free hit counters

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mathematics and Bagels


A friend of mine at work passed around the following information about cutting a bagel so the result is two interlocked bagel rings. Fascinating, hilarious, and brilliant. Has anybody out there ever created a Moebius bagel?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dr. Seuss


Today, I was thinking about the lyrics to "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and looked them up online. I was struck once again by how amazing they are. Then, I learned that they were written by Dr. Seuss. (If I am wrong, please correct me.) I think that fact has clinched it for me: Dr. Seuss is a genius. Some of the lines in the Grinch song are so inspired that I can't imagine how Dr. Seuss ever thought of them. Consider these lines:

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders,
You've got garlic in your soul.

Wow. How on Earth did Dr. Seuss think of those lyrics? Amazing. Dr. Seuss, I salute you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bakeries in San Francisco


I think I may start reviewing San Francisco bakeries, especially those that sell piroshki's! I am also partial to curry puffs, so if anyone knows of any bakeries that sell them, please let me know.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Microscope

Thanks to my friend Linda Vu's recommendation, I recently bought a pocket microscope from the Exploratorium's store. It was not very expensive, and it actually is a lot of fun to use. There is something very satisfying about actually seeing the warp and woof of the thread in your shirt, or the individual grains of dirt and rock in a clump of soil. Maybe I will change my vice from Facebook to simply looking at things closely.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Timex Ironman


Another good aspect of training for a 5K run is that I get to buy a watch! I just bought a Timex Ironman 10-Lap, and am excited.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rods and Mods


The Exploratorium is hosting an event in February of 2010 that will showcase hot-rodded computers and modified computers cases. It should be a fantastic event: I am especially hoping to see a steampunk computer in the mix.

http://press.exploratorium.edu/rods-and-mods-february-2010/


(The image to the left shows a computer created by Jake Von Slatt. Wow.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

GRE is Done!

I took the GRE on Monday, so it is done! To celebrate, I had bacon waffles at It's Tops, a diner in San Francisco. So good...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

After the GRE...

I may have to celebrate by getting a new fountain pen. Lamy Studio, here I come!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Refracted Light

The Exploratorium has mounted large prism filters over some of its skylights, and, late in the day, sun shining through those filters creates very large rainbows on the Exploratorium walls. There is something very satisfying about seeing a spectrum four feet wide and one foot tall splashed on a wall. It's nothing like the pipsqueak spectra that anyone can produce using the standard prism sold in most museums stores. When looking at a very large spectrum, one can clearly see all of the colors, and how they fade into each other. Sometimes, scaling something up can have a huge difference.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time Travel and Sabotage


Recently, I have been hearing about a curious physics paper written about the new Large Hadron Collider, a massive particle accelerator located in Switzerland. The authors -- Holger Bech Nielsen, from the Niels Bohr Institute, and Masao Ninomiya, from Japan's Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics -- argue that, as the New York Times' Dennis Overbye puts it, "the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."

Overbye then writes two of the most astonishing paragraphs I have ever read:

" 'It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,' Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, 'Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.' It is their guess, he went on, 'that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.'

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an 'anti-miracle.' "

When I read those paragraphs, I had to pick my jaw off the floor.

History of Science


I find that I am becoming more and more interested in the history of science. If anyone has any recommendations for interesting books, please let me know. I am especially interested in Robert Hooke, I think.

Taking Photographs in Chinatown


This Saturday, I vow to travel into San Francisco's Chinatown, and take lots of cool photographs. I especially want to photograph the tops of some of the buildings on Stockton -- or is it Grant? -- Street, where colorful flags fly, and roofs often are covered in brilliant tiles. Maybe I will also take a few surreptitious photo's of people walking by, hoping to capture some interesting expressions. I will definitely photograph the colorful produce at the various produce stands. It should be interesting.

