06 September 2009

Broken record

by Chiaroscuro _

In less than three days, Obama will be giving another of his make-or-break speeches. Once again, he'll be trying (and, I expect, failing) to redefine the health reform debate that has careened so far out of reason or control. On the Sunday gasbag shows, White House officials prepared the way -- for another round of insipid boilerplate and equivocation. From the NYTimes:

Three days before President Obama is to address a joint session of Congress about overhauling the health care system, administration officials on Sunday continued to characterize a new government program for the nation’s 50 million uninsured as worthwhile but not essential to legislation.

David Axelrod, a White House senior adviser, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Mr. Obama “believes the public option is a good tool.” But Mr. Axelrod added: “It shouldn’t define the whole health-care debate.”

Oh no, the public option certainly doesn't define the whole debate. The right-wing whackjobs have taken care of that and now it's insane conspiracy theories about commie-fascist death panels and withholding health care from Republicans that drive the "debate".

The White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” sidestepped questions on whether Mr. Obama still regarded the so-called public option as a necessity for any bill he would back.

“We’re trying to provide choice and competition for individuals and small business owners,” Mr. Gibbs said when asked if the public option was “essential.”

“The president strongly believes we need to provide choice and competition,” he said. Pressed on whether Mr. Obama would demand that a government insurance program be included in legislation, Mr. Gibbs said that it could be a “valuable component” of any health plan. And asked whether the president would reject a plan that did not include government insurance, Mr. Gibbs responded: “We are not going to prejudge where the process will be.”


And The Associated Press reported that on a call with prominent liberal House members Friday, Mr. Obama refused to be pinned down.

In his talk-show appearance, Mr. Gibbs said, however, that Mr. Obama will clarify his position in his address to Congress and is considering broadly outlining his own legislation instead of letting Congress set the terms.

It's nauseating. Just fucking make up your mind, already. Stand for something, dammit. I have this nightmare vision of getting to 2012 with a president that has spent the last four years refusing to be "pinned down" about anything of importance.

The endless parroting -- "choice and competition," "competition and choice," blah, blah, blah. What does that mean, exactly? That's right: Nothing. There hasn't been one component of actual reform (versus insignificant tinkering at the edges) that Obama hasn't supported, then "indicated" he'd trade away, and back and forth, yes, no or maybe, ad infinitum.

Are we supposed to cheer that Obama might propose an actual plan? It beggars the imagination that this "clarification" will be any less nebulous than his statements thus far when the latest trial balloon is floated using words like "considering" and "broadly outlining." If he truly wants to "clarify" this clusterfuck, he'll ditch everything and start over by first reading the riot act to the Senate Democrats and then taking a tire iron to their future electoral ambitions.

That won't happen, though. We'll probably get another mealy-mouthed paean to bipartisanship, competition and choice along with heart-felt thanks for the cooperation of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in fashioning this historic legislation. Feh.

An aside: Not only have I called and emailed the White House, I mailed an ink-and-paper letter to the president in which I promised that he will lose my vote if a fully competitive public option is not passed. Late last month, I received a reply. It's a canned response, brimming with bland boilerplate. The letter includes this line:

There are tough choices to be made, and I will bring businesses and workers, health care providers and patients, and Democrats and Republicans together to create a system that delivers better care and puts the Nation on a much sounder long-term fiscal path.

I am then urged to "learn more about [Obama's] agenda" online. The letter ends with this:

I share the sense of urgency that millions of Americans have voiced. I watched as my ailing mother struggled with stacks of insurance forms in the last moments of her life. This is not who we are as a Nation; together, we will fix it.

Sorry, but Obama's language and tone are so dispassionate, so dry, so brittle, that the merest gust of Teabagger bullshit can easily shatter his narrative -- and that's exactly what's been happening.

Americans are dying because they can't get or afford health insurance. Americans in the hundreds of thousands are facing medical bankruptcy even with insurance. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are posting the biggest profits on record and they're lavishing millions in salaries and bonuses on their executives while children are denied life-saving treatments. How can these fuckers be winning?

I know Obama is a cool customer. However, if he wants to change the scorched landscape of American health care, he had better get angry --  very angry and very soon. This is a life-and-death debate and Obama's got to man up and fight. Get in touch with your lizard-brain, man.

[Cross-posted at The Broad View.]

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on September 6, 2009 at 10:39 PM | Spotlight on Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | Email this post

Afghanistan Outpost

by Chiaroscuro _

Our endless floundering in the Afghan quagmire is finally commanding some attention. Miraculously, it's taken only eight years for the American public to realize that something is gravely amiss with our Central Asian Adventure. In his latest NYTimes column, Bob Herbert compares Obama's escalation in Afghanistan to Johnson's in Vietnam and concludes that both presidents listened to the wrong advisors:

President Obama is being told (as Lyndon Johnson was told about Vietnam) that more resources will do the trick in Afghanistan — more troops, more materiel, more money.

