Fuck a tornado

I don’t know why Tuscaloosa always seems to be in the path of the worst spring storms in the state, but they got pretty much nuked a couple days ago. Our friends at the Magic City Post are curating links and information; in the meantime, the simple expedient of texting REDCROSS to 90999 will put $10 where it can do some good in a hurry. Meanwhile, Nick Saban handing out drinks and Gene Stallings flipping burgers for relief workers proves that Alabama spirit is frequently good for more than just talk radio and unfortunate taste in home decor.

Roll Tide, 205. Stay strong. At least four of your sons are better able to contribute than they were yesterday morning, at least. =)

This Isn’t Over

Fortunately James Fallows has spared me the hassle and inconvenience of writing the definitive breakdown of Obama’s impromptu chat this morning. The point he makes – which is entirely accurate and without error – is that this wasn’t about the birthers at all. This was about administering a restaurant-quality smackdown to the idiots of the press who let themselves be led around by the nuts by a reality TV character with a dead animal stapled to his scalp.

The key line for me is in the opening graf, where the President mentions the fact that Chuck (presumably Chuck Todd of NBC) commented that he couldn’t believe the President was going to be out there not talking about national security (on a day when Leon Panetta moves to Defense and Devid Petraus becomes CIA director). Obama’s reply? “I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it.”

Okay, now show me on the doll where the President BITCH SLAPPED YOUR NETWORK, SON.

NBC has not shirked from feeding the beast, because Donald Trump is a featured part of their “entertainment” programming. I say “entertainment” because nobody remembers the last time NBC produced anything entertaining that didn’t involve Aaron Sorkin or Tina Fey. But sure enough, there goes a guy whose presidential aspirations were a joke two decades ago – and he’s getting treated as if his opinions were somehow more germane to American life than, say, that bouffant-ed orange traffic cone on Jersey Shore.

Trump is NBC’s baby. They put this jackass on our screen. And they allowed this nonsense to run, and fed it themselves, because they needed the attention. Which is what makes it entirely appropriate that Chuck Todd – who is and always has been in over his head as an actual political correspondent – got the back of Obama’s hand today.

But this is not the end of it. Trump’s not going away. He’s got attention and people taking him seriously despite the fact that anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows that Donald Trump cannot and will not be President, ever. And as long as people continue to do so, we will continue to have nonsense like this – today, tomorrow, and forever. Because our media validates stupidity. Our media treats stupid as a legitimate point of view. Our media caters to stupid. And until this changes, we are going to continue to be plagued by the kind of people who make it impossible to ever take the word “retarded” out of our vocabulary.

Transcript of Barack Obama’s Remarks to the White House Press, 27 April 2011

Hello, everybody. Now let me just comment, first of all, on the fact that I can’t get the networks to break in on all kinds of other discussions. I was just back there listening to Chuck. He was saying, “It’s amazing that he’s not going to be talking about national security.”

I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it.

As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth.

Now, this issue has been going on for two, two and a half years now. I think it started during the campaign. And I have to say that over the last two and a half years I have watched with bemusement, I have been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going.

We’ve had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii August 4th, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital. We’ve posted the certification that is given by the state of Hawaii on the Internet for everybody to see. People have provided affidavits that they, in fact, have seen this birth certificate.

And yet this thing just keeps on going.

Now, normally, I would not comment on something like this, because, obviously, there’s a lot of stuff swirling in the press at any given day and I’ve got other things to do.

But two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week, the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation, it was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.

And so I just want to make a larger point here. We’ve got some enormous challenges out there. There are a lot of folks out there who are still looking for work. Everybody is still suffering under high gas prices. We’re going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future, but also get a hold of our deficit and our debt — how do we do that in a balanced way.

And this is going to generate huge and serious debates, important debates. And there are going to be some fierce disagreements. And that’s good; that’s how democracy is supposed to work.

And I’m confident that the American people and America’s political leaders can come together in a bipartisan way and solve these problems. We always have.

But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other.

We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.

We live in a serious time right now, and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we’re going to have to get serious to do it.

Now, I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press.

We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We got big problems to solve, and I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them, not on this.

