Break in the Rain


It’s really winter here now. You can tell by the daily rain (it began last Sunday and has been going ever since). We’ve had about 10 inches in December, and half of that or more in the last six days. The creeks that run down from the hills and cross the Berkeley flatlands to the bay are rushing full and loud (sometimes in the open, like Codornices Creek, above, just below Live Oak Park; mostly in culverts, so most people don’t suspect they have a small river running right through the middle of their block in the rainy season).

But this isn’t a winter without respite. We always see breaks between storms, hours when the weather clears. This morning, for instance. The clouds blew off to the east, and suddenly it was sunny and warm. Everything started to dry out. The air was washed and clear. I walked past a spot where Kate and I sometimes go to sit and talk and drink coffee on Saturday mornings, the yard behind the big middle school up the street, and you could see clear across playground, the town, and the water to the Golden Gate.


The clouds closed in again late in the afternoon, and it started to rain just before dark. The forecast for tonight, tomorrow, and the next several days is the same: Rain. More rain. And then some more after that. I’ll be looking for the breaks.

Still Prevailing After All These Years

When our handsomely paid, and ruggedly handsome, White House resident-in-chief interrupted his vacation at the ranch in Crawford the other day to announce that the United States would be generous as heck in responding to the tsunami’s aftermath, he ended by saying, “We will prevail over this destruction.” More than just another run-of-the-mill knot-headed Bushism, the president has used one of his trademark phrases to signal that he’s identified the tsunamis and the plate tectonics that spawned them as evildoers. Now that he’s busted Saddam Hussein and built a model democracy in Iraq and shown Osama bin Laden who’s boss — well, one out of three ain’t bad — he’s gonna treat nature like the terrorist it truly is.

Just for old time’s sake, here’s a small sampling of the president’s earlier “we will prevail” declarations:

“Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best that is in our country, with courage and concern for others. Because this is America. This is who we are. This is what our enemies hate and have attacked. And this is why we will prevail.” — Weekly radio address, September 15, 2001. (Checking the White House site, this looks like the first time Bush uttered the phrase. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, had used it the day after the September 11 attacks in a briefing: “As the President also said in his remarks, this battle will take time and resolve; and, make no mistake, we will prevail.”

“If war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military — and we will prevail.” — State of the Union, January 28, 2003

“Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory. My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.” — Announcing Iraq war had begun, March 19, 2003

From the beginning, we have known the effort would be long and difficult, and that our resolve would be tested. We know that sacrifice is unavoidable. We have seen victories in the decisive defeat of two terror regimes, and in the relentless pursuit of a global terror network. Yet the war on terror goes on. We will not be distracted, and we will prevail.” — Discussing progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, July 1, 2003.

“All nations of the world face a challenge and a choice. In continued acts of murder and destruction, terrorists are testing our will, hoping we will weaken and withdraw. Yet across the world, they are finding that our will cannot be shaken. Whatever the hardships, we will persevere. We will continue this war on terror until all the killers are brought to justice.And we will prevail.” — Weekly radio address, Aug. 23, 2003

We’re going to prevailbecause, well, one we got a good strategy to deal with these killers. Two, I believe, by far the vast majority of Iraqis do understand the stakes, and do want their children to grow up in a peaceful environment, and do want their children going to a school, and do want to be able to live a free life that is prosperous. That’s what I believe. And I — recently, I was told by — for example, Bremer was telling me about a survey done by an American firm in Baghdad, for example; and it said that by far the vast majority of people understand that if America were to leave and the terrorists were to prevail in their desire to drive us out, the country would fall into chaos. And no one wants that.” — White House remarks, November 13, 2003.

“We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins. (Applause.) We will prevail. We will win because our cause is just. We will win because we will stay on the offensive. And we will win because you’re part of the finest military ever assembled. (Applause.) And we will prevail because the Iraqis want their freedom. (Applause.)” — Thanksgiving speech to troops in Baghdad, November 27, 2003.

“And we are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle East, because freedom will bring a future of hope, and the peace we all want. And we will prevail.Nomination acceptance speech, September 2, 2004

“I also want to say to the American people that we’re at war with these terrorists and I am confident that we will prevail.” Responding to bin Laden statement, October 29, 2004

Tsunami Bucks

The Amazing Tsunami Aid Turnaround continues: After embarrassing itself earlier this week by announcing the U.S. would commit $15 million to tsunami relief — equivalent to what we spend every 100 minutes on Iraq — the Bush administration upped the number first to $35 million (about four whole hours of Iraq money) and now to $350 million. OK, I won’t bother to translate that into Iraq terms, since doing that is an exercise in context and irony. Realistically, no one can yet put a price tag on just what recovery in southern and southeastern Asia will take. Lots of the money is going to come straight from ordinary folks who are moved to reach into their own pockets. You may or may not have a favored aid organization in mind. In this case (as in earlier disasters) Kate and I have given through the American Red Cross (which is also collecting for tsunami relief through Amazon, which says it has raised about $9.5 million from 125,000 individual donors so far).

