Friday, September 30, 2005


Last week Calista had a sore throat and a cough, and this week she's given it to me. The first few days were just annoying scratchiness, but since Wednesday I've had that deep-pitched frog voice, enough so that my co-workers have been making me say things like "This is CNN" and "No, Luke. I am your father!"

Fortunately, I hadn't been coughing much. Normally, I catch one little bug and cough my lungs out all winter, sick or not. But last night it caught up with me. About 1 a.m. there was a tickle/scratch in my throat that woke me up and would not leave me be. I started coughing. I went downstairs so as not to wake up the rest of the house. The coughing fit just got worse and worse. Then I notice the splatter of red. I do a double-take, and realize I've coughed so hard and so long that I've given myself a nosebleed. A pretty convincing, sloppy, biohazard-level-3 one at that.

I don't get nosebleeds. At least, not voluntarily (I've been given them on occasion, but that's a different animal entirely). What a disgusting, messy concept. It didn't take much to clean myself up, but geeze.

Such is the excitement that fills my days and nights.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The office bookcase project continues at a (surprisingly) steady pace. The end cabinets are up, as are the shelves, and I've actually got a few books acting as placeholders. Looking in my office, the casual observer can now actually tell what's going on and taking shape. It looks like a bookcase, albeit a skeletal one.

The other week, when the heavy lumber phase kicked in, my brother looked at my work and offered the observation, "Holy crap! Are those 2x12s? What are you trying to do--stop a car from crashing through your office!?" I calmly replied that I don't do things in half measures, and that when I build a bookcase, I build it to stand the test of time. But yeah, now that you mention it, since my office is in the front of the house, stopping runaway cars is a useful secondary role for it.

So last night I'm installing the corner shelves--they are diamond-shaped, and bear more than a passing resemblance to Superman's "S" shield--and giving a combination nail/glue treatment to the little support braces that are to prevent the shelves from sagging back in the corner. I'm using 2-inch long finishing nails to anchor the supports, which is working very well going through the sheetrock into the wall studs. Except. Like the idiot I am, I utterly and completely forgot about the big "window" between the living room and my office that I covered up and converted into an alcove with shelves on the living room side. Remember that? So I'm happily nailing the supports up, and then head to the kitchen to get some iced tea (putting up shelves is thirsty work). Coming back from the kitchen, I see a vertical row of CDs--one on each shelf--dangling precipitously on the edge of falling. Puzzled, I try to push them back into place. Nothing doing. So I pull them down to see what the obstruction is, and find myself looking at the business end of more than an inch of nail sticking straight through the wall. I'd closed the window with 3/4 inch plywood, and while that's good and thick, it's not thick enough to handle 2-inch long finishing nails. With much grumbling, I removed all the affected CDs and awkwardly hammered the nails back through to whence they came, eventually replacing them--with much additional awkward effort--with suitably shorter ones.

Doesn't change the fact that I'm an idiot that manages to find incredibly creative ways to waste both time and effort.

Now Playing: Glasnots Beggar's Dance

Once more to the well

One more evolution/science/creationism-related post before my mania subsides and I move on to other obsessions. Ny next post will be different. Honest.

First, go check out the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal On-Line. They've got a great page devoted to creationism and Intelligent Design titled Creation Watch. It is, simply put, a marvelous resource of essays and articles that effectively refute the falsehoods and deceptions of ID proponents, and also a compilation of links to stories currently in the news. There's a lot of good information and interesting reading here, and I encourage folks to check it out.

The other link I want to point out is Texas Citizens for Science. TCS is something of a grass-roots effort by Texans who are trying to keep Texas from going down the dark path of Kansas. With arch-conservative Republicans holding all the statewide offices in Texas, and their fundamentalist allies clamoring for religious concessions, things don't look too rosy. Fortunately, there are enough moderate Republicans and Democrats to prevent any major lunacy from taking hold. But any Texans concerned about the future of science education in our state should sign up for the TCS mailing list to know when action will be needed.

Now Playing: New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights

The Bible as a museum guide

I wish I was making this stuff up, but I'm not:
God made dinosaurs on the sixth day of Creation, the same day he made people, according to Rusty Carter's interpretation of the Bible.

"The word 'dinosaur' was not invented back then, but in Job 38, there's two large creatures, behemoth and leviathan," said Carter, director of the Littleton-based Biblically Correct Tours, as he prepared to give his first tour of the school year.

Either or both creatures were probably dinosaurs, he said.

The thought of how many children's minds these folks are warping disturbs me to no end. You say the Earth is only 6,000 years old (give or take)? Right. Oh, yeah buddy. You've got a real firm grip on reality.

Now Playing: Istanpitta Chevrefoil

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Credit for creationism

Well, it's happened. Some Christian fundamentalists have sued the University of California for not accepting creationism as valid science credit:
LOS ANGELES The University of California is accused of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.
A group representing the state's religious schools has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming U-C admission officials have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution.

And I say to them, "More power to you!" To think that I could've skipped all those tedious science course in high school and waltzed right into Texas A&M on the strength of my Cherokee ancestry:
The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. The Indians are afraid of this.

The beauty of this is that not only does it encompass the origin and end of the world, but it also covers meteorology (New Orleans was innundated not because of Hurricane Katrina, but because one of the cardinal point cords frayed a bit), astronomy and space science, geology and ultimately biology:
When all was water, the animals were above in Gälûñ'lätï, beyond the arch; but it was very much crowded, and they were wanting more room. They wondered what was below the water, and at last Dâyuni'sï, "Beaver's Grandchild," the little Water-beetle, offered to go and see if it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but could find no firm place to rest. Then it dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the earth. It was afterward fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this.

At first the earth was flat and very soft and wet. The animals were anxious to get down, and sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but they found no place to alight and came back again to Gälûñ'lätï. At last it seemed to be time, and they sent out the Buzzard and told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father of all the buzzards we see now. He flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap and strike the ground, and wherever they struck the earth there was a valley, and where they turned up again there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.

In the event that you aren't of the fundamentalist Christian bent, and aren't entirely comfortable with the creation-by-committee approach favored by the Cherokee, don't despair! There's hope for you! Universal truth can be found via the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster:
Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I’m sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.

Some find that hard to believe, so it may be helpful to tell you a little more about our beliefs. We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power. Also, you may be surprised to hear that there are over 10 million of us, and growing. We tend to be very secretive, as many people claim our beliefs are not substantiated by observable evidence. What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this. He is of course invisible and can pass through normal matter with ease.

Man, posting all that has made me humgry. Who's up for Italian?

Now Playing: Clannad An Díolaim

God's place in science

Hmm. I've just been forwarded (via the IAFA mailing list) an interesting New York Times article regarding ongoing efforts by the Templeton Foundation to reconcile science and faith:
By financing programs like "Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest" and "The Origin of the Laws of Nature and the Existence of God," Templeton almost single-handedly sustains the modern movement to reconcile science and religion - or, as some see it, he is keeping it alive on its death bed with extraordinary means of support.