Rescuing a Plant


I have finally gotten around to rescuing my jade lily. I have had it since 2002, when I bought it at a local plant store, and it has done very well, steadily outgrowing its pots and sending out white flowers fairly often. For some reason, though, I at some point put it outside, where it began getting a lot of light. I know that this plant thrives in low-light conditions, but it was getting so big, I guess, that I thought it deserved more space. Well, its leaves slowly began to turn lighter and lighter -- bleached by the sun, I thought -- and seemed to be fading. Tonight, I have fixed the situation. I brought the lily into my room, trimmed off all of its brown leaves, and watered it. I put it in a dark corner, hoping that it will return to its former glory. I will keep everyone updated....

Neighborhood Bakery


I just walked past a bagel shop near my apartment, where bakers where beginning to prepare tomorrow's bagel batch. I smelled the dough, and thought that, one day, maybe I will open a bakery. Every street needs its own bakery -- who doesn't like having fresh-baked bread within walking distance? -- and I love the hands-on aspect of the baking business. True, the hours are horrendous, but I can't think of many more pleasant ways to spend a morning.

Roller-Skating Lady on Crissy Field

I love watching the roller-skating lady make her way down Crissy Field. I don't know who she is, but the sight of a woman wearing sunglasses and headphones roller-dancing makes me smile. She seems very happy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Clock Store

This weekend, I visited my cousin's mom and step-dad in Auburn, CA, and, on Sunday, we went to Grass Valley, a small town near Sacramento. I really liked it: it reminded me of a small town in Virginia, near where I am from. I liked that it was a fully functional town -- or at least seemed that way -- and that it had an Art Deco town hall and court house. Cool. Also, we stopped in to a clock shop, owned by a guy who repaired antique clocks. There was something soothing about being in a shop filled with ticking and tocking. And, I like clocks anyway, so I had fun. The glass display counter also had a few old fountain pens, but I resisted. I have quite enough for a while.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Auburn, Ho!


Tomorrow, I drive to Auburn, to visit my cousin's mother and step-father. Hooray! I hope to take some photographs, walk in the woods, and pet a few horses.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tree Ferns


Today was a sunny day, so I walked a lot in Golden Gate Park. For only the second time since I moved to San Francisco, I walked on the wooden-plank pathway that winds between tree ferns, which I find magnificent. I have to spend more time just sitting on a bench in the park's botanical garden.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Leadholder

I have found an online drafting pencil museum! Gadzooks!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mile Rocks Lighthouse


My friend, Pete Andrews, figured out the mystery of the orange-and-white striped platform just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. It used to be a lighthouse!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beautiful Football


I saw this football on Uncrate.com, and thought it was absolutely beautiful. I want one.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Sailor Fountain Pen


Today, I was in the San Francisco Shopping Centre, looking for a GRE review book and a dictionary, and, of course, I stopped into the Maido stationery store to test-drive some fountain pens. I was especially curious about the Pilot Vanishing Point pens, since whenever I research fountain pens online, I always come across people who love that pen. I tried one that had a medium nib, and wasn't especially impressed. I was, however, impressed with the Sailor Sapporo. It's a little smaller than pens I use, and the nib looks smaller than other nibs I have used, but the ink flow was smooth and pleasant. I may have to save up for one.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Toy Truck

I have been meaning to write about this occurrence for a while, but, for some reason, never got around to it. Now, I have time to tell everyone about a surreal, and hilarious, situation a few months ago.

My girlfriend and I were walking along a sidewalk near my apartment, when, all of a sudden, we looked a few feet ahead of us and noticed a toy fire truck rolling slowly but steadily right towards us. It was clearly either a wind-up or motorized truck, and was probably about six inches long. Oddly, there was no one else around us: no one on the sidewalks, no one on the streets, no one in any of the house doors: the truck appeared to have materialized out of nowhere. I picked it up and looked it over, and didn't see any way to turn off the power. So, I put it back on the sidewalk, pointed it in the opposite direction from which it originally came, and Jolina and I continued walking. After we had gone a few steps, a nearby door opened, and a man came out. He picked up the truck, said it belonged to him, and, if I remember correctly, he told me and Jolina that the truck has a habit of escaping, or getting away from him. (I think he had a young son, to whom the truck really belonged.) The whole five or so minutes in which it took for all of these events to occur seemed so bizarre, like we were in a Candid Camera episode. Strange...

