Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Illegitimate son of my alma mater

I'm returning to the scene of my meteoric college career this weekend for the dedication of my fraternity's new house. And, while I'm eager to see my brothers from that period, I have mixed feelings about visiting the Indiana State University campus.
In case you missed the pertinent earlier posts, I flunked out twice and never earned a degree. Despite the fact that I had a state scholarship and the top SAT scores in my high school.
It's like Bob Dylan says in the new Martin Scorsese film biography: "I was enrolled, but I just didn't go to class."
I managed to eke out five semesters of ever lower grades as I pursued my own course of independent studies, years before the folks in charge of the school ever thought of it. I spent most of my energies on my work at the student newspaper. I couldn't be bothered with going to class - I had a newspaper to get out.
Fortunately, I was on a career path that - at that time, anyway, didn't put much stock in college degrees.
Sadly, that's not true today. The Gannett newspapers, at least the one I fled five years ago, required a degree and X number of years' experience on a medium-size daily, as criteria for hiring.
So why is the paper written so poorly and so full of mistakes?
With only one or two exceptions, all of the good writers I've known were without degree.
My point is that when it comes to creativity and general competence as a writer, a degree is pretty much meaningless.
As support for my thesis, I offer this list of academic failures and no-shows who would be dismissed out of hand if they applied for a reporter's position at The Indianapolis Star:
James Baldwin
Ambrose Bierce
Erskine Caldwell
Truman Capote
Agatha Christie
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
Joseph Conrad
Theodore Dreiser
William Faulkner
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dashiell Hammett
Ben Hecht
Ernest Hemingway
William Sydney Porter (O. Henry)
Jack Kerouac
Jack London
Henry Miller
Dorothy Parker
Edgar Allan Poe
Geneva Grace Stratton (Gene Stratton Porter)
William Saroyan
Mickey Spillane
John Steinbeck
Dylan Thomas
Hunter S. Thompson
Leon Uris

Getting serious

The fold-out keyboard for my Treo 600 arrived today, along with an adapter plug that lets me use my Walkman headphones to listen to MP3s on the Treo.
This really is turning into a do-everything device that's light years ahead of the Treo 300 I used for about a year.

Now that I have the full-size portable keyboard and the new go.blogger.com mobile connection, I'm good to go for motorcycle trip blogging, illustrated with the built-in camera. Ok, so it's just barely a camera. You should see the low-res black & white Logitech digital camera I paid $700 for back in about 1992. This is a freaking Hasselblad compared with that primitive piece of crap.
Here's a photo of my mother and my son Sean taken with the Logitech museum piece back around 1993. Mom died five years ago next week. Sean's first wedding anniversary was today.

On the fly...

This is a test post using the new mobile blogger link

A test blog entry from my wife's newspaper office. I'm wearing my BMW Savanna motorcyle jacket because they had the AC cranked to arctic levels.

Testing, testing, testing...

Test transmission

Me, looking deranged in a Treo camera self-portrait from the driver's seat of my del Sol.

Friday, September 23, 2005

An anniversary

Forty years ago today, I raised my right hand in the Indianapolis Armed Forces Induction Center, along with maybe 50 other guys, and took the oath of enlistment in the U.S. Air Force.
I had lost my student deferment and faced with the prospect of being drafted for the Army or the U.S. Marine Corps. That scenario almost certainly assured I'd be fed into the meatgrinder that the Vietnam War had become.
So, recognizing that the Air Force has no infantry, I reckoned my best chance of surviving this unfortunate episode in our nation's history was to wear Air Force blue for the next four years.
As it turned out, I was back home with a medical discharge (allergies) in a scant 41 days.
I didn't hide out in the National Guard or flee to Canada or declare myself a conscientious objector.
I'm neither proud nor ashamed. I played the game by the rules. I rolled the dice and I won.
But I have an undying admiration and respect for those of my generation who did go, especially the young men and women whose names are inscribed in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
One of their most valuable legacies, in my judgment, is today's all-volunteer professional armed forces.
The politicians learned it is political suicide to squander the nation's conscripted youth on a limited war.
Today, we have fielded the finest fighting force the world has ever known. They are exactly where they should be, serving as a magnet to draw the world's most dangerous Islamist terrorists into combat in Iraq, rather than on our shores. And poised to meet the next threats to our security from Iran and North Korea.
The lesson they died for was simply: 1. Take only those who aspire to the profession of arms and 2. Fight to win.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hey, I can see my house from here!

