Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dea Ex Machina: The Goddess of Sumer by Jenna Smith


The premise is von Daniken-esque, ridiculous; star-gods bootstrapping hapless Sumerian humans until one of the gods is trapped in an ancient statue. The characters are expectable, even stereotypical. The bad guy is, literally, Satan (or Sadin).

And I enjoyed every word of The Goddess of Sumer, from the dream-sequence beginning to the happy-ever-after ending. Even while my inner voice kept saying you know what happens next, I had to keep reading. And that's the power of good story-telling, you care what happens to the characters. You don't have to believe—it is fiction, after all. A good tale-spinner makes you want to know how it all turns out.

Jenna Smith's tale opens on a nightmare. Jessica is being drawn to a glowing green female figure, even as she is chased by a growling beast. In her dream, she trips and hurts her ankle; when she wakes, her ankle is swollen. That's our clue that her dream is something more than REM sleep.

When Jessica learns that her beloved uncle Derek has been hospitalized, she rushes home to be with him, despite the presence of an old flame, Randy, on her uncle's ranch. Her uncle manages to tell her that there is an important box in the attic, and Jessica finds it contains a glowing green head from a woman's statue.

Her uncle's young friend Lance explains that the head is from a statue in which Sadin entrapped a Sumerian goddess, called Tiamat by some people, Horus by others. Lance has been chosen to be the next Guardian of the head, but Jessica's uncle Derek has been Guardian for decades. Sadin's powers, shattered by the goddess even as he trapped her in the stone, have had thousands of years to recover, Lance tells her. What's more, the evil-doers have located the latest Guardian, poisoning Derek in their attempt to reach the goddess-head.

The statue heals Jessica's injuries, and possessing it allows her to heal her uncle, and later, Lance. It seems the head also grants something like immortality, because the group meets with a "ancient Daoist," Zhang Sen-Feng. Zhang is still going strong after spending hundreds of years as a Guardian. He also has the power to "cloud men's minds," which helps the group steal the body of the statue and escape the evil one's henchmen.

Yes, it sounds hokey. And yes, every time the story knits itself into a corner, a new power of the goddess or her Guardians is revealed. Somehow, they squeak through, chasing across the planet to finish at a temple of Horus where the body and head of the statue can be joined, and the goddess freed at last.

It's still a great story, thrillingly told, with enough deftness of phrase and turn of events to draw the reader along. I enjoyed every page, and was almost sorry to come to the end. Fortunately, Smith promises a sequel (The Emerald Tablet) and a new tale (The Jewel of Delphi). If they are as enticing as this novel, hokey or not, they'll all be worth reading.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Weekly BlogScan: Michael Jackson Trial, Blog's-Eye View

You've got to admire a man who makes a decision and sticks to it. Prometheus 6 asked himself months ago, "Should I say something about the Michael Jackson trial?" His answer: Nope. But elsewhere in the blogosphere, others have not been so restrained.

The popular Ken Frost über-blog has a single-topic focus on the trial. Ken Frost's commentary is fairly even-handed, but it seems obvious that he's digesting the nuances from other writers' Jacko-postings. Paige McDermott of The Michael Jackson Case Blog, on the other hand, posts her own emotional reactions to the news of the day:
So all that I have gathered from all this "adult material" evidence is that Michael Jackson likes smut. OK, but that’s not what he’s on trial for. Let’s get back to what the trial is SUPPOSED to be about: child molestation. I’m still waiting for the prosecution to "blow (me) away" with some overwhelming evidence of Jackson’s guilt.
At News Hounds, where they " watch FOX so you don't have to," they decry the fact that Fox's Big Story spent five minutes on the Jackson trial and none on Tom Delay. Fair enough, since of 29 comments to the post, only four mention Jackson—mostly to quote approvingly the opinion, "Many of us stopped caring about Michael Jackson when the 80's ended, so his value as a distraction is low..." That's not the case at Julie's Place, where we learn that her friend Morgan dragooned her grandmother to take her to the courthouse so she could get some pictures for her blog. Michael drove in too far away, so she didn't get the snapshots she wanted—but she did meet four fans, three of whom "flew in from Europe!"

Saddam Hussein on witness stand.
  Hussein to testify. Photo: Llanelli Scar.

Under the posted hazard sign "Danger: Caustic" at Llanelli Scar's blog, I found the scoop of the month: a surprise witness who had known Jackson for years, and visited him regularly at Neverland during the 80s. "I even knew him when he was black and had a nose." This witness' testimony is expected to be a setback for the prosecution, since he is on record saying, "At no time did I see my great friend, Michael, sexually assault any boy that visited him. I did see some boys being fed to the guard dogs because they had been naughty, but that is normal behaviour, where I come from"

The Mail & Guardian Online. "Africa's first online newspaper", weighed in with fashion and makeup commentary a few weeks ago, noting Jackson's English regimental medals, rainbow of armbands, and other oddities of dress,
...culminating in the wardrobe malfunction to beat all others: "Pyjama Thursday"... Jackson had left home without fixing his face. His skin, lacking the usual white pancake, had an orange hue. Unexpectedly, it made him look more normal than usual.
A really unique look at Jackson himself comes From the Desk of Dion C. Detterer: Michael is a "Fi" type in the personality-test range of "Fe Fi Fo Fum."
Putting aside current allegations and controversies, Michael Jackson is an obvious Fi type. He doesn't want to accommodate the community's attitudes—no, his vision is a lot bigger than that: he wants to "Heal the World" itself!
Pushed to the limit, Fi denies the reality and/or positive utility of any concept that distinguishes people based on innate traits. We aren't men and women, but only humans... This is in direct contrast to extreme Fe and its tendency towards drawing up the map into "us" and "them." To Fi types, there is no "them" -- just artificial constructs that need to be removed. [Emphasis mine.]
The Breaking News blog's Michael Jackson Trial Watch reminds us that Ms. Rowe is not the only witness to have stymied the prosecution's expectations. Flight attendant Cynthia Bell and Jesus Salas, the pop star’s former house manager, were both due to testify that they had seen boys given wine; each then testified under oath that they had not seen any such thing.

