Monday, June 30, 2008

Queen Maeve's Tomb

The "mountain" of Knocknarea rises a little over 1000 feet in elevation. Situated west of Sligo town, Knocknarea overlooks the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the iconic Ben Bulben to the east. Around 25oo B.C., the people living in the area decided to add another 30 feet to Knocknarea by erecting Ireland's largest megathilic tomb outside of the Boyne Valley in the eastern part of the country. The tomb may or may not be the resting place of Queen Maeve, an accomplished woman whose prowess in battle and in the bedroom won her an important place in Celtic mythology. Whether she reposes on the top of Knocknarea or not, the tomb is definitely there, and on a clear day is easily seen from miles away.

Yesterday, Premium T. and I drove over to Knocknarea to take what a sign advised was a 45-minute "walk" to the summit. Ireland has not made a significant investment in switchbacks, so the "walks" usually go directly from point A to point B, in this case straight up a rock trail to the top. The temperature was fine and the rain spared us its presence, but the omnipresent winds grew more forceful as we neared the summit. (You can get an idea of the winds from the video on Premium T.'s blog here.)


On the way up, we saw everything from a solitary tree on a lonely hillside


to spectacular panoramas (that's Ben Bulben off in the distance):




The vantages from the summit were wonderful, if short-lived: The wind was so ferocious that we left nearly as soon as we arrived. On our way down, we met up with a pair of siblings, Shelby and Seamus, and a some kind of small, shaggy terrier who had followed them up Knocknarea. Shelby and Seamus hail from Minnesota and were in the middle of a 17-day trip to Ireland. They are making their way across Ireland by foot and bus, staying in hostels. (Shelby is a travel writer; you can read her work here.) This is the time in their life to do it this way; me, I've become partial to renting cars and nice hotels.


Meanwhile, in the rest of the world...
How can an even half-sentient human being remotely consider taking tripe like this seriously? And, yet, people do. It's enough to make a guy an elitist...

It was thirty years ago today, give or take, and I was present at Patti Smith's only San Antonio appearance. Greg Barrios looks back here. For the record, I was also at this legendary event, written up in Rolling Stone and now a salient chapter of punk mythology. I still remember people throwing full beers and plates of food at the stage. I've never seen an act feed off of hostility like these guys did that night...

Too good to be true? According to this article, Sens. Larry Craig (R-Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Men's Room, Idaho) and David Vitter (R-D.C. Madam, Louisiana) are co-sponsors of a Defense of Marriage bill. Just when you think right-wing hypocrisy can't be any more jaw-dropping, something like this always comes along. OMG, it is true...

Finally, in 254 B.C., the Roman playwright Plautus was born. Plautus established the conventions of modern comedy and pioneered musical theatre. Why do I care? Well, the estimable Roman was born about halfway between now and construction of Queen Maeve's tomb. Chronologically, she was as pertinent to him as he is to us. A little perspective never hurts!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Westport Frolics

We started yesterday by touring Westport House, which for hundreds of years was the seat of Protestant power in Mayo. The best part was exploring the lower regions of the house -- the dungeons, the wine cellar -- which were less focused on the glories of the Browne family. The house and grounds are magnificent and all, but it's impossible to think of them outside of the context of the poverty and oppression that propped it up for generations. The land of course didn't belong to the Browne family in the first place, and they drew much of their revenues from sugar plantations in Jamaica. One exhibit did focus on Howe Peter Browne's brief tenure as reformist governor of Jamaica, during which his attempts to moderate "the peculiar institution" resulted in his forced resignation.

We then hustled over to McGing's pub (scroll through here for some wonderful McGing family pictures) in Westport to hear some bluegrass, European style. A local band played listlessly until a Dutch bassist (from the next group up) joined them and really injected some adrenalin into the proceedings. His mates showed up little by little and led a fine session. 

After that, we walked over to the Westport Inn to see the Sullivan Brothers from Kildare. I had chatted briefly with one of them in McGing's, admiring his Steve Earle t-shirt. The Sullivan's played a mixture of their own material and contemporary songs set to bluegrass. Very nice. I'm not putting a link to their myspace because they don't like what is there right now!..

Well, there's a mini-controversy playing itself out in Westport. The town council has tentatively approved an investment of 50,000 euro to upgrade traffic lights at two key junctions. One councilman isn't buying it, though, claiming that -- among other things -- eliminating double parking would help solve the problem without the expense. Eliminate double parking? In Ireland? Sure, and next he'll be wanting to eliminate Guinness from the pubs...

"I remember once out at St. Cloud. It was a big two hundred thousand franc race with seven entries and Kzar a big favorite. I went around to the paddock to see the horses with my old man and you never saw such horses. This Kzar is a great big yellow horse that looks like just nothing but run. I never saw such a horse. He was being led around the paddocks with his head down and when he went by me I felt all hollow inside he was so beautiful. There never was such a wonderful, lean, running built horse." Greatness here...

From The Sublime To The Ridiculous Dept: Speaking of greatness, has there ever been anyone with a greater sense of hilarity than Lawrence Welk? If you don't believe me, see for yourself:



Sometimes, the humor is only plain in retrospect. Wait until you see their moves at the end. But don't take my word for it; have a toke and enjoy:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gigs and Frolics

Today is the first full day of the Westport Folk & Bluegrass Festival. The Mayo News promises that it will be "choc-a-block with gigs and frolics." Who could miss that? Who would want to? A Yankees fan or a Republican maybe, but even they have hearts and souls (even if those aren't often apparent).

The Mayo News has this interesting column by Fr Kevin Hegarty about the fascist movement in Ireland back in the Thirties. Serendipitously enough, the column coincided with my reading a novel set in part during those times, in which the fascist movement played a small role. The book (The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry) tells the story of a 100-year old woman attempting to recall the events of her life and the way they intersected with the Ireland of the 20's-40's to land her in an insane asylum. Barry's prose can be overly lyrical at times, but he's near brilliant with the set pieces, especially the one where Roseanne recalls the perilous birth of her child. You can preview The Secret Scripture here...

Who said this in 2002: "I...know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military [has] a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda."

Why, it was none other than that woefully inexperienced and unprepared Democratic party nominee for president, Barack Obama. In the current issue of The Nation, Eric Alterman explores how the MSM treats Obama as the modern day equivalent of a premature anti-Fascist. At the same time, as Alterman shows in another article, the MSM sucks up to supposed foreign policy expert John McCain -- the very same John McCain who pronounced in 2002 that he was "'very certain that this military engagement [the invasion of Iraq] will not be very difficult' and, a month later, that 'success will be fairly easy.'"

