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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Topic: Oddities

Interesting Commentary

In these pages we have covered the speech Karl Rove gave scorning "liberals" - see June 26: Effective Response to Disappointing Numbers. That speech was built around these words that caused all the controversy: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

You might want to check out P. M. Carpenter where he imagines what the speech might have been like if Rove had these words run through his mind: "Ah, that's not right. I feel odd. Gee, I almost feel … like … telling the … truth."

What would the speech then be like? This:
Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and promptly prepared to invade the wrong country. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and cowered themselves into permitting it.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared for reciprocal savagery - innocent men, women and children, made no difference to us, just like the 9/11 skunks. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare for a more intelligent "war on terrorism," starting with the understanding that the mobilization of men and hardware against a nebulous tactic, an amorphous concept, is a waste of men and hardware - and devastating to innocents and our national honor.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared for some badly needed image-polishing of the biggest loser ever to sit in the White House. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and had a helluva time trying to contain their laughter at photo-ops of our chief chickenhawk trying to look tough.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and prepared to bribe global friends into supporting our Iraq scheme to give us political cover. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and saw that Iraq was already contained by the coalition of the willing, known as the United Nations.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and then trashed the greatest supply of global good will this nation has ever witnessed. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and hoped to use this good will to the nation's advantage. …
And on it goes. Click on the link and check it out. Of course it is a bit depressing.

Well, Rove is in trouble, or he isn't. In these pages this started with Bush's Brain (Karl Rove) Suddenly Exposed on July 3rd and continued in subsequent items. The press has really lit into the president's press secretary, Scott McClelland (see this) - but Digby over at Hullabaloo reminds us the press had been cowed - and reminds us of events in France a few years back when David Gregory of NBC addressed a question to Jacques Chirac in French:
NBC's David Gregory, unwisely pushing Bush to explain "why it is you think there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you and your administration," had the bad taste to ask President Chirac - in French, of all languages - if he also wanted to comment.

"Very good," shot back a very petulant Bush, "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."

When Gregory offered to go on in French, Bush was determined to squelch the bilingual upstart: "I'm impressed - que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages." At the end of the press conference, the President of the United States called to Gregory: "As soon as you get in front of a camera, you start showing off."
And Richard Reeves reported -
It turned out that what set him off was Gregory's turning to the French leader. Later Bush told Chirac: "I'll call on the Americans."

What Gregory said later was: "Well, that's it for my career."
No. Gregory is still on NBC. He's their chief White House reporter.

But Digby maintains the press is still a joke -
Bush owns all the Americans, you see. It's the ownership society thing.

If these guys are turning on lil' Scotty McClellan now that Rove is injured and bleeding that's nice. But let's not kid ourselves that they haven't allowed themselves to be treated like freshmen frat pledges for the last four and half years. It hasn't been pretty to watch.
Maybe so. But you might want to check out this - Fox News anchor John Gibson saying on air that he thought Karl Rove deserves a medal if he revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative and her cover, which would be Valerie Plame. This is the other side of press responsibility. A link to the video clip is there, and the idea is that the press should report that Wilson's wife, and Wilson, were undermining our war effort by questioning the truth of what out leader was saying. The press should side with Rove and Bush. And Fox did, and does.

Oh well.

Over at SLATE.COM Tim Noah has started his Rove Death Watch - "Uh oh. Now the White House is saying Rove has Bush's 'full confidence'" - but admits he was off with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill by a full year. And he missed another -
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, I blush to admit, is still defense secretary nearly four years after I filed the last of three death-watch columns. I remain convinced that 9/11 saved Rumsfeld's job. (Why Rumsfeld remains in office today, when even the hawkish Weekly Standard wants him gone, is an enduring mystery.)

Obviously it's much harder than I thought to get President George W. Bush to fire you. Nevertheless, I am convinced not only that Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff, ought to lose his job, but that the logic of political scandal dictates that he will lose his job. I therefore inaugurate the Karl Rove Death Watch.
No. That's not going to happen.

Noah's thought? "When McClellan says, 'The president is behind Karl Rove 100 percent,' start looking for the ax to fall."

That may be the logic of political scandal, but we shall see.

But let us move to the realm of the strictly logical and discuss religion. In specific, let's examine the Unitarian Jihad.

Say what?

In these pages we have touched on how odd the Unitarians are, and how, in Texas, the lost their tax exempt status for a time as they didn't have a "real' religion.

