Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hiking on Christmas Day

Hiking on Christmas Day
Originally uploaded by shermans.

We wandered around in the South Mountains on Christmas Day. The hike wasn't too bad, unless you are carrying a young child. Shortly after this picture was taken, the "Hidden Valley" trail seemed to end in a minature box canyon. We wandered around a bit before we decided we need to go up and over. This was not a terribly difficult scramble except that I couldn't do it with Ciela on my back, and she was too short to walk it on her own. Judy and I ended up doing a Ciela hand over to get her up and over the rocks. Awkward and a little bit risky, but we got her up.

Then we had to do it again about 200 yards down the trail.

And then nearly a third time at what the trail guide cleverly calls Fat Man's pass (I think I've walked through 8 or 10 Fat Man's passes, miserys and dilemmas in my hiking and spluenking). Except that Ciela is very skinny, and just walked through the 14 inch passage way between two house-size boulders. She found it very funny, laughing the whole way through. Her father, unexpectedly, was able to go through sideways and did not freak out from the claustrophobic sensation of being pinned between two very immobile rocks.


Here's something that should become a new Christmas tradition. On Boxing Day--that's the day after Christmas, right?--Judy Ciela and I gathered with a group of parents and kids and strangers to pick oranges and grapefruits off trees. Citrus trees are all over the valley, with lots of homes having two or three in their yards. Because we water the Noah out of our plants...because we can, dammit...these trees produce a lot of fruit. Most people can't make use of even a tenth of the oranges. But there are plenty of homeless shelters that can, so we pick fruit and take the boxes and bags (literally tons of fruit) to the shelters.

In addition, Phoenix has started to see the infiltration of roof rats in the last few years. These little guys like vitamin C and also like to live in attics. Trees with lots of fruit hanging just over the roof make for a very appealing little roof rat estate. Picking the fruit from the trees helps keep the population under control. Everyone one wins--except for the roof rats. Poor little rodents.

We picked close to 3000 pounds the day I was there, and that was mostly in one yard. I'm astounded to think how much is out there that probably gets landfilled.

In any case, I'm enjoying my fresh squeezed orange juice these mornings. I think everyone should do this on the day after Christmas. Do oranges grow in Chicago?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What we left. What we've got.

No Cold. No Snow. No Relatives. No Turkey or anything with Velveeta or Cheez Whiz. No Tree. No Fire. No Midnight Mass. No bourbon. No punch. No distant cousins. No party (after 13 straight years).

The view out of the rear-view contains much.

We miss people all the time, but December reminds us that we are very far away from all of you. We hope you all had a good holiday season in your frigid climates, huddled by the coal-burning stove, reading by candlelight. We thought of you as we wandered the hidden valleys of South Mountain, clad in shorts and t-shirts, looking forward to a quick dip in the pool before we settled in for Christmas Eve dinner.

We wish you all the best in the New Year.

Scott, Judy and Ciela

Friday, December 23, 2005

Excerpt from a Christmas email to a former student

I hope you have a nice break, read some good books, and get excited about the new year. I love January if only for the delusions that I have a second chance to do better. If there's one thing I really like about time, it's that it keeps going. There's always the future. If I had to live with my past, I'd kill myself for being lazy, unfocused, petty, slothful and cowardly. But with the promise of time, we are all dedicated, ambitious, noble and brave. God bless the new year, and may the devil take the past.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sobriquet Magazine Online: Conversations With Don DeLillo?

I reviewedConversations With Don DeLillo for Sobriquet Magazine. I take a small swing at the book, noting that for all its pages, DeLillo doesn't reveal a tremendous amount. Sadly, this is probably the meanest I've ever been as a critic.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Panda's Thumb

In case you missed the news, the Dover, PA "intelligent design" decision was handed down yesterday. The judge ripped the flat-earthers in two. A few favorite moments from the decision:

"We first note that since ID is not science, the conclusion is inescapable that the only real effect of the ID policy is the advancement of religion."

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

"The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

Right, so they are unscientific, they lie, they are inane, and they have wasted a lot of people's time and money on a shell game. Perhaps they will crawl back under their rock and await evolution or (god help them) divine intervention.

For more analysis and general schadenfreud, seeThe Panda's Thumb.

Ciela with Her Mentors

Ciela with her Mentors
Originally uploaded by shermans.

The Snow Baby Surveys Her Work

The Snow Baby Surveys Her Work
Originally uploaded by shermans.

Monday, December 19, 2005

From the Gonzales press conference

Daily Kos: State of the Nation:

Q If FISA didn't work, why didn't you seek a new statute that allowed something like this legally?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: That question was asked earlier. We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that -- and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program."

