27 June 2006

Freedom to speak

As the editor of a weekly newspaper that serves an upscale bedroom community full of new McMansions and older, leafy, neighborhoods with human-sized homes, a trendy grocery store and a huge monstrosity of a retail project on the other side of the freeway, I often find myself pondering what question to ask for the paper's “people on the street” feature.

The feature is comprised of five random mugshots of smiling residents, their names and their (generally) brief answers to the week’s question. A previous editor with a sadistic turn of mind and far too much time (and, apparently, a daunting editorial hole) on her hands started it many years ago, and I inherited it.

A question of the week. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Nooooo, grasshopper. You think up a new, random question once a week, 52 weeks a year, that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Sure, there are the old seasonal stand-bys, such as “Where are you going for summer vacation?” or, in honor of Father’s Day, “What’s the most important thing your Dad ever taught you?” Last week it was “How are you staying cool in this scorching hot weather?”

These are innocuous questions that no one feels uncomfortable answering.

We do get the occasional humdinger of an answer. To “What’s the best birthday present you ever got?” one smirking teen told our dutiful (and perhaps credulous) reporter that his best was a gift from his aunt: lunch at the local Hooters.

Yes, I printed it. Yes, I received indignant letters from my previously silent readership. I loved it. I printed them, too.

Then there are the slightly deeper questions. “If you could sit down and talk with a great historical figure, who would it be?” Believe it or not, that one often requires the follow-up question “Why?”

Now, being a newsy sort, I’m always tempted to ask newsy questions. Like “How do you feel about having your phone secretly tapped by the government without a warrant?” or “What are your thoughts regarding the withdrawal of troops from Iraq?” or “What do you think of President Bush adding ‘signing statements’ to the laws he signs?”

You know, those niggly little questions.

But when we ask questions like that, people wave us off. Literally. Some are rude, some are not, but they all walk away. They don’t want to answer or have their names and photos associated with their answers. Sometimes – and this one is a jaw-dropper – they haven’t even heard of the subject.

You think you have to live under a rock not to have heard of the Abramoff scandal or the Plame case? Take it from me – you just have to live in a bedroom community outside a major city. Chances are, if you have heard of the issue, you haven’t paid enough attention to form a coherent opinion one way or another.

Occasionally, though, I’ll attempt one of these hard questions anyway. I’d really like to know what people in the community think about the bigger issues facing us as a nation. There are important concepts of good and bad, of morality, of right and wrong, of freedom of speech, civil rights, the right to privacy and both personal and national security underpinning them. I already know what the politicians and pundits are saying – and I believe that neither really reflect what everyday Americans actually think, even in moneyed, conservative communities like the one my paper serves.

“What do you think about an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage?” That’s a doozy. I always have a back-up question handy, like “Are you a dog-person or a cat-person (and why)?” Because I know even before the intrepid reporter leaves the office (dragging her feet and with a hangdog look on her face as she mutters curses at me under her breath) that the people she approaches will likely scatter like frightened deer the moment the question is out of her mouth.

And yet, they do have opinions, whether they feel comfortable sharing them in print or not.

Today, a letter to the editor ran in the Denver Post. The writer began:

“Why have those who have continually howled at our treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo met the recent kidnapping and sadistic and brutal murders of our two young soldiers with deafening silence?” the writer asked. “Where is your outrage now?”

The writer went on to say that the U.S. “should” behead 100 prisoners in retaliation, as well as “editors, commentators, college professors and left-wing congressmen who would suddenly break their silence to come out in support of these enemy jihadists. We need to stop listening to these sanctimonious hypocrites who apply the rules of war only to our side.”

It seems fairly obvious to me that the writer’s concept of the “rules of war” does not coincide with that followed by the majority of the civilized world, to start. That aside, he (I use “he” for simplicity, not because I know the gender of the writer) most definitely has an opinion – a strong one. And because that person lives in America, he’s free to voice that opinion and even have it printed as a letter to the editor in his local newspaper.

Would I print it? Is refusing to print it a form of censorship?

It’s a tough call. The writer’s opinion is incendiary, ugly and morally beyond the pale. Calling for beheadings of helpless prisoners – violently and savagely ending the lives of 100 people in retaliation for the violent and savage deaths of two of ours – is not the way the vast majority of us think or would behave, as Americans. Extending that extreme violence to others who don’t happen to share the writer’s viewpoint is also repugnant.

And yet, that is the writer’s personal opinion.

Should the Denver Post’s editorial page editor, Jon Wolman, have published the letter? He said, according to Editor & Publisher, that “Clearly, it is an extreme commentary and you might expect it reflects a strain of opinion that is out there ... We make an editorial judgment. Is it too extreme for people to know that there is a strain of that commentary out there? Sadly, some people feel as strongly as the letter-writer.”

Sadly, yes. Is it the duty of a newspaper to print it, though? Who was served as they read that letter? It certainly got the attention of E&P, and since has appeared in a slew of blogs and other publications, with varied reactions. Was the letter published in order to create discussion within the Denver Post’s editorial pages? To get others to write letters agreeing with or refuting the writer’s opinion? To open the eyes of its readers to extreme opinions? Was Wolman having an Ann Coulter moment, hoping to cash in on adverse publicity? Or did he publish it simply to allow the writer to express himself publicly in our free society?

Decency and a certain personal distaste for such a cold, ugly opinion would give me pause, I’ll admit. I’d want to chuck that letter into the round file, fast. I’d prefer not to inflict it on the community of decent, peaceful people my paper serves. And yet, as Wolman said, that “strain of opinion” is out there. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an ignorant, emotional one, not the opinion of someone who has really thought through exactly what he’s advocating. But yes, it’s “out there.”

I’d have to do some real soul-searching. By showing my readers that such opinions may be held by their neighbors, have I helped them? Harmed them?

I don’t know the answer. I hope I never see a letter to the editor like that. But the next time I’m ready to ask a hard question for our “people on the street” feature, maybe I should ask “Should the U.S. meet barbaric savagery with barbaric savagery? Why?”

And the follow-up question, “What does that say about us as Americans?”

Imagine scattering deer.

26 June 2006

Is that the BEST you can do?



A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.

Oppressive, dictatorial control.

Yeah, right. That's us lefty liberal progressives in America today.

E tu, Brutus?

25 June 2006

Nessie tails

Last week I invited Wren-friends to share a recipe.

Patrick of I Speak Dog shared one for his personal version of three-bean soup. It looked so good (and I love soup – it’s a passion of mine, even if it IS now 85 degrees and rising in the kitchen) that I decided right then and there I’d make it this weekend.

I had, in the back of the pantry, several Mason jars of dried beans from a long-ago garden. Two of them were mixed beans – the nice, tasty brown ones that come from green beans you leave too long on the vine, some wee white ones that look like Navy beans, and black beans. There was also a big jar of just black beans.

Well, feeling all domestic and cookish and such, and since it was a day off and all, I decided to soak both jars of mixed beans and the jar of black beans. It was sorta fun, rinsing them off in the screen colander in the sink because, of all things, along with the beans I found a few old Nessie hairs.

Stopped me right in my tracks, it did. She’s been gone three years this summer, but Nessie was the best ol’ girl dog in the world, even if her hair did get into just about everything.

