31 May 2006

Always learning

Okay, time to lighten up. Goodness knows, there’s enough bad news out there to fuel a bonfire with, and plenty of other very, very good bloggers are right on top of them all. I think I’ll bow to their expertise for a while.

My suggestion? Check out Pachacutek’s thoughts on the big whopper called the “global war on terror” over at Firedoglake. It’s good. Real good.

Or, for a biting run-down of the day’s news, try Swopa at Needlenose. It’s a near perfect combination of hard news and commentary, with some snark mixed in for flavor.

Have I mentioned I love that word? Snark, snark, snark. It’s just so ... fitting.

But for now, I’m going to talk about coffee.

First, let me say I’ve been a coffee-addict since I was teen-ager, which means since the Dark Ages, when just about the only coffee on the grocery store shelves came in 2-pound cans and had names like Folgers and Yuban. If you wanted decaf (no one really wanted decaf, but even back then, doctors were telling some people to lay off the caffeine) then you had one brand to choose from: Sanka.

When I was in my mid-20s, living in Tacoma, Wa., I discovered fresh-roasted coffee beans. It was, I believe, the beginning of America’s long love-affair with noisy little home coffee grinders, drip-style pots and the inevitable grounds all over the counter. It certainly was the beginning of mine – and I fell hard.

Today, I enjoy still enjoy buying my coffee in the form of crunchy, aromatic little beans, but I found over the years that I didn’t have the patience to deal with the home grinder. The blades go dull, the coffee grinds unevenly, and lord, that unearthly, brain-shivering noise. So for many years now I’ve been grinding them at the grocery store prior to purchase.

Enter Mr. Wren, who does not share my coffee jones but who does get a kick out of my love for the stuff. One day not so long ago he was making his way around the local Costco, filling his giant basket with giant things – he’s a big guy, and Costco baskets and products are just his size – when he happened across a sale display of coffeemakers that had the grinder built-in.

You spoon your beans in to the grinder, put the fresh, cold water into the reservoir, put the pot under the filter thingy and turn that sucker on. It grinds the beans, they pour into the filter, the water trickles through and a few minutes later, you have nice, hot, fresh coffee. Wow.

He bought one for me, brought it home and presented it with a flourish.

It wasn’t even my birthday or Mother’s Day. I was all agog.

I put the old coffeemaker away and got started with my new, fancy one right then and there. It was fun, even though the grinder still made that tooth-dissolving racket. At least I didn’t have to wipe spilled grounds up off the countertop. And the coffee was absolutely sublime.

But like all wonderful things, there were a few drawbacks to this one. Like, for instance, for every single pot of delicious coffee, there was The Ritual to follow.

First, there was the Grinder Cleaning. I’d have to lift out the little grinder cup and blades, and its little clear cover, and wash them before starting each pot. And then dry them thoroughly, so the ground coffee wouldn’t fur up the inside of the cup instead of flowing through the little chute into the filter.

Once that was done, I measured out the spoons of coffee beans into the grinder cup. The instructions called for 10; after some experimenting, I learned to adjust that amount to coincide with the variety of beans I’d purchased and my own particular taste. I love strong coffee the way I love a strong man, but 10 spoonfuls of, say, French roast beans, came out so strong I had to dig the coffee out of my mug with a fork.

Then there was getting the paper filter into the basket thingy just so. If it was skewed even a little, the flow of ground coffee might skew it even more, so that when the water dripped through, it would overflow the filter and the grounds would end up in – and all over -- the pot and the heating plate under it.

Now, if I’m making coffee pioneer-style, over a campfire in a camp-pan, I can deal with messy, crunchy coffee. It’s part of the Great Outdoors experience. In the Great Outdoors, you’re just glad to HAVE coffee at all, even if you do have to chew it. But when I’m making it at home, in a nice, clean, mosquito-less kitchen – and not squatting at over a campfire at 6,000 feet up a mountain with smoke blowing in my face -- and with the very Mercedes-Benz of coffeemakers at hand, I have higher standards.

That done, it was a matter of pouring water into the reservoir. I have one of those handy aluminum jugs I keep on the counter next to the sink, the kind they use in restaurants to refill your water glass with. It pours accurately so I don’t slop water all over the place, trying to get it into that narrow reservoir.

Next – and this was a very important step – the pot itself needed to be checked, just in case there was any unconsumed coffee left over in it. Sounds easy, I know, but the glass pot fitted perfectly into a jet-black cave beneath the basket, and just glancing at it to see that it was empty was ... deceptive.

The reward for this attentiveness to detail was a gloriously brewed pot of delicious coffee.

But there were, I discovered, a myriad of ways I could fuck The Ritual up.

Most often, this happened when I was coffee-deprived, or when I’d only been out of bed for five minutes, or upon coming home from work wiped out, or if I got distracted during some part of The Ritual.

And so, I fucked it up at least three times a week.

Invariably, the PRICE for messing up The Ritual was discovering my lovely, freshly brewed coffee all over the counter and dripping gently down the cabinets to pool on the floor, often with grounds in it.

After several unfortunate experiences, I named that damned thing my Zen coffeemaker, and the coffee it produced (when I got it right) my Zen coffee.

Because, you see, it took Zen-like patience and concentration to achieve that perfect pot of coffee. As a neophyte student of the Tao, learning the kind of discipline that allows one to accept that one can accomplish something by doing nothing, this coffeemaker was most instructive.

I could not multitask while making coffee with my Zen coffeemaker. By multitasking, I mean like talking to a family member, or watching the goldfinches quarrel over seeds at the feeders outside the window. Or stopping midway through the process to let the dog out.

And so, I would get up in the morning, sleepwalk my way to the kitchen, and proceed with The Ritual, but not before taking several deep breaths – in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly, to get the blood moving in my brain – and prepare everything for my Zen coffee. Then I’d push the little brew button and flee, my hands over my ears at the ungodly grinder noise.

If I didn’t do this right – be calm, Grasshopper – I would forget a step in The Ritual. One morning, it would be forgetting to check the pot for leftover coffee, which meant the new coffee would mingle with the old and overfill the pot, so when I got back from my shower, I would find in the blessed morning silence ... coffee, everywhere.

Or the paper filter wouldn’t be right. Chewy coffee, often all over everything.

Part of the Zen coffee experience was learning to contain my fury upon finding the mess, having to clean it all up and, in the little time remaining before I had to tear out the door to get to work on time, do it all over again.

Sometimes I didn’t get to have my Zen coffee at all.

Some people would have pitched that damned coffeemaker after the third or fourth massive clean-up. Not me. I was determined that it wouldn’t get the best of me, that I was learning patience. Serenity in the face of adversity. Discipline in the form of one-task-at-a-time. Besides, that coffeemaker cost Mr. Wren a bundle. I wasn’t about to give up. No frickin’ coffeemaker was going to beat me.

I worked at it for almost a year, perfecting my Zen-ness but still often finding coffee everywhere but in the pot. I grew very good at holding my temper in check, breathing, and starting over.

And then, one dark morning in the frigid depths of winter, I pushed the “on” button and the grinder didn’t start. The little red light didn’t come on. Nothing happened at all. I checked the plug – yep, it was firmly fixed in the socket. I checked the grinder -- nice and clean, full of beans, firmly seated on the little motor that spun the blades. I re-seated it. Nada.

I no longer have any other grinder at home. I was reduced to serious cursing and instant coffee for my go-cup. It was that or just eat the beans.

That night when I got home, Mr. Wren had a pot of coffee waiting for me. He hadn’t had any trouble with the pot, except that when he went to pour water into the reservoir, it instantly overflowed because I’d left the damned thing sitting there full when I took off for work.

He was slightly peeved.

We discovered that the “on” switch had developed a short. Which meant that, no matter how closely I followed The Ritual, for each pot of coffee I actually brewed, there were two that didn’t.

Heheh. No more excuses -- I PITCHED that sucker. Got a NEW coffeemaker, without a built-in grinder. After only three months of finding brewed coffee all over the counter, at least every third pot, I have finally figured out that if I jam a tiny metal hors d’oevres knife between the glass pot and the heating plate, the top of the pot will push the little springy thingy at the bottom of the filter basket up far enough, every time, to let the water flow out into the pot, rather than backing up in the filter and overflowing.

I’ve named this one the Fucking Coffeemaker. My Zen education continues.

30 May 2006

Every day is Memorial Day now

More Americans died yesterday – Memorial Day – in Iraq.

One of them was Jeremy Loveless, 25, who was shot in the upper torso as he was reaching out of a Stryker vehicle near Mosul.

Loveless was a U.S. Army field medic. His job was to give comfort and aid to the wounded and to help save lives. Before he joined the Army, he was a volunteer firefighter with the Estacada Fire Department in Estacada, Oregon, a few miles southeast of Portland. He hoped the specialized training he’d get in the Army would later help him become a civilian paramedic. He was married to Melissa Loveless and had a four-year-old daughter named Chloe.

