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.

04 November 2006

VP: "Up yours, America."

"Cheney said that even with pollsters predicting that Democrats would likely make gains in both houses of Congress Tuesday, voter sentiment would not influence Bush's Iraq policy.

"'It may not be popular with the public — it doesn't matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that's exactly what we're doing," Cheney said. "We're not running for office. We're doing what we think is right.'"

-- Vice President Dick Cheney, Nov. 3, 2006
ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos

It doesn’t matter? Holygods. Those words are utterly contemptuous of the American people – the people who voted him into office, along with his sock puppet, George.

He’s as serious as a Baghdad morgue, too.

“We’re not running for office.” Cheney thinks that because he and George W. Bush aren’t running for office in 2008, they can do any damn thing they want, regardless of the will of the people they serve. They can continue to shred the Constitution and set fire to the Bill of Rights, they can continue to get our soldiers killed in Iraq for no good reason they can give us and they can nuke Iran until it glows. They can continue to get richer and richer and richer off the idiot rabble (that’s us, gang) and we can’t do a damned thing about it.

Why, he might as well have just said “fuck you, America!” Come on, Dick. Tell us what you're really thinking. We all know that’s what you meant.

This is dangerous territory. After Tuesday, the Bush administration may no longer have a rubber-stamp Congress to do its bidding. The system of checks and balances the Founders built into our great democracy may finally start clicking into place, and unless we’ve all been fed a huge load by the Democrats as well, it may put the brakes on this tyrannical presidency, as it was supposed to.

And then what? Will Cheney and Bush act on the laws they’ve so carefully enacted (or written and added signing statements to) over the last six years and simply ignore the People, the Judiciary and Congress?

Will they have those U.S. representatives and senators who have the cojones to oppose them locked up indefinitely along with members of the press and anyone else they feel like locking up, including you and me? Will they claim that with America “at war,” the president has the right to impose martial law? Will we see our reservists and national guardsmen, our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives – those not being blown up in Iraq, that is – on our own streets, carrying their M16s and breaking up the pavement in tracked vehicles? Will the Humvees of the rich be replaced by the HMVs of this nation’s own military, complete with grim-faced gunners? Will our local police officers, charged with protecting us, become part of a new police state?

Maybe not. But conjecturing on it sure isn’t much of a leap from “it doesn’t matter.”

Dick Cheney has been giving the American people the bird from the moment he took office in 2000, notoriously starting with his refusal to disclose who participated in the meetings on the president’s energy policy with him. He’s lied over and over again about Saddam’s involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks and has grimly painted pictures of mushroom clouds and dirty bombs, terrorists on America's Main Streets and sneered at anyone who dared to question him, even going so far as to imply that Democrats are terrorist appeasers and traitors.

Sometimes I think all George W. Bush really wants to do is go mountain biking, then have his cookies and milk and a nice nap. The real power behind this unitary presidency is Dick Cheney.

And he has no soul.

If Congress won’t start impeachment proceedings against Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Gonzalez, whatever happens after Nov. 7? What hope does America have? Would it take a military coup to stop them? Can you imagine a military coup in the United States of America? I can’t. I just ... can’t.

I sent in my absentee mail-in ballot the other day. I urge all of you to vote like it counts. Because oh, my. It does.

NOTE: I'd posted the following earlier today, but Blogger seems to have eaten it. Here it is again, in its entirety:

Rogues and blaggards

Can someone tell me why this president and his administration -- these rogues and blaggards* -- cannot be removed from office for the good of the country and its democracy?

We can impeach a president for being zipper-challenged and lying about it, but we cannot – or will not? – impeach a president for lying to his country in order to gull it into a devastating war (and in so doing, causing the deaths and maiming of thousands on both sides of the conflict), for corruption, and for what now appears to be insanity?

To impeach a president is to accuse him of misconduct in office before an appropriate tribunal. Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned his presidency. Clinton was impeached by the House, but later acquitted by the Senate.

Yes, I know that impeachment is a serious undertaking, Bill Clinton notwithstanding. But as far as I know, it’s the only method our democracy has to hobble a president who’s out of control and acting, not for the good of our country, as he’s sworn to do under the Constitution, but for his own selfish and nefarious reasons.

This is an honest question, folks. I simply don’t understand why the Democratic Party, poised to win the majority in the House and perhaps even the Senate, won’t give the impeachment of President Bush serious consideration.

Yes, there will be “investigations.” Meanwhile, Bush and his administration will go on raping the country and destroying our democracy.

What prompts me to ask this question are a couple of breaking stories.

