Saturday, February 03, 2007

Close encounters, one good, one not so good, with the wonderful world of animals

Good encounter: A Georgia woman, Shannon Lorio, lost control of her car and careened down an embankment. She was thrown through the rear windshield. A classic hero dog story began when a runaway dog found her bruised and battered on the trunk, pulled her by her shirt collar, dragged her about 50 yards through briars to a highway and let her lean against him so she could flag a passing motorist.
“I was bleeding from my face and my nose,” she said. “All of a sudden, I felt a presence — a really huge presence. He was straddling me. I have watched too many horror movies about werewolves and vampires. I thought he was going to eat me.”

Instead, the dog licked her face, she said. The 2-year-old dog, weighing 70 pounds, dragged the 136-pound Lorio to the highway, then stood by to help her summon help before she collapsed, she said.
Not so good encounter: If you're paragliding more than a mile above the ground, the last thing you want is to be attacked by a pair of huge wedge-tailed eagles -- clawing at your head, getting tangled in your lines and trying to tear your chute to ribbons -- but that's what happened to Britain's top female paraglider pilot, Nicki Moss, who landed safely after a harrowing flight in Australia. The eagles apparently thought she was an intruder.
Veteran Australian paraglider pilot Godfrey Wenness said eagle attacks were rare, but Moss had been flying in an area where the birds were not accustomed to human pilots.

"Eagles are the sharks of the air. But if you're a regular they just treat you pretty indifferently," he said.
Lessons, if any: Not every stray dog is a werewolf. Get to know your eagles before trespassing on their territory.

Friday, February 02, 2007

John Nichols talks about Molly Ivins on WPR

One of the more eloquent tributes to Molly Ivins was by John Nichols, associate editor of the Capital Times and Washington correspondent of the Nation, who knew Molly for more than 20 years.
Molly Ivins could have played in the league of the big boys. They invited her in, giving her a bureau chief job with the New York Times--which she wrote her way out of when she referred to a "community chicken-killing festival" in a small town as a "gang-pluck." Leaving the Times in 1982 was the best thing that ever happened to Molly. She settled back in her home state of Texas, where her friend Jim Hightower was about to get elected as agricultural commissioner and another friend named Ann Richards was striding toward the governorship. As a newspaper columnist for the old Dallas Times Herald--and, after that paper's demise, for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram--Molly began writing a political column drenched in the good humor and fighting spirit of that populist moment. It appealed beyond Texas, and within a decade she was writing for 400 papers nationwide.

As it happened, the populist fires faded in Texas, and the state started spewing out the byproducts of an uglier political tradition--the oil-money plutocracy--in the form of George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It mattered, a lot, that Molly was writing for papers around the country during the Bush interregnum. She explained to disbelieving Minnesotans and Mainers that, yes, these men really were as mean, as self-serving and as delusional as they seemed. The book that Molly and her pal Lou Dubose wrote about their homeboy-in-chief, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House, 2000), was the essential exposé of the man the Supreme Court elected President. And Ivins's columns tore away any pretense of civility or citizenship erected by the likes of Karl Rove.
You can read the entire piece Nichols wrote for the Nation here. Nichols expanded on those reflections this morning during the hour he spent on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Conversations with Kathleen Dunn."

Molly Ivins was not one of those progressives who love "the people" in the abstract but not up close. Her populism started from the bottom up, and she loved people up close and personal. Nichols, who visited with her in Austin, noted how it could take two hours to walk a block with her because she stopped to talk to so many people. He compared he to another tough, gifted Texas woman, Janis Joplin, and he spoke out against the tendency to sometimes pigeonhole her as a regional humorist. A Texas Garrison Keillor she was not.

She was a dedicated reporter who worked hard and knew how to dig for the news. Nichols talked about how she often agonized all day over a column to get it just right. Although her writing was the frosting on the cake, what she served was substance. She didn't just toss off opinions and call that a column. And the substance was what tens of thousands of readers around the country relied on to fill in the gaps left by the "mainstream," corporate media.

You can stream the program here. Or, if you're a member of WPR, you can download it here. (Note: You don't have to be a Wisconsin resident to become a member, and there's no minimum. It's a good deal.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

All your Boston are belong to us!

Boston was paralyzed by an alien Mooninite invasion and briefly capitulated, before authorities staged a valiant counterrattack and destroyed the insidious alien devices (except for those captured earlier and auctioned on eBay.)