My "Amen, Brothers!" final word goes to Gordon Smith of American Samizdat, whose OJPTSD* reaction to trial coverage rang an instant accord in me. Smith gives a link to the media contact list, and urges us to write. His own brief note is a fitting comment on the circus in Santa Maria.
While our fighting men and women risk their lives daily, while great injustices are perpetrated by governments and economic entities, while ordinary citizens are doing extraordinary things every day - your news organization is devoting and preparing to devote an absurd amount of time and energy in covering the trial of a former pop star.

I urge you to offer news that will help us to grow as a nation. Act as if you were offering a public service. We'll watch. If you wallow in sleaze, you'll be ridiculed and less relevant in the serious debate about America's future.

OJPTSD: OJ [Simpson] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, right, Gordon?

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Found! Office 2004 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual


There is a widely-accepted (though untrue) tale that the PC is for office work, and the Macintosh is for art. That may have been the case at some time in the past, but OSX and Office 2004 for Macintosh have given the "clumsy with words" label the lie.

Microsoft Office 2004 for Macintosh is an integrated package of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, plus Entourage for eMail and personal information management. Because the Office Suite adds tools to move data seamlessly between the applications, the Macintosh Office 2004 package is actually more useful than those old PCs to organize a small business, keep a large family on track, or develop the business plan presentation that will get you that small business loan.

It includes everything Mac OSX users need to mount up and go—except a manual.

Once again, Microsoft has put out a powerful software package with all its instructions embedded under the Help key. The problem this creates is akin to looking up a word in the dictionary when you don't know how it's spelled. Unless you have a pretty good idea what Microsoft called the function or feature you're seeking, you can search all day without getting any help from your Help index.

Mark H. Walker and Franklin Tessler have come to our rescue with Office 2004 for Macintosh: The Missing Manual. Like the other missing manuals in the Pogue Press series, this one details the program from top to bottom, describing every nuance of power and functionality. Users who have just opened the box will find step-by-step instructions here; users who are old hands with Word, Excel and Powerpoint will still find keys to taming the idiosyncrasies of these programs in their integrated Mac version.

Part One deals with Microsoft Word, giving tips on basics (including "every conceivable variation on saving"); editing and formatting in Word; styles, page layout and tables; comment layers (change tracking, comments and version notes); view mastering (Notebook, master pages and outlining); advanced topics like line numbering, bookmarks, Table of Contents and macros; and using Word as a Web browser.

Did you know that Word for Macintosh can spell-check non-English text and English text in the same document? I didn't before I read the "Gem in the Rough" sidebar in the Spelling and Grammar section. It details exactly how to set up Word so it can, for example, use the French dictionary to spell-check that long quote en Français included in a letter to your Parisian pen-pal, while still using your own English dictionary to check the rest of the text.

Part Two explains the integrated Entourage program. Entourage could give you follow-up reminders before, bringing up a Word document that needed to be sent on a particular date. It could always manage projects. But now the eMail and PIM (personal information manager) program works as a project manager, with tools to make these integration tasks easier and more Mac-like than before. The key is the Project Center, which lets you associate documents, images and folders with a project, whether they originate in Word, Excel, Powerpoint or an eMail.

The simple eMail functions of Entourage are also thoroughly described. My favorite tips here were the way to use your Mac laptop from a hotel room to "scan" your eMail, minimizing your time on that slow dial-up connection to let you download only copies of the mail you want to read, and how to organize the eMail database to allow exporting groups of messages for import into other eMail programs (including PC eMail).

Part Three shows how to use Microsoft Excel to best advantage, guiding us on the basics of spreadsheet creation; using formatting and charts; advanced topics like databases, macros, advanced formulas, pivottables and scenario managers. Although the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) feature did not make it into the OSX version of Office 2004, I was pleased to find that links into my favorite database management program, FileMaker Pro, work fine. It is only non-FileMaker ODBC links that will not work with the OSX Excel.

Part Four gives us the low-down on using the Microsoft Powerpoint program, with enough detail to please the (usually) graphics-oriented Mac user. I love the easy way the Mac version of this quintessential business program lets you change the bullet character, for example, but the real gold in this section is the step-by-step instruction on incorporating music and video in your slide-show. Here the Mac can shine, and Microsoft has done a good job of supporting the OSX system. With that, and this manual, you have the tools to produce presentations rivaling the big marketing houses.

The manual closes with an advertisement for AppleScript, detailing how to crank up the power of the Office 2004 for Macintosh suite by scripting repetitive tasks. Powerpoint is scriptable for the first time in this version. The OSX versions of Word, Excel and Entourage include enhanced access to AppleScripting. Even users who do not want to create their own scripts can find hundreds of ready-made scripts online, just waiting to be downloaded.

At over 700 pages, with a fairly-complete index, this is a reference manual. You won't want to sit down to read it on a winter's evening before the fire—but you won't want to be without it when you fire up the Mac to use Office 2004!


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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Stealing Science: Artifact by Gregory Benford


Caught up in the action and thrills of an Indiana Jones adventure, we sometimes forget that Jones is a thief. In fact, he is the worst kind of thief the archaeological community knows. He steals unique antiquities, sneaking them away from their sites; and he sells them to collectors, destroying forever the intellectual value they might have had in situ.

Gregory Benford's Artifact starts centuries ago, with a mysterious stone artifact being buried in a tomb. But each time we think we have this story pinned firmly into a genre, it morphs on us; first Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, then James Bond and Dr. No.

We learn this stone cube is an object of power; we know that some of the grave-diggers are entombed with it. Fast-forward to present day (or rather, to a mid-80s "present" with a still-viable Soviet Union). The artifact has been unearthed at an archaeological dig. Because the nominal leader of the dig, American Claire Anderson, has a beef with the swinish Greek Kontos she has been saddled with as "co-director," she does not declare that she and her assistant George have found the artifact. Instead, under a two-week deadline to finish the dig, she flies back to the States and seeks a metallurgist from MIT to help her assay the stone of the artifact.

She meets John Bishop in his office at MIT, and hires him to do the job. John doesn't tell Claire he is a mathematician, not a physical scientist, for two reasons. One, he likes scuba diving, and hopes to be able to dive in Greece when this job is done. And two, he's really attracted to Claire.

Back at the tomb, George has finished disinterring the artifact, and found a pipe leading down to the sea behind it. John's test results are puzzling—they reveal a cubical cavity inside the artifact, lined with heavy metals. From an amber cone that projects from one face of the stone cube, they glimpse an occasional flash of light. A slight humming noise comes from the object, and it has an eerie feel to the touch.

