File Under "Capitalism, Bizarre Outcomes Associated With"

What do you mean the Catholic Church isn't isn't secretly a cult of cute animism?
BRENHAM, Tex. - If they only had an attraction, the sisters at the Monastery of St. Clare concluded, they could solve their two longstanding problems. For one, they had to stay cloistered while still somehow spreading the word. Secondly, although the contemplative life is the center of their existence, it does not cover the bills.

"We don't get paid to pray," said Sister Angela Chandler, 48, soft-spoken but kinetic.

The solution to both problems came two decades ago in the form of horses the size of large dogs. Today, the nuns have become so successful in their horse-breeding enterprise that their home is known as the Monastery of Miniature Horses.

Cute, but not as cute as miniature goats. Or miniature goats with cats.


All a-twitter

And rightly so - as Wolcott says, there's word of "something longed for, searched for, and dreamed of, a flicker of a former world feared lost forever. The Lord God Holy Grail Elvis of Little Peckers." The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. I'm not claiming any special sort of communion with the natural world, any higher spiritual consciousness when I say this - but it's going to be a little bit difficult for non-birders to understand why this next passage puts a lump in my throat and a shit-eating grin on my face:
Gene Sparling, the amateur naturalist who made the sighting that got the experts convinced the birds had survived, was canoeing in a remote, bug- and snake-infested area. "It was a spiritual experience," he said.

He posted his sighting on the Internet and caught the interest of Tim Gallagher, of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology and his friend Bobby Harrison, a college professor and keen bird-watcher .

Sparling took them to where he saw the bird and one almost immediately flew toward them. "We almost fell out of the canoe," Gallagher said.

I was going to say, "Try to imagine...", but it doesn't do. There is nothing to imagine for this, a thing itself more or less beyond imagination - and then he goes back to where he saw it and "one almost immediately flew toward them"!!!

Birders are an odd lot, to be sure, but central to the identity of every birder is this great love, this overwhelming passion and humility and awe at the natural world, at these wonderful, beautiful, impossible flying things. Birders were the first environmentalists, and remain the front-line chroniclers of the direct effects of climate change, deforestation, habitat destruction: they see, or rather don't see, the ever-decreasing populations of songbirds, and it breaks their (and yes, my) big ol' hearts.

Grand Old Man Roger Tory Peterson was one of the last to see what was thought to be the last Ivory-Billed, in 1942; he'd written it off as extinct a decade earlier in his first "Birds of North America," but he did get the chance to see the grand bird:

"Hardly had we gone a hundred yards when a startling new sound came from our right--an indescribable tooting note, musical in a staccato sort of way. For a moment it did not click, but then I knew--it was the ivory bill! ... Breathlessly we stalked the insistent toots, stepping carefully, stealthily, so that no twig would crack. With our hearts pounding we tried to keep cool, hardly daring to believe that this was it--that this was what we had come fifteen hundred miles to see. ... Straining our eyes, we discovered the first bird, half hidden by the leafage, and in a moment it leaped upward into the full sunlight. This was no puny Pileated [woodpecker]; this was a whacking big bird, with great white patches on its wings and a gleaming white bill."
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was thought to be one of the early casualties of habitat destruction, and birders were around to see it disappear in real time, a grand impossibility of a bird, dwarfing even the Jurassic-inspired Pileated, flying as no other woodpecker does, a huge white beak, shyly thwomp-ing away at rotted old hardwoods in Southern forests, till there were none more to thwomp. A beautiful, grand bird, rumored to still live in tiny numbers in Cuba, but one that all birders living today could safely assume would never enter their life list. A reminder of things lost, and a signal of what's to come - would our grandchildren never hear a Hermit Thrush?

But no! Hope survives! There are more Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers - for surely, since the last was sighted in 1947, there are plural woodpeckers - and perhaps not all is lost, and perhaps there is the chance for good in this world.

A man went out into the world and saw something that could not be believed. He returned, and the thing that could not be believed flew right towards him. It did not do so to announce its presence; did not do so to prove wrong all who said it was no longer. It flew right towards him because it is a bird, and flying is the thing birds do, bless them. And bless us, too - we get to watch them.

Will I go to see it, make a pilgrimage? No, I don't think I will. Perhaps some years from now, if I find myself in a swamp in Texarkana, I'll point my car towards this particular swamp, but I don't see that happening. I wouldn't want to mob the creatures; wouldn't want to be a thousand paparazzi outside their old rotting oak. Merely knowing they're there is enough, and it fills my heart with joy.


