Saturday, December 28, 2013

He survived

According to the South Whidbey Record, the man spent fifteen minutes in the water and was rescued.

Huzzah to the first responders of South Whidbey.

Here is the whole story.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Island Drama

Yesterday afternoon Matt noticed something odd on the bay, properly called Holmes Harbor. There was an aluminum boat with an outboard engine spinning out of control a mile distant. We couldn't tell if the boat was occupied or not, but from the only moderate reaction from a couple of boat owners, there was no urgency. Our hunch was that someone was starting the outboard, had it set to full throttle, and it got away. Once the engine fell to one side the boat simply spun in tight donut circles.

Our neighbor had a view of a dock and saw the first responders there. They were seen to remove a stretcher and bag from the area. The boat owner either suffered a heart attack or fell in the water and drowned. We have yet to see a news item with details. 

The boat spun and spun until it ran out of gas. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blog Fodder

If you follow the annual Christmas letter you are familiar with Lorraine's quote of the year. I start collecting them for a year before I compose the letter. I thought I would post the quotes that didn't make this year's message.


I’m organizing my desk to a certain extent. I’m missing some things.

That’s a lotta damn fish.

I don't know how you go from having enough time to not having enough time

I don’t want to do anything, I just want to goof off today.

I’m not going to subscribe to Real Simple. I don’t have time to read it.

If all my neuroses were fixed, what will you make fun of?

I need to meditate more.

I’m going to have a goddamned Christmas tree.

Where is Norman Rockwell when we need him?

I got up at 6 a.m. to discover gifts on the front porch deposited by Santa's helpers in the brown trucks. Saturday Evening Post of the 1920s. Santa does not drive a team of reindeer from his sleigh to land on rooftops and come down the chimney. His elves are all dressed in uniforms and drive brown trucks to deliver presents to good little boys and girls.

Rockwell's heirs could conjure up images of men and women elves in brown shorts snacking on cookies and drinking from bottles of Coca Cola. The trucks could be named after the members of Santa's team. Not very colorful, though.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holiday Tradition

As a youngster one of the rituals exercised by my mother was, "David, would you go find some chairs please?" I then had to go about the house, not that it was very big, and find all the extra chairs and bring them one at a time to the dining room. For some reason this exercise annoyed me. It was natural that I should help with the dinner and finding chairs is about as low-skill as you can get. It's not like the chairs are not done or cold or too salty. How simple can it be? Well, it still annoyed me.

This morning, I got a text from my sister: find chairs at the island house and bring them to her house for Christmas dinner.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Island Life

Last night I was minding my own business here on Whidbey when the living room lit up with flashing red lights. This happened once before when a sheriff's deputy made a stop of some erratic driver or something. But I had to see. The lights increased and there were two units of our local volunteer fire department in the park. Then it really got busy. A rescue in the bay? That has happened, but not in the evening. More lights and now sirens. This was a major response.

More lights came over the hill and the cause became apparent on the flatbed – Santa's sleigh, all lit up and escorted by the firefighters who probably don't get to roll all their equipment all that often. I tried to get an iPhone vid, but wasn't quite fast enough for the whole show.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Selling and Buying

Today I bought and I sold via Amazon.com. I tried to buy toys for my grandsons the old fashioned way, but when I got there, the toy store was gone. I walked into the mall and they don't have a toy store there. So I drove ten miles to another store. But they had only one of the things on the list. After two hours and twenty miles all I had to show for it was some dumb Play Doh.

I went online and ordered the things off the Amazon list which I should have done in the first place.

Then I got an notification that I sold two books through Amazon. I have some copies of one of my titles, a premium from the publisher, that I have listed on their site. I feature a discount and the option of my signature and a custom endorsement. One person bought two copies. As soon as I hear what sort of notation she wants I will ship them off to her. Amazon collects the money, I do the fulfillment, and we split the money.

Amazon is everywhere. We will need a nickname for Amazon.com, maybe something alluding to the phallic nature of their logo.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Joshua Monday

One of the compensations for slower metabolism, increased health care premiums, gray hair, a free gym membership, no copays, and countless mailings from AARP, that comes with maturity is grandchildren. I have two, Kellen, age four and Joshua, age nine months. Every Monday, We get to spend the day with this little sweetie to give his mom a chance to improve the lives of the affluent in need of home makeovers.

