Monday, March 23, 2009

Compiled from Various News Sources:

Four top AIG executives flipped U.S. taxpayers the bird by spending $86,000 on a partridge hunt at an English country manor as the feds gave their struggling firm billions to stay afloat.

The heedless hunters and their guests traipsed through the fields in tweed knickers, firing at defenseless birds and later washing down pigeon breasts and halibut with “the finest wines taxpayers’ money can buy,” the London-based News of the World newspaper reported. There were at least three New Yorkers in the group - Jeffrey Malkovsky, a senior director at AIG’s Manhattan office, Hilary James, the general manager of the luxurious Bristol Plaza Hotel, and her pal, John Roberts, who also advises AIG, sources said.

In interviews with undercover reporters, the AIG honchos said they were aware that the markets were crashing back in New York - but were more interested in bagging birds.

“The recession will go on until about 2011 - but the shooting was great today and we are relaxing fine,” AIG honcho Sebastian Preil was quoted as saying. Preil wasn’t the least bit embarrassed that AIG, which got its first $85 billion bailout from the feds last month, needed taxpayer money to stay in business. The hunting trip came the week AIG got a second loan of $37.5 billion. “We should be on an even keel in two years,” he reportedly said.

Another AIG executive, Alvaro Mengotti, “slurped fine wine” while dispensing advice on surviving the financial crisis. “Invest your money in gold,” he reportedly said.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Movie Review: The Watchmen (No Spoilers)

The Watchmen was a comic book series that was published from 1986 through 1987. I first encountered it in the late '80s in the collected and bound form of a "graphic novel," that is, a really thick comic book. The book was a gift to me, and though I cannot for the life of me recall the circumstances, I'd be pretty surprised if it wasn't Rythter who was the giver. He has been the source of all of my most favorite popular literature. And that is where this story is firmly entrenched -- in my list of very favorites.

Let me be clear: I have no great affinity for comic books. In my childhood, comic books were little more than a tease because, even if I did go down to the local newstand and buy one, it was a physical impossibility that the next month the newstand would have the subsequent issue in the storyline. Thus, my memory of comic books is one of perpetual cliffhangers in which the heroes are forever hung in mid-adventure limbo.

What little involvement I have had in comic books has been more recent. Three summers ago, I found a comic book store going out of business and I bought up all of their back issues of Fantastic Four, my personal favorite superheroes. More recently, Rutger took up a personal quest to keep me supplied with the new, revised series of Fantastic Four adventures. After a year or so of that, however, the writing and artwork deteriorated and I gratefully thanked him for his kindness and told him to discontinue my "subscription."

But the Watchmen, oh, the Watchmen were something different. Neatly bound in a nice concise package, this story came complete with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. An astonishing ending. An ending I could not possibly have predicted. An ending I won't spoil for you if you've not read the comic nor seen the movie.

Except to say this: This was one of only two times I can recall a movie changing the ending of a book and actually making it better. Yes, I know, many of you die-hard, purist Watchmen fans may take exception to this, but consider, not only was the movie ending more believable (to wit, within the bounds of a comic book), but it also tightened the story quite a bit, all the while keeping very true to the writer's intention of why the original story ended the way it did. In essence, the ending was, in fact, the same; but the manner in which it ended was improved.

Now then, if you've neither read nor seen this story, I'm sure you found all of that was sufficiently vague and pointless. Let's get to the stuff that you might care to hear about.

At its core, the Watchmen is a "whodunnit" mystery that just so happens to be wrapped in the casing of the comic book genre. There is an unknown "bad guy" for whom the "good guys" are searching. This aspect of the story is both well delivered and exceedingly complex. It is this complexity that I find so delightfully enjoyable. If it is formulaic from a Hollywood sense, it's a formula that is not easily backwards engineered. There are twists and turns enough to keep you wondering, to keep you engaged, but not so much as to leave you bewildered. If you're the cerebral type who doesn't want his entertainment spoon fed to him, you'll quickly find yourself mentally invested in what goes on.

