Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I was held captive by a virus for 2 days.

It's been dubbed the "Your system is infected with dangerous virus!" virus. You know you're infect when the following bogus pop-up screen keep popping up at you:

And it high-jacked my computer for over 24 hours.

Here's what I was able to find out about this spawn of Satan:

May 6, 2008

This is a false "Systen Error!" pop-up box for the Trojan Horse style of virus called the "Your system is infected with dangerous virus!" virus.

It's a pernicious pop-up box indicative of malignant rogue spyware, masquerading as anti-spyware. (This is a classic example of a Trojan Horse virus.)

The public name of this spyware --although awkward-- is derived from the exact wording of the opening sentence found in its bogus pop-up box. That opening sentence is unique in that it is a specimen of poor English syntax indicative of a possible Asian origin to the virus. The second sentence in the pop-up --"Note: Strongly recommend to install antispyware program to clean your system and avoid total crash of your computer!"-- also has another "Asian-ism" to its incorrect syntax. This Asian style of poor English has long been dubbed "Engrish" by the internet community.

The symptoms of having this virus are:

1) Constant pop-up of the bogus "System Error!" box.

2) Frequent highjacking of Explorer window --especially when trying to use Google.

3) Frequent redirection of Explorer window from any legitimate Google results to a tricked-out Google page full of bogus search results which are riddled with bad English. All such results point toward porno sights.

4) Acts as an "adult-content dialer" on your Google searches.

5) When attempting to use legitimate anti-spyware to combat this virus, system freezes up and may even (rarely reported) prompt what is sometimes called the "blue screen of death" which is an old 2.0 screen, solid royal blue in color, with the announcement that the memory is about to be dumped. (Unplug power from computer as soon as this happens!)

The main goal of the incessant pop-up box is to try and trick you into clicking the "OK" button on the pop-up, thus downloading bogus anti-spyware for free. Two of the bogus spywares known to be associated with this virus are the "Malware Bell Malware Detection Tool" or the "IE AntiVirus 3.2 Security Center" packages (and thus the Trojan Horse function). But then after these bugus anti-spywares are installed, they covertly hijack your entire system and then prompt you to pay money to take all of these problems away.

Has been associated with the two bogus anti-spywares called "Malware Bell" and "IE AntiVirus 3.2."

Seems to be Asian in origin.

Seems to have arisen on the internet no earlier than December of 2007.

Seems to have grown exponentially on the internet since April 15, 2008.

Anyway ... I think I'm past it now. But this is a particularly NASTY virus --worse than the WinSoft virus of three years ago-- so I thought I'd warn everyone about it. (All two of you who read my blog. )

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind."

The title of this entry is a direct quote from multi-billionaire Richard Rainwater who says that for the first time in his life ... he's scared ... scared that life as we know it is about to end. Rainwater made his fortune capitalizing on the financial opportunities that always arise via crises. He pretty much wrote the book on how to sniff out a crisis months or even years ahead of time, discern which way the money will flow when the crisis finally hits, and position oneself accordingly. But THIS crisis --Peak Oil-- actually scares him.

His 2005 interview with Fortune Magazine (which serves as the basis for this blog entry) has infamously dubbed this man's fears as "The Rainwater Prophecy." In that interview he explains his apprehensions over the future of civilization itself in light of Peak Oil. His wife insists that this creeping fear took hold of her husband "right after he read that book."

What book?

A book by James Howard Kunstler called The Long Emergency.

Rainwater doesn't completely buy into Kunstler's doom and gloom. "It's the Z scenario," he says. But at the same time, he worries that Kunstler isn't wrong enough, and he's been buying extra copies of the book and passing them around to
the many titans of capitalism who are his protégés.
Well ... my discovery of this one news article today is good enough for me as far as my two week's worth of agonizing over whether I should follow Kunstler's theories. To paraphrase Billy Crystal's famous line from The Princess Bride: "Mostly wrong is slightly right." So even if Kunstler is only SLIGHTLY right, that's way too right for his theories to be completely dismissed. If a man like Rainwater buys into Kunstler --if even just partially-- I'd be a fool not to as well.

"I believe in Hubbert's Peak. I came out of Texas. I watched oil fields reach peak and go over, and I've watched how people would do all they could, put whatever amount of money into the field, and they couldn't do anything about it."
I likewise believe in Hubbert's Peak, "one of the great geological I-told-you-so's." I also believe we're going to hit that Peak quite soon (if not already). And I NOW additionally believe we're heading for one of those ItEotWaWKI situations as described by Mr. Kunstler. Yes, I'm a believer now.

But what can I do? For my family? For me? What can I possibly do?


Pray maybe.

