Archive for January, 2011

Bookshelf

January 28, 2011

Like many English majors, I spent a spell living like a homeless person in my car. I thought you might like to see my library:

Typically, the trunk was stuffed more than it is in this photo. This was taken while unpacking in New Orleans. Sorry for not providing the full experience.

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State of the Union

January 26, 2011

In the wonky circles round the net that I find myself reading when I’m not driving about the country actually working on politics, good commentary on the State of the Union abounds. Ed Kilgore does a solid job summarizing the political significance of the thing. And Matt Yglesias boils it down to a sentence:

As I understand it, gay soldiers will win the future by riding high speed trains to salmon farms.

The general consensus is that the speech was vague on policy specifics (and that doesn’t matter since the president cannot achieve any policy goals with the Republican-controlled House) but was a very smart piece of strategic, political positioning (which also doesn’t much matter either because November 2012 is still a long way off). I generally agree. But I want to point out that, as far as I can tell, this speech is the first time that Team Obama has adopted the Mitch McConnell world view, turned it on its head and used it for their own purposes. Here’s McConnell, from Josh Green’s profile in The Atlantic, on his policy of strict obstructing all of Obama’s legislative proposals:

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”

According to McConnell, the majority of Americans are politically pretty oblivious. They don’t read proposed legislation. They don’t even read wonks who read proposed legislation. They just absorb the political climate surrounding proposed legislation: bipartisan support = good, no bipartisan support = bad. Thus, McConnell concludes, if his party denies support to ALL of Obama’s proposed legislation, then it will all = bad. Which of course is good for Republicans. But very bad for the country, as Matt Yglesias points out, because our country’s government structurally requires bipartisan votes in order to function.

Now, it seems to me that at last night’s address Obama and the Democrats played their own version of McConnell’s game, but they reversed it. Instead of strict obstructionism, we got enforced conviviality. First, you had the bipartisan couples sitting throughout the chamber, as opposed to the traditional partisan seating arrangements. McConnell wasn’t happy about this idea. It gave the impression that the whole audience was cheering the President, not just his party. Bipartanship = good.

But my favorite moment of enforced conviviality was a slick maneuver Obama pulled in his speech. Speaking on the American Dream, he said:

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

Vice President Biden and Speaker Boehner, to whom this passage obviously refers, were seated right behind the President. After Obama’s words, they couldn’t not chuckle, smile, shake hands and slap each other on the back. They were forced to be convivial. It’s a tremendous image of bipartisanship, inspired by the President’s words and backdropping his speech. And so, if you follow McConnell, the largely oblivious American people will believe  that “there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.” And that way is Obama’s.

Map!

January 22, 2011

I want to visit all 50 states. To do this, one needs to define what counts as visiting. I’m conservative in this, so I say I’ve got 12 to go. You liberals, who count the states I visited when I was too young to remember and the state that I drove through but never slept in (Indiana, smells of sulfur), may say I’ve only got 7 left. You commies might even say that I’m done: what are political borders anyway?

Here’s a map:

(click for full size)

Driving

January 16, 2011

Selby and I returned to Los Angeles, and rested, and ate Mexican, and dealt with the great baked-potato-fallout of 2010. I burnt my mouth on one. At least I learned a new word: debriding: the chemical removal of flesh around a wound so the wound may better heal. Or, as in my case, suffer more deeply.

I got my oil changed, said goodbye to Selby and then drove 14 hours on I-10 to El Paso, where I slept in my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I bought a peach yogurt at the Wal-Mart. The lady at McDonald’s refused to give me a spoon because I was not a McDonald’s customer. I vowed once again to never be a McDonald’s customer. The next day I woke up and drove the 9 hours (again on I-10) to Austin, where I dallied two nights, then drove to Houston for a night before landing in New Orleans. I’ve now driven the length of I-10 in both directions.

And in New Orleans I am still. Working once more on Treme, the HBO series. I missed my October resolution to get this blog up-to-date by New Years, but at least I’m completing my New Years resolution to update this blog by 2012. I’ll be back now and again with bits on New Orleans and other reflections. Cheers!

Grand Canyon: North Rim

January 11, 2011

The drive to Grand Canyon, through southern Utah and northern Arizona, is long and empty.  On the way, you’re likely to remark that Bryce is more beautiful than anywhere else and to doubt your earlier, novice impressions of Grand Canyon.  And then you get there and wearily clamor to the edge and stop remarking altogether, your jaw dropped too low and your voice squelched.  If you recover from that initial shock, you may find yourself quoting the late president Teddy Roosevelt, declaring Grand Canyon “one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.”  At least, that’s how it went for me.

I mean, look:

I don’t have enough megapixels for this kind of sweep.

Selby and I talked to a most-knowledgeable ranger who outlined all the best, secret camping spots in the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the park.  We ended up driving forty minutes down a dirt-rock road, my Hyundai Accent vibrating all the way and my CD skipping, to clearing bordering a hardly-accessed section of the park.  You’re not technically allowed to camp in the park without a permit, so we pitched our tent on the forest-side of the fence.  It was dark when we arrived and we were hungry and cold and frustrated by the drive.  So we setup camp by the light of high beams and Selby cooked steaks on the campfire like a hunter gatherer (with a grocery store).  In the morning, we made coffee and walked forty feet into the wood, where we stood on the canyon edge, not a soul in sight, our voices once again squelched.  Not bad.

Here are some photos not taken there:

If you’re bold, you can sit on the rim:

If you’re even bolder, you can do this:

Or, really pushing it, this: