After the Storm

Cimg2376_1Had a pretty good storm in Berkeley last night. Didn’t last all that long, but at one point, maybe 2:30 in the morning or so, the rain was pounding down hard enough that it woke me up (I found a couple local weather stations that recorded rain comiing down briefly at the rate of 4 inches an hour). Today was clear except for towering cumulus off in the distance. This big bank of clouds rose up to the east, beyond the hills, late in the afternoon. I just missed the most dramatic moment, but here’s how it looked from the corner just up the street from us.

And Now, a Word from God

The New York Times published a special election section today. It’s 10 pages, with two ads. On the back page, there’s what looks like an interesting though endless essay from a number of Korean-American groups. The ad starts by describing Korea’s history since World War II, but it’s really a plea for a peaceful solution to the tensions with North Korea, and, at the very end, criticizes a new law (passed last month, signed by Bush earlier this month) called the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. The law is an attempt to tie U.S. humanitarian assistance to North Korea to improvements in human rights there; it also provides money for refugee and humanitarian aid, tries to force China to play ball with the U.N. in dealing with North Korean refugees who show up there, and makes it easier for North Korean refugees and defectors to relocate to the United States. Among other things. Kim Jong-Il doesn’t like the law. Also, South Korea apparently lobbied against it because of concerns that encouraging people to leave the North will flood the South with refugees.

But that’s not the ad I wanted to talk about. On page 3 of the special section, there’s a full page of text titled, “Revelation from God/War or Peace?” The ad features God speaking in the first person to Doris Orme of Bonita Springs, Florida (medium for “God Tells New Things to Doris“). God has some hopeful things to say. For instance, He’s getting ready to take some serious action to make the world a better place:

“Do you think that for one moment that I cannot fulfill My mandate to bring you into perfection and into My Image and Likeness and become One with Me? This is the hour when that will be fulfilled, on the foundation of all those who have given unselfishly to bring this hour which is now here with you. … The hour will come very shortly when you will see My hand move. It will be like a mighty thunder … and will be like a thief in the night, but a good thief, ready to fill your heart with joy!”

Maybe most interesting is that God is not a Bush Supporter, and that God holds a Holy Grudge over the Hanging Chads of 2000, and that God has His Holy Dander up over the war in Iraq. As God told Doris on July 24, 2003:

“I asked you to listen to My words very seriously after Mr. Bush became in a leading position here in America. I hesitate to even say he became President, because in My eyes he has never been the President of the United States. He has been a thief. I told you this before — you have a thief in the White House — Barabbas the murderer, and blood would flow in America and around the world, because of this deed. You know, as well as I know, that the election was not an election that was honest. There were many things that went wrong, deliberately went wrong, because people interfered with the rules, in Florida and caused the election to go the way it went.

“… And I told you again that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Those who lived in Baghdad had no where to hide, no where to go. I wonder if, the people who decided that, would like to experience that in this nation of America. I am sure they would not. ”

Well, you get the idea. God also discloses that our founding fathers are discussing the situation with Him in the spirit world, that the Bush administration “is leading America down into the pit,” and that salvation for Bush. Tony Blair, and the rest of us lies only in coming clean about our Iraq lies. It’s unhinged and humorous in a way. But also heartrending. And it goes on and on and on.

What’s On Now

The other morning, we were talking about the election, and our son Tom brought up the testimony of Richard Clarke, the former anti-terrorism czar (why not tsar, by the way?), before the 9/11 Commission. Specifically, he mentioned how Clarke had testified that during the Clinton administration, he had a direct line to the national security advisor (Sandy Berger) and other senior officials; under Bush, he said, his communications were put in a channel through subordinates that often meant it took months for him to get a meeting with the national security chief (Condoleeza Rice) on urgent matters. So, of course I like the fact Tom, who’s a senior in high school and getting more and more engaged with the world, has the specifics of Clare’s testimony at hand. It’s interesting where he got it. The 9/11 Commission hearings are offered free on Apple’s iTunes; Tom downloaded the Clarke testimony because he likes to listen to “spoken-word stuff” when he goes to bed. Interesting. When we were kids, we listened to stuff on records and the radio when we went to bed, too; but not so much “spoken-word stuff,” and not anything like the 9/11 Commission hearings (I guess the equivalent for us would have been a recording of Daniel Ellsberg reading The Pentagon Papers.

