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Monday, July 29, 2002

Paul Krugman keeps the frying pan hot:

Could America's retirement savings really be used to reward the administration's friends? Ask the teachers of Texas. In one of many odd deals during Mr. Bush's time as governor, the Texas teachers' retirement system sold several buildings without open bids, taking a $70 million loss, to a company controlled by Richard Rainwater, a prime mover behind Mr. Bush's rise to wealth.

My thinking after the putsch was that Bush is another Nixon. Now I'm wondering... Coolidge? Grant?

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Saturday, July 27, 2002

According to Charles Krauthammer, the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals think everyone is nice, and conservatives know otherwise. In a breathtakingly honest passage for a right wing nutcase, Krauthammer states that liberals suffer from "the stupidity of the good heart."

Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything."

Now this is a remarkable statement coming from the man who wrote that laws proscribing homosexuality, including heterosexual only marriage laws, exist not so much to proscribe homosexuality, as to encourage heterosexuality among those who may be vacillating on the borderline. For all the rest of you, well, sorry, but your hopes and dreams aren't as important as our program of social reform. But the right has a long and glorious history of hypocrisy regarding sex (as witness the number of Clinton accusers during the impeachment proceedings, with their own sexual dirty laundry), and just about everything else. And it's an hypocrisy whose wellspring is the necessary by product of a pack of gutter dwellers, trying to get their hands around the moral high ground, and claim it all for themselves. It's easy, really, if you set everyone's expectations low. Very, very low.

The author Mary Renault said that "Politics like sex is only a by-product of what the essential person is. If you are mean and selfish and cruel it will come out in your sex life and it will come out in your politics when what really matters is that you are the sort of person who won't behave like that." Ayn Rand had another way of putting it (no...I am not a Randian, but she had some good lines, and this is one of them). I don't think she had much use for the liberal/conservative dichotomy, but she had a few powerful insights into human nature, and in "The Romantic Manifesto", she contrasted artists who paint heroic, beautiful, intelligent images of humanity, knowing full well that there is pain, ugliness and squalor in the world, but regarding that as incidental and irrelevant to the human status, against artists who paint that very pain, ugliness and squalor knowing full well there is heroism, beauty and intelligence in the world, and regarding that as incidental and irrelevant to the human status. I honestly don't think an artist can stay relevant long by soft peddling either the human potential for great good or its potential for great evil, but one of those is our essential nature, our birthright, our promise land, and one of them is not, and if I were to put my finger on the sense of life of the Krauthammers of the world, and what it is that distinguishes them fundamentally from everyone else, it would be that of the artist of the gutter, who thinks anyone with their eyes fixed on the light shining into the gutter from above, is only kidding themselves.

Rand knew this for the sorry excuse it was, and listening to various members of the Smirk pundocracy offering it up is a bit like watching people running around without their clothes on, who you just wish to god would at least go grab a damn towel or something. The person who says that human nature is fundamentally ugly, is exposing more then we really need to see of their own nature.

It helps though, to remind people that four-thousand years of human history proves human nature is not fundamentally good, when you're trying to keep a thieving good for nothing rich boy thug looking presidential. Oh yes...he's a dirty rotten bastard...but aren't we all? It's one thing to see this from Krauthammer, and another to see it coming from Jonathan Rauch, a pundit who I would have sworn just the other day would escape the Smirk years without damaging himself the way Sullivan has. But no. He's fallen on his pen for Fearless Leader too.

With regard to Smirk's Texas land grab, the scandal, says Rauch, is the rules, as though playing by rules that allow thievery, absolves one of being a thief. The New York Times, which runs Paul Krugman's scathing columns about the Bush gang, is hypocritical, since it is engaged in its own eminent domain land grab in New York city, part of the same new trend toward using eminent domain for private land development that Bush and his cronies were engaged in, down in Arlington Texas. Before getting down to the task of slapping the Times for it's hypocrisy, Rauch gives us this charming bit of equivocation regarding Bush's:

Officials who stretch the term "public use" to encompass "better private use" often mean well. Presumably the Arlington, Texas, officials who helped out George W. and his stadium pals thought they were doing the city a big favor.

...and perhaps they thought they were buying influence with the Vice President of the United States though favors to his son. There is no way in hell Rauch doesn't see this problem with that deal, and if that's not enough to make his gorge rise, try this: while he was governor of Texas, Bush sold his then two and a half million dollar share in the Rangers for fourteen million, the difference in value paid by one Tomas Hicks, a big pocket contributor to Bush's campaigns, and the beneficiary of a Bush nine-billion dollar privatization of university of Texas assets. The eleven and a half million dollar difference in Bush's Texas Rangers share ought to have been reported as a gift to a sitting governor but wasn't...and at the time Bush and his partners still hadn't paid the seven and a half million they owed to the city of Arlington, Texas.

The argument against Clinton's accusers went way beyond their hypocrisy, and the argument now against Smirk and his gang goes way beyond theirs. This is the man who made just about every penny of his fortune in the kind of crony capitalism that is now throwing thousands out of work, and eviscerating the retirement hopes of thousands more, who said as he campaigned for governor, "I understand full well the value of private property and its importance not only in our state but in capitalism in general, and I will do everything I can to defend the power of private property and private property rights when I am the governor of this state" while campainging with money he and his cronies made in part with eminant domain land grabs. And now, as president, this crony capitalist is going to make the economy of the United States of America run smoothly? We're already feeling the impact of his pals looting it blind, and his term's not even half over and he's busy running back up the deficit on top of that because golly he just can't go back on his promise to his cronies to cut their taxes, let alone tax their bahama money shelters.

But Krauthammer and Rauch would have the critics just shut up. Human nature is not nice, and anyway, we're all just a bunch of hypocrites.

Oscar Wilde once said that, "We're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." I disagree somewhat. Everyone isn't in the gutter. Not by any stretch. But the ones who are, who keep their eyes fixed on the stars, will find their way out. The rest never will.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 25, 2002

We all have our breaking points. Mine was when I saw the nice little advertisement for Clarinex wrapped around a chocolate mocha I'd just paid two dollars and seventy-five cents for. Mind you, it wasn't simply printed on the paper cup…it was a separate little wrapper, disguised to look like a hot cup holder, but which was obviously designed more for the fact that you couldn't wrap your hands around the cup without noticing it, then for it's customer comfort factor. I honestly feel like I deserve credit for not hurling the mocha back across the counter.

Tom Tomorrow vents a little today about the fact that the Bank of America is trying out ATM ads in California. Now, whenever you try to get money out of a Bank of America ATM, first you get Connie Chung pitching her show on CNN. The irony, Tom Tomorrow tells us, is that advertising doesn't work...:

No one's been able to make any money online using an advertising-supported model because tracking the response to a given ad is no longer a matter of guesswork and sales charts and demographic profiles and chicken entrails--it's a simple matter of looking at server logs. And--surprise, surprise--the vast majority of human beings will go out of their way to ignore advertising.

No shit Sherlock. I spend a non-trivial amount of energy every day ducking them, and feeling more and more like a running target for people who don't just want to take my money, but precious, irreplaceable time from my life. From junk e-mails that come pouring into my mailbox, to the telemarketers that have almost made my telephone completely useless, my environment has become saturated with advertising, that seems to become more and more aggressive with every passing year. I set up mail filters, I screen my calls with an answering machine, I throw bails of useless advertising into dumpsters where the city recycling program can hopefully turn it into something useful, and still it gets in, gets past my defenses, makes me so angry I make lists of companies I will never do business with again, rather then passively accept that advertisers have a bigger right to my time, then I have to it myself. Tom Tomorrow calls it an escalating cycle, the more they shove it down our throats, the more we become inured to it all. But there are consequences to the cycle that I suggest need a wee bit more thought here.

The recording industry is having fits over music swapping among its customers, claiming that is what is chiefly responsible for its loss of business recently. Well...I can't account for the behavior of the teen market they covet, but here's why I haven't bought any new music lately myself: I haven't heard any. My irritability factor over advertising has become so intense lately, that I don't bother listening to radio much anymore these days, because that's at least that's one channel of advertising I can still turn off, because most days I just don't want to listen to one more goddamn ad, because that Clarinex ad around my mocha, or the sales pitch at the ATM, or the sales pitch some jackass left on my answering machine while I was at work, or the fifty or so drop cards that fall out of the magazines I buy, or the bushel of ads the friendly neighborhood postman shoves in my door, or the clowns that keep calling my on the phone, usually use up my ad tolerance for that day, and the next, and the next, piss me off, and make me retreat into my music collection, or a good book, or to somewhere, anywhere, where I won't be treated like a faceless open wallet with nothing better to do then buy something, and buy it right now.

There may be no more advertising on radio now then there was years ago, but it doesn't matter. My environment is swimming in advertising, and you tune it out where you can. So I don't listen to nearly as much radio, or watch nearly as much TV, as I used to. Which means I don't hear much new music. Which means I don't buy much new music.

The last CD I bought was back in May. I was vacationing in the southwest, and stopped in a trading post to look at some Navajo artwork. There I heard some lovely flute playing over the store stereo, and asked who it was. Of course it was for sale, but I bought it eagerly. The music sold itself the moment I heard it.

I'll just bet there is a lot of music out there right now that would do that if it got the chance. But it isn't getting it. The music industry can't sell music that people don't hear, and if they keep their wagon tied to advertising mediums in this ad saturated world of ours, they're gonna keep loosing sales. Digital copy protection won't bring those sales back either. Leave aside for the moment the fact that I am not about to buy music that I can't copy, as I did with a bunch of my old LPs for the trip out west last May, and a couple of CDs that were too precious for me to risk loosing to theft or accident on the trip. I can't buy new music I've never heard. If the industry gets so afraid of illegal copying (and "fair use", last I heard, was still legal), that they tightly restrict its broadcast to mediums it can control, mediums that in and of themselves generate revenue, then they're hosed. Good music can sell itself to honest fans, but it has to reach them first. Some of us are unwilling to run a gauntlet of ads just to do that. And the more "creative" the ad industry gets, the more of us there will be.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Like my colours? I saw them in a window and I had to have them...

You gotta love the web. Here's a priceless bit of Andrew Sullivan flashback, courtesy of Gotham Annex. Seems, once upon a time, Andrew was covering the 2000 republican presidential primaries...and didn't much like what he saw in one of the candidates...

Television is a tricky medium. If you want to smear your opponent on the airwaves, it gets a little tough to keep your posture as a "compassionate conservative". So Bush spent the week deploying a private company to call thousands of South Carolinians at home to spread what can only be called malicious lies about his opponent.

It is a technique known as "push-polling" which, like focus groups and spin control, is a sleazy manoeuvre no doubt on its way to British politics soon. In a push-poll, a paid caller announces that he is conducting a survey and asks some leading questions. The script often goes something like this: "Which of the following do you think most accurately describes candidate X? a) a wife-beater; b) a foreign-born Jew; c) a friend of abortionists; d) a tool of special interests; e) all of the above."

You get the picture. It is not pretty. But this pseudo-polling can push up the negative ratings of your opponent by mere insinuation and if the dirty work is done by a third party you can always deny responsibility.

During the past couple of weeks, as Bush's lame excuse for a candidacy has found itself seriously winded by McCain's insurgency, the phones have been ringing off the hook. According to dozens of complaints, push-polls have suggested that McCain is a liberal Democrat who favours abortion on demand and is a "baby-killer" or "friend of baby-killers"; that his war record has been distorted and that he wants public financing of election campaigns.

If you make enough calls and throw enough mud, some of it sticks. McCain's negative ratings have climbed. There are other indirect smears. A mass e-mail sent to South Carolina churchgoers by a fundamentalist pastor claimed that McCain "chose to focus his life on partying, playing, drinking and womanising" and "chose to sire children without marriage".

A magazine called God's World, edited by Marvin Olasky, a Bush aide, appeared in mailboxes across the country, trumpeting the dire threat McCain would pose to conservative values were he to win the Republican nomination. Inside was an article by Bob Jones IV, the progeny of the founder of Bob Jones University, where Bush launched his South Carolina campaign. It claimed McCain's tax proposal was riddled with "liberal, even Marxist, terminology" and that he was known in Washington as a "calculating and conniving politician".

It also slyly accused him of covering up his wife's former drug addiction and of being "awash in beer money". It prompted William Safire, a Republican columnist, to accuse the Bush camp of "religio-political sleaze".

Safire is understating the case. Like his father before him, Bush combines inarticulate high-mindedness in office with ruthless demagoguery on the campaign trail. One of Bush's first tactics in South Carolina was to drag out from under a rock a former soldier who claimed McCain does not care about veterans; a little like saying John Major could not give a damn about cricket.

I write this a day before the results of the South Carolina primary are known. If Bush has prevailed, it is a pyrrhic victory. The ugliness of his tactics, his willingness to consort with the most unsavoury characters in a notoriously unsavoury state and the sheer vacuousness of his message have revealed him to be not merely hollow but also malicious and unwise.

In his first bout with adversity, Bush called in the boys and told them to nail his opponent's head to the floor. If that is "compassionate conservatism", let's forget it. And to what end? By panicking in South Carolina, Bush has essentially wrecked his candidacy. His rationale to begin with was that he was a moderate who could appeal to centrists and Democrats, that he represented a clean break from the Republican past and he was so well organised and well financed that he was unstoppable.

Those claims are now gurgling down the plug-hole. Moderate? He began his campaign in South Carolina by addressing the rabidly anti-Catholic college that made Ian Paisley a "doctor" and bans dating between people of different races. A break with the sleaze of the past? His tactics make his father's ruthless dismemberment of Michael Dukakis seem namby-pamby. Unstoppable? He has spent more in four primaries than Bob Dole spent in his entire campaign, and has been trounced in his only big competition with his poorly funded opponent.

The irony is that McCain has the campaign that Bush once promised. He has proved he can bring Democrats and independents back into the Republican fold. He has amassed momentum that makes him, not Bush, look like the man to beat.

McCain is the subliminal un-Clinton in a way Bush could never be...

-Andrew Sullivan "Bush reveals his poisonous colours" Sunday Times (London), February 20, 2000

Reckon his next book will be, Conscience Undetectable...

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Andrew Sullivan takes offence that Paul Krugman called Slate Columnist Mickey "The Mickster" Kaus a conformist. "Mickey", says Andrew, "is one of the most independent writers I know." Now that's qualified support all right.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 25, 2002

What do you mean I can't take my GOD HATES FAGS sign in there...???

News comes from The Advocate.Com, (by way of a news list I'm on) that congressional republicans are now demanding an account of all U.S. funding that went to support the conference as well as a list of individuals who received HHS grants to attend the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona two weeks ago. (I'd link to the article, but The Advocate's news and health sections aren't only sparse, they're hard to search.) The republican congressmen are pissed that, among other things, none of the speeches or lectures delivered at the event addressed "faith-based" ways to combat HIV/AIDS. They say that if organizers continue to prevent religious points of view from being presented at the events, federal money that would have been used to support the gatherings should be withheld. Swell. And I suppose that if bible thumping creationists aren't given equal time at international scientific conferences, we'll withhold funding of those events too.

UPDATE. I cannot confirm the above story ran in the Advocate. It was passed along to me on an email list I'm on, with only an attribution, but not a link. Now I'm told the link cannot be found. When I can find a link to the story I'll post it. If I can't find a link to the story, or some other confirmation, I'll post that.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 22, 2002

Homophobe Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, bitterly denounces the move by the Massachusetts state house and senate to scuttle a vote on the anti-same sex marriage amendment that came before them. Never mind that the amendment supporters lied to people in order to get them to sign their petitions...Jacoby, without any apparent intention of irony, compares the act to a similar one in which a term limit amendment was also scuttled by procedural tactics, and says that both were attacks on the institution of democracy itself. No kidding? Remind me now...which was the attack on democracy again...? Not letting the people vote on a term limit amendment, or amending the state constitution to prevent the people from voting for someone whose term limit expired?

