August 14th, 2014


And This Is How The World Ends (Version 3.05)

This book has also been staring at me from the To Read pile. Didn't come via the usual path. The author used to be running the Writing Center at GVSU, which is how Mrs. Dr. Phil knew her. And this first novel was funded via a Kickstarter.

My interest, besides the whole SF/plague/dystopia thing, is that I like systems. Most disasters don't come from single point failures, but cascades of multiple failures. Ebola may be deadly, but the total numbers of cases ever worldwide is on the order of 2000. Millions died from the 1918 flu pandemic, but not the entire world. You need things to be worse.

Isolation / Denise R. Stephenson. Minneapolis MN: Mill City Press, 2014.

Ever wonder how things get so fucked up that you end up with the system in THX-1138, Logan's Run, The Matrix, Divergent, The Hunger Games -- or even a whole crop of new TV shows where the government doesn't seem to be on our side as in The Lottery and probably Extant, The Last Ship and The Strain? Isolation eschews the usual narrative point of view by using a varied and changing cast of characters, including one written in first person. It shouldn't work, except that this takes a wide view of a deepening disaster over a long period of time. Indeed, in the third act Isolation is much more traditional, but by then we are thinking more globally.

In Isolation we are up against waging war with deadly bacteria. But it's not one thing. It's C-DIFF, E coli, staph and MRSA, Lysteria, salmonella and on and on. It's genetic leakage and catastrophic contamination from GMO crops. It's antibiotic and antibacterial madness run amuck, plus some viruses like H1N1. It's a food supply we can't trust. And we are losing.

If you are a germophobe, a hypochondriac and/or have major league OCD, I don't know if this book would weird you totally out or satisfyingly confirm your worst fears. Consider this a friendly warning. For myself, it's a little disturbing to read when I am 16 months into fighting a bacterial infection and had to deal with hand sanitizers and sterile equipment to do my own IVs at home. I love to read dystopian stories -- I have no enthusiasm for living one.

Because this is a story of multiple generations, there's a nice job of recognizing something that Mrs. Dr. Phil and I have talked about a lot -- that our parents and grandparents lived through the Depression, World Wars, even the terrible influenza epidemic. Their habits were laid down by hard conditions and none of them wanted to repeat these. Habits of various age cohorts are a major factor here. Indeed, the tag line on the cover is, "Habits learned early are habits for life."

By taking multiple paths and staying away from the trap of the one note novel plot, Stephenson sets the table for each escalation. You don't get to the end directly from the beginning, but once the path is traced, you can believe in it and not get thrown of the story. Up to a point.

And by the time we get to Isolation as a condition, it is easy to think that the human race is on its way out. I was anticipating that everyone would give up, or they'd discover that it was okay, or there was one last massive failure and it would be another On The Beach. We don't get that. Mrs. Dr. Phil said that in a way, Isolation seems like José Saramago's Blindness, but without the "happy ending". What would you do?

Yet, this is not a comprehensive view of society and the human race failing. Clearly someone is still doing manufacturing and distribution. But what we see are fragmented and the triage is disturbing.

As far as the writing goes, it is my impression that this is a self-published work. Not bad. I particularly like (1) the inclusion of articles from various sources of varying veracity and (2) the development of all sorts of jargon as the crisis deepens. Though I know some people hate the former -- much like some hate what I think is one of Gateway's greatest features, the ancillary sidebars. As for the latter, sometimes I find that terms seem too universally used by all cohorts -- real people exhibit more variability and have more than one way to say things, with slang and tech terms morphing quickly in the wild. Ten years ago no one would have talked about a selfie -- it was just a self-portrait. And I was annoyed by the overuse of the word "lackey", in everything from government use, articles and everyday language across the board. This did keep throwing me out of the story.

As for the plot, I was sure the ending would mirror the beginning. That it did not made it all seem more hopeless. Combined with many real world situations, here ramped way up, I find the story more compelling than its flaws, and Isolation will be the first self-published novel on this Fall's science literacy booklist for my students.


Available via Amazon and elsewhere.

Dr. Phil


And suddenly Western Michigan University becomes one of 90-some universities to have both a law school and a medical school.
KALAMAZOO, MI – In a name change more than a year in the making, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is now officially the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, both entities announced Wednesday.

With this affiliation, WMU heads into the new academic year having joined the ranks of the approximately 90 universities in the U.S. that have both a law school and a school of medicine.
The schools have had a relationship since 2002 and had announced the affiliation last year. A new 3+3 undergrad/law program will be included in the new offerings.

Right now the name change only affects 6 of 7 Cooley campuses -- all the ones in Michigan. The Tampa FL campus requires approval by the state of Florida. In the comments, there was amusement in having a Western Michigan campus on the west coast of Florida. Still, I note that with online programs, many universities with geographical names are breaking their borders and there are many campuses in foreign countries in Asia and the Middle East, so maybe it's not so weird.