When Kontos gets nasty and moves the deadline up to two days, Claire decides to publish her study of the artifact first. This will give her academic advantage to undo the lies Kontos has told about her. Unfortunately, Kontos finds out about the artifact, and expels all three Americans, keeping all of Claire's notes and drawings, John's data and equipment, and the artifact itself.

The three get away from the Greeks who are trying to ship them out of the country, and return to the dig for Claire's notes. By accident, they are locked into the tomb and the artifact is pushed down the pipe. John has to go down after it, then climb back up from the ocean to unlock the door. As they leave, they decide to take the artifact back to the States with them.

Up to this point, they assume they are working with an ancient artifact. When the MIT group begins doing tests in earnest, they discover that the stone cube contains a powerful natural magnetic "bottle" and the bottle contains a microscopic singularity—a black hole. The only trouble is, there should be a pair of them for stability. Unstable, the single singularity is producing sheets of gamma radiation, and gradually eating away at its bottle.

And its mate, back in Greece, will be trying to get back into the bottle with it.

Benford has woven several disparate elements together into this skillful tapestry. Archaeology and academic power-mongering fight (though with less blood) with vigor equal to the political and cultural battles of the Greeks who are striving to keep their antiquities in the country. Claire's feminism vies with John's southern views of femininity and family. And the MIT physicists and mathematicians struggle to define and contain this genie in the bottle.

Like Brin's The Practice Effect and Bear's Darwin's Radio, this is a book that vaulted the author into the ranks of science fiction's "Killer Bs." It is the best kind of science fiction there is, demanding your full attention, changing only one element, than asking what happens if this is true?

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Exploding Toads: Terror in Germany

ribbit ribbit ribbit—BANG!

April in Germany brings showers of rain, flowering nut trees—and exploding toads. In a pond outside the northern German city of Hamburg, over a thousand toads have simply puffed up and exploded, so many that the lake in the Altona district of Hamburg has been dubbed "the pond of death."
Visitors to Hamburg parks are being warned to watch out for exploding toads.

Several thousand toads in the city's parks have so far mysteriously spontaneously exploded, sending entrails and toad body parts over a wide area.

AFP/DPA File Photo
  Quick, before you pop! AFP/DAP photo

Eyewitnesses say the toads swell up to three and a half times their normal size, then suddenly burst—sending Hamburger toad chunks flying "meters into the air."
Nature protection worker Werner Smolnik from Hamburg said over the last four days at least a thousand toads had died in this manner... "It could be an unknown virus, or a fungus that has infected the water or a defense mechanism against aggressive crows... You see the toads crawling along the ground, swelling and getting bigger as they go until they are like little tennis balls, and then they suddenly explode..."

"It's a real puzzle," agreed Janne Kloepper from the Hamburg Institute for Hygiene and the Environment, adding: "If this keeps up, there will be no toads left in Hamburg."
According to Kloepper, a laboratory in Berlin has ruled out the South American fungus theory, and the toads do not appear to have any disease.

Perhaps the problem is really exploding beetles, and the toads are just innocent victims who ate the wrong bug.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Exhibiting Strangeness: Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Wechsler


The crowds at turn-of-the-last-century freak shows knew why. Viewers who turn in to the daily recap of the Michael Jackson Trial understand, as did those who breathlessly followed the fate of OJ Simpson. CSI, and a whole host of programs on the Discovery Channel take calculated advantage of it.

If it's wierd, strange, bizarre—especially if it's also slightly creepy—we can't help ourselves. We are drawn to examine, comment, pick over and wonder at the strangeness we find amongst us.
HUMAN HORN: Like the sailor in Gay Purr-ee who displays his yellow tomcat to "prove" a cat will dive overboard to rescue a friend, the horn of Mary Davis of Saughall is exhibited mounted on a plaque, jutting from the lacquered wood as it is claimed to have done from the back of the woman's head in 1688.
David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles is the particular curiosity cabinet that Wechsler documents in this book. Like the Medieval wunderkammer upon which it is based, the MJT takes its "performance art" foundation very seriously. Everything in the book and the museum seems like a consciously satirical spoof of natural history museums, from the carefully dusty exhibit cases to the intentionally dim lighting. An appropriately pompous professorial voice narrates the museum-style video which runs continously.
ANT HORN: Embedded in ancient-looking yellow plastic is a South American ant with a curious prong extending from its head. The prong is the fruiting body of the fungus Tomentella. "After being inhaled, the spore seats in the ant's tiny brain and begins to grow, causing changes in the ant's patterns of behavior. The Ant appears troubled and confused; for the first time in its life the ant leaves the forest floor and begins to climb."
Wechsler strives to show how the curious objects displayed in "Cabinets of Wonder" change human behavior, acting on us like the spores of Tomentella on the ant; but in truth we need no infection to drive us to make this climb. We all chase after the oddities of the world, willing slaves to celebrity and absurdity.

The book is as curious as the museum it documents. Wechsler has managed to convey the fundamental ambiguity of the MJT, but also finds parallels with circus sideshows, Victorian surgical theatres, 17th-century European curiosity collections and the Ashmolean museum in London. The reader is taken on the same voyage of discovery Wechsler has made, starting with a healthy tongue in cheek, and finishing with a puzzled respect for the magician's trick David Wilson has performed.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology has something to teach us. Possibly, it is no more than our shared need to slow down as we pass the highway wreck—but certainly it is something far more profound than a horned ant trapped in vitrine, or a human horn trophy-mounted on the wall.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

British Politicians Appealing as Garden Gnomes

British politicians are winning new constituencies in their country's gardens, according to Reuters. The country's political leaders have been transformed into garden gnomes. A digital television gardening channel, UKTV Style Gardens, has created 10 sets of the knee-high figurines portraying prominent politicos as garden sentinels to be won in an online competition.
Less than two weeks before an election, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Conservative leader Michael Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy have all been cast as knee-high plaster characters. The trio are decked-out in their political party colours acting out their policies... "The exquisite Tony Blair model is digging around for non-existent weapons of mass destruction," a statement said.