But Jacoby pushes the irony meter deep into the red when he warns that even we homosexuals should be worried about the defeat of a constitutional amendment that eviscerates our legal rights.

Indeed, gay and lesbian advocates should find it particularly unsettling. For if democracy in Massachusetts now means that full political rights are available only to those who agree with the kings of Beacon Hill, it is gays, lesbians, and other minorities who have the most to lose.

Reading that I had an image of Al Capone warning me to be on the lookout for crooks in the neighborhood flash through my mind. Dang Al...crooks?! Here?! In my neighborhood?! Gosh...thanks for the warning Big Al. I'll be sure to keep my eyes peeled!

There's a scene in Mary Renault's novel, "The Last of the Wine", where the main character Alexis, an Athenian democrat, is asked by his lover Lysis why he believes in democracy. It was Lysis who introduced Alexis to Socrates, and his philosophy, and Alexis mulls his question over for a while, thinking that the honest answer would be "because I love you". He ends up answering in a rather rote fashion, that democracy is a more moral form of government then oligarchy. Lysis asks him then, if it is worse to suffer evil or to cause it. Alexis answers that it is worse to cause evil then to suffer it. Lysis then asks him if it is worse for one person to do evil, or for many. Alexis answers that it is worse for many to do evil, then just one. "Then we can say," says Lysis, "That an unjust democracy is a greater evil, then an unjust tyrant."

Letting the voters decide whether or not to put a knife in the hearts of their gay and lesbian neighbors, and how much to twist it, mitigates not one iota the brutal nature of what was being proposed. In fact, that tens of thousands may have agreed to do the deed, as opposed to one "king", only makes the scale of it more horrific. The word for that isn't's "mob rule", and mob rule is just fine with the likes of Jacoby, so long as he's part of the mob, not someone the mob is eating. But the system, in fact, worked exactly the way the founders of the American republic intended it to work.

You hear a lot about the "checks and balances" in our system of government, but it's worth bearing in mind that some of those checks are against the power of simple majorities. Why does every state get two senators, regardless of its population? Why does it take supermajorities of congress and the states to amend the constitution? Why is there an electoral college standing between the voters and the presidency? The founders knew what demagoguery could do to the nation they were giving birth to, and tried their best to put in some checks against it. One of these checks is a system of representative government, in which voters don't decide the issues, but decide who decides. That, for better or worse, is how our democracy was supposed to work. That was how it worked in Massachusetts last week. And Jacoby's newfound concern for the welfare of homosexual people in the outcome is misplaced. No man, as they say, is an island...even when jackasses like Jacoby try to make them one. If a majority can vote away his neighbor's rights, they can vote away his too.

What Jacoby and his kind were trying to put over, was a scheme to let voters express their hatred of homosexual people, without any immediate consequence to themselves. Now, while they can still make their state representatives pay for being decent to their homosexual neighbors, if they want to badly enough, it will mean removing from office men and women who may have been friendly to, and good for, their interests too. So the question becomes, how much of their own self interest are they willing to expend, on their animus toward their homosexual neighbors. Thus, what happened in the Massachusetts state house last week reenforces democratic values, by linking in some measure, the welfare of the homosexual minority to the welfare of the majority. Of course, the likes of Jacoby would cut off their own noses, if it meant that homosexuals would bleed. But how many other Massachusetts citizens will? Probably not enough to drive the amendment through, and Jacoby knows it (certainly the petition drivers knew it, which was why they lied to get people to sign their petitions), and that his why he is angry.

Fine. When Jacoby starts worrying about living in a nation where anyone's rights are subject to the whims of an angry mob, then he can claim to be interested in preserving democracy, as opposed to using the tools of democracy, to destroy democracy.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 22, 2002

Further Adventures In A Period Of Negotiation...continued...

This from ABC News about a man in Idaho denied custody of his children because he is homosexual.

"My kids are my life. There's no way I can live without my kids."

The court ruled that as long as he is living with another man, he will have to

Negotiations to resume in Idaho District Court. Maybe.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 22, 2002

Independent (sic) Gay Forum web logger Steve Miller writes approvingly of Pagila Camille's swing back at the Gay Left and in particular, Richard Goldstein, author of "The Attack Queers". Miller giddily writes that Pagila hits the nail on the head when she says, in part that, "The fire has gone out of activism, since we are in a period of negotiation rather than confrontationalism in social-policy issues."

Oh really? Miller's same web log entry records the effort, reported in The Washington Blade, of Louisiana Congressman David Vitter, a Republican who was elected to succeed would-be Speaker Bob Livingston, to reinstate the ban on D.C's domestic partnership law, just one week after it finally, finally, after ten years of bitter relentless struggle, went into effect. Miller disapprovingly calls this a pandering to the right. Paying dues is more like it. The party is like an addict, that just can't turn away from the dirty needle when it needs a fix. Yes there are a number of good decent republicans who don't like what the rest of their party is doing to homosexual Americans, but they know the party can't swear off the stuff without suffering a very painful withdrawal. So, just like an addict, they rationalize, they excuse, they deny. And each little effort to wean the party away from the dirty needle, invariably provokes a response that brings it trembling right back to the pusher. One of these days, the deep thinkers at the Independent (sic) gay Forum might want to do a little deep thinking about the fact that you can't cope with a problem that is slowly killing you, without first admitting you have one.

The web log Eschaton posted a link to Texas Republican Party platform, and quoted some of its text regarding homosexuality. This is from the party that Smirk suckled on while he was governor of Texas:

Homosexuality - The Party believes that the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition, or privileges including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

Traditional Values in Education - The Party opposes faculty in public institutions abusing their positions to manipulate students to reject traditional American religious, moral, political and economic values. We support a character education curriculum and a program based upon biblical principles upon which our nation and state law system were founded.

This is the party Smirk was talking to, when he threatened to veto any repeal of the state's sodomy laws, calling them an expression of the moral values of the people. So, which values of the people does buying a baseball team with Harken funny money, condemning people's property and raising taxes for its new stadium so you and your pals can pocket millions, express?

Now...I didn't come of political age regarding myself as a partisan, and there was a time I simply didn't bother to read party affiliation on the ballot. I originally registered myself as a republican, simply because that was what most of my family was. In those days I studied the candidates and their positions before an election, and chose between them based on what I was able to find out. But the moral values of the people expressed in that Texas republican party plank above is exactly why I switched my Maryland voter registration to democrat years ago, and pretty much why I've been voting a yellow dog ticket since Clinton's second term. They may not be all there is to the republican party, but that wing of it is powerful, and it scares the hell out of me, and I strongly doubt that you will find a platform as full of white hot hatred of homosexual people among the democratic state platforms.

Ironically, the argument you hear a lot of among the gay right, that while the republicans aren't perfect, they're improving, is more aptly applied to the democrats. Yet you'll look a long time before you see the democratic party given credit for it's progress among the pundits at the Independent (sic) Gay Forum. In fact, the better the democrats get, the more the gay right bellyaches that they're merely posturing. have to show up to pose, don't you.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 22, 2002

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Good column from Harley Sorensen of The San Francisco Chronicle (I learned of it via Smirking Chimp) providing insights (for the strong of stomach) on the moral character of the Bush clan. I'd forgotten that Neil Bush had a hand in the Savings and Load disaster of the late 80s to early 90s. In fact he was part of the Colorado Silverado Savings and Loan scandal, which here in Maryland was second only to the Old Court Savings & Loan Association in the amount of headline real estate it got. Too bad poor Jeffery Levitt didn't have Bush family connections, he might be a CEO somewhere now, or a governor with presidential aspirations, instead of an ex-con. Jeffery, and Neil, would probably take offence at being called bank robbers. They were businessmen, and don't you forget it.

Real people, lost real money, their life savings, their prospects for sending children to college, first home money, retirement money, in those scandals. In those days I was making a living as an architectural modelmaker, and my clients were some of the Washington area development firms that were part of what Alan Greenspan might have called an irrationally exuberant commercial real estate that was driven in large measure by the wholesale raid on Savings and Loan money made possible during the Reagan/Bush years. Sound familiar?

I remember vividly how Washington area business people warned that the commercial real estate market couldn't support all the building that was going on in the market, but nobody could stop themselves. I watched dozens of companies walk with eyes wide open off a cliff, taking with them hundreds of hard working employees when the market went bust, and the scandals started breaking. Many of my clients went bankrupt. I survived the years doing odd jobs, mowing grass, and spending all my unwelcome free time dinking around with computers...which let it be said, eventually paid off well for me. But I watched as middle class families found themselves living in campgrounds. They did nothing wrong. They were not responsible for the shady dealings and criminal behavior that caused the collapse of the marketplace they were making their livings in. Yet they suffered the most, while scam artists like the Bush family, and others of their kind, accepted a fine or two, and made off like bandits. That was when I began to figure that my libertarian idealism needed a little tweeking.

The Bush family apparently has a long history of this kind of thing, going back, I kid you not, to Prescott Bush's dealings with Nazi Germany during WWII; Prescott being the director of a bank that was eventually sized under the Trading With The Enemy Act. And then there are the telling little things, like the $19k worth of clothes and jewelry Jeb's wife tried to sneak through customs in 1999. Mind you, this was while her husband was Governor of Florida, and brother Smirk was preparing for his presidential run. Think about that. It says it all.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Good article on the TIPS program from Reason Magazine. "It's like they aren't even trying to pretend anymore..."

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Sentence first, verdict after...

I'm wishing now that I'd caught some of the new Phil Donahue show on MSNBC, but as a software engineer I have no life to speak of (one of these days, I swear, I'm gonna put my Nibelung code up somewhere around here). I've been struggling with Linux now since the weekend, and I'm still not anywhere close to being at a state where I can actually do work with it. In the meantime, I have next week's cartoon to do (...and can I work in household chores this weekend, my carpets need a good vacuuming, my shelves need a good dusting, I have got to reseal the back yard deck...).

...anyway. Apparently, according to Salon, Phil gave us one of those Aha moments that most network newscasts lost their spine for long ago...:

Yet there was one rare "aha" moment, thanks to conservative guest Cliff May, former communications director for the Republican National Committee. In a debate about the PATRIOT Act, May insisted that during the post-Sept. 11 dragnet, which detained nearly 2,000 people, "no constitutional rights have been taken away."

When guest Bill Goodman, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out that American citizen and alleged "dirty bomb" suspect José Padilla has been held without access to a lawyer and without being charged with a crime, May shot back: "Do you really think he's innocent?"

You see...we had to destroy the village in order to save it...

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The Boston Globe editorial today pretty much sums up how I feel about the scary TIPS program. Ashcroft is turning out to be worse then his confirmation hearing critics thought...

It's encouraging to see the opponents of the White House Gang finally finding their collective voices. But they still face a mainstream news media that is as indifferent to the moral character of Bush, as they were obsessed by the moral character of Clinton. Nothing is coming out now, that wasn't brought forward during 2000...and promptly ignored. I hope all those craven jackasses had their entire life savings in the stock market.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 15, 2002

Tales of the Smirk...continued...

A couple of items in today's them flashes of lighting, illuminating the landscape ahead of us.

First... this from the Canadian National Post

...then this from the Sydney Morning Herald

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Let's Roll...not...

You find these little killer parodies of old movies scattered all throughout Firesign Theater's discography, and in particular, of old war movies. In their trademark rapid fire style, the clichés in them are gleefully turned inside out, one right after the other, so fast it can take several listenings before you even begin to recognize what they're hitting you with. One of them, toward the end of "How Can You Be In Two Places At Once, When You're Not Anywhere At All", involves a singer, Lilly Lamont, entertaining the troops before battle. The clichés come fast and furious: Lamont refusing to go on with the show, distraught because all the young faces in the audience remind her of a lost solider she loved, her manager telling her that she's been acting like a spoiled brat ever since Anzio, and that she should stop being selfish and think of her audience. Tomorrow isn't coming for some of them, he tells her in Jack Webb terseness, and adds that were it not for those boys out there, the president of the United States would be named Schicklgruber. Suddenly there is a knock at the door, and a young soldier enters with a telegram for Lamont. Firesign gives the soldier's voice an audio blackface, until he sees Lamont, at which point his voice suddenly turns into that of a polite white American. Lamont takes the telegram and asks, "Where are you from boy?" and the soldier replies, "Nairobi ma'am...isn't everyone?" Lamont gives him a kiss, and his voice instantly reverts back to blackface, and he giddily leaves the room shouting "Thannk ew mizz..." Lamont's manager takes the telegram and reads it for her. Then he tells her grimly to sit down. It's bad news, says he. The president of the United States, is named Schicklgruber.

This scene was playing in the background of my thoughts, while reading Dan Savage's "Let's Roll" column in the July 4-10 issue of the Stranger. His discomfort is that as a Gore voter he believes the Bush doctrine (shoot first, and ask questions later) is a necessary evil. My discomfort is slightly different: as someone who strongly believes we are in fact, in a war with a relentless evil that took hundreds of innocent men, women and children and slammed them into buildings killing thousands more, and will do the same every chance it gets until it wipes us from the face of the earth, or until we get our hands around its throat, whichever comes first, I don't believe for one second that the ventriloquist dummy sitting in the white house, and the political gangsters who have their hands up his ass, are interested in fighting that war. They're interested in fighting another war. And too many people, who stand to loose too many things, including the America they know and love, are getting suckered in by the demagoguery of the White House Gang, and a mainstream news media with no spine in it left to speak of.

"War" George Will once wrote, "is a swift solvent of inhibitions." It seems to be a pretty good one against common sense too, considering the number of American columnists who have lost theirs. In genuine Michael Kelly fashion, Savage, a columnist I respected a hell of a lot more last week then I do this week, takes the first big swing in his column, not al-Qaeda...pacifists:

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, I saw something that made me wanna hurl. I still see this something almost every day because it hangs in a window I pass on my way to work, and the urge to hurl--my lunch, a rock--is as fresh today as it was back when I first laid eyes on it. And just what is this offensive something? The American flag peace symbol that appeared on the cover of Seattle Weekly on September 20. They called it their "Peace and Patriotism" symbol.

Now pacifism is to my own thinking a naïve idea, on the order of most efforts at gun control for example, but I can no more spit in its face then I can spit on the Great Commandment, and there was a time when visceral knee jerk hatred of pacifists completely baffled me. I saw it all through the Vietnam war, and I could not for the life of me comprehend why some people regarded those who hate violence so much, they wouldn't resort to it even when attacked themselves, as a threat to anyone or anything. As a gay man, I can tell you I'd sooner live in a neighborhood of pacifists, then one full of chest thumping adolescent males, all pumped up on the warrior mystique, and eager to prove their manhood by beating something to a bloody pulp, whether I was legally allowed to carry one of my .45s on me when I left the house or not. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, I think I understand it better now. It's not so much pacifists that are the enemy in times of war, but anyone who isn't "with us." If you won't take up arms against my enemy, you might as well be my enemy. I suppose that's great thinking if you're an ant defending your ant hill, but unless democracy is your enemy, an ant hill isn't something you want to turn America into.

And while people all over the world were facing up to these difficult choices, the smug, dishonest lefties at Seattle Weekly--and the smug, dishonest lefties they were pandering to--sought to avoid making their own difficult choice, which was essentially this: Pacifism or patriotism? Because after September 11, you could have one or the other--but you couldn't have both.

This is the ruin that war can leave a once clear headed mind I suppose. Pacifism is hardly traitorous in and of itself, unless you reckon America for a warrior society, and conquest and bloodshed its highest virtues. In that context then, yeah, pacifists can not be patriots. But that is not America, and anyone who thinks it is, is the one who needs to re-examine their patriotism. To further drive home his point Savage, like Kelly, drags in George Orwell, and in the process, shoots his own stupid foot off:

In 1942, George Orwell (author of lefty classics Animal Farm and 1984) published an essay in Partisan Review slamming British pacifists who refused to fight Nazi Germany. "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist," Orwell wrote.