Supporters of the war offer an array of rationales in a way that reminds me of Bush's constantly mutating excuses for the Iraq invasion: Every explanation carefully avoids the real, bedrock motivation for our occupation of a hostile country.

After all the huffing and puffing about Iraq's imaginary WMD, Saddam's imaginary ties to al Qaeda, Saddam's insanity, the regime's cruelty and oppression, establishing viral democracy in the region and more, the real reason for our invasion of Iraq was as obvious as it was unspoken.

When Dick Cheney pored over maps of the Iraqi oil fields with petroleum company executives during the secret meetings of his Energy Task Force, all was clear. When our military forces in Baghdad guarded the Oil Ministry while ignoring the looting at the National Museum, it was clear that file cabinets were vital security objectives but the priceless heritage of early civilization was expendable. Securing the Iraqi oil fields was our strategic objective in the first resource war of the 21st century and establishing massive permanent bases and a friendly puppet government was how we'd do it.

Afghanistan started differently. We had legitimate objectives at first --  the capture of bin Laden and the destruction of al Qaeda's network of training camps and safe havens in the country. Once we'd botched that, the stage was set for what we have now -- a prolonged and ineffectual occupation in an increasingly hostile environment. Nevertheless, we're establishing massive bases and protecting a puppet government that, more and more, is unfriendly.

So why are we still there? Of course, we're saving face. God forbid that we have to tuck our tails between our legs and accept ignoble retreat, defeated by a bunch of violent country bumpkins in a repeat of the Soviet debacle. But again, mostly bogus excuses abound. We're saving the Afghanis from the oppressive Taliban, whether or not they want to be saved. We're watering the seeds of democracy in Central Asia, despite propping up a rampantly corrupt regime with no support outside Kabul. We're fighting the scourge of opium, even though the poppy fields are once again blooming abundantly after a hiatus under the Taliban. (Interestingly, the Taliban originally banned opium production under Sharia law, but now they embrace the trade as a way to raise both cash and allies in the countryside.)

Afghanistan looks like a dry hole in terms of our strategic interests, yet Obama is doubling down. Perhaps the answer lies next door. Our bases in Afghanistan are the launchpads for invasion should events take a very bad turn in Pakistan. I can't imagine any other reason to put the spurs to this conflict.

Bush made a precedent of "pre-emptive" war in Iraq and now Obama seems to agree that it's a good idea in Afghanistan. Thus we're drawn deeper and deeper into both real and potential conflicts in countries and cultures where our understanding is shallow at best. And nobody talks about it.

We persist in believing that we must police the entire globe through the vast network of military outposts we've established and pay for with money that might otherwise be used for universal health care, investment in modern infrastructure, R&D in energy, medicine, climate control and more. Will we ever, as a nation, grow up?

[Cross-posted at The Broad View.]

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on September 6, 2009 at 09:24 AM | Spotlight on Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

16 August 2009

The Reaper Chronicles

by Chiaroscuro _

Every aspect of the health insurance "debate" makes me purple with rage. This morning's AP story quotes Sibelius' claim that the wretched Obama is willing to drop the public option in favor of the useless co-op nonsense.

There are no words to describe my complete disgust with Obama and the rest of the Washington Democrats. Their gutless incompetence has in all likelihood doomed real health insurance reform for another generation. Actually, a humane, civilized health care system is probably impossible in the U.S., given our hostility to doing anything to help our fellow citizens -- especially those who aren't white -- and the opposition of a loud, easily manipulated plurality of stupid Americans. Yes, there is a significant percentage of American citizens who are proudly ignorant, gullible dolts. These are the kind of people who give Democracy a bad name.

The Rabid Right's latest cri de coeur -- "Obama Death Panels" -- has been scooped up and amplified by an equally stupid and irresponsible media class. So far, Obama has been singularly ineffective in countering the hysteria. As Maureen Dowd writes in today's NYTimes:

Sarahcuda [Sarah Palin] knows, from her brush with Barry on the campaign trail, that he is vulnerable on matters that demand a visceral and muscular response rather than a logical and book-learned one.

Okay, here's a visceral response to the idiotic notion that Obama will pull the plug on Grandma. Here's the story of a real Grandma, my husband's Grandma.(All names have been changed.)

Louise had metastatic cancer. She had survived breast cancer many years earlier but now, in her eighties, the cancer had returned. One bout of chemotherapy was enough to convince her that she didn't want to spend what was left of her life enduring painful torture. I think it was the right decision. She lasted another two years and was relatively healthy until the last three or four months. The "cure" would probably have killed her far more quickly by weakening her with poison and pain. And it is those last three or four months that concern us now.

