Thursday, September 29, 2005

Karen Hughes

HughesRice Last March 14th, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, announced that Karen Hughes, a former key Bush advisor, was to serve as Under Secretary of State, Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs - a position with the rank of Ambassador. She was nominated in June, confirmed by the Senate a month later, and sworn in three weeks ago.

Described by David Boaz of the Cato Institute in 2001 as "the Power Behind the Curtain," Mrs. Hughes had left Washington in 2002 to spend more time with her family in Texas. Now that her son has started Stanford, Mrs. Hughes is willing to spend more time away from home. She is currently in the Middle East, representing you and me, to the Muslim world. You see, her mission is to change the perception of foreigners - especially Muslims - about the United States. According to Ms. Rice, foreigners have been subjected to "hateful propaganda" and "dangerous myths" about our country. It will be Mrs. Hughes' job to counteract these myths and propaganda and "get out the truth." As the Washington Post put it, she is "to reinvigorate the campaign for hearts and minds overseas." I wish her lots of luck.

The selection of Mrs Hughes is remarkable less by the six months it took her to get on the job than by her almost complete lack of qualifications. Her offical State Department biography reads:
Ambassador Karen Hughes was nominated by President George W. Bush on June 29, 2005 to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 29, 2005 and sworn in on Sept. 9, 2005. As Under Secretary, Ms. Hughes leads efforts to improve America’s dialogue with the world. She participates in policy development and oversees three bureaus at the Department of State: Educational and Cultural Affairs, Public Affairs, and International Information Programs.

Ambassador Hughes previously served as an advisor to President Bush for more than 10 years. As Counselor to the President for his first 18 months in the White House, she was involved in major domestic and foreign policy issues, led the communications effort in the first year of the war against terror, and managed the White House Offices of Communications, Media Affairs, Speechwriting and Press Secretary.

She served as Director of Communications during the President’s 6 years as Governor of Texas, and was the communications director for his successful 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns and his 2000 presidential campaign.

Ambassador Hughes returned to Texas in 2002 but continued to serve as an informal advisor to the President and was a communications consultant for his 2004 re-election campaign. She is the author of Ten Minutes from Normal, the story of her experiences working for President Bush, and she helped write the President’s autobiography, A Charge to Keep.

Ambassador Hughes is a former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas and a former television news reporter for KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth. Ms. Hughes is a Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude graduate of Southern Methodist University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Journalism. She is an elder and long-time Sunday school teacher in the Presbyterian church.
While Mrs. Hughes may be a smart as the come, a trusted presidential advisor, and as good a person as a sunday school teacher can be, one is struck by her complete lack of training or experience dealing with foreign governments, institutions or individuals. I have more experience in foreign countries and with foreigners than she does.

Further, however talented at communications and public relations - spin, if you will - Mrs. Hughes will find that foreigners watch our country very closely, and have for a long time. They know much more about us than we them. They don't think they have a perception problem. They think they have a reality problem. And they are right.

Indeed her elevation to this post seems to shout that the Bush administration sees our problems overseas as more the resulting from the ignorance, gullibility or malevolence of foreigners than of anything we may have done to squander the almost universal support we had from the rest of the world after 9/11/01. I have a box of rocks in my garage - pea gravel actually - that is smarter than that. That attitude is just not going to win friends or influence people.

While irony seems to be everywhere these days, it seems almost beyond belief that in presenting Mrs. Hughes to the world as our "P.R. Ambassador" this administration can no better illustrates its belief that reality matters less than perception. Lincoln had a saying about that. And Ron Suskind the telling quote in his New York Times Magazine article, Without a Doubt, last October:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
If there is any silver lining in Mrs Hughes' efforts on our behalf it may be that she has the capability to learn despite the blinders and filters of neocom ideology. Confronting reality often enough abroad she just may return to the President's ear with the message that only changes in American policy, not changes in U.S. propaganda, will boost our image abroad. In other words, reality matters.

I am not holding my breath.

