a faint heart. We are a democracy, strong enough to have doubts raised even at a time of war, and wise enough, I hope, to be able to respond to them."
- Tony Blair -
Let's see - Bush, et al, have done nothing but warn us that this will be a long war. Yet, somehow, people are surprised that it's not all over three weeks after it began. Now - surprise of surprises - folks are shocked that we're planning where to build a US Base in Afghanistan.

Hello! Didn't I tell you that we needed a permanent base there to protect the pipeline (once we build it)?

Read the shocking news: U.S. expects longer war (USA Today)

On a lighter note, we saw Serendipity over the weekend. It worked very well as a light romantic comedy. John Cusack is great, as always. Leslie thought it was the best of the movies we've seen recently.

We didn't realize until the name came up on the screen, but it was produced by my old boss, Simon Fields. I worked for Simon as a lowly production assistant when he was the King of Limelight Film & Video and we were making some of the best music videos of the 1980s. But that's a story for another day...

Sunday, October 28, 2001

While we were out searching our mailboxes for anthrax...

The House Ways and Means Committee approved an "economic stimulus package" (nine syllable way to say "tax cut") that includes about $25 billion in immediate, retroactive tax rebates to large corporations. If you recall, the last tax cut (excuse me, "economic stimulus package") we experienced last summer did nothing to stimulate the economy, but did manage to eat up the budget surplus. With this package we'll be going back into deficit mode at the same time that the Federal government will be called upon to help out with one or two emergencies.

Get more details on the beneficiaries of this tax cut here (from Citizens for Tax Justice).

Get a more in-depth article about the politics involved here (from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Friday, October 26, 2001

At a meeting on Tuesday I saw the most incredible speaker at that I've seen in a long time. William McDonough is an architect and somewhat of an activist, who views environmental problems as issues of design failure. Simply put, why create products that have harmful side effects, when the same needs could be met by designing products that don't pollute, poison, or kill? Why not think of a building like a tree, or a city like a forest?

Together with his partner, Michael Braungart, McDonough has used this approach in designing the Adam Lewis Center at Oberlin College, which cleans its own wastewater and produces more energy than it consumes - a building like a tree. With the Gap's campus in San Bruno, they applied that concept over many buildings - like a forest. McDonough and Braungart are now embarked on a twenty-year project to return much of Ford's River Rouge site back to nature.

But they don't limit themselves to problems of architecture and planning. With Ford, they are also working on new materials for cars that are virtually 100% recyclable - cars become cars become cars, all without waste or pollution. This is what McDonough refers to as "the next industrial revolution."

They succeeded with a project for a Swiss fabric company (textiles has always been a notoriously dirty business) to create materials so toxin-free that the local garden club uses factory trimmings as mulch. Previously, the trimmings had been declared toxic waste, and had to be shipped to Spain for disposal. When inspectors returned to the plant, after the new fabric went into production, they were shocked to find the water leaving the plant was cleaner than the water entering the plant.

The speech, however, was not just a listing of their achievements (which would have been impressive enough), but an inspirational talk about applying these concepts to everything we do. It was a hopeful vision of the future, where we learn to design with nature, rather than against it, and where one generation doesn't leave environmental debts that need to be repaid by future generations.

You can get an overview of their philosophy on "the next industrial revolution" on the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry website, or get more detail in an article they wrote for The Atlantic Monthly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Silicon Valley Humor, October 2001:

Q - How do you get a dot-com CEO off your front porch?

A - Pay him for the pizza.

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

"From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company."

"As with the proposed Central Asia oil pipeline, CentGas can not begin construction until an internationally recognized Afghanistan Government is in place."
-- JOHN J. MARESCA, VICE PRESIDENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, UNOCAL CORPORATION, SPEAKING BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEBRUARY 12, 1998
Here are the best articles I've found so far on this:

Monday, October 22, 2001

It was a movie weekend. Yesterday we saw Riding in Cars with Boys, the Drew Barrymore picture. Quite good, even better, perhaps, than Bandits, which we saw on Saturday. Riding in Cars is more of a "chick flick" and Bandits more of a movie for the guys, but they're both crossover movies.
Penny Marshall did an excellent direction job, and all the performances are strong, especially Steve Zahn as Drew's troubled, drug-addicted, idiot husband.

