Let's get native

I love the history of words and their meanings. Big word people call it semantics, but I think of it as word-sleuthing. I love that Shakespeare introduced hundreds of new words into popular English like "articulate" and "befriend," and how Lincoln employed the simple joiners of "that" and "here" to ground his famous, short speech in the soil of Gettysburg. I love that the right words can make a sentence memorable just by their placement, sound, or repetition.

Because I admire words, I am perplexed by the recent demonization of "sanctuary" and "amnesty" by several Republican presidential candidates. They use these words like vile slurs when addressing the immigration issue. To them, a "sanctuary city" is putting out the welcome mat for crime and lawlessness, and granting amnesty is like giving a gun to a serial killer. Does that sound wrong to anyone else?

My impressions of these words have always been strong, beneficial, and positive. With "sanctuary," I think of the scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Quasimodo rescues the Gypsy girl Esmeralda from a hanging, and carries her to the cathedral claiming the right of sanctuary. Even Disney's tidy and sanitized animated version includes 12 mentions of the word sanctuary, and the famous scene where Quasimodo holds Esmeralda's body above his head and invokes the protection of the church boundaries. With "amnesty," I think of reprieve for an unjust sentence, of promoting compassion over revenge, and withholding a punishment that would be punitive. Amnesty erases a small wrong to prevent an even greater one from occurring. Robin Hood sought amnesty from King John for his banditry, Confederate soldiers were given amnesty after taking an loyalty oath to the Union, and more recently, American forces in Iraq gave amnesty to former insurgents who pledged to switch sides to fight al Qaeda.

The positive semantics
of sanctuary and amnesty makes the recent political hijacking so perplexing. How can Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani get away with it? Or perhaps the better question is, how long can they do this without generating a backlash. New Yorker political correspondent Ryan Lizza poses that question in his December 17th article, "Return of the Nativist." He analyzes the immigration rhetoric of Romney and Giuliani, as well as John McCain and Mike Huckabee, and paints a picture of a Republican party in disarray. He calls the GOP's anti-immigrant frenzy "Trancredoism" after Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, whose anti-foreigner ideas have influenced the primaries far more than his personal appeal. Lizza also depicts Democratic strategists as gleefully watching this policy train wreck in progress.

But if voters did not support the vilification of sanctuary and amnesty, then Romney and Giuliani would not be sneering these words in speeches and ads. Lizza quoted a poll in South Carolina where 26 percent of the respondents advocated arresting and deporting all illegal immigrants. Where does that angry quarter of the population come from? I think I know. They are the people who are scared of brown-skinned men hanging out near home depots and train stations looking for construction work. They hate signs that show both English and Spanish, and pressing #1 for English on their telephones. They think immigrants are stealing jobs that belong to Americans, and are upset that migrants don't pay taxes. They can't stand that immigrants get free health care at hospital emergency rooms. They believe that most crimes are committed by immigrants against citizens. They see their towns and cities changing, and they want everything to be the way it was before. They are watching their living standards decline, are getting scared, and need someone to attack. Led by politicians like Romney and Giuliani who twist the meanings of words like sanctuary and amnesty into curses, they learn to hate those people, the immigrants to our country, who most embody what the American spirit is all about. Shame on them.


Taped magazines

No, not the kind of magazines you read. I'm referring to the magazines full of bullets. The next time you see a photo of rebels or militia fighters from the Caucuses, central Africa, or the Middle East, look closely at the ammunition magazines clipped into the underside of their assault rifles. Most likely you will see two clips taped together, top to bottom (see photo at left).

A recent Men's Journal article about kidnapped oil workers in Nigeria included a photo of a river delta rebel with no less than four ammo clips taped together (and a guy aiming an RPG at the hostage's head about two feet away from him--not a very good idea). Why go crazy by wrapping duct tape around your ammo clips? It probably has more to do with style than utility. Having multiple clips dangling from the stock makes it look like you're ready to rock and roll on full auto--so watch out! The problem, however, is that taping upside-down clips to the bottom of a gun invites damage to the clip's feed mechanism. Look closely at the photo and you'll notice the top edge of the clip is dented and scraped (the white part). Damage that joint too much and the clip might not fit securely into the magazine feed. Of course, many assault rifles, like the AK-47 featured in this photo, are designed to withstand terrible abuse and still fire reliably. But if you scrape away enough metal, no round peg is going to fit in a rectangular hole.

