Beyond the Da Vinci Code

I read the Da Vinci Code; I thought it was a good bit of fiction, a gripping who-done-it with a clever twist at the end, as good as any of the mystery writers that I’ve enjoyed over the years, with just that bit of ‘what if’ that stirs the mental soup even when you’ve finished reading it.

I’d like to stress the word fiction again, just for those jumpy christian types who keep thinking that it is possible to disprove something that is published as fiction.

Seriously, three hours, and counting, of material on the “History Channel” (which gets confounded sometimes as to whether it’s actually supposed to be the PTL or the militarism channel) attempting to prove that a work of fiction is in fact, fiction.

“Yeah, it’s says it right on the spine of the book, thanks for caring, though.”

Not that they didn’t have some interesting sources during the course of the three hours. Sources that lent more credence to the thought that the story was a bit more than fiction, than to the blatant attempt to discredit the book as, once again, fiction.

So, just for grins, here are the sources:

Dr. Deirdre Good – General Theological Seminary
Dr. Karen RallsThe Templars and the Grail
Richard Leigh – Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Timothy FrekeThe Jesus Mysteries
Margaret StarbirdThe Woman with the Alabaster Jar

A heartfelt encouragement of ‘good reading’ I give to you all. May you find it as intriguing as I found the History channel programs frustrating, with the exception of the insights from the sources listed above.

People should question their most firmly held beliefs. Every day. If your beliefs cannot withstand your own questioning, then are they really your beliefs?

“Mcmansions” or just a sign of the changing times…

Only in Austin would they spit on revitalizing downtown residential districts, and call the resultant housing ‘McMansions’. Everywhere else this epithet is used (and rightly, in my opinion) it is applied to the overly large, over priced, housing that springs up in the suburbs. As an architect with a family to feed, I can share the blame for a good portion of that type of housing. Most of the families who moved into houses that I helped get built were quite thankful to have them. To each his own, I live in the central city because I like the convenience of being near downtown.

Based on the complaints of disgruntled neighbors, the Austin city council took action last week and suspended all pending permits for construction in established neighborhoods, subject to review and possible further restriction by ordinance. (how is this not Ex Post Facto, is what I’d like to know, but let’s not get off on a tangent here) Anyone who thinks this isn’t about the same ‘no-growth’ issues that Austin has always been preoccupied with needs to take a crash course in the history of Austin politics.

All you have to do is see which side the usual suspects line up on. The Austin American Statesman is foursquare against the ban, as can be seen from the multiple Op-Ed columns and letters on the subject. Too bad they don’t consistently side with those interested in preserving property rights. This time the property rights (and values) argument is what is being offered by the builders, so that’s the tack that is going to be taken by those who follow the chamber of commerce side of the argument.

On the other end of the spectrum is the champion of no-growth, the Austin Chronicle. At least they are consistent in lamenting the halcyon days of Austin in the 70’s, back when the city was a town, and it was empty when UT wasn’t in session. I wish these people would wake up and smell the coffee.

That Austin has been gone for so long, it was only a memory when I moved here in the late 80’s. The no-growthers got what they wanted way back then, except they found out they didn’t want it when they saw what it was. Property values crashed, jobs went away, projects were left rotting and half completed. They got it again when they passed SOS and successfully killed development in areas outside the city.

This problem is also of their own making. The traffic congestion which is a result of blocking most of the new freeway work that had been proposed 20 years ago, makes living in the suburbs an almost intolerable commute if you work downtown now. Many people who do so would (like me) like to live close enough to avoid a long commute. This (along with other factors) produces higher demand for housing in central Austin. The resultant rise in land prices (also an offshoot of the FACT that Austin isn’t a sleepy little town anymore; but a full fledged city of more than 500,000) has lead land owners to capitalize on property investments.

Now, horror of horrors, “the growth is happening right next door to me!”, not out in the suburbs. “Gotta call my councilman, and put a stop to this.” That’s how it always starts, and it never turns out like they planned it.

If you don’t own the property in question, you don’t have any right to dictate to the current owner what gets built on it. That won’t stop most people from trying, but what usually ends up happening is the development happens anyway, it just ends up costing more. This is what comes from relying on zoning and city officials to do a job that could more reliably be done with restrictive covenants and/or architectural planners who have a clue about what makes sense land use wise.

But then the chamber of commerce types wouldn’t be able to ram through the developments they want when the tables are reversed…

A Lemmings Tale

When I get to puzzling over the quandary of how to convince people that political change is necessary, I am reminded of a computer game I used to play. “Lemmings” was it’s name.

