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Gender: Male
Hometown: America's Finest City
Current location: District 50
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 11,808

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The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down

Swifts spend all their time in the sky. What can their journeys tell us about the future?

I found a dead common swift once, a husk of a bird under a bridge over the River Thames, where sunlight from the water cast bright scribbles on the arches above. I picked it up, held it in my palm, saw the dust in its feathers, its wings crossed like dull blades, its eyes tightly closed, and realized that I didn’t know what to do. This was a surprise. Encouraged by books, I’d always been the type of Gothic amateur naturalist who preserved interesting bits of the dead. I cleaned and polished fox skulls; disarticulated, dried and kept the wings of roadkill birds. But I knew, looking at the swift, that I could not do anything like that to it. The bird was suffused with a kind of seriousness very akin to holiness. I didn’t want to leave it there, so I took it home, swaddled it in a towel and tucked it in the freezer. It was in early May the next year, as soon as I saw the first returning swifts flowing down from the clouds, that I knew what I had to do. I went to the freezer, took out the swift and buried it in the garden one hand’s-width deep in earth newly warmed by the sun.

Swifts are magical in the manner of all things that exist just a little beyond understanding. Once they were called the “Devil’s bird,” perhaps because those screaming flocks of black crosses around churches seemed pulled from darkness, not light. But to me, they are creatures of the upper air, and of their nature unintelligible, which makes them more akin to angels. Unlike all other birds I knew as a child, they never descended to the ground.

When I was young, I was frustrated that there was no way for me to know them better. They were so fast that it was impossible to focus on their facial expressions or watch them preen through binoculars. They were only ever flickering silhouettes at 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, a shoal of birds, a pouring sheaf of identical black grains against bright clouds. There was no way to tell one bird from another, nor to watch them do anything other than move from place to place, although sometimes, if the swifts were flying low over rooftops, I’d see one open its mouth, and that was truly uncanny, because the gape was huge, turning the bird into something uncomfortably like a miniature basking shark. Even so, watching them with the naked eye was rewarding in how it revealed the dynamism of what before was merely blankness. Swifts weigh about 1½ ounces, and their surfing and tacking against the pressures of oncoming air make visible the movings of the atmosphere.

They still seem to me the closest things to aliens on Earth. I’ve seen them up close now, held a live grounded adult in my hands before letting it fall back into the sky. You know those deep-sea fish dragged by nets from fathoms of blackness, how obvious it is that they aren’t supposed to exist where we are? The adult swift was like that in reverse. Its frame was tough and spare, and its feathers were bleached by the sun. Its eyes seemed unable to focus on me, as if it were an entity from an alternate universe whose senses couldn’t quite map onto our phenomenal world. Time ran differently for this creature. If you record swifts’ high-pitched, insistent screaming and slow it down to human speed, you can hear what their voices sound like as they speak to one another: a wild, bubbling, rising and falling call, something like the song of common loons.


A long but engaging essay.

Even Republicans found a Trump nominee too bigoted. Trump appointed him anyway.

MINUTES BEFORE Anthony J. Tata was set to testify last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the hearing on his nomination to a top policy position in the Pentagon was canceled. Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) claimed the committee hadn’t received all the necessary documents, but it was clear that enough members of the committee — Republican and Democratic — knew enough about Mr. Tata and his bigoted views to realize he was completely unsuitable for this critical job.

President Trump’s response? Doubling down on bigotry while showing total contempt for the U.S. Senate.

On Sunday, the Pentagon announced Mr. Tata’s appointment to an acting position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation, with identical duties to the position for which the Senate did not deem him qualified.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to find ways to bypass Senate confirmation for potentially problematic nominees. But for his predecessors it was a rare exception. For Mr. Trump it is the rule: fill influential positions with sycophants who lack even the minimal standing needed to satisfy the generally supine Republican majority in the Senate. There has been a singular and disturbing focus on purging the Pentagon of officials the White House sees as disloyal. Indeed, Mr. Tata’s nomination came after Mr. Trump forced the resignation of John C. Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy who pushed back on efforts to withhold military aid to Ukraine, an issue that became a key factor in the president’s impeachment. Of the 60 Senate-confirmed roles at the Pentagon, at least 18 are being filled by officials in an acting capacity. Congressional Democrats maintain that this record number of vacancies poses a threat to national security.


