Friday, November 16, 2007

A Moment of Beauty and Brotherhood in Iraq

With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the good things in life and the good people who are doing their best to make this world a better place. So when I read Michael Yon's latest dispatch about Muslims wanting their Christian neighbors to return in a neighborhood in Baghdad, I knew I'd found one of those beautiful moments where people can be seen treating their brothers and sisters with love. I am continually amazed at how our media insists on dwelling on the negative on any topic possible and wonder if they are all on anti-depressants as their outlook on life seems terminally hopeless. Thankfully, we have good people out there telling the truth, whether it be good, bad, or ugly.

Looking at the pictures of St. John's in Baghdad and reading the account made my day. I find it fascinating that before al Qaeda came to the area, Christians and Muslims were living in peace and brotherhood. With the Muslims of that neighborhood helping clean and repair the Catholic church, then actually attending a mass to show their love for those driven away, I see a bright ray of hope for greater Iraq. The possibility of the country becoming more like the Lebanon of the 1950s is looking more plausible.

So heading into the holidays, I am grateful for people cross religious or cultural lines and love their neighbors.

UPDATED:

Yet another story, this one involving a USMC Lt. and an Iraqi police officer who were once on opposite sides in Ramadi. Some amazing things are happening over there and if this isn't a terrific example of the power of forgiveness, I don't know what is.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day

Those of us who live in the free world owe an immense debt to those who have fought and died to protect our freedoms. Sadly, there is a growing detachment in our Western societies from our militaries, as fewer serve or know anyone serving. Some have come to believe that all war is unjust and that having a military is not needed. Most notable amongst those who hold our soldiers in contempt are people who have gained the most from their sacrifices, people who have spent their lives in relative wealth and ease. This saddens me, for many sacrifices have been made, are being made, and will be made by our men and women in uniform.

There never has been a time where danger has not lurked, for predatory behavior has always been prevalent in humanity's time on Earth. There will always be a need for people to protect our way of life, our borders, our allies, and sometimes the entire planet.

I am so very grateful to the veterans who have protected us in the past from tyranny and fascism, the soldiers fighting to make the world safer now, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and their families who have also shouldered the burden.

May we always remember our soldiers and what they have done for us.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Truth about Iraq

Michael Yon Online

Michael Totten's Middle East Journal

Most of what you read, see, and hear in the media about Iraq is distorted or false. Only a very few reporters have been seeking the truth on the ground and these are the two best out there. Take a look around their reports and you will soon get a clearer picture of things. Sometime in the past months, a tipping point was reached and things changed in Iraq for the better. But you won't see that in the media because it interferes with "shaping the narrative", whether it be anti-Conservative/BDS on the left or isolationist on the far right of the political spectrum. The truth, like all things of God, respects no man.

The truth is out there and it is complicated, messy, and requires real thought to see and comprehend. We can rail against politicians, the media, and perceived conspiracies all we want, but the main blame for this ignorance has to rest on the shoulders of the masses. The American people don't want to put effort into finding out what is going on in the world or even their local area. They wish to be spoon fed, want somebody else to deal with the problems while they go about their busy and utterly inward focused lives.

This is the challenge of our time, bringing truth to those who don't have it and more frightening to me, those who don't want it. So please take the time to read the reports by these two gentlemen. You may read things you don't want to believe, may read things that reinforce your already held views, but you will be reading honest journalism, a rarity in this day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cubs Win Division

Last night the Chicago Cubs clinched a tie for the National League Central Division, then the Milwaukee Brewers' keg finally ran out when they lost to the San Diego Padres. It is the first time since 2003 for the Cubs to make the playoffs and did so in more convincing fashion. So why am I incapable of celebrating?

Part of it has to be that as an experienced Cub fan, I'm used to waiting for the other shoe to drop. So they got in the playoffs, where's the next Bartman waiting to pop up? Which player will go down with a playoff ending injury? Will a meteor strike Wrigley Field just as they are about to clinch game 7 of the National League championship series? Scoff if you like, all of these scenarios are possible with the Cubs.

But I think I may simply be outgrowing sports, it doesn't mean much to me anymore. Over the past several years, my interests have focused more about helping people and doing some good in this decaying society. While I've kept loose track of the team over the season, I just can't get into it anymore -- and I've tried. I suppose I'll watch the playoffs, but my mind will be elsewhere.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Witches of Karres

In the midst of all the gloom I've been posting, I decided to take a break from serious matters for a post. Just before the flooding and amidst the county fair, I'd had a strange flashback to a science fiction story I'd once read as a lad that I'd really adored. I couldn't remember the character names, the author, or even the name of the novella I'd read lo so many years ago. Cue the mayhem of my county becoming a federal disaster area and I didn't bother to search for the story. After all, I didn't have anything but the plot to go by, even if it was a rather unique concept -- that of a space fairing cargo ship captain inadvertently rescuing three young sisters who turned out to be witches.

I was perusing Instapundit and noticed a link to an article about the military's new robotic weapons platform called M.U.L.E. and Glenn Reynolds mentioned it looked like the grandaddy of the Bolos. I scratched my head, why did "bolos" sound familiar? I clicked on the link he had for that and realized that a short story I'd really enjoyed when I was even younger was one of the original entries into what has grown into a series of novels. Basically, Bolos are sentient tanks on a gigantic scale, armed with enough nukes to level a country amongst a dizzying array of weapons. Interesting to run into that, I thought and checked the publisher's site out. Baen Books had those stories in print and apparently other series, but I wasn't interested enough to think about buying anything.