The other strong point of this story, whether it be in print or on screen, is the character development. Nothing draws me into a story like good, solid, believable character development. Personally, as I've said, I care little for the superhero genre and this is primarily because it's so stained by deus ex machina. But Watchmen avoids pressing the "God Mode" button entirely. Only one character can be said to have super powers at all, and his involvement with the story is limited by his own ennui with mankind. The array of heros that we are introduced to are all normal human beings who have chosen the costumed life for their own reasons, be they desire for adventure, disgust with societal injustice, or a simple desire to do good deeds. What's more, the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are seldom so easily defined. They are real. Real people with real flaws.

And so, we have a complex and compelling plot, and an intruiging and broad cast of characters. These are then placed carefully into an alternate universe in which Richard Nixon is riding unprecedented popular support into his fourth term as president. However, the Cold War is at its highest temperature ever. Detente is abandoned. The Soviet Union and the United States are in a staring contest that is one blink from Armageddon. Yet, in a paradoxical twist, the heros are focused on finding the murderer of one of their own comrades while the world itself is only hours away from nuclear holocost.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, this movie is a deep and intellectual treatise on humanity, on our psychology as a species, how we are governed, and how we relate to one another. We see the sickness of sin and depravity and it's effect on society. We see the cynicism through which so many view the world. We see the folly of our leaders and the mindless way in which we are led. In it, we find love. If you're a student of society, if you enjoy people-watching, see this movie.

I've heard many criticism levied against this movie. One said that it was too long. While that may be true, it's too long in the same sort of way that your favorite amusement park ride might be "too long". If you're enjoying it, you're grateful that the builders thereof haven't abbreviated their work.

Someone said it was boring. Boring? I'm sorry, but that's an absolute absurdity. The screen is awash with imagery, photography, and effects that will are akin to a visual feast. It is filled with action that has been perfectly built up by preceding events. I'm sorry, but if this movie bored you, go rent Saving Private Ryan and put the first ten minutes on auto-repeat while listening to a speed metal album.

Will it be your favorite movie of all time? No, I highly doubt it. Will it reach you the way it did me? Unless you grew up with this comic, probably not. But I really believe that if you watch the movie -- and I don't mean see it, I mean truly watch it and listen closely and think about everything that is happening, you'll find the deeper meanings of our world that are reflected through this "comic book."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Not on My Watch

It's been said that there are two types of people in the world. (Those that divide the world into two types of people, and those who don't.)

However, I'm of the mind that there are three types of people in the world: Those that when an incident happens, stop, stand, and stare; those that when an incident happens, react; and those that when an incident happens, were ready for it.

Saturday early evening, Rutger, his girlfriend Glory, my wife and I went to see the movie, The Watchmen. Fantastic movie. I'll tell you more about it in my subsequent post. Before the movie, we went out to dinner at Bertucci's, a local chain of very good quality Italian food.

We were almost done with dinner and discussing the check when an "incident" began to manifest itself across the restaurant from us. At one booth, two patrons seemed to be disgruntled with some matter in regards to their meal. The waitress seemed to be trying to keep them calm, yet she herself was visibly irrate. In short order, multiple waiters came to the table in addition to the manager. (No pun intended.) The patrons were two black females. One was more or less nondescript. The other, however, was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, a baseball cap, and sunglasses. Upon gazing at her, most people would immediately question whether or not this was a woman at all.

Suddenly, these two women were on their feet and raising their voices. The waitress, a petite black girl was being physically restrained by another waiter who was drawing her away from the patrons. The manager was interposing himself from what seemed to be one second away from a full-fledged brawl.

The two black women began publicly shouting: "F---, you n----- bitch! We ain't paying fo' nuthin', you f-ing black n-----!" Etc, etc, ad nauseum.

Something else was said, something I could not hear from my seat, but suddenly, the waiters and manager made a hasty retreat from the table as Ms. Incognito strode into the middle of the restaurant and began emptying her large pocket book, clearly looking for something.


Here's where you become one of the three types of people in the world. What do you do next?