With two of us, one can keep and eye on him while the other works remotely. Joshua has not one, not two, but three wi-fi networks at his house. I am partial to music from Pandora while Lorraine prefers watching yet another picky HGTV family buy or remodel a home. As if it was not all made up. One wonders what sort of information is being imprinted on this little mind. If I watch him alone I will plug into an audio book.

We usually get dinner out of the deal, which means we can avoid traffic on the way home.

There are many worse ways to spend a Monday and not many better ones.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What are you reading? Hearing?

I usually have two books going at once, one a work of fiction and the other some kind of history book. With the Kindle I can have three or four going at once. I've been nibbling at the Memoirs of Ulysses Grant for more than a year, but that doesn't count in the two. The basic Kindle has a limitation in history since maps don't do well and maps are pretty important.

The iPad* does maps better, but it's not as convenient as the Kindle. The iPad is prettier, but heavier. The iPad is also good in bed if you don't have a light. My Kindle cover has a light. I can have a downloaded book on both the iPad and the Kindle.

It was time to experiment with audio books. Modern technology make book "reading" as confusing as job hunting. Where to start? The two logical places – technology cannot accept having only one place to start – are Amazon.com and the public library. Oh wait, iTunes. Three places.

Amazon and iTunes offers audio titles of popular books, but these tend to be rather expensive. Creating an audio version is another level of expense beyond that of writing and hard-copy and electronic publishing. An audio book can cost more than a retail hard copy since an actor or the author has to sit down and record the whole book which can take hours and days. One popular non-fiction work is $7.50 for the Kindle, $15.95 hard cover online, and $21.95 audio. I am definitely one to actively support authors and publishers, but I do look for bargains.

The public library, if properly funded, offers thousands of audio titles. The library purchases licenses for a title and lists them online. If all the licensed copies are checked out, you place a hold. When it's available, you get an email and have a chance to check it out.

Then it gets complicated. There are several formats available to download and read an audio book depending on your device. The Kindle requires that you download to a home computer then transfer to the Kindle. Devices like iPad and smart phones use apps which supposedly make it easier to browse and download titles. When the process works I have a book I can listen to for three weeks.

I do my listening in my pickup and during child care duties. I spend Mondays with my nine-month-old grandson Joshua and I can watch him as he learns to crawl while I listen on my phone and ear buds. My current read is Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible and is read by the author. As Joshua happily explores his world I can stand there and explore the North American continent. Things don't work so well when I need to get close to Joshua to pick him up or change him. Babies like ear buds and don't give them up easily. A minor cost of readership.

So far I've only listened to history books. Fiction is yet to be explored aurally. I'm the kind of reader who likes to dwell on a beautiful sentence. Stay tooned.


*I inherited this first generation iPad from Lorraine. She left it in the seat pocket of an airplane which gave her an excuse to go buy another. Still, she filed a claim with Alaska Airlines and eight days later they called and offered to send it home. Now I have it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Neighbor Lady

In my history projects I get to talk to a lot of retirees about their memories. In addition to important facts and clarifications that do not appear in the written record, these are the details that give any story texture, like what kind of cigars a man smoked, how he dressed, or the real reason a family moved. Even though an interview might result in only half a sentence, the rest of the information reinforces other evidence or discounts it. Better to learn a fact is wrong than to see the error in print.

One interviewee was a woman in Longview, Washington. Her name was passed along to me in the context of the paper mill project as, "She knows everyone and everything." She was also 90 years old so I had to move fast.

I called the number and she picked up on the third ring. She proved bright and cheerful and full of details about the families who founded the mill. She also knew my family. "I remember Dick and Sally," she remarked. "She was a real pistol. They liked to party."

Whoa. Dad grew up in Kelso and Mom lived there a few years in the early 40s before going away to school. When they got married in 1945, they moved to California where I was born. We moved back to Longview for a couple years, then back to California. But the lady knew them and even remembered the block we lived on and what my dad did for a living. That was all 65 years ago!

As with all investigative and research projects it is important to find the right neighbor lady. What stories.

