Monday, January 22, 2007

"Just a cup of coffee 'fore I go... the valley below."

I'm on the way out for a week of work in sunny Providence, RI. But I have one more tidbit I wanted share with my readers, all two of you (Hi Mom!).

Letter to the Editor Brings Down the Feds.
The letter by Dan Tilli, 81, was published in Monday's edition of The Express-Times of Easton, Pa. It ended with the line, "I still believe they hanged the wrong man."

Tilli said the statement was not a threat. "I didn't say who — I could've meant (Osama) bin Laden," he said Friday.

Two Secret Service agents questioned Tilli at his Bethlehem apartment Thursday, briefly searching the place and taking pictures of him, he said.

The Secret Service confirmed the encounter.

81 year old man interrogated for an hour by the Feds. Huh. This guy has written over 200 hundred letters to the editor over the years. Interestingly, he's only been visited by the FBI or the secret service twice, this time and last year. Both times due to veiled threats against the government. He actually seems to have taken it pretty well. So I guess I'm doing the outrage for him.

Now, I journeyed over to the Express-Times' website and had a quick look at Mr. Tilli's fellow citizens. As you might expect, the folks of Easton are a pretty conservative bunch. They even include one faithful who still thinks President Bush is really up on things: "We are not privy to the sensitive intelligence he is." So Tilli isn't going to get much support locally.

But for the Secret Service to come around, photograph you and go through your house because you dare to suggest that someone other than Saddam should have been hanged? It's a brave new world, my friends.

I'll be back in a week. If I'm not, well, perhaps you could forward my mail for me. The address is Camp Delta, JTF-GTMO, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cheers!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The End of Football

Well, that's it. The Colts come from behind in manful fashion and beat the Patriots, who simply couldn't get it done when they had the game in their hands. After eking out a lead they had the ball in the fourth quarter with three minutes and change left on the clock and couldn't run it down.

We had the enemy down 21-3 at the half. Wish list for next year: at least one receiver who can get himself open (or, in the alternative, one who doesn't drop the ball when he's wide open in the endzone). A couple of linebackers who can run from side to side faster than paint dries. That'll do.

I'm pretty ambivalent about the game, generally. I love it, I hate it; I find it uplifting but I also disdain it.
It was a tortuous thing, but beautiful in its way; here were men who would never again function or even understand how they were supposed to function as well as they did today. They were dolts and thugs for the most part, huge pieces of meat, trained to a fine edge--but somehow they mastered those complex plays and patterns, and in rare moments they were artists.

There are many moments of artistry on the field, on any pitch where you find competition. Part of the attraction of sport is its clarity--for the watcher but especially for the watched. An athlete in competition has for a moment what we never have off the field: a perfect understanding of how he is supposed to function. This clarity makes more room for beauty. We can reach higher, for goals that are plain to see. Our failures are as obvious, not obscured, only to become clear after it's too late. The player's acts are daylit in all respects: the rules are established and the field is lined, the endzone brightly painted. All that remains is to excel. And even in his failures, his effort is clear to all.

We're told that sport molds young men and women for adulthood, but I have doubts about that. It cripples, too. It presents a world stripped of subtlety and devoid of shades. It casts out the also-ran, but gives far too much to the champion. Conformity is demanded, indeed required. A sense of entitlement, of exclusivity, of exceptionalism is fostered. Ruthlessness is rewarded. Viciousness is encouraged. After all, it's only a foul if you're caught.

After tuning these young people to "a fine edge" they're turned out on the world. Perfect capitalists, but flawed humans. Then we leave them to grow up while already grown.

But there is art in the perfect throw and catch. There's even a great deal of beauty in the perfect hit: angles judged pre-consciously, the complex physics of intersecting vectors, velocity, acceleration and momentum all computed flawlessly in an instant and powered by will and passion.


38-34. Now that the only thing that distracts me from my failed existence is over until the end of summer, I'll go back to bitching about politics and such. See you next year, Colts.

Bringing Bacon

Off to Providence again tomorrow. As promised, I've taken some photos of the work there. We're on a c. 1880 three-story mansard-style home that's been converted into three apartments. The homeowner wants to live on the third floor and rent the 1st two. We've begun extensive renovation of the third floor, tearing out all the old plaster and lathe (never agree to do this for someone as a favor) and updating the layout into a modern apartment of the homeowner's design. The first thing to do after ripping out the plaster was to correct the bowls and dips in the floor that 100 years on insufficient joisting resulted in.This photo shows the method behind part of that effort. (Better photos were taken earlier in the job but not by me.) Here you can see the 2x6 'sisters' mated to the original joists with construction adhesive and 16d nails. They extend from supporting center wall to a ledger on the outside wall. They are also raised above the level of the old joists in order to take out the dips. This old house was constructed using the balloon frame method in which the outside studs run continuously from basement to eaves, so new fire-blocking was installed by our crew to meet code. The whole floor system was covered with OSB sub-floor fastened with adhesive and ring-shank nails. The entire third floor now has a modern floor system, insulated for sound and much more rugged.

Here you some of the new interior framing. The photo on the right shows what will be the new study. On the left, the line of the study wall is continued past the stairwell to divide the main bedroom from the living and kitchen spaces. The bathroom will be beyond where the light is shining. Ultimately the kitchen and living spaces will be delineated by the kitchen cabinets.