Google's mapping site is getting better and better.
They've incorporated aerial photography/satellite imaging into maps.google.com. Not all locations are covered - you get maps only if you check out Breckenridge, Colo. and environs - but a remarkable portion of the U.S. is available, including my little town.
That's my house under the red X, down at the east end of Mills Street.
Just over the treeline east of my house is the local Farm Bureau Co-op with its prodigious supply of anhydrous ammonia and fleet of nurse tanks.
That's where a methamphetamine maker left a valve open and flooded the neighborhood with ammonia vapors, forcing the crowd at a baseball game (in the park southwest of my house) to disperse.
The big complex of buildings on the south side of Mills is the local elementary school.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Time for an upgrade

I bought a Handspring Treo 300 smartphone on Ebay about a year ago and quickly became a smartphone devotee.
I congratulated myself for getting in so cheaply - about $70, I think - by buying what amounted to a two-year-old (obsolete) model.
Now, after a year's good service, the old Treo 300 isn't holding a charge very well and I decided it was time to retire it in favor of the next model up - still one model behind the cutting edge and soon to be two back from the front.
The Treo 600 was the top of the Handspring food chain when I came aboard in August 2004. It was supplanted a few months later by the Treo 650. Now there's word of a forthcoming Treo 670 and beyond that, the Treo 700.
The 300 was a better PDA than it was a phone and I was in constant fear that the flip-up clamshell cover, which held the phone's earpiece, would break a hinge. They're notorious for that and I figured it was just a matter of time before it happened. But it turned out that the battery was the real Achilles heel for me.
The last straw was a couple of weeks ago when the battery crapped out on me in Woodland Park, Colo. as I talked with my dentist at home. I discovered a crown adrift in my mouth while eating at a Mexican restaurant and phoned Dr. Stegemiller for advice. Fortunately, one of my riding companions was able to hook me up with a dentist in Fairplay, Colo., who had it glued back in place within two hours of the dental failure.
But it soured me on the 300. When I got home, I installed a replacement battery, but it didn't work right and I started looking on Ebay for a good deal on a 600. I found one and snagged it for less than $200. It arrived today and, while it's not the top of the line, it's light years ahead of the 300.
It has a camera, more memory, accepts SD memory cards and I can attach a folding fullsize keyboard to it for more efficient blogging on the road.
I figure I can enjoy the fruits of techology quite cheaply if I'm content to have last year's model.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A glance at the rear-view mirror of my life

60 Years Ago Today
I was 8 weeks old. I weighed 10 pounds 6 ounces and was 21" tall, according to my mother's record keeping in my baby book.

50 Years Ago Today
I had just started the fifth grade in Mrs. Carigan's class at Monroe Street Elementary School in Delphi, Ind. The desks were the old row-style where the back of one desk supported the front of the one behind it. They were impossibly old, had hinged lid writing surfaces and a hole for an inkwell in the upper right corner.

40 Years Ago Today
I had flunked out of Indiana State University at the end of my sophomore year and had been working all summer at the RCA TV and stereo cabinet factory in Monticello, Ind. Having lost my student deferment from the draft at a time when Vietnam was heating up, military service was inevitable. Consequenty, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a way of preserving at least some measure of control over my destiny. After all, the Air Force didn't have an infantry and that fact alone made it unlikely that I'd get thrown into combat. I was 13 days away from my date with the Armed Forced Induction Center in Indianapolis and I was resigned to spending the next four years in uniform.