Harry, my husband's grandfather and Louise's husband, was in his mid-eighties. He was amazingly vigorous and sharp as a tack, but old age had amplified his peculiarities. He was a miser and a hoarder. And he was totally paranoid about having strangers come into his home. That, in itself, wasn't unreasonable. The elderly have good reason to feel vulnerable to strangers. As his wife's health deteriorated, however, he insisted on coping with caring for her by himself and then, when he could no longer lift her to change her soiled bedding, he enlisted his daughter Joanne's help. My husband's mother was well into her sixties and not in great shape herself.

The combination of ignorance and despair was determinative. Joanne called me one day to ask, amazingly, for my advice. She didn't know what to do, how to proceed, how to handle an increasingly untenable situation. Her stubborn, paranoid father refused to allow anyone into the house -- no nurses, no home health workers, not even Meals on Wheels.

I advised that she convince Harry that he must allow her to have professional help. At no point, I said, should she allow her father to hospitalize Louise. I told her that once her mother was in the hospital, her agony would be prolonged. She would have the tubes inserted, the machines hooked up, and she'd be kept alive as long as possible, in misery. I advised her to contact someone about home hospice care.

All Louise needed at that point was to be kept clean and comfortable. At home, she could spend her last days with family in familiar surroundings with a view of her lovely garden outside.

Harry was an autocrat and would have nothing of it. Joanne, even in her sixties, was still a cowed and impotent child when facing her father. So Louise was taken to the large hospital nearby. She was hooked up to a feeding tube, IVs and monitors. Her view out the window was of a brick wall.

Louise spent the last forty-two days of her life on her back in that hospital. No one asked about alternatives. Standard operating procedure was to prolong her life through any and all means.

There's also a dirty little secret that nobody in this health care "debate" talks about: Doctors are paid by the procedure and there's nothing like a helpless, elderly patient for the opportunity to pile on the tests and procedures. During a patient's last days in the hospital, doctors come out of the woodwork to peek in the door, glance at a chart, order an expensive test, and walk out to bill Medicare accordingly.

When Louise wasn't staring out the window in pain, she was being hauled all over the hospital for tests and x-rays for -- what, exactly? There was no question that she had terminal disease and that the end was very near. Did they think this blood test or that x-ray would tell them something they didn't already know? Did they expect to predict the exact day and hour of her death?

So for forty-two days, Louise was mindlessly kept alive while her body was being eaten to death by the cancer. Her bones had become so fragile that some time in the last week her hip broke merely from lying in the bed. Her guts had turned to putrid goo. Finally, she died.

The hospital bill was, of course, stratospheric. Miserly Harry didn't care, though. Medicare picked up most of it and what they didn't cover, supplemental insurance did. And it was all totally, utterly unnecessary. Harry was rich enough that he could have paid for round-the-clock nursing at home. There would have been no feeding tube, no monitors, no IVs. Louise would have died weeks sooner, in her own bedroom, and been spared what passes for "care" in America's modern hospital system.

But no one in a position of authority spoke up. Louise wasn't given the chance to choose her own fate. Every day in the hospital, she begged to go home. Instead, she had a husband more concerned with money and his own paranoia, a willfully ignorant man happy to have someone take the problem off of his hands for free. She was left to a system that has perverted its mandate for mercy into a soulless, hypocritical exercise in milking the helpless for every penny that can be squeezed from Medicare.

So don't talk to me about "Obama's Death Panels." Don't talk to me about "pulling the plug on Grandma." Don't pretend to care about people when all you care about is demagoguing and demonizing humane health care reform to score political points.

I'm in despair that any real reform will ever be enacted. I'm sick of a country informed by brutality and stupidity. I wonder what all those imbecilic "Town Hell" screamers would be screaming if they found themselves in Louise's hospital bed.

(Cross-posted at The Broad View.)

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on August 16, 2009 at 09:37 AM | Spotlight on Current Affairs, Ethics, Science & Medicine | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

05 July 2009

This American Life

by Chiaroscuro _

The news lately -- some sad, some farcical, some infuriating -- presents a target-rich environment for any blogger. The only problem is, "Where to begin?"

Lately every other day, it seems, has been punctuated by another celebrity death. I am totally mystified by the prolonged brouhaha over Michael Jackson's demise. I thought The Freak Show that was M.J. for the past twenty years was barely on the radar anymore. Who wanted to hear about a disgraced, unsavory pedophile addicted to self-mutiliation and an infantile grandiosity? Apparently, half the globe. Now there's a tidal wave of distraught fans ready to immolate themselves on his funeral pyre in an elaborate parody of grief? Sure, as long as the cameras and helicopters are hovering over the writhing, narcissistic mob.

