Monday, August 31, 2009

Lest We Forget...

Long Black Line

Spencer Bohren

everywhere you look
everywhere you go
you read it like a book
it's the only way to know
how high the water got
august twenty-nine
that hurricane last summer
left a long black line

sometimes it's to your ankles
sometimes to your knees
sometimes it's to your chest or head
or up above the eaves
water filled with chemicals
water filled with gas
water spillin' everywhere
a city under glass
water laced with poison
god knows, of every kind
you don't want to know
what's in the long black line

you can go to church
confessin' all your sins
you can tell your brothers
'bout the shape this world is in
you could tell your sisters
judgement day is come
he's dealin' with the devil
he's thinnin' out the scum
this one it was water
fire comes next time
all of this is written
in the long black line

i will never leave this place
you hear some people say
then there's the ones
who just can't hardly wait to get away
lots of others have no choice
they're livin' in a void
their house is wrecked, their job is gone
their lives have been destroyed
the people comin' back
no tellin' what they'll find
one thing will be waitin' there
the long black line

drivin' on the highway
you go too fast to tell
but get down in the lower nine
it's like a walk through hell
out along the curb
it's everything we own
we sacrificed our every lives
to this mighty storm
beautiful new orleans
oh, she was so fine
now everywhere you go
there's just the long black line

the long black line
the long black line
the long black line
the long black line

some people say the sinners
brought it on themselves
others say the climate change
will send us all to hell
some people blame the government
they speak of genocide
there's some that don't say anything
they just want to hide
even strong men fall apart
they break down and cry
mother mary pray for us
the long black line

every single minute
every single day
you wonder are you doin' right
you wonder should i stay
'cuz everything is broken
all the lines are down
confusion walks down every street
there's rumors all around
the media is black and white
politicians whine
everything is broken
except the long black line

the long black line
the long black line
the long black line
the long black line

god help the lower nine
the long black line

Audio sample here...

Health clinic helps keep NOLA music alive. More about the New Orleans Musician's Clinic here...

Here's Spencer Bohren's rendition of "Wade In The Water":

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge...

The Listening Room:
Kickin In My Stall, Kenny Bill Stinson. Although he specifically invokes Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, it's the spirit of John Lennon that infuses this rollicking set of ten country rockers and downright, down home rockers. Stinson's guitar breaks are a joy and the equal of his songwriting, which finds its best expression in remembrances of his mother's love of music ("Rhinstones and Butterflies") and of his own musical influences ("Turn Me On Dead Man"). Available from the Louisiana Music Factory.

What Have You Done, My Brother?, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens. Gospel music from so deep in Shelton's southern soul that it edges up against James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Shelton's career has taken her from the chitlin' circuit to the night clubs of New York, and this first album is long overdue. Not to be missed.

Choices, The Terence Blanchard Group. As a musical exploration of the moral choices we make, it doesn't always work (although Dr. Cornel West's excellent spoken word contributions clear things up). But as jazz? Man, you couldn't ask for more. Anchored by a brilliant rhythm section and the piano of Cuban Fabian Almazan, Blanchard's band surges forth in superbly layered compositions, but also knows when to lay back and let quiet work its eloquent magic. The musical choices are right on, from beginning to end...

Ever had a conversation like this?...

I can smell jasmine and oleander covering this evening like a wide cotton bed sheet of white class lace...

Sunday Gospel Hour: Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens sing "What Have You Done?"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weekly Address: Lessons And Renewal Out Of The Gulf Coast

I'm glad to hear that FEMA will be operated on a professional basis and that arcane federal turf wars are being brought under control. It's great to hear that eleven cabinet members have visited the Gulf Coast and that the president plans to himself. Still, these hardly address the issues of recovery or the lack of confidence people have in their own government. The president rightly raises the latter as a critical issue, but I wonder whether he makes the connection to that and the health care reform battle.

I'm not blaming President Obama for what happened after the hurricane struck. The grossly, the inhumanly, inadequate federal response lies at the feet of President Bush. Moreover, the political moment for massive federal programs -- such as a Gulf Coast Authority -- to rebuild the Gulf Coast has probably come and gone, victim to Bush's incompetence and a failure of vision by congressional Democrats (who could have pushed hard for this after the 2006 election).

But if there were ever a crisis of confidence in government, it came after Katrina. That crisis colors the health care debate: People who know that the current system is inadequate and who despise insurance companies remain fearful of making as minimal a reform the public option because they think -- they know -- that the government will botch it just like it botched Katrina and Iraq. That we elected a new administration in response to this doesn't go far enough in these people's minds.

