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October 31, 2007
Gas Money
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:23 PM * 120 comments

Today’s Bob Allen Creative Excuse Award goes to Washington State Representative Richard Curtis (R-La Center).

[Cody M.] Castagna told Spokane police that Curtis had agreed to pay him $1,000 for unprotected sex then stated he didn’t have the money, a claim Curtis denied to police, according to a police report.
What did Representative Curtis claim he was doing?
Curtis, however, told the detective he gave Castagna $100 for gas money and insisted the money was not in exchange for sex, according to the affidavit. Curtis did tell police he met Castagna at the Hollywood Erotic Boutique earlier that day, according to the affidavit.

Next time I run out of gas in front of a sex shop I hope there’s a Republican legislator nearby who’s handing out Franklins to random strangers who’re in need of a fill-up.

What kind of a guy is Rep. Curtis?

In 2005 and 2006, Curtis voted against a bill that granted civil rights protections to gays and lesbians, and in 2007, he voted against a bill that created domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

All kinds of gory details (and the quotes presented here) are found in this story from The Daily News in Longview, Washington.

Republicans should just generally steer clear of places called the Hollywood Erotic Boutique. You know the cops and the public will get the wrong idea.

October 30, 2007
Yes, Judge, It IS Torture
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:23 PM * 430 comments

The headline over at CNN reads:

AG pick stays vague on waterboarding
President Bush’s pick for attorney general called the interrogation technique known as “waterboarding” a repugnant practice Tuesday, but again refused to say whether it violates U.S. laws banning torture.

Let me help him out: Yes, waterboarding is torture. Yes, it is illegal under both US and international law.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Now some macho idiot is going to swagger in to spew about how Tough Men Make Tough Decisions and Do What It Takes, and They’ll Protect the Soft Weak Liberals, and The Grownups Are In Charge.

First, that’s nonsense. We don’t get the moral high ground by saying we have it, we get it by actually occupying it. If you’re going to be a bad guy yourself, what’s the point of fighting bad guys? All you’ve guaranteed is that the bad guys will win.

Second, you don’t get good intel out of torture anyway. All you hear is what you wanted to hear. The person you’re torturing will tell any story at all to make the torture stop—any fantasy that pops into his mind. He’ll say that he flew to the Brocken on a broomstick to meet the devil as readily as he’ll say that he flew to Afghanistan to meet Osama bin Laden. It all depends on what the torturer is looking for. And after you’re done, the torture victim won’t know the truth himself.

Centuries of practical experience back this up. The only place torture works is in books and movies.

More on Giuliani
Posted by Patrick at 01:54 PM * 29 comments

Josh Marshall has been asking: how many other elected officials in American history have tried to stay in power beyond their legal term of office, on the grounds that they were personally indispensable?

The answer is damn close to “none.” Except for New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 2001.

Accusing politicians one dislikes of being dictators-in-waiting is a commonplace, but Giuliani is the first electable Presidential candidate that I can really, truly see making a bid to scrap the system and rule directly. Not just in the sense that all modern Presidents have whittled away at the other branches’ powers, but a real, honest-to-God self-coup.

I’m not leaping for joy over any of the likely alternatives, but preventing Rudolph Giuliani from becoming President of the United States seems to me like the political task of the moment. If you think American politics can’t get worse, think again. It can, and if it does, Giuliani will be how.

UPDATE: Also read this.

Much too comfortable in heels
Posted by Teresa at 09:46 AM * 42 comments

I am obscurely reassured to find that footage of Rudy Giuliani in drag is available through YouTube. I knew it existed. I remembered seeing it broadcast years ago, not long after it was taken. As I observed to Patrick at the time, Giuliani is far too comfortable in skirts and high heels. He practically glows.

(Do I have a problem with cross-dressers? Not a bit. I have a problem with Giuliani. Do I think his adventures in costume are the most objectionable thing about him? No, not hardly. Leave that for another time. What I’m trying to get across here is just how weird the man is.)

For instance, here’s Giuliani on freedom, quoted in the New York Times, 17 March 1994:

“Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it.”
I agree that the rule of law is necessary to protect general social freedom, and that acknowledgement of the authority of the law is a necessary precondition to the rule of law; but “freedom is about authority” is a very odd formulation to derive from that. Giuliani’s big with the authority. He’s right, and you’re wrong, and therefore you’ll do as he says, even if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s completely disregarded legal procedures and basic constitutional provisions.

Anyway, when Rudy Giuliani started making presidential noises, I went to YouTube to have another look at footage of him playing Ginger Rogers. I figured there had to be some there from one or another of his little occasions. I was wrong.

That worried me. If Giuliani already had enough clout to interdict footage of himself in a wig and padded bra, we could all be in for a rocky ride. Giuliani’s crazier, more authoritarian, and nearly as vindictive and unprincipled as George Bush. He also works a lot harder. It’s a scary combination.

But now, yay, that footage is available—gone viral, even—so it looks like Rudy’s friends aren’t as powerful as I’d feared. What does that mean for you? It means you get Rudy in drag! And Rudy in drag getting mauled and smooched by Donald Trump, which is everyone’s favorite. There’s an article on the latter video by Williams Cole, who worked on the documentary Giuliani Time, from which the Trump clip was taken. Cole is politely dismayed that of all the material in that documentary, it’s Rudy canoodling with The Donald that everyone remembers. He is slightly mistaken. Rudy canoodling with The Donald is the part that no one can forget.

If you’re feeling a little sleazy about watching those videos and need a respectable reason to have watched them, try reading Jim Sleeper’s Why Rudy Giuliani Really Shouldn’t Be President, which proposes that this theatricality is a key to his character:

Fred Siegel, author of the Giuliani-touting Prince of the City, posed the problem recently when he wondered why, after Giuliani’s 1997 mayoral reelection, … he couldn’t “turn his Churchillian political personality down a few notches.”

I’ll tell you why: Giuliani’s 9/11 performance was sublime for the unnerving reason that he’d been rehearsing for it all his adult life and remained trapped in that stage role. When his oldest friend and deputy mayor Peter Powers told me in 1994 that 16-year-old Rudy had started an opera club at Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn, I didn’t have to connect too many of the dots I was seeing to notice that Giuliani at times acted like an opera fanatic who’s living in a libretto as much as in the real world.

In private, Giuliani can contemplate the human comedy with a Machiavellian prince’s supple wit. But when he walks on stage, he tenses up so much that even though he can strike credibly modulated, lawyerly poses, his efforts to lighten up seem labored. What really drove many of his actions as mayor was a zealot’s graceless division of everyone into friend or foe and his snarling, sometimes histrionic, vilifications of the foes. Those are operatic emotions, beneath the civic dignity of a great city and its chief magistrate.

… [O]nly on 9/11 did the whole city become as operatic as the inside of Rudy’s mind.

Mother Jones, which doesn’t like Giuliani at all, points us toward Slate’s slideshow essay about his various masquerades. It’s the web’s single best pictorial source on that subject. There’s a second Slate article about Giuliani’s appallingly messy and unnecessarily hurtful family life. (Have I mentioned that he’s terrible at kissing babies? When he tries it, he winds up looking like he’s being played by Armin Shimerman.) For additional pure weirdness, try the transcript of the ferret rant.

Q. Is weirdness a sufficient reason to damn Rudy Giuliani as a candidate?

A. Not when there are so many better reasons to do it.

Giuliani’s basic message is, “Give me the power and I will keep you safe.” On 9/11, millions of Americans whose brains had temporarily been rendered thermoplastic by shock imprinted on Rudy as The Guy Who Knew What Needed Doing. They remember shots of him striding decisively through the dusty canyons of the Financial District, paced by swarms of reporters babbling questions on all sides: Frank Capra out of Aaron Sorkin. Giuliani’s played on that ever since.

What most Americans still don’t grasp is how much of that disaster was Giuliani’s doing. See, for instance,’s Rudolph Giuliani would be “terrible” president, on Jerome Hauer’s comprehensive critique of Giuliani’s performance. Hauer is an expert on biological and chemical terrorism, and was New York’s Emergency Management Director—that is, Giuliani’s top antiterrorism guy—from 1996 to 2000. He didn’t go public with his accusations until Giuliani publicly blamed him for locating the city’s crisis control room in a vulnerable location that was a known terrorist target. Then Hauer blew up:

Mr Hauer, who now runs a consultancy firm, said that the former mayor vetoed his proposal to site the emergency command centre in Brooklyn as he wanted it to be within walking distance of his City Hall offices in Manhattan.