In the meantime, the homeowner wants to get renters into the first floor ASAP. This has involved some basic plaster repair and a fresh coat of paint at the minimum. At the other end of 'minimum' we're installing a new laminated floor in the two small bedrooms and re-finishing the floor of the living room. Part of the dress-up is stripping several coats of lead-based paint from this gorgeous old stone mantle. Yours truly did the honors on that one:

There remains much to do. The outside of the house has some rot and weathering issues and there's to be a new roof covering applied. Upstairs, a skylight in the study and a loft-space extended into the attic. Plus all the finish work. Stay tuned for updates.

Since I'm plugging myself a little bit, here are a couple of photos from a renno I completed in the fall. This old, small barn required significant foundation work and new clapboards. It has new interior framing to support a finished office space on the second floor. The sliding barn door and faux door to the left were one-off pieces I custom made to spec, using recycled antique glass for the panes. The floor off the office is made of recycled barn-boards, planed to a uniform thickness and framed with two courses of yellow pine. I should get some pictures of that, 'cause it looks the business.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Plus c'est le meme chose, plus ca change

All through the war the great armament firms were supplied from the enemy countries. The French and the British sold war materials to the Germans through Switzerland, Holland and the Baltic neutrals, and the Germans supplied optical sights for the British Admiralty. The armament industry, which had helped stimulate the war, made millions out of it.
British historian C.J. Pennethorne Hughesz, 1935

Hey LZ: Country Music [wa]s Racist. Sorry.

I just read a quick piece on by LZ Granderson, lamenting the fact that NASCAR and country music are consistently lambasted as "hillbilly, redneck or dumb."

Granderson feels victimized (though I'm sure would run screaming from that word) by a panoply of folks, white and black, who indulge in what LZ calls "country-bashing." And, yes, that does happen. But there are some things Granderson gets wrong.

You can dress it up all you want, but make no mistake, black people calling white people who listen to country music and like NASCAR rednecks and crackers is no different than white people calling black people who listen to hip-hop and like the NBA thugs and gangsters.

But the true cat's meow are the white people who are so eager to distance themselves from the "yee-haws" on TV that they lead an internalized racist charge to paint white NASCAR fans as Confederate-flag-waving good ol' boys, in the hope of not being seen as one of them. I'm not a big proponent of this apologetic rhetoric because I believe it's based in the same stereotypical thinking that perpetuates negative perceptions of black people and hip-hop. And it's hurtful. I could be wrong, but I don't believe name-calling was part of Dr. King's dream.

We'll leave out the race-baiting inherent in writing an article like this just days after MLK day. Although Granderson makes some effort to admit that there's some vestigial racism in country music and NASCAR, his claim is that the vast majority of folks who love the cars 'n guitars are normal, non-racist 'Murkins. And that's likely true. But LZ is missing one important fact: What we know as country music was specifically created as an all-white alternative to the lascivious and immoral "black" music that became popular with the rise of jazz in mainstream America. In other words, it was racist on purpose, from the start.

Country Music got its start via what were called "Clear Channel Stations" -- local radio whose programming was a direct reaction to the stuff New York media was pumping out (classical, highbrow) and what was available on jazz radio (black music). The leading figure in that was a man named George Hay -- the creator of the Grand Ol' Opry.

Hay was trying to create, and create is the key point, a radio program and a style of music that appealed to the predominantly rural and small town audience. So he was really juxtaposing the collection of string band musicians and odd performers from Vaudeville who would show up in the early years of the Opry, against this vision of high culture being broadcast over the New York based radio station.

Hay played what you could call the Hillbilly card. He gave his popular performers names that would sound more authentically Southern and rural: The Fruit Jar Drinkers, The Gully Jumpers. Dr. Humphrey Bate, an actual Vanderbilt-trained physician, and his Augmented String Orchestra became Dr. Humphrey Bate and his Possum Hunters.

...George Hay is there presenting a manufactured rusticality that they find reassuring and comforting and fits in with really what many see as their own self identity."

And that identity was white. Kyriakoudes says Hay took a biracial musical tradition and whitewashed it, creating what would come to be called country music.

"The down home rural card was a good card to play," says sociologist Richard Peterson. "Because there was such fear of what was happening in the cities. There was so much race mixing, there was so much jazz, there was all kinds of degradation in music. Here was a way of finding a pure, unadulterated, American music that came out of an Anglo-Saxon background. They made up a whole bunch of stuff."

That quote is from this really fascinating American RadioWorks article about the history of radio in America. Read it. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there. But for our purposes the most fascinating thing is the power of radio to foster a culture of white music for white people who were, plainly, afraid of and alienated by the black man and his music. That's where "country music" comes from.

And you can argue that rap has racist undertones (or overtones). But country music was there first, just as the white culture was there first. (There being the public media space.) And it was there to draw a color line. According the Mr. Hays of the world, on their side of the line are "traditional values. Faith in God, devotion to family, hard work, devotion to country." And white people (and Richard Nixon). On the other side of the line is "rhythm and blues and [the black] race. Written by people who didn't know the English language. Didn't know how to spell, didn't know how to play but could accompany himself on the gee-tar and so forth."

Hay's little show that went on the become the Grand Ol' Opry attracted a lot of fellow travellers so steeped in a kind of racial populism that they may not have even realized just how much harmful racism there was in the air. Like, perhaps, LZ Granderson's ordinary American country music fans who also like NASCAR. Mr. Granderson:
I conducted a not-so-scientific experiment the other day. I approached about 15 people of color, of various ages, on the subways of Manhattan. I told them I was working on a column for this Web site and wanted to know the first word that came to their minds when I said the following words:

"NASCAR" and "country music."