Alterman  writes that "on issue after issue, and from every side of the journalistic political spectrum, a campaign of deception and distortion has helped to ensure that McCain's extreme positions and politically inspired flip-flops remain far from the consciousness of the average voter." The MSM positions the ultraconservative McCain, who faithfully toes the Bush line time and again, as "moderate" and as a "maverick," claiming that his voting record masks his real positions, the moderateness of which will become apparent once he is president. This echoes the same line they took with noted beer buddy George W. Bush and his hollow promises to be a uniter. (Alterman: "McCain's legendary diversionary walks from the path of the Republican straight-and-narrow so impressed his friends in the media that they appeared to have passed a secret law among themselves never to refer to the senior Arizona senator without also using the word "maverick." As David Brock and Paul Waldman demonstrate in their book Free Ride, the words "maverick" and "McCain" appeared within ten words of each other 2,114 times in 2000, a practice that has continued to the present at roughly the same rate.")

Alterman, one of the best media critic around, blogs daily here at Media Matters...

Jamison Foser points out the disparity in the MSM's treatments of the personal wealth of  McCain's and John Edwards.

Citizen K. Read: The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry

Friday, June 27, 2008

Irish Rovers

Friday's Choice: The Pogues and The Dubiners sing "The Irish Rover"


Check out the lyrics:

On the Fourth of July, 1806
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand city hall in New York
'Twas a wonderful craft
She was rigged fore and aft
And oh, how the wild wind drove her
She stood several blasts
She had twenty seven masts
And they called her the Irish Rover

We had one million bags of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrels of stone
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides
We had four million barrels of bones
We had five million hogs
And six million dogs
Seven million barrels of porter
We had eight million bails of old nanny-goats' tails
In the hold of the irish rover

There was awl Mickey Coote
Who played hard on his flute
When the ladies lined up for a set
He was tootin' with skill
For each sparkling quadrille
Though the dancers were fluther'd and bet
With his smart witty talk
He was cock of the walk
And he rolled the dames under and over
They all knew at a glance
When he took up his stance
That he sailed in the irish rover

There was Barney McGee
From the banks of the Lee
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Johnny McGurk
Who was scared stiff of work
And a man from Westmeath called Malone
There was Slugger O'Toole
Who was drunk as a rule
And Fighting Bill Treacy from Dover
And your man, Mick MacCann
From the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years
When the measles broke out
And the ship lost its way in the fog
And that whale of a crew
Was reduced down to two
Just myself and the captain's old dog
Then the ship struck a rock
Oh lord! what a shock
The bulkhead was turned right over
Turned nine times around
And the poor old dog was drowned
And the last of the Irish Rover

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Knock

Sometime on the evening of August 21, 1979, upwards of fifteen residents of the town of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, reportedly witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (upright, a few feet off the ground), St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist. On St. John's left appeared an altar; on the altar was a cross and a lamb. The group stood in the pouring rain for over two hours, reciting the Rosary. At one point, 75-year Bridget Trench approached the Blessed Mother with idea of kissing her feet, but -- as she later reported -- "...felt nothing in the embrace but the wall and I wondered why I could not feel with hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen." A church Commission of Inquiry determined that the witnesses were credible, a finding upheld in 1936 by a second commission.

Since then, the Knock Shrine has become one of the most visited religious sites in Europe, visited annually by over 1.5 million people including Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Mother Teresa in 1993. The facility has swollen into a great sow of a place that includes a shop, a chapel, a church, a counseling center, a rest and care center, and such amenities as an endless row of holy water fonts.


Nestled against the facility like so many suckling piglets is a plethora of shops and kiosks offering religious kitsch such as wall rosaries and the holy water containers shown above. A crass mixture of capitalism and Christianity, the shops have the spiritual presence of small city of convenience stores. Honestly, I find it harder and harder with each visit to get a kick out of the kitsch, feeling more the cynic each time. Nonetheless, there have been some real finds. My favorite remains a plastic hand of God with the infant Jesus glued onto the palm, all fastened securely by a rubber band onto a prayer card. I look for a really good (bad) snow globe, but haven't had any real luck so far. We went today because Premium T. needed some illustrated holy cards for the postcards she 's making. (She had no trouble finding them.)


Luckily, we got lost on the way. Getting lost is one of the many pleasures of driving in Ireland. It's inevitable, so you might as well enjoy the countryside and learn a few new roads. In this case, I missed a left turn in the town of Kiltimagh, a turn that turned out to be unmarked. Well, it wasn't like we didn't have the time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blow Winds! Rage, Blow!

Ferocious winds last night, ripping and howling off the bay, colliding brutally with the house. They forced their way through the tiny gaps between window and frame, blowing the curtains in our bedroom even though the windows were closed. T. slept fitfully while the continuous bellowing had an oddly soporific effect on me: I slept like a baby. They had let up some this morning, but have started in again, this time driving a hard rain sideways through the cove. I love it. Of course, a hurricane or flood considerably diminishes the romance of a storm...

We spent yesterday afternoon running errands in the nearby market town of Castlebar, where we filled up the car to the tune of $7.85 a gallon. (1.33 euro per litre only sounds better.) T. needed art supplies for her post cards and I needed special-sized light bulbs that I couldn't find in Westport. To our delight, we discovered that the fiddler Kevin Burke performs there in July. His "Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz" was the bride's processional (as it were) at our wedding in December; we've already emailed a request for him to play it...

Thx to Amy Denio for the photo. Amy stayed at Carrowholly last February...

Charles Black, a key advisor to Johnny Wattles, sez that an attack by terrorists on the United States, would benefit McCain to the detriment of Barack Obama. Naturally, the MSM misses the real point: It falls all over itself trying to figure out whether Black is right or wrong while ignoring the colossal cynicism of the remark. The Republicans know they can't win talking about Iraq, the economy, health care, alternative energy, infrastructure -- in other words, any of the huge issues facing this country that they did nothing about when they had the chance -- so they play fear card. Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride...

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen brings McCain milk and cookies before tucking him into bed, here. The thrust of Cohen's argument is that no matter how many times McCain flip-flops or how egregiously he panders, his five years as a POW in North Vietnam trump all and prove that his character is superior to Obama's. He doesn't consider the possibility that McCain has sold out his legacy and will say anything to become president, gambling that the punditocracy will never call him on it. If Cohen is a representative sample, it might be a good bet...

For a nuanced, thoughtful, and perspicacious analysis of the public view of Iraq, you can't beat Frank Rich's column here. Rich argues that it no longer matters what incremental "good" news may come come out of Iraq -- that the public has already made up its mind that the war was a mistake and that nothing can change that. The issue now is to get out so that we can focus on the economy, health care, alternative energy, and infrastructure. Rich believes that McCain's platform of holding on in Iraq amounts to the flogging of a dead horse...

