Sunday Sensational Science

Captivating Clouds

Who hasn’t spent an afternoon dreaming dragons and castles in the clouds? Watched a thunderstorm build from nothing into towering anvils and bizarre colors? Some of the most beautiful sights on earth begin with clouds sailing over the moon or sun. Simple water vapor and ice crystal collections do some spectacular things.

But if all you’ve seen are the old standbys of cumulus, cirrus, and stratus, you’ve missed out on some truly incredible sights. Let’s take a walk through the skies and observe some of the rarest clouds around.


Noctilucent (night shining) clouds form so high in the atmosphere – over fifty miles in some cases – that scientists still don’t completely understand them. They were first observed after Krakotoa’s eruption in 1885, and there’s some talk that their increased prevalence could be a harbinger of global warming. Their ice crystals are so tiny they don’t scatter light efficiently, and so they’re only visible when the sun is below the horizon.

Click the picture for a great NASA story on them.


Mammatus clouds, though not an everyday sight, aren’t quite so rare. They’re opportunists, forming under a wide variety of cloud types – not to mention jet plane contrails and volcanic ash clouds. They’re another poorly understood lot. Wikipedia lists no less than ten proposed mechanisms for their formation.


Lenticular clouds have personally freaked me out before. Living near a mountain, you have a good chance of seeing these every once in a great while, and it’s bizarre. They don’t look like they could have possibly formed from natural causes. They form on the downward side of warm, moist air flowing over mountains and creating standing waves.


Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds look like nature went a little crazy with the scroll art. They form when two different layers of air moving at different speeds make wave structures. These look like stylized ocean waves because it’s pretty much the same mechanism that forms both: Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. Yes, air does indeed behave like a fluid.


Nacreous clouds form 9-16 miles high, and put on a spectacular show, lit by the invisible sun after sunset or before dawn. Gorgeous, yes, but also associated with ozone depletion: they support the chemical reactions that allow ozone holes to form. Bad, bad, beautiful clouds!


And, finally… regular old water vapor clouds. These look totally ordinary, don’t they? And so they are, except for one thing: they’re from Mars:


As northern summer ends on Mars, water vapor from the north pole comes down to lower latitudes making clouds, frost and even fog possible. That is what we are starting to see at the Mars Phoenix landing site.

Isn’t that absolutely awesome? The ordinary is extraordinary again. Click the image to watch the Martian clouds go by on a late summer afternoon.

Persistent IDiots, Aren’t They?

They’re too stupid to give up. Here’s yet another creationist-infested school board getting ready to toss millions of dollars down the shitter just so they can shove their religious claptrap down kids’ throats:


The Brunswick County school board is looking for a way for creationism to be taught in the classroom side by side with evolution.

“It’s really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism,” county school board member Jimmy Hobbs said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The law says we can’t have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists.”

Yes, you fuckwit. That’s because evolution isn’t a fucking religion – it’s science. Not that you would know what science is. Fucking morons.

The topic came up after county resident Joel Fanti told the board he thought it was unfair for evolution to be taught as fact, saying it should be taught as a theory because there’s no tangible proof it’s true.

“I wasn’t here 2 million years ago,” Fanti said. “If evolution is so slow, why don’t we see anything evolving now?”

What the fuck is wrong with these people? Why do they seem to believe they had to be there to personally witness events over millions of years before they’re valid? And did this dumbass ever consider the fact he wasn’t here 6,000 years ago, either? Let me ask you a question, Joel: if God is such a badass, why aren’t we seeing him babbling from burning bushes now? I haven’t personally seen Jesus in the flesh: therefore, he must not have ever existed.

See how that cuts both ways?

Not to mention the fact that evolution is fucking everywhere. Joel could step into any bloody biology lab in the country and watch evolution happen right before his god-blind eyes. The only thing not evolving is the fucking creationists.

Board attorney Joseph Causey said it might be possible for the board to add creationism to the curriculum if it doesn’t replace the teaching of evolution.

Schools’ Superintendent Katie McGee said her staff would do research.

