Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Archive: The Shadow Government

[One of the perils of writing for the Web is that stuff disappears. Every so often I like to retrieve stuff from our internal archive and get it back out there where someone could read it at least in theory. Here's a Rough Draft column that ran online-only on March 6, 2002 and was later deleted. It's something of a period piece.]

It gives pause. That is the reaction here in Washington to the news that the White House has created a shadow government in the mountains. We are not frightened or panicked, just, you know, pausing, briefly, to mull the implications of a government program for which the possible obliteration of one's community is the premise.

After we pause, we shrug, because we are sophisticated about the way the federal government operates. The fact that the White House has initiated the Total Destruction of the District of Columbia Contingency Program, or whatever they call it, is not, by itself, evidence that terrorists have nuclear capability. The creation of government programs is what governments do. This is a particularly classic one, in that, if all goes well, the secret government will never do anything other than seek its own renewed funding.

After we pause and shrug we momentarily frown, out of concern for our precious tax dollars. Apparently the shadow government managers are already demanding upgrades to their equipment, because they feel the rotary dial phones, suitcase-sized adding machines, black-and-white televisions with rabbit-ear antennas, and rusty, 45-year-old tin cans of military surplus beans and Vienna sausages combine to create too much of that "Cold War aesthetic."

Then we suppress a snort of derision. We realize that this shadow government, like all Cold War concepts, is inherently an extremely bureaucratic response to something of unimaginable horror. Bureaucracies are brilliant at self-preserving. Washington might be destroyed, thousands killed, beloved landmarks and national shrines and beautiful old neighborhoods wiped out, but, thanks to the shadow government, the Department of Commerce would still function.

And then we get slightly miffed, feeling overlooked. The White House has created a shadow Executive Branch but, to date, no shadow Congress or shadow Judiciary or shadow Smithsonian Institution or shadow Expense Account Restaurant. Nor are there any shadow Gotcha Journalists or shadow Smarmy Lobbyists or shadow Protesters Championing Lost Causes or shadow Tourists Inexplicably Lined Up at the Hard Rock Cafe. There are no shadow Exploding Manhole Covers. There are no shadow Former Gators.

If the government really wants to replace Washington it needs to expand this "shadow" thing by a factor of 10. But it has to be careful that it doesn't make the shadow government too big, because then we would once again have created something so valuable and important that we couldn't risk its destruction by terrorists -- and we'd have to create, as a backup, a shadow shadow government.

Now, it might be argued (incorrectly of course) that joking about life-and-death matters is pathological. But what is the appropriate response to the shadow government story? Or the news that the United States government seriously worried in the fall that New York might be hit with a stolen Russian nuclear weapon, and yet told no one in New York? In general, to what extent should we worry about high-casualty, low-probability threats, versus low-casualty but highly probable ones? (Answer: Don't get so worked up over a potential nuclear attack that you accidentally drive into a telephone pole.)

A key weapon when reacting to bad news is rationalization. You can rationalize away almost any threat. I keep telling myself that the terrorists couldn't possibly have a nuclear weapon because, if they did, they'd have used it. (It's not like they are going to agonize over whether it's the right thing to do.) If they didn't have one by Sept. 11, they probably have found it difficult to get one since. And if they did get one--this is the last, desperate rationalization--I think I'd probably be outside the direct blast zone and would not be instantly killed, but rather would merely die slowly from the radiation.

Rationalization ultimately leads us where we want to go, which is into a state of partial denial. Denial, in moderation, can be healthy. You need to be able to push things to the edge of your consciousness without banishing them altogether. We have so many things to keep track of already in our quest to lead a normal life. Buy milk, call Mom, take cat to vet, hope city avoids thermonuclear annihilation.

A final thought: People have faced scarier times than these. The Cuban Missile Crisis involved an enemy that really did possess the ability to wipe out cities with the touch of a button. Go back further: Our ancestors knew endless wars, epidemics, human bondage, the kind of woes we can barely imagine, and yet they carried on, they found joy in the world, they made art, literature, music, they danced, they kept the faith.

Denial only works for so long. A few days ago it seemed we were drifting back to a pre-9/11 mood, there were even stories in the media about Gary Condit, the icon of media overkill. Monica Lewinsky popped up on TV. It was safe to be shallow again! Then came the latest round of terrible news from Afghanistan -- a reminder of the war, and of our countrymen dying on our behalf in a distant land.

They say its a sign of mental health to hold apparently contradictory ideas in your mind. The world of late has been a particularly exotic stew of horror and beauty. There are killers, there are saints. The trick is to find the right spot on the spectrum between abject despair and total obliviousness. And then carry on.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 24, 2010; 5:09 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: NASA and the Pentagon
Next: Cabins for Haiti


Oh, goodie! Jag har kommit in på första plats.

You know, there is something to be said for resilience ... the elasticity of emotional wherewithall, which allows us to stay upright and smiling (mostly) in the face of imaginary and truly imaginative horror movies like this. There are a lot of people who are simply ripe and eager to be manipulated and bullied and used. Witness the Tea Partiers and others.

Good kit, Joel.

