Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mr. Bush, meet Global Warming

I was trying to remember where I read that global warming will increase hurricane severity. It was this article. I am inserting the abstract. Quoting the abstract falls within fair use guidelines. The article is by Kerry Emanuel, of MIT, and is the result of his research on the past 30 years of tropical cyclones. If you have institutional or personal access to Nature, you can read the full article, which is quite technical.
Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years
by Kerry Emanuel
Theory and modelling predict that hurricane intensity should increase with increasing global mean temperatures, but work on the detection of trends in hurricane activity has focused mostly on their frequency, and shows no trend. Here I define an index of the potential destructiveness of hurricanes based on the total dissipation of power, integrated over the lifetime of the cyclone, and show that this index has increased markedly since the mid-1970s. This trend is due to both longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities. I find that the record of net hurricane power dissipation is highly correlated with tropical sea surface temperature, reflecting well-documented climate signals, including multi-decadal oscillations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, and global warming. My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and—taking into account an increasing coastal population—a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century.

This is from Nature advance online publication; published online 31 July 2005 | doi: 10.1038/nature 03906

Allow me to politicize this a little

We have now an environmental disaster that has led to the complete disappearance of a major American city--something inconceivable the day before yesterday. Whether New Orleans will be rebuilt and revived is unclear. Presumably it will. But it will take a long time.

But how could this have happened? It was not altogether an act of god. Obviously, environmental degradation and political and engineering unpreparedness are part of the answer. I don't mind politicizing this to point out that environmental degradation is the Republican stock-in-trade, and as it happens, I have just read that the New Orleans sector of the Corps of Engineers has been starved for funds by this Republican administration. This is the same Corps of Engineers that is presently scrambling to think of, and implement, a plan to fix the levee and pump the water out of the city.

Moreover, the wetlands that protect the city have been shrinking for decades. Is solving this problem anywhere on the radar for _any_ political administration you can imagine in America? Not as far as I know. How about global warming? Warmer water does not lead to more frequent hurricanes, or so I have read, but there is evidence that it does lead to more severe hurricanes. (Of course Republicans, who do not believe in evolution, don't believe in global warming either.) And when was the last time you met a Republican who considers rising sea levels a problem?

For an environmentalist like myself, who thinks that environmental issues are the most important ones facing the world, perhaps the most discouraging thing in all of this is the denial and the absurdity of the entire nation, under the guidance of Fox News and the other feeding-frenzy networks, going into hysterics over the problem of--looting.

Well, at least it has pushed Aruba out of the news.

A question that worries me

Nobody seems to be asking what to me is a nagging question: How many of the of thousands of rooftops barely showing above the water in New Orleans have people trapped underneath? None? Five? A hundred? A thousand? More? You'd think people would really want to know, but it's a question, which, so far, I have not heard any of the tv reporters ask. One reporter hinted at it when talking to a Coast Guard officer about the ongoing helicopter rescues, and the Coast Guard guy basically said the helicopter personnel had no way of knowing whether people were inside such houses, and that he hoped everybody was out.

It does look like people who have chopped their way out of their attics are being rescued, as are people who shout from attic vent holes to get the attention of boats. But I am worried that there may be lots of people who are not in a position to shout, or who have not been heard.

I am hoping that these inundated neighborhoods were lived in by people who had cars and who drove away when told to. Because the timetable for draining the water away seems to be weeks rather than days.

The looting problem

It has slowly dawned on me, although apparently less slowly than on the President, that the situation in New Orleans is a genuine disaster. So I have been watching a lot of the tv coverage of the destruction of New Orleans and Biloxi and Gulfport. The only pictures I have seen of anything like this before was of the aftermath of the tsunami.

For a while there was wall to wall dramatic-rescue coverage. But beginning sometime yesterday, looting became a theme, particularly at Fox. Part of it is that they have a limited amount of footage to show, and any shot, particularly any dramatic shot, tends to get shown over and over. So I have seen the same 3 or 4 helicopter rescue dozens of times. Likewise, I have seen the same shot of black people running out of a darkened store, arms full of stuff, dozens of times now.
Most of the stuff appears to be food and drink. The voice-over, especially the dripping-with-faux-morality voiceover at Fox, or the scowling talking head at that same network, always mentions that the looters are taking Nikes and electronics.

Maybe that has been true in some cases. Most of what the cameras took pictures of, though, at least that I saw, was boxes of breakfast cereal and bottled beverages. Some people are shown carrying things along the street in black plastic bags. The unspoken assumption here is that a black person carrying things on the street in a black plastic bag is a looter.

Now there may be actual looting, in the sense of stealing computer games. But no one seems to have thought about the actual situation on the ground. Look. Ten, twenty, fifty, eighty thousand people, no one knows how many, have been left behind in the city. I have seen an estimate of 100,000 people in New Orleans who do not drive. Essentially, these people have been left behind to drown. Or more hopefully, sink or swim.

The "disaster plan" in place, turns out to be nothing more than for those who have cars and money to drive away. Those who do not have those resources, well, too bad. And since the Corps of Engineers does not seem to have had an actual plan in place to deal with levee failure, and no one has a plan to get food and drink and medical supplies into a water-bound city which essentially has no way in or out except helicopter, the only rational disaster plan if you should happen to be one of those left behind, is precisely what would have to be called looting.

The only food is in the stores. The stores are closed, and soon to be underwater. You couldn't buy food and drink if you had the money and desire to pay. What are you gonna do? Well, according to Fox, you should make your way to the Superdome, where the toilets don't work, and where you will have to stand in line in the water to get in, and wait to be issued food and water, if the authorities can get it to you.