Every single one of them said hillbilly, redneck or dumb.

Again, this wasn't a scientific poll. But still, I was hoping for a little more diversity from the answers, especially given the diversity of New York City. Back where I come from, tolerance isn't race- or age-specific. And unfortunately, it seems every year around this time that I am reminded the same is true of intolerance.

That's the tricky thing about stereotypes. Granderson's upset because, as a fan of country music he objects to being tarred with the hillbilly, redneck, racist brush. He weeps crocodile tears because even in New York, that notoriously liberal den of iniquity, he can't find a black man to say "Kenny Chesney and Kyle Bush!" when he baits them with his little test. "Intolerance!" he cries, triumphantly. Or perhaps it was, "I'm a victim!"

Unfortunately for LZ, racism in this country isn't the kind of thing most people are willing to "tolerate." Maybe all country music fans and artists aren't racist, just as all NASCAR fans and teams aren't. But the fact is that country music has a lot to live down in that department. A lot. Like its entire raison d'etre. (Oops! French! I must be some kind of cheese-eating surrender monkey.)

This started out to be just a simple rant but since I've gone this far I'll take it one more step. At the bottom of Granderson's argument is a more insidious logic. LZ thinks he's found some deep hypocrisy in finding counter-racism in what is actually the correct identification of vestigal racism in country music. Conservatives of all stripes employ this logic all the time:

"You say everyone can believe what they want!" goes the logic. "But you're against [insert exclusive belief system here], so you don't really want that! You just want people to think like you do. You're a hypocrite. Because you're a hypocrite, I can go on believing and doing whatever I like that you want me to stop."

Progressives (and liberal New Yorkers) promote a vision for a pluralistic society. The mistake Granderson (and more virulent people) make is to think that a pluralist really claims that anyone can act in any way they believe is right. WRONG.

A pluralistic society can tolerate any idea, except any idea whose central aim is the exclusion of every other idea. That's why evangelical religion comes under the progressive gun so often. Evangelicals demand the right to tell you how to live. If you don't happen to agree with them, then they'll pass a law to make your life illegal. Racists ultimately want to exclude other races.

In a progressive, pluralistic society, you can be a racist. But you can't act as a racist by attempting to exclude other races from the public sphere. You can be an evangelical christian. But you can't act to exclude gays (for example) from the public sphere. You can believe that there is no such thing as global warming. But you can't act to exclude science from the public sphere.

So why, Mr. Granderson, should a black man attempt to "tolerate" any music hatched out of a wish that he had never been born? Why should he make the effort to prove to himself that all country music fans or NASCAR fans are not dumb hillbilly rednecks? Especially when it's transparent that the France family has sold as much NASCAR to as many white folks as will buy it and are trying (and failing) to expand their audience to blacks not out of some kind of epiphany (or "growth" as Eddie Montgomery might call it), but because they want that dollar?

You can love NASCAR, Mr. Granderson, but you can't force me to like it. (Four left turns. That's a motorsport?)

As to the fact that the radio stations who peddled this all-white family values claptrap were generically called "Clear Channel Stations?" Well. Isn't that a delicious coincidence.
There's a lot of people saying that the second that I started saying, 'I think we gotta get Bush out of the presidency,' that's when Clear Channel banged my ass outta here. Then I find out that Clear Channel is such a big contributor to President Bush, and in bed with the whole Bush administration, I'm going, 'Maybe that's why I was thrown off: because I don't like the way the country is leaning too much to the religious right.'

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Working for a living

Which is why there have been no new posts or replies the last couple of days. I'm in Providence again, doing some work. When I come back, there'll be a few pictures to justify and explain my absence. Sorry I haven't been able to respond to your visits as I normally would. Some highlights (or not) that are sure to be touched on during Friday's catch-up action:

Pats over Bolts. Quick! Get on the bus get out of there before they change their mind.

Bushco, Inc. decides the thing to do is to blackmail the attorneys doing pro bono work on behalf of Gitmo detainees. Hey, it's ! Not like it's a statement of ideals or anything.

I'm borrowing a computer to check in right now; I'll do more on these when I get back. Cheers!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Remind me: This was necessary why?

Actually, I had five children until three months ago when the smallest one died from dehydration. Hassan, who was only two years old, got very sick from diarrhoea caused by drinking bad water and because we couldn’t afford to buy him nutritious food. My wife, Samiha, was pregnant again and couldn’t breastfeed him so he died.

Our situation is one of misery.

Read the rest here.

I just know we did this for a reason. Can someone please remind me what it was?

Gorillas Guides

I have a new blog link: Gorillas Guides.

This site is run from Ireland, with Iraqi correspondents. They're ordinary men, on the ground in Baghdad or nearby. They've all succeeded in getting their family members out of the area and have remained themselves to defend their homes.

Read what they write. It won't make you happy. But it will give you some sense of what America looks like from the other side of the gun.

Gorillas Guides wasn't intended for you. But for that reason, you should read it.

If we can ever repair this, we must start here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Dark at the End of the Street

cross posted at DailyKos

We’ve been down this road before. That Bush et al have steadfastly refused to learn their history is axiomatic. But I can’t help but wish that someone at PNAC or the American Enterprise Institute or the Federalist Society (ideally several someones at all three) had read T.E. Lawrence before they stooped to whisper in Bush’s ear.

