Wednesday, May 30, 2007

desert creek

On Monday Kyhl, Marian, and I attempted to climb Middle Sister, the high point of Lyon County and the highest point on the Nevada side of the Sweetwater Range. We started on the California side, driving across some beautiful desert meadows with spectacular views of the Sierra Crest. We passed Lobdell Lake, and I drove the Pathfinder across a creek deep enough that I got splashed through the driver's side window. Unfortunately, the road on our map that's supposed to follow Desert Creek turns into a track that would only be passable on a four-wheeler, so we had to park and try walking the rest of the way.

Desert Creek is a narrow trickle that starts at Lobdell Lake, descends through a wide valley, and flows out into the Nevada desert, where it is first diverted into a maze of irrigation ditches and eventuallly dries up. The lake is reportedly stocked with Arctic grayling, but we didn't see any -- although Kyhl and I did spot a ten-inch brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) that ducked into an undercut bank in the shadows of some cottonwood trees.

We never did make it to the summit, but we did have an enjoyable hike along the creek. After Kyhl and Marian headed upstream to do some fishing, I continued downstream, crossed the creek, and hiked over a small ridge toward Coyote Creek. By the time I turned around, I was probably within two miles of the summit, but I didn't have enough water to keep going. The desert summer is approaching. As it was, I was just about out of water by the time I got back to the car. It's that time of year to start carrying three or four quarts every time I go out. Every few miles I encounter some bleached bones that remind me why.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

inside the park

These are truly halcyon days at Fenway Park. After today's 4-2 win over the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox hold the best record in the majors, an 11 1/2-game lead in the American League East, and a 14 1/2-game advantage over the last-place New York Yankees. Today's victory marked the triumphant return of Josh Beckett, who had been on the disabled list with an avulsion on the middle finger of his pitching hand. Beckett raised his record to 8-0, tying him with the Angels' John Lackey for the major league lead in victories.

Lately the Red Sox' best hitter has been Kevin Youkilis, who is currently riding a 21-game hitting streak and a nine-game stretch in which he has had at least two hits. (And yes, for you non-baseball fans, that's a very impressive streak; it's the first time a Red Sox player has done that since Jim Rice in 1978.) Youkilis has always been one of my favorite players -- a blue-collar guy who plays solid defense, hustles on every play, and grinds out a tough at-bat every time he comes up. He makes opposing pitchers throw a lot of pitches, and he hits the ball hard. In the minors he acquired the nickname "The Greek God of Walks," a tribute to his willingness to take a lot of pitches and to his less-than-chiseled physique.

In yesterday's game, Youkilis hit a long fly ball to center field that was just long enough to elude the center fielder's grasp. The ball ricocheted off the bullpen wall and toward left field. Because Youkilis ran hard straight out of the batter's box, by the time the Indians' right fielder, Trot Nixon, retrieved the ball, Youkilis was already rounding third and headed for home. It was the first inside-the-park home run by a Red Sox player since 2005. Who hit that one? Why, it was none other than Trot Nixon.

Youkilis deserves a spot on the A.L. All-Star team this year. Although Minnesota's Justin Morneau is the reigning A.L. Most Valuable Player and is having another great season, Youkilis deserves a spot, too. Hopefully there will be room enough for both of them.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

sky blue sky

A few months after the breakup of the great band Uncle Tupelo in 1994, Wilco, made up of several former members of Uncle Tupelo, released their first song on the country compilation Red, Hot + Country. The song was "The T.B. Is Whipping Me," a great revival of a Jimmie Rodgers-style barroom romp. If this is what the rest of their stuff is going to be like, I thought at the time, this could be the start of a great post-Uncle Tupelo career.

I was half right. Wilco has turned out to be one of the great bands of the 1990s and 2000s, but they haven't recorded another song like "The T.B. Is Whipping Me." Their sound has gotten more experimental with each subsequent release, and they've tended toward something more like a Brit Pop sound than the alt-country stylings of Uncle Tupelo. Their last studio album, A Ghost Is Born (2004), was their most experimental set yet, and while I didn't love it, I did think the songs translated well on their subsequent live release, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005).

