Archive for August, 2007

Gone Fishing – Really

August 25, 2007

We’re going fishing.  Fly fishing to be precise.  We’ll be gone for a week so there won’t be any new blog entries for a week.  We’re bound for a place high in the Rocky Mountains and, if it has internet service, we don’t want to know about it.  Up there it is important that the world not be too much with us.  Up there all that is important is that birds and trout live in beautiful places.

Fly fishing, according to one of our friends, is a blood sport.  We don’t agree of course.  We think of it as an ephemeral art form.  That is a tribute to our denial skill.  Although the fish seldom bleed I doubt they much enjoy the thrill of being caught.  Plus we will release every one we catch, this being a “catch and release” river we will be fishing.

No.  We prefer to think that the experience for a fish is like this. He is just floating there in a beautiful river doing what he does everyday of his life, eating bugs that float downstream into his mouth and avoiding predators from that alien world above where the sky is empty of water and usable air.  Suddenly, one of the bugs bites him and won’t let go.  After a few moments of attempting to get the bug to stop biting, the fish is suddenly lifted out of its world by a giant into an alien world where there is no water and no breathable air.  This giant grabs the biting bug and makes it let go. Then the giant gently puts the fish back into its watery home and all is well again.

The fish has no way of knowing that the biting bug is attached to a line which is attached to a fishing rod which is attached to a large mammal who intentionally tried to catch the fish.  All the fish knows is that the large mammal ended its pain.

See.  We said that our denial skills are finely honed.

See you in a week.

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Rumpole of the Bailey and Wine-Writing

August 24, 2007

Basically, there are three types of “legal” writers; judges who make the law by writing opinions; lawyers, professors and others who write non-fiction about the law and writers of fiction. From time to time this blog will travel into the realms of fictional lawyers. One of those lawyers is Horace Rumpole. “Rumpole of the Bailey” loves his wine. Rumpole, if you haven’t met him, is an English barrister who spends his days trying criminal cases to juries at the Old Bailey in London. After a hard day in a trial over which his nemesis Judge Bullingham has presided, he especially likes the “plonk” from Pommeroy’s wine bar. Rumpole doesn’t bother reading the labels on the bottles.

I do though. I love wine writing. The people who do it well are capable of completely meaningless sentences. Real writers wouldn’t touch the stuff. Imagine Raymond Chandler trying his hand at it, “But down these mean streets a Chardonnay must slosh which is not itself mean.” Or Mark Twain, “I was in a sweat to find out all about Viognier; but by and by she let it out that Viognier was a grape and had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about it, because I don’t take no stock in dead grapes.” On the other hand, one expects that John Mortimer, the author of the Rumpole series, would enjoy writing satirical blurbs for fictional wineries.

My hometown is nowhere near any real wine regions but that didn’t stop the early Catholic missionaries who came here from growing a few grapes and making them into wine. They needed the wine; things were pretty boring here in those days. Some say they still are. I doubt that the wine was much good. This is a desert, after all. Nevertheless our local wineries are always braying about what an old and historic grape growing region this is. Old, yes; historic, yes; decent wine, not really. But that doesn’t stop our wine writers.

Here is an example, “. . . I feel that there is a great deal of room for improvement in contemplating this year’s vintage.” Will there be classes where everyone sits around and thinks about the vintage? I’ve been to this particular winery and even tasted the wines. I don’t know who to feel sorriest for; the architect who designed the building, the contractor who built it, the winemaker or the wine-writer. All are uniformly awful. But never mind. This winery is “very excited for the [State] about the Viognier.” The writer does not make clear how an abstraction like a state can get worked up over a grape. But, never mind; the winery has a “growing Wine Club.” It isn’t clear whether the club grows wine, is increasing in number or is full of youngsters still growing. The Club is getting ready to have an “event.” The “event” will be open to “all Wine Club Members plus one guest.” It is not clear who the guest will be. Nor is it clear why all those Members got themselves capitalized.

Wineries are always trumpeting the recent medals they won in a wine contest somewhere interesting like East Indianapolis. Wine competitions are like kindergarten, everyone always gets a prize. I recently saw an article in a California newspaper about a recent competition where 640 wines won medals in the competition. Out of 700 entrants. Such kindergarten wine competitions are the only hope for most of our local wineries. They are always winning gold medals. I suspect the color of the medals won is directly related to the level of fees paid for admission. I’ve had some local “gold medal winners.” Even Rumpole would not touch such swill.

As for the writing on the labels of the bottles, don’t get me started. Unless you have a bottle of real wine to share. Something from France or California or Germany or Italy or even Australia. I’ll be happy to go through your cellar with you pointing out examples of the awful writing on the labels. We’ll do it a bottle at a time. First we’ll drink the bottle, then we’ll discuss the writing. Let’s start with your Lafite Rothchilds. You pick the vintage. My contemplation of vintages needs improving.