My heart breaks for his family and friends. It breaks for Melissa, who loved him, and for little Chloe, who’ll never get to know her daddy’s own kind heart.

Twenty-five years old. My daughter is 24 – 25 in June. It’s hard for me to think of her as an adult – even though she is – and it’s just as hard for me to imagine this young man as one, either. He was very young, really just a boy, just getting his feet wet in life, just finding out where he fit in.

Now he’s gone forever. The world will never know what sort of potential Jeremy Loveless might have had. Those he might have saved in the future, as a paramedic, now have one less angel to depend upon. It might be you. It might be me.

I don’t know what Jeremy thought of the war in Iraq. I don’t know if he felt he was there defending American values and helping to bring democracy to the Iraqis, or if he thought the war was a sham. A shame.

It hardly matters. Either way, his chosen role was to help others, not to hurt them. He was an angel-in-training.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years at the scenes of car accidents with the local fire department, watched as the paramedics worked quickly, quietly and with supreme competence to save lives. I’ve noted the tears standing in their eyes when someone died, or was so gravely injured that they knew their efforts were probably futile. I’ve watched them, too, in their roles as firefighters, battling wildfires on rough terrain in sweltering summer conditions. Risking their lives.

These men and women are more than heroes, they’re angels. And so was Jeremy Loveless.
I don’t believe in heaven, but I hope he got his wings.

28 May 2006

Memorial Day

There’s a lovely, fierce, white-haired woman who lives in the community where I edit the newspaper. She’s in her 80s, but she’s sharper than most 40-year-olds I know. She’s a senior advocate, working tirelessly for the rights of elderly people. She decries those who would abuse and exploit the elderly, lays shame on the Bush Administration for its royal balls-up of Medicare Plan D and reminds readers of all ages that elders have an active voice in their communities and indeed, a great deal of wisdom to pass on, should anyone take the time to listen.

She never lets a holiday pass without a written observation. This last week, she wrote about Memorial Day, musing about how most Americans seem to be more interested in a three-day weekend and going out to play than in the real meaning of the holiday: Honoring our war dead.

She didn’t say this in her column, but I will: How many of us will attend a Memorial Day parade or ceremony? How many towns and cities in America even still have these? How many of us will actually tune in on Monday morning to hear President George W. Bush talk about the honor and sacrifice of our soldiers, those brave men and women who’ve died in service to their country?

Coming from him, a man of no honor and no sacrifice, a man who has sent America’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters to fight and die in an illegal and unnecessary war, the speech can only sound like a bad joke. As A Big Fat Slob posts at his blog of the same name, “I don't know about you, but this Memorial Day, I'd love to see that hilarious bit of Bush searching for the WMD in the White House.” He was referring, of course, to that nasty video Bush made and showed to an audience filled with politicians, celebrities, Important People and members of the press a couple of years ago during the Washington Press Association Dinner in Washington, DC. The video showed goofy ol’ George looking for those missing WMD behind the curtains, under his desk, etc. in the Oval Office.

He – and his audience, evidently -- thought it was funny. They laughed and laughed.

My friend is not laughing. She’s much less snarky than the blogger, being a gentlewoman, but nevertheless knows equally well how to choose her words for effect.

“That there are American soldiers dying the war against terror on a daily basis is reason enough for us to spend the day in honoring and remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” she writes.

She’d like to see the old tradition of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day return. It originated, she wrote, with “a woman by the name of Moina Michael who, in 1918, wrote a poem with the words, “We cherish too, the Poppy Red / that grows on fields where valor led, / it seems to signal to the skies / that blood of heroes never dies.”

My friend thinks Memorial Day should also honor veterans who are still living, but who spend their days enduring physical or mental pain as a result of injuries received on the battlefield.

She’s close to this issue. She has personal experience with it. Her only son is one of the many Viet Nam vets who fell ill following the war from his exposure to Agent Orange. He contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma and severe and chronic respiratory disease.

“He is and will remain a 100-percent disabled veteran for what remains of his life,” she writes. “It took more than 20 years before symptoms of his disability appeared, as many other veterans of that war have found who were also exposed to that deadly chemical.”

She visits him at his home once a week, and in spite of her age, gives it a thorough cleaning and makes dinner -- because he can’t.

This year, as in years past, she writes that she’ll be flying the American flag in front of her home to honor Americas veterans, both living and dead.

“However, there’s one nagging question which may never have an answer,” she writes. “Will all those soldiers who did not die on the battlefield, but nevertheless will die premature deaths because of war injuries, ever see their names on the Memorial Wall in Washington, DC? They, too, are giving their lives for their country. It’s just taking them longer to die.”

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

- John McCrae (1915)

We Shall Keep the Faith
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

--Moina Michael (1918)

American deaths in the War on Terror
Since war began (3/19/03): 2,464
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03) 2,327
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 1,999
Since Handover (6/29/04): 1,598
Since Election (1/31/05): 1,028
Total Wounded (Official): 17,648
Estimated Actual: up to 48,100

Latest American fatality: May 26, 2006

Other Coalition Troops: 214
US Military Deaths in Afghanistan: 295
Iraqi Body Count: 37,918 - 42,288

(numbers courtesy AntiWar.com)

John McCrae: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/inflanders.htm
Moina Michael: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/umbrella/inspiration.htm

And so it begins.

In the year prior to the 2004 presidential election, MoveOn.org invited the public to submit their own 30-second video commercials to the organization, showing why they felt George W. Bush was not the best person for the job.

Of the submissions, MoveOn would choose one for broadcast on national television in select markets. In the meantime, all the submissions – and there were hundreds -- would be available for download and viewing at the MoveOn.Org Website.

One of the submissions sent to MoveOn compared Bush to Hitler.

MoveOn pulled the submission as soon as it was aware of it, citing its inappropriateness in a presidential election and the inherent wrongness of comparing anyone to Adolf Hitler.

But some right wingers had seen it – and the very existence single, never-aired, quickly disappeared, 30-second homemade spot was used to smear MoveOn and all Democrats in general, tainting the entire Democratic Party campaign.

Fast forward:

On Tuesday, May 23, Sterling Burnett – a senior fellow at the Exxon-backed National Center for Policy Analysis – was on Fox News. Burnett compared Al Gore to Nazi propagandist Joseph Geobbels because of Gore’s just-released movie about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“That’s the problem. If I thought Al Gore’s movie was as you like to say, fair and balanced, I’d say, everyone should go see it. But why go see propaganda? You don’t go see Joseph Goebbels’ films to see the truth about Nazi Germany. You don’t go see Al Gore’s films to see the truth about global warming.”

Exxon Mobile cannot rebut the information in Gore’s film with facts, but they can pay to have the filmmaker smeared. Burnett didn’t disclose the fact that he defended former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond’s over-the-top compensation (which amounted to $190,000 per day in 2005, according to Think Progress) in an editorial in the Examiner on April 26. Nor did he mention that the National Center for Policy Analysis has received $390,000 from ExxonMobile since 1998.

Nevertheless, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who watch Fox News each day (despite the news program’s declining viewership) for their news got the message, loud and clear. Gore=Goebbels.

Fast forward a little more:

In the Washington Post magazine this weekend, in a story by Joel Achenbach about global warming skeptics, meteorologist Bill Gray – one of the most prominent climate skeptics – compared Gore to Hitler.

“Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews.”

It is, of course, a ridiculous statement. I believe I’ll be eating dinner tonight almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with Jews, too. And it’s likely that Gray believes in his own dinner -- and even the type of underwear he’s wearing -- just as fervently.

Achenbach’s Washington Post magazine article is well done, and he opined himself in the story that Gray’s statement was “incendiary.” But that quote will certainly be pulled out of context by the right wing and displayed everywhere. It doesn’t matter if the statement is silly – what matters is that Gray managed to put Gore and Hitler into the same sentence, in print, and compare them. Gore=Hitler.

The re-smearing of Vice President Al Gore has begun.

The rapid, vicious response of the right wing to Gore’s movie and his sudden reappearance in the public eye is telling.

They’re running scared.

Gore was one of very, very few prominent Democrats who opposed the war against Iraq from the beginning. In a long series of speeches all over the country between 2000 and today, Gore predicted the disasters so many of us saw and still see clearly looming. And, unlike his peers still holding public office – the ones who could have done something about it, and still could, if they could find some guts – Gore has articulated his concern in no uncertain terms.

In September 2002, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Gore laid the truth about the Iraq war out for all who would listen – which at the time, turned out to be almost no one.

“The foreshortening of deliberation in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of what may lie before it. Such consideration is all the more important because of the Administration's failure thus far to lay out an assessment of how it thinks the course of a war will run - - even while it has given free run to persons both within and close to the administration to suggest that this will be an easy conquest. Neither has the Administration said much to clarify its idea of what is to follow regime change or of the degree of engagement it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place. By shifting from his early focus after September 11th on war against terrorism to war against Iraq, the President has manifestly disposed of the sympathy, good will and solidarity compiled by America and transformed it into a sense of deep misgiving and even hostility. In just one year, the President has somehow squandered the international outpouring of sympathy, goodwill and solidarity that followed the attacks of September 11th and converted it into anger and apprehension aimed much more at the United States than at the terrorist network - - much as we manage to squander in one year's time the largest budget surpluses in history and convert them into massive fiscal deficits.”