Problem is, later in the War, Orwell came to his senses. After Kelly wrote his noxious pacifist bashing column, Gene Lyons responded with one of his own, which by now, thanks to the wonderful medium of the Internet, Savage' mailbox is probably swimming with:

To readers familiar with his classic satires of political dogmatism later works, such as "1984" and "Politics and the English Language," it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that Orwell ever used the "objectively" formulation in the first place. The phrase originated in the poisonous political climate of the 1930s as pure Marxist jargon, meant to lend an air of authority to the "scientific" pronouncements of orthodox Stalinists. In a world of only two possibilities, see, anybody not 100% on Stalin's side with regard to every conceivable issue was "objectively" on Hitler's, hence a traitor. It was by such logic that the 1938 Moscow "show trials" so unforgettably satirized in Orwell's "Animal Farm" proceeded.

Having written that book, which ironically nobody would publish until the war had ended, Orwell set about making amends. In December 1944, he used his regular "As I Please" column in the Tribune to specifically repudiate the term "objectively," and apologized by name to individuals whose views he'd caricatured and whose loyalty to England he'd unfairly questioned. Blaming "the lunatic atmosphere of war," he explained that the habit of accusing political dissenters of "conscious not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes harder to forsee their actions."

In his apology, Orwell proved the war hadn't cost him the crystal clear conscience that gave Animal House and 1984 their moral force:

The example Orwell gave was a pacifist asked to be an enemy spy. An honorable pacifist, he argued, would never betray his country. "The important thing is to discover WHICH individuals are honest and which are not," he wrote "and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which [political] controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel."

Someday, Savage might want to do the same kindness for his readers.

Savage goes on to assail anyone who questions the wisdom of going to war against Iraq. His arguments are twofold: firstly, that Hussein is a "psychotic dictator who has successfully terrorized his own people into submission", and secondly, that he has, or is developing, weapons of mass destruction, and who doubts he would use them if he had them. Swell. Really swell. And you know what? So is communist China. Savage' list of reasons why we should go to war with Iraq also make a good case for war with China.

Say...I have a good idea...let's go to war with China. They're psychotic dictators who have successfully terrorized their own people into submission, and they have weapons of mass destruction, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and who doubts that they would use them...say against Taiwan...if they thought they could get away with it.

Too big a target? Too many of our CEO pals making money in China? Well...okay about North Korea? Goodness...they're also psychotic dictators who have successfully terrorized their own people into submission....and they're developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, which I doubt they're going to use strictly for scientific purposes. Why are they less a target then Iraq? Because they fought like insane fanatics during the Korean war and the Pentagon would rather do another cakewalk into Iraq then touch North Korea again unless they actually invade South Korea? Not "Islamo-fascist" enough? Iraq is one of the few secular states in the region. Because Iraq, not north Korea was involved in the 9-11 attacks? Where's the evidence?

Question: why are we going after Iraq when we haven't brought down al-Qaeda yet? All we did was scatter those bastards all over the goddamn globe with our ham-handed pentagon fist. Oh...that'll put a dent in the operations of an underground terrorist cell organization alright. We did not liberate Afghanistan...the burkas are still on their women, both literally and spiritually...the various warloads have replaced the Taliban as the psychotic dictators who are successfully terrorizing their own people into submission...they're already starting to kill each other like they did after the Soviets left...and if it seems some days like Smirk doesn't give a good goddamn about any of that, there's a reason: He doesn't. Does anyone seriously expect the man who clawed his way into the White House over a phony Florida vote count and five right wing members of the supreme court to have a zest for democracy?

As if to prove once and for all how absolutely clueless he is, Savage pens the introduction to another article in the same July 4-10 issue of the Stranger, where we find a list of the things that, according to them, make America better:

There's nothing we here at The Stranger like so much as trouble, so... to celebrate our nation's 226th birthday--and to prove to Bennett that some lefties aren't afraid to say that, yes, America is better!--we made a list of the many things that make American culture superior to that of Saudi Arabia.

The list includes, the freedom to get drunk, have an abortion, buy pornography, and to engage in adultery. But the cartoonist Tom Tomorrow did a better job of this in his cartoon of October 21, 2001, around the same time Kelly was calling pacifists fascists, with a serious faced Uncle Sam telling readers:

You know there's some fellas over there in the middle east who don't have much respect for our basic American values! But are we gonna let a bunch of right wing fundamentalist wackos tell us how to live our lives? I didn't think so.

Sam then goes on to enlist the help of dissenters, feminists, gays and lesbians, atheist and agnostics, to make his point that America will not be cowed by the threat:

Yessir, the only way to beat these terrorists is to stand up for tolerance and diversity and everything else they hate about our free society! Are you with me Americans?

A lot of us probably are. I actually felt a wistful thrill reading that cartoon. If only, I thought, it were so. America is engaged in a deadly fight against a determined enemy that hates us, and hates everything we stand for. But to see how far the war rhetoric is from the reality you need only read the news stories from a couple of weeks ago, revealing how the White House Gang was more then willing, eager even, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the very same nations that Smirk called an axis of evil, in order to trashcan women's and gay rights in the U.N. Sure they put weapons into the hands of terrorists, and anti-American hate into their hearts, but when it comes to fighting our common enemy, we can forget a few dead Americans, can't we?

We have a determined enemy we're at war with, and if it looks like the man sitting in the White House, and the gang of political thugs who put him there, can't decide what side of that war they're on, that's only because you still haven't figured out that they're not fighting that war. They're fighting a different one. For Smirk and his pals the war isn't Liberty and Justice for all verses fascist totalitarian's Us verses Them. Savage and his co-workers at the Stranger almost certainly don't appreciate the irony of how firmly that "Because America Is Better" column put them on the other side of that war, from the White House Gang...right alongside of the pacifists Savages loathes.

Maybe someday Savage will manage to re-boot his conscience, and find a patriotism that doesn't make him want to hurl whenever he beholds evidence of political dissent. In 1814, Francis Scott Key penned the words to the Star Spangled Banner after watching a besieged Fort McHenry wave its flag in the face of British invaders all through a relentless night long bombardment. That flag that makes Savage want to hurl, I see giving proof through the night. Given this president, and this war, it is not at all unreasonable for Americans to ask "What the hell for?" when the white house says "Let's Roll". In fact, I'd call that a patriotic duty, a waving of the American flag, in the face of the enemy.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Moving on...

I've earned a living as a PC application developer since the mid 80s. During that time, Microsoft has been good to me. They've provided me with affordable software development tools which allowed me to learn my trade, pay my bills, put food on my table, and buy a house of my own. Redmond I am certain, would love to take credit for all that is wonderful in my life nowadays. But they rode the same wave of innovation that I did, when the personal computer came to be. Now, in my opinion, they're trying their level best to throttle that revolution, and I am jumping ship.

The breaking point came for me the other week, when I tried to apply a security patch for the Windows Media Player, and saw this in the licensing agreement (yes, I am retentive enough to read those damn things):

You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management ("Secure Content"), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer. If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts to post notices on a web site explaining the update.

Dig it. Redmond is making you agree, as a condition to fixing a security hole in their software, to allow them to put whatever they feel like putting onto your computer any time you are connected to the net, and render inoperable any non-Redmond software you may be using, in the name of "digital rights management", at their discretion. And the only notice you'll get that they have changed something on your machine is, maybe, a notice on their web site. That, or suddenly finding out one day that your MP3 player, or your CD burner, isn't working any more. They are demanding administrator rights over every computer running their software, as a condition to fixing their existing software. And you can be sure that every new release of Microsoft software, especially their Windows operating system, will have that clause in the licensing agreement. As a condition to using this software, you agree to let Microsoft decide which software from other vendors will run on your computer, and how it runs...

This is just the latest blatant, in-your-face example, of Redmond's desire to assert control over everyone's personal computers. In everything from changes to corporate licensing agreements, to the deepest inner workings of the Windows operating system, to their Palladium initiative, which will make it impossible for any code not approved by Microsoft to run on home machines, as well as servers all throughout the Internet, Microsoft is slowly but surely gathering control of the PC away from individual users, and to themselves.

I am not going there. Personal computers, I believe passionately, are great liberators of the human mind and spirit. As a gay man, I can only marvel at how much the personal computer revolution has done for me, and people like me. Knowledge is power, and nothing since Guttenberg's printing press has given people the keys to knowledge like the personal computer. Redmond would like us all to believe that the personal computer revolution was almost entirely their doing, but it wasn't. They have done some great things with it, but now it seems they are hell bent on destroying everything about personal computers that was liberating, in order to turn them all into cash cows for Redmond, and whichever big corporate entities they deem tactically agreeable to share with. I am not going there.

This is a big decision for me, since I have earned a living programming on Microsoft platforms since the DOS days, and I've always been a "dance with the one who brought you" kinda guy. But it wasn't simply Microsoft that brought me to where I am now in my life; it was the personal computer. Microsoft was a player in that revolution, and now they're selling it out. No...they're burning it down to the ground and jumping up and down on the ashes. hell with them! Yes...I'll need to keep up to date on their technologies for years to come since it is in widespread use. But for my own personal use and education I am moving to Linux, since it is the only viable alternative to Redmond on the Intel desktop. I'd go with Apple in a heartbeat if I could build an Apple machine from parts, but Steve Jobs is as possessive in that regard as Bill Gates is.

In time this will move me further and further away from Redmond, and hopefully, closer to a community of developers who still care as passionately as I do, about the human potential that can be unlocked by the personal computer. Fortunately, at the Space Telescope Science Institute where I work, we have a very large Unix user base. Most engineering and science operations are like that. So the more Linux/Unix experience I get, the more employable I will continue to be in this kind of environment, which is a good thing. So hopefully this will all work itself out. I was at a Microsoft developer's conference in New York city a couple of weeks ago, getting drilled on their .NET initiative, and a gotta tell you that it is a heck of a lot easier to just do everything the Microsoft Way, swallow your pride and your guilt, and passively accept whatever Redmond does from now on, in the name of grabbing and eating everything in sight. But the personal computer revolution has done too much for me, made too much of a difference in my life, for me not to care what Microsoft is doing, and is about to do, to it.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, July 8, 2002

I would never have known about Paul Krugman were it not for Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan pitched a fit about Krugman's columns in the New York Times for so long I finally had to check the guy out for myself. If you haven't done the same then do yourself a favor and read him. The Times web site is by registration only, but it's free for now, and very well worth the trouble. I could see why he pissed off Sullivan from the moment I started reading him: Krugman's column last Sunday, explaining how Smirk lined his pockets using exactly the same kind of corporate shell game fraud that imploded Enron and cost hundreds of innocent people their retirement savings, is exactly the kind of thing Sullivan's kind don't want people reading.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

All day long as I did chores around the house, and worked on this Monday's cartoons, I saw outside what I thought to be the usual ugly sopping Baltimore-Washington summer muggy haze in the air. I recalled being told by the weather forecasters that we'd get a break from that all weekend, shrugged, and hunkered down inside my air conditioned house all day. Turns out what I thought was summertime haze was actually smoke coming all the way down from wildfires in Canada. Some of my neighbors told me they could actually smell the smoke in the afternoon.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Pim wasn't the leader of a fascist movement in Holland...Honest!

News from The Straits Times that the new "center-right" government in Holland is moving to "review" the status of laws regarding, among other things, same sex marriage:

AMSTERDAM - Holland's liberal lifestyle is under threat from its new centre-right government, which is planning to review the status of the country's drug cafes and laws that allow same-sex marriage and euthanasia.


He [Dutch Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter Balkenende] has already outlined his political vision, which includes tough policies on immigration, crime and state welfare.

He has pledged to tighten controls on 'drug-cafe culture' by restricting the open sale of marijuana, The Guardian newspaper reported.

He will also review a euthanasia law which allows doctors to end patients' lives under strictly controlled circumstances.

In a 45-page policy document, Mr Balkenende has also promised to step up police patrols on the streets, insist on the carrying of identity papers and take a tougher stand against drug trafficking.

He has also floated a policy 'to get people back to work' with a 40-per-cent cut in the number of workers receiving disability payments.


After eight years on the opposition benches watching the ruling centre-left push through liberal laws on prostitution and same-sex marriage, the philosophy professor is now in a better position to push the nation closer to his party's Christian roots.

This is exactly what people were warning about Pim Fortuyn. But the gay right wing here in America has been vociferous in labelling any suggestion that Fortuyn was leading a neo fascist movement, "slander". Oh...he was critical of moslems...but that didn't make him a bigot...and oh...he was critical of liberal Dutch politicians...but that doesn't make him a fascist... Now that the movement Fortuyn was leading is in power in Holland, they sure haven't taken very long to start proving their opposition right. Just for laughs, let's see how the deep thinkers at the Independent (sic) Gay Forum, and Andrew Sullivan, spin this one.

I remember how the right rejoiced at the overthrow of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Freedom, they announced, had been restored to the people of Nicaragua. Not long afterward, the new government in Nicaragua passed a sodomy law, which not only provides for jail time to anyone convicted of sodomy, it also provides for jail time for anyone who advocates repealing the law. Let's hear it for freedom.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Dale Carpenter of the Independent (sic) Gay Forum writes, astonishingly, that Richard Goldstein's exhilaration over standing up to, and confronting the anti-gay bigotry of the 60s, is evidence of his, and the left's, nostalgia for alienation. And I suppose the forth of July is evidence of America's nostalgia for British colonial rule.

The site's web logger, Steve Miller, gives us this little ray of hope from the bowels of the Bush administration: The vice president's wife, Lynn Cheney, apparently tried yet again to duck a question about her lesbian daughter. Miller quotes from the ensuing exchange...

"With an openly gay daughter, why aren't you and the vice president more supportive of gay and lesbian civil rights that could ease her burden?" one audience member asked. "If you met my daughter Mary, you wouldn't think of her as a burdened young woman," Cheney first offered. "She is a wonderful young woman who is just about to finish business school. We are very proud of our entire family."

...then says giddily that he was glad Cheney told the "activist-questioner" (a nice touch, that. In the wire story they were "one audience member", now suddenly they're an "activist-questioner") that not all gays and lesbians go through life seeing themselves as perpetual victims. I suspect the ones raised in the lap of oil money luxury sure as hell don't.

The Independent (sic) Gay Forum bills itself as having been created by a group of writers "who feel dissatisfied with the current level of discussion of gay-related issues." They raise the level of that discussion any higher and they run the risk of having to take their heads out of their assess.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Saturday, June 29, 2002.

My DVD copy of Earthian, The Angelic Collection, arrived today, and while the animation is good, and the two angels absolutely gorgeous, I am not happy overall. The four episodes apparently take place after the conclusion of the manga series, representing I guess, the continuing adventures of the two angels on earth. But the beautiful romance in the manga, between Kagetsuya and Chihaya, is completely violated in the last two episodes, when Chihaya falls in love with a humanoid. The jarring transfer of Chihaya's affections is, despite all the emotion on display, so casually and carelessly conceived, that I have to regard it as yet another dismal failure on the part of film makers to approach same sex romance with any shred of sympathy. They Just Don't Get It! This wasn't a case of boy is torn between two was boy loves boy, then suddenly, boy loves other boy. By the end of the last episode, Chihaya seems to have no recollection at all that he was ever in love with Kagetsuya.

There are several beautiful scenes in the films, and they, in isolation, made the DVD worth the purchase. One achingly beautiful one where Chihaya reveals himself to a humanoid he mistakes for an angel, took my breath away. On the TV series Touched By An Angel, you get a backlighting and soft focus. In Earthian the angels grow wings and long beautiful hair. Seeing that in real life would sure make a believer of me. But I watched the four episodes a second time, with eyes that saw more what could have been, then what was. That's been my defense mechanism since I was a gay adolescent, and while it's probably done wonders for my powers of imagination over the years, I am actually getting fairly damn tired of having to always do that while watching movies.