“Rudy would make a terrible president and that is why I am speaking now,” Mr Hauer told The Sunday Telegraph. “He’s a control freak who micro-manages decision, he has a confrontational character trait and picks fights just to score points. He is the last thing this country needs as president right now.”

That was the gist, but not the whole, of Mr. Hauer’s remarks. Giuliani & Co. slimed him in return, but the FDNY and various other organizations and experts have backed up Hauer’s version.

The FDNY has been in a cold rage at Giuliani ever since 9/11. They’ve made a hard-hitting video about it. Note: close to the first two minutes of that thirteen-minute video consists of an FDNY talking head explaining that the video is factual, deeply felt, and politically non-partisan. If you already get that, you can skip it. The non-partisan part is because the FDNY has repeatedly been referred to in the national media as having Democratic sympathies. That’s just an attempt to deflect their criticisms of Giuliani and other Republican leaders. If the FDNY rank and file vote for Democrats, it’s because they live in New York. Their dislike of Giuliani is dislike of the man himself. His sins, as they see them:

1. The radios.

2. Insisting on siting the emergency command center in exactly the wrong place, and his poor leadership in general during the emergency.

3. Declaring that the air quality at Ground Zero wasn’t a hazard.

4. His callous treatment of their dead.

5. Building his further political career on his performance on 9/11 and his expertise at dealing with terrorist attacks.

In re the radios and the command center: it had been known since at least 1993, when the World Trade Center was first attacked, that the FDNY’s personal radios were inadequate. That’s bad. Firemen inside a burning building need to be in communication with their guys outside. That goes double if they’re working in highrises.

For seven years, the Giuliani administration did nothing about the problem. Then they bought new radios. It was supposed to be an open bid. They only took bids from Motorola. The proposed radios were supposed to be tested by the FDNY under field conditions. They weren’t. After Motorola had been awarded the contract, the cost jumped from $1.4 million to $14 million.

This was at minimum blatant favoritism; but that wasn’t the real problem. From an article in Salon this past March:

[J]ust three months before the 9/11 attack, a city firefighter trapped in the basement of a burning house in Queens broadcast a mayday on a high-tech digital radio issued by his administration to replace the older variety.
That is, using one of the new Motorola radios.
When firefighters battling the blaze didn’t hear his SOS—it was picked up only by radios carried by firefighters a couple of miles away—an uproar ensued. The firefighter survived, but the high-tech replacement radios, which had never been field-tested, were thus withdrawn, and the firemen went back to relying on their old radios, just in time for 9/11.
It was a reasonable decision on their part. The firemen who couldn’t hear his SOS were in the street directly in front of the burning building.
And on Sept. 11, the faulty radios were just part of a tableau of dysfunction. Fire Department officials couldn’t communicate with police officials, whose helicopters had bird’s-eye views of the unstable towers poised to fall. Police and fire communications weren’t linked, and no one bothered to set up a unified police-fire command post on the street near the towers, which is Emergency Management 101.
Literally. Setting up a unified command post to deal with large complex emergencies is part of a standard set of procedures followed by first responders throughout the country.
Meanwhile, the city’s emergency dispatchers fielded a flood of 911 calls from panicked World Trade Center workers and gave out the wrong advice, or just threw up their hands—:Do whatever you have to do, Sir.”

Where was Rudy? He didn’t know what to do or where to go because he had put his emergency command center in exactly the wrong place. Against the advice of experts, he had built the emergency command center in the area most likely to be attacked, an area that had already been attacked, the 23rd floor of No. 7 World Trade Center. It was off-limits on the only day it was ever needed.

I recommend an article called The Myth of Giuliani and 9/11, which for some reason was mostly published via Usenet newsgroups. Here’s their take on Giuliani’s failure:
On 9/11 New York was left without an emergency command center because Giuliani, going against the advice of both the police and fire departments, decided to locate the center conveniently near City Hall in World Trade Center building 7, along with tanks containing tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel—in direct violation of New York City fire laws. This was despite the 1993 WTC bombing that proved it to be the number one terrorism target. It was this decision that put him on the street on 9/11 instead of inside a command center coordinating operations. Ironically, this also put him in front of hundreds of media cameras, sparking his image transformation into a “hero.”

While our “hero” was posing for the cameras, however, there was no communication possible between the police department and the fire department, whose REAL heroes were rushing to their deaths inside the towers. And there was likewise no communication between the police officers who identified an open stairway for escape from above the fire zone and the 911 phone operators who were telling soon-to-be-dead office workers to stay put and wait for the firefighters. Giuliani had been aware of the inadequacy of the emergency services’ communications equipment for many years, but did absolutely nothing about it. This criminal negligence also doomed hundreds of firefighters that were unable to hear orders to evacuate the north tower prior to collapse.

Whatever possibility existed for communication between the police and fire departments, whose radios operated on different frequencies, evaporated when Giuliani visited a makeshift fire/police command center that had formed in his absence. There he ORDERED THE POLICE BRASS TO LEAVE and accompany him uptown. This “heroic leadership” effectively put the fire department and police department commanders in different physical locations with no communication possible between them.

Present Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stated that he doesn’t have any idea who was in charge on 9/11 because Bernie Kerik and all the top chiefs in the police department basically acted as bodyguards to Giuliani and no one was running the shop.

Sure, Rudy looked decisive and confident on 9/11. He’s always decisive and confident—like George Bush, or a compulsive gambler, or General Sedgwick.

Further reading:

MSNBC: Leaked memos show Giuliani’s ignorance of terrorism before 9/11. In campaign speeches, Giuliani claims to have recognized well before 9/11 that Osama bin Laden was a threat, but his testimony before the 9/11 Commission was one long confession of ignorance on that subject.

Washington Post: Giuliani’s Rhetoric on Terror Contrasts With His Record. Despite his claims, Giuliani’s pre-9/11 record shows no great interest in nor experience with terrorism.

The Huffington Post: Giuliani Resembles Bush on Terror War: “Like Bush on steroids.” Eavesdropping on citizens? He’s for it! The use of military force in Iran and Pakistan? He’s for it! No pullout from Iraq? He’s indubitably for it!

Mother Jones: Rudy Giuliani Has Advisers Who Would Bomb Iran Tomorrow:

“I used to believe the most dangerous thing about Rudy Giuliani was the fact that, even though he has zero foreign policy experience, he thinks he knows everything there is to know about foreign policy. That’s a scary kind of ignorance.

“But I was wrong. The most dangerous thing about Rudy Giuliani is his advisers. They are crazy, crazy, crazy. Too crazy to work for Bush, even.”

Salon: Giuliani’s Dangerous Bluster. Got an old mistake? He’ll clutch it to his bosom: We were on the verge of victory when we pulled out of Vietnam. We must deal with Iran “from a position of strength.” No support for Palestinian statehood until they demonstrate that they’ve earned it. And when Castro dies, we must help the Cuban people reclaim their liberty, and keep their corrupt regime from consolidating its power under Raul Castro.

The Nation: Rudy’s Dirty Money. Big Energy. Lots of money.

Talking Points Memo: Giuliani endorses Bush’s Social Security plan. That is: he wants to privatize Social Security.

Hilzoy, Obsidian Wings: Rudy Giuliani and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: That would be June 19th of this year, when it (1.) came out that Giuliani had been kicked out of the elite Iraq Study Group for skipping all their meetings in favor of doing lucrative speaking gigs; and (2.) his South Carolina campaign manager, state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, was suspended from his position after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

But look at it this way: if Rudy’s political career tanks, he’ll always have showbiz to fall back on.

An Index to the Light
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:45 AM * 25 comments

Kelly McCullough has done a clever thing: An index to a deal of Making Light.

  • Making Light General Index
    Administrative/In the Beginning
    Backups Through History
    Civil Rights and Liberties
    DIY A Myriad of Odd and Sometimes Useful How-Tos
    Ghosts of the Great War
    Grammar Geeking
    Internet Discourse
    Iraq War
    John M. Ford Misc
    Linky Posts
    Lord of the Rings
    Mary Sue
    Medicine/Emergency Response
    Security Theater
    Tragedies, Great and Small
    Uncategorized (Thus Far)
  • A Writer’s Index to Making Light
    F&SF As A Genre
    Grammar, Punctuation and the Copyeditor
    Literary Scams
    Publishing Industry
    Submission, Rejection and the Slushpile
    Vanity Press
    Whining About Publishing
    Writing Craft
  • Making Light Indices Jul-Sep 2004 Update
  • Making Light Indices–Oct-Dec 2004 Update


October 28, 2007
Go Bags
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:27 PM * 339 comments

A correspondent writes:

Dear James,

I read Making Light regularly, and I've always enjoyed your blog posts about emergency preparedness.  In light of the devastating wildfires in California, I'm interested if you'd be willing do another one that tells people exactly what they need to grab in the ten minutes they have to get out of the house.  For example, I've recently been reading the FEMA website, and while their emergency lists sound reasonable, I've figured out that there's no way I could possibly carry as many items as they list (I'd be dying from the weight of the bottles of water alone), and get myself and my cat and my husband out of the house in ten minutes.

