Saturday, March 31, 2007

What We Call The News

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fish memories

If fish only have a four-second memory, then why did my little crippled fish come to life this morning when I loomed over the fish tank with the can of fish food? What made him leave his apparently comfortable spot, lying on his side at the bottom, and start wiggling his way toward the surface before I even spread the morning's bounty over the water?

The little one continues to teach me lessons in perseverance through tough circumstances. He has clearly sustained some brain damage that prevents him from swimming straight and tuckers him out, but come mealtime he stirs from his rest and goes for his share of the flakes.

I don't mean to anthropomorphize this fish . I just think other species can teach us something about survival - and when just the sight of me on the horizon spurred him to begin seeking food, it became obvious to me that he remembers events from longer ago than a few seconds.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

'The Onion cooks up a newscast'

This news is so good I'm posting it before I even go check it out - The Onion is going into video news clips via its new ONN (Onion News Network) site. Details here.

"Seriously, just try looking in the New York Times for the story about President Bush calling up Civil War re-enactors for duty in Iraq. (Statistics show that 98 percent of them will not be leaving a significant other at homeā€¦)"

I love it already!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

B.W.'s Book Report: The Tomb

So this is what all the fuss is about. Count me in as hopping on the Repairman Jack bandwagon.

F. Paul Wilson's character doesn't repair appliances; he repairs "situations." And my, what a situation he encounters in The Tomb, the first book in the series. I read the "Author's Definitive Edition" of this 1984 novel, which was first published in 2004, so I don't know if it's a radical change from the original or just a tweaking of details - I noticed Jack is watching his private James Whale movie festival on DVD, for example - was it VHS originally? or is the concept of watching movies at home not even part of the original novel? I got my first VCR in 1988, although I think I may have been late to the party.

Be that as it may, it is lovely to have a hero who deliberately avoids contact with our beloved nanny government and does all he can to stay under its radar. I find it interesting that Jack stayed where he was at the end of The Tomb for 14 years, and Wilson revived the character for what has become a series of nine books so far. I'm looking forward to diving into those, but first I'm going to check out An Enemy of the State, another Wilson novel described on the cover as "both a philosophical tale and an action yarn." You could describe The Tomb the same way, in a sense, but it sounds like this "story of the birth of the LaNague Federation" has a bit more philosophical meat in it.

I'm being a bit vague about the details of The Tomb because my sense is that I'm definitely late to this party - most of the people who regularly check out this blog know all about Repairman Jack and wonder what took me so long. If you're arriving even later, let me just add my voice to the chorus encouraging you to seek out and read this stuff!


Fish update

Not much change. It does seem like the little guy's somewhat weaker, but he still doesn't like it when I come near with the net, and he still squirms his way up to the food. He still wants to live, in other words. Who am I to argue?


Friday, March 23, 2007

Advance of the police state

Brooksville, Fla., is moving forward with a plan to seize the homes of people who don't pay their parking ticket fines. No, really.

Why do government thugs try to perpetrate such outrages? Because they can.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Handicapped fish zone

A rather remarkable drama is playing out in a corner of our basement, where we keep our pond fish in a big horse trough over the winter. A few days ago, I went in and found one of the younger adult fish lying on its side at the bottom of the tank, a red blotch around one of its gills.

I sighed and grabbed the fish net for the inevitable disposal process, but to my surprise he darted away when I came near.

For several mornings now, I have come in to feed the fish and found this little one on its side at the bottom. When I come with the net, he rights himself, and when I set the net aside and drop the food on the surface, he wriggles all the way up - taking one or two wide, shaky arcs to get there - and grabs a flake or two. He's obviously sustained some physical damage, because he tends to overshoot the surface and get his whole face out of the water in his effort to grab some food.

No doubt the "humane" thing to do would be to "put the poor thing out of its misery." My guess is he's had the fishy equivalent of a stroke and may never be "right" again. But as long as he's so interested in food that he makes that daily struggle to the top, I think I'll let him and nature decide when it's time to kick off. Every little life deserves that chance.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Life in 3-D

For a very long time I had two eyes but very little depth perception. One eye was significantly stronger than the other and so did most of the work. A very perceptive optometrist figured it out one day, and for the past six or seven years I have seen the world with the depth it "really" has, or at least in the manner that most two-eyed creatures perceive it. It's a profound change, one that not only explains (in part) why I was not a great athlete in my youth - hard to "see the ball" when you're only engaging half of your vision - but also makes a great analogy for life itself.

