On Great Lakes Day, Some Pictures

I have a whole post planned about a terrible new law making its way through Michigan that will reduce oversight on lake withdrawals, as well as the gigantic diversion giveaways Scott Walker wants to give to Foxconn, but since it is Great Lakes Day, I thought maybe some pictures.

Let’s look at the stunning beauty of the Lakes, and think about what an enormous gift, what a continent-defining feature, what life-affirming and life-sustaining bodies these are, how they’ve molded our history and have given birth to millions of paused thoughts. And let’s remember to protect them.

(prior posts on Great Lakes are below)



Courtesy of NASA

Look at how even the enormity of Chicago is just a blurry fuzz at Lake Michigan’s southern end. What I love about pictures like this is that you can see the meaningless and the human intrusion of borders.


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Public domain image taken from International Space Station


Small as we may be, our impact is enormous. From here, the lakes look almost unnatural, like the human lights (a gross and small-minded echo of the northern lights above) are the natural feature, and there is a vast darkness interposing itself. And in a way, that’s true: the lakes can swallow whole our individual aspirations, lap at our shores unconcerned and erosive. For years, I was terrified by Lake Michigan at night, but could never place it: the vastness and the lack of concern for human existence gave me an unnamable dread. As I got older, I figured it out, but it is no less quieting for that.


I saw this on twitter, but there’s no mention of origin, so I’ll just say it is beautiful.


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This was taken by the Canadian Space Agency. I like it for the different perspective than our usual “north is up” one, which makes little sense on a round planet. But also: Canadian Space Agency!


These two beautiful shots were taken by Allison, just this afternoon, at Illinois State Beach Park. If you look closely at the bottom one, pointing south, you can see the dim outlines of the Chicago skyline, some 40 miles away. It’s so far, and so vast, and you’re really just still at the bottom part of the lake. Geologically, you’re right next door to Chicago.

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These were taken by me at various times in the last year. All about the same spot, and all, to me, show the great gift of the Lakes, with their never-same moods contrasting with their omnipresence. They are stabilizing, and we look to them in the morning to reassure of us some continuity, even as the world breaks apart, and even as their changing faces gives us a glimpse of our own impermanence.

Here are a few Great Lakes posts, if you’re inclined to do more reading.



Programming Note!


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Stop the presses! 


Hey all- I know it has been a bit of a spell since I posted. Started a new job, in an office, and am working out when I am going to write. Somehow haven’t been able to get up early enough to do so, but am working on it. Will start posting more before and after work, starting next week.

At least that’s the plan, but as they say, when man makes a plan, God laughs and laughs and laughs. Honestly, it kills him. He just doesn’t stop. It’s really weird.

Back to regular posting soon.


 Obvious accompaniment to the post

(We’re probably not going to have a nuclear war with North Korea. Probably. But it is a good reminder that the Presidency in invested with literally godlike powers, essentially unchecked control over life and death on the planet. I’m linking back to an article I wrote last June about how this is power nobody should have, especially not Donald Trump. Denuclearization may be a pipe dream, but it is one worth fighting for.)

“But then…who should have that power?  Even by being asked, the question quickly reveals itself to be ‘nobody.’ Merely by dint of winning over undecideds in Ohio, one person can end civilization. A human being, woken up at 2:00AM, and told that the bombs are coming, and most people they’ve ever met may be killed, and they themselves might die horribly tonight, have to decide what to do. They have 5 or 6 minutes in which the literal fate of humankind rests in their hands. Even Ronald Reagan, rarely a deep thinker, couldn’t believe that the most important decision a human could ever make- the most important decision any human ever made- could come down to those few moments.”

Read the full post here, kids! And never sleep again.

A Scattering of Summer Thoughts on the Orange-Moon Night of August 8th

This post has like, zero politics, and is just discursive and recursive and indulgent ramblings, so feel free to skip. 


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This wasn’t tonight, but that’s what it looked like!


You set out on an eastward walk as darkness begins to stretch a light blanket over the sky and crickets warm up their chittering symphony.  You’d say it is still light out when you leave the door, but by the time you’re a few blocks away from the lake, where the air takes on a subtle sweetwater perspiration, cars have their lights on and faces are indistinct until they pass you, barely preceded by snatches of conversation.

“If there was going to be a rule about where to stand, there should have been a sign.”

“We have enough space, but we don’t have enough room.”

You don’t know the signs or the rule, and you can’t help them with their space issues. The conversations are all couples right now, older than you, settled in, comfortable in the minutia of their observations. Relaxed and unhurried as they disappear into the strengthening night. But you’re unsettled.

