Archive for 2009 May

Killer of Abortion-Provider May Have Foreshadowed Murder in Bitter Comments Posted On-Line

Last fall this blogger noted in a post on Grist a truly murderous threat directed at Dr. James Hansen, the scientist hero who more than any other single individual has awoken the planet to the threat posed by climate change.

In a comment thread on a far-right anti-global warming blog, the commenter called for Hansen not just to die, but to be eaten alive.

This I thought was a bit troubling. I wondered if Hansen might want security.

Now we learn that the man suspected of killing Dr. George Tiller, an abortion-provider in Kansas, has been making pointed and sometimes vicious comments about Tiller on various far-right blogs for years,  according to right-wing Little Green Footballs.

Authorities suggest that the alleged killer Scott Roeper had links to the anti-abortion Operation Rescue movement; in a statement, Operation Rescue hinted that Tiller deserved his murder.

George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God.

Next question: How stable was commenter/suspected killer Scott Roeder?

Here's one of his comments, from September 2007:

It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the
“lawlessness” which is spoken of in the Bible. Tiller is the
concentration camp “Mengele” of our day and needs to be stopped before
he and those who protect him bring judgement upon our nation.

Here's what we know about him, from the AP in Kansas City:

Scott P. Roeder, 51, of Merriam, was arrested on Interstate 35 near
Gardner nearly four hours after Tiller was shot to death just after 10
a.m. in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita. Roeder was
a member of an anti-government group in the 1990s and a staunch
abortion opponent…in the rear window of the car that Roeder was driving when police
stopped him was a red rose — a symbol that is often used by abortion
opponents. On the rear of his car was a Christian fish symbol with the
word “Jesus” inside.

Those who know Roeder told The Kansas City Star that he believed killing abortion doctors was an act of justifiable homicide.

know that he believed in justifiable homicide,” said Regina Dinwiddie,
a Kansas City abortion opponent who made headlines in 1995 when a
federal judge ordered her to stop using a bullhorn within 500 feet of
any abortion clinic. “I know he very strongly believed that abortion
was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and

Hmmmm…was this a murder that could have been prevented? 

A newspaper picture of the suspect being taken to an arraignment…wearing what looks to be a bullet-proof vest. Can't help but see an irony in that…


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Why Santa Barbara Homes Burn and Ventura County Homes Don’t

The excellent story in the Ventura County Star doesn't come right out and say it, but essentially it's simple — homes built after modern fire codes are far less likely to burn.

'Specially on large lots:

There are thousands of homes in Ventura County that, like Eichele’s,
are on what fire officials call the “urban-wildland interface,” the
most dangerous place to be in a wildfire.

But in the past five years, despite fires that have consumed
hundreds of thousands of acres of brush, only six homes in Ventura
County have burned. The last fire to cause widespread destruction was
in 2003, when 38 homes were lost in Simi Valley.

In the past six months, the Santa Barbara area has lost about 300 homes in two major fires.

Luck has played some part in our differing fortunes. But fire and
planning experts say there are other factors that have made Ventura
County safer in recent years, from the terrain to the pattern of urban
development to the county’s early embrace of strict fire codes.

The story by Tony Biscotti quotes fire chief Bob Roper, who gets into the details:

The most important factor
in fire safety isn’t where you build, it’s how you build, said Ventura
County Fire Chief Bob Roper.

“The No. 1 thing is when the homes were developed, what the planning
conditions were and what the building conditions were at the time,” he
said. “Wherever you are, you can make a community not fire-proof, but
what we call a fire-adaptive community.”

Roper went to Santa Barbara with some of his fire crews and surveyed
the Jesusita burn area. He saw hundreds of homes in danger because they
were built in the 1960s or earlier, before modern fire codes were
common. They were “structural fuel,” just as much as the dry brush was
“native fuel,” Roper said.

The newest homes were considered so safe that firefighters took
shelter in them when the fire approached, Roper said. Like any home
built recently in a fire-prone area, they had double-paned,
heat-resistant windows, fire-resistant materials for the roofs and
walls, and vents small enough to prevent burning embers from blowing

Roper said he also saw some substandard brush clearance in the
Jesusita fire. Most cities and counties in California have laws on the
books that require property owners to keep weeds and other flammable
brush away from their homes, but Ventura County was one of the first,
he said.

Specifically, Ventura County doesn't get the direct north-to-south sundowner winds that Santa Barbara does…but on the other hand gets plenty of the better-known and just as dangerous Santa Anas.

Let me put repeat the story's point, a little more bluntly: In the last couple of years both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have suffered huge fires.

Santa Barbara has lost over 300 homes.

Ventura County?


[Here's a pic from the Jesusita fire by Jonathan Alcorn]

SB fire

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But Can Jesus Dunk?