Babson said the board must look at the law to see what it says about teaching creationism, but that “if we can do it, I think we ought to do it.”

Let me save you the time and expense: you can’t do it. No way, no how, no creationism.

You know what I think an easy solution to this is? Make these fuckers pay. Instead of the schools having to foot the legal bills for yet another hopeless attempt to replace science with fundamentalist Christian bullshit, make the dumbfucks who propose this crap pay for the pleasure. If school board members were personally on the hook for the expense, some of them might not be so eager to tilt at windmills. Even if not, at least the money would be coming out of church pockets (because you know they’d take up a bloody collection). Schools shouldn’t have to pay for creationist stupidity.

(Tip o’ the shot glass to Tristero)

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Adios, Paul Newman. You were awesome, and we’ll miss you.

Ned Lamont, who challenged Lieberman for Connecticut’s Senate seat, remembers:

We were way down in the polls and I was busy leaving messages on answering machines when a young volunteer came bounding into my rabbit warren and announced breathlessly, “Paul Newman is on the line.” A little skeptical, I shot back that I was on the line with Vladimir Putin so hold all calls, but our savvy volunteer suggested that this was a call worth taking.

“Thanks for calling, Mr. Newman,” I parried.

“Cut the Mr. Newman crap, it’s Paul,” was his opening line — unmistakably the real deal.

After remembering Newman’s humorous adventures with robocalls, Lamont says:

To me, Paul was Cool Hand Luke, challenging the good ol’ boys and the conventional wisdom, with a delighted twinkle in his eye.

We’ll miss you, Mr. Newman.

We already do.

Alas, the stoopid doesn’t pause just because a great actor and human being died. Stoopid doesn’t stop for anything – probably because it’s too stupid to realize when it should quit. Yes, I’m talking about McCain and his merry bunch of raving fuckwits. However did you guess?

They’re serving up a heaping helping of stoopid today. A friend of Steve Benen’s described the McCain campaign’s style as “ready, fire, aim,” and he was spot-on. McCain did exactly that with his new attack ad. I imagine his foot’s bleeding rather heavily about now:

So, McCain, unconcerned about decency or honesty, is doubling down on accusing Barack Obama of not supporting U.S. troops. In a new ad, unveiled this afternoon, the McCain campaign insists, “In the midst of war, Senator Obama voted to cut off funding for our troops.” It concludes that Obama supports “risking lives.”

McCain desperately has to hope voters are fools. Indeed, this came up last night, and Obama explained reality fairly well:

“Senator McCain opposed funding for troops in legislation that had a timetable, because he didn’t believe in a timetable. I opposed funding a mission that had no timetable, and was open-ended, giving a blank check to George Bush. We had a difference on the timetable. We didn’t have a difference on whether or not we were going to be funding troops. We had a legitimate difference.”

What’s really idiotic about McCain’s attack is that, by his own logic, McCain voted to cut off funding for our troops in the midst of a war. That’s an inescapable conclusion — McCain supported troop funding when he liked the conditions of the spending bill, and opposed troop funding when he didn’t. As it happens, Obama did the exact same thing, only in support of different conditions.

If Obama voted to undermine the troops and “risked lives,” then McCain voted to undermine the troops and “risked lives.” It’s as simple as that.

Why is it that McCain doesn’t seem to be concerned that his hypocrisy will cost him votes? Voters don’t like to be treated as fucking fools, yet that’s exactly what he’s doing. Maybe he thinks he can throw another Hail Mary pass and distract attention just long enough to trick people into forgetting he thinks they’re ignorant assholes. But he’s already played the surprise veep (went badly), the POW card (whoops, overplayed) and suspend campaign (ouch, epic fail) cards. What’s left?

Ah. Child exploitation (h/t Kagro X):

In an election campaign notable for its surprises, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice- presidential candidate, may be about to spring a new one — the wedding of her pregnant teenage daughter to her ice-hockey-playing fiancé before the November 4 election.

Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.”

He’d better fucking hope it would. Judging from the poll numbers, the more voters see of McCain, the less they like him. But I don’t think watching Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter get married to her redneck boyfriend is going to be the salvation they’re looking for. The Palin shine has definitely rubbed off.