*removing remaining cobwebs from the corners*

Posted by: -ftb- | February 24, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse


I feel a need--more like a duty--to call out this article and its accompanying graphic because it is *so* on-Kit. Yesterday's Kit. It's by Andrew Revkin at the NYT, headlined, "Disaster Awaits Quake-Threatened Cities in Developing World." Reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.

Caribbean/Haiti/Port-au-Prince is just one of many areas/countires/cities vulnerable in the world. Not rich, in comparison to Japan and California/Los Angeles.


Graphics (two, significant, so scroll down)...Where Shoddy Construction Could Mean Deaths:

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Another blast from the past. Clara Hughes just won the bronze medal at the 5000m long track, at the ripe age of 37. It was her best time ever. She was biking in Atlanta in 1996 (bronze) and Sidney in 2000. She skated Salt Lake City (bronze) in 2002 and Torino in 2006 (Gold and Silver). Pretty good run.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 24, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Gary Condit...of Ceres.

Wow...material is dated but important sometimes to look back..I've got my head stuck this afternoon in the New England mill strikes of the late 1820s and hit an interesting term in Moran's book, [p.29, the fear of a] "gynecocracy."

As much fun, terminology-wise, as a new word that came out of previews at the movies last night, from the upcoming comedy, "She's Out of Your League." The new word is "moodle." A combination of "man" and poodle." Guess who gets the girl?

"Moodle" reminds me of the online chat at at what seemed eons ago with British author James Naughtie. I participated in this chat. Naughtie, if I recall correctly--and I'm pretty sure I do, called Blair "Bush's poodle." Can't recall if he coined the term? Perhaps that combination of Blair and poodle should now be combined to form ??? "Boodle"? *LOL*

Naughtie does call out on page 5: "Blair was the youngest prime minister elected in Britain since the eighteenth century [and who was that eighteenth century prime minister? searching memory bank...] and the most inexperienced."

Posted by: laloomis | February 24, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

*sigh* from Wiki:

"William Pitt, the Younger (28 May 1759 – 23 January 1806) was a British politician of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 (although at this period the term Prime Minister was not used). He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806."

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Joel, I remember this article well. I was receptive to the underlying angst because I had recently turned 40. Which, back then, was considered old.

Believe it or not, the government still has extensive continuity of operations plans. I have attended many of these COOP meetings where plans for an orderly evacuation to numerous undisclosed locations is discussed in the event of marauding zombies and the like.

I attend these meetings. I soberly listen to the need to define critical equipment lists. I make note of the locations and the best ways to get there so as to avoid most of the zombies.

I guess all this is supposed to make us feel better.

But here's the thing. If something really catastrophic would occur, I doubt that these plans would really help that much.

The functions of the government would, almost by definition, change radically and in unforeseeable ways. For example, the need for assessment of technological impact of new research will be downgraded. The need for for killing zombies will be upgraded. And, sadly, it's hard to plan for this. I mean, I don't even know where one would get zombie-killing cricket bats like in that British movie.

Further, of course, the willingness of many to really follow these detailed plans is questionable. Many, I suspect, would immediately gather up loved ones and go head to the hills. Or hide in well-armed rec rooms. And if this looks bad on the next performance review, so be it.

I, personally, don't need to worry. I'm on the optional list. I can take part in a COOP evacuation, but am not obligated to. I am expendable.

In other words, an assessment has been made that in such a disaster my likely role in the Shadow Government is simple.

I shall be Zombie Food.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Congrats to Clara what a woman, what a humanitarian.

So quiet in our neighbourhood, almost spooky - just like 1972 Canadians glued to the TV. Puck drop in a few moments. Family is gathered we are ready.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Joel, for the new Kit. Staying on kit for so long in the other boodle was very unnerving. Space... the final frontier... and seems to be the most-popular on-topic topic on the boodle.

I sure wish we could all access those Rough Drafts, Joel. Any plans to make those available somehow?

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

You only stayed on kit as I was at work and busy :-)

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Goal Canada 1-0

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Good to see Russians are still great actors. Cheap penalty. Russian powerplay.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

'mudge, you made me laugh by association, citing William Pitt the Younger. At some time in the early 1970s, Punch magazine had a very clever cartoon (can't find it online) that played with "Pliny the Elder (real), Pliny the Younger (real), and Pliny the Tiny (not so much)." I *fell about* laughing and so did PGM.

Clearly meant for an English audience who'd studied "Greats" at Oxbridge.

Posted by: Yoki | February 24, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Powerplay goal Canada 2-0, boys are on fire tonight.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

3-0 canada, they are going insane in Vancouver.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Not watching the hockey game here, dmd, as my husband is intent on ruining his night by watching the Tarheels lose badly (again). Thanks for keeping us posted.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Russians waking up 3-1.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

I keep flipping between the hockey game and the Swedish/Great Britain curling match. The curling is much closer, which pleases me no end.

Also, I still despise those P&G "Thanks Mom" ads.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

4-1 Canada

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Interesting post RD, I like the way you talk. By the way, this game seems like a noticeably more physical hockey game than even Sunday nite...would you agree, Yoki? Your boys look dynamite. Please tell me you care who wins tonight!!!