- May 23, 2004: Today In Religion - Texas Theology
- May 30, 2004: A Follow-Up on the Unitarians (Texas Theology Revisited)

It seems Jon Carroll over at the San Francisco Chronicle has received and odd communiqué from a group calling itself Unitarian Jihad.

Cool. And he presents it, and you have to know a bit about the Unitarians, or have gone to a service, to really appreciate this -
Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism - 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you? Whatever happened to ... you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen, and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.
Yes, what is in bold is what actually makes sense.

Of course this won't happen. But it would be nice.

Alternative headlines Carroll considered?
Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic!

Citizens declare themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality.

People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.
If only it were so.

Posted by Alan at 21:05 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 12 July 2005 21:19 PDT home

Topic: Breaking News

One Man's News Is Another Man's Tedium. Did Things Just Heat Up?

Our columnist Bob Patterson and I have been disputing what is the most underreported story of July 7, the day of the bombings in London. Both of us caught Harry Shearer's Sunday morning radio show from Santa Monica (syndicated nationally), Le Show, where he commented on the July 7 item in the Asia Times about Saudi Arabia's ongoing efforts to build nuclear weapons with the help of Pakistan. As Shearer comments:
Now comes a story, courtesy of the Asia Times, that would seem to cast a fine, evil backlight on the mushroom cloud alarmism of the pre-Iraq War Administration statements. The report suggests that Saudi Arabia, which reputedly has been trying to go nuclear since 1975 (!!), has purchased nuclear materials from our other close friend, Pakistan (the father of whose bomb, A.Q. Khan, has previously been revealed to have sold nuclear goodies to North Korea, Iran, and Libya, among other good citizens of the world). The report also indicates that said Saud kingdom also paid a certain Middle East figure to develop a nuclear capability - none other than Saddam Hussein.

Maybe it's the head-spinning quality of this reporting that explains why it's been followed up, or refuted, nowhere inside the American media bubble. Our ace journalists used to follow up the merest tidbit of Clintonian scandal unearthed by Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh daily, but apparently the Asia Times' story of nuclear proliferation by our closest allies would involve lifting that's just a bit too heavy.
Yep. That's pretty amazing. And not a peep in the press. So what are we doing about nonproliferation in the Middle East?

Ah maybe it's not true, and if not true, it would be nice to see a denial from the Saudis. Maybe it is true. The Saudi's - friends of the Bush family and the Carlyle Group but having a large segment of their population enamored with fundamentalists who really don't like us much, and do like jihad - were they do go nuclear, would pose an interesting new dynamic in the mix. Israel has long had nuclear weapons. If the Saudi's get their own nukes? That would be tense. On the other hand, Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons aimed at each other and no one has pulled the trigger yet. Why worry? And the Saudis are the guys with the oil. They've spent billions on the Bush family businesses and kept Halliburton and Enron afloat for forever (well, Enron didn't work out) - so how bad could it be for them to have a few nukes? They're like family – depending, of course, on just who is your family.

We should worry about North Korea, if Nicholas Kristof is no just making things up in the July 12 New York Times with this -
Senior North Korean officials here say the country has just resumed the construction of two major nuclear reactors that it stopped work on back in 1994. Before construction resumed, the C.I.A. estimated that it would take "several years" to complete the two reactors, but that they would then produce enough plutonium to make about 50 nuclear weapons each year.

This is the most regimented, militarized and oppressive country in the world, but the government seems very firmly in control. And this new reactor construction, if it is sustained, is both scary and another sign that U.S. policy toward North Korea has utterly failed.

... The Bush administration has refused to negotiate with North Korea one on one, or to offer a clear and substantial package to coax Mr. Kim away from his nuclear arsenal. Instead, Mr. Bush has focused on enticing North Korea into six-party talks. The North finally agreed on Saturday to end a yearlong stalemate and join another round of those talks.

Mr. Bush is being suckered. Those talks are unlikely to get anywhere, and they simply give the North time to add to its nuclear capacity.
Fifty bombs a year? Yeah, we're fulminating about Iran's efforts, and we let this one slide. And the Saudis nuke up too, to begin to match Israel.

Well, Israel is being sensible, right? They're not stirring this up, unless you think the Middle East expert Juan Cole is right when he says this about the final decision about their big wall:
The Ariel Sharon government in Israel has announced that it will build a huge wall on someone else's land through Jerusalem, cutting off 55,000 Arabs from the city (they'll have to go through nasty Israeli checkpoints every day to get into their own city!)

