Rested, Ready; not really Tanned

Well, I had a pleasant holiday break; I hope everyone else did as well. Semi-normal blogging (whatever that means) should resume shortly.
As a warm up, I’ll toss out a subject that I came face-to-face with in the past month: how best to stay fully connected (with broadband access, if possible) whilst travelling.
Background: I have a laptop with a standard Ethernet card, but no WiFi. So no wardriving for me; I was just looking for places to plug in.
My first revelation: Kinkos! It turns out that Kinkos will let anybody with a laptop stroll in, hook up to one of their laptop connections, and surf the net for as long as they want. For free, no less!
I’ve tested this theory at many Kinkos, and never been hassled once. Very handy. There was only one wrinkle: for some reason, I could browse the web and receive email, but I never managed to successfully send outbound mail. The suspicion was that Kinkos or their ISP was blocking outbound mail, either for reasons of bandwidth or of avoiding becoming a base for spammers, but that’s simple speculation.
The next question was: where to stay? My criteria was simple: it had to be cheap, and if possible, it had to have broadband net access.
Turns out there is an answer: Holiday Inn Express. Of the major low-end chains, they were the only one I found that consistently offered broadband connections — or at least the only one that allowed you to specifically search on it while looking for a hotel. (Annoyingly, neither Travelocity nor Expedia allow you to specify broadband as a search criteria.)
Not all Holiday Inn Express locations have actual broadband, and even if the search engine says a location does: call and make sure (and ask pointed questions to verify that the employee actually knows what you’re asking).
As for the rooms themselves, I was quite satisfied with the location I tried: cleanliness is my only major criteria, and they passed that one just fine. Nice rooms overall.
Anyway, that’s my $0.02 on being a road warrior; I’d welcome other folks suggestions…

Merry Christmas

To all those who celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas from the staff here at TTLB (in other words, me).
And to those who don’t: have a great day anyway!
-N.Z. Bear

Hart in 2004?

Martin thinks Gary Hart might be the Democrats man for 2004.
I think he might be onto something, particularly if (like me) you believe the Democrats only chance to to run to the right of Bush on the war. He’d probably be a good choice.
On the other hand, I really, really doubt that they will run that platform. The problem is, they can find a presidential candidate to endorse it (Hart or Lieberman) but I think far too many of their rank-and-file congresscritters would oppose it.
So you’d have the bizarre spectacle of a Hart or Lieberman running on a hawkish platform while Democratic Senators and Congressmen were doing the exact opposite. Dunno… seems to me to enable that kind of hawkish Presidential run, you have to bring the rest of the party with you, and the signs of that happening (Nancy Pelosi?) seem slim…

VodkaGuy vs. DailyDude!

Yipes. Stephen is not just disagreeing with Bill, he’s Fisking him (in his own words) To be fair, Bill did start it.
‘Twould be cowardly to just link and not comment on this one, I think. I’d say Stephen wins on points; Bill is being a bit too harsh on the Bush administration, in my view (with the exception of pounding on them for pandering to the House of Saud), and his attempt to put VodkaGuy into a little box was bad form.
As I was describing to a friend the other day, the problem is this: if we have time, then the Bush strategy appears to be working brilliantly. We will eventually go to war; we will win, and we will have done so with maximal international support (which, as I’ve written, I don’t care a rat’s ass about for moral reasons, but I do find useful for cynical, pragmatic reasons).
The problem is, there’s a possibility that this extra time being given to Saddam is the time that will make a difference in his ability to strike us with chemical, biological, or yes, even nuclear weapons.
And I just don’t know if that’s the case or not; and neither does anybody else outside the intelligence community (or in it, probably). And bottom line is, that’s the only piece of information that really matters in the faster-or-slower debate… more’s the pity we don’t have it…
Update: And Bill has a reply

