July 31, 2006

The Danger of the Israeli Cease-Fire

International pressure for a cease-fire has been unrelenting during the three weeks of the Israeli war in Gaza and Lebanon, yet until July 30th Israel had wisely ignored the opinions of the United Nations, which is notoriously biased against Israel, and the separate nations who have not yet experienced the harsh realities of being the target of terrorists.

Today a 48 hour cease-fire was agreed upon, ostensibly to allow Israel time to investigate the explosions at Qana that occurred following an Israeli attack. Though immediately blamed for the deaths of civilians at Qana, the IDF claims the building did not collapse for several hours after their bombing, which raises doubts as to their rocket being the cause of the collapse. Earlier this summer Israel was condemned for the deaths of eight Palestinians following an explosion on a Gazan beach, but an investigation discovered the explosive was a Hamas land-mine, not an Israeli rocket. It is understandable that Israel wishes to investigate the claims of the Lebanese and the U.N. that it was Israeli ordinance that was responsible for the deaths in Qana.

None the less, this cessation of hostilities is a very dangerous move for Israel. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated the four very specific aims for Israel's current action in Lebanon:
  • the abducted Israeli soldiers are returned
  • Hezbollah is disarmed
  • the Lebanese army is deployed along the border
  • the Lebanese government regains sovereignty over the entire country
To date it does not appear as though Israel has achieved any of its goals for this offensive. It is for this reason that a cease-fire is ill-advised. Any break in the air campaign gives Hezbollah time to re-arm and re-trench and it will be much more difficult for Israel to resume hostilities in the face of international opinion. Yet a resumption of hostilities following the 48-hour cease-fire is vital to Israel's self-interest.

For years the most potent weapon in Israel's arsenal has been the perception of the Israeli Defense Force's invincibility. The appearance that Hezbollah has fought Israel to a draw severely weakens Israel's position and strengthens that of its enemies. Since Hezbollah merely needs to survive while drawing out the conflict as long as possible, a cease-fire can only benefit Hezbollah, while a vincible Israel has lost one of its most potent weapons -- fear -- and gained nothing in return.

Additionally, the logistics of a reliable cease-fire are challenging. How exactly does a nation negotiate a cease-fire with an armed militia, and how do you guarantee the militia is negotiating in good-faith? The Lebanese government has shown itself to be powerless to influence Hezbollah's actions, and history has many recent examples that agreements made with Hezbollah aren't kept. (For example,the day after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May of 2000, Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, refused to accept that Israel had fully complied with Resolution 425 and instead merely added new demands.)

Despite the dubious strategic value of a cease-fire, the international community was adamant that Israel agree to one, and immediately. The E.U. is particularly concerned that the continuing violence will plunge Lebanon back into the worst stages of its previous civil war. The French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy stated that "there is a risk of a very dangerous spiral of violence, which could destabilize the entire region." Since he is concerned that Israel's recent actions could instigate a dangerous spiral of violence, we can infer that he did not consider the unrelenting Hezbollah rocket attacks nor the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that precipitated the current crisis to have been particularly destabilizing.

The bias against Israel in the world's opinion, and specifically at the United Nations, is staggering. Though Secretary General Annan condemned Hezbollah's initial attack, he continued by criticizing Israel's efforts to defend itself as disproportionate, considering that Hezbollah's rockets "have produced no casualties in the past month." Apparently trying to kill Israelis isn't a crime unless you actually accomplish it.

Though Israel has precious few allies, they long ago learned not to rely on the fickle support of the United Nations, nor regard their equally fickle condemnations. The constant refrain from the international community during the past three weeks has been that the lives of two Israeli soldiers aren't worth the hundreds of Lebanese lives that have been lost. The idea that simple arithmetic should dictate Israel's defense strategy is as absurd as the implication that East Timor, Paraguay, or Iceland's opinions on the matter of Israel's self-defense are more relevant than Israel's own.

The overwhelming international pressure for Israel to return to the status quo of yelling "quit it" over the Lebanese border after each rocket attack exemplifies the dramatic double-standard amongst the member nations of the U.N. with regard to Israel. The apparent expectation is that Israel will indefinitely continue to allow assaults upon its national sovereignty and its civilians that no other nation would be expected to endure. Is it surprising that Israel has decided there is no value in a proportional response, no value in the United Nations (which failed to enforce its own resolution 1559 re: the Lebanese border) and no value in negotiating with terrorists?

Terrorism will only cease to be a successful tactic when the cost to terrorists and their sponsor nations grows too great to endure. Though it has accepted a 48-hour cease-fire, Israel must resist the imminent international pressure to accept a permanent cease-fire without having achieved its goals in the region; specifically the disabling of Hezbollah. To do so, after Hezbollah has been emboldened and Israel's military reputation diminished, would leave Israel in a notably weakened position.

July 26, 2006

If you have a problem, if no one else can help...

