31 December 2006

Blessings on you

May the blessing of light be on you, light without and light within. May the blessed sunshine shine on you and warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire, so that the stranger may come and warm himself at it, and also a friend.

And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle set in the two windows of a house, bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm, and may the blessings of the rain be on you -- the soft, sweet rain. May it fall upon your spirit so that all the little flowers may spring up and shed their sweetness on the air. And may the blessings of the Great Rains be on you, may they beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave there many a shining pool where the blue of heaven shines, and sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the Earth be on you -- the great round earth, may you ever have a kindly greeting for those you pass as you're going along the roads. May the earth be soft under you when you rest upon it, tired at the end of a day, and may it rest easy over you when at the last, you lay out under it, may it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be off from under it quickly and up and off, and on its way to God. And now may the Lord bless you all and bless you kindly.

-- Traditional Irish Blessing

Happy New Year.

30 December 2006

Shameful justice

So, the Iraqi government has executed Saddam Hussein.

They tried and found him guilty, but to carry out the sentence of hanging by the neck until he was dead, custody had to be transferred from Saddam's U.S. jailers to the Iraqis, because we held him in our Baghdad prison.

The sentence was rendered, ostensibly, by the newly elected Iraqi government, but no one was fooled. It was the U.S. that wanted to see him swing.

In the dark, sad, angry eyes of many of his Sunni brethren, Saddam's death at the hands of his enemies -- Shi'ite and American -- makes him a martyr. This may come back to haunt us.

It’s probably fair to say that most people aren’t sad that Saddam is dead and gone. He won't be missed. He was a murdering thug of a dictator who wrote, near the end of his life, gooey romance novels.

As a secular dictator, he kept the Pandora’s Box of violent religious fanaticism in Iraq shut tight through sheer ruthless violence. He was also an ally to the U.S. for many years. We provided him with much of the dark, poisonous might he used in Iraq’s war with Iran, which he would certainly have lost without them. And he used those convenient chemical weapons we provided him with against his own people, as well.

Still, he didn’t cause the U.S. government to lose any sleep until his head got too big and he invaded Kuwait, threatening a strategic source of oil for the U.S.

That was our first oil war. The threat was large enough that a massive coalition of forces from all over the world gathered to send him packing back to Baghdad. From my safe and secure Army public affairs job in Germany, I watched as friends in the Army prepared to go to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, not sure what they might find when they got there and the “Mother of All Wars,” as Saddam called it, dropped on them. I watched and wrote about combat helicopters being shrink-wrapped and loaded on ships the size of a two city blocks and as tall as 12-storey buildings for their journey to the desert, where our forces would soon discover that blowing sand quickly eats into delicate machinery, rendering it useless.

As I prepared to fly back to the U.S. on home leave for a month, I watched the Gulf War start on CNN. It was the first real-time, live war I or anyone else had ever seen on television. It seemed strange to watch it, complete with slick, catchy graphics, logos and slogans. It was as if the war itself were an actual television news program, shown live with sage commentary, multiple reruns and slo-mos with diagrams to keep us watching.

When Saddam fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv, and there on the TV I could see the nighttime city and hear the air-raid sirens wailing and wailing, it made me cry. Missiles and bombs, whoever they’re fired by, aren’t weapons that kill and maim only soldiers, which is bad enough. They also kill and maim old men and women, young men and women, teenagers, small children, dogs and cats, birds. Non-combatants. I cried when our “smart” bombs fell on Baghdad, too, and for the same reason.

The Gulf War ended quickly with Saddam and his troops in a disorganized, running retreat. In the weeks, months and years that followed, U.N. inspectors hunted down and destroyed any weapons of mass destruction he had left. We encouraged the Kurds to rise up against him; he slapped them down brutally. We watched and did nothing. The U.N. imposed sanctions. Iraq’s military might was dead, her people suffering for their leader’s ego. But there was no doubt that Saddam had been defanged.

When George W. Bush took America to war again against Iraq, Saddam didn’t have any teeth left to bite with. He was all bluster. Contrary to what Bush claims, Saddam didn’t kick the weapons inspectors out of Iraq, thereby bringing the might of the U.S. and its mercenary “Coalition of the Willing” down on his head. Instead, Bush decided to wage “pre-emtive war” and told them to get the hell out while they still could. He was about to drop Shock and Awe on Iraq.

He made up lies about Saddam’s WMD and his notorious “plans” against us, and oh, let us not forget Sept. 11, which Bush and his administration implied that Saddam had a hand in.

That was just another lie. Another excuse for Bush to stroke his ego and steal all the Iraqi oil and U.S. treasure he could get his hands on -- $354 billion dollars worth, so far.

Hussein was bad. A monster. No argument there. But America has killed thousands upon thousands more Iraqis than Saddam ever dreamed of killing, and to this day the Bush administration cannot give his people or the world a true reason why. Instead, he makes up feeble, blustering excuses as he goes along.

And America’s war in Iraq won’t end, if Bush can help it, until he leaves office in 751 days. Whoever takes his place will have the bad job of ending American involvement in the abattoir. It’s the only way that Bush won’t “lose” in Iraq. Americans and Iraqis are dying now and will continue to die only to protect this monster’s “legacy.”

What a horror.

Saddam is dead. Pandora's Box is open, the demons trapped inside loosed on the world by George W. Bush. Iraq is now hell on Earth. Its people are engaged in a sectarian civil war, one they might not have had if America hadn’t blithely invaded and then fucked up the aftermath so incredibly badly.

Saddam is dead. Is there any reason at all that anyone else – Iraqi, American, British, Romanian, Estonian -- has to die for George W. Bush’s twisted, vainglorious, power-mongering greed?

And who will bring our own murderous thug of a dictator to justice?

28 December 2006


While Badass Bush variously huddles, crafts, meets, and whimpers as he gets set to gift us all with his latest Iraq policy – a straining exercise in constipated executive powerthinking that has taken since Nov. 7 to come up with -- the number of U.S. soldiers slaughtered in Iraq has topped the number of U.S. citizens killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in this country.

That’s 2,793 U.S. citizens who died horribly on American soil on Sept. 11, 2001 and 2,983 who’ve died just as horribly since Badass started the war in Iraq in March, 2003. According to icasualty.org, a website that tracks coalition forces deaths and casualties, 100 U.S. soldiers have died this month alone, and it’s not over yet.

Yes, I know. The rightward gang gets their panties in a twist if one of us lefties mentions the two events in the same sentence to make a point.

Tough. It’s relevant. Bite me.

Fact is, Osama bin Laden, the man behind the Sept. 11 attacks, is still at large somewhere, more than five years later.

Fact is, Iraq had no involvement in Sept. 11. Saddam Hussein was a nasty ruthless dictator among many, and no one mourns his fall from power, but his U.S. assisted fall threw open the gates of hell in Iraq, gates that Saddam held closed for decades through sheer brute force.

No valid reason was ever given to the American people for invading Iraq and toppling its leader. All we were given were scenarios of terror and fear, wrapped up in feeble lies.

Many thousands more Iraqis, innocent and otherwise, have died since Shock and Awe than Saddam could have ever hoped, dreamed or dared to murder himself. According to iraqibodycount.net, a website that tracks the number of media reported Iraqi deaths, 57,617 Iraqis have died so far. If you bunch together the number of American dead since Sept. 11 and the war, you get 5,776 (as of today). Also as of today, that’s 51,841 more Iraqis dead than Americans since it all began.


The Iraqi death count, remember, includes only those who’ve been reported in the media as having died. The actual count is much, much higher. The Iraqi government is far too overwhelmed to keep accurate counts and of course, the American forces don’t bother counting the “enemy” and civilian dead.

It’s all heartbreaking.

I don’t know about you, but this war and everything to do with it, from Constitutional strip-mining to torture, has darkened the last several holiday seasons for me. It lays like a choking sheen of black oil over the pretty, empty ideals of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men,” this Christmas most of all, because now Badass threatens to send even more U.S. troops to Iraq as a gory New Year's gift. I guess he’s hoping for double or nothing?

Seems to me the mandate he was given by the people in the Nov. 7 election was “Bring them all home, you fucking idiot!”