On the Constellation program, it seems like I recently saw a NatGeo show trying to sell the idea that there are tons of gold and platinum to be mined from the moon...possible?

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 24, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Wow. 4-1 Canada.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

teddy much better game than Sunday. Fast game and very physical, great passing.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Sweden will meet Canada in the curling semis. That should be a good game.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

teddy - sure, there could be lots of precious metals on the moon. It was ripped from the earth, after all. But I don't think the economics are really there. Although, moon gold would make a cool piece of jewelry...

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 24, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

I just feel any combination of "shadow" and "government" - well, it gives me the willies.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 24, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if USA could beat Canada again if they played nine more straight.

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 24, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

At the risk of getting blocked for posting too often, Canada made a small error


Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

OHHHHH Baby!!!!

FYI... if you're ever blocked for posting too often, just hit the Back button and then Submit again.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

7-2, as a Canadian this is fun. Any other team you might start to feel bad, against the Russians - keep scoring boys.

Posted by: dmd3 | February 24, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Laughing, Padouk. Yes, we have frequent COOP exercises, too. But alas, as I am not on the planning committee, there is no one to provide maniacal, mocking laughter, eye rolls, disdain, snorts of derision, etc. Nevertheless, somehow, some way or other, they seem to have managed to procede without my input. Depending on the nature of the horrific holocaust taking place a mere few hundred yards from my cubby, rather than evacuate we may have to do what they now call "shelter in place." Back in the 1950s, the term didn't exist -- but the concept did. It was called "Kids, get under your desks and try not to let the glow of the giant fireball over Philadelphia alarm you."

Thus, I have my little "shelter-in-place" kit in my desk and locker: a can of corned-beef hash (and I don't even like corned beef has), a can of Wolfgang Puck's soup (beef bourgignon, I think, but not sure), a can of Campbell's tomato, a can opening, a surgical mask, a 12 ounce bottle of water (in case I am trapped under rubble, I won't dehydrate nearly as fast as those similarly unequipped), and a flashlight. Oh, and a deck of playing cards, though I think the nine of clubs is missing, which will be disconcerting in the event of an anthrax bio-attack.

I think that in the zombie attack scenario, the contingency plan is rather than shelter in place and be fricasseed one by one, we will be released to go home, in which case I shall walk to my bus stop and wait for the 903 to come by. Assuming zombies haven't gotten the driver, and all the river bridges out of DC aren't at a complete standstill. (Those odds aren't all that good, methinks.)

My self-esteem is such that I cannot regard myself as "expendable" in such a disaster. I like to think the zombies will recognize my worth, and allow me to live and serve them by editing their press releases, position papers, brochures, and other timely zombie informational materials. I live in hope that the chief zombie recognizes the importance of good spelling and proper grammar. If not, well, I guess my ass is grass.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Wonderfully written piece Joel. If 'the worst' happens, I don't want to survive, it would be too ugly if I'm to believe all the horror movies and Cormac McCarthy's The Road - and I do believe in these things.

Oh 7-2, yay! Go Canada, oops, 7-3.

Posted by: badsneakers | February 24, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

teddymzuri, of *course* I care. I am deeply involved (especially with Jeroooommmme), but, but.

I guess my boys watched those tapes, eh?

This is what i call hockey. Both teams well prepared, well coached, powerful, doing what they need to.

I mostly just love the game. If the better team wins, I am happy.

I am *such* a girl.

Posted by: Yoki | February 24, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Most likely a broad-leafed fescue.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Me, not you, Yoki. Yes, you *are* such a girl. I knew it all along. Me: broad-leaded fescue.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

SCC: Broad-leafed. Although there is some merit to "leaded."

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Shelter in place, indeed. There's a song for that (thanks to Jonathan Coulton)...

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I missed most of the space talk. I'm as Destiny: The Stars as the next guy, but I don't find The Search For Life rationalization all that compelling. Mars is not the place to go looking for our genetic soulmates deep in the frozen tundra of Planun Boreum. As Bernie Taupin once said, "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids." In fact it's cold as he11.

I like the road trip metaphor. If we are going to cruise around the Solar System it should be because we want to, not because our Calvinistic Ethic says that we need to be Accomplishing Something. We need to subscribe more to the Edmund Hillary Excuse. Spacii gratis spacium.

And really, what's the rush? It's not like we are on some kind of deadline. No sentient computer network is manipulating public opinion to make sure enough of us survive the coming apocalypse to tend to their servers. Mars isn't going anywhere. It'll still be around when we are ready.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I remember attending a meeting in late 1977 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Bahsten (my employer at the time) about keeping the money supply flowing in the event of an emergency. I totally forget the details, only that it was a very long meeting.

Three months later was the blizzard of 1978 and everything that was done to keep money flowing was done by gut instinct and not by the manual.

The young cynic in me found this to be hilarious.

Posted by: MsJS | February 24, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of coming apocalypses, many years ago I took the scenic route back from Shenandoah through the George Washington National Forest (not all of the roads through it are paved as I came to find out) and stumbled upon Mount Weather. The huge concertina fences and acres of 'FEMA' vehicles convinced me that this was a place I didn't want to be.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

Apparently they're still not using that manual.