As is my normal routine, I was flipping between different browser windows and inadvertently clicked the scroll bar on the right side, missing the window I was aiming for and hitting the one at Baen Books. Annoyed, I started to scroll back and stopped myself abruptly. There was a title there that jarred my memory. A "click" of a different sort happened then and I exclaimed out loud, "No WAY!" There was the title of that story I'd flashed back upon the week before: The Witches of Karres.

Reading the synopsis, the names came back to me: Captain Pausert, Maleen, Goth, and The Leewit. Yes, this was that 1949 novella I'd read, but unbeknown to me it had been expanded into a novel in 1966 by the author James H. Schmitz. Actually, it was a combinations of novella's, but it forms one clear enough narrative and works as a novel. Better yet, there had been a hardcover edition put out and I set out to hunt down the best deal. Eventually after a very long search (of 20 minutes), I had ordered and paid for a copy on eBay.

When the book came in the mail, I didn't mean to start reading it right away. After all, there are all the other books I'm still reading and haven't finished yet. But it is that old story, you make the mistake of opening the book to break the spine in properly, it slips the dust jacket, you inadvertently catch a glimpse of text, and despite good intentions you give in. So did it live up to my fuzzy, warm memories?

Yep. The Witches of Karres is a great book, a total lark that dares to be a mix of fantasy, science fiction, space opera, and outright silliness. It is family friendly, with only one sentence that might prevent it from being appropriate for even the youngest of children and that's only if you are extremely prudish. The character relationships are the heart of the story and I came away with a grin on my face after reading it. Pure fun in a style that has sadly fallen out of favor in contemporary pop culture.

You might notice I'm not giving any details away at all, that's because those of you reading this blog need to get your own copy and read it before a vatch gets you!

 

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Friend Ron

I had intended to finish covering the disaster that befell the area I live in, but as so often happens in life other events derailed my plans. In this case, unwelcome but not unexpected events. So I find myself writing about a friend.

Shortly after I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December of 2003, I was sitting in a priesthood meeting and noticed someone being wheeled in. There were obvious deformities to his face and head, the kind that surgeries cause. It was the first time I'd seen the steps convert to a lift and I wondered about the man who had just joined us. Being a new member, I was still finding my way and didn't approach him after the meeting ended. In retrospect, I regret that because I lost a little more time with a friend.

I slowly got to know him and it began with helping with the lift or pushing him in the wheelchair, I don't remember clearly which. Another friend told me Ron was his name and he'd been through some horrific surgeries in addition to his disabilities. On occasion I would visit him with the full time missionaries. I found that while Ron had trouble seeing and hearing, there was a bright intelligence quietly burning there and it usually manifested itself as a wicked sense of humor.

One Sunday, we were notified by our leadership that Ron needed a ride to appointments at Mayo Clinic, as his wife Colleen had fallen ill and couldn't drive. Being in Rochester, MN, Mayo is at the limits of my driving range due to my disability and so I waited to hear someone volunteer to take him. Long moments passed and nobody volunteered, so I did, feeling a little frustrated that there was no other. But if I hadn't, I wouldn't have really gotten to know him.

Fortunately for me, Ron had a great sense of direction and guided me easily to Mayo, me being a rookie driver on top of everything else. Didn't save us in the elevators, I still managed to get us to the wrong floor much to his amusement. That sense of humor, that wonderful willingness to look on the silly side of life while confronting constant adversity was Ron's defining trait, along with a truly huge, loving heart. We wrapped up that little adventure with a stop at Red Lobster. Oddly enough, it was all you could eat shrimp that day and I suspect Ron knew that all along. It was then I discovered his major addictions in life, Mountain Dew and shrimp. The latter I have in common with him, so we ended up eating ourselves sick, sampling every way the restaurant prepared those delicious crustaceans. To my chagrin, the very cute waitress paid more attention to him than me, but that was the effect Ron always had.

Later on, it was my pleasure to serve alongside him in the Branch clerk's office. People thought we were doing important work back there, but in reality we were goofing off. It wasn't that we didn't take our responsibilities seriously, it was just what would happen if we were left alone together. One thing that some people didn't realize about Ron was his dedication to helping others and carrying out his duties. I remember coming in and finding him going through the software tutorials that I struggled to get anyone else to train with. He always wanted to help, to actually do even when his body kept betraying him.

Above all else, Ron was a good man and never a truer warrior could you meet. His faith was strong and I think that is how he survived so many surgeries, more than anyone should ever have to have. His was a truly Christlike life, filled with love and charity toward others. Ron's obituary covers this well:

Ronald Lee Neinast

Ronald Lee Neinast, 54, of La Crosse passed away Sunday, Aug., 26, 2007,
in La Crosse.

Ronald was born Jan. 22, 1953, to Neil and Phyllis (Peterson) Neinast in Sparta, Wis. He had several birth defects, including an affliction of cerebral palsy.

His parents saw to it that he was involved in play and activities with other children, and stressed education and a strong work ethic. Ronald graduated from Hillsboro (Wis.) High School in 1971 and later graduated from Western Technical College with an associate degree in accounting and business administration.

Ronald worked at Gambles Store in Hillsboro, Hillsboro Equipment Inc. and Holiday Inns in Tomah, Wis., and Madison. In 1983, Ron suffered a brain stem stroke, which forced him to quit working.

During his life, Ron had more than 30 surgeries, including two heart surgeries in one day, suffered several broken bones in his arms and legs, and besides cerebral palsy was diagnosed with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and skin cancer. He also battled tumors.

His doctors have stated that he was a medical wonder with a positive attitude throughout all that he endured. He fought the good fight, and was a hero to many
people and was admired by them.