I've been at Western for most of 22 years. In the first ten years there was a lot of gnashing of administrative teeth for WMU to be taken seriously and counted with the big boys of Michigan State, University of Michigan and Wayne State, but there just wasn't quite the graduate and research programs to support that. A change in the Carnegie classifications of research universities right in the middle of this moved the bar and made the argument much more difficult. The last dozen years has seen a different sort of expansion, with the new engineering campus on the hill in Parkview, the creation of a new medical school and now the merger with the law school. Building cachet is much more effective than just whining about it.

For those who complain we've got too many lawyers, I would argue -- see what I did there -- that (a) this is not a new law school but a new affiliation and (b) as one commenter suggested, this is the first law school in Michigan NOT to have the first two digits of its ZIP code be 48. It was a similar desire to have a medical school presence on this side of the state -- to go with the Four B's of Butterworth, Blodgett, Borgess and Bronson hospitals -- which brought Michigan State's School of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids' Medical Mile and the creation of WMU's medical school in Kalamazoo.

Important to the faculty, both the law school and the medical school fund themselves. Western students, faculty and programs are not getting shortchanged to foot the bill.

So I'm good with all that.

Dr. Phil

Godammit Google and Wikipedia

Once AGAIN, for no particular reason, yesterday BOTH fucking Google AND damned Wikipedia have decided that in the Silk browser on my Kindle Fire HD, that they MUST default to the Mobile version over the desktop. This despite the fact that I am using a web browser that is PERFECTLY capable of displaying the desktop version.

As with eBay, the option to switch from Mobile to Desktop is on the bottom of the page. So you have to scroll through the whole thing -- and then the change might not be sticky. Utterly ironic on Wikipedia's Settings page that Save doesn't remember that you changed to Desktop.

I don't want your shitty Mobile versions. This is not a phone. I want the same experience on my Kindle Fire HD that I get on my laptops. Period.

Is this so bloody hard to understand?

You assholes roll out useless feature after useless feature -- and then ruin it. With Google, I had to think about whether this was April 1st and Google was introducing Handholding Mode For Making You Feel Stupid beta.

And it sure doesn't help matters when stomping out a good rant, I have to keep kicking Nanny Auto correct to give me the fucking damned words to curse the assholes to hell with!



Dr. Phil

NOTE: It may be that Amazon pushed a new Silk update on Tuesday night and so it's Silk being unhelpfully "helpful".

What The Hell Is Going On In This Country?

The other day I saw a cryptic Facebook post with the hashtag #ferguson. I wondered what controversy late late night show host Craig Ferguson had committed. It took a few hours to equate Ferguson with suburban St. Louis, which is how the original story had been mentioned.

Of course people are going to get upset when anyone guns down an unarmed kid. Sadly I barely had to consider that the teen in question would be black and have no criminal record. Or that police would immediately claim resisting arrest and reaching for an officer's weapon.

We've seen this before. We can't even distinguish between real events and those from Law & Order any more. A timeline from USA Today on the Michael Brown shooting, is confusing and presents statements as fact. And the protests? Rachel Maddow last night showed the region's state senator asking the police chief if she was going to be tear gassed.
9 p.m. – Police begin to throw tear gas at protesters in Ferguson in order to disperse crowds. During the commotion, police also force media to move back out of the area and throw tear gas at an Al Jazeera America crew.
Washington Post and Huffington Post reporters are arrested while quietly trying to file reports and charge phones in a McDonald's and an Al Jazeera team is tear gassed... in America? Goddammit, we send reporters around the world and depend on their stories and cell phone video and Twitter feeds to expose the world to terrors all over and you trample on THIS Constitution to dick with the media in THIS country?

What is wrong with you?

And by "you" I am looking at the police, who dolled up in their black riot and SWAT gear seem to be spoiling for a fight. And yes, bring war to the neighborhood and some will respond that way. But it doesn't have to be that way. And those in charge knew that and escalated anyway.

Look, I know how this looks. Fat, academic, middle-aged, handicapped white privilege dude speaks up. He doesn't have a dog in this fight. Or maybe it's shit that some will not speak up until the white guys speak. God knows there is a large chunk of the American public and politicians who won't listen when That Black Man In The White House™ speaks out.

Or we can just dismiss Dr. Phil because he's having a pissy day and swearing all over the Internet today anyway.

People are fighting and dying to escape the gangs, corruption and governments to try to get their children in this country. And we're shooting our own kids who might look like them. Here. And then trying to shut down the reporting, the peaceful protests, the people who will stand up -- and egg on the violence.

Stop it.

Just stop it.

That's not what this country was founded on. It's not what's in our Constitution. And by God, it's what we bitch about when other countries do it.

This is going to leave scars. And we're not even over it.

Dr. Phil