Monday, September 26, 2005


PicklesI don't remember when my mother started making 14-day pickles. There seems to have always been jars in the basement waiting to ride back with me after every visit home.

Earlier this summer I noticed only a few remaining. I asked if she was going to make pickles again this year. She told me no; she said she was getting too old for all the time and work involved. I suppose at 86 she is old enough to decide such things, but I was a little taken back.

Upon returning home I discovered a copy of her pickle recipe she had typed for me many years ago. So I decided to rescue one of her crocks and make some of my own.

We'll see if these are as-good-as-mother-used-to-make, but I doubt it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Duhks


Last night, as Rita annoyed the Gulf Coast, my wife and I traveled to Charlotte and the Neighborhood Theatre to hear the Duhks (pronounced Ducks, not Dukes), a band of 20 somethings from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I had heard them briefly - and at a distance - at Merlefest and thought they would be great in a small venue. I was right.

Those of you who know me realize that I am often most taken by music that is difficult to categorize, hard to stick a label on. The Duhks are right down my alley. In fact, when they were featured on NPR's All Things Considered last February the piece was titled: The Duhks, a Tough Band to Pigeonhole. As the "Live at NPR" piece began:
The Duhks defy easy categorization. Fans and acquaintances have used phrases like "Blue Rodeo meets Celtic rock," "progressive soulgrass" and "Destiny's Child meets the Chieftains" to describe the Canadian band.
Duhks2After a couple of songs I leaned over and asked my wife - who has heard just about as much music as me - if she had ever heard anybody like them. "No," she said slowly, "I don't believe I have." Then she smiled. I guess we are both Duhklings now.

Here is a press kit photo from their web site. While it does do justice to their youth, it does not give a clue to their mature musicianship - or their new tattoos.

KellinWatsonOpening the evening was the Kellin Watson Band from Asheville, one of my favorite places in the Universe. In fact Kellin must have attended UNCA about the same time as my daughter. Unlike my daughter, Kellin told our crowd that she did not graduate, preferring to seek her fortune as a musician. She may have made a good decision.

To my ear she sounds like a wonderful cross between Rickie Lee Jones and Joan Osborne. She writes much of her own material and her guitar is definitely not a singers prop. Like her friends the Duhks, Kellin is musically mature beyond her years.

Sitting in the darkened theatre I was once again reminded of the magic of live music. And I thought of all the great music being played at that moment at small clubs and converted movie houses like the Neighborhood - great music you don't hear on the radio and is often hard to find in stores.

And I also thought that not long ago it would have surprised - and maybe bothered - me that I would enjoy so much music played by "kids" half my age. Not anymore. As I was reminded again last night, it's the music that matters.

Next week it's the subdudes. Red beans and rice anyone?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Out of the Woods

SailboatAs you may have surmised, I have been on the road again. After a quick visit to the Northern Neck on family business - and an overnighter at my mother's - I recovered my sailboat from the woods behind my wife's parents home near Blacksburg.

After sitting unprotected for about eight years, the 13-foot Lone Star is in better shape than she has any right to be. Two new tires and repacking wheel bearings and the rig was ready for the six-hour trip to its new quarters in our backyard.

I purchased the Eyleen about twenty years ago from an estate. The previous owner had sailed her in his retirement on a small lake near Asheville. Of course it had more damage than I realized at the time and she spent many rehab hours in my basement atop Mineral Springs Mountain.

I had been sailing only once before buying a sailboat of my own. That afternoon on the Chesapeake Bay was life altering. I had never been so relaxed and alert at the same time as the small craft responded to both wind and wave. Because I had been in and around small boats as far back as I could remember I was sure that my almost total lack of sailing experience was not going to be a problem.

Our peaceful maiden solo voyage ended abruptly on a #!@*!! sand bar in what appeared to be the middle of the channel near Morehead City in 1987. Damage to my "new and improved" centerboard assembly was considerable. After awkwardly tacking back to shore she has remained on her trailer ever since. Not wanting to take her with us immediately when we moved to Wisconsin, I parked her in the Virginia mountains in 1997 - out of sight, out of mind, at least until recently.