"For those with an influx of snails and other garden beasties there is the scary Michael Howard gnome holding a "Keep Out" sign and for the more relaxed, there's a charming carrot-topped fellow sitting on a fence supping from a glass of ginger beer."
There is no truth to the rumor that tiny Blair, Howard and Kennedy gnomes have fallen to the Gnome Liberation Front (GLF) or the more-militant French sect, the FLNJ. Authorities are certain the North American GLF could not be involved, because the group has been driven undercover by the Patriot Act.

Travelocity's Roaming Gnome, himself a recent victim of gnome-napping, could not be reached for comment.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Saudi Terror Connection: Funding Evil by Rachel Ehrenfeld


Follow the money. It's the watchword of anyone trying to unravel a complex system to track down those who work behind the scenes. Rachel Ehrenfeld has done such a good job of following the money behind Al-Qaeda, international terrorism and the Taliban that she is being sued by a Saudi kingpin whom she names in her book, Funding Evil.

She's not being sued in the U.S. though. The Saudi banker she names has engaged in "forum-shopping" for his libel lawsuit, entering it in British courts in spite of the fact that the book was published only in the U.S. Because Britain’s libel laws place the burden of proof on the defendant (in other words, one is guilty until proven innocent), libel suits are much easier to win in that country.

Despite this suit, Ehrenfeld has revised and updated the book for its paperback release, including information from the 9/11 Commission Report and other data learned in the intervening years. The new edition also has a foreword written by R. James Woolsey, the CIA Director from 1993-95.

The author was one of the first to identify the relationship between criminal narcotics trafficking and global terrorism, and coined the phrase "narco-terrorism." She does not hesitate to point fingers wherever the money leads. Banks, brokers, politicos and profiteers all come under Ehrenfeld's scrutiny, and the book specifies how each branch of the terrorist network is underwritten:
  • al-Qaeda (the "Islamist Plague")
  • the Palestinians
  • Hizballah (the "Party of God")
  • other narco-terrorists
Particularly chilling is the chapter on Hizballah (as Ehrenfeld spells it throughout the book). The author identifies Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian connections of this Lebanon-based organization and traces its funding and recruitment efforts as far away as Paris.
In the spring of 2000, Iranian intelligence took steps to consolidate all Palestinian terrorist organizations into a single Secret Islamic Revolutionary Army, with Hizballah's expert operative Imad Mugniyah at the helm, to help Arafat plan his September attacks on Israel... In late July [2000], Iran arranged a meeting in Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden's new "Lebanon team"... and a Palestinian delegation. As a result, al-Qaeda terrorists were sent to Lebanon for intensive training by Hizballah in "the laying of ambushes, bomb construction and diffusing [sic] techniques, local booby-trapping techniques, and clandestine communications," as well as in the forging of documents.
The money that funds terrorism continues to flow, despite three years of effort to freeze assets. Ehrenfeld makes very clear her central argument; that as long as we ignore the real people and organizations that command, fund, support and commit acts of terror, and instead concentrate our war against a nebulous "terrorism", we cannot hope to succeed. Her book constitutes a well-researched enemies list for the prosecution of the war on terror.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Cultural Genetics: Half Past Human by T.J. Bass


Few science fiction readers "of a certain age" have not read T.J. Bass's dystopian novel, Half Past Human. The peculiarly ecological vision of Bass found expression in only two books (Godwhale is the other), and echoed contemporary fictions of future societies—Orwell's 1984, for example, and Huxley's Brave New World— in its view of human society as doomed to dark collapse under a weight of population and totalitarian control.

In a far-future Earth, our distant descendents have been altered genetically to allow them to live in ultra-crowded hives. The genes that code for aggression when people are pressed too closely together turn out to be linked to the gene for five toes; the Nebish people are four-toed, complacent, and fill their dark underground warrens in their billions.

They are also cannibals. Unapproved children are allowed to exist until they begin to walk and talk, when they are thrown into the "patty press," producing "flavors" for the Nebish who reports them. Other flavors come from rats and Nebish corpses tossed into the patty press. Aside from the taste of flesh, Nebish society is fed by the world-covering gardens of algae, and the lack of protein in their diet makes them weak and soft-boned, prone to die after only 25 to 30 years of life.

Within the Nebish genome, though, the five-toed gene still thrives. Occasionally, children are born with all five toes, or with "the bud of a fifth toe." These children are allowed to mature, because the hive needs their mechanical skills, but they are not allowed to procreate.

Without help, the Nebish are neuter. This gives Earth Society (the "big ES") control over reproduction, for in all except a few Nebish, hormone therapy is required to "polarize" into male or female. Tinker, an ingenious Nebish mechanic, has been authorized to produce a clone-type bud-child of himself, and is polarized male. He finds his attitudes about other Nebishes and life in the hive changing drastically; he fixates on the female, Mu Ren, who was assigned to carry his bud to term, and gets her pregnant with a hybrid child. The child is born with five toes.

To save their child, Tinker and Mu Ren must escape the hive, and join the savage wild humans who live on the surface and steal from the world garden. Once there, they encounter a host of curious characters: the ancient human Moon and his equally antique dog Dan, the spear-shaped robot Toothpick, a liberated mechanical harvester, the wild human shaman with his cybernetic Ball, Moses the escaped hive pipe-master, and Nebish Val the human-hunter.

Bass gives us a chilling view of the future of humans under the foot of the Big ES, but also offers hope. Olga is coming, and her purpose is to save the five-toed humans from the Big ES. But what shape will that salvation take?

This is a classic novel that ought to be in every thinking reader's library, and studied with Burgess and Orwell, Huxley and Harrison. If you've read it once, it's time to read it again.

Thomas J. Bassler was a physician, and this shows in his language. Wonderful words—edentulous, melanocytes, luteal, acromegalic—are richly scattered like crunchy nuts in a chewy brownie, but they don't mask the action and allure of the story. It's not an arrowhead, it's a "levallois point;" he's not a skinny man, he's an "ectomorph." As a child I thrilled at learning such luscious terminology, because Bass made it effortless to understand his argot.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Weekly BlogScan: New Year's Resolutions, 1st Quarter Assessment

The curse of the Web is the persistence of our words. It's hard to back down from a promise made or an exaggeration inflated when the post you put it in continues to exist in a cache somewhere, even if you've deleted it.

