Book Review: Infected

Infected: A Novel
Scott Sigler
Crown Publishers
(c) 2008 by the author

There’s this syndrome out there called “Morgellon’s Disease”. Its symptoms, such as they are, are primarily an unexplained rash accompanied by the usual aches, pains, and tiredness. Occasionally, sufferers have found odd fibers coming out of the affected area. Others have reported the sensation of something crawling around under their skin.

No research to date has come up with a cause (aside from “I told you to stop scratching that, you’ve only made it worse”). The mystery fibers turn out to be bits of cotton, most likely from clothing. That hasn’t stopped people from blaming everything from nanotech to aliens to a government conspiracy.

Sigler’s novel, adapted from a popular series of podcasts, asks and answers the question: “What if Morgellon’s Disease was real?”

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Farewell to Cassini

In the early hours of September 15 (EDT), the Cassini probe will break apart and burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Launched in October of 1997, it entered orbit around the ringed giant on July 1, 2004. A complex dance amongst the moons and rings revealed many surprises. The moon Enceladus has an ocean of water under its icy shell. Titan has lakes of methane, and an atmosphere of hydrocarbons that contains complex molecules that just might be able to combine into lifelike assemblages. The rings are a far more dynamic and interesting place than we imagined.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2017/09/cassini-saturn-nasa-3d-grand-tour/#preamble

The probe is deliberately being destroyed so as to avoid possible contamination of Enceladus and Titan.

It’s a bittersweet ending for the scientists on the program, many of whom were there from the planning stages in the 1980s.

“It’s been part of my life for so long, this spacecraft, it’s going to be a shock to have this happen,” said Thomas Burk, a JPL engineer. Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist, said, “Our families have gotten to know each other, in some cases our children have grown up together, and now in the final two weeks we’re sharing the end of this incredible mission.”

By the time you read this, Cassini will have passed the “point of no return”, taken its final photographs, and sent its collected store of data back home. About 12 hours after that, the onboard computers will have reconfigured for real-time data transmission. It will attempt to send back information on temperature and the composition of the atmosphere for as long as it can. But eventually, there won’t be any fuel left to stabilize the craft as it shudders and tumbles in the upper atmosphere. Cassini will heat up; parts of it will break off. The main body of the craft will explode. As NASA spokesperson Preston Dyches has said, “We’re going out in a blaze of glory.”

The next big planetary science effort is the Europa Clipper, which will launch in the 2020s. Its goal is to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon. There’s nothing else in the works for the outer solar system. Given that it takes about a decade of planning just to get a mission off the ground (literally), trips to the outer Solar System are for the next generations to enjoy.

Yes, we all know there are more important things to spend our money on here on Earth. And we’re not giving up on Mars at all. But it’s still a sad sign to know that an era of exploration is coming to an end, with no plans at all to return to those farthest shores.

Movie Review: Pulgasari (North Korea, 1985)

If you’ve heard about this movie, it’s almost certain that all you know about it is the background. Great Leader (and reputed movie geek) Kim Il Sung wanted North Korea to have its very own Giant Monster Movie; one that would be the equivalent of anything else from Asia. So he kidnapped South Korean moviemaker Shin San-Ok (and his wife) and ordered him to make movie magic. The movie never did get a wide release outside the “Hermit Kingdom”, vanishing without much of a trace when it was finally released in South Korea in 2000. A video release confused the issue by having the word “BANNED” appear on the cover in letters larger than that used for the title. It wasn’t really ever banned; it’s more like it was ignored.

All that nonsense overshadows the movie itself. While that might draw your attention, the real question is whether or not the movie is worth your time.

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When Your Team is Out of the Race

I freely admit to being a Mets fan. This is largely the fault of Howie Rose, their radio play-by-play man. The Mets radio team runs rings around John “Theeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees Win!” Sterling. Anyway, a couple of days ago, with the Mets well out of contention (even getting to .500 is a very long shot), he talked about why you should follow your team anyway. His point was that you’d get to be there when all these new, young players made their debuts (like I was there for Rhys Hoskins’ first game), and you could brag about it later.

This got me to wondering (especially with football stories starting to occupy the sporting press) – what sort of fun and interesting and amazing things happen with teams out of the playoff hunt in late September? Thanks to the “This Day in Baseball History” pages of National Pastime and Baseball Reference, I was able to dig up a lot of interesting things that happened on September 15 or later. The sorts of things that make following baseball worthwhile.

I’ve concentrated on events no more than ten years old, because we all know that if it happened before you were old enough to notice, it didn’t really happen.