He was right.

Gore says he isn’t planning to run for president in 2008. This early in the process, that’s commonly what potential candidates say as they size up their chances. They don’t want to say too much, yet, and give the other side time to stockpile ammunition against them or even declare “pre-emptive war.”

In Gore's case, as in Hillary Clinton's, the long knives are already out.

Nevertheless, you can be sure that the GOP is very, very afraid that should Al Gore decide to run again for president in 2008, he’ll win. And this time, it will be by such a wide margin there will be no way to steal or even question his victory.


Before dawn on May 27 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Java in Indonesia.

The death toll is now 4,300. Twenty thousand more have been injured. Two hundred thousand have been displaced.

Please give what you can:
American Red Cross International Services

Update: The death toll has risen to more than 4,500, according to the Indonesian government and is expected to rise as rescue workers search through the rubble of collapse buildings for survivors. Aftershocks from the quake continue.

27 May 2006

No good can come of this

Sit back for a minute or two and play a little imagination game with me. Clear your thoughts of plans to run to the grocery store or how you need to tackle the garden weeds, close your mental doors against the incessant running commentary about the job, the kids, your elderly folks, the dog scratching at the door to get in. Just ... imagine, if you will:

Your mail for the day has arrived at your local post office. There’s a birthday card from an old friend, your statement from the bank, several pieces of trash mail, an invitation from the ACLU to renew your membership and a letter from your 86-year-old Aunt Mary, who doesn’t have a computer and never will, so she writes long, quarterly missives to you on small sheets of thin, scented lavender paper with lacy edges in a hand from another time. There’s also a phone bill and two magazines.

Soon, your sorted mail will be in the mail carrier’s truck, ready to deliver. But first it’s taken by a fellow in a dark suit to a separate room, where he sits down at a desk with a computer, a scanner, and a couple of telephones. He picks up his razor-edged paper knife and smoothly and methodically slits every envelope with your name on it, slips the contents out and, with care and attention to detail, reads everything that was intended for your eyes only.

The fellow makes note of your past involvement with the ACLU – you sent the civil rights organization $25 in a mad moment three years ago and, while you’ve ignored their pleas for more money ever since, they still send the occasional request. The fellow keys your name and particulars onto a watch list of potential subversives and scans the pages into his computer.

He riffles through your magazines – Harper’s and The Nation – and notes that you seem to favor liberal writers, both fiction and non-fiction. This tracks nicely with the ACLU mail. He makes note.

He looks at your birthday card, just a jokey thing, innocuous, and notes your friend’s name and address in his computer as someone to check out.

Your bank statement reveals that your current balance is $254.87 and that you made a deposit three days ago of $500, which covered a couple of overdrafts and left you a little over until payday. He wonders where you got that $500 and whether you’ll be noting the income on your taxes next year, and flags this information for the IRS. He also peruses your debit card purchases. Hmmm. Several were to Amazon.com. He flags this as well so that his colleagues can look into what sort of books you’re reading.

The statement is scanned for further study.

Your telephone bill tells him not only that you’ve called a number in Germany but that you’ve made several long distance calls across the U.S., two to San Francisco, one to Chicago, three to Portland, Oregon. The rest are local calls, but it would, he thinks, be wise to trace those down and do a little investigating. He scans it, saves it.

Finally, he slices open Aunt Mary’s letter. In it he discovers $50 in cash – ostensibly for your birthday – “have a nice dinner out on me, sweetie,” she writes. She asks how you’re feeling after your wrist surgery and whether you’ll be able to come visit one day soon. And she prattles on, reminiscing about your antics as a teen, a young adult, and how much she enjoyed attending that movie with you a couple of years ago when she was out visiting – “Fahrenheit 9-11.”

He makes note. Aunt Mary’s letter is scanned before he refolds it neatly, holds it briefly to his nose to breathe in the scent of lavender, and returns it to its envelope.

Then, he reseals all the violated mail with red, white and blue tinted tape, each strip printed with the words “U.S. Mail Inspection – Keeping You Safe” and takes it all back to the mail carrier so it can be delivered to you later in the day.

Then he chooses, at random, another person’s mail for inspection.

It is, he thinks, a fascinating job.

Outraged? Not yet? After all, our little imaginary moment is just that, imaginary. The U.S. Mail is and long has been -- unless you’re under criminal investigation and the police have a warrant – inviolate. In fact, there are laws on the books against anyone opening private mail not addressed specifically to them.

But today, as you read this, the National Security Agency is busy logging – without a warrant -- all your phone calls. Yes, they swear they’re only looking for overseas calls to places like Iran, in case you’re planning terrorist activity – but all your calls are logged, nevertheless, and kept in a vast database. All they need are phone numbers; it’s not hard to learn a great deal about you and the people you’re calling using those alone.

Of course, you have nothing to hide. You’re not calling terrorists or planning attacks on anything or anyone. You’re just an ordinary American with a weedy garden and a nice, three-day weekend ahead for cleaning it up. Monday, you’ll be breaking out the barbecue for the first time this summer.

How would feel about having your Internet usage records perused by the government? By having the websites you visit daily noted and your e-mail read and saved against a rainy day? Yes, some of this is happening already, if the government has reason to believe you’re involved in criminal activity of some sort – and has a warrant. But check this out:

Gonzales pressures ISPs on data retention
By Declan McCullagh
Story last modified Fri May 26 18:15:43 PDT 2006

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday urged telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities, CNET News.com has learned.

In a private meeting with industry representatives, Gonzales, Mueller and other senior members of the Justice Department said Internet service providers should retain subscriber information and network data for two years, according to two sources familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The closed-door meeting at the Justice Department, which Gonzales had requested, according to the sources, comes as the idea of legally mandated data retention has become popular on Capitol Hill and inside the Bush administration. Supporters of the idea say it will help prosecutions of child pornography because in many cases, logs are deleted during the routine course of business.

In a speech last month at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Gonzales said that Internet providers must retain records for a “reasonable amount of time.”

“I will reach out personally to the CEOs of the leading service providers and to other industry leaders,” Gonzales said. “Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans is an issue that must be addressed.”

Until Gonzales' speech, the Bush administration had generally opposed laws requiring data retention, saying it had “serious reservations” about them. But after the European Parliament last December approved such a requirement for Internet, telephone and voice over Internet Protocol providers, top administration officials began talking about the practice more favorably.
During Friday's meeting, Justice Department officials passed around pixellated (that is, slightly obscured) photographs of child pornography to emphasize the lurid nature of the crimes police are trying to prevent, according to one source.

A Justice Department spokesman familiar with the administration's stand on data retention was in meetings on Friday and unavailable for comment, a department representative said.

Concerned? Read the rest here.

No one likes child molesters. Everyone wants to see them caught and, preferably, put away for a long, long time so they can’t do anyone any harm. But ISP data retention would allow the government to look for far more than just pedophiles.

You know, I hate sounding like Chicken Little. But after everything that’s happened in America since 2000, do you really feel comfortable when your government says, “trust us”?

I sure don’t.

Hat tip to Driftglass for snagging this one.

26 May 2006

The Great One returns

Wolcott is back!
Wolcott is back!
Man, was I worried! What in the world would we do without the Snarkmeister? The world would be a sadder place, for sure.
Welcome back, James.

Loose lips sink ships

Codpiece seems to have noticed that loose lips sink ships.

Interpretations may vary.

I was married for some years to an alcoholic. He could be a real nice guy – I married him, after all – but I discovered rather quickly after vows were exchanged that, unlike the rest of the human race, he never did anything wrong.

From misplacing his car keys on a daily basis to chewing out the fledgling for having the temerity to try to enter the dinner table conversation, the faux pas and mistakes, trip-ups and downright meannesses this man was responsible for were simply never his fault. There were always other factors involved, situations and backstories that forced him into saying or doing ugly things. When frogs and toads fell from his lips, well, they might have been his lips, but it was someone or something else that put those slimy things into his mouth in the first place.

He could not, ever, be held accountable. Thus, he could not feel regret or contrition. If he was forced into a position where he had to apologize -- or face uncomfortable consequences for his actions -- he’d grudgingly say he was sorry, but I learned after a while that he didn’t mean it, not deep down inside where it counts. How could he? He didn’t believe he was at fault.

In his skewed perception of the world, he was a victim. People just didn’t understand him, they ignored all the good things he did, and really, they were just out to get him. Me included.

Eventually, I had enough of his nonsense. I divorced him. Last I heard, he was working unhappily for a security company as a guard on an armored car. Jeezus, they’d given Mr. Perfection a loaded gun.