In the midst of the blackout last week, I completely missed this story.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A missile fell off a truck and onto a New York highway on Friday, but the weapon did not have a warhead and posed no danger, police said.

WCBS radio reported it was a Tomahawk cruise missile. Police and fire department officials could not confirm that.

The cargo came loose when the truck carrying it collided with another truck on a motorway in the Bronx.

"It was a military-type missile but it was inert. There was no danger and no one was harmed," a police spokesman said.

A witness on the scene reported seeing a large black van with a big red stripe on the side speeding away just after the missile hit the pavement...

July 24, 2006

Monkey With a Deathwish...

I'm sure there is an allegory in here somewhere, or some zen koan about strength vs. agility... whatever.

The toughest monkey of all time

I've Got the Power!

Power restored!

I came home from work today to find the apartment at full power. It's likely the result of patching, and we may lose power again as the permanent repairs are completed, but for now I've got my big PC booted up and the AC's are churning and the fridge is cooling.

Not all Queens residents are so well-off, however. While I'm happy to be one of the "lucky" ones who only had to deal with this business for 8 days, there remain 3,000 customers (which could equate to as many as 25,000 people or more) still off the grid. This afternoon Con Ed began bringing in generators to help serve the heaviest concentrations of power-less New Yorkers, such as apartment buildings, providing energy to elevators at the least. That is such a brilliant idea, it's a wonder they only took 8 days to begin the process...

July 23, 2006

Slowly Basting in Queens

One of my earliest Macintosh computer experiences occurred during my sophomore year in college, playing Sim City on a neighbor's Mac for hours at a time. Whole weekends would go by, yet despite the distractions of college, I sat enthralled and built cities by the hundreds.

To this day, I often see urban life in "Sim City" terms. My neighborhood is a middle-R, for a residential area that's developed but not highly so. Nearby are some low-Industrials, and we have a few mid-Commercial zones in my neighborhood as well. Urban-planning, Sim City-style...

As we head into day 7 without power in my lovely, working class middle-R neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, I can't help but recall what would happen in Sim City when power to a region was cut: you'd get a big flashing lightning bolt over the affected space alerting you that a connection between the zone and the power source has been broken, and you'd need to create a new connection to your power source to re-energize the area. Even in Sim City, the why of it was not nearly as relevant as the need to restore power, and as soon as possible.

The cause of the problem here in Queens is a massive break in the power grid, as that is what is keeping us from enjoying our blessed, blessed electricity. But that's not the problem the residents have, that's the problem Con Ed has. For the residents, the problem is simply no electricity. The solution is to get us electricity, and as soon as possible.

To clarify, let's examine the issue from a customer service standpoint -- I'll use an example from the I.T. world many will be familiar with: a broken printer. When someone wishes to print a document and their printer is down, the immediately apparent solution is to fix their broken printer, which might take hours or days. But the person's problem is not the broken printer, that's the cause of their problem. Their issue is far simpler: they cannot print and they need to print; what they require is the ability to print, and getting them printing again is the goal. So another solution for their lack of printing ability may be replacing the broken printer with a working one, while a third solution may be routing the person to a network printer, and so on. Each alternative solution addresses the person's actual problem in much less time than the first solution, repairing the broken printer, would resolve it.

I assert that Con-Ed is addressing their problem rather than the problem of a 100,000 New Yorkers. Some businesses are paying to rent generators; could we not have generators on every corner where the grid is not faulty? For every break in the massive power feeder cables, why aren't temporary lines jumping the breaks? Rather than devoting the 'round the clock Con Ed crews to fixing the regional feeder lines first and foremost, perhaps we would be better served if there were contingency plans in place that would provide us with local electricity first, which would then allow Con Ed the time to resolve the cause of the disruption while we residents were basking in air conditioning like tax-paying Americans in the 21st century have the God-given right to do.

Are there such plans? If hit with a hurricane, which we can be, or a terrorist attack, which we have been and may be again, what brilliant stratagems have been cooked up over the past five years to ensure we'll be ready to tackle the really momentous, Katrina-level issues? Five years after 9/11, with a country on apparently eternal war-footing, what does Homeland Security and the City of New York have in their in-case-of-emergency file under "power outage?" Not a heck of a lot, if this week is to be any indicator.

It was several days before the Mayor even addressed the issue publicly, and the overall response by City services was underwhelming until the newspapers began to get a hold of the story.
On July 22nd the Mayor even sounded annoyed by the Astoria residents who were relentlessly pressing him for answers. New York City's response to this week's underestimated power outage in a relatively minor and quiet neighborhood does not inspire me with confidence when I consider the catastrophic outages that could very possibly be in our city's future.

Reebee and I have taken to hunting squirrels in the yard and sleeping in trees. If you want us, please remind us of our lost humanity by coaxing us back to civilization with air conditioning and refrigeration. Oh, and ice cream. Reebee wants me to make sure I mention ice cream...

