Political Catchup

Sunday, 18 December 2005, 7:37 | Category : Politics
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President Bush and his inner circle have defended his authorization of wiretapping since 2001 by saying it had been reviewed by the Justice Department and found to be legal and constitutional. That’s not much comfort when you read that the Texas redistricting case was reviewed by Justice Department lawyers, who unanimously found that it violated the Voting Rights Act, only to have political appointees above them in the Justice Department overrule the decision so that Tom Delay could manipulate his way to a Republican majority among the Texas delegation.

And you have to wonder why the Administration was so bothered by John McCain’s amendment banning torture, when the wiretapping case indicates that Bush simply ignores existing laws when he feels it’s justified. While I’m no expert on Federal law, is does appear that the wiretapping at least comes very close to violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which says in part “Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that…there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party”. Nobody is arguing that the surveillance might not have been warranted, but we have a system of laws governing how these things are done so that we as citizens are protected from the potential abuse of Federal power. It would be interesting to see the justification given for ignoring FISA.

Looking back at the past four years, you start to think that Bush has a story in his mind of how the Iraq invasion should have gone, and should be going, and until he rationalizes actual events to the story in his head, until he manages to reconcile what’s happening with what he thinks is happening, there won’t be any changes in policy or execution. He doesn’t understand why increasing numbers of Americans don’t see the story his way, but his attempts to explain that story keep using the same arguments. Maybe he believes changing the argument would be a sign of weakness, or maybe the ever-changing justifications for the initial invasion have brought a stubborn refusal to change anything else. And while this stubbornness may be good news for Democratic prospects in the 2006 elections, that doesn’t necessarily equate to good news for the country. An early withdrawal forced by domestic political events would leave an Iraqi political situation that could hardly have a good outcome as far as American interests are concerned. But that’s a post for another time.

A Kudzu Files Christmas Tree

Saturday, 17 December 2005, 19:59 | Category : Other Stuff
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My bottle tree dressed up for Christmas:

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Seasons Of Loss, Seasons Of Hope

Thursday, 15 December 2005, 20:50 | Category : Other Stuff
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Last week, I went to see a performance of the Vaughan Williams: Hodie, a Christmas Cantata performed by the Chancel Choir and Orchestra of Galloway United Methodist Church, accompanied by the Mississippi Girlchoir. Before the performance began, the minister asked us to pause for a moment, and think about all the churches on the Gulf Coast that will be silent this Christmas, that will not be filled with the sounds of Christmas carols. It wasn’t that I needed a reminder of the continuing struggle to begin recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but it did add yet another aspect of the loss. A few days later, a friend on a mailing list I’m on posted a link to a picture of the small Christmas tree he placed on his son’s grave, something he’s done I guess since his son was killed in a car wreck several years ago. Here in my town, a family is facing the first Christmas without their younger daughter, killed in a boating accident this past May. I still miss my younger brother, who died shortly before Thanksgiving in 1993, and my father, who died on the same day in 2000. A fellow blogger, someone whose writings I admire greatly, is having to deal with the failing health of his father. And yesterday, a close coworker had to get on a plane to go to the bedside of her father, who suffered a massive stroke Tuesday night, and is in a coma and on a ventilator. Today they were going to turn the ventilator off. In a season that should be joyous, the loss of a parent, or child, or sibling, can seem that much more difficult to bear. We have this knowledge that at some point, we will lose someone close to us, but for most of us, the losses follow a more or less natural progression – as a Chinese proverb said, happiness is “grandfather die, father die, son die”. It’s more painful when that progression is interrupted. And if we focus on that, if we allow ourselves to stay there, then Christmas can become a season of loss. There’s nothing magic about Christmas, nothing that suspends the normal flow of life and death. We just wish there could be. Christmas is a season of advent, of arrival, of hope. And in all situations, there is always the possibility of advent. The Gulf Coast will be rebuilt, not without much pain and struggle, but it will happen. As difficult as that Christmas of 1993 was, and then again in 2000, it was also the spirit and beauty of the Christmas season that helped me deal with the grief. A Christmas tree at a gravesite can be a poignant reminder of loss, or a symbol of hope and celebration. Facing the loss of a parent makes it hard to feel much Christmas spirit. But without a Christmas season, without the memories and the feelings, I think the process would be more difficult.

It’s easy to be cynical about Christmas, with the rampant commercialism and the sometimes maudlin appeals. Certainly, the poor, the sick, the unfortunate would be better off if we could make this “Christmas thing” last all year. You can point to the charities that make seemingly endless appeals and accuse them of taking advantage. Or you can believe that maybe they understand that people want to give more now. In the end, Christmas is different because, and only because, we make it different. In our own ways, we can celebrate this season, and make someone’s loss perhaps a little easier to bear. So many of us have so much; so many of us need so much, this year especially. If every day were like Christmas, if Christmas were like every day, I think many more would need much more. So I think I’ll listen to Christmas music, even the bad stuff like “Jingle Bell Rock”, and walk around in the glow of Christmas lights, even go to the mall and do some shopping. And write some checks to some charities who can help some people who need help. I’ll feel good about it.

Hot Hands

Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 20:38 | Category : Life
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The daughter of a friend had an experience earlier today. In her words:

“Okay, so don’t cut a jalape

Buy The Book

Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 14:54 | Category : Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi
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When the waters of Hurricane Katrina retreated back to the Gulf of Mexico last August 29th, when the wind died down, they left, as has been shown and described over and over, massive devastation. Among the things ruined in the storm were many library facilities on the Mississippi coast. The details are staggering:


  • The Hancock County Library System lost nearly it’s entire 117,000 volume collection, along with severe to total damage to 3 of the 4 facilities

  • The Harrison County Library System lost perhaps half of it’s 315,000 volumes, 3 of 5 facilities destroyed.

  • The Long Beach Public Library lost all 60,000 volumes and the library building.

  • The East Mississippi Regional Library lost all 97,000 volumes and it’s only building. [Correction – thanks to James for pointing this out – EMRL does have facilities in other area towns, and I’m guessing that the 97,000 volumes were for the entire system, not just the one facility that was lost, so they weren’t completely wiped out]

  • The Jackson-George County Library System lost about 20% of it’s 300,000 volumes.

While the numbers may seem relatively small when compared to, say, the New York Public Library’s 49 million holdings, the effects of the loss of even small systems like these can be severe and long-lasting on the communities they serve, and replacing the holdings will be difficult when all public resources are stretched beyond breaking by more immediate needs. So, I think it’s important to get the word out about an opportunity to directly help rebuild these libraries. A fund has been set up for this purpose:

Rebuild Mississippi Libraries Fund
c/o AmSouth Bank
210 E. Capitol Street
Jackson, MS 39201

Contributions are tax-deductible. If you love libraries like I do, please consider making a donation.