29 March 2007

Shrill? Me?

When the Congressional bill funding the Iraq war on the condition of limiting its duration reaches the Decider’s desk, he swears he’ll veto it, saying that timetables for withdrawal will endanger our soldiers fighting in Iraq. He also says that by setting those timetables and thwarting his will, it will be the fault of Congress if vital funding for our boys and girls Over There is late or falls short of that needed.

In reality, all he has to do is sign the damned thing and the money will go to fund the war. If the soldiers now in Iraq go without over the next several weeks and months for lack of funding, it will be George W. Bush’s petulance and lunacy that causes it.

But I have a question. So far, I’ve read nothing that even asks it, let alone answers it. Maybe someone out there can answer it for me.

In the past, when Bush disagreed with a bill approved by both houses of Congress, he just appended a quiet little signing statement to it which said, essentially, that he doesn’t have to follow the law if he doesn’t want to, since he’s the Decider and all, and of course he knows best about these things.

He’s avoided vetoing bills he didn’t like for six years in this manner. So why all the fooferall now? Why doesn’t he just sign the bill, add his secret signing statement to it afterwards, and then ignore the law as he pleases? Given Bush’s prodigious use of signing statements, his demonstrated contempt for the people of the United States and for the rule of law, why is Congress wasting time with any of this?

Is it all just a smoke-and-mirrors exercise, taken to quiet us down? Or perhaps to distract us from noticing how Bush is getting all his ducks in a row for the next big move in the war against terror, an attack on Iran?

Most people seem to think that Bush wouldn’t actually start a war with Iran. It would be folly. We don’t have enough soldiers or materiel for a ground war there. The military is already mostly broken and medical support for those wounded in the current war is floundering badly. And the cost of this new war – on top of the huge cost of the current war in Iraq – would break America’s back.

These are the arguments – good ones, all – that I hear when I touch the scary subject of Bush’s dreams of a trumped-up war against Iran. If Bush and his cronies were sane, I’d agree. It would be a crazy, disastrous, even doomed thing to do.

But Bush and Co. aren’t sane. After six years of being allowed to do everything they wanted to do without consequences, they’re drunk with power. And now they’re facing the loss of that power as the new, Democratic congress begins to exert oversight and attempts to put the brakes on.

Starting a new war would have the effect of refocusing all attention on that and taking it off the madness of the last six years. So we don’t have enough soldiers or materiel to launch another war? No problem – Iraq is very close to Iran. Just deploy the soldiers there – pull them right out of Iraq and let the Iraqis slash each other to death if they want to. Use air power – we’ve still got a lot of that – and sea power, something that could be used against the Iranians in a way it couldn’t against the Iraqis. There are thousands of airmen and sailors out there who are sitting on their thumbs with little to do while the Army and the Marines try to fight a senseless ground war against insurgents. Get them out there fighting. And if there still aren’t enough soldiers to get the job done? Well, hell. There’s the draft. That would provide a huge influx of warm cannon fodder, wouldn’t it.

And of course, in the end, there are always those lovely nukes.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want this. I want our soldiers home, and I wish the bill the Senate is preparing to pass would make this coming June the deadline for getting them out of Iraq, not a bloody year from now. Each day means more needless deaths on both sides of the conflict. And I'm horrified at the very thought of war against Iran. But this is the form my nightmares take these days. If I'm shrill, it's because I can't help it. There is a well-established precedent for it.

So what to do? It seems to me that until both houses of Congress, with the will of the people backing them up, actually slam on the brakes and impeach this wicked moron and his cabinet – throwing them out of office and pressing criminal charges – things will continue on just as they have. America will continue to be ruled by a king, not a president. King George will do exactly what he wants to do through subterfuge and secrecy. And if he starts a new war, the America we all know and love – already badly wounded and dying the death of a thousand cuts -- will cease to exist.

Update: Seems that as I was writing this, the Senate passed the war-funding bill, complete with timelines:

"In a mostly party line 51-47 vote, the Senate signed off on a bill providing $122 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also orders Bush to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days of passage while setting a nonbinding goal of ending combat operations by March 31, 2008."

Only two Republican senators had the balls to vote for the bill. Kudos to them. We'll see what happens now. I wish I could be more hopeful.

*Thanks to the talented Heretik for permission to use his powerful graphic image.

27 March 2007

Pants on fire

With all the pants on fire in Washington, DC,
it must smell like a big ol' barbecue.

Just sayin'.

25 March 2007

I believe, you believe ...

While surfing the favorite blogs of my favorite blogs (yeah, I haven’t got enough to do. What’s your excuse?) I ran across this announcement at Neural Gourmet inviting bloggers to “Blog Against Theocracy” in a “blogswarm” (cool word!) which will take place Easter weekend, April 6-8.

I like it.

In fact, I can’t think of a more interesting topic for an essay in words, images or poetry. Theocracy – Christian, Muslim, whatever -- is just plain scary. Magical thinking taken to its extreme. An American theocracy is something I can hardly believe we're even debating in the 21st Century, but there are people in this country who’d like nothing better than to impose their beliefs and their religious dogma on the rest of us.

So, this is my invite to the rest of you bloggers out there to join me in raising awareness about the separation of church and state, and protecting the First Amendment of the Constitution. What was that again?

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Loose the dogs of war ...

It’s springtime! Wartime!

Throughout history, nations have waited if they could for the cold and hardship of winter to break before launching new battles and starting new wars. It’s sensible – proceed to the fight while the weather is cool, but not frozen, hoping to win before the oppressive heat of summer requires greater supplies of water to keep the troops moving. As the months move forward from spring, food is easier to get, less of it is required for human energy and shelter is not as vital. Life burgeons; death seems far away.

And armies can move more easily and much faster in the spring and summer. In our modern times, aircraft fly at much less risk and launch missiles with greater accuracy -- in spite of all our high technology -- when the weather is good and the skies are clear. The onset of fall and winter forces a gradual reduction of hostilities in conventional battle. Armies hunker down and commanders concentrate on chest beating, saber-rattling and inobtrusive maneuvering for strategic placement and tactical gain in preparation for the spring ahead.

We saw this strategic mindset take place, almost like clockwork, when Bush started the Iraq war, which had its fourth dark anniversary last week. Now, with the seizure of 15 British soldiers by the Iranians for allegedly violating Iran’s maritime boundaries – an insult the British deny – the scenario for war against Iran is being set.

Throughout the late summer, fall and winter American warships moved toward and arrived in the Persian Gulf, ostensibly for “exercises.” Harsh words and threats were volleyed back and forth. The “nuclear option” was bandied about. American ally Israel stated that it would not hesitate to launch nuclear weapons against Iran, should Iran be provocative toward that tiny, bristling nation. Iran’s progress on its own nuclear power capabilities, supposedly in order to meet its civilian energy needs, continued in defiance of international threats and sanctions. There were rumors of American and British special forces penetrating Iran’s borders on intelligence gathering missions. As all that happened, America accused Iran of helping Iraqi insurgents with bigger and better bombs – accusations which could not be proven, but nevertheless influenced popular support for some future, punitive action against Iran.