Then there's the latest episode of America's Gubernatorial Freaks, the smash reality show wherein state chief executives from around the country vie for the title of Biggest Horse's Ass. Thrill to the spectacular idiocies of "Macaca" Allen, Elliot Spitzer, Rod Blagojevich, and the latest contestants -- Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin. Talk about a cage match! Just when you think you've seen the ultimate in addled egos from "Bull of the Pampas" Sanford, Madame Moosejaw Palin comes along and blows him away with a single insane presser/pity-party.

You settle in for a prolonged mocking of one elected hypocrite and before you know it, another comes along. Or a mega-celebrity death pushes the lucky pol off the front page.

Oddly enough, the one death that saddened me the most was that of pitchman Billy Mays. Some people found him totally annoying. Many more -- myself included -- thought of him as an American original. I could count on seeing Billy almost every day on tv, pitching OxiClean or Kaboom from his roster of household products, and somehow I trusted him. I never ordered anything on the phone -- the S&H charges are where the sellers make their money -- but I have bought OxiClean and Kaboom in stores. And they work!

Continue reading "This American Life"

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on July 5, 2009 at 10:45 AM | Spotlight on Current Affairs, Miscellany, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

04 July 2009

Happy 4th -- make it sane and safe!

by EDN

Chiaro is back! And nothing could make me happier.

I'm not back, because I'm still nursing an injured right hand and I can't tether myself to the computer for more than a short while each day -- generally just enough to check my e-mail (and not respond at length).

If I were back, I'd probably be musing (not kindly) about the similarities between the M. Jackson feeding frenzy and the Cult of Evita.

But, on a much more upbeat note...Happy Indepndence Day.

P.S. I should've known that Chiaro would be a fan of the Vermont Country Store -- as am I. I'm about to order myself some Tired Old Ass Soak. Check it out.

Posted by EDN on July 4, 2009 at 03:40 PM | Spotlight on Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

Punks, sweetgrass and summer

by Chiaroscuro _

I am convinced that half of our adult lives are spent in trying to recapture the lost pleasures of childhood -- well, at least mine is. Long ago I waxed elegiac at The Broad View with "Remembrance of Toys Past." Lately I've been searching for something more ephemeral -- the scent of the past.

Does anybody else remember the summer smell of burning punks? You know, the long sticks of dried something (dung?) -- like incense but not perfumed except with a primal odor that must be encoded into our DNA. As kids, we'd light a punk and hold it between our teeth. It was supposed to repel mosquitoes but the real attraction was the curling tendrils of delicate smoke. I imagine Paleolithic campfires smelled like punks.

Continue reading "Punks, sweetgrass and summer"

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on July 4, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

Happy Fourth of July!

by Chiaroscuro _

In time for your Fourth of July weekend cookouts, my favorite potato salad recipe:

Bavarian Potato Salad

Note: All measurements are approximate. Use more or less of anything, to taste.

3 or 4 lbs. new potatoes, peeled and sliced fairly thinly
2 or 3 eggs, hard-boiled
8-12 slices of bacon
1 or 2 shallots, depending on size, minced finely
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
½ - ¾ cup dry white wine
1 or 2 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 or 2 tsp. sugar-in-the-raw
2 Tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup, more or less, of mayonnaise
freshly ground pepper, salt to taste if desired

Hard boil the eggs. (Cover in cold water, bring to a boil and turn off heat. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, then rinse in cold running water or an ice bath to cool completely.) Set aside.

While the eggs are cooking, finely mince the shallots; set aside. Chop parsley; set aside.

Fry the bacon over low heat until crisp and the fat is completely rendered. Remove the bacon to paper towels and set aside. Leave the fat in the pan for the dressing.

Start the sliced potatoes in cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Shock in cold water to stop cooking and drain well.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the dressing:

—Add the minced shallots to the hot bacon fat and saute over medium heat for a few minutes until shallots start to get tender.
—Add the Dijon mustard and stir or whisk to incorporate with the fat and shallots.
—Add the white wine and raise heat to medium-high to start reducing the liquid.
—After a minute or so, add the cider vinegar, the sugar and pepper to taste. Whisk to incorporate and simmer for another minute or so. Set aside to cool for 5 or 10 minutes
—In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise and shallot mixture. Mix well and add more freshly cracked pepper, if desired.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and the dressing, folding carefully to avoid breaking up the potatoes too much. Slice the hard-boiled eggs and crumble the reserved bacon. Add to the potatoes along with the chopped parsley. Mix everything together well. Adjust seasoning as desired. Chill well to meld flavors.  Note: I don't use any added salt because the bacon has plenty of salt. The salad will seem too gloppy while still warm. The extra dressing will be absorbed by the potatoes as they cool. If making a serving platter, garnish with diagonal alternating lines of extra bacon and egg slices. Serve.