Thanks very much, everybody.

travelogue, part 2

This was the shortest run through Birmingham in years. No Dreamland, not so much as a Chick-Fil-A nugget, and less than twenty waking hours spent in the presence of my relations. Instead, the feature piece of this excursion was dinner and lodging with a friend from the old days at Redneck Hogwarts.

Dinner was at Little Savannah, the sort of hole-in-the-wall establishment that has transformed the 205 from a nightmare realm of meat-and-three cafeterias and Waffle Houses into the sort of food destination that rates travel articles in the New York Times. The proprietor came out, shook our hands, asked where we were from, and I politely demurred when she extolled our mutual connection to my undergraduate institution. The cocktails, though, I will claim in a heartbeat – one specific concoction called “The Sound and the Fury” included housemade allspice syrup and a stout reduction made from boiling down a locally-made beer that legally couldn’t have existed ten years ago. And it was a cocktail I could have carried into Bourbon and Branch, or Clock Bar, or Alembic, or singlebarrel, or Scratch, and placed on the bar and said “Your move, boys.”

Lodging was at a grand old house pushing eighty or ninety years of age, with a commanding view of downtown and all the potential that goes along with a grand old empty house. My friend knew the history of the place, of the whole neighborhood, and it’s always interesting to remember that Birmingham existed before Bull Connor and his cronies made it famous for something other than steel. Indeed, the old streetcar system was one of the biggest in North America at one point, and there are plenty of neighborhoods with their origins in “streetcar suburbs” (which, ironically, are now all considered far too urban by today’s suburbanites).

There was also plenty of reminiscing about the old days at Redneck Hogwarts. It wasn’t just my own team – it seems that everyone from the delegates to French Convention to the math competition nerds to our own varsity Argonauts were all of one mind: we will not be thwarted by a bunch of rich white kids in pleated khakis and Bama bangs. We had kind of a chip on our shoulder – both from being the public school’s weirdo rejects and from the spectacle of a bunch of seg-academy kids thinking they could buy their way into being smart – and we essentially became the academic competition world’s Oakland Raiders. Or Miami Hurricanes, come to that. And we’re still proud of it – anyone who was there during the transition from the old setup to the new one in the late 1990s will tell you with certainly that Alma Mater jumped the shark at that precise point, and some of us are still wearing high school rings instead of college. Even if we have more than one to choose from.

Breakfast on the way out was at a place called Over Easy – yes, a breakfast joint, and one that sat within yards of where a typical Waffle House-style establishment once did. But the new place offers hash baskets – a poached egg as the lid on your hash-brown-basket of organic local sausage – and such curiosities as blue corn grits and locally roasted coffee.

It’s not the same city as it used to be. Not by a long shot. And dropped out of a clear blue sky from 1990, I would have been happy to carry on there. But I didn’t have twenty years to wait for the future to arrive – and when the chance came, I didn’t think once, let alone twice.

travelogue, part 1

Mobile was first settled in 1702. It was the capital of French Louisiana before New Orleans. It has the oldest Mardi Gras tradition in America. It’s the second largest metropolitan area in Alabama, and at the time of the Civil War was the fourth largest city of the Confederacy. And it was the first stop on the vacation excursion this year. It’s also as low in Lower Alabama as you can get, the spot where the coastal plain becomes the coast, and an exemplar of the historic, geographic and cultural divide between North and South Alabama.

I’ve described Mobile before as “methadone New Orleans,” and it’s an apt comparison. Our outpost there is garrisoned by displaced residents of the Crescent City, and they will concede the point. Mardi Gras aside, there’s a whole hell of a lot of antebellum architecture, not to mention more Catholicism than anywhere else in Alabama by a long shot. And seafood is a non-trivial concern, especially given the “jubilee” phenomenon when sea life spontaneously beaches itself in the early morning and you can walk off with bushel baskets of crabs and oysters for nothing more than showing up.

Mobile has also taken its licks from hurricanes. In my lifetime, the storm to swear by was Fredrick, in 1979, but Hurricane Ivan in 2004 didn’t do the city any favors either. Dauphin Island is the principal barrier island of Mobile Bay, and its hotel and condo construction seems to be rebuilt and smashed on about a 20-25 year cycle. Still, on a sunny weekday afternoon, it’s not the worst place to squish your toes in the sand and watch the water roll gently back and forth while defying Mary Schmich and Baz Luhrmann’s advice about sunscreen.