Far brighter minds than mine have been warning for some time now that placing armed carrier groups in the narrow, shallow gulf is folly, an "international incident" and possible trigger for war waiting to happen. This is obvious to any thinking person – I thought of it the moment I heard they were headed that way.

Now, that incident has occurred. Here in America, our media – and thus the people – are focused on our lying Attorney General (America’s top lawmaker – hah!) and the House’s passage of a bill that sets timetables to bring our troops home and end American involvement in the civil war in Iraq that we started. Few are watching what’s happening Over There. Is it any wonder that Bush is, against all logic, refusing to abandon Gonzales and calling glitzy press conferences regarding that issue and the Democratic bill to bring our troops home? Not to anyone who thinks. It’s smoke and mirrors, a dodge, a bluff, a time-waster. Because when the missiles start flying against Iran, U.S. Attorneys fired for political reasons and ineffectual congressional bills will fall by the wayside as America is forced to rally and support the new -- and far more ominous -- war of opportunity against Iran by men who have cudgels for brains and ATMs for hearts.

Springtime is here. Time for war.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup: The Aftermath

22 March 2007


It’s a breezy, gray day, two mornings after the first day of spring and the sky wants to rain but it won’t. No moisture here, only the breeze, rustling the branches of the tall firs, making them sway in time to its music. The new leaves on the climbing rose flutter; the sweet gum’s twiggy bare arms bounce just a little under its staccato force. When the breeze works up a gust, the old chimes by the woodpile sound and I think of monasteries and barefoot monks taking tea on grass mats, the breeze lifting the sleeves of their yellow robes while almond blossoms float through air like flakes of snow. This we long for, the trees, the rose leaves, the chimes, the sweet gum and me: snow, or now that the vernal equinox has come, rain borne on the breeze to quench the dry earth, which only holds on in hope of a drink.

*This is the first of some writing exercises I'm playing with, trying to add music and lilt to my prose. Thoughts, suggestions, critiques and snubs are most welcome.

Zen wren

I don’t sleep much these days. Five or six hours seems to do the trick. Depending on a very short list of motivations (sleepy, bored, depressed, can’t think of anything else to write), I may go to bed at 9 p.m. Sometimes I stay up until 11:30 p.m. It hardly matters – I’m still up long before the birds. That means with this new early daylight savings time crapola I’m wide awake for the darkest wee hours every single morning.

Eventually the sandman catches up with me and forces me to sleep 10 or 12 hours to make up. It happens about once every two weeks. I have no control over this – I no longer set an alarm clock, since I’ll only be turning it off before it rings anyway. Yesterday morning, the sandman made me miss an early morning diner breakfast and much-needed human conversation with a dear friend. (Sorry dog, sorry cat, sometimes a person just needs another person to schmooze with, you know?) My friend rang my cell and asked if I wanted to come have coffee 45 minutes after I was supposed to be there. I’d been up for about ten minutes, and he had to take off for work soon, so I couldn’t. But he was very sweet and diplomatic and didn’t chew on me for standing him up.

The poor dog only knows that when I get out of bed, go to the kitchen and make coffee, it’s time for his breakfast. He doesn’t know it’s 3 a.m. I’ve tried telling him he should wait a few hours, because it’s a long time until suppertime, but he acts so disappointed and discombobulated I have to give in. He really likes his breakfast. He’s a creature of habit, like I am.

This morning it was 3:45 a.m. when I rolled out of bed. I did the routine – make coffee, feed the dog, turn the faucet in the bathroom on to a dribble for the cat – and shuffled into my little den to crank up the laptop to try for one of those early morning inspirational writing sessions. Sometimes they come, more often they don’t. The world outside the window was black as pitch. Silent, except for the breeze making the windchimes sing very softly.

I don’t like just any old, jangly windchimes. Mine are the kind purchased after saving up for a while, each pipe of the chime tuned to a specific note. I have one set of medium sized ones that I hear often, since they’re not heavy, and another really huge set with deep, bell-like tones that I only get to hear when it’s really windy, often during thunderstorms. Then there’s the tiny set that the wind finds only very seldom, but when it does, they surprise me with a very soft, zinging tinkle. A zephyr. This pleases me.

Eventually, my stomach tells me it’s time to eat. I’ve never been one to eat as soon as I get up – it takes three or four hours for my insides to catch up with my brain. So I went to the kitchen to find food. I’m not big on breakfast food, either. I remembered there were some nice whole wheat crackers on the shelf. And some sliced provolone cheese. Sounded a little dull, so I also got out the sliced ham, too. I took eight crackers from the packet. Two big, round slices of provolone. Two slices of ham. I cut the cheese and the ham into quarters. Got a small plate. I was about to put them on it when I realized if I put my little open-faced sandwich crackers together now, I wouldn’t get greasy fingersmarks on my keyboard. So I stood there and put a slice of ham, then a slice of cheese, on each cracker, and piled them all on the little plate.

That made me remember all the morning snacks we’d bring to the office when I was working. Salami, cheese and crackers. Sometimes cheese and fruit. Sometimes boxes of grocery store bakery cookies or sweet, gooey donuts.

As I carried my plate of ham, cheese and crackers back to my den with my fresh cup of coffee I realized:

I really, really need to find a friggin’ job.

19 March 2007

St. Pauli time

Mentioning the St. Pauli Inn in my last post tripped some pleasant memories of that small German eatery and a couple of adventures I had involving it. The inn sits right at the side of Highway 50 at about the 5,500-foot level in the Central Sierras. Originally called the Lucky Dime Saloon, it was built in 1910 for weary travelers on their way over Echo Summit. After a night of eating, drinking, brawling, and perhaps visiting one of the rumored ladies of ill-repute, tuckered travelers could get a few hours of sleep before tackling the final 2,000 feet or so to crest the spectacular summit and then put the brakes on the old Conastoga down into the Tahoe Basin.

The place has been the St. Pauli Inn since 1986, serving up some scrumptious German food along with your basic American dishes like hamburgers and French fries. Mainly a tourist stop, it’s a casual little restaurant and bar surrounded by tall red fir trees, with the American River boiling down the mountain right behind it. And it’s the only place I know of in this part of California where you can get authentic German cuisine.

About 12 years ago, Mr. Wren, me, and our two daughters (aged 38, 38, 13 and 12, respectively) went backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness, a magnificent, mostly pristine alpine wilderness area in the Eldorado National Forest not far from the St. Pauli Inn. We decided on four days – time to pack in, time to decide where to go and wander around once we were in, and time to pack out from wherever we ended up.