New Orleans: Screwed again. But the music, oh, the sweet music...New Orleans blues guitarist Spencer Bohren: "Music is a quintessential part of the fabric in the life and culture of New Orleans, and vice versa. Musicians were among the first to return to the bewildering mess that was New Orleans following the storm, and though there were very few places for them to play, and very few people to hear them, they provided an early signal that the precious spirit of New Orleans was not dead." Be sure to listen to "The Long Black Line"...

It's no picnic in the Midwest, either...

The pot calls the kettle very, very, very, very, very black. We're talking pitch-black, ebony, midnight, center-of-Carlsbad-Caverns-without-a-match-here: The Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family accuses former Constitutional law professor Barack Obama of a "fruitcake" interpretation of the Constitution and, worse, of "...distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology..." Focus on the Family supports the teaching of so-called "Intelligent" Design, opposes same-sex couples benefits, opposes meaningful stem cell research, opposes a woman's right to choose, opposes...you get the picture. They do support abstinence before marriage.

I just stepped out into the wind. Wow! It must be 35-40 mph. Best have some tea.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

St. John's Eve

Yesterday afternoon, we drove over to Murrisk (on the other side of Westport) for short hike in the tidelands below Croagh Patrick. The trail begins at the National Famine Memorial, goes east to Murrisk Abbey, then crosses tide flats to a small island accessible when the tide is out. Rain interrupted the hike, but not before we explored the abbey and took in some fabulous views. Now, Ireland boasts so many views that you might think we'd stop noticing them, but not so. The added bonus, which I never tire of, is that so often we are the only people taking them in. That's the truly wonderful thing -- that we're taking in sights equal to the central coast California, except that there are no cars or other people. Instead of feeling like one of many observers, I feel a part of the landscape -- like I might actually belong there as opposed to being a sort of nature voyeur.







The best was yet to come, though. Early in the evening, Premium T. invited be to join her down on the cove by our house. I decided not follow her down a steep embankment and headed toward the easy access at base of the cove. I ran into our neighbor Ian, who was preparing to burn some wood scraps. Last night was St John's Eve, the one night of the year when bonfires are allowed in Ireland. (In Ireland, it is also known as Oiche Fheile Eoghain, or Bonfire Night.) It's a celebration of fertility and plenty going back to Druidic times.

Anyway, I stopped to help Ian with the bonfire, and shortly after that Meena, his wife, came out with a bottle of wine. T. walked over from the cove and little by little our other neighbors came out, including Pat with a case of beer. We wound up celebrating until midnight, taking part in a tradition going back for millenia. (Premium T. will post pictures later.)

No party in Ireland would be complete without a few stories, and Pat told this one about an elderly gentleman who had had a pint too many one night in a Westport pub. The old man left the pub, started his car, and immediately drove it into a flower bed next to the pub. When the gardai arrived, the old was still in the car with the engine running.

"You can't be drivin' your car tonight," the gardai admonished.

"Drive me car?" the old man replied. "I can't light me pipe!"

Also, Hannah and Elizabeth, 10- and 11-year old sisters from next door, told us this riddle:

Q: Why did the toilet paper roll down the hill?

A: To get to the bottom.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The End Of A Perfect Day


Couldn't ask for much more out of a day than Sunday (although you can tell from the picture -- which is exactly what I see as I write -- that today shapes up pretty well itself).  While listening to Dick Gaughan, Ronnie Drew, and selections from Premium T.'s iPod,  she made postcards and I finished one novel, started another, and took two naps. We then sat down to  a fantastic meal prepared by  T., and topped that off with a visit to our favorite pub for a Jameson's with a splash for me, a cognac for T., and music from our friend and neighbor Pat

The meal was simple and glorious: A Guinness-and-red-wine beef stew, fresh homemade bread, and a Spanish syrah. The Guinness and wine imparted a richness of flavor that's hard to describe but easy to appreciate!

Oh, and Obama leads Johnny Wattles by 15 points. Woo-hoo!...Obama promises not to allow his campaign to be Swift-boated by racial smears. "Every...[criticism of Obama]...will be twisted to make it about race," warns McCain advisor and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, showing no hesitancy to make race an issue...Will Cindy McCain's majority share in a beer distributorship cause problems with social conservatives? Or will Hensley & Co's courageous opposition to Mothers Against Drunk Driving inoculate it against criticism from the right?

R.I.P. George Carlin. I saw him a few years ago. He was plenty funny, but was it ever bleak. If not exactly a groundbreaker, he nonetheless wore Lenny Bruce's mantle proudly and defiantly.

Citizen K. Read: The Lazarus Project, Alexsandar Hemon. BTW, the web site is amazing. Check out the slide show below, which combines text and photographs from the book:



The Lazarus Project (shorter) from Book Videos on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

One Night In Belmullet

Ten years or so ago on a visit to Silver Platters (my local CD store -- I'm well-known there), the manager of the store waved a CD at me and said that I had to hear it. He handed me Handful of Earth, by the Scotch folk singer Dick Gaughan; I shrugged and took home what became one of my favorite albums, a disk I still listen to regularly. I listened with pleasure as Gaughan wrapped his burr around traditional Scottish ballads, songs written by Robert Burns, and his own songs of liberation and solidarity. Gaughan sang with commitment and passion, evoking myriad feelings with a generous emotional palette.

So, when the indispensable Mayo News noted that Gaughan would be performing last Friday at Aras Inis Gluaire (The Erris Arts Centre) in Belmullet, it presented a perfect opportunity to visit that beautiful and remote place (see yesterday's entry). We joined about 40-50 others in an intimate setting as Gaughan performed two sets of originals, trad songs, and covers like "The Games People Play" and "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy", a song as sadly pertinent today as it was when Pete Seeger wrote it back in the Sixties. He sang what he called his favorite song (Burns' lovely "Westlin Winds"). He displayed dazzling guitar technique during a couple of instrumental interludes of jigs and reels, his fingers dashing around the fret like a line of step dancers. Gaughan closed the show with a request from me called "Both Sides The Tweed," an old Scottish song that he rewrote. Although it concerns a particular incident in Scotch-English history, today it resonates as a warm embrace of the value and humanity of mutual respect across cultural divides.

But for both of us, the highlight of the evening came with a song whose name we didn't catch and whose words we couldn't understand. Gaughan introduced it by explaining that he grew up in a multilingual home speaking Irish, English, and two versions of Scots. He then related the subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to eradicate Scots by treating it and its speakers as inferior. This led to a beautiful Scotch-language ballad that moved Premium T. to tears and left the rest of us silent. The power of song is indeed a magical and sacred thing.

I'm pretty sure that we were the only Americans in attendance. As we walked into the gloaming of an Irish solstice evening at 11 p.m., I pondered the uniqueness of the experience: Out of a nation of 300 million people, we were the only two to hear these particular versions of these particular songs on this particular night. We felt blessed...