I'll be watching the 5th season of The Wire tonight - got through 3 episodes already today. I had been under the impression there were 4 seasons (I'm getting these from the library), and as I was watching the 4th, I kept waiting for the newspaper to be more a part of it. So I was relieved that the library did indeed have the 5th season, and it feels like a bonus to have more to watch. What a great series.

So let me know what happens at the Olympics.

Posted by: seasea1 | February 24, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Scotty just texted me from his mom's house in New Hampshire (no Internet there) and asked me to tell the Boodle he <3s Canada's gameplan for the hockey game.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | February 24, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of repurposed Cold War relics, if you ever get a chance to visit the National Audio Visual Conservation Campus at the Packard Campus of the Library of Congress in Culpeper, go.

While they have put a huge pretty exterior on it, the central cold storage archives (25 deg F and 30% rh) is down in the vaults where the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond used to keep a trillion dollars of cash on hand to prime the pumps of capitalism after The Bombs fell.

While it's a shame they didn't keep the rolling solid steel window shutters, the nitrate film vaults are fire proofed to a level even I find scary.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

yello - As a real estate appraiser, I had cause to head that way occasionally at times of year not of my choosing. I noted that the roads were always well-plowed. Not that I'm against that.

Posted by: bobsewell | February 24, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, nothing wrong with being broad leaded, sir. Nor with being prepared to write releases when the zombies come. On Z Day, I'm getting those I love and hitting the road at a run, shortly setting sail to help out with the Provisional Planetary Government. From the shadow Govt. offices on the Dark Side of the Moon, naturally.

I'll make sure I leave some chianti and fava beans behind so y'all can enjoy some liver (not mine).



Posted by: -bc- | February 24, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

I got home late and missed most of the basketball game, I'm glad to say. The end of this season will be a great relief in the T household. Next year! Mr. T has the hockey game on now, thank heavens...

Posted by: slyness | February 24, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I inadvertently Boodled In Order. Where did they keep the Brahmin Bucks for The Day After? Before David Packard dropped $150 mill into the place, Fort Pony could have dressed the set of Mad Men with all the relic furniture in the place.

I have a distant cousin that played a warlord in Kevin Costner's The Postman. I have too much respect for David Brin to see the movie, but that is what I imagine the rebuilding of civilization to be like.

On Z-Day I am unlocking the door and emptying the liquor cabinet as quickly as possible. I might as well give some Undead-American pickled brains for dessert.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 24, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Yay Canada - with 13.5 seconds left I think I can say that!

Posted by: badsneakers | February 24, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Canada has gotten serious since falling to US. Congratulations!

Posted by: teddymzuri | February 24, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I've got a feeling Canada was kind of serious all along.

Posted by: bobsewell | February 24, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Curling is easier to understand than that speed skating thing I just watched.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 24, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Frosti, I'm starting to understand curling strategy a bit altho' the terminology is still foggy to me. I enjoy watching it tho' thanks to all the fans here for piquing my interest.

Posted by: badsneakers | February 24, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Too right, bobsewell. But also generous-hearted.

Posted by: Yoki | February 24, 2010 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Seasea... I understand The Wire is very well written.

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

TBGB, Hah!

John Hodgman on the Daily Show is making fun of Canadians and the Olympians!

Umbrage follows! (Hey, I spelled it right, I think!!)

Posted by: rickoshea1 | February 24, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Ha, TBG, yes it is.

Posted by: seasea1 | February 24, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Rickoshea, that Hodgeman piece was hilarious, loved the last bit about shoving the 'Situation' off a cliff thus solving all our problems!

Posted by: badsneakers | February 24, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Hodgeman on the Winter Olympics: "These are not sports; these are drunken dares."

Posted by: -TBG- | February 24, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

when you have the time, check this one out. the beach boys and the dead belt out a merle haggard standard. just for s's and g's

Posted by: -jack- | February 24, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks everyone for the cheer-along. As you may have noticed this hockey thing is of some import up here. I was at a work/client function where the game was on so was finally able to see a game. I feel a little bad for the Russians, but then it passes.

On zombies, the specific scenario matters a lot. The cold winters here are an advantage in almost all scenarios. No matter where you are, sustainability is the hard part, though.

On British PMs, there was a Simpson's episode where Barney and Mo were debating who was the best 19th century PM. Mo says Pitt the Younger. Barney favoured Lord Palmerston.

Posted by: engelmann | February 24, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Hey, no need to *sigh* over Wiki, Curmudgeon. I can do my own Wiki "work," *l* but not necessarily combine it with the need to do other, more pressing things or duties around the house, as the need (sometimes immediate) dictates. There's no anger or hard feelings in my stating this, it's just that my days and evenings are a lot different than yours or the next person's, etc. You know, the *walk a day in my moccasins* dealybob.

I found the Pitt entry (Britain's youngest prime minister, but not called prime minister at that time) later, after my 5:53 p.m. post--shortly before 7 p.m. my time--hoping the chicken in the oven wouldn't dry out from being overbaked. Actually, I had spent a great deal more time with Naughtie and his book "Accidental American," going over my highlighting done some years ago, than with Wiki. Let's just say that I was really sad when Robin Cook died.