How do you go about paring down the emergency lists so that they're not only portable, but something you can grab in about two seconds?  I can only imagine that this problem will get worse when we have children, because that will multiply the number of things and people we need to get out of the door, pronto.

Any advice you could write in a blog post would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks in advance.

Your wish is my command, my friend. (I’d already been considering doing such a post for my personal first aid kit, and shall do so one day. For right now, I’m going to take and comment on each item in a couple of appropriate “go bags” I have inventoried on my Emergency Kits page. Those “Jump Kits” or “Go Bags” are things you keep by your front door, or in the bottom drawer of your office desk, for the moment when the cop or firefighter pounds on the door and yells “Get out, now!” (Also handy for when the power goes out and you have to make it home without subways or trolleys.)

Without further ado:

Urban bag

If you’re just going away for a little while, or you only need to get home from the office, and you’re in a built-up area, this has the supplies you need. If you can grab nothing else, grab this one. If you only have ten seconds, grab this one.

(Along with what’s in your pockets. I assume some pocket change, subway tokens, a pocket knife, ID, and so on.)

In a waist pouch
Sometimes called a fanny pack (and for our Brit friends, no, that’s not what it sounds like). The idea here is something small, neat, compact, that will stay with you in the press of a crowd, and that doesn’t require the use of your hands.
one AA flashlight
What the Brits call an “electric torch.” AA is a battery size. The smallest, lightest one you can find. Consider one with LED lights in it, because those don’t run down their batteries as fast. In a general urban emergency, power may be one of the first things to go, or the lack of power may be the emergency. Light will get you out of tunnels, through hallways, or allow you to signal at night. Light extends your active period.
one AA transistor radio
You’ll want to hear emergency announcements and instructions, so you’ll know what’s happening, and where to go to find help. The good guys should be putting out the word. You need a way to get that word. Radios are cheap, light, and work under a remarkable number of harsh conditions.
one spare pack of AA batteries
If you rely on battery-operated devices I promise you that the batteries will die at the most inopportune time possible. Have the radio and the flashlight work off the same kind of batteries. When you need fresh batteries for your normal household devices (remote controls, toys, clocks, etc.) take the batteries from the radio or flashlight in your kit. Replace the batteries in the radio and flashlight from the spare pack in your kit. Replace the spare pack with a fresh spare pack from the store. That way the freshest batteries in the house will be the repacement battery pack in your jump kit.
one pack moleskin
This is a thick adhesive-backed cotton felt used to protect against blisters. In an emergency situation you live as long as your feet do. With normal transit disrupted you can expect to do some walking. If you aren’t used to walking this can be a killer. Blisters on your feet can put you out of commission. How to use moleskin.
anti-chafing ointment
Particularly if you’re out of shape and overweight (but it can happen to anyone), chafing between your legs and under your arms can hit you when you’re doing a long hike. This can be cripplingly painful. Pick up some anti-chafing ointment (available at sports stores that cater to runners). Some brand names are Chafe Eez, Sportslick, and Body Glide. Bag Balm also works.
one small sharp curved scissors
These are sometimes called iris scissors or cuticle scissors. Use it for cutting the moleskin (above), or any of the thousand other things you might need a small, sharp scissors for. Trimming your nails, opening out your clothing, whatever. Just good to have.
one space blanket
If it gets cold and dark and you’re in the open, you’ll want to have this. Also good for signalling, as a wind break, and to treat for shock.
one disposable poncho
Because along with your other problems, while you’re hiking home in the blackout, it’ll probably be raining. Something small, light, disposable … because if you chose something big, heavy, and reusable you’ll probably leave it at home rather than have it with you. This also gives you a plastic sheet which, together with that pair of scissors, can let you build a solar still (fi you’re in the situation where a solar still is what you want), or anything else that a few square feet of plastic can make.
250 mL of water
Because dehydration can kill you. When you get thirsty enough, drink it all down. Don’t ration. This will make your load lighter, will help prevent blisters and chafing (both related to dehydration), and give you an empty bottle to refill next time you come to a clean water source. 250 mL is a standard size, and it’s small and light.
one whistle
As long as you can breathe, you can call for help with a whistle. If you happen to know International Morse (you mean you don’t?!) you can pass information along with a whistle (as, indeed, you can with that flashlight). At the very least, know SOS: three short, three long, three short.
$100 in ten-dollar bills
Enough for two nights in a cheap motel or an inter-state bus/train ticket. Assume that ATMs will be down or out of money, and that credit card readers will be down as well. Cash on the barrelhead is your friend. Adjust the dollar amount for common costs in your area. Ten-spots are large enough that a wad of ‘em is small and light, but small enough that there won’t be a big problem with making change if you do buy something.
$10 in quarters
The most common coin for vending machines, toll booths, and pay phones. Assume your cell phone will be down, jammed by everyone else trying to use ‘em, or you’re in an area with no cell coverage for some reason. Pay phones are your friends in an emergency. Also, if you’ve been on the road for ten hours the candy bar in the bus station at three in the morning will look mighty good, but if you don’t have coins it won’t be yours.
two disposable butane lighters
Two sources of fire are a survival standby. You may need to light candles, a kerosene lantern, or a camp stove. This is also a source of light if the flashlight dies.
one pack waterproof matches
Sometimes called “lifeboat matches.” Because butane lighters don’t always work.
one pre-paid phone card
Rotate this as necessary to make sure it’s fresh and usable. For those times when you don’t have quarters, or when you’re calling from another phone in someone’s house or office or such. Important rule: Let people know where you are, where you’re going, what route you’re taking, and when you expect to get there.
lists of phone numbers
Because you’ll want it know how to get hold of Aunt Kitty at three in the morning when the world is falling apart and she’s the only one you can think of who’ll always be home.
one pen
“A short pencil beats a long memory,” and you will want to write down any emergency instructions you hear on that radio.
one notepad
To write down those emergency instructions. Also, so you can leave a note on the refrigerator when you leave home in a hurry: “Fred: Gone to Aunt Kitty’s.” Make sure you put the date and time on the note.
inventory list
Because you’re going to be inventorying and repacking the kit quarterly.
consider: regional map
So that you’ll be able to figure out where you are, where you’re going, and if the radio says “Avoid Place AAA” you’ll be able to figure out where it is, or if the radio says “Your best route is via Bridge BBB” you can figure out the direction, even if it’s out of your usual travel area.
Consider: laminated photocopies of important documents (e.g. marriage license, birth certificate, social security card, first page of passport)
Because relief workers may need to know, you may be away for lots longer than you expect, and it’ll provide a handy way to identify your body if things go very wrong indeed.

Evacuation/deployment bag

If you have twenty seconds, grab this one too. If you have half-an-hour you can put this together from stuff you have in your closet. Sometime let me show you how to make a field-expedient backpack out of a pair of jeans and some cord. (Along with what’s on your back. I assume that you’re already wearing weather-appropriate clothing and well-fitting shoes.)

In a backpack:
Again, so you can operate hands-free. Pick something just big enough to carry the gear you’ll be packing. Small and light are your watchwords.
one or more changes of clothing (including shoes), underwear, socks
A spare shirt, a spare pair of pants. Undies as appropriate (consider mesh polypro: stays warm, easy to wash, dries fast, light). Good socks. Really, you’ll thank me. Good socks. The shoes can be a light pair of canvas sneakers (trainers, for our Brit friends), or camp sandals. Once again, you live as long as your feet do. If your regular shoes get wet you’ll want to have something dry to put on.
toiletries and hygiene supplies
Toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, tampons, that sort of stuff. You know what you need.
outerwear, as appropriate to the climate and the season
A light raincoat, a light pair of gloves, a light wool hat, and a light wool sweater, should cover most of the continental US during most of the year.
Prescription and over-the-counter, as appropriate. I recommend the Three T’s: Tylenol, Tic-Tacs, and Tums. If you’re using prescription meds, I recommend rotating them like you do the batteries in your urban bag. The freshest ones are in your deployment/evacuation bag. Use the next-oldest ones. When you get a new scrip filled, put it in the bag, take out the meds that were there, and use them.
There’s a lot to be said for hard candy “jawbreakers.” You’re looking for long shelf-life, and high calories.
reading material, deck of cards, or other entertainment
Because after three days in a shelter the boredom will be the worst of it.
For note taking, as you’d expect.
To go with that pen. And, again, to leave notes for people so they’ll know that the rally point is Aunt Gertrude’s summer place on Lake Starvation.
inventory list
To make sure you haven’t forgotten anything when you pack/repack the kit.

