Friday, August 29, 2008

The missing words in Obama's speech

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination for emperor Thursday night, Barack Obama used the word "freedom" twice, if the text I found online is accurate.

The first came as he spoke of "America's promise" —
It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Notice the structure: The promise says we are free, but. Each of the next several paragraphs gives an example of a freedom that exists but has limits established by a powerful central government. Most telling is his list of things he does not believe Americans can do for themselves:

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

We need the government to protect ourselves from harm, educate our children, invest in new science and technology? I believe a strong argument can be made that government intrusion hinders, not helps, each and every one of the things on this list.

The second and final time he mentions "freedom" came in the context of restoring a positive image of the American Empire as it pursues its vision of the world.
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.
A search of the text for the word "liberty" came up empty. In the 21st century, these are concepts that are subordinated to concepts like security and our obligation to the state and to the collective.

While packaging himself as something new, Obama like most every politician before him believes the force of the state can be utilized as an agent of positive change. But change effected by force can only be described as oppression.

Obama gives a good speech that feels inspiring, until you start to think about the words. Words do mean something, and sometimes much can be learned by thinking about what words are missing.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why I believe in a higher power

I don't try to make a big deal about it or ram my faith down people's throats. I don't see anything in what Jesus said that makes me the boss or judge of anyone, although he did have quite a few things to say about the religious hypocrites of his day. If you're more comfortable with a different spiritual path or no path at all, fine. I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way.

But every so often, I just need to say "Hallelujah," OK?

A friend of mine was going through a tough time last month — discouraged, full of self-doubt — so I dashed off a note meant to be encouraging and say, "Hey! You're important, everyone goes through times like this, you're not alone and you're worth a lot to me and to the rest of us." Didn't hear anything back immediately, but that's par for the course — sometimes this friend and I wait months for a personal update from each other. The beauty of the blogosphere is we're all in touch with each other most of the time anyway.

So the last couple of weeks I, too, have been going a time of discouragement and self-doubt. Every personal work project I have, and some of my day job stuff, has fallen behind schedule. Meanwhile, as the empire goes through its quadrennial celebration of state power that will lead up to the installation of a new emperor, I feel increasingly like an alien on a different planet. My brain and heart were starting to say, "Sure, you're falling behind, but what's the use? Nobody cares about the things you have to say anyway."

Then Wednesday, out of the blue, my friend dashed off a note that said, "Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts with me. I'm sorry it took me so long to say so, but you did help me quite a bit." And there, underneath the note, was what I had written a month ago.

They were exactly the words of encouragement that I needed now. It was like taking a 2 by 4 to myself and saying, "Hey! Everybody goes through times like this, you're not alone."

The reason I believe in a higher power is that it was something I needed to hear not today, not last week, but because of what was happening, I needed to hear it at about 3:00 Wednesday afternoon, yesterday. And there it was. The timing was perfect — not pretty good; perfect.

It's OK if you think it's just a happy coincidence. But I don't.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Moviehole interviews Robert Downey Jr.

An interesting chat with Robert Downey Jr. in which he famously puts down The Dark Knight ...
Didn't get it, still can't tell you what happened in the movie, what happened to the character and in the end they need him to be a bad guy. I'm like, 'I get it. This is so high brow and so f--king smart, I clearly need a college education to understand this movie.' You know what? F-ck DC comics.
... gives us a taste of Iron Man 2 ...
I think it's going to appropriately well thought out so that we don't forget what got us the response that we appreciated so much, which is, we didn't say, 'Great, now that this is like this, now we're going to twist it and do this with it.'
... and tantalizes us with his description of the forthcoming movie Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie.
... he's a lot more broad and less stoic than I remember seeing him depicted. He's a bare knuckle boxer, a martial artist and a complete weirdo which is why I said I'd love to do this."
It's all right here.


Cheney II

Sen. Joe Biden's reaction to the USAPATRIOT Act was that President Bush and Congress stole his idea.

