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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Great things to read while getting a haircut

At least, that's when I read them.

All of these are wonderful and provocative.

From The Independent UK, Neocons on a Cruise.
"Of course, we need to execute some of these people. A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

No, it's not fiction. It's an English journalist reporting from a cruise for readers of the American right wing rag, the National Review. I've written, here, before, about the Review's founder, Bill Buckley.

From the New York Times, an op-ed by Sir Michael Rose, a retired British army general. "How a Revolution Saved an Empire" is one of the most original takes on the Iraq war (by analogy) I've seen. Fascinating thesis, compellingly drawn.
...King George III and his ministers were convinced that this defeat and the withdrawal of British troops from the 13 colonies would result not only in anarchy in America but also in the collapse of the entire British Empire.
The piece's historical references about the US War for Independence line up precisely with one of the best histories I've read in the last couple of years, on a topic I never thought I'd find more than curious: His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis.

And, finally, though certainly fully, a fantasy shared with me by the wonderful Mo Lester. It's a piece written by JFK condifant Theodore Sorensen, whom Kennedy once famously called his "intellectual blood bank". It's title is self-defining: "The Speech I Want the Democratic Nominee To Give."
Although we may be called fools and dreamers, although we will find the going uphill, in the words of the poet: “Say not the struggle naught availeth.” We will change our country’s direction, and hand to the generation that follows a nation that is safer, cleaner, less divided, and less fearful than the nation we will inherit next January.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Home and dry

For those who are wondering if we've got soggy feet, I'm happy to report that the Environment Agency was wrong on every one of its predictions about Shiplake.

Our worst day was last Friday, when the water breached the driveway and ran up to our front step, but stayed inches shy of the threshold.

On Wednesday, the day before yesterday, a BBC news crew was doing live interviews from our pub, across the road, in anticipation of the impending Shiplake deluge. But the river was uncooperative, and stayed stable.

Today, the sun is competing with the clouds for sky space, and we look to be in for a weekend of slowly declining river height.

I just knocked on wood.

Through all this I've been a bit glib. There are, of course, hundreds of thousands of folks who have been badly flooded, many still without running water or workable power. So, we've gotten off waaaaay light.

Thanks very much for all the off-blog well-wishes and expressions of hope and concern. We're good.

(Title is semi-obscure Pet Shop Boys reference.)


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dry humour. Damp irony.

In the midst of all the flood warnings, this is what today's sky looked like:

The most consistently beautiful day in weeks. Akin to an Australian summer sky.

Now, here's the problem. All the water from the rains of the past week? They're still running down the hills into the river, upstream. So, now, we're told, sunshine or no, the river is going to rise again starting at midnight, tonight, and peak sometime around noon, tomorrow. Perhaps while the sun is shining.

Wellies still stationed at the top of the stairs.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Hail the English summer!

Tonight, we have removed electrical goods from the floor and put our spanky new Wellington boots upstairs. We may need them in the morning. The ground floor may be under water.

For those of you with a keen eye to the international weather reports, you may already be wondering how wet we are. So far, not very. Tomorrow, likely somewhat damp.

We are told that a surge of water will be marauding down from the hills tonight while we sleep, pushing the Thames river even farther beyond its banks. As you might imagine, this is rather novel for Flame-Haired Angel: she being from the driest* continent on the planet. So novel, we have moved everything upstairs. Well, most things. Okay, a great many things. Listen, there are now things upstairs that were downstairs not a day ago. It's a full-blown flood panic, dammit.

On Friday, the water threatened our sand-bagged front door. This is what it looked like after the sky cleared and the water had started to recede. It had been deeper. Camera wasn't first thing on the mind when frantically piling the sand-bags.

Then, a beautiful weekend made way for our housewarming party. Today, the Thames environment agency is telling us to shut off our power overnight, and to get those sandbags back in place. Their flood map shows us under water by morning. Even if only by inches.

The neighbors are divided. "Never happen", say the blokey blokes. "Not since '47."

Those down on the river edge, however, whose houses are built on little stilts, already have to don their hip-waders to get to their Range Rovers.

Perhaps we were naive when we moved into the village of Shiplake. We assumed the name wasn't an exact descriptor.


*Okay, second driest. But Antarctica's barely even inhabited.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Darksider"

From the New Yorker:

More than anyone else, including his mentor and departed co-conspirator, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney has been the intellectual author and bureaucratic facilitator of the crimes and misdemeanors that have inflicted unprecedented disgrace on our country’s moral and political standing: the casual trashing of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions; the claim of authority to seize suspects, including American citizens, and imprison them indefinitely and incommunicado, with no right to due process of law; the outright encouragement of “cruel,” “inhuman,” and “degrading” treatment of prisoners; the use of undoubted torture, including waterboarding (Cheney: “a no-brainer for me”), which for a century the United States had prosecuted as a war crime; and, of course, the bloody, nightmarish Iraq war itself, launched under false pretenses, conducted with stupefying incompetence, and escalated long after public support for it had evaporated, at the cost of scores of thousands of lives, nearly half a trillion dollars, and the crippling of America’s armed forces, which no longer overawe and will take years to rebuild.