Based on a true story, Cars is the tale of a "girl who did everything wrong, but still got everything right" (or some such advertising drivel). Knocked up at 15, in 1968, Drew's character is coerced into marrying her drop-out boyfriend and giving up her dreams of going to NYU and becoming a writer. Of course, after twenty years of struggle, she does achieve her ambition, publishing the memoir, "Riding in Cars with Boys."

Drew, Zahn, and a few others, play their characters from age 15 to about 38 and nearly pull it off. I might have believed Barrymore as 18, but not quite 15. At least she didn't insist on playing the character at age 9. Other than that, a solid picture, with a hearty recommend. I wouldn't be surprised if this picked up a few nominations come Oscar time (adaption screenplay, supporting actor for Zahn, maybe others).

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Yesterday (after posting my new article at Suite 101) we went to see Bandits. It was a pretty good movie. Barry Levinson is one of my favorite directors (Avalon is one of my all-time favorite films), and this fits in well with his work: Funny, with a heart.

Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton are the Odd Couple of bank robbing. Bruce plays Oscar and Billy Bob plays Felix, with Cate Blanchett as Bonnie Parker (okay, so it's the Odd Couple Meets Bonnie & Clyde 1 & Clyde 2). The truly sad part is, I identified more with Billy Bob's character than with Bruce's.

Their side-kick, getaway car driver, is played by Troy Garity, whose real last name is Hayden. His parents are Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda. Yep, he's the grandson of Henry, nephew of Peter, and cousin of Bridget.

Recommendation: This wasn't quite Oscar material, but it was certainly well written, directed, and acted, and should keep you amused for an evening. If you're interested in the movie you shouldn't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Today, my ranting is posted over at Suite 101...

Theories, Facts, and Conjecture about the War on Terrorism
Since September 11 we've all been subjected to reminders that over 90% of Americans are behind the "war on terrorism." I've also been subjected to warnings that everything we hear in the press is lies and propaganda. In this article I examine various theories about the war and decide which are true. I could very well be wrong about any of this, but so could you.

Friday, October 19, 2001

Sorry about yesterday. I guess I was in a pretty bad way there when I posted in the morning. But it's honest, you know? Can't beat that. I did feel a bit better by the end of the day. At least about the job. For now.

Speaking of which, check out this article - Local charities need our help - the big quote in the middle is from my new boss, Jan Masauka.

I'm looking forward to the weekend. Hopefully I actually get a chance to work on some writing. That's actually the thing I left out of yesterday's depressing post: That I haven't had the time to write, like I had in the months previous. And there lies the main frustration, I believe.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

I'm sorry that I haven't been keeping up my blog as much as I'd like, but I've been quite busy with the new job and the war and all.

Okay, that's no damned excuse. In fact, it's an outright lie. Yeah, I've been busy, but that's not the problem. Here it is: I've just been really friggen' stressed out with the new job and the war and all. There? You happy now?

The job: I suppose it's going well, for just a little over two weeks, but at this point it could go either way. I can easily see how I could learn to love it. I can just as easily see how I could come to hate it real quick. I can also see how no matter what my feelings are, I might be out of there within six months. That seems to be the pattern. In the last 18 months they've fired three people in this position.

Now, were they all idiots, or does upper management have unreal expectations of what can be done here? Also, the office has learned to operate without somebody in this position, and to ignore or take for granted that somebody is there. So, I have to first get through to them that I actually want to work, and to keep me in the loop of what's going on.

This would be enough fun for one person to handle on any normal day, but now we've got this war going on and I'm a nervous wreck over that. You know my feelings over that one already, so I don't need to go into detail. Let's just say that it's rather frightening to see 94% of Americans salivating for blood in a war they don't understand the full implications of, and their near hysterical reaction to any hint of the slightest domestic dissent. I'm honestly coming to be more afraid of my fellow patriots than I am of the terrorists.