As Matt Simmons, one of the leading gurus of Peak Oil, said to a US Congressman when asked what the solution was:
"I don't think there is one. The solution is to pray. Under the best of circumstances, if all prayers are answered, there will be no crisis for maybe 2 years. After that, it's a certainty."
That 2-year plan for prayer was suggested by Simmons back in May of 2005, when oil was selling at $52 a barrel. And then after those 2 years had elapsed, and May of 2007 rolled around, the price was up to $64 a barrel. Here it is, yet another year later, and it's at $104 a barrel.

Mr. Rainwater says that when Peak Oil hits the fan, and when the local neighborhood pumps sputter dry, and no one in your whole town can drive a car anymore, and riots and looting start breaking out, "people are going to be asking, 'Why did God do this to us?'"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The downside of Mr. Kunstler's beliefs

I totally dig his notions on civic planning and architectural design.

Sadly, he didn't stop there.

He went on to add another layer of complication to his outlook: peak oil.

Now I believe in peak oil. No question there. And I even believe we're about to hit it (probably this year or next year). And I suspect things will get weird when it happens (understatement).

Mr. Kunstler added an alarmist twist to his outlook on peak oil: he believes Western civilization will irreversibly decline. Now he's NOT predicting Mad Max. He instead believes all of the monster-sized cities and the multi-city megalopolises will fragment, and that small cities and towns will become the life-blood of America's future.

Now I am willing to entertain all of this in a sheerly specultive mode. But because of this "extra baggage" found in his message, he kinda makes me NOT wanna sing his praises, because I am essentially being forced to uphold TWO notions as a package deal here. I liken all this to my willingness to believe my pastor when he tells me Jesus saves, but my unwillingness to believe the world is only 6,000 years old. (Makes me want to go find another Jesus-y kind of church that leaves the dinosaurs out of their gospel.)

I need to ponder this for a while.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Vocabulary of Nowhere

His name is James Howard Kunstler. And as of this week his work has changed my whole outlook. I will even say it has changed my whole life.

Color this post "heavy revvy" and "life-transforming," at least at my end of it. And I'm serious here.

[clears throat]

I have suffered with this frustration and sense of alienation for over ten years now --possibly twenty years (I don't even recall how long it's been gnawing at me). And yet I have endlessly lacked the vocabulary to express it all until this week when I at long last discovered this man and his web site and his books. And so I now finally, finally, finally, finally know with an unwavering (possible even angry) confidence that:

  1. I am not alone in these thoughts.
  2. I am not backward or unsophisticated for having this outlook.
  3. I am not a snob or a fascist for harboring such strong feelings.
I rarely experience life-changing revelations (and I doubt many really exist in this world, at least for me). This is one of the few times that a single book/website/news article has so deeply impacted me. And not only is this epiphany worthy of its own blog entry, it's also worthy of its own Blogspot label.

Here's what the fuss is about ...

... For years now I have lived, worked, walked and driven through many municipalities in the US and even abroad. And even though I lack any training in architecture or design, I've always noticed that I quite overtly fancied some buildings markedly more than others, and even felt more at home while walking through some neigborhoods than others. I struggled for years to put my finger on why it was that I was so fond of the downtown area of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and yet simultaneously so repulsed by the allegedly historical shopping district known as "The X" in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was mystified over being so thoroughly enchanted by the entirety of Huntington Village on Long Island, and yet so turned off by the well-intended-but-something's-not-quite-right downtown area of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

All of this simmered in my soul with such an enigmatic perplexity that I was convinced it was far more than just a matter of chocolate versus vanilla. These issues were exactly that: issues --not mere preferences or matters of taste, but issues. Issuesd with modern architecture. Issues with modern shoppig plazas. Issues with the lack of public transportation. Issues with the slow pernicious destruction of our sidewalk system. And all of this was downright troubling to me because I felt deeply torn between several aspects of my own sense of self that were all in conflict here.

One of those turmoiled parts of me was my cultural identity that wanted to respect tradition and history (such as might be found in "old-fashion" architecture). But another conflicted part of me was my intellectual allegiance to the ideals of progressiveness which states that the imperative to push onward into the enlightening future mandates we must judiciously separate ourselves from all needless emcumberances of the backward past. And another fly of confoundment in this complicated oinment was the endearment I held for my own personal philosophy on art which had for years been assailed by the creeping fear that maybe the REAL problem is that I am simply NOT artistically sophisticated enough to appreciate these more modern architectural offerings.