The Mill

I really need to get better at blogging. That's a good New Year's resolution, but I've never done New Year's resolutions.

Longview Fibre, 1927
Courtesy Cowlitz County Historical Society
My newest project is a history of Longview Fibre, a pulp, paper and containerboard mill in Longview, Washington. The mill was built in 1927 in the planned community of Longview by industrialists from Wisconsin who managed to recruit a brilliant engineer and businessman named Harry Wollenberg.

In the interest of full disclosure, my paternal grandfather helped build the mill in 1926 and my uncle, is eldest son, worked there as a papermaker for 42 years. Another uncle and four cousins worked there summers. But that is not how I got the gig.
Harry Wollenberg, 1923
Courtesy Wollenberg Family

In 2012, I got a gig to write a bio of Harry Wollenberg from the German Historical Institute an agency of the German Government in Washington, DC. The gig paid a small honorarium, but a gig is a gig. They surfed the web and saw that I was an historian in the Pacific Northwest and figured I could do it. I accepted and then discovered that my subject did not live in Longview, he worked in San Francisco. But being a good investigator I made contact with his grandchildren and put together a satisfactory article. I made about a dollar an hour.

The grandchildren were impressed enough with my work to suggest that I take over a project documenting the history of the company that the family ran for 70 years. The Cowlitz County Historical Museum superintended the project and had collected quite a bit of research including some priceless interviews of former mill workers and managers. I say priceless because some of the narrators have passed on since the interviews. (One thing you learn about the history biz is that if you get the name of an eyewitness, you get a hold of them immediately.)

I jumped into four or five boxes of transcripts and photos and books and annual reports. Word got around and I got some invitations to speak at the union hall and at the museum. Each presentation results in more contacts and more wonderful information and quotes. And I enjoy talking about my projects.

I even got a tour of the mill which was reminiscent of visits to my maternal grandfather's pulp mill, also in Longview, when I was four and five years old. It was dark and wet and noisy and terrifying.

With any luck the story will be a book in 2014 published by the Cowlitz County Historical Society and I will do more slideshows.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Asylum

Edward Snowden, the fugitive NSA contractor, has been granted "asylum" in Russia. Does anyone grasp the irony of this? Does he think he is free? He went from the United States and its justice system to a country which cannot even protect political dissenters or journalists. What is he going to do now? He will probably find a warm audience at the Federal Security Bureau – the old KGB – for a while, but then what? He doesn't have the language and has to figure a way to make a living. He will wonder if he should have taken his chances with the U.S. criminal justice system rather than in a society that will not welcome him.

He'll be back.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fiction


Amber's Bunker

The only light in the bunker was from the ends of cigarettes.  Hidden from the sun, the mud at the bottom never dried and the stench of rot mixed with filthy bodies and tobacco. Occasionally, a Zippo would flare or a flashlight would click on, shielded by a hand, but the rest of the time it was dark.  Even that light was too poor to make out more than a cluster of tense young men in drab clothing that was uniform only in its color.  But in total darkness, that last, dim image glowed in the mind=s eye.  Men smoked and farted and sweated and cursed and waited in the smelly darkness.

"God damn it's hot."

"Tell me somethin' I don't know."

"Fuck you."

"It's been so long I just might.  Will you tell me you love me?"  That broke some tension and several men laughed.  The New Guy sat in the mud, so hyped at being under fire for the first time he laughed uncontrollably.  He still wanted to throw up, though.  About every five minutes they heard another rocket scream and shake the earth.  It didn't matter if anything was hit, but as long as Charlie could do that, he owned the night.  The New Guy heard that one VC would carry one rocket for six weeks through the jungle.  They would fire it and then tell the man to go back and get another.  This was all just crazy.

A throaty challenge from outside and hands slapped weapons.  Intense shouting followed, which ended with "Sorry about that."  In the dark, everyone was the enemy.  The threat of a nervous grunt wasting some poor lost GI made the prospect of death even more horrible.  They didn't count you as a battle death if you got it by friendly fire.  You were still dead to your folks though and you got the same aluminum casket.  The bunker was hot and it stunk and a rocket might be coming for them right now, but no one wanted to leave.