Yesterday, Codpiece and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is visiting Washington, DC to discuss the war in Iraq and, incidentally, the saber-rattling going on between the U.S. and Iran, answered questions in a press conference.

Q: Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here -- saying "bring it on," kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner -- you know, "wanted dead or alive," that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that. And I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time. And it's -- unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice. They've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted.

This answer is most familiar to those of us who’ve had to put up with Perfection In Motion.

“Sounds like a familiar refrain, here --”

The unspoken thought beneath the words? “Oh, hell, are you going to bring that up again? Damn, how many times to I have to say it? Oh, all right. I’ll explain it again, dummy. Read my lips.”

“-- saying "bring it on," kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people.”

Ahhhh, gotcha. Silly us. Why, his “tough talk” sent the wrong signal. Somehow, we all misinterpreted his intent. He didn’t really mean “bring it on.” He meant, well, something else. Like, maybe, "just try it"?

“I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner -- you know, 'wanted dead or alive,' that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that.”

What he learned was that trying to sound like John Wayne stirred up a shit-storm of massive proportions, that puffing out his chest and sneering “go ahead, hit me!” and pointing at his chin was somehow interpreted by ignoramuses of all stripes to mean, well, “go ahead, hit me!” How in the world did they manage to non-grok his meaning? Gosh, maybe he should have put it in prettier words for those in “certain parts of the world” so they wouldn’t have thought he actually intended that he really meant for them to “bring it on.”

Poor, poor misunderstood Cap’n Codpiece.

“And I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time.”

This is an interesting statement. Did he mean that America’s biggest mistake was to allow and even condone the humiliation and torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or that we got caught torturing and humiliating prisoners in Abu Ghraib? And what did he mean by “we’ve been paying for it for a long period of time”? Did he mean we’ve been paying in terms of the world’s opinion of America? Or that people in “some parts of the world” took it wrong, once again, and the shit-storm gained in fury? Or maybe he meant that because we were caught torturing prisoners, his administration had to take a lot of flak and it sent his popularity poll numbers into the gutter?

I question the statement because, as we all know, Codpiece and the orcs have neither admitted to torturing anyone or banned such reprehensible practices outright. Why, the word “torture” is open to interpretation, isn’t it? One man’s torture is another man’s little tickle. And yes, Codpiece did, under duress, sign Senator McCain’s congressional bill banning torture. But after everyone went home, patting themselves on the back, he added his little “signing statement” to the end of it, effectively giving himself permission to flout the law and go ahead and keep on torturing anyway.

After all, he knows best. He’s the Decider. And he doesn't make mistakes.

Never mind that the prisoners being imprisoned and tortured are given no legal representation. Never mind that the vast majority of them have done nothing more sinister than have the supreme bad luck to be in the right place at the wrong time. Never mind that what Codpiece has allowed to occur in detention centers in Iraq, Gitmo, countries where he sent “rendered” prisoners and at those secret, CIA “black sites” hasn’t stopped, and he doesn’t intend for it to.

One wonders, really, who’s “paying for that.” As a statement of contrition, it’s a little wobbly.

“And it's -- unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice. They've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted.”

Which trial is Codpiece referring to here? Saddam's? His trial is ongoing in Iraq, and it’s a joke. Or maybe he’s referring to American Jose Padilla, who was detained as an “enemy combatant” for years without formal charges, access to counsel or even to his family. Padilla, who the government finally indicted in 2005 on charges that he “conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas.” None of the original allegations put forward by the U.S. government when Padilla was arrested in 2002 were part of the indictment. And the man still sits in a federal prison in Miami, untried.

Now, Codpiece might have been referring to the quite mad Zakarias Moussaoui, who was actually tried and convicted for his role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was arrested on August 16, 2001, and on May 6 of this year was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Nevertheless, according to the AP, three jurors decided Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the September 11 plot, and three described his role in the attacks as minor, if he had any role at all.

Both men were, or are, bad guys. They’d attended terrorist training camps and at the very least, gave serious thought actually committing acts of terrorism. But Codpiece’s statement, “And it's -- unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice. They've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted” is a just bit disingenuous. Hundreds of prisoners are still being held at Gitmo, and hundreds are still being held in Iraq and several secret elsewheres, without formal charges or access to legal counsel.

The article in the New York Times about the press conference yesterday paints Codpiece as regretting his cowboy statements regarding the insurgency in Iraq, Osama bin Ladin and Abu Ghraib.

You know what? I just don’t believe him, any more than -- after getting burned more times than I like to admit -- did I finally believe my ex’s grudging apologies for his ugly behavior. It took me quite a while to figure him out, but in the end, I understood what I was dealing with – a man who could not admit, ever, to making a mistake because in his narrow, flawed, tough-guy perception of the world, he doesn’t make them.

I think it’s time for America to file for divorce.

24 May 2006


One of the things that we (by “we,” I mean us Americans) made a mistake with after World War II ended was giving up trains.

I know folks on the East Coast still have trains in the cities and trains that run between cities. But out here in the West, passenger trains are few and far between.

The tracks, however, are everywhere. If they’re in use at all, it’s by freight trains. But mostly, the rails are just rattle-bumps running across the road, forcing you to slow down as you drive over them even though you’ve never, never seen a train on them.

Ghost trains, perhaps. Thundering by in another time, another dimension.

For some reason, today I’m remembering the trains I rode when I lived in Germany. And I’m remembering the first train I ever rode, which was an Amtrak passenger train way back in the mid-60s. It was a summer vacation, and my family took a cross-country trip by rail to visit relatives in Michigan and Massachusetts.

I was about 10, I think. Mostly I remember the trip as being both novel and boring, like most kids who find themselves confined for hours on end. But there was one magical moment that I will never forget about that journey.

We had a sleeping compartment. Something woke me in the middle of the night – and I opened my eyes to the most beautiful and eerie scene I’ve ever experienced.

The train was flying across an empty flatland, perhaps somewhere in the Midwest. My berth was just beneath a long window, so I could see the vast, dark landscape stretching out and out, almost nothing to distinguish between the land and the sky. There were no stars. Suddenly, the dark world outside lit up as bright as if a giant bank of stadium lights had been switched on. And then off again, just that fast. Startled and a little frightened, I turned on my side, gazed out the window and waited, wondering if it would happen again.

It did, and after a moment or two I realized what was happening. Outside the safe, clackety-clackety interior of the train, a lightning storm was taking place. For the first time in my life I saw heat lightning, sheet lightning, saw the low clouds lighting up from inside as if the gods were switching flashlights on and off, now here, now way over there. There was no thunder – or if there was, I couldn’t hear it because of the sound of the train’s wheels on the tracks.

I laid there for the longest time, watching nature’s light show in the middle of the night, feeling tiny, totally alone, absolutely awed by what I was seeing. It was a magnificent gift, that trip, that storm.

I’ve never seen anything even remotely like it since. But it woke in me a lifelong love of trains.

In Germany, the trains ran day and night through the small city where I lived. One of my favorite things was hearing the sound of the train’s whistle at night as it rolled slowly over its elevated tracks about a quarter mile away from my flat, on its way to the Bahnhof in the middle of town.

And without fail, every single time I heard it, I wanted to be on that train, going somewhere. Anywhere.

My first train ride in Germany was to Frankfurt for a conference at one of the big Army bases – an all-day trip with a couple of changes – and I’d never done it before. I got to Bremen just fine, but then I had to change trains. Somehow, I managed to get on the wrong one; not so mysterious, really, since I didn’t speak German yet and the schedules were nearly incomprehensible to me. Yes, I should have asked someone, but I was new enough to the country that I didn’t realize that most Germans could speak at least some English. And besides, I was desperately trying to be a competent, urbane, sophisticated American. Not one of those dumb ones who couldn’t manage anything by herself. There were several platforms, several trains, and so I got on the wrong one without realizing it until about 30 minutes into the journey, when the conductor came along to punch tickets.

Fortunately, the train was at least going in the right general direction – south – and so very kindly, he told me he’d come back and get me in a while. He’d put me off the train so I could wait for another – one that would take me to my destination.

An hour later I found myself waiting on a platform, outside, in front of a closed station all alone on the outskirts of some tiny burg. I had no idea where I was. It was dark and freezing cold, and I sat there with my suitcase, huddled against the wind, wondering what in the world I’d do if another train didn’t show up.
But one did, after a while. It came to a noisy halt at the platform. A conductor leaned out the door and said with a big grin, “Amerikaneren?”

“Ja,” I said, a bit stunned that he knew I was an American. Was it so obvious? I'd tried so hard to look like a native! I was wearing a calf-length, dark wool coat, a skirt, low heels, even a hat. Not a thing on me that said "USA."

The conductor hopped off, grabbed my suitcase for me, and said, “The other train, she radio so we stop and take you to Frankfurt, a little late, but you will be there.”