This is not about intelligent design. While the foundation assumes the existence of a deity, it rejects biblical literalism as much as it does New Age fuzziness; no "crystals and faeries," it admonishes grant seekers.

And then, later on in the article, the fun stuff begins:
This is not the God of deism, who cranked up the universe and let it run. In drafting the principles of physics he left trapdoors - what Dr. Polkinghorne calls "causal joints" - through which to intervene, placing the earth in a hospitable orbit or unleashing the cascade of mutations needed for a microbe to evolve into a man. The trick is to do this without appearing to violate his own laws.

Some theologians speculate that this happens on the subatomic level, when a particle appears to dart probabilistically, with a roll of the quantum dice. Maybe it is God doing the shuffling, and what appears to mortals as quantum indeterminacy is divine intervention in disguise.

While I generally trend toward deism, simply because I don't believe a Creator that could put forth all the effort involved in creating an entire universe would need to stoop to micro-management, nor blatantly violate the laws of creation that He specifically established, quantum indeterminacy is actually an arguement I could consider. Of course, it still preserves that unproveable ambiguity that has been the bone of contention between science and religion lo these many years (which, assuming there is a Creator, I find particularly elegant and also speaks to the Creator having a delightfully subtle sense of humor).

Given my recent preoccupation with that very issue here in recent days (as well as recent months and years) I think the article apropos.

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Monday, September 26, 2005's good enough for me!

Back in July I posted about Pope Benedict XVI's apparent hostility towards science and evolution. That even though he hasn't spoken out on the issue, his apparent tacit approval is emboldening to those arch-conservatives in the church that would remake the Vatican in Pat Robertson's image. Well, another bishop is jumping on the Creationism bandwagon:
The theory of intelligent design is a rational explanation of the origin of life based on observation and not a "religious tenet superimposed on the facts," said Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh.

The bishop discussed intelligent design and evolution in a column appearing in the Sept. 16 Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

The bishop wrote that belief in intelligent design as a conclusion of human reason goes back thousands of years to the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.

"They concluded that intelligent design has nothing to do with religious faith and everything to do with reason and science as we name them today," he wrote.

"One can easily conclude from reason alone that there is intelligent design in the universe," the bishop wrote.

Yeah, and I can conclude from reason alone that the sun, moon and stars revolve around the Earth, which is flat and the center of the universe. All I have to do is look out the window. It's common sense.

For all his theological acumen, it is obvious that Bishop Wuerl has no scientific background or training. And you know what? Neither did Plato or Aristotle. Does the Bishop really want to buttress his arguement with Aristotle, who literally set science back hundreds of years with his erroneous notions?

  • That fossils are the remains of once living organisms was understood by the Greeks (e.g. Anaximander ~610-540 BCE). Herodotus (~484-425 BCE) recognized that marine fossils found strewn around the Egyptian desert are the remains of marine organisms that lived there at a time that part of the continent was under water.

    • They recognized that fossils document evolution and that fossilized organisms occurred in environments suitable to that particular organism. These understandings virtually disappeared due to Aristotle (384-322 BCE) who claimed fossils were natural artifacts and had never been living organisms.

    • The Christian church accepted Aristotle's views, which persisted until the 18th century, despite repeated arguments by observers of natural phenomena including Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

All of this sudden hostility to the rationality of science makes the publication of a cardinal's diary describing the conclave that elected Cardinal Ratzinger to pope all the more frustrating. Ratzinger won a razor-thin election and despite claims to the contrary, has very little "mandate" to base his directives upon:
The diary of the anonymous cardinal is also significant because it shows that Ratzinger didn't garner a huge margin -- he had 84 of the 115 votes in the final ballot, seven more than the required two-thirds majority.

His two immediate predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John Paul I, are believed to have garnered 99 and 98 votes respectively, and that was when there were only 111 voting cardinals.

"It does seem that somebody wants to indicate that the conclave was a more complex process than was being depicted and that Benedict's mandate was not a slam dunk," said David Gibson, a former Vatican Radio journalist who is writing a biography of Benedict.

That we ended up with Ratzinger by the tiniest of margins is bad enough (why can't we return to the ancient tradition of papal ascent by popular acclaim of Roman citzenry?). But it's who we could've had that brings me to the verge of tears: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, from Argentina:
It's hard to question Cardinal Bergoglio's concern for the poor when he does many things to display humility. For instance, upon receiving his appointment, he instructed supporters to donate the money that they had raised for Vatican festivities. He refused to live in the Buenos Aires archbishop's palace, choosing instead a small apartment where he prepared his own dinners. He traded in a chauffeured limousine for public transportation. But, beyond his austerity, he's taken public stances on numerous political and socioeconomic issues that have plagued his native Argentina, which is still recovering from financial turmoil. In this light, perhaps it's fitting that he once presented a report on behalf of the Synod of Bishops -- a position that he described as "keeping watch" for the people.

I goggle at this man's credentials. He's humble. He's austere. He cares for the poor and isn't a Vatican insider. He's a chemist and a Jesuit, which means he not only respects science, but understands it. He isn't a liberal, as some would hope for--in many areas, he follows very closely in John Paul II's ideological footsteps. Reading descriptions of him online, he comes across as pragmatic. Perhaps most importantly, though, he didn't want the job, unlike Benedict XVI, who pretty much started campaigning for it before John Paul II breathed his last.

The man embodies the core Christian values that so many members of the church--and not just the Catholic Church, but other denominations as well--seem to regard as a nusiance at best and barely pay lip service to. I'm sure I'd disagree with much of what he would do as pope (John Paul II disappointed me a great deal, even though I still consider him one of the greatest popes of the past several centuries) but I can only hope that when the next conclave rolls around, the 68-year-old Cardinal Bergoglio is still available to assume the shoes of the Fisherman.

Now Playing: Sting Dream of the Blue Turtles

Gimme that old time religion...

Sigh. Well, that Intelligent Design trial in Pennsylvania is now under way.
Arguing that intelligent design is a religious theory, not science, Rothschild said he would show that the language in the school district’s own policy made clear its religious intent.

Dover is believed to be the first school system in the nation to require students be exposed to the intelligent-design concept, under a policy adopted by a 6-3 vote in October 2004.

It requires teachers to read a statement that says intelligent design differs from Darwin’s view and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People,” for more information.

Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism — a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation — camouflaged in scientific language, and it does not belong in a science curriculum.

Brown University professor Kenneth Miller, the first witness called by the plaintiffs, said pieces of the theory of evolution are subject to debate, such as where gender comes from, but told the court: “There is no controversy within science over the core proposition of evolutionary theory.”

On the other hand, he said, “Intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community.”

Intelligent Design, of course, is nothing more than Creationism dressed up with weasle words and intentional ambiguity in a transparent effort to inject religion into science classrooms across the country (remember when they called it "Scientific Creationism"?). Even the ID textbook of choice, Of Pandas and People, is a flailing Biblical screed with no scientific validity. It exists solely to champion Creationism, search-and-replace function notwithstanding:
Q And then if you could turn back to page 22, you explain that “Creation is the theory that various forms of life began abruptly, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands.” That’s how you defined creation, correct?

