Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The pending return of B.W.'s Book Report

I am somewhat aghast to note that I last finished a book at the end of July, lo, these eight months ago. However, I'm pleased to report that the book I decided to break fast with, Robert J. Sawyer's Mindscan, is a good one for leaping back into the habit. And, thanks to Wally Conger's letting me know the book existed, John Scalzi's The Android's Dream arrived a couple of days ago.

I go through these droughts from time to time, when all of my reading is off computer screens, newsprint and magazines and all of a sudden my brain feels depleted. Sometimes I don't realize what I'm missing - this time, I just up and said, "I gotta read a book - any book!" I'm glad my eyes fell on the Sawyer first. I'll tell you why after I race through the second half. Those who've read it already know.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lovin' Elizabeth

When I was a kid I wanted Peter Parker to end up with Betty Brant. Liz, Shmiz ... Gwen, Shmen ... Mary Jane Who? Betty was the one who'd stick by Pete, you just knew.

So I was thrilled to see Betty in the Spider-Man movies, even though she was relegated to a small role - I could always hope that when he got tired of Kirsten Dunst, Spidey would notice J. Jonah Jameson's cute secretary, played by - what's that name? Elizabeth Banks.

Well, something odd started happening - first Elizabeth Banks turned out to be a blonde, not a brunette (That's funny ... Kirsten's not a redhead, either!) and then she started turning up in incredibly appealing roles in movies like Seabiscuit, Slither and (just caught it tonight) Invincible.

She's a sweet kid - or at least she seems to be at home playing sweet kids on the movie screen. I hope she gets to breathe some life into Betty Brant someday. She's already made Betty a fun character given the limits of her short time on stage - it'd be fun to see more of Miss Brant.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gotta love those Vermonters

Introduced in the Vermont legislature -

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives: That the General Assembly finds the existence of good cause for the submission of these impeachment charges to the United States House of Representatives under Section 603 of the Manual of the Rules of the United States House of Representatives as grounds for the impeachment, trial, and removal of George W. Bush as President of the United States ...

Works for me!

Friday, February 23, 2007

In an alternate universe ...

I am inordinately attracted to stories that involve "What If" premises. Favorite movie is It's a Wonderful Life. Favorite Star Trek stories include "The City on the Edge of Forever" and "Yesterday's Enterprise." You get the picture. I'm fascinated by the idea of what woulda/coulda/shoulda happened if one thing changed - so sometimes I get to daydreaming what would have happened if I made one decision differently.

* If I'd stuck with wifey #1, would we be celebrating our 28th anniversary this year, or would we have split somewhere farther down the line?

* Wifey #1 and #2 both said I'd make a great father, but we never got around to testing that theory. What if we had? How would my life choices have been different with the motivation (or distraction) of having children to raise?

* I got my first job four days before I graduated from college, averting the need to head back to my home state 1,000 miles away and enabling me to make a life in my adopted home state. How different a person would I be today if I'd gone home with Mom and Dad?

* I left my first job for more money after five months, and six months after that a guy from a much larger city called me to talk about a third job. I said I didn't want to get a rep for job-hopping so I turned him down flat. What if we'd talked? Where would I be today?

* Ten years ago I walked out on a job over what I considered intolerable conditions - still do - leaving a career that had occupied 22 years of my life. I rose much farther and faster in the first five years of my new career than I'd managed in the two decades of my first career. What if I'd never gotten so frustrated by those intolerable conditions - or what if I'd decided to stick it out?

* What if I'd decided from the get-go I didn't want a job and went to work for myself?

A guy can get lost in alternate-scenario fantasies. My life might be better, could be worse. Bottom line, as Eliot says so memorably in E.T. - "This is reality." It is what it is. There's a book that first appeared in my formative years that I never read, partially because everything you need to know is in its title: Be Here Now. Terrific advice. Daydream about the past and future if you must - and you must, because it's impossible to avoid those thoughts - but the more alive you are in the present moment, the more you will live today.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stay on Gardasil - it ain't over until it's over

The headline looks encouraging: "Merck suspends lobbying for vaccine." But never underestimate the meddling instincts of politicians or the desire for a government-guaranteed buck.