Mr. Wren loves hiking and fishing – he’s a true outdoorsman who should have been born 150 years ago so he could be Snowshoe Thompson. He’s hiked all over – Kilauea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, Desolation many times, Mt. Rainier in Washington State, parts of the Bavarian Alps, countless unmarked areas around our home range, and south toward Yosemite and in the Coast Range of California. These days, because of an injury that disabled him, he can’t hike anymore, but he still spends most of his day outdoors, working in the garden. Gardening is a hobby he’s always loved, too – he’s a Master Gardener -- but 12 years ago he was a hiking, fishing monster.

So off we went, the jubilant Mr. Wren and his three girls, headed up the mountain to the Twin Lakes trailhead near Wrights Lake. Us ladies shouldered packs of about 25 pounds each, including ultra-light fishing rods; Mr. Wren’s pack weighed closer to 60, and he had two rods with him, one for fly fishing, the other a casting rod. I was a bit overawed. He pooh-poohed me. “No problem,” he said.

We started right around noon, walking along a rather nice, wide dirt trail that wound through mountain meadows, under conifers and over great expanses of smooth granite, always meandering gently uphill. I’d done some hiking in the past – remind me to tell you about the time Mr. Wren talked me into climbing Pinnacles with him – but it had been many years since I’d done a long hike, and I’d never carried a full backpack before. My most recent hike, sans Mr. Wren, had been a 5-mile, fairly easy day hike with the local Sierra Club chapter to Lovers Leap (yeah, yeah, I went the back way to the top, not straight up the sheer rock face).

So this backpacking thing seemed pretty spiffy. I was striding along, warmed up, getting used to the feel of the pack on my back, enjoying the beautiful scenery, the bird-song and the fragrant, fresh air while I tried to ignore my swelling fingers. The girls were chatting and laughing as we followed Mr. Wren’s huge strides (he’s 6’2”) and trotted now and then to keep up.

Then the nice trail petered out. We were standing in the middle of a true wilderness, nothing but mountains in all directions, lodge pole pines and fir trees, swaths of the gray-white granite I would come to know intimately before it was all over, and the hot sun beating down on our heads from above. I was glad for that neat little ball cap I’d bought just before we left.

Mr. Wren called a break, and we all took our sweaty packs off and stretched a bit while he consulted his raggedy USGS survey map. The girls broke out the slabs of chocolate we’d brought along for energy emergencies.

“We’ll head for Grouse Lake,” he said after a few minutes. “Great fishing – rainbows, browns, maybe some goldens. It’s not too much further, but it’s a little climb. Not too bad.”

Note to self: When Mr. Wren says it’s a “little climb,” question him closely. Remember Pinnacles.

By this time, I was thinking how nice it would be to sit on a rock, fish and let my legs, which were beginning to yelp a bit and feel sort of rubbery, rest. The idea of fresh-caught trout for dinner sounded really good, though. Mr. Wren pounded off, pointing yonder at the mountain (I swear he yodeled), and the girls and I figured out how to buckle our packs back on by ourselves. This involved sitting down, skootching our butts up to the packs backside first, working our arms through the straps, standing up and then buckling everything. We did this for the practice. You know. Just in case we needed to know how or something. We took off after him.

Mr. Wren’s “little climb” was quite a dilly. There was a trail again, but now it was narrow, maybe 8 inches wide. It wound between massive boulders as it went steadily up and up. Just as dusk was falling, we’d reached a level, sort of wet meadow area but still had some way to go to make Grouse Lake. We stopped for a rest, discussing whether to keep on and if it was sensible to try to reach it in the dark. I was tipping my water bottle over my mouth – the girls had gone rather quiet – when I heard a low, building hum. A single mosquito whined past my ear.

“Time for the Skin So Soft,” said Mr. Wren cheerfully as the hum grew louder. I flapped my hand at another mosquito.

“Mom! They’re all over!” the 13-year-old squealed, and a moment later, we were all slapping madly at a huge swarm of mosquitoes and rubbing slick handfuls of Skin So Soft lotion all over every exposed surface of our bodies. Since we were wearing shorts and T-shirts, there was a lot of it to cover.

It was soon apparent that either these particular, very hungry, Desolation mosquitoes were immune to Skin So Soft – and in fact, were rather fond of the scent, which must have been the equivalent to hollandaise sauce to them – or the legendary Avon product’s mosquito-repelling power was nothing but a cruel urban myth. Either way, this was not a pleasant way to find out. And the sun was nearly gone. Rather than run, screeching up that treacherous goat trail in the dark, we whipped out the sleeping bags and ground pads, found a relatively dry spot to lay them out, I tossed everyone packets of cheese crackers and little tins of potted meat, and we all beat a hasty and cowardly retreat into our down mummy bags for the night.

We were up at dawn. There was some general grumpiness as the girls wanted to eat chocolate for breakfast rather than gorp and fruit leather. The 13-year-old grudgingly opened a tin of Vienna sausages, promptly decided she hated them and left me figuring out what to do with a full, opened tin. I ate them. We didn’t linger, in spite of everyone but Mr. Wren being rather stiff and sore. I wanted coffee desperately, but I sure didn’t want to hang around long enough for the mosquitoes to discover we were out of our protective cocoons. Soon, we were on the trail again, which started climbing even more steeply than before. I was glad we hadn’t attempted it in the dark.

About two hours later – well, an hour and half for Mr. Wren, who’d already shed his pack and was casting happily for trout – we reached Grouse Lake, which sits at 8,412 feet above sea level. It was a beautiful, secluded little lake, surrounded by forest with a shore of granite boulders and gravel. We decided to spend the day and the night there. We set up camp – basically laid the sleeping bags out and piled the packs in the little cleared campground – and I made coffee in a camp-pot over the single burner camp-stove and had my fix. Then I joined the others and wandered around the lake, attempting to catch trout on little silver Castmaster lures without luck and untangling the girls’ lines for them.

As the day progressed, more people arrived at the lake, but most were passing through on day-hikes – a feat that amazed me at the time. I was glad for the rest-day, personally. I felt good but I was tired, and I’d thought I was in fairly decent shape. But these people must have been taking that twisty little uphill trail at a trot to be able to get there and then all the way back down to their cars before nightfall. Uber-hikers.

We ended up with a trout-less dinner that night. Mr. Wren had caught scads of them, but they were all tiny things and he threw them back, laughing and telling them to be more careful next time. He loves fish as much for the fun of catching them, giving them a little talking to and throwing them back, as for eating them. We dined on Mrs. Grass’s Instant Vegetable Soup instead, with crackers, trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit and of course, hunks of chocolate. For energy.