A Yes.

Q All right. And I would like to take — you to take a look at an excerpt from Pandas and People. Turn to page 99 in the excerpt I gave you.

A All right.

Q Says, “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks and wings, et cetera.”

I sincerely hope these ID Bible-thumpers get thrown out on their ears. There is absolutely no valid scientific evidence for ID or Creationism, although they they present opinion and conjecture as such. They're very, very good at equivocation. By the same token, they relentlessly attack evolution by using conflicting definitions, cite false "deficiencies" and in general deny that the (scientific) theory of evolution has any valid scientific evidence backing it up. In short, they try to hold evolution to a standard they never subject ID to. The sad thing is, that pretty much every arguement they make is false. Evolution is supported by evidence and experiment--incredibly, phenominally and undeniably supported by it. Take, for example, this chimpanzee DNA research article from The Washington Post (linked via Pharyngula):
Their analysis was just the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory: That a smidgeon of cells 3.5 billion years ago could -- through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection -- give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth.

Evolution's repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an unproven hypothesis, on par with "alternative" explanations such as Intelligent Design (ID), the proposition that life as we know it could not have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force.

It makes me sad that the ID/Creationist folks' faith is so fragile and weak that merely observing and acknowledging the miraculous intricacy of this ongoing work of Creation is enough to deny the reality of God for them. At this point, I'd normally toss in some snide and cynical observations, but geeze, the very concept of these people undermining education in this country is making me seriously depressed.

Now Playing: Sting Nothing Like the Sun

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fed Flag Warning

Huh. While levees burst in New Orleans and tornadoes pound East Texas, it looks like Rita hasn't forgotten us here in Central Texas. Her wrath is being felt, albeit in an ironic way, according to the National Weather Service:





Joy. We're already very dry here--annual rainfall is 8 inches below normal. The only positive about Rita was the possibility of getting a little rain for the parched ground. Instead, we're on fire watch. Did I mention the irony?

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling

Let's talk football

Since Rita's not coming anywhere near me anymore (although those high cloud bands are still flying across the sky above) and other folks are blogging in horror at the Houston non-evacuation gridlock more effectively than I could, I figure I'll look at something less earth-shaking: Last night's Texas A&M-Texas State football game, moved from Saturday to Thursday because of the hurricane threat.

Boy, did those Bobcats come to play. I work for Texas State, so obviously I wanted the Bobcats to have a good showing. But it's impossible for me to root against the Aggies. The outcome was about as good as I could hope. The fact that the Bobcats (an NCAA DI-AA team) only lost 44-31, and were threatening late in the 4th quarter to pull within a field goal caught a lot of people by surprise. QB Barrick Nealy even out-performed A&M's Reggie McNeil, completing 26 of 34 passes for 378 yards compared to McNeil's 13 of 24 for 317 yards. Every time the Aggies looked to break the game open, Texas State fought back, gaining confidence as the game wore on.

The circumstances of the game added up to an almost "Perfect Storm" scenario for Texas State, pardon the pun. The Bobcats were coming off a bye week, and had 11 days to prepare, whereas the Aggies were facing a quick turnaround after last week's SMU contest and worked out only four days--which were clouded with uncertainty about whether or not the game would even be played because of Hurricane Rita. Moving the game definitely hurt A&M in terms of execution and preparation. And because Highway 6 is one of the gridlocked evacuation routes from Houston, A&M officials asked that fans stay away from the game and instead watch on the hastily-arranged Fox Sports Network broadcast. The end result of that was a crowd of only 50,000 or so turning out for the game. One of the biggest the Bobcats have ever played before, sure, but nowhere near the intimidating thunder of the 75,000 previously expected. Another factor in the game was the fact that A&M took the I-AA Bobcats lightly. A&M always takes lower-division foes lightly, getting upset by the Ragin' Cajuns a decade ago and almost falling to McNeese five or so years back. Finally, Texas State coach David Bailiff--a former assistant of A&M coach Dennis Franchione--has stressed conditioning from the first day he set foot on campus. He works his team hard so they'll be ready for the 4th quarter. Because of that, his team held up well in the second half even though A&M had a huge depth advantage--a far cry from the fatigue and exhaustion that wiped out SMU a week earlier against the Aggies.

I expect there will be quite a few coaches in the Southland Conference losing sleep over the Bobcats' performance. And I'll bet there will be quite a few A&M coaches losing sleep over the Aggies' performance.

If these two teams played 10 times, A&M wins nine of those games. But last night's game was the ninth of those games, and Texas State was just a few miscues away from making it that elusive 10th.

Now Playing: Paul McCartney Off the Ground

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Gearing up for the anticlimax

Traffic coming in to San Marcos on Highway 21 today was bumper-to-bumper. Not parkinglot heavy, like I-10 out of Houston, but it was moving slow. Presumably the evacuees were breaking north to Austin or south to San Antonio once they reached I-35. Some may even have continued on through town and headed out to the Hill Country on Ranch Road 12 or the like.

I went over to Score's sports bar in New Braunfels to watch the A&M/Texas State football game (I've since come home to help watch the kids), and next to me were two guys from Friendswood, which is south of Houston. They said they'd left Friendswood at 3 p.m. the day before under mandatory evacuation, and had just reached New Braunfels in the previous hour. That's 28 hours to traverse a trip that normally takes 3 hours at most. Unbelievable. The evacuation of Houston has been bungled beyond belief--leaving the inbound highway lanes into Houston open as long as they were is mind-bogglingly stupid. Governor Perry said several times during the day that the inbound lanes had been reversed to allow outgoing traffic to use them, but by late afternoon, they were still closed off. With cars running out of gas and overheating, I'm wondering how many people are going to be caught on the open road when Rita hits?

My mother and grandmother reached us just fine, and traffic wasn't bad for them--although the Columbus to Cuero to New Braunfels trip tends to avoid all the major state highways. With Rita tracking more to the east, though, they might have stayed put and been none the worse for the wear. But with traffic as bad as it is, if they'd have waited any longer they could well have been trapped had the storm come ashore at Matagorda as initially feared. As it is, we'll enjoy a nice family visit for the weekend.

Now Playing: Texas A&M vs. Texas State

Vanguard spotted

This morning as I left home, I spotted a dome of clouds to the east, just over the horizon. The sun was climbing right above them. By the time I'd gotten to work, a 30 minute drive or so, they were overhead. A high, puffy band of clouds flung off of the outlying regions of Rita. Moving very, very fast. The sky's blue again now, but that won't last.

The projected path of the storm continues to drift eastward, and now looks to come ashore between Galveston and Sabine Pass. Good news for us. Houston and Galveston are still going to take a pounding, but now Louisiana is moving back into harm's way. Rita looks to be weakening some, or at least not getting bigger. Fingers are crossed.

