Friday, April 27, 2007

Personal, Not Business

Bill Moyer's broadcast "Buying The War" left me with a simple conclusion. In the lead-up to the Iraq War, journalists, like many Americans, were not able to separate their emotions about 9/11 from their duty to be impartial and skeptical.
Even now, when I see video of the World Trade Center falling down, I feel like I want to kill somebody. But then I take an important second step. I take a deep breath and think, "Okay, keep your head."

I know journalists are required to do this every day, but the emotions after 9/11 were running at such a fever pitch, that many of us did not keep out heads. Making things challenging for all of us, is the fact that the government's initial response was completely logical. The invasion of Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban, who had a clear connection to terrorists, made complete sense. It was required for the business of protecting America.

It was when the government decided to use America's feelings of patriotism and anger for personal reasons, that everything began to go wrong. The invasion of Iraq was on the personal agenda of people running our government. Our emotions (including journalists) were exploited for the wrong reason.

I can't help but think if Vito Corleone had been running the country at the time, he would have understood that the Taliban needed to be whacked, but invading Iraq would be a mistake. America may have been better off today, because, of course, protecting America from terrorists isn't personal - it's strictly business. And it will be for a long time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." - Robert Frost

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Watchdogs, Not Lap Dogs"

This article from the Courier-Journal about Blll Moyers' special on PBS tonight about the lead-up to the war. There's good reason to blame Bush, Cheney and company for all the lies they told to sell their war to the American public, but the media (liberal or not) was right there with them. Should make for good viewing tonight.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What Is Fair?

This timely essay from a reader:

In high-school I knew a teacher who was fond of asking her students “What is fair?” It was by repeatedly posing this question that she inadvertently taught me something of value. That is; when people refer to fairness or unfairness in life, what they are usually talking about is the justness or unjustness of life.

Last week I came home to find my wife and my mother-in-law watching television. The magnitude of the loss in Virginia was just coming to light and they were struck by the senselessness of this tragedy. Over thirty educated, ambitious and successful souls lay dead, their futures, their potentials obliterated in a spasm of senseless fury.

“It’s such a shame” my mother-in-law muttered. “Those people had so much to offer.” She stood to emphasize the gravity of her words. “Such bright young people...” She hitched up her waistband, conjuring a pearl. “I’ve always said life is unfair.” My mind’s eye flashed to Lynda seated at the right hand of God, a great ledger open in her lap. The dramas of men played out beneath her feet and she marked off each accordingly. Genocide; unfair. A good marriage; fair. Poor service from public utilities; unfair. Excellent attentiveness from a waiter or waitress; fair. “Timmy, what do you think of all this?” she asked me. It was clearly her opinion this was a good time to form a discussion group which she would lead.

I shook my head thoughtfully. “It’s a shame” I said and added somberly “I’d better water before dinner.”

Outside, shadow had just begun to fall across our garden. As the sun arcs across the sky, shade from our house gradually engulfs our little plot from the West to the East. This fact is evident in the height of the plants. Like a leafy sundial, sprouts nearest the sunnier eastern end are tallest with rows diminishing in height toward the shadier western edge. Sunflowers, scallions, watermelons and garlic are all prospering in direct relation to their time in the light.

I turned the hose on and thought about what had transpired on that campus in Virginia. It was a shameful thing indeed.

After watering, I examined my new plants. Most were robust, but there were a few which had already been devastated by insects or whatever other natives of our yard enjoy dining on fresh chlorophyll. The damage was spread across the breadth of the garden from the West to the East uniformly. Parasites are fair. Any of the plants could have been laid low. Mortality is no respecter of position.
My daughters, instinctively drawn toward an area where mud is being formed, joined me in the garden. They helped me water the onions. They watered their shoes and then the dog and then the windows. It is very nice that we live in a house with a yard. Many of the children who go to school and pre-school with Kelly and Lilah live in apartments. They sometimes come to our house for play dates and often times, do not wish to leave. They don’t tend to feel that it’s fair that Kelly has a nice dog and plenty of grass to roll around on and they do not.

As I toweled off my girls I wondered how many students were at that moment watching news of Virginia Tech from the safety of their “fallback school” and marveling at how fortunate they were to have received rejection letters (which presumably, they must have felt were very unfair at the time.) I wondered how many students with outstanding transcripts but modest means felt fortunate at that moment to have settled for a state school.

