30 September 2005

Obi-wan or Gandalf

Warning: Harry Potter spoiler ahead.

I've been reading the newest Harry Potter book to my kids and we're nearing the end. We were a little depressed at Dumbledore's death. After the initial attack I was sure Snape had only pretended to kill Dumbledore and had actually healed him. But it definitly seems he's dead - like Obi-Wan and not like Gandalf. I wonder how Rowling will replace Harry's protector and two most common nemeses?

We have only the last chapter to finish and we'll be anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Damn it.

14 September 2005

Romantic cruise

My wife and I decided to take a moonlight boat ride the other night after the kids were tucked in. As we were leaving our cove, I pulled up on the driver's seat so I could better see over the windshield and the whole seat pulled right out of the floor. I had just 'fixed' the seat a couple of days before, but apparently my screws didn't take. So I drove the rest of the way standing up. I prefer that anyway.

There's a small island in the lake near the northern shore where we stopped and dropped anchor. We sat for a while enjoying the night and having the lake to ourselves - there wasn't another boat to be seen. We chatted and finished our drinks and listened to the stereo. After a while we noticed that the storm we'd been watching seemed to be getting close enough that we ought to head for cover. I pulled the anchor in and went to start the motor, but it wouldn't turn over. The gas tank showed a quarter tank, but we'd had trouble with it not being too accurate. I was sure we were out of gas.

I dropped the anchor again to keep us from ending up on the rocks by the island and we considered our options. I had grabbed my cell phone as we were walking out the door so that was good., but it was late and we didn't really know anyone else who lived on the lake. After a little discussion I called our son at home and told him we wanted him to go next door and see if our neighbor would come out and tow us back in.

Naturally, he didn't want to do this, and said, "Don't you have a paddle?"

This had occurred to me, but we were a good ways from home and it's a fairly heavy boat. I said something along the lines of "A paddle?!"

Well, that was all my wife needed to hear - "That's right! We have a paddle. We'll just paddle in."


So she handed me the paddle and she grabbed one of the skis and we commenced to paddling for home. After a little practice we were making pretty good progress and had made it maybe a third of the way home when the wind came up. Of course it was blowing right in our face and all of a sudden we couldn't seem to keep the boat pointed toward home. The wind kept pushing the nose around and tired as we already were, we couldn't get it turned.

By this time the wind had pushed us to within about 50 yards of the shore, but further from home. I decided to drop anchor again while we rested for a minute and tried to come up with a new plan. I tossed the anchor toward shore and let us drift back. Looking around we saw we were right by a private neighborhood marina and thought if we could get over there we could just tie the boat up and walk home. The problem was the wind was trying to blow us past the marina toward the north shore where we'd have ended up with a MUCH longer walk around the lake.

The anchor had given me an idea, though. When I had dropped it last I had tossed it toward shore. As the boat drifted with the wind we wound up a few feet closer to the marina. I thought if I could just keep doing that we could slowly make our way in.

I grabbed the line and pulled in the slack until the boat was back over the anchor. Then I pulled the anchor up to find it covered in weeds. The wet weeds more than doubled the weight of the anchor and severely hampered my ability to do much more than just drop it in the water. I tried to swing it toward the marina, but it didn't go far and the next time I pulled it up it seemed to have attracted even more weeds. Refusing to give in, however, I tried swinging it back and forth a little before heaving it once more toward our destination.

In retrospect, standing on the nose of a moving boat swinging a 40 pound weight on a rope seems like an obviously misguided idea. I promptly found myself in the water. When my wife appeared leaning over the side of the boat - after having gotten control of her laughter - I handed her my cell phone which had, of course, been in my pocket. As I handed it to her, I noticed it was ringing - not for long, though. We found out later that it was our son calling back to check on us. When we didn't answer he just went to bed.

Our next plan was that we would tie a couple of our ropes together and I'd swim into the marina and then I could pull the boat in and we'd tie it off and walk home. I took off my already wet shirt, grabbed the end of the rope, dove in, and headed for shore.

Naturally I didn't have enough rope to make it all the way. I swam back to the boat, added a ski rope to my other rope and took another crack at it. This time I made all the way in and was able to pull the boat in - after my wife strained her back pulling the weed enveloped anchor up - and tie it to the dock.