And the Wiki entry is more interesting than the short blurb you pulled from Wiki and posted for several reasons, including Pitt's early friendship with William Wilberforce (played by young actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the film "Amazing Grace." Cumberbatch plays a bad boy role in "Atonement" and a good young man in "The Other Boleyn Girl." He also portrays Joseph Hooker in the Darwin drama that is out and not yet in Alamo City, the movie I'm eager to see, "Creation," though I'm mindful of Ebert's last paragraph in his movie review of the same.)

Sometimes, Curmudgeon, I think you and I are, often, the only historical look-things-uppers here. Although yello did surprise me some several days ago re: Friedman. If you're curious about something I ask about--sometimes I'm just thinking aloud--then post it, but don't sigh for me (Argentina).

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Yoki | February 25, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Love love engelmann, give it up.

Posted by: Yoki | February 25, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse

Good one, Joel. Still (!) laugh out loud funny which is so good for one's well-being...regardless of uncontrollable circumstances.

Posted by: Windy3 | February 25, 2010 12:58 AM | Report abuse

*Looking around*

Where is everybody? Must have been a late night with the Olympics.

Well. Good morning, all, and happy Thursday. Cassandra, I hope you are warm and comfy this morning, it's cccold here. After calling for snow, then saying no snow, the forecasters missed it again. We have a little snow in the grass, but that's all.

Scambled eggs, ham biscuits, hot grits, and juice and coffee/tea on the ready room table. Enjoy, folks.

Posted by: slyness | February 25, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

And (l)astley, this video had me in seventh heaven.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 25, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Slyness-grits! haven't thought to have any in a while and they are so good on a cold morning.

Good morning boodle. Watched the bobsledding women last night, Canada Gold and Silver, US Bronze. Yes, it did look like a drunken dare-but also a lot of fun.

Haven't backboodled thoroughly so apologies if this has been discussed. Interesting Slate series on how social networking helped catch Saddam.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | February 25, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

I don't want any realtors trying to show me property on Mars.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 25, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

After that game last night I no longer fear zombies. I fear the Canadian hockey team.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. It's the fourth day of snow and rain here. That's OK, it's mostly snow at higher elevation where the ski trails are.
The snow is very heavy, it's hard on the snowblower. The snow does not come out of the belly of the beast in the usual glorious high arc of sparkling white beauty. This goopy stuff sputters out of the spout, some of it not even taking flight but dripping back on the machine.

I made the mistake of watching the (quite good) Sweden Red Wings vs Slovakia game. I'm squinting to read what's on the monitor already.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 25, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Frosti, I've been fascinated by that series in Slate. Who knew there were real life applications for sociology?! (I kid!) But it highlights the importance of knowing one's enemies.

Posted by: slyness | February 25, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

I watched “Shaun of the Dead” again last weekend. This is the one romantic comedy in which the bad guy (Jason Alexander in “Pretty Woman”, Matt Dillon in “There’s something about Mary”, etc) gets his due: having his intestines ripped from his belly and being eaten alive by zombies.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 25, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse


Oh, wait. . . . where were we?

The US and Canadian hockey wimmin go at it tonight. Now *that* should be a great game! Since it's likely to be over before the most elite of the elite figure skaters skate -- and if I'm still awake -- I shall watch.

I shut off the TV last night at 10, got into bed with my book and immediately fell asleep.

Hope you don't get buried too much in the snow, Sneaks. We were spared down here (at least where I live). The wind will be savage, however, and I'm hoping the power doesn't go out.

Cya later.

Posted by: -ftb- | February 25, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Wow, was that the same Canadian team that played Sunday? If the gold medal game ends up being a US-Canada rematch, my bet's on Canada. The US just squeaked by the Swiss--not a sign of good things to come.

On kit now, my favorite line from "The Big Chill" was "You can't get through the day without at least one juicy rationalization." My life in a nutshell.

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Be still my beating heart. I have discovered a podcast on the Physics of Curling.

I must now seek out my swooning couch.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

William Pitt the Younger, from the Wiki entry:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves." (speech to Parliament 1783)

"Is anyone such a fool as to suppose that out of six thousand factory girls in Lowell, sixty would be there if they could help it? Whenever I raise the point that it is immoral to shut us up in a close room twelve hours a day in the most monotonous and tedious of employment I am told that we have come to the mills voluntarily and we can leave them when we will. Voluntarily! ...the whip which brings us to Lowell is *necessity*. We must have money; a father's debts are to be paid, an aged mother to be supported, a brother's ambition to be aided and so the factories are supplied. Is this to act from free will?...Is this freedom? To my mind it is slavery."

Sarah Bagley, the most strident of the women leaders protesting conditions in the fabric mills and corporate boardinghouses in New England's mill cities, about sixty years after William Pitt the Younger made his statement (above). Bagley came to Lowell, Mass., from Candia, N.H., to work in the Hamilton Mill. She was one of the organizers of the Lowel Female Labor Reform Association in 1844.