Wilco's new album, Sky Blue Sky, while not a wholesale return to their 1994 sound, is probably their most straightforward release since their debut album, A.M. (1995), although it's not so self-parodying. Jeff Tweedy's vocal delivery still treads the line between adolescent and world-weary, and his songwriting is as strong as ever. I doubt that the critics will love Sky Blue Sky as much as their other recent work, but I'd rank it among their best. Sometimes it's okay to scale back one's ambition and simply do what one does best. That's what Jeff Tweedy and company have done this time, with this collection of straight-ahead country rock, judiciously spiced with Wilco's signature experimentation. The operative word here is restraint.

Friday, May 25, 2007

efficiency and water

I feel grateful that my local Assemblyman, David Bobzien (D-Reno), is a thoughtful, hard-working, and truly progressive representative to the state legislature. David is the only state representative I've ever had who came by my house to introduce himself. That never happened when I lived in Maine, Vermont, New York, Alaska, or North Carolina.

One of the most pressing issues facing Northern Nevada is what to do about water. Senate Bill 487 would have created a Northern Nevada Water Authority, which would likely have the effect of raising water rates (not necessarily a bad thing, if they started metering water). More important, it was designed to make decisions regarding water more "efficient." I agree with Bobzein when he suggests that "efficiency" isn't necessarily the most important goal. Intelligent use of water should be the primary goal, even if it means the relatively inefficient process of soliciting public input, doing water-use surveys, managing growth, etc. Often, when legislators talk about making a decision-making process "efficient," what they really mean is that they're taking decision-making power out of the hands of citizens and giving it to corporations and to government bureaucrats. Thanks in large part to Bobzein's leadership, the NNWA was killed in the assembly yesterday.

The Reno area is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. We've got to be thoughtful about how and where we grow. I don't want to suck the water table dry, and I don't want to see Reno importing massive amounts of water from other places. I don't want to see urban sprawl continue to worsen. Selfishly, I don't want to see the value of my property continue to fall because of thoughtless and poorly managed growth around the outskirts of Reno. I hope that Bobzein and others will make decisions based on what's best for Reno, rather than what's best for developers and water authorities.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

frenchman lake

This morning I returned from a three-day camping trip at Frenchman Lake with Dave, Kyhl, Eric, and Nick. Most of the time we were there, the weather was breezy and chilly -- enough to keep us next to the campfire sipping beer and Yukon Jack, occasionally rising long enough to throw another stick of poplar on the fire or to cook up another sausage. I read two essays by a colleague that I'd been putting off for weeks. A good time.

Yesterday we went for a morning paddle around the lake -- Dave in his inflatable kayak and Kyhl and I in a canoe. It's a beautiful lake, although I'll never quite get used to the fact that most of the "lakes" in this part of the country are reservoirs. Later we went on an epic mountain bike ride, winding up past Mount Adams, through some lovely forest of pine and cedar and aspen, across a muddy creek, down a loose and very technical stretch of old road, around tiny Snow Lake, through some alpine meadows where we saw a coyote, and back down to our campsite.

We camped near a woman named Carol Jean Case. The reason I know she was Carol Jean Case is because she frequently yelled things like, "Carol Jean Case, clean up this fucking mess!" and "Carol Jean Case, make me some goddamn breakfast!" And no, in case you were wondering, no one was actually with Carol Jean Case. I'm no psychiatrist, but it was a pretty clear "case" of multiple personality disorder, replete with the voice changes, the abrupt personality swings, the whole nine yards. At one point, on her way back to her campsite after fishing, Carol Jean Case paused about thirty yards from our site, staring at us menacingly like the Annie Wilkes character in Misery. We stayed near the fire, kept each other freaked out with occasional Stephen King references, and somehow survived the night. As I drove out of the campground this morning, Carol Jean Case was chopping firewood with an axe -- doing so with a fury that could only be described as demented.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

