Bad Day…

I always remember where I was when I hear really awful news.

I was watching TV a January night in the ’60s when the news broke in with a special report that three astronauts had died in a fire during a training mission.

I was returning from a quick post office trip at lunch that January day in 1986, when a man on the radio said “The Challenger seems to have exploded.”

I was walking into work a brilliant late summer morning, went into the vending machine area to get a soda, and a total stranger said to me, “Oh, it’s a terrible day, a plane hit the World Trade Center.”

I was watching Comedy Central this morning, laughing at Bill Murray in Scrooged when I just happen to check SFF Net newsgroups on my laptop. Adam Troy Castro titled a bleak message at 9:34 in sff.discuss.obituaries with “Not Again”

Terrorism, I thought. Oh shit.

Then I read the message.

“It’s beginning to look like we’ve lost the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia…”

Shit! I grabbed the channel changer and immediately switched to NBC. And cried for about 10 minutes.

I have been a huge fan of spaceflight. I don’t remember the Shepard or Grissom flights, but Glenn flew just after my fifth birthday and I remember that vividly. Space travel is an act of supreme confidence in the future – it meant we were living in the future.

I find any death related to the space program to be doubly-heartbreaking. It’s sad when any person dies in the course of their work; but every death related to space travel seems to drive a nail in the coffin of NASA.

Life has risks. I just hope we don’t mothball the program for another two and a half years due to this tragedy. Astronauts know that it’s risky. Most Americans know that it’s risky. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

If everyone was so risk-averse, we’d still be little monkeys living on a beach in Africa.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Weird Movie Connections

I’ve been sick since getting home. The cold I picked up over Christmas seems to have slid into being the flu (aches, exhaustion), so I stayed home from work on Friday. I’m actually starting to feel a little better today.

Anyway, when I get sick, I tend to watch movies, as my concentration isn’t generally good enough to read books. I’m not sure if this makes any sense or not, but as I was watching Witness yesterday, I found some weird connections between it and the Lord of the Rings movies.

True, there’s the obvious connection – Viggo is in both. He plays Moses Hochleitner, Daniel’s (Alexander Gudonov) brother. He has few lines (except for part of the “horse with one ball” story after the funeral and “hello” at the beginning of the barn-raising), is always smiling and wears a very light blue shirt. If you want to spot him, you see him most of all in the barn-raising sequence – he’s the first person Daniel introduces to John Book.

Now that’s a tad tenuous, so there are more odd little connections. There’s little Lukas Haas, a fine actor a few years older than Elijah Wood. The sensative little boy roles Lukas got in the early-mid ’80s, Elijah got in the early ’90s. They even look quite a bit alike. If you check out a current picture of him in IMDB, you’ll see that Lukas still has a hobbit-like face.

If some visionary director had made LOTR in the ’80s, you can see Harrison Ford would have been a natural for Strider. Luckily, this didn’t happen; while I like Harrison, and while he’s a pretty good actor, I’m not sure he would have been up to it.

Finally, there’s the “stranger in a strange land” theme, which is pretty obvious in both films.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Happy New Year!

We had a very happy holiday, enjoyed the east coast snowstorm since it hit after we were at my parents, and managed to get home in the New Year’s rainstorm before the ice storm we keep hearing is coming.

I hope to start posting in the blog a little more; I’ve started to learn about RSS, so expect to see some changes here soon.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Why I Hate Blogger Software

I don’t post blogs all that often, and just spent about 30 minutes writing about a wonderful new book called When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden by Bill Maher.

And then, I pressed the large type on the left side that said “Posts.”

And, of course, I lost everything I wrote because I should have remembered to press the small blue button on the right that says “post and publish.”

Weird. I’ve been writing Web pages in raw HTML since 1994, and it’s the new technology that’s fucking me over!

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Safety, Again

Well, I was in Silver Spring, MD during the recent sniper episode and arrived home alive. So did my husband. So did all of our friends.