Very Important News: the Lakers will be going, for the second year in a row, to the NBA Finals. This year they will win it all, mostly because of #24. As Denver coach George Karl put it, reported by snarky Los Angeles Times columnist TJ Simers:

"I think Jesus would have had trouble covering" Kobe Bryant.

When Karl's comment was relayed to Bryant, he said, "It's
tough to say that's a compliment, you know what I mean? It's a
tremendous honor . . . I don't know, I did a great job using my
teammates, and they knocked shots down and put the defense into a
position where I could play one-on-one a little bit and take advantage
of that."

Added Simers:

        As you notice, he never denied that He would have had trouble covering him.

True enough, but here's my question: Why assume Jesus can play at this level? Because he can get up? One good head fake from Kobe might be enough to put him clean out of the building…

[pic from Robert Gauthier of the LA Times]


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Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lake Imprisoned Again

The life of the elected (but imprisoned) leader of the unhappy nation of Burma, Ang Sang Suu Kyi, suffered a tremendous blow this month when a middle-aged American, John Yettaw, described as "a well-intentioned but misguided man" swam to her compound from across a lake in Burma. This gave the infamously secretive regime in Burma a perfect excuse to yet again imprison the greatest threat to their grip on power, the woman George Packer of The New Yorker calls "the lady of the lake."

What did she do to deseve this fate? She took pity on the deluded idealist. Writes Packer:

Suu Kyi tried to send him [Yettaw] away, because his presence was a violation
of her house arrest, but apparently she took pity on him after he
begged to be allowed to stay until he was strong enough to swim away
again. Her visitor left the next day, or the day after, depending on
whether the government’s or the opposition’s version
of this strange encounter is correct. He was picked up by the police in
the middle of Inya Lake. And now Suu Kyi has been locked away in
Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison. The authorities have announced that
they will try her for all kinds of security violations. Her current
six-year house arrest, which was due to end later this month, will
probably be renewed. And John William Yettaw will have given the nasty
Burmese authorities exactly the pretext they needed to keep Suu Kyi cut
off from the world as they prepare for next year’s sham elections.

Was she set up? Or did her tremendous charisma compel the swimmer across the lake?

Based on my family history, it's not exactly either, though closer to the latter. I had an aunt, who sometime after renouncing her family, remaining herself Deborah Fahrend, and taking up with a Lebanese man in Berlin, was kidnapped with him and a child in Beirut, apparently, and briefly made the news pages of The New York Times, back in l980. She, the Lebanese man, and the child were released the next day. Or perhaps they were never abducted at all. No one ever could quite figure it out.

Similarly, I predict with total confidence that no one will ever figure out what was up with the American nutball American Yettaw, because it will never make sense to anyone but him.

Here's my thinking: A lot of people in this world are unhappy, many of them for most of their lives. Some of these unhappy people are driven to inflict their unhappiness on others…as was my aunt.

It's a sign of terminal childishness, sez me, and causes endless endless trouble. 

And it's a fate the sad-eyed Aung San Suu Kyi surely deserves less than nearly anyone else in the world.

[pic of the woman known as "The Lady" in Burma from Chris Robinson of Amnesty UK]


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Camping on Angel Island (the beta)

Countless folks warned myself and the fam last weekend to watch out for the fog on Angel Island (as if I didn't know that the San Francisco Bay could get foggy in the summer).

This maybe is a difference between locals (who have to live with the fog for months at a time, and weary of the chill of blowing greyness) and one-time locals who moved away years ago, and like to revisit the fog, as a sort of nostalgic novelty, the way one might enjoy the jolting of a cab ride in New York, or the snootiness of a Parisian waiter — a kind of local color.

You know you're in the Bay Area when you can hardly see across the road in the evening.

That's my excuse, anyhow. In any case, yours truly will not back down from the idea that camping on Angel Island is a rare treat, with or without fog. Here are some tips on how to do it.

First, if you visit the Angel Island Association site, you'll get the basic choices quickly, but it's helpful to know that there are but nine campsites on the island, in three different places on the island. 

The most popular are the Ridge Sites (#4,5, and 6), facing the Golden Gate, which a helpful parks ranger told us are booked seven months and a day in advance for summer weekends, but that you can often "slide in" on weekdays. These sites, like the less-popular Sunrise sites (#7.8.9), where we stayed, are exposed to the fog and the wind, so expect blustery nights. More protected are the Eastbay sites, (#1,2,and 3) which are in the lee of a pine grove. Sites cost about $25 a night, thru ReserveAmerica. You can do it through the site, but I suggest calling to nail down the details: 1-800-444-PARK. 