I wondered how many kids were just now marveling at the terrible familiarity of the nightmare in Virginia while they patrolled on foot or while they cleaned their weapons and I wondered if they bothered to consider the fairness or unfairness of it all.

Dusk fell over the garden as I was plucking the dead and dying from among the rows. I am aware that there are man-made solutions for the problems I face as a grower of food but I won’t utilize any of them. I’ve chosen to respond to fairness in the garden with the justice of producing small, highly perishable versions of the irradiated, mustard-gassed vegetables in the supermarket.

I stood looking at my work and thought I worried too much about fairness. I worry too much that bad things might happen to me, when it is an absolute certainty that they will.

What happened in Virginia last week was a tragedy because it was brutally fair. That the sons and daughters of privilege can be subject to the same perils faced by the sons and daughters of elsewhere may not be palatable but it is true.

Eventually, the events in Blacksburg will be eclipsed by events in another place and that horror will be replaced by anther and on and on. These acts do not mean that life has become any less fair. Their passage is simply a by-product of the passage of time. The only meaning to senseless acts will be the legacy of justice or injustice that men chose to leave in their wake.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Not For Huntin' Rabbit

Family fun time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Red Flags

Interesting post by Stephen King about attempting to predict "red flag" behavior from creative works.


This story by TJ the Agnostic about a religious retreat of a different kind:

“I want Buddha to baby-sit me.”

These words were spoken to me by my three-year-old daughter this weekend. While it is not uncommon for the more spiritual of our acquaintances to credit precocious little Lilah with an “old soul” I had no idea her true metaphysical age until that utterance. “Good God!” I thought to myself. “My kid is a re-incarnated baby-boomer!”

This discussion of Buddha had begun the night before at a riotously decorated Chinese restaurant in Spokane. I have two daughters and their table manners, to be frank, range from unruly to mutinous. This night Kelly, age six, was playing both chopsticks on the brass railing near our table as her little sister Lilah was preparing to attempt a double salto off the chair with chopsticks in her mouth. I noticed across the table a familiar twitch in my step-father’s temple. Clearly, a preemptive action would benefit all. I gathered the girls and whisked them away to join me in contemplation of the koi.

Next to the algae spangled tank sat a Buddha which was disturbingly correct anatomically, especially around the nipple area. “Why does he have boobies?” Lilah wondered. Since we don’t use the word “fat” in our house I was at a bit of a loss. “Well, he’s… that’s the way… Hey, rub his belly, Honey. It’s good luck.” This was more of a distraction than I’d bargained for.
“Why?” asked Lilah
“Buddha brings you good luck if you rub his belly.” I said.
“Why?” For a three-year-old it is really more of a mantra than a question.

Kelly’s interest was also piqued “Buddha brings you good luck?” She has recently been visited by the Tooth Fairy and is bright enough to now sense patterns of opportunity all around.
“Yep.” I assured. “Rub his belly and Buddha brings you good luck.”

Kelly gave Buddha’s distended gut a good massage. Lilah administered a couple of hearty slaps. “Why does Buddha bring you good luck?” she asked.

My familiarity with The Eight Fold Path begins and ends with what I remembered of Kung Fu and I did my best to sum up its profundities. “Because he likes to do nice things… for people who are nice.”

Kelly poked at the Buddha’s navel. “How does he give you the good luck?”
“Why?” asked her little sister.
Kelly, covering all bases, carefully patted the Buddha’s bald head. “Does he come in through the window?”

“Well, no…” I pictured this chubby, robed figure huffing and kicking, struggling to squeeze through the same narrow space that the lithe little Tooth Fairy had exploited. “He’s…” I couldn’t very well attribute any aspect of divinity to Buddha; my wife and I have already decided that we are going to give the girls Judaism as their religion to reject as they mature.

“He’s sort of like Santa Clause.” I said, establishing the Enlightened One in that grey area of pretend inhabited by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and all the other hob-goblins who belong to make-believe but are represented here in reality by benevolent - though often pungent - costumed helpers.
“Is Buddha going to give me a present for my birthday?” Kelly wiggled her loose tooth, imagining a parley of some kind I suppose.
“No, he just gives luck.”

