Day By Day

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton bad writing awards are now out.

The winner:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."

Check out all the finalists here.

China Diary -- Part 26 River People

The Yangtze is a major commercial artery and as such is heavily traveled. There are a lot of boats plying the waterway and they come in all sizes and shapes. The most common though are shallow-draft, canoe-like vessels. They come in a variety of forms but share a basic design.

Salvaging a floating package.

A one-man craft. Note the terracing of the river bank. Not one square meter of arable land is wasted.

Sheltering from the rain beneath a cliff.

Hauling in a catch.

There are lots of barges on the river.

Lots and lots of them.

You can see them tied up along the shore beneath the villages where their crews live.

Or even an isolated home.

But often they are themselves home to river people who live and raise their families on the water.

And then there's this, the fastest craft on the river -- at least I didn't see anything else in its class.

Monday, June 29, 2009

China Diary -- Part 25 Leaving the Gorges

As we left Shennong we passed the famous "hanging coffins". They're a little hard to see, but if you click on the pictures and look carefully at them you will find them.

These coffins were constructed by the "Bo people", early inhabitants of this region who were exterminated by the Ming rulers. Nobody today knows just why or how the coffins were placed in these clefts. Usually they were made from a single piece of wood. Few of them remain -- most were destroyed by the Dam project, and we were fortunate to be able to see them.

Then it was out again into the gorges heading downstream toward the dam. After several hours we arrived at the ship lock of the Three Gorges Dam.

Bush Was Right (continued) The Bush Doctrine

Nice piece in Commentary by Abe Greenwald on how the unrest in Iran validates the Bush Doctrine.
[W[e now know that through the liberation of Iraq Bush unfroze the region and set democratizing forces in motion throughout global Islam. The assemblage of brave democrats in the streets of Iran has been the most heartening confirmation of the rightness of the Bush doctrine so far.
Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Pennsylvania Pictures -- Fungus

We've been clearing trees on our property the past few years. A lot more sunlight is getting through -- I'm not sure that is a good thing -- and on the stumps we are raising a nice crop of fungus.

We don't always stay home. Occasionally we drive around in Coal Country. Here's a bit of what we saw this week.


Mahanoy City


Here in the glorious commonwealth the beauty is everywhere, all you have to do is look.

The Wren

She Who Must Not Be Named is delighted. A few days ago at a curio shop she bought a little bird house and when we got home she hung it from a tree branch right beside our front porch. Within a few hours a house wren had moved in and was busily building a nest. The nest must be done because now he is sitting outside loudly proclaiming to any female wren in the area that he is open for business. Boy, for a little bird he sure can get the volume up. I'd like to take a clear picture of him to post, but that would involve taking down a screen and letting bugs into our sunporch. For some reason "She" is not favorable to the idea.


Now "She" is not pleased. The flycatcher that nests on the other side of our house has decided that the wren is too close to his/her nest [about 100 ft]. Every time the wren starts to warble the flycatcher divebombs him. The little guy is persistent, though.


Damn persistent! After about an hour the flycatcher gave up and flew back to his side of the house. The little guy is still there singing away.


Finally got a picture. It's not as sharp as I would like -- I took it through a screen. He's in the process of taking flight to ward off the stupid flycatcher yet one more time.

China Diary -- Part 24 The Shennong Xi

There they are, folks, the nekkid men of Shennong Stream. This is not a contemporary photo, just one I pulled off the web.

These men are "trackers", representatives of one of China's many minorities, the Thuja people. The stream was originally a shallow, swift moving tributary of the Yangtze. Only extremely small boats (sampans) could navigate its length and in many places even these small crafts had to be physically dragged through the shallows. That was the function of the trackers who paddled the sampans and muscled them through the difficult parts of the stream. They worked completely naked until about twenty years ago when the Chinese tourist board forced them to start wearing clothes. The day we toured the area the trackers were not only wearing pants, but because it was raining, they covered themselves with ponchos. Here's what they look like today.

Originally the Shennong stream wandered its whole length through very deep and steep limestone cliffs, but since the construction of the Three Gorges Dam the water level at the mouth was raised 155 meters. So much for the scenic cliffs. The upper end of the stream, however, remains shallow and it is there that you can see the remnants of what was once one of the world's great scenic wonders. Here is the entrance to the Shannong. Imagine what it must have been like before the river rose.

Since the dam was constructed the volume of flow along parts of the stream is negligible and at some points the surface of the water is smooth as glass.

Our guide jokingly said that living here was like living in Shangri La. Except for the abysmal poverty of the inhabitants he wasn't too far off the mark.

Eventually the river became too shallow for our small boat and we had to transfer to sampans for the final stage of our trip.

A few of the boats decided to race upstream. Fortunately we didn't. The rowers have a hard enough time as it is.

At the end of the stream our rowers jumped out of the boat, grabbed towlines, climbed up to a towpath, and hauled the boats around to face downstream for the return journey. Somehow it wasn't as exotic an exercise as must have been before the Tourist Board meddled in local affairs.