In spite of many illnesses, Ron worked as a volunteer at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, which he began in 1986, and in April 2006 was awarded his 10,000-hour pin.An advocate for the elderly and the disabled in the Greater La Crosse area, he was president of the City of La Crosse Disabled Parking Enforcement Assistance Council for the La Crosse police department, a position appointed by the mayor and the city council.

He was a member of the MTU-ADA and Mini Bus committees, and was transportation coordinator for the Greater La Crosse area. He was a member of the Oktoberfest Parade Committee, a volunteer for Easter Seals Lily Days, and was very active in his church as a greeter, priest and branch clerk. Ron was a member of the Happy Go Lucky Club since 1987, and currently was its president. He re-wrote the club’s bylaws.

In June 2002, Ron married the love of his life, Colleen (Sullivan) Sowa. Ron was preceded in death by his parents. Surviving him are his wife, Colleen; a daughter, Noel (Sullivan-Sowa) Van Blaricome and her husband, Jeffrey; three grandchildren, Gavin, Genevieve and Ashton; two sisters, Kathy (Archie) Crawford and Sharon (Russell) Daines II; two brothers, Dale (Marybeth) Neinast and Neil (Chris) Neinast; many nieces and nephews; aunts, uncles and cousins; and many friends.


Ron was an inspiration to me, whenever I felt down about my lot in life, I'd think about him and the trials he was going through -- and what tremendous grace he showed in handling them. Especially at the end, when things were getting worse and worse, he still kept fighting on. His spirit shone so brightly and I often think that no mortal body could house a soul that burned so brightly without failing. I wish I could have been there for him more often and been a better friend. When the time comes for me to depart this mortal realm, I'll challenge him to a foot race. I suspect he'll win.

He is missed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hokah Hammered

Going East from Houston, I could see that the Root River had escaped its banks and then some. Looking like a giant had spilled a glass of chocolate milk, the muddied water had completely swamped fields and farms in the river valley. Traveling HWY 16 gave an idea of just how damaging all the rainfall had been. While there were areas that had been flooded over, apparently briefly, the bulk of the damage was from mudslides. The shoulder was in terrible shape, eroded soils had undermined the guard rails and many a post were dangling, suspended in mid-air. Entire hillsides had collapsed onto the highway and I can see why it took an entire day to open it again.

video

Approaching Hokah, I knew what to expect, floods are almost a way of life there. We even had an ice jam cause one during the winter a year and a half ago. So I've been mystified why people keep building businesses in the low end of town, even the best levees can't prevent everything. What was a surprise was seeing back yards missing from houses on the high end of Hokah. I looked up a street to see a garage in the street, then looked up to see the house above it partially collapsed. Not good.










The local Kwik Trip always floods when the Root River floods, so I wasn't surprised to see the used car lot next to it flooded. What I didn't expect was to see one car floating and others stuck partially in the overflooded plain next to it. I used the picture of the car in a previous post, but I'll use it again because it captures the mood of all this destruction well.











My dad pulled into the Kwik Trip, I didn't say anything because I'd told him the power was out in Hokah before we left. He was surprised to find it closed and we headed up to the downtown of the small village. There the Post Office was open and so was the small cafe, they had a generator going. We stopped in and had breakfast and ruminated on what we'd seen.




One of the things I always liked about Hokah was the wooden footbridge they had near the fire department. As you can see by the photo, it is no more.




We left Hokah and went home, Dad counted 16 major mudslides on the way back. Once home, the forecasts called for more rain, heavy rain.

A Town Spared


With the mandatory evacuation ordered in Houston and more rain coming, it was a long night. The last thing I wanted to see was the town flooded out and given that Ace Telephone is headquartered there, phone service across two counties could be affected. As it was, the Internet was already out and they are the main provider in the area. Being thoroughly modern, I get most of my information off of the Internet these days and the National Weather Service serves as my home page. With no net, there was no way to watch the radar returns on demand.

No matter, I'll watch the Weather Channel, they must be covering things here. Nothing but Hurricane Dean with a few mentions of flooding in Minnesota. It was clear that the old media wasn't keeping up due to their dwelling on the flashy prospects of hurricane damage. Information from local sources was haphazard due to the amount of damage done throughout the area and in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Then there was the Sunday effect, things slow down around here on Sundays, it isn't a big city market.

So information was limited. Mainly, it was text scrolling at the bottom of the screen that gave any idea of what was going on, it seemed as if every road and highway was damaged or closed. There were two deaths in Houston County now, one around Mound Prairie, the other by Spring Grove. Phone calls to and from friends revealed water standing high South of Caledonia and massive road damage North of Houston. I heard about Church members cut off by their driveway simply ceasing to exist.

It was a long night and the next morning at least brought back the Internet. The Root River had come within half a foot of topping the levee at Houston, but the levee held and the water was going down. Friends in Hokah weren't reachable until they called later in the day, they were cut off from every direction and had a beach where their lawn used to be.


My father and I decided to head out and see if anything could be done to help in Houston and promptly ran into a traffic jam of people trying to return home. A humvee with Army National Guard troops was blocking the way into town and questioning everyone returning. Realizing we wouldn't be allowed in, we instead decided to take HWY 16 to Hokah and find out how bad travel was going to be.

A Town Under Threat


It isn't often you get stopped in traffic by a helicopter landing in front of you, but that was the strange situation we found ourselves in Sunday afternoon. With water on the way from Rushford, I'd prodded the rest into going back home before roads closed. Sure enough, the flashers on one of Houston County's newest patrol cars could be seen just entering the outskirts of town. As we slowed to a halt, I heard the helicopter and our family friend said "Look, a news helicopter." I let him know that it was a military helicopter, a UH-60 Blackhawk to be precise and that this meant trouble.