I realize assault rifle chic is an obscure topic to post about--but I've always wondered how people learn to do something this. Does the newbie rebel watch and learn from the veteran? Is there a manual somewhere which explains the best duct-taping methods, or even the best brands of tape, or the amount of overlap space to leave? What about the Nigerian rebel with the four-pack of taped clips--is that more like a ceremonial weapon, unusable in an actual battle? I've also rarely seen anyone write about this phenomena that nevertheless makes it into hundreds of photographs from war zones all across the world. The non-conflict, western equivalent, I suppose, would be some impractical and expensive item from a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog, say the rope-less jump rope.


Oil on my mind

At some point in the future--perhaps in my lifetime--oil will become more like gold. Both are commodities, but the rarity of precious metals makes us treat them differently.
We buy gold at jewelry shops, which have thick glass windows and complex security systems. Gold is decorative, symbolic, and used in tiny amounts to enable certain electronics to function.
Gold is a status symbol, and the color of power. People don't spill gold.
Conversely, today we can buy oil at corner gas stations, where anyone can drive up, and with the swipe of a credit card, fill up their car with gas for $30 or so (depending on your vehicle). Oil is lined up in plastic containers on shelves at PepBoys and hardware stores. We mow our lawns, fix our bikes, and even drink from plastic bottles made using petroleum products. Oil is everywhere, and for the masses.
At some point, however, will gas stations have secure pumps protected by armed guards? Instead of tanker trucks, will oil be transported in Brinks-like armored cars? Will there be a day when the price (and therefore the real value) of oil will be comparable to gold? By then we will have an alternative to oil, or will driving your car to the supermarket become the equivalent of wearing an expensive gold watch?
I'm thinking these thoughts as I read Daniel Yergin's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. I'm only two hundred pages into the book, but I've already seen how oil--the result of millions of years of decomposing plant and animal matter--became the global elixir in matter of decades at the end of the 19th century. battleships are party to blame. The Royal Navy's switch to oil-fueled ships in the early 1900s led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian oil company, and the beginning of the great hydrocarbon race in the Middle East. Britain, of course, had no oil buried in its own soil, just sweet Welsh coal.
And then last Friday in the New York Times I read this article, "Rising Demand for Oil Provokes New Energy Crisis," which described the oil market's flirtation with $100 a barrel as "the world's first demand-led energy shock." My recall of supply and demand graphs from Harvard's Ec10 course is fuzzy, but I do remember that unless supply keeps up with rising demand, the price will continue to rise. Is there enough oil buried in the ground to maintain our lifestyle, or have we built a society that runs on something as precious as gold.


Jon Meacham op-ed echoes Lincoln's logic from Cooper Union speech

Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek and serious scholar of America's Founding Fathers, wrote a terrific op-ed in Sunday's New York Times. His essay, titled, "A Nation of Christians is Not a Christian Nation," poked lethal holes in the old-line evangelical belief that the United States was founded as an expressly Christian country. When I think of that claim, this famous painting of Gen. George Washington praying at Valley Forge comes to mind. But Meacham, following the logical pattern of Abraham Lincoln in his anti-slavery Cooper Union speech of 1860, explodes the myth of Christian origination by citing numerous examples of how the Founding Fathers left out overt Christian references from the classic documents they wrote, and in their personal communications. He also cites chapter and verse how the Old and New Testaments advocate the division of authentic personal worship and the state. The language of the Christian God, as Meacham wrote, as well as the persona of Jesus, are purposefully, and perhaps surprisingly, absent from the origins of the United States. The Christians (and sometimes deists) who founded our nation were wise enough to leave them out.


