Saturday, September 12, 2009

Poor Fernando

I'm not going to blog my way through the U.S. Open the way I tend to with other tourneys.

I'm not.

I'm really not.

It's just that no one in Marlinspike Hall (not even the Feline Four), deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé, will watch tennis with me. College basketball?* You bet. Tennis? No one. That leaves me with but two choices: rapidfire email exchanges with Grader Boob, my darling brother-unit or blogging away my anxious excitement and forcing strangers to live my vicarious angst.

[Truth? Since I lost my mobility, I am often overcome with my many fond memories of spending entire days on the tennis court, and I tend to fall into a big puddle of self-absorbed regret. And don't talk to me about wheelchair tennis. Just don't.]

But I just gotta say: Imagine the difficulty of having to begin play, after two days off, with the score 6-7, 6-6, and in the middle of a tie-breaker! Now imagine you're playing Rafa.


I really feel for Fernando Gonzalez -- but I do wish folks wouldn't smash their racquets. And he does it entirely too often. [When did I grow old?]

Okay, one last thing. I hope it isn't the kiss of death, as my rooting tends to jinx the objects of my interest. Don't assign me some anti-American sentiment, but I do hope Kim Clijsters beats Serena.

Okay... bye now!
f'blasticball! f'blasticball! allez, dooook-uh! allez, dooook-uh! [shuffle shuffle]
f'blasticball! f'blasticball! allez, dooook-uh! allez, dooook-uh! [shuffle shuffle]

Friday, September 11, 2009

You can get anything you want... Excepting Alice

I was just visiting over at SecretWave101's place, where he had an amazing tale to tell: Never Offer to Cut Off Your Own Leg.

As usual, I began to daydream -- due to the intersection of the stomach flu and the various reverberations that originally verberated on 9/11 -- and Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant came to mind.

And then I got worried.

Worried that the Yutes of Today might never have had the pleasure of hearing that story. I've always thought it one of the preeminent bedtime stories. And so, Yutes of Today, and Moms and Dads everywhere, here you go:

Alice's Restaurant
By Arlo Guthrie

This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the
restaurant, but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant,
that's just the name of the song, and that's why I called the song Alice's

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant

Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the
church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog. And livin' in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin' all that room,
seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't
have to take out their garbage for a long time.

We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be
a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So
we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW
microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed
on toward the city dump.

Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the
dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump
closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off
into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.

We didn't find one. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the
side road there was another fifteen foot cliff and at the bottom of the
cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile
is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we
decided to throw our's down.

That's what we did, and drove back to the church, had a thanksgiving
dinner that couldn't be beat, went to sleep and didn't get up until the
next morning, when we got a phone call from officer Obie. He said, "Kid,
we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of
garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it." And
I said, "Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope
under that garbage."

After speaking to Obie for about fourty-five minutes on the telephone we
finally arrived at the truth of the matter and said that we had to go down
and pick up the garbage, and also had to go down and speak to him at the
police officer's station. So we got in the red VW microbus with the
shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the
police officer's station.

Now friends, there was only one or two things that Obie coulda done at
the police station, and the first was he could have given us a medal for
being so brave and honest on the telephone, which wasn't very likely, and
we didn't expect it, and the other thing was he could have bawled us out
and told us never to be see driving garbage around the vicinity again,
which is what we expected, but when we got to the police officer's station
there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon, and we was
both immediately arrested. Handcuffed. And I said "Obie, I don't think I
can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on." He said, "Shut up, kid.
Get in the back of the patrol car."

And that's what we did, sat in the back of the patrol car and drove to the
quote Scene of the Crime unquote. I want tell you about the town of
Stockbridge, Massachusets, where this happened here, they got three stop
signs, two police officers, and one police car, but when we got to the
Scene of the Crime there was five police officers and three police cars,
being the biggest crime of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to
get in the newspaper story about it. And they was using up all kinds of
cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station.
They was taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints, and
they took twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles
and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each
one was to be used as evidence against us. Took pictures of the approach,
the getaway, the northwest corner the southwest corner and that's not to
mention the aerial photography.