This little man, as Will over at Huck and Jim so aptly refers to him, works for us, the American people. We pay his salary, and he serves as our representative, at our pleasure. He seems to have forgotten this, or more likely, gibbering and posturing in his delusions of absolute power, he’s decided to ignore it.

Well, here at the Wren’s nest, where people’s lives mean something, where people are loved and cherished, where their illness, injury or passing are paid attention to with care and compassion, Badass’s name is lumped right in there with Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet and yes, Saddam Hussein. They were all monsters.

George W. Bush fits right in. How many more lives are we willing to watch him destroy before we put him behind bars forever? How much more blood are we willing to have on our hands -- and our souls?

Somehow, this has to end. And soon.

21 December 2006


Gray light, early morning, witch-cold.
In the stove-box just two inches of ash,
And a few glowing orange pebbles
refusing to die just yet.
Now the price of the dark evening’s
warm laziness comes due: No dry wood
stacked ready on the hearth.

But first things first.
Coffee, rich scented scoops of it and
Ice-cold water, a puff of cinnamon for whimsy.
It brews, chuffing, the reward for taking
My punishment like a man.

So I tie boots with waffled rubber grips
On sleepy, stiff feet that protest the indignity
Of being shoved into canvas and leather
Without asking first. Bad knee gripes, ignored.
Coat shrugged on, work fingers into stiff leather gloves;
A straw garden hat, broad brimmed, a little tattered
Will do for shelter.

Arctic air shocks the mind awake,
Steam puffs from mouth, snowflakes find cheeks and sting.
A garden hat! Must have been asleep.
My bed sings a siren song, beckoning, seductive,
Oh, so warm and the damn cat’s still there,
curled soft into empty blankets, dreaming of mouse-blood.
But what does he know of bare skin?

Dog romps, laughing, skidding in snow
all joyous, white spots speckling his red-gold fur. Well, he
can play but there’s work for me.
Pull the tarp off the woodpile, heavy snow slides but stays
Holding it in place as the wind blows.
Cusswords, a heave of muscles and
Yes, there’s the stacked wood, dry and cinnamony,
Smelling of autumn, promising warmth.

Gloved hands grip heavy stovelengths,
Lift, toss across the garden towards the door, lazy
Even now. Grip, lift, heave, over and over
Hey, watch out, dog, here comes another.
Muscles grow warm, body flexes, toss more.
Eight, ten, sixteen, okay twenty
should last until the next time, say it’s enough.
Dog sits, butt in snow, happy.

Twitch tarp back in place
Anchor it with split pine logs, oh,
Grab a few of those, too, great icebreakers for the fire party.
Lift, toss now, light as feathers after almond-wood.
Snow slides off garden hat’s brim (this was dumb)
and finds warm neck skin to melt on, gleeful.
The open canvas carrier waits
Ready for it’s work.

Now four trips outside to inside,
Almond-wood is dense, rock-hard, unforgiving
of bruisable shins, carrier weighs a ton.
Chunk the lengths into the wood-ring
Snow plops off, white on gray hearth-stones
In a moment, just a black puddle.
Sweating now, under coat
Breath steaming outside, hot inside
Call the dog; What, no snowballs? What a gyp.
Life’s a bitch, boyo, have a biscuit.

Hang the silly garden hat on its summer nail
Coat ripped off, hooked by the door
Gloves can live next to the stove, drying out
For the next time.
Now, time for fire. First crackly newsprint
Crumpled, Board Vote Unanimous For/Holiday Sale One Week Only
Then soft pine, sticks shaved off splits
with the small hearth ax, stacked criss-crossed and
on top more pine, then the gold
The almond, solid, red sienna, rough dry bark
Gray as the snow-sky.

Strike a wooden kitchen match
It flares, touch to newspaper and watch the
Magic curl of smoke, the sudden flame
Oh, yes. Pine takes it eagerly, and there’s
The blaze, that first, sweet heat.
Sweat’s cold on my back now, knee yells as
I stand and stretch.
And the coffee is done.


President Bush claimed on Tuesday he has not one, but four constituencies he listens to.

One of them is us, the People. The ones who, kinda-sorta, voted him into office. The ones he kinda-sorta represents as the President of the United States of America.

His second constituency, he tells us, is the Enemy. The terrists. The ones who didn’t vote him into office, but sure are glad we kinda-sorta did. What a windfall that was!

The third constituency, Bush says, is the democratically elected (under duress, and with their country occupied by a Western nation run by a lunatic) Iraqi Government.

Yes, that would be the same Iraqi government that today helplessly observes (and, if the rumors are right about the Interior Minister and President Malaki’s association with the militias) observes and assists Iraq’s bloody sectarian civil war from the comfort of the heavily fortified U.S. Green Zone in Baghdad. The sectarian civil war which wouldn’t exist in Iraq, except for Bush’s vainglorious ego.

The fourth constituency to whom Bush claims he lends his ear is the Military.

For the record: A constituency is a body of voters or residents of a district represented by an elected legislator or official. It can be a group of patrons or supporters, too, or to a clientele, a group served by an organization or institution.

Bush can certainly claim the American people and the American military as constituencies. Since he forced it into halting, reluctant existence, I can almost go with the Iraqi government as a Bush constituency.

But the enemy? Bush represents America’s enemies?

On November 7, Bush’s primary and very real constituency, the American people, told him clearly that we were very, very unhappy with him and the Republican Party operatives that enable him. After four years, 2,950 American soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered, We the People finally comprehended what a tragic, preposterous mess he’s made of his baseless war in Iraq. With stunning finality, we tossed many of the enablers out of office. If we’d been able, we’d have tossed Bush out, too.

But we’re stuck with him.

In reality, there’s just one constituency that George W. Bush listens to: the one that exists only between his own ears. When he refers to the American people as wanting to win in Iraq, he’s actually referring to his personal, inner constituency, a dark, roiling, fantasy mix of God, “gut” and oh, yes, guilt.

The only one who can hear that particular constituency is George, though there are monsters working for him who claim they can hear it too, and add to it their low whispers. Bush’s inner constituency drowns out all the others except the amorphous but hydra-headed enemy, which serves as a convenient reason d’etre and will be around in one form or another forever. Perfect.

He listens to his inner constituency to the exclusion of all the others.

The most recent polls tell us that 71 percent of Americans want American soldiers out of Iraq. Some want an immediate withdrawal, others are willing to wait up to a year. Poppi Bush’s rescue team, sent in to find a way to get Junior out of his latest, horrific screw-up, said that the war is “grave and deteriorating.” They counseled him to redeploy American forces in the region while concentrating on getting the Iraqi military up to speed so that U.S. soldiers could be brought home. Predictably, there was no timeline. Equally predictably, Bush shrugged their suggestions off, evidently preferring to consult his inner constituency.

The military – the ones that Bush says he listens to so carefully – are saying that they don’t want more forces in Iraq. Gen. John Abazaid, who’s been in charge of things over there for the last three years, and who knows intimately what’s going on, told Congress last month that increasing the size of U.S. forces in Iraq would be a mistake. Presumably he told George, too.

But his voice was drowned out by Bush’s inner constituency – God, gut and guilt. Instead of drawing down forces in Iraq until they're all home, admitting his terrible mistake and leaving his country and people to deal with his stinking legacy of death and destruction, Bush has set his sites on creating even more of it.

He’s talking about increasing forces in Iraq, from 15,000 to 60,000 more, depending on which day it is. He claims he hasn’t made a decision yet, but his friend Gen. Casey, one of those who can “hear” Bush’s inner constituency, appears to think this might work. And we all know what George really means when he says he hasn’t made up his mind or that he’s still open to discussion.

It means his mind is made up and there will be no more talk.

As it was in March, 2003, when he started the war in Iraq, this is sheer folly. There are no more forces to send. The all-volunteer U.S. military is stretched to its breaking point. Recruitment is understandably down, even as the military relaxes its standards and recruits petty criminals and white supremists into its ranks. Equipment and materiel is in short supply.

Increasing the boots on the ground in Iraq will have to happen by pulling in even more hapless reservists, increasing tour lengths for the soldiers who’re there now or sending those who’ve already pulled one or more tours in Iraq – and survived the experience -- back to serve another. It's called a surge.

The money cost of this war is astronomical, and it’s on borrowed cash and borrowed time. Yet once again, Bush tells us to be happy, go shopping.