Or, as the button many of us bought and wore (thanks, Lee and Nancy!) said:

    No stupid sniper is going to ruin my convention.

And he didn’t. Capclave was probably slightly less well-attended than it might have been, but most of the people I wanted to see braved the news reports and went to Silver Spring anyway.

I don’t want to be too blase about danger, but the overreaction to living is getting tiresome. Some of my friends have become very fatalistic (“If there’s a bullet out there with your name on it, that’s it”). I’m not. Increasingly, I feel like I’m living with the religion of statistics. I’m more likely to die of a stroke in my 70s than of a bullet or terrorist action in my 40s.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein

So what do they have in common?

Both have a penchant for wearing military uniforms and growing facial hair.

Both are absolute dictators over small countries.

Both are irrationally demonized by the U.S. government.

Sure, we should be wary of these two, but is there any rational reason to go to war?

In the case of Fidel Castro, we’ve contained him for years. Despite several adventures in the early ’60s, Cuba has proven to be fairly harmless. When the Russians wanted to put nuclear missiles in Cuba and the US government said “No way,” the Russian government collectively blinked and nothing further happened. Rationality triumphed.

In the case of Saddam Hussein, he tried to invade Kuwait (and was thrown out decisively), murdered a bunch of his own citizens, and is suspected to be developing “weapons of mass destruction.”

It’s clear that the Iraqis have had some bioweapon capabilities. They gassed a few hundred Kurds for almost no reason other than to say that they could do it. But, they haven’t done anything else with those weapons since the early ’90s.

It’s not so clear that they have nuclear weapons. It’s not that easy to enrich uranium. Uranium enrichment facilities are large and easy to spot from the air. It’s also not that trivial to transport enriched uranium, so it would be tough to “secretly” bring it in from another country. [[I later heard a report from an independent source (since I’m extremely untrusting about anything the Bush administration would say about Iraq) that the Iraqis probably did have some amount of enriched uranium in about 1990). And, as we’ve just learned from North Korea, it is possible to enrich uranium and build bombs without the US knowing “for sure” (parentetical comments added 10/25/02)]]

And how would they deliver a nuclear weapon – by the post?

They don’t have missiles and their Air Force is kept pretty busy due to US monitoring of the no-fly zone.

Have representatives of al-Queda met with representatives of the Iraqi government? Probably. And have representatives of al-Queda met with other governments? Almost definitely. We don’t seem to be going after other governments (beyond getting the Taliban mostly out of Afghanistan).

There is no rational reason to go to war against Iraq. While Saddam Hussein is dangerous, he’s much, much more dangerous to his own people than he is to the rest of the world. Containment has worked very well, and can continue to work.[[(Comment added 2015: Sadly, the war the Americans started in Iraq destabilized the country and led to an ugly civil war. So it turned out America was much more dangerous to Iraq than Hussein had been…)]]

I keep hearing we should be afraid of Saddam Hussein. It’s as if we learned absolutely nothing from September 11 – we need to be more afraid of, more wary of the enemy we cannot see. Like Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein is more bluster, someone I refuse to loose any sleep over, despite the overly-earnest pronouncements of our government.

Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Reaching Me Online

Ahh, for the good old days of the Web. You could stick your E-mail address wherever you wanted to and people would send you E-mail… ; >

Well, it hasn’t been like that in a while, due to spam. I have an address that I only use to post on USENET, and I’m up to about 10 pieces of spam a day. Unfortunately, I need to check it sporadically because my ISP insists on having at least one E-mail address separate from my E-mail on their server.

I have a Yahoo E-mail I really don’t use, and I get about 3 spams a day from that one. Luckily, the spam filter catches most of them.

Seeing the onslaught of spam, I took my E-mail off of my pages a few years ago and opted to use formmail forms.

Stop laughing..

What funny about that was that it turns out formmail has massive security problems. I detached my forms from formmail over the summer, but neglected to take formmail off my server. So, lo, I had a hacker try to spam others with my formmail.