All that was left was for us to walk home - barefoot of course - and fall into bed just as the rain started coming down. Apparently the rain gods missed a meeting as they obviously should have arrived much earlier.

I got up early the next morning, grabbed our two six-gallon gas cans, filled them up, and parked at the marina. After emptying the first one into the boat, I once again turned the ignition. No good. The starter sounded fine, but the engine wouldn't turn over.

Okay. Maybe it's the battery - although it doesn't sound like it. So I go back to the truck and head home to pick up the jump starter I bought last year when we kept running our battery down. Hooked it up to the boat battery and tried the ignition.

Nope. No go. At this point I was fuming - sure that something was Really Wrong with the boat and I was going to have to beg someone to tow us to a boat ramp so we could trailer it and take it into the shop. As I stood looking around the boat, trashed from our efforts of the previous night, I noticed a red cord laying on the ground.

Our boat has a safety feature that consists of a switch attached to a string with a clip on the other end which one is supposed to attach to one's clothing while driving the boat. I guess the idea is that if you get thrown out of the boat, the switch is pulled free and kills the engine so that the boat doesn't just keep going. Apparently, as we were moving the broken driver's seat around after we'd anchored the boat we pulled the switch loose.

I picked the cord up, reattached the switch, and turned the key.

The boat started right up.

07 September 2005

Rehnquist 5

Dave Kopel investigates the history of the term "Rehnquist Five" and finds its first use in 1988. As used most recently, the five are "Rehnquist and O'Connor, Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Thomas". So who was number five back in '88 - before Thomas was appointed in '91?

02 September 2005

Hurricane musings

I continue to be awed by the devastation in Katrina's wake. The property damage as well as the breakdown in civilization. I think we largely think of ourselves (in America and the rest of the 'civilized world') as above the barbarism that has manifest in New Orleans these last couple of days.

I know I do.

It's depressing to think we're all one big disaster away from living a third world kind of life. A life where gangs of thugs - I keep picturing cave men - wander around taking whatever they want, raping and pillaging. How quickly our social fabric shreds.

I know that's not the only story, and in reality it's really a small part of the bigger picture. The much bigger story is the one where people are digging deep to help strangers who are their brothers and sisters in this time of need. That's the big story and the one that will absolutely win out.

And yet, I can't get the other story out of my mind. It makes me wish I was a gun owner. Because when you find yourself in a jungle surrounded by vicious animals there's nothing else that's quite so effective at helping you protect your family and your property.

UPDATE (29 Sept)
I'm glad to hear that things in New Orleans were not so barbaric as they were portrayed at the time, but I'm frankly furious that better information wasn't available from the MSM - and from my trusted bloggers.

This was a situation where bloggers could only do so much. There was no power, no phones, no cells in the heart of the devastation. This was a situation where it was up to the MSM to get people in there, talk to people on the ground, and find out what was really happening. Instead they relied on 2nd, 3rd, and nth hand accounts that turned ou to be completely unreliable. It was essentially a game of post office presented as fact.

01 September 2005

Hurricane Relief

Gas prices have jumped in the last few days. That's pretty much it for how Katerina affected my life.

Others were more significantly impacted. Here's what the city of New Orleans has to look forward to:
"  First they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don't recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.
  The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody's lights come back on.
  By that time, a lot of people won't care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away — forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won't start for a year and will last for years after that.
  Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade."  (from The Washington Post)

Here's an interview with a New Orleans resident who chose to remain in town with his wife, an oncology nurse who stayed her post rather than head for higher ground.

The population of New Orleans is 1,337,726 with about 484,674 in the city proper.

And that's just New Orleans. The hurricane came ashore across the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, and into the Florida Panhandle as well.

Millions of Americans will need help for a long time.

Please do what you can.

I donated to Mercy Corps. And I'm planning to make a family project out of putting together some relief kits as described here over the weekend.

Other ideas:
Soldiers' Angels - relief effort targeted at families of servicepeople in the area.
American Red Cross
Feed the Children.
Salvation Army
Canal Street Presbyterian Church - this is church in New Orleans
Brett Favre is collecting materials to help with the clean up.

FEMA has published a list of recommended organizations here

Be aware that there are, of course, people looking to take advantage of this situation, so use a bit of caution if you're inclined to donate to other organizations. Many certainly are legitimate, but many are not.

thanks for your time,