George Bush Revisits the Vietnam War

August 22, 2007

The French Revolution was one of the watershed events of human history. When Henry Kissinger was talking to Chou En Lai almost two hundred years after the French Revolution, he asked Chou what he thought about it. Chou replied, “I don’t know. It is too early to tell.” That shows a decent respect for the value of time in human history and is one of the reasons I hesitate to pile on the same day of some breaking news story. In addition, other and better informed bloggers than I can handle that perfectly well without me.

But, every so often, something comes up that is just irresistible. President Bush’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars today is such an event. Specifically, one line out of that speech.

He said, “There is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left.”

Lewis Carroll would be proud. That is pure Alice in Wonderland.

There may still be a cultural divide about Vietnam among that war’s generation; there might even be some disagreement but there is no debate and certainly no “legitimate” debate about it. No doubt that there are many poorly read, emotional people who still think the liberal media caused us to lose that war but they are to political debate what Neanderthals were to Cro-Magnons. Our invasion of Vietnam was a mistake, our conduct of the war there, courageous but hapless and our exit inevitable. A list of all the differences between that war and the war in Iraq would go on for pages. The similarities are summed up in the word “quagmire,” a word used by Vice-President Cheney in 1994 when he was justifying the decision of the first President Bush not to go to Baghdad and depose Saddam Hussein.

The current President Bush and Karl Rove seem to believe – “believe,” not “think” – that history will vindicate them. But they are not waiting. First they will try to rewrite the history of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam because, if they don’t succeed at that, there is little chance they will succeed at brainwashing future historians of the Second Gulf War, known today as Iraq. President’s Bush’s wishful thinking about the importance of his “war presidency” is simply grandiose thinking. This is not the French Revolution.

FISA and the Postman Again

August 20, 2007

I don’t understand this. I got back from the mountains and found another letter to George Bush in my mailbox.

______________________________________

THE FLYING DERRICKS RANCH
Headquarters

George W. Bush
President
Washington, D.C.

Now George, you need to relax. I see from the liberal news media that you are doing things along the border to stop Mexican citizens from comin across into the good ole U.S. How do you expect me to get any work done down here? You know any gringos under the age of 60 willing to work 18 hours a day in the hot sun? You want a job like that? And no two months of vacation and weekends off neither. Unless you want the job, you best leave em be and let em come.

You and I both know them Mexicans are good people. Not like that lady I saw a picture of in that Washington Post newspaper. She was carrying a sign that said, “This is America. Speak English.” Man, that was one angry racist. Bet she don’t speak Spanish or any other language ‘cept English and she probably don’t speak it no better than you or me. I wouldn’t ride the river with her for nothing. I feel bad for her husband. I’d rather sleep with a rattlesnake.

Hell, them gringos probably all voted for you because of “family values.” Mexicans could teach a gringos a lot about family values. You remember Jose? Worked hisself into an early grave just so he could keep sending money home to his wife and little ones. Do them gringo racists think my men don’t miss their families? Do they think all these Mexican illegals want to be here? If we would do some more investing down there in infrastructure projects and building schools and hospitals and roads and pay them a decent wage, they’d stay home alright.

Had some rain this week and the pastures look real good. It’s been a good year for us, not like all them poor folks up in Idaho and Montana and out there on the West Coast. Diego saw a mountain lion up on the North Forty yesterday. I’m heading up there now to see if I can get a glimpse of it. Ain’t nothing so beautiful as a wild mountain lion on the prowl.

Best,

Hondo Blane
Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer
Flying Derricks Ranch

Cities and Men

August 17, 2007

This summer has brought several short trips into the mountains. Sleeping on a porch at a cabin much older than I, falling asleep to the flashes of distant lightning, waking to the sounds of a hundred or so Hummingbirds and two Stellar Jays; all back-dropped by a creek gurgling and talking to itself as it heads for the Gulf of Mexico or some dam between here and there.

The place itself affects the writing of this blog. It is harder to think or write about politics or war or law up there. Older rhythms, older concerns slide into the places of a mind previously occupied by the news and traffic and urban noise. Blood pressure declines, atavistic desires return, time slows and a kind of peace arises which is absent – at least for this human – in the city. I like myself more up there than I like myself down here.

Which brings us to one of the fundamental changes humanity is undergoing. According to the United Nations, sometime this year -2007 – for the first time in human history, more humans will live in cities than rural abodes. Some of the cities are immense. Crowded, polluted, noisy with hundreds of millions of human beings trying to live meaningful lives or just trying to stay alive. Our species is losing its direct, visible contact with the natural world. Most cannot see a sunset from where they live, if they even remember to look. In the developed world many never look up at night and why should they, the stars are invisible because of the city lights. Moonlight loses its magic in such places. Mythology is usurped by electricity.