At no time in America’s history have we ever been led by a madman, until now. And at no other time in America’s history would the American people have allowed a madman to stay in power for so long. When the Democratic Congress takes power after the New Year, they must put everything else aside and do what the Constitution demands of them as elected representatives of the People of the United States of America. They must immediately start impeachment proceedings against the madman George W. Bush and his cabinet. They must work fast to reverse the insults to the Constitution that he and his cronies have put into place and stop his delusional, headlong rush to Armageddon.

19 December 2006

Tapped by Max

My buddy Max over at Christians, Writers and Queers, Oh My has kindly “tapped” me, laying upon my wee feathered shoulders the responsibility to reveal five things about myself that you may not know.

I did one of these some time back, but I’m game. The supply of things most people don't know about me are endless. Here goes:

1. I can say “May the road rise to meet your face” in Irish.

2. My maternal great-grandparents were Fins who immigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada as young adults. Great-grandpa was murdered in a gunfight rather young; great-grandma, left with three children, never remarried and lived well into her 90s. She terrorized her family for the rest of her life. Mom recalls great-grandma growing irritated with her and her sister when, at the tender ages of five and seven, they were visiting her on the wheat farm. She told them to go spend the night with the neighbors, who lived the next farm over. So Mom and my aunt set out across a vast wheat field in their jammies, pillows under their arms, in the dark. They didn’t know the neighbors, but they were too scared to disobey Grandma. So they just walked and walked toward the light of the distant farmhouse, hanging on to each other all the way. Fortunately, when they got there, the neighbors welcomed them in, Mom grew up just fine and here I am.

3. I have volksmarched 5 kilometers across a frosty moor (stopping frequently for shots of schnaps for warmth, fuel and courage) to a huge kohl-und-pinkel dinner held at the naval academy in Bremerhaven, Germany. There, surrounded by a crowd of lit crazy people who spoke a language I could only understand every third or fourth word of, I ate, drank, sang, danced, perspired and laughed myself sick. Cute sailors.

4. I hate to fly. I’m seriously phobic, but ships take too long. When I flew back from Germany the last time, I talked the doc into prescribing tranquilizers for the 19-hour journey, which he did. It was a lovely, relaxing flight, I’m told. I have no memory of it.

5. My paternal ancestors were English, Irish, and if family legend is to be believed, Cherokee. “Ahah!” you say. “They must have been from Oklahoma! Everyone from Oklahoma claims a little Cherokee in their background!” You’d be right, but if you saw a photo of my grandfather, which was taken in the 40s, you’d believe it too. He looked very much like those old sepia photos of Indians taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My sister looks just like him, except she's prettier.

There. That didn’t hurt too much. To carry this on properly, I’m supposed to “tap” five others. My choices? Lillebroer, Wil Robinson, Roxtar, Patrick at BSUWG and the Slob.

18 December 2006

Humming Zappa

At almost 4 p.m., about an hour before I start putting together dinner on these long, slow, freezy pre-holiday days, I find Mr. Wren in the kitchen with baggies full of damp greenery spead all over the counter and a large, five-pound-ham size, white paper-wrapped object. He’s taking a plate from the cupboard and humming to himself.

He generally hums Zappa.

I fill my coffee mug, watching as he plucks tufts of sprouts from one of the bags and plops them onto the plate. They look like shaved green and white pubic hair with a tiny black bug attached to each individual sproingy curl.

He notes my curiosity, though I haven’t said anything yet. There are seven or eight other baggies, too, each filled with a different kind of seed. Various thicknesses of white and green growth jut from the damp, split seeds. Some look like the worms you'd find deep in a cave. Others remind me of things I've seen in sci-fi flicks. I wait for them to move.

“Chives sprouts,” he says conversationally of the delicate tufts on his plate. “From seeds I collected myself, sorted myself, rinsed and grew myself.” He pops a fingerful into his mouth and chews. “MmmMMM.”

“Very good,” I say. I don’t like to discourage him from gainful occupation, now that he’s retired and has absolutely nothing to fill his days with. “What’s that?” I ask, nodding at the large paper-wrapped object as I stir sweetener and half-and-half into my coffee.

“That? Oh. Octopus.”

There was a time, many years back, when an answer like that would have elicited something like “What? An octopus?!” from me. Today, however, I calmly clup the cap back onto my plastic insulated cup (my wee den is far from the warmth of the woodstove) and put the half-and-half back into the fridge, which received its yearly hosing out this morning. I was in a mood. It’s nice being able to find a place for the half-and-half without having to move 25 jars, storage containers, half-empty milk cartons and elderly, store-bought half-sandwiches, squirreled away there by the fledgling, out of the way. Oh, look, I almost say, there’s room for my pint of half-and-half! Happy days!

Instead my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth as I imagine a dead, grayish, rather deflated, balloon-headed sea creature with long, suckered tentacles all folded up around it for Mr. Wren and wrapped neatly in white paper by the delighted butcher at the seafood counter at the grocery. The poor man must groan with dismay every time the distributer drops off 20 pounds of smelly, floppy, slimy octopi. Suckered tentacles are not a meal one finds on most tables up here in the mountains at dinnertime. Macaroni and cheese with Ballpark franks sliced all fancy, on the bias, mixed in along with nuked Pizza Bites for the vegetable matter in the tomato paste are closer to the regional cuisine.

Mr. Wren made that butcher's day, I know it.

I turn back around to get my cup. Mr. Wren is plopping more nameless but no doubt tasty sprouts – if you’re into sprouts – onto his pale blue plate, which has white Japanese plum blossoms decorating it. The package containing the devilfish has not yet been opened.

I look at the stove. There sits my big blue Dutch oven, clean as a whistle, waiting for me to chop onions and garlic, add broth, maybe meat (not octopus) and vegetables, barley or rice or potatoes for a nice, hot, stick-to-your-ribs soup.

I imagine this five-pound dead octopus boiling away merrily in it, tentacles flailing.

“You ... gonna cook that?” I ask, trying for nonchalance.

“Oh, no. It’s already cooked,” he says. He starts to unwrap it with a crackle of paper. “Want some?”

“Ah ... no thanks. Bon apetit,” I scurry back to my den.

Well, a sandwich is now on the menu for me tonight. Or maybe canned soup. Or, if the fledgling cooks, macaroni and cheese with not-octopus.

It’s going to be a longggg unemployment.

10 December 2006

Irish dreams

I was telling my good friend over coffee this morning about how I’ve been using all my suddenly copious free time since being laid off work.

Along with chores around the house that have gone undone for the longest time and shooting off resumes, I’ve been futzing around, trying to pick up the thread of the book I’ve been working on forever.

It’s fictional, based on fact, about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I’ve been researching and studying that particular situation for years now. For some reason, it strikes a chord in me. It’s fascinating.

I said, “You know, what I really want is to go there, to Belfast, for about three months. Longer, even. I want to just talk to everyone I can. Do a bunch of interviews. See the place, get a feel for it. Travel around the north, see the places I’ve been reading about all this time.”

It’s one thing to research from a distance, and the Internet is great for that, but nothing beats being there.

“That’s the first step,” my friend said. “Putting it out there.” He meant airing the wish, putting it into words. Another friend would call that “telling the Universe.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have the money for an extended stay in Northern Ireland.” Shoot, I don’t even have airfare. I sighed. “I thought I’d go ahead and see about getting a passport, at least, though.”

We discussed it a little more. I was full of reasons I’d never get to go.

He said, “Why don’t you post it on your blog? Maybe someone will have some suggestions.”

“Good idea,” I said doubtfully.

But after we parted, the idea stuck with me. So, I’m tossing it out there, into the world. I’m a writer who wants to write, but wants to write with a good understanding of her subject. I’m looking to correspond with people who either live in Northern Ireland or who have been there; people who may have some ideas for how I’d go about applying for writing grants or even assignments, that sort of thing. I’d like to talk with people from all sides of the conflict, from all walks of life.

There’s a book here in my heart, trying to take shape, trying to get out. My curiosity is boundless. Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

09 December 2006


The Book has arrived.

It’s on my desk here, off to one side, standing on its end because somehow, I couldn’t lay it down flat like the other books stacked in piles around the Wren’s Nest.