So Gonzales is saying that Congress would have seen the program as illegal, so we didn't ask for a new statute. Isn't this the executive branch saying "We'll respect Congress as the legislative branch unless we want a law that they don't want. Then it's executive privilege and fuck the constitution."

Exactly how would a strict constitutionalist interpret this?

Why not use FISA?

One of the things that gets me about the president subverting FISA is that the govering rules of FISA): are so broad that there is almost no chance of a FISA request getting rejected. In fact, in 2004 the FISC approved 1758 out of 1758 requests. Talk about a rubber stamp.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation FAQ about FISA. See especially the last paragraph where the AG can authorize immediate surveillance but "must as soon as practicable, but not more than 24 hours later seek judicial review."

That seems pretty clearly a prohibition against spying without the FISC overview.


Does FISA authorize surveillance without a court order?

Yes. In general, the Justice Department may engage in electronic surveillance to collect FII without a court order for periods up to one year. 50 U.S.C. ? 1802. There must be no 'substantial likelihood' that the intercepted communications include those to which a U.S. person is a party. ? 1802(a)(1)(B).

Such electronic surveillance must be certified by the Attorney General and then noticed to the Senate and House intelligence committees. ? 1802(a)(2). A copy of the certification must be filed with the FISC, where it remains sealed unless (a) an application for a warrant with respect to it is filed, or (b) the legality of the surveillance is challenged in another federal district court under ? 1806(f). ? 1802(a)(3). Common carriers must assist in the surveillance and maintain its secrecy. ? 1802(a)(4).

In emergencies, the Attorney General may authorize immediate surveillance but must 'as soon as practicable, but not more than twenty-four hours' later, seek judicial review of the emergency application. ? 1805(e)."

UPDATE: From Daily KosCheney's Latest Fib

"Indeed, from 1979 to 2002, the FISA court issued 15,264 surveillance warrants. Not a single warrant application was" rejected

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Snow Baby Strikes Again

Last year, when a vicious snow storm struck southern Illinois and Indiana in late December, we spent two days stranded in a small Illinois town and then a terrifying 9 hour trip across an icy, sparsely travelled highway. At the time, we joked that Ciela was the Snow Baby, capable of wreaking havoc with industrial-strength weather systems that cripple interstates and break century-old records for snowfall.

All in good fun.

How clever we thought ourselves.

But no one truly believes a baby to be that malevolent and that powerful. Certainly not one as cute as Ciela.

Just in case, we elected to spend The Winter Solstice Festival That Was Cynically Co-opted by Christians in Their Brutal War Against Pagans (take that John Gibson) in Scottsdale were we could be assured that there would be no snowstorms. Instead, we travelled in early December to Chicago to see family and friends.

The Snow Baby was not fooled.

Just outside of Kansas, the pilot informed us that it was starting to snow in Chicago. As we neared Midway, we were told to go into a holding pattern. Visibility was down to a half-mile and we needed a mile to land. I've landed in bad weather at Midway. It's not fun. The runways are so short that any tricky landing that involves the pilot doing something other than just floating in requires a dramatic descent and then hair-raising breaking patterns.

We circled for 20 minutes and then were sent to Cleveland for fuel and lots of paper shuffling. The Snow Baby laughed and pooped in her pants. (The changing of which earned her father a vicious scolding from the bitchy flight attendant who from my observations is not the sort of man interested in reproducing.)

In Cleveland we jettisoned one lady who fortuitously was actually going to Cleveland--the Snow Baby blesses the less fortunate of us who have to live in Cleveland--and a woman going to NYC who negotiated a connecting flight out of Cleveland rather than return to Chicago. We headed back to Chicago, apparently in the belief that the Snow Baby had been placated.

Ciela fell asleep on the return trip, and the snow seemed to have lessened. The bitchy FA announced that seatbacks were to be set aright and tray tables locked. The announcement startled Ciela awake, and the snow instantly showered outside the windows. Mere minutes later, the pilot announced that we had been exiled back to a holding pattern. The Snow Baby smiled with thinly disguised contempt.

There is an eerie quiet that pervades in the holding pattern. Conversation is whispered. Flight attendents are silent and unable to dispense beverages or pick up trash. There is a gentle anticipation that extends to a very near point into the future, but a point maddenly obscured by a misty fog. The whole plane hovers in limbo.

Perhaps fifteen minutes later engines reved. With no announcement from pilot or crew, we started to dive. We were, apparently, going to land. As we headed earthward, the snow outside the windows was thick. How, we wondered, could this weather be better than our first aborted attempt? The Snow Baby merely cooed. Judy had the window seat, and when we finally broke through the cloud layer we were nearly at the runway. "Hold on to Ciela," she said and exclaimed at all the snow on the runway.