"Merck & Co., bowing to pressure from parents and medical groups, is immediately suspending its lobbying campaign to persuade state legislatures to mandate that adolescent girls get the company's new vaccine against cervical cancer as a requirement for school attendance." Good news. The vaccine, Gardasil, may turn out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but forcing sixth-grade girls to undergo the costly three-shot regimen is Big Brother at its most intrusive.

"'We're concerned that our role in supporting school requirements is a distraction from that goal, and as such have suspended our lobbying efforts,' (Merck medical director Dr. Richard) Haupt said, adding the company will continue providing information about the vaccine if requested by government officials."

In that last phrase is the remaining danger. Just because Merck has suspended its lobbying efforts doesn't mean it suddenly believes it was wrong to try to force the vaccine on schoolgirls. It may simply mean the publicity has reached the point where the Powers That Be have decided they have enough traction and don't need to invest any more cash in their compliant political pawns.

Indeed, in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry's power grab – bypassing the legislature and enforcing the requirement by executive order – is being challenged, the PTB trotted out the classic tear-inducing scenario where a cancer victim pleads for forced vaccination because "if it can just save one child, that's enough." (Link here.) The underlying assumption is that government knows better than parents on matters involving their children, and if that's true in just one case, then the will of the government must be forced on all children.

Tuesday's announcement does not mean that the effort to guarantee a taxpayer-funded market for Gardasil is over. It just means they will try to be more subtle about it.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Done. For now.

For folks who were curious about the truncated second installment of my imaginary physics saga but weren't into reading only one chapter a day, the whole unfinished mess is now online, complete with an explanation of where it was going when my creativity shut off.

The whole sordid affair is here; chapter-by-chapter links are here.

I'm not exactly sure where we go from here, or when, but I think I'll be in a position to say sometime this spring. Stay tuned, as they say.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Collateral damage in the war on drugs

"I'm starting to think 'how many more people have to die' is the wrong question. I fear that pondering how many of these deaths it will take to spur people into seeing the perversity of our drug laws and their enforcement, and demanding reform is the wrong way to look at it. I'm starting to think that we're now moving in the other direction -- that these stories fatigue people. Numb them. Each one gets a bit less outrageous than the one before."

Radley Balko wonders if "
the idea of a 17-year-old kid getting gunned down in his own bed in the name of preventing people from getting high is no longer capable of making us angry." Thanks to Wolfesblog for the link.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ask your doctor if Havidol is right for you

This could be the most important health news you get this week. Click here. Go on. Click!

Political power and the rule of law

Another fine meal of libertarian meat and potatoes by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

"With the elections over and the 110th Congress settling in, the media have been reporting ad nauseam about who has assumed new political power in Washington. We're subjected to breathless reports about emerging power brokers in Congress; how so-and-so is now the powerful chair of an important committee; how certain candidates are amassing power for the 2008 elections, and so on. Nobody questions this use of the word 'power,' or considers its connotations. It's simply assumed, in Washington and the mainstream media, that political power is proper and inevitable.

"The problem is that politicians are not supposed to have power over us - we're supposed to be free. We seem to have forgotten that freedom means the absence of government coercion. So when politicians and the media celebrate political power, they really are celebrating the power of certain individuals to use coercive state force.

"Every government edict, policy, regulation, court decision, and law ultimately is backed up by force, in the form of police, guns, and jails. That is why political power must be fiercely constrained by the American people. ..."

Read the whole essay here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

In which B.W. reveals himself as mere sexist pig

I have no excuse for posting this photo of Jessica Alba dancing in the modern classic film Sin City, other than the effect her performance had on my libido and the libido flashback that I get looking at the still.

I understand that my appreciation for a nubile young thing directly contradicts my quiet but public acknowledgment that I am a Christian, and a relatively fundamental one at that (in the Mother Theresa sense of fundamentalism, not the holier-than-thou sense).

But what can I say? I can't deny my maleness or the fact that watching this lady (who is young enough to be my daughter, fer cryin' out loud) makes a part of me go, "Wowzer!"

Chalk this one up as a Jimmy Carter moment.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The ruling class's mentality

"I love the free market, but the fact is more concentration means less competition, and these markets are less free than they should be. And this Commission is about regulation -- regulators. I always worry a little when I hear regulators shy away from regulation talk."

-- Senator Byron Dorgan (D., North Dakota) addressing members of the Federal Communications Commission at a recent hearing.

I always worry when politicians hire people to "regulate" the "free market." Some people don't appreciate the irony in their words. Today's Wall Street Journal tries to explain it to Dorgan. He won't get it.