It's nice to know that roads and schools are being rebuilt (although they likely needed that before Katrina) and it's reassuring to hear a president talk about the importance of wetlands in a way that connects to everyday concerns. Nontheless, I would be much happier with a stronger statement the spoke to an ongoing commitment by the Administration to work to rebuild the Gulf Coast in a bipartisan fashion. We have a Car Czar, a Drug Czar, and plenty of other czars. Why not a point man or woman who can press Congress for meaningful action and keep the executive branch focused? In any event, government action in the Gulf Coast must be more public, more concentrated, and simply more...

Hurricane Katrina Deceased Victims List: Quick Stats...

Pump Tha Party on Katrina Day!...

Bearing witness: Slidell, three weeks after...

It is the glory and greatness of our [the Democratic party's] tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land.

Senator Ted Kennedy, Address to the Democratic National Convention, August 1980

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Public Option

It's been a downer week, bottoming out, of course, with the loss of Ted Kennedy. Perhaps his death will give new impetus within the Congress to health care reform, but I doubt it. Rather, one hopes that it will reenergize progressives into standing up to the bullies and demanding real reform. To this progressive, real reform is impossible without the widely misunderstood public option.

The public option is not:
  • single-payer health care as in Canada
  • government-supplied health care as in Great Britain
  • a welfare program for those unable to afford private insurance
  • (regrettably) "socialized" medicine in any way, shape, or form
The public option is an alternative to purchasing private health insurance. With a public option, people have the option of purchasing insurance from the federal government at market rates. The insurance industry opposes the public option because they are a cabal seeking to protect what amounts to a monopoly. Rather than offer competitive choice, they oppose it. A public option would threaten such insidious practices as recission, denying requests for expensive procedures, refusal to cover preexisting conditions, and outright denial of coverage.

Make no mistake about it: If you have private insurance that you have purchased yourself or are covered through a small business, you are in effect underinsured. Insurance companies think nothing of taking your money for years, then denying coverage due to technicalities (recission), on the basis of "experimental" (new) procedures, or raising rates on a small business until they are forced to drop coverage.

As Nicholas Kristof points out in today's must-read column,
The insurers are open to one kind of reform — universal coverage through mandates and subsidies, so as to give them more customers and more profits. But they don't want the reforms that will most help patients, such as a public insurance option, enforced competition and tighter regulation...
Remember the three essentials of health care reform: A public option, enforced competition, tighter regulation. When someone tells you that they are for reform but against Obamacare, ask them what reforms they support, why they are adequate, and how they achieve the goals of the three essentials...

Get out your handkerchiefs:

Friday's Choice: Paul Sanchez sings "The Foot Of Canal Street" at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (more on this great song here):

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health Care Meanderings

(Thanks to Stone Soup Musings.)...

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) scores a bulls-eye:
Somebody has to keep the insurance companies honest. They complain that they can't compete with the public option, sort of a strange response to be coming from the private sector. (Seattle Times, 8/27/09, B6)...
Is he right or is he right? After all, the private sector constantly lectures us about how much better and more efficient they are than government. They should welcome the chance to prove their point...

I'll see you there, at the foot of Canal Street...

I find myself deeply saddened by the right-wing mob tactics at the health care town halls. The people who profess to claim color-blindness and who excoriate both President Obama and Sonia Sotomayor as racists use lynch mob tactics to bully and threaten our elected representatives. Does anyone really believe that the president's race isn't a factor? That he keeps his dignity and aplomb intact is a tribute to his humanity, patience, and faith in people to ultimately do the right thing.

Congress simply cannot allow itself to be intimidated by such bullying. If they do, the whole country will lose more than health care reforms. After all, if the United States means anything, it's that the rule of law and deliberation trumps mobs and violence. We haven't always followed the better angels of our nature, but this time it is essential that we do lest we allow a violent minority to control events...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion Sleeps

In 1966, a 34-year old freshman senator visited Boston's Columbia Point Health Center, a clinic dedicated to providing health to the low-income residents of the area. Aware of the successes of a similar facility in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Senator Edward Kennedy (1932-2009) introduced legislation to start another thirty such centers around the country. Today, thanks largely to his initial efforts in the field in which he would become identified, "20 million low income Americans receive access to primary care at 1,200 community health centers across all 50 states and U. S. territories."