After a lifetime of not working together, my eyes sometimes fall back on old habits, despite the glasses designed to nudge them into cooperative action. Such was the case yesterday, when I looked up on a hill and saw two houses, one that I knew intellectually was situated higher on the hill and several hundred feet behind the other. The image that reached my brain essentially put the higher house on top of the forward house, and I knew that was wrong.

I had to focus my attention on my eyes and concentrate on putting one house in front of the other. Even then, it was a bit of a chore. I did experience the instant delight of watching my immediate surroundings burst into sharp relief: It's hard to explain to someone who has always seen in three dimensions, but there's a breathtaking moment when the forest becomes a swarm of individual trees that are not only side-by-side but in front of and behind each other, and the spaces between them open up.

This time, though, despite the beauty immediately surrounding me, those two houses a half-mile away stayed plastered one on top of the other. It was only a few minutes later, when I stopped thinking so hard and glanced back up the hill, that the proper space between the houses opened up in my mind and I could see with my eyes what I knew intellectually.

Sometimes, even when the correctional lenses have been put into place and you understand with new vision, you fall back into the old comfort zone and the old habits and perceive things the old way. It takes a concerted mental effort to brush away the cobwebs and force yourself to see reality as it is again. Once you've seen what it is you were missing, it's easier to recognize when you're not seeing reality fully, but not necessarily easy to orient your brain back to the right place. The old habits are deeply ingrained, but shedding them is a good thing.

The familiar writers I have been visiting regularly in the blogosphere seem to be dealing with shakeups in their perception - personal challenges, old friends disappointing them, new endeavors, whatever. I perceive some shifting going on; perhaps it's something as simple and organic as the coming of spring and our resident impatience with a late-starting but now-lingering winter. Or perhaps it's the strain of getting out of two-dimensional vision knowing there's a rich and beautiful third dimension out there.

It's not always easy for me to recognize when my eyes have fallen into their old habits - but oh, the rewards when I remind them to see the depth. If you've been struggling recently, I hope this little nudge helps you to reorient your vision.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The cost of living

Claire Wolfe is right ... this is one of the scariest articles in a long time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Modeling peacekeeping

Now this is a profoundly important piece. Anyone who buys into the principle of non-aggression will find some wise, practical advice in here. I love the fist-pushing demonstration, but it gets even wiser and more practical from there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Having a deja vu

I missed the premiere of Blood Ties Sunday night because I was watching the last three episodes of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ironic, that.

The new Lifetime show is about a young woman who solves supernatural crimes, teaming up and falling in love with a 450-year-old vampire. What a novel idea.

But maybe I shouldn't be so tough on them, seeing as the premise is from a series of books that Tanya Huff started writing in 1991. That would be a year before Buffy made her debut in a movie, and six years before she fell for a vampire in the TV series.

Nothing new under the sun ...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Things that happen

Background music: "Blue Sunday," Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I finally had my basement nook set up the way I wanted it. My computer and stereo were linked together in ways that enabled me to do all sorts of unspeakably convenient things. So, of course, the melting snow had to leak into the house in a way that the only way to clean up the water was to disconnect my computer from the stereo and move the music equipment out of the way.

So, when I sat down to write this morning, given the usually gleeful choice of composing the Great American Novel or the great American blog essay or doing my day-job homework (and I enjoy the day-job homework lately), my brain could focus on none of the above. I can't reconnect the stereo until the lingering moisture evaporates off the floor. The stereo tower is temporarily stashed looming just over my right shoulder, a constant reminder of last night's minor disaster.

Surfing the Web gave me much to think about, good reading and all, but the brain-block didn't dissolve. A couple of games of computer chess only exposed how much I have to learn about that game. I did get my household finances updated - love that Quicken - but that isn't the prettiest picture in the world, either. I would go upstairs and start reading "The Tomb" - I finally decided it's time to find out what the big fuss is over Repairman Jack - but Sweetie is in almost-spring-cleanup mode and will surely frown on my sitting in a corner "doing nothing."

Checkmate? Am I stuck in the basement staring at a blank sheet of paper, err, a computer image of a blank sheet of paper? Outside the sun is shining with the surest promise of spring we've had so far. Perhaps a walk in the sun will shake these damnable cobwebs from my mind.