Make a kit for every individual. Small children who can walk are capable of toting a small backpack. Babes-in-arms … there exist backpacks and chest packs for carrying the wee mite. Consider using a stroller. Diaper bags (with shoulder straps) are things of wonder and most mothers have a wide array of necessities in ‘em. For the urban bags, consider making two kits: one for home, one for office.

Once you’ve made your kit, put it on and walk for a mile or three. How does it feel?

Remember to keep your car fueled. Half-a-tank is empty. Refuel if it gets down to the mid-point. (Gas stations may run out of gas; in a power failure gas pumps won’t work.) Stay calm, think things through. It’ll turn out okay.

Inside the kits, keep things separated, organized, and dry with plastic bags (resealable Baggies come in all sizes from sandwich up to two gallons).

† Okay, here’s how to make a field expedient daypack: Take a pair of pants that has belt loops. Tie the bottom of each leg closed with your favorite constrictor knot. (I favor the Miller’s Knot, but if all you know is the Clove Hitch, a Clove Hitch it is.)

Zip and button the top of the pants. Tie the legs to the belt loops. This makes the shoulder straps for the pack. Put another cord through the belt loops. This makes a drawstring to close the pack.

There you have it: a daypack. Sufficient to allow you to carry stuff, keep your hands free, and, as an added bonus, gives you a spare pair of pants.

Copyright © 2007 by James D. Macdonald

This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

Creative Commons License
Go Bags by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Index to Medical Posts
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Exasperated with Technorati (again)
Posted by Teresa at 11:56 AM *

Over at The Whatever, John Scalzi says:

…despite record visitorship, Whatever’s Technorati ranking’s been tanking, relatively speaking: It’s at about 2,500 at the moment, which is down from a high of about 800 eighteen months ago or so (that’s right, before BaconCat). I believe Technorati’s changed its ranking formula since then, and anyway, the Whatever being more or less out of commission in August and September will work to reduce links in. I suspect switching blog software might fiddle with things as well.
I don’t think it’s Scalzi’s blog software. A month and a half ago, on September 12th, Making Light finally broke into Technorati’s “Top 1K.” It wasn’t a fluke; we got to that rank via small steady increments over a long stretch of time. A few weeks later, I checked our rank and we’d dropped to 1,750. During those same few weeks, we’d had unusually steep growth in our readership.

That’s just flaky. How is it that in late September and early October of this year, there was a swerve in weblog traffic and linking patterns sufficient to produce those results on Technorati, but the change wasn’t otherwise observed in the blogosphere?

Moreover, what kind of change in weblog reading and linking patterns would drop The Whatever from a position 200 places ahead of to one 750 places behind Making Light? The Whatever is a thoroughly established and much-linked-to weblog. More to the point, it gets a lot more traffic than we do.

However valid or invalid the previous Technorati rankings were, the new versions make no sense. Given that the same people were responsible for both sets, I have to ask: if the old stats they produced were so bad that they had to be replaced with this new system, why should I believe that the people who were responsible for maintaining the old stats know any more about what they’re doing now?

October 27, 2007
Don’t Be Confused
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:14 PM *

It’s easy to tell them apart.

Ron Paul
[Ron Paul]  [RuPaul] 

Never make that embarrassing mistake again!

Up to the minute with The Nation
Posted by Patrick at 09:37 PM * 47 comments

The Nation discovers “The New Right-Wing Smear Machine”: the shadowy world of pass-along emails breathlessly relating how Hillary Clinton snubbed the Gold Star Mothers, or how Barack Hussein! Obama is secretly a Moooooslim. As the Nation article notes,

Rumormongering and whisper campaigns are as old as politics itself (throughout Thomas Jefferson’s presidency opposition newspapers and pamphlets spread the word of his affair with Sally Hemings), but never has there been a medium as perfectly suited to the widespread anonymous diffusion of misinformation as e-mail. […] From the beginning, the vast majority of these Internet-disseminated rumors have come from the right. (Snopes lists about fifty e-mails about George W. Bush, split evenly between adulatory accounts of him saluting wounded soldiers or witnessing to a wayward teenager, and accounts of real and invented malapropisms. In contrast, every single one of the twenty-two e-mails about John Kerry is negative.) For conservatives, these e-mails neatly reinforce preconceptions, bending the facts of the world in line with their ideological framework: liberals, immigrants, hippies and celebrities are always the enemy; soldiers and conservatives, the besieged heroes. The stories of the former’s perfidy and the latter’s heroism are, of course, never told by the liberal media. So it’s left to the conservative underground to get the truth out.
Of course, Teresa, and Making Light’s commentariat, were on this story three and a half years ago. So was Buzzflash, but they missed Teresa’s main point: that someone who knew enough history to write that letter also knew that they were lying. Also, Making Light’s commenters researched the letter further: they didn’t just refute its claims, they also investigated the assertion that it was originally a letter-to-the-editor in a Durham newspaper, and proved that it wasn’t.

Will Teresa and/or Making Light’s commenters get funded by the vast left-wing media conspiracy to do more useful work of this sort? Ha bloody ha, I’ll believe that when Steve Gilliard rises from the dead.

UPDATE: As bellatrys points out in the comments, your one-stop shop for everything you ever wanted to know about right-wing email passalongs is My Right-Wing Dad.

October 26, 2007
Nothing’s changed at FEMA
Posted by Teresa at 05:31 PM *

As I pointed out here a while back, in a comment to Lis, Bush & Co. have always treated FEMA like a branch of public relations:

I’ll bet you already know that FEMA jobs were handed out to a lot of the guys who participated in attacks on vote recounts in Florida in 2000. I’ll bet you also know that Bush & Co. have always regarded FEMA as an arm of their PR operation. When Florida was repeatedly hit by hurricanes during the run-up to the last presidential election, FEMA agents got there practically before the hurricane hit. They empowered people to act for them on an extremely casual basis, and pretty much ladled money out over the heads of the hurricane victims. (Also non-victims: FEMA paid for a good many funerals of people who weren’t killed by hurricane; and by more than one report, it was enough to take your banged-up car in and claim it was damaged in the hurricane to get it repaired on the federal dime.)

The difference between FEMA’s behavior in Florida before the election, and in Louisiana after it, was so striking that I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention. Of course, the difference between FEMA’s behavior in Florida before the election, and in Florida after it, has also been worthy of comment.

There’s the thing I wish red-state diehards would notice: It could have been them. FEMA’s being run by members of the buccaneer’s crew, they don’t know what they’re doing, and now that George doesn’t need our votes, the only thing they’re interested in is giving out lucrative contracts to friends of their operation.

The disaster could just as easily have been widespread forest fires in Idaho, or another New Madrid-type earthquake in the Mississippi Valley, or a volcanic event along the continental Pacific Rim, or a massive brownout in the Southwest in July, or a killer ice storm in the Carolina Piedmont. FEMA would have screwed it up just as badly as they screwed up in Louisiana.

You know that cynical and untruthful line about how a conservative is just a liberal who’s been mugged? I’m hoping some newly-minted centrists will be conservatives who’ve suddenly noticed that the us-and-them line has been drawn a lot higher than they thought it would be, and that it’s well above their heads.

In case you thought FEMA had cleaned up its act:
FEMA Workers Play Role of Reporters

(10-26) 13:39 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) —

The White House scolded the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday for staging a phony news conference about assistance to victims of wildfires in southern California.

The agency—much maligned for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina over two years ago—arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of independent reporters Tuesday and ask questions of Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the agency’s deputy director.

The questions were predictably soft and gratuitous.

“I’m very happy with FEMA’s response,” Johnson said in reply to one query from an agency employee.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was not appropriate that the questions were posed by agency staffers instead of reporters. FEMA was responsible for the “error in judgment,” she said, adding that the White House did not know about it beforehand and did not condone it.

“FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California,” Perino said. “It’s not something I would have condoned. And they—I’m sure—will not do it again.”

The point isn’t that they won’t do it again; it’s the attitude that led them to do it at all.
She said the agency was just trying to provide information to the public, through the press, because there were so many questions.

“I don’t think that there was any mal-intent,” Perino said “It was just a bad way to handle it, and they know that.”

FEMA gave real reporters only 15 minutes notice about Tuesday’s news conference . But because there was so little advance notice, the agency made available an 800 number so reporters could call in. And many did, although it was a listen-only arrangement.

Could they make it clearer that they still think they’re doing public relations? They’re like the old Brezhnevite Soviet Union, only much less competent.

Book ‘Em
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:08 PM * 27 comments

Where Doyle and I will be tomorrow: Lebanon, New Hampshire, for the second annual “Book ‘Em” event held in the Northeast. This is a literacy program sponsored by (originally) the Waynesboro, Virginia, police department, and taken up by the Lebanon, New Hampshire, police department. Their webpage neglects to tell you the hours: It’s 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

What this is all about: the police in Waynesboro, Virginia, noticed that there’s a high correlation between illiteracy and crime, so they decided to fund literacy programs. To raise the money, they set up a book fair, relying in the generosity of local authors. That’s been going on for some years now. And it’s spread to our area.

We went to the first one last year. It was a mixture of small convention and book fair, with the usual bumps that you’d expect in a first-time effort. James Patrick Kelly, Doyle, and I had a panel on Writing Science Fiction, with an entire two people in the audience. (This was partly due, I think, to the lack of a printed or posted panel schedule). I’m pretty sure there were other panels, but darned if I know what they were.

There wasn’t assigned seating, but the book fair portion split out naturally. The publishers grabbed the tables along one wall, the regularly-published authors migrated to another wall, and the self-published authors took the third wall in the high school gym.

The school gym, in addition to having authors and books and a local radio station broadcasting live from the scene, had a bunch of firefighters, EMTs, and cops, many of whom I knew from other venues. Lebanon is the site of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the parent hospital for our little local hospital. It’s where we take the folks we can’t fix up locally.

Doyle and I took a couple of boxes of freebie Authors Copies with us. The way the deal went: people who want books come up to your table, get one, get it autographed (if they want), then go buy it from the nice lady with a cash register over near the door.

Last year it rained like a dog, all day, but there was a decent turnout. This year, rain forecast again.

Long-time Making Light readers will recall when Lebanon, NH, showed up before: it was in Diners in New England. One of my favorite truck stops is pretty-much across the street from the high school. (The Fort@18, 151 Heater Rd.) The high school is on Evans Road. Come out of Evans Road, hang a left on Rt 120, then an immediate right on Heater Road. The Fort is on the right, behind a gas station. I’m definitely getting breakfast there, and perhaps supper as well. (The nice organizers provide lunch sandwiches for the author/guests.)

When you come to Lebanon, if you’re making a day of it, you might consider making a detour over to Warren, New Hampshire. Other towns have Civil War cannons on their courthouse lawns. Warren has a Jupiter C rocket.

Closer in (a ten minute drive from Lebanon), there’s a camera obscura in the Montshire Museum of Science (so called because it’s on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire), The Montshire Museum is a perennial field-trip favorite for Colebrook schoolkids.

Nearby (in White River Junction, Vermont, a no-kidding five-minute drive up I-89 from Lebanon) is the Main Street Museum. Where else can you see a mink-in-a-bottle and Elvis Presley’s gallstones?

This is also the last weekend for the Rails Vermont fall foliage trips leaving from White River Junction.

White River Junction is otherwise famous as the place where Lillian Gish got frostbite while filming Way Down East for D. W. Griffith. But I digress.

If you wanted autographs for your Doyle and Macdonald books (I know y’all have bought the Whole Set), this is your opportunity. Come to the Book ‘Em event.

October 25, 2007
Doing what we do best
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:21 PM * 149 comments

Patrick just linked to Cory Doctorow’s short story in Forbes, “Other People’s Money”. It’s a good story, with a counter-intuitive financial moral, but that’s not what I’m blogging about. I’m blogging about what popped into my head while reading these lines:

After Bubble 2.0, I took my best coders, our CFO, and a dozen of our users and did a little health-care startup, brokering carbon-neutral medical travel plans to Fortune 500s. Today that sounds like old hat, but back then, it was sexy. No one seriously believed that we could get out from under the HMOs, but between Virgin’s cheap bulk-ticket sales and the stellar medical deals in Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba, it was the only cost-effective way.

Not once the Dep’t of Homeland Security gets done with the airline industry, it won’t be. If large enough numbers of Americans start flying to South America to look for cheap health care, that’ll reduce the demand for health insurance. The health insurance industry will pull some strings, and air travel will become more difficult for people traveling for medical purposes. Same goes for any other threat to large corporate interests that involves lots of air travel.

Not that this is entirely new. This is why customs agencies place limits on how much of some things you can carry across national borders. But HomSec has the ability to harass any traveller for reasons they don’t even have to disclose. That kind of power doesn’t go unused.

October 23, 2007
Have you ever wondered…
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:34 PM *

October 22, 2007
Open thread 94
Posted by Patrick at 06:49 PM *

Crooked Still perform the classic earworm “New Railroad.” Bluegrass needs more cellos!

Rainbows in the Rings of Saturn
Posted by Teresa at 05:45 PM * 67 comments

Rainbows in the Rings

As seen from Cassini. To quote Tim Kyger, who sent me the photo, that’s “one hell of a big diffraction grating at work.”

This Is Who We Are
Posted by Patrick at 01:00 PM *

Jonathan Schwarz, “We Can Only Keep America Safe By Coercing Tons Of False Confessions And Then Lying About It.”

Read it, follow all the links (it’s just a few).

This is who we are: torturers, thugs, and the accomplices of worse torturers and thugs. Nor will this change after 2008.

It’s a nice day, if you ignore the screaming.

October 20, 2007
Making Us Safer Every Day, Pt. II
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:03 PM *

Homeland Security has allegedly confiscated a hard-drive full of indie-pop music files.

Death Cab For Cutie Guitarist Baffled By Homeland Security’s Seizure Of His Album

When Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla woke up on Monday, his “To Do” list probably read something like this:

1. Call MTV News to discuss upcoming, long-delayed solo record.
2. Call U.S. Department of Homeland Security to discuss seizure of hard drive containing said long-delayed solo record.
3. Head into town for weekly tuque fitting.

Yes, it seems that recently, Walla’s solo record (which has been scheduled to come out at various points over the past, well, four years) took another step toward oblivion when the master hard drive — containing all song files — was confiscated by Homeland Security at the Canadian border, for reasons not abundantly clear, and sent to the department’s computer-forensics division for further inspection.

So, either Homeland Security has officially gone completely nuts, or Chris Walla has come up with the best version of The Dog Ate My Homework evah.

What’s customs even doing looking at hard drives, anyway?

“It’s a true story. Barsuk [Records, which is putting out the record] had hired a courier — who does international stuff all the time and who they had used before — to bring [the album] back from Canada, where I was working on it. And he got to the border and he had all his paperwork and it was all cool, only they turned him away, and they confiscated the drive and gave it to the computer-forensics division of our Homeland Security-type people,” sighed Walla, who has produced nearly all Death Cab’s output, as well as records by the Decemberists, Hot Hot Heat, Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara and others. “And now I couldn’t even venture a guess as to where it is, or what it’s doing there. I mean, I can’t just call their customer-service center and ask about my drive. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t know if we can hire an attorney … is there a black-hole attorney? You can’t take a black hole to court.”

Out of the Broom Closet, Endlessly Rocking
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:10 AM *

Dumbledore was gay.

Rowling says so, and she’s the only one who would know for sure. The love of his life was Gellert Grindelwald.

From BBC:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has revealed a big secret about Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s past - he was in love with another wizard.

During her American book tour JK was asked if Dumbledore found true love.

“Dumbledore is gay,” she replied, before adding that he’d fallen in love with his rival Gellert Grindelwald.

But she said Dumbledore was “terribly let down” when Grindelward became more interested in the dark arts than good, and so he went on to destroy him.

“That love was Dumbledore’s great tragedy,” she said.

Fans at New York’s Carnegie Hall were initially stunned into silence by the announcement, but soon started clapping and cheering.

The news should help to clear up lots of rumours about Dumbledore’s mysterious past once and for all.