After a blessedly mosquito-less night – I fell asleep trying to spot satellites among the (heheh) billions and billions of stars with Mr. Wren – we were up at dawn again and off to the next destination, Smith Lake.

There was more climbing. More twisty trail maneuvering. By this time, my muscles were in full-scream mode from the first day’s hike. For some reason, really sore muscles don’t hit me for about 36 hours after being insulted. But I walked through them, finding that I needed to pay more attention to where I was putting my feet so as not to go tumbling down a rocky decline than my grumpy body. We were truly moving into steep mountains. The climb was difficult. There were many fewer trees and a lot more granite.

When we reached Smith Lake, at 8,700 feet, we were ready for a decent rest. Out came the fishing rods again, but this time I turned my pack into a back-rest and stretched my legs out. Mr. Wren and the girls tried their best while I dozed, but decided that the sun was too high now and the fish – brook trout in this pretty, small lake – weren’t hungry. Must have dined well on the local mosquitos, I thought. We dined ourselves – the usual, plus chocolate (for energy) – and Mr. Wren got the map out again.

“I think Hemlock Lake is just a little way from here,” he said, studying the squiggly lines. I had no idea how he knew where anything was. Ever since we’d left that nice wide dirt trail two afternoons before, the trails were only marked by “ducks,” the little rock cairns that hikers make to tell other hikers they’re still on the “trail.” To me, the “ducks” looked like all the other piles of granite everywhere I looked. If not for Mr. Wren, I’m sure they would have had to send in a rescue party to find me.

“OK,” I said. “Hemlock Lake, here we come. Can we camp there?”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “Or we could go across the ridge to Twin Lakes.”


Off we went. The girls were enjoying themselves, but this backpacking expedition was no walk in the park anymore. There was some grumbling, which quickly stopped as we started climbing again. Eventually, we found ourselves in a wide clearing with a fast stream tumbling through the broken granite down the mountainside. Mr. Wren got the map out again. I wished mightily for a folding chair and caught my breath as he perused the map.

“Do you know where we are?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. We don’t have much further to go. Just a little climb.”

Remember note to self.

I looked around. We wouldn’t be going back the way we came, which was downhill. So was the direction the stream was clattering. On the other side of it looked to be nothing much but broken granite, some wildflowers and some gently rising ground.

On the last side, some distance away – facing west – there was a sheer, straight-up-looking mountain wall.

I laughed uneasily. “You don’t mean up there, do you?” I shaded my eyes and looked toward the summit. Nothing but high, blue sky beyond it. Cue the eagle scream, I thought.

“Yep, that’s the one! Oh, don’t worry, sweetie, it’s not as bad as it looks! There’s a trail all the way up.”

It is a testament to my love for Mr. Wren that I just swallowed and said, “OK.” I didn’t want to be a party poop and ruin his first Desolation adventure with the family along. But I have to say here that I’m afraid of heights. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been terrified of them. Put me on a kitchen stool and tell me to jump off, and I’ll wet my pants. The very thought of climbing that granite monstrosity – with a 25-pound pack on my back and nothing but my hands and booted feet -- made my blood run cold.

But he was already striding off, yodeling for the girls, a big happy grin on his sweaty face.

Well, as you might have guessed, I climbed that sucker and lived to tell about it. I did about half of it all alone, as the girls and Mr. Wren left me in their dust. There was no trail, unless you can call the 3-inch ribbon of sandy soil between the dumpster sized boulders a trail. Each step, for my short legs, was like stepping up onto the back of a flatbed truck. Sometimes I went up backwards, boosting myself up on my butt, trying not to look down between my feet. Sometimes I heaved myself up with my arms, fingers clutching rock on both sides. I rested a lot. I cussed Mr. Wren and the day I’d married him, which he was fortunately too far ahead of me to hear. I reached a point where all I wanted to do was go back down – they could find me later, sitting by that stream, communing with black bears, my swollen, aching feet in the icy water. But I was even more afraid to go down, and besides, the top had to be close, right? I even dreaded reaching the top, because it meant tomorrow morning, I would have to climb down. Somehow.

Finally, I made it. I came up over the edge of the trail, dragging myself with my hands and scrabbling for toeholds, stood up, staggered a few feet, and stopped. Ahead was a tiny blue lake – more like a tarn – in a basin formed entirely of granite slabs the size of houses. The far lip of the tarn was even high than where I stood, and beyond it, featureless, clear blue sky. There were a few fir trees here and there – they were short but ages old, twisted by wind and snow, almost like Japanese bonsai trees. A pika chattered at me from some rocks nearby. There were no birds. There was no sound but the breeze in my ears and the sound of my own heart, pounding. My arms and legs were trembling. My whole body was trembling. Barely, I could hear Mr. Wren and the girls, out of sight, talking and laughing about the wonderful fish they were going to catch. If a gust of wind came, I was sure I’d fall right over. And I was deeply, coldly furious. I could have fallen, I thought with a wild surge of self-pity. They’d never have known! I could be halfway down the mountain, broken and bleeding to death! And they’re too busy fucking fishing to even wonder where I am!

I found a boulder far enough from the edge of the drop-off for comfort and low enough to clamber up on, shrugged myself out of my pack and got a cigarette out of it with shaking fingers. I sat down and stretched my beaten legs out. I lit up the smoke. Took a drag, forcing myself to calm down. After all, I’d done it, right? I’d climbed the highest thing I’d ever seen. I hadn’t fallen, hadn’t killed myself. Well, yet. There was nothing to worry about. And then I looked out, straight ahead.

My breath caught in my throat and tears sprang to my eyes all over again.

In the time it had taken me to climb my mountain, the sun had nearly dropped behind the mountains to the west, casting them in a shaded series of silhouettes, one beyond the next beyond the next until they stopped, unspeakably far away, with a gap and then a little ridge I knew must be the Coast Range on the far west side of the Sacramento Valley. Beyond them was the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t see it, but way up on my mountain peak, looking at the blues and purples and golden-rimmed mountains falling down and down and down, I knew it was there.

It was the singular most incredibly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life – and probably ever will.

I smoked my cigarette and wept at the beauty of the world spread out below me, watching the sun go orange and the sky go salmon and pink and purple, watching as the night drew down on that high glacial tarn with its dancing small trees. After a while, I got up and made my way unsteadily over to Mr. Wren and the girls, who were splashing in the frigid shallows and deciding there must not be a single fish in that water. I wondered how in the world a fish could get up there, but I didn’t say anything. I just got the little camp-stove going behind a boulder, out of the wind, and tore open a couple more packets of vegetable soup. No fish tonight, either, but really, who cared?

