Sunday, August 28, 2005

When The Levee Breaks, I'll Have No Place To Stay, or, Katrina Bar the Door

She's coming. Hurricane Katrina. A Category Five hurricane. Which, for those of you who don't know, is pretty darn strong. As in, sustained winds in excess of 135 knots (155 mph for our land-bound friends, or 250 km/h for our metric friends.)

Katrina is making sustained winds of 150 knots with gusts up to 185. And if you don't believe she's big, check out the satellite imagery, which shows a classic hurricane shape that stretches from southern Alabama to the Yucatan Channel. When Tampa, New Orleans, western Cuba, and the Yucatan are all looking at the same storm, you know you have what we hurricane veterans refer to as, in our highly technical lingo, a Big-Ass Hurricane.

Oh, and it's heading for New Orleans. Which, as you may be aware, is below sea level and sinking all the time, on account of being built on the Mississippi River Delta, which is subsiding and eroding and is a generally unstable bit of land. New Orleans is protected by a system of levees that keep the river, not to mention the Gulf of Mexico, in their banks and out of their streets.

A hurricane of this size could turn New Orleans into the Venice of the South.

(We won't even discuss the local oil and gas industry.)

I grew up in North Carolina, far enough inland that any hurricane that hit us was bound to have been pretty big when it crossed the coast, but even so, the biggest I ever rode out was Hurricane Fran, a 1996 Category Three. I slept through most of it, but I may have been too young and foolish to be properly frightened. A Five is a whole 'nother story. Evacuate. Now.

Some people will stay put and ride out the storm. They'll have a helluva story to tell, assuming they survive, which is by no means certain. I'd like to think that if I was on the Gulf Coast, I'd be heading for high ground. Like Chicago.

But I might not.

There's a certain feeling that possesses people who live in hurricane country; we think no storm is too big for us to handle, no wind is strong enough to blow us out of our homes. Pride, you know. Of ownership, of place. Of This Being Ours. And defiance, too, the primal urge to defy the elements that drives men to weather the worst gales or cross the hottest deserts or brave the coldest blizzards. That drives all explorers, in every time and place, to boldly go.

Those who do such things possess a touch of bravery, a touch of resolve, and a touch of sheer lunacy. And in the end, you had to have been there.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Late Night Insight

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday working on some fiction, and at about 0330 Monday morning I was reflecting on the day's writing and I had an insight. (And isn't it odd how you always seem to have those insights at some ridiculous hour of the night? Maybe it's just me.) Anyway, I've been reading Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream" and noticing how he goes into great detail about every day he writes on. Sometimes it's practically minute-by-minute. And I realized that I've been doing the same thing with my current piece. Now I've written a lot of history, or something close to it, and history consumes great chunks of time and you can dismiss a century in a paragraph. But you can't do that with people. People live life one day at a time, so that's how you have to write about them. The great events of history take place over the course of years, so when you write history you write about whole years. But the great events of a person's life often take place over the course of days, so when you write about them you write about whole days. And you can only do that with a person who does not exist because no biographer can ever do enough research to grasp his subject in that way. So you invent someone and through them tell the story of all the lives that you can never quite grasp. I suppose that's why so many characters are composites of people the author knew. The only way to tell the story of Everyone is through Everyman.

Now maybe everybody else already knew this and I'm just now catching up, but there it is.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Prodigal Blogger

It's probably not good for a new blog to take four days off within a week of its founding. Risks losing interest, and all that.

But our motto here at Inner Columnist is "Let Your Inner Columnist Out" and that's just what we did with ours.

Vacation may not be good for the blog, but it can be oh so good for the blogger.

Spent a long weekend away from the Commonwealth and went home. Home to a place where the "can you hear me now?" guy cannot, in fact, hear me. (And not just because I use Sprint.) A place where there's no internet, by choice.

A place where modern conveniences are still optional, not essential. A place where some people still opt out.

And it was nice.

I spent a lot of time reading and thinking. Got a few things to write about soon. Probably have a few others a little later on.