After the ordeal, we went back to the jail. Obie said he was going to put
us in the cell. Said, "Kid, I'm going to put you in the cell, I want your
wallet and your belt." And I said, "Obie, I can understand you wanting my
wallet so I don't have any money to spend in the cell, but what do you
want my belt for?" And he said, "Kid, we don't want any hangings." I
said, "Obie, did you think I was going to hang myself for littering?"
Obie said he was making sure, and friends Obie was, cause he took out the
toilet seat so I couldn't hit myself over the head and drown, and he took
out the toilet paper so I couldn't bend the bars roll out the - roll the
toilet paper out the window, slide down the roll and have an escape. Obie
was making sure, and it was about four or five hours later that Alice
(remember Alice? It's a song about Alice), Alice came by and with a few
nasty words to Obie on the side, bailed us out of jail, and we went back
to the church, had a another thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat,
and didn't get up until the next morning, when we all had to go to court.

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty seven eight-by-ten
colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back
of each one, sat down. Man came in said, "All rise." We all stood up,
and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy
pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he
sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the
twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows
and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog.
And then at twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles
and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry,
'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American
blind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and the
judge wasn't going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy
pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each
one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And
we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not
what I came to tell you about.

Came to talk about the draft.

They got a building down New York City, it's called Whitehall Street,
where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected,
neglected and selected. I went down to get my physical examination one
day, and I walked in, I sat down, got good and drunk the night before, so
I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning. `Cause I wanted to
look like the all-American kid from New York City, man I wanted, I wanted
to feel like the all-, I wanted to be the all American kid from New York,
and I walked in, sat down, I was hung down, brung down, hung up, and all
kinds o' mean nasty ugly things. And I waked in and sat down and they gave
me a piece of paper, said, "Kid, see the phsychiatrist, room 604."

And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I
wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and
guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill,
KILL, KILL." And I started jumpin up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL," and
he started jumpin up and down with me and we was both jumping up and down
yelling, "KILL, KILL." And the sargent came over, pinned a medal on me,
sent me down the hall, said, "You're our boy."

Didn't feel too good about it.

Proceeded on down the hall gettin more injections, inspections,
detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they was doin' to me
at the thing there, and I was there for two hours, three hours, four
hours, I was there for a long time going through all kinds of mean nasty
ugly things and I was just having a tough time there, and they was
inspecting, injecting every single part of me, and they was leaving no
part untouched. Proceeded through, and when I finally came to the see the
last man, I walked in, walked in sat down after a whole big thing there,
and I walked up and said, "What do you want?" He said, "Kid, we only got
one question. Have you ever been arrested?"

And I proceeded to tell him the story of the Alice's Restaurant Massacre,
with full orchestration and five part harmony and stuff like that and all
the phenome... - and he stopped me right there and said, "Kid, did you ever
go to court?"

And I proceeded to tell him the story of the twenty seven eight-by-ten
colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and the paragraph on
the back of each one, and he stopped me right there and said, "Kid, I want
you to go and sit down on that bench that says Group W .... NOW kid!!"

And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W's
where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after
committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly
looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father
rapers! Father rapers sitting right there on the bench next to me! And
they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys sitting on the
bench next to me. And the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest
father raper of them all, was coming over to me and he was mean 'n' ugly
'n' nasty 'n' horrible and all kind of things and he sat down next to me
and said, "Kid, whad'ya get?" I said, "I didn't get nothing, I had to pay
$50 and pick up the garbage." He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?"
And I said, "Littering." And they all moved away from me on the bench
there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean nasty things, till I
said, "And creating a nuisance." And they all came back, shook my hand,
and we had a great time on the bench, talkin about crime, mother stabbing,
father raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on the
bench. And everything was fine, we was smoking cigarettes and all kinds of
things, until the Sargeant came over, had some paper in his hand, held it
up and said.

"Kids, this-piece-of-paper's-got-47-words-37-sentences-58-words-we-wanna-
officer's-name-and-any-other-kind-of-thing-you-gotta-say", and talked for
forty-five minutes and nobody understood a word that he said, but we had
fun filling out the forms and playing with the pencils on the bench there,
and I filled out the massacre with the four part harmony, and wrote it
down there, just like it was, and everything was fine and I put down the
pencil, and I turned over the piece of paper, and there, there on the
other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on
the other side, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, read the
following words:


I went over to the sargent, said, "Sargeant, you got a lot a damn gall to
ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm
sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench
'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women,
kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." He looked at me and
said, "Kid, we don't like your kind, and we're gonna send you fingerprints
off to Washington."

And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a
study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I'm
singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar
situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a
situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into
the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say "Shrink, You can get
anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.". And walk out. You know, if
one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and
they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and
walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

And that's what it is , the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and
all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come's around on the

With feeling. So we'll wait for it to come around on the guitar, here and
sing it when it does. Here it comes.