The Blackhawk circled briefly and then went behind us, only to return directly overhead. The van rocked in the downwash of the main rotors and I hurriedly got my camera out.

The helicopter ever so slowly slid down to a landing behind the sheriff's car and we got out of the van for a better look.


I only saw Army personnel get off the UH-60 and I suspected that they had been surveying the levee, or possibly performing search and rescue. It was some time before they took off again and they flew over the levee toward Rushford.
video
video

Traffic slowly picked up and we headed home, a sense of urgency and gloom had become the order of the day. I turned on the TV and saw that a mandatory evacuation of Houston had been ordered.

Continued...

A Town Drowned - Photos, Part 2

All Photos by Randy Roland










Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Town Drowned - Photos, Part 1

All photos by Randy Roland







This fawn panicked and ran into the water just after the picture was taken. It was swept downstream, most likely to its death.

A Town Drowned Part Three

Photos by Patrick Boone

The first thing I noticed coming into Rushford was this sign, with a pile of snowmobiling signs piled against it. The field it is next to is likely ruined and the house on the outskirts of town had water up another level of bricks earlier in the morning. I was growing more somber with each flooded corn or soy field we passed between Houston and Rushford, the crops that had looked to be exceptional this year were now dying. We parked just before the bridge and walked over it, trees were going by under it along with other debris headed for Houston.




The sound of diesal engines filled the air, farmers had arrived with tractors to run pumps, feverishly trying to pump the water trapped between two levees.


People were gathered, some were tourists who were lost, others just thought it would be fun to see a disaster. The locals had a different attitude, one of shock and loss. A grim sense of humor was the only response to the situation for some of them. Also, a sense of helplessness could be felt as nature's fury is so much bigger than we are.

Only a week before, I'd been in Rushford for unhappy reasons, as we'd hit a deer with our 2005 Subaru Outback and had limped into town. The car took major damage and had to be left at the Kwik Trip parking lot to be towed later. Little did we know what would happen a week later.


This is what a doe will do to a car traveling 55 MPH.



The parking lot on Sunday.

Continued...

A Town Drowned Part Two

Photos by Patrick Boone

After going back home, a friend called, excited by the prospect of seeing some flooding. He wanted to come out to our place in the country and then go see Rushford. The attitude rubbed me the wrong way, but I wanted to check Rushford out because what happens at the Root River there always comes downstream to Houston. My concern about the town and the fields between won out over being irked at the friend, so the three of us set out for Rushford in the afternoon.

The water was no higher in the Yucatan valley than before, in fact it was visibly going down. There was too much crop damage for my liking and I wondered how things were in Houston proper. Our friend wanted to go North on HWY 76 and didn't really believe it would be blocked. Seeing is believing and so we went there. The bridge goes over the river and I wanted to see how the levee was holding, knowing that Rushford's had failed to save that town.


The Civil Air Patrol was manning the barricades and while the others looked at the swollen river, I talked to the man who was explaining things to drivers. Overhearing him telling people that a volunteer evacuation was under way "for the moment", I asked,"Was the surge here yet?" His reply was less than comforting, "There are 48 inches of water coming this way!"

I rounded up the other two and it took several miles of driving to get them to understand that an evacuation was imminent. We needed to get to Rushford, ASAP.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Town Drowned




After getting the note from my dad, I began checking the news on TV and found out that roads all across the area were closed and that damage was widespread. A phone call from a friend in La Crescent brought news that they were only able to go to La Crosse, HWY 61 was closed by a landslide to the North and HWY 16 was closed to the South. The National Guard had arrived as well and a civil emergency had been declared by Governor Tim Pawlenty. Also, they wouldn't be able to make it down to Caledonia to help tear down the fair booth.


It is about this time during an emergency where I start to go stir crazy, frustrated with ill health and limitations of what I can do to help. So I waited until my dad returned and cursed the Net for being out locally. When he and our neighbor Randy returned, I found out just how bad things were.

Rushford was under up to ten feet of water in the downtown.


Photo by Randy Roland

People had been awakened at around 3:00 AM by water entering their basements and by town sirens going off. One woman had to wade through chest high water on her first floor, only to find her front door blocked by a pickup that had been washed against it. My dad witnessed rescuers chopping a hole in the roof of a house to get another woman out. Cars, trucks, and belongings had all been swept away in the initial torrent of water that crested over a levee in the North part of Rushford. The creek there had flooded quickly and the levee that protects the town from the Root River to the South had trapped the water in town.
Photo by Randy Roland
That's when I knew we had to get moving and get that booth torn down, before more weather hit and before more roads closed. The trip back to Caledonia showed a couple of more minor mudslides since when I'd been there and when we arrived, everyone was taking down their booths. The mood was somber and the lady in the next booth was actually from North of Rushford and didn't know the extent of the damage. I filled her in on what I'd heard and we discussed the known fatalities at the time, four people in Winona County. Everyone scattered for home, a truly grim way to end the festivities of a county fair.
Continued...

A Wider Disaster

When I saw that HWY 44 out of Caledonia was closed, I knew I was in for a long day. I briefly considered going down to Lansing, Iowa and crossing the Mississippi there, but decided that being determined is one thing and being bullheaded is another. Because of the mudslides on HWY 76, a more circuitous route through high ground appealed to me and that meant going through Spring Grove, Minnesota. From there I'd head North to home and figure out my next move.

Somewhere during all this plotting it had decided to rain again and it was a gloomy drive. About half way to Spring Grove, the rain came again and visibility became bad just outside the small Norwegian town. I pulled over by the local bank and called into Church to say nobody from Elders Quorum would make the meeting. More bad news, that things were the same across the river in Wisconsin and I wasn't the only one who couldn't make it. So I went home and reported what I'd seen to my dad, made plans to go to the fairgrounds in Caledonia to tear down the booth later, then crashed for a nap after a very long week.