This is land theft on a massive scale. Worse, it is theft on a stage of sacred space that affects the sentiments of over a billion people. Whether Westerners like it or not, Jerusalem is considered by Muslims their third holiest city, and Israeli theft of the whole thing drives a lot of them up the wall. A partitioned Jerusalem where the Arab east is connected to the West Bank is the only route to peace. Sharon in his usual aggressive, grabby way, is trying to make that forever an impossibility.

And, folks, this sort of thing, which the Washington Post didn't even notice, may very well get you and me killed. I think what Sharon is doing is morally and politically wrong to begin with. But I sure as hell resent the possibility that I or my family is going to get blown up because of it.
Well, there may be a few more terrorist attacks, but no one, no even the Saudis, has a real bomb, this week. Still, the size of the bomb doesn't matter much to the person bombed, does it?

In any event, after his long discussion of the historical roots of terrorism in that reason, Cole claim this one is underreported too -
... our press and politicians do us an enormous disservice by not putting the Israeli announcement about the Jerusalem Barrier on the front page. This sort of action is a big part of what is driving the terrorists (and of course Sharon himself is a sort of state-backed terrorist anyway). The newspapers and television news departments should be telling us when we are about to be in the cross-fire between the aggressive, expansionist, proto-fascist Likud Coalition and the paranoid, murderous, violent al-Qaeda and its offshoots.

Eisenhower called up DeGaulle and told him to get the hell out of Algeria, on a short timetable, or else. I wish Bush had Eisenhower's spine when it came to dealing with Ariel Sharon.
It's pretty clear that these days Eisenhower these days would be called a cowardly liberal wimp - what with all that talk about containing the military-industrial complex, his belief the UN was useful, his reliance on diplomacy - not to mention his socialist big-government taxpayer-funded projects like the Interstate Highway System. Karl Rove would eat his lunch.

But all that is drifting away from the other competing underreported news story the no one noticed as there were those bombs in London. No one seems to be commenting on our new puppet government in Iraq entering into an agreement with Iran - for troop training. See BBC July 7 for this odd item -
Former enemies Iran and Iraq say they will launch broad military co-operation including training Iraqi armed forces.

"It's a new chapter in our relations with Iraq," said Iranian Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani." ...
Wait, wait, wait. Iran is one of the members of the Axis of Evil, and we're almost ready to do something like bombing the hell out of them if the continue trying to finish up a nuclear bomb or two.

What's up with this? We liberate Iraq to bring them western-style free-market capitalism and some form of democracy, and they start off with a military pact with the worst of the bad guys?

We fought this war for what? Wasn't the WMD (oops), and the flypaper-will-keep-us-safe thing is looking shakier by the day (but is was London, after all, and not Chicago, or even Peoria), and it seems spreading democracy will have to wait until the constant suicide and remote-controlled bombings stop. (Think about that - we created a battlefield over there so we wouldn't have one here, but at the same time we saying we're bringing the folks there peace and security so the place will no longer be a battlefield - so you can do both at the same time?)

Anyway, did we fight this war to install a government there that will join up with Iran in all sorts of military agreements? We're not doing that well at rebuilding the infrastructure there that we kind of messed up with that shock and awe business, and too, the somewhat understaffed and not-well-thought-out occupation has had its problems. The new government is turning elsewhere? To Iran? We created, possibly, a new client state of the worst-of-the worst, Iran?

This too was underreported.

What was reported on Monday the 11th was amusing however.

One Associated Press item opened this way: "For two years, the White House has insisted that presidential adviser Karl Rove had nothing to do with the leak of a CIA officer's identity. And President Bush said the leaker would be fired."

A less punchy AP version (Pete Yost) goes like this -
For the better part of two years, the word coming out of the Bush White House was that presidential adviser Karl Rove had nothing to do with the leak of a female CIA officer's identity and that whoever did would be fired.

But Bush spokesman Scott McClellan wouldn't repeat those claims Monday in the face of Rove's own lawyer, Robert Luskin, acknowledging the political operative spoke to Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, one of the reporters who disclosed Valerie Plame's name.

McClellan repeatedly said he couldn't comment because the matter is under investigation. When it was pointed out he had commented previously even though the investigation was ongoing, he responded: "I've really said all I'm going to say on it."