Speaking of Palin

After a debate, campaigns generally want high-profile figures telling the media how great their candidate did. And as a rule, it’s hard to top the running mates as high-profile figures.

It was pretty interesting, then, that the Obama campaign was anxious to get Joe Biden in front of the cameras — while Sarah Palin was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, as this CNN clip shows, Biden was not only out there, he was excellent, offering a forceful and on-message denunciation of McCain, and explaining how right Obama was. (Biden delivered the same critique on CBS and NBC.)

Some viewers at home seemed to think it was unfair that CNN interviewed Biden as part of the post-debate coverage, but didn’t have Palin on. Eventually, Wolf Blitzer had to explain to the audience that the network wasn’t slighting anyone.

“We’ve been getting some emails from views out there wondering why we spent some time interviewing Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee and not Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee,” Blitzer said. “We would have loved to interview — we’d still love to interview Sarah Palin. Unfortunately we asked, we didn’t get that interview…. We’re hoping that Sarah Palin will join us at some point down the road.”

Heh heh. Funny thing, Wolf, but she was just down the road – at the bar:

Palin appeared at the bar on 20th and Walnut streets last night to shake hands with her fans for about an hour before the first presidential debate. While the crowd inside was friendly, hundreds of people lined the street outside in protest with signs that read things like “Palin is Santorum With Lipstick.”

Palin did not take questions from reporters nor did she talk policy. She posed for pictures and chatted with supporters, many of whom were from outside the city limits, and made an approximately minute-long statement.

You’ll be utterly shocked to learn that her “statement” consisted entirely of “We’ve got to fix Washington!” empty fucking talking points.

It’s a good thing she didn’t bring up John “I’m Clueless About the Economy!” McCain’s latest scheme for “fixing” the economy:

When McCain said this nutty thing, I assumed he was just having a pardonable senior moment:

MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.

LEHRER: Spending freeze?

MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.

But I learn from Yglesias that McCain was actually serious.

Folks, this isn’t an idea. This is just plain nuttiness on the level of a UFO behind the Hale Bopp comet, scientology, and invading Iraq. You don’t take it seriously. You laugh at it. You sneer at it. And you use it as an example of the sheer flakiness of the person who mentions it.

Why not take it seriously? Oh, a couple reasons:


And a spending freeze of this magnitude goes well beyond getting rid of a few earmarks. Mark Schmitt explained:

A spending freeze … is a very specific thing — some programs will be in the freeze, some out. In a recession, programs that would normally cost more automatically — like Food Stamps or Unemployment Insurance — will be unable to respond.

Over the next few weeks, Obama (as well as the press, if it’s not too much to ask) should pound relentlessly on the spending freeze: What’s frozen, and what’s “several other vital issues”? In a recession, are Food Stamps frozen? Student loans? Unemployment benefits? Pell Grants? S-CHIP? Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)? The list is long, and different states and constituencies naturally have their own programs that they would like to know whether McCain would freeze them or not.

And wherever McCain’s answer is yes, that program would be part of the freeze, numbers can usually be put to it quickly. For example, freezing LIHEAP would leave X million seniors without heat this winter. Freezing Pell Grants would mean X million students couldn’t go to college.

At the end, McCain will be in one of two boxes: Either he’s a guy who is willing to slash every domestic program, leave seniors in the dark and kids blocked from college, while dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into Wall Street and Baghdad, plus his tax cuts. Or his “spending freeze” is just another vacuous gimmick.

I’ll take “vacuous gimmick!” for $1000, Alex!

Yglesias sums up what a spending freeze means in terms even a high-functioning moron such as Bush could understand:


It’s worth really focusing in on the fact that John McCain’s campaign was running around — proudly! — boasting about the fact that they intend to follow up a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street and $800 billion in tax cuts for the rich with an across-the-board spending freeze. That means, in real terms, less money for your local police department. Less money for the FBI. Less money for Head Start. Less money for Pell Grants. Less money for infrastructure. Less money for everything except failed banks and endless wars.