So, again, excuse me if I haven't been keeping up my regular posting habits here, but I'm just a little stressed out at the moment. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Truth in Advertising! Last night on CBS I saw an ad that said, "If you missed the premiere of Survivor, you're in luck!" The ad went on to say that there'd be an encore presentation of the show on Wednesday, and I suppose that's probably the "luck" they were referring to, but the way it was worded... well, you get the idea.

And now, for those who truly dare to know the truth. Warning: This is disturbing information, but will give you the necessary background on why we're bombing the hell out of Afghanistan right now. I can't even comment on this yet as it's still all sinking in. I've read it from a few different sources, but this article really explains it well, with plenty of links for further research: Pipe Dreams.

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Are we getting a little too jumpy? Yesterday morning, about this time, when Leslie and I were getting up and ready to shower, the power went off for a few seconds. We initially thought nothing of it: there's a new tenant moving into an apartment in the building, and we figured they flipped off the wrong breakers while setting him up.

When I got out of the shower, I realized I had to re-set all the digital clocks that were now flashing 12:00 because of the power outage. I turned on CNN, only because they have always have the current time in the scroll at the bottom of the screen. The cable, however, was out - there was nothing on any channel.

Rather than assume that it was "just another" local power outage, and that it had interrupted cable service, I immediately figured that terrorists must have blown up a local power plant. I then turned to the radio, and tuned into the all-news station: they had sports on. It was nothing, but I was willing to assume the worst because of a short power outage knocking out the cable for a few hours.

I'm not the only getting jumpy. Later in the day, yesterday, I turned on the TV for a few minutes (to see if the cable was working again - it was) and just happened to catch a special news bulletin from the San Jose airport where a plane that had just arrived from Chicago was being detained. The report was that a man "of Middle-Eastern origin" had spilled a mysterious powder into the plane's ventilation system. The plane was being quarantined until they could all be tested for Anthrax.

It turns out that the "mysterious powder" was star shaped confetti that fell out of a greeting card sent by the suspect's girlfriend. This was one of three such air incidents around the country yesterday, and one of several Anthrax scares in the Bay Area alone.

"It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine" - R.E.M.

False Alarm on Flight to San Jose (Mercury News)

Saturday, October 13, 2001

Yesterday I got on the anti-war movement for their projection of their own critique of globalization onto Osama bin Laden. Today I want to point out another side of their naivete, regarding the World Court.

In several places now I've seen suggestions that the correct way to pursue terrorists in general, and Osama bin Laden in particular, is through the legal process. Several well-meaning progressives (and I consider myself a progressive as well) have suggested bringing charges against bin Laden in the World Court.

First of all, the International Court of Justice (as it's formerly known), which is headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, is only for disputes between nations. Further, it is only for those nations that are signatories to the treaty creating the Court. So, as an individual, Osama bin Laden could not be either charged by a crime by the US, or bring charges against the US (as I've also seen suggested) in the World Court. I also don't believe that Afghanistan (at least under the Taliban) is a member nation, so they also cannot be tried or bring charges in the World Court.

Another problem with the World Court is that they have no power to enforce their decisions beyond the "opinion of nations." This is easily ignored, as the US proved when we were found guilty of crimes against Nicaragua in the early 1980s. Our mining of harbors and covert assistance to the right-wing rebels fighting the government of Daniel Ortega was found to be a violation of international law. We were fined, but we never paid, or even acknowledged the decision.

So, if their decisions are so easily ignored, what makes anybody think that Osama bin Laden, or anybody who's willing to fly commercial jets into civilian targets, would give a damn about the opinion of this or any court?

Even if there were an international court where charges against an individual could be brought, there would still be the problem of taking that individual into custody to face trial. Which would bring us right back to the situation we were in: Demanding that the Taliban turn over bin Laden and being refused.