Every now and then I glance over at it. The title on the dustcover, “Against the Day” and the name of the author “Thomas Pynchon,” and very small three-quarters of the way down “A Novel” whisper to me, “Come on ... step in ... read ... read ...

Pages one to 25, no more. I’m saving it for tomorrow. I plan to have a notebook handy, so I can jot.

OK, I’ll admit it. I read the first graf within a minute of lifting it out of its packing box. I had to ... I had to know. Took 15 seconds. Closed the book, put it on the desk, and here it’s been ever since.

I swear it’s moved a couple of times; I’ve caught it out of the corner of my eye. Naturally, when I look directly at it, it stops.

Fifteen seconds of reading. One graf. The image evoked with those few words is still ... floating ... around my head. With glee.

This is gonna be some book. I hope my fellow Chumps are ready ...

08 December 2006

What have we done?

According to a press release today from Zogby International, George W. Bush’s national job approval rating has bellied out at an all time low of 30 percent.

That’s right. A die-hard 30 percent of Americans think that he’s doing a good job.

From the other 70 percent you can almost hear the words, a hushed, quavery whisper that’s echoing across the nation, north and south, east and west,

“What have we done?”

Faced yesterday with the Iraq Study Group report, a realistic, grim and damning assessment of his personal war of aggression against Iraq, Bush thinned his lips, flipped his Daddy’s fixers the bird and got snotty with reporters.

“Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as 'grave and deteriorating'. You said that the increase in attacks is 'unsettling'. That won't convince many people that you're [not] still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course."

That observation came from Nick Robinson of the BBC during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“It’s bad in Iraq,” snapped Bush. He paused. “Does that help?”

He went on to say “I also believe we're going to succeed. I believe we'll prevail. Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that if we were to fail -- and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it's just not worth it -- if we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.”

In case the ISG and the BBC and the American people haven’t noticed yet, Bush is The Decider. He’s the Commander in Chief. Having listened to God’s voice, presumably rumbling in his gut, he means what he says and says what he means – and he has no intention of heeding much, if any of the advice contained in the report.

Because, you know, the only way we lose in Iraq is if we don’t get the job done.

When asked if we were winning the war in Iraq during his confirmation hearing in the Senate this week, Robert Gates, who’s taking up the thankless job of Secretary of Defense from the arrogant and boneheaded Donald Rumsfeld, said, “No, sir.”

This was a smart answer. Anything else would have been an obvious prevarication. They’d have chased him out right out of the chambers and he’d never been heard from again.

What a damned shame we can’t do the same with George W. Bush. On Oct. 25 during a press conference in the East Room at the White House, a reporter asked him, “Mr. President, are we winning?”

“Absolutely, we’re winning,” he said.

In 2004, a bare majority of the American people reelected George Bush as the President of the United States. He called it a “mandate.”

Listen, you can hear them.

“What have we done?”

As of this week, more than 2,900 American soldiers have died in Iraq; soon Bush’s vanity war will have killed as many Americans as Osama’s terror attacks did in 2001. It’s a shameful milestone. Thousands upon thousands more have been grievously injured. Iraqi deaths and casualities are in the hundreds of thousands, the vast majority of them civilian non-combatants.

And this is all while we still have yet to discover what possible benefit there is to waging this war – the Iraqis are lost in a civil war of sectarian violence while our troops huddle in their fortified camps and bunkers, trying not to get caught in the crossfire.

Bush has never come up with a reasonable answer to “Why are we fighting this war?”

The war’s cost in taxpayer dollars and national treasure is up to about $348 billion. The rumor is that early next year, the Bush administration will ask Congress for $180 billion more in “emergency funds.”

The cost in America’s reputation and standing in the world is beyond estimation and will take decades to repair.

“Wait a minute, let me say -- the ultimate accountability, Peter, rests with me. That's the ultimate -- you're asking about accountability, that's -- rests right here,” said Bush during the Oct. 25 press conference. “It's what the 2004 campaign was about. If people want to -- if people are unhappy about it, look right to the President.”

We are, Mr. Bush. You are our national shame, and we’re finally, finally noticing.

“What have we done?”

05 December 2006

Fluttering into the fray

The deliciously erudite Neddie Jingo has tossed down the gauntlet, challenging all and sundry to join him and fellow avid reader Will Divide in a book blog-salon about Thomas Pynchon’s latest, “Against the Day.”

The response from his readers to “The Chumps of Choice” is enthusiastic, if a little nervous. Pynchon is rumored to be ridiculously difficult to read, requiring at least a dictionary and desk encyclopedia at either elbow, handy. Those into that sort of thing are leaping directly into the fray while others, like me, briefly stepped back to consider the consequences.

Like, having to look up words. Lots of words. Understanding their meanings, then applying them to the sentence at hand, and then to the wider concept. Like, you know. Thinking.

I dunno, Ned, I mumbled. I don’t have time for – and then I remembered that I’m an uncaged Wren. I can spread my stubby, chubby wings and fly!

Besides, he’s only talking about reading and discussing 25 pages a week. And I have a dictionary and a magnifying glass.

I decided to do it. I joined The Chumps of Choice. Hooked into a copy of “Against the Day” through Amazon. What the hell – you only live once.

This is not the first time that ol’ Jingo has seduced me into giddy peril. Curious from his gleeful prodding some time back I bought a used copy of “Mason & Dixon,” Pynchon’s last novel. It arrived strapped to the back of a truck. The mailperson was not amused. I promised whiskey in the mailbox for Christmas and our relationship resumed its smooth, friendly tone, but I’ve since seen her looking askance at me now and then.

After doing arm-circles with two-pound weights in my hands for a few days to build up my muscles, I opened M&D. Read about four pages. My eyes crossed.

Normally, this only happens to me when the reading material is tres boring and Very Important. County General Plans and Environment Impact Reports come to mind.

But "Mason & Dixon" wasn’t boring. It was ... fascinating. The words nearly leap off the page they’re so lively. But my brain, used to reading much lighter material (literally and figuratively) was already flagging.

I'm an eclectic reader, when I'm reading for my own enjoyment and enlightenment. And I’m accustomed to reading all kinds of things as an editor. But the main thing I’m looking for in journalistic writing is truth, then clarity, then grammar and punctuation. And I’m looking to find those things fast. The last thing a newspaper editor wants her readers to do is pick up a dictionary to get through a news story.

So I put Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” into use as a doorstop. I've noticed that sometimes it swells a little. Shudders, sighs, and exudes that booky-papery smell. As if all those ideas and images, characters and concepts, dreams and fantasies are trying to get out ...

“Against the Day” should be arriving any day now.

It weighs in at over 1,000 pages. My mailperson is going to be sore again, but I’ll just bake her my famous Black Russian cake, too. It’ll get a bit squashed in the mailbox, but I don’t think she’ll mind.

I should add that since joining “Chumps” and ordering the book, then getting worried and visiting ThomasPynchon.com’s “Advice for Newbies” to reassure myself, I’ve also completely lost my mind and offered to moderate for the group. Mr. Jingo, who is no doubt wondering what the hell he’s gotten himself into, instantly took up my offer. I’ll be moderating pages 81-96 the week of Jan. 15. After that, we’ll see.

Want to join us? Pop on over to "The Chumps of Choice." It's gonna be an adventure.

01 December 2006

Yeats day

It's Yeats day at Blue Wren. Here's my favorite by William Butler Yeats:

The Stolen Child

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than
you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than
you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than
you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping than
he can understand.

Do you have a favorite by this great Irish poet?
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30 November 2006

Lady of leisure

Your Wren joins, as of this morning, the ranks of the suddenly unemployed.

After nearly 14 years with the company, and almost nine as a managing editor, my position at the paper was abruptly eliminated and “consolidated.” For a while at least, I won’t have to drive 27 miles down-mountain and then 27 miles back up-mountain every day.

There are blue flowered blessings hidden in these thorns.

Others include not having to get up at 5 a.m., no more advertorial writing in my immediate future (bleh-blechhhh-phooey!), no more sitting in a corner of that dark, mini-bus-sized newsroom and no more weekly deadlines.

Gosh. Whatever will I do with my time? Write?