Throwing money at failed banks and endless wars is all McCain understands. Couple that with a vice president who’s even more clueless than he is, and what you have is an insult to this nation. If they loved America, if they truly put country first, they’d abdicate their farce of a campaign and let some grownups take over.

Of course, the stoopid’s too stoopid to care.

McCain: Low-Ranking Monkey

I don’t mean to flood you today, but this was just too awesome to pass up. A TPM reader analyzes McCain’s refusal to look at Obama during the debate, and comes to a fascinating conclusion:

And here’s another note from TPM Reader TB. I guess I’m really not sure quite how to characterize it …

I think people really are missing the point about McCain’s failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear–look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior–low ranking monkeys don’t look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.

So McCain may have given away his status as a low-ranking monkey. I’d never even considered monkey rank.

Niiice. I’m going to have such fun with this one. Damn, I love behavioral science!

Are Too a Republicon, Dino!

This is not only desperately amusing, it’s an excellent political move:

The state Democratic Party filed suit Tuesday in an attempt to force Dino Rossi to list his party preference as “Republican” on the November ballot instead of “GOP Party.”

Democrats say the Iraq War and low approval ratings for President Bush have left the Republican Party a damaged brand and that Rossi is trying to distance himself by using GOP as his affiliation.

Rossi is running against Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. He lost to Gregoire by 133 votes in the 2004 election, and polls show this race to be close as well.

Polls by Stuart Elway have suggested many people don’t know that GOP and Republican mean the same thing. One recent Elway poll indicated Rossi did better among voters if he used the “GOP” label instead of “Republican.”

Now, Washington state’s a little strange – our top-two primary allows candidates to call themselves whatever they like – so the Dems probably won’t win this one. But it’s a smart move nevertheless. A stunt like this means that voters will get the “GOP” is “Republican” message loud and clear. Basically, it’s advertising. And it lets people know that Dino Rossi’s trying to play them for fools.

I think that’s why the Dems didn’t bring this suit during the primaries. They want the word out close to the election. It doesn’t really even matter if the ballots get printed with “prefers GOP party” – that would have been nice, but they weren’t likely to get their way, and timing it like this means the association will be fresh in the voters’ minds.

Clever. I likes it.

The Regulars Weigh In

Two of my readers who are brilliant bloggers have been having entirely too much fun with the political fuckery lately.

First, there’s Cousinavi, who rips CBS a new one:

It is now reported that the honchos at CBS News are pissed at Dave for grabbing their feed and airing it. Some sort of, “S’posed to ask first” bullshit.
Fuck all that. And fuck those News Jackal Bastards, too.
Why does it keep coming down to David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to tell Americans what the fuck is really going on – to provide anything remotely resembling cogent analysis and sane perspective?
Why is it that every fucking time I tune in to that gasping, grunting, yammering fuckwit Wolf Blitzer, it’s another simmering pile of crap that ne’er bothers to distinguish between a goddamn fact and an outright fucking lie?
WHY does CBS News want to keep it a secret – the difference between what John McCain TELLS PEOPLE and what John McCain actually DOES? Why is it a problem when the pictures speak louder than any words ever could?
That would be, you know, what a NEWS ORGANIZATION might occupy themselves with, were they at all interested in DOING THEIR GODDAMN JOB!

My darlings, I think we should stage a march on CBS to remind them of these facts. We’ll give Avi a bullhorn. He does a fair job conjuring the ghost of Walter Cronkite. We can hope that this, combined with Katie Couric’s devastating interview with Sarah Palin, might just shame them enough to start acting like journalists rather than whiny Rethug children.

Look, I can but dream.

Cousinavi was catharic. PTET finished off the catharsis with a belly laugh by dubbing clueless stupidity over – well, clueless stupidity:

Priceless.

For an encore, I really hope he dubs in the “Oh, my god, Becky, look at her butt” speech from that one rap song by that artist whose name I can’t remember… you know the one I’m talking about. I don’t know if you guys have watched any of those interview clips, but Katie Couric’s expression is just perfect: I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interviewer look more disgusted. She kept it professional, but you get the sense she wanted to break out of her detached journalistic role and start reaming Sarah Palin for being the most outrageously stupid vice presidential candidate ever to walk the earth.