July 20, 2006

Tales of Zeke, the Wonder Dog

I'd like to thank everyone for their support and love these past two days. Zeke clearly made an impression on folks, and I've gotten some terrific words of wisdom on his passing. My favorite so far has been -

"As long as someone, somewhere, is still picking Zeke's hair off
of something, he'll never be truly gone..."

And I'd like to share three stories of my beastie with you, each from the prime of his life. In the summer of 1998 he and I embarked on a great adventure, moving ourselves to San Francisco. The new environment provided many opportunities for Zeke to demonstrate his character.

This first one is from the Spring of 1999 --

I was scrambling up the mountainside, clawing for purchase on the loose, dry gravel. Zeke, with his four-paw drive and low center of gravity was having a much easier time of it, and was roving up and down the very steep incline, literally running circles around me as I climbed. "Not one of my better ideas," I remember thinking to myself as I involuntarily slid a few inches down the cliff face. It was a gorgeous San Francisco afternoon and in the distance I could see hundreds of boats in the bay, but at this particular time on this particular trail, Zeke and I were quite alone.

Earlier that day when I had opened the hatch of the jeep and called to Zeke with his second favorite word ("Ride?") I hadn't known where we were heading, nor was there anyone to tell. An hour later we found ourselves walking a lonely, wooded trail above Baker Beach when I came across the stony cliff looming high above us, promising a breathtaking view from its top. I love a good scrabble up a cliff, and Zeke always was as sure-footed as a mountain goat, so up we went; an impulse climb for two intrepid adventurers.

It wasn't until I found myself on all fours, slipping in sandstone, that it occurred to me that not only would a fall very likely be fatal, but no one would even think to look for us for days.
As I admitted to myself that going further upward was out of the question, I began glancing around for the surest path back to secure ground. Yet getting back down to a place of some safety was no easy task either, with gravity tugging on me and the ground I was clinging to alarmingly unstable. While I considered my limited options and caught my breath I went totally motionless, to keep from losing my very tenuous perch.

Zeke chose this moment to come up behind me, and crouching low he stuck his head under my right arm and start noodling around. I'm clinging to the Earth by my fingernails at this point, and the last thing I need is my dog interpreting my inactivity as an invitation to wrestle.

"Zeke, now is not the time..." I started to say, when it dawned on me that he wasn't messing with me at all. He had worked his head up under my arm, and then his shoulders up into my armpit, and very slowly he began to stand, taking some of my weight. In his own doggie way, he recognized that I was in distress and was trying to help me out by giving me, literally, something to lean on.

I thanked him, and he slobbered on me, and breathed his doggie breath directly into my nose which may have been his motive all along, and spurred on by the thought of having to be rescued by my own dog I crab-walked over to some scrawny bushes, and eventually worked my way back down the mountain to the trail. When we were safe and in no further danger of plummeting to our doom, I tried to thank him properly for his concern.

Alas, in the way of dogs he had already forgotten all about it and was far more interested in what trouble we could get into next.

These next two are reprints of stories I shared with some fellow Akita owners several years back, which some of you may have read before. Both are from 1998, just after we had moved to the Bay Area...

From: "Miller, Daniel"
Subject: Zeke the Avenger

So I'm walking my five year old male Zeke Sunday morning, and we pass this guy walking his three little yappy dogs. Zeke and his dogs sniff, and then agree to go their separate ways. While I continue to window shop the guy moves along, and turns the corner.

A few seconds later, I reach the same corner, and looking down the hill (one of those archetypical San Francisco hills, that are almost straight up and down) I see the guy whom Zeke and I just met, and across the street, a pit bull mix tied to a fire hydrant, barking and straining at his leash to get to the three yappy dogs. Sure enough, the pit gets free, and tears ass across the street at the guy's dogs. The guy starts screaming (seeing a maniacal pit charging him and his dogs, no wonder) and tries to pick up his three yappys.

Zeke, intent upon the unfolding drama, also starts hauling ass down the street. And I do mean DOWN the street; it's something like a 60 degree angle. There are few everyday occurrences as humbling as the feeling of helplessness one encounters when tied to a hundred pound Akita who is going full throttle down a steep hill...

The pit reaches the yappys, and starts laying into them. The guy is kicking at the pit, and twisting, and doing his best to keep his dogs out of harm's way, but he's got three on a leash and the pit was loose and in a frenzy. The pit was so intent, it didn't even notice us coming, although the guy did and he was even more frantic at the thought of another dog joining the fray.

I freely admit I had no control over Zeke at this point. I had precious little control over my own balance, and there was no way I could gain purchase enough to stop Zeke from doing what he had raced down the hill to do. The pit was barking and snarling and snapping, and the three yappys were screaming. Zeke entered the melee and immediately proceeded to demonstrate on the big bully what it was like to grow up in Brooklyn and Queens...

Zeke hip-checks the pit, lifting it off the ground and bouncing it off a VW microbus (I know, San Francisco...), and then Zeke throws a full-frontal smush on him, totally encompassing and immobilizing the pit's body on the sidewalk. Not knowing when to quit, the pit starts to squirm, and Zeke just bites down on its face, hard; his top jaw right over the pit's eye, the bottom under the pits jaw. This produced a squeal from the pit, as well as a decent amount of blood.