October 19, 2007
The Greatest Blog Post In the History of the Universe (This Morning, Anyway)
Posted by Patrick at 07:08 AM *

Featuring, not in this order, anime opening and closing credits; the 1963 pop hit “Sukiyaki”; new business models for pop music; “piracy” on YouTube; Fullmetal Alchemist; fansubbing then and now; the author’s first SLIP account, obtained in the course of reporting on otaku in San Francisco in 1993; the Japanese band Asian Kung-Fu Generation; young Japanese women in bikinis throwing cream pies at one another while riding rocking horses; and, in Singapore, a public protest, in defiance of local law, featuring Ultraman figurines bearing signs reading “The Freedom To Download Fan Subbed Anime Is The Right of All Sentient Beings.”

Only connect!

October 18, 2007
The optimates, not as quick as they think
Posted by Patrick at 04:20 PM * 110 comments

John Scalzi reads this article about how to build traffic to your blog, and becomes exercised at entertaining length. There’s a lot in what he says that I’d love to tattoo on the eyelids of people who ask about how to use science-fiction conventions to “promote” their writing or otherwise advance their career. Here are some high points of John’s post, but R the WT.

[P]eople aren’t stupid. Look, I go to conventions and writers’ events, as most of you know. And invariably the most annoying person there is the aspiring writer or neo-pro who is simply there to network, and does so in a graspingly obvious fashion: the guy who goes from group to group, looking for the right people who will eventually let him trade up to standing in a conversational circle with, oh, let’s say, Neil Gaiman, so he can ever-so-casually drop the name of his latest book/story/whatever into Gaiman’s ear.

There’s nothing wrong with networking; there’s nothing wrong with talking about your book with Neil Gaiman (or whomever) either, should you get a chance. But it’s all in how it’s done. To repeat: People aren’t stupid. They know the difference between someone who is engaged in a conversation for the pleasure of the conversation itself, and someone who is marking time in the conversation until they can once again open their mouths and talk about them. […]

The most successful networkers don’t “network.” It’s an odious term. The most successful networkers ignore the grasping patheticness of the term altogether. Rather, they talk. They laugh. They share the moment, and enjoy other people’s company; are generous with other people and help them celebrate their successes, rather than asking to scrape up against that success so some of it might crumble off on them. It works the same online and off.

Or to put it all even more simply: Don’t look at other bloggers as people you can use. See them as people. Don’t look at other blogs place you can use. See them as places you want to be.

As it happens, I never heard of a single one of the “world’s top bloggers and social network marketers” interviewed in the post John links to. Which, granted, may mean that I’m old and out of it. Alternately, it may mean that genuine prominence (and audience reach) isn’t achieved by scrambling after scraps of other people’s notoriety.

RELATED: Stephen Fry on fame.

October 17, 2007
The Globe Finds FanFic
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:16 AM * 215 comments

In the Boston Globe:

Fan fiction has long been a part of Debra Doyle’s life.

In high school, she concocted imaginary stories spun off of the original “Star Trek” series and handed the printed pages to her friends. Then after spending several years writing for academic purposes while getting her doctorate in Old English from the University of Pennsylvania, Doyle re-engaged her creative writing muscles by returning to fan fiction. Later, when she lived in Panama with her husband, James Macdonald, while he served in the Navy, they wrote fan fiction together inspired by “Star Wars.”

“I always wanted to be a writer,” says Doyle, 54, who lives in Colebrook, N.H. “Really there wasn’t that much of a distinction when I got started with fan stuff and other stuff. It was pretty much things that I wrote.”

So for Doyle, it wasn’t surprising when she and her husband shifted from fan fiction to original short stories. By 1988 the couple’s first short story had appeared in an anthology about werewolves. Today Doyle estimates that she and Macdonald have co-written more than 20 science fiction and fantasy books for adults and young adults.

Yes, I’m that Macdonald, and Debra Doyle is my beloved wife and coauthor. Our secret shame revealed in the lede of a story in the Globe.

Actually, it’s a non-heinous article. Not a look-at-those-strange-people-aren’t-they-funny piece at all. Observe too our own Patrick, same article:

“I do think that the idea that publishers ‘troll’ fanfic sites is more myth than not,” Patrick Nielsen Hayden, a senior editor at Tor Books in New York, wrote in an e-mail, “but I will say this: If I had lots more spare time, I would.”

October 16, 2007
How To Wash Your Hands
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:23 PM * 443 comments

Flu season’s coming up.

Does everyone have their Flu Pre-Pack? That’s a list of handy things to have around the house in case of flu. Even if it isn’t the Thousands-Dead-In-The-Streets Mass Horror Pandemic Flu (which will arrive someday, maybe this year, maybe not), being ready will make things easier if you catch the flu.

Next, have you had your flu shot? Right now, in October, is the time for the really vulnerable folks to get ‘em: That’s the people who are sixty-five or older, the folks with chronic health problems (diabetes, heart disease, asthma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc.), pregnant women, children ages 6-23 months, and health-care workers (I’m getting mine at 0745 this coming Thursday). Next month, November, is the right time for the household members who live with the folks listed in the last sentence, people aged fifty to sixty-four, and everyone else. December, January, and February aren’t too late if you haven’t gotten one already, but do try to go early. Flu is nasty, it kills people, and can be prevented.

Which brings us back to the main point of this post: How to Wash Your Hands. Wash your hands before and after preparing food, after using the toilet, and any time they are grossly contaminated. (In between, use pump-action alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.) The single best way to prevent the flu is to wash your hands. But not everyone knows how to do it. Here’s how:

1) Turn on the water and get it to a temperature you like.
2) Lather up using soap. (Soap does not kill germs in the time that the germs are exposed during hand washing. There’s stuff that grows fine on a bar of soap. The surfactant action of soap helps the running water flush the germs away. That’s how it works. It’s purely mechanical. Antibacterial soap is a waste of time and money, and just helps breed antibiotic-resistant bugs.)
3) Rub your hands vigorously together, paying special attention to the fingernails, getting up onto the wrists, for as long as it takes you to sing one stanza of The Star Spangled Banner or two verses of Little Mattie Groves.
4) Rinse off the soap with the running water.
5) Dry your hands with a paper towel.
6) Use the expended paper towel to turn off the water.

As long as we’re on the subject of cleaning, when you clean a surface using bleach to kill germs, remember to use a dilute solution. One part liquid bleach in ten parts water or thereabouts. The reason for this is: Many germs will spore up if confronted with harsh poisons, but won’t if you hit them with a milder dose. Think of it this way: If it’s pouring outside you wear a raincoat, galoshes, a rain hat, and carry an umbrella, and arrive at work fairly dry. But if it’s just misting outside you may not get all geared up like that — and you’ll arrive at work soaked to the skin. So too with bugs and germs.

Go, and be cleanly. And don’t catch the flu. It really is nasty.

Copyright © 2007 by James D. Macdonald

I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. These posts are presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.

Creative Commons License
How To Wash Your Hands by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

(Attribution URL:

Index to Medical Posts
Other Flu Posts: [Update from correspondence] A commenter writes:
…it’s not quite correct, particularly in the context of flu, to say that soap does not kill “germs.” It does not kill some bacteria, but it does kill some, and for many viruses, particularly enveloped RNA viruses such as flu and HIV, soap destroys them by solubilizing their lipid- based envelope and lysing the virions.
Reference: Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings

October 13, 2007
The General Speaks
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:40 PM *

Will Congress listen?

The drumbeat of retired generals who don’t think much of Mr. Bush’s War continues.

While still on active duty, speaking disrespectfully of the Commander in Chief is a crime punishable by jail time. After they’ve retired….

LGEN Ricardo Sanchez, coalition commander, 2003/2004, (quoted at CNN):

Sanchez pointed to what he said was “neglect and incompetence at the National Security Council level” which has put the U.S. military into “an intractable situation” in Iraq.

“While the politicians espouse a rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die,” he said.

The administration, he said, has ignored messages from field commanders that warned repeatedly that “our military alone could not achieve victory” without corresponding help from the State Department.

“Our National leadership ignored the lessons of World War Two as we entered into this war and to this day continue to believe that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone,” he said.

“From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan, to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economical and military power,” he said.

Sanchez said the current strategy, which included a “surge” of troops into Iraq, was “a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people.”

“Too often, our politicians have been distracted and they have chosen loyalty to their political parties above loyalty to the Constitution because of their lust for power,” he said.

Listen up, Congress. Do your flippin’ job….