Now Playing: Fighting Texas Aggie Band Recall! Step Off On Hullabaloo!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Waiting for Rita

There's a hurricane coming, one that's going to hammer Texas so hard it'll make Katrina look like a gentle spring shower. Yesterday, Rita was moving between Florida and Cuba as a tropical storm. Today she's a Category 5 monster, just nine points away from the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Sustained winds of 175 miles per hour. Already she's the third most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, Gulf or Caribbean. I'm convinced that by this time tomorrow, she'll be the largest ever recorded.

The good news, at least for me, is that her projected path has shifted north ever-so-slightly. A few days ago, Corpus Christi and Matagorda Bay were ground zero, which meant that Port Aransas would've been wiped out and by Saturday afternoon, San Antonio (and New Braunfels) would be pounded by 100-mile-per-hour winds and 12 inches or more of rain. Now it looks like we'll be on the southwest side of the storm, and likely be spared the worst of the wind and the rain. Galveston, though, appears doomed in every sense of the word. What the Great Storm of 1900 didn't destroy, Rita probably will. The predicted storm surge of 20-plus feet will breach the seawall and innundate the island. The Bishop's Palace, which survived the 1900 storm, might not make it this time. Consider this: Since that great storm, Galveston was raised 8 feet and the seawall constructed to protect it from future hurricanes. Rita is so much bigger than the storm from a century ago that these defenses will be overwhelmed. And the 1900 storm is considered the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history.

My grandmother lives in Cuero, right in the storm's path, maybe 50 miles from the coast. My mother leaving Columbus to get her tomorrow, then come here to weather the storm. Both Columbus and Cuero are expected to be pounded by hurricane-force winds and flooding rain. Some more relatives, just north of Houston in Spring, are debating whether to come here or not. One is a retiree from Germany who has never experienced a hurricane before, and is dismissing the evacuation plans as hysteria. I remember how tropical storm Allison utterly flooded Houston back in 2001, and how the relatively minor Hurricane Alicia blew out every window in Houston back in '83 and shut the city down for the better part of a week. Alicia's winds picked up gravel from rooftops and sent it flying through the streets like buckshot. No word yet on what my sister in College Station is planning on doing. College Station is right in the storm's path, and expected to feel the full force of the hurricane. But it's pretty far inland, so Rita will have weakened somewhat. A lot of people from Houston are evacuating to Aggieland.

My mom called a little while ago. Interstate 10 runs between San Antonio and Houston, and Columbusis not quite half way between the two. She reported that the traffic was bumper-to-bumper on the highway, barely inching along. The good news, obviously, is that people from Houston are taking the threat seriously and getting out ahead of the storm. The bad news is that anyone not already on the move might not be able to flee on Thursday or Friday because of the gridlock. Five million people trying to leave the city via three roads--I-10, I-45 and Highway 6--can't help but create the world's largest bottleneck.

Today's temperatures were close to 100 degrees, with crystal blue skies and only the occasional wisp of a cloud. Hard to imagine what's looming over the horizon.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Storm Front

Birthday present

Well, before Hurricane Rita blows us away, I figure I ought to share with you folks the nifty present I bought myself with the birthday money I received from relatives:

I first saw this hanging (flying?) dragon lamp about three years back at a flea market outside of Austin. It was way more than I could afford, but I fell in love with it. Kitsch? Maybe. Cheesy? Sure. But dang, if I didn't love the gothic dragon design and sculpt. So I just happened to be wandering around on eBay when I came across a very good deal for it, one that I couldn't pass up. I installed it in my office yesterday, after UPS dropped it off. I'm very happy with it (and the office bookshelf project is progressing steadily as well. I may post pictures this weekend, if we're not hammered by the weather too badly). The lamp, along with many others, is produced by ACK USA, but their website doesn't show much in the way of dragon goodies. Too bad. They really have a lot of groovy items.

Now Playing: Texas State Bobcat Marching Band Texas State Bobcat Marching Band 2003

Why does Paul Tagliabue hate San Antonio?

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has gone out of his way at every opportunity to disparage San Antonio. This is the man, remember, who moved the Saints' home opener--over the objections of the Saints' players and owner--to New Jersey, giving the Giants an extra home game this season.
Quarterback Aaron Brooks was one of several Saints players who expressed displeasure about playing their first home game in front of a hostile crowd.

To them, Monday night's foray was in all manner a road game — as much so as Sunday's more conventional road game at Minnesota will be.

Brooks' message to the NFL?

"Try not to patronize us next time," Brooks said, "traveling us to New York, saying we're playing a home game."

Tagliabue called competitive questions raised by the move "inconsequential."


At one point, (Saints coach Jim) Haslett said, he caught the stadium scoreboard flashing, "Let's go Giants."

"We never had that at home," Haslett said, wryly.

Of course, according to Tagliabue, playing at the Meadowlands is still a brilliant move, while having three games scheduled for San Antonio's Alamodome is still a wrongheaded mistake. Tagliabue continues to dismiss San Antonio as a feeble "small market" incapable of supporting the NFL, evidence to the contrary.
In an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune published Tuesday, Tagliabue rejected the idea that San Antonio's support for the displaced New Orleans Saints represents a chance for the city to prove its NFL worth. He implied San Antonio couldn't provide adequate support for an NFL team.

Responding specifically about San Antonio's qualifications, Tagliabue said the NFL has no plans to move "any teams into small markets."

Said Tagliabue: "We're going to be moving up in market size, not either down or flat."

Let's look at the facts. Tagliabue didn't want to play any Saints games in SA because he warned that only 20,000 people would show up in the 65,000-seat Alamodome. Grudgingly, the NFL (read: Tagliabue) allowed SA to host three Saints games, still warning of dire consequences. But when 50,000 tickets were sold the first day they were made available, the demand creating lines more than a quarter mile long and crashing Ticketmaster's online ordering system, Tagliabue dismissed it as a fluke, warning that SA's corporate base wouldn't support a team. When more than 200 corporate executives turned up at a hastily-called meeting by the SA Chamber of Commerce--including SBC Communications, Toyota, USAA, Washington Mutual, Valero and Clear Channel Communications (hardly international corporate lightweights)--and eagerly opened up the checkbooks, Tagliabue dismissed the response as "irrelevant."

What's with this guy? Why does he continually set disparaging standards for San Antonio, then arbitrarily change those standards when the Alamo City far exceeds them? Why does he hate San Antonio? Easy: San Antonio isn't Los Angeles.
San Antonio, Tagliabue said, was never considered as a site for the Giants game, even though this is where the Saints now train and reside. It was more important, he said, to move the game to an exciting setting and into an environment that would convince the Saints that their season can still be "meaningful."

So the game was moved to a stadium crowned with empty seats, even as ticket sales for three games here stampede toward sellouts. With hardly a fan there to support them, the Saints embarrassed themselves.

As for Tagliabue's arrogance, it's clear he intends to handle all of Tom Benson's affairs from now on — like a creature from outer space who has invaded the body of the zombie Saints owner. "Saints will play where NFL commands. Go now and obey your master."

Truth is — Tagliabue wants to loot the team for L.A, which hasn't lifted a finger to help the Saints. But, hey, Mick Jagger hangs there.