Biden was pushing intrusive bills with comfortable-sounding names like the Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act as early as 1993, and his recollection of the 2001 introduction of USAPATRIOT was that "the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill."

CNET does a nice job of chronicling Joe Biden's lifelong quest to crush privacy and other civil liberties in this article. Thanks, Kirsten, for the link.

I guess it's fashionable for 21st century politicians to represent themselves as agents of change and then select as their vice president an elderly career politician who routinely defiles freedom in the name of security. We all know what Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said about freedom and security.

Again, in the immortal words of Peter Townshend, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

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Monday, August 25, 2008

An interesting choice of words

In the final paragraph of her latest column about the upcoming political conventions, "They're paying attention now," Peggy Noonan chooses a word I'm not used to seeing in what has come to be known as the mainstream media.

Of presidential candidates, Noonan writes: "The thing that makes them want to rule America is the thing that stops them from thinking of prudent limits."

The word I'm talking about is rule. Usually a pundit or reporter will write about someone who wants to serve America as president, to represent his/her district, or simply to "be" whatever the position might be.

Rule suggests power over the people, as opposed to whatever it is that a public servant serves. Rule suggests that the office seeker wants to be in charge of our lives. Rule, in short, is a more accurate description of what exactly it is these men and women want and plan, if elected, to do.

It's a perfectly adequate word, much more appropriate as the federation that had been the United States of America settles into middle age as the American Empire. I'm just not used to seeing the word out there in the "mass media."

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Two down, 22 to go

Chapter 2 of The Imaginary Revolution podcast is available at Uncle Warren's Attic although Bluhm has not yet produced Episode #55, which will also include Chapter 3. Who, us? Behind schedule? How'd that happen?

Oh wait, I can save you a step. Download Chapter 2 here.

What? What do you mean, you haven't heard Chapter 1 yet? Fer cryin' out loud ... Here.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Meet the old boss, same as the new boss

Mr. Obama has picked eternal candidate Joe Biden as his assistant emperor, fulfilling yet another cliché by "balancing the ticket."

With an "agent for change" leading the charge, apparently balance requires that the veep be a dinosaur.

No matter which ticket wins, the result of the November election will be a greater consolidation of state power against human rights. Don't know why I bother to follow this stuff, because as Mal Reynolds famously said, I just want to go my way. How 'bout dem Jets?


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doing the math in Barack Obama ad

One of the candidates for emperor has started running an ad that says his opponent would increase tax breaks for big corporations, especially big oil companies and companies that export their jobs, "while 100 million Americans get no tax relief at all." But lo! The ad's candidate would provide three times as much tax relief as the other guy.

Let's see, three times nothing is ...? I agree that there's not a dime's worth of difference between these two Big Brother wannabes, but this level of honesty is unusual.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I Can't Drive 55

Nettie passed this along in the comments earlier today ... yup, gotta get this out front:

The new push for 55 mph

Yup, I'm buying this, all right. (Now where'd I put that roll-eyes smiley face anyway?)
LOS ANGELES — Though it lasted longer than disco and leisure suits, the national 55-miles-per-hour speed limit was another remnant of the 1970s that did not endure.

Yet with high fuel costs reviving memories of the energy crisis of that decade, proposals to bring back the "double nickel" or something like it are emerging, with backers saying federal speed limits could save fuel, money and perhaps lives ...

Here's why this idea is gaining any traction: Anyone who's been on a highway lately knows the higher gasoline prices are motivating many of us to slow down to 65 or slower. My guess is that state troopers aren't catching enough "criminals" to pay their salaries as handily as they were when people routinely went 75-80-85. Lowering the limit to 55 would restore some balance to the state coffers, now that 66 would suddenly be 11 mph over the limit.