Mobile also seems pretty low-key and accessible – we just sort of free-rolled into VIP at “Club Insanity” (and then had to negotiate a bouncer to leave, WTF) – and the hipsters do the best they can with the beards and the earwear available to them. Still, downtown on a Saturday night seems a lot more San Jose than San Francisco…with some notable exceptions. (Here’s a hint: if you’re standing in line at a club and wearing a headband as a skirt so short I can see your soul from here, you need Jesus.) Still, there are plenty of spots where you can kick back with a beer and/or a burger and be just fine for hours on end (thinking of not only Esquire-Top-50-In-America bar Callahans, but the understated and exceptionally well-equipped O’Daly’s Pub). The utter lack of zoning also means that you’re as likely to walk into the next block and see an antebellum mansion, a quiet coffee shop, an exceptionally dodgy shuttered store, or a bar suitable for staggering home of an evening.

Mobile has a lot of money, and a lot of old money. Not surprisingly, it was the heart of GOP Alabama for decades at a time when such a thing was unthinkable (the vast array of Episcopalian churches calls to mind the description of that denomination as “the Republican Party at prayer”). Also not surprisingly, it evolved with two parallel and segregated Mardi Gras umbrella organizations – and the royalty of one race only began calling on the festivities of their opposite numbers in the past few years. And like too much of the South to this day, it’s the sort of place where someone like me would have to work hard to build the kind of bubble that would let me survive for very long. Which at some level explains why every move has been further away.

But then again, I know I always say the next move is New York or London, then Tokyo, then Mars – but I remember full well what it was like living in the ancestral lands without benefit of that bubble for the worse part of five years. (Of which more later.) It damn near finished me off, and I can’t fathom doing it now. So a useful object lesson for the times I think I might be happier in New York or London or the valleys of Switzerland – how badly would I need the bubble there?

Travelogue, part 0

So this year’s trip was to the Dirty Coast and parts slightly north. I have clear and distinct thoughts on all three stops, but I will need time (and not to be swamped at work) for them to spiral out. So in the meantime, the travel debriefing itself:

1) Houston’s airport is terrible to fly through. I mean, yes, it’s Texas, so you could be forgiven for thinking that even the air has potholes, but seriously, the climate makes smooth takeoff and landing damn near impossible. It also makes me laugh that the Palm is going to try to open in Terminal C. Don’t know who that reflects worse on, to be honest.

2) The new travelwear that washes out in the sink actually did so, saving my ass a time or two. However, in future, laundry stops will have to be explicitly scheduled and executed if I’m going to try to halve the load with the cunning use of detergent. That said, the simple expedient of reverting to hybrid Dixie/California behavior and getting rid of socks seems to work as well as anything…shoes permitting. Which leads us to:

3) Shoes that don’t lace are critical to getting through the airport. However, the new magic chamber apparatus will think the handkerchief in your pocket is something to be alarmed about. Feces-throwing monkeys would do a better job of being adjusted to heightened threats of terrorism TEN FUCKING YEARS LATER than this country is.

4) Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to have something in between “nice jeans” and “black suit” for strategic going-out purposes or Easter Mass. Something to think about next time, especially when a solid pair of khaki flat-fronts would be cooler than denim in late Southern spring.

5) THAT all said, if I had it to do over again, I think I might need something nicer than my battered Clarks loafers for the daily wear; not sure they would have passed muster for Sunday morning. It’s become apparent that since moving to California, my wardrobe has become more informal and less attuned to coping with high heat and humidity, especially vis-a-vis footwear. Maybe I should have gotten the DM tassel loafers when I had the chance?

6) I never once unracked the Bluetooth keyboard for use with the iPhone. Surprisingly, I didn’t do very much scribbling in the hip-pocket notebook either. I did the vast majority of the driving on this trip, which cut into the time that I would probably normally have wanted to jot things down or write, but I rather enjoyed piloting a big ol’ Dodge around the highways and byways of the Deep South, so this is by no means a complaint.

7) The iPhone had some issues, which may or may not have been down to the 4.3.2 update before I left. Battery life struggled a LOT, even with push turned off, but I didn’t make the necessary notes to see whether the usage pattern was having an impact. Meanwhile, the Kindle proved far superior to the iPhone for reading in all respects but one: when I was sitting up with bad reflux and trying to let everything settle before returning to bed, the backlight was essential for not waking everyone else up.

