Saturday, July 08, 2006

Coffee Cake And Ripe Peaches

So Much Happiness
by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
And disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
And now live over a quarry of noise and dust
Cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
Of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
And love even the floor which needs to be swept,
The soiled linens and scratched records….

Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness,
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,
And in that way, be known.

The Thirty-Two Percenters

Go here for a little reminder of who the 32 percenters really are.

We Will, We Will Rock You. (Just Kidding. Well, Not Really)

Absolutely fascinating article in the NYT concerning gender differences in higher education. I guess it gives me such a chuckle because I'm old enough to remember when the notion of a woman going to college was still a little bit cutting edge and I was certainly counseled to go for a teaching degree rather than, say, a law degree. My mom didn't go to college and my grandmother lived at a time when people seriously argued that college would be "bad" for women and that women just weren't "up to" doing stressful, college-level work. She did get a year at a women's musical seminary.

But as the times article notes, women are now attending college in greater numbers than men and are doing far better than men once they are there, earning, for example, the majority of honors degrees. Now, "[c]reating a balance of men and women is . . . an issue for all but the most elite colleges, whose huge applicant pools let them fill their classes with any desired mix of highly-qualified men and women But for others, it is a delicate issue. Colleges want balance, both for social reasons and to ensure that they can attract a broad mix of applicants. But they do not want an atmosphere in which talented, hard-working women share classes with less qualified, less engaged men."

Bwhahahhahha! Whoops, sorry. No gloating allowed. OK.

The article also touches on the much-reported "boy problem," the notion that there's somehow something terribly wrong with the current situation where girls are outpacing boys. As the mother of a son and the grandmother of a grandson, I've no desire to see boys do poorly. But I have to agree with Dr. Kleinfeld who is quoted in the article: "I hate to be cynical, but when it was a problem of black or poor kids, nobody cared, but now that it's a problem of white sons of college-educated parents, it's moving very rapidly to the forefront," Dr. Kleinfeld said. "At most colleges, there is a sense that a lot of boys are missing in action."

And, as the NYT notes, men still earn more money than women. For now.

We Can't Win This War, Period, Mr. Scheuer!

BBC has an incredibly scary interview with Mike Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit charged with capturing Osama Bin Laden in the late 1990s.

Without ever bothering to define what "win" means, Scheuer says that, "The United States will not win in Iraq unless it is prepared to accept heavy losses on both sides. We have to stop fighting as if we really truly believe the nonsense that we can fight wars without killing innocents and not losing many people ourselves." He goes on to state that, Notwithstanding the rhetoric that comes out of Washington, we're clearly losing." BBC explains that "he described insurgencies as 'the ugliest, dirtiest, bloodiest kind of war,' which made it particularly difficult to win without suffering casualties. "If you're not willing to kill civilians, or to assume that there is a likelihood that innocents are going to be killed, you have no business fighting an insurgency - because you can't win," he said.

Yet Scheuer apparently recognizes that even more death and carnage won't allow us to "win" in Iraq because he "also warned that the insurgency in Iraq could not be controlled only by taking more risks on the battlefield.

He said that American foreign policy had to be changed, because al-Qaeda's leadership could rely on support as long as the US was perceived as fighting wars against Islam.

'We're supporting Israel without qualification, which is a disastrous situation for America; we are supporting countries which are well known for oppressing Muslims around the world,' he said.

'This policy is detested at every level of Muslim society. As long as this is the case, we're going to be in this war.'

And he added that he felt engagement in this way was also dangerous to America's national interest.

'If Palestine, or Israel, or Bolivia, or Belgium, disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow, it would not make a lick of difference to any person in the United States,' he said. [WTF Bolivia and Belgium have to do with this whole mess is beyond me.]

'I think if we're going to be the ally of Israel, we should be the ones who call the tune, and not the ones who are led around by their nose.'"

So I've got an idea. How about we don't kill any more civilians nor any more American soldiers? Instead, how about we just get the fuck out of Iraq and get rid of Senators such as Joe Lieberman who are incapable of distinghishing between America's interests and Israel's interests? How would that be?

The Real Religious Left -- The One Yet To Be Organized

Via The Revealer comes an interesting article on the nascent "religious left," by By Jeff Sharlet, which was first "published in The High Plains Messenger, the politically heterodox online alt magazine from the heart of American fundamentalism." The entire article is well-worth reading, not that I agree with everything in it, but it is an interesting attempt to define what a serious religious left would look like and is accessible even to non-xians such as yours truly. Here are a few excerpts:

* "Splendid glory is a quality lacking in religious liberalism. The Christian Right has something close to it — stop by your local megachurch for the best Pink Floyd tribute show in America — but since the 1980s, what’s left of the religious left has been hunkering down in the bunkers of quiet reason, afraid of its own gorgeous past."

