Thursday, February 22, 2007


No, I am not closing down this blog. But regular readers will at this point benefit from knowing, if they have not figured it out already, that I will not post as often as I used to. Probably coming by once a week will do, or even once a month.

I think bloggistry probably has probably been here long enough to have established a standard blog trajectory. Blogs begin with enthusiasm, the blogger having lots to say. Later it becomes more like a job, with a sense that people are counting on you and you need to say something significant--or at least put some words out there. After that comes the realization that it's not a job, and indeed that nobody should be (and hopefully nobody is) waiting in suspense for your next post.

The first year of this blog was mostly anecdotal and personal, consisting of recollections and reflections about people and places I have known. The second year has been sustained more by political outrage than anything else. I suppose the political outrage still exists, but there is not a lot to say about the Regime that has not been said by sane and reasonable people many times over.

I feel less compelled than formerly to write about politics, simply because I am either repeating myself or amplifying, not necessarily to advantage, what others have already said--not that that will be guaranteed to shut me up, given the always astonishing ability of Republican officeholders to descend to new depths of foolishness, reckless folly, and shameless deceit in ways that even now astonish me. Whenever I am astonished I tend to sit down at the keyboard and write.

Lately I have spent more time taking pictures than I have writing. I am well aware that whatever native talents I have lie more in the realm of words than picture-taking, but sadly--or it would be sad if either were more than a retirement hobby--I greatly prefer photography to writing. I always have.

Years ago, I had a girlfriend who, after knowing me a few months, observed that I was obsessed with seeing things--that I had a more binoculars than your average compulsive birdwatcher needs or wants, several telescopes, a drawer full of hand lenses, and of course a camera, though I could not afford a very good one. I took one or more of these instruments out with me far more than I needed to, like going to the grocery store with a Hastings triplet in my pocket, not that I had any real intention of examining the produce with it, but just because you never know when you might want to look at something up close.

She thought this was odd. Maybe it is.

Anyway, since retirement I have rediscovered an interest in photography that had somehow lapsed in the press of job and family life in the 20 years or so before I retired.

As I mentioned I am not all that good it it, but I find myself very much looking forward to a day of taking photos, and regarding even an hour or two of sitting down to write a blog entry in something like the opposite way--which is not a good way to approach a blog.

So this is a long way around of saying it may be a week, or a month even, between blog posts--whatever the frequency may turn out to be of being struck with something that seems important to say, and a desire to say it.

In the meantime if you wish to check in on my life, or that part of it I am taking pictures of, which at the moment is mostly outdoor stuff, nature photography, but also contains occasional records of trips and social events, you can go here to see photos arranged by date, or here to see them arranged by subject.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday buzzard blogging

A couple of shots of Cathartes aura.

Checking me out

Flying away, since I seem to be in good health

Monday, February 12, 2007

Is Iran next?

Before we rush off to the next Republican war, we should take a moment to think about the one we are in.

I suspect the claims of Iranian interference in Iraq are most likely lies, given the credibility of the people who are making those claims, and given the ongoing lack of evidence. But that is not and should not be the issue. The issue is that we have no business in Iraq in the first place, and, hence, should get out.

What is important to remember is that we have no legal or moral or national self-interest basis for being in Iraq. None.

We are engaged in a war now universally acknowledged to have been founded on lies. We are not defending our "homeland" from Iraqi aggression. Iraqis were not involved in 911. Iraqis had no weapons of mass destruction to threaten its neighbors, much less us. We are not bringing democracy to the Iraqis. We are not bringing them security, but civil war instead. We are not bringing them prosperity. We are not even securing a reliable supply of oil for our SUVs, as cynics believe is the true purpose of the war. (Oil is sold on the open market. If we somehow "secured" oil from one region, there would simply be more for sale to the rest of the world from other oil-producing regions. This isn't rocket science. This is economics 101.)

The latest, last, and least of reasons given by the Administration and its cheerleaders is that to leave Iraq would be "defeat" and defeat would harm our country. What crap. We were driven out of North Korea, and our country prospered. We were defeated in Vietnam, and we survived as a nation. And with regard to Vietnam, we obviously would have been better off never going there to start with, and, once we did go there, would have been better off leaving sooner rather than later. Nothing could be more evident.

Anyway, it follows from the fact that _all_ the reasons for going to war in Iraq were and are untrue, that we now have no justification--at all-- for being there at this moment.

It also follows that the Iraqis who choose to resist have a perfectly legitimate reason to defend their country against a foreign invasion.

We forget this. We have illegitimately (and, under international law, illegally) invaded their country, using outright lies as a pretext, and are now occupying it by force. People in any country, under such circumstances, might be expected to fight back. We would normally accord legitimacy to such resistance.

Except, of course, that ours is the invading and occupying force.

If they have good reasons to defend themselves against an invasion that no one now believes had any truth behind it, then presumably they would have the right to call on assistance from others. Whether various factions of the Iraqi civil war have done this I have no way of knowing.

I would be far less disturbed at learning that they did, assuming that the Administration and its servo-repeaters in the press are, God help us all, actually telling the truth at last--which I tend to doubt--than at the ongoing and daily injury our continued presence in Iraq does to our honor as a nation, to goodness and decency itself, to the harm it does to our own soldiers, and the even more tragic injury it does to the people of Iraq, when 650 thousand of them have already died in our war and no end of the carnage we have brought them is in sight.

And it increasingly looks like the only way out of this debacle the Administration sees is to march into Iran--citing, of course, provocations.

That's not much of a plan.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Self portrait on my 66th birthday

My daughter would have wanted me to do something to celebrate, but she is in Costa Rica.