Well, you might understand some on-the-ground skepticism about this plan. No doubt there is, or has been on occasion, some "real" looting, in the sense of thieves stealing stuff they can neither operate without electricity, nor sell, nor wear, unless they have by chance grabbed the right shoe size. But I confess a certain disbelief as to its extent.

I suspect most of the looting is an attempt by desperate, and at some point, fear-crazed, people, to get food, drink, and money, which presumably is still usable in some circumstances.

Attempts are car-jacking have been made, we are told. So what does that tell us? Psychopathic youths out joy-riding in stolen cars? Or people desperate to get out of the city, so as not to drown, starve, or die of disease? As fox news says, you decide.

Since our government, now a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of corporate America, is not stepping up to the plate here, it is left to those Americans who have a conscience to try to do something that will help the refugees and survivors. The only thing I can think of to recommend at the moment is to make a donation to the Red Cross, which actually seems to be trying to do something.

That, and, in the longer term, firing the people who are presently running the country. The real looters.

I just saw a typical bit, where the anchor, in New York or Washington, asks her on-the-ground guy in the French Quarter (a well fed, well dressed, and well-hydrated individual who obviously has a way out of this and and a home to return to) for a description of what was going on, who turned at the beginning of his report to point at some young people behind him who were carrying away what he said were shoes. He mentioned, sarcastically, that although they said they needed shoes because their families had fled with no shoes to wear, they seemed to have large families. Then the anchor asked, with the faux incredulous voice I have grown to know and expect, are there no national guardsmen, no police? Is nobody standing guard, with orders to shoot to kill? The man on the ground explains, sadly, that no, the police and National Guard have other priorities, like rescuing people. Guarding Walmarts and killing people taking shoes is not at the top.

One can sense the moral outrage all across red America.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Some odd things about the brain

In the past month and a half I have had two episodes of sudden, but partial, hearing loss in my left ear. The onset of each was in a period of a few hours, and each lasted several days. The first was more severe than the second. I am hoping there will be no others, but you never know. The doctors certainly don't. My diagnosis is idiopathic sudden hearing loss, which is, as they say, poorly understood. Could be a virus. Could be some kind of auto-immune thing. Could be something else. Frequently it goes away spontaneously. The otolaryngologist wanted to rule out an acoustic neuroma, so I had an MRI, which was negative. During the second hearing-loss episode I got in to see the doctor, and had my hearing tested while the hearing loss was going on. The lab guy made a nice little chart of my hearing acuity. Definitely some hearing loss, he said. I knew that.

The reduction in hearing acuity was for higher pitched sounds. This was very strange because it seemed to me that I was losing sounds in lower registers. The specialist said that such subjective mistakes were not unusual. But it wasn't a mistake. While I was listening to music I couldn't hear, say, a string bass in my left ear that I could clearly hear with my right ear.

After taking a walk, I think I now know why the science was right and I was right too.

When I walk in the neighborhood, I sometimes walk along a busy street for about a quarter mile. During the second hearing loss episode, I was startled when I was was out walking by being beset by loud street noise roars and rumbles, seemingly coming out of nowhere, from indeterminate directions, that I had never heard before. Everything I was hearing seemed, well, really loud, and really strange. I could hear normal things also, but the extraneous noises made the walk really unpleasant. It seemed like I was suffering from increased and unwanted hearing acuity.

But in the quiet of my home, and in the doctor's office, I had hearing _loss_. The tests showed I had diminished left-ear hearing in three or four upper frequencies, and otherwise normal hearing in other frequencies in that ear, and normal hearing in my right ear. So why was I hearing loud noises? Louder than usual.

I kind of think what was going on is that the brain normally suppresses a lot of inessential sensory input. And the brain recognizes normal hearing input by a certain accustomed pattern of bilateral perception that, when disrupted, causes the brain to consider it a _new noise_, potentially dangerous and worthy of my attention. It certainly got my attention. Cars make all kinds of horrible noises going along the street that you just don't notice. But now I was noticing. Loud noises, actually. (Happily, I am back to not hearing them.)

And, in going back and listening to music, I realized that my left ear was simply not interpreting a lot of noises as musical. I think some string bass ovetones got knocked out, and so I was hearing the bass as a background roar, like a passing car. Not music. (Happily, my left ear is once again hearing low musical pitches as music.)

Apparently some people who have this condition have trouble understanding speech, probably for similar reasons. They can hear many of the sounds, but because the brain does get all the customary tonal information, it does not recognize the sounds as words. Fortunately I don't seem to have this problem.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that the main symptom of my partial deafness, or at least the one that most distressed me, was that everything I heard outside the quiet of my home seemed louder. Unpleasantly so.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A sampling of the scanning project I've mentioned

I have been scanning photographic negatives and slides of mine which have been sitting in boxes or projector carousels for years, stored in bad conditions, and deteriorating. So I have set about making good quality prints of ones that I like. So far I have scanned several hundred.
They will mostly be of interest to family and friends, but some of my other readers may also be want to take a look. Or not. I can't really upload even a good sample of them to my blog--there are too many and even these jpegs take up too much space. But I have opened a flickr account, and I have posted some jpegs there, much reduced in size, which is fine for viewing them on a computer screen anyway.

Here are a couple. Three, actually. The rest (the 20 or so that I have uploaded) are at this page. I have not yet decided whether I will upload a large number to flickr or not.
Update, Sunday Aug.28:
I have added about a dozen more photos at the flickr link above. That will probably be it for a while.