I need to get the entire Earthian manga for my collection, but I haven't a clue where to get it in an English translation.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, June 27, 2002.


Andrew Sullivan gives his own answer to the question I asked on Monday, below, regarding allegiance in the war between fundamentalist intolerance and democratic pluralism. Gleefully announcing on his website that the recent federal appeals court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, was "God's Gift To Republicans", he goes on to observe that "This is the issue Bush's dad rode to the White House. His son must be loving it." So now we know where at least one gay right winger stands, regardless of how often he makes a show of denouncing religious fundamentalists. When push comes to shove, he stands with them, for intolerance and against democratic pluralism. Because even if the fundamentalists loath his homosexual guts, they share his absolute hatred of liberals, liberal society, and liberal institutions, such as democracy.

I see Bruce Bower has removed the passage I quoted below from his web log. No indication that what's there now, is a rewrite of what was previously there, though. Still, he preserves this much of the critical question:

"Yet in the war between fundamentalist intolerance and democratic pluralism, which side is the Bush administration really on?"

Well...we know where at least one of his gay sycophants stands...

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, June 24, 2002.

Finally...finally...Bruce Bawer asks the question I've been waiting to hear a gay conservative ask, regarding Bush's teaming up with Islamic fundamentalists in the U.N. to slam dunk women's and gay rights issues into the trashcan:

"Yet what do Bush and those around him truly believe? Which actors on the world stage are, in their view, the real good and bad guys? To put it bluntly, if there is indeed a world-scale conflict underway between fundamentalist intolerance and democratic pluralism, which side are they really on?"

Swell question. Really swell question. Here's one for the rest of the Gay Right: Which side of that fight are you on?

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, June 24, 2002.

Apparently the link to the story about pressure on political cartoonists to conform to the administration line is making the rounds. Tom Tomorrow has it and asked his readers politely to not send him any more (yah...I sent him one too...). And he makes a couple of points worth keeping in mind. Whatever problems cartoonists in this country are facing now, it's not as if they're all being disappeared. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from criticism. But the range of debate here in this country, at least in the mainstream media, is already pretty narrow, and if editors self censor out of fear of offending readers, then it grows even narrower.

Nobody was disappeared during the McCarthy era either, but careers were destroyed, and dissent, while not eliminated, was squelched pretty hard. From what I hear, making a living as a cartoonist is not anything like easy in the current market. That being the case, it probably wouldn't take much to get cartoonists to self censor. The bills after all, need to be paid. But even if a cartoonist gets dropped from a newspaper, its not like they can't find some other work, and keep producing their cartoons for public consumption. I put a weekly gay themed political cartoon on this site. Anyone with a computer and a little time can do it. Of course, I don't get much flack either, because even though I get a steady readership here, it's in the very low hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. I could take in a few hundred more readers here every month and it would take decades for me to get on Ari Fleischer's radar. The problem isn't that people are being locked up for speaking their minds...we're, knock on wood, not anywhere near that far down that road. It isn't even that careers may be destroyed, although that's bad enough. But how the hell can we as a nation vote on the war and peace issues facing, us if we can't hear from all sides of the arguments?

Or course, you have to want people to hear opposing viewpoints, for that to be a problem.

This story is alarming not simply on it's own merits, but for it's being one more marker of what this administration is about, and the times we're facing. That said, it's not as if cartoonists are being locked away without even the right to contact a lawyer. That's really happening now to at least one, and god only knows how many other American citizens. On the other hand, if there isn't anyone left in the news media raising holy hell about it, their situation isn't likely to improve either, and others are sure to follow.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, June 23, 2002.

Them Damn Pictures!

News from overseas (of course) that American political cartoonists are coming under increasing pressure to adhear to the Bush administration line. Read about it Here in the London Independent.

I should have seen this one coming, even considering that most political cartoons these days are trivial topical gags instead of the passionate political art that is their tradition. With news becoming low calorie Infotainment, it had to happen that America's political cartoonists would begin to feel the heat. It's an old story; the political cartoon form has a long history of getting under the skin of political gangsters who are more afraid of them, then news reportage many people don't bother to read in depth. The political cartoon, when it is good, is a direct punch to the gut, whose unambiguous meaning can be taken in at a glance by even the barely literate. Boss Tweed once complained about Thomas Nast's cartoons, "I don't care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them dammed pictures." H. L. Mencken once said "Give me a good cartoonist, and I can throw out half the editorial staff." Political cartoons are the fire and brimstone of politics, and if your business is squelching dissent, they can be far more troublesome then hundreds of pundit monkeys, banging away on hundreds of keyboards.

During the McCarthy era, it was the brave few who took on McCarthy himself directly. Herblock, as always, never flinched from a thug like him, and his work during that time was pure brilliance. Walt Kelly of Pogo fame did a series of scathing strips featuring a character he named 'Simple J. Malarkey', and kept it up in the face of cancellations. Now it's Bush, a man with exactly zero democratic instincts, appointed to a presidency he and his gang wrested away from the democratic process by fraud, and shear brute force, and it should surprise absolutely no one that he's going after dissent in a big way. As Dickens once said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." We're all in for ugly times. But if nothing else, this generation of political cartoonists have a chance now to carry on the tradition of their art, and pay their respects to the masters in the only way that really counts, by giving the bastards hell.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Sunday, June 23, 2002.

Militant Homosexual: A homosexual who doesn't think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual.

Militant Homosexual Agenda: A homosexual acting like they don't think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual.

I saw a political cartoon in a British tabloid once many years ago, a dig at gay rights activists in Britain, that ticked me all the more for its coming from an ostensibly liberal leaning cartoonist. But even then I was aware that liberalism didn't necessarily translate into gay friendliness. At the time, the Thatcher government was taking another swing at Britain's gay and lesbian citizens, and that was in turn rousing numerous protests by gay rights activists. This cartoonist, caricaturing those activists, drew them as swishy as he could, and had them waving signs, one of which read: "EVERYONE MUST BE GAY".

It's rhetoric I heard, and still hear, over and over, from the kook pews. The homosexual agenda isn't merely one of seeking equal rights, but to turn society inside out, to force people not just to let us live our lives in peace, but to embrace homosexuality, to replace 'The American Way' with 'The Gay Lifestyle'. Not even the most extreme lunatics of the anti-gay right actually believe that crap, but so long as it keeps inflaming passions toward gay and lesbian people, without a doubt they'll keep dispensing it.

It's one thing to hear the anti-gay right waving that crap around, and another to hear other gay people doing the same, and still another to watch as one ersatz liberal publication after another gives rightwing gay 'attack queers' prominence over even moderate gay voices, so they can take the same kind of cheap digs at homosexuals that anti-gay bigots do. How many Deb Prices can you count in the pages of the liberal press? There are three Paglias (Pagila, Vincent, and Sullivan) getting tons of ink now and counting, busily demonizing anyone in the gay civil rights movement to the left of Ashcroft, with all the deep thinking of Ann Coulter discussing swarthy males. To read them, you'd think nearly all gay civil rights leaders and organizations (right wing gays exempted naturally) were busy promoting the EVERYONE MUST BE GAY agenda.

The problem with the gay left, they say, dishonestly turning inside out the meaning of more then thirty years of civil rights activism, is that it demands gay people marginalize themselves. You'd have had to have been on another planet the whole time, not to understand that the movement was all about giving people the freedom to be who they are, to live their lives openly, and with dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, or their gender identity. I know, because I was there in the 70s, struggling against the same political forces that now support the attack queers, which kept insisting that there was only one way for an American male to live, and being a longhaired homosexual male wasn't it. The grim irony here is that every single one of the attack queers has benefited from that struggle for individuality over conformity. But their pervasive rhetoric is always that it's the gay left, which insists there is only one 'politically correct' way to be gay. This from a political movement that proclaims that gay people will only be accepted as equals in American society, when they embrace a conservative social status-quo. Then they claim they're the political movement for gay people who can think for themselves. Well, I haven't witnessed so many people thinking for themselves since the stocks were trading in triple digits.

That gay people haven't been knocking each other over to sign up for this political movement, is evident in the polling numbers, which consistently show huge majorities identifying themselves as liberal, and voting democratic. That's hardly surprising, considering that the American right wing is a strident and grimly determined enemy of equality for gay and lesbian Americans. Yet for the attack queers, there are few examples of foolishness on the left too trivial to ignore, and few examples of the right's hatred of homosexual people too staringly obvious not to note. I'm still waiting to see the pundits at the Independent (sic) Gay Forum do some thinking for themselves about the effort by Massachusetts republicans to add a heterosexual only marriage amendment to their state constitution. While he was governor of Texas, George Bush vowed to veto any attempt to repeal that state's sodomy law, calling it an expression of the moral values of the people. How much thinking for yourself does it take to realize that the sodomy laws are the stinking rotten core of legal anti-gay discrimination in this country, and that any politician who wraps himself in them like they were a goddamn flag is no friend of homosexual people?

If you're wondering how a gay person in their right mind can embrace a political movement and party whose planks are the extermination of gay rights in America, and why some liberal publishers can embrace columnists who hate their political guts, bear in mind an old Arab saying: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." The gay right may detest the religious right, but they absolutely despise liberals. Forced to choose between fighting the religious right, and joining forces with them to kick liberals in the teeth, even if it means gay civil rights become collateral damage in the fight, the gay right will unhesitatingly choose to kick the liberals. Liberal publishers on the other hand, may loath the American right, but uppity homosexuals make them squirm. Attack queers allow them to print unmitigated trash about homosexuals, without loosing their progressive veneer, since they are, after all, giving space to homosexual writers. I saw exactly the same behavior during the 60's and 70's, when liberals regarded themselves as progressive simply by virtue of their not hanging "Whites Only" signs in their establishments, couldn't distinguish between Malcom X and Martin Luther King, and kept insisting that Negroes would make much better progress if they would just stop all the sit-ins and protests and just learn to work within the system, never mind that the system was geared to keeping them out. If it proves anything about liberalism in America, the popularity of attack queers in the liberal media proves Truman Capote was dead right, when he observed that a fag is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room.

I polled The Independent (sic) Gay Forum's site today, looking for commentary on Bush (the lesser)'s joining forces with the Axis of Evil to fight against the rights of Women and Gays in the UN. What I got was a rant about Village Voice columnist Richard Goldstein's book "The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right". The Richard Goldstein book got them more hot and bothered then the sight of Bush shaking hands with the same Islamic extremist states that sponsor anti-American terrorism worldwide because that was the only way Bush could make sure Gay rights go nowhere in the United Nations. And there was commentary from their web logger, Stephen H. Miller, bellyaching about the criticism gay rights leaders were leveling at Smirk, for not recognizing Gay Pride month. I have to admit, expecting Bush to proclaim Pride Month was a little like expecting Microsoft to release a version of Office for Linux, but it was worth noting nonetheless, for it's evidence of how far back the appointment of Smirk to the presidency has set the cause of gay equality, and the struggle we're all still in for. Miller had another view. Bush, says he, has a large bloc of social conservatives in his constituency that he can't risk alienating with a Pride Month proclamation. But he is "allowing" more pride events to happen within the government, with and without offical recognition, then any previous Republican administration. Then Miller gives us this remarkable display of willful self marginalization:

"Know what? If more gays vote for Bush in 2004, you can bet that he'll go even further. That's politics, folks."

Dig it. The one legitimate criticism of the gay left is that they support the democratic party and get mostly just a lot of hot air in return for it. Yet here we have someone telling us that the reason to support Bush is that he doesn't do a lot for us. Oh...he would if we supported him. But why should he, if he can get it for free like the democrats do? Because it's the right thing to do? Letting Texas repeal its sodomy laws was the right thing to do, he could have even stood on conservative principle doing so, announcing that while he was morally opposed to homosexuality, conservatives don't think government should be in the business of regulating people's private lives. But he didn't. He couldn't. That simply isn't where his instincts lay. His social conservative political base didn't foist itself upon him, they shook hands. They're still shaking hands. And now he's shaking hands with like minded social thugs in Iran and Sudan, and he can smack the gay right over the head with it repeatedly, and they'll never acknowledge it for what it is.

That's what thinking for yourself does for you I guess.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, June 18, 2002.

Walk...I dare you...

Pedestrian traffic has a social contract with vehicular traffic, that disturbingly resembles the contract gazelles have with lions. What is more, in every city, the contract is just a little bit different. I know the terms of the deal in Washington, and the deal in Baltimore is pretty much the same. When I visit other cities, I have to relearn the contract. Is the cross walk a safe space, or a devious lure? How seriously is Don't Walk taken? Does eye contact with a driver mean I'm out of play, or that I'm in play? When I visit other cities, I have to rely on cues from my fellow pedestrians as to the precise terms of the contract. Doing that here in mid town Manhattan can get me killed.

Every time I come here I try to scope out the terms of the contract and I never seem to come close to getting it. I can stand with a large group of pedestrians at an intersection, step out into the street when they do, look around and find a taxi or a truck bearing down on us, yet somehow, the other pedestrians all seem to know the rule here, and get out of its way, sometimes with breathtakingly little air between them and car metal, while I'm busy scampering back to the curb I came from.

This morning, after a speech by a Microsoft guy, I left the hotel in search of breakfast among the morning commute pedestrian traffic, and was amazed at how little attention the cars and the walkers pay to each other. Nobody watches, yet they all seem to know Exactly when the asphalt is theirs, and when it isn't. They walk, the cars miss them. I follow, I nearly get eaten. That doesn't happen to me anywhere else but here. There's a rule here somewhere that I'm missing. I think it's that out of town pedestrians are to be used as decoys.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tales of the clueless...continued...

I'm in New York city right now, currently attending the VBITs...uh... excuse me...VSLive conference, so I can find out where Microsoft wants me to go today. Conferences like this are very information rich, and at the end of the day I feel worse then when I was cramming for finals in college. So I probably won't be updating this column much for the next week, just so you know.

At the end of the day, and between sessions, I like to stroll about the city. The area around Times Square is much stuff crammed in such a tight area. My room here is on the twenty-forth floor and there is almost as much city above me as below me. The sides of most of the skyscrapers around Times Square are packed full of gaudy billboards, and the street is jammed with all kinds of stores. You can go to a fine restaurant, or you can have some of this life's best eating at any of the delicatessens sprinkled around the city blocks. I've been living off the delicatessens here, and wondering who the morons are I see eating in the fast food joints.

I have my trusty Canon F-1 with me, and oodles of tri-x I bulk loaded before leaving. I took just the 50, and the 24mm lenses, and have been using mostly the 24 on my walks. The area is loaded with stores selling cameras, and I think the protocol here is that you dicker for a good price, which I am temperamentally unequipped to do. But I browse anyway. There are usually sales people sitting right outside the door to their stores, who try to snatch people right off the sidewalks and get them inside to buy. They all have a pitch. The other day one guy threw a glance at my camera as I walked past his door and must have figured that I'd want a new one, since the one I had was so old. Wow, says he, you're still using one of must be twenty-five years old or something. Thirty-one, says I, and it's been everywhere with me. The F-1s were made to be expanded by this or that gizmo you could attach to the camera body. The film hatch comes off for a bulk film back you could buy, and I'm pretty sure they made a polaroid film back too. If someone would come out with a digital back I'd be thrilled. But fat chance; Canon doesn't even make the lenses for it any more. I want accessories, I have to shop eBay now. There's no technical reason they couldn't make a digital back, but why make an accessory for an F-1, when you can make people buy a new camera.'ll need an operating system upgrade to use that feature... Microsoft didn't invent this concept, although they may have copyrighted the look and feel by now.