And the necessity of launching the war in Iraq? Remind me again, someone, please?

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Woo-hoo RD! Thanks. We newly minted and ignorant curling aficionados - particularly those of us completely ignorant of physics for all practical purposes - appreciate any and all explanations.

Posted by: Ivansmom | February 25, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

What are we new curling addicts going to do when the Olympics are over? Someone needs to launch The Curling Channel. (Raysdad says that CNBC stands for Curling--Nothing But Curling.)

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Here's an article that summarizes lots of the info in that podcast (which is a bit leisurely in its informational pace)

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I wondered that too, Raysmom. I assume you can watch streaming vids of matches on the internet somewhere. Any suggestions from our Canadian friends?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

On to Liss and Porter, men of opposites.

Porter is tall, handsome, and brunette, with a close-shaved beard; Liss is shorter, with more angular features, blonde, and clean-shaven. Porter is younger; Liss is older. Porter is on the faculty at Trinity; Liss's wife, Clare, is on the faculty at Trinity.

Porter hails from Pennsylvania; Liss from New York, by way of Florida. I seem to recall that one of Liss's earlier works, "The Ethical Assassin" is somewhat autobiographical.

Porter writes short stories; Liss writes novels and longer forms.

Last Thursday night, a member of the audience asked how the two different writers craft their works. Porter is a take-'er-out-'er; Liss is a put-'er-in-'er.

Simply, Porter overwrites his short stories, then removes a great deal of extraneous material. Liss writes an outline of his novels very quickly, using a paucity of words, and the, after the structure of the work is preliminarily set, returns to concentrate on the details and to flesh out the story and characters.

I think it best to speak of Liss and Porter in terms of the questions I asked them Thursday night, before I talk about Liss's upcoming "The Darkening Green."

Each read for about an half an hour, Porter going first, then the Q&A opened up. For the longest pause, rather uncomfortable, of perhaps a minute or more, no one had a question to ask. Normally, I would step in to fill the void, but not Thursday night, deciding for once not to go first.

My question of Liss was the second asked, and after the questions began to roll from listeners' curiosity, I would ask Porter one question, without the benefit of the portable mic this time, before the evening's program ended.


Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

(Must be the late-night Olympics-watching.)

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

JA's kit reminds me of these two quotes:

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. (Aristotle)

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 25, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

They could launch an all curling channel here. It would do well.

You know it has been a few years since I began the curing schtick. I am delighted, absolutely delighted, that you are starting to see things my way.

I'd boodle more but curling is on 2 or three times a day. Add on top of that a little skating, a little skiing, a little sledding down the hills, a little social knitting of the Olympic sort and I tell you, I am just plain pooped out.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 25, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Here you go.

Our download speed is too slow to make it fun to watch on the computer, but if you have a good high speed, you ought to be ok.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 25, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

It is the mark of a distracted mind to entertain a thought to the point where it's drunk and dancing on tabletops. (Raysmom)

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

a good high speed? Sheesh. High speed connection.

Posted by: --dr-- | February 25, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

It is the mark of a distracted mind to entertain a thought to the point where it's drunk and dancing on tabletops. (Raysmom)

Good one: how about this?

It is the mark of a very tired mind to entertain a thought to the point that at night it can solve the world's problems but in the light of day is a ticket to the barmy bin.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | February 25, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

The question I asked of Porter is "How would you describe the sound of your own voice?"

Before Porter, who seemed embarrassed or dumbfounded by my question could answer, Liss piped in, "Fabulous."

Porter stumbled for words, then answered, "Sonorous." (Which means loud, deep, or resonant, as a sound.)

At which point I confessed, "I was thinking a NPR voice, a radio voice, like that of [the late velevet-voiced] Barry White."

At which point, Liss squeaked, "White," I'm sure tag-teaming with Porter for comic effect. Then it was on to the next question from another member of the audience.

The Christian Science Monitor described Porter as a master stoyteller, "a creator of tender and hopeful characters, a writer who whispers rather than shouts."

Thursday night, Porter read from his 2008 book, "The Theory of Light and Matter," his short story "Storms," a metaphor for the stormy relationships of a mother and stepfther and a sister who dramatically broke off her engagement to her fiancee in Spain and then flew home, stranding her former beloved without money, passport, backpack. I think this short story may be autobiographical. If it is, it would make Porter a smoker.

The voice. I'm reminded of a short passage from Robert Harris's "The Ghost," when the ghostwriter goes to meet his agent at a men's club in London: "light from three immense candelabras glinted on dark polished tables, plated silverware and rubied decanters of claret." With a hint of smoker's huskiness added to Porter's timbre. Porter's sound is not a radio voice or a NPR voice, it is the voice of seduction.

I can paint the mental picture, straight from an early Indiana Jones movie. Porter's young college students sit close to him in the front rows of his lectures, then bat their eyes very slowly at their tall professor. Across their eyelids, printed in neat, careful handwriting (much like Porter's own) are the words, "I Love U," or "C U L8tr?"

This writer Porter could definitely moonlight outside of the classroom in any aural setting. In fact, he could read to me under the moonlight at any time, moon in full or in quarter. I look forward to reading and better knowing his words, his voice.