on climate

Over the past several years -- and especially in the last year -- I've been doing a ton of reading about anthropogenic climate change. I am impressed by the wealth of information out there, and I'm even impressed (if that's the right word) by the amount of disinformation available. I've done my best to educate myself on the issue, and that means reading much of the sludge out there from the so-called skeptics, as well as articles from science journals. There's stuff coming out on this subject all the time, so it takes effort to stay current.

First, I'd like to say that the debate about climate change is not about Al Gore. I don't think there's any such thing as an ideal spokesperson for issues related to climate science, and if there were, it wouldn't be Gore. I do appreciate Gore's attempts to bring public attention to the issue, though, and I do appreciate his film, An Inconvenient Truth, for trying to put the science into layman's terms, never an easy feat. For those inclined to dismiss Gore's film as propaganda, I recommend reading this article, and then having a look at the science yourself. (And watch the film, if you haven't already.)

The most important work on climate change is being done by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of 3500 leading scientists studying the issue. Their latest (2007) report can be found here. Their work has been rigorously peer-reviewed; both the National Academy of Sciences and the joint science academies from the G8 nations have reviewed the IPCC's reports, summaries, and methodologies, and concurred with their findings. So when people talk about "consensus" in the scientific community, this is what they're talking about. Science doesn't work by consensus, so using that term is technically inaccurate -- there are always scientists who challenge the existing science, and this is a normal and healthy part of the process. What is important to note, though, is that according to the joint science academies' report, "a lack of full scientific certainty about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for delaying an immediate response that will, at a reasonable cost, prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." That's important to remember as you wade through the various critiques by industry-funded skeptics.

A 2004 study by Naomi Oreskes looked at all 928 articles published in science journals between 1993 and 2003 that deal with climate change. Oreskes found that not one of these peer-reviewed articles challenged the notion that the global climate is warming, and not one challenged the notion that humans are a significant cause. The fact that she focused only on peer-reviewed journals is important, as it is the peer review process, rather than some sort of contrived "consensus," that defines the way science is done. You'll see articles by global warming skeptics in The Wall Street Journal and Canadian Free Press, and you'll see them highlighted in the mainstream media, but you won't find them in refereed science journals.

This post could get really long, so I'll say that the consequences of global climate change, if we do nothing about it, will probably be severe. This will be especially true for poor, low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, which will be flooded by rising seas. If we begin dealing with the problem now, we can still maintain a stable economy while addressing the problem effectively. The longer we wait, the more difficult and more expensive it will be. In this post I suggest some ways for people to help. There are many other ways. I'm doing my part, but I can always do better. I'd be interested in your ideas, as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

far left loons

I'd like to comment on a recent exchange I had with a conservative blogger with whom I've had occasional dialogue over the past few months. I should begin by saying this person is someone with whom I agree on some political issues (environmental sustainability) and not on others (Iraq, terrorism), but whom I basically respect as open-minded and fair. This person and her husband have repeatedly offered to share a pot of green chile stew if I'm ever in New Mexico, which I consider an unusually kind thing to do for a stranger. Perhaps one day I'll take her up on this generous offer. I've extended the offer in the other direction if she's ever in Nevada.

In a recent post, she described this article as "insightful" and "excellent." Now, I realize that the original article is intended to be satire and therefore not to be taken literally. I also realize that it self-consciously uses exaggeration. I do, however, think it's revealing in several ways.