Tonight on "The War" - The fight for Monte Cassino

Before heading to Edinburgh, Scotland for a year of graduate school, I knew I needed a primer in Continental Europe. So I left New Jersey on a one-way flight to Rome, and set out on a 30-day tour of central and western Europe. Early in this journey I visited the Italian city of Cassino and the famous Benedictine monastery that crowns a peak overlooking the town. Why Cassino? Because this town and its ancient abbey were caught in one of World War Two's most gritty and blood-soaked battles. From the heights of the abbey and nearby mountains, Germany guns and armor stopped the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula for weeks, then months in the winter of 1943-44. Finally, Allied commanders gave the order to bomb the abbey, which contains the tomb of St. Benedict, to smithereens. The destruction, however, had the result of creating even better cover for the German defenders. Not until May 1944--five months after the battle began--did a corps of Polish troops finally take the abbey. When I visited the re-built Monte Cassino in September 2000, I decided to approach the abbey in a pilgrimage of sort. I walked up the 3 miles of the steep winding road, arriving tired, sweaty, and appreciative of this great height assaulted and defended during the battle 56 years before.


Literature for the road

The morning I drove away from Emmaus I checked out two books on CD from the local library to accompany me on this trip. Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I suspected but did not realize how much these two books take place on the ribbon highways of the American West, and a felt a certain kinship with some of the characters as I checked into motels and ate at diners the same way they did. Fortunately, my cross-country sojourn has so far avoided the missing drug money, psychotic killers, and shotgun slayings that populate the plots of these books. The rawness of the stories, however, and the twang and bite of the language spoken by the versatile readers is preparing me to re-enter the West I left behind almost two years ago. The books I am listening to provide a necessary and subtle reintroduction. Ever since I packed my car in Pennsylvania, got in, closed the door, and started my solitary driving, I sometimes feel like I am traveling in a cocoon. It's as if my car is a spaceship merely passing through these strange, flat lands between my origin and my destination. But I am not removed from the states and towns I pass through, even if they recede in a fast lane blur. I am a part of these places even if I don't know how. After all, I never know where I might move next.


1723.6 Miles

That's the distance between by current and future home, and what I'll be adding to my Subaru's odometer before next Sunday night. After 16 months of living down the street from an Italian restaurant with an unbeatable recipe for Buffalo Chicken Pizza, I'll be leaving Emmaus, PA for a spot on the front step of the Front Range in Boulder, CO. I never thought I'd live in either place; but by now I've learned that where I call home can be the biggest unknown. When people move, they follow opportunity, or love, or dreams as best they can. Only sometimes do they get a chance to plant the flag in exactly the place they imagined. Right now I don't mind the instability, or the slightly disconnected feeling that I get while packing up my life once again. Both my career and my craft require new inputs to keep moving forward, and change does them both good. Perhaps I'm not looking forward to spending 25 hours accelerating across country, but at least heading west I'll gain two hours of my life back.


Moving West (Again)

I'm packing my bags again, but this time staying with the same job. In May Rodale sold Backpacker magazine to Active Interest Media, a new media company based out West. As a result, the magazine is moving to the mountain enclave of Boulder, Colorado, a setting that seems a much better fit for our interests and content than eastern Pennsylvania. Still, I've enjoyed my year and a half in Emmaus, PA and the relaxing conveniences of smalltown life. Where I live now I can walk down the street and within two blocks I can buy a plumbing fixture from the Wentz's hardware store, fill a bag of produce from the Emmaus farmer's market, grab a mocha at the Perk coffee shop, pick up some spices at the Indian grocery store, and sit down for some buffalo chicken pizza at Armetta's pub. All those familiarities will soon be replaced by new ones out in Colorado, hopefully with the same level of community and ease. As I prepare to move again, I realize that besides Boston, where I went to college, I would not have predicted the other cities where I have lived in the past five years. Washington, DC. Santa Fe, NM. Emmaus, PA. Boulder, CO. But here I am, and there I go.