In that light, I went looking for this year's New Year's Resolutions, so we can check the progress. I liked the approach of the TS Right Dominion, who chose to write resolutions for celebrities instead of himself.
Dan Rather—He's retired now. My resolution for him is to take up something creative. Painting, drawing, making fake ID's. This man has talent refined from many years of playing 3 card montey on the set of CBS...
The venerable N.Z. Bear, doyen of the TTLB Ecosystem stepped right up with a philosphical commitment: "I resolve to be less of an asshole to those who don't deserve it, and more of one to those that do." Neville Neville, whose blog "hopes to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," fulfilled his resolution to "love people more" on January 3rd. Anyway, he renamed his blog to give him an excuse if he fails: Loving People Is Hard.

2004: unpopped kernal, 2005: Popcorn morsel.
   Ken Mogi's 2005 Resolution

Tom Bozzo of marginal utility, on the other hand, set himself a goal that resonates with my own heart: "try to get through my reading backlog before I bring more books in the house." With Pynchon, Neil Stephenson and Gene Wolfe on deck, it's no wonder he posted his failure less than three weeks later!

Jason Mulgrew takes the courageous step of examining his success with his 2004 resolutions first, before going all-out with this year's list. The hilarious result of his brutal self-honesty is just what you'd expect of someone whose blog is titled Everything is wrong with me.

The qualiajournal musings of Ken Mogi range far and wide, but his pictorial 2005 Resolution has me perplexed. Dr. Mogi's life mission is "to understand how our consciousness full of qualia arise from the billions of firing neurons in the brain." My spark plugs must be corroded. Anyone else have a guess?

The Karma Fool suggests building your resolutions around strengthening your vices.
If you are a habitual liar, vow to become more creative in your fabrications... replace that Hershey bar with real Swiss chocolate... buy yourself some higher thread count sheets and wallow in your glorious slothfulness.
I like the concept of 43 Things, myself. Instead of a wad of resolutions made on New Year's cusp, and broken three months later, you build a list of on-going goals in a community of others who cheer you on, offer help, and tell you whether they thought it was worth achieving the goals they did. DrPat's 43 Things include "Read the Baroque Cycle in its entirety," "Read and review 200 books this year," and "Kiss in the Rain." My favorite goal from someone else's list? "Travel in Space." 79 people say they want to do that.

And it's a lot more honest than "world peace." Only 38 people listed that as a goal.

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Not Breasts, But Other Female Parts


Wearing the word "vagina" is apparently against the dress code in Minnesota schools.

After seeing the off-Broadway hit, The Vagina Monologues, two high-school girls in Winona, MN, were inspired to wear buttons stating "I (heart) My Vagina." According to the AP report today:
...The students were admonished for wearing buttons inspired by the show... The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has offered to help students fight any consequences from their actions.
As a means of preventing the students from offending those to whom the mere mention of "vagina" is an affront, the school's efforts have failed. The AP reports that more than 100 students have ordered T-shirts bearing "I (heart) My Vagina" for girls and "I Support Your Vagina" for boys.

This incident follows the suspension in 2001 of a 17-year-old Michigan boy who came dressed as a vagina to a Halloween costume contest. He won first prize in the school contest, then was suspended from school for a week.

Maybe it's something in the milk.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

PETA "Great Cheese from Happy Cows" Suit Hits the Grater


Just when you thought that PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) could get no more ridiculous, they took a turn to the udderly inane. In a move at the end of 2002, the group entered a lawsuit against the California Milk Producers Advisory Board for false advertising.

The lawsuit followed the enormous success of the CMPA's promotion of California cheese, in ads showing blissful cows grazing in green pastures with the slogan, "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."

The claim? PETA says the ads falsely portray the lives of California cows, that cows do not live blissful lives, but are instead kept in appalling conditions, repeated milked and impregnated, and finally, when they can no longer "produce to quota," brutally slaughtered.

Happily, the Califonia Supreme Court has rejected the lawsuit.
AP, San Francisco—The California Supreme Court is putting to pasture a lawsuit brought by an animal rights group alleging the California Milk Producers Advisory Board is falsely advertising that California's cows are happy... court in January ruled that Milk Producers Advisory Board, funded by farmers, is immune from being sued under false-advertising laws, just like other state agencies.
I love those commercials, too. My favorite is the one where an earthquake begins and the cows moo with delight, "Here's the vibrator again!" Another one makes my spouse laugh; a herd of (supposedly Wisconsin, though the accent is Minnesotan) cows are huddled together in a blizzard, and one of them whispers, "Sadie's making a break for it." You then see the runaway cow barely a quarter mile away, pushing into the teeth of the storm, as one of the herd explains it's been several days.

It seems to me, from my California-sunshine perspective, that living in a concrete barn in the upper MidWest in winter is cruel and unusual treatment compared to dwelling in sun-strewn pastures with an occasional visit from the bull. And from my dairy-land youth, I know that cows are definitely not happy unless they are milked repeatedly, often on a schedule inconvenient to the farmer.

Speaking of bulls, I always wondered why they didn't do one like the joke about the old bull and the young bull, standing on top of a hill surveying the herd of cows. "Let's run down there and nail one of 'em," says the young bull eagerly.

"Nah," replies his elder in a ruminating tone. "Let's mosey down there and nail all of 'em."

The defunct case is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. California Milk Producers Advisory Board, S131823.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

House Shocker: Obstructionist Member Ejected


Last night watching House, M.D., I came closer than anytime since my teen years to throwing something at the TV. It's that fat bastard, Vogler (elegantly played, like a bludgeon wrapped in an Armani suit, by Chi McBride).

Over the weeks, my anger at this (fictitious, dammit!) character has been growing as he laid ever-heavier hands on the hospital operations. Okay, House himself (Hugh Laurie) is a jerk with a drug problem. But he's focused on the right thing, in his irritable way—even his sarcastic bite has a curative effect. And I would never ask for a doctor to be genial and social at the cost of brilliance in solving medical mysteries.

Actor Hugh Laurie plays Dr. Gregory House.
Hugh Laurie photo courtesy

Vogler does, though. At first I thought perhaps he just had his nose out of joint over House's relationship, however fractured, with the hospital administrator, Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). Then I realized it was a deeper issue. House frustrated Vogler precisely because he was liked and respected in spite of his prickly persona. House had achieved two things Vogler couldn't.