"We've been calling on people to do it for themselves, do it voluntarily, do it for the country, do it to stop climate change, do it to save money, do it to make our roads safer," says the busybody Californian quoted in the story. Like many busybodies, he's now decided that if people aren't willing to "do it for themselves, do it voluntarily," well then, "we" will just have to force people to do it at gunpoint.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

OMG I killed the Yak

Back in May I posted a comment over at Yak Attack in which I said to lewlew, in part, "I think 'What do I want to be when I grow up?' has to be a constant question because once you stop growing, you’re dead. And I’m not ready for that phase yet. 8-)"

It was the last thing posted there for (ulp!) three months, and when she returned she said, "Hello, I haven't given up the ghost or deserted Yak Attack ... I’ve been exploring B.W.’s idea that if we stop growing we’re dead, spending time with family, reading books I normally wouldn’t pick up, doing yoga and remodeling."

It sounds like she's been having fun discovering life outside of cyberspace — a good lesson to learn! I've been spending those same three months at this keyboard wondering what I want to be when I grow up. Hmmmm ... I think you had the better idea, lewlew! Welcome back.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Young musician shielded from praise and acclaim

Here's a shout-out to all my friends in the People's Republic of Wisconsin, where they are protecting an 8-year-old blues guitar prodigy from the horrors of performing in public.

Tallan "T-Man" Latz has "played in bars and clubs, including the House of Blues in Chicago, and even jammed with Les Paul and Jackson Browne. He has a summer of festivals scheduled and has drawn interest from venues worldwide."

He has also drawn interest from venues in Beijing West, which the locals call Madison.
An anonymous e-mail sent to state officials complained that Tallan was too young to perform in taverns and nightclubs because of state child labor laws ...

The lesson can be stiff: Each day he performs, the employer can be fined $25 to $1,000 and the parent from $10 to $250.

Jennifer Ortiz of the state Equal Rights Division said her agency has a responsibility to enforce the law once it becomes aware of a violation.

"Well, the law prohibits it, and the Legislature enacted the laws to protect the health, safety and welfare of all children."
Wow. Just wow. Read and weep here.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Belated shameless self-promotion

I literally forgot to tell you that the first chapter of The Imaginary Revolution has been brought to life in Uncle Warren's Attic #54, which was posted Monday. You can listen to UW's dramatic reading of my new novel over the next few weeks, as it emerges from my mind and keyboard.

Based in the same universe and approximate time frame as The Imaginary Bomb, this book is about Sirius 4's declaration of independence and how things worked out. The events and characters of the first book are tangential to the new one, but the climax of I-Bomb serves as a catalyst to the events of I-Revolution.

The first short chapter sets the stage and introduces Raymond Kaliber and Badiah Sinclair, our hero and his main protagonist, although they're only about 12 years old at the time. You'll also hear a couple of teasers about two other characters, former football player Rev. John "Hemmy" Hemlock and the gorgeous Buffalo "Don't call me Buffy" Springsteen.

Although it was almost two years between the I-Bomb podcast and release of the book, my plan is to have the download/print version of The Imaginary Revolution on the market within a month of the new podcast series' finish. Goal is Oct. 15; we'll see how that goes.

You can listen or download the show featuring my first episode here. And if you're in a real hurry, we're also making the eight-minute reading of Chapter 1 available here. But you'll miss the pomp, circumstance and the glimpses of Hemmy and Buffalo.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How's the fish

Soundtrack (I should do this more often): "Nitty Gritty Surround," Jimmy Ibbotson & John McEuen with Jennifer Warnes.

While searching for some Favre art on my hard drive the other day, I found my fish icon and realized I haven't offered an update about the little guy who, back in March of ought-seven, I thought was thinking of making a premature departure from this earthly plane.

(Question: Is it "earthly plane" or "earthly plain"? I suppose it depends on whether you're flying or sowing corn ...)

The short answer is no pond fish have left the premises for some time now. This particular fish, you may recall, was lying on his side on the bottom whenever I approached the horse trough where we keep our finned friends during the freezing-water months. I thought he might be on his last, err, legs, but every time I tossed food into the water, he would jump up, struggle to the surface and eat like a fishy pig.

