25 October 2007

Condoleezza Rice Leaves the Bubble

A picture truly is worth a thousand words. For those of you who are uncomfortable with such confrontations you should be reminded of the misery that Rice has brought to thousands and thousands of Iraqis. Not just a moment of shock or embarrassment, but loss of life, limb, and livelihood. We are all far too comfortable while this war is being fought in our name with our money.

Click here to check out the video. As I mentioned in this earlier post on Andy Card's rude reception at UMASS, the time for politeness is over.

24 October 2007

The Rain Has Finally Come, No Shots Were Fired

Back in my American Studies grad school days I remember reading about homesteaders in the Plains states who had settled their land during a cycle of higher than normal rainfall. They had good crops for the first couple of years before drier, normal conditions returned year, after year, after year. The result was drought and crop failure and crushed dreams. In those days of limited meteorological knowledge some of the settlers, in their desperation, took to shooting up at grey clouds in a futile attempt to make it rain.

I remember reading this and feeling somewhat embarrassed for our brave pioneers. Who could be so dumb right? But lately I have felt a small bit of their desperation. I am probably not the only one here on the drought-stricken East Coast this summer who secretly wished he could shoot up at the clouds and make it rain. It was as if Mother Nature had forgotten how to rain. I don't farm, I don't have a lawn to keep green, and I don't live in an area that faces immediate water shortages so I had no real reason to feel so desperate about our lack of rain.

I think my desperation was born out of an overwhelming fear that the whole world is out of kilter. Drought, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, war, terrorism, pandemics, the ever worsening mortgage crisis, the incredible shrinking dollar, the ever expanding federal debt, the rise of new world powers, the decline of our own power, apathy, distrust, incivility. Most of these things have impacted the world in various combinations and in various intensities for probably all of recorded history. And it is hubris to think that we are living in unusual times.

But the thing that makes it all seem too much to bear is that we have far more information about our opportunities and constraints than sentient beings on this planet have ever had. What we lack is the willingness to do anything constructive with that information. Why are there so many things that we refuse to deal with? I sit here typing this with my windows open listening to the steady rain that eluded us all summer. It sounds wonderful.

I only wish I could send some of it to California. But I can't. No one can.

We continue to act as if we can outsmart the planet. We continue to overpopulate and to farm areas that have insufficient water supplies. We continue to build whole communities in flood plains along the Mississippi. We continue to build multi-million dollar vacation houses in hurricane prone areas. We continue to eat up valuable farmland and natural areas with ugly sprawl. We continue to pollute the air and the water. We continue to burn fossil fuel at an alarming rate. We refuse to use the technology and knowledge that we already have to do anything about anything--unless of course, it makes more money.

We seem hell bent on creating a Mad Max future. Does it have to be that way? Our cloud-shooting forebears at least had the excuse of ignorance. What's our excuse?

22 October 2007

Ian McEwan's Latest Novel is Stunning

As you can see from my reading list for the year (shown in the left margin of MyPorch) and posts here, here, and here, I love to read. And according to my spreadsheet of books read, I have finished five of Ian McEwan's twelve novels. All of them have been pretty quirky. They tend to describe unusual and odd circumstances and characters. Yet McEwan has a way of making those oddities seem at least as normal, or as understandable, as they are twisted. His latest book, On Chesil Beach, is no different. Sure it is not twisted in the same way that The Cement Garden is (i.e., entombing a dead mother in cement in the cellar), but it is emotionally disturbing.

Despite their love for each other, the two main characters in On Chesil Beach (two virgins on their wedding night in 1962) lead isolated emotional lives which cause all kinds of complications on their honeymoon. Although their specific circumstances might seem foreign to those of who came of age in the 1980s or later, the challenges they face communicating with each other can feel awfully familiar. After all, emotion can interfere with even the best interpersonal skills. We have all had those moments where something is said or unsaid--often times unknowingly--that leads to confusion, hurt feelings, or anger. Those moments when language gets in the way of love.

There are other currents at work in this book far more disturbing than bad communication, but I am not going to talk about those issues here. I don't want to ruin it for you.

The book is at times funny, beautiful, and devastating. Over the course of a year I read books that I end up either hating, tolerating, liking, or loving. And--not being a fan of self-help books--on rarer occasions I read one that grabs me emotionally and gives me something to think about. It is amazing that McEwan is able to do that in this smallish book of 200 pages. Go out and get this book.
SPOILER ALERT: Don't read the comments left for the post if you want to discover one of the mysteries of the book...

15 October 2007


Well, frankly this is old news by now. I have known for a while that I had a new job, but I wanted to wait until it was a little more official before I said anything in this forum. Suffice it to say I am very happy about my new position. Big pay cut, but I envision nothing but blue skies and lollipops.