The Art of Not Seeing

I have a complicated relationship with Joel Achenbach. On the one hand, I think he is one of the finest science journalists working, bringing amazing subjects to life in understandable terms. On the other hand, I have found him woefully guilty – in his writing on the subject in the WaPo, and also in e-mail exchanges – of the worst kind of false equivalency "one-the-one-hand"ism and of, per Marshall via Somerby, a "Washington right-leaning dinner-party centrism." Certainly he is nowhere near as egregious as, say, Richard Cohen (may he be afflicted with horrible foot fungus), but it is nonetheless disappointing given that Achenbach is such a talented writer.

But…well, on his blog yesterday (yes, he has a blog now), he reprinted excerpts from a speech he gave at Georgetown's journalism school. I can't quite stress how important and revealing this one flippant quote is:
3. You can get to know total strangers, learn all about them, but after the story runs you don't have to speak to them ever again. You can pretend not to recognize them on the street.

This is the modus operandi of professional journalism today, written by a fabulously talented scribe for one of the world's most influential newspapers, and said to tomorrow's elite journalists, who he had also been charged with instructing. And that mode of operation is lying. You lie to people, pretend to be their friend, pretend to understand what they're saying, pretend to be on their side, to be campaigning to right the wrongs in their life, their pain – and then after deadline, they're a fucking peasant, and you're on to the next rube (interviewee and reader).

This is a lesson I was first taught while working on Howard Dean's campaign in Iowa, where I was strictly forbidden from talking to reporters. We were taught that they would pretend to be our friends, in order better to pluck out juicy quotes that would hopefully sink Dean's campaign. As it turned out, the paranoia was justified – the media really did want to destroy Dean's campaign, and used every little trick they could to do it.

But it wasn't limited just to Iowa, just to the campaign, just to political reporting. This is elite journalism today – phonies, phonies who have to pretend to understand normal people, while instead merely using them as props to justify whatever storyline they or their editors are pursuing.

I don't mean to beat up on Joel overly – he is, as I noted, an excellent reporter, comes from humble roots and has worked his butt off to get where he is today. There are still many excellent reporters and writers at both the WaPo and NYT (though they seem to be disproportionately assigned away from the more important beats and stories). All too many, however – esp. the up-and-comers – are phakin' phonies, Harvard-educated twits looking out for their own careers. Time was, a journalist had worked years in the business by the time their words appeared in print – delivering papers, working the mailroom, laying type, editing copy, and only then getting a crappy beat for a couple of years, never earning in all their years more than enough to cover rent, whiskey, bad suits and the cigars that go so well with both. Now, kids my age are pulling down six figures filing on presidential campaigns, kids who wouldn't know a real union job from an Elks' Lodge. At this nation's papers of record, we've got a press corps more interested in the furthering of their own careers than truth; more interested in dinner-party invites than sticking up for the little guy. Who'd laugh if you said that journalism ought to be about sticking up for the little guy.

"You can pretend not to recognize them on the street."


Pop Cultural/Cognitive Dissonance

The title of Thomas Boswell's column this morning in the WaPo - Thomas Boswell, been writing for the Post for 30+ years, is my parents' age, etc. - "No Alarms and No Surprises."

Look, I understand that writers don't do their own headlines (to my own disappointment, else we'd have actually published the greatest headline ever, "Field Hockey Goes Down but not Out"), and that the writer of the headline itself was probably someone who's been waiting for years to pin a Radiohead lyric onto a sports story (I would be, at any rate) - but it's still weird.

In other news, it looks like Marburg might finally be under control:

The Marburg virus outbreak in Angola is being brought under control, the U.N. health agency indicated Saturday.

The agency reports the number of new cases has dropped to 15 from 35 per week during the height of the outbreak.

The Marburg virus, which is closely related to the Ebola virus has caused hemorrhagic fever in 266 people and killed 244 of them since March.


Truer Words...

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), on "All Things Considered" this evening:
"The hardest thing up here [on Capitol Hill] is keeping in touch with reality."
Yes, that would be Tom "The Craziest Senator" Coburn. How crazy? This crazy:
Coburn says a campaign worker from Coalgate told him that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom. Now think about it. Think about that issue. How is it that that's happened to us?"
Yes. Think about that.
It is hard to keep touch with reality.