San Antonio is not trying to poach the Saints from New Orleans. The city's desperate to show that it can support an NFL team so that it can land an expansion franchise in the future, or perhaps a relocation team (not necessarily the Saints). But SA is viewed as a threat in all scenarios by Tagliabue, who wants to place an expansion franchise in Los Angeles, relocate an existing team to Los Angeles, and relocate the Saints to Los Angeles. Preferrably all three. Keep in mind that in the past decade, LA has lost not one, but two NFL teams to other cities due to indifference (Rams to St. Louis, Raiders back to Oakland). The NFL set up a dog-and-pony show expansion plan for the express purpose of creating a team for Los Angeles, but you know what? Los Angeles didn't make a sincere effort to even unwrap the gift from Tagliabue, and Houston was able to sneak it from under the Christmas tree and name the team the "Texans." Now, Tagliabue sees the Saints as a golden opportunity to move a small-market team to LA. Except that darn, pesky SA keeps jumping up and down saying "Look at me! Look at me!" much the same way as Houston successfully did a few years back. So Tagliabue goes out of his way to dismiss San Antonio at every opportunity, trying to clear the decks for LA, which hasn't so much as lifted a finger to help the Saints, or the NFL.

As for Tagliabue's dismissal of SA as a "small market," let's do some comparison, shall we? As the 8th largest city in the U.S., SA looks pretty impressive. But in terms of metropolitan area, it's only 27th or so. Not great, but still significant. In terms of television market, SA ranks only 37th on the Nielsen media market list. But, compare this to New Orleans, which ranks 43 on that list, Buffalo at 49, Jacksonville at 52 and Green Bay at 69. And San Antonio is rapidly growing, in population, corporate presence and disposable income. Add Austin into the equation--53rd largest media market with its tech-fueled wealth--and it's a no-brainer that an NFL team would prosper in South-Central Texas. The only reason to deny this is to force a team into LA. I think David Flores sums it up best:
At the risk of sounding provincial and being defensive, I think you need to rethink your perception of San Antonio. Moreover — and, again, con respeto — the way you so easily dismissed the Alamodome for Monday night's game smacks of the kind of arrogance that makes folks in these parts awfully suspicious of Yankees like you.

You know, when the owners of both the Houston Texans (Bob McNair) and the Dallas Cowboys (Jerry Jones) endorse San Antonio as being worthy and ready for an NFL team--even though San Antonio is a "secondary market" for both of them and a new team would potentially cut into their revenue--you have to sit up and take notice. And really, really question the NFL's motives.

People of New Orleans, San Antonio isn't trying to steal your team. The NFL is. Be afraid.

Now Playing: Gustav Holst The Planets

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Political test

Here's one of those online tests I stumbled upon over at Chris Roberson's. I don't do these very often, but as Chris says, this one looked interesting:

You are a

Social Liberal
(66% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(28% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

The results were curious. I'm not way off the mark, but I've always considered myself much more of a centrist than liberal. Part of that, I'm thinking, is that the test requires one to make "either-or" choices on subjects that I don't view as "yes-or-no" questions. Where economic issues are concerned, I've very, very firmly in the deficit hawk camp, which used to be the purview of the Republican party, but appears to be a philosophy shot in the head by Reagan and whose corpse was doused in gasoline and set afire by G.W. Bush. Ain't politics weird?

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

A lift for the spirits

Lookie here: Another review of Voices of Vision. This one is featured in a hardcover guide to popular fiction being published by Gale in 2006. The section it's included in is titled "What do I read next?"
The SF fan subculture has long been closely linked to professional SF writers, who have often been the subjects of interviews published since the late 1920 in both fanzines and professional magazines. Many of the early interviews were little more than puffery, but more recent interviewers usually maintain a more dispassionate stance. ....

The interviews were conducted in person, by telephone and/or by email and average about 10-15 pages, giving Blaschke room to ask follow-up questions. He appears knowledgeable, and his questions are sensible, and the answers often enlightening. The selection of writers is varied and includes writers not commonly interviewed. ....

Were I but able to convert my reviews into a batting average, I'd be a rich man, since I'm currently batting a thousand. Positive reviews are very nice indeed, but I must admit I'm floored that every single one thus far has been a thumbs up for my book. Not a rave, mind you, since it's not that easy to get worked up over an interview no matter how insightful it may be. But still. Whoulda thunk so many people would say, "Hey, that's not half bad." Certainly not me.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Monday, September 19, 2005

More suckage

Well, it looks as if I'm not going to be able to make it to FenCon in Dallas this weekend after all. Which is pretty crummy, because they've treated me exceptionally well at the other regional conventions I've seen them at. Big disappointment. Bah.

Now Playing: Nothing

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Well, that was fast

It didn't take long for "Y.V. 7650.1" to get bounced from the antho I'd submitted it to, and bounced hard. Ouch. They "will not be using this story." And, but to make sure I got the point, karma decided to send me two more rejections, one from Strange Horizons and another from Interzone. Both of these latter ones were of the "good, but not good enough" variety. Which were enough to put me in a foul and evil mood. What really sucks is that one story involved in this recent round of rejections was one that a well-known and well-published author insisted was good enough to earn a Nebula nod and the Analog reader's poll. Geeze, talk about the kiss of death. Might as well put it on the cover of Sports Illustrated...

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel Plays Live

Friday, September 16, 2005

Intense writing

The last three nights I've stayed up late--very late--working on a story. I'd learned about an anthology that this story might fit, but the deadline was yesterday. I had to work fast. Luckily for me, they accepted emailed subs.

The story in question, "Y.V. 7650.1," started off life back in 1997 as "U.V. 7650.1." It was an ambitious, semi-near-future nihilistic genetic engineering/bioterror/quasi-religious SF piece with heavy sexual overtones. I'd tried to tackle it using certain style tricks, and frankly, failed miserably. The science was beyond me, and my writing wasn't up to snuff. What's more, my protagonist was an outright repulsive character. And it was long, of course. It clocked in at 8,500 words, pretty much my average. I'd sent it out to a few markets way back when, and it bounced back so fast it made my head spin. I seriously doubt any editor read it all the way through.

But I knew the central idea had merit, and the plot structure was sound. So I filed it away, and paid it no more mind. Until this new antho came along. I wish I'd learned about it earlier, but beggars can't be choosers. So Tuesday I started the rewrite. And it was a rewrite in the most basic sense of the word--most of what I'd written before was scrapped entirely. For one thing, the tense of the story changed (yeah, I know). The protagonist was redefined drastically. Ultimately, he's still Not A Good Person, but he's now at least friendly and honest about himself, even if he does the right things for the wrong reasons. I recast some themes running through the story, abandoned some poorly-developed subplot elements and tightened the superstructure from start to finish. Amazingly enough, in the final tally the word count came out at 8,400 words. I'm astonished. That's not a huge difference--100 words is less than half a page--but this may be the first time ever that I've done a rewrite and come out with a smaller story on the other end, rather than a much larger one.
"So, what do you think she’s got?" Evelyn asked, snuggling in next to me as the familiar round, fatherly face of anchor John Stone coalesced before us. "Epilepsy, do you think? I mean, I've heard stories--"

"Ssh! I want to hear this." Something bad was going on at Metroplex. That's where Stone was, I could tell now. And the entire medical complex was cordoned off.