The first, from this morning’s Washington Post Online, tells us that the Bush administration has told a federal judge that detainees who were held at secret CIA “black sites” and transferred to Guantanamo in September should not be allowed to reveal details of the “alternative interrogation methods” that were used to make them talk, since that information could compromise national security.

The second story is that Bush and Cheney have made it clear that do not intend to change their strategy in Iraq during the next two years. In an interview with ABC News this morning, Cheney said it’s “full speed ahead” in spite of the fact that Iraq has dissolved into civil war, violent sectarianism and is in a state of total, anarchic chaos.

For reasons only they know for sure, this administration is condemning U.S. soldiers to violent injury and death, stuck as they are in the middle of it all, helpless to do anything to stop it.

The first revelation – restraining detainees from telling anyone, even their lawyers, what methods of torture were used on them while they were held in those black sites – is stunning. Yes, when those methods see the light of day, they may well be proven illegal by both U.S. and international legal standards, putting the interrogators and their enablers at risk of prosecution.

Well? Those methods are illegal, not to mention immoral in most civilized countries, including the U.S.A. The Bush administration knows they are, but that isn’t stopping them, since they do what they please and the law be damned. When they rammed the Military Commissions Act through Congress in September, our balls-less Congress approved it and Bush signed it into law, they effectively made it impossible for the law to apply to them.

But the MCA has been challenged as unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will probably strike it down, eventually. There's the rub: That won’t happen for months or even years, given the slowness of the legal system. And meanwhile, the Bush administration will continue to get away with gleefully breaking the law of the land – and doing all they can to suppress the evidence until it’s far too late.

The second – “full speed ahead” in Iraq – appears to be madness, but as in all things the Bush administration does, there’s plenty of dark method to it. We’ll stay in Iraq until all the players get all the loot, which includes every last drop of black gold and every last taxpayer dollar they can swipe from the pockets of the American and Iraqi people.

This president and his administration are amoral. They care nothing for the lives of the people they’ve destroyed and nothing for the infrastructure in Iraq they’ve turned to junk and rubble. Note, however, that the Iraqi oil fields still function and the gigantic new U.S. bases continue to be constructed on schedule. Those, “War is untidy” Rumsfeld made sure there was a sound plan for.

There are many, many other compelling, urgent reasons that President George W. Bush and his administration should be impeached and removed from office. These are just two huge ones; the third is Katrina. And now, with two years left to go and with no reason to worry about being reelected, Bush feels free to do whatever he wants, his country and the world be damned.

The United States of America is in deadly serious crisis. This is a national emergency of proportions the like of which we've never dreamed before. This rogue president and his rogue administration may well hurtle America into a nuclear war as they strip away the rights of the people at home and steal the country’s coffers bare.

Is there no way in this great democracy of ours to stop this terrorist president and his administration?

*Irish slang for "black guards."

02 November 2006

Arrival of the autumn muse

The first real rain of the season is falling just outside my open window as I write this. The sky is barely light. When I let the dog out a half-hour ago, it was still wholly dark, and as soon as I opened the door for him, I heard for myself what I’d only suspected as I tossed and turned through the night – the sound of rain. And ...

... the trees singing in it.

After the very long, very dry summer, broken only by a brief shower here and there, it seems to me that the trees must rejoice in the autumn rain. They get a thorough rinsing, a good soaking; all the summer’s dust and rising auto exhaust from the valley that comes to cling, off it all goes. The red-tail hawk’s nest on the snag, which I can only see when the nearer broadleaf trees are bare, is wet, dripping, abandoned until spring.

The sky lightens, and now I see that the air is filled with mist, the treetops shredding clouds. A bird, tough little fellow that he is, sings to the morning in the spent climbing roses. And, as I knew would happen, the rain and the breeze have stripped the sweet gum tree just outside the window of most of its flaming scarlet leaves. For my friend Mike, I’ll have to take a photo of the pool of blood they resemble now, lying at its base.

This chilly stretch of days before the winter solstice, when the light grows shorter and shorter, the nights longer and longer, is my time, my favorite time of the year. Soon, there will be fires in the woodstove – I know, because only yesterday the two cords of almond stovelengths I bought to warm us through the winter arrived, clean and dry and heavy, a huge pile that needs stacking at the bottom of my driveway. It rained because the wood came. It rained because we hadn’t stacked and covered it yet. When we do, and it dries off, there will be fragrant, cozy fires to back up to as winter looms.

The rain crackles now, ebbing away, and a new sound rises up the slope from the base of the evergreens – the sound of water, rushing and boiling down the irrigation district ditch in the crease of the hillside. It’s a soft roar, carrying the detritus of summer away.

The mist thickens into fog, and I smile.