The Daily 750

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In the Air, Love and Smoke

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dol: Slashing the throat of your wife the mother of your children while they were upstairs asleep and an innocent bystander, lying about, trying to escape – or do you all think she deserved it?

Jeff: Happy New Year, Dol!

Thus began New Year’s Day, 1995, on the message board discussing the OJ Simpson trial that Court TV hosted on America Online, the same message board that, nearly 11 months later, introduced me to my husband ten years ago yesterday. In honor of the exciting 3,650-some-odd days that have followed that life-changing night at the Beverly Hills Tennis club, I received these. I don't know what the florist did with them, but the bouquet has perfumed the entire house, as if Francois Coty had knocked over a small Lalique bottle filled with La Rose Jacqueminot

Much of the Upper Left Edge is forest land and a good deal of that is owned by Weyerhaeuser. Last week the company put us on notice that it will be doing fall cleaning on its lands, which means burning underbrush, which means a hazy scrim across the sky. You can see it in this evening's picture.

The blog server is down but not out. I haven't been able to pull up this site all day, only the management part of it, and can only post short pieces. Yesterday's was cut in half and I haven't been able to finish the thought. More tomorrow, I hope. Thanks for stopping by -- if you can.

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Lottery Fantasy: Sound TV

Friday, October 21, 2005

If I held the $340 million winning Powerball ticket that was drawn this week – oh, baby, IF ONLY -- I might be spending some time over the next few months thinking about the television channel I’d create, The Sound Channel. STV would have a few good anchors, each trained by Brian Lamb of C-SPAN. The anchors would provide a brief introduction to a story, just the facts, and then let the raw footage play out all by itself, from beginning to end. There would be no crawl and the chyron would have a simple identifier and date in a small, white, Arial font against a thin dark gray-line that leads to a transparent logo ear. Something like this:

This photo was taken by the local paper during the fire at Fort Clatsop National Monument, just down the road. Had there been an STV camera crew there, you'd have heard the snap-crack-pop of old-growth fir logs, the shush of thick wet hoses being pulled along the ground, the rhythmic click of the fire engine's lights and the deep hum of its motors.

During coverage of flooding in New Hampshire, on STV you’d hear the delicate ripple of river water against the canoe, the clonk of the oar hitting the pavement. In New Orleans, in the aftermath of Katrina, you would have heard the not-so-quiet desperation of the thousands of people sheltered in the Convention Center. You would NOT have heard Geraldo Rivera, late to the party so-to-speak, shrieking, “She’s gonna blow!”

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In The Chair: Nitrous, Saddam, Bono, Bush

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Ocian in view! O! The Joy!" wrote the notoriously bad speller William Clark, when he and Merriweather Lewis and team finally reached the mouth of the Columbia River in early November, before that soon-to-be-hideous winter of 1805. My dentist, also the Official Dentist of Miss Oregon, has a partner too, and their office is built on pilings in the mouth of the Columbia River, with each of six operating cubicles arranged so that the patient, when not horizontal, looks through a wall of glass over four miles of brackish water dotted with gulls, the occasional piece of flotsam, passing sea lions and fishing boats, and, once in a while, a freighter – and in the distance the damp, forested hills of Washington state, all underneath a perpetually changing sky. The ocian is in view but joy isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind when I arrange myself in the actuator-controlled chaise longue.

Yesterday’s dental appointment was scheduled before I began this daily writing exercise, and I could have postponed it to the afternoon of another day, but I’d already put the task off more times than I’d thought: the hygienist said it had been 18 months since the last cleaning. I don’t like the process of having my teeth cleaned – does anybody? – although . . . two words: nitrous oxide. I was practicing deep breathing exercises to relax myself through the scrapings and pickings of a skinny instrument when the hygienist, with the violet eyes and pitch-black wavy hair of a young Elizabeth Taylor, said, “Would you like nitrous oxide?” I wasn’t sure then but I can say now without a doubt: Why yes, I do like nitrous oxide. It made me a little bit dizzy and a little bit sleepy and a little bit thick tongued, and completely eased the fist-clenching, ankle-crossing sense of torture-for-the-better-good that a thorough hygienist evokes. Two minutes of pure oxygen at the end returned me to normal, and the only after-effect was the pleasant run of my tongue along the smooth ridges of freshly cleaned enamel. If I could afford it I’d make an appointment with Laurie and her nitrous oxide treatment every other month.

