Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Buying an Umbrella

Now and then, you just need some art. Or as Pedro Carmichael, Peter Falk's rather bizarre character in the movie "Tune in Tomorrow" put it: "Life is a shitstorm, and when it's raining shit, the best umbrella you can buy is art."*

Luckily, my wife and I have fairly compatible taste in art, and our favorite artist is Robert Lyn Nelson. He does wonderful paintings of ocean life, and pioneered the "two worlds" style of marine art, where the picture shows both above and below the surface of the water.

We used to really enjoy visiting his gallery in Monterey, but he closed it a number of years ago. So we were quite delighted to learn that he opened an art outlet in nearby Pacific Grove this past weekend. And best of all, when we went in on Monday, the proprietor, Jim, had some spare time to take us for a tour of the warehouse, so we got to see lots of great original art. The scans online don't do justice to the real stuff.

Anyway, we ended up buying a print. Won't say which one. You'll just have to come see for yourself!

*In the book that Tune in Tomorrow was made from, "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" by Mario Vargas Llosa, the quote is "Life is a shitstorm, in which art is our only umbrella." Go figure. Anyway, the book is good, but the movie is very, very silly.

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Just got a note this week that another old friend, Rod Bartlett, has started blogging. This is a good thing. Rod blogs mostly on technical matters, and I've already come across useful stuff there. I've added him to my roll of blogging buddies over on the right. So check out his Bruised Fancy.

Welcome to the monkey house, Rod!

Whale Begone

Apparently the wayward humpback whales have gotten tired of hanging around in fresh/brackish water, and have returned to the ocean, or at least sneaked away to where people can't watch them incessantly.

So I'll give the last word (and picture) on the subject to cartoonist Don Asmussen, of "Bad Reporter" fame.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rational Discussion of Torture

I just read a very good, reasonable discussion of various positions on torture, and it's well worth reading. It comes from the blog Anonymous Liberal, where the blogger (who is no longer truly anonymous, as I recall) consistently provides clear and readable analyses of complex issues (particularly legal ones).

In particular, he does a great job of debunking the "ticking time-bomb" scenarios that is most often used to justify removing policies that prohibit torture. And he does so on two grounds: 1) The scenario is completely unrealistic, and therefore inappropriate as a basis for policy, and 2) Practically speaking, no policy would apply in such a scenario:
Just because you can construct a hypothetical scenario were shooting a girl in the head is the "right" thing to do, that doesn't mean that we should do away with the legal prohibition against murder. When it comes to acts that are sufficiently bad--such as murder and torture--you need categorical rules.
In a true ticking bomb scenario (which I'm convinced is like saying "when you meet a real unicorn"), people will do what they think they have to do, regardless of what the law says. And in that kind of extraordinary situation, no one would be prosecuted for resorting to extreme, even illegal tactics.

But you can't let highly unlikely hypothetical scenarios dictate policy. Regardless of whether there are conceivable situations where torture could be justified, it has to remain illegal.
I recommend reading the whole piece. It's really very clear and well-reasoned. Policies on extraordinary conduct require an extraordinary amount of thought and clarity. Making emotionally-charged decisions based on irrational scenarios is a prescription for bad policy (see USA PATRIOT Act, for example).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wonderful Human Beings

I was about to turn in for the night, but gagged on this [emphasis mine]:

During tonight’s presidential debates, candidates were asked whether they would support the use of waterboarding — a technique, defined as torture by the Justice Department, that simulates drowning and makes the subject “believe his death is imminent while ideally not causing permanent physical damage.”

Both former mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) suggested they would support using the technique. ...

The audience applauded loudly after both statements.
Ick. This is what passes for public discourse in what purports to be a civilized society: A debate over who can pander hardest to the basest motives of the voters. I am ashamed.

Torture has no place in my country. It is wrong. It is dangerous. And I'm tired of having to write that.

I almost wrote about this last week after reading this story:
The top U.S. commander in Iraq admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades.
It's nice to know that someone in the military has the sense to understand that torture and other abuse of others makes our troops less safe and mocks the values they are supposedly fighting to uphold and defend.

Angry. Really angry. And frustrated. I want my civilization back.

Freshwater Whales

I know I have mentioned my fondness for whales and other marine mammals in the past. And I am eagerly anticipating my next visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see their new exhibit on otters.

But the local news is full of the latest visit from wayward whales to the Sacramento River delta. And really, the coverage is pretty good, at least until I got to this sentence:
They likely got into the north delta area by swimming up the deep and wide Sacramento River from San Pablo Bay.
Ya think?

Now, maybe you need to know a little about the environment to get this, but basically, there's only one way to get to Sacramento from the ocean if you're a whale, and that would be it. In the Golden Gate, around a couple of islands, up through San Pablo Bay, and hey, you're in the delta.

From our friends at the National Park Service:
This Pacific Coast contains the only opening to the interior of the state for nearly 1,000 miles of coastline. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers drain nearly 40% of the watersheds in California. And all of this flows out of the Golden Gate.
OK, maybe I'm being a little hard on them. After all, the reporters probably read this book. I can see where one might mistake that for a nature documentary.

Anyway, it's not the first time this has happened. Back in 1985, I was working for the congressman who represented the district the whale was swimming through, so needless to say we were paying attention, even from 3,000 miles away. At least they haven't named these whales. Yet. But I fully expect to see our current Lieutenant Governor capitalizing on rescuing these whales any minute now.