Monday, August 24, 2009

California Academy of Sciences


This afternoon, I visited the Cal. Academy of Sciences again, with Jolina and her niece, and had a great time. I loved that there were no crowds, and no wait to get into the rainforest. We also saw the planetarium show, which was excellent. Though, a part of me misses the old-style planetarium show, with a star projector heaving its black bulk from the center of the space, and a guide using a laser pointer to point out stars and constellations. There was always something peaceful about those shows.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chinese Calligraphy


Today, I realized that I have not done any Chinese calligraphy since I was in college, and I miss it. Luckily, several art supply stores in San Francisco sell brushes, rice paper, and ink, so I should have no problems beginning again. It is a very calming pastime.

Susan Kruglinski and Roger Penrose

I just read an amazing interview in the latest Discover magazine. Susan Kruglinski interviewed Roger Penrose, a British physicist who is interested in mathematics and quantum theory. According to the interview, Penrose invented some tesselating patterns that inspired some of M.C. Escher's prints. Wow. I had no idea that those two people were linked in any way. I have had Penrose's book The Emperor's New Mind on my shelf for a while, but haven't yet read it. Now, it is on my short list of books to read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pentel Tradio


Yesterday, while browsing in San Francisco's fantastic Maido Japanese stationery store, I discovered the wonderful Pentel Tradio, a fountain pen with a plastic nib. Wow: what an amazing pen. It lays down a wet, thick line, and apparently Pentel even sells refills. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Urban Astronomy

I just realized that, though I bought a pair of binoculars for star-gazing a while ago, I haven't used them! I will soon correct that mistake.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My First McDonald's Apple Pie!


Tomorrow -- Saturday, June 27th -- I plan to try my first McDonald's apple pie.  I have never eaten one, and I have been told they are amazing.  So, in a few hours I shall embark on a grand culinary adventure into the world of fast food desserts.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hamburger Haven!

I have been wanting to go to Hamburger Haven -- a diner in San Francisco -- for, oh, about seven years now, and now I think the time has come. I shall go, and try out yon hamburgers!

Friday, June 19, 2009

B-Star


My girlfriend and I had a great dinner tonight, at a restaurant called "B-Star."  It is an offshoot of Burma Superstar, the oh-so-famous San Francisco Burmese restaurant on Clement St.  Hooray for Chinese meatball jook!

Picking Plums

Yesterday, I picked plums at my girlfriend's former boss's house. I love plums. I love picking them. I love eating them. I could eat them all day long.

That is my story.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Curry Buns and a New Assignment


I have decided that happiness is buying a single curry bun from the local Chinese bakery, and eating it slowly as I walk back to my apartment.  I also enjoy walking into that particular bakery and seeing groups of Chinese men huddled around two people playing a game that I think is Xiangqi.  I always feel very much out of place in that bakery, but the lady behind the counter always smiles when she sees me, so I don't feel too bad.  I ask for a bun, hand her eighty cents, and off I go.

Also, I just got a new freelance assignment!  It's a little different from my past ones, but it should be fun to write.  

And, my girlfriend has recently introduced me to the show Gilmore Girls.  I have to admit that I like it.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Pleasure of Listening to Music

I just realized that I have not laid on my bed and listened to an album all the way through since, oh, high school. I think I would like to do so again. There are some blues albums I wouldn't mind listening to, and there is one Gypsy music album that has been intriguing me for a while. So, back to music!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Athanasius Kircher


I just found out about Athanasius Kircher, a 16th-century scientist of sorts who was also an extreme polymath, like Robert Hooke or Leonardo da Vinci.  I have to read more about him, but so far I have learned that he created a clock based on the phototropism of a sunflower.  Genius.  More to come...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Work Meeting!

Today, I attended my first work meeting at the Exploratorium!  I know that most people don't like going to meetings, and I can understand that feeling, but, in some way, my being asked to come to, and even speak at, a meeting, makes me feel, well, important. 

Ducklings!