That’s just one option, clearly. Network for Good has what looks like an excellent list of organizations participating in both immediate and long-term response to the disaster.

AirBlog: LAX and After

6:40 p.m. PST: Exclusive coverage of the delay of American Airlines Flight 1519, nonstop service from Los Angeles to San Francisco, brought to you from seat 4A of a Boeing 737 (sorry, I don’t know the tail number. I can probably find it, though).

We’re parked in what I heard one of the cabin crew people refer to as “that remote area” of Los Angeles International Airport. The reason: Stormy weather up around the Bay Area has caused inbound flights to back up. So air-traffic control had American load this plane, then pull it away from the gate (which was needed to debark passengers from another flight). The pilots drove it over to this “remote area” — actually, we’re alongside a runway and taxiway and see a steady stream of planes passing — to sit for an hour or so before taking off for tne north. (Part of the problem during stormy or foggy weather around San Francisco International, as anyone who uses the airport or lives in the area knows, is that the airport must close one of its two parallel runways. Normally, planes land side by side, separated by about 250 yards when they reach the runways. That’s too close when visibility’s poor. The solution to this is building additional runways, but that’s proven to be expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with environmental controversy. I’m not complaining about the delay or the runway configuration myself. I figure it’s something of a miracle that planes can fly through storms at all, let alone find a runway through clouds and fog and actually land on it.


One last thing about the trip: As I think I mentioned somewhere before, I wound up with something of an accidental first-class ticket. I like it. I’m not jammed in with the rest of the poor saps apprehensively trooping to the rear of the plane. Uniformed persons are solicitous of my welfare. They’re anxious to hang up my jacket, bring me food and drink, laugh at my jokes, and hear my life story (well, the jacket and food and drink parts are true). I dread my next flight, when I go back to being one of the poor saps.


One other thing last thing: We finally landed in San Francisco at 9:15 p.m., about an hour and a half later than scheduled. In addition to getting grounded in Los Angeles, we also happened to arrive in the Bay Area at about the same time as a very intense weather front, and got put in a very bumpy holding pattern. I looked out the window the whole way. Occasionally the moon would break through the clouds as we jolted along, then we’d plunge back into a blinding combination of what looked like snow and rain. It was one of those situations you just know the only way the flight’s viable is because the planes got real good navigation technology on board; in the olden days, I think the option would have been to bail on the airport socked in by rough weather and land somewhere else. Anyway, we kept circling, and after 20 or 30 minutes of that, they told us we were cleared to head to the airport. The only alarming thing was that the weather got wilder the closer we got to the airport, so that the wings were rocking and the plane was pitching all the way down to the runway. The landing itself was the hardest one I’ve ever been aboard for, though no oxygen masks fell down and the window shades stayed up (Dad talks about a flight he took once that ended with such a heavy landing that all the shades slammed down and oxygen masks dropped).

Word of the Day: Rendition

The Washington Post published a fascinating account Monday of how the CIA has used a Gulfstream V executive jet and a non-existent front company operated by non-existent people to ferry terrorism suspects from various locales around the world for “rendition.” The article explains that rendition is an extralegal process in which the agency transports “captured terrorist suspects from one country to another for detention and interrogation.” In practice, this involves taking some suspects from countries that don’t condone torture to those that have no qualms about it in order to get intelligence information.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story was the role of amateurs — bloggers and citizens plane spotters around the world — in tracking this plane’s movements.

AirBlog: O’Hare

A quick word before getting on my plane to Los Angeles, to connect to another plane to San Francisco, on my way home to what we fondly refer to as B-town in our gangsta way.

I’m in a small food court here in the American Airlines terminal. Its crowded. Lots of laptop computing going on. Starbucks is doing a good business. So’s Cinnabon and the place across the way that’s selling Michelob Ultra. An older (than me) middle-aged couple sits across the table from me with their coffees, unwrapping a couple of sweaty and deflated-looking sandwiches from Subway. “That looks like salami to me,” she says to him. They swap. I’m not letting them in on the fact they’re being quoted, for the record.

Behind them, a bearded young guy in a black hooded sweatshirt, black-and-white do-rag, black roadster cap and a stud in his lower lip sits with ear buds in place, sipping from his Michelob and reading a paperback. He looks focused.

That’s all for this post. Time to get on the plane.