It was, for a young American woman who’d never experienced such a kindness from complete strangers in her own country, let alone a foreign one, a world-shaking, mind-opening moment.

After that, I took the train at every opportunity, and twice, even took it all the way to the Austrian Alps for skiing vacations – and back again, enjoying every minute.

We made a real mistake, abandoning trains in this country for a network of highways and cars. Perhaps, now that the long dream of cheap gas is ending, we’ll rebuild our rail system. I’m not holding my breath, but I can hope.

23 May 2006

Another miracle

Ahhhh it’s good to be home. Once again, the paper’s to bed, the publisher is happy and all is right in the world.

I, on the other hand, am a wreck.

Because of a poorly-timed (as if it could be timed), massive arthritic flare-up in the last three toes of my left foot, I didn’t get into the office yesterday. For those of you who think arthritis is an old-folks disease, I’m here to tell you it’s not – in fact, I was diagnosed at the tender age of 30. Dropped my jaw, it did.

I’ve had it almost 20 years now, and while I’ve grown used to working around it, it was no little ache this time.

This flare felt like ha’penny nails were being driven into my toes and foot with each step. I can handle that – really! – because mostly, my job requires me to sit in front of a computer all day. Ibuprofen is sometimes helpful. And, in a pinch, I have my handy-dandy cane, which thankfully only gets taken out of the closet, dusted off and pressed into use once in a blue moon these days.

But yesterday, faced with that flare, I just plain wimped out. The thing is, you see, I have to drive to my office. In a car with manual transmission. The clutch on the ... yes. Left. All my courage went right down the damned drain the moment I imagined what my flared-up foot was going to feel like once I got into town, with its bazillion traffic lights and heavy, stop-and-go traffic.

So I stayed home, but Mondays are the worst possible days for me to take off work, since Tuesdays are production days. Monday is, after Tuesday, the busiest day of my week. In over eight years, I’ve taken a Monday as a sick day just one other time. I’ve worked through colds, flu, and trots-inducing belly-aches, but yesterday, I just couldn’t do it.

I worked from home all day instead, with the phone glued to my ear and my e-mail account buzzing. I edited everything in Word and then e-mailed it back to myself so I could slam those stories into the editorial system today, ready to go.

But I couldn’t dummy the paper. Dummying is drawing a mock-up of each and every page, placing stories, photos and jumps, counting endless column inches and doing it all in what one hopes is a sensible and attractive way. As an artist, I generally don’t mind this part of the weekly process – these days, it’s the only time I get to be even a little bit creative at work, outside of working with words.

The graphic designers who actually do the computerized layout – called pagination -- use the dummy as a guide. Without it, nothing happens. The little Gang of Three designers I work with are not intuitive people. They are not particularly artistic or creative. They don’t think for themselves. I can’t just tell them to put this story on page one, this one on page three, that one on page 10, just make it fit. Without the dummy, they are totally helpless.

So I dummied that @!#!*! paper in my head.

By the time I got up at oh-dark-thirty this morning, I pretty much knew where I was going to place everything and how it would all fit in the 62 pages that were my lot this week. My foot was marginally better, so I braved the drive. Even if it hadn’t been, I’d have still managed it somehow, because if Mondays are bad days to take as sick days, Tuesdays are even worse.

I spent the day in a blur, feeding the graphics kids dummied pages four at a time until, miracle of miracles, they had the whole thing. I hardly moved from my desk all day – that computer was smoking. Newsroom banter? Forget it. My desk was covered in eraser-boogers by the time the smoke cleared, but I had the clean, fresh and warm-from-the-laser-printer galley proofs on my desk an hour before deadline. I hardly had to make a red correction mark anywhere. It was ... sublime.

When the paper was to bed, I gimped back out to my car and drove myself home, yelping obscenities every time I had to push that damned clutch to the floor. And now, here I sit, aching foot up on a box with a pillow on it, a fresh dose of Ibu coursing in my veins, my second cup of coffee of the day steaming gently into the air.

I do believe tonight is pizza night at the Wren’s nest.

22 May 2006

Danger, Will Robinson!

I hear tell that the Wall Street Journal’s editorial poohbahs have got their panties in a twist over the mean, rude way those nasty “angry liberals” have been treating Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

I mean, really. What has the world come to?

(Does two decades of shit-flinging by Rush and the Republicans come to mind? At all? Iraq? Warrantless wiretapping? Abu Ghraib? Gitmo? Tax cuts for the top 2 percent? Medicare? Secret renditions? None of that rings any bells?)

This happened last Friday. First, a goodly number of students and faculty at the New School actually jeered McCain and turned their backs on him when he got up to speak during their commencement exercises! And ... and ... 1,200 students signed petitions disinvinting him from speaking at their graduation ceremony! And worst of all, one of them got up to give her commencement speech and read McCain the riot act! Called him to the mat over how Osama is still on the loose and there were no WMDs in Iraq. And it all took place just blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan! The gall!

Whaaaaa... you don’t think the Bush Kiss had anything to do with that, do you?

No, that couldn’t be it. It’s just those damned “angry liberals,” messing everything up for the centrist Democrats.

At almost the same time, over in Connecticut, Democratic contender for Lieberman’s Senate seat Ned Lamont was dropping jaws all around, garnering 33 percent of the vote -- which puts him smack-dab on the primary ticket in that state in August. First time in a donkey’s years that Lieberman’s faced a challenge from within his own party. He’s ... stunned. Incensed. How could this be?

Hmmm. Bush Kiss? Maybe? Or perhaps it’s Joe’s tendency to forget which party he belongs to? Or maybe it's his callous disregard for rape victims, and his tendency to parrot Republican talking points, implying his fellow Democrats are traitors for speaking out against Codpiece's war of convenience. American deaths in Iraq -- closing on 2,500 now. Injuries -- up around 14,000. How about it, Joe? Maybe, just maybe, that's why there's a concerted effort to boot your sorry ass out?

Those dang angry liberals! They’re just rocking the boat! Don’t they know that the party poohbahs are annoyed? That the (dare we say it) the Republicans are annoyed?

Heh. Not half so annoyed as we are. Angry?

They haven’t even seen angry yet.

Here’s the link to the knicker-twisting Wall Street Journal editorial. Someone bring some smelling salts!

21 May 2006

Kudos for Kos -- and the netroots

On June 22, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a progressive think tank, will present young blogger and author Markos Moulitsas with the Drum Major for Justice Award in New York City. Kos is a pioneer of progressive blogging, and with his blog, Daily Kos, has built a network of committed, progressive activists who are speaking out for American principles of government, activism and democracy.

Marcos Moulitsas Zuniga is co-author with Jerome Armstrong of the book, "Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People Powered Politics."

I cannot think of a more deserving recipient.

Just enough

Soil for legs
Axe for hands
Flower for eyes
Bird for ears
Mushroom for nose
Smile for mouth
Songs for lungs
Sweat for skin
Wind for mind
Just enough.
--Nanao Sakaki

This poem by Japanese “guerrilla poet” Nanao Sakaki brought a smile to my face and a quiet sort of peace to my heart the first time I read it in 1992 in Olympia, Washington. I was unemployed for the first time since I was a teen-ager and at nervous loose ends.

I’d recently returned to the U.S. after living for six years in Northern Germany, working for the U.S. Army as an Army Public Affairs writer/editor. But the homeland I found myself back in seemed almost as foreign and strange as Germany itself had seemed when I’d first arrived there. Traffic had quadrupled. Telemarketers called day and night, trying to sell me things. Television had exploded from just a few local channels plus HBO (if you had cable) to hundreds of channels. Grocery stores were packed with so many brands of so many different things that I’d find myself wandering the aisles in a fog of indecision, overwhelmed by the choices. The radio seemed full of hate-talk.

I had no idea where I fit into my new world.

So, between sending out tentative resumes and learning to cook soup, I spent a good deal of time walking along a small, stony beach near my neighborhood on the Puget Sound. The beach was almost always deserted, and it was just a few blocks from my home, reached after slipping and sliding down a wet, muddy trail. From that little beach I watched bald eagles soar and blue herons stalk small fish in the reeds as I tried not to step on the millions (literally!) of tiny crabs, most of them no larger than my thumbnail. They skittered sideways under my feet.

To help fill the long, jobless days, I worked for a while at a ramshackle wildlife rescue facility as a volunteer for 10 or 12 hours a week. There I met a myriad of injured, recovering animals – eagles, seagulls, owls, a Roosevelt elk, silver foxes, opossums. I cleaned their cages and enclosures, prepared their food and enjoyed some close encounters I’d never have experienced in any other setting. But it was volunteer work; there was no income.

I’d gone to Olympia to find a pair of gumboots, the better to hike my muddy trail and work with the animals, and happened upon a bookstore. I didn’t have much money to spend on books – I’d become a regular at the local library – but one caught my eye. It was called “Earth Prayers from Around the World,” edited by Elizabeth A. Roberts and Elias Amidon. It was small and thick, about six inches tall and five-and-a-half wide, and a good inch thick. I opened it up, and there was Sakaki’s “Just Enough.”