"If you're wondering where the new Democratic majority in Congress is inclined to steer telecom policy, look no further than Mr. Dorgan's comment above. Note how he pays lip service to free markets while ultimately favoring more regulation for its own sake.

"But more regulation is the last thing today's telecom industry needs, at least if empirical evidence is any indication ..."

The full article isn't available online unless you're a subscriber; sorry. But the main idea was to point out the cluelessness of Sen. Dorgan's statement anyway.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The four seasons

A little snow and a little cold tend to drive the average mass media types into a tizzy. Pictures of people coping with the white stuff, cars in ditches, cute feature stories like the chilly Valentine's Day wedding line at the courthouse.

Not meaning to "bah humbug" all their fun, but jeez Louise folks, it's just snow and cold. Anybody notice it's February?

As long as the heat is working in the house and car, I'd rather deal with snow and cold than a muggy 98-degree day. I guess that's why I live far enough north that hot and muggy is the exception rather than the rule.

All life choices involve choices. I choose the four seasons.

Now. Where did I put the #!@*$!?! snow shovel?

Monday, February 12, 2007

As Baxter Hetznecker would say: 'Surprise."

After careful review, I've decided there's only one way to get past the writer's roadblock I've been having for six months or 17 years (depending on how you measure) in creating the second book in my series of stories based in the era of imaginary physics.

I'm going to start working on the third book.

I know where the characters will be at the end of the second story, and frankly, starting the third story feels like a lot more fun than finishing the second one. So I'm gonna.

Starting today, you can read my "unfinished symphony," The Imaginary Lover, a chapter a day, online. Or come back to the site in 10 days and read the whole thing — errr, the whole excerpt.

Nope, no podcast this time. We're saving that one for the sequel to the sequel.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

My interest in Wonder Woman movie evaporates

I suppose I'm the last guy on Earth to hear that Joss Whedon and the producers of the Wonder Woman movie have parted company. Oh well, there goes my dream casting of Morena Baccarin.

Now Joss has time to work on plans for Serenity 2 ...

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Totalitarianism begins at home

There's an astonishingly eye-opening (to me) article in the March 2007 issue of Liberty magazine, and I'm a bit frustrated by Liberty's ongoing decision not to put all of its articles online so I can link you to it. But "Twenty Observations on Liberty and Society" by Jayant Bhandari is worth seeking out the magazine and plunking down your $4 on it.

Who thought that getting rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, would put those societies on the path towards peace and prosperity?

Who thinks that when Bin Laden is finally captured or killed, the world will be a safer place?

Who thinks that without Mugabe, Zimbabwe will choose the right path? That tinkering with the state in Palestine and Saudi Arabia will set those peoples free? That Nepal will swiftly progress, now that "democracy" has subdued "monarchy"?

Those who did or do live in a fools' paradise.

Bhandari uses a series of illustrations, largely from his own experience growing up in India and emigrating to the west, to make the point that an oppressive state is a symptom of an oppressive culture, not the other way around. Replace the head of the state or even the structure of the state itself, and the culture will continue to enable the oppression.

It goes deeper than a theme I've dropped here before: Those who thought replacing Clinton with Bush would make the United States more free were bitterly disappointed, and those who think replacing Bush will solve the crisis will be equally disappointed. Herrs Bush and Clinton are only symptoms of the problem.

Realize this: If your actions are caught by a surveillance camera, it probably belongs to the gas station or retail store where you were shopping. If you're forced to give up your bodily fluids or if your e-mail or Web surfing is monitored, your employer was probably the culprit. If someone has a database of what you read, it's probably your bookstore or book club; if someone is tracking your purchases, it's probably your grocery store or credit card company. If a book is banned from your local school or library, it's probably because decent law-abiding citizens asked the state to do so, not because some busybody in a government office took offense. The road to totalitarianism is being built as much, or more, with private dollars as with confiscation from taxpayers.

Unhappy with the Orwellian world you step into every morning? Fight it, and start with the everyday intrusions that don't come from the government. Easy one: When the cashier asks you for your phone number, ZIP code or photo ID, ask why and/or refuse. If you're not in the mood for confrontation, give a phony number or ZIP code. What are they going to do, refuse to sell you the groceries?