Once again, for those first-time readers who may think I'm a war-mongering right wing fanatic: I'm horribly disappointed at the extreme measures that the US has taken over the last week. I think it weakens our coalition and greatly increases the chances of escalation into a world war. I would have preferred working through the intelligence communities of partner nations, and using targeted small unit special operations to covertly destroy the terrorist network.

While I agree with many (if not most) of the criticisms of US policy brought up by my friends on the left, and would like to see it change over time, we have to admit that we were viciously and offensively attacked and we must respond with force. The question, for me, is how little force we can get away with.

Friday, October 12, 2001

In a nutshell, there are two points I want to make. First, I think we're going a little too far with our current military actions, but that some sort of action certainly is called for. But you've heard that already.

Second, what I've been thinking about for a while is that the anti-war movement is operating under a number of false assumptions, the biggest and most dangerous of which is that Osama bin Laden is on their side.

The critique of globalization that the same anti-war protesters have presented at various WTO events over the past couple of years has some very real and strong points that need to be addressed - But those points were not the motivation behind the events of September 11. I'm fairly certain that Osama bin Laden hates progressive, latte-sipping activists in San Francisco and Seattle as much as he hates any American.

The changes in lifestyle and policy direction advocated by my fellow progressives are all good and important - I agree with them. BUT, if anybody thinks that these changes will happen overnight, or that working on these changes will put an end to terrorism anytime soon, they are horribly and dangerously deluded.

The movement against globalization and the defeat of terrorism are both important. But they are two very different issues and must be approached separately. Yes, there are ties (some of the conditions caused by globalization help to create the atmosphere for the rise in terrorism), but they are not the same, and Osama bin Laden is not a fellow progressive.

Thursday, October 11, 2001

IN DEFENSE OF FREEDOM

1.On September 11, 2001 thousands of people lost their lives in a brutal assault on the American people and the American form of government. We mourn the loss of these innocent lives and insist that those who perpetrated these acts be held accountable.

2.This tragedy requires all Americans to examine carefully the steps our country may now take to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks.

3.We need to consider proposals calmly and deliberately with a determination not to erode the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the American way of life.

4.We need to ensure that actions by our government uphold the principles of a democratic society, accountable government and international law, and that all decisions are taken in a manner consistent with the Constitution.

5.We can, as we have in the past, in times of war and of peace, reconcile the requirements of security with the demands of liberty.

6.We should resist the temptation to enact proposals in the mistaken belief that anything that may be called anti-terrorist will necessarily provide greater security.

7.We should resist efforts to target people because of their race, religion, ethnic background or appearance, including immigrants in general, Arab Americans and Muslims.

8.We affirm the right of peaceful dissent, protected by the First Amendment, now, when it is most at risk.

9.We should applaud our political leaders in the days ahead who have the courage to say that our freedoms should not be limited.

10.We must have faith in our democratic system and our Constitution, and in our ability to protect at the same time both the freedom and the security of all Americans.

If you agree with these principles, Click Here to endorse them.

Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Monday, October 08, 2001

In the last 20 hours the war of words turned into an offensive assault on Afghanistan. Although I've been supportive of some sort of action, I must say I felt dismayed and saddened by the scope of yesterday's display.

I've said before that I thought our best efforts in this cause would be through those actions that are more covert, and that any big military assault would be more for show. Think about what we did, and the possible reasons for it. Did we wipe out the weapons they're using against us? No - their weapons in terror are our own aircraft, Ryder trucks filled with explosives, box cutters.

If we indeed took out their tanks and military aircraft last night, it wasn't to deprive them of the ability to attack us - it was to deprive them of the ability to defend themselves: it clears the stage for a land invasion. How does our invading and occupying Afghanistan protect us against a multi-national, or rather, supra-national terrorist organization?

The attacks against us - make no mistake, we were deliberately and offensively attacked and we need to strike back - were done covertly. They must also be met covertly. We need the cooperation of the intelligence communities of every nation. Last night's display will only weaken our coalition and the possibility getting of such cooperation.