There were two fascinating pictures in the paper today. One is of Saddam Hussein, slouched in a poorly fitted suit and no tie, a Koran held by both hands and resting on his parted knees, sitting in black leather-and-chrome chair behind a low white cage, on trial in Baghdad for a pittance of his many crimes against humanity. Earlier reports had called the cage "Hannibal Lecter style," but more threatening fences surround middle-class homes in the flatlands of Southern California. The magnificent John Burns, of the New York Times, is covering the trial, and in yesterday’s report he wrote:
If Mr. Hussein saw even a glimmer of contradiction in mocking a process that gave him a right of defense not granted to those he persecuted, he gave no sign. In court, he behaved as though his downfall had been a mirage, or something against nature, bound to be reversed. Four times, he refused to identify himself when asked to do so by the chief judge, Mr. Amin, a slim, gray-haired man in his 50's.
And this:
In the courtroom, Mr. Hussein behaved as though his role in Iraq's history is far from done. He seemed to bask in the deference shown to him by several of the defense lawyers and his old political cronies. Some of the lawyers bowed their heads and touched their hearts when they greeted him.

Mr. Ramadan, his former vice president, approached from his seat in the dock, caressed Mr. Hussein's thick head of dyed-black hair with both hands, then leaned forward and kissed his head.

The C-SPAN website has 45 minutes of captivating video.

The second picture is of President Bush and Bono standing mano-a-mano on the seal of the President woven into the rug of the Oval Office and in front of an ornately framed portrait of George Washington that hangs over what looks like a mass of ivy decorating a fireplace mantle. Bush is a bit hunched up around the shoulders, his arms loosely by his side, his mouth slightly open. He’s clearly doing the talking while Bono looks directly at him, standing with his hands in the pockets of his usual black suit. Think of Nixon and Elvis without the giddiness. Press Secretary Scott McClellan denied the possibility of giving Bono a spot in the administration, saying, “I think he’s enjoying the career that he has right now,” but reported the two men had spent an hour and 40 minutes together, including lunch, following up on their “good discussion” at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, earlier this year, about AIDS, malaria and trade ; and that Bono would go on to meet with the administration’s National Security Advisor, Scott Hadley, before heading out to front U-2's concert at the 20,000 seat MCI Center, at 6th & F Northwest in downtown Washington, home also to the Wizards, the Mystics, the Capitals and the Hoyas.

Wonder if Bush scored some good seats.

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Excuses, Excuses: Why there is no essay today

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A late start caused by an obsession with "the dreaded pinhole eyewall," an early morning deadline on the Miki Dora project, and a mid-morning dental appointment will delay the day's essay a couple hours, to mid-afternoon Upper Left Edge time. Thanks for checking in. Come back again, will you.

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The Monster Culture

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"All the while the stump was healing, the artificial leg had been at the back of the clothes closet, largely hidden from sight by the shoes on the floor and by the trousers hanging down from the crossrod. It still took some doing not to notice it, but I was determined and didn’t know what it was made of till the day Alvin took it out to put it on."
       from The Plot Against America, Philip Roth

Young Phil Roth’s terror and revulsion of his cousin Alvin’s lost limb is palpable throughout the chapter Roth named bluntly “The Stump.” Roth’s fierce honesty forces the reader to fear, see, touch the stump as well, and I’m left thankful that Alvin didn’t come home from war in the same condition as Max Cleland, who had both legs and an arm blown off in Vietnam when he picked up a grenade dropped by one of his Army buddies. Imagine what young Roth would have thought after Max told him, “I left three limbs on the battlefield.” You mean just sitting there? Couldn’t you bring them with you? Are they still there now? Did wild dogs eat them? Are there wild dogs in Vietnam? All questions he could never ask.