When Senator Kennedy died yesterday, it was as the champion of all Americans' right to decent, affordable health care. He left his mark on so many pieces of health legislation that it's easy to forget his lifelong commitments to civil rights, education, labor and fair wages, the alleviation of poverty, human rights, peace in Northern Ireland and, indeed, peace around the world. Kennedy opposed the war in Iraq, calling it "the best vote I cast in the United States Senate." In 1995, he outmaneuvered the Gingrich-Lott Republican leadership to secure a long overdue increase in the minimum wage. In 1994, he helped jump-start peace negotiations in Northern Ireland by urging President Clinton to issue a visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. A powerful voice opposing apartheid in South Africa, Kennedy's commitment to civil rights at home began as early as his support for Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Acting of 1965.

But it was on health care that Kennedy left his greatest mark. Though his long-held vision of a comprehensive national health insurance program for all Americans did not come to pass during his lifetime, he was no quixotic figure when it came to health care or anything else. The consummate practical politician, Kennedy authored or co-authored the following landmark legislation, all of which became law in part because of his leadership:
  • Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act of 1986
  • Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act of 1990
  • National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993
  • Freedom of Access to Clinics Act of 1994
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
  • Food and Drug Modernization Act of 1997
  • Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) (1997)
  • Children's Health Act of 2000
  • Project BioShield Act of 2003
  • Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2005
  • FDA Amendments Act of 2007
  • Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008
This list is accomplishment enough; that Kennedy's reach extended far beyond health care is tribute to a remarkable career, one of the most influential in the history of the United States Senate.

Although the right demonized Kennedy for most of his career, his successfully reached across the aisle and obtained bipartisan support for much of this legislation, most notably from Republican Senators Dole (disabilities), Domenici (mental illness), and Kassebaum (portability and accountability).

His closest friend in the Senate may well have been Orrin Hatch (R-UT), with whom he co-sponsored legislation as recently as this year (the Serve America Act). Said Alan Kazai, CEO of Be The Change, Inc., "Senator Kennedy is the godfather of the modern national and community service movement..." Kennedy's signal achievements in this area were authoring the National Community and Service Trust Act of 1990 and the creation of AmeriCorps in 1993.

As anyone knows, Kennedy's personal life was not above reproach, although that settled down greatly with his 1992 marriage to Victoria Reggie. The tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne dogged him for his entire life and may well have cost him the presidency. Whether or not Ted Kennedy may or may not have made a great president. But he was without a question a great senator, the likes of which we may see again.

Note: Unless otherwise linked, all direct quotes come from the document Accomplishments of Senator Kennedy 1962-2009, available here as a .pdf file.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Funnies & Arts

As always, click to enlarge. For more Tom the Dancing Bug, Pat Oliphant, Calvin & Hobbes, Tony Auth, and Tom Toles, go here, here, here, here, and here...

Leonard Pitts thinks that Americans look at each other across a great spiritual divide:
Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you. Such as when you look at a guy who thought it a good idea to bring a "gun" to a presidential speech and find yourself stunned by incomprehension. On paper, he is your fellow American, but you absolutely do not know him, recognize nothing of yourself in him. You keep asking yourself: Who "is" this guy?
Maybe, although it's hard to recognize the spirituality in the racism underlying the opposition to President Obama. Pitts is closer to the mark when he writes that "...this isn't conservative vs. liberal, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound demographic and cultural change that will leave none of us as we were..."

The question, then, becomes this: What is a legitimate form of grievance? Shouting down Congressmen at Town Hall meetings and the open display of firearms all egged on by the maniacal right-wing media and cozened by Republican politicians is not it. That way lies another Oklahoma City. David Sirota believes that the First Amendment must trump the Second, that
The First Amendment ethos guarantees people — whatever their politics — a fundamental right to participate in their democracy without concern for physical retribution. It is the primary amendment because America was first and foremost created not as a gun-owners' haven, but as a place to shelter citizens from oppression.
Of course, none of this addresses the looming issue of how reasonable debate is possible when one side refuses to be reasonable, indeed, takes pride in being a mob. There's simply no place for that in the democratic process...

The Aran Islands of Ireland have 7,000 miles of stone wall, almost enough to stretch from Seattle to Miami and back again. I took these detailed studies during our visit there last week:

Chocolate-praline cheesecake and zydeco dip...Before you dig in to that, you might want to try some Cajun shrimp jambalaya...