The photo below is of the house where we lived in Yaguarón, Paraguay, in 1968.
Yaguaron porch

And this photo is also from Yaguarón. Kay is holding a neighbor child.
Kay in Yaguarón

This photo is from 1976 in El Paso. Kay and I are standing romantically at the grave of John Wesley Hardin in the El Paso cemetery. I think I have a much inferior copy posted at a memorial page for Kay I maintain on my website. I found the original slide to make this one.
Kay and Jim in El Paso

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Republican Sharia

Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom we used to call Governor Goodhair, after his unusually perfect male-model locks, but now call Governor MoFo, because of his open-mike screw-up after an interview with a reporter who displeased him, has initiated what promises to be the Republican strategy for the future of Texas, and I suspect, for America: Gay bashing.

A little background, first. The governor has presided over 3 consecutive Republican controlled legislative sessions now in which absolutely nothing has gotten done. He promised to cut property taxes. And he promised to provide more funding for schools and raise teacher salaries. The legislature, a slight majority of whom can count, refused to do either. To do the first would make the second impossible, and to do the second would make the first impossible. So the legislature settled for the next best thing--they did neither, but passed an amendment to the Texas Constitution, at Perry's urging, making gay marriage illegal.

Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal in Texas. This will be part of the goddamn Texas Constitution, if the voters go for it, so that a future imaginary liberal legislature cannot undo it by just passing a law.

But nevertheless, the public is a little miffed about Perry's non-performance in office, and he has a hard primary battle ahead of him, and a potentially hard general election against a Democrat (something unheard of in Texas for many years) if he gets the nomination again.

So he is traveling around the state making speeches against homosexuality. I think he believes this is a foolproof strategy for reelection in Texas. My fear is that he may be correct.

Here is his opening salvo:
The Texas Marriage Alliance represents all Texans who believe in the sanctity of marriage. That marriage is the union between a man and a woman is a truth known to each one of us already, and any attempt to allow same-sex marriages is a detriment to the family unit and hurts our state and nation. Tragically, there are liberal court challenges to the sanctity of marriage, and political efforts are underway nationwide to recognize unions between two men or two women. That is why we believe it's necessary to organize and mobilize all Texans committed to the fundamental belief that marriage is only a union between a man and a woman. ... The Marriage Alliance welcomes people of all faiths to our cause. Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical and Jewish leaders have all spoken out in favor of the sanctity of marriage. Marriage finds meaning and purpose in faith — it holds and binds us together. And we welcome religious leaders to be vocal advocates of our cause. The vast majority of people in Texas and across this nation believe that marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman. If you agree, please join us!

Just amazing. "Marriage finds meaning and purpose in faith — it holds and binds us together." Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? All I can see here is an explicit appeal to the establishment of religious law in Texas. And a cynical ploy. Governor Mofo is a failure as a governor, so this is the ace up his sleeve. And if the Iraq is still as much of an albatross in 2006 as it is now, expect to see this nationwide. "Don't think about that war! Think about the gay threat to marriage."

And Perry, and the Republicans like him, are completely shameless. Most of them don't personally believe any of this shit. The governor himself is secular and foul-mouthed, except before the cameras. Well, he slipped up, once, in front of some cameras, but hey, if he plays the gay card right nobody will remember.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mullah Robertson issues another fatwa

Pat Robertson has called upon our government to assassinate Hugo Chavez. Here is the AP Story:
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson has called on-air for American operatives to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying it would be “cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop.”

“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” Mr. Robertson said Monday on the Christian Broadcast Network's The 700 Club.

“We don't need another $200-billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator,” he said of the democratically elected Mr. Chavez, who is a frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy.

“It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

Interestingly, this is Mullah Robertson's second fatwa. The first was directed at Muqtada al-Sadr a year ago.
Al-Sadr is a rebel whose breaking the law. He's a murderer, there's a warrant out for his arrest. He should be killed, it's just that simple. They should execute him and they should take care of those people. He's holding up the most powerful army on Earth and he's thumbing his nose at the authority of the new government, and it's time the forces took action against him and stop the play. I hope this news says they're going after him.The news yesterday said, well. he'd agreed to some kind of a deal, but he's a liar, he's not going to do a deal and it's time we move in and do it swiftly and get this sore out of the way.
Pat Robertson, 8/19/04 on the 700 Club

The Reverend Robertson had a different tune to sing when the United States was trying to get the brutal Liberian dictator Charles Taylor to leave office. Robertson said this about our government's urging Taylor to abdicate:
And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.'

The difference seems to be that Taylor was a Baptist, like Robertson.

A little bit of Googling finds a little more about Robertson and Charles Taylor. Robertson was, and probably still is, head of Freedom Gold Ltd., a for-profit company chartered in the Cayman Islands. Taylor granted Freedom Gold Ltd exploration and mining rights in an area of southeastern Liberia thought to have a lot of gold deposits. Robertson is the company's president and director. A one-man company. The Liberian government, i.e., Taylor, was guaranteed 10 percent of the profits of the company.

So. Is Robertson a religious fanatic? Or a thuggish businessman? Or both? I'd vote for both. I wonder what it would take for the Republican Party to disavow this guy.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The creeping Talibanization of America

Suppose you woke up one morning back in 1975 and found that the New York Times was running a series on the "controversy" about whether evolution is true. But if you reflect a moment, you realize that wouldn't have been possible. In 1975 that was unimaginable, right? You are correct. It would have been unimaginable.

The "controversy"? Well, as any scientifically literate human being knows, there is no controversy. OK, scratch that. There is no _scientific_ controversy. There was none in 1975, or for that matter in 1875, and there is none today. It would have been unthinkable that the New York Times 30 years ago would run such a non-story, about such nonsense.