I met her when Mr. Wren and I got back together after a 13-year hiatus. Ness was already about five years old, a very large Doberman-looking dog with a large mouth of long, white teeth. I love dogs – always have – but she gave me pause the first time I saw her. It’s that Doberman-thing. But there was nothing to worry about with Nessie. She was, Mr. Wren, told me, a Doberman-Labrador mix, though he wasn’t positive. He’d rescued her from the pound when she was about 10 months old, a big, playful, reckless puppy with nothing in the way of manners but with a personality that just shone.

Nessie was nothing but sweetness and light, through and through. The moment you rubbed Nessie’s ears, she was your friend for life.

This wonderful dog went hiking into the wilderness with us, went fishing – including riding in the canoe, which made it a very wobbly experience, though we never did end up in the water – and was an all-around, 24-hour-a-day companion to both of us. When she was about seven years old, she cornered a cat from the neighborhood who’d wandered into her territory (she was just fine with the cat that lived with us) and was scratched on her left eyeball. Unfortunately, she lost the sight in that eye, but it barely slowed her down. We just had to be careful to stay on her sighted side, or she’d whack us in the legs with her big head.

When Ness was 10, Mr. Wren took her with him to the Desolation Wilderness for a three-day backpacking trip, one of many she’d taken with him over the years. She had her own backpack, that dog, and carried her own food. She absolutely loved going with him. This trip, he decided to climb Horsetail Falls, an incredibly steep, nearly hand-over-hand climb that he could never talk me into, but which he and Nessie had done before together. She’d just leaped up ahead of him, all the way, turning back now and then as if to say, "what's taking you so long?!"

But dear ol’ Ness was slowing down. This time, though her heart was in it, she wore out about three-quarters of the way up and just couldn’t go any further. So Mr. Wren climbed to the top, took off his own backpack, climbed back down to Ness and carried her all the way up. She weighed 86 pounds. A couple of days later, they walked out the long way instead of making that treacherous descent.

When she was 13, she grew a terrible tumor in her belly. For a time, she managed, but finally, she could no longer walk and it was obvious that trying gave her pain. As the vet (a sweetheart of a woman who came to our house for this sad duty) gave her the injection that would end her pain and give her a gentle hand to her place among the stars, I got to be with her.

Finding that Nessie hair in the beans brought back lots of happy memories of a very dear friend.

I tried to upload a photo of Ness, but Blogger is being persnickety. Anyone else out there having trouble with photos? And, there’s another story about those beans, but that’s another post.

23 June 2006

Eating your cake

The backlash against career women by holier-than-thou stay-at-home moms like Caitlin Flanagan, the career woman who writes essays and books about why “something is lost” to children whose mothers work, bugs me. Big time.

I’ve worked full-time for more than 30 years. With the Bush administration sucking our economy dry and with the consequences of that ahead for the foreseeable future, I expect to die in the traces.

Like me, Flanagan works, but she’s had the luxury of working from home while a nanny or other babysitters take care of her two boys. At the same time, she complains in her essays and books that she feared the nanny, et al, were stealing her boys’ love from her. Sheesh. She also has ongoing, paid housekeeping help and brags that she’s never had to iron a husband’s shirt or make a bleach solution to clean stained grout.

She says she enjoys reading cookbooks but doesn’t actually do much cooking. Well, lah-di-dah. I read ‘em, too. Then I cook. Usually after working a 10-hour day.

I’ve had to do without Flanagan’s privileged conveniences; indeed, I’ve always worked outside the home, then come home to my second, pay-free job of cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and husband-caretaking, including ironing the occasional shirt.

What have I left out? Well, no one. I’ve taken care of myself, too.

I grew up hearing about feminism. I bought into it wholeheartedly – equality for women, as far as I was concerned, meant that women needed to work just as hard outside the home as the men they loved. Nothing in life comes without a price. It never occurred to me to choose the traditional female role. I honestly couldn’t imagine staying home as my husband worked to bring in money, my sole responsibility bearing and caring for children, keeping the house and cooking meals, world without end, amen.

Talk about boring.

Now, my own sweet mother did that. By the time I was a teen-ager, it was clear to me that she was unhappy and stuck in her role – and that I, as the child who wouldn’t do things her way, was the albatross around her neck that caused her unhappiness. Her greatest pride was her pretty, spotless home – and my endlessly messy bedroom was the bane of her existence. Once I left home to strike out on my own, things smoothed out for her, I guess.

I never questioned that I would have to work to live. By the end of the 70s it was pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that a single family income wasn’t going to cut it anymore, particularly if that income wasn’t at the executive level.

And frankly, I had little interest being a housekeeper and broodmare. I was young, energetic, intelligent. I had my own dreams and enough youthful idealism and optimism to believe I’d achieve them

I started working when I was 15, and except for a couple of stretches of unemployment – one for four weeks, another for a year – I’ve worked either several part-time jobs at once or full-time ever since.

And yes, I also married, had a child, kept a house and cooked meals almost every day. Thank goodness for take-out.

I was a single mother, too, for a stretch of years. During that time, I had to hire full-time babysitters for my pre-preschool daughter. Once she was old enough, I enrolled her in preschool, which was a co-op and fortunately, could take her for nine hours each weekday. There was no choice involved; I was the only breadwinner. The fee for preschool took a huge chunk each month out of my paycheck.

She had an after-school babysitter until she was 12 years old; after that, I had that unemployed year, so I was there each day when she came home from school. Once I started working again, that ended and I gave her responsibility for herself for the two and half hours after school.

She did just fine.

I write all this not to complain, but to make the point that during all of this time, not working was never a choice. When I was married, my spouses also worked full time, but neither of them ever made the kind of money necessary to support the family without a second income. That’s life.

Today, my daughter is grown. Mr. Wren and I have a mortgage and other financial obligations, medical bills, etc. In an ironic twist, he’s the one who can’t work, now. I’m grateful I have skills that make me employable, because if I didn’t have those, we’d both be homeless today.

Flanagan’s assertions that women should stay at home are, at best, unrealistic for the vast majority of American women. At worst, they’re insulting. Only those women whose spouses make a great deal of money can afford to stay home. And while I won’t argue that it might have been nice for my daughter if I’d been at home for her each day as she grew up, playing with her, making her cookies and keeping a perfect house, I don’t believe that she was done any harm by not having a stay-at-home Mom.

Indeed, I’d have been harmed by having to play children’s games, watch cartoons and come up with smiley-face pancakes day after day instead of having intelligent conversations with adults and mind-stimulating work to do. I’d have ended up resenting my daughter and boring my men to tears.

Instead, my daughter understands the harsh reality of the world she’s facing. She knows that to get by, you have to work. She knows there is no pie-in-the-sky daddy/lover/white knight out there for most of us – nor would we want him. She’s watched me work throughout her life. There is no free ride.

All of the women I know are workers – and they work both in the marketplace and at home, regardless of their marital status. Most of them also didn’t have -- and never will have -- the luxury of “choosing” to be a homemaker.

To those women who do have that choice, well, how very nice for you. I hope for your sakes you never divorce or that your spouses never lose their jobs or become ill and can’t work – because when that happens, it all comes crashing down. And if you have no marketable skills (toilet cleaning doesn't count), you’re in deep trouble – and so are your children.

And, to Caitlin Flanagan and her ilk, those pampered women who presume to tell the rest of us what bad wives and mothers we are? Fuck you and the man you rode in on.

21 June 2006

Summer Solstice

Today is Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the first day of summer.

Appropriately, it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit down the mountain today; 93 by the savings-bank clock by the highway up here at home, which is not near high enough in the Sierras for me during the summer. Humidity is 11 percent (read “none”). For as far as the eye can see there isn’t a single cloud; the sky is the color of hot, skim milk.