Last night I was strolling a few blocks from my hotel, late, and thinking to myself that this place is kinda sorta like the boardwalk at Ocean City: lotsa shops and clubs and amusements, and strolling around between them seems to be the main tourist activity. It's not the boardwalk, it's Times Square. As I walked around a corner an oldish, raggedly looking man stepped out of the shadows and said to me "Young girl." I turned and looked at him annoyed, and he said it again, "Young girl." Well...I've been a longhair since my grade school days and I can't begin to tell you how often I've been called 'girl', only to see them realize in the next instant that I'm not. But this guy was persistent. "Young girl", he said again. "I'm a guy" I said to him, carefully pronouncing the words because his clock speed seemed a tad slow, and I walked on, just catching the odd look he gave me. It took me a block and a half to realize he wasn't calling me a young girl, he was offering me one.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Thursday, June 13, 2002.

From Our How To Stab Friends and Allies In The Back Department...

A former president to the Southern Baptist Convention called the prophet Mohammed, founder of Islam, "a demon-possessed pedophile." Read The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's report here. And within moments of that declaration, well here comes Smirk to assure the SBC delegates...uh...messengers that "You and I share common commitments." Oh swell. Tell it to our Moslem allies, when they ask what to say their people after Al Qaida waves this in their faces as more proof that the United States is waging a war against Islam.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Wednesday, June 12, 2002.

"An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup." -H.L. Mencken

Some years back, my friend Burt and I were walking back to my apartment in Rockville. It was the dead of winter, and our path though the snow took us past another apartment complex where he'd rented a room once with his now ex-wife. It was the first time he'd been anywhere near the place since he'd been tossed out, and I should have been on my guard, but I wasn't.

I knew the experience had been a miserable one for him, not only because Burt is not suited for a marriage, but because Burt is not suited to apartment life either. Even in those days I was an old hand at apartment life. I'd grown up in them, spent all but my first two years of life in them, and knew instinctively how to behave myself when you have neighbors living above and below you, as well as on both sides of you. Burt had lived in his mother's house for all but a few brief stretches of his life, and I was well aware by then, that house dwellers had a very different sense of property from apartment dwellers. Burt had, and still has, no sense at all of respect for the privacy of his neighbors, I think in part, because he never had to develop one growing up in a house. He could crank his stereo up, and the people living next to him wouldn't hear it. He could have loud company over, and who would care, as long as it stayed indoors. In apartment living, that'll get you trouble from the landlord. Burt never seemed to grasp the concept that living right on top of people meant you had to adjust your volume accordingly, not that they had to live with whatever noise you sent through the walls. When he started getting heat from the landlord, I kept trying to convince him that common walls meant people had to work a little harder at respecting each other's privacy. Well, everyone who knows me knows that I have a shy gene, and Burt just kept telling me my problem was that I was a wuss. When Burt finally got himself tossed from that apartment complex, I wasn't much surprised.

That day, as we passed his old apartment complex, Burt reached down into the wet Washington area snow, quickly scooped up a big fat wet snowball, and pitched it at the plate glass patio doors of the rental office. I swear could hear the sound of glass breaking, even before it hit. My whole body tensed. Burt you jackass...!

Sure enough, someone was inside the office, and he came roaring out yelling at us. But to my everlasting relief, he didn't chase us. When we got back to my apartment, adrenalin cranky, scared, and royally pissed off at him, and for letting myself get caught off guard, I unloaded on him. Yeah...I have a shy gene. It's why I like a pinch of loud, exuberant company in my life. But good clean reckless fun that wasn't. Did you even think before you threw that snowball? What if that guy had been hit by the breaking glass? What if it hurt him badly? What if we'd both been arrested for it? Can you please at least ask before you get me involved in one of your grudge fests? He apologized, but I could still see it in his eyes: Wuss!

Which brings me to yesterday's NBC Dateline...

I'm watching Heather Mercer on NBC's Dateline, pretty much confirm what a lot of us already suspected: that she and Dayna Curry really were engaged in a covert attempt to convert Afghans to Christianity right under the nose of the Taliban. This, after many months of hearing her and her defenders assert that she and her companions were doing no such thing when they'd been arrested. That they were arrested by the Taliban, not for systematically proselytizing Afghans, but simply for being Christians who had only given a few of their neighbors a peek at a bible and a film about Jesus. It was a lie, and the telling part of all of this is that even after they were rescued, and returned to a nation where proselytizing is a constitutionally protected activity, and huge majorities of the population identify themselves as Christian, they still couldn't bring themselves to tell the truth about what they were doing in Afghanistan.

For months after her rescue, Mercer kept rattling on to any one who would listen, the fiction that "We shared with the family on our own time, separate from the agency. Relief and development was our job, Christianity our lifestyle." Well...yes and no. Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity was, without a doubt, their lifestyle. But "Church Planting" was their job. Relief and development was the cover for that job. Mercer and her church had intricate, well developed plans for entering into Moslem countries, and establishing covert church "cells", which were then supposed to multiply, in a fashion creepily similar to the way Al Qaida organizes its own terrorist activity. can respect and admire people who stir up the pot under the noses of tyrants. The stinking rotten core of tyranny isn't the imprisonment of the body, but of the conscience, and of the soul. But these were no freedom fighters. The moral basis for undermining Taliban laws against proselytizing, that people have an essential, inalienable right to make their own decisions about religion, choose their own path, find the answers to life's fundamental questions about meaning and faith for themselves, and that they can't do that under a regime that outlaws the free exchange of ideas, is one the first Baptists would have endorsed whole heartedly, but which Mercer and her companions would cheerfully renounce. Any doubts on that point were sickeningly clarified by the minister of Mercer's church, when he acknowledged to a Dateline correspondent, that for him the issue wasn't so much one of how do we all get along, as if you don't accept my religion, you're in trouble. You could see him trying to spin that as trouble on Judgment Day, but the whole lot of them came off as being cheerfully earnest mirrors of Taliban religious intolerance. When the Dateline correspondent asked Mercer if she could understand how some Afghans, seeing their country in ruins, thinking their faith was the only thing they had left, might resent it when foreigners come into their country to take even that away, Mercer's face lit up with the bright eyed, happy face clarity of a boob who stopped thinking long ago, upon encountering a question one of their pat answers can easily deflect, and said that Oh...they weren't Taking anything from the Afghans, they were Giving them something they desperately needed. What they desperately needed was freedom. What Mercer and her companions planned to give them was a new religious straightjacket, and a place on the roll call of religious martyrs, whether they wanted it or not. Here's to the new boss, same as the old boss.

People who have no clue at all about the religious history of their own country, save the revisionist claptrap produced by fundamentalist academies, might have a hard time getting their wee noggins around the idea that a campaign of deliberate religious subversion, in a land where people remember the crusades as if they'd happened only yesterday, may do far more harm then good. They could have gone into Afghanistan and done what they claimed to be doing in the first place, relief work, and subverted Taliban propaganda about Christians and Christianity more thoroughly and insidiously, by setting an example of lives lived in service to the needy, then had they Planted hundreds of cells. But in the relentless brutal logic of fundamentalism, the reason you love your neighbors is to make Christians out of them, not merely because God told you to love them. Planting seeds of doubt in totalitarian propaganda isn't enough. Planting the notion that Christians aren't a bunch of thieving, scheming thugs, but decent honorable human beings who genuinely care about the oppressed and needy isn't enough. Planting a human face in someone's memory, where before was only fear, prejudice and hate, isn't enough. Planting Churches is what you're there to do, even if it means your methods convince tens of thousands that the totalitarian's propaganda is true, for every one you actually convert. In the relentless brutal logic of fundamentalism, that you converted one, is more important then that your tactics hardened the hearts of thousands more. Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.

And in the meantime, her and her church have put every other aid worker in the line of fire, every hungry, needy family, who goes to them for help under a cloud of suspicion. Neither Mercer nor the minister of her church showed the slightest shred of concern that their deceptive ruse of sending "church planters" out to proselytize under the guise of being relief workers might endanger the mission of this world's real relief workers, let alone the workers themselves, let alone the people who come to them in need. None of that seemed to matter to any of them even remotely. What happened to the Afghans who visited Curry and Mercer? Did they care one iota that they were putting poor people into a holy war crossfire they didn't believe in, and didn't necessarily want to get involved in? Perhaps they reassured themselves that paradise awaits those who are martyrs for Christianity.

Without the virgins...of course.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Friday, June 7, 2002.

Here's looking at you kid.

Manga and anime appeal to me, largely because the guys in them are so cute. Shonen-ai, gay manga and anime, is I'm told, fairly common in Japan, being something a lot of the teenaged girls over there get into. I've seen some of it, and it puts nearly everything ever done in the U.S. about gay romance to shame. It's beautiful, sensual, heartfelt (overwrought and melodramatic in many instances, some might say), and treats same sex romance with the dignity and respect it's due, representing it as a many layered human experience, something you just don't see in American comics, films and television. For years the only place I could go to find an image of same sex love as I knew it to be, were books; the occasional science-fiction story, some fantasy, some mainstream literature. But Mary Renault passed away in the 1980s, and since then the pickings have been very slim. When I discovered shonen-ai, and its cousin yaoi, I was thrilled. Problem is, getting any over here, or at least here in Baltimore, is a tad difficult, and if translated versions are available on the web, I sure can't find them.

The first shonen-ai anime I was able to get my hands on was Kizuna. As I write this, only two episodes are available. Whether this is because the makers of the anime only produced two, or only two are being imported I have no idea, but the manga its storyline is taken from went on for at least eight volumes and probably a lot more, since in Japan these things are serialized seemingly forever. The first episode had a good plotline, and some of the most beautiful same sex love scenes I'd ever seen anywhere. The second, more aimless then the first, was a tad disappointing. For the longest time Kizuna.was the only shonen-ai I saw for sale anywhere. Then Fake came along. I purchased a copy when I saw it, and regretted it later. It seems the running gag in Fake is that the one cute police detective loves the other cute police detective, always keeps coming close to winning him while the two of them are solving a crime, but never actually does. Perpetual romantic frustration doesn't, somehow, strike me as entertaining.

Last week a video catalogue arrived in the mail, and I saw yet another shonen-ai for sale, Level C. Once again I was disappointed. The big put-down of shonen-ai and yaoi in particular, is that the characters and the situations are a tad too...uhm...feminine. Since I live in a culture where a guy who has fewer words for tits then Eskimos have for snow is considered fruity, I'm thoroughly inured to that kind of criticism. But the romantic relationship between the business executive and the cute model in Level C was way more stereotypically big macho guy/fey little guy then I am prepared to endure. The only thing making Level C worthwhile to me, was the advertisement at the beginning of it for an anime of Earthian. I was jumping for joy to see that, which made my disappointment in what followed the advertisement all the deeper.

Later I was flipping through the gay and lesbian video catalog I received, and wondered why I'm still having so much trouble finding fiction that represents same sex romance with some dignity and style and beauty. The catalog, I have is only a subset of what the company sells, a marketing effort directed at us gay folks, and one for which I am appreciative. I can still remember a time when I had to walk into smarmy adult bookstores just to find copies of The Advocate and The Washington Blade. Now here I am being marketed to by mainstream companies. And it's a big catalog...forty-eight pages. But about half of them are for pornography. A non-trivial part of the rest are for titles about prostitution, and the porn industry. A lot of the rest is stereotypical junk that I refuse to touch, even when it's called classic. Then there is the stuff that thinks it's gay positive, but isn't. There's Total Eclipse, in which Leonardo Di Caprio plants the only kiss by a mainstream male Hollywood actor on another, that you could watch and actually believe. Yet the relationship in the film is horribly manipulative and abusive. There's Hard Love & How To Fuck In High Heels. Oh Swell. Get out the latex, goes the advertisement, and the strap-ons, and get ready to have a roaring good time! Thanks, but I'll pass. There's Fogi is a Bastard the story of a cute young guy who falls head over heels in love with a self centered rock and roll band...well...bastard. You absolutely believe in the kid's love for the rock singer, which only makes the way the singer treats him all the more appalling. On it's own merits, it's actually a good film. But do I need any more stories about hopeless same sex love. Do I need any more stories about selfish manipulative same sex lovers. There's Nico and Dani, a sweet on its surface film about two kids, that deals with the gay kid's falling in love with his straight best friend. Again, on its own merits it's a good film, but once again the picture it paints of hopeless same sex love is one I'm getting a tad tired of seeing.

Where is the gay Casablanca? Where is the gay, To Have and Have Not? Think I'm joking? Think I'm being camp? Here...let me run a scenario by you. An American expatriate in France falls in love with a resistance fighter while the German army is advancing all over Europe. They have a brief affair, but what the American doesn't know is that his new found love is still grieving the death of his lover and fellow resistance fighter at the hands of the Nazis. Then the fighter discovers his lover escaped the Nazis alive, and is waiting for him. Meanwhile the German army is threatening to take Paris, and the American makes plans to escape with his new found love, only to discover at the last minute that his love has left him for parts unknown, leaving him only a short terse message of apology and regret. Cynical and bitter, the American sets up shop in what he thinks is the middle of nowhere, where the war and his memories will leave him alone. But neither one does. The Nazis have now conquered most of Europe, are threatening to take England, Russia, and now, even this remote African town where he thought he could live alone, but at least at peace. A world famous resistance fighter, with a Nazi price on his head, comes into the town looking for a way to escape to America, and continue the struggle against fascism. Seeing him, the American expatriate is unpleasantly surprised to discover that his companion is the one he loved before France fell. The American can use his local underworld connections to help the couple escape. He can also secretly betray the famous resistance fighter, and maybe if he plays it right, convince his companion that the idealism his lover represents is useless in the world they find themselves living in, that his cynical way of life is the only one that has a chance...and who knows, maybe even, finally, convince himself. Idealism or Cynicism. Love or Bitterness. Which will the American choose?

It's been done says you. Yeah says I. It's still the same old story. Now when do I get a chance to see a few gay chapters of it on the screen?

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Monday, May 27, 2002.

Flashback - Portales NM, to Springfield MS.

In his wonderful book, Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck wrote something very wise about journeys. He said, a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

"Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and his journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu." - John Steinbeck, Travels With Charlie

This trip, my journey seems to have begun and ended pretty much in the same general place, somewhere just west of the Mississippi, just beyond the Ozarks. I zoomed to, and past the Mississippi, to get west, and once there, felt as if I'd broken free. That was when my journey really started. Once I got back into the Ozarks, I pretty much lost interest in anything I saw. I wasn't miserable for the rest of it, as Steinbeck seemed to become when he lost his journey near Abingdon, Virginia. I still watched the landscape move past with some interest and curiosity, but it wasn't the same. I was enjoying a nice long drive in the country, but at that point, it was nothing more then that, and I knew it. Somewhere after Joplin, it became time for me to be home.

I woke up in Portales to a clear bright blue sky, hoping that my journey might last me the rest of the way home. It didn't, but it gave me one last present before it left. I'd planned to drive to Amarillo, and connect there to I-40. In Amarillo is a trading post that was frustrating me because it looked like a good one, and it was closed every time I passed by. I toyed with not even bothering to stop there this time, since I seemed to be having no luck with it at all, and the highway exits there are a tad complicated. But I gave it a shot, and it paid off big. Always give the places along the way a chance to show you something.

Last time I took the trip, in 2000, I stopped at a trading post in Gallup New Mexico, ironically run by the Tanner family. I say ironically because in my Skywatcher stories, that is the name of one of my main characters, whose family business is in part trade with the natives of the Atrian plains. The first time I saw that sign on their trading post, I stood looking at it bemusedly, wondering if I could ever invent anything in my stories that hadn't already been done before. Inside the store was a wonderful array of goods and artwork produced by people of the various southwestern tribes.