You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant

That was horrible. If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud.
I've been singing this song now for twenty five minutes. I could sing it
for another twenty five minutes. I'm not proud... or tired.

So we'll wait till it comes around again, and this time with four part
harmony and feeling.

We're just waitin' for it to come around is what we're doing.

All right now.

You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
Excepting Alice
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant

Da da da da da da da dum
At Alice's Restaurant

Nobody cared when McCain yelled, "Bingo!"

The Requisite Post

September 11, 2001: I was in the hospital, having just had hip replacement surgery. I weasled my way into getting discharged, and went home via ambulance. Never will I forget the sky, the blue, blue sky (in the general area of Marlinspike Hall, deep, deep in Tête de Hergé), that was perfectly framed by the back window of the ambulance. It took several minutes to realize what was so strange. Despite being within miles of one of the world's busiest airports, there was not a plane in the sky. No vapor trails. Nothing.

It seemed that even the birds had stopped flying.

I have the same feeling of emptiness today --

Along with a well-developed sense of anger and outrage (the two being significantly different), tempered by a life spent travelling the world, including the Islamic one, and participating in the belief that a liberal general education based on western ideologies was a superior education.

In other words, this day finds me feeling like a pressure cooker, and the repressed energy pounds inside my head, an inchoate staccato.

That is, I have a predictable headache.

I've read the 9/11 Commission's report, two biographies of Bin Laden, scads of thought-pieces and well-informed analysis. What still comes to me first, though, is a piece written by an old friend, which I am reposting below. Written as part of a campus dialogue following the attacks on September 11, 2001, and published as a conversation within the "Faculty Forum," its author is a stellar philosopher and even finer human being. Matthew was once a great friend; He probably still is -- he's steady that way -- but I don't circulate in that world any longer, and we don't get to Maine very often (where he currently edifies the yutes of America).

Marlinspike Hall can be quite insular, and La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore doesn't always travel well.

Anyway, I suspect that he is pretty busy with hearth and home, and probably is hanging out with some wild lefties -- like Margaret Schmechtman, of Margaret and Helen fame -- she lives up there, too -- fomenting dissent.

The Search for Just Arab Grievances Does Not Mean Moral Relativism
By Matthew Freytag - Mellon Lecturing Fellow

Five days after the crashes I found myself talking to 12 Quaker kids: solid citizens all, more hard-working, serious, and responsible than 13-to-16-year-olds ought to be. But pacifists, mostly, and to a person they were worried, even scared. Bush had not yet delivered his "either with us or against us" speech, I think, but the message was abroad: school friends and others had given the teens to understand pretty clearly that criticism of the U.S. amounted to support for the terrorists. To their credit, few of the teens actually had kept silent, but they were closer to being intimidated than I would have imagined this formidable group of kids could be. Having aligned themselves with evil in their school's eyes, they felt that they could not speak safely.

But something odd is going on when national political leaders and people on the street respond to the September 11 attacks by repeating "They're wrong and we're right," and "This is no time for moral relativism - they are evil and we represent good." Did FDR, for example, need to point out that in opposing the Pearl Harbor attack we were right? Did Lincoln need to spell out his opposition to moral relativism? If not why are Bush, Giuliani et al. making such points so determinedly now? Is some broad U.S. public constituency arguing that the terrorists were right, or morally good? I've kept my ears open, and I have not heard one participant in the U.S. debate make that claim - not one. So who are the we're-right-they're-wrong-ers talking to? Well, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they're addressing folks who make the following sort of argument: "We have to ask why the terrorists did this. And when we ask that question we come up with a list of U.S. policies, from the deadly embargo on shipments to Iraq to our alliance with an Israeli state that has kept Palestinians homeless. Whatever response we make to the terrorist attacks should include a revision of those policies."

Why on earth does this look like the claim that the terrorists were right? Well, because it looks like the claim that we're wrong, about something. Apparently the inference is this: "If our policies were wrong, then the terrorists were right, and their acts were justified." Note the ironic convergence: none of the critics of U.S. policy make this inference, only (1) the new patriotic absolutists and (2) the terrorists themselves.