In my entire life, I've never willingly sat on the inside of a booth. Moreover, any time my wife and I eat out, I make sure I'm facing the door. (It's sort of an old West superstition.) This time, however, I've stuck myself on the inside of our booth.

I start patting my wife's leg with increasing intensity, "Get up... get up... get up... GET UP NOW!!!" She let me free and I bolted up and out toward the woman, carefully watching her next move. It was clear to me that she was going for a ...something and I'd be damned if I was going to be sitting in a booth when she found it. I stepped around outside of her peripheral vision and watched her carefully.

After a moment, she seemed to change her mind about whatever it was she thought she was going to do. The waiters and manager returned and the argument resumed, with many shouting for her to "just leave" as she responded with ample usage of the "N word".

Shortly after, she and her obnoxious friend did leave. They were escorted to the door and the crowd remained there at the front for a while. Our waiter came over and apologized profusely, and explained that the same duo had been in four times in the last four weeks, causing trouble, and looking for reasons why they weren't going to pay their bill. This time, when they swore at the waitress and began berating her, the waitress gave them some words back.

At this point, Glory exclaims, "Hey, someone just threw a punch!" We looked up, and it seemed that a scuffle was breakout out outside. I ran to the door and went out side. The waiters were pulling the manager back inside the building. I asked him if he had been hit and he said that there were two guys outside with the woman and one of them threw a punch at him.

I went outside. The guys had apparently ran, but the women were still loitering around. I stepped over to them and informed them in no uncertain terms my opinion of their behavior. I also invited them to return to whatever hole they had crawled out of and to stop causing problems for decent people. The women started to back away, when, at this point, four cruisers pulled up behind them.

To conclude, the police found cause to arrest both women as well as the two men they found lurking in the parking lot. I gave them my name and number as a witness to the incident and soon after, we headed over to the movie theatre.

Now, here's my point. Our mysterious woman had, in point of fact, threatened to shoot every one of the waiters. That's when she jumped up and started emptying her pocketbook. I didn't hear her stay it, but it seemed clear to me that something was about to happen. Right then, I decided it wasn't going to happen unimpeded. I was up and in place behind her fast enough that if she had pulled a gun, I was pretty confident that she wouldn't have been able to do much with it.

And I ask myself why I was ready to act and why so many others weren't. There were people who were much closer to her who could have intervened (had intervention truly been necessary). What if she did pull a gun? What if she turned and started shooting other people in the restaurant? Thank the Lord she didn't, but if she did... what would you have done? What would you have wanted to do?

I don't dwell on this sort of thing and I don't want to give the impression that I'm the some sort of psycho-vigilante riding the New York subway system with a screwdriver hoping to get a chance to use it. But I have thought situations like this through and I've also purposed within myself, that if crap does go down, I'm not going to be a victim, at least not one who didn't make a move to stop it.

I look back on this and I'm pleased how reacted. I was ready. Perhaps more imporantly, I wasn't overly ready. I didn't deck the woman without cause; I didn't exacerbate the situation. But I was ready.

Are you ready?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How It's Supposed to Be

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 12, 1782
On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Today - 8:35am

My boss is pretty upset right now, which is rare for him. He's usually pretty cool, calm, and jocular. However, this morning's been pretty hard on everyone.

Anyone in the biomedical field doing cutting edge research knows the risks, and few more than those professionals in this Lab. We're trained, we're audited by the FDA, we follow rigorous safety guidelines, and we document everything. No, you don't understand. Nothing is left to chance on a laboratory bench when one is working with hazardous biological material.

I think that's why the top brass is so upset right now. The white coats down in the sterile room knew better, or at least should have known better -- but, I mean, how can you ever be totally sure? We know a lot about the human body, but there is still so much that scientists don't know about viruses, about bacteria, about genetics, and mutations.

And they're random, aren't they? I mean, who can predict a mutation? You can run the same test a hundred times. A thousand. Ten thousand. But who's to say when it might happen? You don't know.