Nowadays, he is the most active guy in the pond, almost always scooting around and exploring his environs. It's interesting: I almost never find him down at the bottom during the spring, summer and fall, when he has plants and blue sky above him. But he does seem to sulk at the bottom of the trough, when he lives by artificial basement light.

Is this little white creature with a flash of red behind his gills subject to depression? Is his outdoors exuberance the equivalent of singing "You can't take the sky from me"? Or am I guilty of anthropomorphism?

Whatever. It's summer. The fish is having a ball.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In praise of Steve Ditko

You have to understand why sometimes Wally Conger and I drift to the same subjects. Wally and I "met" back when we both were teenagers via his early ventures in the print media, the mimeographed fanzine Spidey Fan to be precise. We were each attracted in a fanatical way to the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, and while Stan Lee has every right to say he came up with the idea for a teenaged superhero who is bitten by a radioactive spider, Steve Ditko is the man who gave it life and made that idea worth obsessing over. Peter Parker in costume never looked so much like a spider-man as he did in those brilliant first 41 stories (counting Amazing Fantasy 15, Amazing Spider-Man 1-38 and Spider-Man Annual 1 and 2).

And so, when Wally writes about Steve Ditko, as he did here and here and here, he still has my attention.

The documentary In Search of Steve Ditko is worth hunting down, and I found it here (for now). For folks like me who have always been amazed and thrilled by Ditko's art, this is essential viewing. It's also a valuable hour for folks interested in a unique and Randian individual who has lived his life on his own terms — and, to our dismay, very very privately.

Jonathan Ross' documentary includes a discussion of the opening five pages of Spider-Man #33, which was titled "The Final Chapter" — and, reflecting on the next five issues of the comic book, it's safe to say this was indeed the climax of Ditko's story of Peter Parker.

Aunt May is critically ill, and bad guys working for a mysterious critter called The Master Planner have stolen the serum that might save her life. In the closing pages of issue 32, MP was revealed as none other than Dr. Octopus. Their ensuing fight collapses the room — Doc Ock's last words in this story are "Everything's falling on top of us! We'll be killed!!!" — and an impossibly large piece of machinery drops on Spidey (see illustration). The end of #32 leaves him alone in Ock's lair underneath the Hudson River — a leaky lair with a roof that's about to burst.

In the opening pages of #33, Peter/Spidey is alone with his thoughts. He reflects on how his failure ended Uncle Ben's life — and he resolves not to fail his beloved Aunt May now. Slowly, excruciatingly, he pushes up against the massive machine. Ditko's comic panels grow larger as Peter's resolve grows — nine panels on page 2, six on page 3 (with the bottom two bigger than the top two), four panels on page 4 (with the fourth panel taking up two-thirds of the page). Lee's bubble, as Spider-Man rises up to a squat preparing for the last push, captures the point: "Anyone can win a fight — when the odds are easy! It's when the going's tough — when there seems to be no chance — that's when — it counts."

The most well-placed ad in comic book history came next, because it added an extra moment of anticipation as a turn of the page revealed a full page shot of Spider-Man painfully shrugging the machine off his back, river water streaming from the ceiling, as he exhales, "I did it! I'm free!"

That's actually just the start of his troubles — he still must swim his way to safety, fight through Doc Ock's minions, carry the serum to his friend Dr. Connors to be modified into an antidote, and then rush the vial to the hospital to save Aunt May's life — but in those symbolic first five pages, so brilliantly told by Ditko, Peter has won the most important battle. In the Ross documentary, someone calls it perhaps the greatest comic-book moment ever. I can't think of a greater one.

