25 February 2008

Entrenched incompetence ...

So it seems that the jawdropping story of the Secret Service, who didn't bother to make sure that Barack Obama was safe during a rally at which 17,000 people attended last Wednesday, is still a mere yawner to our sharp-as-tacks and hot-on-the-job Journalists of the New Millennium. They can barely be moved to mention it.

Fortunately, Brad Jacobson over at MediaBloodhound is paying attention and getting the details down for posterity, just in case. He's put together a rather comprehensive special report:

"It's important to remember that the Secret Service is not some agency operating separately from the administration that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are still running.

"In fact, on March 1, 2003, this administration officially made the U.S. Secret Service part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. (You might have heard of that crack federal department, the same one that seven years after 9/11 still can't ensure our airline cargo is checked.) Before that change, since its inception in 1865, the Secret Service had been part of the United States Department of Treasury, operating as a distinct organization within that department beginning in 1883. So what's your guess? That Secret Service improved or worsened under this administration after it was subsumed by the Department of Homeland Security? I would take odds on the latter, but I'm not a betting man.

"So here's the bottom line: without detailing all of this administration's constitutional law-breaking (torture, secret prisons, wiretapping, etc.), its long record of criminal negligence alone - from the security breakdown on 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq ('You go with the army you have, not the army you want') to Katrina ('Heckuva job, Brownie!') to the recently revealed diseased beef supply - is reason enough to be deeply troubled by Secret Service claims that its protection is sufficient when only some participants at presidential candidate events are being checked for weapons.

"Clearly something is not quite right here. Hopefully enough light will shine on this matter before a preventable tragedy occurs as a consequence of our media, our leaders and our citizens paying too little attention."

Read the rest here.

23 February 2008

The world is so frickin' scary ...

Courtesy of your current presidential administration. Snark on, YouTube!

Still seething ...

Updating yesterday’s post:

The Keystone Kops Secret Service responded on Friday to incredulous inquiries by the Dallas Star-Telegram regarding the security laughed off provided during a huge rally (attendance: 17,000) in Dallas on Wednesday morning for presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama:

“The U.S. Secret Service on Friday defended its handling of security during a massive rally in downtown Dallas for Barack Obama, saying there was no ‘lapse’ in its ‘comprehensive and layered security plan,’ which called for some people to be checked for weapons, while others were not.

“’There were no security lapses at that venue,’ said Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington. He added there was ‘no deviation’ from the ‘comprehensive and layered” security plan, implemented in “very close cooperation with our law enforcement partners.’”

[ … ]

“‘It was never a part of the plan at this particular venue to have each and every person in the crowd pass through the Magnetometer,’ said Zahren, referring to the device used to detect metal in clothing and bags.

“He declined to give the reason for checking people for weapons at the front of the lines and letting those farther back go in without inspection.”

This bozo said it was “never part of the plan” to check the entire crowd for guns, knives, nuclear devices, etc. Only some of it. The first half of it. Right. That’s because … why? Because … oh wait! I’ve got it!

They got tired. It was too hard. And we all know how Bush and his minions feel about hard.

Publicly, the Obama campaign is graciously saying nothing negative about this appalling situation. Let’s hope, however, that privately all hell is breaking loose. To purposely leave Barack Obama – or any other presidential candidate – vulnerable to a psycho with a gun in this day and age is, to put it baldly, disgusting. Horrifying. There simply is no excuse.

22 February 2008

I'm seething ...

I want to know.

Why would the Secret Service order Dallas (Dallas!!) police officers to stop searching attendees’ purses, laptop bags, etc. as they entered the venue where Sen. Barack Obama was scheduled to speak this last Wednesday morning?

What possible excuse could there be for such a blatant refusal to provide this hugely popular presidential candidate with security? What happened?

According to reporter Jack Douglas, Jr with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram,

“Security details at Barack Obama's rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

“The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

“Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department's homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order -- apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service -- was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena's vacant seats before Obama came on.”

Apparently Deputy Chief Lawrence was a little worried about the lack of security for Obama, but being an excellent judge of huge crowds and all, tamped down that niggly wee voice in his head that was screaming “Don’t do it, TeeDub! Don't do it!!” and followed his orders like a good boy:

“’Sure,’ said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a ‘friendly crowd.’”