Sheesh! What can I say except urge you to check out Todd Vanderlin's blog, where he posted photos of one of the promotional art installations in Boston (the one he snagged and posted on eBay) two weeks before the authorities discovered and eliminated them. Must really have been threatening. Clicking on the photo on Todd's blog will take you to his Flickr photostream and more Mooninite photos.

They used to just ban books in Boston, now it's Lite-Brites.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Trying to live in a world without Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins was not a Quiet American. Her life defined a way of being American when America was known for its sense of humor, optimism and, above all, decency. I've always liked her quote that Patrick posted at Making Light. (He also has a link to more Mollyana at the Texas Observer.)
There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity—like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule—that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel—it’s vulgar.
She left us much too soon. We'll just have to push back all the harder against her fellow Texan without her, doing what she would want us to do.

Who'll be the Iran war buildup's Judy Miller of disinformation? James Glanz seems willing.

Like the snap and crackle of static from an approaching storm, punctuated by flashes of distant lightning, the disinformation about Iran is coming hard and fast now, building to a crescendo. You can feel the whirlwind approaching. It's a familiar sensation -- the lies, the leaks, the semi plausible factoids mixed with wildly implausible pseudo facts -- they all have a that deja vu all over again feel because, of course, it is deja vu all over again. We were pushed into war with Iraq by a stiff gale of lies and disinformation. It worked just fine for Iraq. Why wouldn't it work for Iran? Especially when Congress is too distracted by the Iraq debacle to even notice the winds of war blowing toward Iran.

The right wing echo chamber -- bloggers, talk radio and Fox News -- they're all doing their part, but they can't do it alone. They need something more mainstream, more moderate, less obviously biased. Something like the New York Times. Judy Miller was perfect, but she's no longer there. Who will pick up the baton she dropped? It looks as if James Glanz is willing. Jeff Huber commented yesterday on one example.
James Glanz of the New York Times reports that Iran plans to expand its economic and military ties with Iraq.

Imagine that. Iran, a neighbor of Iraq, a country with which it fought its only modern war, has expressed an interest in being part of the solution to Iraq's security and rebuilding equation. How dare they?

And what subversive, violent steps do the Iranians propose to cement those ties? They want to establish an Iranian national bank branch in Baghdad. Shudder. We better get more troops in Baghdad right away to make sure that doesn't happen.
Glanz interviewed the Iranian ambassador to Iraq in a "90-minute interview over tea and large pistachio nuts at the Iranian Embassy" in Baghdad. Headlined "Iranian Reveals Plan to Expand Role in Iraq," the story was one of those subtle exercises in framing that suggests the Iranians are up to no good without offering much in the way of evidence. But that was just a warmup. Glanz, with fellow Timesman Mark Mazzetti really gets going today.
Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.
This is a real classic, headlined "Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say." Sure -- because, obviously, the Iraqis are too stupid to come up with the uniforms, credentials and inside information used in the attack on their own (even though they're the ones who are in close proximity with our forces, not the Iranians).

It's a classic, because any reader who was shocked by the ruthless murder of the American soldiers could not help but be affected by the story. It's the kind of thing that sticks in your mind -- especially if you don't read the story all the way through and see that it offered not a shred of evidence to tie Iran to the attack, just speculation by U.S. and Iraqi "officials." Judy Miller would be proud.

Jeff Huber again:
Mr. Bush says he doesn't intend to invade Iran. There's one Bush statement we can believe. He doesn't intend to invade Iran because he can't. His ground forces are tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he can bomb the bedazzle out of Iran from the air and the sea, and with each passing day it looks more and more like that's precisely what he intends to do.

The time for dismissing suggestions that Bush has ambitions of expanding his Middle East wars into an apocalyptic global conflict as conspiracy theory is over. The time is coming--and it's coming very soon--where Congress will have to take swift, draconian measures to slam the brakes on the administration's train wreck of a foreign policy.
Jack London wrote in The Iron Heel "They sowed wind, and wind, and ever more wind; for they alone knew how to reap the whirlwind and make a profit out of it." But if we don't stop Bush, the Iran whirlwind will be so vast that even Blackwater and Halliburton will have a hard time making any profit out of it.

If it's this hard for NYT medical writer Gina Kolata to get treated, what chance do the rest of us have?