*Happy sigh* I love my regulars.

I’ve been so busy watching the train wreck that is the McCain/Palin campaign and trying to keep on top of the complicated nonsense that is the bailout that I haven’t been keeping up with the rest of you like I should. I hope you all know that I read and appreciate each and every comment, and I do click through your links. You’re 90% of why this blog is worth doing. (The other 10% is that I get to air my outrage in public. I do believe I would’ve exploded like the man with the dinner mint in Monty Python without this.)

Time for an open thread: send me some links to your latest. We’ll have an impromptu Carnival of the Cantina Regulars here. You, my darlings, deserve the spotlight.

Child Porn, An Evangelical, and Me Old Hometown

Damn, it looks like I missed some interesting times:

Evangelist Tony Alamo was arrested Thursday in Flagstaff, Arizona, on charges related to a child porn investigation, an FBI spokesman said.

The 74-year-old founder and leader of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was arrested without incident at 2:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. ET) as he was departing the Little America Hotel with his wife, said Manuel Johnson, spokesman for the FBI in Phoenix, Arizona.

The FBI, the Flagstaff Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety were involved in the arrest, he said.

Alamo was charged under a federal statute with having knowingly transported a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity, Johnson said.

What the fuck is up with evangelical megastars and their penchant for sex scandals? Is it just me, or do they seem to have more of them than ordinary famous people?

It gets worse:


Federal agents and Arkansas state police had raided the headquarters of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in tiny Fouke on Saturday and removed six girls ages 10 to 17. They sought evidence that children there had been molested or filmed having sex.

Prosecutors sought Alamo’s arrest after interviewing the girls this week, but Frazier would not disclose what the children said.

Six little girls? Sounds like he had himself a stable of victims. And I’m sure the parents and the community thought it was just fine to let him collect kids, because after all, he’s a minister and can totally be trusted because he’s a man of God. He’s got Jesus in him – he said so:

Asked why authorities were searching the property, Alamo compared himself to Christ.

“Why were they after Jesus?” he asked. “It’s the same reason. Jesus is living within me.”

What a fuckwit. He’s even less coherent than Sarah Palin. I’m no expert on the life and times of Jesus, but as far as I recall, the authorities didn’t take off after him because he was fucking and filming little kids. Maybe Tony thinks they persecuted Jesus because Jesus was living within himself. I’m pretty fucking certain Jesus isn’t living within Tony, though, and I doubt that any of the law enforcement officers thought so, either. I’ve read extensively on the FBI, and hunting down people because they had Jesus in them never came up on the list of federal crimes the FBI investigates.

This guy is some sick piece of work. My hometown paper, the Arizona Daily Sun, took him apart:


The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the ministry as a cult. Alamo’s church rails against homosexuals, Roman Catholics and the government, and Alamo has preached that girls are fit for marriage once they are sexually mature.

“Consent is puberty,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press last week from Los Angeles while agents raided the compound. He denied any involvement with pornography.

Those must have been some pretty well-developed ten year olds they took off his property, then. What a sick fuck. And it’s not like no one could have seen this coming:

Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 and served four years in prison after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. Prosecutors in that case argued that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.

Disgusting son of a bitch. At least he’s too old to get out of jail, claim he’s rediscovered Jesus, and start preying again.

That’s something that always bothered me about Christianity: that get-out-of-jail-free card. Sin, confess, ask forgiveness, and hey presto! You’re free to repeat the cycle. Even during the couple of months I was Christian, that stuck in my craw. It’s too easy for con artists to take advantage of. Naive people think that because someone’s found the Lord and come back to the light, they’re safe, and then innocent people get hurt.

At least Tony won’t be preying in my hometown.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

I just want to make an observation here. McCain is reminding me of my former German shepherd.