A light, hot wind is blowing from the southeast. Wildfire weather. Early this morning I heard a helicopter fly over, fairly low in the sky. My first thought was to run outside and scan for a column of black smoke, rising beyond the trees, because in the summer around here helicopters are only flying around when there’s a fire to drop slings of water on.

I did trot out there in my jammies. No smoke. Maybe it was on its way to a fire to the north of us. Or maybe they were just practicing.

When I’m in my office at work, the heat outside is not an issue. The inside temperature stays around 72, sometimes creeping up to 74 or 75 as the sun hits mid-afternoon strength and beats down on the poorly insulated roof. By my desk in the corner, though, it’s about 65. I think there may be one of those weird vortexes right in that spot. Sometimes, I need a lap blanket, which I keep handy in the cabinet attached to the desk that the computer tower is supposed to go in, but which mine doesn’t, because the cables on Macs are too #@*$! short, so the tower takes up a good portion of desktop space, along with the police scanner, my radio/CD player, the phone, the flat screen monitor (there are SOME blessings) and stacks of incoming.

Here at home, we have no air conditioning. When they built our house in 1973, mountain folk didn’t bother with that newfangled stuff. But we have very good insulation in the attic and an attic fan, which switches on as soon as the temperature reaches explosive levels. So, at the moment, it’s an even 80 degrees in the kitchen (I’ve decided a bowl of ice cream should be just right for dinner tonight) and here in my little office, it’s hotter but just beginning to cool down because ...

... last summer, I broke down and bought myself a portable swamp cooler. I just fill the watering can with cool water from the tap, pour it into the back slot in the cooler and switch that baby on, the fan pointed at me.


This is vital because 1) I’m not an oldtimer who’s used to hot weather without benefit of AC and 2) I’m enough of an oldtimer that I’m entering my second summer of cronehood. That means at any given moment, my personal temperature can be as low as 95.6 or as high as 150 and rising, suddenly and without warning. I go through wet bras and T-shirts like babies go through diapers. I keep a $2 Japanese fan I bought last summer at a street fair handy so I can grab it and fan madly during a PPS, or Personal Power Surge. Sometimes I’m sure that it’s the only thing between me and spontaneous combustion.

Once the sun has dropped down below the western trees, the air does start cooling rather nicely at this elevation. At that point, we switch on the whole-house fan, which sucks the hot air out of the house, up into the attic and out the vents, and sucks in fresh, cooler air from the open windows. By 8 or 9 p.m., we generally achieve an indoor temp of 70.

I was never meant to be a native Californian. My parents got it wrong when they decided to settle down near Sacramento, because they doomed their firstborn child – a child meant for much, much cooler climes -- to a lifetime of summer doldrums. I can remember, as a toddler in Modesto (even hotter than Sacramento in the summer), laying in my bed with the rails still up, flopped on top of the covers like a beached fish, sweating, tossing the stuffed animals out because they were too warm.

I did my best to settle where the summers are cooler. I spent several years in the Pacific Northwest, and several more in Northern Germany. But family ties brought me back to California, and at least where I live now, it’s a little cooler than it is down-mountain.

If I could go anywhere for a summer vacation, I’d choose Australia or New Zealand, because it’s winter there right now. Nice and cool. Or maybe Antarctica. I can think of nothing more exhilarating than standing on the deck of an icebreaker in my parka and mittens, oohing-and-ahhing over the fabulous blues, purples and whites of the icebergs.

The forecast tomorrow is for 103 degrees in the valley. It’s gonna be a longggg summer.

20 June 2006

Annihilation by farting blue defiance

There sure are a lot of defiant people out there.

Or, wishing they were defiant, or admiring someone who is defiant.

I know this because my page-hit tracker tells me that the third most popular post on my blog to date is the “Last Great Act of Defiance.”

In that post, I referred in passing to the old poster of the tough little mouse, giving a giant eagle a big, defiant finger in the split second before the eagle’s talons close around him and he’s torn to bloody bits. Those words were scrawled at the bottom of the poster.

People looking for it have visited my blog from all over the United States, from England, Canada, Italy, the Republic of Korea, India, New Zealand, Australia, Hungary, the Philipines, Croatia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and others.

Blue Wren has definitely gone international – and judging from this most popular posting, the people visiting are a bunch of defiant souls.

I like that.

It’s human nature to resist authority in whatever form it takes. And it’s human nature to dissent when one’s opinions and views are ignored. When it’s mindless, unfair or corrupt authority, we resist and dissent even more, even if it’s just in the form of getting a good laugh from a silly old poster, badly drawn and mimeographed, photocopied, and now, e-mailed over and over again, passed on from person to person all over the world. Such small forms of defiance and humor bring us together and make us brothers and sisters, no matter what country, culture, color, age or political persuasion we happen to be. We’re just one, big family, living together on this great old Mother Earth.

Next on the popularity front was the post “Every day is Memorial Day now,” in which I mourned the loss of Jeremy Loveless, a young soldier from Oregon who died from a gunshot wound to the chest in Iraq on Memorial Day. Most of the searchers were looking for information about him; I hope they, too, took a few minutes to contemplate the loss he – and everyone else who’s died in that awful, illegal war -- represents to the world.

People also seem to enjoy “Sweet Cheeks,” a personal, olfactory account of marital bliss, and “Contemplating Horror,” a rant regarding the dismay I feel about my government’s seemingly casual threat to use nuclear weapons against Iran.

All over the world, along with our quiet defiance, we cry over the senseless loss of young people, laugh about flatulence and are equally appalled at the thought of nuclear annihilation, no matter who wields it or who it might be used against.

But the first two popularity slots go, far and away, to people from all over the U.S. and the world who are looking for information about blue wrens – and find my humble blog by accident.

I chose that simple name for my blog because blue is my favorite color, blue is the color my progressive political views have been assigned since my country was divided up into blue and red following the 2004 presidential election, and finally, because out of all the birds that inhabit my little part of the world, the wren is my favorite – small, jaunty, tough and possessed of a beautiful, tuneful song.

I had no idea at the time I named my blog that there really is such a creature. The blue wren is native to Australia (nice photo and info at the site). They’re tiny, also called “the Superb Fairy Wren." The genus is malurus, the species cyaneus.

It seem there are many, many bird-lovers – and specifically wren-lovers -- all over the world, too. You won’t find a lot of information about blue wrens on this site, but you’re all welcome to stop by and stay awhile.

The leaders of shame

The bodies of two American soldiers who were kidnapped from a Baghdad checkpoint have been found.

Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon and Pfc. Christian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas had been “barbarically” killed and there was evidence that they’d been tortured, according to Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Muhammed-Jassim, head of operations at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

A third soldier, Spec. David Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the attack on the checkpoint that he, Tucker and Menchaca were guarding. A fourth soldier, so far unnamed, died during the search for the two kidnapped men, and 12 others were injured.

In other news, President George W. Bush said at a Republican fund-raiser last night that “An early withdrawal would embolden the terrorists. An early withdrawal would embolden al Qaeda and bin Laden. There will be no early withdrawal so long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House."

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Monday, “The last thing you want to do when you have the terrorists on the run is give them notice that you’re going to leave.”

Codpiece’s wording is worth noting. “There will be no early withdrawal so long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House.” (emphasis mine)

These are the words of a tyrant. With a massive fuck-up on his doorstep, including direct responsibility for the deaths of more than 2,500 American soldiers and more than 18,000 wounded, this man lapses into demagoguery. He has the power, his party is in control of everything, and they occupy the seat of our government.