There was a fourth thread weaving itself into this web of confusion: specifically the unrelated (or so I thought!) issue of my being car-less. So while I was pondering architectural aesthetics, I was likewise grumbling about being an inconvenienced pedestrian unable to either shop with ease or achieve a rational commute to work outside of motoring. And therefore I simultaneously grappled with the fear that maybe I was guilty of misdirected anger: perhaps my resentment of modern architecture was a subconscious offshoot of an improper self-focus upon my "needs" as an individual, complaining about how difficult it was to live in the Philadelphia suburbs without a car. And so perhaps I was unjustly condemning the society that made it so hard for me to get around. Maybe the REAL truth was simply that I was a sub-par member of society as evidenced by the fact that I obviously couldn't afford a car (like "normal" people), so something must be wrong with ME and not with the arrangement of the landscape. I had guilt-tripped myself into believing that this utopian fantasy I longed for of living in a small, walkable village --with shops and a train and a library and a post office and a dry cleaner and a pharmacy and a supermarket-- was not something a rational person would demand from society! Such communities were rare little art centers, and people payed top dollar to live there. And it was such an extravagant demand I was making to INSIST that it be possible for EVERYTHING to be within walking distance. How childish of me to make such expecations of society! Get a haircut! Get a job! Get a car! And get a life! The local town governments did NOT owe any such lifestyle to its citizens (especially the second-class ones who had no cars!)

After I got a car, I still found life disagreeable. I still preferred Huntington Village over Paoli. And I eventually began to put together some very fragmented clues about what I was sensing, and to reach a few critical, yet still incomplete conclusions. Some of my conclusions applied only to residential houses, others applied only to downtown areas, and then some conclusion applied to both.

I'll start with my general assessments for ALL buildings (residential houses and downtown districts alike).

I did figure out that I more keenly gravitated toward those buildings that seemed older, had traditional placements of windows and doors, were mostly symmetrical, and made judicious usage of ornamentation (whether in masonry or woodwork). And my most accute aversions were to glass boxes with faceless assymetrical aspects and a lack of connectedness with the buildings aroundn them.

As for downtown districts, I always hated it when buildings presented blank walls to the public instead of a row of windows. I admit I certainly saw the logic to having fewer windows (better security), but on a symbolic and psychological level it seemed so alienating and even smug. But I eventually chided myself for being so presumptuous as to besmirch the wisdom of succesful businessmen, seasoned security analysts, and risk management specialists, all because of some mystical and possibly even psychotic perception I had that a building was being "snotty" toward me. And so I dismissed my silly distaste for such buildings as trivial nitpicking and my own dumb layman's ignorance of the correct way to interpert good architecture.

Meanwhile, I also I began to develop a quiet aversion to those buildings that do not face the street front-and-center. Their sideways stances seemed to suggest that they were turning one shoulder to the world in an icy indifference, concerned with nothing but themselves and their slice of the GNP (more possible psychosis on my part). But, just like the practicality afforded in the better security found in less windows, I eventually began to realize the understandable logic of orienting a building like this: these buildings wanted to face their side-parking lots rather than the street to better service their car-driving customers. While I again told myself not to be so huffy about the trivial matter of aesthetics while some hard-working businessman was trying to make ends meet, I meanwhile noticed that the car-centric component of my hitheroto unrelated "practicality complaints" were now making a peculiar segue into my "aesthetic complaints." Hmmmm .... ugly buildings tended to be car-centered ... car-centered buildings tended to be ugly .... hmmmm ... that's quite a corrolary.... But! --Not wanting to follow down the same road as the conspiracy theorists who insist there's a sinister connection between Big Foot, UFO's and the Kennedy assasinations, I didn't want to shout "ah-HAH!" too soon and mistakenly insist I'd made some earth-shattering discovery.

As for residential houses, I realized that --like the downtown buildings-- I also disagreed when a house failed to face the street directly and stood somewhat askew on the lot. It struck me as "stand off-ish" (yet more of my possible psychosis!) And I also discerned that I hated it when a house was built in such a way that the garage door overpowered the entire front fascade and held the undeserved honor of being the one design element with the strongest connection to the street. (Many new houses do not even have a front walkway that goes on an independent pathway from the front door to the street, just to the driveway.) So once again: a car-centric connection was coming into play here. So bad aesthetics and a bad treatment of pedestrianism were perhaps related.

Or perhaps not. I had no way of truly knowing since I'm not an architect.

And yet still ... I struggled ....

I lacked the training. I lacked the vocabulary. I never saw any of this addressed on any news program, in any book, in any magazine article, TV show or movie. I was groping with my own insecurities and incomplete knowledge. As far as forgetting about it all --how could I? Every day I would somehow interact with concrete and blacktop and guard rails and box stores. I always drove past the same line up of buildings on the main drag, and was always ill-eased each and every time by the same vague sense that they were all in need of a serious rearranging, maybe even a pruning.