There's no transferable decent video of Gaughan performing "Both Sides The Tweed," but you can go here to see him sing it with Emmylou Harris. I've reproduced the lyrics below. In the meantime, here's a video of him performing "Wild Mountain Thyme" with Emmylou, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and what looks like Rufus Wainwright:




Both Sides The Tweed
What's the spring breathing jasmine and rose?
What's the summer with all its gay train
Or the splendour of autumn to those
Who've bartered their freedom for gain?

Let the love of our land's sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
Which corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e'er clear
For honour's the sum of the mind

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

Read Dick Gaughan's notes on "Both Sides The Tweed" here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Mullet


Yesterday was one of those million-photograph days that happen all the time in Ireland. Not to worry: I'll only post a few of them here.

We spent the day on the Belmullet peninsula. The Mullet is one of the more remote parts of The West and is the only part of County Mayo to which I've never been. (On this map, it's the elephant's trunk dipping down from the top right) It's about a 75-90 minute drive from Westport. Other parts of the country offer more dramatic vistas, but seldom will you see such Caribbean-blue water.

The Mullet features a number of pieces on Tir Saile, the North Mayo Sculpture Trail. We stopped at Deirble's Twist, "a sculpture based on the local legend associated with St. Dervilla. Made by raising the existing granite boulders on site and placing them in an ascending spiral."

One guidebook described this part of The Mullet as "denuded" by a millenia of assaults winds and sea. Let me tell you, I grew up in South Texas and I've driven across West Texas, and I know from "denuded." This was plenty rocky, all right, but there was no shortage of flora, either. I even filmed this single blade of bog cotton:

Later, we came across this holy well:


Road and sea:




THIS JUST IN!!! While the Germans rearmed in 1934, the French tried to purge the comma. Now they have the semicolon in their sights.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Westport Session

Gone today! In the meantime, enjoy this musical interlude.

Friday's Choice: The Chieftains lead a session at Matt Molloy's pub in Westport

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thursday

'Tis a grand fine day. Sunshine, blue sky, and dramatic cumulus.

This morning, we took advantage of low tide to make our way by foot out to some of the tiny islands nearby. They're much to small to inhabit and we had to pick our way across stones and seaweed with the wind whistling around us. It took over an hour to venture not very far, but the view changes with every step and it's not like we're in a hurry anyway.

Hungry, we hopped in the car and drove to Cronin's Sheebeen, a thatched roof pub on the other side of Westport. Premium T. settled for some seafood chowder while I went for a real West-of-Ireland lunch: Mussels and Guinness. Talk about hitting the spot!





After lunch, we stopped in town to run a few errands, which included a stop at Christy's Harvest, a small shop offering among other things local cheeses and fresh eggs. At Christy's you can buy several different kinds of eggs, including the hen, bantam, and duck eggs shown here:


We picked out a toffee fudge cake for dessert, expertly transacted by Christy's son Andrew.


Tomorrow comes our first excursion, a trip to the Belmullet Peninsula. The Mullet is one of the most remote places in western Ireland (The West, it's called). It's about the only part of County Mayo that I haven't been to.

I'm reading a novel called The Lazarus Project (Hemon). The protagonist is a Bosnian refugee stranded in Chicago when the civil war in the Balkans breaks out. He stays in Chicago and eventually marries an American. This passage (p. 103) struck me in particular:

"I used to tell stories to Mary, stories of my childhood and immigrant adventures, stories I had picked up from other people. But I had become tired of telling them, tired of listening to them. In Chicago, I had found myself longing for the Sarajevo way of doing it -- Sarajevans told stories ever aware that the listener's attention might flag, so they exaggerated and embellished and sometimes downright lied to keep it up. You listened, rapt, ready to laugh, indifferent to doubt or implausibility. There was a storytelling code of solidarity -- you did not sabotage someone else's narration if it was satisfying to the audience, or you could expect one of your stories to be sabotaged one day, too. Disbelief was permanently suspended, for nobody expected truth or information, just the pleasure of being in the story and, maybe, passing it off as their own. It was different in America: the incessant perpetuation of collective fantasies make people crave the truth and nothing but the truth -- reality is the fastest American commodity."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Carrowholly






We get to look at this every day!

The house is in an area of west County Mayo called Carrowholly. Or Carraholly or Carracolly: Around these parts, we aren't too particular about such things. The people who live here call it Carrowholly, which is good enough for me. Specifically, we are on Carrowholly Point, four miles from the town of Westport; now you have all the information you need to understand the mailing address:

Carrowholly Point
Westport
County Mayo
Ireland

That's right: No house number, no street name, no zip code. The mail gets here, anyway. When we first got the house, we didn't get any mail for a while. I dropped round the P.O. to find out what was going on. It turned out that postman didn't recognize my name, so the P.O. held the mail until I showed up. No problems since. In fact, you can receive mail here so long as you send it c/o me.

Westport itself is a delightful town, with no shortage of amenities -- including some excellent restaurants. (I'll blog later about the surprisingly high quality of Irish restaurants.) Take a virtual tour here and treat yourself to my photos here. Also, Premium T. has some great pix of local jellyfish and of storm clouds gathering here. And all the pictures you'll ever need of Carrowholly are here.

What are we doing today? We're sitting around listening to Irish music, munching on a local cheese, drinking a bottle of wine kindly left for us by some recent guests, and reading aloud from the poetry of Westport's Sean Lysaght. No doubt there are better things to do; I just can't think of them right now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crosswise in Cross

This might be the single most schizo weather day that I've ever experienced in my life. For starters, winds that would impress King Lear woke us up this morning. They must have cracked every cheek in the universe. Rains straight out of Burma then drenched every steeple and drowned every cock. Then the sun broke through. Then the rains returned. Then the sun. Currently, it's neither rain nor shine, with a mild breeze. This might be a good afternoon to sit out at Matt Molloy's pub with a good book and an Irish coffee. Spit, fire! Spout, rain!

A couple of big stories in last week's The Mayo News, starting with the explosion of a long-simmering family feud in the town Cross. One Gerry McDermott and his wife Breege found themselves in court on charges of "assault and threatening, abusive, and insulting behaviour." (Sounds like a Microsoft product status meeting to me, but that's another story.) Blows allegedly struck, epithets allegedly hurled; ouch:

"Oh boys would ye look at the knackers who are going around slashing tyres"

and

"are you going to the pub, you alco."

Meanwhile in Ballinrobe, a 26-year old "mother-of-one" appeared in court to deny "threatening behaviour" that she allegedly instigated when she tapped her keys on a car window and said to the driver "I want to have a word with you, Missus. I'll have, you bet." Gardai were summoned immediately.