And in case Sen. McConnell hasn’t noticed: The terrorists are not on the run.


17 June 2006

Let's talk

Over at Firedoglake, Christy got a terrific thread going this morning about how inspired she is that regular folks like you and me are putting on their political training wheels and going for a ride.

She’s not talking about pundits, politicians or journalists (although as a journalist, I hope I still count), but about everyone who’s watched with slack-jawed disbelief as Codpiece and the Orcs slowly but surely rip up and destroy our great country’s Constitution and civil rights, and effectively silence half the country’s voters. Christy is excited because she’s seeing We the People starting to speak up and speak out – our right as Americans as we practice free speech, including the right to dissent. And she sees, if this quiet revolution keeps growing, good changes ahead for all of us.

At the same time, she invited everyone – regular posters at FDL and lurkers alike – to stop in, say a few words about how they feel and, for fun and some good eating, share favorite recipes.

People are speaking up and sharing over at FDL in droves.

Along with brightening my day considerably (I’ve been pretty disgusted and feeling awfully pessimistic about the state of the world the last few days, as you might have surmised by my last post), I now have mouth-watering recipes for Pakistani Meatballs, Tomato Pie and Onion Pie. One of the last two – or maybe a delectible combination of both – just might be on the menu for dinner tonight. And the meatballs, wow. That’s going to be very special meal.

Here at Blue Wren, I get a lot of lurkers (people who stop by, read a little and move on without commenting) and just a few comments. Since my blog is new, I figure it will just take some time and perhaps some better, more inspiring writing on my part before I’ll make more Wren-friends. I’m working on that. Still, I’d like to take a moment to thank the ones that pipe up (you know who you are), and extend a friendly invitation to the rest of you. One of the most important things we can do for our country and ourselves in these dark times is talk to each other, find common ground and figure out how we can work together for positive change. And it doesn’t have to be all politics, all the time – what we need in this go-go-go, work-all-the-time culture is community. A place to slow down, think, and share our thoughts with others.

So talk at me. If you think I’m full of it, tell me so. If you think I’ve written something worthwhile, speak up and add to the conversation. Ideas are the seeds of change and communication works as water and sunlight, helping them grow.

I’m quite serious. Sometimes, when I’m trying to fall asleep at night after a long day, my imagination starts firing. As an artist and a writer, I’ve always had a vivid imagination, but being a rational type and fairly pragmatic, I tend to pooh-pooh my more frightening “what-ifs.” It’s getting harder and harder, though, to shrug off the one that keeps coming back to me, night after night.

What if Americans don’t wake up to the slow and insidious destruction of their freedom and rights that is now taking place in America? What if, come the November elections, we the People allow the Republican Party, which was once a great party of conservative-minded yet kind and rational people (but has been engulfed by a few who see it as a party of unlimited wealth and power), to retain their iron control of all three branches of government?

It could happen. The primary elections that have taken place all over the country so far have seen terrible voter turnouts. Here in California, a mere 28 percent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots on election day. Now I know that primaries, with the possible exception of presidential primaries, historically see a light turnout, but this year has been particularly appalling when you consider the stakes.

The Founders of our country warned us with great seriousness of the inherent danger to freedom that comes with the concentration of power in one branch of government. We have two more years left of the Bush Administration, and while Bush himself is finally becoming more unpopular with each passing day and with each stupidity and atrocity he commits in our names, he and his enablers continue to work hard at eroding the system of governmental checks and balances this country is great for.

What if the Republican orcs (as opposed to moderate Republicans) keep chipping away at the Constitution until, one day, we discover it’s no longer operative? What if we find ourselves the citizens of a police state, with no rights to privacy, fearful of speaking freely, turned into a permanent underclass of poorly informed, poorly paid, oppressed and powerless workers?

As modern Americans, we have never experienced the kind of oppression that goes hand-in-hand with tyranny. We know, in a disconnected sort of way, what it looks like – we celebrated our freedom as Communism rose in Russia and China, fought it and, at least in the Soviet Union, finally saw it fail. We’ve watched the situation in Northern Ireland for years and years, dispassionately, then gave them a weak, equally dispassionate cheer when the Good Friday Agreement came along. We’ve watched with disconnected unease the continuing horrors of Palestine and Israel, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Darfur. We’ve seen it all – but never believed such oppression could take place within America’s borders. This is America. We’re protected by our great Constitution.

And yet today, we have a president who attaches signing statements – more than 750 so far – to the laws he signs, effectively absolving himself from following those laws if he doesn’t feel like it. We have a president who has been, for several years now, conducting warrantless wiretapping – spying -- on Americans in direct violation of the law – and until it was made public, lied that he’d never do such a thing. Once it did become public, he declared that he intended to keep breaking the law, because he’s the president and he doesn’t have to obey the laws of the land like the rest of us.

We’re fighting a war that was, pure and simple, a war of opportunity, started out of greed and a raw grab for power. We were lied to regarding the reason for going to war, and once the lies became obvious, the president thought up new reasons and told us those had been operative all along. Never mind that Saddam didn’t have any WMD, like we’d been told. He’d thought about having them, and that was enough. Besides, he was a bad, bad man, a murderous tyrant. So what that we’d helped him into power ourselves when it was to our political advantage.

Today that war has dissolved into a very effective insurgent guerilla war against the oppressor (us, I hate to say) and into wholesale sectarian slaughter. Iraq is eating us, and itself, alive. As our sons and daughters are dying as they fight for a cause that is, at its roots, nothing but lies. And with no perceivable end in sight, we’re told we’re unpatriotic -- even traitorous -- if we don’t support it.

Our voices are being stilled as the slaughter continues, our country is impoverished and the rich and powerful reap untold treasure.

My overactive imagination asks, with dread, what if a day comes when we no longer have freedom and equality under the law in America, a time when the powerful overlords stomp out the songs of free people everywhere? Where the names of hundreds, even thousands of detainees, and the "disappeared" are the names of American citizens? And what if a time when insurgency, guerilla warfare and even acts of terrorism are the only hope that we, the American People, will have of regaining our once great country? Like the Founders, we might someday find ourselves up against a tyrannical government.

So let's put our heads together and figure out how to make sure my wild and purple what if imaginings never, ever come true. And if you have a good recipe, I’m always game.

Let's talk -- while we still can.

Update: Following my own advice, soon as I published this post I zipped over to Firedoglake and added my comments to the thread, including a recipe for Wren's Almost Authentic Hungarian Goulash. Post No. 270. Then I went back, picked up where I'd left off and continued reading through all the other comments. There's some great thinking going on out there, along with a lot of hope for the future of America -- and man, those recipes. Highly recommended.

Update2: And while I'm at it, here's a nice, earthy, easy soup to get things started:

Spinach Mushroom Soup

1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups freshly chopped spinach
1 pound sliced button mushrooms (or any favorite)
Garlic, as you like it
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add spinach, mushrooms and garlic and saute until mushrooms are browned. Sprinkle in flour and cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Stir in cream and stock and heat through.

Makes enough for two generous servings. Bon apetit!

16 June 2006

Purposeful evil

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
-- George W. Bush, Aug. 5, 2004

Oh, this is some “tide” we’re turning.

A day after the Pentagon released the grim fact that we’ve reached another terrible milestone – 2,500 U.S. troops dead in the war of choice in Iraq – the Congressional House of Representatives have passed House Resolution 861, “Declaring that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.”