And Zeke just held him there. The pit couldn't move, and Zeke held his jaws on the dog's face, and kept him still. Catching my breath, I asked the guy how his three yappys were, and he said there didn't seem to be anything more than some scratches. Then a woman comes screaming across the street, yelling at me because Zeke was attacking her dog! The guy with the yappys just let her have it -- how her dog almost killed his, and he hopes Zeke rips it apart, etc. Meanwhile Zeke is still just laying on the pit, with its face in his mouth, as nonchalant as an Akita with a pit bull's face in his mouth is wont to be.

The lady hooks her leash onto the pit, and I say "Zeke, UP!" He doesn't move an inch, but his eyes look up at mine, as if to ask "Are you sure?" I say again, "Zeke, UP!" and he does, jumping off and back really quickly, I suppose in case the pit attempted to bite him. But the pit just laid there. I suggested to the woman that she take the dog to a vet to have its face looked at, and that she then head to a Barnes and Nobles to get a book on being a responsible dog owner. As we started to walk away, Zeke went over to a wall and pee'd. I was really hoping he would pee a big "Z" on the wall, but it was only some squirty dribble...

-- Dan and Zeke, the Defender of the Meek

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998

From: "Miller, Daniel"
Subject: The old dog and the sea...

Hi folks,

I took Zeke to the beach this past weekend, and it was his first time at the ocean. He loved the sand and got into digging, which he had never really been into before, and he seemed to like the seaweed, which I guess was squishy in that way that Akitas love so much.

The best part was the water, though. Zeke loves to just plunk down on his belly in cool water, and the ocean by Santa Cruz is nice and chilly. So he strolled down the beach and plunked down in the ocean at about the half-Akita line, and began to wallow in pleasure -- brief pleasure, as it was less than ten seconds before he was capsized by a tsunami with his name on it.

He jumped up and shook off, and seemed really upset with the ocean for the dunking. He then looked about to see if anyone had seen his embarrassment, and with a grunt plunked down again. Sure enough, he was once again swamped by the incoming tide, and he once again jumped up, shook off, and then plunked back down in the water.

As stubborn as Zeke is, and despite his making it a personal war between himself and the sea, after about 6 of these engagements he'd had enough. With a growl and a playbow he dared the waves to chase him up the beach, and then barked and taunted the water in triumph when the cowardly ocean refused.

I couldn't tell if it was the dousing, or merely the familiarity that the ocean was claiming that riled Zeke the most. Although they had made up by the end of the day and were playing nicely together, that first impression was my favorite...

-- Dan and Zeke (the wet and stinky dog)
Thank you for indulging me. We will shortly return to your regularly scheduled non-Zeke related programming...

July 19, 2006

Checking in...

So much happening in the world, so many things to address... the Middle East, global warming, our President's first veto, our President being, alas, a moron, Project Runway...

As if this week wasn't eventful enough, we've been without power in my little section of Queens since late Monday evening. I'm being a prince, handling it with dignity and aplomb as you would all expect. I'm not complaining at all, because, you know, it's totally not in my nature to say something like "how the hell can we not have air conditioning in America in 2006, what is this, Beirut?" and "no TV and no internet makes Homer something-something..."

I'll continue my writing on these and other subjects shortly; I've a bit more to say about my dog first...

July 18, 2006

Elegy for a Good Dog

He woke me every morning
at dawn to greet the sun,
and pawed me every sunset
for his evening doggie run

I'd come home from work to find
him woo-wooing at the door,
or a still-warm hairy sofa
while he fake-slept upon the floor

He claimed my evening dinner as
no more than his hors d'oeuvre,
and yappie dogs and cats got chased
as much as they deserve

This was my dog, this king of dogs,
this was the life he led
But age and sickness brought him low
when health and youth had fled.

This dog who fought the ocean
by time-passing was betrayed -
left droopy-eyed and panting
on the table where he laid

In silence I kissed his cheek and
hugged him close and wept,
While peacefully he closed his eyes,
laid down his head and slept.

He passed that day and said goodbye
to a body that would not mend
And as he died I bid farewell
to my true and faithful friend

Godspeed my dear companion,
thou wise and noble beast -
Wait for me upon the bridge,
my Zekey, rest in peace.

Zeke the
Wonder Dog

November 1993 - July 2006

July 16, 2006

Condemned to Repeat It?

Is it nothing more than an ominous coincidence that both the course of events that triggered World War I in 1914 and the Israeli military action against Gaza this year each began on June 28th? Both originated with seemingly isolated incidents -- the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a terrorist in Serbia and the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit by terrorists in Gaza -- yet each had far-reaching consequences for the countries involved and their allies. I can't help but suspect that the currently escalating conflict will grow to entangle many of the nations of the world as their industrial and religious interests in the region are threatened.