Cleland went into politics in his home state of Georgia when he returned from Vietnam, advocating for veterans affairs and Democratic Party issues, finally being elected US Senator in 1996, when the prestigious Sam Nunn retired. Cleland’s failure to win reelection in 2000 was widely attributed to television ads by his opponent, Republican Saxby Chambliss, that were said to have painted Cleland as lacking in patriotism. Voters in Georgia say there’s some truth to that, but mostly the majority just didn’t go along with Cleland’s increasingly liberal votes in the Senate. Still, I wasn’t the only one who wondered how anyone could possibly take a job away from a man who had managed to do so much with so little.

Then I listened to Cleland on Bill Maher’s HBO show this weekend. Even Bill became politically correct when Cleland said that after Hurricane Katrina, “Fifty percent of the New Orleans Police Department walked off their jobs, and 25 percent of them went on a looting spree.” Yes, and the other 25 percent were at the Krispy Kreme in Baton Rouge. Bill Maher himself might have cracked that, but here’s what I saw in Bill’s face: You have just said one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life, an outright blatant lie, and I’ve got this great comeback; but look, there’s nothing in the right arm of your dark blue suit and there’s nothing under the table but a chair and a couple of stumps, and I just cannot blow you up one more time. So, Bill nodded once and went on.

The New Orleans Police Department has been, not one of, but the most corrupt, inefficient, lackadaisical big-city organization in America for as long as its been in existence. The many post-Katrina reports of individual policemen deserting their posts, looting, extorting, coercing and acting with brutality and insensitivity are shocking but not surprising.

The fact is that about 250 of the 1750 NOPD officers – FIFTEEN percent, not FIFTY -- remain unaccounted for and are being investigated as deserters. Another 15 or 20 are being investigated for crimes.

We live in a culture where a thing lacks weight and importance unless it is a monstrosity. Category 5, 50 percent, 10,000 dead, 20 feet of water. A Monster Culture. Anything less drops off the national radar before the nation can begin to understand it. Just six weeks after Hurricane Katrina and I have to go looking to find out how New Orleans is progressing.

Do we really need a monster to move us? Or isn’t it enough to know that a single artificial leg stands behind the trousers in the closet.

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LNG: AES Stands for Power

A couple weeks ago while cutting back the rosemary shrub that's taking over the northwest bank of the garden, neighbor and port commissioner Don McDaniel walked by. I hardly recognized him in his attractive new beard. We debated the merits of LNG for a while and when I brought up Calpine's lousy financial status, Don said he didn't expect Calpine would actually run the facility because, among other things, it's not really their business. Rather, Calpine would build it and then sell it to a much larger energy corporation. I ran this by an economist friend who's been doing some detailed research on Calpine in particular and LNG in general, and she suspects the larger corporation would be AES, a 20-year-old global company with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Haven't taken the time to do more than read that its motto is: "AES stands for power." Yikes.

