"His conclusions were, and are, inclined to be bizarre." -- TNH, 1987
Way back when, in the late 70's, I picked up a new product at the store to try: Electric Fries, a frozen paste of mashed potatoes and binders, formed into a deeply ridged slab which went into one's toaster for heating and browning; one broke apart the slab along the ridgelines, and, voila!, you had "French Fries" out of your toaster.

Electric Fries ended up as one of the exhibits at The Museum of Failed Products, probably because they tasted like paste and tended to scorch badly along the high spots. Very few people ever saw them. The reason I got to try them out is because the Phoenix metro area, with a large diverse population, is one of the most popular places for manufacturers to do test-marketing for new products.

Back last year, a main-transformer fire at one of the Phoenix area's electric substations caused about a 20% loss of the city's electrical supply for several weeks. About ten days after the first fire, a second transformer, at another station, also caught fire. Residents were asked to cut back and conserve on their use of electricity.

Also last year, a break in an underground gasoline pipeline caused Phoenix to lose a third of its gasoline supply for about a week-and-a-half. There were hours-long lines at the few gas stations that still had anything in their tanks after several days; police were posted at some stations to prevent arguments and fights.

Yesterday morning, it was announced that recent heavy rains had contaminated Phoenix water treatment plants, and that Phoenix water needed to be boiled before drinking or washing dishes, etc. This is supposed to be resolved in a day or two, but in the meantime all the major stores have sold out of bottled water, etc.

And here (Fair Warning!) is where I find myself starting to reach for my tinfoil hat:

If I were running a country that had experienced a major terrorist attack several years before, I'd want to prepare for future possible attacks. I'd want to know how the public would react to a (partial) loss of electricity, a (major) loss in gasoline supplies, a (full) contamination of its water supplies.

Is Phoenix being used as a test-market for possible terrorist-attack scenarios?

This falls into the "If I were writing a story..." category, I think. For a paperback thriller, the idea of the government cutting electricity, gasoline, water supplies to a particular city, to see how the populace reacts, would be a great plot element.

But even if the (innocent) explanations for the transformer fire, the pipeline break, the treatment-plant contamination, are true, I would want the government to study how the Phoenix public reacted to and coped with the various shortages. Because someday we might have to deal with real and deliberate attacks on utilities and tranportation systems.

"I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist." -- TNH, 2003

Last Minute Addition: A letter-to-the-editor in today's Arizona Republic raised the idea that the treatment-plant contamination was the result of terrorist action. Jeez, that guy's wacko!


Like American Idol, With Knives

PBS is producing a new reality/competition show, Cooking Under Fire, which will reduce entrants to 12 finalists, who will then be pitted against each other in cooking competitions until only one remains. Open auditions in a number of cities, or audition via a 10-minute videotape. The winner gets a job as a chef in a Todd English NYC restaurant.

Premiere April 27th. Details and application forms here.


Long Day

A thirteen-hour work day is too damned much.

Following the MLK holiday, went to work Tuesday morning to find not only multiple tubs of magazines, catalogs and other flats (not unexpected), but also multiple 2-foot trays of letter-sized mail.

Since the Postal Service introduced DPS (Delivery Point Sequencing) some years ago, where most of the letter mail is now sorted by machine, only about a foot of letter mail (unmachinable for one reason or another) needs to be sorted by each carrier in the morning before taking mail out to the street for delivery.

So, besides having the (expected) larger-than-usual volume of machine-sorted mail, we also had all these trays of letters to be hand-sorted and routed for delivery, in volume I hadn't seen since before automation really got going. Which meant the time spent in the office before going to street delivery was hours longer than usual.

So I'm much later getting out to the street, and with the heavy volume, the street delivery time also keeps stretching out longer and longer. The 8-hour point, 3:00, arrives and I've only done about half the route's deliveries. I call in for assistance, only to be told none's available.

I keep going. Lunch is (finally) at 5:00, then I start deliveries on the final group of streets, usually a little less than two hours work.

At 6:30, I've still got two streets left. The sun's down, my headlights are lit, and the cabin and cargo-section lights are on so I can see the trays of mail. I head for the next-to-last street, Julie, and I see...

