Friday, December 25, 2009

The Late, Late Show

The original War of the Worlds is on T.V. tonight. It's one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons. It's good Sci-Fi, was well made and is considered a classic. I've been watching it at home with my wife, Wendy, and she keeps talking about how scary a movie it is.

She asked me when I first saw it and it reminded me of the primary reason it's one of my favorite movies.

It was 42 years ago when I was about seven years old. I was sound asleep and my father snuck into my room and woke me up. I didn't know what was going on but he told me to be very, very quiet so I didn't wake up my mother. I kept my mouth shut in great anticipation as we quietly went down the stairs. I didn't know what was so mysterious that I was roused in the middle of the night and had to skulk down the stairs behind my father but I was extremely curious.

I had no idea what was going on but when we got to the family room he pointed to the T.V. and told me that I was about to see a great movie. I had no idea what it was but I remember sitting on the sofa for the next couple of hours eating graham crackers and watching that movie with my dad.

I was supposed to be in bed asleep. I wasn't supposed to be eating graham crackers. I wasn't supposed to be watching late-night T.V. But, there I was sitting on the sofa with my dad in my pajamas watching a wonderfully terrifying story unfold on our old black and white television.

That experience made the original War of the Worlds one of my favorite movies.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Scientific Sanity

Despite my own contributions to global warming, I do, actually, care about the environment. I also care about the scientific method.

I was raised to question everyone and everything. I've always felt that having a robust, open discussion where all facts are available to all participants contributes to growing the overall knowledge of each of us. For some reason, though, there appears to be a strong desire to eliminate any critical thought process across many parts of our lives.

I think this is why people can get away with selling "snake oil" on television and why seemingly serious television shows about ghost hunting have large audiences.

I'm told, by our political leaders, that man-made global warming is settled science. If I question any of it I'm labeled an earth-hater or a right-wing, pro-oil, anti-people insensitive clod who is just unable to see what is plainly obvious to every other person on the planet.

This response to skepticism about global warming is anti-science and goes against the scientific method that has helped us progress as far as we have; though there are many who wish to end progress.

So here's a quick-and-dirty explanation of the climate change debate:
  • We are, by definition, still in an ice age that started about 2.6 million years ago.
  • We have been, for the last 11,000 or so years, warming up. We are in what's called an interglacial period that could last as long as 30,000 years.
  • There have been a number of things that have caused the earth to cool and warm over the past few billion years.
  • We are currently in a period of earth warming unrelated to the activity of people.
  • There is a current theory that man's industrial activity has contributed enough CO2 to accelerate the rate of warming of the earth.
  • There is a current theory that this accelerated warming is bad, or even that the naturally occurring warming cycle is bad - bad for the earth and bad for us.
Here's where I have a problem. No one wants to have a real scientific discussion about the last two theories. Our politicians want to end the debate and "fix" "global warming." Our politicians and most who follow them are idiots.

I believe that reducing green-house gas emissions, large-particle pollutants, smog, nasty water emissions and any other type of pollution is a good thing. Using pseudo-science to convince people to reduce pollution is dishonest.

The cooling and warming cycles of the earth span eons. Yet I hear good-meaning people claim that global warming is true based on, at best, multi-decade observations. I actually heard someone use as an example a lake near their house, "I used to ice-skate on that lake every year and it hasn't frozen over in the last 10 years. Of course global warming is true." I don't know whether to laugh or cry. How does someone make the leap of applying a 10-year observation to predict what happens over multi-million year cycles.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the ignorance of our politicians. I'm never disappointed at the capitalism demonstrated around fads - millions were made on pet rocks and Mr. Gore is expecting to make many multiples of that.

Let's get back to some facts and an open, honest scientific debate. Watching one more idiot politician create a movement based on nonsense is just too painful. Watching scientists attempt to stifle debate is dreadfully depressing.

It may be that we are accelerating, in a bad way, the current warming cycle. On the other hand, in earth history, we haven't been around for very long. It's hard for me to see the current hysteria as anything more than hyper-arrogance created from a sense that man is so important and powerful that we, in a span of 150 years, can destroy the natural earth cycles that have existed for billions of years. My gut tells me that even if we burned all the oil in existence we wouldn't be more than a tiny blip on the geological time-line of our planet. But then again, there are those who believe we humans are a lot more important than reality suggests.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Health Care Rationing

I get the flu shot every year and have done so for about the last decade. This year was no different and I got the seasonal flu shot a couple of months ago. But, then came H1N1 - the dreaded swine flu.