Later on, a vastly changed Peter Parker confidently negotiates a better price for his photos with J. Jonah Jameson and breaks up with Betty Brant. It's a final chapter, all right. Looking in hindsight at the next five issues of Spider-Man, Ditko's last five, it's almost as if the story that began with that radioactive spider had run its course. Saving Aunt May redeemed the sin of failing Uncle Ben, and Peter Parker grew from an awkward nerd teenager into a confident young man at the close of Spider-Man 33. Issues 34-38 were darn good, as always, but they were anticlimatic.

Much has been made of the maturity of comic books as a medium, about the growth from all-in-color-for-a-dime kids stuff to graphic novels. Down there in the lair of The Master Planner, in the story arc that began with Amazing Fantasy 15 and ended with a bang in Spider-Man 31-33, Ditko and Lee took one of the most important steps in that evolution.

And a generation of readers, when life traps them under an impossible giant machine, reach back to that comic-book moment to find a way, slowly and excruciatingly, to shrug it off.

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Friday, August 08, 2008


I'm seeing the ads for Fringe, a new Fox TV show about a special squad of FBI agents who investigate strange phenomena.

Clearly, it's time for me to pitch my idea for a new science-fiction show about a starship in the outer reaches of the galaxy, exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new civilizations. I see it as like that old show Wagon Train recast in the stars ...


'Ordered liberty' - oxymoron?

Being one who views philosophical discussions more as a somewhat necessary evil than an entertainment, I had never knowingly encountered the phrase "ordered liberty" until I spent a few minutes in the car Aug. 1 and caught some of Rush Limbaugh's 20th anniversary show. There I was, innocently driving along, when suddenly:
"Rush, it's Rich Lowry at National Review. I just want to give you the hardiest congratulations. You've been an affliction to liberalism for 20 years and to the rest of us, you've been an inspiration, a joy, a comfort, an education and a friend. You long ago joined the annals of conservative greats, the defenders of ordered liberty, our civilization's highest accomplishment. I know how proud Bill Buckley was of you. I know he's proud even today from his celestial seat. Rush, it's been an inspired 20 years. Now we expect 20 more. Take care, and God bless."
I tried wrapping my brain around the concept of "ordered liberty," but instead the word oxymoron kept bouncing between my ears. A search suggested it's synonymous with the more familiar phrase "liberty under law," but I couldn't shake an ominous feeling that descended over me when I heard "ordered liberty, our civilization's highest accomplishment."

Is ordered liberty simply a phrase that compresses Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous thought, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins"? Or is something more sinister than that? The latter seems more possible because Google associated the phrase most often with people who advocate using Big Government force to control personal choices such as who may marry whom or what substances or medicines an individual may ingest.

I buy Holmes' proverb wholeheartedly; I'm not so sure I could endorse "ordered" liberty. It seems to me liberty is often a spontaneous and disorderly celebration, and that is a good thing. I seek greater understanding of this bizarre combination of words.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brett Favre jets to New Jersey

Well, isn't this interesting.

Overnight the New Jersey Jets went from an afterthought to a potential force in the upcoming National Football League team. Hiring arguably the best quarterback ever will do that to you.

The Brett Favre un-retirement saga has been one of the great distractions of the past month or so, and few people saw it ending with Favre going from the littlest town in the NFL to the biggest city — or at least across the river from the biggest city.

I hope it all ends up well for everyone. I hear many people are ready to string up Packers management and predicting a lousy year for the hometown kids, but I understand that this time last year, many people were ready to string up Packers management and predicting a lousy year, and then the hometown kids went 14-4 and lost in the playoffs only to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Jersey Giants.

The schedule says the Packers won't play the Jets this year unless they meet in the Super Bowl. Now THAT would be an interesting finish.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008


He came to me as I roamed the house trying to form a few tormented thoughts into words. He jumped up on the kitchen stool and all but ordered me to run my hand down his back several times.

The sound of purring, I've read somewhere, triggers some kind of calming response in human-type sentient beings. Sure enough, the more I stroked and the more he purred, the more the tormented thoughts dissembled, and the more he wanted more than a simple pattern of strokes.