Gina Kolata reports on science and medicine for the New York Times. Her account of injuring her foot while running offers some useful information for runners about an effective treatment for extensor tendinitis.
I had run way too far for my level of training, and I knew it. But I had gotten lost, and the fastest way back to my car was to run. The next day, my left forefoot hurt so much I could hardly walk, so I did just what you might expect — I checked the Internet to see what sort of injury I might have and what to do about it.

My search was frustrating and unhelpful. But I ended up getting just the advice I needed from an unexpected source. And I came away with this lesson: These days, when it is oh so easy to order sophisticated medical tests, sometimes the best test, and the best treatment, can be low-tech.
For those of us not suffering from extensor tendinitis, it's what the article says between the lines that's really striking, beginning with Kolata's search for an orthopedist who would take her health insurance and find time in his schedule to examine her. By the time she saw him, she had found out about extensor tendinitis from a physician in Tulsa who emailed her after reading her account of her injury, which she mentioned in passing in an article about running while hurt.
On Jan. 16, I finally saw the orthopedist and, of course, mentioned extensor tendinitis. All I got was a cursory exam and an X-ray. When the X-ray showed normal bone, the orthopedist said I needed an M.R.I. His office said someone would call me when my insurer approved it. Then I could schedule it. Then I could return to see the doctor and learn what the scan showed.
Read the story to find out how she went out of network to get the injection which cost her $277 and immediately solved the problem. Then ask yourself what would have happened to you if you had the same injury, without her advantages as a NYT medical reporter.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Role of the Commander in Chief in the Forever War

Even if Congress hasn't done much so far to actually stop Bush's escalation in Iraq (which looks more and more like the beginning of the neocons' real objective, a war against Iran), at least the Senate hearings chaired by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) are asking the right questions, with even Arlen Specter (R-PA) starting to develop something resembling a vestigial spine.
A Senate Republican on Tuesday directly challenged President Bush's declaration that "I am the decision-maker" on issues of war.

"I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said during a hearing on Congress' war powers amid an increasingly harsh debate over Iraq war policy. "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility," Specter said.
Central to this issue is the president's role as commander in chief. Of whom, exactly? That's the issue raised by historian Garry Wills in a recent NYT Op-Ed titled "At Ease, Mr. President."
We hear constantly now about “our commander in chief.” The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army.
Will discusses how the job, which is described narrowly and very specifically in the Constitution as “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” has undergone massive scope creep over the last six decades.
That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just “commander in chief,” or even “commander in chief of the United States.” This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. In wartime, it is true, people submit to the national leadership more than in peacetime. The executive branch takes actions in secret, unaccountable to the electorate, to hide its moves from the enemy and protect national secrets. Constitutional shortcuts are taken “for the duration.” But those impositions are removed when normal life returns.

But we have not seen normal life in 66 years. The wartime discipline imposed in 1941 has never been lifted, and “the duration” has become the norm. World War II melded into the cold war, with greater secrecy than ever — more classified information, tougher security clearances. And now the cold war has modulated into the war on terrorism.
This is not a partisan political issue, at least not in its origins. Although Bush and Cheney have been quick to take advantage of every bit of power they can squeeze out of this situation, it has deeper roots in the American psyche and political institutions. These roots are examined by William Pfaff in a long, thoughtful essay in the New York Review of Books, "Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America."
President George Bush has decided to disregard both the political message of the 2006 midterm election and congressional pressure for an early end to America's Iraq involvement, as well as the Baker-Hamilton proposals. These decisions are meeting much opposition, which is likely to fail. Bush's opponents have been unable to propose a course of withdrawal that is not a politically prohibited concession of American defeat and that does not risk still more destructive consequences in Iraq and probably the region—even though the result of delayed withdrawal could be worse in all respects. Most of Bush's critics in Congress, in the press and television, and in the foreign policy community are hostage to past support of his policy and to their failure to question the political and ideological assumptions upon which it was built.

This followed from a larger intellectual failure. For years there has been little or no critical reexamination of how and why the limited, specific, and ultimately successful postwar American policy of "patient but firm and vigilant containment of Soviet expansionist tendencies...and pressure against the free institutions of the Western world" (as George Kennan formulated it at the time) has over six decades turned into a vast project for "ending tyranny in the world."[1]

The Bush administration defends its pursuit of this unlikely goal by means of internationally illegal, unilateralist, and preemptive attacks on other countries, accompanied by arbitrary imprisonments and the practice of torture, and by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities.

