Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No such thing as a free lunch

A bald eagle in Alaska bit off more than it could chew when it swooped down into a dump and picked up a severed deer head.

The bird managed to lift off with the head, but it didn't get very far. Either weak from hunger or merely overestimating its own strength, the eagle struck a power line, causing an explosion that knocked out electricity to 10,000 residents in Juneau. The impact killed the bird.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The politics of sex crimes

The Georgia legislature is finally poised to do something about the case of Genarlow Wilson, a 17-year-old convicted of aggravated child molestation for having sex with a 15-year-old classmate.

Wilson, an honor student and football star, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a lifetime of being registered as a sex offender. His case has become a rallying point for people who believe he was wrongly convicted.

A web site has even been created asking people all over the world to sign a petition saying, "I register my outrage and object to the wrongful conviction of Genarlow Wilson for Aggravated Child Molestation for a consensual sexual act with another teen. A ten year prison sentence is wrong. He should not have to register as a sexual offender."

As usual, well-intentioned people have over-simplified the situation.

Wilson was one of six high school boys who rented a motel room, stocked it with liquor and marijuana, and invited female classmates to join them for a New Years party. The party came to light after a 17-year-old girl awoke the next morning naked except for socks. She called her mother saying she could remember nothing about the night before and thought she had been raped.

When police investigated, they found the motel room littered with condoms and a videotape showing the 17-year-old girl having sex with several of the boys, including Wilson, and a 15-year-old girl performing oral sex on Wilson and some of the others. The 15-year-old said she did not drink or smoke pot, and performed the acts willingly. All of the boys except Wilson pleaded guilty. Wilson stood trial, was convicted and received a mandatory 10-year sentence.

Now people are screaming racism and demanding a full pardon for Wilson. Never mind that all of the victims and all of the accused were of the same race.

As a result of the conviction, the Georgia Legislature relaxed the law, reducing what Wilson admitted doing to a misdemeanor. Georgia courts refused to apply it's provisions to Wilson because the law specifically states it does not apply to cases before its passage.

The legislature is now taking what seems to me to be a well-reasoned step. It is considering another law, Senate Bill 37, that would allow judges to decide whether the sentences of people convicted prior to the new law should be reduced. You can read about it in The Macon Telegraph. If you feel Wilson should not have received 10 years in prison, then register your support for the new measure by e-mailing State Sen. Emanuel Jones at the following address: emanuel.jones@senate.ga.gov

Friday, January 26, 2007

Two months and counting

PRECIOUS BLOOD will be available in stores beginning April 1. You can move to the front of the line by pre-ordering now. Thanks in advance to those of you who do.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And if the flight attendant has a tantrum?

A family was kicked off an AirTran flight in South Florida after the three-year-old daughter threw a tantrum and refused to sit in her seat. Now there's a split between people who are applauding the airline and the rest, mostly parents, who know that children are not as compliant as single people think.

Crying children irritate everyone -- especially their parents. If I could have stopped my kids from crying in public I would have, but it doesn't work that way. Once they start, it's almost impossible to stop them. They're like the railcar fire near Louisville last week -- they just have to burn themselves out.

The only good solution is don't take them to a theater unless you're prepared to leave the movie in the middle and don't take them on an airplane unless you're prepared to jump.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Appalachian storytelling more than just talking

My friend Angie DeBord, a storyteller from Virginia, asked me to help get the word out about the one-day storytelling class she will help teach at Southeast Community College in Cumberland, Ky.

Angie is a great performer, and I know anyone who takes the class will get a lot out of it. The information is below.

February 10
(snow date February 17)
Saturday 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM

Community Stories/Community Theatre is a workshop for members of community theatre groups or arts councils, community scholars, theatre artists, playwrights, storytellers, and community activists who want to learn the process of collecting stories from your own community and developing a community theatre production rooted in these stories. The session will include organizational information and grant possibilities as well as hands-on activities to model the process. Presenters: Angelyn DeBord and Theresa Osborne. Lunch will be provided. Cost is $10 payable at the door. Early registration is advised due to limited class size.

Edsel T. Godbey Appalachian Center
Southeast Community College
700 College RoadCumberland KY 40823

TO REGISTER: Contact Judy Sizemore at circuit@prtcnet.org
Directions will be sent with registration confirmation.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Peter Pan, move over

Yahoo news is reporting that pants will be a thing of the past next year.

The new bottom half for men? Leggings. That's right, the tight staple of women's wear is supposedly going to show up in the men's department.

As far as I'm concerned, they can stay in the men's department. I'd sooner wear a kilt.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fire on derailed train still burning

A fire that started before 9 a.m. yesterday (Tuesday) when a train derailed outside Louisville is still burning.
According to news reports, the fire was still out of control at 6 a.m. today. More than 60 firefighters were trying to extinguish it. Some worked 12-hour shifts.
The fire began when a CSX freight train derailed between Shepherdsville and Brooks. Fourteen railcars containing the chemicals butadiene and cyclohexane, both highly flammable and posing inhalation hazards. Residents and workers within a one-mile radius of the fire have been evacuated to shelters set up in Okolona, several miles northeast of the fire.
The National Guard has been mobilized and is helping monitor air quality.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Red Cross opens shelter for evacuees

The Red Cross has opened up a shelter at the Okolona Christian Church at the corner of Mt. Washington Road and Preston Highway in Louisville for persons evacuated from the area around the train crash at Brooks.