Democrats jumped on the issue, calling for the administration to fire Rove, or at least to yank his security clearance. One Democrat pushed for Republicans to hold a congressional hearing in which Rove would testify.

"The White House promised if anyone was involved in the Valerie Plame affair, they would no longer be in this administration," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I trust they will follow through on this pledge. If these allegations are true, this rises above politics and is about our national security."
Ah, conflict is good for news. Judith Miller of the New York Times goes to jail for not revealing her sources, and the Cooper fellow from Time doesn't go as the magazine gives up his source stuff against his wishes and his sources say just testify - and Robert Novak, the columnist who actually exposed the CIA agent, helping someone or other at the White House commit what seems to be a felony doing great damage to our country's espionage work, smiles on CNN and draws his big salary, continues his column for the Chicago Sun Times and just sneers at the suckers who are in trouble. Then Newsweek prints the email showing Rove was in on this.

Great drama. And now the reporters turn on the president's press secretary and bat him around -
QUESTION: You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn't he?

MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.

QUESTION: Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?

MCCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.

QUESTION: You're in a bad spot here, Scott... (LAUGHTER) ... because after the investigation began - after the criminal investigation was under way - you said, October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this," from that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?

And AP lists a few more dramatic moments late in the day:

- Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said it is "disturbing that this high ranking Bush adviser is not only still working in the White House, but now has a significant role in setting our national security policy."

- Sen. Frank Lautenberg D-N.J., and a private group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called on Bush to suspend Roves security clearances, shutting him out of classified meetings.

- Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee to hold a hearing where Rove would testify.

- Rove should resign or the president should fire him, said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of the liberal advocacy group, MoveOn PAC.

- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Rove to detail any conversations he had about Plame before her name surfaced publicly in Novak's column.

Neat. No dull stuff about the Saudi bomb or Iraq hooking up with Iran. This is high drama. It's not another missing attractive white woman, or a hurricane or shark attacks, but it'll do.

Kevin Drum here -
The press corps is finally seriously pissed off that Karl Rove has been implicated in Plamegate. Thorough coverage is pretty much everywhere (head over to Atrios, Josh, or Billmon depending on your taste in blogs), but I think Garance Franke-Ruta has the best take on why the press corps finally woke up:

If there is one thing that reporters hate, it's being played for patsies. McClellan has publicly humiliated some of the most prominent reporters in the country by persistently feeding them information that has now been revealed to be false, and I'm pretty darn sure that they are not going to grant him any favors and extend him the benefit of the doubt in the future.

We can hope, can't we? Sunday's Newsweek story combined with the subsequent non-denial of Rove's lawyer is the smoking gun that's done it, and I suspect Bush and Rove are now going to get the treatment Bill Clinton got in 1998. The Washington press corps was never Clinton's friend, but they really turned on him after they felt he had personally lied to them over Monica - and with any luck the same thing is now going to happen to Rove. Expect him to discover an urgent need to spend more time with his family soon.
Well, we'll see about that.

Over at Martini Republic ("Lead, Follow, or Have a Drink") you get some harsh words: "Rove is the leak who busted Plame's cover, beyond any doubt. The only question is whether semantic quibbles and shystering can lessen a potential felony to a level of merely stupid meanspiritedness which did harm to our national interests."

Ah, this is all in the world of blogs.

On SLATE.COM - recently sold by Microsoft and MSNBC to the Washington Post Group, and which supplies content to National Public Radio's noon on-air news magazine "Day to Day" - Tim Noah just says 'Turdblossom Must Go'.

But Keith Olbermann at MSNBC saying this
Karl Rove is a liability in the war on terror.

Rove - Newsweek's new article quotes the very emails - told a Time reporter that Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to investigate of the Niger uranium claim was at the behest of Wilson's CIA wife.

To paraphrase Mr. Rove, liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers; conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared to ruin the career of one of the country's spies tracking terrorist efforts to gain weapons of mass destruction - for political gain.

Politics first, counter-terrorism second - it's as simple as that.

In his 'story guidance' to Matthew Cooper of Time, Rove did more damage to your safety than the most thumb-sucking liberal or guard at Abu Ghraib. He destroyed an intelligence asset like Valerie Plame merely to deflect criticism of a politician. We have all the damned politicians, of every stripe, that we need. The best of them isn't worth half a Valerie Plame. And if the particular politician for whom Rove was deflecting, President Bush, is more than just all hat and no cattle on terrorism, he needs to banish Rove - and loudly.
Well, that will never happen. The White House will counter attack in some way. There'll be another London.