These cute little green headed characters would drop out of an entry point, and wander in a specific direction (Oddly enough, to the right. What is the significance of that?) until they met with certain doom. The players job was to save as many as possible from the doom they were marching towards, by converting the walkers to various other functions. In some of the later stages of the game, there just was no way to save all of them. In one specific instance, there is a cliff in front of a relentless stream of Lemmings, and you don’t have any way to stop them. You can stop enough of them to win the scenario, but only if you play it right. You, of course, would rather save them all, but it can’t be done. They walk over the cliff in spite of your best efforts.

That is where we are now, late in the game. Libertarians pointed out years ago that a 9-11 like attack was coming. It’s happened now.

The freedom ploy engaged in by the smugglers John Hancock & Samuel Adams was diverted. The  empire that Lincoln was forced to create re-claiming the South for the Union reached it’s summit in the 50’s and now drops down into historical irrelevance again. FDR’s schemes are coming to their crisis points and must be reformed or scrapped. There is no evading the cliff in front of us, unless we take action. ‘We’ have to convince enough people who can think for themselves that there is a problem, and that there is a workable solution. ‘Enough’ is a fluid number, based on what solution is used as a target. The rest will have to walk on over the cliff, in spite of us.

We all choose our own destiny, even if our choice is not to choose.

Charges in Fatal Dog Attack

When I wrote on this subject previously, this was the headline: Charges in fatal dog attack not likely, sheriff says Which was, as I said at the time, outrageous.

Apparently the Grand Jury in Milam County felt the same way:

The owner of six dogs that mauled a woman to death in November was indicted Thursday by a Milam County grand jury.
Jose Hernandez, 52, of Thorndale was arrested by Milam County authorities after being indicted for criminal negligent homicide as a result of the November 26, 2005, dog attack in which Lillian Lorraine Stiles was attacked and killed at her residence by dogs owned by Hernandez.
Authorities say the pit bull-Rottweiler mixed-breed dogs attacked and killed Lillian Stiles as she rode a lawn mower. Her husband, Jack, was inside the house watching a football game. He shot and killed one of the dogs. The other five were later euthanized.

Here’s hoping justice is done on the subject.


2017. Reading back through the early blog articles I was stunned to realize I never followed up on this story. Sadly, the jury was unwilling to convict the dog owner. I found a legal opinion on the subject here a portion of which follows. There is more information at the above link if you are interested.

Health & Safety Code §822.041 provides that a court may declare a dog “dangerous” basically if it causes injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class C misdemeanor if the owner violates the provisions of the dangerous dog law or the dog causes serious injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class A misdemeanor if the dangerous dog causes a death of a person in an unprovoked attack. A $10,000 penalty may also be imposed on the owner whose dangerous dog causes serious injury or kills someone. Texas Heath & Safety Code §§822.044, 822.045. (See generally Dangerous and Vicious Dogs for discussion of the legal meaning of “dangerous” and the issues pertaining to legal “dangerousness.”)

If a dog has not been previously declared “dangerous,” however, there is a “loophole” in the law, in that there is no law that addresses the situation. Given the savageness of this killing, prosecutors attempted to apply the general law. To make the punishment fit the crime, the grand jury indicted Jose Hernandez for criminally negligent homicide. His trial took place in March 2007.

The conviction of this dog owner depended upon overcoming the bane of dog bite victims, namely the one-bite rule. Under this ancient British legal doctrine, the owner of any domestic animal is not held responsible for the first bite, the first mauling, or the first killing by each and every one of his animals. (See The One Bite Rule.) Texas is in a minority of states that continues to salute the flag of Great Britain when it comes to dog bite laws. (For lists of states that follow or have abrogated the one bite rule, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.)

Hernandez testified that he had no idea his animals were capable of such brutality. He admitted none of his animals had ever been seen by a veterinarian and hadn’t been vaccinated. Several other witnesses for the defense testified that Hernandez’ dogs were not aggressive and were not trained to be aggressive.

The jury found Hernandez not guilty.

Kenneth M. Phillips, The Lillian Stiles case (Texas v. Hernandez)

I had never heard of the one bite rule before in my life. I’m actually horrified that this is defacto law in Texas. The legislature did update the laws after the verdict in this case, but the laws remain woefully lax when it comes to holding dog owners responsible for the behavior of their animals.  

Commander Cochran

Kelso’s column in the Statesman today reveals a side of Leslie that we never knew before.

That he owns clothing other than a bikini and a tiara, for one thing. He was arrested in Utumwa, Iowa (MASH fans will recognize that name) for public intoxication…

…while wearing a Star Trek uniform.

“It’s cold up here, so I put my Star Trek outfit over my normal clothes,” Leslie said, explaining his choice of traveling attire when I talked to him Wednesday on his cell phone. “By the way, I’ve got commander rate, so you can call me Commander Cochran.”

I was captain of a local Star Trek club, years ago. We were always concerned about loosing old membership and getting ‘fresh blood’ into the club. I recruited a few people over the years, some of whom have gone on to make several people ask, “why did you bring him here?”

For the record, I’d like it known that I could have done worse. Maybe.

“Accidents Happen”

That was the reported response by Harry Whittington today when questioned over the VP shooting him last weekend in Texas.

On another note, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh (whom I have lovingly referred to as a “Modern age Joseph Goebbels” for about as long as he’s been on the air) defending Cheney against the conspiracy theorists that are calling the show and spinning their theories concerning the accident yesterday. He kept referring to them as ‘idiots’.

Sorry there Joey, but from where I’m sitting there is plenty of idiocy to go around. Granted it was an accident, but only an idiot fires blind in the direction that your hunting partners are in. Only an idiot pulls the trigger when there is a guy wearing safety orange visible in your sight.

The local authorities have been using this incident, and the airtime concerning guns, to lament on the number of people who go hunting and don’t take gun safety courses. Maybe Mr. Cheney should look into them. Of course, I took the class; although the curriculum was a little different when I took it. It’s called dad smacking me on the head when I did something stupid while carrying a loaded weapon. I don’t think I’d volunteer to instruct the VP though. He’s liable to mistake me for a bird as well.

THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART HEADLINES – CHENEY’S GOT A GUN – 2/13/2006

“Yes, as you’ve just heard, a near-tragedy over the weekend in south Texas. Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a man during a quail hunt at a political supporter’s ranch. Making 78-year-old Harry Whittington the first person shot by a sitting VP since Alexander Hamilton.

“Hamilton, of course, shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering. Whittington? Mistaken for a bird.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartCheney’s Got a Gun

Andreas Katsulas 1946-2006

Andreas Katsulas and his characterization of G’kar was, in the end, the most memorable part of Babylon 5 for me. His portrayal of the ambassador for the newly liberated Narn was exactly what was needed to give the series ‘an edge’. Despicable, but at the same time likeable, the character matured with the show into the image of a visionary leader of his people, once again oppressed by their old masters.

His story arc was about the only one that came to a satisfying conclusion.

I’ll never forget the convention in Tulsa where he posed for this picture. (Yes, those are puppets, made by a friend of mine) He made the convention worth attending, all by himself.

This pretty much puts an end to the possibilities of a resurrection of B5. Without the characters of G’kar and Dr. Franklin (played by Richard Biggs who passed away in 2004) A story based on the original characters would be quite hard to tell.

I have found the voice over that Andreas did as G’kar at the end of the Episode “Z’ha’dum” to be quite moving at times. It goes like this:

“It was the end of the Earth year 2260. The War had come to a pause, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around it was as if the Universe were holding its breath, waiting. All of life can be broken down into moments of transition, and moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a darkness greater than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The War we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender.’

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain…”

He will be missed.

Great tribute to G’Kar here: http://www.zteamproductions.com/b5stuff/Andreas.html

LOST – What’s in a Name?

OK. I have to admit this up front. I had not been following this show until O.S. Card threw down the gauntlet last year concerning the worthlessness of Trek (Enterprise was worthless. It also wasn’t Trek. Well maybe Ber-Trek) and the praiseworthiness of ‘Lost’ (and ‘Smallville’. Don’t care what he says about that. His original comments can be found here) I accepted the challenge and took up watching ‘Lost’ just to see what the buzz was about.

Anyway… Trek bashing (by one of the better SF authors that I’ve read to date) aside, I’ve gotten hooked on Lost. It’s a pretty good show (still don’t know if I’d call it SciFi) the episodes are character and plot driven, and they are cut in such a way as to keep you interested in the show, even if you haven’t seen the beginning of the series. I started watching about 4 episodes before the season one finale, and kept right on watching as the repeats started airing. I found myself going “Oh, that explains the scene in the finale where…” and have to shut up, because no one else in the house was watching the finale when it aired previously and I didn’t want to give it away…

I’ve stumbled across more sites for this show than any other show I’ve watched. Example?

…and that’s an old list.

The obsession with names that the fans have (as illustrated here, and several other places) has been earned. Taking into account the meaning of the name “Desmond” (where did he go, anyway?) the symbology behind the Dharma logo, the Bagua (anyone else notice the black/white “swan” looks remarkably like a yin-yang?) and the meaning of the name “Dharma“. How about “Jack” and “John”, the two leaders who have the same first name, but couldn’t be more different.? Aaron, Claire’s child? Mr. Ecko? It seems that the writers are choosing names just to pique our interest. It’s not surprising, and has been done in SF series for years. But it still leads you to wonder…

…Which takes you to questioning where this is all going. Reading through the ideas presented at this link (WARNING, SPOILERS) might give you an idea.

But then maybe he, as well as the writers, don’t know where this is going. I’m still watching.