It's a polemic, but well worth reading.


35 years on, why does it feel like nothing's changed?

Flame-Haired Angel and I were watching All The President's Men last night. It's a creepy movie for all the reasons that it should be creepy. I first saw it years ago, and that feeling of everything being rigged, everything being dirty, in Washington made me want to take a shower.

What struck me last night, however, was the difference between what went on in the Nixon administration -- the administration's obsessive secrecy and flagrant disregard for the law and, in particular, parts of the Constitution, of which Watergate was only a symptom -- and what's going on in the current administration. It's a pretty clear case of lessons learned. Sadly, not as we might have hoped.

As is often quipped, it wasn't Watergate that undid Nixon, it was the cover-up. That can be taken a leap further. On a profound level, it wasn't Watergate that toppled the Nixon administration, it was their belief that in order to subvert the democratic process (Remember: Watergate was all about bugging the Democratic Party national headquarters), they had to carry on covert, secret operations.

The genius of the current administration's modus operandi is that it carries on its ravaging of the Bill of Rights in full daylight. Rather than being caught out doing whatever the hell it wants in secret, it declares that what it wants to do is legal, regardless of how much it flies in the face of reason to claim so, and pushes ahead.

Some of the best, but by no means only, examples of this are:

  • Torture. Just claim the Geneva Convention doesn't apply to this particular conflict, and further claim that all sorts of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the US government has legally prosecuted as torture since World War II are perfectly legal.
  • Suspension of habeas corpus. In the "war on terror" you have to break a few eggs. Just pass a law that says you can hold people, including citizens, as long as you like without due process or trial and, voila, you can.
  • Wiretapping without a warrant. This one's my favourite. Just say it's legal, though it never has been and it's a clear violation of the laws on the books. Then do lots of it and act surprised when folks get all up in your face about it. Then, say your critics obviously want the terrorists to win.
Of course, this administration hasn't given up the idea of doing things in the shadows. "Extraordinary rendition", which is fancy speak for flying people from prisons in countries with strong human rights records to countries where you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want in secret CIA prisons in countries with more "liberal" notions of what the law allows.

I reckon the administration's most impressively sophisticated practice, however, is neither so dramatic as the dead-of-night secrecy of rendition, nor as blatantly ballsy as just claiming legality where there is none. It's the perfectly legal gutting of the government that happens when you stack the bureaucracy with ideologues. The administration has been doing this for years unashamedly, of course, and it's perfectly legit, even if morally corrupt. The easiest examples are the placing of oil lobbyists in high positions at the energy agencies. Or appointing former mining executives to top jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency. Or placing anti-birth-control/abstinence only zealots in charge of the family planning portfolios at other agencies. Or sending John Bolton to the UN.

The recent Department of Justice scandals, about the firing of US Attorneys who weren't loyal enough to the White House, were just usual daily business for this approach to changing the government wholesale. Was it illegal? Maybe, but probably not. Was it beyond the pale of what any previous modern administration considered legitimate practice? Of course. Was it a corruption of the separation of powers ensconced as near holy in the Constitution? You bet.

I'm glad I didn't have broadband during the moment a couple weeks back when Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence for lying to a Grand Jury about the outing of a CIA operative. The layers of disgust were so enveloping, I was hardly able to utter a coherent sentence about it. This administration, which has so wrapped itself in the flag and portrayed itself as as our troops' most stalwart redoubt, essentially said that Libby didn't deserve such strong punishment for compromising US intelligence forces by exposing a covert agent.

Their argument: all he did was fib a little to a Grand Jury. And is all that time in prison really a fair sentence? Bush commuted the sentence because he thought it "excessive".

Seems I recall another Washington insider who, in lying to a Grand Jury, so incensed the justice-minded Right Wing, that they voted to remove him from office. All the while there was much made of the need to make Washington a place for people of higher moral standards. Ultimately, the Right Wing failed to remove that perjurer from office, but only because they didn't have quite enough votes in the Senate. The guy had lied about a blowjob. The guy was Bill Clinton.

Lie about a blowjob, and you deserve to be removed as President of the United States. Lie about compromising US intelligence forces and you deserve not to be punished at all.

To quote from The Washington Post:
Bush did not discuss his reasoning in depth yesterday. "It's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House, and it's run its course and now we're going to move on," he said.
I'm sure W wasn't being ironic. It's been tough. It's been a tough having to ask for so long: "How do we make this go away?" Of course, none of this is about reason. The Valerie Plame affair, as it will go down in history, was just one of untold numbers of political hatchet jobs that are the stock in trade of party operatives who are paid to keep their guys in power, no matter how far into the ditch they have to crawl.