Let’s Go
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:55 PM *

Leaf peeping in the North Country. [Leaves in Color] [Leaves in Color]

This is the best year for color I’ve seen in a long time. It looks like today and tomorrow, the leaves will be at their peak up here. Photos do not … cannot … do it justice.

Here are some routes you can try:

A long loop:

  • Take your best route to I-93 north into New Hampshire.
  • Head up through Franconia Notch. Take a right just past the Notch on Rt. 3 into the White Mountain National Forest. You’ll head up through Twin Mountain, Whitefield. Lancaster.
  • Continue north to Colebrook, and head east there on Rt. 26.
  • You’ll pass through Dixville Notch (wild, rugged, really pretty).
  • At Errol, turn south on Rt. 16. You’ll be going alongside the Androscoggin River. Pretty. Watch out for moose.
  • Continue on through Berlin, Gorham, down through Pinkham Notch past Mt. Washington, Conway … and so on to Portsmouth. At Portsmouth, NH, get on I-95 and make your way home.

Or you could take a middling route:

  • As above, I-93 to Rt. 3 North.
  • At Groveton head east on 110 through Stark (a New England village that you’ve seen a Whole Lot of Times on picture postcards — yeah, it’s that village) to Berlin, then south on Rt 16.
  • Continue as above. The State Store in Conway, BTW, has odd lots, bin ends, and closeouts from the entire state system. You can find Unusual Alcohol at Very Low Prices there.
  • At Portsmouth (if you don’t care to check out the Glowing Tombstone), get on I-95 and head home.

Or take a short route:

  • Your best route to I-93 North, New Hampshire.
  • Continue north through Franconia Notch to Bethlehem.
  • At Bethlehem turn east on Rt 302. Continue on Rt. 302 east through Twin Mountain, to Crawford Notch.
  • In Bartlett look for signs for Bear Notch. Hang a right onto Bear Notch Road (Albany Road). (NOTE: Do not even think about trying this road in wintertime.)
  • Go through Bear Notch (woo! pretty!) to the Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112)
    • If you want to wimp out on Bear Notch Road, pick up Rt. 16 when it joins 302 at Glen. Continue through Conway and jump on the Kanc where it crosses 16 just south of Conway village.
  • Turn right on the Kanc to Lincoln, then get on I-93 South and home.

Today and tomorrow will be perfect, with scattered clouds and seasonable temperatures. (That is, pack a sweater and a windbreaker.) The contrast between sun and shadow really brings out the colors. We’re expecting snow tomorrow, but that should end by about 0900.

October 12, 2007
Shipping container architecture
Posted by Teresa at 10:49 PM *

This started in the NYC hurricane thread, which got to talking about emergency housing in New York. Midori said:

I recall a post-Katrina NPR interview with a fellow who studied them. It seems that after every major disaster, some architects (or arch school students) start designing “cheap, portable, easy to assemble” portable shelters. Apparently it makes for a good assignment.

The problem is, that though there are hundreds (!) of decent designs for such things, nobody makes them. Why? Basically there isn’t a manufacturing/distribution base for making them. Often because making them requires unusual (but eco friendly!) materials, or uncommon skill sets.

One proposed solution the sourcing problem was to abandon clever solutions in favor regular tradesmen and available materials. In the U.S., that means teams of ordinary builders use frame, drywall, paint, etc, the interiors of shipping containers. (Obviously a welder and a supply of cheap prefab windows would be a help.) Transportation of shipping containers is a solved problem if you can get a semi truck to your destination.

Shipping containers! I was impressed, and said so. We’re a port. We’ve got scads of shipping containers:
You could float them over on barges or container vessels. All you need then is a sturdy framework to hold them, and water, sewer, and electrical hookups. Windows would be a plus. At minimum they’d get you through the first weeks and months following the hurricane, though they’d be less congenial when the really cold weather set in.
Abi volunteered that
There are a couple of blocks of shipping containers turned into student housing not far from my office. I understand that they make quite cozy studio apartments. They are sought-after housing, in a funky area north of the Ij, a 15 minute (free) ferry ride from Centraal Station.
Looking at that led me to another student housing project. That was interesting. Were there any more? I absently typed shipping containers housing into Google.


Did you know that we have a problem with too many shipping containers? These days, the United States doesn’t export much, but it imports a lot, and it’s not economical to send the containers back empty, so the shipping containers just keep stacking up. One source said there are 700,000 abandoned containers in U.S. ports. That number has undoubtedly gone up. More and more people are looking at the things as housing components.

Bob Vila likes the idea. He did a series of videos about it.

The New York Times says it’s being done.

MSNBC says it’s being done in Florida.

Container City says it’s being done by them, they’ve got it down to a system, and they’ve got lots of good-looking examples. (More.)

Another student housing project made of containers.

A compendious site about shipping container housing, including numerous articles.

Designs and examples from a prefab building enthusiast.

An excellent collection of designs and examples from frugal leftist green architecture guy Zack Smith, who says:

This is a webpage devoted to listing as many examples of people using shipping containers as architectural elements as I can find, in an effort to embolden people to use containers in building projects, when and where doing so is feasible and appropriate. Be aware that containers are not a perfect building material, since they tend to corrode, but they have been used effectively in some cases, especially in areas near saltwater.
A brief but link-dense treatment of the subject by a treehugger.

Earth Science Australia has a detailed account (with photos) of how they put together a container shipping house in a remote spot in a Queensland rainforest, including what happened when it got hit by Cyclone Larry, Cat. 5, with local wind gusts to 283kmh.

Mother Earth News is (of course) hazily in favor of the idea, but thinks it would be better with (of course) some hay bale insulation.

Wikipedia was way ahead of me. They’re all over this one. For instance:


Empty shipping containers are commonly used as market stalls and warehouses in the countries of the former USSR.

The biggest shopping mall or organized market in Europe is made up of alleys formed by stacked containers, on 170 acres of land, between the central part of Odessa in the Ukraine and its airport. Informally named “Tolchok” and officially known as the Seventh-Kilometer Market, it has 16,000 vendors and employs 1,200 security guards and maintenance workers.

In Central Asia, the Dordoy Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, almost entirely composed of double-stacked containers, is of comparable size. It is popular with travelers coming from Kazakhstan and Russia to take advantage of the cheap prices and plethora of knock-off designers.

It also explains that shipping containers have been used as, for, or in emergency shelters, school buildings, urban homes, rural homes, large houses, apartment and office buildings, artists’ studios, sleeping rooms, stores, shopping malls, transportable factories, mobile exhibition spaces, telco hubs, bank vaults, medical clinics, radar stations, abstract art, data centers, experimental labs, and relocatable marijuana gardens

Used container dealers: W&K Container :: Chassis King :: Furbished-up containers to spec: The Mobile Storage Group :: Onsite Storage :: Sea Box :: K&K Containers :: RCS Group InterModals :: Other: (Informative. Has a widget where you specify your needs and get free local price quotes.)

Mortgage News Daily says

Could America’s record balance of payments deficit with China be the solution to low cost housing? Might it even be an unprecedented opportunity to be Green? … If that sounds like two really stupid questions, well maybe not so much.
A mortgage broker (he probably picked up the story from Mortgage News Daily) reassures us that shipping-container housing isn’t this era’s equivalent of the geodesic dome, and cites NJ architect Gregory La Vardera’s richly informative site as proof.

So anyway, it’s nice to know that if we crash our economy via trading in real estate derivatives and our atrocious trade imbalance with China, we’ll have a source of emergency low-cost housing easily to hand.

What if New York City gets socked by a category-3 hurricane?
Posted by Patrick at 09:23 AM *

Via Bruce Sterling: a Post-Disaster Housing Design Competition, sponsored by the New York City Office of Emergency Management.

Spookiest for me is the description of the made-up New York City neighborhood of “Prospect Shore”:

Prospect Shore covers roughly a mile (1.6 km) of the New York City coastline and immediate uplands. The eastern and western edges are defined by picturesque blocks of three-story single-family homes. The eastern area contains a small historic district. An elevated highway with parking underneath divides the neighborhood. Manufacturing and warehouse buildings, remnants of the neighborhood’s origins, are clustered around the highway, especially by the coast. North and west of the highway is a vibrant mixed commercial and residential area. South and east are large parks and tall apartment towers. In each distinct area, there are multiple schools, health facilities, religious structures and municipal buildings. Two subway lines give the neighborhood quick access to the rest of the city.

Like most of the city, it’s difficult to find an apartment or home in Prospect Shore. A building boom in the last five years has filled in most of the vacant lots and converted formerly industrial loft buildings into high-end residential.