(And while I’m talking about iTunes, just let me comment on one of their TV ads. Bono, from U2, is on screen, and he counts off the start of a song in Spanish. “Uno, dos, tres, catorce.” Yeah, that’s “one, two, three, fourteen.” Nice. Listeners have picked up on this and are discussing what it means online. One forum I found includes theories that this is a reference to a character on the old ABC series “Three’s Company”; another is that this refers to passages in the New Testament. )

Local Politics

Cimg2362Tonight, a lot of the people in the neighborhood got together for what has become a pre-election ritual: We met at Jill and Piero Martinucci’s house, across the street from us, to go through the local and state ballots and talk about the issues.

Kate and I were discussing when this tradition started; we moved into the neighborhood in 1988; I remember for sure meeting in 1992 — one of the notable events of the evening was that Jill’s brother Cliff, a Republican, declared he’d be voting for Clinton — and I don’t believe that was the first time we went over the ballot together. I believe that the meeting has been held at the Martinuccis every election but one, when we had people over to our house; we generally gather the Sunday immediately preceding the vote; we met a week earlier this year because Halloween is next Sunday. By this time, our neighborhood confabulation has come to have sort of a ritual aspect to it: Jill and Piero get pizzas and make salad, we and a couple other neighbors bring extra chairs, there’s plenty of wine, beer and soft drinks to get us through a three-hour or so discussion, and everybody chips in for the food.

The ballot this year is very long. We have 12 city issues (mostly tax measures to fund services hurting because of the state’s fiscal crisis; but there’s one, Measure Q, that would direct the police to ease enforcement of anti-prostitution laws; that one got a big “no” from our crowd tonight), three county measures, and another 16 statewide propositions (everything from how the budget should be structured to approving a new stem-cell research establishment in the state). Then you’ve got your candidates — no City Council elections in our district this year, but we have to pick a couple of school board candidates, members of the rent stabilization board, and board members for the local transit and community college districts. All that in addition to a representative to the state Assembly, a state senator, congressperson, U.S. senator, and POTUS. By my count, that’s 41 decisions to make.

Cimg2363By consensus, we don’t take up issues like the presidential race and other top-of-the-ballot elections that people have probably made up their minds about already (although if someone really insists on talking about one of these, they generally can). So the focus is mostly on the numbered and lettered items on the ballot. Jill is an aide to one of the members of the City Council, and she lays out most of the local issues; our neighbor Doug is a retired teacher and longtime teachers’ union activist and usually has something specific to say about the people on the ballot for school board and school-funding measures when they’re on the ballot. Others might have particular interests — Piero is a small businessman and usually has something to say about the impact of all the tax and bond issues we’re looking at; Doug’s wife, Kay, is an accountant and also looks at the money measures pretty closely. For the rest, we all have our moments to speak up. OK, yes, I usually find something to sound off on at length.

Tonight, I think the most prolonged discussion centered on similar state constitutional amendments either would or would not lock in the share of tax funds the state allocates to cities and other local governments. The measures are confusing: It’s tempting to lock things in to make sure the share the locals get doesn’t decrease; on the other hand, locking things in has a way of setting both a ceiling and a floor for funding. What we came to after talking it through was first, it’s not wise to write any more firm funding allocations into the state Constitution and second, we really want the governor and Legislature to do what they’re being paid to do, which is handle the money responsibly instead of throwing up their hands and running to the voters three or four times every couple years to decide how the state’s finances should be run.