The power coming back on roused me from my stupor and I came out of my room to find a note from my father:

PAT -- 0920
Went to Rushford with Randy to survey damage
Whole town is under water


Photo by Randy Roland

To be continued...

The Flood Disaster of 2007


Photo by Patrick Boone

I really don't know where to begin, it has been a horrible weekend to end a tough week of a dismal summer. We'd been in drought conditions in our little corner of Minnesota and had finally gotten the rain we'd needed to save the crops over the last several weeks.

But then came Saturday, when the rain never ended and came in torrential downpours. I'd been manning the Houston County Republicans booth at the Houston County Fair and traffic had been above expectations Wednesday through Friday. Saturday was like being at a morgue, the rain and temperatures that never exceeded 62 degrees made it a dreary affair.

I was concerned about flooding as the water table was saturated, with nowhere for runoff to go. It was only that evening that I realized how bad things were going to be, remarking to my father that I'd probably not be able to go to church in Onalaska, WI the next morning due to flooding. He was skeptical, but I knew things were going to be bad and started formulating alternate routes around the Root River if State HWY 16 Houston to Hokah was flooded as usual. I'd check the info on the Net when I got up in the morning.

The power went out and didn't come back until around 10:30 or 11:00 am. With no Net and running a little behind because I needed to go to the PEC meeting at 8:30 am, I set out just before 7:15. The first thing I noticed was that we'd escaped major flooding in Yucatan Valley thanks to the creek beds having been considerably widened and deepened by 2000's massive flood. Then I started to have to veer around minor mudslides, nothing too much to worry about. As I traveled farther North, it became more apparent how many fields were flooded, with soy underwater and corn standing in one or two feet of water. Now the threat of drought had been replaced by destruction by water.

Campers and RV's passed by me, heading for higher ground and I noticed some parked at a local rural Lutheran church. Not a good sign, I thought. Sure enough, got up to HWY 16 and there was a pickup blocking the road, along with an earthen berm partially across one lane. Okay, expected that, so I turned into town and pulled to the side to call the Elders Quorum 2nd Counselor to see if he could make it to the meeting in time. Turns out he wasn't even in the area, so I decided to take a longer way to get to the La Crosse area, figuring I could even go to I-90 if the other road paralleling the Root River was flooded. That's when I found out the bridge at Houston was closed.

Being the determined sort, I headed back and took HWY 76 to Caledonia, going the really long way to Hokah and then La Crescent on. Now I began to run into more mudslides, some blocking entire lanes, but nothing I couldn't get around. After far too much time driving, I arrived at the intersection at the North end of Caledonia and the road block there. The road to Hokah was closed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I-35W Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis

There comes a point where one senses when another catastrophe has happened. I was walking down the driveway from the mailbox I'm planning to repaint and saw my father walking up the driveway toward me. That sense of catastrophe I'd felt when the space shuttle Challenger blew up filled my mind as we slowly converged. Sure enough, another disaster had struck, Fox News Channel had just broken its regular programming to show the wreckage of the I-35W bridge.

Once inside I watched the confusion and rising smoke evoking memories of 9/11. But I had no sense of menace, it was more akin to what I felt when the San Francisco earthquake destroyed the Bay Bridge years ago. I said a silent prayer and surveyed the scene, keenly aware that lives had been lost. With relief I saw the school bus, emergency door wide open, refuting the rumor of a bus going off the bridge. Still, it was clear that vehicles were missing, others were visibly mangled, and lives permanently changed.

I've been over that bridge and hadn't really paid any attention to it. Unless a bridge is really scenic, I don't think much about it and I imagine that's true for many people. You just expect it to be there and continue standing while you travel over it.

The stunned reaction of people to its collapse reminds me how ill prepared people are for the fact that they are very, very small in the scheme of things. Oddly enough, I expect this kind of thing to happen and just pray it doesn't happen to me. Answers are being sought for, people want to know why this happened, want to assign blame. Perhaps the cause will be found, perhaps it won't.

In the end, I think the stories of the survivors will matter more. Already, we have been told that motorists didn't run for their lives afterward, but checked each car for survivors. If true, that's a good change in our culture since 9/11.

On the flip side, the Democrats are already trying to blame Governor Pawlenty for it, typically playing their rabidly partisan games by using a disaster for perceived gain. There appears to be no depths they won't sink to and I weary of it. There are families grieving, people maimed, people dead, and people missing. They matter the most.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Watching the End of an Era

I've never been such a dedicated fan of anything in my adulthood that I went and stood in line for an event. The only time I did that was the last two Lord of the Rings movies and actually didn't spend much time at all even for the midnight showing of Return of the King. In fact, that was the only time I went to a midnight event and it was a low key affair locally, La Crosse being a small city. So it was with amusement that I read the email notification from Barnes & Noble about the Midnight Madness event. While I'd reserved a copy, I had no plans to pick it up until later next week.

As the days went by, I pondered the fact that the Harry Potter series is most likely the last gasp of big event books. Like others, I'd placed a great deal of hope on it bringing more young people to books in general. It would be the thing that got kids going in an increasingly illiterate culture, for if kids would be willing to read 700 page books, they'd have to look for other books, right? Alas, that has not proven to be the case, kids are reading fewer books today than they did ten years ago. Oh yes, they would read Rowling's books, but that's it. To a bibliophile such as myself, this was painful to find out.