On the cultural side of things, exhibitions by the "widely acclaimed" Dublin artist Margaret Morrison and Noreen Sadler of Sidhean. According to the caption, "Catriona Bn Ui hOistin, Noreen Sadler, agus Rosaleen Ni Shuilleabhain ag Oscailt Oifigiuil Taispeantas Ealaiona le Noreen Sadler i Gno Mhaigh Eo Cathair na Mart."

Now do you believe me about the map?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Planes And Automobiles

I have to say that flying long distances does not count among my favorite activities. I check us in on-line the day before we leave and discover that the few remaining seats on the first leg of the flight (Seattle to Atlanta) are in the middle of center row of three seats.  I'm a bit mystified because Orbitz claimed that seats would be assigned only at check-in, but clearly that wasn't the case. Well, maybe we can get better seats at the airport. Anyway, we leave the house a little after 9:00 a.m.  the next morning to get to the airport the recommended two hours before takeoff. The flight is sold out, so we're stuck with our seats. 

The flight is late of course, but we eventually board. While waiting in line, I catch a glimpse of a guy who weighs in at about 6'4, 280, and pray that he doesn't sit next to me. My prayers, naturally, go unanswered. I suppose that this is a given. He plops down and immediately raises the armrest so we "have more room." This means that I have to hold my arm up for the next four hours of misery, which in turn means that I have a kink in a my shoulder by the time we arrive in Atlanta. Mercifully, Premium T. -- seated directly behind me -- does not experience an onset of restless leg syndrome

At first, it appears that the airport -- in Georgia, fer Gawd's sake -- was designed without taking into account the importance of air conditioning in a hot, humid climate. As it turns out, this applies only to the tunnels connecting the terminals, but that's bad enough: The air is as hot and stale as that of a middle school boys' PE locker room. Just when it seems that we're both about to faint, we catch a breeze of cool air and stagger into the blessedly cool terminal like the Biblical Hebrews reaching Canaan.

Thanks to wonders of Xanax, the flight from Atlanta to Shannon is uneventful. We rent a red Nissan, an easy-find-color when we forget what kind of car we are driving (which will inevitably happen). Nice drive, although once again the Galway roundabouts -- seven in all -- throw me off. Every time I circumnavigate Galway, I take at least one wrong exit, and it seems like a different roundabout every time. Once, I was halfway across Connemara before the suspicion took hold that I had missed something somewhere. 

Well, if you plan your drives in Ireland on the assumption that you won't get lost, you're in for a frustrating drive. I did get more than I bargained for a couple of years ago, though: I got caught out in a area of north Mayo. Gaeltacht  signifies that the locals speak Irish, and the government does its part by posting road signs that are only in Irish, the most impenetrable of any language utilizing the Phoenician alphabet. (Capital letters in the middle of words?!?!). Even though I knew better, I had left for the day without a map giving place names in Irish and English. I'm still not sure how I blundered out of that one. Trust me: I would have had better odds in China.

Many people want to know what happens if you're driving one direction up a one-car wide country lane and someone approaches from the opposite direction. All I can say is that there's more room on those roads than you might think. It helps if you've had a few pints to steady your nerves.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lost In The Flood

This one goes out to Iowa. And Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Let's not forget the Army Corps of Engineers, too:



Click to enlarge today's funny (www.tomthedancingbug.com):



Friday, June 13, 2008

Erin Go Bragh!

Starting with my next post, you may notice a Gaelic tilt to Citizen K. That's because Premium T. and I are spending the next month on the Emerald Isle, the Auld Sod, the Holy Land itself: Ireland, a.k.a Eire and Erin. We'll be in County Mayo near the town of Westport, gazing daily upon the aquatic marvel that is Clew Bay and its maze of islands (reputedly one for each day of the year). Slainte!

Citizen K. Read: Yellow Jack, Josh Russell. Outstanding first novel set in New Orleans during the Yellow Fever outbreak of the 1840's. It chronicles the growing madness of the character of Claude Marchand, who is based on one of the first photographers in the United States. Russell uses the exotic setting and characters to probe into the nature of art, history, and obsession, all connected by Marchand's erotic fixation on a young heiress. Challenging and engrossing, Yellow Jack poses unsettling questions and offers no simple answers.

Friday's Choice: A (very) young Steve Earle sings "Mercenary Song"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who Do You Love?

Him--


or this man who looks like he's talking through a hole in his throat:


The man who would be Vice-president...


Emmylou Harris, All That I Intended To Be
Who do I love? I love Emmylou Harris, that's who I love. While she doesn't live on the high end of the soprano range any more, her voice has become richer and fuller. It's perfectly suited to this autumnal, elegiac set about the hard lessons gathered from loss, sacrifice, and roads not taken. Harris wryly savors the irony that this wisdom accumulates as we near the end, leaving us  with only enough time to apply all of this hard-won learning to the past. As usual, she sings with great beauty and insight, often assisted movingly by the likes of Dolly Parton and Kate and Anna McGarrigle.  Highly recommended...

Septuagenarian Bill Moyers punks an "O'Reilly Report" producer:



Outraged by the 74-year old Moyers' aggressive violation of the producer's physical space, Bill-o retaliates:



Keith Olbermann explains it all:

The Great Unknown Known

"There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know."
Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002

As the people of the Midwest know only too well, breached levees are not limited to pagan, Democratic New Orleans. The village of Gays Mill, Wisconsin (left) may be gone for good after the second flood in a year. Cedar Falls, Iowa, is preparing to evacuate. Indiana Republican governor Mitch Daniels has asked the Agriculture department to declare 44 counties disaster areas. The Embarras River flooded thousands of acres of southern Illinois farmland when levees there failed. New storms have knocked out power from nearly 300,000 Ohio and Michigan homes.

The thing is, the levee system is a small part of the overall problem of the rapidly disintegrating American infrastructure. As the people of Minneapolis-St. Paul will attest, it extends to bridges and beyond: School buildings, sewer systems, roads, dams, power grids and more all require upgrades and maintenance. This is a hidden issue and it's difficult to convey its urgency. Bad things have to happen to get people's attention. Even when bad things do happen, it's hard for people to conceive that it's more than an isolated problem. I mean, who wants to think that something like Katrina could happen to their community? Nonetheless, politicians have known about this for years. (Gary Hart raised it in his 1984 campaign for the Democratic party presidential nomination.) They simply haven't acted; as a result, we have something on our hands that even Editilla's good buddy Don Rumsfeld didn't consider: the unknown known. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the room that everyone sees but won't acknowledge because coming to grips with it is a gigantic challenge outside of the scope of our usual politics. As Democrat Felix Rohatyn and Republican Warren Rudman wrote shortly after Katrina in an op-ed piece that, I'm happy to say, gave props to Washington state, this means significant, sustained public investment at the federal level driven by the kind of bipartisan commitment that funded everything from the Louisiana Purchase to the interstate highway system.