BTW, if you'll be having a July 4th picnic, Cook's Illustrated advises that it's not the mayonnaise that causes food poisoning from spoiled potato salad. Mayonnaise contains sufficient acid to inhibit bacterial growth and commercial mayo is made with pasteurized eggs. Rather, it is the potatoes that are the culprits:

"The bacteria usually responsible for spoiled potato salad are Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as staph). Both are found in soil and dust, and they thrive on starchy, low-acid foods like rice, pasta, and potatoes. If they find their way into your potato salad via an unwashed cutting board or contaminated hands, they can wreak havoc on your digestive system."

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on July 4, 2009 at 07:49 AM | Spotlight on Food & Drink | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

31 May 2009

Saturday Night Fever

by Chiaroscuro _

Obamas_leave_for_NYC_date_AudeGuerrucci-NYTimes I might be dismayed and disappointed by Obama's walk-backs on Guantanamo, torture, secrecy, Iraq withdrawal and all the other issues on which he's shown something less than political courage. There is one area, however, where Obama is a gust of fresh air: He and Michelle are totally cool. I mean, after Junior and his brush-clearing and Laura's resolute avoidance of anything resembling excitement, the Obamas are shakin' it up, big-time. (NYTimes pool photo: Aude Guerrucci)

Who can not be charmed by the president's date last night with Michelle? Obama is admirably checking off his campaign promises and one promise was dinner and a Broadway show with his wife after the campaign. They took the short flight to New York yesterday afternoon for dinner at Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and a performance of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” at the Belasco Theater. 

First of all, great choices, guys. Blue Hill is a pioneer in the local food movement and well-known for its exquisitely fresh and tasty ingredients. Michelle, as we know, is championing locally-grown, organic food. The Tony-nominated play by August Wilson recounts the experiences of a group of boardinghouse residents in the early 1900s who left sharecropping in the South for cities in the North.

Obama certainly knows how to show his lady a lovely time. Michelle revealed this last week: "You know, after 20-some-odd years of knowing a guy, you forget that your first date was at a museum. But it was, and it was obviously wonderful. It worked." A museum! I love it.

Not everyone is as tickled as I am over the geek glam of our First Couple. The pursed-lip pills in the Republican Party fired off a fresh salvo of monumental political tone-deafness:

The Republican National Committee slammed the outing in an "RNC Research Piece": "As President Obama prepares to wing into Manhattan’s theater district on Air Force One to take in a Broadway show, GM is preparing to file bankruptcy and families across America continue to struggle to pay their bills. ... Have a great Saturday evening – even if you’re not jetting off somewhere at taxpayer expense. ... PUTTING ON A SHOW: Obamas Wing Into The City For An Evening Out While Another Iconic American Company Prepares For Bankruptcy."

The RNC's Gail Gitcho added: "If President Obama wants to go to the theater, isn’t the Presidential box at the Kennedy Center good enough?”

Hmm, let's see: We're supposed to express high dudgeon over a charming date that gives a very hard-working guy a break with his wife. Oh, that's right -- the guy is a Democratic president. The most recent Republican president could jet off to the pig farm in the middle of Nowheresville, Texas for more R&R time -- 384 days -- than any other president and citizens should applaud his manly man, cowboy, brush-clearin' everyman act. Forget that all those getaways were at "taxpayer expense," not to mention the fact that we paid the slacker for eight years and he spent more than a year of that time kicking back at the "ranch".

The Repugs got nothing. If they think they're going to get any traction over the Obamas' date night, the real question is which is greater -- their stupidity or their desperation? Sing along with me, boys:

Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody.
I got some money 'cause I just got paid.
How I wish I had someone to love me.
I'm in an awful way.

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on May 31, 2009 at 08:11 AM | Spotlight on Current Affairs, Food & Drink, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

11 May 2009

Jesusita Fire: update Monday noon

by EDN

In any other circumstances we'd probably be griping that it's cloudy, chill and damp in the middle of May. But today, after the events of the last week, we are delighted and grateful.

The stations that carry local news are back to their regular schedules. Almost all evacuees are back in their homes.

Most fire crews from other cities have been released. Those remaining, along with our own city and county guys, are up in the hills, putting out the last hot spots. They expect to complete the mopping up on Wednesday.

What a stupendous job all our public services did. They are owed our highest regard and our deepest thanks.