The other measure that got a lot of talk was an initiative that would write an amendment into the Constitution requiring a small phone surcharge to provide $500 million a year for emergency medical services. The argument against: that it’s foolish to make this a constitutional amendment and that it does nothing to fix the root problems of the health-care systems (both arguments are pretty persuasive). The argument for: Emergency medical services are being overrun throughout the state, we’re in the middle of a bad fiscal crisis with only uncertain light at the end of the tunnel, and we have to do something to ease the situation, even if it’s not the ideal solution (I come down on that side of the issue).

Cimg2370We got through our dozens of measures in two or two and a half hours. People took their kids home early, because it’s a school night. A few of us lingered to talk about a problem that’s not on the ballot — the apparently homeless guy who parks his decrepit RV all around the neighborhood and what can be done about him (more about that later). Kate and I brought our chairs home. Her comment afterward: “Looking around that table, I realized, boy, we’re getting old. We’ve been doing this for a long time.”

And for a long time to come, I hope.

(Pictures: Top: Getting ready for pizza and politics. Middle: Piero, sporting his brand-new November 2 button. Bottom: Our much beloved state voter guide.)

Blog Maintenance

Got an email from Radio Userland today — the service I used when I first started blogging last November. Just wanted to remind me that I have a month to renew my subscription and pay another whatever it was — forty or fifty bucks — to enjoy their buggy, user-unfriendly system. So that prompted me to figure out once and for all whether I could export my posts from Radio into Typepad. I had come across advice in Typepad’s help section that it was possible using a little utility that someone had written just to help people extricate their material from Radio when they switch to something else (the app is here, but you have to figure out how to use it your own self because no instruction come with it). I gave it a try — and after several false starts, made it work. So I was able to import 160-some posts into Typepad. However, they’re not formatted perfectly at all, and I need to go through everything that’s there and clean stuff up, decide which of my immortal observations may not be that immortal after all, and see if I can restore pictures where those have been lost.

Anyway, so that’s what happened Saturday when I could have been making a new round of immortal observations.

More Signs?

John Brekke points me to a Hunter S. Thompson “Fear and Loathing” piece in Rolling Stone. Hunter’s fevers reveal Bush is a goner, “hammered into jelly” by Kerry during the debates. The article is a weird tour de force, actually a little reminiscent of the magnificent opening to Don DeLillo’s “Underworld,” set at the 1951 playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, with Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca, and Russ Hodges brought together at New York’s Polo Grounds with Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Toots Shor, and J. Edgar Hoover. Hunter knits together his own amazing patchwork of characters and events to put George W. Bush in perspective: Karl Rove and Hitler and the Reichstag fire, Bedouins, Julius Caesar, Nixon, Muhammad Ali, Bill Clinton, Iraq, and the dark spirit of the Bush family’s adopted hometown: “Houston is a cruel and crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It’s a shabby sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West — which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.” Wow. “Super-rich pansexual cowboys.” It’s a nice, nasty piece of fantasy. What astounds is that Hunter can still string so many sentences together.

Rolling Stone’s got another item that may be of more import in how the country is looking at Bush and Kerry. Eminem, whom I’m guessing has a bigger following than Hunter Thompson among today’s youth, has some angry words for the commander-in-chief: ” “I think he started a mess . . . He jumped the gun, and he fucked up so bad he doesn’t know what to do right now . . . We got young people over there dyin’, kids in their teens, early twenties that should have futures ahead of them. And for what? It seems like a Vietnam 2. Bin Laden attacked us, and we attacked Saddam. Explain why that is. Give us some answers.” Obviously, Eminem — who says that at age 36 he’s registered to vote for the first time — wasn’t satisfied with the explanations Bush offered during the debates.

Pissing off Andrew Sullivan is one thing. Pissing off Eminem is another. That could make even Jenna and Barbara Jr. jump ship.

11 Days …

… (or is it 10?) until the election. How will it go? I haven’t the faintest idea, though I made an impulsive bet during a brief fit of optimism yesterday that Kerry will win. It’s interesting, in any case, to watch the projected electoral vote total sway first one way, then the other; if you look at that, the race looks like it’s balanced on a knife’s edge; a repeat of 2000. And maybe it is, and will be.