I bought it.

Nanao Sakaki was born in 1923. He was a radar operator with the Japanese Navy in WWII, and observed the Enola Gay on its mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. After a couple of years of unsatisfying work following the end of the war, he decided to start painting and writing poetry, and became a wandering poet, eventually meeting Beat poets Gary Snyder and Alan Ginsberg. He’s been called the “first Japanese hippy.” Sakaki has traveled all over the world, mostly on foot, observing nature and people. I have both of his books of poetry now, “Let’s Eat Stars” and “Break the Mirror,” and I understand he’s also written a translation of Issa’s haiku.

I still have “Earth Prayers” on my bookshelf. Even all these years later, reading Sakaki’s simple, evocative words brings a smile to my lips and replaces tension with peace. Do you have a favorite poem, one that brings a time from your past instantly forward into the here and now?

Feel free to share.

20 May 2006

Original sin

You really want to take a little time out of your busy day to read this Bobo Brooks takedown by the incredible Driftglass. Still catching my breath, but here's a teaser:

Here Bobo briefly lays a fleeting, terrified finger right on the artery
beneath which beats the poison that is destroying our country. Then he yanks it away and diagnoses the symptom correctly but lies his ass completely off about the name of the disease.

No, BoBo. It is YOU who don’t have the numbers to govern. You are
riding shotgun in Jerry Falwell’s Clown Car, not the other way around. You are the one who has made a career of telling people not to mind the madmen in the basement of the GOP, as they ripped the walls out, burned the deeds and carefully mutated the Party of Lincoln into the party of Jefferson Davis.

Right before your very eyes, and you did...nothing. Worse than nothing; you told people to ignore the lump in the flesh of their Party. That it was harmless. Just a cyst. Just the fringe.

While the carcinoma spread, people like you didn’t sound the alarm;
instead you smashed the alarm to flinders and then hid the evidence in your pillowcase.

While the racists and the Christopaths metastasized, people like you
told the Moderates that Dobson was just a fluke. Robertson was just a loon. Rush was just a loudmouth. Coulter is just a nut. That they could all be laughed off and ignored, and you did it for the same reason that in the old joke, the family with the crazy Uncle who thinks he’s a chicken never had him locked up:
because you needed the eggs.

You cultivated these loathsome cowards with the fascist tendencies
because you know without them the GOP would never, ever, ever win another election anywhere.

That is the Original Sin you dare not admit.

Read it all, Wren-friends. It's ... spot on.

The last great act of defiance

I have my MS Explorer home page set to a Google search of the text of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights. In the search box I typed “Amendment IV The right of the people to be secure ...” the whole short, elegant little graf that protects the American people from unreasonable searches and seizures by their own government.

I did the search, then set it as my Explorer home page. Now, each time I open a new browser, it shows a Google page full of search results for the Fourth Amendment, each one of them starting with those words.

I set it up that way back in December 2005, when the story about the NSA wiretapping of Americans first broke in the New York Times.

I wish I could say I thought of it myself, but I’m not that clever. I got the idea from another blogger who, I’m sorry, I cannot give proper credit to now because I don’t recall who it was. Thank you, whoever you are.

The idea resonated for me. Now, when Codpiece’s orcs check my personal Internet use, they’ll be bombarded with a many-times-daily look at the Constitutional law they’re breaking with such casual, criminal disregard.

Yeah, it’s a small thing. A tiny thumb-your-nose at Authority. In fact, it’s very like that hilarious old cartoon of the mouse giving the finger to the eagle that’s swooping down, huge talons open to scoop him up. “The Last Great Act of Defiance,” were the words scrawled across the bottom of that much photocopied cartoon.

“The Last Great Act of Defiance.”

I was a kid during the 60s. My teen-age years were in the 70s, when the Age of Aquarius was fading into the Age of Consumerism. The Vietnam War had ended, the soldiers were all brought home, Nixon had resigned in disgrace, and the FISA act was brought into being, further protecting you and me from secret government searches of our personal lives. Woodward and Bernstein were part of the mainstream and no one knew who Deep Throat was.

Like any dufus kid, I didn’t understand the significance of all that until many, many years later. In regards to the Fourth, my understanding bloomed only just recently.

Having my browser window open to a search of the Fourth means that not only are the orcs reminded of the law they’re breaking, I am too. Many times a day.

I was a hippie for a few short years after high school, about 10 years after the real hippies were in their heyday protesting injustice and war and advocating peace and love. By the time I started wearing my hair long and straight, donning flowy shirts made of Indian gauze from Cost Plus and going defiantly braless, the hippies I was trying to emulate had already discovered the joys of business school, mortgages and Cuisinarts. I held out for a while, but the bloom was off the rose and I’d never been particularly good at defying authority, anyway. I wanted to travel, to get away from the town I’d grown up in and away from the protective, stifling wing of my family.

So I joined the Air Force.

It’s always been extremes for me.

I remained, however, a liberal to my toes. I joined up for selfish reasons, wanting the steady paycheck and hoping to travel, but I also did it for my country and to honor my Dad, who was a Marine. He’d served in Korea, and when he came back to the states, he got his degree on the GI Bill and became a successful businessman, a CPA. He was modestly proud of his accomplishments, and so was I.

Dad was very conservative, his view of the world as different from mine as night and day. He’d had no sons, but I was a feminist and saw no reason at all that I couldn’t join the military and make him proud the same way a son might have. I’ll never really know if I succeeded, but I tried.

He rarely talked about his time in Korea as I was growing up; in fact, it wasn’t until just after his death last year that I learned about his experiences there. He’d written a short, two-page account of his life on his home computer, and we found it as we were frantically trying to get his affairs in order.

I don’t know what Dad would think of the current NSA wiretapping. In the last years of his life, he’d grown even more conservative, deeply influenced by the propaganda FOX News blared from the three televisions in his house that were switched on, the sound turned way up to accommodate his failing hearing, 24 hours a day. His hatred of Bill Clinton was almost physically painful – a condition I share these days in regards to Codpiece, so I understand it much better now than I did then. Dad was a far-right Republican, a Bush supporter, a supporter of the war in Afghanistan (we were basically on the same page there) and of the war in Iraq (we were on vastly different pages regarding that war – different books, in fact). Family get-togethers in the last years of his life were happy events until politics came up as the dinner table was being cleared. Neither he or I was able to avoid the subject. Diametrically opposed, we both loved a good, reasoned argument. Still, it was becoming increasingly hard for either of us to agree to disagree.

But even with our differing views, I’d like to think that the current, deeply dishonorable NSA wiretapping of Americans by their own government on the pretext of the "war on terror" would appall him. Dad was a good, honorable man, and he tried to teach me what honor meant as I was growing up.

I think he succeeded. Thanks, Dad. I love you.

19 May 2006

Unlike father

As you might have noticed, my muse has deserted me today, so I've spent my free time looking for words of wisdom from my fellow bloggers.

I just happened upon a doozy.

Ever wonder, in an idle moment, how a nasty dunce like George W. Bush could possibly become President of the United States?

Jerome Doolittle over at Bad Attitudes nails the answer:

Mission Almost Accomplished

It's been nearly four years since I first posted my analysis of the nasty psychopathogy that has forced George W. Bush to fail all his life, and is causing him to fail so spectacularly now. Consider this from the Washington Post (emphasis added):

"Bush’s job approval rating now stands at 33 percent, down five percentage points in barely a month and a new low for him in Post-ABC polls. His current standing with the public is identical to President George H.W. Bush’s worst showing in the Post-ABC poll before he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton in 1992."

The younger Bush's career can only be understood as a lifelong obsession with disappointing the father he so plainly hates.

He follows his father's footsteps in school, as a pilot, as a businessman, and finally as a politician. Unable to fill those footprints, he makes each one seem unimportant by pretending contempt for it. He gets C's where his father got A's; he ducks the combat flying that made his father a hero; he burns through the seed money his father's friends gave him, failing in the oil business which had made his father rich.

Then at last he was taken in hand by a sleazy political op who realized that the father's name and money would be enough to elect the wayward son governor of Texas. (Polls at the time showed that a significant portion of the voters thought that W. actually was his father.)

Then Rove set out to hand-carry his meal ticket into the White House itself.
Take that, you old fart, junior must have thought as he took the oath of office Any asshole can get to be president. But even that wasn't enough. Deep inside, where the Oedipal snakes writhed in his subconscious, there was still work to do.

What better to way to humiliate his father than to degrade the supreme office the old man had spent his life to reach? What sweeter revenge than to slime, like a slug, the presidency itself? And so he enlisted Rumsfeld and Cheney, his father's ancient enemies, to help in the work of patricide.

Outdoing his father as president, the junior Bush must have known in his heart, was beyond his limited capacities. But his whole life offered proof of his ability to fail, and so he took the only path remaining. He would become, God help the rest of us, the worst president in history.