Residents were evacuated from a three-square-mile area around wreck. Firefighters were allowing the fire to burn itself out. Fourteen railcars, some carrying chemicals that posed inhalation and explosion hazards, were still burning after the 80-car train derailed near Interstate 65, about five miles south of Louisville.

National Guard mobilized for train fire

The Kentucky National Guard has been called out to help with evacuations around the train fire in Bullitt County, Kentucky.

The fire is still burning at 12:45 p.m.

Train wreck updates

I just realized that Blogger is not time stamping updates to existing posts. The updates for the train wreck near Louisville are in the post below.

Another train wreck

At least 14 tanker cars are piled up and burning at Brooks, Bullitt County, Kentucky, near Louisville. The train was operated by CSX Transportation. No other details yet, but I'll post them when I get them.

UPDATE: Airline flights have been diverted around the column of smoke from the train wreck at Brooks. Brooks is about four miles south of the Interstate 265 loop around Louisville. The wreck occurred about 9 a.m. Schools are being evacuated because of smoke from the fire.

UPDATE: Brooks is a populated place, not a city. It is just across the county line from Jefferson County, where Louisville is located.

UPDATE: The Louisville Courier-Journal is reporting that the chemical aboard some of the tankers is an inhalation hazard, but that the specific chemical is not known. This probably means the car placard is a non-specific placard. Such placards give general information about the chemical on board, but not the specific name of the chemical.

UPDATE: Brooks had a population of 2,678 in 2000. Louisville had a population of 256,231, but it has since merged with most of the Jefferson County to form Louisville Metro. The county had a population of 693,604 in 2ooo.

UPDATE: If the placard on the train cars reads "Inhalation Hazard (6)," The Emergency Response Guidebook recommends avoiding inhalation and skin contact and isolate any spills or runoff. The materials could cause serious injury or death. Responders should wear self-contained breathing apparatus, keep unauthorized persons away, stay upwind and stay out of low-lying areas. Enclosed areas should be ventilated.

It also recommends evacuation within a half-mile radius of the fire.

Since firefighters are using water on the blaze, it seems most likely that this is the type of material involved.

There is also a placard for "Inhalation Hazard (2), which is much more serious. This placard means the substance may be fatal if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Dry chemical or CO2 fire suppressants only are to be used.

UPDATE: The situation at Brooks is apparently more serious than first thought. At least one of the tank cars involved in the accident contained butadiene, a chemical used in the production of synthetic rubber. Butadiene has a guide number of 116P in the Emergency Response Guidebook, meaning it is extremely flammable, will form explosive mixtures in air and may polymerize explosively when involved in fire or heated.

Ruptured containers may turn into rockets as escaping gas explodes.

In case a railcar fire, responders should evacuate everyone within a one-mile radius of the fire.

UPDATE: The Courier-Journal puts the fire near Huber Station Road, which makes the fire about halfway between Louisville and Shepherdsville, a city of 8,334 people about eight miles South of Louisville.

UPDATE (11:48 a.m.): Emergency Management officials say the chemical burning is cyclohexane, a chemical used in the production of acids used in nylon manufacturing.

Cyclohexane, under guide number 128 in the Emergency Management Handbook, is highly flammable and has many of the same dangers as butadiene.

What are we -- Cleveland?

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in Cleveland, Ohio.

Yesterday, the Kentucky River in Estill County, Kentucky, caught on fire. Or maybe it didn't -- emergency personnel disagree.

At issue is whether chemicals carried by four runaway rail cars got into the river and caught fire. Firefighters say it did. Emergency Management officials say it did not. You would think this would be a pretty simple thing to determine, and firefighters seem to be eminently qualified to make that determination. But emergency management officials, who arrived after the fire department, say no chemicals got in the water. Something's fishy here.

It's sort of like the change in stories about how the accident occurred. Kentucky State Police say the four runaway rail cars slammed into an engine parked on the track by CSX Transportation employees as a means of stopping the runaways. CSX says that never happened because it would be contrary to standard operating procedure. Yeah. Right.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Stupidity causes evacuation

Residents in Estill County, Kentucky, had to be evacuated after four runaway train cars, one of which was carrying butyl acetate, slammed into a locomotive. Among other things, butyl acetate is used as a flavoring agent in foods and fragrances, but it is toxic in high concentrations if swallowed or inhaled.