The Day of Flags

Late on Memorial Day I left my apartment, walked downstairs, crossed the street, and entered a cemetery. I don't know the name of the burial field, but it's one of two near my house with neat rows of gray headstones shaded by willow trees. A few days earlier I noticed that someone had marked all the grave stones of those who served in our Armed Forces with 2-foot tall American flags. I presume it was the cemetery workers, but it could have been the local American Legion, or perhaps a Boy Scout troop. Back in Ohio, my troop used to raise and lower 500 flags at a veterans cemetary every Memorial Day and July 4th. I got very good at folding them into the padded triangles of blue stars that you see at military funerals. But this time I went to look at the flags, and the graves they adorned. I went looking for stories in the names, dates and records told in stone.
I found two markers grouped together sharing the same last name. The larger stone was for the mother and father, the smaller for their son missing in action in North Korea, 1952. The mother died in 1951. The son went missing a year later. The father, who served in the First World War, buried both and outlived them by a decade. Another stone showed a young man, 22 years old, killed as a 1st Lt. in Vietnam, 1972. His father served in the Second World War. All of the Civil War veterans
in this cemetery, and there were many, died in old age, some living into the 1930s. They were the men with long gray beards, stiff legs, and faded blue uniforms my grandfather remembered marching in the parades. Each Civil War veteran's grave contained a separate plaque that noted their unit--like "Co. C, 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment." Some of the men buried near each other served in the same Union companies and regiments. I found several soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War. The small metal disc attached to the flag said "Cuba." Only a handful of veterans bured there served in the Navy. Same with the Air Force. Most were Army privates, T/4's, and other ranks I didn't understand. A few men served in both World War I and II, and several more in both WW2 and the Korean Conflict. Near the top of the cemetery I found an army private killed in 1944, though it didn't say where. For the most part, however, most of the World War II veterans survived the fighting and died recently. The golf clubs etched into some of the stone slabs told me about the recreational battles they had fought in their later years.
I spent an hour weaving through the cemetery looking at all the graves marked by flags. I stopped in front of each, and spent longer with those that memorialized men who had died in conflict. Besides the flapping flags, most of the graves had no flowers or other decorations. But they really didn't need anything more. Only a few details make it on to most grave stones: your name, the dates of your birth and death, perhaps a Bible verse, and whether you served your country during wartime. And though this last detail seems less significant than the others, it means so much more when you look upon a field of stones and see the flags, hundreds of them, standing at attention just as the soldiers buried there once did for their country.


Frenetic, Complacent, and Applying to College

High school students who apply to competitive colleges are generally divided into two groups: those who understand the challenge; and those who are blissfully unaware. Which situation is better for the mental health of the students and their parents? Hard to say. Is it the kid who agonizes about comma-placement in an admissions essay, and sweats through a half-dozen AP classes and extracurricular activities to ace an application to Yale--and in the process losses all connection to friends and family? Or is it the kid who floats through senior year, unaware that his academic performance isn't good enough for NYU, and then suffers the surprising sting of rejection and the mad scramble to find another school?
All of these applicants, both the supremely worried and the falsely confident, are like runners lining up at the starting line. Some know the race course is brutal, while others think it is similar to races they've won before. The students might think they are running separately, but in fact they are tied together. The college admissions race is a 3-legged race, where the stronger leg of the prepared applicant is roped to the weaker leg of the uninformed student. After all, it's the tens of thousands of students who apply to high-tier colleges unaware that they have little chance for admission who spur the feeding frenzy of ever-rising applicant numbers and shrinking acceptance rates. And it's Harvard's record-setting 25,000 applicants for 2,000 spots and sub-10% acceptance rate that makes thousands of hyper-competitive
students agonize through their senior year. No one seems to win with the current process.
On April 29th the New York Times published an essay titled, "Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard" by Michael Winerip about how today's students who accomplish amazing things by age 17 still don't get into the school of their dreams. That's okay, he wrote, you don't have to win this impossible battle to win at life. With that kind of headline it's no wonder the article stayed at the top of the "Most Emailed" list for a week. I was curious about how parents might react to the article, so I visited the online forums hosted by College Confidential, a commercial college consulting company. There I found pages and pages of posts reacting to Winerip's essay--most of them appreciative of his call to take a deep breath about the whole process. Winerip attended Harvard and is now a local interviewer for the school in the New York area. His kids aren't going to attend his alma mater, but he thinks one of them will go to a "good state school." The parents' posts on College Confidential also reflected this reflective optimism that 'everything will come out in the end.'
On the student forums, however, I found mostly a demoralized and negative response to Winerip's article. "There goes my college dreams," posted one high school junior. Escaping the pressure, it seems, only comes with being able to win the game, or looking back with fond memories.