" idea the nature of the contagion at this time, or how it is spread, Vicki. The information we’re getting is that it is unresponsive standard anti-virals or antibiotics," Stone said. "Again, we’re getting conflicting reports of a chemical agent or biological attack, but the rumors here are flying fast and furious. We do know that as many as a dozen people may be affected, with similar cases confirmed in New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. The Metroplex medical complex is under a state of quarantine, and... What? Vicki, I think they’re moving us back, now--"

Suits. Biohazard suits moved in the background, going into the hospital. Holy shit.

" confirmation on the earlier report that Mayor Shiela Whitfield has died," Stone said. He didn't look like he wanted to be there anymore. "This is footage we accessed from Metroplex's online monitors of Mayor Whitfield's room before the link was severed from inside the hospital, in violation of the Medical Freedom of Information Act..."

I dropped the apple. It hit the foamfloor with a wet thunk. It wasn't the Mayor on the vid. It was her, but it didn't look like her. At all. Even with all the breathing tubes and monitors on and in her, I could tell. She'd changed since I'd last seen her on the New Year's broadcast. Jesus H. Christ, she'd changed.

There aren't many markets for this story, so I've got my fingers crossed that the editors looking at it now will want to give it a home. There are too many sexual elements for Asimov's or Analog to take it, I'm sure. It's unfortunate that Alice Turner is no longer fiction editor at Playboy, because this is the sort of speculative fiction she often went for. The length is also a problem, as it is in most of my work. On first read, it may seem that it takes too long for anything to actually happen, but what starts as an apparent character study actually contains a bunch of subtle plot points that aren't readily apparent until the end. I've noticed that trend in a number of my stories. Maybe my creative brain function is defective.

I'm just looking forward to going to bed at a decent hour tonight, rather than the 2 a.m. of recent days.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A conversation about music

During the drive to school this morning, Calista asked, "Dad, what's this music playing?"

"It's Pink Floyd, sweetheart. 'Wish You Were Here.'"

"Is it classical?"

"Not exactly. Why?"

"I kind of like it."

I have a very wise child.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Who Dat? Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Host Dem Saints?

In the "Be Careful What You Wish For" department, a city's collective lust and angst and inferiority complex has come to a head in the most unlikliest of circumstances. San Antonio will host three NFL games this season, splitting time with Baton Rouge as the New Orleans Saints' home field.

In football-mad Texas, this is the penultimate realization of an obsession that goes back decades. That's why the Alamodome was built nearly 15 years ago--to grab one of the NFL expansion teams that instead went to Carolina and Jacksonville. But now, with the nation watching, and the NFL looking skeptically on, San Antonio will succeed or fail on its own merits.
"For the long haul, the stakes are very high for us," said Henry Cisneros, former mayor and U.S. Housing secretary.

He said the city's short-term focus should be helping recovery efforts, but the next few months also could determine whether San Antonio would be able to sustain an NFL franchise.

"At the very least, this puts us in a class of cities to be considered for expansion or relocation in the future," Cisneros said. "But these ought to be two separate propositions. Let the long term take care of itself."

The Alamodome will host three Saints games, Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Bills (at which point Jacquandor will develop an unreasonable loating for the Alamo City when his beloved Bills go down hard), Oct. 16 against the Atlanta Falcons and Dec. 24 against the Detroit Lions. The NFL supposedly fought against having any games in San Antonio because the Powers That Be expect only meagre crowds in the 20,000 range to turn out. The perception of SA as a sleepy little Mexican tourist town with a couple of military bases persists, decades after the fact. SA is the 8th largest city in the nation--larger than Dallas, in fact--although it ranks somewhat lower when metropolitan area is considered. The economy is booming with a huge corporate influx--led by the new Toyota complex--and SA's role as a trade hub with Mexico thanks to NAFTA.
San Antonio has been home to eight teams in at least nine leagues since the mid-1960s, including the Canadian Football League and United States Football League, and hosted nine NFL exhibition games since 1949. But a regular-season NFL game never has been played in the city.

The Alamodome was built for the NFL. Like St. Petersburg's wooing of Major League Baseball, the mantra was "If you build it, they will come." Unfortunately, when the Alamodome was designed, stadium philosophy hadn't quite evolved to where it is today. The 65,000-seat dome is a wonderful place to see a football game. The sight lines are some of the best anywhere, and there's an intimacy that belies its huge size. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of an NFL team playing there is the lack of many luxury suites, which have become the bread-and-butter of profit driven teams. There are only 32 suites in the Alamodome, compared to 59 in the much-smaller SBC Center, where the NBA Spurs now play. If the stadium is ever to host an NFL team long-term, a significant remodelling project to expand the number of suites is a must.

But that doesn't mean crowds won't show. I remember when 60,000 tuned out for pre-season--pre-season--fumble-fests between the Dallas Cowboys and the long-departed Houston Oilers. The AlamoBowl has become one of the most successful of the second-tier bowl games, drawing hefty crowds. Whenever Texas A&M has played in the dome--be it the Big XII championship game, AlamoBowls or against SMU in 1994, attendance has always topped 51,000 and sold out at least twice. There are no major college football programs in the city. Cowboys fans are ubiquitous. There are high school games that draw 10,000 to the dome, and attract 5,000-plus to high school stadiums on a weekly basis. If any of the Saints three games in San Antonio draw less than 50,000--and this is without marketing or season-ticket sales, mind you--I'll be shocked. If all three games are sellouts, I wouldn't be surprised. Heck, I remember when the Oilers were regularly blacked out locally because Houston couldn't sell 55,000 tickets into the Astrodome.

There's a fine line being walked here, made all the more perilous by Saints owner Tom Benson's deep ties with San Antonio and NFL owner's longstanding ploy of threatening to move (insert team here) to SA in order to wring stadium concessions out of whatever host city they're currently negotiating with. Buck Harvey serves up the words of caution best:
You've been given some NFL games now, as well as your role.

You are a safe haven. A convenient venue. A Christmas Eve party host.

You don't really have the Saints — just a good seat for a remarkable story.

This is the way it should be. There might come a time when relocation talk is appropriate, but anyone who does it now in San Antonio has no sense of tragedy or respect.

Anyone who does it now also has no thought of how this might feel in reverse. If something awful happened to San Antonio, and the city emptied with South Texans spreading across the country, how would you react to Las Vegas or St. Louis courting the Spurs within days of the catastrophe?

You'd be angry, and you would see these people as vultures.

That's very true, and it strikes at the heart of San Antonio. Even though the Spurs are among the most-profittable NBA franchises of the last several years, the mere fact that SA is a "small market" means that every time a big-money investor starts looking to buy a team to move to whichever city you choose (Las Vegas comes to mind), the Spurs are at the top of the list.