Star Trek: Nemesis Does Not Suck

Even more posting about spaceships and guns!
I walked into Nemesis with mixed expectations. Over at Ain’t it Cool News, the pudgy demigod that is Harry Knowles had declared it to be an unmitigated disaster. But I had seen other reviews that suggested it might be semi-decent.
So, I was hoping to at least get some nice Enterprise-porn (those lovely CGI shots) and a few hours visiting with the old friends who were the crew of 1701-D (and now -E).
But it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised: Nemesis kinda rocked.
No, not Wrath of Khan rocked; not even Undiscovered Country rocked. But probably about First Contact rocked; which puts it ahead of most of the films in the series.
I won’t bother with plot summaries; nor will I give you spoilers. But I wanted to at least toss out a positive vote: if you’re even a casual fan of the series, yes, this one is worth seeing in the theatres.
This review can also be found over at Blogcritics.

Support Joss Whedon’s “Firefly”

So a brief break from the pointless stupidity of modern politics: let’s talk about tv shows with spaceships and guns!
Joss Whedon, of Buffy fame, gave us a new vision with Firefly, and a striking vision it is. Great acting, strong writing, and a vibe to die for. It crept up on me slowly at first, but now, I’m hooked.
But unfortunately, after burying the program deep in the viewership hell that is an 8pm Friday timeslot, Fox has given up on the show.
Joss Whedon, however, has not: he is apparently hopeful that he can dock Serenity at a new home over at UPN.
So: I’d ask that all who are fans of this fine show take a visit to fireflysupport.com and start sending some postcards to UPN to urge them to pick up the show.
Thanks all!
-NZB
Thanks also to Jim Carruthers and Tim Minear for pointing me in the right direction.

Action Center: Claus of the Week?

Folks –
This week the Weblog Action Center Cause of the Week is in the holiday spirit. From Scott:
“My wife, Kim, and I have been active for the past few years in the Manhattan Post Office’s Operation Santa Claus. This is where you get a letter or two that poor kids have written to Santa and you buy and send gifts to them, signed from Santa…
The kids are simply asking for school supplies: pencils, crayons, paints, paintbrushes, and notebooks, things of that nature. Yes, some want other things, but on the whole, they just want items that will assist them in learning.”

Read Scott’s post for the whole story.
Also, note that Scott has indicated to me that they will be accepting donations through midweek, and that any remaining money will be donated to the central Post Office fund that is used to throw parties for underprivleged kids.
If you find this cause worthy, please link immediately to http://www.truthlaidbear.com/ weblogaction/archives/001596.html . (Do NOT link to this post, please).
Thanks to all!
-NZB

“And so it begins.”

Don Nickles, R-Oklahoma, speaking on ABC’s “This Week”, is looking for a new vote for majority leader:
“I am concerned that Senator Lott has been weakened to the point that may jeopardize his ability to enact our agenda and speak to all Americans…There are several outstanding senators who are more than capable of effective leadership, and I hope we have an opportunity to choose…Can he be effective? Can he campaign in places like Chicago? I don’t want to squander our ability to get things done. We only have a short window this year.”
If Nickles is comfortable making a full-frontal play for the leadership like this, it’s a sure sign that behind closed doors, the decision has been made. Lott’s out.
Quotes courtesy o’ CNN.
Update: Martin agrees.

What will you do?

Latest news:
December 11, 2002 | Cleveland (AP) — Officials from the Center for Disease Control have confirmed the seventh death in the city this week from smallpox, bringing the nationwide death toll to forty-three.
Outbreaks of the disease have now been confirmed by CDC in twelve cities: New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Austin, Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Boston. In addition, nearly every major metropolitan area in the continental U.S. is currently investigating cases of illnesses believed to be smallpox, but not yet officially confirmed.
President Bush has reiterated the nationwide travel ban enacted two days ago by executive order, federalizing the National Guard nationwide to enforce the ban…

