Facing The Faceless

My recent run of exposure to curious hotel art selections continued this week, during my trip to Washington, D.C.  These pieces were artwork displayed in the interior hallways on my floor of the hotel only a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.

What’s the message conveyed by depictions of gangs of silhouetted people moving grimly and silently past government buildings?  Is it that Washington, D.C. is really in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, just as conservatives have long claimed?  Or that, in the political wonderland that is Our Nation’s Capital, you’ll never actually see someone clearly, for who they really are, but only in dim outline?  Or does the artist believe that government buildings, depicted in color and in sunlight, are much more interesting than the people, who are shown only as shadowy forms without any individuality?

Or, perhaps you might initially see the artwork as I did — as suggesting that the people of Washington, D.C. are a bunch of anonymous zombies.

Welcome to Washington, D.C.!  Grab your rollerboard and your shoulder bag and get ready to head out into the Land of the Undead!

First Ebola, Then Zombies

The news about Ebola in west Africa is dreadful.  A new assessment of the outbreak by the World Health Organization forecasts that the number of people infected and killed by the disease may increase dramatically and become “endemic” in that region — which means that it would never be fully eliminated in countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.  The WHO also says the death rate for those infected with Ebola is 70 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that the Ebola epidemic may infect 1.4 million people in west Africa by the end of January.  Multiply that number by the 70 percent death rate and you see an enormous human disaster if steps to control the disease don’t work.  Even worse, with each new infected person, there is an increased risk that the devastating disease will break out of west Africa and penetrate into the world at large — and if that happens the forecasted numbers will become astronomical.

And then there is this story from Liberia, which reports that two women killed by Ebola have mysteriously risen from the dead.  The two were about to be buried when they returned to life, causing panic in their communities.  The news report of the incident helpfully notes:  “Since the Ebola outbreak in Nimba County, this is the first incident of dead victims resurrecting.”  The report is silent on whether the two women have since exhibited the signs of undead behavior — like staggering around and munching on the brains of the living — that are familiar to any fans of zombie movies.

Of course, under these circumstances jokes about a zombie apocalypse aren’t very funny.  The zombie story just highlights the fact that west Africa is totally ill-equipped — culturally, medically, and scientifically — to deal with an outbreak of a highly lethal contagious disease.  When you combine superstitious people, the absence of doctors who can reliably diagnose and treat the disease and determine whether its victims are actually dead, an insufficient supply of bodysuits, decontamination supplies, medication, and other necessary supplies, and inadequate sanitation and means of disposing of the bodies of those killed by Ebola, you have created an ideal setting for an uncontrolled epidemic.

A recent New York Times story about one overworked gravedigger in Freetown, Sierra Leone paints a bleak picture and powerfully makes the case that the Ebola outbreak may have reached a terrible tipping point.  We had all better hope that — zombies or not — the efforts to control the disease are effective.


Yesterday I got the pins removed from the three middle toes on my left foot. It was a curious, almost mechanical exercise. The doctor grabbed a toe, worked the pins back and forth while pulling, like he was freeing a cork from a bottle, and ultimately the pins popped out of their respective, former hammertoe bones.

It smarted a little, but I was happy to endure the discomfort to reach the ultimate result. Because I don’t have to worry about bending the pins any more, I can actually put weight on my left foot again. That means I don’t need to use crutches any longer.

IMG_1886I’m still supposed to avoid putting weight on my toes, so for now I’m a heelwalker. My gait looks something like Walter Brennan’s hitch step in The Real McCoys, or the dragging undead shamble you see in Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, or just about any zombie flick. I don’t care. After three weeks of hobbling around on crutches, being able to stand steadily on two feet is just about the most liberating feeling you can possibly imagine.

Today, for the first time in three weeks, I was able to make and pour my own cup of coffee and glass of orange juice. It’s just not possible to tote a cup of liquid when you are on crutches. I did the dishes and helped to straighten up around the house. I can easily carry and move things once more. I finally feel like I’m pulling my weight again, rather than being a dead load around the house.

I’ll be heelwalking for a few weeks, wearing a special shoe that will keep my toes straight. It will beat crutches any day.

Zombie, Or Not Zombie?

Halloween is just around the corner, and a person’s thoughts naturally turn to . . . zombies.  We’ve all seen movies about them.  We know there is a good chance that, any day now, some misguided government program, alien virus, or bacteria from the bottom of the sea could turn our peaceful fellow citizens into a crowd of ravenous, flesh-gobbling undead.

But what to do to defend your home and loved ones against the scourge of shuffling, groaning ex-humans who hunger for brain tissue?  What devices are most likely to thwart or permanently disable the rotting horrors who may be shambling down the street at any moment?  Or what if, God forbid, you became a zombie?  What if you had to repair that broken arm caused by the terrified bat-wielding neighbors who won’t let you feast on their children, or you needed to remove an eight-inch nail shot into your abdomen?  America is crying out for answers to these crucial questions!

Fortunately, the Westlake Ace Hardware Store Zombie Preparedness Center has the answers.  It’s an equal opportunity website, too, offering assistance to both human and zombie.  For humans hoping to knock off any zombie that might stagger by, the helpful hardware folks recommend nail guns, sledgehammers, chainsaws, shovels, and pickaxes.  For zombies, caulk, duct tape, and sealants will come in handy when bodily repairs are needed, whereas air fresheners and carpet cleaners can avoid the embarrassment of undue rotting odor.

In fact, forget Occupy Wall Street!  The best thing for our economy right now could be the government’s release of its secret zombie virus, leading to an uprising of Zombie Nation.  No other government program is more likely to cause a stimulative run on America’s hardware stores.

In A Survivalist Mode (II)

Speaking of survivalism, here’s probably the ultimate intersection of capitalism and survivalism:  a chance to buy a share of a fully equipped bunker built to withstand a nuclear attack and allow survival through just about every kind of catastrophe.  The product of the creative mind of an entrepreneur, the project will allow 135 people to live in compact, “cruise ship luxury” for at least a year.

The structure, located in the Mojave Desert in California, was constructed by AT&T in 1965 to protect the telecommunications infrastructure from nuclear attack.  And it has just about all the disaster scenario bases covered, too.  It was “built to withstand a 50-megaton nuclear blast 10 miles away, 450mph winds, a magnitude-10 earthquake, 10 days of 1,250°F surface fires, and three weeks beneath any flood.”

The promoter of the project also knows his end-of-days stuff.  He notes that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on December 21, 2012.  Other possible cataclysms include solar flares with electromagnetic pulses that pulverize the power grid and lead to social anarchy, direct asteroid hits, and plagues.

Yes, but would it protect us against zombie attacks?

In A Survivalist Mode