At the first rockets, the New Guy had chased after the men from his hooch through the pandemonium down into the bunker where he fell and someone stepped on his hand.  Now, sweaty, scared, and hurting, his morale was about as low as it could be.  In-country two days, he had eleven months and twenty nine days to go before he returned to where people wore real clothes and ate real food and slept in real beds.  It was really happening now, he was being shot at.  But it wasn=t even like training where, when they pretended to shoot at you, you had a rifle to pretend to shoot back.  He didn=t even have his rifle yet and there was nobody to shoot at.  The presence of other men provided his only comfort.  They all cooked in the same heat and the same stink and the same fear.

A week before he shipped out, The New Guy had found a hippie chick in Seattle and they stayed naked for almost two days.  Her name was Amber and she painted his body.  They got dressed only to go out and get food and beer.  She had her own dope.

"Hey, did that New Guy make it?"  The young soldier recognized the voice of the Platoon Sergeant who had greeted him that afternoon.

"You mean me?" he croaked.

"What's your name?"

"Parker."

"Yeah, Parker.  Hate losing men without knowing their names.  Especially the first day."

The Sergeant had a handlebar moustache and he seemed like a pretty good guy.  He told the New Guy that he had only been at the camp a day or two himself.  Soldiers like him with two months to go were pulled out of infantry units put in the base camps until they rotated home.  The Army didn=t like it for short timers to get killed or to lose a hand or a foot.  It was bad for morale.  If I had two months to go, the New Guy thought, I could be a pretty good guy myself.

Someone piped up, "This place stinks.  The only thing it needs is a sign out front that says 'Men'".

"Why don't we put up a sign that says 'Women' and see what happens?" answered another.

"I knew 'Nam would get to you sooner or later, asshole.  You finally find a woman and all you wanna do is watch her shit."

That one was funny.  The New Guy recognized the comedian's New York accent as the man in the next bunk.  Humor from a familiar voice was some consolation.

The shriek of a rocket was followed by a huge explosion which shook the bunker.  Dirt trickled from the log roof onto the fugitives.  After a moment, someone commented, "Ammo dump, I bet."
"Maybe it was the officers club"

New York answered, "Naw, the officers club is in the deepest hole at this base camp.  They gotta protect their liquor and their whores.  Don't worry, they're safe."  More explosions and no one spoke.  GIs had been covering the ammo dump and if their platoon had the guard mount that night, it could have been them.

"So, ah, New Guy, where you from?" asked the Sergeant.

"Spokane, Washington."

"I'm from Portland," a new voice piped up.

"I wish I was in Portland," from New York.

"Maine or Oregon?"

"Doesn't matter.  'Long as it isn't Portland, Viet Nam."

"Soldier, you have a bad attitude!"  The Sergeant's voice shot back with mock authority.  "I want an attitude check!"

"We hate this fucking place," three voices sing songed half heartedly.

"Now men, let's have a positive attitude check."

"We positively hate this fucking place," muttered two voices.  It was an old Army joke, and the Sergeant's attempt at satire lay on the floor in the mud.  The New Guy figured the Sergeant must have been a pretty good NCO out in the bush and he was glad he was his NCO.

The young soldier was suddenly aware that he was very, very tired.  Arrival in country, processing at the airport, a hot night in a warehouse barracks with two hundred men, and all the other changes had caught up with him.  He leaned his heavy helmet back against the dirt wall and he dozed in the putrid sauna.

Amber was there, long brown hair and thin body.  He remembered how easily she got out of her jeans and tee shirt, the only clothing she wore.  He was shocked that she didn=t wear any underwear.  The soles of her feet were almost black from going barefoot all summer.  Although she had small breasts, she had large brown nipples which he found tremendously exciting.  She pushed him down onto the mattress on the floor and undid his GI belt.  "You all wear these stupid shorts," she commented as she slipped off his issue boxers.  The five days with Amber were so wonderful that it wasn't until he was over the Pacific that he wondered how she knew so much about GI belts and GI shorts.  That made him a little uncomfortable, but he had a year in a combat zone to look forward to, so a dose of the clap seemed a weak threat.  He would just go to the medics and get some shots.  What are they going to do, bust him to private?  Ship him to Nam?

