Early Morning Movie Time

Sometimes I'm a bit late to the party. In this case, we're talking about "Walk the Line," the 2005 Johnny Cash/June Carter biopic. I borrowed the DVD from my dad the other day and finally got around to watching it this morning, along with the extra material on the second disc. All I can say is that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon sold me. I think they really captured the spirit of Johnny and June. I liked the movie and I thought their musical performances were top-notch as well. Well worth watching.


What I'm Reading

I could write about what an irritating day it was at work, but we'll just take that as having been read into the record and let it go at that. The folly of unrealistic expectations on dispatch times and the reality of high volumes of mail had a ugly collision. You know what they say about "shit in one hand, wish in the other, see which one fills up first." Hint: It wasn't the "wish" hand.

I'm currently reading S.M. Stirling's "The Protector's War," which I picked up at the library on Friday. I only have if for two weeks, since it's a new book, so I'll have to read it quickly. I also got John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which is about the flu pandemic of 1918. Given all the talk about bird flu, it's a topical book. I'd spotted it at the book store a while back and put it on hold at the library. Fortunately, I got it for four weeks, so I can wait to start it until I finish the book I'm reading now.

I also recently read "Pox Americana" by Elizabeth A. Fenn, which is about the smallpox pandemic of 1775-1782. You've probably never heard anything about it, but then, there were other things happening during those years. Probably the most interesting thing in reading about smallpox was how common (and deadly) it was, and how those who'd already been exposed to it were at a distinct advantage to those who hadn't. Smallpox was endemic in Britain, and most British soldiers and sailors had already had the disease. In the colonies, however, smallpox had a tendency to crop up in epidemics spaced about twenty years apart. The previous epidemic was during the French and Indian war in the 1750s. Mortality from smallpox was very high in the Continental Army until George Washington had all of his men inoculated with the disease, which was a process that gave them a milder form of the malady. Smallpox also killed large numbers of Loyalists who fought alongside the British, including many escaped black slaves who died in appalling numbers from the disease.

I guess it shows how postmodern we are, in that we worry about dying from causes like heart disease or stroke rather than from infectious diseases. It's not that such diseases aren't a threat to us, because new ones crop up every so often, but we personally have never witnessed a pandemic that puts the whole population at risk. We don't worry about smallpox or cholera or typhus or the Black Death or tuberculosis, and certainly not about the measles or mumps. And yet, when the Spaniards came to the New World in the early 1500s, all of those diseases burned through the Indian population of the Americas like fire through dry grass. The smallpox epidemic of 1775-1782 went a long way toward depopulating North America and setting the stage for American (and Canadian) expansion to the west. It was a fascinating, morbid read.


He's Baaaaaaack!

My new computer arrived Tuesday afternoon. I'm still in the process of getting things set up properly. It's going to be a time-consuming task, I'm afraid. My new XPS 600 is a behemoth; its footprint is much larger than my old desktop computer, in all three dimensions. It's very fast, it runs "Oblivion" beautifully, and the black-and-silver case looks cool (I can change the jewel-tone color of the light on the front; the default is Sapphire blue, but there's also Ruby, Emerald, Amber, Amethyst, Topaz (a light blue) and Diamond -- Current setting is Emerald). It's all new except for my old 18" flat panel digital monitor. I really don't have room on my computer desk for a larger one anyway, and they start getting pricier when they get bigger. It does mean that I'm limited to a 1280 x 1024 screen resolution, even though my graphics card could go even higher. However, when I run "Oblivion" at 1280 x 1024 with all of the bells and whistles turned on, it looks great!

More thoughts later. Just thought I'd let you know that I'm back in business here.


Twenty-Five Years Ago Today...

I was on a flight to Philadelphia, en route to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. On the landing, we came through a thick dark layer of clouds into a steady rain. Depressing. That summed up my next six weeks. It's hard to believe that it's been that long ago, but the calendar doesn't lie.