I have many times fantastized about re-doing the eight block stretch of Pine Point in Springfield:

  • adding second stories to several of the one-story storefronts,
  • re-orienting the hocky shop to make it face the street instead of its parking lot,
  • getting rid of the used car lot next to the public library and putting in a post office,
  • rennovating the three-story storefront that now sits abandoned and putting in a whole foods supermarket.
All together I wish there was a more cohesive unity to the overall arrangement of Pine Point. I wish for it, and I long for it, and I lament deeply whenever I drive through it and see the jumbled disarray of ill-organization and off-key confusion to its current structural profile. I remember as a kid when the pharmacy was at the top of that street, and the beauty parlor, and the barbor shop, and the dry cleaner, and the variety store. I remember when my mother would send me up the street with two dollars to buy a gallon of milk. I remember walking to the postal sub station and buying a roll of stamps for Christmas cards. I remember running to fill my brother's prescription as our mother took care of him. I remember walking to my ballet lessons every Satruday at 2:00. This used to be a real neighborhood once. Maybe it can be a real neigborhood again. Maybe I can draw up plans on paper and submit them ... somewhere. But I didn't know who to talk to or what words to use.

I have treid to find web sites with information about "villages" and "sidewalks" and "neighborhoods." I made up a make believe name for a non-existence group that whimsically I called "The American Sidewalk Federation." Google has been no help. I didn't know the correct search terms to trigger the right hit with the right web site to see if there were any like-minded peolpe out there besides me. So I remained alone in my longings, and suspected I was guilty of unhealthy nostalgia and needed to get over all this nonsense once and for all.

Whenever I would come out of my fantasy musings of civic planning for Pine Point and snap back to reality, I would often darkly accuse myself of being an anal retentive control freak with narcistic inclinations toward rearrange the whole world to suit my personal whims concerning "how things OUGHT to be." Afterall, no one else thinks like this ....... right??????

And then I found Mr. Kunstler's web site. I spent over nine hours straight on it last week. I feel like I've just been shown the light, hallelujah.

Below I itemize all of his positions that I agree with, and/or specifics about him that are similar to me.

He is NOT an architect, yet he deeply loves good archictecture.

He has no formal training in design or civic planning, yet always believed he had an intuitive sense for what well-designed buildings and excellently laid out towns should look like. And he demonstrastes vociferously just it is that old towns that were meticulously planned back in the decades and centuries before WWII. Those old neighborhoods represent the pinnacle of such excellence.

He always felt that virtually every last example of post-WWII archietcture has been heinously offensive and NOT well-designed at all, in spite of all the awards they garner.

He not only dislikes modern architecture, he despises it and resents when such buildings seek to arrogantly draw self-important attention to themselves and to DEFY the decorum of the established tone of a town. Those buildings do not harmoniously fit in with the pre-existing buildings and uphold a town's established character, they usurp it and rob the town of somethnig it once had and may now never get back.

He perceives that the only unifying quality held by all modern architects (and perpetuated by a pervasive elitism in the whole architedctural establishment) is the narcisistic ambition to produce ain't-I-cool wierdness with the sole intent of self-promotion --local history be damned, pre-established identity of a community be damned, and pedestrian-friendly civic planning be damned.

He yearns for urban districts whose building designs all collectively work together with one another to

  • follow traditional assignments of "decorum"
  • unify a civic district rather than splinter and confound it
  • contribute to the organic sense of logic to a comunity's layout.
As for "decorum," he he feels that a post office should know its proper place on the block, and that a museum should always (not sometimes but always) invoke a sense of history and granduer as opposed to a hyper look-at-me wierdness. He feels that the "important" buildings (such as the town hall and the school) should look the part, and the less noble ones (like the DMV) should defer to the others.

He believes there should be a priority in civic planning not just toward the CONVENIENCE of being able to walk everywhere, but also toward the NECESSITY of it, feeling that a true "village" with

  • walkable streets,
  • a close-concentration of housing AND civic buildings AND a diverse selection of merchant shops (called a "mixed-use" neighborhood)
  • buildings whose street-levels always have a friendly and meaningful relationship to pedestrians,
are not just archaic and irrelevent remnants of worthless nostalgia from yesteryear, but are all essential to maintaining the health of the village economy AND the human mind.

He laments and even rails against:

  • the lack of sidewalks being included in new construction projects, especially in new residential areas,
  • the useless narrowness of what few sidewalks are being built,
  • the unacceptable lack of any distance or buffer zone (like a grassy strip) between the road and what few sidewalks are being built,
  • the thoughtless positioning dead-center in the path of sidewalks given to fire hydrants, traffic lights, phone poles, etc,
  • the disrepair and neglect of pre-existing sidewalks,
  • the deliberate elimnation of pre-existing sidewalks,
  • the ocasssional, random, unpredictable, illogical, and even psychotic instances of sidewalks comming to a sudden and abrupt end right beside a road that obviously keeps going,
  • the prevalance of that sidewalk-less category of road called a "strip" which is often lined on both sides and down the center with guardrails --roads which are not only impregnanble to pedestrians, but are not even authorized for bus pick-up/drop-off due to the sheer danger posed to pedestrians by them,
  • the pedestrian-defying distance from a road and across its parking lot (or sometimes across its innavigable lawn which is often interrupted by an open drainage ditch) that many of today's newly built shops, civic buildings, and housing developments now command,
all of which contribute to the systematic elimniation of pedestrianism.