The alternative is to elect so many Democrats into office that the Republican party has to stand on the sidelines and carp. Sadly, we've got a better chance of that happening than of the GOP freeing itself from the small-minded, no-government, no-taxes troglodytes who put ideology ahead of the country's needs. If you think I'm overstating the case, consider John McCain. He originally opposed the Bush tax cuts as being fiscally irresponsible. Now, he claims that Barack Obama will be bad for business because he wants to rescind those same tax cuts.

I'm not so naive as to believe that electing a sufficient amount of Democrats to office will lead us to a progressive Promised Land. The Democratic party has its own issues with corporate interests, issues that party leaders have brought on by soliciting corporate funds. That's why we at the grass roots have to support the election of genuine progressive. It's also why, should the party wind up controlling Congress and the Presidency, progressives must exert a great of pressure to ensure that meaningful reforms occur in just about any area you can think of. In the meantime, though, ask yourself: How good for business is a failing infrastructure? And which of the two presidential candidates is more likely to face up to the problem and treat our infrastructure as necessary investment in the future?

An open letter to white women who are thinking about voting for McCain out of pique at Clinton's defeat...

Quote of the Day:
"I think the boys in Korea would appreciate it more if we in this country were to pay our own way instead of leaving it for them to pay when they get back."
-Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House during the Korean War

More here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Levee Of Lies

"That levee of lies couldn't hold back the truth."
Sonny Landreth, from "Blue Tarp Blues"

As the extent of Hurricane Katrina became apparent, Karl Rove orchestrated a campaign to deflect attention from the meager response of the Bush Administration. In this excerpt from his book Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise & Fall Of Karl Rove, Paul Alexander details how Rove sought to politicize the disaster by blaming it on Louisiana Democratic governor Kathleen Blanco. Alexander breaks down these events on a riveting day-by-day basis, beginning with Katrina making landfall Monday, August 29:
  • That morning, FEMA Director Michael Brown assures Blanco that his agency is prepared to provided everything necessary.
  • Bush, vacationing in Crawford (Texas), makes a speech in Arizona about the importance of staying the course in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 30
  • Still unaware of the extent of the unfolding catastrophe, Bush gives a similar speech in Coronado (California) on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.
  • Meanwhile, the promised Federal assistance to New Orleans does not materialize. The sole official response comes from the Lousiana State Police and the Louisiana National Guard.
  • By now aware of the Administration's tardy and inadequate response, Karl Rove acts -- by devising a strategy to praise Republicans and blame Democrats. The strategy hinges on spreading false rumors (for example, that Blanco had not declared a state of emergency when in fact she had three days before Katrina struck) and exploiting a schism between Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin (who were political enemies). 

Wednesday, August 31
  • Blanco calls Bush to request federal assistance. He agrees, but sends only a general and a few staff members to act "in an advisory capacity."

Thursday, September 1
  • New Orleans remains under water. No federal help has arrived.
  • Members of the national media assail Blanco's staff, questioning their handling of the disaster. Eventually, she tells the staff to ignore them and focus on the job at hand.
  • The White House informs Blanco that, in exchange for help, she must federalize the Louisiana National Guard and law enforcement agencies, effectively accepting blame for the unfolding catastrophe.

Friday, September 2
  • Bush visits Mobile (Alabama), where he tells Michael Brown, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job." Brown remains unaware that 25,000 New Orleansians have taken refuge at the Superdome.
  • In Missippi, Bush praises Republican governor Haley Barbour's handling of Katrina. He requires neither Barbour nor Alabama Republican governor Bob Riley to federalize their National Guards as a precondition of federal assistance.
  • Bush meets with Blanco and again pressures her to federalize the Louisiana National Guard. As this is her one bargaining chip in what has become a negotiating process, Blanco refuses. Instead, she personally gives Bush a 2-page letter detailing the state's needs. (Later, when none of the needs had been addressed, Blanco released the letter to the press. A "frantic" Bush aid called Blanco, who realized that Bush had lost the letter.)
  • Bush, Blanco, Nagin, and Louisiana senators Mary Landrieu (D) David Vitter (R) tour the 17th Street Canal to watch vigorous recovery efforts being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Saturday, September 3
  • Bush announces the deployment of federal troops to New Orleans.
  • The Louisiana National Guard completes the evacuation of the Superdome and the Convention Center.
  • Late in the day, Landrieu escorts television commentator George Stephanopoulos by helicopter to the 17th Street Canal to show him that some progress is being made. All that remains of the previous day's activity is a single crane. "I could not believe that the president of the United States...had come down to the city of New Orleans and basically put up a stage prop...They put the props up and the minute we were gone they took them down. All the dump trucks were gone. All the Coast Guard people were gone...At that moment, I knew what was going on and I've been a changed woman ever since."
Rove's machinations failed. Despite the massive spinning, the American public perceived Bush as out of touch and inept, clearing brush in Crawford while New Orleans screamed in agony. The truth had swept over the Administration's levee of lies.


Sonny Landreth, "Blue Tarp Blues"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Feed Them On Your Dreams

"It's hard to think of any work of art of which one can say 'This made men more just to one another or this saved the life of one Jew or one Vietnamese'...The difference between us and the artists of the Twenties is that they thought that such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was their naivete that they could think so, but it's our loss that we cannot."
Robert Hughes, The Shock Of The New

They were perhaps the first supergroup. Graham Nash brought his pop sense across the water from The Hollies. The combination of David Crosby's immense gifts and ego had nearly destroyed The Byrds. Stephen Stills, as a member of Buffalo Springfield, had already recorded "For What It's Worth," an anthem that filmmakers turned into a shorthand stand-in for the Sixties. In 1969 as Crosby, Still, & Nash, they recorded the rare album that spanned gender in its appeal. A year later, the group added an iconoclastic Canadian named Neil Young, whom Stills knew from Buffalo Springfield. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young released Deja Vu, an album so ubiquitous among young white people that virtually everyone -- and I mean everyone -- either had it or knew someone who did.

When Crosby, Stills, & Nash appeared at Woodstock for the second time "in front of people," they professed to being "scared shitless." By the time I first saw them in 1984, they already seemed like a nostalgia act. Of course, those 15 years were among the fullest of my life: I had been to college, gotten married, started graduate school, begun what would be become my career, and become a new father. Meanwhile, the idealistic portion of the Sixties had disintegrated into assassinations, bombings, Nixonian polarization, and the violence of Altamont. Ten years after the Woodstock appearance, CSN were no more relevant than the Model T, as young people danced and snorted their cares away in discos while the rest of us took the first tentative steps toward career-building or went to B-school, law school, and med school. The dream, as John Lennon sang, was over.