The U.S. government promised plenty of vaccines for everyone who needs one and everyone who wants one. Apparently, everything hasn't gone according to plan and rationing needs to occur so we have prioritized wait lists to determine who should get a shot when.

Every day there are news stories about the availability of vaccine and tales of shock, sadness and woe from the administration trying to explain away the shortages. It's particularly troublesome that one part of the government predicts that 60% of Americans will have been exposed by October 31st (a couple of weeks ago) and another part of our government says that we're on schedule to have the doses necessary no later than February.

It's actually quite disheartening to listen to what our government "leaders" really have to say.

On October, 31st, David Axelrod said that we would have ample supply of vaccine "in short order." Now, ample basically means more than we need. I guess the interviewer made the mistake of not pinning down an actual date rather than the wishy-washy "in short order" time-line. But, not to worry, now that we've been told that it's the manufacturer's fault and not the government's we can go about our happy-go-lucky lives.

I'd pretty much given up on getting the vaccination until I drove by a pharmacy advertising H1N1 vaccines "as long as supplies last." So I stopped and went in.

Pharmacy assistant (PA):"Can I help you?"
Me:"Yes, I'd like to know about H1N1 vaccines."
PA:"How old are you?"
PA:"Are you a health care worker?"
PA:"Do you have an infant under 6 months living in your home?"

Now, I saw where this was going. If I didn't fit into one of the approved groups I wasn't going to get a vaccine. I wasn't in the appropriate age group, I'm not a health care worker and I don't have any infants in my house and it was clear from my gender that I'm not pregnant.

PA:"Last question, do you have any chronic health conditions such as Asthma?"
PA:"What is it?"
PA:"I'm sorry, what was that?"
PA:"How do you spell that?"
PA:"That's not a chronic health condition."

I panicked and didn't know what to do so I ripped a mighty one.

PA:"Excuse me?"
Me:"No, excuse me."
PA:"I'm sorry sir, but you don't fit into one of the at-risk categories."

So, I ripped another one. After his eyes stopped watering he gave me the form, I paid my $18, got my shot and merrily drove off. As I drove down the road with a sore arm I listened to the news on the radio and heard about how the government was recalling 170,000 H1N1 doses because they could cause a deadly allergic reaction.

Next time I'll wait my turn.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Koala Bears? In San Carlos?

My wife, Wendy, goes on a lot of hikes with our dogs. Counting our daughter Lindsey's dog, Mummers, it becomes a pack of three dogs. Our dogs range in size from 8 pounds on up to almost 70. I've written about Sammy before. Sammy being a Pekingese, is the smallest of the group and is also the oldest, approaching 14 years of age. Sammy can't keep up with the rest and certainly can't go the distance the other dogs can go so Sammy gets to ride along in a pouch that Wendy wears.

In this photo, at a local pet supply store, Wendy can be seen carrying Sammy in his pouch and our largest, Buddy, is sitting at her feet.

I've heard before that the Star Wars ewoks were modeled on a combination of Pekingese dogs and koala bears but I have no idea if that's true or not.

Anyway, back to the story, Wendy hikes about town and some of the trails on an almost daily basis all the while carrying Sammy and keeping Buddy and Mummers under control.

During the past week she has been stopped at least a dozen times by people who wanted to see "the lady with the koala bear." A road construction crew stopped work completely in order to walk over and see the "bear", people have turned their cars around to have a good look as well.

The biggest problem with Sammy is that he is disarmingly cute. He doesn't like much of anyone, other than Wendy, or anything, other than cats. When people see his "cute, little face" they want to get close and that's a dangerous thing to do. You decide, Pekingese or Koala Bear?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School bus stops

The last blog entry reminded me of my own misspent childhood and the ways that I would while away the time waiting for the school bus.

After the seventh grade my parents move to Arnold, Maryland. Because of the rapid growth in the area I had to go to a split-shift school for the eighth grade. The school split the day into two parts, a morning and an afternoon shift. I felt very fortunate to be able to go to the morning shift because it left the entire afternoon open for fun and games. The downside was that I had to catch the school bus at 5:30 in the morning. 5:30 in the morning in Maryland meant darkness and cold.

My friends and I, though, were very enterprising and would collect wood scraps from the then under-construction houses and build a small fire for warmth and, of course, for the fun of building a small fire. Sometimes it would be difficult to get the fire started so we would take some of the flammable floor glue to use as a starter.