With that in mind, I realized that I'd most likely never see such an event again in my lifetime. This was a cultural "happening" that wouldn't be repeated, for there will be no more adventures of Harry Potter in the foreseeable future. So I drafted my dad to drive and off I went to B&N to watch the people there, as people fascinate me. While he went off to Sears to match exterior paint for our long overdue house repainting, I walked over to the book store to see how things were scheduled.

At 8:30 pm there were already kids in black robes wandering the store and the staff were in full costume. After inquiring about how the books would be distributed, I had my name checked against the reservation list and had a paper bracelet put around my wrist, an orange one with the number 95 written in green. Those with orange bracelets went first, with green to the mallside registers and red to the front registers. These were the first waves to get the books, I was told and they figured it would be less than an hour to get them all sold.

I left and returned at 9:30 PM after going to another store, the rest of the mall was officially closed with one of the exits open besides the B&N entrance. The parking lot was packed, the store was packed, and more people were arriving. Most were young, of course, with many a parent in tow with a smattering of adult fans present. Spirits were high and the mood was festive, entertainment began around 10 PM with activities for the kids. There had been a broomstick contest I hadn't been aware of, so all the fancy brooms hanging from the ceiling weren't just there for decoration after all. The pretty young lady who won the contest got to be the first buyer, which was a nifty prize. I didn't see the wand making activity, but heard about it, but the fun one looked to be the potions table. Hard to tell, the kids were packed tight around it.

As time went buy, fatigue set in and I began to hurt a great deal, but I was still wandering around, observing the festivities. Eventually, I parked myself in the military history aisle and started reading Machiavelli's Discourses, which I purchased along with Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Oddly enough, I was in a very small minority purchasing other books that night, so much for getting extra sales from the event. After awhile, I had to get up and stretch, circulating once again. It was around 11 PM and the young folks were starting to really tire, especially the under 8's and teenagers. The tweeners had more energy and I could see parents rubbing their faces. Even so, the mood was still good.

A bullhorn was used to announce some things and half the store couldn't hear it. Of course, that was the half I was in, so there was some confusion for awhile. I ended up asking questions at the middle of the store and found out I had to buy my other books right away, which I did. At 11:30, more muddled bullhorn announcements and finally they started lining people up, with the first 50 of each color going first. At 11:40, even more unintelligible bullhorning and I suspected my block was next. I snaked through to the center of the store and found someone in authority (she was standing on a table, so I automatically assumed she was).

Yep, time to get in line and since I was number 95 (I am not a number, I am a free man!), I was asked to anchor the line so people with lower numbers could go before me. Lo and behold, I'd been drafted without even going through the Sorting Hat routine! Ah well. Some of the best conversation on the night was held in the line, because it took forever to get moving once Midnight hit. People were well behaved, even those with astronomically high numbers such as 270.

Once the line did start moving, it got going fast and I was out of there by 12:20 AM. The store was rapidly emptying as was the parking lot, far too many of all ages were up past their bedtimes and wanted to go home.

There was a sweetness to this event that you don't run into very often these days. While it was rough on my health, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness an end of an era. I find myself somewhat saddened by it.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It is an end of an era that has spanned a decade for the Harry Potter book series has finally been completed with the release of Deathly Hallows. I was a latecomer to the hoopla, only getting into it after buying the first book for my sister in an effort to encourage her to read. Out of curiosity about the craze, I borrowed that paperback edition of the Sorcerer's Stone and was impressed with it. It wasn't great literature (at least it won't be considered that for some time), but it was an old fashioned ripping good yarn of the English variety. The adventures of Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, have been a welcome companion over the years, with each book becoming progressively more adult and dark. Yet there was always the intertwined themes of love and hope, which promised a happy ending after all the darkness.

So does the final book deliver on that and provide an entertaining story? I can say that it does in my opinion, but that light at the end of the tunnel only comes after harrowing setbacks and many deaths. This is a very grim book with only occasional touches of humor in it, as it starts off with loss of life and just keeps going, with more lives and innocence lost in the following chapters. Answers to the mysteries surrounding various characters are finally answered, many were telegraphed in the previous books but there are still many surprises to be found.

Some may be confused by the final battle, which is lengthy, but it all holds together in the logic of the Potter universe. The characters I wanted to see together got together, while others are tragically lost. What I liked was that Voldemort was shown to be as weak as he truly was, something I'd picked up on in the earlier books. While I can imagine people will cry foul at the resolution, I felt it to be realistic given the age of our protagonists.

The one spoiler I'll give is a simple one: Neville is the MAN. The boy finally gets his shining moment and after seeing the latest movie, I can't wait to see that young actor play it out on the big screen.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fred Thompson

With the new concept of never ending political campaigns, the American voter is facing a multitude of candidates at a far earlier time before November of even years. The Presidential race is the worst offender, with both main parties offering up a bewildering array of candidates already having debates! Given that politics is right up there with incest as a discussion point in conversation due to the extreme polarization instituted by the main stream media, this is something voters don't want to deal with right now. Add in a field of politicians that are failing to really catch on fire and it is all very dull and tedious at the moment. I get the feeling both parties are waiting for a 'white knight' to come in and save them from terminal boredom. A wise man would wait and build up his support and start motivating people first, rather than declaring two years out like the rest of the candidates.

It looks like we have that in Fred Thompson, politician turned actor turned politician turned actor turned politician (I bet we hear somebody try to call him a flip flopper). With great thought, he waited and sounded out whether or not he would be a viable candidate. Contrast that with other candidates who couldn't wait to declare. His feelers were greeted with a draft Fred movement and it quickly got rolling.

