Monday, May 28, 2007

How do you know when...

This is pretty local and arcane, but people in Texas who have been following the recent events in the Texas House of Representatives will know what I am talking about.

An old bad joke made worse (something Texas politicians are good at):

Q: How do you know when Tom Craddick is lying?
A: When Terry Keel's lips are moving.

When the people of the state declined to make Keel a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, they forgot to drive a stake through his heart.

OK, I suppose I should explain this. It's simply too obscure.

Terry Keel was my rep in the Texas Legislature. Although (because of gerrymandering) he represented what was considered a safe Repub seat, his ambition led him to run for higher office. Whether because of his haircut, which, though comic, is a trivial issue but probably the deciding one, or because of his politics, which combined an opportunism he is unable to conceal with an extremism which down-home Republican extremists probably suspected, unjustly, was merely simulated, he lost.

Cheers arose from all of us who have had anything to do with him. A Democrat won the seat he vacated. Hurrah!

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick, a minor league henchman of Tom Delay, was running into difficulty with his own party in the Lege because of his high-handed ways. I don't know the details of why--his arrogance, favoritism, and stupidity have not changed and have not harmed him in the past so I see no reason why they should suddenly do so now--my guess is that backroom backstabbing is involved--but anyway a revolt broke out and a head count showed he did not have the votes to keep his post. So, his response to this situation was to fire the Parliamentarian (a paid official) whose job was to make sure parliamentary rules were followed, and he hired an unemployed pol, the selfsame Terry Keel mentioned above, as a replacement.

The reason quickly became apparent. One thing that Craddick is not, is quick on his feet. In fact he is possibly the most inarticulate and witless politico this side of George Bush himself. You have not seen a deer in the headlights until you have seen Tom Craddick attempt to answer an unfriendly question. Keel, on the other hand, though creepy beyond belief even without his black cape, is smart.

So for the duration of the (failed) revolt, about 3 days, those of us with enough curiosity to tune in on the local access channel which had the Lege live, could see someone raise a point of order, and Craddick would turn to Keel, Keel would speak in slow three or four word phrases (the limit of Craddick's short term memory, apparently) which Craddick would repeat verbatim on the mike. The world's worst puppet show.

In this way, Keel orchestrated a refusal to recognize any motion whatsoever to remove the speaker. And the orchestration was successful. I fear that Keel will go far.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Zen of dragonfly photography

The word zen, which arrived in Japan after a complex millenia-long meander through East Asia of ever-more-mispronounced Sanskrit, means meditation. I have practiced Buddhist meditation, in one way or another, for more than 30 years. I do still sit in meditation, but i prefer to bring a certain amount of zen to my ordinary life--though the preference does not necessarily imply success in the project.

I find dragonfly and butterfly photography very meditative, unlike regular attendance at my local zen meditation hall, which requires 12 miles of driving on Interstate 35, each way. The drive hones your survival skills, assuming you survive, but in general is unmeditative in either direction, regardless of whatever degree of spiritual awakening you may have arrived at in the interlude between each half of the commute.

I actually like to sit zazen (which redundantly means sitting meditation) at home, and (rarely nowadays) at my local zendo, but the drawback mentioned keeps me from doing the latter much. Before I retired, my work was in the same part of town as the zen center, so since I was already in mid-town Austin, it made sense to go pretty regularly. If I went to the evening zazen after work I could look forward to sitting crosslegged on a cushion looking at a wall for 40 minutes--not for everyone, I realize--and in recent years, not for me, because of hip stiffness, so I sit seiza instead of crosslegged, that is you sit on your ankles, ideally with the aid of a cushion or a small bench made for the purpose. Then I would drive home after rush hour, which generally involved less adrenalin than the 5 o'clock traffic itself does.

Zen Buddhists also do a kind of walking meditation called kinhin, which, for Soto Zen practitioners (my local zen center is Soto, not that that matters) is a slow motion one foot per breath deal that is vaguely silly looking, as in fact almost everything you see or hear in a meditation hall is, come to think of it. However, when I walk in the woods and spot a dragonfly I want to photograph, an unbiased observer would say that my movement at that point would look even sillier than kinhin. Certainly the movement is even slower. I have this superstition that if I manage to approach the dragon (that's what we call them) or the damsel (ditto) or the butterfly in the right state of mind, I will not scare it off. Empirically, that's probably not correct. But then, on the other hand, when I do scare it off, a moment's reflection convinces me I was in the wrong frame of mind.

That is how how superstition is maintained.

Almost as much as walking in the woods and taking pictures, I find processing the pictures to be meditative as well. The zen of photoshop.

The photo below, of a calico pennant, possibly embodies a little bit of both.

Calico pennant

Monday, May 14, 2007


At this writing it is still uncertain whether the Texas Legislature, exercising its Texas-size and legendary unwisdom, is going to pass a poll tax surrogate in the form of a voter ID bill, requiring would-be voters to prove they are citizens. We'll see. A lot of Republicans, in the course of what passes in the Texas Capitol for debate, have been bleating piteously about the danger to our way of life posed by noncitizens swamping the polling places.

A lot of Democrats, and indeed many other reasonable people, have been flummoxed by the this episode of Vote Fraud phobia. Elsewhere in the country, we see a certain manic quality, for example, in the Republican explanation for the wholesale firing of federal prosecutors, that the fired prosecutors didn't show enough zeal in prosecuting vote fraud. The official excuse is beyond strange, because there is no evidence that vote fraud had occurred significantly in the bailiwicks of the fired prosecutors, or indeed, had occurred at all.

So what's up with that, one wonders.

The problem from the POV of the Bushies is not "vote fraud," but instead the more pressing and serious danger of "votefraud." "Votefraud" is pronounced sternly as a single word, and is a dogwhistle Republican code for the franchise when exercised by Democrats.

And as you will recall the Republicans have striven mightily to prevent votefraud, most notably and successfully in the 2000 Florida election, when, at the behest of Jeb Bush, many thousands of black voters who were in fact eligible to vote were put on a list of people to be turned away from the polls. The votefraud of these black voters was twofold; first, that their names resembled those of released felons who, under Florida law, were not supposed to vote; and secondly and more importantly, that black Florida voters traditionally vote about 9 to 1 in favor of any Democrat.

So, even though massive votefraud occurred anyway, such that slightly over 50 percent of Florida voters cast their votes in favor of Al Gore, the votefraud suppression list made the results close enough that Governor Jeb could ask the Supreme Court to intervene to appoint his brother president, to prevent the additional votefraud of a recount.

It was too close a call, and they didn't like it.

So we can see why votefraud is an ever-present concern of the Bush Administration. Once you understand the nature of the problem, it's obvious why prosecutors, even Republican-appointee prosecutors, would be fired if they were unwilling to interrupt the investigation of crime and political corruption to pursue the politically urgent matter of Democrats voting.

And given that many of prosecutors all around the country were actually doing their statutory (as opposed to political) job, it's not a bit surprising that Karl Rove wanted to fire them one and all, clean house and begin anew, kind of like God dissatisfied with his own handiwork, to start over again, in this case with a Justice Department arkfull of the faithful few and a lot of dumb animals--though if Mr. Rove had been in charge of the actual Biblical Ark, he would have brought on board a lot more sheep than the letter of the Law allowed, for who could wish to see the Texas Legislature drown?