OK, to be clear: that story isn’t real. I made it up.
But I ask you: what if it was? What would you do?
I’m not talking at the usual public-policy level where this blog generally hangs out; I’m talking at a personal level.
We’re about to enter a period of genuinely heightened risk of severe terrorist attacks. Assuming that things go even vaguely close to expected plan, soon it will become 100% clear that the U.S. is planning military action against Iraq. And at that point, the risk jumps through the roof that Hussein’s agents may well strike against us here at home.
Even in my most optimistic moments, I find it difficult to conceive that Hussein would not have some “sleeper” agents already in place within the United States. I can’t bring myself to hope they just don’t exist; it seems too broad a fantasy. I hope, however, that they are armed only with conventional weapons, and not more formidable tools. And most especially, I hope they are not armed with smallpox.
But it is entirely possible that they are.
I’m not particularly afraid of nuclear terrorism, be it of the traditional fission bomb type or a “dirty bomb”. The United States can be hurt by such attacks; we might lose a city and suffer terrible loss of our fellow citizens. But we won’t be destroyed as a nation; we won’t even be seriously damaged in any objective sense.
Smallpox, however, is different. It truly, honestly does have the capability to be a doomsday weapon: a weapon that could quite conceivably destroy American society in a very real sense. In June of 2001, one of the first major role-playing scenarios was conducted to simulate a bioterrorism attack against the United States: the now-famed Dark Winter simulation.
If you haven’t already reviewed Dark Winter’s scenario, I urge you to go do so. It is not comforting reading. The simulation proposed a release of smallpox in three American cities.
At the end of the game, thirteen simulated days in, the conclusion has been reached:
A total of 16,000 smallpox cases have been reported in 25 states (14,000 within the past 24 h) (figures 4 and 5). One thousand people have died. Ten other countries report cases of smallpox believed to have been caused by international travelers from the United States… Although speculative, the predictions are extremely grim: an additional 17,000 cases of smallpox are expected to emerge during the next 12 days, bringing the total number of second-generation cases to 30,000. Of these infected persons, approximately one-third, or 10,000, are expected to die. NSC members are advised that administration of new vaccine combined with isolation measures are likely to stem the expansion of the epidemic. NSC members ask for worst-case projections. They are advised that in worst-case conditions, the third generation of cases could comprise 300,000 new cases of smallpox and lead to 100,000 deaths, and that the fourth generation of cases could conceivably comprise as many as 3,000,000 cases of smallpox and lead to as many as 1,000,000 deaths. It is again emphasized to participants that these numbers are worst-case projections and can be substantially diminished by large-scale and successful vaccination programs and disease-containment procedures…
Although the program’s reports are too tactful to say so baldly, the Dark Winter scenario ended with a simple conclusion: we lost.
Now on the one hand, we may — may — be slightly better prepared to face smallpox now with increased stores of vaccine. But on the other, I submit that Dark Winter’s scenario was always an easy case, given a start in only three cities. Once an enemy has decided to take such a horrible step, it is trivially easy to strike twenty, fifty cities with the same infected carriers, traveling across the country. This is the likely scenario; a neat-and-clean release in only a handful of pinpointed areas is the fantasy.
And so I return to my original question: do you know what you would do if that horrible day does come when we find that the worst has indeed come true?
I don’t have any particularly brilliant suggestions, other than to say: think about it now, not later. Personally, I’ve stashed some basic supplies (water, first aid kit, nutrition bars, battery operated radio, changes of clothing) in my car trunk permanently, and have made plans with my family that, should things go bad, we’ll meet up the family’s most-secluded home up in a small town in the mountains. (I would welcome all of your comments and suggestions for practical steps to take in preparation for such a disaster; you know where the Comment button is).
Pick your own plan, but do pick one. Hopefully, none of us will ever need them.
The vast majority of the time, life feels normal for me these days. But then I remember the feeling of September 11th, and the days that followed: the persistent sensation that normal reality had fallen away; that the unthinkable, horrible scenario that we had all known in our hearts was possible had in fact come true. That the normality of September 10th was never really there at all; and that the hidden worries that we had dismissed up until that next morning had been justified after all.
In my worst moments, I wonder what the next day of revelation will be, and what fearful reality it will bring with it. And I do what I can to be ready for it.
Update: Michele is thinking similar thoughts…