In his dream, she once again tenderly invited him to explore.  No girl had ever trusted him or kissed him like that and he had never done any of other stuff either.  When he got back to The World he was going straight to her house.  There would be no mattress on the floor or behind blankets on a rope.  Next time, they would get a real bed and a real room.  He kissed her again deeply and as he began nibbling his way down her neck she whispered his name.

"C'mon turkey, you want to spend your whole tour down here?"  

The New Guy was jerked back into a bunker lit by flashlights.  Dirty, wet men in undershirts and muddy boots crowded toward the passageway and up into the night.  The New Guy struggled into a crouch and followed into refreshingly cool air.  An eerie light from the fires revealed more soldiers tramping back and forth.  All of them carried that same, beaten look.  The New Guy had to pay close attention to follow the men of his own platoon back to their hooch.  Without them he would be lost and he might never find his way home again.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My video

In 1963, I heard a single by the surf rock band, the Marketts, called "Out of Limits". I like the fast paced, heavy bass of the music and somehow visualized jets taking off from an aircraft carrier. Most of my visualizations at the time involved airplanes. Surf rock fell out of vogue in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but every once in a while the tune would come up on a radio and once again I saw the Navy jets being catapulted off a flight deck. Then with the advent of digital downloads I got my own copy and it went with me in the truck and then through to iTunes and mobile devices. I had a copy on the computer.

Then I was given a link to a video put together by some Navy guys and posted online which already had some music. Having just mastered (sort of) the home movie application I tried my hand at mixing music and video. Here it is (I think).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Home Movies

I just completed a couple of desktop home movie projects, another genre of the technology revolution. I was a participant in the growth of amateur movies starting with silent Super 8, graduating to sound, then to video tape, then to digital. Now I've done home movies, really good quality, on my phone. How great is that?

Thomas Edison gave us the motion picture, but it was a commercial and industrial mystery with little being done by the amateur. Camera equipment was expensive as was film. Then the film reels had to be carefully loaded and unloaded to avoid being damaged by light. Once safely "in the can" only certain facilities could process the exposed film into a movie. Then the movies could only be shown on expensive projectors (assuming there was electricity). Only Hollywood, news agencies and governments could afford the equipment, processes and the people to run them. Still, some amateurs managed to do home movies in 8 millimeter, Some of the only moving images of Seattle before about 1939 are by an amateur.

One of the recent projects was to take my wife's family movies from 1945 to 1968, and make them ready for prime time. My mother-in-law turned 90 this month and I wanted to treat her to the memories. All the movies came on ten reels in old-fashion silent 8mm.

In the old days, the 1970s, I had a little viewer/editor and hand cranked my film through looking for good frames, spliced out the junk with a special device, and spliced back together good stuff. I had fun with a few scenes where I connected the projector to a LP turntable and dubbed in some music. That might have still been possible. I could have cut up thousands of feet of film, taped each scene to the wall with a label, then selected scenes, edited them down, then spliced them together in some order. But the sad fact is that no one has the editor/viewers and projectors anymore and I didn't have the patience. I took the ten reels to a service that does the transfers along with a disk drive and the movies came home ready for a computer.

The gold of christenings, birthday parties, vacations, and children waving at the camera was buried in amongst shots of nearly everything else. Who needs a tour of Adventureland or Marine World ca. 1959? Or the flowers in the garden? There are even shots of the runway rolling past an airplane window and clouds. All went to the virtual cutting room floor.

But the programs have a learning curve. I had to figure how the optimum length of a clip, how to snatch a still image, how to do transitions and titles, and then the sound. My biggest tool was "undo". The work is in the watching again and again the same clips and to remain interested. I learned to give the project about an hour at a time.

After run throughs ad nauseum I got the movie into final form with music, titles and even some cutesy sound effects. The big premier was Saturday night at Kay's 90th birthday gathering. It was a big hit. Here is the opening.