In my Internet wanderings, I came across this detailed picture tour of our beautiful town. (The text is somewhat wanting -- for example, it's the Moroton Bay Fig tree, not Morton. And frankly, the photos don't do full justice to the full visual loveliness. Nothing can, probably, except being here.)

The site includes pictures of the disastrous Painted Cave Fire, which happened in 1990, a year before I moved here. The fire was finally stopped at the gates of Hope Ranch, and we live in what's known as the Hope Ranch annex. As I said in an earlier post, we were much comforted by our neighbors, who had experienced the earlier event and assured us that we were going to be OK.

Posted by EDN on May 11, 2009 at 01:08 PM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

09 May 2009

Jesusita Fire: update Saturday early afternoon

by EDN

The reports last night were reassuring, so we had a restful night. We woke up this morning to the wonderful sight of May Gray -- the low marine layer [fog] that brings so much humidity from the ocean. Wow! and Whew!

Most of the evacuation warnings have been lifted, and much of the mandatory evacuation zone has been downgraded to "warning." The Unified Command is reporting the fire 30% contained, which may not sound like much, but it's huge considering how out of control it all was.

Most astonishing, the current estimate of structures lost is much lower than it had been, now that inspection teams have been doing an inventory of the most affected areas. The fire crews have done a spectacular job.

I'll do a final report when the smoke has cleared -- so to speak.

Posted by EDN on May 9, 2009 at 02:59 PM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

08 May 2009

Jesusita Fire: update Friday evening

by EDN

Please take with a large grain of salt headlines like this one at CBS.com: "Thousands more flee Calif. blaze."

A headline is meant to be a grabber, not tell the truth of a story. CBS's would have you believe that from Santa Barbara there is a mass exodus of panicked citizens, something out of Independence Day.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, there have been evacuations mandated by the authorities. And in addition there are residential areas that are on evacuation warning. [See the map linked at the end of the post.] The authorities keep us remarkably well-informed, and in turn they continuously praise the cooperation of Santa Barbara's citizens and the orderliness of the evacuations. "Flee" is hardly a word they or I would use. But then, it isn't my job, or theirs, to write headlines for CBS.

I do not mean to trivialize the fire. Quite the contrary. It is a massive event. Many people have indeed lost their homes and thousands of others have been displaced and for the duration are bunking with friends elsewhere in town, or at the shelter facilities set up by the Red Cross, or checking into hotels.

There is, nevertheless, a great spirit in this town -- mutual aid, humor, and even a cheerfully fatalistic attitude on the part of people who know that coping with a snake is the price you pay to live in Eden.

This is what I wrote in an e-mail a little while ago to Chiaro, in answer to her generous concern for us. I hope it will help those of you reading this who don't "know the territory" to understand the situation a little bit better. (Links to maps, etc., are at the end of the post.)

Dear Chiaro --

I hurry to tell you that we're fine and safe.

The maps and TV shots don't really convey the geography or geometry of the fire. The telephoto lenses foreshorten the vistas, and in fact things are really farther away than they look. (Night shots are the worst culprits. Even one's own sightings at night are deceptive.) The maps also are a bit misleading, in that there are many changes in terrain, growth of brush and flowers and agriculture and trees, elevation, etc. that don't show up on a flat map but that have a substantial, but highly localized, effect on the way a fire works.

Fire has crossed the highway [Hwy. 101] only once, during what was called the Painted Cave fire, and that was twenty years ago. (It was stopped only a half-mile from where I sit and write this. My neighbors are all veterans of that experience, and are a comfort.)

Since then many mitigation plans (brush clearing, road widening, etc.) have been put into effect. The fire services are far more technologically advanced in terms of their planning and communications. Weather and wind predictions are in place earlier and are more accurate. The air support is whiz-bang. (The DC-10 [known as Tanker 910] 12,000 gallon drops of bright-red PHOS-CHeK are amazing.)

Per the county website, this is the equipment in play:

· 2,335 personnel on scene: 246 engines, 62 crews
· 14 air tankers and 15 helicopters [the tankers drop PHOS-CHeK, mostly to help create fire breaks; the helicopters drop water on hot spots with surgical precision]

And the police have made more than 100,000 reverse-911 calls!

Continue reading "Jesusita Fire: update Friday evening"

Posted by EDN on May 8, 2009 at 08:37 PM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

Jesusita Fire: update, Thursday just before midnight

by EDN

In February 1970 there was a massive student riot at Santa Barbara's UC campus. The campus, with its reputation for hard partying, seemed an unlikely center for protest, but there it was, and the cops came on very strong.

Not since then, we're being told, has there been as large a law enforcement contingent on the streets and roads of Santa Barbara as there is tonight, with police and sheriff's department officers deployed widely to serve the community by warning citizens of imminent danger, directing the flow of traffic from areas under mandatory evacuation notice, keeping curiosity seekers away from anywhere firefighters are desperately battling the Jesusita Fire.