Lilah spotted a second Buddha above the cash register. “Buddha!” she reached out and I lifted her to rub. “Why does he give us good luck, Daddy?”
“Because it makes him feel good” I said.
“Why?” asked Lilah
Kelly offered a hypothesis. “Because he likes it when you don’t say bad things like ‘stupid’ or ‘butt’ or ‘poop?’”

“Well, that is true,” I conceded “but Buddha is happiest when he’s doing something to help people. You know how you like to give birthday presents to your friends? How it makes you feel good? That’s what Buddha likes. It makes him feel good to make other people happy.”

“But,” I continued “trying to make yourself happy isn’t the point...” I realized I wasn’t explaining Buddha at all but was drifting into nonsense, native tongue of parenthood, dialect of befuddlement and exhaustion, which has enriched our language with terms like “simmer-down” and “sass-mouth.” What did Buddha do anyway?

Lilah rubbed my head. “Daddy, do you get good luck?”
“Let me try.” I closed my eyes tightly and rubbed Buddha. “There.”
“Daddy, is Buddha coming tonight?”
“He doesn’t work like that, Lilah.”
“Does he fly?” Kelly examined the seated Buddha for wings.
“He doesn’t need to…” I said, then noticed our waitress approaching
“Hey, here come the fortune cookies!” I sang.

A little good luck is great, but it’s nothing compared to the bliss found in cracking open a nice, sugary cookie with a teensy-weensy note tucked inside, making a pile of sticky crumbs and then rubbing it in your hair, dumping it into your mother’s purse or spitting it into your water and pouring it all over your clothes. I considered my little lesson on the attainment of nirvana forgotten.

The next morning we awoke to grey Washington skies and wind-whipped rain. It was not long before Kelly and Lilah were ricocheting around our hotel room in a blur of mussed hair and pink flannel. From the window I could just make out the top of the pavilion that houses a carousel across the Spokane River. My belief in the benefits of a vigorous life being firm and remembering fondly my own boyhood expeditions into the mists and mire of Northwest springs, I bundled the girls in as many layers as they would tolerate and we headed out into the elements to ride the horses.

Outside we found the rain had lessened, but my kids are Californians and no amount of enthusiasm or showmanship could beguile them from the dreadfulness of this climate. I swept my hand toward the jade-colored river frothing against black basalt. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked. They whimpered for their mother. I pointed out a lone rock marmot peeking out of his den at the drizzle. “How cute” I cooed. They recoiled as if it were a giant rat (which I suppose it is.) Our walk had been all of two blocks, but in the rain it might as well have been across the continent. By the time we reached the carousel Lilah was draped over my shoulders moaning into my hair and Kelly staggered by my side murmuring “I wanna go home, Daddy. Ieee waaaana goo hooooome.”

We found the carousel to be a beautifully restored 1909 model resplendent in brass and paint and baubles and vibrating to the cadence of an old-time march. Inside the pavilion the air was warm and dense with the scent of popcorn and cotton candy. A cacophony of squeals and organ music drown out the patter of rain and Lilah and Kelly began to quiet.

We sat and watched riders go bobbing past. They moved fast. The girls considered the horses’ speed, range of motion, angle of attack, and so forth. Riding them looked a bit dicey, but it also looked a bit like fun. We observed for a while longer considering the probably ages and skill levels of those who rode. It was also noted that these horses bore a striking resemblance to the ones ridden in Mary Poppins. Soon curiosity had the better of us and we bought tickets for a ride.

Lilah and I sat on one horse with Lilah in front. Kelly was old enough for her own horse, but did not immediately appear convinced as we shuddered into motion. Our mounts accelerated I could feel Lilah’s grip tighten. Glancing at Kelly I saw her expression had changed from one of concern to one of grim concentration. The carousel turned and our horses flew but we somehow managed an entire revolution without being thrown. We completed another and then another with no serious incident. Lilah pushed my arms away. “I can do it, Daddy” she said. “Okay” I said “but you hold on tight.” I looked over my shoulder. Kelly’s puckered lips had been replaced by her magnificent gap-toothed grin.