They voted 256 to 153 to keep American troops in Iraq indefinitely, in spite of the fact that Iraq’s vice president politely asked Codpiece, to his face, on Tuesday, for a timeline withdrawing American troops from what’s left of his country.

To the 142 Democratic leaders who stood fast and voted “Nay” on HR 861, knowing their vote will be used by the Republican political machine to smear them in November, thank you. You voted for sanity and the beginning of an end to bloodshed on both sides of a conflict started for no other reason than lucre.

Forty-two Democrats voted “Yea” with the Republican orcs, effectively abandoning our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers, sisters and friends in uniform in the middle of the viper’s nest that is Iraq. Until we “win.” Whatever that means.

To them and to the 214 Republicans who voted “Yea,” shame upon you and your houses forever.

“See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction.”
-- GWB, Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003

That is all.

13 June 2006

Another useless stunt

Patrick over at I Speak Dog notes that Codpiece popped up all unexpected in Iraq today. He (Patrick, not Bubble Boy) wonders “what the fuck is he doing there? What is anybody doing there?”

This strikes me as an excellent question, particularly given the price of gasoline, jet fuel and the like these days. It had to cost a bundle to zoom him over there just so he could have a little face time.

You know, because it wasn’t necessary. Codpiece was scheduled to talk to the new Iraqi prime minister and his cabinet by video conference from Camp David this morning. Instead, when his aids couldn’t find him at breakfast eating his Wheaties, upon inquiring they found out that he’d flown off to Iraq during the night, all secret and hush-hush. He'd ditched ‘em.

It wasn’t like he planned to stay long, after all. The idea was that he’d be in Baghdad for five hours (lessee, that’s two or three hours, at least, for some good photo-ops, some inspirin’ speechifyin’, travel time from and back to Baghdad Airport in a helicopter, and etc.). That would leave him a couple of hours for actual politickin’ and bamboozlin’ before “oops, time is up, boys, gotta run! It’s been real!”

Why did he have fly to Baghdad personally when he has, at his 24-7 disposal, a state-of-the-art teleconferencing set-up at Camp David – and everywhere else he happens to be? Maybe he wanted to look deep into Nouri al-Maliki’s eyes and see his heart. Maybe they took a leisurely, hand-in-hand walk over to Burger King in the Green Zone for a soda and some freedom fries. Maybe he got to try out some of that nice fitness equipment they’ve got there.

Here’s what else I wish he’d done while he was there, besides glad-handing the staff and being a good ol’ boy:

I wish he’d ridden in a poorly armored SUV all the way from the airport to the Green Zone, risking his life like the soldiers he’s in command of. After he'd changed his shorts, I wish he’d stopped in to visit an Iraqi family as they sweltered in the heat inside their apartment, wishing the electricity would come on long enough to make a little dinner. I wish he’d gone out walking so he could see, right there on the ground all around him, what the destruction and desolation of war looks like. I wish he’d been close enough to a firefight or a car bombing, a suicide bombing, a sniper or a gang of junkyard-dog-crazy, fundamentalist militia members to know what fear really feels like. I wish he’d visited an overcrowded Iraqi morgue, where the rows of corpses have drill-holes in their heads and family members scream and cry, or one of the U.S. military hospitals, so he could watch some poor soldier having his legs amputated. I wish he had to drink warm, stagnant water from a canteen. I wish he'd stuck around long enough to have his ears assaulted by the law-mower noise of hot generators and to breathe the thick, exhaust-filled air. I wish he'd had to wait in line for hours and hours in the deadly, unrelenting heat of the day, the SUV’s motor switched off so it wouldn’t overheat, so he could buy a few litres of gasoline. I wish he had to eat a MRE with a plastic fork and then use a stinking porta-potty when his guts turned to hot liquid.

You know, it’s bad enough paying more than $37 to fill up my little car. I don’t appreciate having to pay for Codpiece to pull a useless political stunt like this.

11 June 2006

Orcian logic

According to the orcs elevated to positions of power in the Codpiece Administration, suicide, a rather final action generally undertaken by desperate or mentally ill people without hope for the future, is an act of warfare against the U.S. when committed by detainees in American prison camps.

After all, by putting themselves out of their misery, the three detainees (two Saudis and one Yemeni) who hung themselves on Saturday at Guantanamo have made the Orcian authorities look bad. Which is, anyone can see, an act of aggression and ... um ... war.

You think I’m joking? Hell, I wish I was. But Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, said it first:

“They are smart. They are creative. They are committed. They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own,” Harris said. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

Says CNN: “Asymmetrical warfare” is defined as “a conflict in which a much weaker opponent uses unorthodox or surprise tactics to attack the weak points of the much stronger opponent.”

Our weak point, in this case, is the Codpiece administration’s crowing about U.S. decency, humanity and democracy while torturing detainees and holding them indefinitely without charges, legal representation or hope of a fair trial.

Although these men, who were held in Camp I, a high security area of Gitmo, were considered dangerous jihadists by their captors, no evidence has ever come to light proving that allegation against them -- or against the other approximately 400 other men who still languor there without hope of legal representation or release.

Terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare. So are guerrilla warfare and covert operations. When the 9/11 terrorists hijacked jetliners, armed only with boxcutters, and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that was an undeniably successful act of asymmetrical warfare.

It's nothing new. The Japanese kamikaze pilots of WWII were engaging in it. The Irish Republican Army used guerrilla and terror tactics against the Loyalists and the British in Northern Ireland and England for more than 30 years. When the youthful David of Biblical fame (warning - pdf) confronted the giant Goliath armed with nothing but a slingshot and a stone -- and beaned him with it, took Goliath's sword, stabbed him and then cut his head off -- he frightened Goliath’s fellow soldiers so badly they tucked tail and ran. That was asymmetrical warfare, too.

But to say that three detainees – men who were not charged with crimes, who were not even allowed prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions, and who had been stripped of their rights and human dignity indefinitely – who committed suicide were also committing acts of asymmetrical warfare is stretching the concept beyond its limits.

These same men had been part of the 75 at Gitmo waging a hunger strike. Authorities had been force-feeding them with tubes down their noses into their stomachs.

Suicides in which no one is physically harmed except the person committing the act may surely evoke change in the course of human events, but to call it an act of war is reprehensible. IRA member Bobby Sands’ death by hunger strike in the notorious Maze prison in Northern Ireland brought about change; indeed, his death brought the conflict to the entire world's attention and changed its perception of it. The Maze’s political detainees considered themselves prisoners of war; by their lights, they were at war with a vastly more powerful enemy. They wanted POW status in that war, they wanted humane conditions in the prison and they wanted to be validated as something other than common criminals. Sands’ death, followed by the deaths of several other hunger strikers, affected that change. But it was arguably not an act of warfare.

That three detainees at Gitmo committed suicide in their cells is shameful. Whether they did it out of hopelessness and desperation, or with the intent of affecting change by the fact of their deaths, that shame belongs to us.

Edited to add links and correct sloppy grammar.

09 June 2006

Wren's garden II

As promised, more Wren's garden photos for you gardeners and garden-lovers. And thanks once again to Mr. Wren's Master Gardener friends.

This is another shot of the damask rose, covering the rebar arbor Mr. Wren made. You walk under the arch to get to the back garden.

The side garden in front. The roses are just beautiful this year -- and beneath them at bottom left is heather, a great favorite of mine.

This is the path back to the gate with the arbor. The roses in the foreground are climbers Mr. Wren planted in 1997.