I love thinkers like this. Check out Bad Attitudes. Thanks, Jerome.

The poor brave wee thing ...

Mwahahahahah ...
I hope my sweet, overworked laptop doesn't read this.

Words of power

From Roxtar, via Kevin Wolf, comes the challenge: What are your favorite words? Which words evoke images, smells, or feelings for you? Which make you smile when you use them?

It's early; the ol' brain is barely beginning to fire, but the ones that come right to mind for me are:


Words have power. They shape our world, whether we think about it or not. Amorphous or regimented, they make each of us unique, and their meanings have influence in our lives. They're mysterious, beautiful ... insidious.

I have a friend who has osteoarthritis. She calls it, without a thought, "my arthritis," as in "My arthritis is bothering me today," or "I've taken my meds for my arthritis." It's clear to the listener that she owns that disease and everything to do with it. It's hers. Unable to vanquish it, she welcomes it. Nurtures it. Without realizing it, she's given it an almost mystical power over her, one that influences her every waking moment.

I understand how this comes to happen. But semantics shape actions. I also have arthritis, the rheumatoid variety. But I refuse to "own" this disease. It found me, settled in and went about its ugly business, but it's not mine. It's what it is -- simply arthritis. I hold no affection for it, not even the affection of a hostage. It's an interloper, a squatter in the intimate house of my body, an invader, an enemy with which I do frequent battle. I do my damndest to ignore it.

Which words have power for you?

17 May 2006


Is there anything more delightful than a thunderstorm at the end of a blistering hot day?

Well, yes. Brownies served with scoops of ice cream come to mind. So do indictments of key players in the Plame case over in that hotbed of honest, upright gov’mint, Washington, DC. And of course, impeachment proceedings brought against Codpiece would give me a nice frisson of pleasure.

But I digress. As I sit here writing, there’s a lovely mountain thunderstorm going on, complete with boomy rumbumbumbles, lightning and the sweet crackle of rain on the leaves. A small wind is blowing through the open window, smelling of ozone, damp pavement and green.

It was in the 90s down in the valley today. I discovered the air conditioning in my old car wasn’t blowing cold anymore the first really warm day of the spring, a couple of weeks ago. Now I drive 4/70 – four windows down, 70 mph but I’m still melting in the heat and the scorching California sun.

So a little thunderbumper is welcome. This is why I live in the mountains – you can bet they’re not enjoying this break from the heat down-mountain. I invite it to keep right on, go all night. Rain and rain, wet down the drying grasses and stave off the wildfire season for another few weeks.

Of course, lightning can be dangerous, even as early in the season as it is. It took only a week to dry out the lush grasses covering the hillsides. They went from green to pale, biscuit gold almost before my eyes. For now, though, I think we’re OK. It’s raining.

The thing that’s nicest, in my humble opinion, about late spring, early evening thunderstorms is that even as the fat raindrops plop all around and the thunder booms in the distance, the birds continue on about their business unbothered. The feeders outside the kitchen window are busy with goldfinches and house finches, jockeying for position; the Stellar’s jays are yelling from the tall firs, the wrens are singing and so are the robins.

And the air is soft and cool, like a damp washcloth laid gently on a feverish forehead.

16 May 2006


I just have to say this. I’m really mad about a bunch of things. Yeah, I’m a nobody. But I’m an American nobody, and I have the right to speak my mind.

Well, for now, anyway.

I’m mad because when Andy Card said, back in Aug. 2002, that “you don’t start a marketing campaign in August,” as he referred to whether or not Codpiece had plans to start a war in Iraq, no one really paid attention. He was quoted in a few news stories and then, everyone forgot.

I think you can reasonably compare it to the rumors that now, Bush thinks nuking Iran isn’t such a bad idea. Seen that in the news in the last few weeks? Thought not. Well, we’ll be hearing about it again, soon, I’m sure. Probably as it’s happening, when Bush interrupts our regular programming to tell us he’s just started WWIII.

I’m mad because ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the United Nations and lied his four-star ass off about the intelligence we had on Iraq so Codpiece could have his very own personal war. Powell wasn’t misinformed about that intelligence, as he’s since claimed. I remember reading in the news how, upon being presented with a draft of his UN speech, he said “this is bullshit!” Didn’t stop him, though. I’m mad because he abandoned his own integrity – even his own philosophy regarding war – and knowingly betrayed the trust of the American people that day. I wrote him a disappointed and angry letter not long after he left the Bush administration about that, but (big surprise) he didn’t reply. I hope he sleeps badly, every single night as the ghosts of all the brave soldiers who’ve died horribly ever since visit him expecting an explanation.

I’m mad because his assistant, Col. Larry Johnson, also waited until just last year to tell us how he and Powell knew it was all bullshit. Shame on both of you.

I’m mad because former Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson, who knew that Saddam hadn’t tried to buy yellowcake uranium for nuclear weapon production from Niger (because he went there specifically to find out if it was true or not, and discovered it wasn’t), waited until long after the war in Iraq was already underway to go public with it. What’s with that, Joe? If you’d written your damning editorial earlier, as soon as you knew Codpiece was using the bogus “fact” of Saddam’s attempt to buy yellowcake from Niger as a durned good reason to go to war, well, there might not have been a war, you know?

I’m mad because after it was clear there were no WMD in Iraq, we let Codpiece and his orcs keep thinking up new reasons for going to war, even though none of them were any truer than the WMD whopper.

I’m mad because Codpiece and the orcs lied about Jessica Lynch’s heroism and her heroic rescue – in fact, made it up out of whole cloth and even approved a movie of the week about it. And I’m mad about their series of lies regarding poor Pat Tillson’s death by friendly fire.

I’m mad that they continue to insist they have no intention of staying in Iraq for the long haul even though they’re building huge bases over there, complete with fitness gyms and Burger Kings for the troops – and they’re doing it while the Iraqi people are lucky to get a few hours of electricity each day, live with broken sewers and little fresh water.

I’m mad because they said deposing Saddam would be a good thing for the women of Iraq – another bald-faced lie. The women of Iraq were among the most educated, equally-treated women in any Arab country before we started the war. Now they don’t dare go out of their homes without head coverings, their jobs are gone and the mullahs have turned them back into slaves.

I’m mad because this outrageous administration shakes its finger at other countries regarding human rights at the same time it allows and condones the torture and rendition of prisoners in the “war on terror,” even though it hasn’t a clue whether those prisoners are innocent or guilty. And it has no intention of finding out.

I’m mad because they’ve destroyed America’s reputation and credibility all over the world.

I’m mad because they “outed” Wilson’s wife, clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame, in order to get even with Wilson for raining on their parade (late though it was) and to send a message to anyone else who might be toying with making the truth public. I’m mad that they compromised this nation’s security when they did so, since her job was to help find and stop nations and individuals who might be dealing in stolen nuclear bomb components. I’m mad because even now, that more than two years later, no one has been punished for this atrocity.

I’m mad because they put two rabid right-wingers on the Supreme Court, and while there was a lot of bloviating about it, few tried with any seriousness to stop them. Congressional Democratic leaders? I’m talking to you.

I’m mad because Codpiece filled the employment roles at FEMA and the Dept. of Homeland Security (and who knows what other important departments) with cronies who couldn’t find their own assholes in the dark without a flashlight. In fact, I’m mad the Dept. of Homeland Security even exists. What a bad, sad – even deadly -- joke.

I’m mad that there’s still no effective security at our nation’s ports, nuclear and chemical facilities, or borders – and I’m not talking about Mexican workers coming over illegally to work for Americans who gladly pay them peanuts. Want to stop illegal immigration? Go after the hypocrites who hire them, and it will stop.

I’m mad that illegal immigration from Mexico is even an issue, considering everything else that’s gone to shit in this country.

I’m mad that Codpiece thinks he’s above the law of the land and, instead of booting the orc-king out of office, we sit on our thumbs. I’m mad that he’s wiretapping our phones and looking at our e-mails and Internet use without a warrant. Asshole.

I’m mad at the New York Times for holding their bombshell of a story about the warrantless wiretapping until after the 2004 presidential election. What in the fuck were they thinking about? Bill Keller, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

I’m mad at the barely-over-half of Americans who voted these evil men and women back into office for another four years. I want them all to have to attend to remedial civics classes.

I’m mad at the Republican right wing for using their idiotic religion to force our entire nation to be violent, openly bigoted against minorities of all genders, beliefs and colors, oppressive when it comes to women’s right to choose and in regard to all the other civil rights we hold so precious. And force the rest of us, who don’t believe in their hoodoo, to go along to get along.

Well. I'm just getting started, but I feel better now. Don’t you?

Smoke and mirrors

Check out the headline on Elizabeth Bumiller's story in the NYT about why Capt. Codpiece has such deep feelings about Mexican immigrants. You can almost hear the inspiring theme song from "How the West was Won" playing softly in the background.

Gag me.