The ducklings have arrived at the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon! Make way for them!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ham Radio Swap Meet!

This weekend, I am going to a local ham radio swap meet. I am hoping to meet some interesting people, and make good science writing contacts. Also, I am slightly interested in amateur radio: it sounds like a fun hobby (though I don't think I will be getting involved any time soon).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Audiophiles

I recently read about a self-proclaimed "audiophile" whose audio equipment cost around $300,000.  I have no desire to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on speakers, cables, and turntables, but I am finding that the audiophile hobby sounds interesting and fun.  I also am interested in the purported superior sound of vinyl records.  I haven't listened to a record since I was around six years old, but I would like to hear a record played on a high-end turntable with better-than-average speakers.  I would especially like to listen to a recently released album on both a vinyl record and on a CD, and compare the sounds.  Cool stuff.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Klockwerks


I just came across Klockwerks.com, a website showing clock creations built by Roger Wood.  According to his website, "Wood thrives on working with an immeasurable array of findings from the tarnished and forgotten to the odd or intriquing. He is a devoted collector of usual and unusual objects with one thing in common, a history."  I like clocks in general, so Wood's creations appeal to me.  His clocks aren't my favorite -- at the moment, I am very partial to the Takumi wood LED clock -- but I love the mechanical look.




Festo Aqua Penguin

Some colleagues at the Exploratorium sent around the following YouTube video clip, showing the amazing Festo aqua penguin:


I love how its head and tail movements make each penguin look stunningly lifelike.  But, the air penguins amaze me more, and I'm not yet sure why.  I think the reason is that they seem to move exactly the same way that the aqua penguins move in water, so the viewer starts to make comparisons between water and air.   Something about the air penguins is eerie, and fascinating to me.  I can't stop watching them.  I would love to see a flock (?) of air penguins in a large enclosed space, like a large, empty warehouse.  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Financial Literacy


I am finding more and more that I would like to increase my financial literacy.  I know a little about buying and selling stocks, how the stock market operates, and mutual funds, but I wouldn't mind knowing more.  

Science Writing


I have just finished my second writing assignment for the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope project.  I feel great that I am actually getting paid to explain complicated topics, eliminate jargon, and think about science!  Now, all I have to do is find a way to write for Philosophy Now magazine.  Hmmmm....

New Lamy Safari


Today, I bought a new Lamy Safari.  It is blue, and has a medium nib.  I am learning that I prefer medium and broad nibs to fine nibs: they glide more easily over paper, and, in general, make for a more pleasant writing experience.  Now, I want to replace the fine nib in my first Safari with a medium or broad.  That will be my next project.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hooray for Susan Boyle!

That's all I have to say.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sailor Fountain Pens

I found a store in San Francisco that sells Sailor fountain pens.  I read on at least one blog that the write very smoothly, and that's a quality I like a lot.  So, now I want to go back, and ask the salespeople if I can try one.  Mmmmmm: fountain pens....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On the Hunt!


I am now officially on the hunt for a one-volume astronomy dictionary!  I would like a handy reference book for my freelance work, and, well, I guess I prefer leafing through a physical book to researching topics on the internet.  (Also, I'll jump at any chance to buy a new book.)  I already have one recommendation, but if anyone else has any, please let me know.  

After Dark at the Exploratorium


I just got back from the Exploratorium's first After Dark event, which featured D.J. Scientific and avant-garde violinist DBR.  I really liked the mix of violin and house beats: it kind of reminded me of the pleasant sound of monks chanting over a background of techno music.  That combination seems to balance very well.  

Pooped

I feel very tired today, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I should cheer myself up by getting a new fountain pen. I think I would like to try a Lamy Safari with a medium or broad nib. Well, maybe I'll just save up for one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Countertenor!

I just came back from a concert at the Herbst Theater, where I heard a countertenor -- David Daniels -- sing with the English Concert group.  The Concert was very, very good, and so was the singer.  Countertenors have an eerie quality about them, and it's sometimes hard to reconcile that the voice you are hearing is coming from the person in front of you.  Countertenors are basically male soprano's, but they aren't singing in a falsetto voice.  (At least, I don't think they are.)  I don't know how the voice is produced, but it can be astonishing, and very powerful.  Bravo!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Future is Uncertain

Here is another Daily Dharma posting from Tricycle. I really like this one.