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A Trip to Philadelphia – Part 4

If you must know, I stayed at the Loews Philadelphia in Center City. Centrally located, in easy walking distance of pretty much everything. Pricey, but worth it. Especially given the size of my bathroom! The service was excellent. I was pleasantly surprised to find that whenever I called Room Service for something, their phone system evidently brought up my name since it was always used in greeting. I did not dine at Bank and Bourbon, their in-house restaurant, but I did have a “rye flight” at their bar. I recommend Rough Rider Bull Moose Three Barrel Rye. I’ll have to track it down here at home.

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A Trip to Philadelphia – Part 3

As a baseball fan, I’ve been planning my vacations around the schedule so I can take in a game while I’m away. This time, I deliberately chose to go to Philadelphia so I could see the Phillies host the Mets. I hadn’t been to Citizens Bank Ballpark yet, so there was an extra reason for going.

All of Philadelphia’s sporting venues are clustered together at the southern end of the city. Mass transit is pretty good; the Broad Street subway line ends nearby. It’s a couple of minutes to walk to the stadium past acres of parking lots; it seems that’s the best they could do with all the new stadia construction coming after the subway was finished.

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A Trip to Philadelphia – Part 2

In case you’re wondering why I don’t post photos from my trips here, the answer is simple. I have a cheap cell phone camera, and you can find much better photos than I could possibly take simply by using your favorite image search device. And why do you need to see photos of my hotel room anyway? (grin)

In Philadelphia, all the historical sites and museums seem to be on the east side of town. The main art and science museums are on the west, clustered around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the city’s “grand boulevard”. In this post, let’s take a look at some of those.

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On Confederate Memorials

There’s a lot of talk lately about removing Confederate monuments and other symbols of that lost cause. Before we all get crazy, let’s have some guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable, OK?

STATUES AND MONUMENTS:

Is it in a cemetery? – It stays.
Is it a memorial honoring local people who died in the Civil War? – It stays.

Addendum, 8/18/17:

Is it a generic memorial to the Confederate war dead? – If possible, change the inscription so it honors all war dead. If not, replace the entire thing.
Is it a marker indicating the location of a battle or other important incident? – Replace it with one with better wording.

Is it a statue of a person with clear ties (he was born or lived much of his life there) to the area? – Leave it up to the local citizens.
Is it at a battlefield or some other location that is of clear importance in the person’s life? – It can stay. Probably.
Is it in a place with no connection at all to the person? – Take it down.

NOTE: No matter how much you may want to take it down yourself, leave that to the professionals. Vandalism is never to be condoned. If you absolutely cannot leave the statue alone, try something non-damaging. Stick a white “surrender” flag in its hand. Hang a sign saying “I’m a Loser” on it. Be creative! Just don’t damage it.

BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES:

Does the building have a function that is related to the person? Like a fort or military institute? – It can stay, but it would be better to rename it after someone more appropriate.
Is it named after a person with ties to the local area? – It’s probably best to rename it for someone else with local ties, but it’s not urgent.
Is it named after someone with no connection at all to the locale? – Rename it as soon as convenient.

PLACES (Streets and communities):

Was the person born there or very nearby? – It can stay; it’s probably not worth the cost of changing it.
Does the person have no ties at all to the area? – Change it as soon as there’s funds available for all the new signage.

NOTE: A lot of these removals and name changes are going to cost money. If you really want to make the change, offer to pay for it. And come up with the new name.

 

A Trip to Philadelphia – Part 1

This year’s vacation had me wanting to save money on travel so I could stay in a nicer hotel and have more to spend on entertainment and activities. But I still wanted to be far enough away from home to feel like I was really on vacation, and not just day-tripping.

Philadelphia fit that bill quite nicely.

Being the place where the United States was born (both times, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the creation and signing of the Constitution), it’s loaded with history. However, I decided to avoid the obvious. I deliberately avoided Independence Hall and the national icon of the Liberty Bell. I’d visited them on a family trip in my childhood. Instead, I went to museums in that neighborhood that hadn’t existed back then.

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Overrated – Underrated

Way back in the mists of time (well, about 20 years ago, which is ancient history as far as the Internet is concerned), American Heritage magazine had an annual feature they called “Overrated, Underrated”. Historians and other experts contributed short essays on things in their field that they believed needed a reappraisal. They had to pair something that they felt was overrated with one that was underrated (e.g. Aviatrix: Overrated – Amelia Earhart, Underrated: Harriet Quimby). The series gave fascinating historical and cultural insights, and spread a little to other magazines. I recall Sports Illustrated did their own version….

Anyway, the idea is always a good discussion starter. Provided you can pen a short essay explaining your choices. Anyone can say Shakespeare is overrated; not everyone can explain why, as well as offer an example of an underrated English playwright.

Here’s my favorite example:

American Historical Document

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