Wood fires are not allowed, 'specially after the spectacular fire on the island of last fall, but the sites have not just tables, basic food cabinets, water, and toilets, but even trash and recycling.

The ranger told us that the Ridge sites have a "$10,000,000 view." Faithful readers of this site will recall that with global warming, coastal areas such as San Francisco will actually get a little foggier. But if you like camping with a city view, and can stand some weather, Angel Island is a must.

advice is look for a weekday in Indian summer, which does sometimes
happen in the Bay Area, usually in late September or early October.
Maybe if you're really lucky, you'll find me there….

[pic from a trail atop Mt. Livermore, at about 750 feet, via SFYer]


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VC to Set the Bar for Nation in Recycling Stormwater

According to hard-working Heal the Bay activist Mark Gold, the Southern California Regional Water Quality Board this month committed Ventura County development projects to capturing stormwater and using it to replenish local aquifers. This means avoiding pollution and saving water — the best of possible solutions to two problems simultaneously. Most remarkably, the ruling commits to monitoring stormwater quality at the beach to make sure it happens. Writes Gold on his blog Spouting Off:

The crux of the requirement is that approximately 95% of the rain from
a three-quarter inch storm must be captured and used or infiltrated on
site.  In the event that infiltration or capture and storage isn’t
feasible on site, then the developer must mitigate the runoff by giving
funds to local government for regional infiltration projects like green
streets, parking lot retrofits and stormwater recharge at parks, right
of ways or open space.

Writing for the city of Ventura in the Star, public works director Ron Calkins declares:

Last week, after many months of negotiation and collaboration between
cities, environmental groups and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality
Control Board, a new results-oriented, cost-effective, countywide
storm-water permit was issued. Possibly the most progressive in the
nation, the new permit contains stringent and precedent-setting
regulations focused on further improving water quality.

'Specially impressive to yours truly, the ruling contains verification procedures. Gold notes:

Until the budget crisis devastated California’s beach monitoring
programs, Ventura County monitored over 50 beaches on a weekly basis. 
Officials eliminated their program when state funding stopped.  With
the inclusion of mandatory monitoring at Ventura County’s most
stormdrain pollution-impacted beaches, the public health of swimmers
and surfers will be better protected.

Congratulations to the far-sighted and hard-working folks at Cal EPA who worked through this long, hard decision…which will help keep beach clean for one and all.

[pic of Ventura Beach in 8/08 from drummrl966]

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Jay Bennett is in the stars now…

Sad news: Jay Bennett, who played with Jeff Tweedy in the band known as Wilco, died over the weekend.

Although Wilco became a big rock band sometime between Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, for many fans their high watermark remains the epochal Mermaid Avenue project.

For this record, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora asked Wilco and Billy Bragg to put music to some of the countless countless songs left behind by her late great father.

The best of these songs? By consensus, (as even Tweedy admitted, on film in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart)….California Stars.

The man who wrote the music? Jay Bennett.

The lyrics are great, by the way, Woody at his most romantic…here's the last few lines:

So, I'd give this world

just to dream a dream with you

On our bed of California stars

And here's a performance of the same, featuring Bennett behind Tweedy, on electric lead guitar:

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How Lovely Wetness Makes the Flesh

This holiday weekend some swimming may have happened. We all know how beautiful people can be emerging from the water, but it takes a poet to see the bigger picture

By Tennessee Williams, in the fall issue of Southwest Review. Written
on the stationery of the Hotel Woodstock, the poem dates from 1939,
when Williams visited New York City to attend the World’s Fair.

How lovely wetness makes the flesh
our bodies will declare
when we step from this shining pool
into the shining air

How lovely passion makes the lips
our kiss will testify
when we step from this brilliant earth
into the brilliant sky

from Harper's. Image from Matt Groller:


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Holiday for Rock Fans: Wilco Streams New Record

In response to an unauthorized release, Wilco does the generous thing and streams their new record — to be released at the end of next month — on their site.

Sounds damn good, but you have to be tough to listen to it…"One Wing" might break your heart. "You and I" will touch it, for sure. This one will be big, as if Wilco weren't already. Jeff Tweedy even comes up with an inspirational chorus for climate-panicked enviros (from "You Never Know"):

Cmon children, you're acting like children/every generation thinks it's the end of the world..

Plus, the cover is hilarious.


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where I am today…in the middle of San Francisco bay….

On Angel Island with my family, camping out…something one couldn't do not so long ago.

Where is Angel Island? In San Francisco Bay…a lovely, wooded island, with a few buildings from a century ago, and a few new campsites. Will report soon.

Here's a woodcut print from the inimitable Tom Killion, from a perspective atop West Point on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. Angel Island is in the center of the bay….awaiting the incoming of the fog.


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