The next day we climbed back down. I don’t remember a very much of it – I’m pretty sure I did most of it cautiously slipping from boulder to boulder on my ass. And we went on, all the way down, working our way out steadily with very few stops to rest, one eye always on the sun.

When we finally reached the trailhead and the parking lot, my feet felt like they were going to explode. I was sweaty, mosquito-bitten, scratched, sunburned and filthy from four days without anything that could be even jokingly called a bath, exhausted and so hungry I was sure I could tuck into a whole roasted horse, if only someone would cook one. And I was deliriously happy, still high on that one, amazing view.

We heaved the packs into the back of the van. We all climbed in.

“How about we have some dinner at St. Pauli’s?” asked Mr. Wren, tired and smiling with the sheer joy of accomplishment.

“Oh, god. Go!” I said.

And so a half-hour later we dragged our exhausted butts into the St. Pauli Inn, asked to sit outside on the back deck for dinner if they didn’t mind, because we were sure we stank to high heaven, and tucked into the most delicious meal of my life.

And you know what? I don’t even remember what I ate.

*The photo is one I shot of Mr. Wren on an expedition two years later into Desolation to Lake of the Woods, done in early July. Yes, he talked me into it again. He’d been walking along in his hiking shorts and boots on top of the late June snowpack when he suddenly broke through at the base of a tree and ended up thigh-high in the snow. He laughed himself silly. I sat down and took a rest. It was chocolate, I believe. Energy.

Bundle up your bikini ...

I gotta hand it to the Weather Channel, which sponsors the weather report on my Yahoo home page. These folks have chutzpah. I noted with some excitement this morning that there’s a little asterisk next to the name of my town, indicating a “severe weather alert.”

Cooooool. It’s been in the mid-70s around here for the last several days – the lovely snows of a few weeks back are nothing but fond memories – and I was getting a little depressed. Summers are long and way hot in this part of the country. I really wasn’t looking forward to having the broiling Summer of 2007 start in March, but it was looking ugly.

But there was the asterisk. There was the little full moon icon, indicating that the WC knows it’s still dark here right now. There was a little smear across the moon, indicating, um, fog? Wispy clouds? Smog?

Still, a severe weather alert! This looked hopeful. Torrential rain? Rackety, dramatic thunderstorms? Water gushing from the downspouts? Dare I hope for ... snow?

Breath held, I clicked.

OK, in a week of cheery yellow sunshine icons, there’s one day with a little rain cloud icon, a few sad raindrops dribbling from beneath it. High temp for that day will be a delightfully crisp 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the days showed forecasts of sunny mid-60s and low-to-mid-70s.

Yet there was that scary asterisk. Puzzled, I clicked on the bright red SEVERE WEATHER ALERT liner.

It told me in all capped Courier that a storm system is moving into Northern California. Yes, yes! It will be here tonight sometime. Wonderful! I should be aware that with this system, temperatures will drop to seasonal normals on Tuesday, indicating that I might want to get my cardigan, which I’d packed away in mothballs until next mid-November, out again. Whoa, that’s serious. Why, there might be an inch or two of actual snow higher up the mountain from me, but the valley and my part of the Sierra shouldn’t expect more than about a 10th of an inch of precip.

Well, that will rinse the dust off the forsythia blooms, I thought.

Still, the National Weather Service warns me that if I’m planning to head up the hill, say to Tahoe, I might want to make sure I have food, water and blankets in my car.

Now, I understand the NWS feels it ought to cover all the bases, just in case. That way, no one can say they weren’t warned. In the mountains, spring weather can be dangerously unpredictable, so there’s always a very small chance one could get caught in a blizzard on Highway 50 with only the St. Pauli Inn as a retreat. One might be forced to huddle at the espresso bar and drink a cappuccino while forking up some warm struedel, waiting for the little squall to pass. One might even have to drag oneself into the dining room for a bracing emergency lunch of Jaegerschnitzel and spaetzel with gravy, chased with a nice draft Dinkelacker Dark. Dang.

Hey Al? I do believe in global warming. I do! I do believe!

17 March 2007

Defiant blue flim

Can you believe it, Blue Wren hit the magic 10,000 page loads this morning!

My 10,000th visitor was a Canadian from Toronto, Ontario who’d googled “blasocyst images.” Boy, was he/she surprised when Blue Wren didn’t have pictures of naked blasocysts! He/she left again really fast!

Writing this blog has been a lot of fun since I started in April last year. Fun, but good for me, too, as I finally have a way to express my opinions about the world and what’s been going on in it in a slightly more effective way than simply grumping at the talking heads on TV.

So far, no one’s come forward with the big bucks offering to hire me as a pundit. Damn! But I’ll persevere.

While I’d like to think it’s my scintillating writing and erudite opinions that bring readers to Blue Wren, I must bow to reality. The one post that really bags ‘em is one I wrote way back, titled “The last great act of defiance”. It refers, in passing, to a funny old photocopy that I remember made the office rounds in the late 70s. It depicted a defiant mouse flipping off an eagle in the moment before the eagle creamed him. The post actually has to do with defying Bush’s warrantless wiretappers with a reminder of Americans’ 4th Amendment rights, but the mouse and eagle have lured 371 curious readers this way, most of them looking for the poster.

The words “blue wren” are next up, at 330 page loads. These seem to be from bird-loving people searching for information about the actual bird. There is such a thing – the blue fairy wren is native to Australia. It’s tiny and quick and quite beautiful, as you can see from the photo.

After that, at 60 page loads, is “blue flim.” Most of these inadvertent visitors are from India who find themselves reading my fairly recent post “Deadly flim flam,” in which I ranted on about the Bush administration’s continued defiance of the will of the people. I was puzzled at first about the relatively high number of page loads on this one – and from readers from India! -- until I realized that they were actually looking for “blue film.” Yeah, I’m a little slow. I’m sure they’ve been disappointed, but I hope a few of them stuck around to read anyway.

My messy desk contest, written one night when I wanted to write but couldn’t think of anything to write about, comes in next with 53 page loads. Only one person actually took up my challenge of describing a messier desk than mine, though, and while I promised my old copy of the Hammond World Atlas as a prize to the winner, I think my desk was a lot messier than his. So I still have the atlas, but the contest is open-ended if you’d like to give it a shot.

Next come more bird-lovers, looking for “wren.” And on it goes.

My own personal favorite posts are way down on the list. “Stench” is one. “Sweet Cheeks” is another.

I obviously haven’t mastered that tricky key word usage. At the moment, I’m taking lessons from the High Poobah of Key Words, Grant Miller. To see what I mean, take a look at his blog. He’s shameless. And hilarious.

My real point here is to thank you all, even all you flim seekers, for stopping by. It’s been great. And I plan to keep on writing. The whole experience is simply magical.

14 March 2007

Look! Over there!