To the above right please note that Blue Wren is no longer a lovely blue spiral, but me. Although it was always unlikely that the right-wing group editor and publisher of the paper would ever run across this blog, I figured it was best not to tempt fate. Now, although I’ll retain the nom de plume, I’m freed from self-censorship.

It was a good run, that job. I learned a lot and had some great fun along with the daily toil and stress of editing a weekly newspaper and three special sections each month. That’s a lot of a.m.’s and p.m.’s to change from AM, PM, am, pm, A.M. and P.M. to the proper style.

I won’t miss that, but I will miss my reporters and the opportunity to know the local news before it hits the papers. I’ll get used to it, I think.

And now it’s time to move forward. I hope to find something closer to home that satisfies my soul, my yen for creativity and somehow keeps the electricity on. Wish me luck.

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27 November 2006

Melatonin daze

Got home tonight fragged from a day spent trying to edit this week’s paper into something more than dreck and dummy it up while, at the same time, dealing with elderly MacIntosh computers that crash because they can. And if that wasn't enough, I also spent the entire day not eating the huge box full of sticky sweet rolls one of the ad reps generously plopped on the lunchroom table for all and sundry. And, right at the stroke of 3:30 p.m., an entire Cub Scout troop crowded into the newsroom, which is about the size of a Volkswagen minibus.

The 10 fourth-grade boys wanted to see how a real newspaper works so they could get pinned or something. The scoutmaster was nervous. In just 15 short minutes we’d convinced all but one of them, as we droned over the AP Stylebook, that they never, ever wanted to become journalists.

That one who thinks being a journalist would be cool has real potential. He’ll go far. He was eyeing my stylebook with lust in his heart. I almost gave it to him, but I need it.

They’d just trooped back out, last week’s paper inking up their little hands, when my friend Jennifer called to tell me that it was, yes, actually snowing up at my ol’ homestead, 27 miles away over hill, dale and way up-mountain.

Snow before January at just 3,2oo feet! Who'da thought?

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before, but I drive a 1988 Celica convertible, inherited from my Dad a few weeks after his death in May 2005. My own safe, sensible, all-wheel-drive, snow-eating Subaru Legacy (a car that is second only to the Taurus in non-descript-ness) was passed on, in due course, to the fledgling. I was tired of driving her places.

I love the ol’ Celica. I’ve even named it Harold, after my Dad. Sometimes I’m sure he’s sitting in the jumpseat next to me, wincing as I accidentally grind the gears and whooping as I stomp the gas and zoom. This car was his baby. Even at 18 years old and 128,000 miles, it purrs.

But it was not made for driving in snow, no sir. It was made exclusively for California summertimes, top down, sunglasses on, road dry and rippling with heat mirages. Dad put his golf clubs in the trunk and zipped around, playing with his friends. He and Mom drove it all over the country in summers past.

But as I drove the narrow back roads home through the howling blizzard to avoid the chain controls set up on the freeway a mile below my house (there is nothing worse than being forced to put chains on your tires as your fingers freeze and your knees soak through in the slush to drive just a frickin' mile) I found myself once again wondering how in the world I’m going to do an entire winter in this tiny car. It’s so lightweight I could probably pick the back end up off the ground all by myself if I tried. One of the reporters who works for me could definitely tuck it under his arm and jog a couple of times around the block with it without breaking a sweat.

I guess I’ll have to spring for sandbags or something.

Obviously, I made it home. I parked up at the top of our steep driveway, on the street, so I’ll be able to just point ol' Harry downhill and slide, if necessary, down to the main road come morning. Then I braved the driveway on foot, sticking to the shrubbery along the edge for traction. Mr. Wren is going to kill me for grabbing the wallflower to stay upright, and for stepping on his strange, ornamental grasses. If I'm lucky, he won't notice until next spring.

So I’m both worn out and wound up tonight. I took some melatonin about an hour ago, a nice, natural sleeping aid, knowing that I’m far too awake to go to sleep. I just know that without it, I’ll be dummying that paper and working on Friday’s advertising section all night in my dreams.

And now, finally, I’m starting to feel a little sleepy.

This post was originally supposed to be about Wren household’s kingly cat, who has made my lap his ever since I sat down here a while ago. This cat normally ignores me. I feel very special. He’s just sitting there, all tuxedoed, gazing at me. It’s possible he wants his drinkies faucet in the bathroom turned on. Or perhaps I’m just warm. I think that’s it, because when I finally made it down the snowslick driveway and into the house at 7:30 p.m., there was no fire going in the woodstove. Mr. Wren forgot to build one. He is never cold, but it was 55 degrees in the kitchen and in here, I can see my breath with each exhalation.

I think I’ll run away. But who’d turn on the faucet for the cat? Guess I'll stick around.

Note: To any reporters who work for me and who may or may not be reading this: No, your writing was not the dreck I meant. Your writing was professional, well done and, considering some of the subject matter (parks and recreation master plan for this top 2 percent wealthy community) actually sublime. No, I’m referring to everything else I edited today. Like pickup stories by the sister-paper reporter who insists on starting his sentences with the subject’s name, thusly:

“Smith while admitting he had never seen the woman before said he thought her dress was blue but prior testimony indicated he could have been wrong.”

It’s probably just me, but this quirk makes my teeth itch. Why not:

“While admitting he had never seen the woman before, Smith said he thought her dress was blue, even though in his prior testimony he said he could have been wrong.”

I know. Stupid sentence, but the best I can come up with in a melatonin daze. Imagine such a sentence in a real news story and you’ll understand what I mean by dreck.

25 November 2006

Roitelet bleu

So I got home last night after a long day at work, said my hellos to the family, reminded them there was nuke-able homemade chicken soup in the fridge should they get to feeling peckish, poured myself a lovely cup of coffee prepared by the now-retired and rather bored Mr. Wren, toddled off to my little pack-rat’s nest of a den and powered up the ol’ laptop.

(An aside: During a lively conversation between editor and writer types at work yesterday regarding run-on sentences, it came up that Sir Winston Churchill’s written sentences averaged 35 words. As I expressed the proper dismay, I was really thinking, “Only 35?” Evidence of my personal long sentence habit may be seen above, coming in at a boggling 67 words. In my book, hyphenated words count as one, or it would be 69. Neener-neener-neener, Winnie.)

Back to the story. I must admit to a certain obsession with Stat Counter, an addiction that the wise, wonderfully wacky Neddie Jingo, a fine writer and far more experienced blogwart than I, warned me against way back in April of this year. Ned, I tried to ignore those stats, I swear. But I’m hooked.

I love finding out how many people have visited Blue Wren each day. I gotta know. When the number exceeds, oh, 10, I’m ecstatic. Even knowing that most of them have stumbled on this blog by mistake, it gives me a warm glow. The rest are looking for the “Last Great Act of Defiance” mouse and eagle poster, which I referred to in a post way back when. It continues to bring ‘em in. Humans are a defiant bunch, it seems, and we all root for the underdog.

But as much as the numbers, I love finding out where my readers live. Most are from the U.S., which is gratifying but no real surprise. But many are from other countries. Knowing that some anonymous someone in Japan, Australia, Portugal, Italy, England or Ireland, Thailand or Germany has stopped by to read something I wrote makes me do a happy dance. The Internet is wonderful for reducing the world to virtual village-size -- and who wouldn’t be delighted to have an international audience? It’s almost like traveling, sans security gate lines and luggage carousels.

Well, OK, it’s not. Real travel is more fun, at least once you clear the airports.

Anyway, try to imagine my delight when, as I perused Stat Counter's list of visitors yesterday, I discovered one from France. Now, I’ve had readers from France stop by before, which is always tres bien. But Stat Counter’s info on this French reader showed that he or she had visited “Puanteur.”

My grasp of the French language is limited to a single high school class, taken in my sophomore year. This means I’m a troglodyte when it comes to speaking that lovely language. I couldn’t recall having written anything called “Puantuer,” though, unless I’d somehow done it in my sleep after watching the delightfully whimsical “Amélie” on DVD.

It turned out that “Puanteur” is French for “Stench,” which is the title one of my better posts (or so I’m told by people who should know).

But the reader had read it in French? Intrigued, I clicked on it.

The whole page had been translated into French! For this reader, my blog was not “Blue Wren,” it was “Roitelet bleu.”