But for the moment it's hot news. Lies! Revenge gone wrong! Cover-ups! Betrayals! Reporters off to jail! Investigations!

It's a lot more interesting than the Saudis getting the bomb or the new Iraq getting in bed with the unreformed Iran, or the wall in Israel that will inflame those who are already disposed to feeling powerless, betrayed, scorned, and very, very angry - and ready to strike out against these perceived wrongs.

It's a lot more interesting. Not really as important. But news is what's dramatic, not what can get us all killed and turn the current war even more pointless. That's for policy wonks.


Underreported news? Flurries of concern for almost two weeks on the right side of things about the proposed sale of Unocal, the giant oil company based right out here in El Segundo, just next to LAX, to the Chinese - the wrong ones on the mainland, the communists, not the good ones on the island, the free-market capitalists. The president has been curiously silent. Then the Washington Post reports - 12 July - that James C. Langdon Jr., chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a major Bush fundraiser, met last winter with investment bankers in China to help secure his law firm's role in lobbying for a state-run Chinese energy firm and its bid for Unocal.
Bush Adviser Helped Law Firm Land Job Lobbying for CNOOC
Jonathan Weisman, Tuesday, July 12, 2005; Page D01
Newsworthy? Probably not. The anti-Communist patriots on the right, still fighting the Cold War fifty years too late (Hey, we WON, guys!) may squirm a bit at this. But they can always shift to the "the business of America is business" line as a fallback position. There are more important things than ideology.

Posted by Alan at 00:45 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 12 July 2005 08:52 PDT home

Monday, 11 July 2005

Topic: In these times...

What Matters: A Friend Reminds Us

Readers of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this daily web log, are familiar with the photo essays of Phillip Raines, particularly those about the treehouse he built deep in the wilds of northern Florida. The first of these is The Treehouse, continued in a second piece Treehouse Chronicles, and extended with supplemental photographs in Phillip Raines Photographs. These are from early August through September of 2003.

The treehouse is in the panhandle of Florida, which was clobbered by Hurricane Dennis on July 10, although things were, after all was said and done, not quite as bad as people expected them to be.

But what about the treehouse? From Atlanta, Phillip sends this -
I spent yesterday glued to the Chicken Little Channel, or the Weather Channel as it is commonly known. Will this one tear the treehouse apart? Always a burning question as hurricanes meander across the gulf, picking up heat from the water. Flooding isn't an issue for something twenty feet off the ground, but when the trees start that circular motion I think that maybe the sills that are attached to the trees, and the floor joists that are attached to the sills... well, it could all just pull apart, the nails yanking out a little more with each twist. The feeder bands that flop around way beyond the ominous hurricane eye wall are where tornados are usually spawned, and I built my treehouse right where a tornado tore out some treetops. A couple of live oaks right outside my windows had their tops torn off, but new branches sprouted out from the ragged trunks and now are the size of my thigh, maybe bigger, with abundant leaves showing determination to carry on despite the trauma of having the tops torn apart. I talked to my neighbor down there and was told the river is rising rapidly and is over my bench on the dock with more flood water sure to come. By the end of the week the river should be back to normal and usually the weather after a hurricane is breezy and clear and the humidity is low. Perfect for summer camping.

I saw on CNN that St. Marks had flooded and a bar where I have eaten smoked mullet and washed it all down with beer following a long bike ride on the rail trail was chest deep in brown water. I was told that the high-class seafood restaurant "Angelo's" down in Panacea at the coast was totally submerged. It sits on stilts over the Ochlocknee river right as it enters the gulf. The river is only ten feet or so deep there, but wide and rarely floods. The surge lifted the water another ten feet and it broke the glass and flooded the restaurant, knocked a few boats inland, and flooded US 98 that hugs the gulf coast. I use to eat there every trip, but despite it having the best broiled grouper in the land, it became too expensive and, as my kitchen became more sophisticated under the treehouse, I quit going and cooked meals viewing the river. A Coleman hot water thing made washing dishes more possible and now I just go to a seafood store and get all the ingredients to put together a meal that rivals anything I can buy at Angelo's.