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Glasses

Citizen K. paid an overdue and uninsured visit to the optician yesterday and discovered that he is in dire need of a new prescription. Which explains why he hasn't been reading much lately and probably why the quality of his blog entries has lagged. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, the miracles of modern optometry will work their magic on my fading vision and I'll be back to normal.

Whatever that is. I must say that having a wife to give thumbs up or down to the frame selection process makes it go quickly. I mean, Premium T. is the one who has to look at me more than anyone else, so I'm not about to buy something she doesn't like. We settled on a fresh look in short order, setting up the possibility of a completely new me. I'll try not to let it go to my head.

The optometrist I see has a strong repeat business and recognizes that his clientele is aging. His selection runs the gamut from "business attire" to age-appropriate with (hopefully) a bit of an edge. At least that's how I see it (or will, once the new prescription arrives). My 22-year old son -- who used to shop there with good results -- found nothing, whereas I still get to winnow down from a half dozen serious options.

Those of you not cursed from birth with poor vision don't grasp what a significant social development frame design has become. Once, one had to hide behind one's spectacles. They optometrist looked you over, waved grandly at his minimal selection, and said, "Here it is, son: Nerd City. And you can live in any house there that you want."

Mercifully, my parents never made me live in the Nerd City slums: The unbreakable plastic black frames that bent and twisted, able to withstand any contortion dreamed up by the puerile, fertile, and febrile imagination of an 8th-grade boy and his friends. (As it turned out, those frames really couldn't be broken, despite some awfully creative efforts to the contrary. Petroleum byproducts are powerful things.) Those frames -- which went handily with buck teeth -- ruined many an otherwise perfectly decent appearance, consigning their victims to a junior high existence without girls, who never seemed to wear the female equivalent.

I was the first kid in my class (circa 1968 or '69) to wear wire frames. In South Texas, I caught no end of grief for adopting the hippie look, especially since I wasn't especially hip: I was just tired of brown plastic frames and wanted something different. My parents sympathized, and so I chose the one pair of non-aviator wire frames for sale by Kingsville's only optometrist. Looking back, they were no doubt hideous, although I did strike a blow for something (still not sure what). A year later, of course, everyone who wore glasses had switched to the wire look. Now, plastics are back in, only this time with some design sensibility. Go figure.

Kids today don't have to put up with that particular bit of teen angst, a consummation I devoutly wished for my own son when he needed glasses even sooner than I did. He's been able to look sharp and fashionable his whole life, whether he knew he was or not. As for me, people often asked why I didn't wear contacts or get Lasik surgery. The answer is simple: I've been waiting my whole life for glasses actually designed to look good on a human face. Now that they're here, do you think I'd miss out on it?

What does a bleeding heart liberal look like? John Hayes says it was his Chief Petty Office father, for one...

Pantheon has published Josh Neufeld's A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, a graphic novel about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the lives of seven characters from all walks of life and parts of the city. More here...

Froma Harrop makes a case for the obvious: That it's time for the Democrats to go it alone on health care.
Every compromise President Obama offered in the name of bipartisanship was read as a sign of weakness. For Republicans, sticking it to the Democrats trumps doing what's good for the country. The heck with them.

Reforming health care should be both a liberal and conservative mission. Securing medical coverage for all Americans is the liberal part. The conservative part is containing the explosive rise in health-care spending, which fuels government deficits and hurts American business in the global marketplace.

Democrats will have to be both the liberals and the conservatives on health care...

E. J. Dionne writes that there's no place for guns at presidential appearances:

Try a thought experiment: What would conservatives have said if a group of loud, scruffy leftists had brought guns to the public events of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?

How would our friends on the right have reacted to someone at a Reagan or a Bush speech carrying a sign that read: "It's time to water the tree of liberty"? That would be a reference to Thomas Jefferson's declaration that the tree "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Pardon me, but I don't think conservatives would have spoken out in defense of the right of every American Marxist to bear arms or to shed the blood of tyrants.

Friday's Choice: Simon & Garfunkel sing "Homeward Bound" in 1966:

What a difference a year makes. From 1967:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Steadman Dreams

Last night, I dreamed of a mysterious book store with previously unknown books by Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman. One was about California, another about true crime, and the third was a massive boxed trilogy called Varmints, presumably about evil-doers throughout history. The best part of the dream was leafing through the California volume because it contained these Steadman pieces completely invented by my dream state. Some were pictures, others captions. One was even torn, which upset me greatly.