Ooh, big news! Three years after his capture, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed finally confesses to masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” Mohammed said during a military hearing at Gitmo last Saturday.

Last Saturday?

Excuse me if I find the timing of this monumental admission just a little ... suspect. Even anticlimactic. After all, the man has been in U.S. custody since 2003, held somewhere in the CIA’s network of overseas prisons they denied even existed. Mohammed was moved to Guantanamo Bay in September of last year in preparation for an actual military hearing. And we’re only now getting the big news of his confession?

I’m guessing that having him “confess” just before the November elections might have been just a little too-too. Well, it's still a little too-too for me. For one, I’m leery of that “A to Z” quote, which is an Americanism if I’ve ever heard one. Can’t we write scripts that at least stick to the ethnic and cultural background of the torturee?

I note that the man we were told was actually the mastermind of Sept. 11, Osama bin Laden, is not mentioned at all in the linked news story. Nor is there any mention of Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein or Iraq.

Of course, the big story right now is the U.S. Attorney purge, which appears to have been undertaken by the Bush administration in order to oust and perhaps punish lawmakers who wouldn’t play Republican dirty tricks on demand -- and replace them with Bush functionaries and cronies who would.

The other big news is that the U.S. housing bubble is bursting, fueling what could be a massive, prolonged correction in the the U.S. stock market which could have wide-ranging and even devastating economic ramifications not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

And then, of course, there’s George W. Bush’s bloody Iraq war, which drags on as usual, flinging bodies and prevarications in all directions. Let’s stop for a moment and think, once again, of the lies we were told to convince us we needed to launch that war back in March of 2003. That’s right ... Saddam was involved in 9/11. He had weapons of mass destruction. He could even get nukes, if we didn’t hurry up. He might give them to bin Laden’s al Qaeda, and the “smoking gun” might become a “mushroom cloud.”


What other news might have prompted the release of this sudden “confession?” Ah, yes. There will actually now be a debate in the Senate over Bush’s arrogant, in-your-face-America escalation of troops to Iraq (the numbers of said escalation seem to keep rising, too). The whole idea of a “debate” seems beside the point to me, since the escalation was already underway when Bush announced it in January and he's made it quite clear that he doesn’t give a flying fuck what the American people think of it.

Ah, well. It wouldn’t do to just bring the troops home, I guess – at least not until Halliburton has decamped safely to Dubai, where it can thumb its nose at us and count its stolen millions. Or is that billions?

I know. I should be pleased at the news that we’ve caught a bad guy and he (allegedly) actually (allegedly) confessed to being one, rather than simply being another one of the hundreds of innocent but brown-skinned unfortunates who got rounded up and tossed into jail cells because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All this news does is convince me that once again, the Bush administration is doing the full spin-and-bamboozle tango in yet another desperate attempt to take our eye off the ball. They haven’t realized yet that their credibility is shot, and that while our weak, crooked Congress waffles and sputters, most Americans are just getting more and more angry – and boy, are we tired of being played for fools.

13 March 2007


My good neighbor, who was bitten by my overly protective dog, is recovering well from the blood infection he got as a result of the bite. Home from the hospital for several days now, he continues to be amiable about the whole mess. I think he may be a saint.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am that he’s all right. This has been, as you might imagine, a nightmare.

The dog has been released from home quarantine by the animal control folks. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life, I’ve put my old friend on permanent house arrest. And finally, I’m starting to breathe again.

11 March 2007

Hometown hero

A hero lives in the mobile home park at the south edge of the burgeoning “upscale community” for which I used to edit the weekly newspaper.

It’s the only mobile home park in town -- exclusive, if you will -- nestled nearly out of sight in the high, rolling foothills of the area. A seasonal creek, rich with frogs, water skaters and wildlife, shaded by live oaks, runs along its western edge.

The park has been there since the community was no more than a few isolated housing developments just off Highway 50, served by a single grocery store and gas station. It’s a small, very neat grid of single-wide, double-wide and dinky “manufactured” homes set along the narrow, paved lanes. Nearly every space has a patch of lawn or a little garden, variously decorated with bright plastic whirligig daisies, venerable rose bushes and temporarily abandoned children’s toys. At the front of the park, where the newer, nicer residences are visible from the feeder road, there’s a playground for kids with a big expanse of soft green grass.

Marine Cpl. Jeff Landay is officially on active duty, but at the moment he’s living quietly with his unemployed parents and five siblings in the mobile home park. He’s 19 years old, a graduate of the award-winning local high school two miles from his home. The school is surrounded by half-million and million-dollar homes overlooked by a members-only country club and a fabulous Robert Trent Jones, Jr., 72-par championship golf course. SUVs are the preferred mode of transport.

Landay, the local hero in this story, might still be in Iraq today, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s slowly recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) suffered in May 2006 near Fallujah.

I don’t use the word “hero” lightly. From a story in Village Life, the local weekly newspaper, published Dec. 13, 2006:

On May 21, Landay’s platoon was on a routine patrol. They struck a small IED, but there was no damage. They continued their patrol, but when it was over, elected to return to camp using an alternate route.

Debris blocked the road. As Landay navigated his Humvee, in the lead, around the obstacle, there was a powerful explosion that blew the vehicle off the road and 50 yards down into a shallow ravine, where it came to rest.

The explosion mangled the Humvee’s left front side.

The rest of the platoon watched in horror. They could not radio raise any response from the five Marines inside the damaged Humvee, which was now isolated from the platoon, and in what the Marines call a vulnerable “kill zone.”

Seconds stretched into minutes as Landay’s platoon watched the ravine for any signs of life. Then, they saw brake lights flash on the stricken Humvee.

Badly injured, Landay got the Humvee’s remaining three tires pointed back up to the road. With a last surge of adrenaline, he gunned it back up the ravine to the road and relative safely.

“It really saved all their lives, because they [the rest of the platoon] can’t get out there to get them without backup,” said [Landay’s stepfather Glen] Yaeger.

When Corpsman Luis Rodriguez, “Doc Rod,” reached the Humvee, “it was a disaster,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was smoky, and we had to get the guys out.”

The worst injury was to Cpl. “Cheeks” Ramirez. Attempts to resuscitate him failed. When Rodriguez got to Landay, it appeared that he, too, was a fatality. There was major head trauma and no pulse.

Everyone thought Landay had driven his Humvee to safety and died.

But Rodriquez applied CPR and, miraculously, got a pulse. Landay stared breathing on his own.

“Doc Rod brought Jeff back to life,” said Yaeger. “They got him to a hospital within 20 minutes, which probably saved his life again.”

His injuries were grave. “It’s a miracle he’s here,” said Yaeger. “The doctors are unbelievable.”

The explosion crushed Landay’s skull, broke his jaw and damaged his liver, spleen, kidney and shoulder.