Ordinarily, this could be labeled a horrible accident, but in this case CSX Transportation officials ordered the locomotive placed on the tracks purposefully to stop the cars, which had been rolling free for 20 miles. Maybe I'm the one off track here, but shouldn't you expect a fiery collision if you place a stopped locomotive in front of runaway train cars full of flammable chemicals? It seems to me the better course would have been to place a locomotive on the tracks traveling at nearly the same speed as the cars, then let the runaways catch up slowly. Or put the locomotive on the rails behind the runaways, then catch them and couple up. Either solution would have to be less catastrophic than the method used by CSX.

As it was handled, the end result was an explosion that destroyed all four cars and the locomotive, and caused a toxic cloud to spread over the community. Twenty homes, a coal tipple and a factory were evacuated. Residents in nearby Irvine were told to shelter in place.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on its way to investigate. Seems that someone has some 'splaining to do.

UPDATE: Now CSX "cannot confirm" that it moved a locomotive into the path of the runaway train cars, The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting.

Friday, January 12, 2007

MySpace not my bag

I was proud of myself. I had never signed up for MySpace. I had never visited it. I wanted nothing to do with it.

But then magazines and authors started putting up MySpace pages and I felt I was
obliged to visit and see how other writers were using it. Then I learned that you have to sign up for MySpace to view the content. I signed up, and I immediately regretted it. It is everything I imagined it would be, only worse. Crappy color schemes, virtual "friends" that show up unbidden, and faux popup ads.

Aren't the real popups bad enough?

I now have an empty MySpace profile, an empty MySpace page, and I'm sure I'll soon have a full email inbox -- full of spam messages because I had to give an address to MySpace.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

When a phone was a phone; not an iPhone

What I really want in a cellphone is to be able to call someone. That's all. I want to pick it up, dial a number and talk to someone. I don't want to listen to music on it, I don't want to surf the Internet, and I don't want to check my e-mail.

I've got a great little phone. It's about three years old -- prehistoric by cellphone standards -- but it makes calls. It has a few other features that I have used -- for instance I occasionally put something on the calendar if I don't have a piece of paper to write it down on -- but its main purpose is to call someone.

So now Apple Inc. is getting all this buzz over the iPhone. It calls, it surfs, it downloads, it messages, it dances, it sings, it gets sued. All for the Apple egotist. So egotistical, in fact, that Apple has used a trademarked name owned by another company to name its new $600 toy. Apple, of course, says Cisco Systems' resulting lawsuit is "silly."

Well Apple could have avoided this silliness if it hadn't been silly enough to use a name someone else owned for its silly new product. Yes, I said silly.

Why would anyone want a touch screen on a phone you carry in your pocket? It's supposed to have a "proximity sensor" to keep it from dialing, but what about scratches? How long will it be before you have drop another half a grand for a new iPhone because you can't read the screen anymore?

I carry my little phone in the same pocket as my change, my ink pens, and my pocket knife. I go hunting with it, camping with it, running with it. I've dropped it on everything from concrete to gravel to a hardwood gym floor. It still works, reliably, every time. Let's see the toy formerly known as iPhone do that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

No smoking, please.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has done something no man in the history of the United States has been brave enough to try: She has banned smoking in the Speaker's Lobby, the room where Members of Congress gather during votes.

Personally, I hate breathing secondhand smoke and I was perfectly happy when my county government banned smoking all together in public places. The District of Columbia has passed a similar ordinance, but neither law covers federal property because, of course, cities, counties and states can't regulate the federal government.

But Nancy Pelosi can -- at least her little corner of it. And she's a got a great big gavel to enforce her rules.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Winter finally arrives

Too late for Christmas, but we have snow on the ground before Spring at least. I dropped my kids off at school this morning and picked them back up an hour later when school was canceled.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Miss USA a hillbilly, a redneck or something else?

The Lexington Herald-Leader had an interesting article asking whether readers know the difference between a hillbilly and a redneck. Interesting, if for no other reason, because Lexington sits in the heart of the Bluegrass and I'm sure most of the people there are deeply offended by being called either. The debate came about because a plethora of bloggers, who don't know a certain part of their anatomy from a hole in the ground, decided that Miss USA is a hillbilly.

Obviously, they've never been to Russell Springs. There ain't a hill worthy of the appellation Appalachian within 75 miles of the place. For those of you who think everyone in Kentucky is a hillbilly, please look at a topo map. Kentucky is more than 400 miles from end to end, and comprises five distinct physiographic regions. Only one of those contains hills; therefore only one contains hillbillies.

Hint: We're in the eastern end, y'all.

Twelve weeks to go

I'm sending back corrections on the page proofs of PRECIOUS BLOOD today. Since this is my first book, I really don't know what's next. The publication date is April 1, and the books are supposed to be shipped to book stores in mid-March, so there couldn't be much left to do.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Interview in e-zine this month

My interview with author Bob Sloan is in Eclectica Magazine this month.

Bob is the author of Bearskin to Holly Fork, Home Call and Nobody Knows, Nobody Sees. He's also a fellow Kentuckian and all-around nice guy. You can read what he has to say in the Reviews & Interviews section.