We had the advantage of seeing exactly how slimy Vogler could be, as he systematically sought to reduce House's ability to function. "Fire one of your people." he demanded. When House offered Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer), the one member of his team Vogler had subverted, Vogler refused, demanding that he "fire someone else." Vogler even countermanded some of House's medical decisions, making it hard for his team to function effectively.

Then last night, things finally came to a head. When the hospital's chief oncologist, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) refused to vote to end House's contract, Vogler ejected him from the Board, and succeeded in firing him, by making the terms "Me and my $100 million, or Dr. Wilson."

I won't spoil the show for those who may catch it in the reruns, but take heart. The IMdb shows Vogler as a "regular guest," while both Wilson and Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), who resigned last week, are still listed as "credited cast." Rumors are that Cameron will return next month.

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Publish or Perish: MIT Prank Paper Shows All You Need is Dense Jargon

Three MIT graduate students,Jeremy Stribling, Max Krohn, and Dan Aguayo, have cracked the "publish or perish" code.
Sometimes jargon really is gibberish.

Take the "scientific" papers generated by a computer program and submitted by three MIT computer science students to a scientific conference. One of the papers, "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy," was accepted by World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics 2005 as a non-reviewed paper. "The Influence of Probabilistic Methodologies on Networking" was rejected...

[Their] paper's acceptance proves their point, Stribling said. Their computer program generates research papers using "context-free grammar" and includes graphs, figures and citations. The program takes real words and places them correctly in sentences, but the words used don't make sense together....

Their once-accepted paper's abstract says: "Many physicists would agree that, had it not been for congestion control, the evaluation of web browsers might never have occurred. In fact, few hackers worldwide would disagree with the essential unification of voice-over-IP and public-private key pair. In order to solve this riddle, we confirm that SMPs can be made stochastic, cacheable, and interposable."

Random gibberish, just like it sounds.
The students may be lauded by their fellows at the Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems Group at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, but they were not as successful as the famous 1996 prank in which physicist Alan Sokal persuaded a Duke University journal called Social Text to publish a bogus article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity."
Here my aim is to carry these deep analyses one step farther, by taking account of recent developments in quantum gravity: the emerging branch of physics in which Heisenberg's quantum mechanics and Einstein's general relativity are at once synthesized and superseded. In quantum gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science -- among them, existence itself -- become problematized and relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the content of a future postmodern and liberatory science.
Sokal's purpose was reportedly to "see if they would publish any nonsense which 'flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions'." Stribling, et al set their targets a bit lower. "Our aim is to maximize amusement, rather than coherence."

Want to amuse yourself scientifically? Have to publish or perish? The SCIgen website lets you author your very own jargon-laden paper.

I fully expect my own paper, "SMPs No Longer Considered Harmful," to be a hit at the next conference I hear of in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Abstract: Many researchers would agree that, had it not been for IPv7, the emulation of the World Wide Web might never have occurred[1]. After years of significant research into public-private key pairs, we disprove the deployment of checksums, which embodies the extensive principles of electrical engineering[2,1]. Arillus, our new algorithm for neural networks, is the solution to all of these obstacles.


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Pain-Relief Without Side-Effects: PC Annoyances Second Edition by Steve Bass


Ever been tempted to toss your PC out the window? Steve Bass knows just how you feel—and what's more, he's got the solution for that annoying problem in the pages of his PC Annoyances Second Edition.

Annoyances are organized into several main categories: Email, Windows (including Service Pack issues), Internet, Microsoft Office, Hardware, Windows Explorer and Music, DVD and Video issues. The second edition includes updates on issues covered in the first book, plus new issues that have popped up to annoy us all. As in all the books in this excellent series from O'Reilly, PC Annoyances presents over 150 problems and their fixes in a series of amusingly-worded vignettes, with plenty of illustrations and specific directions.
The Annoyance: I often want to copy a folder's path and name so I can insert it into an email message or save a file to a particular spot. Why should that be so difficult?
The Fix: It's easier than you think. Open Windows Explorer, navigate to the folder, highlight the path in the Address bar above, and hit Ctrl-C. Voilá, it's in your Clipboard. Can't see the Address Bar? Select View —> Toolbars —> Address Bar.
Email: This section features the foibles of the most popular eMail programs, including Outlook, Eudora, Hotmail and Gmail. My favorite tip in this section details how to work around Gmail's embargo of .EXE and .ZIP files. AOL Mail users will probably prefer the tip that sends them directly to AOL's free 24/7 telephone support: 1-888-346-3704 for PC users. Bass even includes the toll-free number for Mac users, "assuming there are any reading this"!

Windows: In addition to a host of tips for dealing with Service Pack 2 ("the annoying upgrade you really need"), this section helps you deal with the myriad of pesty things the Windows operating system does to tick you off. My favorite was a cure for "Defragus Interruptus," which had plagued my PC since a system-restore a year ago. Bass's suggestion to run msconfig and disable Microsoft Fast Find indexing didn't work for me, but his explanation of why the Defragmentation restarts itself after 3% was enough to point me in the right direction.

Internet: If you've already read Preston Gralla's excellent Internet Annoyances or Kathy Ivens' equally useful Home Networking Annoyances, you've probably solved some of these annoyances before. The biggest eye-opener was the Google Reverse Telephone Directory—Bass lets you know how to opt out of it if you don't want your address and name provided free to all searchers.

Microsoft Office: I got my biggest chuckle from Bass's inclusion of an illustration showing the Microsoft Clippy offering help with writing a suicide note, but my favorite tip in this section was a step-by-step method to automate numbered lists in Microsoft Word. If you work with numbered sequences, this tip alone is worth the price of the book!

Windows Explorer: Pining for Norton Commander? The best tip in this section, in my opinion, is how to completely dump Windows Explorer as your file-management interface. Bass recommends Novatix ExplorerPlus—you can try it out for free, then it costs only $30 to download the full version. Another tip in this section shows you how to disconnect the HTML of a saved browser page from its linked contents—this one is great if you habitually save "sample" source pages, but don't want to load up your hard drive with the other contents. (If you don't disconnect them, when you delete the contents folder, the HTML page is also deleted.)

Music, Video and CD: There are so many really cool fixes and tips in this section that it's hard to pick a single favorite. How about a $40 AudioBug that lets you "narrowcast" your MP3 files to your car's FM radio? Other utilities let you capture streaming audio and video, and save them to files. And for CDs, my favorite is the $30 GameDrive utility that moves compressed CD images to the hard drive—now you can play Myst IV without swapping CDs!