Waiting for the self-timer
Self-portrait on my 66th birthday

Monday, February 05, 2007

Salon on spanking

In an article in Salon this morning, Eilene Zimmerman goes off on a proposed California law against parents hitting children. The legislation is highly unpopular in California, and evidently has no chance of passage.

But even though it won't pass, it "raises the question of how far the government should go in telling parents how to raise their children" (not to mention providing material for an article, always useful for a writer.) Ms Zimmerman sees a slippery slope yawning before her, though, as it happens, many civilized countries have such laws. Sweden is one. But it seems Sweden is not a popular role model for Americans, law-wise.

The author's view is that we already have laws against "physical abuse," which should be sufficient. Physical abuse is legally defined as assault which leads to physical impairment. In other words, if you don't break any bones or leave any bruises you are home free, as a parent who hits children. And the author's implicit, but somewhat conflicted, view is that it should remain that way, although, being a capable writer, she does not place her own opinion on laws against hitting children in the same paragraph as her mention of physical impairment.

My own feeling is different from hers. It's true that I am not in favor of major, punitive criminalization of hitting children--we are already too punitive as a nation. That is part of the problem. But certainly making it a misdemeanor punishable by, say, a fine would be A-OK in my book. In Texas you can beat your child in public and get away with it, no problem, but if you forget to get your car inspected on time you will owe the government $135. (I have no problem with the latter, by the way.)

Underlying the article, it seems to me, is a fundamental notion, deeply rooted in the American psyche, of the legitimacy of inflicting physical pain on people--a notion that is really not questioned by the author, though when her American psyche encounters another world-view, it does recoil in amazed horror.

How are we going to teach our children to cross the street safely, if we don't whack them to alert them to the danger?

To digress a little bit, as part of our national character, we don't much question things like the fundamental police power of enforcing "compliance," at least by non-lethal means. In other words, if you question authority you can expect, and should expect, to get into, um, compliance, through somebody putting some pain and suffering on you, if need be. As far as most Americans are concerned, the taser is fine and dandy for that purpose, a big improvement over the bullet or the billy club. But this is territory that Ms Zimmerman does not explore.

One of the proponents of the California legislation mentioned in Zimmerman's article is a law professor with the unfortunate name of Thomas Nazario. (You can already see it coming, can't you.)

Zimmerman declaims in passing--without seeing any irony in her own contribution to the public discourse--against America's saturation with opinion on child-rearing, which produces, in her view, massive parental anxiety. I suppose if you are anxious about not being able to continue hitting your disobedient kid, there may be something to that. She yearns for a simpler time, when spanking was spanking, not child abuse.

Shortly into the second page of her article, she quotes someone calling the proposed California legislation fascist. The word "fascist" appears five words away from the name "Nazario," who, as I mentioned, is a proponent of the law. I told you that you could see it coming.

We see here the utility of projection in american politics--as for example Rush Limbaugh's calling women he disagrees with feminazis, while if we pause and search for irony, and scratch the surface of Mr. L himself we might find something close to the very essence of a real Nazi, un-adjectively-modified. Or perhaps we might merely find a huckster with no principles and a shrewd view of those of his audience. In any case the dogs are loose now; fascists are running in the street, which is where we are at the end of the article, though the author's internal conflict over her own position puts in a surprise appearance in her final paragraph.

"Should any of us be doing these sorts of thing? Of course not" she says, of hitting children. But she doesn't want to be arrested for it, if she does it.

And I don't want her to be arrested either. What do I want? I guess I want her to go back to her own memories of being spanked and hit as a child, and see if she is really as unimpaired as she thinks.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Spitting and baby-killing

A new story of good and evil is making its way through the right-wing blogs, and, of course, has gotten play on Fox News. It is, in essence, this: A disabled Iraq-War veteran named Joshua Sparling, who was a counter-protester at the recent anti-war demonstration in Washington, says he was spat upon, called a baby-killer, and threatened with clubs by maddened peace-demonstrators.

Some have questioned Mr. Sparling's story. He has in the past made at least two public claims--which have separately gotten into the news--of having been menaced or abused by people opposed to the war, which, combined with this, certainly seem to make him a statistical outlier. But who knows--some people get struck by lightning more than once.

What is more curious is the way this story immediately gets into print and gets air play, and becomes an issue with the right wing. It seems to have visceral appeal, as did the Vietnam era urban legends of peaceniks howling insults at returning soldiers, and spitting on them.

Spitting is interesting. Americans regard it as a sort of ritually contaminating gesture, something unclean (though, oddly enough, relative strangers in America regularly exchange spit, sometimes on the first date). Spitting on, or at someone, is not how Americans would normally disagree. And it seems to me that there is an element of unmanliness in the gesture, when and if it occurs, as well as un-Americanness. A red-blooded American man would challenge you to a fistfight, perhaps, but spitting implies, somehow, spit and run. John Wayne would not do it--it's not the Code of the West.

I have to admit that the reappearance of the Vietnam-era epithet "baby-killer" puzzles me. If I remember right, the term "baby-killer" entered public consciousness after it became known that Lt. Calley and his platoon did indeed murder about 500 civilians, many of them children. In other words, there was a historic event that led to the use of the term--and I think it was used--in some of the more extreme screeds of the SDS and such groups. Whether or not the phrase was ever actually uttered as an insult to individual soldiers in airports and bus terminals, as claimed by the right, is of course, open to question.

In any case, the present war lacks such a context. The atrocities that have entered public awareness have more to do with the torture of adults than the killing of children.

But the incorporation of spittle and supposed name-calling into stories of good and evil seem to me spring not from context or plausibility, but from a kind of psychological projection. These tales seem to appeal to people who love to hate their enemies, but do not wish to acknowledge that hatred; people who consider those with whom they disagree to be deadly enemies, not political opponents.