So I’ve pulled down my Perl scripts and have downloaded a single Perl script which promises it is a bullet-proof mail utility. And I’ve put my forms back.

If you’ve been trying to reach me, I’m sorry I’ve been hard to contact. I’m really not trying to hide. But there’s only so much spam you can delete in a day….

Contact the Webmaster.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Meeting Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

One of my favorite books (well, the first 2/3rds of it, anyway) is the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. I also liked The Wonder Boys and Mysteries of Pittsburgh very much. Michael Chabon also runs a wonderful Web site on top of being one of the better writers of our day.

So when I saw he was making a “stealth visit” to his former employer (Jay’s Bookstall) to sign some books, I made a point of getting myself out to Oakland to pick up a copy of Summerland and meet Michael.

Ayelet Waldman, Jay, Michael Cabon and Ida-Rose

They were just delightful folks. I’d seen Michael in some TV interviews, but I don’t remember having seen Ayelet Waldman before. She’s also been writing, a series of mysteries called “The Mommy Track.” I bought one of her books as well.

While I’ve been very lucky to meet lots of writers due to my involvement in SF fandom, I haven’t met all that many mainstream writers. I met Barbara Kingsolver after a talk a few years ago, and that’s been about it. So meeting a Pulitzer Prize winner, and “local boy makes good” was a real treat.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

He’s Probably Dead: Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden hasn’t been seen publically since last fall, and he wasn’t looking too good at the time. Remember, he was only 44 but was reported to have had severe kidney disease on top of living in a war zone for a few months.

And now, this:

Osama wasn’t like Mullah Omar – he didn’t completely shun cameras. He’d give a speech every once in a while or demonstrate a rocket launcher in front of video cameras.

The fact that he didn’t give this self-congratulatory speech on video means he’s probably dead. The fact that he has not been reliably photographed since last
fall, and isn’t showing up on a recent video tape during this first anniversary of 9/11, means he’s not around to worry about anymore.

But whether it’s Osama or some fellow-traveler, his contention that history has been changed is nonsense. While his people did murder about 3,000 people in cold blood and ruin a few blocks of downtown Manhattan and part of the Pentagon, let’s examine whose history has changed in the last year, shall we?

Americans, Europeans, et.c.: Few lifestyle changes;
more unemployment, some extra lines at
the airport, more focus on terrorism

Afghanistan: Taliban out, something less onerous in;
al Qaeda’s movements greatly restricted
to caves and remote countryside (or underground).

As the crash of Flight 93 demonstrated, Americans woke out of their terrorism stupor pretty fast.

I think the best way to spend tomorrow is to try to acknowledge the hit we took without wallowing in the terror of the day. Living in terror means the terrorists win. I plan to go to work.

I don’t believe all terrorists are gone, nor do I believe that we’ll never have another terrorist attack. But, as I said last December, I believe we’re more likely to have small-scale terrorist acts, not large flying bombs.

2013.02.20: And, OK, I was wrong on this one. Bin Laden was alive until May 2011.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.

Two Girls Who Didn’t Die

With so much bad news about unlucky girls, I thought I’d share two stories about lucky girls.

The first one is 7-year-old Erica Pratt. You’ve probably heard of her. She was the little girl snatched late Monday night in Philadelphia. She was tied up and thrown in a basement. The kidnappers chose to wrap her in duct tape, which the girl was able to chew through. She escaped by breaking a window and calling for help.

The second one is 18-year-old Megan Stone. You probably haven’t heard of her. A star high school athlete, she developed a virus a few weeks ago that attacked her heart. After a couple of days, she was on the list for a possible heart transplant, it looked like her heart would be so badly damanged.

But almost as rapidly as she got the virus, she got over it and walked out of the hospital with her original heart.

I haven’t met Erica (though I’d love to give her a high-five for a job well done), but I do have a tenuous connection to Megan – her father was a good friend of Jim’s while they were growing up. Jim plans to drop Blaine a note.

No Longer the World’s Slowest Blog is a periodic blog with comments on a variety of topics.