The post reveals, I think, what some conservatives honestly believe Democrats are like. It argues that liberals hate Christians, don't care about terrorism, believe in 9-11 conspiracy theories, mindlessly follow public opinion like sheep, expect the federal government to take care of them, want to make guns illegal, detest rich people, are unwilling to work for a living, blame George W. Bush for "everything," and talk incessantly about sex. (The latter, actually, might be true.) When I pressed my conservative friend, she acknowledged that not all Democrats are like this, but insisted that it does accurately portray "the far left" (a favorite phrase of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and all the rest). She cited Daily Kos and Move On as examples of this extreme viewpoint. This is, of course, the way Daily Kos and Move On are represented in the popular media, as well.

Let's see what this nefarious "far left" looks like, starting with Daily Kos. Here are the posts on today's Daily Kos: (1) a critique of misinformation campaigns designed to attack science; (2) a post about eight soldiers killed in Iraq today; (3) a criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's blind loyalty to George W. Bush; (4) a post about Washington City Paper's hit piece on reporter Murray Waas; (5) a report on the Department of Health and Human Services's campaign for pandemic preparedness; (6) a short post on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA); (7) a brief critique of The Politico's biased political coverage; (8) a link to Greg Sargent's post encouraging Congressional Democrats to stand firm in support of a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq; (9) some commentary on a letter to Bush written by Congressional Democrats; and (10) a call for the impeachment of Gonzales.

OK. What about Move On? Move On isn't a blog like Daily Kos, but on their front page they have the following items: (1) a criticism of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) for voting against a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq; (2) a call for CBS to re-hire former General John Batiste, who was fired for political reasons; (3) a positive piece about the passage of a bill banning paperless voting machines; (4) an ad from Video Vets, encouraging the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home; (5) an action alert for net neutrality; (6) a campaign to motivate voters to go to the polls in 2008 and vote Democratic; and (7) some "success stories" and links to books you can buy.

Bringing the troops home? Supporting the independence and integrity of the Justice Department, the scientific community, and the media? Opposing government corruption and cronyism? Fair elections? If that's what the extreme "far left" looks like, then sign me up. The thing is, I don't think these values are extreme at all. I think they're mainstream. Or at least, they ought to be.

I think we are ill-served when we caricature other people's positions. This prevents us from working together on issues we agree on, and it prevents us from developing understanding and empathy when we disagree. I think that accurately representing opposing viewpoints is a key aspect of honest debate.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

why i won't support america's mayor

This evening the Republican presidential candidates held their second televised debate. I suppose I should acknowledge that although I haven't settled on a candidate myself (I like to give them all a chance to persuade me), I'm highly unlikely to vote Republican. There are things about each of the ten Republican contenders that give me pause, although Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) probably is the least offensive. Of course, he has no chance of winning the primary.

A development that has surprised me has been the extent to which Rudy Giuliani, perhaps more than any of the other Republican candidates, worries me. He worries me in part because I think he can win the election. Even more so, he worries me because he shows so little regard for the rule of law. Before this campaign, my understanding of Giuliani was that he was, by Republican standards, a moderate -- someone who would have appeal to some conservative-leaning Democrats. And maybe that's true; he does (sort of) support a woman's right to an abortion, for example.

Giuliani said something in tonight's debate that troubles me. I don't remember exactly what Brit Hume's question was -- it was a clownishly absurd question, because it asked the candidates to imagine a scenario that would almost certainly never occur -- but he asked Giuliani if he would support waterboarding and other "interrogation" techniques that the Justice Department defines as torture. Giuliani's response: "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Presumably, "every method they can think of" would include waterboarding and other forms of torture. This, of course, would be a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and, consequently, of U.S. law.

This isn't the first time Giuliani has endorsed going outside the law in the name of national security. He has said he would support suspending habeas corpus -- a Constitutionally guaranteed right -- for U.S. citizens in the so-called war on terrorism, but promised to do this sparingly. So, he promises to break the law only occasionally. Do you trust him to define "sparingly" in whatever way he wants? I don't. That's why we have laws, and that's why we require the President (in theory) to abide by those laws. Richard Nixon's famous defense -- "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal" -- doesn't fly with me.