He sees the demise of sidewalks as a direct contributor to the current obesity epidemic.

He resents ANY building that either lacks a meaningful connection to the street, or positions itself on the lot so that it only has a vehicle-focused connection with the roadway and/or parking lot at the expense of any pedestrian-friendly connection with the sidewalk (if there even is a sidewalk).

He reels at the psychotic and incoherent variation to the frontage distances demonstrated in business properties located right along side each other on the same road and in the same zone. And yet there is an exact opposite practice found in residential neighborhoods whose houses all possess a mind-numbingly cookie-cutter identicalness. (Therefore, business real estate properties are allowed to assert their individuality, while human dwellings must adhere to a rigorous and draconian uniformity.)

All of this he believes. And he writes about it and lectures about it. And so now he has given me the words to say what I have felt for so long but never knew how to express.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making it Through a Hypothetical Crisis

I'll start small and build from there.

First, let's imagine we have a local power outage. The thing about power outages is you have no idea how long they will last.
  • Maybe an hour or two.
  • Maybe all night.
  • Maybe several days.
  • Maybe longer.
And the real trick is being prepared for any of the above durations. Flashlights. Batteries. Alternative entertainment. Those will all last you for the first two of these four durations. But the latter two require more serious contingencies such as a backup generator. Loads of bottled water and food. Backup supplies of needed medications. Maybe even a wood burning fireplace and plenty of cord wood.

When a power outage finally ends --whether it was one of the whimpy hang-nail caliber, or the extended play-- most people will talk about it the next day. "Where were you? Did you manage? What kind of contingency did you have to fall back on?" And the people and the stories that stick out in our minds are always 1) the ones who somehow lucked out, or 2) the ones who really prepared well, or 3) the ones who truly got screwed. Those stories all haunt us and play into our fears and paranoias --possibly even our sense of embrassment and self-punishment where we scold ourselves for not being as prepared as we could have been. And that's all quite a lethal mix of emotions.

Okay ... let's move on to a more challenging crisis now: a snow storm.

Snow storms can reck your car. They can freeze your pipes. They can make you late for work. They pose the threat of actual death from freezing --even freezing in your very home. Snow storms can do all of the above AND cause power outages to boot. Being snowed in for several days is a frightening scenario involving food, shelter, medicine, and heat. So again the mettle of your makeshift, homemade contingency (if one even exists) gets tested. And then when it's all over, you again chat with your friends, family, and co-workers about how you each handled it. And when the story swapping is all done, you take with you the stories that really stood out, and you usually will modify your future contingencies accordingly --or at least worry about it.

The whole prospect of having to survive a crisis --especially a natural disaster-- is one that I am convinced always lingers in the back of most people's minds. Many a Hollywod movie has been centered around the whole "making it through a crisis" plotline, and it remains a popular sub-genre to this day. Several years back a small non-fiction book called "Worst Case Scenario" hit the best sellers list, and a TV reality show soon followed. The History Channel currently has a very popoular weekly show called "Mega Disasters" which uses lots of science and CGI to project hypothetical disasters ranging anywhere from Katrina-sized localization all the way up to dinosaur-anihilating meteor strikes. So there seems to be a how-to-survive-stuff chord that deeply resonates in our society with the entire concept.

We all surely think about it in varying degrees, some far more than others. The most lax among us might do little more than keep a spare can of franks and beans in the house and maybe a few loose batteries in the kitchen drawer. And at the other end of the spectrum we find the lunatic fringe who build cabins in the woods stocked with food and ammo as they await the impending apocolypse.

I'd be hard pressed to imagine any adult in modern society who has
  • lived on their own for more than 12 months,
  • maybe owns a house,
  • seen at least one of those movies,
and hasn't at least thought about it all, maybe worried about it, maybe even fantasized about it to some small degree. In fact, in my experience as a school teacher, I find that many children, starting around the age of 10 or 12, begin to fear such things (inspired largely by movies) and try to craft fatasized, sometimes elaborate (and often unrealistic) contingency plans in their heads.

The best laid plans of children and homeowners.

And this leads me to my ultimate point:

I think about it from time to time. My scriptwriting imagination enjoys the exercise, so my imaginings in this area can be very elabroate.

When I imagine how I might handle any number of scenarios (for a great selection, check out that book "Worst Case Scenario"), I always weight out in both hope and regret exactly how many of my contingency plans are do-able options versus how many are utterly out of reach products of fantasy. Am I silly? Paranoid? A schmuck?