On a road trip through the southwest, you have to make an effort to separate the authentic native American traders from the mass produced touristy junk. Following Sturgeon's law, the junk stuff is everywhere. When you see a sign advertising Genuine Indian Pottery, Jewelry, Kachinas, Moccasins, Firecrackers, Cold Beer, and Phone Cards - 15 cents a minute long distance, it's a safe bet all you're going to find inside is mass produced junk that is authentic, maybe, only in that, maybe, it was touched by one or more American Indians hands along the way to being made, boxed, and put on the shelves. Avoid the trading posts with the great big plywood and faded whitewash teepees out front, especially in Navajo territory, where that's not just tacky, it's illiterate. I'm told there's a running gag in those parts, that an honest Indian trader is an oxymoron. If you see disrespect in the advertising, don't bother walking in the door. The genuine artists won't deal with them, and you shouldn't either if you want to bring back stuff you can be proud to show. Good native American art can fetch good money nowadays, so good traders will respect their artists, like any other dealer in valuable art.

Anyway, I digress. The last time I was at the Tanner Trading post, (The Shush Yaz Trading Co.), I bought a small print by a Navajo artist named, Harrison Begay, and a Kachina doll for a friend of my mother, who was keeping us in touch via his webTV account. And while I was browsing, I saw the most delightful Koshare dolls there. The Kachina dolls are little representations of the Kachina dancers, representations of various Hopi spirits. During a dance, other dancers, Koshare, sacred clowns, make fun of human ego and failings, while the Kachina dance their perfect dances of pure spirit. The Koshare paint their bodies white, with black strips either of paint or cloth. And they have an interesting headdress that looks strikingly like the pointed spikes of the old middle ages court jesters. When I first saw one I wondered if it was cross cultural transmission, or if the Hopi created that image of human goofiness for themselves independently. You wonder sometimes what goes on, deep in the human subconscious we all share.

Anyway...most Kachina and Koshare dolls you see for sale, simply stand there in a variety of pat poses. The better artists put life into the carved wooden figures, and you can almost imagine them coming to life before your eyes. But usually all you see of them are the same basic poses, and with the Koshares, the same silly situations. But the guy I saw at the Tanner trading post was doing something really cool with his Koshares. He was carving them in goofy, satiric poses of modern life. There were doctors and lawyers as well as the more traditional poses, all wearing these same goofy, fun expressions of human vanity and silliness gone awry. And he had his Koshare playing yuppy sports. There were Koshare playing golf, and one that almost made me laugh out loud, playing tennis, swinging his racket back and holding up the ball with a big goofy smile on his face.

It was hilarious. But I was almost out of money that trip, so I figured I'd buy one on another pass. Well...this time, as I mentioned earlier, when I came back, they didn't have anything by him. It dragged me down for miles, kicking myself for not buying it when I saw it then and there. What was more, I had no idea who it was I was looking for. All I knew the artist by, was his style, which was very distinctive. But as I drove I didn't see a single other thing by him.

So I'm driving through Amarillo, and I decide to give that always closed trading post another shot. I got off the Interstate, drove up, and lo and behold they were open. I walked in, and saw three of the Koshares I was looking for. They didn't have the tennis playing one, but they had two golfers, and one fisherman. I bought one of the golfers, and looked around the store for this and that, feeling delighted about my journey once again.

Now I have a name to go with the artwork. His name is Virgil Woods, and as soon as I got home I did a web search and found that link to some traders who sell some of his other stuff on line.

I ordered Racquet of LOVE and Learn By Trial and Error. Check some of his stuff out yourself, and tell me it doesn't bring a smile to your face too.

I left Amarillo feeling contented and entered Oklahoma, leaving the prairie behind. Somewhere past Oklahoma city I felt as if I'd left the southwest behind, and as I entered Missouri, and the Ozarks, my journey left me. The rest of the drive home was nice, but from then on I was going home, rather then seeing the sights. In my mind, while I drove down I-70, I was already planning my next trip west.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 24, 2002 (London, Ohio)

Interlude - Take it with you dammit!

Bear with me, I'm going to vent.

The first time I went to visit my brother in California, I asked to see our dad's grave, but we never got around to it. Billy and I have...issues...regarding our father and our memory of him, and I won't go into the details of why here. But it did not greatly surprise me to learn that he had never visited the gravesite after the day dad was laid to rest. Last year I buried my mother, and this time I was a tad more determined to see dad's grave site too, perhaps subconsciously wanting just to make sure everything was right with it. Well, it wasn't. In the end, that did not greatly surprise me either.

The Garretts of Oceano once owned a lot of land on the top of a plateau just east of the coastline, near the famous Oceano dunes. For decades the land was considered nearly worthless. But great-granddad Garrett figured, correctly it turned out, that the land would one day be worth a lot, since it was right on the main highway between LA, and San Francisco. Little stores began popping up here and there on it, and then a major oil company put a refinery on a parcel, rented to them for years, and then eventually sold to them, by the Garretts. But while great granddad had a lot of vision for the future in him, his children only saw one thing, the money they would inherit someday.

Since we found each other once again, my brother has been filling me in on the various schemes of our grandparents on that side of the family. Once there was a college fund set aside for us by great granddad. His children somehow got hold of it and it vanished. There was land, there was money, that simply disappeared. Various get rich quick schemes would manage to do little more then shovel great-granddad's money into a hole. When he died, my grandfather's sister managed to take the bulk of the estate, sell off the land to developers, and strong arm the rest of the family out of any part of the proceeds. But her brother would have undoubtedly done the same if he could have risen himself to it. He liked money, he just never had much interest in working for any. So Billy is out there struggling to run his own business and raise a family in a place where the value of the land has now risen to such heights, that it's nearly impossible for a middle class family to afford a place to live, estranged from most of our dad's side of the family by the years of scheming that he witnessed.

This trip, I asked my brother to drive me around the old family lands, and fill in some of the blanks I had regarding who owned what, and what happened to all of it. He pointed out some of the parcels, told me this and that about what happened to them over the years. I recall one parcel that had been sold to a company that recycled car batteries. They simply dug a hole behind the shop and dumped the battery acid into it. The cost savings to their bottom line of that technique were, I suppose, significant. Nobody from any of the state environmental agencies caught on, until all the local well water began to get fouled, and someone accidentally discovered the reason why. Billy said later that he hadn't been back up to the old homestead in thirty years.

Just before I left my brother's place this trip, Billy took me to our dad's grave site. He told me he hadn't been there since the funeral. We got to the area he remembered, and searched around, but couldn't find dad. We wandered around for a time, and finally gave up, and went looking for a cemetery map. When we got our hands on one, we looked up the location of dad's grave. Come to find out that all these years, dad's grave was unmarked. Which explained why we couldn't find it.

Billy told me of the time granddad Garrett came to him with the check from the sale of dad's car after he died. It was made out to Billy, since he was the heir. Granddad told Billy that he could have the money, or they could use it to buy his dad a marker stone. That was the late 70's and Billy was fifteen, and 500 dollars was a lot of money to a teenage boy then. But he signed the check over. Somehow, the marker stone never got made. Neither one of us were greatly surprised. I was furious. However, not having anything to turn it on, I kept it to myself. It's been a one of two little warm spots inside of me, all the way back across the country. I'll get to the other one in a bit.

Billy and I walked to the general area where dad was buried and found some plot marker bricks buried under years of dirt. We think we found a couple likely ones, but we weren't sure. He agreed to go back to the cemetery office during business hours and find the right one, and arrange to get a proper marker stone put on it. He'll call me with the marker company name and phone number and I'll call in the payment information. I told him he could chip in some money for it if he wanted to, but I reckon he's already paid his share. As for me, there are some things that you do, not because of what is, but because of what ought to be.

As I left the cemetery, I passed granddad Garrett's stone and stood for a moment in front of it, trying desperately hard not to speak ill of the dead right over their grave. Finally I said to it, "Was any of it ever enough grandpa? Did my dad's headstone money really add that much more to your life?" Billy told me once that the joke in the family was that his grandfather had bought an expensive self winding wrist watch with some of great-grandad's money, and the watch was always stopping. His grave stone looked back at me with relentless indifference.

I left Billy's and drove down to San Diego to visit an Aunt on my mother's side before returning back east. Her and her husband, my mother's youngest brother, were always good to me, cheerful, fun to be with folks. From her I got sympathy for my mother's passing last year, and news about how mom was treated by her oldest brother's children when he passed away the year before. I'd always wondered why mom wanted to be buried in Virginia and not Pennsylvania where she was born, and where the rest of her family was buried. She had inherited her mother's plots and I had always thought there was room for both her, and me when the time came. But I think (to my mother's horror) that burial is pointless, and later in her life she never showed the slightest sign that she wanted to be laid to rest back in Pennsylvania. She had told me a few years before she died that she wanted to be buried in her cousin's family plot there in Virginia, not the family plot in Pennsylvania. Fine, thinks I, it's her choice. And her last years in Virginia were the happiest of her life. I thought I understood it. But from my aunt in California I discover that there was a fight between my mom and her oldest brother over various parts of their mother's estate, including the cemetery plots. When he died, his children took up the fight with a vengeance. Then their mother died suddenly, and one of them got a recurrence of cancer, the last I heard they were fighting for their life, and I called the other one when I learned of it, and expressed my sympathy for all the misfortune that had come down on them, and told them to call me if they needed anything, not knowing about any of this (mom would never say anything bad about anyone, no matter how miserable they might have been to her...she was like that...), or what they had said to my own mother, after the death of their father.

Soap opera anyone? The next right wing lunatic who yaps at me about family values is going to get an earful.

They say you can't take it with you, but I really wish now that you could. Not that I'm all that desperate to take mine with me, I just want the rest of you to take yours with you. Open a checking account in paradise. Roll over your earthly investments to the brokerage in the Unknown. Just take it and go, exit, skedaddle. Then those of us left behind would know that, for better or worse, we'd have to make our own way in the world, achieve whatever we can, take our own pure measure of this good life, and ourselves, for ourselves, without anyone else's money giving us a higher pedestal, or digging us deeper into the gutter, then we can manage on our own. Lincoln said that anyone can stand adversity, but if you want to test someone's character, give them power. Here's another way: put some money in front of them.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

Tuesday, May 21, 2002 - Portales, New Mexico
(Posted from Springfield, Missouri)

What a trip today has been! From paradise and wonder to disappointment and bad mood city. I'll probably have to post this tomorrow because I'm in a motel with a funky phone system that has no way to effectively connect to the Internet.

The trip from Wilcox Arizona to Roswell was wonderful. I entered the territory around Bowie mid morning, and beheld a stunning vista of desert farmland and mountains. As I drove west, the terrain became increasingly barren. Yet in Bowie it was brilliantly green and full of life. From the road signs I assume the orchards I saw were walnut and pecan, and somewhere back there was a vineyard. Ahead of me, looking due east along I-10, was the outline of a range of jagged mountains, faded blue into the distant horizon. They reached across my line of sight, into the flat desert south, seeming to go on forever. As I descended further into the valley, I saw them race into the northern horizon with the same breathtaking reach. All around me were beautiful green farms and orchards. Above was a blazingly clear blue cobalt sky. I wondered if any of the land there was for sale, and could I afford it? I intend to find out.

A steady wind has been my companion since I entered the desert east of San Diego. I encountered many highway signs along the way that warned of blowing dust so I assume the wind is a pretty constant thing out here. Vivid mirages greeted me as I headed beyond Bowie, shimmering in the near distance and reflecting the distant mountains. The wind was cool as I drove in the morning, but everywhere the sun touched me through the car windows my clothes were hot. Where there was irrigation the land was green and full of life, beyond the irrigation there was desolation. East of the New Mexico border I passed a peace of earth that just looked from a distance like it hated every living thing and would broil to a dusty crisp anything that attempted to cross over it. It was a low, bowl shaped valley with a baked on, pale white mineral surface, that needed no warning signs to say death in any human language.

Yet even here there were billboards. I found myself thinking about the first humans to cross this landscape. What would they have thought of my little green car and its air conditioned comfort. Out of respect for the desert, I took plenty of spare water and food, just in case I broke down. I brought along an emergency road repair kit, to take care of the most common things, broken fan belt, broken hose, flat tire. But even in the worst case, I could still reasonably depend on help to eventually arrive. I had a cell phone, I have triple-A...I was in no real danger. Not like the first explorers. I think a friend of mine would call how we've tamed the deserts, an exercise in arrogance.

I thought of a friend of mine, who told me once that the human race has left the circle of life and now all we do is despoil nature and ourselves. I can't quite fathom that. How can we be apart from that which created us? We are what nature made us to be. I do hate the way we often carelessly use the earth like it's either a garbage dump or an endless horn of plenty that we can rape without concern over the consequences down the road. I could imagine what he would have thought of the junk advertizing here. But there's arrogance and there's chutzpa. Leaving cars and other junk abandoned to rust away in the desert, as I saw on my journey over and over again, is arrogance. Opening up a battery recycling depot, and dumping battery acid in a pit you dug behind the shop, instead of properly disposing of it, until it fouls every well around it for miles, like some people did on land once owned by the Garretts in Oceano, is arrogance. But making the desert bloom, and fashioning a place for humans not just to live, but to live comfortably in it, is chutzpa. Chutzpa is good. Chutzpa gives people food to eat when nature says starve. Chutzpa makes people well and whole when nature says lay down, die, be still. Chutzpa answers our most serious questions about how the universe works. And the most blatant sign of human chutzpa you see out in the desert isn't the green fertile farms, or the highway, or the air conditioned cars driving across the highway: it's the billboards. I haven't seen Death Valley yet, but I'll bet there are billboards on the roads running by it. I normally loath billboards, but seeing them advertising gas, and motels, Indian pottery, geode bookends, rattle snake skin belts and fireworks (buy one, get one free) alongside this baking death trap, I had a peaceful, lovely insight; that it's inevitable sooner or later, that humans will colonize space one day. We'll do it. There will probably be a lot of false starts, a lot of broken hopes and dreams along the way, maybe even more then this desert knows, this desert I crossed with my AC on, listening to a Vaughn-Williams symphony on CD. But we'll do it one of these millennia, one of these days. I wonder what the roadside attractions will look like...

Just outside of the White Sands range I was stopped by a Border Patrol inspection station, and quizzed about my nationality, and whether or not I'd driven into Mexico. I didn't think I was that close to the border, and here in my motel room, looking at my maps, I can see that I wasn't. An illegal would have to cross about fifty miles of blistering desert, and the Fort Bliss base, to get to the road I was traveling on. The agent asked me where I was from, what I was doing here, and where was I going. Did I go to Mexico? Was I carrying anything illegal. I prepared myself for an open suitcase inspection of my car, like I got in Arkansas last time I drove across. But he waved me through. Still, it was the most thorough grilling I'd ever received in my travels. Ever.

I drove through the Mescalero Apache reservation east of Alamogordo, a beautiful territory that reminded me of the ponderosa pine forest around Flagstaff. My road wound through hills thick with tall pine trees, with horse farms scattered between, and beautiful appaloosa ponies grazing in the pastures. Near Ruidoso was new highway construction, and concrete retaining walls, with spray painted graffiti all over them. I reckon Apache kids did it, and it was striking stuff, much better then most urban street graffiti in the use of color and symbol. I should have stopped and taken some pictures of it, but I was in a hurry to get to Roswell.

I had great expectations for Roswell. Let's just say it was...lousy. No southwestern charm about it at all. The only reference I saw to the UFO craze was a solitary billboard advertising the UFO museum and research institute, and musical review. That alone might have been worth the trip, but Roswell itself was awful. It's like someone pinched off the most sterile parts of some suburb somewhere and put it in the middle of the New Mexican desert. Driving through it, I felt like I was driving through any faceless upscale suburb clinging to any major city. If there was a historical district somewhere in the middle of all of it, I honestly can't imagine what it would have been like to walk in it, surrounded by all the relentless bedroom community tack I saw there.