(In fairness, Bush didn't commute Libby's considerable fine. In counter-fairness, however, it would be naive to suggest Libby is going to pay a dime of that from his own pocket.)

In the movie, last night, a long-haired Dustin Hoffman and an un-lined Robert Redford, playing Woodward and Bernstein in another era, convinced me that the Watergate story almost didn't happen. Few news outlets stuck with the early inklings of the story very long. Even "Woodstein" weren't sure what they had. It might easily have become a virtually unnoticed bungled burglary. It could easily have gone away. As I'm sure dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of politically-motivated acts on the wrong side of the law just fade into the unknown all the time. On all sides.

But we seem to have forgotten what Watergate really meant. It's become such shorthand for an iconic cultural-political moment of history, we don't hold it with us as a reminder of what happens when any political agenda is made more important than the job of governing. And more important than the ideals on which this particular nation was founded.

Democracy takes a knife in the stomach. And the mugger says they've done nothing wrong.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Welcome to our painting

Still no home internet access. Sporadic updates r us.

I can't remember if I mentioned -- and I'm too lazy to go back over the last couple of posts -- that we live about two bad golf shots from the Thames river. It meanders through Oxfordshire and passes right by Shiplake. The old ox path along the river still exists as a preserved walking path, and we're told that, had we a mind to, we could walk the river-side all the way from Oxford to London.

Not game enough for that distance just yet, we explored just a couple miles of the Thames Path over the weekend. It passes right in front of our doorstep, in one of the few short stretches where it deviates from the river-side.

Setting out, I was ready for it to be pretty. The whole area around our village is picturesque. What I wasn't expecting was for it to be a freaking painting.

Here's a typical scene from our stroll:

Oh, but the pastoral idyll with bovine accents is such a tired theme. Perhaps you'd like a view of the river, instead. With swans. And sweeping farmland as background.

Alternatively, would Sir care for rowing boats with a side of passing swan and historic dwelling?

Or, possibly, one of our new feathered neighbours saluting us in accordance with what we are assured is local custom.

Or maybe just a simple picture of a My Secret Garden brand path along the river bank and through the forest.

There is, of course, the picturesque local lock, way-making for canal boats floating down the gentle Thames waters. Local trivia: The immediate presence of water, boats and locks notwithstanding, the derivation of the name "Shiplake" has absolutely zilch to do with either ships or lakes.

And even our local lock-keeper, Jeff, who's picturesque in his own right. Especially down the pub on Friday evenings.

I think I'll buy the canvas depicting the river stretching out before us, little children swimming naked in the summer sun as swans feed, head-down, in the shallows.

In the meantime, we commissioned this portrait, in front of the Shiplake Lock in action, accompanied by one of the better-behaved locals. Note the Wellies-shod wench.

PS: Did I mention we have a garden? Turns out things grow kinda good in the countries what have lots of rain.


Monday, July 09, 2007

We are the new village people

We're still figuring out where everything goes, but it's feeling like a house, rather than a storage container with a kitchen.

We're living in a village in Oxfordshire that is renowned for, well, a few things that will have to wait for future posts (and, therefore, home broadband). But when I say "village in Oxfordshire", think of an English country village and you've pretty well got it nailed.

How you know it's our place.

That's one of the things that's struck both Flame-Haired Angel and me: every house has a name. You could easily address a letter to our house name, then put the postcode, and it would get to us. The street address is incidental.

And, yes, it's really the old village dairy.

Our funny, little narrow entranceway. For those of you familiar with our colossal opium bed -- the only thing that didn't go in and out through the window in Paris -- it came in through the back.

One of the few rooms that wasn't still piled with boxes when I took these.

The back garden. The wind sighs "quaint" as it blows through the blossoms.

The rather uninspiringly functional front view. You'd never guess this place has been around for a few hundred years.

The neighbors across the street. That one looks a little more the part. It's an oak-framed house from the 18th century. FHA loves the windows. The person who built this, originally, had to have been pretty well-off to install all that hand-blown glass.

Putting our little marble sign to shame, this is the other across-the-street neighbour: the local pub.

It's one of those fantastic old pubs that doesn't have poker machines or a big screen TV. It's got a great little bar the locals loiter in up the front, a dining room out the back, and tables in the garden. I promise, it's a complete coincidence that we've moved in directly across the street from a Good Pub Guide favourite.

The bustling traffic looking down the street toward the Thames river, which is just beyond the tree line.

And the frenetic intersection up the street the other way.

The local Tardis.

The post office on the corner (also the local shop and gossip font), run by two golden retrievers and a spaniel.

I should mention that the sky in these photos is deceptive. Whilst I haven't pasted it in using Photoshop, the blue has been a rarity in our scant 10 days. Indeed, we've seen it twice. No wonder the English turned Australia into a penal colony. What with all that sun, they must have considered it a fiery hell.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

In. Just.

Digging out from underneath the cardboard mummies. But still no internet at home. Sporadic posts for another little while yet.