The Next War is the Good War

Black and white photographs are about to get another makeover. Ken Burns did it first in 1990 with his 9-episode documentary, "The Civil War," which used sepia-tinged "slo-mo" pans to engross everyone from grade-school kids to armchair generals. PBS claims 40 million people have watched this series, which popularized the story-telling history of the late Shelby Foote, the violin melody of the Ashokan Farewell, and the rich history of personal letters from our more literate ancestors. I can't help myself but watch this documentary when I come across re-runs of it on TV. It's the personal history of modern America.
In September 2007 PBS will broadcast Burns' latest documentary, "The War," a story of the Second World War told from the perspective of young men going from hometowns to battlefields. Using letters, reports, and archival footage, Burns will follow kids from Luverne, MN; Sacramento, CA; Mobile, AL; Waterbury, CT and other towns and cities to where they fought and died in small and obscure places in Europe and the Pacific.
At at time when young men and women from the same hometowns are fighting and dying in equally foreign places in the Middle East, I wonder how this new documentary will be received? Part of the appeal of "The Civil War" film was its originality in presentation, and its focus on a topic most people last studied in 10th grade. The topics seemed so fresh despite the lack of archival video (ie. Abraham Lincoln posing in a stovepipe hat, and all of that). Burns also made characters, both big and small, come alive through readings of their letters and private diaries.
Interest in the Second World War, however, has enjoyed a resurgence ever since Tom Brokaw and Steven Speilberg hit us in the gut with the 1998's 1-2 punch of "The Greatest Generation" and Saving Private Ryan. With "The War," will Ken Burns present a film that inspires the same passion for knowing our history that "The Civil War" accomplished? Will Americans make comparisons between the struggle against fascism and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will they yearn for a war that they could understand and support? We'll all find out in September of this year.


Thank goodness for humorless school administrators

If high school principals were more versed in constitutional rights, or could fathom the reprecussions of a cracking down on smart, active students, the Supreme Court would be much less exciting. Today the Supremes hear the student free-speech case, Morse v. Frederick, which came about when an 18-year-old Juneau, AK high school student, Joseph Frederick, unfurled a 14-foot-wide sign proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" across the street from a high school assembly in 2002. All those details are important, including the fact that Frederick was 18, and located his protest off school property. But still the principal, Deborah Morse, who apparently had a long-simmering feud with Frederick, crossed the street to demand the removal of the sign, and when he refused, she trashed the poster and gave him a 10-day suspension (originally 5 days, but an extra 5 days were tacked on when Frederick shot back with some Jeffersonian words of protest).
This case has done something rare in First Amendment litigation: It has united both the ACLU and the ACLJ (Pat Robertson's Christian-friendly legal group) on the same side. Opposing Frederick, and arguing the brief for the school district, are Ken Starr, former special prosecutor of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and the Bush administration.
I can't wait for the Nina Totenberg oral argument "play-by-play" later today, in which Ken Starr and Antonin Scalia debate the precise mean of the term "Bong Hits," and what the Founding Fathers would have thought of the matter.


Letting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. die

On Sunday I finished a book that took me a long time to read. True, it wasn't a short read--weighing in at 980 pages. But it wasn't the page count that slowed me down. I read slowly because I knew that on the last page, Martin Luther King Jr. would be killed. As the author, Taylor Branch, wrote in the final sentence describing the Thursday afternoon in Memphis that he must have imagined writing for 20 years, "Time on the balcony had turned lethal, which left hanging the last words fixed on a gospel song of refuge. King stood still for once, and his sojourn on earth went blank."
The book is At Canann's Edge, which completes the "America in the King Years" triology by Branch begun in 1980s. All three books rest together on my book shelve--3,000 pages of civil rights church rallies, stone-pelted marches, tear gas and billy clubs, court room farces, and occasional transcendent success.
The books belong to the special category of history that I think of as impressionism. Branch spent years researching each book, conducting hundreds of interviews and sifting through great mounds of archive boxes (the endnotes for this last book extend for 200 pages). The resulting narratives capture both the grainy detail of a hotel room SCLC strategy session 40 years ago (who argued with whom, the food they were eating, and how King reclined on a bed and listened with his shirt sleeves rolled up), and the baited questions that King parried on the Sunday morning talk shows (which supposedly reflected the mood of the country). Branch's writing style examines each pixelated perspective of an event many times over, before sweeping on to the next multi-colored dot, or to an entirely different spot in his novelistic canvas. His books can be expasperating to read, especially if you want a single, resounding declaration of the history that happened. But if you persist, and endure some of his aimless pursuits historical alleys, you come away from his books realizing that history is an endless curve with no sharp, easy corners.
The most surprising revelations for me in these books involve the actions that the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover took to discredit, embarass, and even place King in grave danger (by not communicating threats to his life they received). Based on all of the formerly secret documents that Branch reviewed involving secret wire-tapping, and smear campaigns, I think it is only a matter of time before official Washington, DC realizes that naming the FBI building after Hoover is a poor choice. His name will come down, as has his reputation in history. And the second startling take-away from this books was how involved King became in the anti-war movement towards the end of his life. When school children are introduced to King, they learn about bus boycotts, bloody marches, "I have a dream..." speech, and the Nobel Peace Prize. But they don't hear about King's strong and very controversial stance against the Vietnam War--which, according to At Canaan's Edge, consumed much of his last year and half of activism. And then there are another thousand odd details that leave you amazed that history unfolded the way it has. But in the end, I believe, you are better for knowing all of what happened--even the stuff that that upsets and ashames you. I wish more history was taught the way of these books.