Why does the critic of U.S. policy look like a moral relativist? That's harder to explain, but I think the reasoning must be roughly this: "Some critics are trying to get us to understand the terrorists, to see things from their point of view. But to do this would be to acknowledge that they're right from their point of view, just as we are from ours." Note that this doesn't in fact amount to moral relativism: you can maintain that someone's right in their own eyes without granting that they actually are right about anything whatsoever - certainly without granting that they're right to crash airplanes full of helpless people into occupied buildings. But to acknowledge that the terrorists and their sympathizers were right from their own point of view might suggest that we should try to make sense of and imaginatively occupy it. And that would suggest in turn that we should forego the pleasure of crying "evil" and shooting, and instead persist in conversation - if not with al-Qaida, then with their broad base. We should listen and talk: find out their concerns, consider which seem reasonable, accommodate those, and with respect to the rest: persist in conversation, with those who will converse. Use force to protect ourselves, but never to avoid this sort of conversation - not with foreign critics and certainly not with domestic.

But I do want to close with my own attempt at flag- and fist-waving moral declamation, on a different issue. I am fed up with lamentations that the violence threatens America's spirit. The U.S. is a nation of risk-takers and free thinkers. The late sodden, burping suburban comfort never represented America, not the America I came to love as a patriotic elementary schooler. If the attacks reawaken us to the bracing fragility of our endeavors, they will have "awakened the spirit of America" in a way those recommending patriotic credit card spending do not imagine.

Matthew Freytag, Charter Member of The He's-A-Very-Good-Boy Club

Helen puts her foot up Joe Wilson's enormous ass

Take it away, Helen Philpot!

I started (and stopped) two different posts on the subject of Congressman Joe Wilson. Somehow, I knew that either Helen or Margaret would take care of business in a way of which I approved.

To wit:

Margaret, I guess if you get enough morons congregating in one particular geographical area, eventually they will vote a fellow moron to represent them in Congress. Kind of like sleeping with your cousin – eventually your offspring are not going to be right in the head. But the idiot parade coming out of South Carolina seems to be getting longer and longer these days.

From where I sit Republican Congressman Joe Wilson’s heckling of the President puts him pretty far down on the moron food chain in South Carolina - well below Miss Teen Lauren Caitlin Upton, but only slightly above Governor Mark Sanford. Which isn’t saying much considering all of them are behind the Osprey, northern pike, perch, bleak, shrimp and plankton. For those of you in South Carolina that is just a fancy way of saying they aren’t worth a pile of shit in my book – except for that little Lauren Caitlin Upton. She couldn’t help herself the poor dear. Everyone knows you can’t be a carnivore and still fit in your pageant dress.

Folks, let me tell you something about healthcare and health insurance. There are a couple of ways to make a buck in the game. One way is to systematically deny coverage to anyone with a propensity to get sick as evidenced by past occurrences. The other way is to spread the risk over the largest population possible effectively minimizing the impact of the most risky. But there is one way for sure to lose a buck – keep increasing the number of people who can’t pay their bill. It’s really quite simple. A public option means insurance companies will report
profits using language like “impressive” and “satisfactory” rather than
“awesome” and ”a buttload of moolah!”

When exactly did we become so enamoured with health insurance companies that we are now so adamantly fighting for their rights to make a buck off our misfortunes? None of this makes any sense to me. The President wants to make a speech encouraging our children to stay in school and study hard and we compare that to Nazi Germany. Doctors talking to patients about feeding tubes and life support machines has become some secret plot to kill Grandma. Making sure a woman can get treatment for her breast cancer is unreasonable. I don’t know Margaret. What’s next? Governor Perry and Governor Sanford fight to see which state secedes from the Union first- Texas or South Carolina? If only…

Someone needs to remind Representative Wilson that he and his family currently have a public option for their health insurance. And while you’re reminding him of that, be sure he understands that the next time his doctor has a finger up his butt all of us taxpayers footed the bill. Come to think of it, maybe instead of paying the bill we can skip the finger and just introduce his ass to my foot. I mean it. Really.

PS. Did anyone else notice the look Nancy Pelosi gave to Joe Wilson when
he acted out? Now there is a lady I would enjoy having over for coffee and pie.

Now, I do have to say that I like South Carolina. South Carolinians can boast of Charleston, The Citadel, Clemson, Myrtle Beach, Converse College, Furman, Newberry, and... Bob Jones University. Ummm. Yes, well. It is not fair to visit condemnation on the whole state for the idiocies of its parts.

Eerie: Fred just emailed me -- and, like Leroy Jethro Gibbs, I don't believe in coincidences -- an article about Congressman Wilson.