Such a relief! These roses, planted along the south side of the house, were completely enveloped by the perennial morning glories Mr. Wren planted for the fledgling three summers ago. She wanted a green curtain to block the hot sun in her window. They grew -- and then they grew, and grew some more. Finally, they were completely out of control. The MG's pulled them all out, and the buried roses are doing just FINE now, thank you!

Ahah! Morning glories that escaped the eagle eyes of a gaggle of gardeners. I guess they got excited about last year's gourds, planted and grown for a gourd-craft project that hasn't quite come to fruition yet. The morning glories have gorgeous purple-blue blossoms, so I'm planning to let these grow, but keep my nippers handy in case they have aspirations of taking over the house again.

Can you tell I love roses? When Mr. Wren and I got together again in the mid-90s, and he was nursing a yen to stick his hands into the dirt and see what happened, I mentioned that I loved roses. He wrinkled his nose. "Too much work," he said. Next thing I knew, he was bringing home roses. And more roses. And now, he loves them as much as I do.

Looks like that's all Blogger is going to allow me to upload, for now. There are more photos, but I'll post them later.

Questions silly, questions tough

Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake asks playfully in her post from the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas:

“1. What do you listen to or have on in the background when you are hanging out at FDL? Please be specific. (If it’s porn, please don’t be specific.)

“2. If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

“3. What is your favorite movie of all time?”

I’ll play along. What do I listen to or have on in the background as I read FDL? Well, not porn, if for no other reason that all that ecstatic moaning and stuff would be a little distracting. I don’t have a TV in my den, so I listen to CDs on the little shelf stereo that sits above my desk. My taste in music is fairly eclectic – right now, Madeleine Peyroux’s bluesy “Careless Love” is spinning (fabulously retro). I also love Native American flutist Carlos Nakai, Celtic singer Niamh Parsons and the exotic Anam Ali’s “Portrait of Grace.” I like instrumental music that evokes a mood, but I also got a huge charge (you’ll never guess why) out of Neil Young’s latest “Living With War.”

I rarely listen to the radio while I write or surf, as I find it distracting, too. But if there’s something going on in the wide old world that I don’t want to miss the breaking news about, I’ll tune to NPR.

If I were on death row, I think I’d go for simple, which is pretty much what I prefer even for meals that won’t be my last: A salmon fillet grilled with lemon, garlic, pepper and sea salt and a tasty spinach salad with dried cranberries, walnuts, carrots and a light dressing of raspberry vinaigrette. Normally, I’d forego a glass of dry white wine with the meal – wine makes me drowsy – but in this case, I think I’d go ahead and enjoy a lovely glass of the best available. Drowsiness wouldn’t be an issue, right?

I hate to admit it, but I’m the world’s worst movie-watcher, which probably makes me very, very strange in these entertainment media-charged times. But I just don’t have a favorite. I hardly ever watch a movie more than once (unlike good books, which I’ll read over and over). Still, one flick that made me laugh until my sides ached was “Jumping Jack Flash” with Whoopie Goldberg, made way back in the 80s. Speaking of Whoopie, I guess I do have a favorite movie after all: “The Color Purple.”

Christy mentioned in her post that she met former ambassador to Iraq Joe Wilson and later got to sit by the pool with him and some other VIPs and shoot the breeze. I greatly admire the man for taking a stand and calling foul regarding the Bush administration’s lie about Saddam’s attempt to buy Nigerian yellowcake – and I’m ashamed of and infuriated by the administration officials who callously blew his CIA wife’s cover as an act of revenge and warning. I hope fervently that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will bring them to justice and that they spend a long, long time locked up for their crimes.

Nevertheless, I do hope that someone will ask Mr. Wilson, between mimosas, why he waited so long to write his editorial for the New York Times spelling out the yellowcake lie.

See, I can't help but think that perhaps if he’d done it much sooner – like right after the Bush’s State of the Union Address with its famous 16 words – all the other whoppers the administration was telling us and the world about Saddam and his non-existent WMD might have come to light and America would not have been propelled into a illegal, tragic, shameful war against Iraq.

Just askin’, because it’s a question I’ve never heard answered. And I’d like to know why other officials in positions of power or specific knowledge waited until well after the war started to come forward, as well.

It niggles at me.

08 June 2006

Bashing quicksilver with a hammer

News is we've found the needle in the haystack in Iraq and, with an airstrike, killed Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, the militant who led a powerful insurgent campaign, including suicide bombings, beheadings and the like.

It happened around 3 p.m. eastern time yesterday, but the Bush White House waited to break the news, not actually wanting to look like they were capering and gibbering on the body of a dead man.

That doesn't look very Christian and Christlike, after all. Sorta beggers the point.

Bush says the killing marked a blow to al Qaeda in Iraq and "an opportunity to turn the tide in Iraq."

I guess if Zarkawi's death turns the tide in Iraq, that's good. But I have this awful feeling it won't, and this turning of the tide will go the way of all the other tides, corners, and new beginnings that the administration has trumpeted since they started this horrible war in a country that couldn't fight back except through guerrilla warfare.

And I don't suppose Codpiece and his orcs have considered the martyr factor. Alive, Zarkawi was a problem. Dead, he's an inspiration, a martyr to his many followers. Killing Zarkawi, I'm afraid, will only spawn a hundred more Zarkawis.

I'd like to be wrong, but I don't think I am.

07 June 2006


Just gotta say this before I drag my sorry self off to bed.

There are few places on this beautiful planet that I am less suited for than Las Vegas, Nev. I thrive in cool, green, misty climes. I need to see green, like real trees. Palms don't make the cut. I have a passionate dislike of sweltering, scorching heat. I don’t enjoy great crowds of people and I heartily despise noisy, chaotic, mind-rattling environments such as those that jam Las Vegas.

That’s just me. Those of you who like such places are welcome to them.

And yet I would absolutely love to be on my way to Las Vegas, first thing tomorrow morning, just so I could attend all three heady days of Yearly Kos.

Imagine my devastation when, upon sitting down with checkbook and stubby pencil a few weeks back, I had to accept the sad fact that the ol’ bank account just wasn’t going to stretch to accommodate my deep yearning to attend.

But rest assured that I am already putting aside pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters toward next year’s Yearly Kos. And it won’t matter where it is, either. New York City? Another non-Wren place. No matter, I'll go.

And why, you ask? Not only is the Yearly Kos speaker line-up stellar -- Joe Wilson! Murray Waas! Christy Hardin Smith! – the discussion subjects on the schedule are as tempting and heady as ambrosia. Some of my favorite bloggers will be there, too – Tbogg, Atrios, Lance Mannion, and Kos hisself, of course.


I guess I'll survive missing Yearly Kos this time. Mr. Wren has solemnly promised me he'll do his darndest to videotape any coverage that pops up on CSPAN, and I'm planning to read all the promised posts from those lucky folks who'll be there, blogging the event without me. I'll get my Yearly Kos fix vicariously.

In the meantime, I wish all of you who did get to go a wonderful and enlightening three days. Learn lots and please do pass what you learn on to the rest of us. And enjoy all that buffet food.

Next year, Blue Wren is going to Yearly Kos, even if she has to hitchhike all the way.

06 June 2006

Wren's garden

After I wrote about the Master Gardener miracle a couple of days ago, some of you wanted to see photos. Well, I cornered the fledgling and made her give me her digital camera (mine is at work, as usual), and went out this afternoon and shot some. I'm no pro at photography, but here they be. Forgive the long download times.