So I picked him up and pressed him to my chest, his paws over my shoulder so I could rub my face against his. My theory is that beard stubble feels similar to a mama cat's tongue, but whether that's true I'll never know. All I do know is that as I rubbed his face, he pressed his face back, kneaded my shoulder and purred all the more.

I could have stood there all day like that. But all things come to an end, and I set him down and we went our separate ways, content.

The kitten won't let me hold her. She squirms if I try to repeat what I did with the cat. But the kitten will flop down four or five stairs above me as I climb, displaying her belly in an insistent demand that I rub it. And when I do so, she purrs as contentedly as the older feline does when I press him to myself.

The way each of us love and prefer to be loved is different from anyone else's way. But when we learn what the other wants and needs, a balance is struck in our souls.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Russ Feingold catches another reason not to fly

The definition of "search" has been expanded so that airport screeners are allowed to turn on your laptop computer and browse through the contents. Now, since I wrote a novel where a computer program can power spaceship engines and weapons, I probably shouldn't be suggesting it's ludicrous to search a computer's contents looking for weapons. But I also don't think technology has unraveled the tenets of imaginary physics yet, either, so yes, I'm saying it's ludicrous to allow airport screeners to "search" laptop computers in this fashion.

The definition of "seizure" is still the same — government agents steal your stuff on the pretext of their searches, however flimsy it may be.

Sen. Russ Feingold is no friend of the First Amendment — he's the co-author of the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection and Repeal of Free Speech Act — but he has read the Fourth Amendment, and he's raising the alarm about airport screeners who have been confiscating laptop computers from non-terrorists.

Feingold's statement says when he asked about this, the response from the Secret Police Department of Homeland Security made reference to a 2007 policy that has not been revealed publicly — "and the policies that have been revealed are truly alarming."
The policies allow DHS to evade the probable cause requirement for seizing a laptop by blurring the distinction between a search and a seizure – defining a “search” to include detaining laptops for an unspecified period of time, taking them off-site, and taking written notes on their contents that can be retained indefinitely.

The policies contain no restrictions on DHS agents’ disclosure of personal information learned through these searches.
Feingold deserves credit for drawing attention to the many ways that civil liberties are being violated in the name of liberty. His critics have a ready answer: Freedom is slavery not free.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

So much to fear

Bumped into someone the other day who said he learned how to fly an airplane because he was afraid to. "I don't believe in living in a spirit of fear," he said, "and the fact that I had this paralyzing fear of flying made me mad." He used that anger to move himself forward and get into the sky.

Whatever works to overcome the paralysis of fear!

Just as an exercise on the pervasiveness of fear, I dropped on by the USA Today site this morning, and I saw that duh, the world can be a scary place. Headlines:

"Will fares go so high that only the rich can fly?" Fear of rising prices, economic turmoil ...

"Banks apply overdraft fees before purchases clear." Financial institutions are beginning to extract their pound of flesh even before accounts are actually overdrawn but appear to be headed that way. Fear that even those you trust with your money are taking control (and cash) away from you.

"2 U.S. soldiers killed by bomb in Baghdad"; "Attackers kill 16 police at Chinese border post." Fear of increasing violence everywhere in the world — maybe my hometown, or yours, is next.

"Tropical storm Eduoard gaining speed over Gulf." Fear of Ma Nature.

"Foreclosure rescue scams multiply." Fear of rodents who prey on desperate folks.

"Report: Cold medicine could be life-threatening for babies." Fear that your baby might die.

"Medical residents lack sleep, despite policy change." Fear that YOU may die at the hands of a sleep-deprived doctor who makes a mistake.

Just a friendly Monday reminder, words of wisdom from Tom Petty: "Most things I worry about never happen anyway." Whatever you're afraid of, it probably isn't going to kill you, and you do have the power to overcome it. So tuck the fear away as best you can, and deal with it.