While talking to my neighbor about the effects of the storm he told me that he had bought a pile of dead head cypress. Dead head cypress is harvested off the bottom of the river, involving diving down in the black water, attaching ropes and then raising the logs (some are five feet in diameter) using wenches or inflating inner tubes. The fellow he bought them from is covered with tattoos and has fishing lures and beads hanging from his pierced nose and ears. He and his crew will camp way up river for weeks at a time and raise the logs, bundle them and float them down river. Once the wood is milled it is a deep crimson color with streaks of purple and gold. The lumber my friend bought is two inches thick, two feet wide and really heavy, over two hundred pounds for a ten foot plank. It is stacked in a barn now, drying for a year or two before it will be planed and turned into furniture. I hope to take a field trip to his camp and watch the process of raising a log. Absolutely he-man work.

I leave for a long vacation to the treehouse next Saturday. I'm taking my truck and all my tools, along with four or five boys, my dog and of course my wife - who usually does little more than read, paint, and nap, taking an occasional dip in the river. She is amused that I tinker on the campsite constantly while at home it takes an act of congress to get me to fix anything here. I point out that I am not laying brick during the day so I finally have the energy and strength to do projects. That's not the case at home in Atlanta. I hope to send a report from the treehouse next week.

And about all this Iraq mess. Sucks, huh? I read a headline that Hillary says Bush leads like Alfred E. Newman. I look forward to more of that. If they can't paint Bush to look like the fool he is, they need different writers.
Maybe they do, but one must keep things in perspective, as Phillip does here, a few days before the hurricane hit -
... last night the mechanic's shop at the end of my street caught fire. At the height of the downpour from the straggling hurricane, fire trucks filed down my street to battle the blaze. We got five inches of rain, much of it blowing sideways with more lightning than I think I've ever seen in one storm. Hardly a minute with out a strike. I sat on the porch smoking the long stem pipe as the storm brewed. My knees and ankles swelled painfully from the atmospheric pressure. When the wind started blowing the rain on the porch I went inside, then an hour or so later I smelled smoke, only to see the first fire truck. Floodlights washed the front of the building making a brilliant silhouette of the smoke from my backside view. This morning the whole block smelled charred. Standing with my umbrella in the downpour I walked beside the fire trucks, working my way to the storefront. A puff of black smoke escaped through a broken window and creeped toward me like an amorphous curse. Even in the heavy rain it enveloped me and I ran back, struggling to breathe. A belch from a burning battery? A blazing dashboard? Hard to say, only I know it was most unholy. The rest of the fire I watched from my office window. A dramatic image was a fireman's silhouette swinging an axe to punch a hole in the roof. The smoke escaped like a dry geyser in the rain. He reared back in momentary awe, a stream of rain pouring from the back of his hat.

On another sad note the kid pictured on the dock in the treehouse article beside my son Luke, died of cancer as the fireworks were going off on the square on the 4th of July. Went to the hospital Christmas Eve with a vomiting headache and they found two brain tumors. They got them both but his liver failed following chemo, plus other cancers were forming. Put me in the position of discussing death and dying with my youngest son. Hard parenting. Luke thanked me for the conversations we'd had saying that it made him handle it better than most of his friends. Last year I saw Ian every morning as he would stop by the house on the way to school to meet up with Luke. His father, a German carpenter, has handled it heroically, though Luke stopped by their house Saturday night and was way shook up by seeing Volkmeyer crying into his palms. I told him then it was probably a matter of days, if his dad had broken down like that. I will think of him as I dive into the river next weekend from the spot where he sat in the photo. Compared to such grief, we have no problems.
Here's the spot where he sat in the photo, with Phillip's original comment from The Treehouse - "My son Luke (with the long hair) and a friend contemplate taking another swim. The dock is held to the bank with pointed wooden posts driven deep into the mat of roots and sand. There are times that the river is twenty feet higher than the water is in this picture and the dock is tormented by a swift deep current. It is built so that it is locked around the deeply rooted trees."

Posted by Alan at 12:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 11 July 2005 12:31 PDT home

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Topic: In these times...

This isn't funny anymore. But it never was.