I have a number of books illustrated by Steadman, including editions of George Orwell's Animal Farm and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (my favorite book as a boy). Here are the front and back pieces from each:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Real Death Panels

Back from Ireland to find health care reform in trouble publicly due mostly to misinformation. According to an NBC poll, majorities of Americans mistakenly believe that the proposals on the table would
  • provide health care to illegal aliens (heaven forbid)
  • lead to a government takeover of the health system
  • spend taxpayer dollars on abortion (we wouldn't want health care reform to enable women full access to their constitutional rights)
The poll also finds that
Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly.
Apparently, this last bit of pernicious nonsense comes about because the coverage of so-called "death panels," which are actually counseling aimed at helping the dying accept the ending of life. Turns out that they do some good, too.

But perhaps the most willfully dishonest assertion is that health care reform would lead to a government takeover of the health system. Instead, reform is exactly what it implies: For better or worse, a reform of the way that access to health care is currently provided. In other words, health care will continue to be provided through a combination of insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

As I wrote earlier, health care reform means such common sense changes as
  • coverage of preventive care such as mammograms and colonoscopies
  • the end of denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions or medical history
  • the end to dropping or reducing coverage of an existing medical condition
  • prevention of arbitrary caps to lifetime or annual coverage, essential to preventing health care-related bankruptcies
  • an option to purchase health care from the government, to so-called public option essentially to controlling costs and ensuring that minimal standards are meant
  • government negotiation of purchases from pharmaceutical companies, essential to controlling drug costs (You wouldn't believe how much cheaper even over-the-counter drugs are in Ireland, and this in a country that is an expensive place to live.)
Worried about bureaucracies issuing end-of-life decisions? A friend's letter to his Congressman:
This is not a game. I am increasingly distressed to see that, as far as I can tell, the Republicans in Congress are treating the issue of health care reform as an opportunity to score points against the Democrats in general and the president in particular. This issue is not a game between Republican and Democratic politicians. If it continues to be treated as a game, then no matter which party wins, the American people will lose.

I support health care reform that includes a public option. If you oppose a public option, please explain to me as my representative in the House why I should trust insurance companies more than the government in which you serve.

Recently, the brother of a friend was diagnosed with germ-cell cancer which is highly treatable 90% of the time. Unfortunately, my friend's brother belongs to the other 10%. He works for a successful telecommunications firm. He has "good" health insurance. His insurance company refused to cover the stage II trial drug protocol that is his only viable chance for a cure even though it costs no more than the conventional therapy they were willing to cover and even though the insurance company's doctor recommended they grant a waiver and cover his experimental treatment. Now, tell me why I should trust the insurance companies.

Please, sir, have the courage to do the right thing. The status quo in health care is unacceptable. The American people have been waiting for reform since Harry Truman was president. Please do not succumb to the partisan pressure to play politics with the very lives of the people you represent.
More about insurance company death panels here and here...

Health care: Two countries, two stories...

Save Charity Hospital, NOLA's last, best hope for indigent and emergency care...

Goin' back to Avalon, where I have a pretty mama all the time...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woo Hoo!

I'm writing from the Aran Islands (pictures later), the first time I've had internet service in nearly a week. We return to Seattle on Tuesday. In the meantime...

Clifton wishes he could take A Long Walk with Jill Scott...

Looks like all those letters and emails had an effect:

By Kenneth Hein

NEW YORK (Nielsen Business Media) - Some of the nation's biggest advertisers are distancing themselves from Fox News host Glenn Beck after he called President Obama a racist during a July 28 broadcast.

Geico has pulled its ads from Fox News Channel's "The Glenn Beck Program.", which is owned by LexisNexis, also has vowed not to advertise during the program, according to Color of Change, an African-American online political organization that has been urging advertisers to stop supporting the show.

Additionally, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance and SC Johnson all said their ad placements during the broadcast were made in error and that they would correct the mistake.

The controversy stems from Beck's comment that President Obama is a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people."

Geico spent more than a half-billion dollars on ads last year, according to the Nielsen Co. It spent more than a quarter-billion dollars in the first half of 2009.

A Fox representative noted that Geico is dropping its ads from the show but was quick to note that it was shifting dollars to other programs. "The advertisers referenced have all moved their spots from Beck to other programs on the network, so there has been no revenue lost," the rep said.

Beck's show pulled in an average of slightly more than 2 million viewers for each of its 19 telecasts in July, according to Nielsen.

