August 2007 Archives

Iowa

Huh. This could get interesting. Sometime yesterday afternoon, the Polk County Recorder issued the first same-sex marriage license in Iowa.

I suspect it won't stick, although given that the legislature successfully passed an anti-discrimination bill last year, there's hope that this could play out similarly to Massachusetts. (To review: court rules against discrimination, right-wing harpies throw a fit, legislative process moves slowly enough that cooler heads prevail when it's time to vote, same-sex marriage becomes legal by default.)

So much for the Craig story.

Update: According to the AP, exactly one couple succeeded in marrying in the window between the ruling and the order staying the ruling pending appeal. Best of luck to Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan; I think the next few months will be very interesting for them.

The Closet

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Not actually written about Craig, but apropos nonetheless: I agree with what TSF says:

The media needs to stop inning celebrities; outing is so twentieth-century. Our outrage needs to be directed at the inning. No more open closets! Closets, and the fictions that maintain them, kill.

It's almost impossible to argue that anything Senator Craig pled guilty on, can reasonably be considered criminal behavior. Applied in a consistent fashion to the heterosexual world, the effect would be to outlaw flirting in public. Craig's predicament is a reminder that not so long ago it was literally illegal to be gay.

That said, I'm disinclined to have much sympathy for him, because he's exactly the kind of politician who has furthered his career by exploiting bigotry against gays (among other groups). Moreover, that behavior has been enabled by a media that knew, but never felt the need to mention, that he was railing against himself. All in all, a bit more self-awareness would do wonders for this country.

Alien Land?

Bush speaking yesterday:

"[T]he taxpayers and people from all around the country have got to understand the people of this part of the world really do appreciate the fact that the American citizens are supportive of the recovery effort."

"I come telling the folks in this part of the world that we still understand there's problems and we're still engaged."

"We care deeply about the folks in this part of the world."

Take a guess. Of what disaster was the President speaking? Iraq? The Peruvian earthquake?

No, that would be the President of the United States standing in a New Orleans school, talking about it like it's on another continent. Apparently he does that a lot, which would explain why he's shown so little interest in the Katrina aftermath.

(via TPM)

On Tenants

I had sort of forgotten how time-consuming the end of August is around my house. The unspoken arrangement with my landlady is that she keeps the rent low, and I keep the place low maintenance, and thus it falls to me to arrange replacement tenants as people leave. The process of emails and phone calls and returning home at strange times to give tours does occupy some hours, but as I do have to live with these people for (nominally) the next year I appreciate having the chance to try and craft a workable household. Not, of course, that I can legally refuse to rent a room on the basis of personality, but it's basic human nature that enthusiasm feeds back, and thus the people I'd most like to add as tenants are often the first to call back.

Timing plays a role in making that dynamic play out, of course. For one thing, the year leases around here generally start on 1 September, so once you get too close to (or past) that date the supply of people not looking for a month-to-month dwindles sharply, and the ones you do get are getting desperate. At that point subtle cues and body language are wholly inadequate to steer the outcome, and in fact this is the mechanism by which I've acquired the least satisfactory housemates over the years. Should the scenario arise again, I think I might try taking on a month-to-month tenant to tide the room over to the next semester boundary rather than picking from the thin crop of lease latecomers.

On a totally unrelated note, there's been notable confusion in the blogosphere about Alberto Gonzales' resignation, considering that he's been a discredited laughing stock of a political (and legal) liability for weeks if not months now. It's almost like some kind of admission by the White House that Congress is relevant, or that lying is wrong, or that laws still apply. But don't get your hopes up, for the TV has provided a much simpler answer:

The resignation decision appears to have been made last Friday. John Stewart and the Daily Show went on vacation on Thursday.

A Little Cantor Set in your Soul

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Via Jeff Masters, I read that this week a new record was set for least sea ice observed in the Arctic since satellite measurements began. Going by the NOAA polar webcam it has been raining at the North Pole.

At this rate, Russia may someday be a major naval power after all.

If anybody notices, any bets on whether the Bushies try to get polar sea ice data classified?

On a lighter note:

Me: Good thing I'm getting new sandals soon. The topology of my soles has recently changed.

Asad: That would have been much funnier if you'd been talking about your eternal soul.

Me: (...)

Me: The topology of my eternal soul would be hard to describe. It's uncountably holey.

Ba dum dum!

Alluvium

It's markedly cooler this week than a couple of weeks ago, and the fronts responsible have also swept Minnesota with severe thunderstorms a couple of times. The flash floods coursing down the streets have left noticeable silt deposits in the bike lanes -- another good storm or two and the larger ones will become full-fledged sandbars. Aside from the minor inconvenience of biking through sand, the storms have been creating larger problems for the recovery workers still trying to extract the last victims from the wreakage of the I-35 bridge. While the Mississippi is mostly running quite low due to the drought conditions in northern Minnesota, a good downpour makes for a substantial surge in the river current.

Perhaps due to the proximity of my life to the bridge area, I've been asked my thoughts on the collapse on several occasions of late. Of course, I only know what everybody else has read and seen; there isn't a neighborhood-resident pass to get behind the fences and barriers. I do have my own photos from the collapse, but nothing as informative as the lovingly captured disaster porn of the cable news channels. All the signs point to an engineering failure flowing from the nasty combination of questionable design and overused, undermaintained (mostly by Republicans) infrastructure. Nevertheless, I and others have gotten questions about whether there might have been some kind of attack or conspiracy involved.