This should be an obvious point, but based on the applause Giuliani's comment generated at the debate, I don't think it is: the President of the United States should obey the laws of this country. We are a nation of laws, as the cliche goes. In this election cycle, I will support a candidate who pledges to defend our nation's Constitution, especially after eight years of Bush administration attacks on this founding document. The U.S. Constitution should not be treated by the President as some sort of inconvenient hindrance to our security or to his own political agenda; rather, it should be seen as the very basis of what makes this country free and secure. So, attention candidates: if you want my vote, convince me that you'll defend the Constitution. All of it.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

knuckle sandwich

Today Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield had another great outing, pitching seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out five. The Red Sox went on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-0, improving their record to 23-10, best in the American League and seven games ahead of the hated New York Yankees.

This season Wakefield has a 4-3 record and a league-best 1.79 earned run average. So far this season he has been -- dare I say it? -- dominant, though he's still considered the #4 starter in the Red Sox rotation. Wakefield's performance today started me thinking. Assuming he remains healthy -- and the way Wakefield takes care of himself, there's no reason to think he won't -- he could pitch in the majors for another seven or eight years. He's 40 years old now, and being a knuckleballer, he could probably pitch until he's 47 or 48. Right now he's got 155 career wins. What if he averages 14 wins a season for the next eight seasons? That would give him 267 career wins. I'm sure no one has ever thought of Wakefield as one of the game's premier pitchers (he's never been an All-Star), but wouldn't a guy with 267 career victories have to get some Hall of Fame consideration? Since 1900, the only pitchers who've won that many games and aren't in the Hall of Fame are Tommy John, Bert Blyleven, and Jim Kaat.

Whatever you think of Wakefield or the knuckleball, he's been a great investment for the Red Sox. A few years back, he signed a $4 million, one-year contract with the Red Sox that is renewable every year. Basically, the team can re-sign him every year for $4 million a year, until they no longer feel like doing so. If I were Red Sox management, I'd just keep on doing it every year until the guy needs a walker to get to the mound, and pencil him in as the #4 or #5 starter. The dude is the best bargain in baseball.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

incidents in the life of a slave girl

I just finished a major research paper on Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), probably the best-written and most interesting, from a literary standpoint, of all the nineteenth-century slave narratives. It's the story of Linda Brent, who most scholars believe to be a pseudonym for Jacobs herself, an enslaved woman who escapes to the North in order to avoid sexual harassment by her master, Dr. Flint. Her final escape is delayed, however, and she ends up spending seven years in an attic over her grandmother's shed. The roof is leaky, and Jacobs suffers permanent physical debilitation from living in a cramped space for such a long time. She does make it to Philadelphia eventually, and she is reunited with her children. She meets Lydia Maria Child, who agrees to edit her book and write an introduction for it.

My project studies the way that Jacobs represents nature, and tries to place this representation within a historical context. For Jacobs the natural world is a terrifying place, nearly as frightening as the "howling wilderness" was for the Puritans. It is a place where one is liable to be sexually assaulted by a white slave owner, lost in a fetid swamp, or bitten by a copperhead. What was most striking for me was the rhetorical function of this vision of nature. Less than a decade after Henry David Thoreau published Walden, Jacobs reminds us that while white men in Massachusetts contemplated their bean fields from the relative comfort of their front porches, black women in North Carolina lived in a state of constant fear. The profound injustice of the system of slavery is never so clear as it is in Jacobs's narrative.

After being largely ignored for over a century since its publication, I think there will be -- and to an extent, there already is -- a resurgence in interest in this book. It's a powerful story about a women whose courage and perseverance are truly inspirational.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

the white boy shuffle

Paul Beatty's novel The White Boy Shuffle (1996) is an outrageously funny, thoroughly unsentimental portrait of life in inner-city America. It follows the life of Gunnar Kaufman, an African-American poet and basketball player who is raised in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood before moving to inner-city Los Angeles. Initially out of his element in "the 'hood," Gunnar eventually becomes a community leader of sorts, organizing weekly events at which even drug dealers and gang leaders are compelled to give testimonials and confessions.