"The trigger for much of our anger is frustrated expectation. We sometimes invest so much of ourselves in a project that when it doesn’t turn out as it should we become irate. All ‘shoulds’ point to an expectation, a prediction for the future. We might have realized by now that the future is uncertain, unpredictable. Relying too much on an expectation for the future, a ‘should’, is asking for trouble."

–Ajahn Brahm, from Opening the Door of your Heart (Lothian Books)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Signing Statements


I agree with President Obama's recent statement about the potential abuse of signing statements.  George W. Bush used signing statements to state that he would ignore any law that he believed would infringe on the rights of the executive branch.  But, instead of vetoing bills he believed were in some way unconstitutional before the bills became laws, he *signed* the bills, and then released the signing statement.  In this way, he avoided any situation in which he would have to compromise, or discuss the law with Congress.  If any president believes a bill is in some way flawed, the Constitution intends the president to veto the bill, and let Congress work on it until he finds it acceptable.  This is basic civics.  To issue a signing statement after signing a bill he didn't like was a sneaky way for George W. Bush to ignore the law.  

Here is Obama's recent statement: "There is no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be abused.  Constitutional signing statements should not be used to suggest that the president will disregard statutory requirements on the basis of policy disagreements."  An Associated Press article also stated that "Obama ordered his administration to work with Congress to let lawmakers know about concerns over legality before [italics added] legislation gets to the White House for the president's signature."  That is how it is meant to be done, folks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Newspapers and Magazines

I'm a little frightened. People like to read news on-line, but those news stories are only written by print publications. I guess those publications could become on-line only, but then people would need a computer, internet access, and electricity to read the news. That technology seems much more cumbersome than reading a physical piece of paper, which doesn't require software or utilities.

http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2009/03/03/tomo/index.html

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Good Paper for Fountain Pens?

Now that I have begun my small collection of fountain pens, I would like to find some good paper for them. I usually like to use Crane stationery, but I have found that the weave is too coarse for fountain pen nibs: the nibs get caught. I have heard that people like to use use their fountain pens with Rhodia pads, but I haven't tried them yet. (And, I don't especially like to write on graph paper.) So, if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

Thanks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Awareness

I really liked the following Daily Dharma posting:


Most of the time we go through the day, through our activities, our work, our relationships, our conversations, and very rarely do we ground ourselves in an awareness of our bodies. We are lost in our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our stories, our plans.

A very simple guide or check on this state of being lost is to pay attention to those times when you feel like you are rushing. Rushing does not have to do with speed. You can rush moving slowly, and you can rush moving quickly. We are rushing when we feel as if we are toppling forward. Our minds run ahead of ourselves; they are out there where we want to get to, instead of being settled back in our bodies. The feeling of rushing is good feedback. Whenever we are not present, right then, in that situation, we should stop and take a few deep breaths. Settle into the body again. Feel yourself sitting. Feel the step of the walk. Be in your body.

The Buddha made a very powerful statement about this: "Mindfulness of the body leads to nirvana." Such awareness is not a superficial practice. Mindfulness of the body keeps us present.

-- Joseph Goldstein, Transforming the Mind, Healing the World

From Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith

Monday, February 9, 2009

Argument of Tyrants, Creed of Slaves

I like the following quote, which I think is attributed to William Pitt the Younger:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

He made this statement in a speech in the British House of Commons, in 1783. William might have been against the American Revolution, and for monarchy, but, anyway....