Both of Landay’s parents lost their jobs in the months after he was wounded, his mother because of the massive amounts of time off she needed to spend with her wounded son while he was hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland and later, at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. His step-father was laid off due to down-sizing at his place of employment. Since the story appeared in Village Life, the family has received help in the form of individual donations and poker-party fund raisers sponsored by a popular local barber. Still, the family is struggling.

According to a follow-up story in Village Life published last week, Cpl. Landay is currently getting his medical treatment through the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., roughly 60 miles away from his home. This latest treatment is not for the TBI in particular, but for his jaw, which didn’t reattach well after his initial series of surgeries to repair the damage to his head. He recently had surgery in which they redid the reattachment and, incidentally, removed some shrapnel which was still embedded there.

Thanks to his mother, Michelle Landay, who stood up to the military medical board at the Palo Alto VA hospital, Landay may soon be able to go to the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Center at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where he can continue his rehabilitation and recovery from his TBI before being reassigned on active duty or medically retired. He was originally denied placement at the WWC by the Palo Alto VA board because, head-injured and physically and emotionally wrung out, he wasn’t being “cooperative” enough.

Michelle Landay raised hell until they reevaluated her teen-aged son and changed their minds.

Landay was featured in the recent ABC News documentary on the military’s medical and follow-up treatment of soldiers wounded in Iraq. Bob Woodruff, the network’s news anchor who also suffered a TBI when an IED blew up next to the tank he was riding in during an assignment in Iraq back in February 2006, interviewed the young Marine. From Village Life:

“Woodruff first spoke with Jeff Landay at Bethesda Naval Hospital in October 2006, shortly after doctors installed a critical ‘bone flap’ over the missing portion of Landay’s skull. In an interview which those who know the young marine find difficult to watch, Woodruff asks Landay simple questions, but a frustrated Landay can’t find the words to reply.

‘He couldn’t’ talk yet,’ said Yaeger. ‘They [ABC television news crew] came out again last week and filmed in our home, and at the El Dorado Hills Sports Club.’ The footage shows Landay working out with his father in the gym, smiling and answering questions more clearly.”

You can see Woodruff’s ABC interview with Cpl. Jeff Landay here.

Cpl. Jeff Landay isn’t old enough to drink, but in this crazy, war-without-end era, he’s old enough to serve his country in the Marines, suffer grievous injury in a war without a purpose, and face a rough and very uncertain future.

Landay isn’t the only local casualty of the Iraq war in his community. Lance Cpl. Brad Shuder died by enemy mortar fire on April 12, 2004, also near Fallujah. Shuder was a graduate of the same local high school as Landay. He was 21 years old and it was his second tour in Iraq.


The recent revelations about the terrible follow-up medical care being received by injured soldiers from Iraq at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center were shameful. Cpl. Jeff Landay is relatively lucky, since his treatment has been through the much smaller Marine Corps. Yet when he was moved to a VA hospital, he ran into trouble.

I have a great respect for the care given to veterans through VA hospitals in spite of all the horror stories. They do the best job they can with inadequate funding and staffing, a bureaucracy that boggles the mind and a great deal of inefficiency.

Years ago, after being discharged from the Air Force, employed but without medical insurance, I went to a VA hospital for treatment of a ganglion cyst in my right wrist that had first shown up while I was on active duty. After two separate attempts to get rid of it by needle aspiration while I was still in the Air Force, it had returned. While it was rarely painful, and normally these odd growths don't cause any serious problems, the ganglion I had was causing my hand to suddenly loose grip strength at random moments; I’d learned never to pick up my small daughter or heavy pots off the stove using my right hand because I couldn’t trust it.

I was accepted into the VA medical system and an appointment was made. But when the VA doctor who examined my wrist told me “you should just smack it with a big ol’ book,” I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. He simply sent me on my way with no treatment or any better suggestions.

So you can imagine my surprise when I received a letter from the VA three months later, telling me they’d decided I was 20 percent disabled by the ganglion and would, from now on, receive $60 per month in compensation.

I didn’t argue. I was a single mom and broke. That extra $60 helped with rent, child care and groceries. But after six months, the VA payments stopped without explanation. I didn’t inquire – I didn’t really want smack-it-with-a-book-level health care. And I never heard from the VA again.

About a year later, after I’d found a job that included medical benefits, I went to my new civilian doctor, who referred me to a specialist, who was in turn appalled at how much strength I’d lost in that hand due to the ganglion. When I told him what the VA doc had said, he goggled, then told me that “smacking it with a book” was an old treatment from the past that was, obviously, painful, not very effective and apt to do even more damage. I was amazed that it ever was an accepted “cure.”

Since repeated needle aspirations hadn’t been successful, he removed the ganglion cyst in an out-patient surgery at a local hospital a few weeks later. I’ve never had trouble from it since. I believe my hospital co-pay at the time was about ... $60.

Mr. Wren, who’s 80 percent disabled due to an injury suffered while he was in the Army, has been receiving all of his medical care through the VA for several years now. The local VA medical center is new and about 40 miles from home, but it’s a lot closer than the one I was sent to outside San Francisco before this one opened.

It’s been a rocky road for Mr. Wren. The care he’s received has been erratic. Sometimes it’s excellent. Sometimes it’s indifferent. A few times it’s been downright awful. The center is always crowded with veterans from all walks of life and of all ages, the majority of them from the Viet Nam or Korean war eras, like Mr. Wren. It’s a new building and a nice facility, and they have some state-of-the-art equipment there, but frankly, it’s a depressing place. The staff are overworked, tend to indifference, and the system is overwhelmed.

Mr. Wren sometimes has to wait three months for an appointment; if he needs to be seen quickly, he must go to their emergent care clinic, which operates along the lines of a civilian emergency room. Unless the complaint is life-threatening, patients can wait six or seven hours to be seen, more on weekends. And once he has been seen, the usual response is to send him home with a small amount of medication, if necessary, and instructions to call for an appointment with his VA primary care doctor – which he might not get for three months.

Needless to say, he doesn't go to the emergent care clinic for a cold or the flu.

They’ve lost his records many times, changed appointment times on him without notifying him, and put him through a nightmare tangle of paperwork, bollixed-up communications and even mailed him medications meant for other patients.

He’s also been the recipient of many expensive tests and is mailed a drugstore of remedies every month for pain, depression and even indigestion. It took them almost two years to diagnose his sleep apnea after I first mentioned to him that sometimes he didn’t breathe for long stretches at night, and wondered if his window-shaking snoring might be an issue. Sleep apnea, I reasoned, keeps the sufferer from falling into deep, restful sleep, which might have something to do with his ever-increasing pain. Still, it was another year before they finally got him in for a sleep test and two months more before they issued him a CPAP machine.

