Saturday February 25 2006
A selection of photographs of Wales, dating from the 1840s to the 1880s, including work by Roger Fenton and Francis Bedford.
america the beautiful
America, Narcoleptic Pit Bull
Once the (tarnished) beacon of peace and democracy, now just another global flamethrower
I have never been in a grand melee. I have never been in a violent clash or in an angry mob scene or part of an anti-war protest that got completely out of hand and the police had to come in and throw tear gas and swing batons and drag screaming dreadlocked dudes away by their hair.
But I do remember my time on the childhood playground, the fights between boys (and even the scarier girls), where two or more of the single-digiters would, for reasons most likely having to do with the opposite sex or turf or licorice whips, decide to throw down and take to kicking and punching and squealing, and suddenly everyone would rush over and gather round for the mad entertainment, everyone cheering and stomping and some of the bystanders even starting fights themselves, and you could see their blood rise and their demons come out as their own innate sense of violence and rage steamed out their ears like fetid smoke.
It is, verily, the common analogy for our Bush-ravaged times. Violence, as we seem to forget in some sort of collective denial, begets violence. Intolerance breeds intolerance. And war begets war. It self-perpetuates, feeds on itself, sucking and teething on the blood and exploded limbs and the punctured hearts of the dead, growing in the soil of hate and ignorance and my-God-can-beat-up-your-God.
what we tell our children
Going Straight to Hell
Many years ago, when Freddie was a young 'un, his favowittest book inna whole wi' worl' was a little thing about pirates. We read that goddamned book so many times together that we both could recite it in our sleep -- and frequently did, Wonder Woman informs me.
One page of the book listed The Pirate's Rules, all laid out in numerical order. Complete bullshit, of course, but very impressive to the four-year-old mind. Things like "1. One eighth part of all Booty is reserved for the Captain; the rest is shared equally by the Crew"; or "7. Any open flames below decks shall earn a man twelve stripes with the cat, yarrrr."
I got the tiniest bit fed up with The Pirate's Rules fairly early on in the game, and began to, as they say, Play with the Form. Taking inspiration from The Philosophy Department of the University of New South Wales, I began to regularly omit Rule Four from the list, saying instead, "Rule Four: There is no Rule Four, me hearties!"
All very innocent fun, of course, until one day I overheard a conversation coming from the back seat as I was ferrying a gaggle of Cub Scouts somewhere: "Did you know that pirates didn't believe in the number four?" "Get outta here!" "No, really! They wouldn't have Rule Four!"
a taste of the future
A Short Emergency
Friday morning the sky went dark like a sudden memory of wartime, and a cold wind roared out of the northwest in a fury over my town in upstate New York. The winds picked up through the morning and pretty soon things were flying around outside my office window, including the trellis in the garden. Then trees toppled over. The trees crashed down across powerlines and at one-thirty in the afternoon the power went out in Saratoga Springs. It would stay down all weekend. I went out to take a look later on Friday afternoon. Many of the shops and bistros downtown closed by late afternoon. The yearly regional music festival called the Dance Flurry had to shut down.
Back home, the furnace quit working. Even though it burns natural gas, it requires electricity to power the igniters. People we knew were already heading up to the big box hardware emporiums for generators and kerosene heaters. I came across one neighbor trying to hook up a generator. He was very blue because he owned ten rental properties around town and he had no idea how he was going to keep the pipes from freezing if the temperatures really plunged as low as the radio was saying: single digits.
That night, my girlfriend was struggling to get back upstate from New York City on Amtrak. She couldn't reach me because our telephones were all cordless models with plug-in transmitter bases that didn't work with the power off. So she called our friends around the corner, who had a hardwired phone (which can run whether the electrical service is on or not), and I got the message. They stayed at my place for dinner. It wasn't too bad. The gas stove was still working -- though not the oven, which could only be turned on via an electronic keypad -- and we had penne with mushrooms and a nice salad by candle light. I had lots of candles on hand, and a kerosene lamp and a battery-powered lantern and several flashlights. Lucky me. With the stove burners all lit, we were perfectly comfortable at the table.
orange crate art
BEN SAKOGUCHI ORANGE CRATE LABEL SERIES
thanks to Magpie
a woman's choice
NARAL and Planned Parenthood Are Now the Enemies of Pro-Choice
South Dakota has now passed legislation making it illegal for a woman to have an abortion even in the case of rape or incest. It's a law perfectly timed to test the new Supreme Court now that Samuel Alito has joined their ranks. How exactly did we get to this place?