CSN appeared at the 1979 No Nukes concerts, but they were smug, out of shape, and out-of-tune. Visibly resentful at the attention paid relative newcomer Bruce Springsteen, they watched helplessly from the wings as the extraordinary energy of his music reached back past the Sixties to revive a time when rock's rebel beat, and not the words, beat out a liberation that became politically and socially relevant because of the very fact that it was individually liberating -- a nearly complete departure from the popular music of earlier generations. CSN could never lay claim to that: Their rebellion lay in a love-one-another idealism that by 1979 seemed naive and that had become the stuff of parody.

Still, by the time of the 1984 (or was '85 or '86?) show that I saw, they had regrouped enough to put on a credible if nostalgic performance. I remember Graham Nash singing "Chicago" as if it still had immediate meaning, that it was a given that we all still believed that we could change the world. A scuffle at the front of the stage prompted Stephen Stills to order concert security to "leave those people the fuck alone," which struck the skeptical mid-Eighties me as both calculated and unintentionally funny: Whatever it was, it was not a defiant response to The Man. On the other hand, none of that made much difference when CSN roused the crowd with "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." One couldn't help but sing along in spite of oneself.

Last Friday, CSN reassembled at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery to perform for a middle-aged crowd that sipped on wine and waited patiently in line for Indian food and pulled pork sandwiches. There's something to be said for a group of icons in their mid-Sixties who could mail in their performance but who don't. CSN structured the first set around numbers known best by fans who stayed with them through the decades, throwing in an occasional classic as a teaser. They opened the second set with a series of acoustic songs, then plugged in for a finish comprised of satisfying jams. (Premium T. has the details here.)  I especially enjoyed the intricate workout of "Deja Vu," the way they pretty much nailed the lovely and difficult "Guinnevere," and the concluding jams of "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Wooden Ships." (In an ironic and unlikely moment, "For What It's Worth" incongruously brought the affluent crowd to its feet.) Stephen Stills may not sing much any more (Nash took his parts in "Wooden Ships"), but his introspective, burbling guitar leads were effective and satisfying, and provided continuity between the acoustic and electric songs. 

Outside of the fact that rain threatened, we were a long way from Woodstock. And yet, as they sang the familiar tunes, the years fell away like miles. The mystic alchemy of music and time worked its magic, transporting me back to my room  in South Texas, listening to "Crosby, Stills, & Nash" and "Deja Vu" with an intensity intended to imprint them on my DNA for transferral to generations of future Citizen K's. I believed back then, and this was a good thing.

The encore of "Teach Your Children" made me think of the impact my children have had on my outlook. When they were little, my kids' wonder at the world restored some of my idealism, which must be what Graham Nash hoped in the second verse when he exhorted children to teach their parents, to feed them on their dreams. Though I knew by then that the life is relentlessly disillusioning, I still wanted my kids to have ideals and dreams for a better world. Because without those, our humanity will surely fade and they will not have what every parent wants for their children: A better life and a better world than we had. The audacity of hope in the face of disillusion not only matters, it's essential, it turns out.

Note: The absence of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" from the performance loomed large, so much so that we wondered whether the vocals are beyond Stephen Stills' capacity. Here's a time when they weren't:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hoob-a-joob

If you still need another reason to visit New Orleans, the opening of the Southern Food And Beverage Museum ought to seal the deal...

How about these excerpts from William Finnegan's 2004 New Yorker profile of Illinois senatorial candidate Barack Obama:

"[Representative] Jan Schakowsky told me about a recent visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her “OBAMA” button. “He jumped back, almost literally,” she said. “And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a ‘b.’ And I explained who he was. The President said, ‘Well, I don’t know him.’ So I just said, ‘You will.’ ”

As for Obama's supposed elitism: “He could have gone to the most opulent of law firms,” David Axelrod, a longtime friend who is now Obama’s media adviser, said. “After Harvard, Obama could have done anything he wanted.” What he wanted was to practice civil-rights law in Chicago, and he did, representing victims of housing and employment discrimination and working on voting-rights legislation for a small public-interest firm."

The same article includes this remark from a Republican Illinois state senate colleague of Obama's: " “I knew from the day he walked into this chamber that he was destined for great things,” he said. “In Republican circles, we’ve always feared that Barack would become a rock star of American politics.” Indeed...

Somewhat less insightful was conservative pundit George Will, who wrote that millionaire Jack Ryan, Obama's first Republican opponent, "keeps in moral and physical trim by going to Mass and the gym each morning." Ryan dropped out of the race after the records of his divorce became public, records which disclosed allegations by Ryan's wife that he had pressured her into going to sex clubs with the intent of having sex in public. Daily Mass is fine and all, but in this case daily Confession might have made more sense. (Obama went on to easily defeat Ryan's replacement, right-wing African-American crank Alan Keyes, who hastily moved from Maryland to Illinois to make the race)...

Will somebody please once-and-for-all explain to me just exactly, precisely, indubitably what this man (Paul Sanchez) is singing about? I don't get it...



Citizen K. Read: Louisiana Power & Light, John Dufresne

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dream Team?

With Hillary Clinton preparing to endorse Barack Obama, the punditocracy and political class has immediately begun wondering about the possibility of a Obama-Clinton ticket. She's apparently receptive to the notion, and at least one of her supporters plans to openly push for it. The idea of the nominee combining with his closest rival has precedent: In 1960, John Kennedy teamed with Lyndon Johnson and in 1980 George Bush joined Ronald Reagan. It's the quickest and simplest way to unify a party: It shows respect to the supporters of the runner-up and demands that the runner-up campaign actively for the ticket. In the case of Hillary Clinton, Obama would tap into a formidable organization and donor base.

But, he would also take on the baggage of party insiders who think they should be running the show. Putting Clinton and all that comes with her on the ticket would hardly burnish his carefully cultivated image as a new breed of politician practicing a new kind of politics. And, of course, it would mean taking on that tangled thicket of complications known as Bill Clinton. The spotlight would be on the Clintons as much or more so than Obama. Should he be elected, what role would the former president play? Does Obama really want two Clintons looking over his shoulder when one is likely one too many? Of course, the last thing Obama or the country needs is a revisitation of the events leading to Clinton's impeachment. For all of these reasons, it's hard to see Obama asking Clinton to be his vice-president. There are other ways to unify a party that smells victory anyway, so why take a cure that might well be worse than the disease...

Eric Alterman and George Zornick provide a corrective to the right-wing media characterization of illegal immigration. Apparently, Lou Dobbs et. al. really believe in a plot to build a "NAFTA Superhighway" that will connect Canada, the United States, and Mexico as part of a scheme to undermine American sovreignty. More insidiously, this crew pretty much lies about the impact of illegal immigrants on crime. Read it and weep...