"Be prepared," the Boy Scouts admonish us. But how much preparation is acceptable, advisable, and allowable? When is it overboard? When is it negligence?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

God's End of the Deal

Here's what I was told was supposed to happen:

1) God would reward my choices of high ethical conduct.
2) God would protect me from harm.
3) God would uphold my honor and prevent me from falling into ill-repute.
4) God would increase my wealth.
5) God would do it all as long as I stayed faithful to him and gave him control of my life .

At least that's what I was told.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Are Christians More Likely to Doubt Global Warming?

(The following was the response I made at on a public message board to that exact question.)

I have an uncle who's a born again Christian. He's a very blue collar kind of guy who grew up in a family of mill workers. He never went to college, and worked in a mill himself as a young man, as well as being a volunteer fire fighter in his small New England farming town. He's also an avid outdoorsman and a hunter, getting licenses every year for turkey season and deer season. In addition to all of this, he also tends a magnificent garden in the back yard, growing prize pumpkins and squash. The wall of his den is covered with dozens of blue ribbons from many years of entering his pumpkins and squash at the local fair. He has blue bird houses in the garden, and regualrly bird watches with a set of binoculars from the back porch. There's also a brook running through their property that he has landscaped himself with stone liners on the banks. As his wife says of his gardening and his affinity for the outdoors: "He loves to play in the mud."

Their country home has a wood burning stove in the basement, and so he stocks up on cord wood every fall in preparation for the winter. Many times I have seen him chopping wood in the back yard, and even dismembering a fallen tree with his chain saw. He's always said the best cure for any ailment is to "go out in the yard and chuck a cord of wood --that'll heal ya right quick. It does a body good."

Back in his mid-20's, he went to the state police academy to become a state cop. And when he graduated they said: "You can either be a state highway patrolman, or a state game warden [aka an environmental police offcier]." With his great love of the outdoors, he naturally jumped at the chance to be a game warden, and he recently completed 40 years of service and is now retired.

He is VERY aware of the environment, subscribing to magazines about hunting, wildlife, and gardening. He regularly watches the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. And his many years of training as a game warden meant he had to periodically attend formal classes on wildlife and on how to handle the various species in his jurisdiction (racoons, eagles, deer, etc). The kinds of phone calls that would come in to his office or even sometimes at his private home included please for help whenever a motorist might have hit a deer down the road, or maybe a demolition crew knocked down an old barn and discovered a nest of baby owls, or perhaps a bear wandered onto someone's property, or else a racoon had got loose in someone's house. He also was in regular contact with various science professors from the local universities, and has sometimes been asked by those professors to assist with injured/orphaned animals in the area. More than once he has taken home a displaced owl or an injured racoon, and spent many months nursing such a creature back to health again.

His knowledge of animals and wildlife --even exotic species from around the world-- is amazing. We were all watching "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" one night, and the question was "Which bird has the broadest wing-span: eagle, condor, albatross, or heron?" And he --a man who barely graduated high school and who pretty much never knows any answers to any quiz show questions ever-- shouted out "CONDOR!" (And he was right.)

His monthly (or is it quarterly? I don't remember) subscription to International Game Warden Magazine includes in-depth articles about the activities of game wardens all over the world, such as wardens in Africa who protect the elephants and lions etc, and the wardens in Australia who protect the kangaroos, crocodiles, coalas, etc. (And there's always a special tribute in every issue to those game wardens from around the world who get killed in the line of duty, sometimes due to an attack by a ferocious animal, and sometimes due to the homicidal aggressions of illegal poachers. Poachers in Africa, Canada, and Florida seem to be the most notorious for not only resisting arrest but actually attacking and even killing game wardens.)

My uncle is a Christian, AND a blue collar sort of a "good old boy" (albeit a Northern/Yankee vartiety of good old boyhood) and he is absolutely convinced that global warming is a reality. He didn't ALWAYS believe in it and actively scoffed the idea for years. But for him, the turning point came when he was reading the enviromental studies about how polar bears are losing alarmingly high percentages of body weight each year due to the rapid diminishment of their ice-based environments. And that data was further bolstered by articles in International Game Warden Magazine about the current concerns being voiced by Canadian game wardens over the plight of the moose and caribou who are likewise suffering as their not-so-snowy-anymore environments rapdily change for the worse every year. My uncle is indeed a believer now.

Meanwhile, I had been hearing for years (decades actually!) from various Christians that global warming was a myth. A paranoid delusion. So I have likewise witnessed this blind and defiant denial amongst Christians that the OP speaks of. Why were so many (at least in MY circles) Christians almost universally convinced it was all a lie?

I must concur with the OP: I believe it was a sad case of guilt by association.