Will she sail again? Don't count the Eyleen out quite yet. Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Duck 9-15 7amThis is the beach and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Field research pier at Duck, North Carolina this morning. The wind at that time was only about 25 knots (~29 mph) with 8 foot waves.

My mother has a timeshare condo about a quarter mile to your right. I have walked that beach many times over the years.

Several years ago using this same website I saw the end of the pier underwater as another hurricane approached.

Ophelia was still about 100 miles south.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Slow Dancing with Ophelia

If Ophelia spends anywhere near as much time over land as she has off our coast, we've got problems.

I think the color balance - the greens, the blues - between the last satellite image and the colors of this blog are a much better match than today's. Don't you agree Kevin?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dancing With Ophelia

opheliaIt looks like we in the Carolina's have a hurricane to call our own. Although not nearly as powerful as Katrina - or Hugo (see 9/2/05 post) - she could still do some damage.

While she makes up her mind about exactly where to go I think I'll consider about what to do if she visits here.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dancing With Katrina

Media coverage has seemed fixated on the flooding of New Orleans and the poor governmental planning and disaster response. But east of the Big Easy is where the real death and distruction from the "natural" portion of this disaster took place.JoshNorman

Before the storm hit the Gulf Coast two young newspaper reporters, Josh Norman (right) and Mike Keller of the Sun-Herald, started a rather light-hearted blog, first called Dancing with Katrina, but now named Eye of the Storm. I stumbled across their blog early on Tuesday, August 30th, when the magnitude of what they had lived through was just beginning to sink in.PassChristian

They have continued to post, both from the perspective of journalists and survivors. Reading forward from their first posts on that Sunday evening and carefully looking at their photos - like the one from Pass Christian above - is as close to being there as I would care.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Maynard G. Krebs

MaynardGKrebsYou may remember Gilligan; I remember Maynard, my first TV role model.
I was thirteen when Maynard introduced me to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. While the other seventh graders identified with Dobie, Thalia, Zelda, or Milton Armitage, my main man was always Maynard.
"You rang?"
Maynard was TV's first acknowledgment that things might be getting strange among the youth in the safe-as-milk 1950's. When The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis first aired in 1959 Maynard, as the stereotypical beatnik, was just a goofy oddball, a foil. Ten years later - think Woodstock - there were millions of us, Maynard's spiritual descendents.
"Like, I'm getting all misty."
I am sure somewhere in a closet at my mother's home are my bongos. Really.

R.I.P. Bob Denver. And thanks.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Rising Tide

Like you I have been watching with horror the second landfall and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.Hurricanhugo The pictures of the devastation of the Gulf coast reminded me of that early morning of September 22nd, 1989 when another category 4 hurricane, Hugo, plowed inland toward my home in the mountains of North Carolina, snapping trees, closing roads and causing considerable damage to life and property. I was lucky; the worst for me was losing power for six days. As I traveled around North Carolina in the days and weeks following I saw first hand how much damage a major hurricane can do, even hundreds of miles from the ocean.

However, the damage along the Gulf Coast this week is much worse than I went through, and much more than a natural disaster; it is a very human one. I am not referring to the horror, misery and heartbreak of the victims. I am writing of the human decisions to build inappropriate structures in inappropriate places. I am writing of inadequate preparation and poor execution of emergency plans. I am writing about the private wealth and public poverty that turns unavoidable acts of nature into avoidable tragedies. I am writing about New Orleans.

As heart rending are the stories of Mobile, Slidell and Gulfport, the breaching of the levees around New Orleans and the slow covering of the city with floodwaters after the hurricane had passed has become the focus of our attention. Maybe it should. Few other cities provide a better example of poor city planning, with science and solid engineering taking a back seat to ignorance, greed, and the worst of U.S. politics.