What is most wonderful about this book is its unflinching and merciless treatment of racial stereotypes. Beatty leaves no stereotype unexamined -- from gang bangers to white liberal poetry aficionados to Japanese mail-order brides -- and the result is always funny and unpredictable. Most of my students, I think, enjoyed it as much as I did.

One student remarked that although she thought the book was funny, and although she thought it was an appropriate book for the course (which was a bit of a relief to me, as some of the language and subject matter are pretty risqué, even by today's standards), she didn't like it because she "couldn't relate to it." I pressed her to explain what she meant, but she couldn't. She gave her criticism in a polite and measured tone; nevertheless, I couldn't help wondering if she only wants to read books about conservative white girls from Nevada. What a boring, boring world it would be if we only opened our hearts to the experiences of people just like ourselves.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

ségo et sarko

Unless something dramatically unforeseen occurs in the next 24 hours, it appears that Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate for the center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, tomorrow will become the next president of France. Sarkozy is a combative, authoritarian demagogue who favors trading civil liberties for political gain and reducing the separation between church and state. While he's not exactly a fringe far-right candidate like George W. Bush (he opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, for example), I think that he will lead France in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately, his main competitor, Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, never mounted a serious challenge to Sarkozy. Although Royal has a certain charisma and a populist message, she never demonstrated enough familiarity with the issues to attract voters beyond her Socialist base. She rarely offered specific proposals to go along with her more general message of participatory democracy, and is therefore seen as stronger on rhetoric than policy. She never, for example, articulated a clear position on Turkey's accession to the European Union -- a key issue in this year's election.

It's too bad. France might be well situated to strike off on a path toward a pro-education, pro-environment, pro-gay, pro-family future. I think that Royal would defend the sane working week (35 hours) that helps to make France such a special place to live. Instead, France will undoubtedly move toward an American-style economic system -- lower taxes, yes, but also longer hours, lower wages, privatized health care, a smaller safety net for the poor, every man for himself. Haven't the French seen the way Americans live? Don't they know how good they've got it? Of course, maybe this is easy for me to say, since I'm not French -- and maybe I'd be something of a Luddite even by French standards -- but it seems to me that France is a pretty wonderful place, not only to visit, but to live. Why are the French willing to trade their quality of life for what might be termed American-style quantity of life?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

moss in the house

As a New England Patriots fan, I suppose I'm required to have some sort of opinion about the Patriots' trade of a fourth-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for troubled wide receiver Randy Moss.

Moss has openly admitted that he only plays hard when he feels like it. He once pretended to moon the fans in Green Bay after scoring a touchdown for the Minnesota Vikings and then wiped his ass on the goal post. And while playing for the Raiders, he walked off the field while the team was lining up for a crucial two-point conversion. He's clearly a selfish and immature player.

There's also no doubt that Moss is one of the league's most talented players. In 2003, while playing for the Vikings, he caught 111 passes for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns, which ranks as one of the greatest seasons ever for a receiver. He's played in five Pro Bowls. He's one of the league's fastest players, and he has spectacular leaping ability. Most people agree that Moss instantly makes the Patriots favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Although some have criticized the Patriots for breaking with their team philosophy of acquiring only players with great character, and although I agree that the trade for Moss is indeed a break from this philosophy, I can't fault them for doing it. Trading for Moss involved virtually no risk to the team. They only gave up a fourth-round draft pick for him, and if he turns out to be an asshole, they can cut him. They have eight other receivers on the roster (nine if you include Troy Brown, who may be brought back this season if he's healthy enough to play). They don't need Moss. Really, it's an ideal situation. If Moss wants to win as badly as he says he does, he'll behave. If not, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, and Bob Kraft will send him packing. I have a feeling he'll find a way to fit in.