And again...

a) it's been nice out
b) I've had "real" work to do
c) I've been out of town a little

But really - it's all pretty loop-y, isn't it? I could've written two weeks ago that Republicans are corrupt; that Marburg, a ridiculously scary hemhorragic fever, continues to rage unabated in Angola (237 dead, now - at least); that a dangerous psychopath will most likely ascend to represent the United States in yet another way; etc., etc. ad infinitum. And that nobody's really paying attention; that the "real news" is that athletes cheat and there isn't another pope yet.

And anyhow - there's wit out there greater than mine. On Ann Coulter, Wolcott:
She is the pinup pundit of White Prerogative, her arrogant vanity perfect for a country and a media-political culture that refuse to recognize its postindustrial decline and decay. A country that still thinks it can whip the world into obeying its will.
On John Bolton, the Rude Pundit:
Bolton is a lying sack of shit, a scumbag whose career has been made comforting politically powerful conservatives, a provocateur whose ego knows no bounds, an asshole beyond any human's reasonable comprehension of assholishness. And, of course, that means he is the perfect man to represent George Bush's United States at the U.N.
And again:
But, in the last week or so, so much has come out about Bolton, after his bizarro confirmation hearing where he had to promise over and over that, no, really, really, he loved the U.N. and didn't want the building blown up and Kofi Annan forced to drink barrels of Iraqi oil. It was a fuckin' disgrace: it's like hiring a gay man to fuck your wife and he has to tell you over and over, no, he really, really loves to eat pussy. No, look, c'mon, he's fucked a woman or two in his life, not just men. Sure, it might be fun to watch the disaster that that fuck session would be, but ultimately everyone's gonna end up unfulfilled. And why? Because you were a stupid shithead in hiring a gay guy to fuck your wife.

And Bolton promises to be the kind of guy who stands in the corner and jacks off while his partner weeps in bed, screamin', "Look at my throbbing, massive cock. You don't get any of it. It's all for me, bitch," smackin' that meat like it's a Frenchman's ass. Then, 'cause he's, you know, batshit insane, Bolton would howl as he came on your curtains, howl and dance in triumph that he jacked off once again.

So now we know Bolton bullied underlings by screaming at them. A "serial abuser," Carl Ford, Jr. called him, and he wasn't talking about Bolton's fury that Cap'n Crunch has a more lustrous moustache. We know that Bolton prevented Colin Powell from receiving full information about strategies that concerned U.S. relations with Iran, outright lying to Richard Armitage when asked a direct question about one piece of info. We know that, according to a letter posted at Kos, Bolton went completely fucked-in-the-head-where's-the-tranq-gun insane on a USAID subcontractor in Moscow: "Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel -- throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman . . . John Bolton put me through hell -- and he did everything he could to intimidate, malign and threaten not just me, but anybody unwilling to go along with his version of events. His behavior back in 1994 wasn't just unforgivable, it was pathological." And we're not even gettin' into his role in stopping the recount in Florida in 2000.

These are days where profanity is just, for the world is profane.

On hope, Jeff:
Rather than bleeding hearts, we need big hearts. Heavy, swollen hearts, that just can't bear anymore. And because they can drive us to action, rather than to the dead end of cheap sentiment, hearts like those can become weapons.


Surprise! - not good news

This is really, really not good:

A dangerous germ easily mistaken for an innocuous one has become alarmingly common around the United States, raising concern that seemingly minor boils, pimples and abscesses could increasingly become disfiguring or even life-threatening, researchers reported yesterday.

Because the microbe has become invulnerable to the most commonly used antibiotics, the discovery means doctors should now routinely test all skin infections to identify patients who need urgent treatment with one of the handful of drugs still capable of killing the aggressive pathogen, experts said.


"This is just another sign that, unfortunately, the bugs are winning," said Loren G. Miller of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the lead author of a companion paper describing 14 cases of people stricken by "flesh-eating" cases of the infection.


The microbe is a strain of the ubiquitous bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which usually causes well-known "staph" infections that are easily treated with common antibiotics in the penicillin family, such as methicillin and amoxicillin.

In recent years, small outbreaks of infections with a strain that is impervious to those antibiotics have been reported among athletes, inmates, children and other groups, but otherwise resistant staph strains had been almost exclusively limited to hospitals.

"We're used to resistant staph in the hospital as a problem among patients with heart failure, liver failure, cancer or other health problems," said David N. Gilbert of the Oregon Health & Science University. "It's started attacking normal healthy people, causing serious, often fatal illness."