8) This leads me to believe that an iPad 2, 16GB with 3G, would have been ideally suited for this trip: only buy data service for the trip and then use it as the primary car navigation option; the larger screen and easier text entry would be a difference-maker when using Google Maps. Proof again that the line about “it’s a BIG iPod Touch” is actually an apt description of the iPad’s killer feature.

9) It should be obvious at this point that I didn’t put nearly enough time into loadout for this trip. I can only plead that the social ramble ain’t restful and that we are basically going full speed ahead until June, but still, the only real problems I had were things that could have been handled with a little foresight and a pen and pad.

10) The new Timbuk2 custom bag passed its shakedown voyage with flying colors. Hugely capacious yet able to be cinched up to a very reasonable size – I can’t imagine needing anything else for a whirlwind 3 day getaway or for a full-load carryon bag.

11) Relatives are no substitute for family.

More to follow…

Going dark

I’ll be nine days on the road to parts South. As always, folks are directed to the matching Tumblr for live updating as we go, although I am considering taking the wireless keyboard. I have been officially absolved of carrying my laptop so I’m officially not going to – iPhone and Kindle only. Wish me luck…

flashback, part 29 of n

Thirty years ago, I was going around with a ragged copy of the March 1981 issue of National Geographic, with a cover article entitled “When The Shuttle Finally Flies” – a comprehensive look at the next stage of American spaceflight. I had the Columbia’s first four mission patches, of course, stitched to my jacket along with two dozen other assorted patches. Little did I know that over two decades later, I would be a guest at the wedding of one of those astronaut’s sons – or that I would spend a year working as a contractor for NASA myself.

The thing is, even though that was thirty years ago, the launch itself was only twenty years from the day that comrade Yuri Gagarin demonstrated quite possibly the most elephantine balls of any human being in history to that date, as he climbed on an enormous pile of explosive fuel and Soviet-grade engineering and became the first person ever launched into orbit around Earth.

Twenty years from a glorified Roman candle to the space shuttle. Hell, less than nine years from that candle to human footprints on the moon. And thirty years from that shuttle to…no shuttle. Well, maybe one more.

I know every generation thinks the next one is the dumbest yet, but I think we’ve reached a point where it’s not the kids going backwards, it’s everyone else rushing to keep up with them. It’s not just reality TV, or the end of American manufacturing, or the fact that DONALD FUCKING TRUMP is leading polls for the GOP in 2012, or the fact that we don’t have a news media that could carry the ashtray of John Cameron Swayze or Ed Murrow, or the fact that public debate is carried on at the level of sports talk radio and 14-year-old gamer chat. It’s all of the above and more. It’s the size of the Farmville economy. It’s the fact that our best and brightest got routed into doing math tricks on paper to create shitstorms of fake money that got bailed out with real money. It’s the fact that nobody seems to care about it anymore. It’s the attention span that lasts thirty seconds for anything more complicated than celebrity news. It’s the fact that people have long since forgotten we have two land wars in Asia, a potential revolution on the boil in the Middle East, a Chernobyl-grade nuclear disaster in Japan, and a planet that’s slowly warming up with real and demonstrable consequences.

We’re not arguing what to do about things, we’re not even arguing about the priority of things, we’re arguing about what reality is.

And because we chose to embrace and stupidity as a valid way of life, we’re stuck in the mud, instead of grasping at stars.

Dawn patrol

Alarm goes off, earlier than normal. Make sure everything is stuffed in the bag – it’s sure not packed as well as when you arrived three nights ago – get all the key stuff in your pockets. Hastily finish off the donuts and instant coffee you bought to keep from going out – and only get halfway through. Out the door and into the gray light of morning, whirring of the street sweeper, businesses closed and dark except for the drugstore across the corner (and, you’re sure, the Starbucks at the other side of the block). Hurry into the train station, that inexplicable smell of bread baking. Which train? Oh God not the one calling “All aboard” – phew, it’s the next one. Plunk down in your seats, look at each other, you made it.

Only this time, instead of London or Paris, it’s just San Francisco, and the Caltrain is taking you back to real life, Monday morning, team meeting at 8:30.

Still, a nice break, as such things go – and proof that all you need for travel is an iPhone and a signal.