She would come bounding into a quiet, peaceful house, rouse the cats from their reveries by pouncing on them, unleash untold chaos and anger, and then come prancing over to me with a bleeding muzzle and a sparkle in her eyes that said she thought she’d done a power of good. The cats, meanwhile, plotted her demise.

McCain is exactly like my dog, galloping back to Washington, sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, disrupting a delicate balance of power, and then proclaiming a job well done as he prances down to Mississippi, leaving chaos in his wake. Like my dog, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s bleeding, much less that what he’s done was about as fucking far from helpful as it’s possible to get:

Let me get this straight — John McCain left the campaign trail to “help” wrap up a bailout deal in response to the crisis on Wall Street. When a compromise was reached that included everything McCain said he wanted, he decided not to take “yes” for an answer, and sided with far-right House Republicans, who have their own ridiculous plan, and who’ve never liked McCain anyway.

A few phrases come to mind to describe this madness, but “country first” isn’t one of them.

There’s no shortage of angles to this, of course, but the one thing I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is what McCain is doing in D.C. in the first place. Before he arrived, negotiators were making progress. After he arrived, talks broke down. Before he arrived, McCain and his campaign indicated that the bailout was a necessary evil. After he arrived, no one seems clear on exactly what McCain wants.

There was one participant at the White House who took on the role of “the old hand at consensus building, and as the real face of bipartisan politics,” but his name was Barack Obama.

For his part, McCain “rarely came close to the Capitol suites and committee rooms where the talks were taking place.” He showed up for a meeting at the White House — which, according to the Bush gang, was McCain’s idea — but while Obama pressed Henry Paulson on policy details, McCain sat silently. At one point, McCain briefly touted the House GOP “plan,” which Bush immediately rejected. After the meeting, McCain did some interviews, and was back in one of his homes by 6 p.m.

His day of destructive grandstanding and substance-free work was complete. For McCain, who obviously couldn’t care less about the economy or the nation, it was “mission accomplished” — nothing got done, it was at least partially his fault, and there’s now a chance he can pick up the pieces of a process he helped break and pat himself on the back.

Brilliant. If America elects this fuckwit, they’re effectively electing the dumbest dog I ever owned. A guard dog, I’ll have you know, that allowed herself to be stolen.

You know it’s gotten beyond the level of farce when it’s a Republicon saying things like this:

According to a pool report, John McCain boarded his plane earlier this afternoon with his wife, top aides, and Rudy and Judith Giuliani, all headed for Mississippi. What was the atmosphere like on McCain’s plane? According to the report: “utter confusion.”

Republican consultant Craig Shirley, who advised McCain’s presidential campaign earlier in the cycle, noted the bizarre developments. “It just proves his campaign is governed by tactics and not ideology,” Shirley said. “In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The ‘steady hand in a storm’ argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain.”

Shirley added, “My guess is that plasma units are rushing to the McCain campaign as we speak to replace the blood flowing there from the fights among the staff.”

So. We have the biggest fucking joke ever to win the nomination for president running around like a subnormal German Shepherd, both Republicons and Democrats in Washington are telling him to get the fuck out of the way and let the adults handle the crisis, and even his own party is busy poking fun at him while trying not to get splashed with the stupid. I have a feeling what conventional wisdom is on Bush will go triple for McLame should he be elected:

Paul Begala, the television commentator and Democratic strategist who with James Carville propelled Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992, knew he was about to get into trouble on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ show Thursday night with his description of President Bush.

He said as much as soon as he opened his mouth.

Still, with a panel that included Ed Rollins, the Republican strategist who ran Ronald Reagan‘s 1984 reelection campaign, he blurted it out:

I’m going to get in trouble. He’s a high-functioning moron, and that’s what Congress treats him as. Both parties.

We can’t even really say McCain’s a high-functioning moron. Not after this week. A high-functioning moron would at least give the illusion of having his shit together. McCain can’t even manage that.