Fortunately he didn’t die in the meantime, and now he breathes all the way through each night and I sleep better, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have any effect on his pain level.

The great thing about VA medical care for veterans is that it's free.

For all its good and bad points, the VA is the only medical care many veterans have to fall back on. They served their country, many of them during wartime, many of them suffering debilitating injuries. They deserve the best medical care a grateful nation can offer them. And to the VA’s credit, it tries.

But now this whole, creaky, overwhelmed military medical system is being inundated by a new generation of wounded soldiers, many of whom will probably need care for the rest of their lives, like Cpl. Landay. It’s good that Congress and the White House are moving to improve the conditions at Walter Reed’s Building B and taking a look at the rest of the military and veterans medical systems, but it can’t happen soon enough.

Now we hear that, despite more than 70 percent of the American people turning against the war in Iraq, our military involvement there will likely last through fall 2008 or beyond. Eighteen more months. More than 3,000 soldiers have lost their lives over the last four years and many, many thousands more have been injured, some of them grievously and permanently. Will our leaders really allow another 3,000 to die before they end this travesty? Will they allow thousands more of our young people to be injured while the military and veterans medical systems here at home, vastly overloaded, spits them out like rotten teeth for lack of funding, facilities and competent staff?

If they do, I want to know why.


Update: If you'd like to send a card or letter to Cpl. Jeff Landay, snail-mail to:

PMB 173
Cpl Jeff Landay
4354 Town Center Blvd, Suite 114
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

05 March 2007

A big fat loogie

For many, many years I’ve kept my opinion mostly to myself concerning the right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

The first time I heard him on the radio was way back in 1985. I was driving down the mountain from a visit to Tahoe, and there was Rush. I’d heard of him, but I knew little about him other than that he was outrageous, popular, and surprisingly, my Dad liked listening to his show. I wasn’t a political type at the time; politics were something that happened, for the most part, outside my small, personal universe.

Yet I’ll never forget my astonishment when Limbaugh took a call and, upon hearing the caller’s comment (and I forget the subject matter now) rudely called him an idiot who was wasting his precious air time and hung up on him as he launched into a diatribe against the point the caller had tried to make. I remember thinking that the caller’s point had been perfectly valid, although he hadn’t agreed with Rush’s prior statements.

I ‘d never heard anything quite like it before. It was also during that interesting drive down the steep, twisting, snow-clotted highway that I heard the term “feminazi” for the first time.

That was also an eye-opener.

I happened to catch Rush on my car radio again a few times after that, since he took up a big chunk of air-time at the local talk radio station, but I paid little attention to him. He was talking about things I wasn’t particularly interested in – and knew little about – but his pomposity and rudeness continued to put me off. I’d switch the station or turn the radio off entirely if he was bloviating.

I also kept remembering that “feminazi” reference, which truly rankled me.

Not long after that I moved lock, stock and barrel to northern Germany. Other than West German television, which was fascinating but unintelligible for a couple of years, there was the Armed Forces Network, Europe, the U.S. military TV and radio network. On a single TV channel, it ran public service announcements each morning reminding soldiers to brush their teeth and take showers – with soap -- each day, a few select daytime shows and soaps in the afternoons, CNN as the only non-military news outlet, and a few more network programs at night. Except for the PSAs, it was commercial-free.

And then, one day, I turned on Armed Forces Radio, and there was Rush.

This was probably around 1990, and it disturbed me some. For more than two hours each day, Rush used up airtime on AFN radio – limited and in this case, truly precious airtime -- he was a conservative talk show host, and there was no opposing viewpoint. It bothered me, but I still didn’t quite “get” what was happening. Americans in Germany did have other news outlets – CNN and, via the post bookstore and German newsstands, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, and British newspapers. And of course, there was the Stars & Stripes, but no one pretended that it was much more than propaganda which focused almost entirely on U.S. military subjects. Most people didn’t read it for serious news. But if they were thinking people, the hateful bile that flowed from Limbaugh's piehole over the AFN airwaves wasn't their only source of political commentary or information.

After I came back to the States in 1992, I learned a lot more about Limbaugh. And after paying more attention to him, and to the political situation in America, I came to detest him. Over the years, it got so that if I turned on the radio in the car, and Limbaugh was on, I’d switch off instantly. He was a blowhard, he didn’t have his facts straight, and it was obvious that he simply vomited out whatever bilge came into his head and presented it as truth. It worried me a lot that so many people in America listened to him – and even took what he said as gospel. My parents thought he was just wonderful.

According to Media Matters,

“On the March 2 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, host Rush Limbaugh stated that ‘since [Sen. Barack] Obama [D-IL] has -- on his mother's side -- forebears of his mother had slaves, could we not say that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then wins the presidency, he will own [Rev.] Al Sharpton?’ Limbaugh was reacting to a March 2 Chicago Tribune article that reported that two of Obama's ancestors on his mother's side owned slaves.

“Sharpton, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2004, recently discovered that he is descended from slaves who were owned by an ancestor of former Dixiecrat segregationist presidential candidate Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).”

This is, of course, the lowest sort of backhanded ugliness. It has no bearing at all on Barak Obama’s political career or his bid for the presidency. It has no bearing on his ability -- or lack thereof -- to be a good president. If anything, it gives Obama a broader understanding and empathy with, and for, the American citizens he'd represent, should he be elected.

There are probably very few Americans, other than those descended directly from immigrants from abroad who came after America’s Civil War, who don’t have either slaveowners or slaves in their ancestry. Several of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners. Slavery is a dark part of America’s heritage, but it’s long passed, and it’s a truth that no one disputes.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Limbaugh said what he did hoping to make it seem that Obama has been hiding this old family skeleton all these years. If he knew about his white mother’s ancestors being slaveowners, given the man’s obvious intelligence, I doubt it bothered him much. Obviously, owning people as slaves isn’t something we do anymore in this country. If Obama didn’t know, I’m sure he was interested to find out – and then shrugged and got on with his day.

What the news – if you can call it that – did was allow Limbaugh an opportunity to put Obama’s name in the same sentence with Al Sharpton’s – and thereby get the wingnut whirligig hats spinning and causing thoughtless, knee-jerk reactions among his mouthbreathing listeners. His nasty, strained statement that somehow Obama, should he win the Democratic presidential nomination, would own Sharpton is ... twisted, nonsensical, ridiculous and deeply bigoted. I mean, who would think up something like this – and then broadcast it all over the United States?


Freedom of speech is one of America’s most precious rights, and Limbaugh has as much right as any other American to express his opinions and thoughts. But I sure will be glad when his wingnut Republican party finally crashes and burns, revealing its popular enablers, like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity et al, for the small-minded, greedy, bigoted and yes, evil trolls that they are. It just can’t happen soon enough for me.