At the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg this weekend, the 7 major economic powers in the world and Russia voiced apprehension and concern over what they deemed Israel's disproportionate use of force, while news this weekend implicated Iranian troops and munitions used in attacks on an Israeli naval vessel as well as on Haifa - a city which until recently was believed to be out of range of Hezbollah rockets.

Some believe that Hezbollah is being encouraged by Iran, in a subtle jab at the U.S. Others believe that Israel may be acting with U.S. encouragement to widen the conflict, provoking Iran and providing justification for Israeli attacks on the nuclear weapons infrastructure of a dangerous nation.

This week I plan three posts, each addressing a different aspect of the Israeli/Arab conflict that continues in the Middle East. The first will address the root of the conflict, Israel's right to exist or lack there-of. The second will be focused on the Palestinians and their claims, and the third will deal with options and possibilities.

Hopefully we won't one day look back on the summer of 2006 with the same sentimental regret that the world viewed the summer of 1914, as one by one the opportunities to avoid disaster slip away.

July 14, 2006

So quick bright things come to confusion

I'm overwhelmed by the distressing news from the Middle East, and not even sure where to begin. Events keep outpacing my ability to make sense of them, and just as I think I may have worked out what I'd like to say the situation deteriorates further and I'm left, slackjawed, marveling at the speed with which hope can dwindle.

It appears that Israel is on the brink of all-out open warfare with its Arab neighbors for the first time since 1973. The stresses upon the newly elected Kadima party led by Ehud Olmert are staggering - an invisible, intractable enemy with whom there is no compromise, pressures from the few international friends and the numerous international enemies to restrain themselves in the face of daily attacks, an increasingly anti-Israel United Nations from whom no assistance or support can be expected, and the unrelenting bottom line - Israel's citizens are being kidnapped or killed outright with appalling regularity.

Meanwhile, Gaza is without power and water, Beirut is cut off from the rest of the world, the governments of both Palestine and Lebanon are vulnerable to collapse, and Arab allies are lining up to leap to the defense of Lebanon and Syria.

I plan on spending some time this weekend trying to make some sense of it all, as much for my own benefit as I hope for yours.

I'm not a religious man, but for those of you for whom prayers come easily, let them do what they may.

July 13, 2006

Love, Sex, and Astrology

Dealing with a sick doggie this week, so not as much time to write as I'd like. But I did take it upon myself to tell you things you ought to know, so I wanted to give you something to chew on to tide you over...

In high school I came across a paperback in a local Waldenbooks called "Love, Sex, and Astrology." Within its pages I found each astrological sign described in detail, and most importantly how compatible each star sign was with members of the opposite sex: Ares man with Gemini woman, that sort of thing. Using tables and highly detailed explanations of each sign's best and worst qualities, the book was a treasure-trove that paid for itself in just a few short weeks.

Armed with this golden tome of arcane knowledge I immediately went about collecting the birthdays of as many men and women in my high school as I could, noting their star sign within my specially-designated mystical trapper-keeper notebook. Within a week I had amassed a tremendous amount of information and I put it to use by hanging out a shingle as the newest practitioner of the most noble of Hebrew professions: matchmaker.

For a mere dollar, I'd provide interested parties with a list of all the people in our school who were the most compatible with their star sign. You're a Virgo lady? Well, then your best matches would be with the other earth signs, and here's a list of fellows who happen to be Capricorns and Tauruses. (Taurii?) I made myself a solid 11 bucks, and the book was only $6.99. Score!

Now, in the midst of your admiration for my entrepreneurial spirit, you may perhaps be sniggering at my faith in astrology. It's common these days to discount astrology, yet nevertheless it is the oldest formalized field of study, dating back more than four thousand years. Our best ancient thinkers, the three folks who formed the foundation of western thought (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) were each avid astrologers.

Astrology lost prestige during the Age of Enlightenment as empirical science grew in popularity and astrology was unable to provide hard proof of its efficacy. Over a short period of time the oldest science of humanity was relegated to niche status and became known as more occult than scientific; an enigmatic hobby for hippies and nudists.

Yet it continues to be popular, and in some circles, advocates maintain that astrology remains an accurate predictor of behavior and events.

What You Need to Know
Nearly 350 years ago Isaac Newton stumbled upon the theory of gravity, and though he didn't initially understand the mechanism, he was able to apply his theory to explain the acceleration of falling bodies on Earth, as well as the motion of the moon and the other planets in the solar system.

His work led to what would come to be called the "Universal Law of Gravitation." Newton postulated that every molecule in the universe exerted a force upon every other molecule in the universe, and the strength of that force was based on the mass of the molecules and their distance from each other.

As the Earth whirls through the heavens, due to Newton's efforts we learned that it is acting on and being acted upon by the gravitational forces of the Moon, the Sun, the planets, and trillions of stars both local and remote. In increments too small for us to perceive we are affecting, and constantly being affected by, their mass and gravity. According to Newton's theory, you could wave your arms on Earth and in some small way affect the orbit of a star millions of light years away.