On to Liss...

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

OMG, dr. What's on that site??? It got blocked by our dirty website filter.

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Thanks dr! Something to bookmark.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of weird Olympic uniforms, how are those bunker Olympic viewing uniforms workin' out for ya?

O.K., I resisted asking when the discussion dragged two days ago about the Aboriginal/Russian free-style dancing pair, but now I'm too curious by half.

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

That's interesting Raysmom. I can get to it just find, and we have a pretty rigid filter.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

No snow here, ftb, just lots and lots of rain. There will be very high winds out of the east tonight, too bad it'll be dark when high tide comes as it would be great for wave viewing.

Have to go read about the physics of curling, sounds like fun(?).

Posted by: badsneakers | February 25, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Good morning, friends. A real good kit, JA. And you put the thought so well.Trying to find that balance is certainly the key, but a difficult task, yet those of faith take comfort in God and Christ. And though many consider this to be the height of delusion, believers find great comfort in that.

Busy, busy, day, yesterday, and paying the piper today. Will have to fall back on the crutches today, didn't use them yesterday.

It is very cold here compared to the warmth of the past few days. Got to bundle up again.

Mudge, Scotty, Martooni, Slyness, Yoki, Lindaloo, and everyone, have a great day.

Posted by: cmyth4u | February 25, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

From the Department of New Things to Frighten You: I offer the following quotation from the journal Science's "This Week in Science" summary:

Cropland Acidification in China

China is experiencing increasing problems with acid rain, groundwater pollution, and nitrous oxide emissions. Rapid development of industry and transportation has accelerated nitrate (N) emissions to the atmosphere. Consequently, soil degradation, water shortage, and pollution, in addition to atmospheric quality decline are becoming major public concerns across China. Since the 1990s, China has become both the largest consumer of chemical N fertilizers and the highest cereal producer in the world, which has consequences for arable soil acidification. Guo et al. (p. 1008, published online 11 February) present a meta-analysis of a regional acidification phenomenon in Chinese arable soils that is largely associated with higher N fertilization and higher crop production. Such large-scale soil acidification is likely to threaten the sustainability of agriculture and affect the biogeochemical cycles of nutrients and also toxic elements in soils.

Consider, if the world's largest nation (~1/4 of world population) experiences a widespread failure of sustainable agricultural output, what kind of political and social phenomena are likely to follow?

For those of us who feel that the US should become a leader in green energy production, this provides a golden opportunity and a warning as to how we should invest our nation's effort. The acidification is happening because of fertilizers and because of industry, including power production. If we are leaders in green energy, then we have something we can sell to a billion desperate people, who may also need to import grain from other countries -- like from us. Even if one were a moron climate-change denier (is that redundant?) who thinks that our decisions should be made on a strictly limited class of economic data, it should be obvious that it's a wise investment for us to learn how to generate electricity renewably and efficiently, if only to have a technology suitable to sell to others.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 25, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Geek comment about the physics of curling.

I am beginning to appreciate that the physics of curling is surprisingly complex because of the interaction between the stone and the ice. The motion of the stone changes the ice, which in turn changes the motion of the stone. There is a complex feedback that is non-linear. That is, a tiny change in one can have a huge effect on the other.

In a way it is a bit like general relativity, where the mass of discrete objects distorts the spacetime continuum which, in turn, dictates the motion of the objects.

Of course, in an obvious oversight by Einstein, general relativity has no mention of sweepers.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Liss on zombies...

I asked Liss why he hadn't read Thursday night from his work that he had contributed to the zombie anthology, or reanimates, since that was the reading that had been promo'ed in the press, had been given publicity.

He was told that Stephen King and Alexie Sherman would be contributing to the zombie anthology. They didn't. I got the feeling that Liss felt slightly deceived. However, Liss was given no word restrictions, so he was able to write long, his zombie story about 40 pages, which pleased him.

Liss, in his own words:

The 19 provocative, haunting, and genuinely unsettling original stories in this zombie anthology move the genre beyond its usual apocalyptic wastelands. David Liss’s novelette “What Maisie Knew” is a stunning and gruesome meditation on the banality of capitalism and evil.

So, on Thurday night, Liss deviated from what had been promised and promoted, and read instead from his manuscript, his first chapter of "The Darkening Green."

More on Liss later. Nice to know that Hollywood has been knocking on his San Antonio door.

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y'all.

Late to the boodle this morning. Had to deal with an issue requiring a couple of 2x4's. All is now well.

*putting away hammer, saw and nails*

Sunny and cold in TWC. Must still be winter.

Got nothing to add to the current boodle threads, nor is the gray matter functioning at a level to offer something new. Mostly, it's sounding like a car engine that's having trouble turning over.