As always, just click on a picture to enlarge it.

WaPo on Meddling

The WaPo responds to the foreign policy "realists" in the Obama administration that argue against "meddling" in Iran:

[B]y now it ought to be clear that the best chance to protect what Mr. Obama calls "core U.S. security interests" lies in a victory for the Iranian opposition. That may look unlikely for now. But it is considerably more probable than a turn toward detente by those now engaged in murdering young women. There may not be much that can be done to help the opposition, though some tangible steps -- more money for broadcasting into the country, for example -- are readily available. But at the least, nothing should be done that would harm the cause of change. That is not just the moral course; it is the most pragmatic and realistic.

Read it here.

Of course, just doing nothing impedes the cause of change.

Is This the Asian Century -- Probably Not!

Minxin Pei has a nice piece in Foreign Policy challenging the common assumption that Asia will dominate the coming century. Points of note:

Despite recent rapid growth, Asian economies still lag far behind that of the United States. Even China will not catch up to the US for half a century, and that is assuming that everything goes right for them, and an awful lot can go wrong.

Asia is not a unitary entity. Asian nations are competitors and often that competition has broken out into war.

Asian nations face huge demographic problems, much worse than in the West.

Asia lacks a lot of natural resources, the most important being potable water. Its agriculture is also vulnerable to climate change and it lacks adequate energy resources.

Asia's export-driven economies are vulnerable to shifts in the world market.

The potential for political instability in Korea, China, and Pakistan is very high.

To a large extent the impressive growth of Asian economies is due to the fact that they are starting at a much lower level.

Western universities are still much superior to the best in Asia, and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

Western, and especially US, science and technology still outpace Asia's by a large amount.

China will be the strongest nation in Asia, but is unlikely to dominate the region -- there are too many formidable rivals.

America is not losing influence in Asia. It still is the guarantor of regional peace and enjoys wide support as such among the continent's elites.

Competition from rising Asian economies will spawn necessary reforms in the West.


Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

China Diary -- Part 23 Gorging

As the day wore on we proceeded deeper into the Gorges and the scenery became ever more dramatic.

Then excitement began to spread through the female contingent of the group as word spread that we were approaching Shennongxi, the stream of the naked men.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Volcano Eruption Seen From Space

I should have posted this yesterday -- it's amazing. Go here to see other pictures of this volcanic eruption seen from Earth orbit.

Stunning Photographs

The Wickipedia Commons photos of the year.

Check them out here.

Latest from Iowahawk

Iowahawk takes on the "robust debate" President Obama sees taking place in Iran, and a Don Pardo reference too. Read it here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

McCotter's Neda Speech

Thaddeus McCotter, my favorite member of the House of Representatives, speaks out on Iran.

Barry's Best-Laid Plans

It should be clear to all that our fine young President just isn't very quick on his mental feet. He operates best within the confines of a carefully laid plan and doesn't function very well when his plans are disrupted. This seems to be true in matters big and small, whether it is a teleprompter screwup, or an unscripted question from the press, or an unanticipated foreign crisis, Barry's reaction is either incoherent flailing or a stubborn determination to stick to the script no matter what.

Obama's mental limitations were on full display this past week when popular aspirations for democracy erupted in Iran. Barry's game plan was disrupted and for several days he floundered around trying to figure out what to do. Apparently, the Washington Times reveals, he had already opened a personal channel to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's mad mullah in chief, and was bent on pursuing personal diplomacy to resolve the Iranian threat to regional peace.

Prior to this month's disputed presidential election in Iran, the Obama administration sent a letter to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations, according to interviews and the leader himself.

Ayatollah Khamenei confirmed the letter toward the end of a lengthy sermon last week, in which he accused the United States of fomenting protests in his country in the aftermath of the disputed June 12 presidential election.

U.S. officials declined to discuss the letter on Tuesday, a day in which President Obama gave his strongest condemnation yet of the Iranian crackdown against protesters.

An Iranian with knowledge of the overture, however, told The Washington Times that the letter was sent between May 4 and May 10 and laid out the prospect of "cooperation in regional and bilateral relations" and a resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Read the whole thing here.

So inital overtures had been made, Barry was looking forward to sitting down and talking things over with the mullahs, and then the Iranian public messed everything up by protesting the fraudulent election. The plan had been disrupted and Obama's early reactions suggest that he was more upset by this fact than by the atrocities taking place on the streets of Tehran. More importantly, without a game plan in front of him he had not a clue as to what to say, what to do, and so he, as he has done so often in the past, simply voted "present" and said he would "bear witness" to what was happening. Apparently Barry lacks the experience, education and moral grounding to do otherwise.

Shouldn't we expect more from an American President than that?