I’ve always known that writing a ‘blog on the “internets” was mainly a labor of self-satisfaction. OK, mental masturbation. But as events spiral to even more insane depths, I just can’t help myself. As long as the President continues in his insane course, I will continue in my inconsequential one.

As I noted in my review of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, complete inaccuracy and naivete were the hallmarks of the CPA and all concomitant efforts at ruling the city of Baghdad and the state of Iraq. The nerve center of the disaster has been, from the start, a strange mishmash of the Vice President’s office and the President’s advisory group. I don’t think we’ll ever be permitted to pick apart the strands of influence and come to an accurate understanding of the theory underlying the invasion and occupation. As time goes by, I’m inclined to think that’s because there isn’t one. I begin to believe that this has all been seat-of-the-pants policy making, informed by Bush’s ‘gut,’ his prayers and his political needs.

Everything we’ve done since American boots hit the sand has been wrong-headed. Not militarily—we know no master in the arts of conventional warfare. But sociologically, politically. We seem to have moved on the assumption that hearts and minds were already won. We failed, most spectacularly, to understand just how unique 1776 was, and why simple freedom from tyranny was no guarantee of stability, nor of democracy. We assumed people gravitate first toward the underlying principles of a democratic republic. People gravitate toward stability. Toward safety. Only when they’re confident of that do they move toward ideals.

Vietnam ought to have taught us that. But who cares about history? It’s in the past.
Eleven days after he arrived in Iraq, Bremer issued CPA Order Number 2, which dissolved not just the army, but the air force, the navy, the Ministry of Defense, and the Iraqi Intelligence Service. With the scrawl of his signature, he created legions of new enemies. …

If Bremer had asked the American military for its opinion, he would have heard what Lieutenant General David McKiernan, the first commander of ground forces in Iraq, said the day the order was issued: “There are a large number of Iraqi soldiers now unemployed. That is a huge concern.”

…Bremer eventually announced that army officers who were not senior Baathists would receive monthly stipends. He also unveiled plans for a new army. It would consist initially of forty thousand soldiers, all of them infantrymen. There would be no tanks or artillery, and the army would be limited to guarding Iraq’s borders. Former soldiers were not guaranteed positions. They’d have to go to boot camp.

By then, however, it was too late. In a land of honor and tradition, the viceroy had disrespected the old soldiers. I never ran into Omir again, but months later, I did see another former soldier who had been at the protest.

“What happened to everyone there?” I asked. “Did they join the new army?”
He laughed.
“They’re all insurgents now,” he said. “Bremer lost his chance.”

Imperial Life in the Emerald City pp.76-77

“A land of honor and tradition.” Mesopotamia. Cradle of civilizations. Seedbed of the west. Ignore the quisling press, scribbling about the “front line of the war on terror.” Iraq was not that until Bush birthed it so.

That our errors in Mesopotamia mirror our errors in Vietnam has been very well documented by others. But I wish that, in our unwillingness to learn from our own history, we at least might have been persuaded to learn from the wars of others.

T.E. Lawrence advised and encouraged (and deceived) the Arab Revolt against the Turks during WWI. In the early stages of the rebellion, as he help Feisal to muster an army, Lawrence realized that there was no way any Arab army could face down the Turks in a conventional sense. In sickbed, trying to recover from boils and fever, the idea of guerrilla war urged its logic on him:
…I began idly to calculate how many square miles: sixty: eighty: one hundred: perhaps one hundred and forty thousand square miles. And how would the Turks defend all that? No doubt by a trench line across the bottom, if we came like an army with banners; but suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed. Our kingdoms lay in each man’s mind; and as we wanted nothing material to live on, so we might offer nothing material to the killing. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning only what he sat on, and subjugating only what, by order, he could poke his rifle at.

Then I figured out how many men they would need to sit on all this ground, to save it from our attack-in-depth, sedition putting up her head in every unoccupied one of those hundred thousand square miles. I knew the Turkish army exactly, and even allowing for their recent extension of faculty by aeroplanes and guns and armoured trains (which made the earth a smaller battlefield) still it seemed they would have need of a fortified post every four square miles, and a post could not be less than twenty men. If so, they would need six hundred thousand men to meet the illwills of all the Arab peoples, combined with the active hostility of a few zealots.

And how many zealots could we have? At present we had nearly fifty thousand: sufficient for the day. …The Turks were stupid; the Germans behind them dogmatical. They would believe that rebellion was absolute like war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom pp. 192-3

These short paragraphs can tell Bush everything he needs to know about what is happening in Iraq right now, and why his "surge" won’t work. The idea is loose in Iraq that the United States must be expelled. It competes with other urges —the sectarian leanings are becoming Syrian, Saudi and Iranian proxies— but Bush has so far failed to be a uniter in that sense. If he succeeds in that, the trickle of US casualties will rise to a torrent. Not enough to match the deaths of Iraqi citizens at our hands, but more than enough to make even Joe Lieberman regret the invasion.

Still, a successful "surge" might yield a tense stability in Baghdad. If it is large enough. If we keep settled neighborhoods settled with a garrison on every corner—like Lawrence’s posts every four square miles. Keane and Kagan, AEI darlings and the authors of Bush’s escalation policy, have stated that
It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.
The United States faces a dire situation in Iraq because of a history of half-measures. We have always sent "just enough" force to succeed if everything went according to plan. So far nothing has, and there's no reason to believe that it will. Sound military planning doesn't work this way. The only "surge" option that makes sense is both long and large.

