31 December 2006

Blessings on you

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

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

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

-- Traditional Irish Blessing

Happy New Year.

30 December 2006

Shameful justice

So, the Iraqi government has executed Saddam Hussein.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a horror.

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

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

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

28 December 2006


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

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

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

Tough. It’s relevant. Bite me.

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

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

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

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


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

It’s all heartbreaking.

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow, this has to end. And soon.

21 December 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the enemy? Bush represents America’s enemies?

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

But we’re stuck with him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 December 2006

Tapped by Max

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 December 2006

Humming Zappa

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

He generally hums Zappa.

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

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

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

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

“That? Oh. Octopus.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s going to be a longggg unemployment.

10 December 2006

Irish dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good idea,” I said doubtfully.

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

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

09 December 2006


The Book has arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08 December 2006

What have we done?

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

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

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

“What have we done?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Absolutely, we’re winning,” he said.

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

Listen, you can hear them.

“What have we done?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What have we done?”

05 December 2006

Fluttering into the fray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 December 2006

Yeats day

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

The Stolen Child

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favorite by this great Irish poet?
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