And this is the man who’s supposed to be the perfect leader for situations like this:

While Americans wait to see if our financial systems are going to melt down, a story that is getting far too little attention is the dangerously deteriorating situation in Pakistan, an important U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. Specifically, real questions now exist as to whether Pakistan can still be considered a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism. This is a critical issue for tonight’s debate and may be the most important national security item for the next president.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that “Pakistani troops and a U.S.-Afghan ground patrol exchanged fire near a frontier checkpoint… in a new heightening of armed te
nsion between allies in the war against Taliban insurgents”:

According to the U.S. Central Command, the incident began when Pakistani troops at the checkpoint opened fire on two small American helicopters that were providing air support to the U.S.-Afghan unit while it was on patrol near the border. In response, Americans in the patrol fired shots into a hillside on which the checkpoint stood. Pakistani forces then fired on the patrol.

In an excellent article on the current situation, Dexter Filkins described a similar firefight in which U.S. forces out hunting the Taliban called in airstrikes after taking fire near the Pakistan border, resulting in the deaths of 11 Pakistani border guards.

This is a situation that could go from really fucking bad to beyond horrific in an instant. And what’s McCain going to do, knock some heads together and tell Pakistan to cut the bullshit? We saw how well that worked in Washington, where supposedly he’s known and respected. I can only imagine how a lot of pissed-off Pakistanis would react.

You know what? My dumbass dog would’ve made a better Commander-in-Chief.

Condemned to Repeat

EX PRAETERITO PRAESENS PRVDENTER AGIT NI FUTUR- ACTIONE DETVRPET


History became a living thing in Roz Ashby’s and Ken Meier’s hands.

On the first day of Western Civilization I, they handed out a quote and asked us to date it. It was a typical “kids these days” rant, full of complaints about their manners, their dress, and their stunning lack of respect toward their elders. Most of the class guessed it had been written in the 1950s or 60s. Professor Meier revealed, with a delightfully sardonic smile, that we were all wrong. The rant had been written by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.

Titian, An Allegory of Prudence

I still have the handout they gave us that day: “The Value of History” by Robin Winks. I’d signed on as a history major because I love the past. I hadn’t, until then, thought of it as something of urgent importance. But the professors’ punk, their impassioned lecture on the vitality and relevance of history, and Winks’ case for its value changed my perception entirely.

History wasn’t just curiosity. It wasn’t simply tradition and heritage, important to preserve for its own sake. It was also essential in order to understand the present and navigate the future.

“From the past the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future,” Titian inscribed on his famous painting. We should chisel that saying into every monument. Those who don’t take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won’t have the wisdom to create a better future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason. Too many don’t listen to that warning. How many times have we weathered a crisis only to discover that it had all happened before? Individuals, organizations, entire nations have rushed themselves over cliffs that others fell from before, when a safe way down had already been discovered.

It’s true that things change, and no situation is exactly the same as another. Some people seem to believe those cosmetic differences mean there’s nothing to learn. And so, mistakes get repeated. Safeguards get torn down because no one seems to remember why they were put in place to begin with. Blinded by the present, looking toward the future, we don’t see what history is trying to show us. We strip away the protections that people made wise by the events of their own day put in place in order to protect the generations to come. We’re seeing the effects of that now, in a myriad of ways: our failed imperial experiment in Iraq, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the crisis in our banking industry brought on by the repeal of regulations enacted to prevent another Great Depression.

That was another age, those who disregard history say. Things are different now. And they plunge in, believing they’re blazing new trails when they’re traveling down well-worn roads.

The past is never truly past. “Great events have incalculable consequences,” Victor Hugo said in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of those consequences echo down through ages. You can’t understand what’s happening now if you don’t understand what happened then. The effects are still being felt. What we do now will impact generations to come.

“This black page in history is not colourfast / will stain the next,” Epica warns in their song “Feint.” We can’t prevent that stain, but history can give us advice on how we can limit its spread.

Some things, perhaps, we’d rather forget. But as Chaim Weizman knew, “you cannot deny your history and begin afresh.” History comes with us, whether we will it or no. Denying it gets us nowhere. Embracing history, knowing it, allows us to accomodate its effects.