The first graf reads, “Quand j'ai habité en Allemagne nordique vers la fin des années 80, j'ai visité le prisonnier de guerre de Bergen-Belsen et le camp de concentration.”

Isn’t that cool?

Yeah, I know it’s silly to get so excited about such a little thing, but I’m just beside myself. Someone out there wanted to understand what I’d written. Or maybe they were just translating everything they read from English-language websites into French.

Either way, I’m just pleased as punch. Whoever you are, mon cher or cheri, merci beaucoup. I’m still smiling.

23 November 2006

Ageless children

Are we really still children, even in our old age?

What is wisdom but lessons learned through trial and error, mistakes, wrong decisions, ignorance that finally saw the light, misfortunes overcome and sheer luck?

Could it be true that we are really as inept and bumbling at 95 as we were at 14?

When I was a child, I thought my parents knew everything. I believed without question that I could trust them to keep me safe, to care for and love me, and to teach me the things I needed to know to get along in the world, once I grew up. I didn't know it, but I was a very lucky child.

They did the first three things well. The last ... well, they tried. But between the ages of 16 and 22, I was convinced they knew nothing of the world. They were fuddy-duddies, closed-minded, narrow, prudish and fixated on things that were meaningless. Their purpose in life was to prevent me from spreading my wings.

At 18 I was ready to fly, perched on the edge of the nest but not quite sure how to do it. My parents, bless them, gave me an unceremonious shove. I was a scowling and most irritating fledge, ungrateful and full of bravado. We loved each other, but they were as tired of me as I was of them.

I flew.

Over the years I’ve both soared and crashed. I’ve made good decisions, bad decisions and some very bad decisions. I’ve done my best to learn from each disaster and tried not to repeat it. I’ve worked to find the good in each day and to sweeten the lemons that come my way.

But sometimes no matter how hard you try, you don’t see the thunderheads gathering, and you don’t know you’ve flown into a storm until the clouds close in, the winds start buffeting you this way and that, and the lighting crackles all around you.

With each year of my life I’ve tried to look back at what I’ve learned, hoping that somehow it will magically translate into wisdom, and that being a child running willy-nilly through my time here on Earth will finally end and I'll “grow up.”

But what I’ve learned so far is that we really never do. We are all children, no matter how many years we live. Age isn’t wisdom. We’re all just doing the best we can and hoping that somehow, it will all be OK in the end.

Today, the people I think of as “adults” are those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. The rest are my contemporaries or younger than I am, and I know that they’re still children, floundering around with varying degrees of success, just like I am. I’ve learned enough to know in my heart of hearts that all of us, no matter our ages, are really just childlike wanderers and adventurers in a world of full of wonders, never sure what we’ll encounter around the next bend.

Will it be a dragon or a warm puppy? A wide, bottomless crevasse or a sunlit meadow of wildflowers?

I understand now that as human beings, we never really become adults. Inside, where it counts, we’re always and forever children, curious and maddeningly stubborn, able to delude ourselves into thinking we know more than we do. There’s beauty in that, but also great danger. It’s a wonder, really, that we live so long.

Is this wisdom?

I’ve learned that nothing but the Earth, the sky and the stars are permanent. I realize quite clearly that I could well be wrong about their permanence, too. It won't be the first time.

Yet I’ve stood with my hands flat, my fingers spread on huge stones cut and stacked into a tower 800 years ago by people with hopes and dreams, people just like me. The tower stands, but the ones who built it are gone, as are their children, their children’s children, and on and on until today.

But even in their absence, through my hands I felt the energy of those ancient generations, as if they were trying to tell me something.

I felt like a child, the rough coldness of the stone against my skin, awed and wondering at the human determination that carved, lifted and stacked those stones into a tower rising more than 60 feet above the ground where I stood. Its purpose was simple and useful, compassionate and pragmatic. At its top, a bonfire blazed for centuries, a bright light to warn hapless seafarers away from the snaggletoothed shore and guide them on to safe harbor.

That tower stood – and still stands -- at the edge of the Weser River in Weddewarden, Germany, where that wide river empties itself into the North Sea. Over the centuries the fortunes of the people who lived near it ebbed and flowed like the tide. They fought wars, enjoyed all-too-short stretches of peace, and lived out their lives knowing little about the rest of the world. They endured trials and tribulations in their daily lives and took comfort in the happiness, joy and laughter of their children.

Did the people who lived in those times feel like grown-ups, once they reached a certain age?

I don’t think so. I think they were just like us – children to their deathbeds, wondering and awestuck, just trying to do their best and live as well as they could. And perhaps along the way, learn enough to be wise.

Happy Thanksgiving

You may attribute my lack of posting during these last many days as general speechlessness regarding Democratic and Republican childishness since the election, a heavy load at my day job and really, nothing to say except “look at the pretty leaves!” and “Oooh it’s raining!” and “No, let’s get a couple of those tasty roast chickens from the grocery and do a ham.”

Mr. Wren, the fledgling and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. May it be filled with all the food you can eat, long walks scuffing through the fallen leaves and much love, shared among family and friends. There are so many things to be thankful for -- and mindful of.

And thank you all for reading Blue Wren. I'm grateful for your friendly and thoughtful comments, and think of you all as friends. I'll be back soon. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

14 November 2006


From The Carpetbagger Report’s Monday Mini-Report:

* Bush’s approval rating is down to just 31% in the new Newsweek poll, and down to 33% in the new Gallup poll. I’m not sure what the president did of late to warrant the drop in the polls, but I suppose the electorate just wants to kick him when he’s down.

I think it’s far more than just a little righteous revenge. Since September, when Congress recessed so senators and representatives could hit the mid-term campaign trail running, America has seen six years of the Republican Party, led by President Bush, as if in microcosm.

It was sort of like opening a forgotten container from the refrigerator. When the lid is peeled back, you’re hit with the dizzying stink of death and decay and discover that whatever it was inside has turned greenish black and fuzzy. You can’t wait to dump it down the garbage disposal, holding the container with the tips of your fingers and gagging as the slimy contents slough out and fall with a nasty, wet plop into the sink. Gahhhh!

You knew that container had been there awhile, but you’d forgotten for how long, or even exactly what was in it. And there it sat, lit up once in a while but mostly in the dark, slowly growing more and more toxic, malevolent and unrecognizable.

Yep, that’s our government under the Republicans.

You scrub the container with lots of soap and hot water, but it still carries a faint whiff of poison, and there are black bits that just won’t wash away – they’ve sent their roots deep into the plastic. They’ve become the plastic. And so, ruefully, you throw the container away.

Consider: Since September, we’ve seen the innocuously titled Military Commissions Act passed in a big hurry by Congress, doing away with habeas corpus and giving the president the power to have people detained on flimsy or even hearsay evidence, torture them and then keep them imprisoned indefinitely, as he pleases. This act basically flushes our democracy and the American right to a fair trail down the toilet, once and for all. Yes, there was some theatrical posturing by the notoriously two-faced John McCain, claiming to soften the act, but it was just that – theater. In the end, Bush got the power he craves, just as he did with the Patriot Act, another incredibly stupid law that stripped away the rights of all Americans to privacy.

The MCA blatantly cut the legs out from under our democracy, setting our country up for a fascist tyranny. Yes, the act has been challenged, and yes, now that the Democrats have won the majority in Congress, it may well be reversed. But don’t hold your breath.

Since September, we’ve watched with a sort of awe as Foley’s nasty, years-long extracurricular activities with young, male White House pages came to light – and his colleagues and superiors in Congress ran like rats for their holes, claiming not to have known about it or, if they did, well, they tried ... uh-huh.

Then there was Ted Haggard, a powerful evangelical who had the ear of the president and his men, who bought methamphetamine and sex from a male prostitute while exhorting his wide-eyed flocks to hate homosexuals with all their might.

We saw Senator Bob Ney tossed into the slammer for his involvement with the Jack Abramoff influence peddling scandal.

We had Bush himself stumping for Congressional candidates whose seats were looking a little shaky, calling anyone who opposed the war in Iraq traitors and terrorist sympathizers, and while he was at it, he did his best to terrorize all Americans, telling us that if we voted for Democrats, we might as well vote for bin Ladin.