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bicycle Jersey


I just got back from riding my bike, and exploring new parts of San Francisco, and I wanted to see how much a particular bicycle jersey cost.  (The jersey has Corn Pops on it.  Fantastic!)  I went to the World Jerseys website -- World Jerseys makes the Corn Pops jersey -- and found that they had several new jerseys, including one with a spam theme!  They also have a One-Eyed Willie jersey.  I love those guys.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pilot Knight Fountain Pen

I tried a beautiful, matte-blue Pilot Knight fountain pen last week, and while I *loved* the weight of the pen, and its feel in my hand, I wasn't especially happy with the nib: it seemed kind of scratchy to me. The saleswoman told me that fine nibs can feel that way, since the points of the nibs can get caught in the fibers of the paper. Maybe I should try the pen with other kinds of paper. Hmmmm... Anyway, even though the nib seems to be the most important part of a fountain pen, I can't stop thinking about how good that pen felt! It may warrant another try. To be continued...

http://www.namiki.com/collections/pilotKnight.php

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Film Noir!


I am very excited about Noir City, San Francisco's film noir festival, showing at the Castro Theatre this week.  I love film noir, and I love seeing it on a big screen.  Also, the Castro Theatre's interior is amazing: it was designed in the Art Deco style, and every time I enter, my heart enters my throat.  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lamy 2000

I have tried this pen once, but have heard so many rave reviews since then that I want to try it again. Flax, here I come!

http://www.lamyusa.com/2000.html

Friday, January 16, 2009

Levenger True Writer Stub Nib Fountain Pen

Last night, I was using the Scheaffer calligraphy fountain pen that Akiko got me for my birthday, and was having fun. Now, I want to try this Levenger pen:

http://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/PRODUCT/Product.asp?Params=Category=8-831|Level=2-3|pageid=6096

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Our Great Shame

I just read the following article on The Daily Beast, and completely agree.

THE GREAT SHAME
BUSH'S LEGACY IS OUR FAILURE
BY ALLAN UTHMAN

When the networks projected an Ohio win for Obama on November 4th, I
counted up the remaining states, and realized that Obama was going to win. Like
a lot of people that night, I wanted to celebrate. I gladly turned off the TV and
went out to get drunk.

As they were everywhere, people were out in the streets of Buffalo, NY, too that
night. Shouting, singing, crying, forming impromptu drum circles and dance
troupes. Strangers hugging each other, cars honking as they crawled by—this
was unprecedented behavior in the Queen City, where the people generally
exude a dull aura of eternal defeat. Maybe this was what it would look like if the
Bills actually won a Super Bowl.

Of course, people were celebrating Obama's victory, but I think the main source
of jubilation was that the end of the Bush administration, and Republican rule,
was finally in sight. There were many cries of "Obama!" that night, but there were
just as many people expressing a superlative relief, like a long over-strained
muscle finally relaxing, that our long national nightmare was finally over.

I, too, am glad—elated, really—that Bush's absurd, colossally tragic reign is
nearing an end. But that doesn't change the fact that we failed. We all failed.
Congress failed, the courts failed, and the American people failed. We have
suffered through two terms of plainly illegitimate, nakedly contemptuous tyranny
in a country that was designed to facilitate overthrowing tyrants, and we failed to
do so.

I have no doubt that Obama, as disappointing as he will no doubt turn out to be,
is a vast improvement over the past eight years, and may even be the best
president of my lifetime—a dubious achievement at best. But it's not enough to
look forward and move on. If anything is to be learned from the Bush disaster, it's
important to look back, and to understand how terrible our failure has been.
As citizens, our expectations have fallen far and fast. When Nixon ignored a
subpoena, the nation was outraged. Even Republican congressmen were vocally
outraged, and Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment. When Nixon
tried to fire a special prosecutor, his Attorney General resigned. Then his Deputy
Attorney General resigned. When Reagan lied to the people about crimes far
worse than Nixon's, it was a scandal, but our expectations had already been
dramatically lowered. There were hearings, but no impeachment. A few years
later, a Republican congress abused the impeachment process as an instrument
of prudery, in an act of supreme political perversion.

And then the real rape of American government began, starting with Bush v.
Gore. Now, the president, and even his former employees, ignore subpoenas as
a matter of routine. They can exact political retribution on CIA agents (Scott
McClellan recently revealed that Bush told him he was responsible for the Valerie
Plame leak), and get nothing but a few critical editorials in return. They can fake
us into a costly, bloody war, and no one will do anything but bitch about it. They
torture people to generate false intel, and nothing comes of it. Nothing.

