Category Archives: Weblogs

Of typewriters and masking tape

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“It cannot happen here”: Pipeline pushback attends Exxon Valdez anniversary

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Goethe’s third tendency

Our wishes are presentiments of capabilities that lie within us, harbingers of what we shall be able to accomplish.  The things we can and would like to do are presented to us by our imagination as being beyond us and in the future; and we feel a longing for something already latent in us.  Thus our passionate reaching out in advance transforms a true possibility into an imaginary reality.  If a particular tendency is definitely in our nature, then a part of our early wish will be fulfilled at every step of our development, in a straight line if circumstances are favorable, and if they are unfavorable, then in a roundabout way from which we constantly turn back to the right one.  So people are seen attaining to earthly goods through their perseverance; they surround themselves with riches, magnificence, and outward honor.  Even more surely, others strive for spiritual advantages; they acquire a clear overview of things, peace of mind, and security for the present and future.

However, there is also a third tendency, which as a mixture of the other two must be the one surest of success.  If, that is to say, a person’s youth coincides with a pregnant epoch, one in which productivity predominates over destruction, and his presentiments about the demands and promises of such a time awaken early, then, urged on by outward incentives to participate actively, he will reach out in all directions, and the wish will stir in him to be effective in a variety of endeavors.  Now, in addition to his human limitations, so many incidental hindrances will arise that either a project begun does not progress, or something grasped falls out of his hand, and one wish after the other disintegrates.  However, if his wishes have issued from a pure heart and meet the requirements of the time, then he may calmly let things lie as they fall, right and left, in full confidence that they will not only be discovered and picked up again, but that many related matters, not touched on or even thought of, will also come to light.  If, during the course of our life, we see others accomplish what we ourselves earlier felt it was our calling to do, but had to abandon along with much else, then we get the beautiful feeling that mankind in combination is the only true human being, and that the individual can be glad and happy only when he has the courage to feel himself part of the whole.

Goethe, From My Life:  Poetry and Truth, Book 9

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Kicking it


March 5 [1838].  But what does all this scribbling amount to?  What is now scribbled in the heat of the moment one can contemplate with somewhat of satisfaction, but alas! to-morrow — aye, to-day — it is stale, flat and unprofitable — in fine, is not, only its shell remains, like some red parboiled lobster-shell which, kicked aside never so often, still stares at you in the path.

Thoreau, Gleanings

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A recipe for durable sentences

It is the fault of some excellent writers – De Quincey’s first impressions on seeing London suggest it to me – that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail.  They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness….they say all they mean.  Their sentences are not concentrated and nutty.  Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct; to frame these, that is the art of writing.  Sentences which are expensive, towards which so many volumes, so much life, went; which lie like boulders on the page, up and down or across; which contain the seed of other sentences, not mere repetition but creation.  If De Quincey had suggested each of his pages in a sentence and passed on, it would have been far more excellent writing.

Thoreau recorded this entry in his journal on August 22, 1851.


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“xxx,” Joan Didion

“What we need here is a montage, music over.  How she:  talked to her father and xxxx and xxxxx–

“xx,” he said.

“xxx,” she said.

How she:

“How she did this and why she did that and what the music was when they did x and x and xxx–

How he, and also she–”

The above are notes I made in 1995 for a novel I published in 1996, The Last Thing He Wanted.  I offer them as a representation of how comfortable I used to be when I wrote, how easily I did it, how little thought I gave to what I was saying until I had already said it.  In fact, in any real sense, what I was doing then was never writing at all:  I was doing no more than sketching in a rhythm and letting that rhythm tell me what I was saying.  Many of the marks I set down on the page were no more than “xxx,” or “xxxx,” symbols that meant “copy tk,” or “copy to come,” but do notice:  such symbols were arranged in specific groupings.  A single “x” differed from a double “xx,” “xxx” from “xxxx.”  The number of such symbols had a meaning.  The arrangement was the meaning.

—  Joan Didion, Blue Nights, 103-4



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Mexico: U.S. Alleges Iranian Assassination Plot Involving Los Zetas

The following is my latest post for Global Voices (, published this morning.  My thanks to Silvia Vinas, editor of the Latin America “desk,” for her support.

On October 11, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two men with conspiring with “factions of the Iranian government” to carry out a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir, and to bomb both the Saudi and Israeli embassies, all in Washington D.C.  Attorney General Eric Holder praised law enforcement and intelligence agencies who worked together to disrupt a plot “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”

According to early reports by Al Arabiya and other news agencies,

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a U.S. informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.  The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of the feared Zetas Mexican drug organization, according to agents quoted by ABC News….

An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the U.S. allegations that the Islamic republic was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi envoy.  “This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States”… the president’s press advisor told AFP.

For a Spanish-language account of events, see Animal Político.

In the immediate aftermath of the press conference at which U.S. authorities first publicized the plot, began live-streaming tweets that responded to the provocative reports. In an apparent effort to promote coherence, the site divides the broad array of incoming tweets into three columns, headed “Iranian Plot,” “Mexican Drug Cartels” and “Saudi Arabia.” It is still livestreaming at the time of this post’s writing.

A Twitter search filtered through the hashtags #Mexico #Iran likewise turns up a spectrum of responses. While early tweets for the most part conveyed the details of the alleged plot, sometimes with links to news reports, it was not long before editorializing took over. @Sarmastian, based in Tottenham, was provoked to tweet twice in rapid succession:

@Sarmastian: #US have for years been looking for an excuse to crack down on Mexican border by linking cartels with IRGC. #Iran #Mexico #MidEast

@Sarmastian: #Iran could easily get to a #Saudi target within Saudi itself via non-Iranians. The news reported stinks inside-out. #US #MidEast #Mexico

Writing from Mexico, Carlos (@alquicarlos) used quotation marks, hashtags and a direct mention to Mexican President Felipe Calderón to inflect his intervention:

Que #NarcoUSAterror “descubrió” que los Z les maquilan armas de destrucción masiva a Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traidor @felipecalderon

#NarcoUSAterror “discovered” that the Z [Zetas] make weapons of mass destruction for Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traitor @felipecalderon

From the other side of the Rio Grande, @Lima570 from San Antonio wrote,

I hope no one is surprised that terrorist [sic] are working with Mexican drug cartel

Several netizens linked the alleged plot to the ongoing scandal over U.S. Operation “Fast and Furious”@JamesinSELA, for example, tweeted to a morning radio show:

@cspanwj If the mexican drug cartels are now terrorist organizations, did Holder give arms to terrorists?

In a similar vein, @TehGoldenRule posed a question that was not simply rhetorical.

@Ryan_Konky If that was an act of war what is letting 1,000s of assault weapons make their way to Mexican drug cartels?

From an unspecified location in the Twitterverse, @brownwc voiced a skepticism shared by many netizens around the globe.

Iranians hire Mexican drug cartel hit squad to assassinate Saudi ambassador. U.S. foils the plan. Can’t wait for the movie. #isthisreallife?


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