But more interesting to me is a brief foray into a conservative blog I’ve long avoided: Andrew Sullivan’s. I’m not proud of having avoided it; but I’ve felt I could do without the aggravation of watching someone clever manufacture clever arguments to explain how what Bush is doing to the United States — the war, the erosion of civil liberties in the name of the state, the fear mongering, the naked embrace of fundamentalist Christianity as a guiding principle for government — is good for us. But today, I hit a link to Sullivan’s site, and was surprised to see that he — and some other thinking conservatives — have turned on Bush because of the Iraq disaster.

Here’s one representative post from Sullivan, in which he first quotes a Thomas Friedman (New York Times) column at length, then adds a brief mea culpa of his own:

“Conservatives profess to care deeply about the outcome in Iraq, but they sat silently for the last year as the situation there steadily deteriorated. Then they participated in a shameful effort to refocus the country’s attention on what John Kerry did on the rivers of Vietnam 30 years ago, not on what George Bush and his team are doing on the rivers of Babylon today, where some 140,000 American lives are on the line. Is this what it means to be a conservative today?

Had conservatives spoken up loudly a year ago and said what both of Mr. Bush’s senior Iraq envoys, Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, have now said (and what many of us who believed in the importance of Iraq were saying) – that we never had enough troops to control Iraq’s borders, keep the terrorists out, prevent looting and establish authority – the president might have changed course. Instead, they served as a Greek chorus, applauding Mr. Bush’s missteps and mocking anyone who challenged them.

Conservatives have failed their own test of patriotism. In the end, it has been more important for them to defeat liberals than to get Iraq right. Had Democrats been running this war with the incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld & Friends, conservatives would have demanded their heads a year ago – and gotten them.” – Tom Friedman, telling it like it is. I’m guilty as well. I was so intent on winning this war and so keen to see the administration succeed against our enemy that I gave them too many benefits of the doubt. Well, I have tried to reassess. I may be proven wrong. I hope I am. But ignoring reality in a situation as vital as this is not an option.

An important intellectual support for Bush and company looks like it’s collapsing. I wonder what effect it will have in the vote.

Going Along with the Script

I don’t want to join in the national whine about mainstream media’s coverage of the presidential elections — how shallow it is, how devoid it is of really tough questioning of the candidates. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But there is something I’m hearing on the radio just about every day, nearly every hour — I don’t watch any of the national TV news shows anymore, though sometimes I hear PBS’s “News Hour” — that’s annoying as hell. On both NPR and CBS — where I have the dial tuned 90 percent of the time most days — the networks are making a habit of running straight-up reports on Bush’s and Kerry’s perambulations around the union, complete with soundbites of their boilerplate stump speeches, and treating the appearances as if they are news unto themselves, as if the thing listeners really need to know is where the candidates are today and the inflections in their voices as they repeat for the ninety-ninth time all the ways they are fit for the presidency and their opponent is not. The items go something like this: “President Bush was in Ottumwa, Iowa, campaigning for votes in this crucial swing state. [Bush soundbite: “Can you imagine being more liberal than Ted Kennedy? He can run from his record, but he cannot hide!” (Sound of cheering.)] Tomorrow, the president will campaign in Ohio, another crucial swing state.” The same thing — and the items from the Kerry campaign are largely the same — day after day after day.

What a waste of time. What a sad pretense of conveying useful information. Once you’ve reported that “he can run but he can’t hide” line, or Kerry’s “it’s the wrong war at the wrong time” line (though Kerry is actually talking about an issue, what’s the point of repeating it ad nauseum? Of course it’s easier to stick to the scripts the campaigns provide. It’s easier than trying to find something happening somewhere in the 50 states that’s really campaign news — I don’t care what it is: a speech from Nader or the Libertarian or other candidates, news on local disputes over voting machines, new poll numbers in the battleground states or Dick Cheney or John Edwards or some wacky senator of congressperson going spastic out there (actually, NPR in its latest hourly news update did have an item on Christoper Reeve’s wife campaigning for Kerry in Minneapolis. That was better than they usually do.)