A “friendly” crowd.

Using Dep. Chief Lawrence’s standards, which apparently are satisfied just by eyeballing, the crowd would have appeared “friendly” when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, too. Furthermore, to TeeDub, it would have been a “friendly” crowd that gathered hear Bobby Kennedy speak when he was shot down in cold blood.

That this “lapse” in judgment could take place in Dallas, where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, beggars belief. Was Dep. Chief Lawrence new to the area? Hadn’t he heard?

I can’t believe he’s that stupid. So why in hell didn’t he show some personal integrity and courage and refuse to follow that order?

I hope he’s without a job today.

I don’t know about you, but all kinds of other questions start rearing their prickly little heads in my mind. First and most obvious, “Was getting everyone into the arena more important than the safety of the candidate?” The story doesn’t say if people were being charged admission, but I doubt it. It does mention that the lines were moving very slowly, which one would expect when everyone is being wanded for weapons. If you want to see someone like Obama speak in person, it’s just common sense that you’ll plan for a long wait and arrive as early as you can. And you have to be prepared for disappointment. Once Obama – or Clinton, or McCain, or Huckabee for that matter – starts talking, the doors to the venue should be closed.

And they should have been on Wednesday.

But done is done. Several thousand people were allowed into the arena without being checked in the hour before Obama came onstage. Any one of them could have been carrying a gun or even a bomb. Next question: Was the damned fool who made the decision to compromise Obama’s security – and possibly risk the lives of the many of the attendees in the arena – fired? And if he or she wasn’t, why not?

Next question: Who told the Secret Service to stop checking attendees for weapons?

Who gives the Secret Service their marching orders? The SS is mandated by Congress, but it seems that the Department of Homeland Security plays a role. According to the Secret Service website:

“When an event is designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event (NSSE), the Secret Service assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. The Secret Service has developed a core strategy to carry out its security operations, which relies heavily on its established partnerships with law enforcement and public safety officials at the local, state and federal levels.

“The goal of the cooperating agencies is to provide a safe and secure environment for Secret Service protectees, other dignitaries, the event participants and the general public. There is a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in preparation for these events, particularly in the areas of venue and motorcade route security, communications, credentialing and training.”

Okee-dokee. So who’s the head of Homeland Security? Why, it’s Michael Chertoff. Did he just decide, suddenly, on a whim Wednesday morning at 10ish , that the Obama rally in Dallas wouldn't be an NSSE? "Oh, why that's not necessary, boys. No one's gonna hurt Obama! What a silly thought! Call off the officers." Does he have a job today? I mean, after Katrina, he's skatin' on some thin ice.

[ … sigh … ]

I don’t know why the Secret Service would leave Obama unprotected this way. My mind literally shies away from the obvious and overwrought possibilities, which involve Republican and Bush administration foul play. I don’t want to believe that of my country, and for today, I won’t. But I hope that the Obama campaign is raising holy hell today over the incident, and that several people in high places have lost their jobs, because they deserve to.

And I hope the press looks into this and makes it a big deal, as well. So far, the Secret Service hasn’t answered the Star-Telegram’s phone calls.

19 February 2008

Forgetfully subtle, that's me ...

Which spice are you?

OK. I have to know. Tell me.

You are Coriander!

You're subtle. So subtle that people often forget about you. You are refreshingly clean and rather odd. You're often misunderstood. Your key word is "latent;" all your potential is wrapped up tightly until "BOOM," one day you're cilantro. Funky.

Funky? Odd? I'm potentially cilantro? No, wait. Coriander is cilantro. Well!

Heh. You can find out which spice you are by visiting here.

18 February 2008

Funny Pictures
moar humorous pics

16 February 2008

Waiting with Gerry and Oprah

I spent the day at the Sacramento Veteran’s Administration Medical Center yesterday, specifically in the “UrgiCare” department, which is the VA’s version of an emergency room.

Mr. Wren had felt quite unwell, with a fluttery heart sensation, nausea, vomiting and dizziness after eating a gigantic supper the night before. His blood pressure was fluctuating and in the north of normal range (he has a BP cuff prescribed by his VA doc and uses it daily). Were his symptoms indicative of major indigestion or heart problems?