We hit hard, ran for what to me felt like an extended time, and then the reverse thrusters hit and threw up a huge cloud of snow. I swear we skidded around the last turn off the runway, but we were safe on the ground. The Snow Baby never relented, however, as 10 inches fell in 10 hours with the epicenter of the storm landing right on top of Midway Airport.

40 minutes after we landed, a Southwest jet slid off the runway and onto the intersection of 55th and Central. The NTSB has said that the reverse thrusters of the airplane did not fire properly, but the Snow Baby knows the cause lies elsewhere.

a look back

While I was looking to reference the Snow Baby entry, I ran across this (dreadfully misspelled) entry about Tom DeLay. Once again, I feel warm and fuzzy knowing that he's looking at the very real possibility of removal from office and a prison sentence. The fact that the Supreme Court is reviewing his diabolical redistricting in Texas only intensifies the feeling. The republican scandals substitute nicely for the lack of a roaring fire on winter's day.

Just a few weeks after the election of W for a second term, the world looked very bleak indeed. Nearly a year later, things are still pretty screwed up with the US leading the screw ups internationally and the ethically-challenged White House driving us further into soviet style central policing, but I feel a bit better as the Bush downward slide seems to be picking up steam. With the recent revelations that W authorized domestic spying in direct disobeyance of legal prohibitions, do we dare hope the slide ends in impeachment?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ciela's Activity This Morning

Banging her head against the glass patio doors.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Work for Google

Now this is a business model we should all aspire to.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Just in case anyone is believing the new history

The White House has apparently put the word out to refute claims that the president linked Iraq and Al Qaeda to justify the war. I heard Lynn Cheney deny it yesterday on NPR, and FOX's Chris Wallace insisted that the president never made such claims.

The President's Radio Address of February 8, 2003, however, convincingly proves that Bush did specifically link the two.

Here's the relevant excerpt:

Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases.

We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad.

Seems pretty clear-cut to me.

NY Times top ten books of the year

Haruki Murakami, KAFKA ON THE SHORE
Zadie Smith, ON BEAUTY
Curtis Sittenfeld, PREP
Mary Gaitskill, VERONICA

George Packer, THE ASSASSINS' GATE: America in Iraq
Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, DE KOONING: An American Master
Tony Judt, POSTWAR: A History of Europe Since 1945

Funny that William Vollmann's Europe Central, which just won the National Book Award, didn't make the list.

Time's One Hundered Top Novels

The Complete List | TIME Magazine - ALL-TIME 100 Novels

Just for fun, I starred the ones I've read.

The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow

*All the King's Men
Robert Penn Warren

American Pastoral
Philip Roth

An American Tragedy
Theodore Dreiser

*Animal Farm
George Orwell

Appointment in Samarra
John O'Hara

*Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Judy Blume

The Assistant
Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds
Flann O'Brien

Ian McEwan

Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories
Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood

Blood Meridian

Brideshead Revisited
Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Thornton Wilder

Call It Sleep
Henry Roth

Joseph Heller

*The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner
William Styron

*The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen

*The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon

A Dance to the Music of Time
Anthony Powell

*The Day of the Locust
Nathanael West

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Willa Cather

A Death in the Family
James Agee

The Death of the Heart
Elizabeth Bowen
Read the Original Review

James Dickey

Dog Soldiers
Robert Stone

John Cheever

The French Lieutenant's Woman
John Fowles

The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain
James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

*The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

*Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon

*The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

*A Handful of Dust
Evelyn Waugh

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers

The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene

Saul Bellow

Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas
V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius
Robert Graves

*Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace

*Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison

*Light in August
William Faulkner

*The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis

Vladimir Nabokov

*Lord of the Flies
William Golding

*The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien

Henry Green

Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children
Christina Stead

Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie

Martin Amis

The Moviegoer
Walker Percy

*Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch
William Burroughs

*Native Son
Richard Wright

William Gibson

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

George Orwell

*On the Road
Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Ken Kesey

The Painted Bird
Jerzy Kosinski

*Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov

*A Passage to India
E.M. Forster

Play It As It Lays
Joan Didion

*Portnoy's Complaint
Philip Roth

A.S. Byatt

The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark

*Rabbit, Run
John Updike

E.L. Doctorow

The Recognitions
William Gaddis

Red Harvest
Dashiell Hammett

Revolutionary Road
Richard Yates

The Sheltering Sky
Paul Bowles
Read the Original Review

Kurt Vonnegut

*Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson

The Sot-Weed Factor
John Barth

*The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner

*The Sportswriter
Richard Ford

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
John le Carre

*The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway

*Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

*Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe

*To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

*To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf

*Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

Philip K. Dick

Under the Net
Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano
Malcolm Lowry

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

*White Noise
Don DeLillo

White Teeth
Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys

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