So what has happened? Why does the New York Times not say, in the lead to today's edition of such a preposterous series, given that some insane editor has actually insisted that this series be run, that there is no _scientific_ controversy here. Nothing to see here, folks. Go home. Just a political dumb-show put on by right-wing religious zealots. Some of the zealots are honest, who say what they believe, that the world was created 7000 years ago. And some of them are dishonest, and are cagey about whether they believe the Bible literally, hiding behind the pseudoscientific smokescreen of their "intelligent design" nonsense, while remaining non-committal whether the Designer did his designing 7000 or 14 billion years ago.

But there no testable science here--as a real news story would put in its first sentence--no scientific research, no hypotheses susceptible of proof or disproof, nothing, nada, zip--instead just a rehashing of the worst possible arguments for the existence of God, arguments which I suspect existed--among people who had more of an excuse not to know better--during the middle ages, which is where the proponents of these arguments seemingly want to live.

And, thanks to them, and to the cowardice of the press, the rest of us are increasingly likely to be living in the middle ages as well.

In a little sidebar to today's Times installment, three supposed objections to evolution, something called "irreducible complexity" (which is nothing more than the pigheaded insistence, as science explains more and more about evolution, that science still has not yet explained _enough_), the Cambrian explosion (a red-herring), and the clincher, "well, it just looks designed", are all brought up, solemnly, as if they should not be laughed out of court. Then, in the sidebar, we have scientific answers to each of these absurd arguments. That's fair and balanced journalism, right?

Yeah, right. So this is what passes for journalism these days, in America's newspaper of record. If the shape of the earth were a political issue with fundamentalists and the Republican base, we would no doubt see a NYT series entitled "Is the Earth Really Round?" with an explanation of the "controversy" for the intelligent reader. Perhaps we would have a similar sidebar, with three arguments for the earth being shaped like a floor tile being answered, patiently, by real scientists. Both sides of the question.

All the news that's fit to print.

Boy, that's really an all-purpose agitprop technique that the Right has discovered. It turns out you can slime science with the same techniques you can slime Cindy Sheehan. Just create a loud and intellectually indefensible claim, based on bigotry, superstition, fanaticism, with a good helping of pure duplicity thrown in for good measure, and you have a "controversy", which "journalists" can report both sides of. Equally.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday cat blogging

Friday finds Grendel alert to dangers
Grendel alert

and Gray asleep and about to fall off the table
Gray about to fall

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Peace vigil in Little Stacy Park, Austin

Some photos of the peace vigil Wednesday evening in Austin at Little Stacy Park. This was one of several vigils in Austin. Perhaps as befits a peace vigil, this one was more like a Quaker meeting than a political demonstration. Very quiet, with speakers and singers who had to make themselves heard the old-fashioned way, without amplification. Dignified and heartfelt. Lots of kids. It was a school-night, so parents had to leave early. Those of us who are older who like to go to bed early, left early also.

Cindy Sheehan has given a lot of people hope that something can be done to end this war. Good for her.

Early arrivals

New arrivals

The crowd grows

People stand up to speak

Another of several speakers

Another speaker


After dark

Another shot after dark

Some music

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How my marriage was saved

Somewhat over 20 years ago, Kay and I were at the house of a friend who made jewelry. I was admiring a box of polished fire agates, little brown rocks which seemed unlikely candidates for lapidary use until you looked at them closely and saw their complex iridescence. That iridescence, kind of like that of an opal, is caused by thin, wavy films of iron oxide inside the chalcedony.
"You like them?" Kay asked, "Which one do you like best?" I pointed out one that was particularly nice. The conversation turned to other things.

Nearly a year later, for my birthday, Kay gave me a small box which contained a gold ring with this stone in it. It fit a finger on my right hand. It was a nice gift. And Kay attached a special significance to it, as it turned out.

That summer, we went to Costa Rica, and spent some time at Manuel Antonio beach and park on the Pacific. Manuel Antonio was beautiful then, and I hope it still is--like pictures I have seen of Tahiti. Jungle covered steep cliffs fall down to the ocean. Crescents of sandy beach lie between rocky sea-bound points of black stone.

The big mile-long beach right outside the park was called Playa Espadilla. That was where we stayed; at high tide the waves played out in a thin hissing sheet right at our cabin door and at low tide we were 200 feet from the water. The low tide was better for Eve; the waves did not break as steeply and the undertow was not as strong. The beach drew a lot of surfers. The water at Espadilla was considered dangerous. Every once in a while you would see a riderless surfboard suddenly pop into the air above the thrashing form of a surfer now being tumbled in the heavy sucking roll of the mighty wave that had dismounted him.

To get to the small national park you had to wade across a stream and pay a few cents to a guy sitting in a cane hut and you walked along a path and after a while you would come out of the jungle onto the beach. The two beaches inside the park were each about a quarter mile long. The first one is called Espadilla del Sur. You could take a short jungle walk behind a forested headland called Punta Catedral, Cathedral Point, to get to the next beach, Playa Manuel Antonio, which must certainly be one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in the world.

White-face monkeys would down out of the trees to steal from your picnic basket. A couple of park rangers dressed like commandos stood around with old M-1 rifles, guarding the pretty girls against--something. I am not sure what. I found out later that the rangers lived in the park. I went on a walk on a remote trail back in the jungle and ran across one who was carrying a dead sloth he had shot home to his dinner table. He was surprised to see me. "Buenas tardes!" I said, cheerfully. He scowled and did not reply.

There were supposedly other beaches farther on in the park; the next one down was if I remember correctly called Playa Puerto Escondido. Escondido means hidden, and it turned out it was indeed hidden, being completely inaccessible except at absolute low tide--at least it was if we found the right place.