I was out of town today, down south in the San Diego area, and didn't get a chance to see much of what was being said here and there in the world of those who try to make sense of the current events. And I've been distracted by the purely personal - as the Hollywood cat, Harriet, is quite seriously ill and tomorrow she's off to the veterinarian. The news I heard on the long drive south and the log drive back seemed to be all about Hurricane Dennis. What's to say about that? It will blow itself out as it moves up the Mississippi river valley and finally disappears somewhere over Cincinnati. The nation's news resources were consumed with that. Fine. That's what people want to hear about. I got home, walked in the door, and the cat, marginally better from a day of sleep in the shade on the cool concrete floor of the balcony, mewed pitifully and then ate a bit, and flopped down for some more sleep.

Time to see what's up – beside the hurricane. So while she was sleeping I scanned the Monday papers in the eastern time zone, and I see Bob Herbert in the New York Times is telling me this: It Just Gets Worse.

Thanks, Bob.

In his usual pedestrian prose he explains, as he's writing about the war -
Back in March 2004 President Bush had a great time displaying what he felt was a hilarious set of photos showing him searching the Oval Office for the weapons of mass destruction that hadn't been found in Iraq. It was a spoof he performed at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association.

The photos showed the president peering behind curtains and looking under furniture for the missing weapons. Mr. Bush offered mock captions for the photos, saying, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere" and "Nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?"

If there's something funny about Mr. Bush's misbegotten war, I've yet to see it.
And he covers the usual. We had lost six hundred guys when Bush was making those jokes to the National Press Club. We're well over seventeen hundred now. He mentions the London bombings last week and quotes Larry Johnson, the former CIA analyst who served as deputy director of the State Department's counterterrorism office, who said on National Public Radio last week: "You now in Iraq have a recruiting ground in which jihadists, people who previously were not willing to go out and embrace the vision of bin Laden and Al Qaeda, are now aligning themselves with elements that have declared allegiance to him. And in the course of that, they're learning how to build bombs. They're learning how to conduct military operations."


And he ends with this:
Whatever one's views on the war, thoughtful Americans need to consider the damage it is doing to the United States, and the bitter anger that it has provoked among Muslims around the world. That anger is spreading like an unchecked fire in an incredibly vast field.

The immediate challenge to President Bush is to dispense with the destructive fantasies of the true believers in his administration and to begin to see America's current predicament clearly. New voices with new approaches and new ideas need to be heard. The hole we're in is deep enough. We need to stop digging.
This is what you call belaboring the obvious.

As a diversion I scanned what was on television, as there are lots of cable options. Let's see. "The Mummy Returns." "Legally Blond." A rerun of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Abbey Grange story. "Airplane" - dated, but a movie always good for a laugh. And on Showtime, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" of all things. Ten minutes of that convinced me the film may do more good now that it did back then. Fewer and fewer folks will see it as foolish nonsense now. Events in the last several weeks make it seem almost prescient. Sometimes you have to wait. What's up with the folks at Showtime? (Other movie news is that Oliver Stone, the master of conspiracy theory, is planning a movie on the September 11th attacks of 2001 - and the right side of the world is up in arms.)

The business with Karl Rove is heating up - David Corn says this:
Yet tonight I received this as-solid-as-it-gets tip: on Sunday Newsweek is posting a story that nails Rove. The newsmagazine has obtained documentary evidence that Rove was indeed a key source for Time magazine's Matt Cooper and that Rove - prior to the publication of the Bob Novak column that first publicly disclosed Valerie Wilson/Plame as a CIA official - told Cooper that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife apparently worked at the CIA and was involved in Joseph Wilson's now-controversial trip to Niger.
Well, there's tons of discussion about that, mostly speculation. (You can find a survey of that here.) But it will all play out. Harriet-the-Cat is something I can actually do something about by carting her off to the vet in the morning.

And Sunday was time with the mother of the fellow just transferred from Mosul to Baghdad, to a staff job in the Green Zone. Yeah, I'm worried about him. What Bush says is nonsense, and most people know it. Folks say it doesn't matter, but I don't feel like cutting Bush any slack because he's a good old boy. I want my honorable, decent and thoughtful nephew back in one piece. There actually are real drawbacks to having a smirking frat boy who doesn't like to think things through in charge of it all. It's not funny anymore.

And it's not funny that the Catholic Church under the new pope is saying evolution is incompatible with Catholic faith. (Good discussion here and here.) But being of little faith why does this matter to me?

More interesting is this post on the origin of the name al Qaeda, and the connection Isaac Asimov's 1951 science fiction trilogy "Foundation" - which was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". Odd. I remember the books. Very depressing.