History is of great practical value, then. But that’s not the whole of its worth. It offers perspective and proportion. Knowing what others survived gives us hope for a future in dark times. It can put current events in context, just like your old dad giving you the yarn about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways as a kid. I often take comfort from that when the world seems like it’s coming apart at the seams. It’s frayed, often torn, before. We always manage to patch it back up somehow. Civilization has been through worse. As long as we avoid following the same paths that led other ages to worse, we’ll probably do just fine. I tell myself that a lot these days, and I have plenty of history to prove it. From history comes hope.

There’s delight in seeing ancient people behaving the same way we do. We tend to get only the broad brushstrokes of history in school. We don’t get the delightful, everyday bits, the ones that tell us people are people everywhere. Read Socrates griping about the idiot kids in ancient Athens, or abu Nawais looking for his next drink, and you realize that they were people like us. There were fart jokes in the cradle of civilization and risque graffitti in Pompeii. The more you learn of history, the more you realize that the things we consider larger than life arose not from some golden age of supermen, but from mostly ordinary people doing their best to deal with times that were no more or less challenging than now. The best days are indeed behind us – but they are also now, and they are ahead. How much easier it is when we can pick the brains of our ancestors, pluck up their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes. It’s practically cheating!

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years of history is living merely hand to mouth,” Goethe once said. When we neglect our history, we impoverish ourselves. History gives us a chance to live richly. When we can draw on thousands of years of knowledge and experience, we’re no longer condemned.

Friday Favorite Restaurants

Fuck the chain restaurants. Gimme local.

I love those independent, locally owned and operated places that kick the giant’s asses. The ones that you discover by accident, or through a friend, or just because it was on the way and smelled too inviting to pass up.

There are four in particular that, if I could arrange the world to my liking, I’d plunk down right next to my house. Or possibly live in….

Taj Mahal, Prescott, Arizona: I’ve been going to this one since my college days. It’s one of the few things I was grateful to my vegan ex boyfriend for – I’d never even considered Indian cuisine until he dragged me in for dinner. Instant addiction. I ended up there for the champagne brunch regularly on Sundays the whole time I lived in Prescott, and it’s the first place I hit whenever I’m in town. They make a great chicken tikka masala, but their butter chicken is absolutely to die for. I never walk out of Taj Mahal: I waddle, stuffed to the gills with some of the best Indian food this side of India.

Pita Jungle, Tempe, Arizona: Another thing I can thank the ex for. He discovered this hip little college town joint and convinced me to yet again expand my culinary horizons. It’s a loud, bohemian little place that serves some of the best Mediterranean food ever cooked. Their shawarma weighs nearly a pound: a thick pita stuffed full of rotisserie chicken, onions, lettuce, and pickles, finished off with the best garlic sauce in the known universe. Add a side of garlic new potatoes and a slice of baklava for dessert, and this is another place I have to loosen the belt for. Ye gods. It’s the only thing I’m looking forward to when I go back to the Valley next week, aside from friends and family.

Pike Place Chowder, Seattle, Washington: Located right by Pike Place Market, this place doesn’t look like much. It tastes like a billion dollars. I’m an inveterate chowder hater – I’ve never been a soup person to begin with, and chowder was one of my least favorites. I tagged along with a couple of visiting friends who are chowder fanatics, and got suckerpunched by the seared scallop chowder. Seared fucking scallops! They serve it up in a sourdough bread bowl, and it’s one of those flavors I dream of on a regular basis.

Pagliacci Pizza, Kirkland, Washington: This was one of those wonderful discoveries made by poking through the intertoobz in search of something a little better than Papa John’s when we first moved up here and our dishes hadn’t arrived yet. I rely on them to keep me fed and happy most weekends. Their pizza is fantastic – really premium Italian American goodness, with a ton of fresh and exotic ingredients to choose from. Top it off with some sweet cream gelato, locally made, and heaven is at hand, delivered to my door by some of the nicest delivery guys and gals ever. And calling in the order is painless: they’ve hired smart and fun folks who always make me feel like their most cherished customer. As if they weren’t already awesome enough, their pizza boxes are currently printed with voting information.

So there ye go. Just a few of my favorite local establishments. What’re yours?