China Diary -- Part 22 Entering the Gorges

Back on the boat we headed for the real treat -- the Three Gorges region, one of the most dramatically beautiful places on earth. Old China hands say that it isn't as impressive as it was before the construction of the Three Gorges Dams, which raised the water level significantly, but it sill is one of the world's great marvels. Here's a bit of what we saw as we cruised through the Qutang Gorge. As always, click on a picture to enlarge it -- particularly the third one. You may note the low-hanging clouds. There was a constant cold drizzle as we passed through the gorges. That by no means dampened the enthusiasm we all felt. Everyone had their cameras out because everywhere you looked you saw something spectacular to record.

As they used to say, "you ain't seen nuthin yet, folks". The further we penetrated into the gorges the more beautiful and dramatic the surroundings. I'll post more pictures tomorrow. Stay tuned.

The State of Journalism Today

The New York Times is providing continuously updated coverage of the protests in Iran using Twitter feeds and blog posts as well as wire service reports. What is interesting is that the tweets and blogs are far more compelling and immediate than the wire service pieces while the professional journalists are much better at providing context. Together they are far more informative than either would be on their own. This integrative approach may well be the future of journalism, at least we can hope. I have also noticed TV cable channels trying to integrate Twitter into their reports. That, however, is far less interesting than what the Times is doing. It is far better to be able to scan through the posts, stories and commentary than to have some info-babe read a few selected sentences to you.

Check it out here.

Despite the manifest troubles afflicting the profession, we may well be entering the real golden age of journalism.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

China Diary -- Part 21 A Trip to Hell

Our first shore excursion on the Yangtze was at Fengdu, the City of Ghosts. The town has had this name since it became the refuge during the Eastern Han Dynasty (about 1800 years ago) of two famous Taoist scholars, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping. When their names are combined they can be read as "King of the Underworld". Over time the legend arose that the King of Hell lived on Mingshang Hill, which towers above Fengdu and that the ghosts of the departed would come there to be judged. Over the centuries dozens of temples and shrines were located there, representing Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian faiths and people from throughout China came there to worship. Today, under a determinedly secular regime, it is first and foremost a tourist attraction.

There is another possible interpretation of the city's name. When the Three Gorges Dam was constructed it raised the water level to a point where much of the town was under water. Over time the government has moved the townspeople from one side of the river to higher elevation quarters on the other. So today, beneath the waters of the Yangtse, there is an abandoned ghost city, old Fengdu.

Our visit started with a climb up a steep stairway to a small village where vendors strenuously tried to get our attention. We passed through quickly with shouts of "hello, hello, hello, hello" ringing in our ears and ascended to a second set of shops, where the vendors were if anything more aggressive than in the first.

The beggars and trinket vendors -- they are everywhere -- points up a real problem for China today. Despite all the economic growth experienced in recent years there are hundreds of millions of desperately poor people in China. Their plight is pitiful, but it exists on such a large scale that it is hard to see what can be done. Despite frequent admonitions from our government handlers to ignore these people and to never purchase anything from them, many in our party were gradually worn down and started to buy things. "She Who Must Not Be Named" is now the proud possessor of a "Mao Watch" that is still running. I believe she also bought a couple of three-dollar Rolexes and a few other items. I didn't buy anything much, but I did tip generously.

The main temple complex is now located at the top of a seven-hundred step staircase. Fortunately for me, still nursing a sore ankle from my slip on the Great Wall, there was an alternative means of transportation.

We climbed the last few hundred steps and found ourselves in a marvelous complex of religious shrines and temples. We visited several if them and then climbed upwards toward the entrance to Hell.

As we climbed we were introduced to a series of trials all dead souls were supposed to face. The first was confrontation with demons. In the legend they would produce tremendous noise and wind that would blow evil souls away to wander the earth forever more with no hope for reincarnation. The demons are represented today by a series of impressive statues.

We were told that this was the "naughty demon". I will leave it to you to decide just what that means.

Now this one is scary. I asked about the provenance of the statues and was told that they are recent additions, carved by the faculty at a local art institute.

Here is another of the trials. Supposedly dead souls have to leap from bridge to bridge taking no more than three steps. Those who fail fall into the pools of water below and are destroyed. Today tourists are told to choose which bridge to cross. The middle one grants true love, the one on the left represents long life, the third represents great wealth. Couples are supposed to join hands and to cross the bridge of their choice in nine steps. "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I crossed the middle one, but then she ran back and crossed the other ones by herself. She is a modern woman and is determined to have it all.

The final test takes place in front of the hall of the King of Hell. Tourists are told to balance on one foot on top of a rock for three minutes. I didn't try. I just went inside and saw this guy.

That's the King of Hell himself. Souls who have lived virtuous lives and have passed the tests are allowed to pass out of his presence into the gorgeous gardens beyond. Those found wanting are sent down to experience torture. The torture exhibits are pretty graphic and I won't include pictures of them here. After all, this is a family blog [sorta].

After escaping from Hell we retraced our steps down the mountain and reboarded our boat to continue our trip down the Yangtze. Up next -- the Three Gorges.