For most of human history our connection to nature and the earth has been direct, visceral. We knew exactly where our food came from; we hunted it and gathered it ourselves. We knew exactly what the weather was; we lived in it. We lived in and as a part of nature. We still do, but not with that directness and visceral visibility. Now we must learn a new way of being on the earth, one that for millions of us lacks direct experience of being outdoors in an environment other than cities. In the developed world most of us are hardly ever outside anyway. We arise each morning in a capsule, drive to work in a mobile capsule, work all day in yet another enclosed capsule then return to the original capsule in the mobile capsule.

This is not likely to change. Absent some immense catastrophe, humanity will continue to prefer electricity, warmth, man-made shelter and our gadgets over the age-old struggle to survive outdoors. Cities work for us or we would not live in them. History seldom reverses direction. The law of entropy applies to us as well as elemental particles. How will we adapt? Many are exploring that question. One of them is our friend at Wild Resiliency. Many more are listed in his blog roll.

Some of our early adaptations to our new urbanization are visible in the developed world. Single family houses with green lawns, nature television programs, wilderness areas, outdoor hobbies such as hunting, fishing and birding, an environmental movement with real political power are some early examples. There will be more. Some will work, some won’t. Our survival instinct will trump any that get in the way and many that only seem to get in the way.

I don’t know what they will be, these adaptations. I’ll be gone anyway. For now, I’ll get outside as often as I can and up to the mountains as much as I can. I’ll emulate E.B.White. He thought his writing was better when he wrote on his Vermont farm and mailed his work in rather than when he wrote at his office at the New Yorker.

As a matter of fact, I’m leaving now. See you next week.

FISA and the Mistaken Postman

August 15, 2007

We received a letter by mistake today. It was addressed to George W. Bush at the White House in Washington, D.C. We started to mark it as delivered incorrectly but then thought, “He’s been reading all our mail without a warrant for years, let’s read one of his.” Here it is in its original, unaltered form.

________________________________________________

THE FLYING DERRICKS RANCH
Headquarters

To George W. Bush
President of these United States
August 13, 2007

George,

I see all them liberal effete snobs are making fun of you since Karl-boy decided to go on back to Texas. Drawing cartoons of you without your brain and all. It’s enough to make a grown man sick. And that Oliphant guy has you asking Uncle Dick Cheney where your brain is. Hell, you and me both know its Uncle Dick that’s been running the country, not Karl. Dick’s your brain.

I see Karl’s going dove hunting. He’ll get some too. Them birds is stupid. Not like the wild turkeys me and Jim Baker hunt. Wild turkeys are smart and you got to work to even get a shot at one. Doves is just all over the place and dumb as fence posts. Plus they are peace symbols and only them liberals want peace. Hail, where would the world be without war? Answer me that. Too bad there isn’t a season on liberals. Karl and Uncle Dick and me would have a fine time.

I also been reading how everyone thinks Karl and you failed because that war in Iraq ain’t going like you planned. You did plan that war didn’t you boy?

Now just ‘cause something ain’t workin is no reason to go and change it. Your pappy will remember how many wells I dug on my land a’tryin to find oil and I never did until that day I accidentally on purpose dug that well on a diagonal under the fence line into my neighbor’s ranch and struck oil. Then that poor ole boy went belly-up and I had to buy his ranch at the foreclosure sale and now I’m rich as God. If I’d a quit who knows how I would have ended up. You stick to your guns over there in Iraq. (Heh. Heh. That’s a pun. Did you get it, boy?)

All my best,

Hondo Blane
Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer
The Flying Derricks Ranch

_____________________________________________

We took the liberty of looking up the Oliphant cartoon. You can find it here.

Karl Rove and The Golden State, Part II

August 14, 2007

It seems like it would be piling on to blog about Karl Rove’s resignation today. Everyone else is doing it. Here is a brief summation of what everyone is saying. Karl Rove is/is not a political genius. We have to give him great political credit for taking an affable, determined but not very bright candidate and turning him into a president of the United States. He learned his politics from Lee Atwater and believes in taking no prisoners and scorching the earth behind him. But, he probably was not successful at his highest goal which was to emulate Mark Hannah by creating a Republican majority that would last a generation. (Although he was successful at it in Texas.) He was as big a failure at policy making as he was a success at politics. He will now make a lot of money commentating on politics on conservative talk shows and the lecture circuit and then he will be the curator of the George W. Bush library where he will live out his years trying, as they would say down in Texas, to put lipstick on the pig.