Cripes, I almost feel like I live there.

October 11, 2007
Weirdly Similar….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:45 PM *

…are the opening lines of Dark Prince (Del Rey, 1993; reprinted 2007) by David Gemmell (The golden-haired child sat alone, as he usually did, and wondered whether his father would die that day….) and Of Atlantis (Roval Publishing, 2007) by Lanaia Lee (The golden-haired child sat alone, as he usually did, and wondered whether his Father would die today….).

Via and quoting from Dear Author we find a “Top Ten Tips for Plagiarists” list. The tips begin:

10. Don’t claim the dog did it. We all know that all but a very few dogs, maybe none other than Underdog, is capable of the task because they have no opposable thumbs. In fact, blaming it on any animal makes us suspect unless it is one of the gorillas studied by Dian Fossey.

9. Don’t plagairize someone famous. The more popular the author, the more likely you’re plagiarism will be caught out. Try to find someone obscure.

8. Don’t blame it on depression or physical disability, i.e., wheelchair bound stroke victims. Only because that insults wheelchair bound stroke victims everywhere.

7. Don’t set up a website and post the plagiaristic material. If it is on the web, someone is bound to find it, particularly when google indexes it.

6. Don’t do interviews. Again, the more people that hear about you, the more likely that your stealing will be sussed out. Try to rip as many people off before the gig is up.

…and continue, devastatingly and hilariously, in that vein.

“I write because I feel each person has something unique to share with the world and writing is my gift to share” says Lanaia on her web page. There we learn that Of Atlantis

…first book of a five book fantasy series, will be released this fall, watch for it! Read an except. Publisher: Roval Publishing.

Five book fantasy series? By golly! Dark Prince was the second volume of a five-book alternate history series. Coincidences never stop, do they?

Roval is a pay-to-play vanity press. “Roval Publishing is the future of publishing,” is what they say about themselves. Check for the number of linguistic markers in their bullet-list:

* Respect — We respect you as a writer always.
* Responsibility — We embrace the responsibility to bring your work to publication.
* Commitment — We are totally committed to you as an author.
* Ownership — We recognize and endorse that YOU own the work.
* Quality — We strive for a quality product that you can be proud of.

Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize in Literature
Posted by Patrick at 07:41 AM *

And I’m pretty sure this is the first time it’s been won by a one-time Guest of Honor of the World Science Fiction Convention.

October 09, 2007
Exploding Cars and Machineguns
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:32 PM * 73 comments

Yesterday, on the way back from Viable Paradise, we stopped off to see a movie. After a Barnes&Noble run, and picking up some new luggage for Doyle at Target, the very next movie showing at the new digital Cinemagic theater in Hooksett.

We got there about three. That made the next movie a tossup between The Kingdom and Feast of Love.

That means I get to choose and I chose The Kingdom (next time, in identical circumstances, it’ll have to be Feast of Love, since under the rules of The Game, I have to see the next movie showing that I haven’t already seen). After all, from the posters The Kingdom was an Exploding-Cars-And-Machineguns-Movie, and I like that genre. Even if the plot sucks, chases and explosions are inherently interesting.

Turned out that this was a standard thriller.

Spoilers below the cut

Open thread 93
Posted by Teresa at 10:04 AM *

Says Abi:

The elder dragon stirs atop his hoard
And wakens, stretching out his scaly wings,
Rejocing in the state of *having things*:
Possessions are, for him, their own reward.
He tallies up his silver and his gold,
Recalls the provenance of every gem,
But never feels the need to alter them:
He wasn’t born to make, but just to hold.
But *we* are not the same: we crave the new.
We strive to tell, to write, to sing, to build
Until the space around us is all filled
And still we carry on. It’s what we do.
So as our dragon rests his sleepy head
We humans need another open thread.

Charlie Rimmer’s socks
Posted by Teresa at 09:10 AM * 180 comments

We do ourselves the honor to hope our readers may recall a story posted here this past August: Bookstore chain puts the screws on small publishers. It featured a spirited exchange of correspondence between a bookstore-chain executive and an editor at a small but well-regarded publishing house:

A&R Whitcoulls Group, a.k.a. the Angus & Robertson bookstore chain, is Australia’s largest bookseller, with 180 bookstores and about 20% of the retail market. A&R’s owners, an outfit called Pacific Equity Partners, are thinking of taking it public.

This may or may not have been why A&R’s commercial manager, Charlie Rimmer, sent a startlingly arrogant letter to Australia’s smaller publishers and distributors, demanding a substantial payment from each by August 17 (reportedly ranging from AU$2,500 to AU$20,000) if they want A&R to keep selling their books. Among the recipients was Michael Rakusin of Tower Books …

I contributed my own analysis of their letters. The entry gave rise to a lively discussion in the comment thread, which eventually petered out in normal fashion. Then, more than a month after I posted my entry, a fellow named Chris Oliver turned up in the comment thread, bent on defending A&R Whitcoulls Group in general and Charlie Rimmer in particular. He has since spawned sockpuppets Amanda Blair and Despina, who not only post from the same Australian ISP as “Chris Oliver” and appear to all have the same information in their heads, but are privy to interesting bits of insider information like the real reason Rimmer sent his original letter to Tower Books.

I drew an obvious conclusion, and said so. Rimmer/Oliver/Blair/Despina was unfazed. Reader mcz was shocked. As I explained to mcz:

This is Internet 101. Say you’ve criticized a piece of writing. When someone you’ve never seen before shows up (1.) claiming to be a disinterested bystander, (2.) who interprets the critique as a personal attack on the author, and (3.) just wants to defend the author and the piece of writing on grounds of simple justice, and (4.) cannot shake loose of the argument, but must instead stick around to argue every point as long as points are being made … that person is always the author. Award extra points if they raise up sockpuppets to assist in the defense. Double the points if they re-post the original text in its uncritiqued form.

Message #320 was the one that convinced me. If that weren’t enough, the fact that he has neither denied his sockpuppetry nor objected to being referred to as “Charlie Rimmer” would have done it.

I can’t promise that the sequel has quite the zing of the original, but if you want to see the mind of Charlie Rimmer laid out in more detail for your perusal, go to comment 193 and read forward from there.

October 05, 2007
October 04, 2007
Posted by Avram Grumer at 09:34 PM *

Dammit, blogosphere, you’re making me write about Ann Coulter.

People are complaining that Coulter, in a recent interview with the New York Observer, fantasized about taking the vote away from women:

If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.

It also makes the point, it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it’s the party of women and ‘We’ll pay for health care and tuition and day care — and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?’

And there’s the usual noise about how no liberal could get away with advocating the disenfranchisement of a whole group, etc, etc, and nobody seems to notice what’s actually going on it that quote. The payload is in the second paragraph: “the Democratic Party […] has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it.” Translation: Oh, those Dems are so faggy and effeminate. The GOP is the manly party!

You may recognize this as a more vicious version of the framing pattern George Lakoff talks about, where conservatives are a strict father and liberals a nurturant mother. In Coulter’s version, Republicans are a strong father who can protect you from evil bearded brown people, and Democrats are limp-wristed homosexuals who hate daddy because he’s so strict, and will just surrender to the brown people.

We’ve seen this before, when Coulter called John Edwards a “faggot”. The McCain, Giuliani, and Romney campaigns all denounced her comment as inappropriate in a way that left the linkage between Edwards and homosexuality intact. The best example is the denunciation from the Romney campaign:

It was an offensive remark. Governor Romney believes all people should be treated with dignity and respect.

See? The formulaic invocation of tolerance? It’s just what he’d have said if Coulter had made some general slur against homosexuals. Romney gets to look as if he’s denouncing Coulter, while he actually subtly reinforces her slur against Edwards. There’s an evil brilliance to the tactic.

It’s not a coincidence that our current pseudo-fascism is coming along at the same time as an increase in acceptance of homosexuality. One important element of fascism is the worship of masculinity and fear/hatred of the feminine/effeminate. There was an upswell in acceptance of gays back in the 1920s; America’s first gay rights group was founded in 1924. In Germany, there was a widespread movement to decriminalize gay sex. The bigots — those who hate gays, and those who fear that they themselves might be gay — find macho posturing more attractive as they feel more anxiety about what they see as the spread of male effeminacy and the breakdown of patriarchal gender boundaries.

Exposing this sort of thing to the light is one way of fighting it, which is why I’m violating my ignore-Coulter policy.

October 01, 2007
Video links
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:00 PM * 52 comments

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