Wilson raises more than $200,000 after outburst
Published: 9/11/09, 3:00 PM EDT
By Peter Hamby and Alexander Mooney CNN

(CNN) - Less than a day after Rep. Joe Wilson formally apologized to President Obama over his "you lie" outburst, a campaign aide confirms that the South Carolina Republican has raised "more than $200,000" in the wake of the now-infamous moment. News of that cash haul comes after Wilson directly asked in a Web video for campaign cash to fend off attacks from political opponents and said he's standing by his opposition to Democratic efforts at health care reform.

"On these issues, I will not be muzzled, I will speak up and speak loudly against this risky plan," Wilson said in a YouTube video released Thursday evening. "The supporters of the government takeover of health care and the liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan."

The congressman disbursed the video via Twitter and asked his followers to "please watch and pass on."

"[Democrats] want to silence anyone who speaks out against it," Wilson also says in the video. "They made it clear they want to defeat me and pass the plan. I need your help now. ... Contribute to my effort to defeat the proponents of government-run health care."

Wilson also sent a fundraising appeal via e-mail, saying he is confident that "my voice is serving as the voice for Americans across the country who are tired of irresponsible government programs that have only worsened our situation."

The appeal for cash came as Wilson's Democratic opponent in next year's congressional race, Rob Miller, reported raking in $750,000 as a result of the outburst during President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

Miller ran against Wilson last year, losing by 8 percentage points. It was Wilson's smallest margin of victory in his five elections for Congress.

In an e-mail to supporters Thursday night, Miller said he is aiming to top over $1 million in the next 24 hours, a total that dwarfs the $67,000 he has took in during the entire first half of the year.

Now, maybe I am a tad bit too skeptical... but I get this sneaky feeling that Joe Wilson was being less than honest when he *apologized* for his [unplanned, unorchestrated, apolitical] outburst the other night.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama's Speech on Health Care

Golden Retriever Puppy With Kittens

A most excellent pooch:

Nebulas and Galaxies

We've been Hubble telescope fans for the entire 19 years of its existence. In May, it was spruced up with a new spectrograph and camera, and other scientific goodies.

My ego got a boost when the 117 screws for the spectrograph -- which had not been functional for years -- became a point of contention for astronauts -- and when they couldn't remove one of the larger bolts keeping the old hand rail in place. If only we could have seen Michael Massimino puzzling over some poorly translated and incomplete instructions! As it was, the spacewalkers ended up doing what we all do, and the stripped-out bolt was removed with brute force -- never mind the very costly and task-specific tool that they'd brought along. Further hilarity ensued when another of their very costly and task-specific tools had its battery die, also a dilemma well known by Earthlings attempting home improvements some beautiful Saturday morning, after mowing the lawn...

Anyway, the spectrograph, whose primary mission is the discovery of black holes, "acts like a prism to separate [ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared] light from the cosmos into its component colors. This provides a wavelength 'fingerprint' of the object being observed, which tells us about its temperature, chemical composition, density and motion. Spectrographic observations also reveal changes in celestial objects as the universe evolves."

Ten new deep space shots that were revealed yesterday testify to the success of May's mission. The revived spectrograph and new camera more than paid for themselves and their difficult resuscitation with images of a butterfly nebula (upper left) and an infant galaxy (bottom right), called a "pillar of creation" by NASA scientists.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I'm in LOTR mode, somehow, hence the title. This is what the good hobbits of Buckland cried out in times of danger, "Raising the Shire." It seemed both appropriate (and analogous) to what ought to be happening for Kenya.

Awake! Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake!

I have attained an age (and sensibility) where I can no longer read this stuff and move on.
So I will bring my unassuaged feelings of guilt *here* and dump it on... you.

How do you handle it? Write a check? Become a walking font of information?
Perhaps you pass it on -- in your own way, in your own media?

PHOTO credit: Jehad Nga for The New York Times
An elderly woman is given water in the Turkana region of Kenya. Many of the elderly are too weak and sick to feed themselves or drink. More photos online...

Lush Land Dries Up, Withering Kenya’s Hopes

Published: September 7, 2009

New York Times

LOKORI, Kenya — The sun somehow feels closer here, more intense, more personal. As Philip Lolua waits under a tree for a scoop of food, heat waves dance up from the desert floor, blurring the dead animal carcasses sprawled in front of him.

So much of his green pasture land has turned to dust. His once mighty herd of goats, sheep and camels have died of thirst. He says his 3-year-old son recently died of hunger. And Mr. Lolua does not look to be far from death himself.

“If nobody comes to help us, I will die here, right here,” he said, emphatically patting the earth with a cracked, ancient-looking hand.