Posted by: MsJS | February 25, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

FYI, "moron climate-change denier" is NOT available as a Boodle handle, not even if abbreviated to MCCD or morcchad, or anything else. Yes, it is internally redundant, but can still be used, as in ATM machine.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 25, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Tim, your 10:42 reminds me of these two grafs from Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," about unexploited [conversely, exploited] biological commons, p. 69:

Every previous economic spurt and takeoff in history by one country or region was nutured by an unexploited biological commons," argues Carl Pope, referring to a region of vast untapped natural resources. "Northern Europe was taken into capitalism by the cod fishermen of the North Atlantic in the seventeenth century. Europe at the time did not have many sources of protein, until it discovered the Grand Banks fishing grounds. It was how they provided protein for all the people who left farms and moved to cities to engage in industry, textiles, and trade. Britain's fleet, by the way, was made possible by the virgin pine forests of North America and hardwood forests of India.

The Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, added Pope, was fed, in part, "by the American Midwest, an unexploited commons for producing grain, and by Britain exploiting India to grow tea that was shipped to China to obtain Chinese silver and silks. Parts of Africa were exploited for slaves to grow sugar in the Caribbean. [The Japanese] in the early twentieth century stoked [their] own growth with tungsten from Indonesia, rubber from Malaysia, rice from China. When that failed after [Japan lost World War II], they fuled their postwar industrial revolution by harvesting all the fisheries in the world to feed the Japanese salarymen making Toyotas."

Posted by: laloomis | February 25, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Here's my concern about Chinese pollution. Yes, it is horrific for the Chinese, but at some point it will also become everyone's problem. I mean, a lot of the smog in California already comes from China. At what point should the UN consider sanctions for excessive pollution?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 25, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Somehow, I don't think the U.S. wants to get involved with anything leading to sanctions for countries producing excess pollutants.

Posted by: bobsewell | February 25, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

My boss just gave me a package from someone in the agency who is looking for a temporary detail assignment in a financial organization. His resume looks good, but "Warning! Warning, Will Robinson!" is going through my head. I just keep thinking of the advice to never accept a free horse (good advice that I once ignored to my peril). Am I being too cynical?

Posted by: Raysmom | February 25, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

China has a voracious appetite for new energy sources, a condition befitting a country emerging from poverty with a billion citizens that are energetic, smart and value education. They will consume all types of power, green, brown or otherwise. One will not substitute for the other. As far as agricultural production, since they are a manufacturing powerhouse, they can trade for whatever commodities they require.

The problem with "green energy" is its lack of reliability. We must have a steady backbone of reliable energy to hang the inherently intermittent sources such as wind and solar. The problem we have is the rise of "againstness" that Joel has written about. Roadblocks to new energy schemes, even the green ones, abound. The default position is gridlock, followed by quickly built natural gas turbine generators when supply fails and that gas really should be saved for transportation purposes as the supply of petroleum gets tighter.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 25, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I think Pope got a little bit of his history wrong, Loomis. Pine was never a major shipbuilding material (with a few minor exceptions). What the British shipbuilders came to America to get was white oak, the single most important timber used in ship construction. After they denuded their own country of major oak trees, they came to America to re-supply themselves. (Red oak isn't nearly as good as white oak, and may effectively be ignored). And America happened to have vast forests of white oak, once upon a time. The second lumber they came after was elm, which is "adequate" as long as it is kept wet. Hence, elm is used for things like keels and keelsons. Oak is the "optimum" wood, neither the strongest (teak, ironwood) nor the most rot-resistant (cypress), but maximizes the combination of strength, rot-resistance, durability, and workability. Among other things, oak responds very well to being steam-bent, and so was used for ribs, stems, sterns, etc. Not for nothing is the anthem of the British Navy "Heart of Oak."

If the Brits wanted pine, they could get it from Corsica, as Corsican pine is similar to the only good shipbuilding pine, American loblolly pine (down in slyness and Cassandra's neck of the woods). Loblolly grows tall and straight and relatively knot-free, so is excellent for masts-- but it doesn't grow large enough for major ships, only smaller craft.

Other kinds of pine (mainly spruce) can be used in building small craft, dories and rowboats, skiffs, etc., which it is true any major fishing fleet would have many of. Most species of pine simply rot too fast in any marine environment, and so is only used in non-essential places, such as cheaply made and cheaply built internal furniture, bunks, "ceiling" (i.e., what layman would call "walls"), etc. Pitch pine would be used, but maily to obtain pitch, not for its lumber. Pitch was extremely important for sealing planks and keeping the ocean out. The wood itself was (back then, before turpentine and mineral spirits) next to useless.

But mainly it was white oak. Wonderful stuff, and now pretty rare, since most of it lies at the bottom of oceans and European harbors.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 25, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Part of that voracious appetite will be fed by nuclear power plants.

Posted by: MsJS | February 25, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Mudge, I recall from high school that pitch pine -- or, rather, the pitch therefrom -- was claimed in my history text as a major colonial export (last time that I paid much scholarly attention to American history, I'm afraid). They also cited pine for ships' masts. I learned from PBS' "The Woodwright's Shop", after Hurricane Gilbert (I think), that southern North American live oak also was a major material resource for shipbuilding because the natural growth pattern created branch pairs that were well-suited for ships' ribs, as the grain runs parallel to the surface at all points without significant need for bending. It was mentioned on the show because there were many downed live-oak trees, and Colonial Williamsburg and other historical re-creation sites wanted the live-oak for boat-building.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 25, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Looks like there's a new kit.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 25, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company