But the post to read is this: Bush's War on the American Soldiers - not only has the Veterans Administration been underfunded as the Republicans have successfully blocked all increases for care for the returning wounded, it seems advances in body armor have meant that far fewer of our guys than ever before die in combat, but as the new armor only protects the torso (magnificently) those injured who now survive usually have multiple amputations and massive brain damage. This takes enormous new resources. They aren't there.

Why aren't they there? Try this -
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says he warned President Bush before U.S. troops invaded Iraq that the United States would sustain casualties but that Bush responded, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

White House and campaign advisers denied Bush made the comment, with adviser Karen Hughes saying, "I don't believe that happened. He must have misunderstood or misheard it."

... Robertson, in an interview with CNN that aired Tuesday night, said God had told him the war would be messy and a disaster. When he met with Bush in Nashville, Tenn., before the war Bush did not listen to his advice, Robertson said, and believed Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant who needed to be removed.

"He was just sitting there, like, 'I'm on top of the world,' and I warned him about this war," Robertson said.

"I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties.' 'Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties.' 'Well,' I said, 'it's the way it's going to be.' And so, it was messy. The Lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy."
The power of positive thinking - if you believe it isn't so you can make so that is isn't so.

This isn't funny anymore. But it never was.

Ah well, I'll worry about the cat.

Posted by Alan at 23:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 10 July 2005 23:11 PDT home

Saturday, 9 July 2005

Topic: Photos


The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent "magazine format" weekly of this daily web log, has just been posted. That would be Volume 3, Number 28 - for the week of July 10, 2005 - and it was posted a tad early this week as some other matters have come up.

This issue? The London bombings were the big news of the week and it seemed everyone wanted to spin the events there one way or another, and that effort is analyzed here. Another focus of the news this week concerned two women - one who resigned from the Supreme Court, another a New York Times reporter who was led off to jail - and just who said what about what all that all means is in the item that uses the word "farce" in its title. A separate section is devoted to a survey of futile, callous, humorous and just strange observations that had washed up on the media beach by the weekend, along with observations from some of our readers. But there's more. "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, is on the scene as Paris loses the Olympics bid, and provides Saturday night photos from the City of Light. And the decline of America industry is noted, as it seems Canada is just a far better place to do business.

Features this week? Returning to an old topic – Americans who see taking vacation time as something highly suspicious - a topic that exploded in the world of commentary this week, again. It's that time, of course. The quotes are all about London and England and the British, and there's a new link to a new photo album.

Bob Patterson is back, with some starting ideas on political strategies and, in his Book Wrangler column, with some notes on books that might be for children, but might not be.

Photography this week? Return to the Ice Age with a visit to the world famous La Brea Tar Pits (they must be famous as they are in so many movies), or go the other way and visit the world of science fiction, as seen here in Hollywood, with a side trip to Toronto.

Note last week's Paris photographs from Don Smith have been reformatted so you don't miss a thing.

Here are direct links to each page.

Current Events _____________

London: What to Say?
Politics: If I Want a Farce I'll Read Feydeau
Staying Informed: No End of Futile Analysis Available
Business Notes: Oh, Canada!
Our Man in Paris: Paris battu par Londres (with new photographs)

Features _____________

Summer Vacations: Immoral, Anti-American, or Just Too French?
Quotes for the week of July 10, 2005 - London Calling
Links and Recommendations: New Photo Gallery Available

Bob Patterson _____________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - What Democrats Could Learn From a Rape Prevention Program
Book Wrangler: Bangers and Mash Trump Truffles

Photography _____________

Local Photography: The La Brea Tar Pits
SCI FI Corner: Watching the Skies (Hollywood and Toronto)

Held Over and Reformatted _____________

Left Bank Lens: Pas tout l'art à Paris est dans les musées
Left Bank Lens (2): Les périls étonnants de Paris

And a teaser for the SCI FI section - Gort, Klaatu's robot from Robert Wise's 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, standing in a window on La Brea here in Hollywood. Colin Powell said this film had a big influence on Ronald Reagan, who was a big time sci-fi fan. As you recall Reagan proposed to Gorbachev at their first summit meeting in Geneva that the US and USSR should cooperate if the earth were to be invaded by aliens from outer space. Gorbachev was no doubt a bit taken aback. Much more in the SCI FI section.

And they're still pushing science fiction films these days of course, as seen on this billboard next to Gort.

Posted by Alan at 21:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 9 July 2005 21:26 PDT home

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