This is where the problem lies. Other American leaders before George Bush have made the same claim in matters of less moment. It is something like a national heresy to suggest that the United States does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations, and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not.
It's precisely because most of the underlying assumptions governing American foreign policy are shared by most Americans and both political parties, that opposition to Bush needs to be broadly, not narrowly, focused. It needs to focus on ends more than means, broad foreign policy objectives more than specific military tactics. Above all, it needs to transcend the increasing militarization of American society.

Otherwise Bush will continue to act as if he is commander in chief of each and every one of us. Positioning himself as commander in chief of a nation at war, he will surely drag us into a wider war that none of want -- and which will be a disaster for America and the world.

Against the Day: Lew Basnight, and some housekeeping details involving labels (tags)

Lew Basnight (aka Lew Archetype?):
Fine with Lew, who wasn't even sure what Anarchists were, exactly, though the word was sure in the air. He was not in the detective business out of political belief. He had just sort of wandered into it, by way of a sin he was supposed once to have committed. As to the specifics of this lapse, well, good luck. Lew couldn't remember what he'd done, or hadn't done, or even when. -- ATD, p. 37
So what was on Dr. Diablo's dread p. 37? Turns out to be a detective with a mysterious noir sense of guilt and amnesia in the White City. How can I stop now?

NOTE: I've finally upgraded LFH to the New Blogger, which includes the increased functionality of adding tags, or what Blogger calls labels, to posts. Now you'll be able to find all my posts relating to Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (ATD) by clicking on that label. Clicking on the "Books" label should turn up all the Pynchon posts as well as other book-related posts. (This replaces the clumsily metaphorical "Bottle Notes" device referred to in the last ATD post.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Joe Lieberman: "Before this is over the truth must be told." Right. And meanwhile, people are dying.

Sometimes there's nothing like going back and revisiting an old classic of Washington Post reportage.
Certainly [name deleted] is not the first president to lie. But the scope and circumstances of his lying enrage Establishment Washington.

"His behavior," says Lieberman, "is so over the edge. What is troubling is the deceit, the failure to own up to it. Before this is over the truth must be told."
At first glance, you might think Joe was describing President Bush and his outrageous lying and over-the-top track record of malfeasance in office, ranging from Iraq to Katrina, but of course, you would be wrong. He was talking about President Clinton. His attitude toward over the edge presidential behavior, troubling deceit and failure to own up certainly seems to have changed. Today it seems to be, "Bring it on!"

The occasion for the article was the famous charity fund-raiser that Sally Quinn used as a forum to query the Washington Establishment about Bill Clinton just before the congressional election in 1998. It makes for bizarre reading now. Take a look. It's the same piece with the famous quote about Clinton that Matt Yglesias referenced today:
"He came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
You almost have to be nostalgic for those long-ago days, when sex, lies and videotape were all it took to drive official Washington to paroxysms of self-righteous indignation.

Today, presidential lies that killed more than 3,000 American soldiers, maimed many times that number and killed more Iraqis than we know how to count hardly have the power to ripple the placid somnolence of many of the same kinds of people, some of them -- like Joe Lieberman -- literally the same people. Does anything shock them these days? I wonder if Harvey Waxman's hearings next week will start to wake them up?

Let the truth telling begin.

Darkness at noon -- Bush fix for global warming?

If our planetary greenhouse really is getting too hot, the Bush administration apparently has the answer: Just. Turn. Off. The Sun. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the latest Bushco breakthrough.
THE US wants the world's scientists to develop technology to block sunlight as a last-ditch way to halt global warming.

It says research into techniques such as giant mirrors in space or reflective dust pumped into the atmosphere would be "important insurance" against rising emissions, and has lobbied for such a strategy to be recommended by a UN report on climate change, the first part of which is due out on Friday).