I don’t have much to add to all that. I was going to comment on Rove’s deep and essential amorality but I see that someone who has followed his career for years has already done that too. I recommend highly James Moore’s piece which you can read here. If you are in a hurry, here is a quote:

When I first started reporting on Karl Rove in the late 1970s, I was impressed by his singularity of purpose and his willingness to say or do whatever was necessary to succeed. This amorality, a complete lack of concern for right or wrong or harm done, will be his legacy in the American political process. Lives and careers might be destroyed, great institutions compromised, the truth sullied until it is unrecognizable, but all of that will be acceptable collateral damage to Karl as long as he and his party and candidates have won the day.

Nothing has ever mattered to Karl Rove beyond the accumulation of political power. . . .

So instead of adding to today’s blogging blizzard about Rove, I’ll just quietly subside and go watch the Hummingbirds in the backyard. Speaking of birds, there is a blog discussing Rove’s plans to go dove hunting here.

The Ecology of Fear

August 13, 2007

As we noted in today’s prior post, “The Golden State” was gone for a long weekend. Into the Rocky Mountains where it was hard to think directly about things like Karl Rove and his politics. (Although we see from a Washington Post blog here that Mr. Rove likewise was recently in the Rockies.) It was easier, in the mountains, to think about Aspen trees, birds and thunderstorms than politics. We thought about beneficial uses of fear; not Mr. Rove’s destructive politics of fear. Rather than add our voice to the growing chorus of voices denouncing that kind of politics, we’ll just talk about Aspens and Elk, in the futile hope that remaining policy makers in the Bush Administration will read it and repent. Fear often has biological benefits but hardly ever political ones. In the meantime, Mr. Rove is going dove hunting. Doves will get a lesson in the politics of fear. The irony is, I am sure, unintentional and lost on Mr. Rove.

The largest living organism on earth is probably an Aspen grove. Aspen trees in a grove are genetically identical, usually born of the same parent tree, most often from roots that burrow under the earth. aspen-grove-1-of-1.jpgSeeking sun and life, they shoot through the earth and grow into the mountain sky. Others grow from seeds blown about on Autumn “Aspen Winds.” Wandering Rocky Mountain backpackers will go to sleep one evening after marveling at the golden leaves in an Aspen meadow and awake the next morning to find that the nighttime Aspen winds stripped the trees bare.

Probably every bird that lives in or travels through the Rocky Mountains has perched in an Aspen tree, an example of how every living being, most assuredly including humans, on this planet is connected in some way.

Aspen tree bark is to Elk what chocolate is to humans: A great treat which; although strictly speaking, is unnecessary to sustain life, makes life richer. Elk, unlike humans, lack self-restraint. Left to themselves they will strip the bark off an Aspen tree. Naked Aspen trees, like naked humans, will die in a Rocky Mountain winter.

And that has been a problem in Yellowstone National Park and other places in the Rockies since mankind decided to eradicate wolves. Recently we looked at a book by the publishers of Outdoor Life, written in the early 1950’s. In it was a painting of a wolf, along with an article which ended looking forward to the day when a hunter shot the last living wolf for, “The only good wolf is a dead wolf.” There is no doubt that the author of the piece was filled with the best of intentions, believing wolves pestilential.

As is so often the case in humanity’s history, we are reminded of a well-known road paved with good intentions.

We pretty much eradicated wolves from Yellowstone and the Rockies. But wolves eat elk. About one a month per wolf. Because the wolves were gone, elk lost their main predator and multiplied in great numbers. Lacking self-restraint, they ate Aspens at a prodigious rate. The Aspens died. Soon Yellowstone was almost bereft of Aspens. Birds lost protected perches where they could rest from their arduous migrations but still have a good field of view to protect themselves from their predators.

Then recently humans began allowing wolves back into Yellowstone. Not very many, certainly not enough to cull the immense Elk herds which were destroying the Aspen, but enough to introduce what one biologist calls, “the ecology of fear.” It turns out that Elk can exercise a form of self-restraint: They won’t go deep into Aspen groves if they are afraid of wolves. Deep in an Aspen grove, as you can see, elk lack a wide field of view from which they can see approaching wolves. So they eat Aspen bark only on the edges of groves and they eat it quickly. They don’t take time to completely strip even the trees on the edge of the grove. The trees are returning to health and the songs of birds can again be heard in Aspen groves.

Karl Rove and the Golden State

August 13, 2007

“The Golden State” left town for a long weekend and Karl Rove resigned.  Perhaps “The Golden State” should leave town more often.

As a matter of fact, “The Golden State” will be gone for an entire week later this month.  If a long weekend worked for Karl Rove, perhaps a week will work for Vice-President Cheney?

More News You Missed

August 7, 2007

This news from Kansas:

Meade County Officers responded to a 911 call from the Meade Truck Stop reporting a possible domestic problem in the truck stop parking lot.  Turned out to be car problems and the subject was beating the car.