Bush's speech had nothing to do with illegal immigration from Mexico. It's a non-issue, timed to distract us from other, more immediately important matters, such as illegal, warrantless wiretapping, National Security Letters served on journalists under the Patriot Act, and Turd Blossom's imminent indictment in the Plame case.

I'm off to work so I can keep the nest in macaroni and cheese. More later.

14 May 2006

Mother's Day

It's quiet here, except for the birds outside the open window, singing, their songs echoing through the trees and hollows. Mr. Wren and the fledgeling are still sleeping. Soon I'll be on my way out the door, showered and dressed, to go to work, a bag of goodies and a go-cup full of steaming Cuban coffee in my hand.

But before I get to the office, I'll stop off at my mother's house, where she and the goofy old dog will be waiting.

I'm bringing her a dozen big, fresh, brown eggs from the hens and a bouquet of flowers from our garden: giant, butter-colored irises, a few newly opened roses, some sprigs of pink dogwood. We're making breakfast together this morning, and while neither of us gets to have it served to us in bed, it will be a good one, and we'll have some smiles to fuel us through the day.

Last year on Mother's Day my father was in the hospital, dying from a bump on the head that caused bleeding into his brain. This will be the first year in 50 mom has spent the holiday without him. He'd go out, early in the morning, and cut roses from the garden for her, as many as he could carry in without a basket. She'd have vases filled with them all over the house, and wide bowls to float the ones he'd cut too short. Roses for mom, each bloom of symbol of his love. Dad didn't restrict this behavior to Mother's Day. The only difference was the quantity.

I wish I could spend the whole day with her, but this mother has to work.

Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms out there. And a special, heartfelt wish to all the mothers with sons and daughters serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. May they all come home safe and sound.

13 May 2006

Wordsmithery runs amok

Wren-friends, below I present to you the Mother of All Run-On Sentences. One Neddie Jingo, Esq., in a veritable raptus of synaptic and lingual release following a grinding week or two of slaving for his bread and butter, wrote it:

“Taking advice exclusively from a tightly closed coterie of self-satisfied, ideologically blinkered sycophants in expensive suits who had themselves never been within a thousand miles of a shot fired in anger, gulling an apathetic public with a mindbendingly oversimplistic vision of American liberators being greeted with sweets and flowers by a grateful, cheering Iraqi public whose only thought was of forming off into Whigs and Federalists and drafting a Constitution second only to our own in its wisdom and humaneness - and not, for example, looting every unguarded building (that is to say, every building but the Oil Ministry) down to its electrical wiring and faucet taps - through his proxies denouncing as a traitor any person who expressed doubt about the benefits of an unprovoked preemptive war of choice against an enemy whose danger to this country was, to be kind, greatly exaggerated if not blatantly lied about in a coordinated campaign of misinformation, and failing to account for an international insurgency movement that is ideologically bent on pushing anything remotely Western into the Mediterranean - a development that was, it must be observed, predicted with complete accuracy by many of those selfsame people who were denounced as traitors for even entertaining the idea that not every half-baked, half-assed, but wholly self-righteous thing America does in the world is of universal benefit - the President, in a fashion completely in keeping with his lifelong proven record of intellectual laziness, dismally poor
self-discipline, and achingly self-evident sense of enormous personal
entitlement, clearly did not plan for the postwar situation, and now has a 30% approval rating in the polls to show for it. Asshole.”

Is this not a thing of beauty? And the second sentence, which stands all alone, strong, brave and true, gives it that tiny pinch of salt that transforms it from the merely delightful into the sublime.

The last time I read a sentence this long was when I picked up “The Deerslayer” by James Fenimore Cooper many years ago. I'd decided I was in need of Education, having not been forced to read the classics as a young person like so many of my peers. Also, "Hawkeye" on M.A.S.H inspired my curiosity.

Alas, the unreadable JFC mired me in the dense muck of his words, where I sank like a stone and suffocated. Trust me: The outrageous and very readable Jingo is a lot more fun.

P.S.: This post was inspired by the clever-yet-modest -- and very good writer -- Kevin Wolf, who you must now please go visit so he won’t be mad at me.

Hurricane's a-comin'

Trying to get my head around this latest news about the wiretapping. I haven’t said too much about it yet – I’m still getting used to the idea that our government is busily crafting a secret police organ in the basement while we blithely watch American Idol on our new flat-screen teevees.

Did I say wiretapping? I meant spying, excuse me. On us. You, me, and the guy with the gun rack in the back window of his pickup down the street.

Spied on, by our own government. Again. Didn’t we deal with this once already? Hasn’t this very issue nearly torn this country apart before? I remember rather clearly the day Richard Milhouse Nixon resigned his presidency, the day he climbed the steps into Marine One, turned at the door, grinned that Tricky Dick grin and flashed the two-fingered peace sign with both hands. I watched him on television, too teen-aged and self-obsessed to grasp the depth of what was happening, what the wider implications were.

But that two-fisted, forked salute always did strike me as an odd gesture for a man in stupendous public disgrace to make.

Peace sign? Maybe it was really a double V for victory. A signal.

Yes, I think that could be right. Maybe the gesture was directed toward the patient young men who would, one day when we all turned lazy and complacent again, carry on with his legacy.

Rummy? Dick? Step on over, boys. Don’t be shy.

Could it be that Bush is telling the truth when he says he’s only listening in on the bad guys? That he would never, never listen in on, say, my ranting on about the way he’s trashed my country like some jack-ass teen-ager who just got the whole house to himself for the weekend? Nooo. He would never think of listening to your conversations, either.

You have to wonder what Poppy Bush thinks. Does his GI-Joe-dress-up-doll-action-figure son listen in on his mom’s phone conversations when she talks to the Jebster?

Well, I say turnabout’s fair play. If Captain Codpiece and his thugs get to listen in on my phone conversations and read my e-mails (Hey guys? Borrrrring. Try my blog. Lots juicier, and it’s right here for public consumption), then I should get to listen in when he gives his hand-holding friend in Saudi Arabia a jingle. I bet those conversations are real eye-openers. I’d also like to hear what he and Vladi-baby talk about when they think no one else is listening.

I was not always this way. Politics bored me cross-eyed. My mental image of the word was of jowly old men in dark suits, pontificating. Endlessly.

No more. Now I think of sly, stinking foxes. And hen houses.

Let’s peruse the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution again:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Seems perfectly clear to me. The “mining” of American telephone numbers for the sole purpose of eavesdropping, just in case one or two – or a dozen – of those clinkers might be diamonds just doesn’t fit into the intent of that amendment, no matter how I turn it.

Maybe, for now, they won’t bother with the likes of me because I haven’t made any long-distance calls to Iran. Or Pakistan, or Afghanistan. Or France, even. But what if things get so bad for them they decide to silence the dissenters? Suppose they decide that freedom of speech is just not acceptable anymore, since it carries within it barbs that sting and bite? In that case, they’d surely have the information they need to get started with the silencing right away, handy-like. The same way a shovel comes in handy when you have to move a pile of steaming manure. Or bury a body.

The Decider becomes The Silencer.

I’m not having an easy time articulating just how disgusted, how truly uneasy this clandestine spying on Americans by their own government makes me, particularly in light of everything else that's going on. Nor do I like the creeping, insidious fear the whole idea sets loose in my gut, where instinct reigns supreme. I worry, vaguely, about my daughters. What could this mean for their futures? While none of us can foresee everything, it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to see where this is headed unless it’s stopped, dead in its tracks, once and for all.

12 May 2006

Young again

Just checked my mailbox. Guess what was there, waiting for me among the bills and junk mail?

Neil Young's new release, "Living with War."

Been waiting for this one. I brought it in, ripped open the box and slapped that puppy into the CD player. Hit "play."

First impression: Sounds like an amateur 70s garage band, recorded on a home reel-to-reel deck. The kind where the louder you play it, the better it sounds.

Second impression: Ol' Neil STILL can't sing worth a damn.

That said, he's one damn fine songwriter, particularly when he catches his stride. And he does it with "Let's Impeach the President." By the time the song was over, I was laughing and whooping and wishing to hell my old car had big ol' speakers so I could blast that song far and wide.

The rest? Great lyrics, music so-so. But it's really the lyrics you want from a Neil Young tune after all, isn't it.

Let's impeach the President for lyin'
And misleading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door

Who's the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
They bend the facts to fit with their new story
Of why he had to send our men to war

Let's impeach the President for spyin'
On citizens inside their own homes
Breaking every law in the country
Tapping our computers and telephones

What if Al-Qaeda blew up the levees
Would New Orleans have been safer that way
Sheltered by our government's protection
Or was someone just not home that day?

Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop
Flip ... Flop

Let's impeach the President for hijacking
Our religion and using it to get elected
Dividing our country into colors
And still leaving black people neglected

Thank God he's cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There's lots of people looking at big trouble
But of course the President is clean

Thank God

Rock out, Neil. And thanks.