I admit I'm very excited by his entry into the race, he was my favorite senator to watch during hearings and my late mother and I both had thought him Presidential material. Some have faulted him for being "lazy" while in the Senate, but the man is a thinker. He doesn't knee jerk react, he considers things first - which is a rarity in the modern short attention span society we live in. Even his testing the waters was done with planning, his much younger and better looking wife is a Republican campaign consultant and was looking for a way to raise his profile in Washington last year. Can't get much higher than running for President!

Oh and a footnote about Jeri Thompson: Fred was divorced from his first wife in 1985 and first met her in 1996, they were married in 2002. I've run into ugly rumors being spread that she broke up his first marriage. Unless she has a time machine, it is impossible for this to be the case. Yes she is much younger, but she wasn't a child and is an accomplished attorney herself, so consider Fred to be a very lucky dog. I do.

Now is Fred a good conservative? This question is being asked a lot and I would call him a Reagan conservative. But what's a Reagan conservative? I categorize it as being dead center in the mainstream of the Republican Party, the group that is rarely heard from, what with the radical social conservatives and liberal/moderates shouting loudly at each other. But what I really like about Fred is that he is a Federalist who believes in limited government. Here are two quotes (via Wikipedia):

"[It] provided a basis for a proper analysis of most issues: "Is this something
government should be doing? If so, at what level of government?"

"Our
government, under our Constitution, was established upon the principles of
Federalism -- that the federal government would have limited enumerated powers
and the rest would be left to the states. It not only prevented tyranny, it just
made good sense. States become laboratories for democracy and experiment with
different kinds of laws. One state might try one welfare reform approach, for
example. Another state might try another approach. One would work and the other
would not. The federal welfare reform law resulted from just this process."
"Federalism also allows for the diversity that exists among the country's
people. Citizens of our various states have different views as to how
traditional state responsibilities should be handled. This way, states compete
with each other to attract people and businesses -- and that is a good thing."

This is what will appeal to voters fed up with an ever expanding and corrupt government, this is what our country needs.

Fred Thompson has very Reaganesque approach and will appeal across a wide spectrum, as he understands the way government should work and also the dramatic challenges the U.S.A. faces worldwide. With a disarming charm and killer wit, Thompson resembles Ronald Reagan and that has the Democrats worried -- and well they should!

I never expected to endorse or support a Presidential candidate this early, but Fred is the real deal and I am completely behind him. If you want this country to get back on the right track, check out his website, http://www.imwithfred.com/

Thursday, May 10, 2007

End Game Near?

The idea that Iran's influence in Iraqi politics has been growing along with the amount of arms they have smuggled in is getting harder to ignore, despite the desperate desire of both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government to avoid dealing with it. The latest sign that we may have lost the political war is posted about at Heading Right. If this petition holds up, support for the ground war will evaporate completely in the United States in short order. There is no doubt in my mind that Iranian money and arms are heavily influencing this, as our Congress has given our enemies proof that we are a weak willed and cowardly society. This has encouraged the Iranians and foreign jihadists no end, despite the astounding losses they are suffering. The sad thing is that the political left and quite a few moderates have forgotten the lessons of childhood playgrounds. The psychology of a bully scales up and now that we've shown our weakness, the bully will never leave us alone. That scaled up bully is Islamic terrorism and he's going to be wanting our lunch money on a regular basis after we abandon Iraq. Expect a "fortress America" mentality setting in and then being rather loudly blown up, as we can't even secure our borders. We may see a future like Israel's current situation, with suicide bombings and attacks becoming common.

We as a society are telegraphing our weakness very loudly at the moment, with the behavior of the Democrats in Congress, and the constant anti-war beat of our mass media. The drift to the Left over the war is also making the socialist fringe feel like they have a mandate here, while socialism is starting to lose its luster in Europe due to its colossal economic failures. Amazing, given that even the French have realized that it doesn't work well. All of this points to very bad times for our country in the near future as political strife undercuts our achieving anything constructive at home or abroad. The Democrats have sold their soul and are now selling out their country for political power. Nothing good can come of it and I wonder how long it will take the American people to wake up and realize what they did this last November.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Confessions of a Bibliophile

Currently, I'm trying to read too many books and have been ill enough that it is difficult to read for extend amounts of time. In the Old Testament, I'm just about to start The Second Book of Chronicles and look forward to a little less listing of names. Taking a break from The Confessions of Saint Augustine, I'm reading Nico Machiavelli's The Prince and hope to finish that today or tomorrow. It is very edifying and grim to read, for much of what he wrote are unpleasant truths. I can see that some of his teachings are being used in the political arena (primarily by the left), but interestingly enough other lessons are being completely ignored. The lessons being ignored are fatal ones if old Nico is correct. At some point I'm going to have to get his other writings. For the moment, Machiavelli is my light reading, eventually I'll finish the Robert Heinlein juvenile novel Spaceman Jones as that is proper light reading material. The latest Harry Potter novel looms large in the near future, so I better be clearing some time for it.

The Easton Press made me an offer I couldn't refuse, which is the ability to receive books every two months instead of monthly from the 100 Greatest Books club. I adore the quality of the books and being a reader rather than a collector, I want longevity in my books. Too many of my old paperbacks have fallen apart and cheap book club editions don't hold up much better. The quality of writing is also high for this particular subscription and I've been well pleased with the books. The latest book ended up replacing my over one hundred year old copy of The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne, so that was a nice bonus. Of course, the one flaw to the every two month plan is it will now take me twenty years to collect them all. Here's to hoping I can find a way to get a little more income and go back to monthly deliveries.