30 Years Ago Today
I had been married eight years and had two sons - aged 7 and 4. I had nine years of newspaper work behind me and was a reporter on the state/suburban desk of the largest evening daily in the state. I had a mortgage, was driving a green 1971 VW Karmann Ghia convertible and was smoking three packs of Viceroy cigarettes a day.

20 Years Ago Today
I had just bought my fourth motorcycle - a graphite gray 1981 BMW R100RS, which was my first real sport touring motorcycle and the one that introduced me to the pleasures of transcontinental rides. I had quit smoking and was in my third year as an instructor with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, as well as my 19th year with the newspaper. I had been running a suburban bureau, covering the fastest-growing area of the state since March of that year.

10 Years Ago Today
I was nearly two years divorced and was involved in a pointless long-distance relationship with a woman in Sayville, NY, who I had met on American Online. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment and was eight days from the merger of my paper and its sister morning daily - a development that meant I was folded into a larger suburban bureau representing both papers. I was driving a black '94 Honda del Sol and my motorcycle was a pearl silver '91 BMW K100RS which I'd already put about 70,000 mile on. I eventually reitred it at 160,000 miles.

5 Years Ago Today
I had just completed my 15th Annual Mid-Life Crisis Tour - a three-week, 6,086-mile motorcycle jaunt on my K100RS and was back at work in the suburban news bureau, hoping the new owners of the paper would offer senior staffers like myself an early retirement package. I was living in a condominium and was managing my mother's affairs after my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Maria and I were forced to move her out of the home she shared with my father since 1953 and into a retirement/nursing home. None of us realized, on this day in 2000, that my mother had less than a month to live.

1 Year Ago Today
I rode my newish '03 BMW K1200GT to Saturday morning breakfast with my BMW Club friends and Maria went to her Second Saturday quilting meeting.

Maria and I drove home from a delightful overnight visit with my son Steve, his wife Nicky and our granddaughter Lisa in Cincinnati. We're driving an '03 Subaru Forester, but I still have the del Sol, which is running fine after 11 years and 180,000 miles.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Something more to worry about...

I found this cheery post over on MemoryBlog.
It discusses the horrifying prospect of any number of horrible diseases escaping from New Orleans area biological research labs.

Infectious Disease Research in and Around New Orleans
Summary: At the very least, there are two Level-3 biolabs in New Orleans and a cluster of three in nearby Covington. They have been working with anthrax, mousepox, HIV, plague, etc. There are surely other labs in the city.

Here's a great tip for all reporters looking for a completely new - and extremely important - angle on the situation in New Orleans. As far as I can tell, no one has yet mentioned the biological research labs located in and around NOLA. For example, in nearby Covington, Tulane University runs the Tulane National Primate Research Center, a cluster of Level-3 biological labs containing around 5,000 monkeys, most of which are housed in outdoor cages. According to an article in Tulane University Magazine, "The primary areas of focus today at the Tulane National Primate Research Center are infectious diseases, including biodefense related work, gene therapy, reproductive biology and neuroscience. The Tulane primate center is playing a key role in the federal strategic plan for biodefense research."

So what happened to these diseased monkeys living outside in cages? Granted, Covington didn't get hit nearly as hard as NOLA, but it still got hit.

According to the Sunshine Project, which digs up grant proposals and other primary documents from the US biowarfare effort, "Tulane scientists are working with anthrax, plague, and other biological weapons agents." [read more]

And how much of this kind of research was going on within New Orleans itself? Apparently quite a bit.

-- Louisiana State University’s Medical School has a Level-3 biolab in the Clinical Sciences Research Building located at 533 Bolivar Street. According to grant applications, LSU’s facility was the site of research involving anthrax and genetically-engineered mousepox. And that’s just what we know about.

-- The State of Louisiana has a Level-3 biolab in New Orleans.

-- It seems highly likely that an institution the size of Tulane has biolabs in New Orleans itself, not just Covington.