One particularly cold and snowy day we collected our wood scraps and glue and started our fire. Just as we were starting to warm up the person who lived in the house nearest the school bus stop, someone we'll call Mr. Jones, came storming out of the house in his pajamas, robe and bedroom slippers yelling and screaming at us. "What do you think you're doing? Are you nuts? You're going to burn down the neighborhood. Put out that fire."

Before we could say or do anything he ran over and started to stomp on the fire in an attempt to put it out. Just then the school bus pulled up. We got on the bus.

As we pulled away I watched out the window at a site I will never forget. Apparently the glue starter stuck to Mr. Jones's slippers and there was Mr. Jones running around his front yard in the snow attempting to extinguish his flaming slippers.

The next week our school bus stop was moved a block away. You see, Mr. Jones had pull with the school system - he was the principal of the school. I never met Mr. Jones. I feel bad that his slippers caught on fire and I firmly recommend against using fire for warmth on a neighborhood street. But I can't help but smile every time I think of him running around his front yard with his robe flapping in the breeze and his slippers afire.

Insane government intrusion

Here's an article describing the latest in government insanity.

Here's the scenario: There's a school bus stop in front of Lisa Snyder's home. Some of Lisa's friends drop their children off at Lisa's house to wait for the school bus with Lisa's daughter. Lisa has received a letter from the state of Michigan telling her that she's breaking the law by running an un-licensed day-care facility.

Just how far do we want this nanny-state crap to go? How far do we want government intrusion into our lives?

Before you go too far with the "its-for-the-children" argument you should be aware that Lisa doesn't charge for her daughter's friends to wait with her. She just thought it would be a nice, neighborly thing to do.

We all have a responsibility to understand and exercise our rights, understand the limits on the rights of the government and to expose when the government is attempting to trample our rights.

This is one of those cases where a government numb-skull needs an education on the constitution. We have a right to assembly without government interference or even government knowledge of the assembly.

The government may have a right to regulate commerce but there is no commerce here. It's nice that such a story is getting an airing but unfortunate that there's not a more vocal reaction about the fundamental issue here - inappropriate government meddling in our daily lives.

For the love of sorbet

The last time I was in Louisiana, as I often do in Louisiana, I went out to dinner with Wendy's parents. I've had the pleasure of eating at some of the finest dining establishments in the state and highly recommend the food and, in my particular case, the company.

On occasion, though, we have some interesting interactions that make me wonder if I see things just a little differently. We were in a nice, local restaurant and had enjoyed a wonderful meal when it came time for dessert.

I noticed that the menu contained mango sorbet. Being one of my favorites I commented aloud that I thought I would have to indulge in the mango sorbet. My father-in-law informed me that he had had it once and it was horrifically bad. The comment caused me to pause for a few moments and I decided to go with some chocolate something-or-other rather than risk the horrendous experience that surely awaited me with the sorbet.

The waiter soon departed to gather our desserts and the following conversation ensued:

Me: "What was so bad about the mango sorbet?"
My father-in-law, Robert: "I don't like mango."
Me: blink-blink-pause-and-think-before-speaking-blink-some-more
Me: "If you don't like mango then why in the world would you order mango sorbet?"
Robert: "I thought my love of sorbet would outweigh my hatred of mango."

Now, this wasn't the first time I experienced this type of interaction. No, no, no. I was fully prepared by the very person who gave me life, my mother.

I don't like strawberries. I never have and probably never will. I remember when, as a child, my mother would bring home popsicles and my sisters and I would eagerly eat our dinner and wait for our luscious treats. My mother would go to the kitchen, open the freezer door and bring a single popsicle for each of us. I would reach out for my reward for being a dutiful son and as it got closer I would snap my hand back after realizing the wrapper said strawberry flavored.

We would typically have the following conversation:

My dear mother:"Don't you want your popsicle?"
Me:"I hate strawberry."
Mother:"But they don't taste like strawberry."

For years I wondered about that conversation with my mother. It wasn't until my experience with my father-in-law at the restaurant that I finally understood. My mother assumed that my love of popsicles would outweigh my hatred of strawberry.

There's only one possible conclusion that I can draw from these experiences: it's not everyone else, it's me. Apparently, creating a frozen treat out of a fruit changes its flavor.

I love both of them dearly but, from now on, I'll pick my own desserts, thank you very much.