Progressive Insurance representative Cristy Cote said that there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the company's involvement with the program. "We had not bought advertising on the show in the first place," she said, "so when we learned that our advertising had appeared on the show by mistake, we contacted the network to correct the error."

She said Progressive tries to "avoid programing that we believe our customers and potential customers might find extremely offensive."

A Procter & Gamble representative echoed that sentiment: "At times our ads are run by mistake on shows that they were not meant to ... Any of our ads that ran did so by mistake, and we'll try to make sure that doesn't happen in the future."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Some Summer Reading

When I comes to Ireland, I reads Irish books:

I Predict A Riot, Bateman (2007)

Hilarious black comedy set in post-Troubles Belfast somehow ties together food poisoning, high fashion, racketeering, murder, and the perils (and rewards) of on-line dating. Paced at breakneck speed, Riot combines the wit of Carl Hiaasen with the hyperactivity of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy into a eventfully convoluted narrative that will keep you up late turning page after page until it resolves itself. Highly recommended...

The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, Matthew Hart (2005)

On the night of May 17, 1986, Dublin gangster Martin Cahill masterminded an art theft from a prominent Irish private collection. The theft included one of the world’s few Vermeers in private hands. It took until 1993 to recover the Vermeer and the other paintings, and in the end required the international cooperation of the police forces of four countries. The recovery of the Vermeer hastened Cahill’s downfall and occasioned a discovery that changed the art world’s perception of the great Dutch master’s work. Writing in terse, journalistic prose, Cahill examines other art thefts and shows how stolen has become collateral in the international drug trade. Recommended...

Heaven Lies About Us, Eugene McCabe (2006)

This uneven but rewarding collection is at its best in the two series of related stories that describe the Troubles from the Protestant perspective. McCabe unstintingly relates the bigotry at the core of anti-Catholicism while retaining sympathy for the apolitical people whose find their lives turned upside down. In spite of themselves, they find themselves looking at harmless Catholic neighbors through a prism of suspicion. Worse, they live in an environment that demands that they choose sides whether they want to or not. Recommended...

Redemption, Francis Stuart (1949)

Ezra Arrigho, a spiritually beaten man, returns to his native Ireland after sitting out World War II in Germany. As he begins to take part in the social life of a small town near Dublin, Ezra begins to articulate the forces that have robbed his life of meaning. Just when it seems that he has turned a corner, a brutal crime forces him to confront some his most deeply held convictions (which aren’t what you might think they’d be). As in the brilliant Black List, Section H, Stuart challenges us to reexamine our own closely held assumptions – this time regarding the nature of crime and punishment -- no matter how certain or banal they might seem. Difficult, demanding, and uncomfortable, Redemption represents the one-of-a-kind Stuart at his best. Highly recommended...

Dancing With Demons, Peter Tremayne (2007)

Tremayne’s series about a lawyer and religious called up to solve crimes in 7th C. Ireland has gained an international following. In this one, Sister Fidelma investigates the events leading up to an actual historic crime, the assassination of High King Sechnussach. As always, things aren’t what they seem and as always we get a history lesson on the doings of medieval Ireland, which Tremayne views as relatively advanced culture. The ending is a bit fussy with Agatha Christie-type doings, but fans of the genre will like this just fine. Recommended...

Overheard today: "If you've come to Ireland, it's for reasons other than the weather"...

There's one kind favor I'll ask of you: See that my grave is kept clean...

Premium T.'s summer reading list is here...

Clifton Harris, who writes the excellent blog Cliff's Crib and who contributes to Just A Song, describes the perfect mayor for New Orleans here...

Monday, August 10, 2009


Last night, I dropped by Geraghty's on the recommendation of Anke and Tuen, a Dutch couple we've befriended. They thought I would like Occan, the flute player performing there that evening. Geraghty's turned out to be a cozy two-room establishment with a back-room table for the musicians. Occan played flute and whistle -- both with consummate skill -- accompanied by a pair of guitarists and a bodhran. (A bodhran is a handheld Irish drum played with the fingertips, palm, and/or a small two-headed stick called a "tipper.")

Occan led the session through a set of jigs, reels, and an occasional lament. At times, one of the guitarists broke into song. Another time, they sat out to provide room for an intricate duet between a whistle and a conga. Unlike many sessions, which can serve as a soundtrack to events happening elsewhere in the pub, the appreciative gathering hung on every note. The intimate atmosphere gave the impression that it was all happening in someone's living room (albeit a living room with a well-stocked bar...