And he and other Republicans made it clear that nothing would be done about Iraq before the election, in spite of the fact that more and more American soldiers were dying there. Their lives were coldly sacrificed on the rack of Republican politics.

After the election, Bush dumped Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary and admitted with a shrug that he’d lied about keeping him on until the end of his presidency so as not to mess up the chances for Republican candidates to win the election.

“Kick him when he’s down”?

I dunno. I think it’s simply that Americans finally decided to clean out the national refrigerator. Now that the job has started, we’re finding more and more containers full of awful, dead things and we’ve discovered, to our dismay, that the toxic crud has invaded the refrigerator itself. The walls are moldy, the shelves slick with slime. The stench is making us sick to our stomachs.

11 November 2006

Veteran's Day

It’s Veteran’s Day.

Here in the Wren’s Nest, this day represents more than a sale at TJMaxx. Mr. Wren and I are both veterans; he served in the U.S. Army, I in the U.S. Air Force. Both of us were fortunate that during the years we served, there were no active “hot” wars – only the long, ominous Cold War that began its end in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and finished, finally, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

I’m proud of my military service. But to my mind, the real veterans are the Americans who’ve served in wartime, the ones who literally put their lives on the line to protect their country. I know many of them and met and worked with many more. Some of them were drafted, others were volunteers, like the men and women serving our country today in Afghanistan and Iraq, South Korea and Europe. Some saw battle, but many served in the “rear,” supporting the fighting troops. They were vital, each and every one of them.

One of the things I loved about the military was its diversity. People from all walks of life form the Army, the Air Force, the Marines, the Navy, the National Guard and the Coast Guard. Black and white, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic – the military is a compressed American melting pot working and living closely together, all over the world.

If you’re a bigot, you’ll find yourself at a loss on an Army post. Nowhere is it more crystal clear that people are people, no matter their gender, the color of their skin, their economic status or where they’re from. They have a job to do, a common cause, and they do it together. Their hearts all look the same.

For this white woman who grew up in a mostly white, California suburb – my high school class had one, single black student in it – the Air Force was an eye-opener. One of my favorite memories comes from when I was in training in Texas as an intelligence analyst. The tech sergeant in charge of a work detail I was assigned to one day asked me a question – and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He repeated himself, twice, and I still didn’t get it. Finally, he said, “Airman, where you from?” in a drawl that was as slow as cool honey.

I blinked. “California,” I said.

“The laaaand of the frooooots an’ the nuts,” he grinned, as if that explained everything. “I’m from Miss’ssippee,” he said, relenting. “I’ll help y’out. Read mah lips ...” It was the first time I’d ever heard that phrase used – and it was long before Bush 41 used it in regards to taxes. Because the sergeant being very patient and speaking even more slowly than usual, I understood him this time, and before he was done giving me his instructions -- where to go dig rocks out of a corner where grass seed would be planted -- we were both laughing. He hadn’t insulted me, only teased, and it served to close the wide gap between our disparate cultures. I later learned that this man had served in Vietnam, a draftee, and when he’d come home, he decided to stay in the Air Force and make it a career.

Over the years I became very good at sussing out accents, drawls and colloquialisms. After I was discharged, and later went to Germany to work for the U.S. Army as a civilian, everyone sounded pretty much the same to me. My country, and the world, had become a much smaller place – a village.

I’m blathering on, here, so I’ll get to my point. Today is the one day of the year that America pauses to thank its veterans, our friends and neighbors who took an oath to protect our country in times of war and serve as guardians during times of peace. While there are as many reasons they signed up as there are colors, genders and cultures within the armed forces, all of them share a deep love for America – so deep, they were prepared to die for it. Many of them have seen war first hand, seen friends and comrades maimed or killed and have lived under dreadfully difficult conditions so foreign to American civilian life they might have been on another planet.

Many are still serving, all over the world. And there are thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, right now, who are serving their country as volunteers – our future veterans.

All of them deserve our deep respect and our thanks.

10 November 2006

G. Wormtongue

Took me a few days to figure out how I feel, now that Democrats have won both houses of Congress and Rumsfeld has resigned.

"Cautious relief" describes it best.

Relief, because the election proved that the people still have a voice in America, that American democracy still works. Our leaders, despite what they think, don’t have carte blanche. There are consequences for greedy stupidity.

Caution, because the Bush administration is both crafty and low. Forgive me for pulling a Santorum and using Tolkien as an analogy (something for which I’ll never forgive ol' man-on-dog) but George W. Bush is the Gríma Wormtongue of our very real world. For the last six years he’s been quietly attaching signing statements to laws he doesn’t intend to abide by and crafting other laws that give him immense and malevolent power.

He may have suffered a setback with this election, but I can’t believe he’ll just sit quietly and watch the Democrats undo everything he’s worked so busily at for all that time.

And we don’t have Gandalf the White to kick him cringing and shrieking out of the castle. Instead, we have an immense, slow, democratically elected Congress that’s in considerable disarray at the moment. And the positive changes within it don’t take effect until January.

George "Wormtongue" Bush can do a hell of a lot of damage in two months. Watch him.

And so I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rumsfeld was nothing more than a necessary sacrifice, a slab of gristly meat for the watchdogs to chew on while Bush and his henchmen sneak by them through the gate.

In today’s headlines on Yahoo.com, I see that the dark forces are already at work. The top one reads, “Al Qaeda crows over Rumsfeld.” All al-Masri did in his Internet release today was do some testosterone-poisoned chest thumping. This was not unexpected, given that an important – but wholly incompetent – U.S. official has been forced to step down. So why did the press give his hot air false legitimacy by using that headline?

Ask George Wormtongue.

The second is Britain facing 30 terrorism plots, says spy chief.” Well, I’ve no doubt of that, but a closer read shows that those 30 plots are “major” in the way the shampoo-bottle plot against airliners last summer was. That one, as we know now, was by a group of disaffected British Muslims who had no explosives, no money and not even any plane tickets. Most of those arrested were released for lack of reason to hold them. It was all a PR stunt by the Bush and Blair administrations to strike terror in the hearts of American and British citizens. It worked until it started unraveling and we began laughing at them.

The one significant statement the head of MI5 made was that the plots under investigation are by groups connected to Pakistan – our “ally” in the “war on terror.”

Hmm. Imagine that.

Why did the British spy chief make that statement about terrorist plots thick on the ground? Ask Bush’s lapdog, Prime Minister Tony Blair. He’s been told by his party and the British Parliament that he has until June to pack up and leave. But Blair the poodle still has sharp, nasty little teeth. He won’t go without bloodying a few more ankles.

U.S. death toll in Iraq at 23 for Nov.” I'd give you the link to that story, but it's gone now, replaced by "Huge hurricane rages on Saturn."

News you can use.

So. Twenty-three more U.S. soldiers have died in the last 10 days in Iraq for no reason other than to enrich Halliburton. That’s something we can lay at Wormtongue’s feet. “Explain why these men had to die, George.”

He won’t.

Israel official: Strike on Iran possible.” This was Israel’s deputy defense minister, speaking out of his arse about a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities being a “last resort.” But Israel’s Prime Minister says that Israel is confident of the U.S. handling of the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, he’s a fool. We’ve already seen that the Bush administration won’t hesitate to use a “last resort” as “pre-emptive strike” in order to give itself false legitimacy and, incidentally, terrorize the world. And it doesn’t care what happens to the people of Israel, either.

And that is where my worry lives.

Yesterday, George Wormtongue spewed some nice, humble-pie, conciliatory lies about bipartisanship and had lunch with the new House Speaker-elect, Nancy Pelosi.

Then, true to form, he turned right around and re-nominated that diplomatic disaster John Bolton as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and pushed to have the outgoing Congress fast-track the law that would allow him to keep on wiretapping American citizens illegally, without a warrant on the thinnest of reasons. He also encouraged them to hurry up and confirm Robert Gates as Rumsfeld’s replacement as Secretary of Defense before the new Congress could stop any of it when it convenes in January.

Now that's bipartisanship.

With Bolton, American diplomacy will remain sadly laughable, nothing more than threats and bullying. The warrantless wiretapping means Wormtongue gets to keep spying on Americans, and with his nasty new Military Commissions Act, he’ll just toss them in detention and flush the key to the cell down the toilet. And Gates, in spite of administration protests otherwise, is just that idiot Rummy without the blowhard arrogance. He’s nothing more than another shady yes-man, and under his direction, we can expect more of the same in Iraq and in other world hot spots.