The US has also attempted to steer the UN report, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), away from conclusions that would support a new worldwide climate treaty based on binding targets to reduce emissions. It has demanded a draft of the report be changed to emphasise the benefits of voluntary agreements and to include criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol, which the US opposes.
Balkinization's take on this is that the idea is another example of the Bush administration's fondness for biblically sanctioned science.
There's plenty of biblical precedent for the U.S.'s idea: In fact, it's God approved. God blotted out the sun as one of the ten plagues against the Egyptians (Exodus 10:21-23). There was darkness at noon at Jesus's Crucifixion (Matthew 27:45; riffing off of Joel 2:10). In fact, darkening the sun is a frequently mentioned Divine strategy, just see Amos 8:9, Joel 3:15 and Micah 3:6.
If drawing the heavenly shades doesn't work, we could always try a plague of frogs. (Via TPM and Avedon.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Big Sur and the joyous art of Henry Miller

On a clear, bright day, when the blue of the sea rivals the blue of the sky, one sees the hawk, the eagle, the buzzard soaring above the still, hushed canyons. In summer, when the fogs roll in, one can look down upon a sea of clouds floating listlessly above the ocean; they have the appearance, at times, of huge iridescent soap bubbles, over which, now and then, may be seen a double rainbow. In January and February the hills are greenest, almost as green as the Emerald Isle. From November to February are the best months, the air fresh and invigorating, the skies clear, the sun still warm enough to take a sun bath.

From our perch, which is about a thousand feet above the sea, one can look up and down the coast a distance of twenty miles in either direction. The highway zigzags like the Grande Corniche. Unlike the Riviera, however, there are but few houses to be seen. The old-timers, those with huge landholdings, are not eager to see the country opened up. They are all for preserving its virginal aspect. How long will it hold out against the invader? That is the big question.
-- Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

This is, as Henry Miller said fifty years ago, the most beautiful time of the year in Big Sur. Maybe that's why the New York Times had a big travel story about Big Sur a few weeks ago.

One of the miracles of modern American life is that, in the 50 years since Henry Miller published the above words in 1957, Big Sur has pretty much held out against the invader. There's been a bit of development, but this wild 70-mile stretch of coast running south from Carmel remains largely protected and as pristine as when Miller lived there. Even if you've never been there, you've seen it. Every time you see a TV commercial showing a new car swooping effortlessly around winding roads hugging the cliff sides and ridges above the open sea, you're probably watching footage that was shot in Big Sur. (If you'd like to refresh your memory, the Times link has a slide show.)

The rugged, unspoiled scenery is breathtaking, and it's a great place to go to recharge your batteries. It's also a chance to acquaint yourself with the "other Henry Miller," not the once notorious writer of the "Tropics," but the painter. I photographed this display of his paints and brushes a few years ago at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. Although much better known as a writer, Miller was also a talented, self-taught watercolorist, with a style all his own. His paintings -- ranging from the figurative to the abstract -- are sunny, joyous, exuberant. The display of his art materials is like a shrine to the creativity of a great American spirit.

You can see some of his work just down the road at the Coast Gallery, which mounted a centennial retrospective in 1991. The catalog, Henry Miller -- The Paintings: A Centennial Retrospective, is listed at Amazon and you can use their Look Inside feature to browse the paintings. Miller's biography at the Coast Gallery's website gives us a glimpse of how Miller viewed his painting.
"When I write, I work", Miller said, "but when I paint, I play". His paintings are filled with childlike images full of play and color. Some have called his paintings "picture stories" but, unlike his writings, there is no message.

Henry the writer wrote passionately about everything, but Henry the painter traded his pencils for brushes and used colors and shapes instead of words and sentences. With his writer's mind at rest, his artist's spirit soared and he dared do what most only dream to do--to try to be as free as a child.

"To paint is to love again and to love is to live life at its fullest", Miller wrote.
Clearly, Miller never stopped loving.

You wouldn't want to get caught between the NYT's auto writer and his Joycean epiphany

When the automative muse draws near at the New York Times, stand back. The result can be explosive.
An ES 350, especially a loaded ES 350, is a very nice car. But I’m reminded of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead.” In it, a man’s wife reveals that as a teenager, she had a boyfriend named Michael Furey who died of pneumonia after trying to visit her during a terrible storm. The husband dejectedly realizes that compared with this crazy dead guy, he hasn’t brought much to the table in the way of passion. He’s just going through the motions.

I wonder if an ES 350 owner wouldn’t eventually have a similar epiphany. Maybe he or she would be driving along one day and suddenly remember a ride from the past, some rascal of a sports car that was fast and exciting but blew its final head gasket long before its time.
Or maybe his or her head would just explode from the pressure of an over-extended metaphor.