But San Antonio's obsession with the NFL isn't specifically about a team called the Saints. It's about any team. Expansion would be preferrable, but if some other team wants to relocate--remember, San Antonio was used as leverage when the Los Angeles Rams were negotiating with St. Louis--then SA would welcome them with open arms. And, not to come across as vultures, but the Saints are included in that list. But that's little more than idle speculation. The fact of the matter is that San Antonio has three games, and it's time to put up or shut up.
"It could lead to something bigger," Mayor Phil Hardberger said. "But first we have to do our thing, and that's make sure we sell out these games."


Benson and Hardberger acknowledged the hardships of storm victims in the Gulf Coast and the circumstances that forced the Saints to move their headquarters here 11 days ago.

That said, Benson, Hardberger and other civic leaders pitched — with something close to pep-rally exuberance — the Saints' three Alamodome appearances as an opportunity to catapult San Antonio into the ranks of viable NFL markets.

"This is about three games," former Mayor Henry Cisneros said. "It ought not be judged as a lead-in to getting an NFL team. But it is an opportunity for us to show we are a bona fide NFL city."

Should the games sell out, Hardberger said, "a lot of opportunities will naturally come our way. We won't have to seek them. Performance counts."

But, Hardberger cautioned, "the opposite is also true."

"If we fall on our face," he said, "a lot of salesmanship is not going to help us."

Now Playing: The Impressions Celtic Journey

Monday, September 12, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle

I'm reading Howl's Moving Castle to Calista at bedtime now, generally a chapter a night, or less if she's really tired. Comparing it to the movie version is quite interesting. The Miyazaki film is unmistakably based on the book, with the major characters in place and, for the most part, pretty much true to their personalities. Howl is much more of a ne'er-do-well and flees responsibility at every opportunity in the book, though. The romantic subplots are more complicated and front-and-center than in the film. The ongoing war in the movie, as has widely been commented on elsewhere, is wholly a creation of Miyazaki's. The two are different in many respects, but both quite enjoyable in their own rights. It will be interesting to see how the climax of the book differs from the cinematic interpretation.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash

Friday, September 09, 2005


I'd heard that passiflora (passion vines, passion flowers) attract butterflies, and some species have evolved to eat only passiflora, as the natural cyanide in the leaves makes the caterpillars--and adult butterflies--poisonous, not to mention distasteful, to predators. I hadn't seen any butterflies around the plants until one or two showed up a month or so back. Then, abruptly (say, two weeks back) we discovered caterpillars all over a rapidly-growing sucker of the original incense vine that was climbing over the dog run fence and climbing up the side of the house. This area is shaded most of the day, which is why I suppose the butterflies chose to lay their eggs there, and rather than the main vine, which is much bigger but exposed to full sun all day. Closer examination revealed this Gulf Fritillary butterfly emerging from its pupa:

Since then, we've found close to a dozen pupas in various stages of metamorphosis. And the caterpillars have stripped the sucker vine bare. All that is left are pathetic stems--nary a leaf nor blossom to be found. The original vine still seems to be mostly free of caterpillars, despite an occasional fritillary bobbing around the yard. I've found one or two caterpillars on the p. vitifolia nearby, but they don't seem to like that species, as the leaves only suffer a few bites before the caterpillars move on. The whole process is fascinating to watch.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Were I a man of means

New Braunfels is a great place to live. I've been here for two years now, and like it more all the time. Schlitterbahn is a great deal of wet summer fun, there are two great rivers--the Comal and Guadalupe--that are perfect for tubing, and Wurstfest is my kind of festival. If you haven't noticed, there's a distinct Germanic theme running through the names of places and events here. That's because the city was founded by Prince Carl of Solms Braunfels and settled by German immigrants in 1845. The city has basked in this heritage ever since, but more often than not, it strikes me as mere lip service. Putting "Bavarian" in the name of a run-of-the-mill motel does not make it any more German. There's a lot of that kind of thing that goes around--not even window dressing, but rather a vague nod to the cultural heritage because the business can't be bothered to put any more effort into it.

If I had the funds, I'd shake that up in a big way. New Braunfels is a Germanic tourist destination? Alrighty, then I'd give the tourists a genuine Teutonic destination:

I would build the biggest beer barrel-slash-German restaurant-slash-biergarten in North America, something that would raise eyebrows and attract attention from Los Angeles to Boston. There'd be a connected gift shop filled with steins, lederhosen, cuckoo clocks and other distinctly German items not unlike those found in the late, lamented House of Tyrol catalog, or it's successor, Alpenland International.

There'd be a stage, naturally enough, to host bands, dinner theatre or other types of events. It'd be a flexible setup with a variety of potential uses. I'd also have a CD jukebox--with free selections--filled with German music. Not your stereotypical oompah "Little Fishermen" polka bands, but actual music from German that's popular now. A separate sound system would pump a little mild polka into the gift shop, but the majority of selections played in the restaurant proper would be contemporary Deutsch.

The restaurant would serve real authentic German cuisine, and I don't mean a few sausages and sauerkraut to round out the burger and fries menu. I'm talking potato dumplings, Spannferkel (roast young pig), Rote Gruetze (fruit soup)--all sorts of exciting and delicious dishes that are mostly, if not utterly, unknown in America. I've got a relative who's married to a retired German butcher, and on occasion he will treat us to some of his home-cooked recipies, and they are nothing short of stunning. This wouldn't be some make-believe food, it'd be authentic, with my own quality control operative (although I admit I would have a "blah" section of the menu, with burgers and chicken nuggets for the kids and non-adventurous sorts).

There would be a wine list, with an extensive stock of German wines. German wines have a somewhat bad reputation because of the bulk swill marketed for export, but if you know what to look for, there really are some phenominal wines available. Riesling, obviously, is the definitive German wine, be it dry or semi-dry. A good riesling is hard to beat. Of course, if you manage to get ahold of a Beerenauslese, a Trockenbeerenauslese or even the rare and coveted Eiswein, then you've got a pretty good idea of how amazing good German wines can be. And I wouldn't limit the list exclusively to German wines. I'd include some Texas vintages (after all, Dry Comal Creek is right up the road) and samples from other Germanic contries, such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary (the latter I've found to be of pretty good quality at a surprisingly low price).

The showstopper, naturally enough, would be the beer selection. Pretty much every beer available commercially from Germany would be in stock, several on tap. I'd also include Czech, Austrian, Polish, Belgian, Dutch and Swiss beers. Shiner Bock, of course, would be well represented. Also Celis, because even though they're no longer based in Austin, I still like their brews. Anyone who's eaten at Double Dave's Pizzaworks knows that they used to have a "Global Beer Expert" promotion, which rewarded patrons for sampling the mind-boggling array of imported worldly brews they had available. They haven't had that promotion for a long time, but I loved it as it gave me an excuse to sample beers I'd never have considered otherwise (Pilsner el Salvador, anyone?). I'd work out some sort of rewards program as well, keeping in mind the potential liability issues that probably ended the Double Dave's program. Ultimately, I'd like to attach a brewpub with an imported German brewmeister. The restaurant and bar is housed inside a giant keg, after all. Most brewpubs go belly-up because it's not generally a profitable buisness, but to my mind the brewpub element would be "added value" for the restaurant, rather than vice versa.