-- Then there’s the University of New Orleans, Loyola University, Xavier University of Lousiana, and others. I don’t know whether they’ve been engaged in bioresearch or have high-level biolabs, but it’d be worth finding out.

-- And let’s not forget the New Orleans Medical Complex, which contains over 40 blocks of hospitals and biomedical research facilities. According to this website, it’s been severely flooded.

So with all the known and probable Level-3 biolabs in and around New Orleans, what's happened to the infected animals? Are they free and roaming? Are they dead, with their diseased bodies floating in the flood waters? And what about the cultures and vials of the diseases? Are they still secure? Are they being stolen? Were they washed away, now forming part of the toxic soup that coats the city?

And take a look at this. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a “Select Agents Program” for any facility that handles highly dangerous germs, including Ebola, Marburg, ricin, avian flu, and anthrax. At the top of their website is the following notice:
Announcement for Entities Impacted by Hurricane Katrina

Entities that are registered with the Select Agent Program who have been impacted by Hurricane Katrina may contact the CDC Select Agent Program for guidance on actions that should be taken to transfer Select Agents to another registered entity or report the theft, loss, or release of select agents that might have occurred due to storm damage. The CDC Select Agent Program will expedite any special requests from registered entities as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Contact the Program via email at lrsat@cdc.gov, phone at 404-498-2255, fax at 404-498-2265, or call your designated CDC representative.

I encourage journalists to pursue these worthwhile questions. Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project helped greatly with this post, and if reporters would like some more background on this, they should contact him here.

Thanks to NE for the initial tip.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Very politically incorrect generalizations

Did you ever notice that whenever black people feel uncomfortable, they play the race card?
Did you notice that most of the New Orleans rescue footage was white people rescuing black people?
Last week, we saw government moving slower than we would have liked. What's new about that? That's how government works.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Live from New Orleans, it's Friday morning...

Once again, blogging citizens reporting from places where the TV news celebrities fear to tread: http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor/

Some observations from 10,500 feet

I've spent an inordinate amount of time watching the Katrina Show this week - time I should have spent riding my motorcycle on my favorite Rocky Mountain roads here in the Colorado high country.
My hosts and their other guests don't share my fascination with what's happening on the Gulf Coast, most likely because they aren't in the news-gathering business.
I think the coverage has been pretty good, although there have been a lot of stupid and inane things said by the folks at CNN and FOX and the major networks, but that's mostly a consequence of having to maintain a running commentary with limited information.
I'm not particularly surprised at the anarchy in New Orleans and elsewhere. All of the intelligent and productive people got out of town when the evacuation orders came down and it became obvious that it was too dangerous to stay. So what we were left with were the uneducated poor and a hard core of dirtbags who may have remained in anticipation of a looting opportunity. And, of course, those desperately unfortunate people who were stuck in hospitals.
So when the flooding started, we had a situation where government agencies had to divert critical resources to snatching people from rooftops - people who should have gotten the hell out of town in the first place - rather than put all of their efforts into stemming the rising waters.
The fact that armed looters and other dirtbags are now shooting at rescue helicopters concerns me because they will have to be dealt with harshly - possibly by sending in battle-hardened Iraq vets who are not novices to urban warfare. TV images of looters getting wasted will not play well in other urban black communities because most of the looters are black. I'm sure this is a troubling fact to TV news producers who are trying to be politically correct and are searching the camera footage in vain for images of white looters. There are, unfortunately, plenty of blacks around the country who are eager to sieze on such images as evidence of organized racisim and stirr up riots similar to those that followed the Rodney King incident as well as the Watts and Patterson, N.J., riots of the mid-1960s.
There are plenty of people in this country who think class warfare would be a good thing and New Orleans could be the catalyst.
On the subject of gas prices and availability, I see the prospect of a return to the dreaded national 55 mph speed limit as a fuel conservation measure. Just when my home state finally bumped the speed limit on rural interstate highways to 70 mph - the point where it stood before the fuel crisis of the 1970s.