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Tribute to Harry Rowen

Monday, October 17, 2005

Harry Rowen is a tall man who still moves at the age of 80 with the quickness his lithe body allows. His alert, visionary strategic thinking shows physically in the hint of a stoop in his posture that can quickly adapt to low passageways. His speech isn’t quick but he uses words as the master economist he is: efficiently and illustratively. He has a number of children whom he adores, and his affection for them, and theirs for him, has tempered into a surprisingly gentle and compassionate soul what might otherwise have been a brusque man who spent much of his life moving in a mutually-armed world. He had been the president of the RAND Corporation in the tumultuous American years from 1967 to 1972, resigning after his young, brilliant but writers-blocked protégé, whom Harry had been unable to protect in 1971 from the board of directors’ final demand that the man publish or perish, self-destructed. Angry and panicked, Daniel Ellsberg came into Harry’s office over a weekend, opened a safe full of classified documents, pulled out a batch of government reports on the Vietnam War, and amused his six-year-old son for the rest of the day by setting him on a stool in front of a large Xerox machine and letting him push the COPY button. The Washington Post refused to publish any of the excerpts because the papers confirmed the anti-war arguments but didn’t have any news that hadn’t already been reported, and none of Dan’s congressional friends would touch them either. With typical inefficiency, Dan let a DC policy institute copy some of the papers and showed another batch to NY Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who reneged on his promise to Dan not to copy the papers, got hold of the institute’s batch, put one and one together, and the rest is the history of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate break-in, and the resignation of two presidents, first Harry Rowen and then Richard Nixon. Ellsberg and Nixon, not such different men after all, engaged in their own game of mutually assured destruction, and succeeded.

Harry was a member of the pre neo-con movement of the 1950s which, among other things, thought the concept of mutually assured destruction was immoral, ineffective, and suicidal. The great number of his own children (five, I think), all clearly Rowens, all tall and smart and quick moving, yet each completely different from the other, led him also to an early concept of “fault lines” within large monoliths like the Soviet Union, and to push for policies that would have governments treat the nations and ethnic groups swallowed up after the war individually, each with their own set of desires and abilities, some more eager and able to join the West than others. To “never forget”, as the promise was made in those days, that these countries, these people, were behind an iron curtain, ruled by an iron fist, and wanted out. Unlike Nixon and Ellsberg and the others who were obsessed with their own history, Harry was obsessed with the history of the world. His career suffered not at all. The Stanford Graduate School of Business offered him a professorship in public management and soon thereafter appointed him senior research fellow at the prestigious Hoover Institution. He joined with his friend and colleague, the theoretical mathematician and strategist Albert Wohlstetter, to form a small but influential think tank in Los Angeles and a connection between European and American senior scholars and government officials who met two or three times a year, in places like the south of France and the Neapolitan coast, to discuss the security problems associated with protecting those lovely spots before governmental positions had hardened. He held senior positions in the government, as they and the president suited him, always returning to Stanford and Hoover and his large, lanky family in Palo Alto, California.

My routine in the morning is to sit on the edge of the bed, put on socks and slippers, walk around the bed and out of the bedroom, cross the small square hallway into the guestroom, pass through the doorless guestroom closet and go into the bathroom. I could get there with many fewer steps simply by reaching out after I’ve put on my socks and slippers and opening the door in front of me, taking one step into the walk-in closet and opening another door directly into the bathroom. Three steps instead of, say, 20, but the noise and clatter of opening and closing all those doors is more bothersome than walking the extra steps; and yes, many times I’ve thought about whether I couldn’t do without one of the doors and, if so, which one. I breathe through my nose as I pass through the guest room, sniffing for a sign that one of our three cats has once again peed in the guest room closet where my own clothing hangs and my shoes are arranged neatly on the floor. This morning the smell was more than residual from the week before, and my first inspection turned up just a small spritz on the floor in front of the three-drawer mahogany dresser the Wohlstetters had given me 20 years ago and now sat in the closet underneath the hanging shirts. I took the bottle of Simple Green and the roll of paper towels that I keep on a shelf in the closet and sat down on the unfortunately lineoleum-covered wood floor to clean properly, and my heart sank. There stood my three pairs of leather boots and my one pair of rain boots in what one could only call a lake of clean, clear cat urine, and I found I was sitting on the edge of one of four rivulets that were heading northward, like the very house itself, eventually to empty into the mouth of the mighty Columbia.