I know we "had to do something" - I'm just terrified that we've gone too far and will only get ourselves distracted as we enter a long occupation of a territory where we should be staying clear.


Speaking for the strikes, here's an article I recommend:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PEACE MOVEMENT - Parting Ways Over the War on Terrorism by Charles Deemer
"I do not believe the network of terroism can be defeated without engaging it directly, which I believe will result in violent acts.... So farewell, my friends."

Sunday, October 07, 2001

A guilty looking bunch of kids in 1972


My brother, Steve, sent this to me yesterday. Here's the note that was attached to it, "Dad and I found the attached photo while rummaging through an old trunk in the garage. I believe it was taken around Thanksgiving, 1972. The six of us had just come in from causing great mischief at the Chestnut Hill Country Club (something to do with a golf cart and a frozen swimming pool). When Mom saw the picture, she said we all look guilty. She was right. Enjoy!"

The setting is the steps leading down to our living room at 54 Fellsmere Road, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. Behind us you see the stairs (obviously), the dining room, and the front entryway to the right. Left to right the picture is of Mark (cousin), Miles (brother), Rick (cousin), me (top center), Craig (cousin), and Steve (brother).

I don't recall anything about landing a golf cart in the swimming pool, but it would go along with a lot of what I do remember. We lived just a few doors down from the Ward School, and the back end of the golf course was just on the other side of the school fence. When the snow would end the golf season, we'd tunnel under and climb over that fence and turn turn the golf course into our playground with sleds, toboggans, etc.

Sledding would get old after awhile, and we'd wander around the deserted grounds looking for trouble. If there was a golf cart that hadn't been secured, we'd have certainly checked to see if it would start. If the golf cart would start, we'd certainly be curious as to how strong the ice over the swimming pool would be. Not that I'm confessing anything, mind you. I'm just saying that there may be something to my brother's story. And, being the youngest of the six boys, I'm sure it wasn't my idea...

Here's something I will confess to: The way a certain bend in the golf course came up against the school fence, with a little gully between the two properties, guaranteed that a number of golf balls would get lost on the school side of the property. To make extra money, we'd collect these lost balls and sell them back to the golfers for a quarter a piece.

Here's the confession part: Sometimes, if we really needed some money, and there weren't any balls on our side of the fence, we'd run out on the fairway and grab balls that were in play, then run back to our post on the kid's side of the fence.

Friday, October 05, 2001

Yes, I'm still alive. First few days (weeks?) on a new job is a bit of added stress that doesn't leave much time (or brain capacity) for having a life, let alone writing about one.

I will share this with you: Yesterday afternoon, I did manage to test out the stalls of the men's room. Yep, took a good crap. This is something not enough people realize the benefit of; crapping on company time. I've known guys who, if they were home and they had to "go", would wait till they were at work before letting it out. Few things in life feel as good as being paid to take a crap. Hey, if it's something you know how to do, and you do it well, why not turn pro?

Okay, I've got to go again. To work, I mean. You've got a filthy mind.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

This is it... the first official day of work at my new job... I'm on my way out the door right now... Somebody, please, stop me... Help!!!

How did this happen? Sure, I was looking for a job, but I wasn't supposed to actually get one. Not yet, at least. Looking for a job was just a little activity to appease those who thought I was being a lazy bum, just sitting around here writing all day. I didn't expect (or even want, really) to actually get a job until January or February. I've still got work to do right here!

Oh well, it will all be for the best. I'm just scared about starting something new, the great unknown, all that crap. They might actually expect me to work, or something.

Yesterday I enjoyed my last morning of "goofing off," then went to "work" to fill out paperwork, tax forms, etc., so I could be an official employee when I show up for my first real day in just a few minutes. Oh crap, just a few minutes, I gotta get out of here!

Monday, October 01, 2001

The recent tragedy in NYC and Washington is still fresh in our memories, and we all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11th, 2001. But what about other turning-points in history? Think about a turning-point in history that you remember. What were you doing that day? Where were you when you heard about it? How did you respond to it, and how did it affect you?