If I were putting together a newscast or a news roundup, I’d say skip the empty theater the campaigns are presenting; make them actually say something real and meaningful if they want to get their message out on the public airwaves. Otherwise, use news of real substance and shrink the sterile, meaningless tidings from the campaign to an itinerary item: The president’s addressing preapproved, prescreened crowds of loyal Republicans in Ohio and Pennsylvania today. Challenger John Kerry will be talking to duck hunters in Oregon.

The Most Inspiring Thing …

… to come my way today was thanks to The Writers Almanac. It’s Robert Pinsky’s birthday today (born in Long Branch, New Jersey, a town where Kate’s family has some history, one-time home, briefly, of U.S. Grant and deathplace, about the same time, of James A. Garfield). The almanac had a couple of beautiful Pinsky quotes:

“The longer I live, the more I see there’s something about reciting rhythmical words aloud — it’s almost biological—that comforts and enlivens human beings.”


“The medium of poetry is not words, the medium of poetry is not lines — it is the motion of air inside the human body, coming out through the chest and the voice box and through the mouth to shape sounds that have meaning. It’s bodily.”

A case in point: Although I’m probably less than a Pinsky fanatic, I actually have a couple of his books. Here’s a favorite from one of them, the title poem from “Jersey Rain”:

Jersey Rain

Now near the end of the middle stretch of road

What have I learned? Some earthly wiles. An art.

That often I cannot tell good fortune from bad,

That once had seemed so easy to tell apart.

The source of art and woe aslant in wind

Dissolves or nourishes everything it touches.

What roadbank gullies and ruts it doesn’t mend

It carves the deeper, boiling tawny in ditches.

It spends itself regardless into the ocean.

It stains and scours and makes things dark or bright:

Sweat of the moon, a shroud of benediction,

The chilly liquefaction of day to night,

The Jersey rain, my rain, soaks all as one:

It smites Metuchen, Rahway, Saddle River,

Fair Haven, Newark, Little Silver, Bayonne.

I feel it churning even in fair weather

To craze distinction, dry the same as wet.

In ripples of heat the August drought still feeds

Vapors in the sky that swell to drench my state —

The Jersey rain, my rain, in streams and beads

Of indissoluble grudge and aspiration:

Original milk, replenisher of grief,

Descending destroyer, arrowed source of passion,

Silver and black, executioner, source of life.

(Now, why is it a favorite? Reading it to myself, I’m in love with the imagery that springs from the statement, “… I cannot tell good fortune from bad/That once had seemed so easy to tell apart.” Then, bring on the rain: “The source of art and woe aslant in wind.” Then the sound, the rhythm, of a torrent pouring down on the roof: “… my rain, in streams and beads/Of indissoluble grudge and aspiration.” Indissoluble grudge! Original milk. Descending destroyer. Source of life.)

And that, al 11:59 p.m. PDT, is that.

The Scariest Thing …

… that arrived in my inbox today was the following, from a former colleague and journalist who often irritates the hell out of me because of his indiscriminate email distribution of what I view as paranoid, hysterical conspiracy-mongering from the left. Sometimes I delete his messages without reading them. Today I opened the email and read this:

"In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the
White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen
Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the
White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I
didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of
the Bush presidency.

"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based
community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge
from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured
something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.
‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re
an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re
studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again,
creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things
will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be
left to just study what we do.’ "

–"Without a Doubt," by Ron Susskind (or Suskind, when you spell it correctly), NY Times Magazine 10/17/04

Pass it along…   Maybe people will wake up.

That’s the note. "Reality-based community." To indulge in what might sound paranoid and hysterical, it smells like something from people who think they’re building their own version of the Reich — enlightened, based on their interpretation of liberty and pursuit of all the best principles. And they’d love it if people just stood by and watched them do it.