This is the front garden, right next to the carport. The big boulder at the lower left is obsidian -- the edges are razor sharp. Mr. Wren brought it home about five years ago. It almost flattened the back tires of his Toyota pickup, it was so heavy. We won't even talk about what it took to get it from the pickup to where it sits now.

This is the gate that leads to the back gardens. The damask roses climb over an arbor made out of bent rebar by Mr. Wren about three summers back, and they're growing and blooming like wild this season. The arbor sits right in front of my den window, so I get to enjoy them as I work inside. The psycho dog, who's usually very shy about having his photograph taken, insisted on being in this one, but refused to look into the lens.

There are more, but Blogger is being grouchy and I'm getting all tuckered out. I'll try uploading them again tomorrow. Good evening, all!

Magical thinking

The fledgling has this wonderful book about dragons. In it you can find anything you’d ever want to know about many dragon species, both foreign and domestic. It’s filled with arcane writings and illustrated with both exquisite line drawings and beautiful full color plates. How do dragons breathe fire? It’s there. How can they fly? That’s there too. Even the rituals of dragon reproduction are explored.

Likewise, I have a well-thumbed book called “Irish Wonders,” which tells me, in the dialect of 1810 Ireland (great fun to read aloud!), many charming and eye-popping folk-tales about pookas, demons, faeries, ghosts, banshees, giants, leprechauns, witches and the like from the Emerald Isle. I love reading it and never walk away having NOT learned something about myself, the world, and of course, the Ireland of those times.

What do these two books have in common with the Bible?

They’re fantasies.

And that’s where the comparison ends. Because the book about dragons and the book of Irish folk-tales have never inspired killing hatred between people, although they may refer to such hatred, usually hand-in-hand with religion – and you know which one we’re talking about here. It’s not Osama’s religion, though his is right up there, comparable in bloody-mindedness. These books don’t inspire acts of deranged evil or madness, nor do they expect you to believe with your whole heart in their truth. They don’t claim to be written by men whose pens were guided by some Other-being, and they surely don’t advocate punishment and pestilence for those of who choose to read them as entertainment and whimsy – or even as life-lessons -- rather than truth.

And yet not one of these books has a cold, hard fact between its covers, unless you count the environments and times in which they’re set. Yes, I can believe in the mountains of China, where there be dragons. And I can believe that the writer of “Irish Wonders” was a truly bigoted man who found the Irish people who told him their stories little more than barely intelligent animals. The Bible is filled with places that exist and did once exist – Mt. Sinai, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee.

All of these books are filled with stories inspired by superstition, fascination with -- and fear of -- the unknown. It’s just the way humans are. When we can’t explain something, we make up an explanation. Simple.

As I write this, in the late afternoon of June 6, 2006 – 06/06/06, an auspicious date, I’m told – not one of those stories has ever come true. No dragons have stopped by to visit or to burn my house down. I haven’t encountered a single pooka or leprechaun, though I wouldn’t mind sitting down for a conversation with either of those charming rogues. Nor has The Rapture occurred, even if there are hoards of believers in the Bible as The Word of God who also believe that today just might be the day they all get to Ascend Into Heaven and watch as Jesus returns to rid the world of the rest of us evil sinners in truly disgusting, gory and awful ways.

Sure, there are still a handful of hours left to 6/7/6. I’m not holding my breath. But if you happen to see a faerie as you wander your garden or take a walk this evening, send her my way, will you? I have a lovely little saucer of milk out for her on the back stoop.


June 6, 2006.


Hi, everyone. Just a quick post before I mosey on off to work to note that it is now 7 hours and 38 minutes into Rapture Day and so far ... well. I haven't noticed any headlines yet screaming about thousands -- nay, BILLIONS -- of Christians worldwide rising into the air to meet their maker.

I wonder if God has slow mornings, like the rest of us. Maybe He hasn't had His coffee yet. Maybe the Archangel Gabriel forgot to set the brew timer on the pot before he tucked into bed early for the Big Day. Or maybe God rolled out of His cushy cloud bed with a thumping headache and said, "You know? I'm just not up to this today. SO many guests all at once! What ARE we going to DO with them all?! Jeezus, Jesus! Put down that Flaming Sword and chill, will you?"

Frankly, I'm disappointed. Like Roxtar over at Black Sky Theory (link at right), I was really looking forward to getting a new car today, assuming the Raptured Christers who rise leave their cars behind, keys in the ignition. I'm not looking for much, just a little Jeep or something I can tootle around in while covering the Smiting of the Unbelievers for my little weekly.

Oh, well. I guess there's still time. We have another 16 and a half hours before it's 676 and we can all relax and get on with things.

I'll check back later to update you on the Developing Situation. Have a great day!

04 June 2006

Dangerous with a trowel

A miracle happened yesterday.

A troop of Master Gardeners knocked on our door at 9 a.m., armed to the teeth with pruners, trowels, hoes and weed-whackers. Their mission? To whip our 2/3-acre garden, which has been growing wild and mean for the last two summers, into shape.

Mr. Wren is a Master Gardener himself, but he’s been severely slowed by osteoarthritis and has simply been unable to keep up with the fast-growing gardens he’d planted before the disease left him jobless and mostly housebound. I’m not in any way, shape or form a Master Gardener; I’m barely an apprentice, and the jungle that’s been rising around our little house is way beyond my modest skills.

So this was a gift of magnificent proportions. While I kept cold drinks and sustenance flowing to the troops, they set to work, eschewing my initial offer of coffee and bearclaws in favor of tackling the monster head-on. A greatly surprised Mr. Wren wandered between the front and back gardens, talking, laughing and answering questions – and there were a lot of them.

Other than hiking and fishing, his two great loves (he catches fish, then releases them after giving the little ones a chuckling talking-to about being careful about what they bite), gardening is his joy. He can’t hike and fish anymore, but over the years, he’s transformed our little chunk of fertile hillside from a field of weeds and three ancient apple trees into a glory of flowers, fruit trees and greenery.

He also developed a serious nursery jones. He’d pop off to one of the local nurseries in search of a couple bags of soil amendment and return not only with 300 pounds of the stuff, but also five or six pots with new plants and a couple of flats of ground cover in the back of his Toyota pickup. He did this at least twice a month, but he supplemented his addiction with the odd bagful of bulb flower or a couple of potted geraniums from grocery store runs, too.

The result was that we have many, many plants that never quite got into the ground, but that he’s watered and tended carefully anyway, hoping one day to be able to get them planted. Our own, hodge-podge nursery.

His MG friends took care of a whole lot of them, yesterday. We now have two small peony bushes ready to thrive with their roots in the ground, a half ton of daylilies, and geraniums in strategic spots. That’s just a small sampling. The perennial morning glory he planted to climb a trellis in front of the fledgling’s window a couple of years ago, which proceeded to grow right up the trellis and then down over the rose bushes and out over the cement patio and even sent tendrils in through the cracks in our front door, was forcibly removed for being a bad boy. The roses are breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Out back, a grizzled MG with a gas-powered weed whacker strapped to his chest took care of the burgeoning foxtail and vinca minor invasion while three other gardeners planted the vegetables Mr. Wren bought in 6-packs in early May but had been unable to get into the ground. They were getting a bit desperate, those tomato and cucumber plants. Some others dug up a willow he’d brought home a couple of years back and set down in the middle of the front garden where it would benefit from the sprinklers. It sent roots out through the pot and into the earth and grew to a healthy but oddly placed ten feet tall. With much love, they planted it, sans burst pot, in a much better location.