Bill Fletcher of The Black Commentator reflects on the meaning of Obama's history-making victory. While appreciating its significance, Fletcher points out that "...if we are not thinking both about building for an Obama victory, but more importantly, laying the foundation for stronger social movements and a mass political organization that can advance a progressive direction, we will have misunderstood our challenge and fallen prey to illusions."

The Nation reports the following:
  • Percentage of Iraqis displaced by the war: 20
  • American cost of the Iraq war per second (as of 3/08): $4,563.18
  • Total number of coalition personnel in Iraq at the height of the "surge" (including all contractors and civilian support): 343,100
  • Total number of actual U.S. combat troops in Iraq at the height of the "surge" (excluding support personnel): 38,000
  • Number of police officers in NYC: 37,000
  • Number of embedded journalists during the March 2003 invasion: 775
  • Number of embedded journalists in March 2008: 23
  • Number of U.S. troops killed and wounded, Hue City, Vietnam, 1968: 147; 857
  • Number of U.S. troops killed and wounded, Falluja, Iraq, 2004: 104; 1,110
  • Number of Iraq troops diagnosed with PTSD: 300,000
  • Number of troops stop-lossed: 58,300
  • Number of troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001: 1,668,000
  • Number of troops deployed after being declared medically unfit: 43,000

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

History


Barack Obama entered the annals of history last night when he claimed victory over Hillary Clinton in the long march to the Democratic party nomination. In a powerful speech pointedly set at the site of the upcoming Republican National Convention, a determined-looking Obama paid tribute to his rival before looking ahead to the general election. He then turned John McCain's potshots about visiting Iraq on back at McCain, asserting that the Republican had not spent enough time visiting laid-off workers, struggling farmers, and failing schools in the cities and towns of the United States. The first African-American to be nominated for president by a major political party placed his victory in the context of history, showing it as a step on a journey begun by the Civil War and that proceeded through the Civil Rights era. 

The (presumptive, as the networks put it) presidential nominee then looked literally to the future, casting the November election as nothing less than a referendum on America's direction for generations to come. While he invoked the word "change" repeatedly, he stressed his belief that the upcoming election stands as a critical moment for Americans to seize the future by taking a step to transform our government and society. In Obama's vision, government is a tool at the service of all Americans, the best and most effective means of providing healthcare, moving the economy forward, improving educational opportunities, and reclaiming a position of world leadership based on diplomacy and not force.

Earlier in the evening, a pasty, wattled John McCain applied the word "change" to his candidacy no less than 33 times. In typical conservative fashion, the fourth-term senator -- who looked like nothing so much as a tortoise poking his head into the sunshine for the first time in years, gandering his head about uncertainly -- seems to subscribe to the belief that saying something enough times makes it true. In any case, he has a tough sell ahead of him: That his version of free -market, minimal government change is both different than what we have now and preferable to Obama's activist philosophy. It would be one thing if the electorate liked the direction the country has taken, but it doesn't.

Barack Obama's nomination in itself won't lift a single person out of poverty, bring health care to anyone who doesn't have it, or take us any close to ending the tragedy of Iraq. But nonetheless it is a moment that surely all Americans can take pride in, a notable step to realizing our collective belief that all are created equal.

Monday, June 2, 2008

When Will They Ever Learn?

The following letter -- apparently written in all seriousness -- appears in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The news from Iraq is increasingly good and hopeful, so what are the media talking about? Scott McClellan's denunciations of the Bush administration. McClellan himself admits that the final product is not the book he set out to write and that he is a recent convert to his current views. My guess is that he succumbed to pressure from his anti-Bush publishers and sold out his soul for big royalties and media buzz. Certainly the media are hungry for new anti-Bush material.

To take only one point, the war in Iraq, Bush has already been vindicated. The war had changed the whole dynamic of the Middle East in our favor. Al-Qaida, that once powerful global network of death merchants, has been decimated. Iraq, once an enemy, is now a friend and ally. Americans, once portrayed as the enemy, are now seen by Iraqis as real people, friends, protectors and helpers.

There is another benefit to this war. America has show the willingness to act, take risks, pay a price and assume the mantle of world leadership. This is what the world has needed. Bush is one of the greats.

Plainly, this person mainlines the White House Kool-Aid. Pulling this apart is easier than knocking over a house of cards. It's just as much fun, so here goes:

  • "The news from Iraq is increasingly good and hopeful." This is mother of all canards, a hoax perpetrated on a now wised-up public. I won't rebut the argument that the surge enabled some short-term security gains, although it was hardly the sole factor. But it produced no long-term political progress, which was the point in the first place.
  • "The war has changed the whole dynamic of the Middle East in our favor." The war has actually changed the dynamic of the Middle East in Iran's favor, and it gave an assist to Hamas as well. Meanwhile, we're bogged down in one of the most unstable, volatile parts of the world because of our addiction to oil. We need policies that make the Middle East as irrelevant as possible to us, not ones that entangle us further.
  • "Al Qaeda...has been decimated." Unfortunately, there's no evidence of this. Al Qaeda In Iraq did not exist before the war. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border remains a safe haven. The war serves as a recruiting tool. Al Qaeda has taken credit for the bombings of mass transit systems in London and Madrid. None of this sounds like an organization that has been decimated.
  • "Iraq, once an enemy, is now a friend and ally." There is no Iraq. It's a shattered vessel of sects and splinter groups vying for power by fighting each other and by killing Americans. The official Iraqi government has proven unable stop them and remains in power only because the United States props it up. With friends like that...
  • "Americans, once portrayed as the enemy, are now seen by Iraqis as real people, friends, protectors and helpers." Then how come so many Iraqis keep trying to kill Americans? Why can't Americans venture outside of the Green Zone unescorted by the military? Why do polls of Iraqis consistently show that they want us out?
  • "Bush is one of the greats." No comment. Although the question "great what?" comes to mind.
Meanwhile, the Washington state Republican party wants to deny citizenship to children born in America of parents who are illegal immigrants. Why is it that the right wing -- which claims a monopoly on patriotism -- constantly looks for ways to tinker with the Constitution? If it's not this, it's a balanced budget amendment, a so-called defense of marriage amendment, or an anti-choice amendment. The Bush Administration's contempt for the Constitution and constitutional rights is part-and-parcel of this -- a logical extension of a generalized right-wing attitude of claiming to love America while fearing everything about it...

Quote of the Day:
"Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"
-President George W. Bush, April 6, 2oo4

Dr. John releases City That Care Forgot tomorrow. Early reviews (here and here) are highly favorable.


Note to S. B.: Have you seen The Krayolas yet? And if not, whadderya waitin' for? They're at the Blue Star Brewing Company -- part of the Blue Star Arts Complex (a great place, incidentally) -- on August 1.