* "[O]nly someone who believes that his or her story is inextricably interwoven with that of the next person’s — and, for religious folk, with that of God — can turn that selflessness into power.

Power matters. The religious right knows that but doesn’t like to say it, since doing so would involve confessing how much it already possesses. The would-be religious left, as seen on TV, knows it, too, but doesn’t like to believe it, since doing so would involve admitting it doesn’t have any.

The real religious left — the one yet to be organized — will recognize the reality of power and appreciate its nuances; its applications."

* "Even solidarity grows poisonous when it’s infected by piety, since piety provokes the hierarchy implicit in holier-than-thou.

The religious right knows this, which is why it tries to hide its most pious feelings. Not through transforming the power it’s achieved into something truly egalitarian, but through surface maneuvers intended to show that some of the most powerful preachers in the world are just ordinary Joes . . . ."

Friday, July 07, 2006

She Was Just So Incredibly Good


The air is a mill of hooks --
Questions without answer,
Glittering and drunk as flies
Whose kiss stings unbearably
In the fetid wombs of black air under pines in summer.

I remember
The dead smell of sun on wood cabins,
The stiffness of sails, the long salt winding sheets.
Once one has seen God, what is the remedy?
Once one has been seized up

Without a part left over,
Not a toe, not a finger, and used,
Used utterly, in the sun's conflagration, the stains
That lengthen from ancient cathedrals
What is the remedy?

The pill of the Communion tablet,
The walking beside still water? Memory?
Or picking up the bright pieces
Of Christ in the faces of rodents,
The tame flower-nibblers, the ones

Whose hopes are so low they are comfortable --
The humpback in his small, washed cottage
Under the spokes of the clematis.
Is there no great love, only tenderness?
Does the sea

Remember the walker upon it?
Meaning leaks from the molecules.
The chimneys of the city breathe, the window sweats,
The children leap in their cots.
The sun blooms, it is a geranium.

The heart has not stopped.

Sylvia Plath

A Cool, Beautiful World

BBC continues its series on James Lovelock's new book, The Revenge of Gaia with a column by Lovelock. Lovelock notes, inter alia, that:

As a Gaian scientist, a general practitioner of planetary medicine, I have spent decades trying to see the Earth and life on it as an integrated whole.

It is not only climate change and the emissions of gases which are causing it - carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons, nitrous oxides - which concerns me.

At the same time we are taking for our own purposes more and more of the natural ecosystems that usually regulate conditions at the planet's surface. We are denuding forests, changing biodiverse lands into monoculture deserts, acidifying the oceans.

If there were no life on Earth, it would be a giant arid desert, just like Mars and Venus
To put Earth's self-regulation into perspective, compare our planet with its neighbours, Venus and Mars.

These I call "dead" planets - there is no life at all, and they show no sign of regulation. Their temperature follows what the Sun does; as it warms up, they grow hotter.

If there were no life on Earth, the temperature on our planet would be way up above 60C, possibly 100C; there would be no water, it would be a giant arid desert, just like Mars and Venus.

It is instead a cool, beautiful world, because of the life that is on it.

It has been present for three and a half billion years; and however the Sun's output of energy has changed, life has kept the planet comfortable for itself, for its continued survival.

The life out there is necessary for our welfare; we cannot just go taking it for our convenience, cutting down forests, turning the productive oceans into the marine equivalent of deserts, and expect Gaia not to take revenge.

In 100 years' time, I would expect life to be very grim.

I suspect that people will be migrating towards what will be more comfortable parts of the Earth like the Arctic basin. To an extent Siberia and northern Canada may flourish.

The British Isles, I have often felt, will be blessed, because our oceanic position means that the intolerable heat that will hit Europe even by mid-century will not affect us anything like as badly.

But social effects there will certainly be.

Many good scientists say that by 2050, almost every summer in Europe will be as hot as it was in 2003. In that case I can foresee a mass movement of people from mainland Europe to Britain, because they are free to come, it is their right to come.

We are overcrowded enough already; where are we going to put them?


And it is crucial to see what the book is not. It is often claimed to be a counsel of despair; critics say it will cause people to throw up their arms and say "what's the point of doing anything, let's just enjoy it while it lasts".

It isn't that at all.

I compare these times to the period just before World War Two; I remember it so vividly, because I was a young student in those days, and concerned about things.