Continue reading

Quick Programming Note (Update)

We’ll be live-blogging the President’s farewell address tonight. It makes me sad that so much time was spent on this campaign, and the hideous aftermath, that we haven’t spent many words reflecting on this truly remarkable figure. I’ll try to rectify that in the next week, before the rough beast’s hour comes round at last.

UPDATE: We won’t be liveblogging. I just want to watch my President. Sorry, failed blogger code.

Publishing Note: Odd hours on the horizon

As I mentioned last week, I started a new job this week. In an office, with a commute (easy train ride, thankfully). My morning is shorter and so far (one day in) haven’t grokked about blogging during the day. I am sure I’ll find time and a routine soon enough, and will get back to what matters. If this seems unacceptable to you, I urge you to write your favorite publisher and demand they hire me as a fulltime writer immediately.

Throwback Thursday: Yemen Between the Wars

Note: I’ll be out of town between the 4th and the 15th, in a wilderness repast, with little to absolutely zero connection to the internet or my phone. Posts during this time, written in advance, will be bigger-picture, or more idiosyncratic, rather than directly pegged to the news. If events happen that supersede or negate anything I say, think of these as a more innocent time capsule. Try not to let the country burn down while I’m gone.

(All posts about Yemen have been, almost be definition, depressing. And they’ve been depressing because this means something. These are real people, in a real country, which was and is filled with beauty. I’m going to reprint an essay I wrote about the Old City of San’a, way back in 2004. It was for a book I helped The Yemen Observer publish, to commemorate San’a. I honestly don’t know if I have the permission to run this, but will anyway, because I think it matters. I want people to know that this was real and living city, wrecked by idiot ideologies. I apologize for the youthful Orientalism– I wince every time I see “nameless” in the 2nd paragraph– but I’m going to leave it intact. Please don’t think this is an attempt to define San’a; that isn’t in me, and I’m not arrogant and misguided enough to believe that it was. I urge you to read Abdel Aziz al-Maqaleh. It is just my impressions at the time, and they are now a terrible reflection of the broken and shattered present. The talk of permanence has brought bitter tears. If you read this, please know it was written with love, love for people and a place. And think of them as you read it. I want to thank Greg Johnsen for providing the image that opens the piece).

The brown and white cupolas of the AL-Mahdi Abbas Mosque loom above the dry banks of a stone river. Inside is a tomb; outside is a magician. The tomb is of the man whose mosque bears his name. A ruled of Yemen who twice had to put down revolts led by the sorcerers of his day, he lies uneasy as another one has come back to haunt his restless nights. The magician is a teamaker, a timeless resident of Sana’a, who operates at night in a dirty and noisy little hole carved into the side of the silent mosque.

It is here, at the nameless stand operated by a nameless stranger that you can get the best cup of tea in town. The magician doesn’t pour milk into the black tea– he makes it all at the same time, a long procedure that is worth the wait, the noise, and the screaming silence of its creator. The sweetness of his alchemy is matched only by the grandeur of the view from the uncomfortable metal chairs that are set up haphazardly outside. You sit and sip and gaze out over the paved levy that used to carry water and raiders into Sana’a. On the other side the Old City sits in its nighttime silence. Frontlit from the street, it seems unreal, a movie prop, a gingerbread backdrop that would topple on you if a strong wind came roaring off Jebel Nuqum.

Continue reading

Programming Note: Out on The Road


I’ll be traveling the next week and a half, with almost no internet (and virtually none after Saturday). There won’t be any posts tomorrow or Friday, but I have some scheduled for next week. These are longer (how?), more big-picture posts on American fascism, Constitutional crises, AQAP vs ISIS, and more. Hope you enjoy. Try not to let Trump take the lead, ok?

Bold prediction: by the time I’m blogging again on the 15th Trump will have said something stupid. You can take it to the bank. The money bank!



Programming Note


Today is Wednesday, softball day, which means I have two choices.

  1. Go outside with friends on a beautiful (if meltingly hot) summer day, run around, have some laughs, and then go for pizza and beer in a fierce and successful attempt to negate any exercise, or;
  2. Watch Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and Newt Gingrich, who I’ve ranked in order of loathsomeness (and that list began with Mike Pence and didn’t even end with Ted Cruz)  tell enormous lies in an attempt to elect the worst candidate in American history? Knowing that I’ll be watching said candidate speak tomorrow? And that I’ve already spent two summer days inside watching more or less the same, but not from five of my top-30 least favorite politicians, and 3 of the top 3/4 (depending on what you call Trump)?

It’s a close call!