How Iraqi insurgents are winning with YouTube and cell phones

I am wondering if the battles playing out every day in the streets of Iraq are more like the trench warfare of World War I than the oft-made Vietnam comparisons. Except, the advantages in Baghdad are the reverse of those at Verdun and the Somme.
In the First World War the defensive technologies of the machine gun, barbed wire, mines, and trenches stalemated the lingering 19th-century offensive tactics of massed infantry and cavalry charges. The result was a bloody slaughter and front lines that moved only hundreds of yards during years of combat.
In Iraq the insurgents are benefiting from numerous offensive technologies that make them a more formidable fighting force. Cell phones, shaped-charged warheads, digital timers and electrical components for detonators, downloadable satellite maps, abundant motor vehicles, and even chlorine gas and YouTube are all elements of their arsenal that didn't exist in previous insurgencies. When military historians look to the past to learn how to quell uprisings, the most recent examples they can cite are from the 1950s and 60's--several technological ages ago. And our soldiers in Iraq--armed with tanks designed to fight tanks and helicopters designed to destroy massed formations of enemy armor--are scrambling after flip-flop wearing young men who design and execute their deadly attacks with military technology that can be purchased at a strip mall Radio Shack. Could we have forseen this incredbile leveling of the asymmetry in insurgent wars? I don't know, but the daily newspaper headlines show that it is happening.


The global warming skeptic playbook revealed

I'm confused. Do global warming skeptics live on the same planet as you and me? And I'm being literal here. Are they residents of Earth just like the rest of us?
If NASA predicted with 90% probability that a large asteroid was going to strike the Earth, resulting in a massive global climate change, would these naysayers find solace in the 10% chance of a near miss? Or would they join the rest of us (and Ben Affleck) to figure out how to use leftover nukes to blast that hunk of space rock out of our solar system?
I've noticed that much of the inertia to cast doubt on global warming science comes from the conservative media net. Every afternoon my Google News bot deposits dozens of articles with the phrase "global warming" into my inbox. Fully one
quarter of those articles blast global warming as an unholy alliance between Al Gore, Hollywood, the United Nations, and rabid environmentalists who secretly desire to take away our SUVs. Many of these articles come from websites like FOXNews, DrudgeReport, Newsbusters, CyberCast News Service. Others are written by rotund pundits from the Hoover Institution, and AEI, and all the way down to the local crumedegons who write op-eds for their small-town newspapers.
But no matter where these articles come from, they all follow the same formula:
1) Claim Al Gore is still a sore loser.
2) Trot out one or two compromised and has-been scientists to claim that "not everyone" believes that climate change is manmade (just 99%).
3) Draw broad scientific conclusions about climate fluctuations based on their marginal understanding of the "little Ice Age" in the 1500's.
4) Blame the United Nations and especially the French.
5) Talk about solar flares even though you don't really know what they are.
Don't forget to blame China and India for burning so much coal (even though the U.S. produces 1/4 of the planet's greenhouse gases with 1/20 of its population).
7) Hey, global warming will make winters milder, and can't polar bears relocate to Madagascar or something?