I could write about those things now, I suppose, but I think I'm going to curl up with Hemingway instead. Never read much of his work before. No time like the present. I'll write about him later too.

I will say now, though, that forty pages about a fish was a bit much.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops.

"Project Valour IT, in memory of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, provides voice-controlled software and laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations at major military medical centers. Operating laptops by speaking into a microphone, our wounded heroes are able to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the 'Net, and communicate with buddies still in the field without having to press a key or move a mouse. The experience of CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project who suffered hand wounds while serving in Iraq, illustrates how important this voice-controlled software can be to a wounded servicemember's recovery."

Go there. Help out.

Neptunus Lex says why far better than I could.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Submarine Game

Via The Stupid Shall Be Punished, another time-waster, this a "buoyancy game" in which you dive and trim the US Navy's first submarine, USS Holland. It's a work in progress, but it's worth a few minutes. I never knew submarines bounced...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The NHL is back...and so is Bertuzzi.

Todd Bertuzzi, the Vancouver Canucks forward suspended in March 2004 for a brutal assault on Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, was reinstated Monday by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bertuzzi ended up missing the last thirteen games of the 2003-2004 regular season and the Canucks' seven-game playoff loss. He lost US$500,000 in salary and was not able to play internationally during the NHL work stoppage that wiped out the 2004-2005 season. The Canucks were fined US$250,000. Bertuzzi was convicted of criminal assault and sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service.

Moore, sucker-punched from behind and driven into the ice, may never play hockey again.

The NHL has since instituted a new instigation rule: instigating a fight in the last five minutes of a game (when the majority of fights take place) now draws a game misconduct (ejection) and automatic one-game suspension. This is what John Buccigross calls "the Todd-Bertuzzi-we-don't-want-to-be-on-CNN-anymore rule."

Well, Todd Bertuzzi is back on the ice. It's only a matter of time before the NHL is back on CNN.

On the plus side, at least they'll be on TV.

I'm scratching my head trying to find the justice here. Moore sustained serious injuries and may have lost his career. Bertuzzi lost $500,000. Maybe a million dollars by the time you figure in lost endorsements and salary he would have earned in Europe. Big deal. He's scheduled to earn $5.2 million playing for the Canucks this season.

In his ruling, Bettman wrote: "I believe that Mr. Bertuzzi is genuinely remorseful and apologetic for his actions on March 8, 2004, and the consequences that have flowed from such actions."

I agree. I have no doubt Bertuzzi regrets hurting Moore as seriously as he did. But the fact remains - he fully intended to hurt him. Doesn't matter how seriously he meant to hurt him - as though he was thinking "well, if I just break his nose, that'll be enough."

Not that he punched him in the nose. He attacked from behind.

If you punched somebody in the head, intending only to commit assault, but you broke their neck and killed them, you'd be going to jail for murder. For what you did, not for what you intended.

Todd Bertuzzi killed Steve Moore's hockey career and he's only being punished for assaulting it. That's not right.

Not exactly a flying start for "the new NHL."

Monday, August 08, 2005

"Why do YOU blog?"

It's a fair question my friend Linda asked me, when I told her I was thinking of starting a blog. It is the blogger's existential question, and it deserves an answer.

Once upon a time, I dabbled in journalism. And I've always been full of opinions. (So full that they occasionally leak all over the place. Terribly embarassing in the right company, terribly fun in the wrong.) That's nothing unique; many journalists have opinions. A newsroom is a loud place, and it's not just from the ringing phones and humming computers. It can get dangerous. They ought to post signs reading "Beware Low-Flying Opinions."

Now those journalists whose opinions are interesting, or at least controversial, end up with columns.

Not those who can shout the loudest. They become TV personalities.

Problem is, to become a columnist at one of those esteemed (more or less) edifices of journalistic endeavour requires that one be, you know, a journalist.

And I'm not.

But I still have that journalistic experience, that writing impulse, and those leaking opinions. It all adds up to an inner columnist. He wants to go outside and play. And I'm letting him.