The germ, which is spread by casual contact, produces potent toxins that kill disease-fighting white blood cells. That rapidly turns minor rug burns, cuts and other skin infections into serious health problems, apparently including "necrotizing" abscesses that eat away tissue. Previously, such cases were thought to be caused only by strep bacteria.

"This has now become a significant problem in this country," said Donald M. Poretz, an infectious-disease expert at Georgetown University who serves as president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "We see dozens of these cases in our offices."

The resistant strain probably emerged because of the overuse of antibiotics. Public health officials have become increasingly concerned about this trend, especially because little work is underway to develop a new generation of antibiotics.

Experts are also concerned that the shrinking number of effective antibiotics may also be slowly losing their power.

"What people are concerned about is that we'll be losing these drugs one by one until we don't have any effective ones left," said Walter E. Stamm, president of the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Right. So, don't get sick.
And, p.s., this is still happening:

International health workers in Angola say they are still struggling to end an outbreak of the Marburg virus, which has killed 156 people in the southern African nation.


Elevator - Going Down

From James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency via RS:
Most of all, the Long Emergency will require us to make other arrangements for the way we live in the United States. America is in a special predicament due to a set of unfortunate choices we made as a society in the twentieth century. Perhaps the worst was to let our towns and cities rot away and to replace them with suburbia, which had the additional side effect of trashing a lot of the best farmland in America. Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.
The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class.
The way that commerce is currently organized in America will not survive far into the Long Emergency. Wal-Mart's "warehouse on wheels" won't be such a bargain in a non-cheap-oil economy. The national chain stores' 12,000-mile manufacturing supply lines could easily be interrupted by military contests over oil and by internal conflict in the nations that have been supplying us with ultra-cheap manufactured goods, because they, too, will be struggling with similar issues of energy famine and all the disorders that go with it.

Some regions of the country will do better than others in the Long Emergency. The Southwest will suffer in proportion to the degree that it prospered during the cheap-oil blowout of the late twentieth century. I predict that Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada will become significantly depopulated, since the region will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning.

I'm not optimistic about the Southeast, either, for different reasons. I think it will be subject to substantial levels of violence as the grievances of the formerly middle class boil over and collide with the delusions of Pentecostal Christian extremism. The latent encoded behavior of Southern culture includes an outsized notion of individualism and the belief that firearms ought to be used in the defense of it. This is a poor recipe for civic cohesion.

The Mountain States and Great Plains will face an array of problems, from poor farming potential to water shortages to population loss. The Pacific Northwest, New England and the Upper Midwest have somewhat better prospects. I regard them as less likely to fall into lawlessness, anarchy or despotism and more likely to salvage the bits and pieces of our best social traditions and keep them in operation at some level.

These are daunting and even dreadful prospects. The Long Emergency is going to be a tremendous trauma for the human race. We will not believe that this is happening to us, that 200 years of modernity can be brought to its knees by a world-wide power shortage. The survivors will have to cultivate a religion of hope -- that is, a deep and comprehensive belief that humanity is worth carrying on. If there is any positive side to stark changes coming our way, it may be in the benefits of close communal relations, of having to really work intimately (and physically) with our neighbors, to be part of an enterprise that really matters and to be fully engaged in meaningful social enactments instead of being merely entertained to avoid boredom. Years from now, when we hear singing at all, we will hear ourselves, and we will sing with our whole hearts.

This is, more or less, what I've been thinking about for a while. This is the "science-fiction" future; and this is our future. It is the vision of William Gibson's Sprawl America, a tiny minority of super-rich with high technology, the vast majority living in the rotting of former suburbia and abandoned interior. It is Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon, where "things got local," where you can't quite remember or imagine how it really once was, or how it really is. It's Margaret Atwood's increasingly vicious and unstable pleeblands from Oryx and Crake; it's Orwell's 1984 of ever-decreasing production, products, knowledge and freedom, where our hope lies in the proles, and there's no hope to speak of.

There is still a way out of this Long Emergency - there is a way to control the volume level ourselves, to dial down consumption, to re-align our expectations. But I don't know if we can all do it - and there's gonna be a lot of hurt for those who can't.

It's important not only to see the future for what it is, what it might be, what it will be - but to stick together, to know these things together. At the end of The Return of the King, with all creation exploding around them, Frodo turns to Sam and says, "I'm glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things." They survived, the world exploding around them, and so will we.

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