The traditional bastion of environmental concern has always been a particularly ill-liked (ill-liked by many conservative American Christians) segment of the political left: the save-the-whale, save-the-snail-darter, crystal-wearing, tree-hugging, vegetarian, new-age crowd (I realize this is a sweeping generalization, but that sort of broad-sweeping dismissiveness is part of the problem here). So if THEY are the ones who are the primary proponents of this global warming stuff .... then seeing as how they're most assuredly wrong about their crystals, and wrong about their priority of valuing a snail darter over an unborn fetus, and wrong about that whole "harmonic convergeance" thing (anybody here remember "harmonic converegeance"?), and wrong about reincarnation (according to the Christian viewpoint), then surely they are also wrong about this global warming nonsense. The only other discernible voice of agreement about any of this global warming stuff seemed to hail from a particularly laughable sub-category of B-films that began in the 1960's --the "nature fights back" sort full of mutated animals --the kind of film you only ever saw around 3 in the morning on the local independent station. So without a CREDIBLE second party to back up that already ill-regarded first party, most Christians (like my uncle) just dismissed it as a non-issue, no more worthy of their time than claims about UFO's and Big Foot.

My blue collar uncle always had little tolerance for the crystals and the Birkenstocks and the harmonic convergeance. He got annoyed during more than one of his own private hunting vacations and left the forest in angry silence whenever a team of anti-hunting activists would show up wearing their orange vests and loudly scare away the deer. He would read in furious tears about lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest who would lose their limbs or maybe even their lives because their chain saws had riccocheted off of a porcelein spike driven into a tree by an anti-deforestation activist. He rolled his eyes at the commune down the road where about thirty hippies lived together in a 200-year-old, 10-bedroom farmhouse. And he very diplomatically kept his mouth shut and focused on the conversation at hand while attending a business-as-usual meeting with a local university professor who was obviously wearing a crystal or two herself. None of this was TRULY an "us against them" mentality of straight up hostility by Christians (not typically). It was more a pitying dismissiveness toward them --a sad condescension of their blind misguidedness and their need of Jesus.

So I share the same theory as the OP that because these claims of global warming wafted PRIMARILLY from the same ranks as all of the above sorts of people --people that my uncle found either amusing, pathetic, or criminal-- my uncle naturally marginalized their doomsaying claims, right along with their harmonic convergeance .........

.......... he and about 40 million other American Christians ............

.......... for the past 30 years ..............

........... but then he read the data on the polar bears.


Monday, January 14, 2008

I did not make semi-finals

And I expected as much.

I got a polite e-mail stating I didn't make it. But I also did not get a feedback sheet, nor was there promise of a feedback sheet. I personally feel that Kairos NEEDS to give feedback sheets because one of their goals is they want to be taken seriously as a contest among contests. Feedback sheets are part of being taken seriously.

I will get in touch with that other woman I met at a writers message board who was a contestant in prior years. She implied that in past years there were indeed feedback sheets. So I will see what's up this year.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The wax job from hell

This is the absolute worst experiecne I have ever had at a beauty parlor.

I was getting my eyebrows waxed. And the technicion was leaning very closely, hovering over my face as she brandished her tweezers. And then she coughed--right in my face. A fine spray of her spit hit me on my nose and mouth.

I was utterly appalled and opened my eyes and glared hard at her. And she barely noticed and kept right on tweezing. But then a moment later, she suddenly realized why I was annoyed and she began to apologize: "Oh! So sorry!"

I figured out later that she probbaly absent-mindedly assumed she still had her mask on (she normally does nails and yet while doing my eyebrows she had her dust mask down around her neck instead of over her nose and mouth). So in a way her mistake was understandable. But STILL! Yick!

And then she made a ridiculous error with one eyebrow --an error that I have not only never experienced myself, but never even heard of other women experiencing. She glopped the wax onto my right eyebrow and let it cool for too long before attempting to lay down the linen strip. But then when she finally did lay the strip, she was unable to get it to adhere. My right eyebrow was now crusted over with hardened wax and neither she nor I could get it off. She tried for five minutes to apply various liquid compounds meant to remove the wax, and none of them worked. Finally I demanded she just stop and let me get the heck out of there. After leaving that place in a quiet huff I spent the next half hour scraping away at my poor imprisoned eyebrow with my fingernail trying to get it all off.

An eyebrow waxing usually costs about seven dollars and this place was no different. She had the nerve to charge me the full price. I almost didn't tip her (I typically tip two dollars) but I gave it to her anyway. I guess I'm just too nice. But I will never go back.

So -- they cashed my check.

Kairos cashed my contest entrance fee check. It cleared on January 4th. Why such a long delay? Who knows. But at this point I will assume the script has been read.