The arguments of global warming skeptics remind me of the playbook adopted by the religious right in the 1990s to counter the supposed "secular humanist" agenda taking over the public schools. In those skirmishes, their oft-repeated logic was that when compulsory school prayer was declared unconstitutional in 1963, teenage birth rates, school violence, and the worship of Satan went through the roof. It sounds laughable, but I heard these claims made at countless school board meetings and read them in dozens of pamphlets. And to some people, this faulty deductive reasoning makes sense.
The problem is that the victims of the religious right wars were high school kids who had their constitutional rights trodden on. The victims in the global warming war of ideas, however, is the heath of our planet.


Niall Ferguson's essential books about WW2

The Harvard Crimson recently published a series of celebrity lists as the year 2006 wound down. Among them, history professor and fast-talking author Niall Ferguson offered his take on the "Ten Essential Books on World War II." I have read only two of the books on the list (the famous novels at the end), so it looks like I have one more college syllabus to tackle:

1. Sword of Honour (1965) - Evelyn Waugh
2. Life and Fate: A Novel (1985) - Vasily Grossman, Transl. Robert Chandler
3. War Diaries, 1939–1945 (2001) - Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke , Ed. Alex Danchev and , Daniel Todman
4. Eastern Approaches (1949) -Fitzroy Maclean
5. The Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby (1999) - Alex Bowlby
6. To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1942–45 (1999) - Victor Klemperer , Transl. Martin Chalmers 7. Kaputt (2005) - Curzio Malaparte, Transl. Cesare Foligno
8. The Stalin Organ (1955) - Gerd Ledig , Transl. Michael Hofmann
9. Slaughterhouse-five: (1970) - Kurt Vonnegut
10. The Naked and the Dead (1949) - Norman Mailer


Doh! Forgetting our history again in fighting the war on terror

I doubt that Charles "Cully" Stimson is familiar with the particulars of the 1770 Boston Massacre. During an interview broadcast Thursday on Federal News Radio, Stimson, who is a lawyer, named and criticized several U.S. law firms that have represented "enemy combatants" detained at the Guatanamo Bay base.
According to a Washington Post editorial on Friday, Stimson challenged the heads of major corporations to find out if their legal firms were involved in defending detainees. He predicted:
"I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms."

who has the pacific-sounding title of "deputy assistant secretary of defense of detainee affairs," is a former U.S. attorney and graduated from George Mason University School of Law in 1992. But I think he needs to pick up a copy of David McCullough's wonderful biography of John Adams. There he would learn that Adams, a committed patriot and later a leading proponent of independence from Great Britain, served as the defense counsel for the redcoat soldiers and officer accused of shooting down five colonists. Despite the fervor for British blood in the streets of Boston, Adams took the case because he believed the soldiers deserved a fair trial, and that it was his duty as a lawyer to provide his services when asked. Now if Cully Stimson believes that John Adams is a bad role model for lawyers and patriotic Americans, he should say so directly. Otherwise he shows his ignorance of both his profession and his country's great history.


Me and you on YouTube

Riding the lip of the tech wave requires constant surfing of the virtual kind. Twelve years ago the web browser Netscape overtook Mosaic just as the search engine Altavista later gave way to Google. Flash memory jumped from 128 MB to 6 GBs in the space of two years, all tucked into the palm of your hand. Podcasts were fresh for about 12 months until videoblogs and YouTube made them passe. What lies ahead? Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are competing to place a single computing unit in your family room that will link to consoles in your bedroom, kitchen, basement, and study. Internet content will enter your house over traditional electrical grid and follow the wires to outlets in every room. Netflix faces obsolescence when Internet bandwidth expands enough to allow movies and music to be downloaded in the span of minutes. These rapid transitions and leap-frogs of technology and usability will not stop anytime soon. That is the reason why I'm uploading the Backpacker.com videos to YouTube as well as the magazine's website. Print publications are caught in a sprint race to the Web right now--except that no one knows when or where the race will end. Creating original content and growing audiences are the keys to winning the race. In this sense, the contest resembles the battle fought by Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, and Excite to corner the email address market in the late 1990s. Many start this race but only a few will win. In five years--when 2012 rolls around--we'll see what the results tell us. After all, five years ago, in early 2002, the 5GB iPod was a few months old, and Google was hardly a household word, let alone a $500 stock.