A devastating drought is sweeping across Kenya, killing livestock, crops and children. It is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.

The twin hearts of Kenya’s economy, agriculture and tourism, are especially imperiled. The fabled game animals that safari-goers fly thousands of miles to see are keeling over from hunger and the picturesque savanna is now littered with an unusually large number of sun-bleached bones.

Ethiopia. Sudan. Somalia. Maybe even Niger and Chad. These countries have become almost synonymous with drought and famine. But Kenya? This nation is one of the most developed in Africa, home to a typically robust economy, countless United Nations offices and thousands of aid workers.

The aid community here has been predicting a disaster for months, saying that the rains had failed once again and that this could be the worst drought in more than a decade. But the Kenyan government, paralyzed by infighting and political maneuvering, seemed to shrug off the warnings.

Some government officials have even been implicated in a scandal to illegally sell off thousands of tons of the nation’s grain reserves as a famine was looming.

So far, a huge, international aid operation to avert mass hunger has not kicked in, or at least not to the degree needed. The United Nations World Food Program recently said that nearly four million Kenyans — about a tenth of the population — urgently needed food. [cont.]

Monday, September 7, 2009

"What Torture Never Told Us"

Published: September 5, 2009

PUBLIC bravado aside, the defenders of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are fast running out of classified documents to hide behind. The three that were released recently by the C.I.A. — the 2004 report by the inspector general and two memos from 2004 and 2005 on intelligence gained from detainees — fail to show that the techniques stopped even a single imminent threat of terrorism.

The inspector general’s report distinguishes between intelligence gained from regular interrogation and from the harsher methods, which culminate in waterboarding. While the former produces useful intelligence, according to the report, the latter “is a more subjective process and not without concern.” And the information in the two memos reinforces this differentiation.

They show that substantial intelligence was gained from pocket litter (materials found on detainees when they were captured), from playing detainees against one another and from detainees freely giving up information that they assumed their questioners already knew. A computer seized in March 2003 from a Qaeda operative for example, listed names of Qaeda members and money they were to receive.

Soon after Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in 2003, according to the 2005 memo, he “elaborated on his plan to crash commercial airlines into Heathrow Airport.” The memo speculates that he may have assumed that Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a fellow member of Al Qaeda who had been captured in 2002, had already divulged the plan. The same motivation — the assumption that another detainee had already talked — is offered to explain why Mr. Mohammed provided details about the Hambali-Southeast Asia Qaeda network.

Mr. Mohammed must have likewise assumed that his interrogators already had the details about Al Qaeda’s organizational structure that he gave them. When I testified in the trial of Salim Hamdan, who had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver, I provided many unclassified details about Al Qaeda’s structure and operations, none of which came from Mr. Mohammed.

Some of the information that is cited in the memos — the revelation that Mr. Mohammed had been the mastermind of 9/11, for example, and the uncovering of Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber — was gained from another terrorism suspect, Abu Zubaydah, by “informed interrogation,” conducted by an F.B.I. colleague and me. The arrest of Walid bin Attash, one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted messengers, which was also cited in the 2005 C.I.A. memo, was thanks to a quick-witted foreign law enforcement officer, and had nothing to do with harsh interrogation of anyone. The examples go on and on. [....]

The author of this NYT op-ed piece served as an F.B.I. special agent from 1997 to 2005.

U.S. Open 2009

I'm sure you've been wondering about my relative silence on the premier annual tennis event on U.S. of American soil. Well, wonder no longer (and blame it on a nasty gastrointestinal virus).

There is much to be excited about in the women's draw, what with the return of Kim Clijsters and the excellent play of young Melanie Oudin. Venus is out, but Serena remains. I am not a fan of the sisters -- though I prefer Venus to Serena, if forced to opine. The crowds are going wild for Clijsters -- I think because she is as close to an Honest Player as it gets. What's an Honest Player? An unspoiled person who is gifted -- and who honors the gift with hard work.

Does that make any sense at all?

John Isner managed to piss me off by eliminating Andy Roddick. Were he talented enough to win the tourney, I'd not mind, but he isn't. Yes, I suppose I ought to be more properly upset with Roddick... but I'm not.

But the most exciting thing in the entire tourney thus far?

It seems likely that Rafael Nadal will be wearing (relatively) normal clothes when he faces, and beats, Federer in the final.

No more silly vanity muscle shirts or tweedy capris that make him look all stumpy-legged.

Not that I've given the matter any thought.