Kay and my stepdaughter Anna and my daughter Eve and I had set out to find it and were soon trekking a poorly marked and badly maintained path though a dense rain-forest, up and down steep slopes, with mysterious twitterings and chattering noises going on the the high jungle canopy above us, and occasionally we heard the sound of waves crashing invisibly below as our trail came close to the ocean cliffs. The path was wet and slippery and the mud would occasionally capture and retain someone's sneaker. Monkeys threw mango rinds at us and jeered. After 40 minutes of walking and climbing we got to what we thought was the cove, descending to the sea by handholds down a slick muddy slope. The cove supposedly had good snorkeling because a reef blocked the entrance against the waves.

What we found was that most of this cove consisted of sheer walls of rock coming right down to the crashing sea, a sea like you would find on the Oregon coast, with great booming waves exploding on slick black boulders like a slow-motion firework display. But you could see some beach sand exposed in places, and you could see how there would be more beach at dead low tide. The trail came down to a little cobblestoned inlet which was still blocked from the rest of the cove by the tide.

I tried to climb over some rocks to see if we could get out of our inlet to the sandy area that was nearest, but I was caught by some incoming combers and I got washed off the rocks. My ring hooked on a sharp outcrop and I felt it slip off my finger. It was gone in the crashing surf.

The ring was important.

Kay looked heartbroken. Also, she believed in omens, and she had for whatever reason come to believe that the ring would stay on my finger as long as we were married. So, not only had I lost the ring, our marriage was in peril.

I felt terrible.

So Anna, who had snorkeling equipment, took her face mask and searched among the rocks with the waves occasionally surging over her, while I held on to her feet to keep her from being carried away. It seemed like a hopeless quest. But we kept looking. Anna scrabbled among the rocks, occasionally putting up her head to clear her mask and snorkel. Minutes went by. As I was about to give up, and face up to this sudden danger to our marriage, Anna found it! She found the ring after maybe 10 minutes of feeling around among the small dark crabs who scuttled in the cracks in the rock.

So our marriage was saved. Kay now looked elated. And, you bet, I was pleased.

We went back to the dry shingle of cobblestones and had a picnic of wholewheat bread and locally made jam. By that time we were famished. I think it was one of the best meals we had in all of Costa Rica. We drank our extra-sweet Central American Coca Colas and packed up and started back. All this time we had not seen a living soul.

We spent a few days swimming and beachcombing and shell-collecting at Manuel Antonio. We would eat breakfast at a little outdoor restaurant across from our cabañas and watch the chestnut-billed toucans do some kind of a mating or rivalry dance on a nearby tree. Then I would go walking along the road or into the park birdwatching and Kay and Anna and Eve would collect shells and swim. At the time, it was cheap and primitive. (Given the nature of progress, I fear it is neither, now.)
It would rain in the afternoon. The pelicans would slug low over the wave-tops, flapping and soaring slowly. The parrots would come screaming out of a tree, circle wildly, and flood densely and loudly into another tree. It was cool. There were not too many mosquitos. It would rain all night and it was good to swim in the rain and darkness.

We always meant to go back, but we never did.

Sunset, Playa Espadilla, Costa Rica, 1989
View from our room on the beach looking toward Manuel Antonio National Park

Monday, August 15, 2005

What a strange thing to say

George Bush, who is getting touchy about Cindy Sheehan, seemed to show some signs of exasperation that reporters were actually daring to question him on his decision to hide from her, as he rode a bicycle around his fake ranch.

He responded to these questions with some perfunctory bromides, concluding with this one, "I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say."

By implication, of course, his claim of being thoughtful and sensitive to those who have something to say, combined with his refusal to go out and meet Mrs. Sheehan, is that she does not have "something to say."

Then came the really weird remark:
"But," he added, "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

Uh, what?

That makes no sense. And it bears such a close verbal relationship to something that _does_ make sense, but it also very offensive, that I think he was about to say it, but caught himself just in time, coming out instead with a hallmark Bush non-sequitur.

What I think he was about to say was "I think it's also important for her to get on with her life." I am sure he thought it, but some rudimentary political survival instinct interposed itself, and it suddenly sounds like he thinks he is being interviewed by a reporter for a health and fitness magazine, as a neural misfire steers him over to his "being president is hard work" patter.

"I think the people want the president to be in a position to make good, crisp decisions and to stay healthy," he said "And part of my being is to be outside exercising."

Part of his being is to be outside exercising.

A three mile bike ride down the road to Camp Casey would be just a drop in the bucket of his being, you'd think. A little jump-start toward presidential fitness.

There is something wrong with this man's wiring. And maybe people are starting to notice.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"They rode thru red blood, to the knee"

"For all the blood that's shed on earth, runs thru the springs of that country"

(Words from a Scottish border ballad, that got into my head on my walk yesterday.)

I decided to take a little-used trail down to Onion Creek Friday afternoon, and found that the horse people have discovered it, so rather than being a narrow trail it is now a wide one. I found myself remembering the words of an ancient Scottish ballad called Thomas the Rymer, in which the Queen of the Fairies, who has kidnapped Thomas, shows him 3 roads in the world, the narrow road, close beset by thorns and briars, that leads to paradise, a broad wide road through fields of lilies that leads to hell, and the bonny road through the ferns that leads to her own kingdom, where she is disappearing him for seven years, as his penalty for having dared to kiss her.

I don't know whether the song, which I learned many years ago, reinforces my prejudice against wide broad roads, or that my liking the song was a product of my prejudice.

But I digress, as usual. The slightly widened road, which still has a few ferns, hard by the creek, led me to a surprise: A rock squirrel. Rock squirrels are common in the western half of Travis County (which is where Austin is) but they prefer cliffs and boulders as a habitat. There are plenty of those a few miles west of here, but few in my neck of the woods. He was in a tree, as rock squirrels frequently are, but his response to my presence (after I took his picture) was a typical rock squirrel one--he ran _down_ the tree and over the lip of an arroyo, presumably to hide in some rocks that indeed exist at the bottom of the slope.