The interesting thing is that I have modern digital movies, very high quality, with sound made in the last ten years on dedicated video cameras and other mobile devices. Guess what? Most gets edited out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

California

I am posting this from the lovely California coast south of San Francisco. I grew up in California, moved away at age 18, came back at age 36, and moved away again at age 50. That means the Golden State has figured into about half my life, early on to imprint me and then later to contribute to financial security. As I visit here in typical balmy weather I am also reading the autobiography of William Tecumseh Sherman who was stationed here and traveled extensively in the 1840s when this was still a Mexican province. So it's interesting to contrast Sherman's accounts of bear hunting near Monterey and skies over San Francisco Bay almost black with waterfowl to today when ducks and geese avoid the region and bears exist only on the state flag. Sherman was at Yerba Buena - San Francisco - when a couple of guys came in from Sacramento with some shiny rocks found in the American River.

What a place this was as Sherman traveled between Los Angeles and Sonoma. As the United States undertook to transfer ownership of the province from Mexico by force (in a war contrived by slave interests) the land showed little impact from Europeans. Native Americans could still gather their livings from the mudflats of the Bay and the beaches of the coast. The Central Valley was a verdant grassland home to white tail deer and Tule Elk. And, of course, the grizzly was in the last years of his command of the quiet valleys and hillsides of the Coast Range. The Californios wanted no part of these massive beasts which feasted on their cattle. The grizzly went down hard and did not officially go extinct until 1922.

The bears and the tule elk weren't the only species to succumb to newcomers. The Californios found themselves pushed aside by avaricious Americans who dismantled their land grants and suppressed their language. An irony is that Spanish has made a comeback. The first state constitution was bilingual.  Then it was English only. Today the constitution is still in English, but just about every bit of public signage and most official forms are bilingual.

This weekend I looked at the hillsides once covered in Redwoods (which grow only on the Northern California coast) and now exist only in parks and preserves. The vast mudflats of the Bay are developed with concrete and asphalt with only a tiny percentage remaining to support the sea life that supported the natives.

I see much that is familiar from natural to man-made. The great bridges are still there and the cities. I used to be good at recognizing geographical features from an airplane. I could nod off in Burbank and wake up over Monterey Bay and immediately pick out Santa Cruz and Sunnyvale as we turned onto final approach. I could tick off the names of cities and even neighborhoods. No longer. I mistook Mount Diablo for Tamalpais. The Bay Bridge has been rebuilt. I see little that says "home" to me. Like the Californios.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A funny thing happened to me on my way to the forum

One thing I like to do is participate in online forums (fora?). These are the discussion groups. Back in the early days of the Internet, before the World Wide Web (there is a difference), academics would keep in touch with each other's scholarship on something called Usenet Newsgroups. These are the old soc.history.war type addresses. Sadly these venues atrophied as they were taken over by trolls and bots. Trolls are posters who purposely try to hijack and redirect a discussion away from rational and courteous behavior. Bots are automated programs that post spam onto forums clogging up the conversations. The newsgroups also were cumbersome to deal with requiring special readers to access.

With the World Wide Web and the easier to use interfaces the forums have proliferated mostly under volunteer auspices. Individual fans of the Ford Ranger or gardening or the Civil War organize a forum, purchase software, usually at their own expense, and start a discussion group. There are ways to post advertising that helps the organizers defray expenses and even monetize the process. Many groups just ask for money like  Two groups that have captured my attention are ones focused on the U.S. Army Air Forces (before the U.S. Air Force) and the American Civil War. I'm a history buff (junkie) and Dad was in "the air force" during World War II.

I visit these forums often several times a day to see what the denizens are discussing, to learn more, and to post responses. I have a couple of areas of interest such as politics and secession, my dad's experiences, the economics of slavery, and alternative history. I am less interested in reenactments, the details of particular battles, and the naval war. The moderators, made up of dedicated volunteers as well as the site owner, keep the discussions mostly civil and aren't afraid to lock a thread -- a particular discussion -- when things get out of hand. Recently a thread on gun control was locked right after I posted a really good reply.

In most of the forums when you log a certain number of posts you get promoted. In the Civil War I am a sergeant. In the Air Corps I am a Group Member. I can sit on the sofa and, as long as the TV show doesn't involve subtitles, I can surf the forums too.

What are you reading? Steve Jobs

I am reading the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson which I recommend from a number of viewpoints. First, it's well researched and well written. Isaacson talked to dozens and probably hundreds of people and had the advantage of unlimited access to the subject himself. And Jobs was, at best, a difficult subject. Jobs picked Isaacson and then took his hands off the project. His only area of influence was the cover design and he was, reportedly, his typical butthead self.