Hardware: Even with such essential guides as Degunking Your PC available, it's still useful to have specific fixes for those hardware woes. My favorite: "percussive maintenance" (a whack upside the CRT) to fix an annoying high-pitched whine from an older monitor—and a software fix as well: just change the refresh rate. Even better, Bass slyly reminds us, "This may be the best excuse yet to buy that new LCD panel you've had your eye on."

Don't just take my word for it—check it out for yourself with O'Reilly's Chapter One sample. This is another gold-medal entry for your home PC bookshelf.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Are you homosexual?" Tom queried gaily.


The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1st edition (1966) defines a Tom Swifty as a play on words that follows an unvarying pattern and relies for its humor on a punning relationship between the way an adverb describes a speaker and at the same time refers significantly to the import of the speaker's statement.
  • "3.142," Tom enumerated piously.
  • "Give me some more macaroni and cheese, and I'll tell you," said Tom craftily.
  • "I need a home run hitter," Tom said ruthlessly.
  • "I'll get in through the window after opening it with this crowbar," said Tom enterprisingly.
  • "It's only average," said Tom meanly.
  • "You can't go faster than the speed of sound," Tom said mockingly.
  • "Do you like to be called Timothy or Russell?" Tom asked timorously.
The joke form takes its name from the dialogue patterns of the hero of circa-1920 science fiction novels penned by "Victor Appleton." Appleton was the pseudonym for the writing team of Howard R. Garis, author of the Uncle Wiggly books, and Edward T. Stratemeyer, who wrote most of the Hardy Boys mysteries.

I was fortunate in my youth to be gifted with six vintage copies of Tom Swift, Sr tales. As youth is wasted on the young, so were these. I recall being fascinated with the descriptions of airplanes and submarines, of Tom Swift's klutzy friends (I identified Ned with myself for some reason), and his infinitely patient parents.

But this review is a challenge. Swifties are good fun, and deserve a resurgence. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to post your favorite Swifties, or make some up. There are lists elsewhere, but don't peek—set your puckish spirit free, Tom said impishly.

Get Swift with us!


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Post-Apocalypse Connectivity: The Webs of Everywhere by John Brunner


The societal consequence of instantaneous matter transportation is a recurring science-fiction theme. No one has ever done it better than Alfred Bester in The Stars My Destination, though many have tried. (Or have not tried, as with the matter transmitters of Star Trek.)
   Blinded by the dark
Followed Ariadne's clew of thread.

   Has ceased her spinning
And all doors lead to the Minotaur.
—Mustapha Sharif
John Brunner came closest to out-Foyling* Bester with his little-noticed novel, The Webs of Everywhere. Unlike Brunner's The Infinitive of Go, published six years later, Webs concentrates on the social and political implications of the transmitter, called a "Skelter."

In the mid-70's, with the horror of the Tate-LaBianca murders still fresh in everyone's minds, the name was evocative. And like the "helter skelter" cult, the result of the Skelter technology's free access to everywhere was murder, explosive plagues, terrorism dwarfing 9/11, and the collapse of civilization. A "puerperal fever" kills 80% of the world's women, leaving many of the rest sterile. Only the invention of the "privateer," a method to lock the Skelter doors against uninvited guests, and a strict law against using unauthorized Skelter codes, has managed to salvage what remains of civil society.

Hans Dysktra is a deeply unsatisfied man. He is married (a rarity in this post-Skelter world), but his wife is shallow, vain, stupid and fat. He works exploring the nuclear-ravaged Skelters of Europe under the aegis of a world-wide government headed by the inventor of the privateer, Chaim Aleuker. But secretly he explores unauthorized locations, documenting the state in which he finds these abandoned houses and the restorations he applies. His secret work, he tells himself, must not be revealed until after his death.

His partner in these efforts is Mustapha Sharif, a blind poet with a method for discovering Skelter codes. Sharif is the opposite of Dykstra in many respects; he lives calmly in a non-Skelter community, he is respected, even revered by many of the world's leaders, and he deeply appreciates what he has. Despite Sharif's disability, it is Dykstra who is blind, and Sharif who leads him.

Dykstra's dark-room work on his latest "find" is ruined when his wife opens the door before the photos are developed. To punish her, he takes her "treasure hunt" invitation to a party at Chaim Aleuker's house, and solves the puzzle himself so effectively, he comes to the attention of the world leaders. When the party is overrun by local terrorists, he grabs a young "wild girl" guest and flees with her. Like trying to grasp a cobweb without breaking it, his attempts to have the things he believes he wants lead Dykstra only to destroy them.

The action in the novel is physical as well as mental, but the webs that link each place to everywhere else also serve to bind people. Cobwebs in unused dwellings echo the threads of connection that link people to each other. At the center of all these webs dwells Mustapha Sharif, a Way of Life believer whose household is Muslim, a respected elder who directly abets Dykstra's crimes, a peaceful man whose former partners met violent deaths, a blind man whose observations are sharp and precise.
Once I met a man
   who every day
   went around the planet counterclockwise.
He said by this means
   he gained a day
   and would therefore live for ever.
Unluckily for him
   Death measures time
   otherwise than with clocks and watches.
—Mustapha Sharif
You'll have to watch for it in used bookstores. Ignore the cheesy cover art. This is a story that deserves a wider exposure.

*Gully Foyle is the central character of The Stars My Destination, an unwitting champion of mental trans-mat jaunte energy who has succeeded in breaking the planetary barrier to jaunting. Even after 50 years, this novel is still the starting point for many science fiction readers.

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Mad Max: Terror in San Antonio


Carrying an homage to your favorite film series too far can land you in jail, at least in Texas.

Saturday, nine people in San Antonio were arrested as they recreated a scene from Mad Max: The Road Warrior on the local freeway, surrounding a tanker truck and brandishing machine guns. The fans were puzzled when other motorists reported the incident as an attack by a "terror militia."

One of the organizers said he couldn't understand how anyone could confuse the costumed crowd with a legitimate terror threat. "I honestly don't know how that could be, because Road Warrior was so over the top," he said.

The fans were on their way to a Mad Max marathon at a local cinema. After the fracas on the freeway, the cinema cancelled the marathon.

Next Saturday: a Texas Chainsaw Massacre marathon! Wendy's chili will be served during intermission.


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Finger Food: Chili at Wendy's


If you buy lottery tickets, opt for the raffle at the firemen's pancake breakfast, or save your change for the slot machines, why wouldn't you order chili at Wendy's?

Following the reported discovery of a human finger about an inch and a half in length in a bowl of chili from a Wendy's fast food restaurant in San Jose, California, diners have made other choices. Despite the fact that the woman who fingered the chili has a history of suing (including a suit against another fast-food restaurant) and none of the restaurant employees were missing any fingertips, sales from Wendy's restaurants have dropped so drastically that the company has had to lay off staff and cut back hours of operation in Northern California.

The efforts to locate the former owner of the finger read like an episode of CSI. The fingerprint failed to find a match in national databases, so now they're doing DNA tests. A woman in Arizona whose detached digit vanished from the hospital came forward to have her DNA tested. One problem: her missing fingertip is only 3/4 inch long, so unless it grew mysteriously in the chili-pot, it's not hers.

Wendy's International's corporate office initially offered $50,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of this mystery, then doubled it to $100,000 this weekend as their business continued to decline. It is apparently a woman's finger, well-manicured and polished. Police have declined to say which finger it is. Judging by its effect on chili sales, though, one can guess.

According to Todd Wilbur of Top Secret Recipes, "Dave Thomas, Wendy's founder, has been serving this chili since 1969, the year the first Wendy's opened its doors."

But then he adds, "Over the years the recipe has changed a bit..."

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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Angola Marburg Panic Masks Deadlier Issues


The bad news: the incredibly lethal Marburg filovirus, related but not identical to Ebola-virus, has killed over 200 people in Angola in the last few months. The disease, which spreads by contact with infected blood, sputum and feces, kills 90 percent of its victims, usually within nine days of infection.

The good news: by the time the victims are sufficiently infected to pass on the virus, they're much too sick to travel. This limits the spread of the disease.

Now the some worse news: there are far more deadly diseases brewing in the world. Some are carefully tended and enhanced in laboratories, designed as weapons. Thus we still have anthrax to fear, a disease that had seemed on its way to extinction after Lister applied his theory of immunization against it in the 1870s. Smallpox was officially declared to have been eradicated over 25 years ago, yet laboratories in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union are known to have stocks of the virus, perhaps refined as weapons.

More horrifying infections are rising in incidence. Necrotizing fasciitis, the "flesh-eating bacteria," for example, is a swiftly-spreading infection that is lethal unless the affected tissue is excised. But the number of cases of it caused by MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus, are growing. Antibiotic resistance is also credited for the resurgence of tuberculosis, and many other diseases that seemed to have been vanquished by the "magic bullet." Antibiotics in animal feed are sometimes blamed for this increase, even though diseases like SARS and periodic waves of flu virus emerge from a part of the world where antibiotic-laden feed is seldom used.

The AIDS virus kills in a smoldering spread that infects millions because of the extremely long infective period. In an ironic way, AIDS is deadly due to the relative mildness of its symptoms. It's easier to see why a Marburg victim, bleeding out and unconscious, should be avoided. Yet the families of victims often hide their loved ones from doctors until it is too late to save the entire family from exposure.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization debates whether to give a vaccine that has been shown to cure Ebola-virus in monkeys to the infected humans in Angola. "There are complex ethical issues. This is an unlicensed drug and the ethics will have to be looked at extremely carefully," said WHO's top outbreak specialist, Dr. Mike Ryan. "There may be a case for compassionate use, but we can't just give it to people just like that."

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Weekly BlogScan: We'll Be Taxing Your Credulity Next

April 15th is no longer the dreaded date when U.S. income tax filers line up at the post office at ten of midnight—more and more of us file a request for extension to file in August, or eFile early to get our refunds sooner, or call and give our data and credit card number by telephone. Tax programs take even the remnant stings out of the vastly-simpler process of filing. The prospect of permanently-lowered tax rates looms on the horizon.

Lesbian Money stamped on IRS envelope
      Photo courtesy Mitch McCabe.

And I have a great future as a writer of fairy tales!

Out in the blogosphere, somewhat closer to reality, Mitchissimus proposes some liberal revenge at tax time, and says he'll let us know if he gets audited. Note: You don't have to be a lesbian to participate, but one commenter asks, "What if the person who opens your tax return is a lesbian?" Stuart Levine, on the other hand, is taking a serious look at the tax consequences of the Bankruptcy Reform Act. Looks like if you're a heavy tax-hitter with unresolved tax debts in 2001 and prior, your best hope is that the bill gets delayed in Congress. And while we're being serious, check out Jeff Cornwell of The Entreprenurial Mind as he suggests that a marginal tax rate reduction of just one percent would increase small business startups by both single and married filers.

At Phil's Occasional Musings, Phil echoes the visceral reactions of many Americans with his piece titled I hate tax time—though I'm not sure Governor Pataki has as much to do with taxes as Phil assumes. Old Man William at reasonablenut suggests doing something about it: bury the government in paper. Don't eFile, he says, send that inch-thick ream of forms and documentation off to the IRS. Make 'em work for your money! In retaliation, warns Boots and Sabers Owen, at least one state is prepared to list your name and address on a Website of Shame if you duck your tax payments.

People are doing other things on April 15th. Aaron's Rantblog has named this B.A.G. Day. That's short for Buy A Gun, folks; 2005 is the third year Aaron has recommended we all invest our tax refunds in sidearms and ammo. Besides that, depending on which state you live in, James Schott reminds us, Tax Freedom Day is (almost) here! For most states, the day falls on or around Aprils 15th. If you live in Connecticut, though, you'll have nearly a month more to wait. On the other hand, if you live in Alaska, income after April 2nd was (statistically speaking) all yours.

And, hey, Canadians also grouse about taxes! (Though their tax time seems to fall in March.) Maria of Adventures in Downtown Toronto gripes that ING Direct doesn't send her notice until a scant two weeks before the filing date, so she "has" to postpone doing her taxes until the last minute. (Just think of it as a free excuse, Maria!) The genetic mishap who writes my not so fascinating life gripes about being paid as if "self-employed," with lots of tax and unemployment implications. Different date, same irate feelings.

Speaking of which, it's not midnight yet in California—I still have time to mail my return. Now, where did I put that 1099 form?
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