Now I am TOLD that Kairos gives feedback sheets. So I am counting on a feedback sheet of some kind here and will be sorely disappointed if I get none. I did meet a woman on a screenwriters message board who said she got no feedback last year and was so disappointed that she posted on a message forum about her disappointment, and then her post was brought to the attentions of the head of the Kairos contest, and he sent her an apologetic e-mail and offered to let her enter Kairos the following year for free. So yeah, I am counitng on some feedback here.

I'm kinda thinking I won't win for the follwing reasons (in no particular order):

1) I did the huge no-no of a voice-over narrator.
2) I discovered TWO typos after submitting (one on page 13, another on page 39).
3) I mistakenly assumed Act 1 ended on Page 27 (which is acceptable because Act 1 must end BEFORE Page 30), but then a pro reader that I consulted said to me "No, you made the rookie mistake of having Act 1 end on Page 40." At first I thought he was wrong, but the he demonstraed the plot element that marked the true end of Act 1, and then I knew he was right. And so my entire Act 1 is 10 pages too long.
4) The entire script is 128 pages ... and (eeh gads!) it's a comedy! That's 8 pages too long for industry tolerances (but not too long for the contest) which means this script had BETTER justify the page-length. If it was an epic saga like "Lord of the Rings" or "Narnia," then 128 pages would be just fine. But comedies are more typically supposed to be in the 90-110 page range (it's hard to make people laugh much longer than 90 minutes). It's rare that a comedy runs over 2 hours-- maybe "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" is an exception, but that movie was epic in and of itself. And then "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." Mine certainly has a cast of thousands (like those two other films did) and yet I can't rely on succesful exceptions from 40 years ago to salvage my script-length here in the New Millenium. So the lentgh is a strike against me for sure.
5) I suspect the contest is more skewed toward drama than comedy, so I have a black sheep genre here.
6) My ending is contingent upon an actual sermon being preached in an actual church. THAT ending scene with the sermon could be the death knell of the whole script.

Meanwhile, I now regret some of the stuff I pulled OUT of the script, specifically the two lines spoken by Doctor Vincete. BOTH of those lines by him that I killed were TOTALLY in line with what the John Templeton Foundation is all about. Had I kept those lines, they might have tipped the scales in my favor. The first line I killed was when Doctor Vincente was explaining to Galvin about why it is that Christians treasure their Bibles so deeply, and he expounded to Galvin about his own relationship with his own personal Bible.

This notation I made while getting
ready to propose to my wife. This
rather lengthy comment I made when
my son was born. This on the eve of
my eldest daughter's wedding. And
this when my father died. A Bible
is a chronicle of a person's entire
life filtered through the lens of
their spirituality. To lose all this
would be devastating to me. This is
a serious moment of trauma for them.

How long have you owned that Bible?

This one almost five years now.

Then how could you have --

-- Bibles wear out very quickly,
especially when read every day. So
what some people do (myself included)
is buy a new one, then spend several
weeks (or months) hand-copying all
prior notations out of the old Bible
into the new. An admittedly sizeable
chore, but I think it's worth it.
Depending upon how hard a person tends
to be on their Bibles, most laymen go
through half a dozen Bibles over the
course of a lifetime. Clergy professionals
easily go through twice that many. I
am 59 years old, I've been a clergy
professional nearly forty years, and
this is my ninth Bible. I anticipate
that, should I live a normal life span
I will probably purchase and re-notate
two additional Bibles before my time on
this Earth is done.

The second line I killed was when Doctor Vincente was explaining to Doctor Holstein about his own desire to study EVERYTHING there is to study because God made EVERYTHING, and therefore EVERYTHING is all God's domain and worthy of study.

Now that's a very good question. How
would you even know to ask that? I
thought you were just a preacher.

(high-brow indignation)
"Just a preacher?" While I am sure you
did not intend to insult the millions
of men and women currently employed in
that noble profession, I am a professor
of theology.

So you study God then right?

Yes. And since God made everything, I
have therefore taken it upon myself to
study ………………… everything.


(still indignant)
Everything. The work of his hands.

And so you study electromagnetism?

Yes. And everything else as well: biology,
astronomy, geology, physics, psychology,
mathematics, chemistry,. etc, etc, ad
infinitum. It's all his domain, so I study
as much of it as I can with what little
time he has given me. And it is my unending
hope that when I die and go to join him,
that's when the REAL learning shall begin,
learning scheduled to last for all eternity.
For now, I merely intend to spend the
remainder of my Earthly days getting a
meager "jump start" on my first semester
with him.

BOTH of those lines by him are TOTALLY what the John Templeton Foundation is all about --those people are HUGE into trying to bridge a diplomatic realtionship between faith and science. And the character of Doctor Vincente is a great fictional ambassdor between those two worlds. And I killed those two science-faith lines for the sake of shortening the script. Oh well.

I could name other stuff I should have kept in, but I'll stop here.

Will I make semi-finals? They will announce that list in anothe two weeks. I will let you know.