Then, near the creek, I caught a glimpse of a little blue heron, backlit by the sun. He flew pretty quick, but I took his picture too.

It was a nice walk. And as an added bonus, I saw a rattlesnake, the first I have seen this year, a small western diamondback, maybe 3 feet long, disappearing across the trail 20 feet ahead of me. But I was not quick enough with my camera, alas.

Rock squirrel, Spermophilus variegatus
Rock squirrel

Little blue heron, Egretta caerulea
Little blue heron

A good walk. But then I got home I found, on the web, another picture of wounded faces of parents at a funeral being handed, with a white-gloved salute, a neatly folded American flag to replace their son. There are lots of verses to that ballad I mentioned, but those above are the ones that I can't get out of my mind.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday cat and angel blogging

The outdoor cat under the fig tree.
figtree cat

The angel at the end of the hall
blue angel

The fuzzy cat on the table
Gray, the cat, being fuzzy

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The slander machine

God, I am such a terrible Buddhist, lost in samsara! Do I keep my equanimity and thoughts of loving-kindness when I read the slanders that, say, Bob Newman, a hack Denver radio personality, has directed against Cindy Sheenan, accusing her of consorting with traitors and communists, and of demeaning her own dead son? No. Instead I sent him the following email. This is shameful behavior, for a Buddhist.

I have not heard back.


Hi, Bob,

Mr. Bush is taking a public relations beating on this one, and he is afraid to come out of his fake ranch to talk to her, because she has proved herself quick on her feet and articulate, having sent his apparatchiks back to ranch headquarters crestfallen after being told they were smart enough to know they were lying, exactly the right thing to say at the right time; and I think he as afraid to come through with his usual bullying by actually having her arrested the way his secret service boys threatened (what a PR disaster that would be!)
So all that is left to him is to crank up the tried and true slander machine, and evidently word has duly gone out to the sock puppets and zombiebots like yourself--did you actually get orders from your handlers or are you simply genetically engineered with the DNA of pond algae, to know instinctively how to do your master's bidding, the way a cancer cell knows how to metastasize?

But wait! If it is the the former, you are unlikely to be forthcoming about it, and if the latter, you can no more know your real purpose in life than can a nostoc spore, so it is vain and foolish of me to ask. What a grotesque mistake on my part!

So sorry.


Jim McCulloch


Update: I did hear back. Bob reproached me, via email, for being ruled by hatred. Well, Samsara is indeed all about greed, hatred, and delusion, as all Buddhists know well, and I confess I fall headlong into samsara on a daily basis, though I can say fairly I am not actually ruled by it. My problem is that I get too easily stirred at injustice. Sadly, I am not the Dalai Lama.

So I wrote back, still deep in Samsara:

Dear Bob,

You gotta lot of nerve, my excellent Republican friend, accusing someone of "hatred" after having slimed Cindy Sheenan by declaring, with the license God seems to give the terminally unjust and the mad, that she not only demeans--sweet Jesus!--her own dead son, but that she is in favor of disembowelment and rape of children! Have you no shame?

We both know the answer.

Cheers, Jim

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cindy Sheehan

The Cindy Sheehan story is remarkable in that it has gotten a lot of media attention. In the recent past all kinds of people, including Max Cleland, have been treated shabbily by Bush's henchmen at the road to Bush's fake ranch, but with very little mainstream notice. Cindy Sheehan's vigil seems to be striking a chord with people, as well it should.

And indeed the cowardice, arrogance and mean-spiritedness of Mr. Bush when he is called upon to do the right thing, is breathtaking--or at least it would have been in a former America where arrogance and meanness by the rulers of the country, hiding in missile silos in Nebraska when America was under attack, and hiding on his ranchito from critics who ask to talk to him, had not become routine. But forcing the aggrieved mother of a dead soldier to stand in a bar ditch full of weeds and infested with fire ants, or be arrested if she ventures onto the road, is a surprising new low.

Well, not surprising. But a new low nevertheless, as is the threat to arrest her--if she does not leave by Thursday--for exercising her first amendment rights to peaceably assemble and petitition our government for a redress of grievances.

She was apparently told she would become a threat to national security on that day. When asked by an interviewer how she felt about going to jail, and if it would it be a first, she said, "Yes. It would be the first time, and I am ready to go. The only way they will get me out of there is if he meets with me, or the end of August, or when I am arrested."
She added, "But if I get arrested and I am let out before the end of August, I will go back."

Apparently about 3 dozen protesters were with her yesterday. As the Thursday deadline approaches, I suspect more will appear. I think Bush will back off on this--surely he does not want to turn a public relations problem into a public relations disaster. But with Bush and his team, you never know. They seem to be totally out of touch with reality.

Their more likely response is to try to crank up the slime machine which has worked so well for them in the past. There has already been some of this, with the Drudge Report claiming that she has flipflopped in her support of the war. A random blogsample from Technorati immediately turns over a rock and finds someone underneath named Bob Newman, whom I have never heard of, but who seems to be deranged, with the headline "A Mother Insults Her Fallen Son."

Here's the first paragraph:
Cindy Sheehan does not believe those filthy ragheads and camel jockeys in Iraq deserve freedom. Nor does she believe they should be allowed to live in peace or be able to sleep at night without wondering if their genocidal dictator’s bloodthirsty henchmen are going to kick their door in and drag the entire family off to a grisly torture chamber, where the parents will be made to watch their children be repeatedly raped and sodomized and finally blinded and dismembered while still alive.

You see here what Bush's slime machine is capable of. Such immoral and disgusting slanders worked well enough with John Kerry and Max Cleland, even though both were actual war heroes. But they were politicians. Will it work on a woman whose son was killed in Bush's war?