Well, I’m no mathematician, but I know that 21,500 is less than 30,000. But wrapping up the violence is only a part of the problem, and a relatively superficial part at that. The principal flaw in the Bush administration’s method has always been its superficiality. Putting lipstick on a pig, as it were. By its own terms, the escalation is twisted from the root. But even if it was successful in subduing the violence in Baghdad, the larger problem remains: the United States, by itself, is not capable of credibly addressing the deep civic ills of Iraq as Iraq now is.

“Our kingdom lay in each man’s mind,” said Lawrence. He was party to the careful balancing of diverse minds — many of which now make up the tribes and sects vying with each other and with Bush. Through the strength of Fiesal's character and a shared vision of overthrowing the Turks (a vision that was ceaselessly preached, at every non-fighting moment) the Arab Revolt managed to succeed long enough to occupy Damascus, and, eventually, to gain some measure of independence for Iraq in 1932. But stability was never its hallmark. From its inception Iraq was a construct, “nation” not a concept that leaped first to the minds of its people.

This is not a concept that the neoconservative mind can accommodate. Lawrence and the Arabs thought the Germans were dogmatical. Next to the neocon, the German of WWI looks an intellectual contortionist.

Even if such an idea could penetrate the Bush mind(s), it would be dismissed as irrelevant. The extended “rebuilding” of Baghdad is merely an assurance of deeper war profits to the corporate interests served by the White House. As detailed by Chandrasekaran in “Imperial Life,” what matters is that the money continues to flow. It will flow as long as our blood and Iraqi blood continues to flow.

It might be possible, with a deep internationalization of the occupation, to salvage this failed state. The longer Bush remains, however, the dimmer this possibility becomes. No matter where we go from here it will be tragically messy. Considerably moreso than eating soup with a knife.

Jobs to Take Pride In

One of the main characteristics of Maine identified by the Brookings Institute in their landmark report on Maine's future was the puzzling perfusion of pessimism. (*Cough* Sorry 'bout that.)

The Brookings people apparently had a hard time understanding that, but I think I've got a handle on at least a small part of it. Aside from our general north-yankee grimness, Maine is witnessing a drastic change in the character of available work. Even imagining, for the moment, that you're capable of adapting to a service-oriented economy, where's the pride in that?

Compare working in a cube farm or for the tourist industry with logging or fishing, or even working at the mill. Especially for the logger or the fisherman, those are highly independent careers. Your reward is usually directly proportional to your capacity for hard work. And the modest income is augmented by a sense of accomplishment--having wrested something valuable from the forest or the sea. At the end of the day you're tired, not just worn down. You can be proud of that work in a way you just can't feel by looking at a sheet of call statistics. Take it from someone who has worked in a call center and as a carpenter.

The bigger drama in Maine industry has lately revolved around the fate of paper mills. Will they stay or will they go? Well, they're staying for now. For now. But with a tip of the hat to the folks at Thinking Beyond Tomorrow, I'd like to sound the strains of cautious optimism. (OK, it isn't "Fanfare for the Common Man" or anything. But it's better than a Requiem, right?)

A non-profit organization based in Rumford is looking for a site to develop a bio-oil refinery. The refinery would render bio-oil from forest products to, among other things generate electricity in a symbiotic plant next door. According to the Lewiston Sun-Journal:
The plant would be the first of several to eventually be built in Maine. Each would create at least 60 jobs for processing up to 900 tons of wood a day into bio-oil.

The oil helps to create electricity about as cleanly as natural gas in specially designed plants located near the refineries...
There's a lot of work to be done here, but, as I said, I'm cautiously optimistic. Not only might this become a part of Maine's growing capacity for alternative energy production, but it would buoy the forestry industry which has taken a hit as the paper mills have left.

According to Thinking Beyond Tomorrow, Democrats State Senator Bruce Bryant and State Rep John Patrick can be thanked for their role in encouraging these types of projects. Hopefully, they'll be on guard with respect to any pollutants created by the bio-oil refining process. That's part of the "caution" in my optimism.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

In Perpetuity: It means FOREVER

Land conservation is a chancy thing. As Will Rogers said, "They ain't making any more of it." Land, that is. One of the better angels of our nature has been the desire to sock away the best of it--keep our own hands off it in recognition of the value it has, both intrinsically and to our own species. Open space is good for people; it is essential to itself.

But legal efforts to preserve the space are checkered with doubt. Witness the Bush administration's attempts to open the National Parks to logging (under the guise of preventing fires) and Bushco's successful efforts to redefine wilderness, effectively undoing much of the good of the Clinton years in preserving open space in the American west.

The fight for nature is a long retreat. But on the local level, small gains are sometimes realized by dedicated groups of citizens and local NGOs such as the Trust For Public Land. They work to buy up and then preserve open space threatened by the rapacious growth of our towns, cities, and far-flung "developments"--playgrounds and second homes for the rich. One of the main tools of that effort is the conservation easement. Today, a small group of Democratic lawmakers in Maine began an effort to shore-up the legal armour protecting easements.
Maine has pioneered the use of easements, especially those that protect working forests. The 763,000-acre conservation easement signed in 2001 on Pingree family timberlands across northern and western Maine remains the single largest private conservation deal in the nation.