Despite myself, I decided to find a place to stay for the night. This was when I got my worst surprise of the whole trip. There were no rooms available anywhere. I went from one end of Roswell to the other and there was nothing. I stopped at a Comfort Inn, only to discover that the guy in line ahead of me grabbed the last room they had. So I got back in my car and drove, hoping to find someplace to sleep before I got too tired to drive. Eventually I came to Portales and stopped. Ahead of me was Clovis, where my Triple-A guides said were three good motels. They had nothing on the Super 8 I'd parked next to. I decided to risk roaming charges and cell phoned ahead. Clovis was booked solid. So, alas, was the Super 8 in Portales. Frantically I asked the clerk if there was anything in town. She directed me to the Sands. They had one room left.

I asked the clerk at the Sands what the hell was going on. She said there were a lot of road construction crews using up all the available rooms, but that didn't explain Roswell. The clerks in Roswell said they had some groups in town eating up their rooms, but I didn't ask which at the time. There is no modem port here on the room phones, and no way I can adapt one, so I'll be posting this from wherever I stop tomorrow. I am assuming that once I get back to the Interstates I won't have this problem again. Maybe next time I drive the backroads of New Mexico, it will be worth my while to do it in a camper van. In all my years of road tripping, I've never been told there were no rooms, let alone told that by every motel I stopped at in town. This kind of traveling I do does not lend itself to making reservations. If this starts happening more often, I might just have to buy myself a van before I take my next road trip, and make a camper out of it.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 11, 2002 (Buellton, California)

Notes on travel...

I try not to load myself up with things to take with me on a road trip, but it happens anyway. I gotta take my camera equipment, and that means bodies, lenses, tripod, and lots of film. I gotta take my computer, because even in the middle of the desert I gotta have my Internet. And since I do a weekly political cartoon, I gotta take my drawing stuff and my scanner. Two suitcases hold clothing. A bag holds dirty clothes until I can get them washed. One suitcase holds miscellaneous stuff. By the time I'm finished packing my little green car, the trunk is nearly full. I don't know what I'd do if I had a traveling companion.

Here are some odd traveling necessities, culled from years of road travelling:

* The Triple-A Tour Books. Absolutely necessary if you're planning on motel traveling. They've saved me from disaster many times. I can drive into even the most lonely town in the middle of nowhere and see which motel has data ports, and perhaps a microwave and refrigerator in the room. I can compare rates. Sometimes you get a discount for being a Triple-A member, but in my experience it's the advance information about a place to stay for the night that's the value. You need to be a member to get these, and if your itinerary takes you through a lot of states, the books can take up a lot of room. But when you're dead tired from driving several hundred miles and you need to know where to stay for the night, they're priceless. They also give you information about local highway law (are radar detectors legal in this state?), taxes, local history, points of interest, and any special regulations a traveler might need to know.

* A power strip with a long extension cable. Preferably one with a flat, right angle power plug for tight spaces. Count on your motel not having enough power outlets in the right place. I've stayed at many equipped with a nice desk to put your laptop on, and no free power outlets anywhere near it.

* A telephone extension cable at least twelve feet in length. In addition to not having free power outlets near your room desk, most places put the phone and data port clear across the room from it.

* Most good motels have a hair dryer in the bathroom, but don't count on it. If you're fussy about your shampoo and hair conditioner like I am, take your own. Remember to be careful opening the bottles if your drive takes you from a low altitude, to a high one.

* Sunscreen. Your right arm will get raw from the sun baking it through the driver side window, if you don't protect it.

* Time. Bring plenty. If the road is the vacation, then you need time to savor it. Stop often, and have a look around. Take the small town business loops. Shop. Talk to the locals. The lonelier the place, the more they like to talk. Ask where the good local food is. You didn't come all this way for another Big Mac.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 10, 2002 (Blythe California)

My experience in the Navajo reservation was so good, and my regret at having to leave the territory so great, that halfway to Flagstaff I almost lost my journey. I drove to Gallup with the specific intent to visit a trading post and buy a piece by an artist I'd seen the last time I was there in 2000. Of course they didn't have a single thing by him this time around. Between nursing my ire over it, and my having to leave behind the most beautiful landscape I'd ever walked in, I was prepared to hate just about anything I came across for the rest of my trip. The motel I finally stopped at in Flagstaff, did not disappoint.

Little America is probably the best place to stay in Flagstaff, but it's a tad piss elegant and very pricey, and I have a cheap streak. I stayed there in 2000, when I felt like pampering myself. But I reckoned I'd been pampered enough in Navajoland, and so I decided I needed to sleep on the cheap for a couple of days, to even things out. My first thought was to hit one of the original old Route 66 motels...there was one in Winslow that, I kid you not, has cottages made to look like concrete teepees. It was tempting, but after having enjoyed Navajo hospitality the previous night, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. All the other old motels along Route 66 in Flagstaff looked a tad too seedy for my liking. So I chose a cheap Ramada Inn.

It was possibly the noisiest place I've ever stayed in my life, and I'm counting all the seaside dives I've ever stayed in too. It was near the Santa-Fe Burlington line, and the sound of trains is usually a peaceful one to me, but there is a difference between being near a train line, and being near a crossing. The trains have to sound their horns when they approach a crossing, regardless of whether or not anyone is sleeping nearby. On top of that, there was truck traffic most of the night from the UPS station across the street from me, and when that closed down late, the noise of all the employees leaving. I got up around 2:30am in wonder that it took so much racket just to leave work. That was when I noticed the window of my motel room was showing signs of a previous forced entry.

Between bouts of sleeplessness, I pondered whether or not to drive down to Phoenix, or just stay on I-40. I-40 is familiar territory, and I was ready to give up on my journey at that point, go visit family, and then just go home. Just take the usual way into California, my bad mood was telling me, stick to the familiar comfortable route and get it all over with. You can do the southern deserts some other time.

If there's a moral to this, it's don't let a bad mood make decisions for you. I woke up feeling perfectly lousy. As I packed my car about a half dozen pan handlers came up to me asking either for bus fare, breakfast or coffee money. They all had worse stories then mine. I was just cranky from not finding my Kichina artist, and lack of sleep. These guys were all so very far away from home, found themselves temporarily stranded, and were just trying to get back...and could I spare some change please. I watched them all make exactly the same rounds of all the nearby motel parking lots, sticking to the places that were not visible from the motel offices. What a life. So I got in my car, and decided to go somewhere I've never been before, while I still could.

My reward came swiftly. Just a few miles down I-17 from Flagstaff I began seeing cactus scattered between the pine trees. Flagstaff is surrounded by a beautiful ponderosa pine forest, and while I had seen sporadic cactus since Grand Junction, it was the last thing I expected here. A few miles more, and they were everywhere.

Tired of looking at oddly shaped rocks are we? about some oddly shaped plants. They were prickly pear cactus, and they were growing everywhere. As I descended in altitude, the pine trees became sparser, and the cactus thicker, occupying nearly every available space. They sprang up from under boulders, grew thick as bushes in all directions, popped out of cracks in vertical rock walls. I stopped and took a picture of myself next to a prickly pear bush so you can see the size of the things. The larger bushes would have completely overrun my little front yard back home. As I got closer to Phoenix, I began seeing other little barrel cactus popping out of the ground. Then I glimpsed the granddaddy of cactus.

Saguaro. My god...I thought they were south of Tucson These are the stereotypical cactus you see artists draw, when they want to make sure you know they're representing the southwestern desert. Tall, with thick green barrels with accordion folds and arms curving upward like person raising their arms to the sky. They can grow to forty feet, live two-hundred years, and weigh upwards of seven tons. When a rare desert rain comes, their soft folded green skins can swell to over twice their size as the plant sops up the water. They grow nowhere else on earth but here in the deserts around southern Arizona. And I arrived apparently just at the time when they're in bloom. At the top of each plant, and crest of each arm, were little crowns of buds, and at least one or two white flowers fully opened.

Soon they were everywhere...a forest of giant cactus had replaced the forest of ponderosa pine. I had to stop and look at one. I took an exit and parked, got out my cameras and tripod, and walked over to a green prickly giant. It had four massive arms and if I stood on tip-toe I could just about touch the barbs of the lowest one. A short way beyond the highway fence were others more or less like it, some even bigger, many with more arms then this one had. It towered over me. I'm five-nine, and I reckon the thing was six times my height at least. At the top of the plant were its crowns of flowers, and standing next to it I could see that each crown was being busily attended to by small flying insects. I wondered how the flowers smelled.

I had to touch it. Getting my fingers past its defenses was not easy, and a good thing too, since the giant's skin was surprisingly soft. I touched it gently and then backed off. Desert things are tough, but also very fragile. At its base I saw several pods with shriveled flowers that looked like they might have contained cactus seeds, but I knew better then to even think about trying to grow one of these back home. I left the seeds where they were. Somewhere I read that one of these cactus will throw about forty million seeds in a lifetime, only about half a dozen or so ever growing to maturity.

I drove on, and after a while began to wonder where the young'uns was. The arms don't appear until the cactus is at least twenty. I saw a number of unarmed saguaro, standing like poles in the desert, but most of these were much taller then me, and I wondered how long it took them to grow that tall. I'd read somewhere that the saguaro is endangered, and indeed I saw many that were severely damaged, but all the damage I saw looked like the work of birds or insects, not humans. Birds will, once they get a hole started, build their nests in the cactus, which I guess makes sense for the bird since you'd hardly find a more well defended nest then one with hundreds of spikes poking out at intruders. But some of the cactus were so severely damaged that you could see deep into the core of the plant, and they were not at all well. As I drove I saw a few small ones, and eventually a couple that I judged to be only knee high. But if there were smaller ones out there they must have been disguising themselves as something else. Maybe I was mistaking some young saguaro for the young Joshua Trees I was starting to see all around me too.

I entered Phoenix and gave my car an oil change. I asked that the air filter be looked at, since I'd driven through dust storms in Navajoland, and the coolant, since I was about to go through serious desert. Then I headed west on I-10, toward California. The terrain grew flatter, and emptier, with large barren mountains on each horizon. Before setting across this part of the highway, I stocked up with water and food, just in case. Surprisingly though, I was never out of range of a cell phone tower. That was not the case in Utah, or the reservation. I passed one of the nations nuclear power plants, with what looked to be three containment vessels, and lots of high voltage lines going here and there. The highway picked its way between the mountains, staying on the flat, hot, sparse desert. At the rest stops, were signs warning visitors that the area around the parking lot was inhabited by poisonous snakes and insects. I must remember to check my shoes before putting them on tomorrow morning. No trip out west is complete without at least one visit by a big hairy armed spider, and I already had mine in Grand Junction. Down here I probably need to watch for scorpions too.

It was the middle of the afternoon, hot like I'd only felt before down in Florida, and all around the flat sparse landscape rose dust devils. I counted a dozen all around me at one point, walking silently across the desert like restless wandering spirits. The sky was cloudless and deep blue, and you could see the funnels clearly against it, the pale sandy color of the desert ground they were stirring up. Dust devils aren't very stable, and most of the ones I saw unraveled after only a few minutes. Some seemed very persistent though, while others would spin for a while, unravel, then reform again. I saw four dust devils walking in formation across the desert to my south. The lead one was smallish, the one behind it had a very narrow point of contact with the ground, and a fat, but very transparent funnel above that. The third one seemed not to be able to decide if it was one, or two funnels. It would spin for a while and then break apart into two funnels, which would dance slowly around each other, and then merge back into one. The forth funnel was dense, well defined, and threw a lot of dirt high into the air. As I passed them I saw another, very large dust devil, violently churning up the dirt and tossing it higher into the air then any of the others. You'd have sworn it was a tornado funnel, except that the sky was perfectly clear, and the funnel simply vanished about a hundred feet or so off the ground. I pulled over and got a snapshot of it, and shortly after I did that it lost steam and just faded away.

I had my journey back, but I was still shy a few hours sleep. I decided to call it a day at Blythe California, around 3 in the afternoon. This time I carefully consulted my AAA travel guides, and found a nice Hampton Inn motel, in a quiet part of town. I took a brief nap and went out for a short walk around town. The heat shoved me back inside. Oh...yeah...I'm in the desert. I think tonight I'll drive a few miles out of town and look at the stars.

Cactus bush, near Camp Verde, Az.

Cactus bush, near Camp Verde

Saguaro, near New River, Az.

Saguaro, near New River, Az.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 8, 2002 (Morning - Kayenta, Arizona. In the Navajo Reservation)

Will write more later today. Too busy seeing stuff to sit down and write about it. In the meantime, here are some snapshots...

I-70, West of Grand Junction.

I-70, West of Grand Junction

Approaching Monument Valley from the north

Approaching Monument Valley from the north

Monument Valley shapes - North of Kayenta, Arizona

Monument Valley shapes - North of Kayenta, Arizona

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 7, 2002 (10PM - Kayenta, Arizona. In the Navajo Reservation)

The wind that carved solid rock into fantastic shapes all through Monument Valley is still very much at work. Here in Kayenta the wind is blowing fiercely, and it's kicking up the fine reddish powdery sand out here into billowing clouds. The bath I gave my little green car only lasted a day. Now my car is dusted with the remains of some rock sculpture in progress, somewhere west of me. The red dust gets tracked all through the motel I'm in, and the manager was telling me a little while ago that an older couple from somewhere had demanded that management do something about the blowing sand. They finally left the motel in a huff. I'm listening to this, and thinking, we're in a near desert here, we have running water, hot and cold no less, electricity, cable TV, telephone, and the natives are friendly. Some people just can't be satisfied I guess. Oh, and by the way, I'm getting the best Internet connection I've had since I set out. All the way across the country I was only getting 24k. Here in Navajoland I'm getting 48k.

I Just finished one of the best road meals ever. Navajo grilled lamb with a kind of candied apple sauce. The people here are nice, the place is Navajo run and the staff is all Navajo, and it is one of the best motels I've ever stayed in.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 7, 2002 (7PM - Kayenta, Arizona. In the Navajo Reservation)

Opening bottles of hair lotion that have ascended many thousands of feet in altitude, can result in a big mess. All those tubes of Pringles (faux) potato chips I kept seeing on the shelves on the way here, with big bulges in the foil at the top of the tube, should have warned me. I didn't buy any because I thought they'd all spoiled.

May 7, 2002 (morning)

Woke up to flat prairie. Bedded down for the evening among brightly colored mesas. In between were snow capped mountains and crystal clear lakes. This is why you drive across America.

The drive to Denver took me through more and sparcer prairie, that kept rising in altitude. It wasn't until I got past Deer Trail that I could see the Rockies. There was a haze all across the high plains, more like I'm accustomed to seeing in the east then out here. The weather reporter were all saying that the area was experiencing hotter then usual weather, so maybe that had something to do with it. The snow capped peaks appeared out of the haze just past Deer Trail, a tiny little farming crossroads where I got gas at a little station/general store. The snow could have been mistaken for cloud tops at that distance, save for their very ragged appearance.

As I drove closer, the mountains began to stand out more clearly. Their scale is deceptive from a long way away. You see both the high snow capped peaks and the lower foreground mountains and they seem like a solid wall running up from the south and disappearing off to the north. They seem big, but not but not all that terribly big. The relentlessly sparse terrain you're driving through helps out with the illusion. As you get closer to Denver, the smaller mountains come to the foreground, and the snow capped peaks disappear for a while behind them. You can't see the white peaks from Denver, which is built on the flat land just to the east of the mountains.

Denver is a busy place. Nearly all the other cities I drove through had their depressed sections of town, where the old industrial base could be seen rusting away. I saw no abandoned buildings in the part of Denver I drove through, and everything I did see looked alive and bustling with activity. Warehouses and factories had all kinds of trucks docking around them, and the rail yards looked very active. As I drove through western Colorado, I saw very little rail traffic, which made me wonder where all the stuff I saw in the Denver rail yards were coming from and going to. But the rail line I followed to Grand Junction was an exceptionally steep grade, and maybe they just didn't route traffic through it.