We called the VA health nurse, who handles questions about how to deal with situations like this. Mr. Wren takes heart medication for (the relatively common) atrial fibrillation, along with a lot of other meds that treat everything from osteoarthritis pain to depression. He’d just started a new med for tension/migraine headaches. Could an adverse drug interaction be causing these symptoms? Should we treat them as potentially life-threatening? Or should we chill and wait it out?

As Mr. Wren answered the nurse’s many questions (the nurse was very thorough and with a calm, competent demeanor), he started feeling better. They decided he should stay home and get some rest, and the following day, call his regular doc’s office at the medical center and tell them that the health nurse said he should get a same-day appointment. It would be smart, the nurse said, to have a check-up.

And so, yesterday morning, still feeling fine and (by now) a little sheepish, Mr. Wren called for the appointment and was told they’d call him back with a time. And while we waited, he started feeling bad again. Same symptoms, though he didn’t vomit this time. Two hours passed and we still hadn’t heard from his doctor’s office about an appointment, so we called again. This time we were told we should just get our butts to UrgiCare.

So we made the 41-mile drive down the mountain to the VA medical center, which is at the old Mather AFB, long closed and now a civilian industrial park and commercial airport.

They took him in immediately upon learning of the fluttery sensation and did an EKG. It was normal, thank goodness. No emergency. So he was sent back out to chairs to wait his turn while the doctors dealt with patients who needed their immediate attention more urgently than Mr. Wren.

We waited. And waited. And waited. For two hours we endured back-to-back Gerry Springer shows on the big screen TV that hangs from the ceiling in the waiting area. It cannot be ignored because the volume is quite loud to accommodate the many, many elderly, hard-of-hearing vets who come for care at the center. Anticipating a lengthy wait and knowing I’d find little to read in the waiting area except for really old copies of Time magazine or new copies of The Watchtower, I’d brought along Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. But I couldn't concentrate on it. First, I was concerned about Mr. Wren, who wasn’t feeling very well even if he wasn’t considered an emergency. Second, Lewis’ style is a bit dense and flowery, written in another era. It takes some effort to get used to it and “fall in” -- an effort that kept being undermined by the bare-knuckled, “spontaneous” male fistfights and subsequent whiny girlfriends on Springer. These dragged my attention away from the book, piquing the same base but natural, morbid curiosity that makes us rubberneck at serious car accidents. It annoyed me but I couldn’t help it. Also, the TV audience was constantly chanting "Ger-REE, Ger-REE, Ger-REE ..." Honestly, sometimes I'm embarrassed for us.

At hour four, my eyes crossing with boredom, I went outside to call our daughter and let her know her Dad was still alive, feeling blech and still waiting to be seen. That done, I went back inside. Mr. Wren was gone. They’d finally called him in. I was very relieved.

I settled back into my chair and tried once again to read. Impossible. This time it was Oprah. I noticed that she’s gaining weight again. She’s up and down, I thought cattily, big and little, over and over, year after year. Her personal chefs and trainers get richer each time she yo-yos because they write books about how they helped her achieve little and beautiful again, and how we can all do it too if we buy their books and follow instructions. There’s a whole shelf at the bookstore groaning with capital-O cookbooks and how-to-lose-weight guides.

Now, the moment these mean and unsolicitous thoughts passed through my head, I felt bad for thinking them. I know how hard it is to lose weight, get fit and maintain both. Who am I to criticize poor Oprah? She can’t manage to stay skinny even with personal chefs and trainers, absolutely a testimony for how truly tough it is. If she can’t do it with expensive experts feeding her perfectly balanced, low fat, low carb, low calory and yet still delicious and satisfying meals and snacks, and then forcing her to exercise two hours a day, every day, then I shouldn’t feel bad if I backslide now and then, right?

Then it occurred to me that maybe Oprah loses and gains weight on purpose so tubby people like me will be sure to watch her show and buy her products and those of the companies that advertise during her show. Watching her weight go up and down gives us a perfect opportunity to indulge our catty sides, then feel vindicated, then self-righteous, and finally really guilty for being so mean, which brings us full circle back to catty again as compensation for the guilt.


Guilty as charged, I forced my eyes back to Lewis again and realized that I’d read the same paragraph three or four times now without noticing. My eyelids were very heavy, but I knew if I dozed off I'd drool all over my chest. Too embarrassing. It's times like this that I really miss smoking. At least puffing a cigarette outside while shivering coatless in the cool, late winter afternoon would wake me up and give me something to do.

I looked at the clock. It had been an hour since Mr. Wren had disappeared. No one had come out to tell me he was in trouble, so I figured no news was good news. The VA is, after all, the epitome of universal health care and a close cousin to military health care, which is good, competent, and slow as molasses unless you’re seriously ill, injured or dying. So Mr. Wren, I figured, was probably stuck back there waiting for a doctor yet again. At least he was there and not out here. The cogs would creak and groan and eventually spit him back out to me.

Throughout the wait, I’d been people-watching. The VA medical center is a good place for it. Like the ex-military members it serves, the VA is made up of people representing the American melting pot. It’s America from sea to shining sea, concentrated and condensed. In the same waiting room there were blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, men and women, young and old, speaking a variety of languages and in a variety of accents and dialects. I always loved that about the military. I still do. As much as I like where I live these days, the homogenous nature of the population – 98.9 percent white – bothers me after my years spent either in the military or working with military members and their families. So being at the VA med center and fitting right back into the mix was both familiar and comforting.

The UrgiCare clinic has to be the gimpy-est place I’ve ever seen, though. There were all kinds of people walking on crutches or with canes, or using walkers of various descriptions, or just limping along in obvious discomfort. Everyone there seemed resigned, like we were, to the long wait. There was one young woman, holding a green velvet cape tightly wrapped around her, who was so sick she just curled silently in her chair, staring blank-eyed into the middle distance while her very large girlfriend patted her shoulder gently. There were a few very elderly men in wheelchairs, tended by family members. They had once stood tall and straight, you could tell. They still had that military bearing, if not health and youth. A woman came in pushing her husband before her in a wheelchair. She looked to be in her late 50s or perhaps very early 60s, stylish, brisk, and competent. He didn’t look much older than she was, but he was rigid in his chair, one arm twisted to his chest, his head tilted a bit to the side, his eyes wide and his face frozen in a permanent expression of astonishment. He had been – still was – a handsome fellow. Was he a stroke victim? Perhaps the victim of a traumatic brain injury? She signed him in, then went about making him as comfortable as she could, talking to him softly, stroking the close-cropped hair at the back of his neck as she helped him drink water from a squeeze bottle. Her devotion – and sorrow – were poignant.

Another hour passed. I finally decided I had to know what was going on with Mr. Wren. I headed for the triage nurse’s station, and as I did, he came out the automatic sliding doors from the emergency clinic’s inner sanctum. He had blood-spotted cotton balls stuck to his inner elbows and a bemused look on his face.

Turns out they’d laid him down, put an IV in his arm and, telling him he was dehydrated, gave him fluids and an anti-nausea medication. That done, they checked him again and sent him on his way. He emerged feeling much better and hungry as a horse.

And so we drove home. There was no diagnosis, but he's back to normal. He still needs to get in and see his doctor about that new medication to make sure it wasn’t what brought on the heart flutters. Maybe he just ate too much and his body rebelled? Hard to say, but we had a good reminder of what we’ll be in for if and when this country gets universal health care. Waiting is part of the price we’ll all pay. But I think it’s worth it, in the end. That treatment at a regular emergency clinic would have cost us hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I haven’t got health insurance right now, myself, so I dread the idea of getting sick. But Mr. Wren was treated at absolutely no cost to us since he’s a disabled, Viet Nam-era veteran who gave many years of his life to his country. I’m thankful for that, and glad that a portion of my taxes goes to pay for his care, and for the care of all the others who need it, especially the new, very young, disabled vets that are coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA isn’t perfect, that’s for sure. But as a model of what universal healthcare could be like, it’s worth a good look.

14 February 2008

No. You. Can't.

Forgive me, but I just gotta post this:

Um, GOP? Yes we can.

13 February 2008

Hunt's all over.