Maine has 85 land trusts, and about 7.5 percent of the state is protected by easements, according to The Land Trust Alliance, a national organization that tracks conservation.
So we have an interest. The problem with easements (also the source of their flexibility) is that they are a private contract between the holder of the title to the land the the person or entity purchasing the easement. It falls on the purchaser to enforce the easement. As time goes by and property changes hands, future owners can effectively annul the easement if enforcement hasn't been regular or sufficient notice of its existence wasn't given. Where there is a public-use component to the easement, as there often is, consistent enforcement is especially important.

Assistant Attorney General and dedicated conservationist Jeff Pidot, whom I have been priveleged to meet, is handling the state's side of the matter.
Pidot has studied conservation easements in depth. He authored a report[pictured at left] in 2005 that called for reforms and led to a nearly completed review of Maine's law. "The whole purpose of all of this is to provide a legal means for ensuring that conservation easements deliver what people think they do," he said.
It's about keep track of things. Since "notice" is folded into "enforcement" from a legal standpoint, better record keeping means better enforcement.

This is an important step in preserving land for people. It also goes a long way toward preserving Maine's advantages in lifestyle that draw people and businesses to the state.

Also available at Turn Maine Blue.

Monday, January 8, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I like to think of this as a thoughtful blog. Part of that conceit means not doing too much football. But the playoffs are here and my Patriots are back!

After putting together a nice 3-game winning streak to finish out the season, the Patriots welcomed the Jets to Foxboro for the wild-card rubber match to their season series. If you follow these things at all, you know they sent the Penguin and his flyboys back to La Guardia on the wrong end of a 37-16 beat-down.

Things seem to be coming together for New England. Despite a few moments of malaise in the middle of the second and third quarters, execution was crisp, play-calling was apt and there seemed to be that special pop in the hitting that warms the heart: your team is play-off ready.

A particular improvement from the last encounter with the Jets was the performance of the offensive line, backs and tight-ends in pass protection. In their last meeting, Mangini and the Jets seriously confused Brady and center Dan Koppen. Lots of jumping around pre-snap, effective masking of coverages and blitzes and stemming formations. The domination was so comprehensive that vague mutterings of "outcoached" were rumoured in the the New England locker room.

It's hard to imagine a quicker way to piss off Bill Belichick than to tell him his understudy out-schemed him. But there was no denying it: the Pats were unprepared that day.

Not on Sunday. More than once, Brady dropped back to pass and his feet came completely to rest as he settled in to survey the field with all the urgency of a hung-over college sophomore 2 hours into a session of Madden 2006. The longest completion of the day, 31 yards to Gaffney, materialized for that just reason. Gaffney came open very late over the middle, two deep routes having pulled the safeties out of position. Under normal, reasonable, circumstances that play would not have been there--it just took too long. In the NFL, quarterbacks get at most 3.5 seconds to get rid of the ball on passing plays. But I think Tom went out for a quick brat-and-a-beer before completing that pass. He was sacked only once--arguably his fault as he held the ball for too long.

Daniel Graham deserves special mention for his all-around blocking. He and Matt Light have become one of the league's premier run blocking tandems on the left side. Add to that a key TD reception at the end of the first half, and you've got an all-star day for Mr. Graham.

I feel compelled to add that Asante Samuel had a great day, pretty well shutting down the left side of the defensive field. BB was very psyched when Samuel put the finishing touches on the game with his INT for TD (pictured). Since Belichick has final say in player personnel decisions and Asante is admittedly fishing for more money, well, just one more thing to roll your eyes at. Personally, I don't know how these guys do it (if they do). Football is such an emotionally taxing game; I don't think I'd be capable of relating well to a coach I felt was shafting me financially.

That said, the interception in question was an example of great coaching as much as great execution. Asante picked the slot receiver, coming off of his outside man as the slot curled. Pennington let the ball go whilst Samuel's back was turned; there's no way he could have known the ball was on the way. Replays indicated that Samuel had safety help over the top, coming just as he peeled off his man to jump the curl route. My hunch is that Samuel was keying the slot-man for the curl, and baited Pennington by running past it, only to turn and jump the route as the ball was in the air. I've maligned him as a gambler and I think that's still true. But that play reeks of coaching--really good coaching.

Samuel's homeboy Benny Sapp, CB for the Cheifs, said about Samuel, "Forget all that talk about the 'system.' The system doesn't make the player; the player makes the system." Well, Benny, how's your couch treating you? Are you comfy? Asante's system lets him move on; you're sitting at home.

I just hope this doesn't turn into another soap opera a la Deion Branch. If it does, give Jackie MacMullen a call. I think she has the script ready.

The pudding's proof comes this weekend at San Diego. The Chargers are by general acclaim the most complete team in the league this year. No argument here. LaDanian Tomlinson and Shawn "Juice" Merriman await, well rested. Perhaps my favorite player to watch is fullback Lorenzo Neal (pictured). I can't say enough about him: the consumate football player. Extremely tough, dedicated, selfless and brutal. I promise you, we wouldn't be hearing as much about LDT if it weren't for the crushing, irresistable lead blocking of Mr. Neal. He's been in the league for 14 years. He's created 9 straight 1000-yard rushers. Watch him this Sunday--it's a real treat. I don't usually wax lyrical about the "other guy," but we're lucky we get to see Lorenzo play. He's every bit as good as he is low-profile.