We also saw another side of Irish music, a pair of nine-year old cousins busking as The Bullets. Here, they're performing a driving rendition of "Whiskey In The Jar" ("we really like Thin Lizzy"):

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just Wondering...

...why the same people who screech that President Obama wants to take away their freedom are the ones who vociferously supported the Patriot Act.

...why the same people who profess to love their country show contempt for the democratic process by disrupting town meetings about the most pressing domestic issue of our day. a major political party that once stood for law and order came to endorse mob tactics. the same people who opposed Sonia Sotomayor out of a fear of her "empathy" for the downtrodden can sympathize with the shouting down and threatening of elected officials as a legitimate "organic response" feedback to proposals to extend health care to all Americans. the same people who oppose government intervention into health care are happy to receive Medicare... anyone can listen to someone who advocated shooting wolves from helicoptersand who now calls health care reform "downright evil". anyone can listen when the country's leading fascist decries the president's health care logo as "similar" to a Nazi symbol.

For anyone who can't watch the President summarize heath care reform, here's what the anger is supposedly all about:
Right now, we have a system that works well for the insurance industry, but that doesn’t always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass health insurance reform, are consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and that insurance companies are held accountable.

We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost too many lives and too much money.

We will stop insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history. I will never forget watching my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final days, worrying about whether her insurer would claim her illness was a preexisting condition. I have met so many Americans who worry about the same thing. That’s why, under these reforms, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage because of a previous illness or injury. And insurance companies will no longer be allowed to drop or water down coverage for someone who has become seriously ill. Your health insurance ought to be there for you when it counts – and reform will make sure it is.

With reform, insurance companies will also have to limit how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. And we will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime because no one in America should go broke because of illness.

There's so little for average person to oppose here that one must wonder, is this what the anger is all about? Or could it stem from the racial fears and prejudices of people who think that being on top depends on other people of a different color being on the bottom? Could it be a savage howl of rage at the thought of no longer being in power (not that they ever were)? Just wondering...

More evidence that the Bush Administration neglected national security: This article explains what many of us have been saying for years -- that climate change has profound national security implications. It's a good think that the right people are in charge:
Although military and intelligence planners have been aware of the challenges posed by climate changes for some years, the Obama administration has made it a central policy focus...

See the clouds of summer...

Radical ideas concerning the nation's culture...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Michael Nugent

Michael Nugent parked us in yesterday.

We returned to our car after lunch to find it blocked by another car whose driver hadn’t bothered to pay his car park fee. An older gentleman informed us that he had told the driver that he hadn’t paid, whereupon the driver promised to be right back. Twenty minutes and one fruitless Gardai appeal later (“Sure, he’ll be back soon”), he still hadn’t kept his promise.

A father and son getting into a nearby car opined that we might be able to squeeze through the place they were leaving. We might have, too, but it would have been a near thing. I doubted that I could make the right turn necessary to free our car without scraping one, two, or possibly even three other innocently parked cars, all while the blue truck and trailer that barred our way got off scot-free.

We had just about decided to wait it out in a pub. I anticipated that the owner of the blue truck would return before we did, and that we would get ticketed for going over time. You know how it is. At that moment, the man driving the nearby car returned. It seems that he recognized the blue van as that of a local lawn cutter and knew in which pub said lawn cutter was likely to be found.

“Just go into S. Moran’s and ask for Michael Nugent. He’ll be there havin’ a drink.” (The “S” in S. Moran’s distinguishes that pub from just plain Moran’s, another Westport watering hole.)

So, we walked over to S. Moran’s and opened the door to a smoky bar filled with men. All conversation came to an abrupt halt.

“Is Michael Nugent here?”

Much hemming and hawing, one guess that he was off cutting grass, and an inquiry as to whether we owed him money followed.

“Because his truck has me blocked in.”

Much laughter. A man with guilt written all over his sheepish Irish mug raised a finger and mumbled that he’d go out the back door and meet us by the cars. He must have raced out there, because by the time we had gone out the front door and walked around to the park, he was well on his way.

Is this a great country or what?