Tucker: 'Probably Illegal' for Biden to Only Consider a Black Woman VP

Fox News star Tucker Carlson—currently facing outrage from network colleagues over his racist rhetoric—upped the ante on Monday night, claiming it was “probably illegal” for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to prioritize Black women in his running-mate search, while calling those candidates unqualified.

Carlson, whose former head writer was recently outed as an outspoken racist, kicked off Monday night’s broadcast of his hit primetime show by singling out the women of color whom Biden is reportedly considering as the vice-presidential nominee.

“We’ve taken a closer look at three potential candidates. All of them are said to be on Joe Biden’s shortlist for the job,” Carlson declared, referencing a previous inflammatory segment. “They are Stacey Abrams, Karen Bass, and Kamala Harris. Now, in a normal year, no mainstream candidate would consider any of these people. All of them would be disqualified without debate.”

The far-right Fox host first described Rep. Bass (D-CA) as a “lunatic Fidel Castro acolyte” and an armed revolutionary, referring to her past praise of the Cuban dictator and work for a young leftist group during the 1970s. After calling Abrams, a former Georgia state representative and gubernatorial candidate, “delusional” and accusing her of writing “bad porn novels,” Carlson took aim at Sen. Harris (D-CA).


This guy is a real piece of work. I'm hoping karma catches up with him soon.

The Wild Story of Creem, Once 'America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine'

On Jaan Uhelszki’s first day at Creem magazine in October 1970, she met a fellow new hire: Lester Bangs, a freelance writer freshly arrived from California to fill the post of record reviews editor. His plaid three-piece suit made him look like an awkward substitute teacher, she thought, and certainly out of place among the hippies and would-be revolutionaries using the publication’s decrepit Detroit office as a crash pad.

Uhelszki, still a teenager, was majoring in journalism at nearby Wayne State University, and had been sent to the fledgling rock magazine by editors at the student newspaper. “They said with a sneer, ‘We can’t publish you, you don’t have any clips, but Creem will publish anybody, why don’t you go walk down the street,’” Uhelszki said in a phone interview. “So my first clips were Creem. I started at the top.”

She’d arrived at the headquarters of “America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine,” as Creem’s front covers would soon proclaim. What began as an underground newspaper soon evolved under Bangs, the editor Dave Marsh and the publisher Barry Kramer into a boisterous, irreverent, boundary-smashing monthly that was equal parts profound and profane. During his half-decade at Creem, Bangs would publish many of the pharmaceutically fueled exegeses that made him “America’s greatest rock critic” — including his epic three-part interview with his hero/nemesis Lou Reed. By 1976, it had a circulation of over 210,000, second only to Rolling Stone.

The magazine’s roller-coaster arc and its lasting impact on the culture is the subject of a spirited new documentary directed by Scott Crawford, “Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine,” which Uhelszki co-wrote and helped produce. The film opens Friday for virtual cinema and limited theatrical release, and comes to VOD on Aug. 28.


Creem was a hoot to read in its heyday. I coincidentally ran across my old stash of magazines in the garage today while packing for a move, and just can't find it within myself to toss them.

Arlington GOP leader doxes neighbors who complain about mask-less businesses

The chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee was kicked out of a Facebook group Sunday for posting personal information of people who complained about county businesses not enforcing rules on masks and physical distancing.

Andrew Loposser posted a set of names with contact information he obtained from the Virginia Department of Health to the more than 11,200-member group “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through Covid-19.”

“Only part of the snitches in Arlington County,” Loposser wrote. “If y’all want to try to destroy businesses via the health department, we will make sure your name, email, phone numbers and addresses are well known to activists who want to peacefully protest you.”

In response to other commenters who supported the effort to report violations to the health department, he added: “The board and any Nazis who want to support this can pound sand.”


Democrats are threatening to expand the Supreme Court. Good.

With an election three months away in which Republicans very well may lose the White House and Senate — even as the 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is battling cancer yet again — the question has arisen anew: What if a Supreme Court seat becomes open between now and the election?

Or even more pointedly, what if a vacancy occurs after an election Republicans lose, but before the new Democratic Senate and president take office? Would Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ram through another conservative justice as a last grab at right-wing judicial supremacy?

In May 2019, McConnell was asked what he would do if a seat became open in the last year of President Trump’s term. “We’d fill it,” he said with a smirk, surprising no one. The reason people in the room laughed knowingly was that when Republicans refused to allow President Barack Obama to fill a vacant seat in 2016, they claimed to be following a new principle, that no president should fill a seat in the final year of a term.