I guess I still have enough faith in Americans to believe it won't.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Native foods

It's still hot and dry in south Austin (though it rained yesterday north of the river), and it's the low point in the year for birdwatching. Unless I manage to get out really early in the morning, which, usually, I do not, I don't even bother to take binoculars on my walks--most of the birds, and almost all the mammals, including people, are sensibly staying quietly in the shade.

But a hot summer walk has its charms. Yesterday I stopped to visit with an archaic Indian flint blade I found a couple of years ago, nice flintknapping which I hid under a cactus further from the trail so it would not end up in someone's arrowhead collection. The blade is getting hard to find, as it works its way under fallen leaves and grass.

I don't consider my contemplation of it a religious experience, exactly, more a meditative one. It's probably a couple of thousand years old. People have been living here in Central Texas for ten thousand years at least, and possibly much longer--archaeologists argue about that. The heat, the sweat, the cicadas, the cactus, all draw you into a moment outside regular temporality. I like that.

We know from common sense, and from accounts of people like Cabeza de Vaca, who lived with Texas Indians, though probably not quite this far inland, that living here back then was a hard life. The previous people usually didn't have much to eat. (In Texas "the previous people" is the best way to refer to Native Americans, because we killed most of them and drove the rest out.)

But we are now entering the season of abundance, if you were a person here before the Europeans. August through mid-December was harvest time, when they sowed what they did not reap, the big wild-plant food sources. Mesquite beans, prickly pear cactus fruits, and, after that, pecans. They all look abundant this year. Even I could live off the land here from now till December. Mesquite pods are not all that tasty, but I have ground them with a mortar and pestle to make mesquite flour tortillas, which, had, well, a distinctive flavor. And cactus fruits are OK. Not great, but if you're hungry, I'd guess I'd change that opinion. Pecans, of course, are delicious, and will be ready just about when the cactus and mesquites are done.

Prickly pear fruits. You burn off the glochids, or wipe them off diligently with woven fiber mitts. Or with a handful of grass if you're desperate.
prickly pear cactus fruits

Nearly ripe mesquite pods
nearly ripe mesquite beans

These pecans won't be ripe until October
pecans in August

And someone who still knows how to live off the land, a huitzil. Female black-chinned hummingbird probing a verbena
black chinned hummingbird

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Friedman conundrum

I find myself compulsively unable to not read the three stooges of the New York Times op-ed page, Friedman, Brooks, and Tierney, but I always regret my compulsion. They aren't funny stooges--I use the word stooge the way the Marxists did, back in the day, who applied it as a term of abuse, usually deserved, to dim, self-satisfied, often unaware, and always completely predictable tools of larger and presumably malevolent interests.

So, Friedman, after a spectacularly lame lede, even for a man who thinks the world is flat, ("Wow, I am so relieved that Congress has finally agreed on an energy bill," he says, "now that's out of the way, maybe Congress will focus on solving our energy problem" ), he gets down to his point, which is that we don't have a strategy to deal with "the new world", i.e., the flat one with implacably opposed forces arrayed against one another.

Now it turns out Friedman is actually trying write a column on the failure of our energy policy to even rein in, much less reduce, our energy use. I will give him credit for this. A for effort. And who can disagree with the concept, except the people who run the country? But he just can't stop himself from bringing in all his obsessions: his apocalyptic and manichean worldview wherein "Islamo-fascism" is engaged in a war to the death with "open societies." "Open societies" in case you are wondering, is us. Islamo-fascism is--well, that's hard to define. See my earlier blog enry on "Islamo-fascism" for an inadequate but I-couldn't-help-myself attempt to put this absurd concept out of its misery.

But I digress, as usual. To get back to the matter at hand, Friedman then switches to his loopy, happy-face social Darwinist mode, wherein dog-eat-dog race-to-the-bottom Satanic-mill sweatshop economics is portrayed as a really exciting wave of the future, (but we gotta be prepared to _compete_ in the race to the bottom, is a fair summary of the flat-earth message), he starts tossing out helpful ideas like a drunk throwing beads off a mardi-gras float, the ideas, of course, as practical as the beads.

For example, he suggests a gasoline tax of $2.00 a gallon (not a bad idea--but not strong in the realism department--he needs to clear this kind of thing with his neocon mentors), fuel-efficient cars (a suggestion delivered with the solemnity appropriate to such a novel new idea), and switching to more ethanol. Yeah, ethanol. Like Brazil.

He wants to make us more energy independent, right? He says so himself. But he is opposed to corn-based home-grown ethanol--he wants to import sugar from Brazil to make it. Um, OK. So on a flat earth we achieve energy independence by importing sugar instead of oil--importing sugar from a country which is flexing its muscles, like China, and which has a fairly anti-American government and considerable popular potential for being a lot more anti-American.

Now, sadly, at the end of his column, he has noticed that the White House, which is very concordant with Tom's own views on War-to-the-Death with whatever it is that terrorism is being called today, is not waking up to Tom's other big obsession, the race to the bottom, at least not fast enough. He calls the Administration to task for this, making him sound, momentarily, like he is not an apologist for the American right wing, until you realize that his economic ideas are even _more_ right-wing than your average Republican banker.

In closing, he remarks that it took 9/11 to wake him up to the need for us to change our energy usage, but it was not enough for the rest of Americans, and asks ominously "Do we really have to wait for something bigger in order to get smarter?"

Since I read a lot of political writing, I have gotten to be quite a connoisseur of the non-sequitur, but that one was outstanding. Like, lemme get this right, here, 9/11 should have clued us in that we need higher mileage cars running on Brazilian sugar-cane, but that our failure to have gotten smarter yet is an invitation to a bigger attack? Or that, when that attack comes, we will then get smarter about alcohol and car mileage?