Ask Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
They sat back, bilked their membership like an ATM then didn't show up to fight Alito's confirmation, frolicking in their mountain of hoarded cash even as they pissed and moaned. Worse yet, afterwards they told their members to thank those in the Senate -- like Joe Lieberman -- who cast their votes to let this happen.
Now women across the country are enraged and they're "irritated" by the phone calls and faxes they're getting. Their disconnect from the real world of pro-choice is both dangerous and astonishing.
wall chart art
Karl Georg Friedrich Rudolf Leuckart (1822-1898)
The Dawn of Brains and Bones
Go back far enough in our history--maybe about 650 million years--and you come to a time when our ancestors were still invertebrates. That is, they had no skulls, teeth, or other bones. They didn't even have a brain.
How invertebrates became vertebrates is a fascinating question, made all the more fascinating because the answer tells us something about how we got to be the way we are. In order to reconstruct what happened, scientists can study several different kinds of evidence. They can look at the bodies of invertebrates to find the ones that share traits with vertebrates not found in other invertebrates. Those common traits may be signs of common ancestry. Scientists can look for signs of this ancestry by studying the DNA of vertebrates and invertebrates. They can also examine the fossil record, to discover transitional forms that offer clues to the transitions that can't be found in living species.
When scientists consider this evidence, the answers don't come pouring into their lap like coins from a slot machine. They have to put together hypotheses that do the best job of explaining vertebrate origins.They can then test those hypotheses against new evidence. Sometimes the old hypotheses hold up. Sometimes it turns out they were based on a misreading of the evidence. New hypotheses emerge to take the place of old ones. But those new hypotheses have to be better than the old ones. Scientists do not just suddenly declare that any explanation will do.
Gerry seems to be adjusting to life at HomePlace. We took her out yesterday for an appointment with her foot doctor and then went into a Dairy Queen for some ice cream. Gerry did pretty well. Still a little unstable so someone has to be at her side but she walked pretty well. She was pretty alert but still has trouble finding words. It's been pretty hard on Zoe. Her brother Jim is coming to visit from Iowa next weekend so both Zoe and Gerry are looking forward to it. Even though Gerry doesn't retain much in her memory, some things do seem to stick and Jim's coming is definitely one of the memories that are sticking. We will be visiting again tomorrow.
photographing small things
I have a little work bench in my basement that I use, with some seamless paper, for product photography with some hot lights.
It's worked out very well. However, there are times that it would be nice to take it on the road. The lights are easy to transport but my work station isn't so I made a portable table for my product photography. Here it all is ready to assemble.
It all goes on top of one of those wonderful Black and Decker work benches that collapses into a nice size for storage or moving.
The top is in two pieces. The back piece fits into one of three slots. I use the back slot. The front piece is moved by jack screws. Here it's moved all the way to the front.
I made a top that is the width of the seamless paper and deep enough for what I need to photograph. It could have been in one piece but I didn't have a piece of scrap that big so I had to splice two different pieces together.
The seamless paper is held up by a dowel that sits in a V at the end of the vertical pieces. The whole thing is held onto the work bench by two flathead screws in the back and one in the front that go through the wooden tops of the work bench.
Then the seamless paper is unrolled and taped with gaffers tape.
I had to use it last night to take some pictures of some bags for a new site I'm working on and all went well. The table and lights make for a bit of gear to carry around but it could be worse. I could be a drummer.
That's all for now. Off to find new links and finish up a couple of web sites. I'll be back in a few days with more linky goodness.
the end of democracy
Who Will Save America?