In a career of cynical manipulation and disingenuous rhetoric, it was a high point for McConnell; he himself has bragged many times that stymieing Merrick Garland’s nomination “was the most consequential decision I’ve ever made in my entire public career.” That McConnell did it while claiming he was following a “rule” that ought to apply equally to Democratic and Republican presidencies was icing on the cake, not in spite of but because everyone knew he and Republicans who followed his lead were lying through their grinning teeth.


Trump's name should live in infamy

by George T. Conway III

If there’s one thing we know about President Trump, it’s that he lies and he cheats. Endlessly. And shamelessly. But still, mostly, incompetently.

So it should have come as no surprise that Trump finally went where no U.S. president had ever gone before. In a tweet last week, he actually suggested that the country “Delay the Election.”

That trial balloon was a brazen effort to see if he can defraud his way into four more years in the White House. And why not try? After all, Trump has managed to swindle his way through life, on matters large and small, essential and trivial.

He paid someone to take the SAT for him, according to his niece Mary L. Trump. (He denies it.) A prominent sportswriter wrote an entire book, titled “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,” on how Trump cheats at golf — golf! — through such methods as throwing opponents’ balls into bunkers, miscounting strokes and even declaring himself the winner of tournaments he didn’t play in.


Trump promises to 'Respect our Military!' His hypocrisy is sickening.

“Respect our Military!” President Trump thunders as he demands that military bases remain named after traitors who fought to preserve slavery.

His hypocrisy is sickening. His actions display consistent contempt for the armed forces and their ethos of “duty, honor, country.” All he cares about is using troops as political props. To see how little Trump truly respects our military, all you have to do is examine the differing treatment of three decorated veterans: Alexander Vindman, Eric Greitens, and Anthony J. Tata.

Vindman is the best known of the three — and the only one who represents the best of America. He is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who was awarded a Purple Heart for service in Iraq. His greatest act of heroism occurred, however, not on a foreign battlefield but in a House committee room where he testified under oath about what he had witnessed while working at the National Security Council: namely, that Trump had tried to blackmail Ukraine’s president into helping his political campaign.

In retaliation for telling the truth, Lt. Col. Vindman was fired from the NSC along with his twin brother, and his well-deserved promotion to colonel was endangered. Last month, he retired prematurely, his 21-year career in ruins. “I made the difficult decision to retire because a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation by President Trump and his allies forever limited the progression of my military career,” Vindman wrote in a searing Post op-ed. “Those who choose loyalty to American values and allegiance to the Constitution over devotion to a mendacious president and his enablers are punished.”


A cartel war has transformed once-tranquil Guanajuato into one of Mexico's deadliest states

Word spread quickly here after gunfire erupted at a neighborhood drug rehab center.

Natalia Acosta Medina bolted from her patio, sprinted through the muddy streets and climbed the stairs of the two-story facility.

More than two dozen blood-spattered men lay face-down, some with heads split open, others groaning in agony.

“I turned over the bodies one by one and looked at their faces,” Acosta recalled. “But I never found my son.”


Tragic story. Guanajuato itself is a fascinating and historic colonial town, once one of the wealthiest Mexican cities due to the local silver deposits; one gets around town driving through tunnels created by the mining activities. I hope to return there one day once things calm down.

(It's also home of the Museum of the Mummies, a pretty grotesque exhibition.)

The Mask Slackers of 1918

As the influenza pandemic swept across the United States in 1918 and 1919, masks took a role in political and cultural wars.

The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps. They gave people a “pig-like snout.” Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.

More than a century ago, as the 1918 influenza pandemic raged in the United States, masks of gauze and cheesecloth became the facial front lines in the battle against the virus. But as they have now, the masks also stoked political division. Then, as now, medical authorities urged the wearing of masks to help slow the spread of disease. And then, as now, some people resisted.

In 1918 and 1919, as bars, saloons, restaurants, theaters and schools were closed, masks became a scapegoat, a symbol of government overreach, inspiring protests, petitions and defiant bare-face gatherings. All the while, thousands of Americans were dying in a deadly pandemic.

1918: The infection spreads.

The first infections were identified in March, at an Army base in Kansas, where 100 soldiers were infected. Within a week, the number of flu cases grew fivefold, and soon the disease was taking hold across the country, prompting some cities to impose quarantines and mask orders to contain it.

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