You can start getting crazy when you try to figure out what Friedman could possibly mean.

Stop me before I read this man again.

Friday cat and rabbit blogging

Grendel discovers where I am sorting slides for my scanning project, and makes himself at home
cat in a box

And while the cats and the dog are asleep in the house, a rabbit visits my back yard
rabbit under rosebush

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Judge Posner and the Zeitgeist

Richard Posner has a puff piece on behalf of this the best of all possible journalistic worlds in--you guessed it-- the New York Times Book Review, which I just got around to reading; a puff piece disguised as a review of six books on the state of American journalism, all six of which he somehow fails to address substantively, and indeed hardly mentions, in the course of the review. (Presumably he is aiming for a more honorific prize, a feature non-review in the New York Review of Books in which he can review up to a dozen books without devoting more than a sentence to any of them. But I digress, as usual.)

But he ends with the view, not surprising for a conservative federal judge basking in the warmth of lifetime tenure and comfortable (full salary) eventual retirement benefits, "maybe there isn't much to fret about." Not to mention book royalties and lecture fees, and the glowing admiration of conservative law students across the country. Hard to find fault with such a world. (You know, since I am unable to resist digression, why not outsource federal judgships to Mumbai, where bright conservatives who write good English will deliver the same opinions for 1/10th the cost?)

But, the puffery has some suspect, and indeed unsupported and bizarre, assertions. One is that "In a sample of 23 leading newspapers and newsmagazines, the liberal ones had twice the circulation of the conservative."

This claim is without attribution, so we cannot check its accuracy, nor can we know, or, in any likely universe, imagine, what leading newspapers in the United States might be considered "liberal" in the first place.

I am only guessing that he is including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times in the ranks of "liberal" newspapers and magazines. Given the dramatic skew to the right in this country in the past 40 years, I suppose it is possible for the New York Times and the Washington Post to be described as liberal--if you ignore the evidence of recent history as well as any reasonable notion of what liberalism actually is.

I like examples. "The Nation" is liberal. On that, anyone and everyone who is not delusional must agree. Not wildly liberal. Just liberal. Back when I was a real leftist, we from the real left looked back with contempt on the accommodationist views of The Nation. In other words, the Nation believed in social justice for the downtrodden and oppressed, individual freedom, economic fairness (living wages, a social safety net, etc), and political equality, all thought to be justifiable through reason and attainable through democratic means. I don't think anyone would disagree that liberalism revolves around these principles.

Liberals have also tended to set a fairly high bar for a war to be considered a just one.

Could any mainstream newspaper, or newsmagazine, be considered liberal by these standards?

In a word, no. If you disagree, all I can say is, are you kidding? Are you smoking the same zeitgeist crack Judge Posner is?

Let's ask ourselves if Bill Clinton was a liberal. Ignore the fact that his actual views on social justice and social programs and all of the principles I just mentioned were not much different from Dwight Eisenhower's. We have to live in our own time, after all, not the ultra-left 1950s. But hey, let's agree, if only arbitrarily and for the sake of the argument, that he was a liberal, even perhaps only just barely.

Then let's ask who led the charge to destroy his presidency. It's disingenuous to talk about a vast right-wing conspiracy and pretend that the driving forces behind it were the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, and the fevered imaginations of the Wall Street Journal editorialists. They were out there making gutteral efforts at cheers, and foaming at the mouth, but they weren't the big guns.

The newspapers who really set their dogs on the Clinton presidency were: The New York Times, and, The Washington Post. Remember? I do. Surely the memory hole has not sucked away everyone's brains.

It was an ongoing multi-year vendetta about--how can we best describe Whitewater?--"nothing" is the English word that best fits the bill. And a continuation of that same vendetta while descending to supermarket tabloid levels, and below, as Whitewater evaporated in the steamy accounts of the President's blow-job and his lies about his blow-job.

OK, Clinton did lie, no doubt there. In defense of Clinton's lies, a sort of old-fashioned semi-liberal, Gore Vidal, pointed out that in another era that was what gentlemen did is such circumstances. Well, times change.

But let's not forget who tried to bring down the last, and just barely at that, liberal president this country has had. An actual elected president. The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Now, bringing us up to our own day, what liberal newspaper is pursuing the current White House occupant's lies about the Iraq War, with such fierce determination and such unrelenting hostility?


An overwhelming, nationwide silence.

Having some worries about my hearing, I'd think I had gone deaf, in fact, except for corroborating evidence from blogs and the foreign press that reveals how determined have been the noise-damping and fire-suppression efforts of these so-called "liberal" newspapers, on behalf of Mr. Bush's presidency.

Now to be sure, these newspapers employ some nominal liberals to write columns a couple of times a week, whose job is to politely remonstrate with the President's insane policies, to keep the moderate readership from drifting away to blogistan. But when it comes to investigative reporting--well, they'd rather see Judith Miller in jail than reveal whose cock she sucked. Metaphorically speaking.

The fact is that newspapers are owned by rich conservatives. Everyone knows this. Judge Posner knows it. You can have 75 percent of the reporters on the police beat being liberals, or socialists, or communists, or polygamist Mormons, and it will not have the slightest effect on the news we see and hear. Because that news is filtered by a hierarchy of editors and executives whose jobs depend on not biting the hand that feeds them.

Judge Posner makes much of the fact that lots of reporters are liberals. He says very little about the political views of the people who own the newspapers. I guess that's part of his job. And, since he is writing for the New York Times, I guess that makes him a liberal.

And thus the New York Times is indeed, albeit a little recursively, liberal.