One can only hope's Bill Simmons is right:
The Pats tipped their hands in a meaningless Tennessee game last week. There's been a nagging sense since the curious Colts defeat that they were better than they were letting on, that they were playing possum to an extent, blessed with an easy schedule that guaranteed them the 4-seed four months ago. When the Titans got them riled up with a couple of chippy plays, the ticked-off Pats switched gears, kept their starters in, opened up both barrels and blew them off the field. It was an awesome performance. For the first time all season, they looked like the physical, nasty, ball-breaking, smashmouth team that won 21 straight and 31 of 33 during the '03 and '04 seasons.
That's the way they'll need to play this Sunday.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Truth will out: Samuel, a mercenary and opportunist

One can hardly fault a professional football player for seeking a higher contract. The game is violent--potentially deadly. On the spectacle of this violence the league makes a tremendous profit, and no team casts a shadow over the Patriots in terms of gross revenue.

But I'm sorry to find my opinions of Asante Samuel's high-profile performance this year have been validated. On the morning of the first playoff game of what has been a difficult season, the Boston Globe runs an article by Jackie MacMullen detailing exactly what Asante Samuel wants. Hint: it's not a Super Bowl ring.

"Get Paid."

About to face a division rival in a highly-charged playoff rubber match, Samuel comes out with this gem:
"We've talked to them about a new contract," Samuel said. "What they offered isn't even worth discussing.

"It's disappointing. You want to believe they know what you've done. So you hope for the best, but you end up feeling underappreciated. You feel disrespected, especially how they come at you with so much negative stuff. They show you such a low regard.

"I took it personally, at first. You'd think I would have been around this team long enough to realize it's all about business. So I'm putting it out of my mind.

"If you get emotional, you are going to lose focus and that will show up on the field. I'm not going to make that mistake."

Of course not, Asante. Because what matters to you isn't winning, it's getting paid. Those of you who know me know that I've been calling this bullshit from the start. This guy still gets roasted every week. He's consistently beat for key plays and big gainers. Sure, the Pats have given up only 10 TD passes this year, but that's more a credit to the speed of our safeties than to any "shut-down" corners. What we have in Samuel is a gambler. A dice-thrower. That's fine if you're capable of following up a missed interception with a tackle, but that's yet another weakness of Asante's. He can't, or won't, wrap up. Just as his penchant for getting INT's instead of racking up passes defensed, he'd rather go for a SportsCenter knock-down than a more reliable run-of-the-mill tackle. The result? One of the more porous secondaries in recent Patriots history in terms of yards surrendered. Nobody can run on them but somehow all their games are close. Why could that be?

Asante and his agent will show up for contract negotiations (perhaps as soon as Monday) with a tape of all his "great plays." I think 10 interceptions should take about 1 minute to show. Maybe 90 seconds. 24 passes defensed. That's pretty good. That should take about 5 minutes. Then we can sit back for about a half an hour and watch endless tape of Asante missing interception attempts, giving up big plays or key first downs and whiffing on tackles.

Fine. But that's not what's pissing me off this morning. What's pissing me off this morning is that the Globe and Samuel have chosen to raise this issue not in the off season but before the biggest game of the year so far. To the Globe editorial staff I have this to say: Screw you guys! You could have run this story any time. Shit, you could have waited until Monday. But no. Sunday morning before a playoff game. Thanks. You must be tired of writing about a good-maybe-great team and you're ready to write about a bunch of losers again. Why not cover a team where you don't have to help engineer dissension and upheaval. Write about the Bruins or the Celtics if you want to cover incompetence and controversy.

To Samuel I say this: pack your f***ing bags. Go out west with your buddy Ty Law and play for those "contenders" like the Chiefs. You're playing on a team whose best player took an insultingly small contract to give the franchise some flexibility (which they've arguably squandered, but that's another story). You have no right to bitch. And the timing of your bitching indicates that you're more concerned with yourself than the team. That might fly in baseball, but it's poison to any NFL team with a championship on its mind. Take off, eh?

Friday, January 5, 2007

Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Sci-fi comedy or Anthropological Authority?

I got a bunch of books for Chrismahaunakwanzica Yultide Solstice this year and have delved deeply into one and thoroughly into another. I had begun T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom to the tune of about 100 pages or so when I received Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. I don't like to have more than a couple of books going at once. Inevitably, one winds up getting pushed to the back and it becomes doubtful if it will ever be finished. (This has most recently happened to American Theocracy, though I am determined to finish that and soon.) But Rajiv begins his book with this great quote from Lawrence:
Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably well than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.
Having read that and skimmed the first page of text, I knew I could whip through Chandrasekaran's work in a hurry and be better for it. So I did. It took me about a day to turn it over and I can highly recommend it. You'll know more than you did when you come out the other side, having been entertained by some very smooth prose along the way.

Rajiv starts by touching Lawrence and it would have been well for America and many thousands of other people if anyone in the Neoconservative Cabal had done so as well. Perhaps the most striking thing of all is not how bad the preparation for occupation was but that there really wasn't any. None. Plans were made on a single set of assumptions and no contingency plans or even contingency theories were developed. The scope of ignorance is so broad one can only assume incompetence or criminal intent. Based on a few tidbits I'm leaning toward the latter: 1. the few competent people who found their way to Iraq were overborne by the weight and volume of useless information and people they were forced to accomodate, and 2. the vast (and by vast I mean 99%) majority of contracts and appointments were handed out not based on competence or suitability, but on connections and a neoconservative litmus test.