With the right location, and the right price points, I'm pretty certain this would be a runaway success. During the summer, it's almost an ironclad guarantee that every college tuber would hit the place for a beer and burger, while the place would be packed every night during Wurstfest. Travellers on I-35 would stop simply for the novelty of it. Local clubs and civic organizations would use it for meetings because of the atmosphere and unique menu. Unfortunately, it'd probably take a million bucks to do it right, and if I had that kind of money, I wouldn't have to blog about what a no-brainer idea this is.

Now Playing: Dire Straits Money for Nothing

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Phase one complete

After long stretches of non-progress interrupted by periods of intermittent work, the first goal of my office bookshelf project wrapped up yesterday. Ironically, the immediate results are outside the office. The way our house is built, there's a big, 55-inch wide open "window" between my office and the living room. Or rather, there was. That has now been completely closed off, and turned into an alcove with shelving for books, CDs and the like for the living room. I'm actually somewhat surprised that it looks like I envisioned it, that is to say, it doesn't look like crap warmed over. The wife is happy, too. From outside the office, it looks as if everything is nice, neat and finished, rather than a work in progress. That the ongoing state of construction is hidden from public view is a source of great joy for her!

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Spirit of the Incas - Andean Symphony II

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Seen it before

With all the Louisiana refugees being put up at places such as sports arenas, empty malls and Kelly U.S.A., I'm getting a distinct sense of deja vu. Not deja vu in the literal sense, though. Back in 1980, when 125,000 Cubans fled the Castro dictatorship during the Mariel Boat Lift, it seemed like the country went through much the same struggles as it tried to cope with the vast numbers of refugees. Almost all of the Cubans landed in Florida back then, but I clearly remember families staying temporarily in the elementary school gym in my hometown of Columbus, Texas, as they waited to be processed and get on with their lives. I also vaguely recall an underlying sense of hostility directed towards the immigrant Cubans, that these foriegners were an imposition and taking advantage of the U.S., that they should "go back from where they came from." Even my Hispanic classmates viewed them somewhat warily, since they "spoke Cuban" rather than the Tex-Mex Spanish of local Hispanics. So I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that folks such as Barbara Bush are already taking shots at the victims of Hurricane Katrina:
Commenting on the facilities that have been set up for the evacuees -- cots crammed side-by-side in a huge stadium where the lights never go out and the sound of sobbing children never completely ceases -- former First Lady Barbara Bush concluded that the poor people of New Orleans had lucked out.

"Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them," Mrs. Bush told American Public Media's "Marketplace" program, before returning to her multi-million dollar Houston home.

On the tape of the interview, Mrs. Bush chuckles audibly as she observes just how great things are going for families that are separated from loved ones, people who have been forced to abandon their homes and the only community where they have ever lived, and parents who are explaining to children that their pets, their toys and in some cases their friends may be lost forever. Perhaps the former first lady was amusing herself with the notion that evacuees without bread could eat cake.

Sounds to me like she feels these people deserved what they got. Maybe I should hook her up with Father Foster?

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

Christian charity

There's a priest at my church that celebrates the 9:30 mass on Sundays. That's the one we attend, since it's most convenient for us. This priest has never impressed me much, such that I have trouble recalling his name--Father John Foster. He's not the official parish priest, but one who assists the aging Monsignor O'Callaghan. He speaks in a tedious monotone, and in the past has espoused such thinly-veiled arch-conservative beliefs that I've become physically uncomfortable.

This weekend he hit a new low. Decrying the "evils" and "depravity" of the Gulf Coast, he condemned the casinos, Mardi Gras, and pretty much everything else before finishing with "It's just sad that the innocent had to suffer as well." The clear implication, of course, was that New Orleans is the modern version of Soddom and Gomorrah, and that God specifically directed the hurricane at it to punish the wicked. In other words, they deserved everything they got, and the hurricane was a good thing.

Father Foster didn't say it in so many words. Oh, no, he's too clever for that. But he excells in the ability to paint a picture with only a few dots left for the listener to connect. His meaning is clear and unmistakable. And I used to wonder why there were fallen-away Catholics...

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Balance of Power

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Austin Chronicle!

Here I am, Googling myself for the heck of it (admit it, you do it too) and what do I stumble across but a mini-review of my book by Shawn Bagdley in the Aug. 19 edition of the Austin Chronicle:
Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak by Jayme Lynn Blaschke (Bison/University of Nebraska, $14.95): Blaschke, fiction editor at RevolutionSF and Central Texas dweller, interviews the likes of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, and Gene Wolfe in this valuable and well-rounded volume.

This is very nice. Any mention I can get in the mainstream media--arty alternatives like the Chronicle in particular, since they can be picky about what they cover--is a major victory in my book.

Now Playing: Varioius Traditional Music of Scotland

Friday, September 02, 2005

Books for the victims

There are a lot of relief efforts under way for the refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Too many to list here (and that's what's taken up my workday today: Getting the word out on all the university's initiatives) but one caught my attention. It's very simple, and very modest, but could make the time somewhat more bearable for those uprooted in Houston.

Essentially, thousands of people are stuck in the Astrodome without any kind of entertainment or distractions to take their minds off their predicaments. So we can send them books. Novels, short story collections, narrative non-fiction--children's books may be of particular value in this case. If you have any unwanted books lying around, or a used bookstore nearby, you can box them up and send them to:

2700 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77098

Please mark the package as "BOOKS" or "READING MATERIALS"

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

First Darwin, now Einstein

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory:
KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Stories like this one make me smile.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here

Thursday, September 01, 2005

RevSF fiction for September

Nothing cute to report this month, no clever themes or things to brag about. Unless, of course, you count our outstanding lineup of fiction. A great mix of originals and classic reprints are on tap for September, including one of Steven Utley’s unique Silurian tales, plus a bonus essay on the subject. (Actually, I think that’s supposed to be filed under “non-fiction,” but I won’t tell if you don’t.)

RevolutionSF is the home for unique imaginative fiction.
Fiction at RevolutionSF in September will include:

Sept. 2
"Consuming Things" by Patrick Sullivan **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 9 by John Kendrick Bangs

Sept. 9
"Anayasia's Dream" by Joe Sharcoff **Classic Reprint**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 10 by John Kendrick Bangs

Sept. 16
"Human Race Against Time" by Tamara Wilhite **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 11 by John Kendrick Bangs

Sept. 23
"Alien Dreams" by Jay Lake **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 12 by John Kendrick Bangs

Sept. 30
"Silurian Tale" by Steven Utley **Classic Reprint**
"Now Accepting Bids" by Steven Utley **Original Essay**

All stories can be read at

Now Playing: Jen Hamel Fine Small Storm