The book is also a great history of development of the high tech industry from the microprocessor through the personal computer through the growth of Apple and, to some extent, Microsoft. Then it tracks Jobs's influence on how we use technology from tablet computing to music. Jobs was a big, big music fan (his prized possessions were bootleg reel-to-reel tapes of Bob Dylan) which helped motivate him into the digital download business. I had no idea that artists like U2 and Yo Yo Ma made iPod ads for free which resulted in amazing sales figures for their work.

At the center of it is Jobs, intelligent, driven, and intensely creative. Naturally he was not the only one at Apple or Pixar creating. Isaacson points out how Jobs's "reality distortion field" did affect his recollection of certain events. But the creative types and the technology types needed someone to get them together. And Bill Gates needed someone to commend for his "taste."

Friday, January 11, 2013

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was born 100 years ago. This anniversary probably popped up on "on this day" web sites and journalists paid by the number of hits their posts receive, sitting at their screens, weighed this story against the gun debate, Congress's poor ratings, the president's good ratings, the weather, and one of several meltdowns on cable news. The Nixon birthday ranked low on the list. Since most journalists were born after Nixon left office they have only occasional references in the media, all negative, and maybe the History Channel to give them much information.

But Tricky Dick's (a nickname he earned in his first congressional campaign) legacy deserves more consideration than the Watergate "national nightmare." How about

  • China
  • Going off the gold standard
  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • Inflation control through wage and price freezes
  • Advocating spending more money on drug abuse treatment than on enforcement
  • Advocating health care reform
I'm not sure how to classify his performance as to the Viet Nam War. There are probably more successes along with some failures. In a way he did a great service in the scandal by demonstrating that the presidency should have limits to its powers. His administration should be viewed in its totality and in its parts. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gun Debate

I am disappointed at the noise about the role of guns in the recent tragedies in Connecticut, Colorado, and here in Seattle. I am one inclined to support regulation of firearm possession and ownership, but the reality is that there are enough guns in the U.S. to arm every man, woman, and child. I cannot imagine a mechanism to remove half or a quarter or a tenth of these weapons from homes and circulation. All these discussions and all this proposed legislation syphon resources and intellectual energy away from a better solution to preventing future disasters.

This being a democracy, any proposed legislation will be subject to opposition and, ultimately, enough compromises to render the results to be ineffective. When high-capacity magazines were prohibited in the 90s, the law did not apply to existing stocks of magazines or to their transfer. The hundreds of thousands of magazines out there just got more valuable. There were so many loopholes in other aspects of the laws that anyone interested in an assault rifle with several 30-round magazines still could get them. This did not impact those already owned. Useless.

Let's consider the real cause of these tragedies: mental illness. In every case I have read of mass killings the shooter, who usually took his own life, was mentally ill and people knew it. I say mentally ill from a medical standpoint, not a legal one. A crazy person can be convicted of a crime and a sane person can manage an acquittal by virtue of insanity. These shooters could have been prevented from committing their crimes by effective mental health services, services they were able to sidestep because laws seem to grant them the right to be crazy if they want. Until they commit a crime or are of danger to themselves or others, they enjoy every right including the right to possess - maybe not buy - a firearm. Until a shooter with body armor and multiple weapons starts to pull the trigger, police officers are expected to be courteous and constitutional. Once that young man approached the school, the police were limited in their options.

The man in Connecticut could just as easily stolen his mother's car keys and driven into a shopping mall. The guns made his killing easier. This man has been described in the press as "autistic." It sounds as if his autism was severe enough to have his mother consider committing him. I say he was not just autistic, but really crazy.

The two Columbine shooters were early-on described as retaliating against bullying. Totally wrong. One was profoundly depressed and the other was psychotic. Bullying was not an issue. They were crazy. But they came from nice families and had all their rights including those under the Second Amendment.

So, enough with gun control. Yes, regulate. Impose heavy insurance requirements on gun owners like automobile owners (not that all drivers carry insurance). But the guns will stay. Enough.

Let's start passing laws and spending money on the mentally ill. Some people might lose their rights to be homeless if they are crazy. Some might lose their rights to keep and possess firearms. We keep our children safe.