• August 19, 2004 | 5:26 PM ET
Last week, I wrote about the importance of preparing for disasters. I wound up writing a full-length column on the subject over at TechCentralStation. Then I opened the latest issue of Consumer Reports and found a full-page article on disaster preparedness there.
I guess it's something in the wind, but it's not a bad idea. And because I want to be sure to keep my readers alive and in the pink, I want to encourage you one more time to take all the right steps to keep yourself and your family ready for anything. And if you want to help your community, you might think about volunteering for the Citizen Corps.
One thing that a lot of people do is buy a generator. If you're interested in that, you might want to read this article by Paul Boutin in Slate, which is full of advice. My advice, though, is to be careful: Generators can be dangerous -- someone I know lost a child to carbon monoxide poisoning because of improper generator location -- and unless you go for one of the big, expensive ones that run on diesel or natural gas (and cost as much as a small car), you'll have to store gasoline, which can be pretty dangerous, too. I agree with Boutin that generators are "not just for Y2K weirdos anymore," but they're also not for everyone. I don't own one myself, even though I like the idea of making my own electricity.
Blogger Amy Langfield has some useful suggestions -- especially the one about keeping a stash of small bills. Start reading with this post and scroll up. Spend a little while thinking about this stuff now. It just might save you some trouble later.
• August 18, 2004 | 11:58 PM ET
Arnold Schwarzenegger started it, calling California Democratic legislators "girly men" and provoking sputtering responses asserting their masculinity.
And John Kerry has been acting extra-tough for a while -- lots of war stories (some of them maybe even true), photo ops with guitars, guns, and astride Harleys, and so on. Even pro-Kerry pundits are commenting, as Joan Vennochi writes in the Boston Globe: "Clearly, 'modest hero' will not be his epitaph."
But now the problem seems to have spread to the whole Democratic party. The party that gave us Al Gore's earth tones is now the party of swaggering machismo. But it rings kind of hollow.
Beginning with the military festival at the Democratic Convention. "We are so tough!" it screamed. Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic was turned off:
Last night's sheer militarism--how else to describe the implicit, and too often explicit, insistence that veterans are morally superior to and possess better judgment than their civilian counterparts?--topped even that. Between the robotically repeated mantra "He served his country," the gauzy video, and then triple amputee Max Cleland introducing Kerry--and of course the acceptance speech itself to which Kerry "report[ed] for duty"--there was something vaguely illiberal about the whole production. But, then, that was the whole point.
Yes, it was. But it was only the beginning. This week we were treated to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin -- who had earlier endorsed Howard Dean, who skied through Vietnam (while claiming a medical exemption for a bad back) -- calling Dick Cheney a "coward" because he never served in Vietnam.
Neither did Tom Harkin -- the difference is that Harkin, on quite a few occasions, falsely claimed to have flown combat missions in Vietnam when in fact he was a ferry pilot shuttling between Japan and the Philippines.
And now, on CNN's Crossfire, we had this gem from Democratic spinmeister Paul Begala:
BEGALA: No, I like the soft cheerleader types, I like Bush.
Every gay man I know is tougher than George W. Bush, believe me.
It's some kind of bizarre testosterone meltdown. I don't know what to make of it, but it makes me wonder. The louder people talk of their manhood, the more I question why they're trying so hard. As Roger Simon observed:
"The Braggart Soldier" is one of the stock figures of ridicule in commedia dell 'arte. (I had to memorize them, alas, when John Kerry and I were at Yale.) Actually this figure goes back to Roman times, as does much of commedia, to Plautus and "the swaggering soldier." So there is nothing particularly new about Kerry in the history of military braggadocio, but it is unique, I imagine, that such a man is running for President of the United States. Do I exaggerate? Well, you decide.
Exaggerate? I think it's gone beyond Kerry to involve the whole Democratic Party. Will it help them win in November? It's hard for me to believe that it will.
• August 15, 2004 | 11:26 PM ET
FORGET THE OLYMPICS
Forget the Olympics. There's another competition going on that is likely to mean more for the future of humanity than the one going on in Athens. It's called the Ansar X-Prize competition, and I've written about it before. (You can read more about it here, and, of course, at the X Prize Web site.)
The competition seems to be heating up. Here's the latest development:
The still waters just south of Centre Island were transformed yesterday morning into Cape Canaveral North, as a Canadian entry in the $10 million (U.S.) Ansari X Prize competition carried out a splashdown test of its crew cabin. It looked like something from the early days of NASA, except the cabin was unmanned. (Oh yes. And the U.S. navy wasn't there.) Nonetheless, the test takes Canadian Arrow one small step closer to making its first manned suborbital flight before the end of the year, and to eventually carrying passengers who'll pay good coin to kiss the cheek of space.
"This is kind of like that last of six tests before you put human beings on board the vehicle," said the team's leader, Geoff Sheerin.
The other Canadian entry in the X Prize, Toronto's da Vinci Project, plans to fly Oct. 2 over Kindersley, Sask. The acknowledged front-runner, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, is set to make its first X Prize flight Sept. 29 in California.
As I said before, a lot more people remember Lindbergh's transatlantic flight than remember the 1928 Presidential election. It may well be that who wins this competition, and who follows it up, will be more important to humanity's future than who gets elected this November, too.
Meanwhile, if you're interested in something farther out, this article by Keay Davidson discusses the prospects for interstellar travel using antimatter propulsion. Star Trek? Not quite:
Howe and his colleagues have calculated that with 17 grams of antimatter -- barely enough to hold in your hand -- a robotic space probe could get to Alpha Centauri in 40 years. To get there in a decade, the rocket would need at least four times as much antimatter.
"Interstellar flight requires quantities of antiprotons that we can't even imagine producing at this point," acknowledges Howe, whose firm is largely funded by the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts. But time might change everything; he notes that in the early 1940s, there were only "micrograms of enriched uranium (for nuclear bombs) available to the world.
"At that time, if you said you'd need a ton of it, it would have seemed impossible. But nowadays, we have so many tons of it, we've quit making it."
It's easy to get wrapped up in politics. But the real changes in our world are coming from a different source.
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