We see empirical evidence of Newton's theories all around us. For instance, the diameter of the Earth is large enough that the gravitational force exerted by the Moon is measurably stronger on the side of the Earth that's closest to the Moon and measurably weaker on the far side. Since Earth is 70% water and gravity acts on a fluid more noticeably than it does a solid, we can measure the variable impact of the Moon's gravity on the different bodies of water across the globe. It's the Moon's fluctuating gravitational pull on the waters of the world's oceans that is responsible for the motion of the tides.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome scholars recognized the impact on the sea caused by the waxing and waning of the Moon, and wondered about the other bodies in the heavens. They created vibrant mythologies to explain the celestial movements, misunderstanding the mechanics but doubtless of the impact on not just the planet, but also upon its inhabitants.

And is that far-fetched? When you reflect upon how much of our bodies are fluid, how we spend our initial nine months of development surrounded by fluid, breathing fluid, and being nourished by fluid, you may agree that much like the oceans we too may be particularly susceptible to the variable gravitational forces at play in our universe.

During the course of our lifetimes certain configurations of heavenly bodies re-occur as we move through the calendar and simultaneously the zodiac. There's room enough in my philosophy to allow that the physics behind those astrological configurations may somehow play a role in our construction, manifesting in our character or biology as, for instance, a propensity for stubbornness, gluttony, and lust. (Go Taurus!)

So the next time you're reading your horoscope, before you discount the world's oldest scholarly pursuit remember that there is the hard science of Isaac Newton behind each and every mysterious prediction.

July 10, 2006

Ok, this ISN'T terrorism, but it could have been!

It is just over an hour since a building near the corner of 62nd and Madison exploded and collapsed, yet already the White House is categorically denying that terrorism had anything to do with it.

Now, I happen to believe that in a city with 100-year-old infrastructure it is indeed much more likely that this explosion is the result of a gas-leak or arson than an attack, yet isn't it odd that the White House could claim to be so sure so soon?

I'm naturally skeptical of anyone that believes anything so surely that there is no room for doubt. And in this instance the building is still burning and an investigation hasn't even begun.

Does the White House think that it would know of every possible terrorist plot, and since this one wasn't on their radar it couldn't be terrorism? Or are they merely saying what they think is the most soothing thing to say to a twitchy city, in a surprisingly nuanced understanding of our mindset?

The Administration's clumsy attempt to reassure the nation and New York that everything that explodes isn't necessarily the result of terrorism stands in stark counterpoint to the culture of fear they've meticulously constructed over the past five years. After an unrelenting wave of orange alerts, where every conceivable attack on New York becomes a front page story, this attempt to assuage our fears is actually a pleasant change of pace.

July 08, 2006

Weekend Harry Potter fluff post

Since none of you are around to marvel at my wit and wisdom on the weekends, or so I suspect, I thought I'd do a little catch up. I neglected to comment upon a significant bit of news that's been provided to eager Harry Potter-fanatics around the world concerning the fate of the characters in Book 7.

"One character got a reprieve, but I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die," author J.K. Rowling said last week.

It will likely come as no surprise to you to learn that I am one of those people for whom this is a big deal. Perhaps it is the set of fuzzy, 20-sided dice hanging from my rear-view mirror, or maybe it's the 6"Argonath bookends guarding the top of my television, proudly proclaiming my living room to be the lawful realm of Gondor. Nevertheless, you're not surprised that I'm a Harry Potter fan, and I'm not even going to pretend to be offended.

But in fairness, while I'm a Harry Potter fan, I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I have yet to engage in crafting any Harry Potter fan-fiction, though I do know and love someone who does. As far as I can tell, most HP fan fiction is a lightly-veiled attempt to explore Harry and Malfoy's latent homosexuality while simultaneously exposing the author's lightly-veiled latent homosexuality. Seems to me there's a perfectly good and somewhat reliable author for actual Harry Potter fiction already, and I'm happy to wait and find out what she has in store for us. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't speculate, no?

I have the pleasure of being at the center of what can only be described as the world's most attractive Harry Potter book group. (In this instance "book group" is being loosely defined as several extraordinarily attractive women whom all email me about what they think of Harry Potter. It was SO the right move to switch out from Star Trek to Harry Potter when I did...)

I present to you some of the aggregated theories being bandied about by myself and my bevy of beautiful Potterheads for your review. Please feel free to comment and add your own theories. And should you wish to join our merry bookgroup, please observe the following rules -

  • The first rule of Harry Potter Book Club is you don't talk about Harry Potter Book Club. I mean really, it's embarrassing... I'm 36.

  • The second rule of Harry Potter Book Club is that I get to be the only guy. The only thing less masculine than a Harry Potter book club is one filled with dudes.