Just west of the city comes the first big mountains. You can't see the snow capped peaks from there, and the mountains you're about to ascend are huge...bigger then anything in the Appalachians. The first grade is just about straight up. It's as though the road engineers just shrugged and figured that any car that can't make it up this one, shouldn't be going through these mountains anyway. No point in trying to soft peddle it. A nice gentle switchback would have taken you hours to ascend, and probably cost a fortune to build. For the first time in its life, my little green car couldn't maintain the speed limit in top gear. But judging from the sounds I was hearing around me, nobody else was either. But my driving experience with this car was a world apart from the first time I drove though these mountains in 1974. Then I took my little Ford Pinto, with its one barrel carburator, and once I got close to the tree line, the poor thing refused to even consider top gear for even the reasonably level stretches. My little Prism has an engine with the same displacement as the Pinto's, but while it strained a tad on the ascents, it never otherwise complained. Where my Pinto's engine raced at idle, my little Prism only hummed contentedly while I stopped at the random scenic view. Let's hear it for computerized fuel injection.

Which is more then I can say for my own body. I stopped at a view at about eleven thousand feet and while walking up a small grade to take a shot, began to feel very out of breath. Is this what it feels like to be 48 I wondered, or am I really that out of shape. I took some comfort in the fact that the last time I did this, in my early twenties, I found myself straining for air walking along a road that billed itself as the highest paved road in the world.

The grade went down from there, and I passed through ski territory. The ski villages are nestled in narrow valleys between the mountains, with expensive ski shacks sprawling up the sides. The architecture is beautiful, and I wondered how much you had to make in order to own one. But nearly all of what I saw looked like it was condo. There were a couple of pricey looking hotels in Vail, and I thought I saw maybe one or two nice looking homes. But most of it was condo. A short way west was Eagle, which I assumed gave the hired help a place to live, and do business among themselves. Some of the ski villages had little decorator lakes nearby, which looked very dry. They've been talking about the drought here too, for those of us who think we have it bad in the east. I had no way of knowing how bad the snow shortfall was by looking, but the lakes I saw among the ski villages looked about a third full, and there was almost no snow on the nearby mountain sides.

I have a friend with a Mazda RX7 who would have loved the drive through these mountains, and especially through Glenwood Canyon. If there is a more scenic stretch of Interstate in the Union, I haven't seen it. The highway wound through mile after mile of narrow, beautiful canyonscape and I was driving it at just the right time of day for the sunlight to highlight all the twists and turns of the canyon walls. The Colorado river had cut its way through a stretch of the Rockies, practice perhaps for what was to come. The highway followed every twist and turn, sometimes stacking the eastbound lanes under the westbound to squeeze us through. On the other side of the river was a rail line following a grade the likes of which I've never seen a rail line go. I wondered how the managed to get traffic up the slope. Later I saw a few coal drags, and one huge grain drag go up, and found out. They not only use push engines at the rear, but also one or more engines in the middle.

After Eagle, the valleys opened up a bit, and the air grew warm again, and full of mayflys which were adding to my car's collection of plains insects. I stopped and gave it a well deserved bath at a U Wash It, and drove on to Grand Junction where I stopped for the night, surrounded by mesas glowing red and yellow and brown in the twilight.

The Rockies, just west of Denver.

The Rockies, just west of Denver.

Glenwood Canyon along Interstate 70

Glenwood Canyon along Interstate 70

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 6, 2002 (morning)

The last time I visited Kansas was nearly thirty years ago. Kansas welcomed me back after all those years, in it's own way.

You try to make the most of all the miles on a road trip. I hate just covering ground in order to get somewhere else, but I knew that my second day's drive would probably be mostly that. Some people find the Ozarks charming, but I have always thought of them as a half hearted restatement of the Appalachians, and I hurry to get past them, to somewhere more interesting. Some people on the other hand, don't find Kansas interesting at all. But it's when I start tracking into the great plains that I finally start to see the hugeness of the west.

When I crossed into Kansas I was greeted with a blasting wind coming up from the south, out of a clear blue sky. I noted the forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms, and wondered if I'd see anything as impressive as the time in 1974, when my friends and I beheld one of those great plains mega-storms just west of Topica, that turned the sky black with a cloud that looked like it could have eaten Maryland whole. I looked on my map and reckoned that by Salina I'd feel like I'd transitioned into the plains. Actually, it happened rather suddenly just west of Topica. The landscape was getting flatter and flatter, most of it relentlessly scored clear of trees to make room for cattle pasture. I'd driven some miles when I began to realize that the land was getting sparser, and it wasn't due to clearing.

About that time I saw the first storm cloud. It was on the north side of I-70, and it was amazing. For an easterner who's never been here, to understand how amazing you need to first grasp the scale of the landscape you're looking at. There are no large hills to obstruct your view to the horizon, only a seemingly endless sea of grassy plains, the features of the land broken only by a few random trees, and gentle undulations of the earth, like a huge bedsheet with a few creases in it. Above you is a sky that is strikingly clear and deep, and seems to go on forever. The air here is dryer then we are used to in Maryland, and that means you can see further into it. It also means that distances can be deceptive. You are used to seeing the landscape fade into the haze a lot quicker then it does out here. When I stopped for gas and took a serious look at the storm I was approaching, it was already a monster, the likes of which you just don't see out east.

To my southwest, the cloud was a strikingly beautiful, brilliant white pillar reaching into the stratosphere. It turned darker as it crossed I-70 in the distance in front of me. From my west-northwest, to due north, was a solid wall of black, all the way to the horizon, which was a lot further away then the horizons I live with back home.

This, I thought delightedly, is why you take the big drive west. I figured the storm would track to the northeast, as most continental weather does, and I would just pass it to the south. In retrospect, I was still thinking on my east coast scale. Just because the sky has one monster in it, doesn't mean there can't be more. In fact, this sky is big enough for lotsa monsters to play...

As I drove, I kept tuning the radio for weather reports. All I could get were sports broadcasts, and music stations, almost all of which seemed to be running those listener contests where you wait for the station to play a special tune and then you dial in for a prize. It took me about twenty miles before I realized that the little tune I kept hearing them play was a severe weather alert signal. I guess when you have to listen to them all summer, you make them sound a tad musical.

I switched to the AM band and found a talk station that had interrupted its political babble, with useful information about the weather. Tornado watches were popping up everywhere, and they listed the names of all the counties affected, and a few towns, and local highway numbers. I knew where none of them were, but a constant theme was I-70. The big storm, they kept warning, was just to the north of I-70. Well...I knew where I-70 was...

I looked up though my windshield, and saw towering streams of virga, huge sheets of rain dropping down from the sky, from what must have been thousands of feet over head. Had they hit the ground it would have been a torrential rain. But some several hundred feet above me they simply evaporated.

The air is dry, thinks I. Dry is not a good thing. Dry is why the storms out here can get so massive. it's the fluke of north America's geography, with the Rocky mountains purging the high altitude westerlies of their moisture, and then allowing that to mix with low altitude warm moist air from the gulf, and being at the right latitude for a jet stream overtop of all of it, that's largely responsible for the fact that we get about a thousand tornados a year here. A thunderstorm is a heat engine, that draws moist air into an updraft where it evaporates and releases more heat, which causes more updraft, and so on. It's normally self limiting, since the air at the high altitudes can only hold so much moisture. But add what they call out here "the dry layer", and the brakes are off. The dry layer is why the storms out here get so huge...the high altitude air can just keep sucking up the low level moisture. The jet stream is why there is rotation in the air mass around a storm. Combine the two...

The little musical severe weather alert was going off about every five minutes now. On the radio they were warning of radar reports of dangerous rotation in two cells, both just to the west and north of me. I pulled off the road and consulted my map, to get a fix on where all these small towns were that they kept warning were in the path of the cells. About then the first tornado warnings came down. It took me a while to realize the warnings had nothing to do with any sighting of a funnel cloud; they were issued on the basis of strong rotation observed in the radar. The radio announcers kept saying all the time the warnings were coming down, that there were no reports of funnel clouds yet, so I guess out here they don't wait for that to issue the warning.

The main area of action seemed centered around Salina, which was still about twenty miles in front of me. Just before I got there the announcers, now talking live to storm spotters in the field, began warning of a large wall cloud. I strained to see it, but the sky was now pitch black on three sides of me. To my south, just beyond a perfectly flat deck of clouds, was a bright, cheerfully blue sky. A few more miles and I created a small rise, and saw the wall cloud.

It was huge, dropping down from the base of the clouds, all the way to the ground on my northwest horizon. It must have covered four or five square miles of earth. It was surrounded by scud, what the weathercasters call the raggedy cloud fragments at the leading and trailing edges of storms. I could see a slow rotation around the wall cloud, but if it dropped a funnel, I'd never see it unless the wall cloud around it lifted a bit. On the radio, reports of ping-pong ball sized hail began to arrive.

The wall cloud was moving east slowly, and fearsome as it was, it was beautiful. I had to get some pictures of it. I was dead south of it, when I saw an exit, and I got off, onto a small farm road that went north. About a mile up the road, I saw a local TV station truck, and a couple of cars parked off to the side. I stopped and got out my cameras. I was to the southwest of the wall cloud and it was going safely away from my vantage point. I snapped off a few pictures while the TV man set his camera up, and then a torrential rain came hurling down on all of us. I sat back in my car and waited for the hail, but it never came, and the rain stopped as suddenly as it began. But now it was lightning fiercely, and I felt safer taking shots from inside the car. Eventually the TV truck went away. I began hearing reports of multiple tornadoes on the ground, but the wall cloud never gave me a peek at them.

I drove back to I-70, thinking the show over. Ha! When I arrived at the interchange, I saw another massive storm coming up from the south.

I watched it as I drove. More tornado watches and warnings were being declared all over Kansas now. I listened, and watched the scud dance around the base of this new storm. Then I saw wall cloud drop down from it.

It was a picture perfect wall cloud, hanging down from a flat rain free cloud base, it's own base perfectly flat, and with the little streaming cloud tail, that isn't trailing at all actually, but is a stream of air being drawn into the low pressure region of the wall cloud. Up ahead of me was another exit, and I figured that if I got off there, this wall cloud would pass me to the east. But as I approached the exit, a curtain of rain drew in front of the wall cloud, cutting off visability.

Drat, thinks I, and I pulled off the interstate and into a small gas station to wait for the virga to pass, hoping I could get some good shots of the wall cloud when it did. I parked and looked around, and reckoned the wall cloud was now just behind the rain shafts to my southeast. If they passed quickly, I could get some pretty good shots of the wall cloud, framed by the clear sky behind it.

We all have these moments, when we realize our model of reality needs fine tuning. Suddenly the wind came blasting around the gas station like a flash flood, seemingly from all directions at once. The curtain of rain came rushing toward me. My little green car began to shake. Uh-oh... I looked up, saw scud corkscrewing madly in the air above me.

I looked around. Right next to where I'd stopped was a drainage ditch, and a concrete drain pipe big enough to duck into. I held my breath and waited for the moment to bolt for it. But the wind died down as abruptly as it blasted to life. The rain began to come down in buckets, but only for a few moments. Then it all lifted away, and danced off to the east. A few minutes later I heard radio reports of another tornado, but once again I never saw it.

I got out of my car and snapped some shots of the spectacular sky around me. Then I drive back to I-70. A few miles down the road I saw two more massively large thunderstorms, one to my south, the other lighting my horizon to the west with spectacular lighting well past nightfall. Both would have been regarded as huge back home, but they were small compared to the two earlier ones.

Welcome to Kansas. You're not in Maryland any more.

Wall cloud, east of Salina Kansas.

Wall cloud, east of Salina Kansas

Wall cloud, slightly hidden by rain

Wall cloud, sligtly hidden by rain

May 5, 2002

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!

Passed by the tornado storms that went through Kansas today. Saw a lot of lightning, rain, and dark churning clouds, but no funnels. Came close to one though, I think... Will write more about my adventures later. Right now I'm just gonna hit the sack for a while.

May 5, 2002 (Morning)

What I woke up to...

Dale Indiana

Now that I can see east a little more clearly, it looks like I'm heading for more flat terrain. But then...I plan to work my way into Kansas today...

by Bruce Garrett | Link

May 4, 2002


On the road to California again!

Packed the suitcases I inherited from mom...her 50s hard luggage which I actually prefer to the soft squooshy stuff they make nowadays. Although probably not the best for air travel, they're great for packing a car trunk (which makes sense when you consider that most people in those days didn't travel by air...). Also took my laptop (of course) and some art equipment and my scanner, so I can keep posting my cartoons while I'm on the road.

I made a quick trip down to Germantown to drop off some things I'd promised Burt, then like a slingshot I was off. This time I'm taking a slightly more northerly route to Oceano, and my brother. Mostly, I want to avoid Arkansas, where I was harassed by a state cop, and where the roads are horrible anyway. Right up to the last mile or so I dithered over whether to go I-70 all the way from Maryland to Utah, or take a path I'd never been before; down West Virginia, through Kentucky, and through the southernmost parts of Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis, and pick up I-70 there again. The weather called for rain in West Virginia and Kentucky and I didn't want to start my trip off in the rain. But when I got to the decision point, where I-70 and I-68 split, the sky to my south was bright and blue and inviting. And I'd never been that way before. So that way I went.

Ha. Halfway down West Virginia it started to rain. Then it started to pour. But traffic was light and I made good progress anyway. Just past Owingsville Kentucky the sky cleared again and I beheld a storybook landscape, the likes of which I hadn't seen since my trip to Wisconsin many years ago. That part of Kentucky has cute little hills, all snuggled together like a story book illustration, covered with farmland which this time of year was vivid green with new grass, and dotted here and there with trees. Most of it seemed to be used for grazing. Kentucky, like Maryland, is a horse state, although most of what I saw was cattle. Most of the farms looked small and low budget, although here and there I saw great estates looking out at the highway from behind hundreds of yards of sculpted wrought iron fence. That part of Kentucky seems to have practically no horizontal real estate to speak of, and when they need a road to go somewhere, they just cut segments out of the cute little hills. This reveals a bedrock made of lots of very small sedimentary laryers, that is surprisingly close to the surface. Judging by the highway cuts, there is very little actual topsoil. Yet everywhere I looked it was green and lush.

North of Lexington the hills all snuggled together gave way to a rolling landscape covered somewhat more thickly with trees. Large horse farms were everywhere. The land stayed agricultural all the way to Louisville, where it suddenly became industrial.

I can drive under just about any conditions, and pretty much have. I've driven through snow, rain, thunder and lightning and hail, and at least two hurricanes and have never really become greatly alarmed. Put me on a bridge across a large body of water and my knuckles go white. I've tried over the years to analyze this, going so far as to do the annual walk across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge one year, in hopes that would cure me of it. Didn't work. Just thinking about that walk as I type this gives me a cold sweat, so you can imagine the state I was in actually doing it. I know, every time I take the big trip out west, that I have at least one moment of white knuckle driving to get past; the Mississippi. I'd forgotten about the Ohio River. By the time it meanders by Louisville it's...pretty big.

I'm still savoring my reward for crossing it though. Southern Indiana is breathtakingly beautiful...all rolling hills, tall broadleaf forests and huge grassy pastures. It's like Maryland, but without all the development and congestion. I rolled down the windows and the air was clean and sharp, with the smells of the farms I was driving past evident, just enough to let a city boy remember he has a sense of smell, but not enough to make me want to go hug a smokestack. Here and there the farmers were burning wood for some purpose I couldn't make out, and the smell of burning wood put a tang in the air like autumn, which, mixed with the sights and smells of almost summer, gave the drive an almost dreamlike sense of timelessness. There was hardly any traffic on I-64, and the landscape I drove through was big and open and uncrowded and green and peaceful. I could have pressed on to the Mississippi but I stopped in Dale (breaking a private rule never to stop for the night in a town with the name of an ex boyfriend), largely because I wanted to wake up to it.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

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