What's sad is that the remaining 1% appear to have been genuinely talented and dedicated individuals. What's tragic is the cost of this cock-up. What's criminal is that it appears to have been intentional.

Rajiv never comes close to that conclusion. But he recites so many instances of graft and despoiliation and nepotism that it's hard to conclude other than that at least some portion of the administration realized the invasion of Iraq was the Great Heidlburg Tun of war profiteering, and worked to be sure that there were sufficient holes in the sieve.

In the main, this was accomplished by installing the most criminally incompetent band of monkeys ever to assume governance of a war zone. To the extent anything was accomplished it was accomplished through swift infusions of cash designed to polish the turd in time for US Elections. It was so stunning that about halfway through the book, I realized where I had heard this all before: Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

As a young teenager, I steeped myself in these books--they were a great escape, especially for a young person who wanted nothing more than to leave this world. Adams had an explanation for why I might feel that way and it comes in the second "Hitchhiker's" book, "The Restaraunt at the End of the Universe."

His main characters find themselves on Earth, before the start of human history. They got there when, after having made several haphazard jumps through time and space, they wind up on an interstellar frieghter that has been programmed to crash-land on our backwater, unsettled planet. The frieghter is packed with all the useless, inane and unnecessary people from the planet Golgafrincham. 15 million people from all walks of life, all sharing one characteristic: incompetence. Incompetent hairdressers, joggers, telephone sanitizers, secondhand car salesmen, advertising account executives, TV producers, insurance salesmen, management consultants, security guards. All in suspended animation in a ship captained by an incompetent and manned by two sub-fools (#1 and #2).

The ship is programmed to crash-land on Earth as a means of, frankly, eliminating this ship of fools from Golgafrincham. Of course, when they get there, those that survive the crash have no idea of how to manage themselves. In the scene that came flooding back to me as I read Imperial Life, they've finally settled on a fiscal policy. This notwithstanding the fact that they haven't figured out what to eat, or how to build shelter from the weather, or settled any of Maslow's basic needs:
"If," he said tersely, "we could for a moment move on the subject of fiscal policy..."
"Fiscal policy!" whooped Ford Prefect. "Fiscal policy! [...] How can you have money if none of you actually produces anything? It doesn't grow on trees you know."
"If you would allow me to continue. . ."
Ford nodded dejectedly.
"Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich. [...] But we have also run in to a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availabiliy, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests to one ship's peanut. [...] So in order to obviate this problem, and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and. . .er, burn down all the forests. I think you'll all agree that's a sensible move under the circumstances."

The Coalition Provisional Authority would be proud. In Adams' books, the Golgafrinchans ultimately, somehow, survive to become us. Along the way, they depress into extinction the planet's original denizens who lose their will to live in the face of the Golgafrinchans unbelievable inanity. But the strength of Golgafrinchan DNA has been proved beyond question by the CPA.

Anyway, I'd like to recommend Chandrasekaran's book. Also Lawrence's. TE Lawrence (of Arabia--yes, that one) provided British aid to the "Arab Revolt" that occupied Turkey's southern and eastern flank during the First World War. Lawrence's vision was to prod the Arabs into creating a new nation that would, hopefully, protect that people from what Lawrence could see would be the abusive subjegation of their land by the west. As we know, he, and they, ultimately failed at that. But his insights to the people and the region were prescient. Becuase they spring from a concern for the welfare of Arabs, or more properly perhaps, the Arab Tribes, and have nothing to do with preserving the oil economy for the west, however, Lawrence's insights have never been seriously adopted and his advice, clearly, has never been heeded.

As for Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide? Avoid the movie. It stinks.

New Boss. Same as the old Boss?

Massachusetts (our neighbors to the south--hi guys!) installed new Gov Deval Patrick on 1.4.07. He comes in high in hopes and rhetoric, but relatively short on experience. His inaugural address has some great rhetoric, delivered with some force and credibility--at least credible passion. It also included this moving gem:
I got a letter from a woman in Worcester named Stacy Amaral a few weeks ago. She told me how she -- like my own mother -- had raised two children on her own, now both grown and doing well. Stacy now helps care for her mother, a frail 82-year-old woman of just 85 pounds, who is recovering from cancer and a broken hip.

On Election Day, when Stacy went to collect her mother to go to the polls, she arrived to find the elevators in the building weren’t functioning. She had to walk up six flights of stairs to her mother’s apartment. When she told her mother that she was sorry she wouldn’t be able to get down (or back up for that matter) because the elevators were not working, her mother got her coat and started down the six flights of stairs. Half an hour later, one cautious step after another, her daughter following her with the walker in one hand and two pocketbooks in the other, Stacy’s mother got down those six flights of stairs. I have no idea how long it took her to get back up again later on.

That frail 82-year-old did not walk down six flights of stairs for us to conduct the business of government the same old way. It is time for a change. And we are that change.

I hope he can honor that. I hope that the people of Massachusetts and their representatives help him to honor that. Truly, the Commonwealth has long lead this nation in advancing and preserving the rights of people and has always kept the guttering flame of American idealism from dying out completely.

Here's my toast to a New Day for the joeys. I hope Patrick is everything he seems to be but I think you'll be OK. There's one thing he is most assuredly not: Mitt. That can only be a good thing.