...another mail truck!, just turning onto Julie itself. The station managed to send some assistance after all! Yay! I've been working twelve hours at this point, and I am so glad to see some help arrive. Quickly, I pull up behind the other truck where it's stopped on Julie.

And the other truck...

makes a quick U-turn...

and drives...

the fuck...


There's only one suitable thing to say in that situation:

"VORGA! I kill you filthy, Vorga!"


It's Official: Civilization Ends

William Shatner, at the Golden Globes Awards yesterday, won an award for his acting.

Addendum, 1/18/05: Well, duh... After posting the above, I find out that Shatner actually won AN EMMY for portraying the same character LAST year (on The Practice, before Boston Legal was spun off of it).

I know, between the election and the Red Sox, there was a LOT of unlikely stuff happening in 2004, but still... how in hell did I completely miss any notice of THAT?


Think Like A Terrorist

I started to write this post in the form of two memos between employees of Terrorists-R-Us.

The first memo was from an eager, lower-level employee in the Planning Department, submitting a brainstorm to the Vice-President of the Terrorists-R-Us Operations Department. The second was the VP's response, explaining the facts of life to the over-enthusiastic youngster.

On consideration, though, I've decided to dump the first part. The "brainstorm" was a bit too good. (Not that I'm particularly worried about some terrorist surfing the Internet, stumbling across this blog, and exclaiming, "Wow! What a neat idea!" But if the US government has, as rumor opines, web-crawling software that flags phrases like "trck bmbs" and "ngrtn" appearing close together. . . well, I'd rather skip the FBI interrogation, thanks.)

But the second part, the VP's response, still merits posting:

From: J.W. Booth, VP, Operations Department, Terrorists-R-Us

To: A. Berkmann, Planning Department, Terrorists-R-Us

Dear Alex:

Thank you for your memo. But there's a reason your own department
head passed the idea over.

I can tell you're young, and eager, and want to make a mark in this
business. However, you need to realize that killing innocent
is not part of our job.

They got most of the publicity, and virtually all of the outrage. But
the thousands killed in the attacks on the WTC on 9/11 were irrelevant. They were collateral damage, pure and simple.

Our goal, what we've been hired for, is to destroy and cripple the
US economically
. The goal of the WTC attacks was, for a
relatively small cost on our part, to cost the US hundreds of billions of
dollars in primary and secondary costs from the attacks. It's worked,
spectacularly, and is still working.

We've even gotten free assistance toward our goals from the US
government, which seems totally oblivious that this is economic warfare, not
military. We couldn't do better even if we were running an inside

Your plan is spectacular and outrageous. But we're not looking
for outrage; we're looking for cost-effective.

We want ideas that will make Americans afraid to use their own national
. Not for the sake of terror itself, but because their reaction to that fear will cost them money and cripple their businesses.

We've already managed to make air travel even more hassle-prone and bothersome than before, and put most airlines into deep and continuing financial straits. In the next few years, we want to conduct operations that will make Americans afraid to drive on their own highways, afraid to ship anything by rail, and afraid to trust their own water or electrical supplies.

If you have any brainstorms along those lines, submit them to your
department head. If they're promising, they'll reach my desk

(And don't go over his head to me again. You'll be fired. Out
of a cannon.)

Sincerely, J.W. Booth

Disclaimer: Just in case there might be a "J.W. Booth" or "A. Berkmann" somewhere out in the blogosphere who might take umbrage at their names appearing as employees of "Terrorists-R-Us", be it noted that I've used the names of John Wilkes Booth and Alexander Berkmann, well-known 19th-century assassin and attempted-assassin. No resemblance to living persons is intended, blah blah blah. . . .

The Shirt

Planned Parenthood is selling an "I Had An Abortion" t-shirt on their website.

Bad move, I think. The point, says the t-shirt's designer, is to bring abortion out of the shame closet and state it as being a safe, legal medical procedure.

But the very bluntness of its wording gives anti-abortion voices the opportunity to label it as callousness. (And considerably stronger words.)