People did not see the almost inevitable consequence of war coming as something to be frightened of; they saw it as an opportunity, strangely enough.

And once war did come, people were amazingly busy, finding jobs, doing all sorts of things; there was a sense of purpose around.

I hope that as climate change worsens that same sense of purpose, that almost tribal pulling together, will work again, to find such solutions as are still available in Gaia's damaged state."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Aw, Shit. I'm Tempted To Buy A Ticket To Paris This Weekend

NYT has a report on Alvin Ailey's recent Paris performances that has me drooling. Damn straight, Ailey is all about sexiness in dance. The company only comes to DC once a year in late January or early February. We always go; it's a family affair. Revelations is one of my all-time, absolute favorite ballets, and I don't care how naive that makes me.

This year, I won't be buying season tickets to the ballet season. I'm sick of paying to see the Kirov do the Nutcracker. Instead, I'm goint to pick and choose what I want to see -- Giselle instead of ensemble pieces, for example -- and I want to see all three or four nights of Alvin Ailey.

And I'm still half tempted to see it in Paris, as well.

Another Victory for the Whales

NYT reports that, "Thousands of square miles off Alaska have been designated as critical habitat for North Pacific right whales, considered the most endangered whale in the world.

The federal rule published Thursday designates some 36,750 square miles in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska as critical habitat for right whales. The rule takes affect Aug. 7.

At least 11,000 of the slow-moving whales -- prized by commercial whalers for their oil and baleen -- once swam the waters of the North Pacific. The whales were listed as endangered in 1973 and there are now believed to number fewer than 100 in waters near Alaska. A few hundred more may remain closer to Russia.

With so few whales remaining, scientists had a challenge coming up with the proper criteria for designating habitat, said Brad Smith, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Anchorage."

The report makes clear that the Bush administration was dragging its heels and it took an "activist judge" to give the whales a shot at survival: "Brent Plater, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity which filed a lawsuit in 2000 to get critical habitat designated for the whales, said species that get critical habitat protection are twice as likely to recover.

Last year, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to come up with its critical habitat proposal or explain why it could not. The judge told the agency it could not study the issue any longer but had to use the facts already at hand.

Plater said in the end the Fisheries Service did a good job.

''It is a good designation. It is based on solid sighting evidence,'' he said.

The next step is to make sure that other federal agencies that oversee activities in the designated areas cooperate with the rule to help the whales recover, Plater said.

If they don't, the future is clear, he said.

''Then we are going to end up back in court,'' Plater said."

Gaia's Revenge

BBC follows up with a report on the panel discussion of scientists concerning James Lovelock's new book The Revenge of Gaia. As the report notes, "An expert panel convened by BBC News has concluded that climate change is 'real and dangerous.'

Temperatures are likely to rise by 3C to 5C by the end of the century, with impacts likely to be 'severe' but not 'catastrophic.' the panel said.

It also concluded that politicians are unlikely to cut emissions sufficiently to prevent dangerous global heating.

The panel's discussions were based on themes set by Professor James Lovelock in his latest book The Revenge of Gaia.

The book argues that human society, through greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of environmental degradation, has brought the natural world to the brink of a crisis.

Temperatures will rise, Professor Lovelock warns, reliable supplies of water will be disrupted, life in the oceans will be compromised, food production will decline, and there will be mass migrations to areas of the planet's surface which remain habitable.

With fossil fuels currently the dominant source of energy, he sees a large-scale switch to nuclear power as vital if electricity supplies are to continue reliably and carbon dioxide emissions are to be brought down."

Some important points:

*Climate change is "real and dangerous".

Temperatures are likely to rise by 3C to 5C by the end of the century, with impacts likely to be "severe" but not "catastrophic", the panel said.

*Politicians are unlikely to cut emissions sufficiently to prevent dangerous global heating.

*There was general agreement that the rising global population and rising levels of consumption are major issues which are largely absent from discussion in political and public circles in many countries.

I think these final points -- rising global population and rising levels of consumption -- are key and are the two issues that no politician dares mention. But, facts is facts. This planet, the only one we've got, can't sustain even this level of population nor can it sustain this level of consumption. Either we need fewer people and/or we need those in the US to consume far, far less than they do while those in other countries consume more, but somewhat less than current Americans consume. Neither of those are popular scenarios. And the notion of a seriously declining population does present a one- or two-generation problem, where old people outnumber young.

But, seriously, what are our alternatives? The ostrich model won't work any longer.

I am just saying.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Plastic turkey, plastic president

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Pretzel, my sweet round ass.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.