Of course, there are cheaper alternatives out there and one is finding books on eBay. I don't limit my hunting to Easton Press volumes, there are other lesser but still very good publishers out there. The Folio Society has published nice editions at lower prices for decades and I might have joined them but the upfront price is very steep with a requirement of four books purchased within four weeks of joining. That turns into a cost of at least $150 after all costs are totalled and I wasn't going for that. Instead I started hunting on eBay for their books and scored some great bargains. Another defunct publisher like the Folio Society was Heritage Press (or Heritage Club) and my copy of The Prince was printed by them. They went under in 1992 but the books seem to be readily available on eBay.

Thanks to the bargain of used books, I've acquired Folio Society editions of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Robert Graves' The Greek Myths and The Siege and Fall of Troy, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. All are nicely illustrated and I only compromised on one set that was too cheap to pass up despite minor staining to the cover. While not leather bound or gilt edged, they are far beyond what you normally get in a hard cover.

One nice thing about paying more for books is that it slows down acquisition and makes it more likely I'll someday catch up on my reading. At least that's the theory I'm operating by at the moment. I will admit they make my book shelves look a great deal better!

Does This Thing Still Work?

Four score and seven years ago I last posted - or so it feels. Now I had to deal with the fact that Google has made users of Blogger use a Gmail address and that entailed some jumping through hoops to get started again. While little has changed in my personal life since the last post, a few things have changed here and there, such as the ending of the Help Defeat Cancer project at World Community Grid. I felt good about the project and it looks like it achieved what it set out to do, but I also admit a little melancholy crept in when it finished. I'd actually upgraded my dual core PC to 2 GB of RAM just to run it smoothly on both cores. Still, there are other good projects there and I keep crunching.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are finally above .500 and it only took them until May to do it! Yes, I'm damning them with faint praise and yet I hope to see them do a lot better with the rest of the season. The bright spots have been watching Rich Hill become the pitcher I thought he was going to be and Derek Lee's hitting doubles like a madman. While most people love the home run, I love the double. Why? Simply put, a team that hits a lot of doubles will score more runs than a team of sluggers, as I've noticed that doubles hitters tend to hit for average. Most sluggers are an all or nothing proposition and therefore are less reliable. I was spoiled by watching Bobby Dernier and Ryne Sandberg hit what Harry Carey called "the daily double". Dernier would double, then Sandberg - presto, instant run. Now if rookie Felix Pie could get into that frame of mind, this will be quite a season.

I think I shall end this post on that positive note and continue in another.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sparing Time for Helping Humanity

PC time, that is. As I posted earlier, I've downloaded software from BOINC that allows distributed computing projects to use computer users spare time to do work on various projects for science. It all really got rolling with SETI at Home, the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, and blossomed into the medical field with projects on smallpox vaccines, and human protein folding which applies to many illnesses from cancer to AIDS. Collectively, the thousands of home computers add up to a super computer for each of these projects, often doing thousands of days of computer time in hundreds of days.

Out of gratitude for getting BOINC rolling, I give SETI about 1% of my spare computing time and devote most of it between two other projects. Both Rosetta@home and World Community Grid serve as coordinators for various simulations for medical researchers. While I'm never sure exactly what I'm working on from Rosetta, they have been involved in AIDS treatment research as well as trying to map out how proteins in the brain work for patients who have Alzheimers Disease. World Community Grid is something IBM started and hosts multiple projects that you can pick and choose from by setting up your profile. Not all are available to BOINC users, as they are also using a different platform from Grid.org. Currently, WCG has Help Defeat Cancer, FightAIDS@Home, Genome Comparison, Human Proteome Folding Phase 2, and are starting up Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy. I've concentrated my time on Cancer and Genome Comparison while occasionally beta testing the new software for the various programs. Right now HPF2 isn't out for BOINC and I'm eager to crunch data for that.

The most important one to me is the cancer program, it requires quite a bit of PC power to do and is a project to automate the diagnosis of lethal fast moving cancers by running slides of biopsies through scanners. Eventually, the algorithyms being perfected for this will allow diagnoses in days rather than weeks, which is critical with fast moving cancers.

I also give time to two other projects at a much lower priority. One is Spinhenge@home which is a nanotech research project into how different nanocarbon molecules react magnetically under a wide range of temperatures. Getting switching to work in nanoparticles will be a big achievement and open the doors to ever smaller electronics. The other project is SIMAP, which is a project to database protein simularities for researchers to access. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel every time they want to do molecular medicine comparisons, it will be in a pre-existing database. This project is intermittent and just finished a limited batch of data this past week. Blink and you miss out on this one.

There are many other projects out there, including one's aimed at finding pulsars, breaking cryptography, predicting climate shifts, even rendering 3D computer animations. Check out this site for a full listing of them.

These are my current BOINC based stats, back in the past I also crunched numbers for the SETI@home Classic and for Grid.org's cancer and HPF1 programs.

Friday, January 05, 2007

2007 Begins

2007 has come around and I need to be posting more if I'm to improve my writing skills at all. Late November through the end of December was a manic period, with far too many things going on. The week leading into Christmas was an excellent one and I was more productive than I'd been in ages. But the one thing that stood out above all others was something that happened on Christmas Day while traveling to Indiana.

A stop at a filling station turned into an unusual chance to be of comfort to a young woman dying of cancer working the checkout. In order to make sure her two young daughters would have a Christmas to remember, she'd skipped two weeks of chemotherapy so that she could work to afford it and also have energy to make it all happen. Her doctor and some family were very angry about that decision, but it was clear the cancer was a fast mover and too far spread and she was being realistic about how long she had. Consequently, she wanted Christmas to be about family and we discussed that it is what life is about. I let her know that I thought she was doing the right thing and I hope it helped her in her ordeal. That night I prayed for at least an hour for her and her family while wishing there was more I could do. Strange how the real meaning of Christmas can be found in a filling station off of I-90 while so many buy into the commercialized distortion pushed so hard today.