I used the remnants of the bottle of Simple Green, and as the blue wicker bathroom trash basket filled with warm, wet paper towels I tried not to think that my life was in ruins and that there was no use, none at all, to even attempting to create a warm and cozy home environment while there were cats in the house. That all was lost or would be soon, that even being homeless would be preferable to beginning day after gloomy day by wiping up pools and streams of cat urine, that there was soaking up the urine and trying to eliminate its odor, changing my shirt and sweater whose sleeves had dipped into either the puddle or the stream, and then trying to make a story from a poorly taped conversation with a mumbling South African whose first language is Afrikaans, and that if this is the way the world is going to be I might as well go back to bed. And then Harry Rowen came to mind and I thought, I know Harry felt like this when he found out he’d been double-crossed by Dan, but did he wallow in his despair? No. Get up, girl, empty the trash and go to work.

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Between the Lines: What Isn't Said

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Two criticisms of uncritical newspaper items and one more thought about the nomination of Harriet Miers. First Miers.

There are essentially two reasons why the Democrats haven’t said much about the Miers nomination. First, and most obviously, they don’t need to say anything. It’s a joy, a whole new sport, for them to sit back and watch as Bush’s Republican base fights over what has finally motivated some to outrage over a Bush decision.

The second reason has never to my knowledge been stated by any Democratic leader, but pundits citing unnamed sources have said that the second reason (actually it was the first until the Republicans fell apart) is that they believe she would be less of a right-wing threat to the court than a nominee with strong conservative credentials clearly based on a long judicial record. Early in the game, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said: “I like Harriet Miers.” His reasoning seemed to be that she was a trial lawyer and he was a trial lawyer, “So anyone with that background makes me feel good.” I’m sorry, did my rolling eyeballs hit you?

Miers’ three credentials, even according to the President, are fealty, a closed mind and Christian fundamentalism. How could she possibly pose less of a threat to Democratic principles than a learned judge, who even in the most conservative of judicial philosophies must (by the very definition of “learned”) be skilled in and indeed even intrigued by nuance. Maybe the end result of either one’s rulings would be the same. But is the court, is the country better served by decisions that are arrived at through thoughtful, intellectual debate or by pledges and faith.

Harriet: resign. George: bring on the brightest, most skilled, most conservative judge in America. Let’s have a roaring, lengthy, knock-down drag-out national debate that has us all going to the internet and the dictionary to look up words, concepts, constitutional history and legal precepts, and then having 50 percent of us spitting in distaste at the outcome. At least we'll all have learned something.

Newspaper item #1. Say, does your paper have an ombudsman or public editor? Does he or she ever write about anything that matters? Our public editor has become little more than a corrections editor and a professional shark jumper. Downtown safety problems, drugs in the legislature, the burning of a national park monument – comments, anyone? Nope. This week’s blazing concern is . . . spelling your name correctly. That’s P-r-i-c-e, not P-r-y-c-e, and if you don’t have it right, you don’t have me right, you don't have the story right. Four inches of column space, one long paragraph, that is a list of names separated by a comma.

Newspaper item #2. Our regular Sunday commentator lauds one of our state senators as that “rare legislator” who is “still capable of outrage.” The State’s worker’s compensation insurance agency has been under fire for mismanaging its funds – most notably, paying full salaries for the rest of their lives to cops, firemen and other state employees who claimed they couldn’t work because of some on-the-job accident, but were then found to be doing the same or even tougher work elsewhere and, thus, not really disabled. To its credit, the newspaper ran a series of articles detailing some of the problems, causing the governor to appoint a new director to clean up the agency’s act. The state senator (woman, Democrat) is outraged that the governor (male, Democrat) allowed the new director (woman, Democrat) to hire, at $8,000 a month, a male, Republican lobbyist who apparently is trying to keep to a minimum any reform of the worker’s comp agency. “Why is he on the state payroll when he overtly supports Republican causes and only lobbies Republican legislators?” the state senator asks. Fair enough.

What the columnist doesn’t write, among other things, is that the state senator is politically sponsored by Liberty Mutual, a competing, private insurance agency that went so far as to sponsor a (soundly defeated) ballot initiative that would have abolished the current agency. If you don't know that, you don't know the legislator, you don't have the full story.

Have a good Sunday.