Let me propose an alternative, somewhat longer but less attackable, t-shirt message:

[ ] safe legal abortions
[ ] dangerous illegal abortions


Smart Women, Dumb Men

Here's a news story about a recent British study that found that for every sixteen-point-rise in a woman's IQ, her chances of getting married dropped by 40%.

A high IQ is a hindrance for women wanting to get married while it is an asset for men, according to a study by four British universities published in The Sunday Times newspaper.

The study found the likelihood of marriage increased by 35 percent for boys for each 16-point increase in IQ.

But for girls, there is a 40-percent drop for each 16-point rise, according to the survey by the universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The study is based on the IQs of 900 men and women between their 10th and 40th birthdays.

"Women in their late 30s who have gone for careers after the first flush of university and who are among the brightest of their generation are finding that men are just not interesting enough," said psychologist and professor at Nottingham University Paul Brown in The Sunday Times.

Claire Rayner, writer and broadcaster, said in the article that intelligent men often prefered a less brainy partner.

"A chap with a high IQ is going to get a demanding job that is going to take up a lot of his energy and time. In many ways he wants a woman who is an old-fashioned wife and looks after the home, a copy of his mum in a way."

I note that the male professor quoted above essentially puts the blame onto smart women for finding men "just not interesting enough". (Is the subtext here that smart women will turn out Lesbian, or am I reading too much into it? And what an interesting argument, that intelligence causes Lesbianism, that would be.)(Come to think of it, I'm hard-pressed to think of ever meeting any really dumb Lesbians. . . .)

Whereas the female writer quoted says that a man wants "a copy of his mum". (Ummmm... let's not get too far into that....) (And perhaps, just perhaps, I should rephrase that last sentence....)

I think the study's results, as reported, though, are flawed. It would mean that a woman with an IQ of 140 has a statistically ZERO chance of ever finding a marriage partner. And I've known some women who are probably that smart or smarter, and seem to have found satisfying mates and had happy marriages for years. (Usually, I admit, women who've found men whose intelligence is close to their own.)

But the most important factor in finding such a mate, I think, isn't intelligence by itself. Indeed, I think the article is right in that a wide disparity in intelligence between partners can be an obstacle or hindrance in starting or maintaining a relationship.

More important, by far, is the "emotional IQ" or people involved in a relationship. Pulchritude, good looks, is nice, but it's surface. Intelligence, pure brain smarts, is good, too. But the quality that I've always found most attractive in women has been... competence.

By "competence" I mean an ability to cope with life. To deal smoothly with both the day to day stresses and problems of life, and with the sudden and major disasters. To work through them, and come out the other side either unchanged or improved.

I was lucky (luckier than I deserved) and ended up with a woman high in that emotional IQ. (How lucky Hilde was, to end up with me, is *ahem* *koff koff* a discussion best left for some other time.)


No Shuck, No Jive, It's Two Thousand Five!

And how the hell did I ever end up there when I live in the present? 2005 has always been part of the future, one of those dates you only see in some of those crazy sci-fi books.

Looking back at 2004... not a bad year, for Hilde and me. Hilde's health stayed fairly stable, with no major flare-ups or surgeries. (Unusual, and welcome.) My own comprehensive checkup at the Mayo Clinic showed no major problems (though my shoulder problem might eventually require surgery if it worsens over time). We were pretty comfortable financially, and even got a few unexpected windfalls at the end of the year that let us pay off one of the credit cards. I revived my old personalzine, UNDULANT FEVER, as this weblog. And I finally started writing some fiction again, and sending the stories out to markets.

On the non-personal front... 2004 wasn't so hot. The biggie, Bush's election, of course. (I may do up a list of predictions of what I think is likely to happen over the next four years; it won't be pretty.) The tsunami disaster, and ongoing crisis, in the Indian Ocean nations. And other charming and alarming news across the nation and world.

Addendum, 1/2/05: As it turned out, after posting the above, 2005 got off to a bad start, when a slight headache turned into a BIG headache, and nausea, and vomiting, etc. I went back to bed a couple of hours after posting, and have been there until this morning. (I'm starting to feel a bit more normal.)