What does the sultry photo of Fay Wray have to do with my blue funk, you ask? What a silly question! Few things make a blue funk more bearable than gazing at a beautiful woman. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a sunny day to walk through.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Oh my I'm so surprised

I know we're all shocked! shocked! to learn the FBI underreported its use of the USAPATRIOT Act.

The FBI underreported its use of the USA Patriot Act to force businesses to turn over customer information in suspected terrorism cases, according to a Justice Department audit.

One government official familiar with the report said shoddy bookkeeping and records management led to the problems. The FBI agents appeared to be overwhelmed by the volume of demands for information over a two-year period, the official said.

"They lost track," said the official who like others interviewed late Thursday spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not being released until Friday.

The FBI in 2005 reported to Congress that its agents had delivered a total of 9,254 national security letters seeking e-mail, telephone or financial information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents over the previous two years.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's report says that number was underreported by 20 percent, according to the officials.

Fine conducted the audit as required by Congress and over the objections of the Bush administration ...

A federal appeals judge in New York warned in May that government's ability to force companies to turn over information about its customers and keep quiet about it was probably unconstitutional.

On that last point ... It's "probably unconstitutional" but the Supreme Court will not overturn it anyway.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Heroes Chapter 18 ended with a small army of cliffhangers and then the bombshell that the show won't return until April 23. Eeeeeeeeek!

I should have seen this coming. Only 22 episodes in a season and they have to save something for May sweeps. Those last four chapters are going to be quite an experience.

The show hasn't jumped the shark yet, despite constantly piling surprise upon surprise. Lovin' it!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

B.W.'s Book Report: Mindscan

In John Scalzi's Old Man's War, people's consciousness is transferred into new, artificial bodies. The process presumably leaves the person's original body an empty, dead shell.

Robert J. Sawyer had a similar idea with an important difference. In his near-future, technology can copy a person's consciousness into a new, artificial body - but the person's original body lives on, complete with its original consciousness. Because the original body has not long to live, each person who undergoes this process agrees to transfer all of his/her identity and accompanying rights to the person inside the new body, whose memories and mind are identical - at least as of the moment of transfer. The "shed skins" get to live out the rest of their lives at a luxury resort on the far side of the moon, while the copy gets to continue the original person's life indefinitely.

Two problems: Our hero, who undergoes the process in his 40s because he is doomed to die early from a congenital problem, is unexpectedly made well by a newly discovered cure. And his new girlfriend, a transferred multimillionaire novelist, is sued by her son, who considers his mother dead and wants the inheritance.

In Mindscan, Sawyer has crafted an intriguing tale that tackles the big questions. What makes us human? What is the nature of consciousness? When does life begin? When does life end? When does a developing fetus become a person? When does a human being cease to be a person?

The story is set in a time when the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision has been overturned, much to the dismay of our two protaganists, but the questions about personhood raised by that case come back to haunt them as they fight for the right to be considered persons themselves. Sawyer, to my mind, manages to be fair to both sides of this emotionally charged subject in crafting a realistic scenario as the story plays out.

I picked this book up more or less at random from a pile of books that had accumulated in the eight months since last I finished a book. It was a terrific way to dive back into the habit. I'm not going to go into much more detail about the plot, because watching it unfold is a lot of fun. Sawyer has already won the Hugo and Nebula awards for previous works - this one deserves that level of recognition, too.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Under the spreading chestnut tree II

I've been away from the Montag desk for a few days, and this isn't likely to feel like you've been rewarded for checking back ... sorry. I'll make it up to you.

Last year around now, I lamented the amount of time I was spending in front of the TV screen but predicted that Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks would be in the American Idol finals. Having not learned my lesson from a year ago, I am again spending an inordinate amount of time in front of the glowing box and have again drawn some conclusions about the annual singing competition.

Melinda Doolittle versus Lakisha Jones. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Stephanie Edwards or Sabrina Sloan in there, either. Long shot, Jordin Sparks. I wouldn't be surprised if these five ladies end up as the "final five," they're that far ahead of their competitors. What I would be surprised to see is any of this year's sorry collection of male vocalists anywhere near the finale. Tuesday nights, when the men perform, are excruciating; Wednesday nights are electrifying.

With my attention fixated on young singers and the mainstream media fixated on who the Tweedledee and Tweedledum parties are going to nominate for president next year, I have no doubt that Congress and the administration are busy stripping us of what's left of our freedom. Serves us right, I suppose. Pass me some bread, the circus is on.