We have reached a point where the Bush administration is determined to totally eclipse the people. Bewitched by neoconservatives and lustful for power, the Bush administration and the Republican Party are aligning themselves firmly against the American people. Their first victims, of course, were the true conservatives. Having eliminated internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the opposition party.
Before flinching at my assertion of blackmail, ask yourself why President Bush refuses to obey the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The purpose of the FISA court is to ensure that administrations do not spy for partisan political reasons. The warrant requirement is to ensure that a panel of independent federal judges hears a legitimate reason for the spying, thus protecting a president from the temptation to abuse the powers of government. The only reason for the Bush administration to evade the court is that the Bush administration had no legitimate reasons for its spying. This should be obvious even to a naif.
The United States is undergoing a coup against the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself. The "liberal press" has been co-opted. As everyone must know by now, the New York Times has totally failed its First Amendment obligations, allowing Judith Miller to make war propaganda for the Bush administration, suppressing for an entire year the news that the Bush administration was illegally spying on American citizens, and denying coverage to Al Gore's speech that challenged the criminal deeds of the Bush administration.
The TV networks mimic Fox News' faux patriotism. Anyone who depends on print, TV, or right-wing talk radio media is totally misinformed. The Bush administration has achieved a de facto Ministry of Propaganda.
The years of illegal spying have given the Bush administration power over the media and the opposition. Journalists and Democratic politicians don't want to have their adulterous affairs broadcast over television or to see their favorite online porn sites revealed in headlines in the local press with their names attached. Only people willing to risk such disclosures can stand up for the country.
The End of the Republic
I don't even know how to say it anymore. The American Republic is, effectively, dead.
Oh, the corpse shambles on, elections are still held, and lip service is copiously given to freedom.
But it's dead. When the president believes he can order someone on US soil killed because he thinks he's a terrorist, when the Senate refuses to censure administration officials who lie under oath to it, when the argument about spying on Americans without a court order is about "you didn't come to us to get permission first" - well, the corpse may be stumbling along, but it's a zombie.
When the US went to war on a defenceless nation based on a naked and obvious propaganda campaign which sold obvious lies about the chosen target, the US ceased being a Republic.
Photos of an unknown family who probably owned a liquor store
thanks to The Cartoonist
'The Biggest Secret'
The challenges posed to American democracy by secrecy and by unchecked presidential power are the two great themes running through the history of the Iraq war. How long the war will last, who will "win," and what it will do to the political landscape of the Middle East will not be obvious for years to come, but the answers to those questions cannot alter the character of what happened at the outset. Put plainly, the President decided to attack Iraq, he brushed caution and objection aside, and Congress, the press, and the people, with very few exceptions, stepped back out of the way and let him do it.
Explaining this fact is not going to be easy. Commentators often now refer to President Bush's decision to invade Iraq as "a war of choice," which means that it was not provoked. The usual word for an unprovoked attack is aggression. Why did Americans —elected representatives and plain citizens alike—accede so readily to this act of aggression, and why did they question the President's arguments for war so feebly? The whole business is painfully awkward to consider, but it will not go away. If the Constitution forbids a president anything it forbids war on his say-so, and if it insists on anything it insists that presidents are not above the law. In plain terms this means that presidents cannot enact laws on their own, or ignore laws that have been enacted by Congress.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is such a law; it was enacted to end years of routine wiretapping of American citizens who had attracted official attention by opposing the war in Vietnam. The express purpose of the act was to limit what presidents could ask intelligence organizations to do. But for limits on presidential power to have meaning Congress and the courts must have the fortitude to say no when they think no is the answer.
In public life as in kindergarten, the all-important word is no. We are living with the consequences of the inability to say no to the President's war of choice with Iraq, and we shall soon see how the Congress and the courts will respond to the latest challenge from the White House—the claim by President Bush that he has the right to ignore FISA's prohibition of government intrusion on the private communications of Americans without a court order, and his repeated statements that he intends to go right on doing it.