We rode around and around. We bought tickets for another ride. I managed to pluck a few plastic rings from the chute to the amazement of my daughters. I explained that when I was a little boy these rings were made of brass.
“Why aren’t they brass now?” Kelly asked.
“Because plastic is cheaper” I thought. Then I thought maybe it had something to do with insurance. “Because these are prettier” I said.

Our last ride was just winding down when Lilah leaned over in her saddle. Our horse’s saddle straps were decorated with little cherubs. She was rubbing their plump bellies.
“What are you doing, Lilah?” I asked.
“I want Buddha to baby-sit me” she said.

For a moment I considered this idea – Buddha as babysitter. How cool would that be? The logic of a three-year-old had condensed millennia of human yearning into six words.
“He doesn’t do that, Honey.” I said lifting her off.
“I want Buddha to baby-sit me.” She said.
"Lilah,” Kelly laughed “Buddha can’t baby sit you because he’s pretend.” The logic of a six-year-old had condensed millennia of humanity’s sneaking suspicion into a single sentence.
“I want him to give me good luck” said Lilah.
“You make your own good luck.” I told her.
“How?” she wondered.

I looked through the windows at the gunmetal sky. The rain had started to pick up again and the light was fading. I took my daughters by the hand. “By going out in the rain” I said and we burst through the doors out into the wet bluster and toward home.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sanjaya Moves On

In the whirlwind of popular culture stirred by current media mania, American Idol singer, Sanjaya, may have garnered more attention from the hoi-polloi than news coming out of Iraq on some days. It is often baffling that so many Americans pay less mind to a war we're in, and more to the everyday patter of gossip, celebrity hounding, and fashion tips that don't require too much emotional investment. Is this a sign of the times? Maybe. Is it something about American culture? Perhaps.

But I can't help but think that in September of 1941 while Nazis started requiring Jews to wear yellow stars and the first gas chambers were tested at Auschwitz, many American citizens found it easier to bury their noses in a Photoplay article about Abbott and Costello.

It seems a timeless fact that it is easier to immerse yourself in anything that doesn't require a moral response. There are certain events we cannot bear witness to without holding an intellectual stake in - facts you can't stay on the fence about or simply change a channel on. There is much going on in the world that is easier to avoid for now, but, sooner or later, we'll all have to face.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hobby Shop Artist

There's something kinda beautiful about this video.

Oil And Water

America's dependence on foreign oil creates an entire range of problems for us, but another substance is looming as troublesome for the future. This piece from Live Science.

A Killer Mind

These short plays by Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung Hui from a playwriting class reveal some obvious problems he was having.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In-Flight Honesty

This note passed to a pilot by an 8-year old girl.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

France's Problem With The U.S.

This interesting piece from the BBC about a study that correspondent Justin Webb did about anti-Americanism around the world. According to this article, the French had a problem with the New World before The United States even existed. Call it "prenatal hatred."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mumbai Photographer

Here's a site of photographs taken by Azhar Chougle, a 16 year old from Mumbai, India.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Practical Stuff

This site's description on the sidebar at right includes the term "practical stuff". This falls under that category.


UK website of photographs taken at abandoned wartime airfields: Fields of Valour

Lots For Sale

Talk about urban sprawl. Have a look at this.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Scooter And The Fisherman

Two candidates on President Bush's pardon list. Interesting piece from Reason Magazine on who's in the running to go free. Article here.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

More TGV

The happy French watch their wickedly fast train. Great video.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Here is excellent NASA website of images from the agency's history.

No Easy Way To The Manger

From the Harper's Index:

Minimum number of checkpoints Mary and Joseph would face today on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: 10


Keith says didn't snort Daddy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Keth Richards snorted his Dad. Would've smoked Elvis if he had the chance.

The War Inside Our Heads


"If you often feel as though two parts of your brain are fighting it out, that's because, in fact, they are."

Full piece here.


A new incarnation of the French high speed train breaks record and moves faster than a WWII Spitfire. BBC story here.


"Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on 'I am not too sure.'" - H.L.Mencken

Monday, April 2, 2007

Clown News

As if it isn't tough enough being a New York Knicks fan this year, this poor Good Samaritan will have to endure one of their games as a reward for returning a clown's mini-bike.
Read the full story here.