Saturday, February 28, 2009

Slow dancing in the night sky

Slow Dancing
The Moon and Venus danced brightly and unusually close last night, but I didn't realize until later that Feb. 27 provided a more dramatic conjunction than most, because Venus is so bright right now.

I keep an eye on the heavens, but not systematically, so I'm never prepared for these things. Thus, as usual, I did all the wrong things: Shot at a high ISO. Didn't have a tripod with me. Shot hand-held in a stiff breeze with a long lens at a slow shutter speed. Overall, I guess I'm lucky it turned out as well as it did. At least I got the shot. (Yay for image stabilization!)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

This mom is a nuclear terrorist

Or so some U.S. officials seem to think. The mom, of course, is progressive journalist Barbara Ehrenreich. Interrogators apparently couldn't see that a 30-year-old satire she co-wrote was not a real set of instructions for making an H-bomb at home. While Binyam Mohamed was being tortured, he "confessed" to reading the piece on the internet. He said it was a satire, but they apparently didn't see it that way. He was subject to extraordinary rendition, torture, and detention at Guantanamo, from which he was released recently and sent back to Britain, nearly 7 years after he was seized -- on the condition that details of his interrogation be kept secret. It's one of the more egregious cases of human rights abuse of the Bush years.

Ehrenreich's daughter, Rosa Brooks, is an LA Times columnist, lawyer and human rights activist. She commented on the story yesterday in a piece titled, "How Mom Sent a Guy to Gitmo."
My mother is a terrorist!

Or at least that's what certain unidentified U.S. interrogators seem to suspect.

It all stems from a satirical article called "How to Build Your Own Home H-Bomb" that my mother, Barbara Ehrenreich, wrote with two coauthors 30 years ago. The article, published in Seven Days magazine, was chock-full of helpful tips for would-be nuclear bomb makers. For instance, it advised those struggling to enrich uranium to make "a simple home centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the [bucket] around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for about 45 minutes."
Yeah, sure -- go ahead and swing that bucket of liquid uranium hexafluoride around and around, as fast as you can. A little exposure to chemistry in school, half an ounce of common sense, or even the ability to look something up in Wikipedia would reveal this to be total nonsense (or satire). But then, common sense was never a big part of the Bush administration's war on terror.

Intelligence agencies are always paranoid. Graham Greene hilariously captured this in his satirical spoof of the Cold War spy genre, Our Man in Havana, which has a plot that revolves around mechanical drawings of a vacuum cleaner absurdly being mistaken for an imagined secret Soviet airbase. But that was fiction. The case of Binyam Mohamed is even more absurd, but it is real, and more brutal.

This is the kind of thing President Obama said he would end. A good way to start is to start opening up the interrogation records, so we know what really happened. That's why the secrecy in this case is so troubling. When lawyers for Mohamed asked a British judge to unseal the records of his interrogation so he could pursue a lawsuit, the judge said he would like to do so, but his hands were tied. The U.S. had told the British government that if they declassified the records, the U.S. would stop sharing intelligence information, and the Brits backed down. I hope the Obama administration reconsiders.

As for Ehrenreich -- who knew? I had no idea she was strong enough to swing a bucket full of liquid uranium hexafluoride around her head, over and over, or that she knew how to liquify the damn stuff in the first place. Truly, a dangerous woman.

Barbara Ehrenreich photo by Sigrid Estrada

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Not ready for prime time

His whole meandering mix of personal reminiscence and politics didn't really seem ready for prime time, but Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's opening was a classic:
Good evening, and happy Mardi Gras, I'm Bobby Jindal...
This on the day seven people got shot in a Fat Tuesday parade in New Orleans. Communications 101 -- when pretaping a message, don't record anything about the future that could be rendered callous or insensitive by events. "It's tough to make predictions -- especially about the future," as Yogi Berra said. Or was it Niels Bohr, or Albert Einstein, or Mark Twain, or somebody?

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday
Letter from Here is three years old today. (Thanks for making the cupcakes, Cupcake.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Daughters of the Moon

The Daughters of the Moon
The photo is an old one of mine, recropped. The title is by Italo Calvino. It's the title of a short story by him I just read in The New Yorker. Calvino was an Italian journalist, fabulist and modernist who died in 1985. The Daughters of the Moon, previously untranslated into English, was published in 1968, part of his "Cosmicomics" series. Combining elements of fable, mythology, magic realism and social satire, its publication seems specially timely -- involving, as it does, the complete collapse of an economy totally based on endless consumption and its magical transformation by the moon and its "daughters" into something new:
In this world where every object was thrown away at the slightest sign of breakage or aging, at the first dent or stain, and replaced with a new and perfect substitute, there was just one false note, one shadow: the moon. It wandered through the sky naked, corroded, and gray, more and more alien to the world down here, a hangover from a way of being that was now outdated.
The story is hard to describe, because it's very much a matter of tone and nuance. I loved it. Click the link to check it out.