Rising TideIn order to understand what is going on in the Big Easy now one must understand a little history, a history of the river and those who would "tame" it. I would recommend as a starter John M. Barry's 1997 book, Rising Tide: the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.

New Orleans itself was spared damage from the flood of 1927, caused not by a sudden hurricane but months of rainfall in the upper midwest. But nearby, down river St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes were deliberately flooded by a levee breach carried out by the leading power brokers of New Orleans. As Mr. Barry tells the story in an interview found on the PBS web site:
You know, the 1927 Flood was two stories. It was man against nature, but it was also man against man. And part of the story in man against man involved the city of New Orleans, which in 1927 was a much more vibrant and vital city than it is today. It was, by far, the leading city in the South, economically dwarfed, literally double and triple Miami, Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Louisville, any of its rivals. And one of the things that the people in New Orleans who ran the city were concerned about was fear of their investors, who were mostly in New York and Boston, of what the Mississippi River might do to New Orleans in a big flood. So here, you had this tremendous flood coming down the river and, oddly enough, it didn't threaten New Orleans. And the reason it didn't threaten New Orleans was because there was no possible way that that water was ever going to make it to New Orleans. The levees upriver had to break. They had to, as, in fact, they did. For example, the river spread out 70 miles from Vicksburg to Monroe, Louisiana. But before that happened, while people in New York were worrying about whether or not they should put more money into New Orleans and invest in the port and so forth, the city fathers decided to demonstrate that they would never, under any circumstances, allow the river to threaten the city. So what they did was decide to dynamite the levee about 13 miles below the city and flood out their neighbors. Race had nothing to do with this. They were almost all poor whites who were flooded out.

INT: Describe what happens when levees break upriver.

JB: When the levees upriver break, it lets water out of the river. So, therefore, the level in the river gets lower. In fact, in every flood there's concerns about sabotage, 'cause if the levee on one side of the river breaks, that side floods, but the people on the other side of the river are safe. And, in fact, there were at least a dozen people killed in separate gun battles in 1927 over attempts to sabotage the levee. And, in fact, in Vicksburg, the record on the Vicksburg gauge is not 1927. The reason is the water had spread out to Monroe, Louisiana, 70 miles away. So, obviously, that's going to lower the water level.

INT: Tell me Jadwin's response and Hoover's response when they were asked to weigh in on the levy.

JB: Well, before the City of New Orleans could do this, they needed permission. And they needed it from both the governor and the federal government. Hoover was then Secretary of Commerce. He and Jadwin (Corps of Engineers) were actually coming down the river on an inspection boat and one of the New Orleans elite took a motorboat up the river to meet on board. And Hoover and Jadwin greeted this New Orleans delegation warmly and as soon as the people from New Orleans started to explain what they wanted, Hoover stood up and walked out. He wanted no part of it. He was already running for President and this was too dirty for him. He simply said, “That's General Jadwin's business,” ‘cause Jadwin had the legal authority. And Jadwin finally went along only if New Orleans promised to, among other things, fully compensate the victims of the dynamiting, which they freely promised. And, in fact, 54 leading men of New Orleans, the president of every major business, the president of every trade association, the city council, the mayor, and so forth, they all signed a pledge that they would, in fact, compensate the victims fully. A couple years later when the claims came in, they'd paid off pennies on the dollar and there were roughly 10,000 who were flooded out of their homes. When the water went through, there was absolutely nothing left. And their homes were gone, their means of making a living disappeared, and they got an average of $80 a person, something like that.
There is much more to the 1927 flood, and Rising Tide, than this incident. After reading the book one understands much better just how New Orleans became ringed with levees and one gets a feeling what needs to be done to keep such a disaster from happening again.

I could not help but remember the crime of those city fathers against their neighbors as I watched the waters rise this week on Canal Street. Maybe what is playing out today on the streets of New Orleans is a crude cosmic payback to the city, albeit a bit late. Sadly, once again, the poor are paying a disproportional costs of folly.