All this is to end on January 20th, presumably. But Bush's underhanded tactics
will not end on that day. Still, he is showing us what "sprinting to the finish"
means, as he furiously works to undermine the incoming Democrats in as many
ways as possible. For one, Bush is generating a last-minute smorgasbord of
polluter-friendly regulatory rollbacks, setting new lows in terms of water quality
and global warming emissions, setting new, lower standards for "acceptable"
levels of coal slurry in streams, of melamine in food products, and generally
manifesting their shamelessness and hostility toward American citizens. New
DoJ rules permit the FBI to engage in prolonged infiltration and surveillance of
subjects who are not suspected of wrongdoing, and increased latitude in
selecting these subjects based on their race and religion.

Over 90 such new "regulations" have occurred or are in the works, and while
executive orders are fairly easy for an incoming president to reverse, changing
new department-generated regulations entails a long and arduous process. This
extends Bush's disastrous impact well into the next term.

And so does this: Reports abound that scores of loyal Bush mid- and low-level
appointees in many departments are in the process of "burrowing," that is,
changing their job status from political appointments, which change with each
administration, to career civil service positions, which will make it hard for Obama
to fire them when he takes office. The object is clear: to surround Obama with
hostile operatives, hamstringing his agenda at every turn with leaks, foot-
dragging and other forms of sabotage. Smooth transition, indeed.

Because congress and the American people have been asleep at the switch, the
Obama administration will be spending much of the next four years struggling to
simply undo most of what Bush has left them. It will only be a few months before
our amnesiac press starts to blame Obama for the inevitable economic collapse,
environmental catastrophe, and foreign policy blowback Bush will leave him. The
next few years will reveal even darker secrets still unknown to us, a predictable
result of tolerating the shadowy machinations of the most secretive
administration ever.

All of this could have and should have been avoided, if the congress or the
American people had any sense of duty, or responsibility, or really any sense at
all. The fact that Bush, Cheney, and the rest will walk out of the White House and
back into lives of decadent opulence and ballooning bank accounts is a shame, a
damn shame of historic proportions. And the shame is ours. Bush is the worst
outlaw ever to occupy the White House, and it is not enough that he simply
leave. The message we have sent to power-mad, totalitarian presidents of the
future is clear: Do whatever you want; we will do nothing to stop you. The press
will do everything in its power to gloss over your worst excesses, and marginalize
your critics, and when the public finally catches on, the press will simply ignore
you in favor of optimistic coverage of your possible successors. At least that's
how it works for Republicans.

Bush lied about Iraq; it's nothing if not clear at this point. And what the hell did we
do about it? Bush failed miserably in New Orleans, dashing the image of
Republican competence. But what did we do about it? Even now, as Bush's
economic team fools us into pouring an insane, gargantuan amount of money
into the largest banks in the world, pulling a classic scare-and-switch tactic we
should all be familiar with by now, nobody even murmurs about holding him
accountable. As we all hold our breath and wait for Obama to take office, we
allow the most craven, criminal administration in American history to keep right
on pillaging our laws, our money, and our collective sense of decency right to the
end. We, as a nation, are a miserable failure.

It's just not enough that it will soon be over. It's not enough that we managed to
get through it. It's not enough that the Republicans are in disarray, apparently
headed toward a schism. These people should be in jail. They should serve as
an example to all who come after them, that there is only so much corruption,
malfeasance, and rank incompetence that this nation will put up with. Instead,
their scot-free exit signals the impotence of this country in the face of an all-out
hijacking of its government.

So sure, celebrate a victory for relative sanity in Obama's win. But at the same
time, we should be lamenting an all-out defeat for accountability. An eight-year
crime wave has swept through the most powerful democracy in the world, and
the only people being punished are you and me. And maybe we deserve it,
because the true failure is ours.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Rule of Law

I agree with Thomas Paine that "For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other." (_Common Sense_, 1776)