** Spoiler Alert!**

If you have yet to read the first 6 books through and through, you may learn plot points below that will totally ruin the experience for you. I had that happen to me recently, when I heard some key plot points about Superman Returns prior to the movie and it was a complete bummer. And for the record, Superman is totally not gay. I perceived no attempt whatsoever to depict him as a homosexual throughout the film. As Christ, yes, but not gay... But I digress...

Regarding Harry's Scar: My friend Dr. Laura (not the obnoxious one on the radio, the voluptuous one from Long Island) believes that Harry's scar may be the last and final Horcrux of Voldemort. I like that one, because it follows Dumbledore's belief that Voldemort intended to use Harry's death as the final Horcrux - except Lily jumped in the way and took the spell instead.

Regarding Snape and Dumbledore: General consensus is that Snape was acting on Dumbledore's orders. He had an arrangement with Dumbledore, and Dumbledore's pleading "Severus, please" lines in his last few moments were in fact a request for Severus to do what he was told he should do - kill Dumbledore. Now, why might he do that? I have a theory that it may have something to do with a good version of the Horcrux - that unlike Voldemort, who kills to fuel his immortality, there's a goodie-goodie version where a sacrifice of a life willingly given can protect another person from death. We've already seen that happen to Harry once, when his mother gave her life to protect him from Voldemort. Perhaps like Obi-Wan when facing Darth Vader, Dumbledore pulls a "if you strike me down I'll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine" thing from up his sleeve.

(Are you not totally impressed that I didn't have to look that up to quote from the original Star Wars movie? 27 times in the theater baby! 27 times!)

This theory also gibes with the extraordinary attempts Snape took to neither fight nor hurt Harry as Snape escaped. I strongly believe that Snape remains a good guy, and Dumbledore - though truly dead - died for some advantage of Harry's.

Regarding who bites it in the 7th book: The whole world is confident one of the two deaths hinted at last week will be Voldemort, but who's the lucky number 2? My money's on Neville, who dies in a blaze of noble glory - the weak, puny child of parent's who were tortured by Voldemort finally wins his Gran's respect by stepping up in a crucial moment, though it costs him his life. And there's the whole prophecy-twist to consider - I wouldn't be surprised if that plays into it, somehow mixing up Harry and Neville and Voldemort.

Other theories include Snape, who proves his redemption once and for all by dying in a battle with Voldemort, or one of the Weasley parents - though I couldn't abide that, they're the only family Harry has for goodness sake...

Entertainment Weekly has the odds like this: Ron: 20-1, Ginny: 6-1, Hagrid: 3-2, Hermione: 50-1, Snape: 2-1, Harry: 9-2, Voldemort: even odds. Now, if only I had the slightest idea of how to read odds...

Current expectations have Book 7 publishing in 2007, and if they stay true to form, it will likely be mid-June. That gives everyone plenty of time to make a Harry Potter-themed outfit for your dog.

July 06, 2006

Some bad news for you -

George Bush is your President.

I'm sorry if that causes you to grow anxious. Head between the knees... there you go. Come on, say it with me: George Bush is my President. It's liberating in its own way, to surrender like that. Now, don't get me wrong, I in no way approve of the reality I've just stated. But reality has a nasty way of not consulting us as it unfolds, and George Bush - I speak your name.

"Why, Chief of Staff, why must you confront us with this horrible truth?" Because there's something insidious happening to the anti-Bush crowd, which transcends being just merely anti-Bush. It smacks of a Bushiastic refusal to face facts, a refusal to deal with reality as it is rather than as we wish it would be. Because it's flat out un-American to deny your President.

In over 200 years, in 43 instances where Presidential power changed hands, that power was voluntarily passed. There were no coups, we don't face soldiers in the streets every fourth November. There has never been a President who refused to quit the Oval Office when his time has come. In short, we have a civil society that has agreed to a certain set of ground rules regarding how it will operate, and the most basic one is that we abide by the results of the elections.

And Al Gore conceded in 2000. As did John Kerry in 2004. I personally feel that Gore was robbed, and Kerry... well, Kerry cut and ran. We put our faith in him and our votes behind him, and less than 24 hours after an election as contentious and close as we have ever experienced he bailed on us. It's hard not to credit those who claimed Kerry was no true warrior as when it came to the political fight of his life he chose not to glove-up. But as much as I despise Kerry's choice, the fact is he conceded as well.
And that makes George W. Bush our President.

Overheard on the N-train: "He's not my President, I didn't vote for him..." Alas, that's not how elections work. And the system does work - but it stops working when one party decides to take their toys and go home. Can you believe that it's the Democrats that are the sore losers? For years liberals have been forcing their progressive anti-God, pro-women, pro-minority, pro-poor, pro-science, secular agenda on a country that largely disagrees with them. Come on now, look at the accomplishments generated primarily by the blue states: emancipation, de-segregation, labor rights, equal rights, a woman's right to choose, gay -- well, everything... the list goes on. Whose idea was all that? No one in Alabama was complaining about too much prayer in the schools - it's been the blue states, the perennial troublemakers.