Tuesday, October 17, 1989 - 5:04 PM, to be precise - is one of those moments that will always live on in my mind. That was when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.

The images seen by most of the world were of San Francisco, where all the media were gathered for the World Series. It was a Bay Bridge series, with the Oakland A's facing off against the SF Giants, and a large part of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge came crashing down onto the lower deck, trapping and killing several people. In the SF Marina, soft reclaimed land gave in to liquifaction, and broken gas lines exploded into flames.

But Loma Preita was not in San Francisco. The epicenter was about 65 miles to the south, under the Forest of Nicene Marks State Park in Santa Cruz county. I was just a few miles north of Nicene Marks, in a classroom at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The late Richard Gordon, a brilliant Australian with a great sense of humor, was lecturing about comparative politics of advanced capitalist states when the room started to rock. Most of us did as we've been trained and got under our desks, some ran out the back of the classroom onto the quad. As the room continued to rock, with plaster chips falling all around us, I caught Richard's eyes. "Quite a shaker! Quite a shaker!" he kept saying with a big grin, and that great accent of his. Then I turned to watch the TV mounted to the wall to see if it would fall. It swung from side to side, spewing plaster, but somehow held its spot.

The first aftershock came only about fifteen seconds after the actual earthquake ended and lasted nearly as long. When all was said and done, I retook my seat, and Richard considered continuing the class. We had no lights and several people were in near hysterics, so Richard finally said we'd continue on Thursday. School, however, would prove to be closed for nearly two more weeks before we could resume.

On being let out of class, I walked first to the Applied Sciences building, to check the seismograph. Unfortunately, it shattered in the quake and Applied Sciences was being evacuated due to cracks emerging in the structure. Walking across campus to my car I came across a group of students with a battery-operated radio. We listened to the damage reports from San Francisco, but heard nothing about Santa Cruz. We thought that we were just on the edge of their quake, and only later found out that we were actually the hardest hit.

Still, sitting, listening to the radio, I watched as a range of hills to the south rose and fell, then the range in front of them rose and fell, and so on, getting closer and closer until the ground beneath us also rose and fell, like a wave you've watched come to shore and wash over you, the earth was rolling out swells from Nicene Marks up to the Golden Gate.

I slept in my car that first night, as without lights it was too dangerous to enter among all the broken glass in my tiny apartment - besides, I didn't trust the building to remain standing. It was only a few hours before phone service was restored, a couple of days for electricity, and nearly a week for safe flowing water.

More than half of downtown Santa Cruz businesses were completely destroyed. While the world worried about San Francisco, our town was isolated and nearly in ruin. The absolute number of lives lost and structures downed may have been slightly higher in the City, but percentage wise, nothing could compare to what we were going through. We were also effectively quarantined, as the only highways out of the county were all wiped out by either land-slides or collapsed bridges.

That moment changed my life in many ways. One was the building of my friendship with Leslie, who would one day become my wife, as we each searched in vain for each other that first night. Another was the direction of my career. I was studying Politics, with an emphasis on international relations, at the same time I had just taken a job with the County Planning Department. In the aftermath of the quake I saw how even the most mundane of jobs in a local setting could make a huge impact on a community, and in the lives of individuals. I've worked in community settings ever since. The Loma Prieta earthquake has continued to touch my life in many other more subtle ways as well.

One day, when we were living in Sacramento, I was taking the bus home from work, as I always did, when I suddenly felt a shiver run through my body. I just about jumped out of my seat and felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I had no idea what that shudder was about until I looked at my watch: it was 5:04 PM, on October 17, 1994 - the fifth anniversary of Loma Prieta. Sometimes, even when the conscious mind has put something away, the body still remembers.

Professor Richard Gordon, with whom I took a couple of courses and considered one of my favorites, died of cancer in 1996, the same year that Leslie and I got married. But I swear, I'll never forget his face, or his distinctive voice crying out, "Quite a shaker! Quite a shaker!"