I can't say that I have fond memories of New Jersey. Fort Dix was a rough place; even the chaplains snarled at you. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. Ironically, my military career also ended at Fort Dix, where I outprocessed on my way home from Berlin in 1989. It was much nicer being there as a sergeant than it was as a buck-private.

My memories of basic training aren't that sharp, since it isn't something I've thought much about in a long time. That's human nature, of course. We don't dwell on unpleasant experiences. Mostly, I remember that several of the guys in my platoon were screw-ups, and so we never got an off-post pass while I was there, unlike some other platoons. I never got to experience the pleasures of fabled Wrightstown, alas. The worst screw-up was a guy from Panama named Laguna, who spent a lot of time pumping out pushups while saying, "One drill saryen', two drill saryen', three drill saryen'..."

Anyway, today I'll raise a glass to the memory of my younger self, setting out on what seemed like a great adventure...


What I'm Reading

Since I'm currently between gaming computers, I have a lot of time to read. I didn't read yesterday, though; instead, I caught up on my sleep. I have almost finished Scott Turow's latest novel (from 2005), "Ordinary Heroes." Most of Turow's books are legal dramas that take place in courtrooms. This one, however, is more of a World War II novel, and it's a fascinating story. The big plot twist at the end didn't surprise me; I saw it coming. I won't tell you what it is here, since you might choose to read the book and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.

My next project, once I finish this book, will be to find a copy of S.M. Stirling's "The Protector's War" at the library. That book is the sequel to "Dies the Fire", and is the second book of a trilogy, with the third book due out this fall. I bought "Dies the Fire" on my birthday when I had some time to kill at a book store before meeting my dad for lunch. I saw "The Protector's War" (in hardback) and thought it looked interesting, then noted that it was a sequel. I wondered if I could find the first book, turned around and looked at the paperbacks across the aisle and lo and behold, there it was. "Dies the Fire" is an apocalyptic book with a very interesting premise: What happens to the world if electricity, internal combustion and explosives suddenly stop working, permanently? The answer is, a lot of people die, and the few survivors live in a new dark age. It was one of those books that was hard to put down. I stopped at the library last Friday to check on the sequel, but it wasn't on the shelf. However, there were about a dozen copies of Turow's book. Having read most of his other novels, that looked like an adequate substitute.


Disaster Strikes

I'm blogging from my ancient laptop computer, which I haven't used in about three years. Why? Because my desktop computer's hard drive crashed and burned yesterday. The computer doesn't even recognize it as being present. This is a very bad thing. I had seriously considered getting a new computer a few weeks back. Today, I ordered one, but it will take about ten days to two weeks for me to get it. Until then, I have this underpowered POS.

The new computer is a Dell XPS 600, with an Intel Pentium D 95o 3.4 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX 512 MB 3D graphics card, a 5.1 Dolby surround sound speaker set... You get the idea. This thing is gonna be one screamer of a gaming rig. The only thing I didn't get was a new monitor, since my old 18.1" digital flat panel was just fine. That saved me a hundred bucks, but it still set me back a pretty penny. You get what you pay for.


He's Running for WHAT?

The other day, I got an e-mail from Steve Beren, one of the guys in my Strat-O-Matic computer baseball league. He was telling the league that he might need someone to manage his games for him for a while, because he is running for Congress! He's running as the Republican candidate against a Democrat incumbent in Washington state's 7th District, which includes King County (Seattle). The incumbent, Jim McDermott, is a real loony-left liberal type, and unfortunately for Steve, Rep. McDermott probably represents the views of most of his constituents fairly accurately, since King County is only marginally more conservative than Berkeley, California. I wished him good luck, but told him that I was a bit pessimistic, since King County was the place that kept adding dead people and homeless people to the voter rolls in the Democrats' successful series of recounts that finally "elected" Christine Gregoire as Washington's governor in 2004. Yes, the dead vote in places other than Chicago!

On the off chance that any of my readers happen to reside in western Washington, here is the link to Steve's web site, so you can see his positions on the issues.

Steve Beren for Congress