Yes, the winds came up again, the fireline has moved both east and west. While we are not yet on evacuation warning, it could happen -- and we are packed and ready to go. The Red Cross has set up a second shelter for evacuees -- the first, not far from where we live, is at capacity. The second shelter is at the UC campus, about five miles away, and that's where we'll head if we get the word. If you have a taste for irony, savor it!

The best source for ongoing information is the website of the Santa Barbara Independent. There are spot power outages, and I want to post this now against the possibility that we'll lose our connection. I'll post again when I have a better report to give.

In a lighter vein, one of the TV guys reported seeing a black bear wandering through a neighborhood, heading away from the fire "with a distracted air."

Posted by EDN on May 8, 2009 at 12:16 AM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

07 May 2009

Seasons in Santa Barbara — "rainy" and "fire"

by EDN

From her East Coast perch Chiaro asked me a while ago how we, in Santa Barbara, experience the change of seasons. Fair question, since the image of southern California is one of unending sunshine, soft breezes, year-round warmth. But while seasonal changes may indeed go unnoticed in Los Angeles or San Diego -- except that hot gets hotter -- such is not the case here. In fact, one wag has said that sometimes we get all four seasons in one day!

Santa Barbara is situated on the only stretch of California coast whose orientation is east-west rather than north-south. This controls the intersection of mountain, wind and water that creates our local climate, which can be quite different from that of our neighbors.


The weather compilations here rather belie the experience "on the ground." There can be substantial variations in temperature and humidity in any season. And there can be a five- or ten-degree difference in temperature readings, day or night, between downtown Santa Barbara and Goleta -- we live halfway between the two -- a distance of about 10 miles.

The "rainy season" is supposed to be from November through March, though "below-average" rainfalls seem to be the norm. (How do they measure an "average" then?) Early morning fog rolling off the ocean -- particularly prevalent in May and June -- usually puts enough moisture in the air to keep our lawn green without our having to water it. When it's not the rainy season it's the fire season. But as we've seen, tragically, in the last couple of years fire season has become a year-round phenomenon.

Outliers: During the winter of 2007-2008, there was a deep freeze that lasted several days. It very nearly killed our bougainvillea, which has finally now come back. And just in the last week we've experienced record high temperatures: 101° at the airport, where the previous record for the date had been 84°. It's currently 89°. The overnight humidity, which should be 80%, has been in the teens and twenties.

Sundowners and the Jesusita conflagration: And then there are the famous "sundowners", the hot winds blowing from the desert over the mountains which both raise the temperature and lower the humidity -- the meteorological conditions which can turn a small fire into the kind of raging inferno that has been wreaking havoc here in the last few days. The foothills and the spine of the Santa Ynez mountains behind them form Santa Barbara's stunning backdrop. They are part of the city's glory, and at times are the gates of hell.

Mid-afternoon yesterday, just as firefighters, officials and citizens were breathing a great sigh of relief -- the winds had died down overnight -- all of a sudden hot gusts started coming down over the ridges and through the canyons, and seemingly within minutes, the fireline had reignited. There is brilliant reporting of that moment here from a journalist embedded with a group of firefighters on the front lines.

As I write, at 2:45 p.m., we are holding our breath and praying that today won't be a repeat of yesterday. If it is, there is a serious danger that the flames could actually reach the city itself.

Other signs of seasons:

WisteriaI really can tell, though, when the seasons change. We have several walnut trees in our garden. They are deciduous. As autumn comes they drop their leaves -- and their nuts, making a field day for flocks of crows who at other times of year are not in evidence.

And spring? Ah. As the jacaranda trees downtown enter their brief period of blooming, they form a gentle purple scrim. And just down the road from my house, there is this lovely wisteria, a sign of spring I watch for when nothing else will do.

Posted by EDN on May 7, 2009 at 03:23 PM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

06 May 2009

Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara

by EDN

It's happening again, the third time in nine months -— a major wildfire in Santa Barbara -- and for some reason this one seems even more frightening than the last.

Crazy winds are driving the fire, which started yesterday just after noon at the head of the Jesusita Trail (thus its "incident" name) in the foothills. They are blowing hard and erratically. Our heroic firefighters have not yet begun to get a handle on it.

A pall of black smoke hangs low over the city to the east. The sky above my house is a brilliant blue. It's eerie as hell.

Here's a map, for those who know the town.

Posted by EDN on May 6, 2009 at 06:09 PM | Spotlight on Earth, wind and fire | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

28 March 2009

Why's everyone ganging up on Kansas?

by EDN

Two days ago it was McClatchy.