And now the emails are flying. People are scrambling, and everyone's checking and double checking the data. This is going to be a very long day and there is even a slim chance that we're going to be here into the evening until we can get this properly resolved.

I am going to keep updating this blog as more information comes available.

Today 10:18am
Houston, we have a problem. The Clinical Research Technician who we feared may have been exposed has just tested positive. She's been moved into a sterile room that was being used for storage of biomedical materials. We can't bring her to the hospital for fear of this spreading until further tests and bloodwork can be done to determine the exact nature of the strain.

There is this eiry sort of somber feeling in the air and everyone's walking around talking in hushed tones. I think the strange calm around the office is more nerve wracking than anything.

Today 11:54am
We're in full fracking bore scramble mode now. The technician had apparently come into contact with at least one other person before we got her into containment and no one's sure who's been in contact with whom. The building has been locked down and the gate is closed. We're not getting out of here any time soon and people are getting scared.

Their are currently four known cases and managers are running around like lunatics literally shouting at people. They've brought several people into a sequestered area to interview (interrogate??) them to find out who they've been near and what areas of the building they've entered.

Today 12:38pm
Holy crap -- we've got eight people now in full blown infection and at least three more who are known to be infected but haven't been located. They're somewhere on the campus but no one knows where. Security guards are walking by here every 10 minutes and I just saw another security team in full hazmat suits. This is really scary. We've been told to remain at our desk and not to move. The phones have been shut off. I want to call my wife!!

Today 1:55pm
This is insane! About a half hour ago in the stair well from a couple floors below us, we heard screams and shouting and then a series of shots fired. Then... then a low moaning that sent chills down our spines. No one who went downstairs came back -- they're all dead. Dead!! The frigging phones are dead too and no can get cell phone reception in here. Terry pulled away some ceiling tiles a little while ago. We boasted him up and he's up there now trying to find some way out. Some of the women, and at least one of the guys are in tears. Leo said he saw them. He said they're all pastey white as if the blood was drained from their faces. Some of them are covered in the blood -- the blood of their co-workers who they attacked.

This is crazy! I can't believe it's really happening! Dr. Cjelkovitch says he's only seen this once before, about 27 years ago in a lab in a town outside St. Petersburg. An lab worker scratched himself on a needle and instead of telling anyone, he left the damn lab. They had to quarantine and cull an entire town to prevent the spread. If these infected get out of the building here, we're in deep crap!

We're trying to get to the guard shack to get the damned gate open. I just stepped over the body of someone I used to sit near. The top of their head was ripped open and their brains were gone. Gone! Jack says they were eaten, but I can't even imagine... it's just unfathomable.

I'm out. I'm sitting in a SWAT truck parked just off the Lab's campus. A team of police and paramilitary just swarmed in with some pretty heavy firepower to clean things up.

I don't know how many people were lost, but I counted at least three that I knew personally. This is horrible. I can't believe something like this could happen here. Zombiism! Who would ever have imagined?

Monday, March 2, 2009


I was more than a little surprised this morning when I woke up and checked my Blackberry only to discover that, yes, today is a normal workday at the Lab. The northeast is getting hammered by a pretty good snowstorm right now, and has been since last last nite. However, unlike several other such incidents, the powers that be did not opt to cancel work today.

This was surprising given that the city of Boston declared a snow emergency and that snow was predicted to continue to fall. Last nite, three people, a pregnant woman and her mother, and were killed when their car apparently slid across the road and struck an on-coming snowplow. No details have been released yet, but I can imagine a scenario where in a split second's time your life changes from waiting to become a father to suddenly becoming a widower. Makes me sick to my stomach to ponder it.

I fought my way in to the office with my own infinitely smaller set of problems. I was slipping all over the place, fighting for traction, and at one point, sliding right off the road as I tried to take a left off of Rte 28. My tires are no good in snow. That's bad enough, but coupled with a big engine under my hood, I find that my car isn't particularly safe in snow. I'm going to have to break down and pick up some new tires very soon. I hate to have to part with the money, but it may be that or having to buy a new front end one of these days.