See Premium T.'s version of the encounter here...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Back Roads Of North Mayo: Demesne

We know nothing about this place, despite scouring the internet for information. We came across this abandoned demesne after taking a number of random turns. It's vast (larger than most of the abbeys and castles I've seen here), appears to be Georgian, and parts of it remain in use as a horse corral. After the Irish Land Reform of the 1880's, Protestant landlords slowly but surely abandoned their Irish holdings over the course of about fifty years. It's likely that this is one of them, an estate gradually surrendered to its rightful owners until nothing remained of the original grant but the building and the land around it. The orignal grant may well have gone back to the days of Elizabeth I or Oliver Cromwell.

"...a paint stroke that describes a form also describes a gesture. That means it stands outside technological development and can never be subjected to mechanization or technology. It is always about renewing the primitive impulse to make the gesture. "

Sean Scully, "High and Low or the Sublime and the Ordinary"

Hooray for the nine Republicans who voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. I wonder what the average age of the thirty white men who voted against her is. I also wonder how Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) -- the sole woman to oppose the nomination -- can look at herself in the mirror. Her vote was a slap in the face to her gender and to her Hispanic constituents...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back Roads of North Mayo: Downpatrick Head

Yesterday, we set out on a back roads tour of North Mayo. We stopped first at the Ballycroy National Park Visitor’s Center. Ballycroy is the newest of Ireland’s six national parks; primarily it preserves one of the largest blanket bogs in Europe as well as provides a home for the endangered red grouse. For some reason, years of traveling to Ireland have not taught me to bring a windbreaker with me no matter what the weather seems like, so the chill kept us from exploring and photographing the bog. We’ll be back.

From Ballycroy, we drove to Downpatrick Head, stopping along the way to take advantage of photo ops. The distinguishing feature of Downpatrick Head is the sea stack, a.k.a. Dun Briste (broken fort). Apparently, St Patrick won a dubious battle there with a pagan god named Crom Dubh (Doov). After failing to hurl St P into everlasting fire, Crom – who simply wanted his followers to be able to worship nature as they had since time immemorial – retreated to his fortress at the end of Downpatrick Head. In response, Patrick cleaved the land with his crozier, separating the fort from the mainland and leaving poor old Crom (and this much I can believe) to be eaten alive by a plague of midges.

After leaving the head, we worked our way through a labyrinth of roads and boreens (lanes), eventually coming across the ruins of an old demesne. More on this later. Meanwhile:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Chrysler and Me

As always, click to enlarge...

Chrysler's response to my request that they redirect advertising dollars from Glenn Beck's program:

Thank you for contacting the Chrysler Customer Assistance Center.

We appreciate the time and effort you have taken to express your concerns to us and we appreciate your feedback with regard to the Fox News program.

In response to your email, we would like to inform you that the advertising that appeared on Mr. Beck?s show was part of a media buy on national news programming that was purchased more than a week before it actually aired.

It is important to recognize there are multitudes of individuals that have different preferences in television programming. Like other companies and auto manufacturers, the brands of Chrysler Group advertise using a wide variety of programming as well as both print and web-based mediums. From trends in popular culture to feedback from both our customers and dealer network, we are constantly evaluating decisions and ideas as they may relate to where future advertising dollars will be committed. We take this approach to reach a diverse and broad audience with information about our products.

Considering these factors, we plan to continue our commitment to advertising on a diverse range of programming. We do this not with the intent to offend, but with an appreciation for diversity in consumer viewing preferences.

Chrysler Group has a long history of supporting America through the innovative products upon which so many people rely. Whether it's long-term product durability, design, utility, or the comfort, convenience and security that is synonymous with our minivans, we are proud of our heritage. As we look forward to the future, we know that

Americans will continue to look to us to provide them with both safe and reliable vehicles to meet their transportation needs.

Thanks again for your email. Your opinion is very important and your dissatisfaction has been noted.

I wrote back:
As a former media buyer, I appreciate the necessity of being politically neutral when purchasing time spots. My quarrel is not with Chrysler purchasing time on Fox; indeed, I simply requested that you redirect future TV advertising slated for Mr. Beck's program to other Fox News programming. Fox has no shortage of conservative commentators who have not called President Obama a racist while they criticize his policies.
I continue to believe characterization of the president as a racist is over the line and should not be supported by Chrysler, a company that has in the past demonstrated social responsibility in many ways. That being said, I renew my request for Chrysler to redirect future advertising dollars away from Mr. Beck to other Fox News programming at least until such time as Mr. Beck offers a sincere apology for his remarks.
Thanks for your consideration,
In fairness to Chrylser, I must add that they wrote the only remotely pertinent response to my request...

I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna cross that river, I'm gonna catch tomorrow now...