Yesterday it was the L.A. Times. In its review of the Prius 2010, there was this bit of snark:

As for the powertrain, it's so much a product of evolution they probably won't teach the Prius in Kansas.

Posted by EDN on March 28, 2009 at 08:24 PM | Spotlight on Press | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

National origins: not always what they seem

by EDN

Danish Bread Dough Whisk: Made in Poland.

BuiltNY Clink-Proof BYOBag: Made in Taiwan.

Oyster Knife, Boston Style (also New Haven Style and Galveston Style): Made in Brazil.

Tortilla/Taco Shell Baking Pans, Blued Steel Deep Paella Pan, Cucina Pro Electric Krumkake Iron, Swissmar Classic 8 Person Raclette Party Grill -- and a mindboggling array of other cooking utensils: Made in China.

At www.fantes.com (the Fantes shop was established in Philadelphia in 1906) you can travel around the world by merely exploring their catalogue. It feels as through every national cuisine is represented. But it's clear, even after only a few clicks -- and if you love kitchen stuff the way I do, I challenge you to perform only a few clicks; I found that the enterprise quickly became addictive -- that almost every category is swamped by the number of items manufactured in the People's Republic.

The copper pots come from France, and so do the Peugeot pepper mills, as one would hope and expect. There are tagines from Tunesia, as one would hope and expect, although the catalogue does include tagines from both France and the USA.

But for the rest, one must imagine endless ranks of Chinese workers in endless ranks of Chinese factories turning out endless numbers of melamine measuring cups, silicone spatulas, meat grinders, flour sifters, pickle forks, ketchup bottle scrapers; not to mention Cuisinart coffee makers and even the Sushi Magic Express Sushi Maker Kit.

Without doubt, however, this item is my very favorite:

You'll find it in "Toasters." An instructional note says:

Press stamp into a piece of bread before toasting it. Works best on fresh white sliced bread. Makes a light image, almost as if the image appeared naturally on the toast.

Beware of imitations!

Posted by EDN on March 28, 2009 at 06:12 PM | Spotlight on Food & Drink, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

26 March 2009

McClatchy's finger on the pulse of Kansas

by EDN

Two items from the McClatchy website:

What's the matter with Kansas? For one, minimum wage is $2.65

Inflated penises, assaulted horses: A grand time in Kansas

Posted by EDN on March 26, 2009 at 01:40 PM | Spotlight on Press | Permalink | Comments (1) | Email this post

Time to roll the hard six

by Chiaroscuro _

I watched Obama's online town hall this morning. It was a good performance that probably added to his considerable store of political capital. There's one issue, though, where I am extremely angry and pessimistic: health care reform.

Obama tried to make the case for "reform" that still reserves a place for "legacy interests," i.e., private insurance companies and employer-based insurance. Why? Supposedly because people are "familiar" and "comfortable" with that framework. Right. It couldn't possibly be because the insurance lobby has most of frakking Congress in its pocket. Yes, the single-payer system as it exists in Canada and Europe is just too radical and controversial for us American rubes.

It's bullshit, pure and simple. There is no way to make a case for reform, for saving money and getting the most health care delivery on the dollar as long as some of those dollars are being siphoned off for shareholder profit and executive bonuses -- profits and bonuses based on the denial of health care.

Instead, Obama kept peddling those same old bogus cure-alls: electronic medical records and preventive care, blah, blah, blah. I don't know about you, but I'm not wild about the idea of my entire medical history in online databases given the state of electronic security and the pattern of corporate abuse of private information. It's also just another thing for private companies to sell at exorbitant rates.

Continue reading "Time to roll the hard six"

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on March 26, 2009 at 12:12 PM | Spotlight on Current Affairs, Ethics, Money, Pet peeves | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

25 March 2009

Two little piggies

by EDN

I saw these in a shop the other day, and since I was prowling for a new pair of potholders anyway, I just couldn't resist.


Maybe we should have a separate category for pork (no, not that kind, silly) since Chiaro and I seem to share a love for this most versatile, delectable animal flesh, and both of us enjoy writing about it.

Click the links below to follow our ongoing conversation about the pleasures of pig wrangling.

Chiaro starts it here Then I chime in. I follow up with some sourcing. Chiaro follows up with some saucing. Then more sauce...

Posted by EDN on March 25, 2009 at 04:09 PM | Spotlight on Food & Drink | Permalink | Comments (0) | Email this post

24 March 2009

Hey, Paul Krugman, your country needs you now

by Chiaroscuro _

Found this on DKos, and I can't tell you how happy it makes me feel:

Posted by Chiaroscuro _ on March 24, 2009 at 11:04 PM | Spotlight on Current Affairs, Money, Music | Permalink | Comments (3) | Email this post