Actually, Bruce Schneier has a good post up on conspiracy theories and why they're so seductive. Quoting a recent New Scientist article (copy here):

So what kind of thought processes contribute to belief in conspiracy theories? A study I carried out in 2002 explored a way of thinking sometimes called major event - major cause reasoning. Essentially, people often assume that an event with substantial, significant or wide-ranging consequences is likely to have been caused by something substantial, significant or wide-ranging.

...To appreciate why this form of reasoning is seductive, consider the alternative: major events having minor or mundane causes -- for example, the assassination of a president by a single, possibly mentally unstable, gunman,
or the death of a princess because of a drunk driver. This presents us with a rather chaotic and unpredictable relationship between cause and effect. Instability makes most of us uncomfortable; we prefer to imagine we live in a
predictable, safe world, so in a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability.

The article even gives directions for starting your own conspiracy theory, if you're so inclined. Sounds like a fun party game.

A conspiracy theory I've been reading about lately is the NAFTA superhighway nuttiness. There's a fascinating investigative piece by Chris Hayes in The Nation this month:

"Construction of the NAFTA highway from Laredo, Texas to Canada is now underway," read a letter in the February 13 San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "Spain will own most of the toll roads that connect to the superhighway. Mexico will own and operate the Kansas City Smart Port. And NAFTA tribunal, not the U.S. Supreme Court, will have the final word in trade disputes. Will the last person please take down the flag?" There are many more where that came from. "The superhighway has the potential to cripple the West Coast economy, as well as posing an enormous security breach at our border," read a letter from the January 7 San Francisco Chronicle...

Grassroots movement exposes elite conspiracy and forces politicians to respond: It would be a heartening story but for one small detail.

There's no such thing as a proposed NAFTA Superhighway.

Digby noticed this article and immediately thought of the right-wing nuts that make up the Republican base these days. Dave Neiwart has been tracking this sort of thing for a while, and sees the far right recycling the old "New World Order" crap now that it looks like Democrats are ascendant again. Hayes is more interested in description than prognosis, and points out Richard Hofstadter's famous 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," (summary from Wikipedia, and reproduced in full here) suggesting that conspiracy paranoia is something of an idiosyncracy endemic to American discourse. I can attest from experience that it's a tendency by no means confined to the right.

At TAPPED, Steven White zooms in on a passage identifying NAFTA Superhighway paranoia as a poorly expressed populist critique of 21st century America. This sounds about right to me. What initially looks like a peculiar coincidence -- a conspiracy theory that merges the xenophobic suspicions of the right with distrust of globalization on the left -- resolves into a broad-based reaction in the non-elite classes to economic insecurity and perceived political alienation. So it's no wonder the Republican noisemakers are all too happy to pump this sort of thing. If the problems were perceived clearly the solutions would obviously lie in progressive, not conservative, policies.

tx_slidelayers.jpg
Alternating layers of sandstone and shale near Sanderson, Texas, are the fossilized remains of undersea turbidity flows (i.e. sand-slides) down the edge of a continental shelf over 200 million years ago.

Davis Mountains

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Most of last week was spent roughly within the frame of this panorama. To the left, the white building is the Lodge at the Davis Mountains State Park. If you look closely at the mountaintops on the right, you probably can't make out the domes of the McDonald Observatory on Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes. Clicking on the image below will get you a larger version in which they're easier to see. Relevant but not shown are the town of Fort Davis, around the other side of the ridge I'm standing on, and neighboring environs such as Marfa to the south.

I've never seen these mountains so green. This year the monsoon rains of the coastal plain have penetrated deep into the desert, and several afternoons were punctuated by abrupt deluges. The nights, however, reliably cleared to a sparkling black, ideal for stargazing and meteor-hunting. Here it's nightfall that seems to bring on the downpours, and since I'm posting this you can tell the power managed to stay on.

davis-pano.jpg
Panorama of the Davis Mountains. Click for gigantic version.

And Back Again

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So here I find myself back from a glorious week in the vastness of west Texas, chasing rocks and books and ghosts to the edge of nowhere. The changing winds of autumn feel like growing older, they make my favorite season a good time for introspection, and here you can already feel them at dusk after the sun sets on a 90-degree day. But out there it's still spring in the desert, and the sage is in bloom.

On the way I finally got around to reading that thing that's so captivated everyone of late, the final novel of Harry Potter. Finished it tonight as the streetlights were coming on. I'm a fan but hardly an obsessive one, yet it's been fascinating to discover in the space of a few days reading the answers to a great many questions that have in some cases lingered in the back of the brain for the better part of a decade. Not only how will it all end? but the assorted pivotal mysteries of allegances, motivations, and origins.

Even if I will not be noticeably less busy in the foreseeable future than I have been this summer, those wisps of autumn blowing in my window suggest that this is an acceptable time to return from the de facto summer vacation that this blog has been taking. It's just one of a number of things calling for some attention. Here's another: I have two open rooms in my house for the fall. If anyone you know needs a moderately small room for an extremely small price in a comfortably batty house at the heart of Minneapolis, by all means point them my way.

Bridge to Nowhere

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So first of all, I was nowhere near the bridge. For those not watching the news tonight, we're having some infrastructure problems a few blocks from my house. For those who've been trying to reach me, apparently the cell phone network is pretty jammed up.

I'll just be adding plummeting into a river to the (long) list of ways cars will kill you. Still well below accidents, asthma, and oil wars, but possibly above getting decapitated by your airbag.

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