Tsunami Aid: Quick Calculation

The United States made an initial pledge of $15 million in post-tsunami disaster relief. Incredibly generous compared to, say, France, which is offering 100,000 euros; but less open-handed compared to Japan, which is sending $30 million and other forms of help; aid from Australia and the Netherland (something like $7.5 million and $2 million, respectively) is far greater per capita than what we’re offering. But it’s really the thought that counts.

Here’s how our $15 million stacks up against the pile of money we’re ploughing into Iraq. The cost of our ongoing "bust a dictator, start a democracy" project is about $150 billion to date. That’s 10,000 times as much as we’re contemplating putting into the tsunami recovery effort. Wait, though: It’s taken us 21 months to spend all that Iraq money. In round figures, let’s say we’ve spent $7 billion a month on average on dictator busting. In round figures again, that breaks down to $230 million a day. We spend $15 million in Iraq every one hour and 40 minutes. So the conclusion is obvious: We’re shelling out about 15.33 times as much for one day of building our future Mesopotamian democracy as we’re willing to spend to help deal with a calamity that some are calling the costliest disaster in history.

Chicago Snowscape


Chicago got a little snow Saturday night and Sunday morning. Near the lake, more flurries came down late Sunday afternoon. A couple of inches fell at most. This is the alley behind Ann and Dan’s house on Lunt Avenue. Looks wintry, and it was cold (in the lower or mid 20s). But it’s supposed to turn springlike here by the end of the week and this little dusting of snow will be long gone.

War Pimps

Beware of making too much of the world you see on television. With that caveat out of the way, let me proceed to make something out of my last hour’s viewing on CNN.

Tucker Carlson was sitting in for Aaron Brown — a faux journalist substituting for a faux journalist. As part of his quick tour of the news, he interviewed an official with an international aid organization about the problems facing the Asian tsunami zone. Then he went on, “thanks to the miracle of television,” as he put it, to a signoff segment focused on troops who are away from home this holiday season pursuing George Bush’s dream of democracy in Mesopotamia. Several troops were put in front of Department of Defense cameras in Iraq while CNN did the same with their families here in the States. I suppose it’s great to connect the troops to their families — hell, after getting an email from the Kerry campaign that called on supporters to give money to the USO so soldiers could call home over Christmas, I chipped in — but turning the reunion moment into video entertainment seemed cheap and demeaning (especially in the case of one soldier and his family subjected to an anchor’s relentless nudging to discuss what they were feeling). But hey, if these guys were game to go on camera, who am I to complain about how they were used by CNN’s producers?

Well, there’s this: The prevalence of feel-good images from the guys who are out “defending our freedom” — during the holidays, during the World Series, even during on our Election Day — hits me as a particularly loathsome kind of propaganda. Especially when the news-media purveyors have so largely excluded more troubling images of the human cost of the war to both our troops and the Iraqi populace. And especially when the big media have failed so utterly to explicitly examine whether this whole war has anything to do with defending our freedom.

So instead, we get more messages home from the front, more messages to encourage us to support the troops no matter what the hell we’ve sent them there to do; all messages that appear to add up to the bigger message that our intentions our good and that darn it, we need to stay the course. That’s not news and information anymore. It’s a form of pimping for the guys who set this whole mess in motion.

St. Stephen’s Day Travel

Late Sunday, at my dad’s place on the far North Side of Chicago. Cold out, though warmer here than it has been recently, and there’s an inch or two of snow on the ground. Basically it’s a quick drop-in to see everyone post-Christmas: my brother John and his family are here from Brooklyn, and of course the rest of the family is rooted here in Chicago. The only thing notable about the flight from San Francisco, other than the fact I misplaced by boarding pass at the security check, was that it was the first time I’ve ever flown first class. That was the result of using frequent-flier miles at the last minute and discovering there were no coach seats available; but there were first-class seats if I was willing to pay for a few thousand extra miles to get one. So I did, and wound up getting a round-trip first-class ticket for a couple hundred bucks. There actually is a difference from coach. Lots and lots of leg room. Identifiable food. Refreshing hot towels. Actual glasses and dishes. Free alcohol, though it was a morning flight and I wasn’t inclined to avail myself of that amenity. I betrayed the fact I was a first-time first-class flier when the meal came and I couldn’t find the tray table. The attendant had to tell me where it was. My seatmate, with whom I exchanged not a word the entire trip, couldn’t find hers either. Maybe another upwardly displaced person from the coach class.

That’s all, except to mention it’s St. Stephen’s Day, the feast of my namesake saint. Beyond the name, I was always taken with St. Stephen: First, because he is said to be the first Christian martyr; stoned to death, though I have no idea who stoned him, exactly, or what he did to start the rocks flying. I also always wondered how he wound up with such a plum calendar spot — the day after Jesus’s birthday, a near guarantee that people are going to remember your day if they care. Who gave Stephen the 26th, and what was the process? The answers are out there.