Sunday, September 30, 2001

It's wonderful how people have come together to raise money for the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Over half-a-billion dollars ($500,000,000) has been raised so far, with more benefits planned, including: shows by Jerry Seinfeld and Paul McCartney, a CD soundtrack to the TV telethon that aired last week, and more. All of this with proceeds specified only for victims and families of the 9/11 attack.

All wonderful, but I do have one haunting thought that keeps reoccurring: What about the victims of the attacks yet to come? Eighty percent of Americans, including Attorney General Ashcroft and the President, agree that such attacks are likely within a year - and will me made even more likely following any retaliatory action by the U.S. Military.

Will we have the will and ability to raise these kinds of funds after every incident, or will compassion-burn-out set in quickly? As anybody in the non-profit and/or fund-raising sectors can tell you, this is a real problem. Funds raised for all causes tends to go down directly after a well publicized campaign for a national emergency. The old line about "I gave at the office" becomes quite popular and true. This is only natural: people only have so much to give, and once it's given... well, that's it.

So, again I ask, what about the families of the victims of the attacks yet to come?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting down any effort that has been extended so far - I've made contributions to 9/11 funds, and I'll be buying the CD of last week's telethon - I'm only suggesting that organizers accept the new reality, broaden their scope, and begin setting up funds for all victims of terrorism during this coming war. It's not a pleasant thought, but it is a necessary one.

More Terror Activity Likely -US Attorney General

Saturday, September 29, 2001

Hey, Kids! Grab your seats - It's book review time again!

"The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology," by Simon Winchester, proved to be a bit of a disappointment. It's a wonderful book, and I'm sure for those who make their life in geology it's an excellent read, but for me it was a let down.

The problem may be that Winchester is too good a writer, or too accurate a biographer, to put down any details of which he's not 100% certain. Add to that the fact that the source materials focus on William Smith's professional work almost to the exclusion of any personal detail, and you have what should be a compelling personal journey that winds up reading more like a geology text in too many chapters.

Smith's place in history was assured by his 1815 publication of a map of England showing the geological strata and graphically demonstrating his theories that one could tell the age of the rocks from examining the fossils found within. This was radical stuff in 1815, and the work that led to this map took Smith some 30 years. Along the way he picked up a wife, who was possibly crazy, and adopted a nephew, who became his assistant, had business and financial troubles, which led to his being held in debtor's prison, and had a long running class-based feud with England's scientific establishment, which led to his works not being properly recognized for many years after their publication.

Unfortunately, only the last aspect of Smith's life is covered in any detail because that's all he wrote about in his own journal, or is covered in other source material. About the wife we're told that she was a burden to him, often sick, probably crazy, and possibly even a nymphomaniac. We're told all that, but we're never given examples, or are told how Smith felt about her. Did he love her anyway? Did they ever try to have children of their own? Did she embarrass him publicly? We don't know. About the nephew we're told that Smith took over his care when his sister and brother-in-law died, and that he became his assistant, but we're told nothing of their personal relationship. Was their's a close, familial relationship, or only one of master or mentor to apprentice? We don't know. And such is the frustration with the book (mine, at least).

What's left is endless descriptions of the various layers of the earth's crust, and how Smith could tell if an outcropping belonged to the Jurassic or Cretaceous periods.

I picked up this book because I loved Winchester's previous "The Professor and the Madman" so much. That's a book that's rich in personal detail, and is as important and fascinating in the descriptions of the lives of the subjects as it is in the descriptions of their professional works. "The Map that Changed the World" is likely stunning for students of geology, but may bore beyond belief the reader who doesn't care or know about item one of earth science.

So - In the end, I suppose a mixed review. If you get this joke (and think it's funny): "Subduction leads to orogeny" - or, if you have a bumper sticker that says "Stop Plate Tectonics" - Then this is a five star book that you will love every page of. If you don't even care to look up any of those words, then this is a three star book you should avoid. Which averages out to four stars: An occasionally fascinating and well-written book that is often dry and disappointing.

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