Why are friendly government thugs probing your body and rifling through your belongings before you get on a plane? Because our society enabled the invasion of our bodies and property. Bhandari's article points to the fact that the job is bigger than just toppling the giant leeches in Washington and our state capitals. The public sector can only do what the private sector, which pays the bills, allows it to.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

America's next obsession

I feel for Lisa Nowak. She is going to be the Next Big Thing for the bread-and-circus crowd. Astronaut drives 1,000 miles to confront the girlfriend of the object of her desire? Hoo boy.

Anybody think this will not be the Big Story the sundry news networks will use to keep us from paying too close attention to the liberty stealers in Washington and various state capitals?

It's just way too juicy -

Police said Nowak drove from her home in Houston to the Orlando International Airport – wearing diapers so she wouldn't have to stop to urinate – to confront Colleen Shipman.

Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, Nowak boarded an airport bus that Shipman took to her car in an airport parking lot.

During a check of the parking lot, an officer followed Nowak and watched her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. They also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said. Inside Nowak's vehicle, which was parked at a nearby motel, authorities uncovered a pepper spray package, an unused BB-gun cartridge, latex gloves and e-mails between Shipman and Oefelein.

It's got my attention, and I try my darnedest not to pay attention to these sideshows. Poor Lisa Nowak; she's about to become a cartoon. Surveillance of innocents? Forced vaccinations? Executives usurping the power of legislatures? Who cares? What's the latest poop on Lisa?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Revolt against Real ID growing?

I hate to be optimistic about anything going on in Washington, D.C., or our state capitals, but I have to be encouraged by the opening line of this news story, because its wording indicates the reporter "gets it": "A revolt against a national driver's license, begun in Maine last month, is quickly spreading to other states."

The story notes that if states don't comply by May 2008, "driver's licenses that fall short of Real ID's standards cannot be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building or open some bank accounts. About a dozen states have active legislation against Real ID, including Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming."

State Rep. James Guest of Missouri has put together a group of lawmakers in 34 states to introduce bills that oppose or at least protest Real ID.

It's a little too soon to say the tide is turning against this latest invasion of our privacy, but these signs are not discouraging - and even that is a nice change of pace.
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Saturday, February 03, 2007

What is it with Texas?

It's bad enough that Merck is pouring money into state legislator's coffers to try to pass laws that would force grade-school girls to be vaccinated against HPV, ensuring millions and millions of customers for Merck's Gardasil vaccine. The company must be having trouble convincing parents with its big TV campaign for the stuff.

Now the governor of Texas has short-circuited that sleazy process by determining he's the decider and issuing an emergency order for the girls to line up and be guinea pigs for the vaccine, which has been on the market for less than a year.

What's with the corporate welfare, guaranteeing Merck a market? Well, this story suggests "Gardasil is getting used less than doctors would like. Pediatricians and gynecologists from Arizona to New York are refusing to stock Gardasil because of its $360 price for the three doses required and 'totally inadequate' reimbursement from most insurers.

"Pediatricians, in particular, are rebelling, fed up after years of declining insurance reimbursement for vaccines, an explosion of new vaccines and fast-escalating vaccine prices.

"Many practices must tie up $50,000 or more in vaccine inventory, run multiple refrigerators and freezers, insure the vaccines and spend lots of time on inventory management. They also must absorb the cost of broken or wasted vials, and say that's not possible with most insurers reimbursing at just $2 to $15 over the $120 per dose charged by Gardasil's developer, Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station."

Why is the cost of health care so high? One reason is that big companies lobby government to force people to spend on drugs that otherwise would be a matter of informed choice. Some pediatricians will probably throw up their arms at these costs, surrender and get out of the business, which will increase the fees that the remaining pediatricians can charge - supply and demand doncha know.

And what is it with Texas that its governors think they're emperors? If the state legislators down there have any stones whatsoever, they'll perform a quick "no ya don't" on this tinpot dictator. More likely the girls will just line up, hold out their arms, and pray that the vaccine doesn't do them more harm than the disease might have.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Carrot and stick

Millions and millions of dollars go into political campaigns, which pay for the cost of millions and millions of dollars of television advertising.

The politicians who are elected with the help of these TV ads are in charge of the Federal Communications Commission, which can fine or even yank the license of broadcasters who step out of line.

Why do you think meaningful campaign finance reform will never happen? Why do you think state-licensed TV and radio stations are not very tough on the state?