And I'm proud of it; being progressive is a good thing, and I feel that it's the right thing, but it's not aligned with a vast number of Americans. America since its inception has been healthiest when upsetting the status quo, electing representatives who do what is necessary to drag a recalcitrant nation forward - be it via grand declarations in 1776 or civil wars and unrest in the 19th and 20th centuries. Forward-thinking progressives have prodded America a ponderous three steps forward despite every conservative two steps back, and good for us. So temporarily we must deal with a backward-looking government nostalgic for the good 'ole days that never really existed. Conservatives have felt under-represented for years, and now the progressives get to know what it feels like to have a President that disdains you, disagrees with you, and is destroying all that you hold dear. That's what's so; if you don't like it enough, you'll take action and remedy the situation, but for better or worse George Bush is still your President.

And if you want something to feel smugly superior about, try that on for size: there's no greater nation in the world than this one, a country where more than half the population can hate a leader so completely, yet still accept the reality and consequences of our grand democratic gamble.

July 04, 2006

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world...

Today is one of my favorite holidays, in that it appeals to the single remaining idealistic bone in my body. Yet I always felt we were celebrating the wrong thing...

July 4th is considered the birth of our nation yet that isn't accurate. Today is no more the anniversary of our nation's creation than today would be the first day of my being thin merely because I say that today is the day I begin my diet (it's not). Our nation as we think of it wouldn't come to be for another 11 years, following the Revolution, the failure of the Articles of Confederation, and the adoption of the Constitution.

And it's not like the Declaration of 1776 was even a big surprise at the time. It had been over a year since the battles of Lexington and Concord and the colonies were already in armed and open rebellion against Great Britain. So what's the big whoop about today? What exactly do we honor with the roasting of meats and many loud explosions of gunpowder? What were those 56 white guys sitting in a stifling room in a brick courthouse in Philadelphia in the middle of the summer wearing outfits that any self-respecting bisexual vampire wouldn't be caught dead in expecting to accomplish?

What You Need to Know
The most important thing about the Declaration of Independence is the act of declaration itself. These gentlemen got together to declare something as self-evident which wasn't self-evident at all. No one before had ever committed to what they were committing to, and there was no reason to believe it was a good idea. It's the greatest example of the power of declaring your intentions, of throwing your hat over the fence so you have no choice but to go get it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson makes the claim that these are several self-evident truths which were very obviously not true at the time. He claims all men are created equal? Who told him that? You wouldn't know it from looking around Europe in 1776. And when in history had a right to pursue happiness ever been enshrined as a foundation of government? It hadn't, Jefferson made that part up. Unalienable rights? Made that part up too. The several salient points of Jefferson's declaration take a stand on ground that had never been claimed before, asserting as a priori beliefs which were just the opposite, and heretical to the old world order.

By ratifying the Declaration in July, 1776 those absurdly dressed optimists declared something as so which was decidedly not so, yet they were committing on paper to make it so. I love that about America, it's my favorite thing about our country. We were founded on nothing more than a stubborn determination to be good and to strive for nobility. We set a standard beyond our grasp, and lived into and up to it.

Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it... A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Our Declaration was bold and audacious, an unprecedented public statement that introduced the belief that people were rational and sane, and they shouldn't be subjected to leadership that was anything less. Monarchies had been based on the principle of the Divine Right of Kings ever since the Pope began anointing Holy Roman Emperors in the 9th century, yet here comes America with its big-boy pants on, claiming that not only should government derive from the consent of the governed but that royalty only gets to rule if they behave themselves.

It is one of the most important milestones in our ongoing development as a civilization due to how high it sets the bar for our self-management. In 1776 Europe was experiencing the Age of Enlightenment, an era when rational thought first begins to supplant the pleasant poetry of Genesis in the hearts and minds of the West. Jefferson applies the enlightened scholarship of the best thinkers of his day as he writes, and the result is a Declaration of Independence that celebrates citizenship, and the idea that a citizen-generated government trumps the superstitions and tyranny of the medieval monarchies.

Jefferson possesses an idealistic and hopeful vision of what's possible for humanity, and envisions a nation where government exists for reasons other than mere peasant and land management. The Declaration of Independence marks the emergence of the modern democracy as the founding principle for free society and it is the hook upon which the tricorn hat of government of the people, by the people, and for the people will hang.

There are only two ways a nation has ever come into existence, and prior to 1947 there had been only one: brute force. Had our colonies lost the War for Independence -- which was by far the likeliest outcome - the Declaration and its signatories would have ceased to exist and rather than the birth of a nation, today we'd be celebrating the righteous defeat of the Godless insurrectionists.

But such is the power of a bold declaration that it uplifts and emboldens the spirit, orients and focuses the mind, and lends strength to the flagging muscles of the weary and untrained. That our country grew from such a Declaration gives me hope and inspires me whenever I begin to despair of our current circumstances.

Happy Fourth of July!