Bags of mulch were opened and spread out by hand. Gardens the hens had scratched up and mostly destroyed were replanted – and the hens have now been confined to their coop and little yard. A master gardener who loves trees nuzzled up to the two dogwoods and very carefully pruned away dead branches and those that were crossing over other branches, saying with reverence “I love getting into trees.”

At 1 p.m. I served up grilled hot dogs, potato salad, chips and salsa and chunks of melon. They inhaled the food and went back to work, and at 3, they holstered their trowels, bid us a good day and wandered off home. Mr. Wren donated a 5 hp chipper-shredder that he can no longer use to the MG cause, which elicited much merriment.

The gardens look incredible, and they’ll be a lot easier for Mr. Wren and me, between us, to maintain now. This was a priceless gift of love, friendship and camaraderie. I’m still a bit dazed. And I have nothing but good things to say about the U.C. Master Gardeners of El Dorado County, volunteers all, who gave up a beautiful, warm Saturday to help a friend and fellow Master Gardener.

Thanks, guys.

02 June 2006


Roxtar over at Black Sky Theory has an interesting post up regarding every American’s right to legal representation under the law, no matter how petty or horrific the crime committed. He’s a criminal defense attorney, which has to be one of the hardest jobs on the face of the Earth.

And yet it’s vital. I don’t think anyone wants to see a murderer or rapist or child molester walk free, but that person still has right to a defense. The fact is, he might be innocent. If he’s not, the idea is that truth will prevail and he’ll be punished. While it’s not perfect, I think our criminal justice system is successful that way.

But not all crimes are horrific or deserve harsh punishment. Roxtar:

“... in the criminal justice system, there are certain things that grind on me like nails on a chalkboard. Chief among these irritants is a certain prosecutorial insistence that people be sent to prison for victimless crimes.”

He explains his irritation by pointing out that most, if not all, of us have committed crimes of some sort at one time or another, which means that we are, or have been, criminals. A good example he offers is that we might have purchased illegal drugs when we were still youthful and immortal. Maybe we still engage in this illegal activity.

His point is that we are considered criminals under the law, but we have harmed no one except, perhaps, ourselves. And yet if we’re caught, there’s a good chance that we’ll be sent to prison, perhaps for a long time.

“... the people who sentence our fellow criminals to spend months or years in a ‘correctional facility’ often see these people as being so fundamentally different and dangerous that society can only be protected from them by locking them up. The prosecutor, for example, has typically never had a conversation with someone accused of a crime, much less actually represented a criminal defendant. And yet, he stands straight-faced and recommends that a fellow citizen be sent to the penitentiary for 2 or 4 or 6 years for vending some vegetation to a willing neighbor.”

[ ... ]

“I work as hard and argue as passionately on behalf of the murderer and the molester as I do on behalf of the nickel-bag dealer; my obligation to my client demands nothing less. (You may be surprised, by the way, to know that the defense attorney is the only guy in the system who has no obligation, and little opportunity, to see that justice is done. Our job is to give our clients a zealous defense. ‘Justice’ is left to the judges and prosecutors, who all too often equate ‘justice’ with ‘retribution.’)”

His post got me thinking about something that’s bothered me for a long time. Here I am, being a bleeding-heart liberal again (and proud of it, dammit!), but I just don’t understand why American society treats marijuana users as criminals – and does, indeed, often send them to prison for extended periods as punishment for their “crime” -- but turns a relatively blind eye to the chronic user of alcohol.

If the alcohol abuser gets into his car and drives drunk, he’s just become a criminal under the law. If he beats his wife or children while under the influence, or attacks someone in a drunken rage, he’s considered a criminal – but only if charges are brought. But the use of the alcohol is not, in and of itself, considered a criminal act. Alcohol is cheap and legal.

As a journalist, I hear about or see the sad results of alcohol abuse often. The local sheriff’s log is filled, weekly, with reports of domestic violence, and more often than not, alcohol played a major part in the violence. Just as often, though, the victim of the violence doesn’t press charges – and so the perp isn’t subjected to justice in the form of penalties for his bad behavior and is free to continue drinking and abusing his family. Domestic violence is by far the most frequent offense reported, seconded only by vandalism (generally alcohol-inspired), drunken driving and theft of property.

In the comments, I asked Roxtar this:

“In your experience as a criminal defense lawyer, do you see any decrease in the ‘bloodlust’ among prosecutors, judges and juries to send decent people ... to prison for the spliff in his cigarette pack? And do they, I wonder, take the same harsh attitude toward someone who got shitfaced drunk and destroyed property or hurt others?I've always thought that the penalty for smoking a gentle joint and mellowing out vs. the non-penalty for drinking a pint of whiskey and getting mean was surreal in our society. When I was a young thing, I figured by now we'd have ironed this one out. (sigh)”

His response:

“I see a lot of police reports, and I can assure you I've never seen anything along these lines: ‘The victim stated that her boyfriend came home, sparked up a joint the size of a panatela, and proceeded to smack the shit out of said victim.’”

My point, exactly. I, too, have never seen that particular report in a police log. And I peruse them every week.

There are arguments against the legalization of marijuana. Most of them refer to it as a “gateway” drug, one that hooks and then propels the user into the dark underworld of much more harmful drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine or heroin. Addiction to those drugs is terrible and expensive, which often means the user is compelled to rob and steal from others to get enough money to buy them and feed their vicious habit. And for some people, it may indeed be a “gateway” drug. I’m not sure how well that argument stands up.

Another argument is that marijuana is “bad” for the user’s health. Well, duh. We all know what the word “pothead” means when we hear it. And yet, honestly, I run across very few “potheads” as I move through daily life. This is in spite of knowing for a certainly that a percentage of the people I see in the grocery store probably do smoke a joint now and then for some recreational relaxation, just as a far greater number of them go home after work and drink a beer or a cocktail. Alcohol is also bad for the user’s health. Both substances “kill brain cells.”

The only difference, to my mind, between marijuana and alcohol is that alcohol use is far more prevalent – and instead of making the user very relaxed, contemplative and extremely unlikely to work up the energy and effort required for lashing out against whoever’s handy, alcohol makes some people as mean and potentially violent as rabid dogs. And alcohol can have an equally devastating effect on people’s lives as hard drugs, if it becomes an addiction. Marijuana, in contrast, is a “gentle” drug. It causes introspection and quietude. And munchies, of course.

I’ve known many, many alcoholics. Not all of them were violent, of course – the drug (and it IS a drug) takes people in different ways. But most of those I’ve known have slowly destroyed their lives and the lives of the people they’re closest to, anyway. Having been married to an alcoholic for several years – a man who never became physically abusive, but who was frequently verbally abusive and out of control when he drank, and a serious danger to others if he managed to get behind the wheel of a car – I know first-hand the extent of harm alcohol can do. Alcohol can also compel people to commit other crimes, including theft, rape and murder.

I’ve just never seen this happen with those who use marijuana. They tend to be gentle souls – and the drug intensifies that.

All this is a roundabout way to get back to my original thought, which was to wonder why we demonize marijuana but accept and even condone the use of alcohol. As far as I’m concerned, alcohol is the ruination of far more lives, both the lives of the users and the people they’re close to. And yet we’ll toss the marijuana user into jail for even possessing it – they don’t need to be under the influence.

Am I wrong? It’s a puzzle I guess I’ll never be able to solve.