If Bush decides he wants to attack Iran, Gates will make sure it happens. When it does, the Middle East will blow up and Bush will start using all those laws he’s perverted against his own people.

I feel like I’m sitting on a volcano. I’m pleased that it hasn’t exploded yet even as I listen, in rapt and horrified fascination, as it rumbles deep down in its guts.

08 November 2006

The work begins

I feel like a kid who, having always been chosen last for the team, suddenly makes second string. Pleased, not quite believing, but determined to work really hard, practice like mad, and make first string next season.

Here in California, corrupt ol' John Doolittle held onto his 4th District seat in the House, a disappointment because Democrat Charlie Brown was snapping at his heels throughout the race. Doolittle had to spend huge amounts of money to hang onto his seat, and the point spread at the end was not very wide -- not at all like Doolittle has been used to over the last 16 years. I hope Brown will try again next time. There's a good chance he'll do it.

Thanks for voting, America. Now this is a mandate. And there's a lot of work to do.

06 November 2006

As an American citizen ...

Please VOTE.

05 November 2006

Wild imagination

As you might have surmised, I have a vivid imagination. It serves me well as a writer and for those moments in life when there’s nothing to do but make my own entertainment, like when I'm waiting around in the doctor’s office for some unpleasant exam and the only magazines in the rack are two months old and about parenting or boating.

My small-child parenting years are far behind me, thank goodness. I have a canoe, but the only time I’m interested in it is when I’m sitting in it, trying to cast a fishing line with enough poise and grace as to avoid tipping Mr. Wren and me into the drink. Being rather wren-shaped, this requires both concentration and luck on my part.

But back to the point. Sometimes, having a vivid imagination can be a drawback. Like now. Yesterday I wrote about the terrible image of U.S. soldiers enforcing martial law on U.S. streets and the even worse concept of our local law enforcement officers turned into apparatchiks of an American police state.

Yeah, I know. “Hey, Wren – see any black helicopters lately?”

Well, no. But honestly, for anyone with even a little imagination, who needs ‘em?

With the U.S. mid-term elections just about 48 hours away, this morning’s headline is that Saddam has been sentenced to hang, as we all figured he would be, eventually. This was a no-brainer, as Mr. Cheney likes to say.

But you won’t convince me that the timing of the verdict’s announcement wasn’t arranged some time ago. After all, there are only two days to go before Americans go to the polls to vote on whether or not our government’s system of checks and balances will start functioning again and restrain our rogue president and his administration. Saddam being sentenced to death sends a dark, positive message to the mouth-breathers among us.

But here’s the memory my piqued imagination dredged up yesterday, and like a musical ear-worm, it won’t go away:

During the lead-up to the Gulf War, Americans living in Germany were encouraged to be particularly careful as they went about their daily lives. That conflict was not terribly popular outside the U.S.; no one knew, really, how it was going to turn out. Saddam promised us the “Mother of All Wars,” and terrorism of many stripes had long been a threat in Europe.

So we Americans were cautioned – gravely and seriously -- to be on the lookout for terrorist attacks.

I lived in the American housing area some four miles from the U.S. Army post in Bremerhaven. Our apartments were in the middle of a quiet German neighborhood. There were no gates, thank goodness, to separate us from them, nor indeed any signs. We lived in a few long blocks of four-story apartment buildings with parking in front of each one, and with two-lane streets separating the blocks. Large, four-lane German boulevards surrounded us, and it was just a short walk to the local German bakery, the coffee store and the bus lines.

Because of the war America was about to engage in, we were encouraged by the Army authorities to check beneath our parked cars for limpet bombs before we opened the door to get in – or indeed, before we even touched our cars. Once we’d determined that the car was safe (though I always wondered exactly what it was I was looking for, since they didn’t tell us that), we were free to go where we had to go. If it was to work, though, we were encouraged to vary our route getting there from day to day. This would throw potential attackers off somehow.

I went along. For most of us, that meant foregoing the most direct and easiest route, which took about 10 minutes. One alternative was to drive all the way through the city, around to the industrial and shipping harbor, and then finally to the back gate of the Army post – a route that meant a 25-minute meander. We could add another 10 minutes – and avoid potential bad guys – by passing by the back gate and circling the post until we reached the front gate, which was the one we’d have come to if we’d taken the 10-minute option.

Another alternative was to head out of the city and take the narrow farm roads back across the moorland, which once again would put us at the front gate of the post. I liked this particular route, actually, as I often got to see harrier hawks, European buzzards and kites on the fenceposts.

Once at either gate, our ID cards would be checked by the gate guard and we’d wait while a couple of military police officers ran a mirror on a long stick under our cars, looking for those dreaded limpet bombs. Random cars would be pulled to the side for a thorough search, inside and out.

Then we’d be waved through.

You see a lot of uniformed soldiers on an Army post, naturally. They’re wearing their fatigues and combat boots or, if there’s something special going on, dress greens. For a civilian, it takes a few days to get used to seeing all those soldiers everywhere, but you quickly grow used to it. Only the military police carry arms, and they’re fairly innocuous.

But in wartime, that changes. I saw a many more soldiers carrying rifles (presumably with the clips in their pockets, since the war wasn’t taking place in Bremerhaven) and wearing, instead of caps, combat helmets. And there were many more everywhere on the post, formed up in marching groups, training for deployment.

In the headquarters building where I worked each day, the doors were manned by soldiers in full OD-green chemical MOB gear, complete with gas masks and M16s. They were training to survive Saddam’s threatened chemical weapon assaults.

It’s a very strange feeling to hand a tall, bulky soldier with a very large gun your ID card so you can be checked before entering a building. He can’t talk to you – the mask muffles his voice. You can’t really see him, either – the mask lets you see, vaguely, only his eyes. He looks formidable and menacing.

I always felt bad for these guys, because I’d practiced with MOB gear myself years back, and I knew it was hard to move in, hard to breathe in and miserably hot and sticky inside.

But we were on alert. The Army was mobilizing.

The memory that comes back to me most clearly was the nice day I was outside in the housing area, walking the dog, and what should come rumbling down the middle of street but a Heavy Military Vehicle – Humvee – complete with a soldier in full combat gear manning a machine gun from the turret in the roof. These vehicles were brand new back then, and the U.S. Army in Bremerhaven had only gotten theirs the year before. Even as an Army Public Affairs staffer, I’d only seen them once during an exercise.

But here it was. Huge, wide, long and oddly flat, with a jungle camouflage paint job, it made me think of a Jeep on steroids. The dog and I stopped – as did the other people out and about – and watched as it went by. The soldier manning the gun didn’t crack a smile. The incongruity of seeing this military fighting vehicle in the middle of a civilian housing area was striking – and chilling.

They were there, of course, to make a show of protecting the American housing area from terrorist attacks. And while their presence was, as it turned out, completely unnecessary, they also served to make the spooked dependents of the soldiers who lived there feel a little bit safer.

But I didn’t feel safer. Frankly, I never felt like I was in any danger at all, until I saw that HMV that day with its big gun and bandolier of bullets ready to fly.

Long after I returned to the States, I was driving along a suburban street one day and what should I see fall in behind me but the silhouette of a HMV – massive, menacing, unmistakable. I did a double-take – and then realized that it was one of the first Humvees made for rich American civilians, a gigantic, shiny black monstrosity driven by a tiny blonde woman in a workout suite.

No gunner, of course.

Now we see Humvees all over the place. They’ve even come out with some smaller models, even sillier to see on American roads than the originals. Yet I can’t see any of them without looking, involuntarily, for that gunner, that grim-faced young man who, I hope, really didn’t want to have to turn his weapon on anyone.

And that brings me, full circle, back to yesterday’s post and the image of camouflaged HMVs – with gunners, driven by armed soldiers -- on the streets of home, enforcing the curfew mandated by martial law, in turn mandated by a mad president and his administration who’ve been given far, far too much power and who’ve taken, wholesale and without permission, that much more.

Sometimes, a vivid imagination is deeply uncomfortable. I don’t want to see this particular image in real life ever again.