Mr. Wren was in a car accident about a month ago. He was, thankfully, unhurt, but his 1994 Toyota pickup was totaled. And so, with a sadly-small check from the other driver’s insurance company (she was the at-fault driver) burning a hole in his pocket, we headed out to look at cars.

The check wouldn’t cover the cost of another car. But it would help. At the very least, it would serve as a sizeable down-payment.

I’d heard a bit about the new Smart4Two, pictured in the previous post, and was very curious about it. This little car has proven very popular in Europe over the last 10 years, and finally they’re selling it here in the USA. Now I have to admit, I love little cars. I always loved the VW Bug, and I love the new one, too. I was absolutely charmed by the Mini Cooper when I lived in Europe, and I was delighted when BMW started making them here. And then the Smart made its way across the Water. I was itching to see this car.

It’s made by Mercedes Benz. Fits two people only, but they can be two 6-foot-3-inch people. The engine is mostly in the back. There’s enough space behind the seats for maybe five paper sacks of groceries. The speedometer goes to 100 mph, but the engine’s governor limits it to 90 mph. The price is low, considering the fact that most people these days spend $20K and up (and up and up) for cars without blinking an eyelash. The Smarts are all in the teens. And it has some serious safety features for a car so incredibly tiny.

So we went to look. Mr. Wren was as intrigued as I was. We drove one. It was fun. You don’t feel like you’re driving a toy car. It feels nicely solid. For just three cylinders, it’s a peppy little fella. It has automatic transmission, but it’s actually manual transmission without the clutch pedal. I don’t know how they did that, really, but there’s a pause between each gear as the car switches, just like there’d be if the driver was doing the pedal-and-shift work.

That didn’t bother me, though it was a little disconcerting. I liked the Smart4Two. I could get used to it.

It did bother Mr. Wren, though. He felt that “hesitation” meant that there was really something “wrong” with the transmission. I don’t know about that. But more, he didn’t like that the Smart car actually produces more greenhouse gases than an average non-Smart car, or that it burns more oil, or that it needs high-octane unleaded gas, the most expensive at the pumps, to run well. The mileage it gets isn’t that eye-popping: Just 31mpg city, and 44mpg highway, so we wouldn’t really make up for the higher pump price in longer trips between gas stops. One of the new hybrids would run circles around the Smart in the mpg game, but that hardly mattered to us, since we can’t begin to afford a hybrid anyway.

Finally, neither of us liked that the wait to get a Smart car is about a year. We could have “reserved” one, and then got ourselves put on a list for when someone else “reserved” one and changed their mind, thereby getting us the car a little quicker than a year, but really, we need a car now.

So we didn’t get a Smart4Two. Instead we smiled at the sales guy (he looked like he was in the 10th grade), went and treated ourselves to Chinese for lunch. Then we started the longggg drive back up the mountain home. I’ll admit I was a little dejected. I really wanted the Smart car to be a great car, and I’d really wanted to drive one home. I’d been entertaining fantasies about driving it around and having people stop me to ask about my ultra-cool little eco-friendly car. Humph.

Since the afternoon was young, we decided to stop and check out Subarus on our way home. Saw a Kia dealership near the Subaru place. Mr. Wren said he’d heard Kia offered a great warranty deal – 10 years or 10,000 miles. So we stopped there first, curious.

I could ramble on and on, but we ended up getting a sedate, economical and rather pretty 2007 Kia Spectra with 48 miles on the odometer. Black as wet India ink. Paid cash, and boy, did I want a cigarette after writing that check! Yeow! But it really didn’t cost any more than the Smart4Two, and there’s quite a lot more car for the money in the Kia. More space, of course – it has an actual back seat – and a nice, deep trunk. It has front wheel drive, which will help when it snows. And while this little Kia can’t compete with the Smart for mileage -- it gets 25mpg city, 34mpg highway – it happily drinks regular unleaded gas. So I think that evens them out.

Best of all, this is the first new car I’ve had in, oh, 20 years. It has some of the cool new bells and whistles new cars have, like a CD player in the dash, and airbags, and actual built-in cupholders and even a plug-in for an MP3 player and stuff. It has a remote control door lock thingy. There’s even a special hiding place for sunglasses up above the rear view mirror. And of course, our Kia smells new.

And I don’t want to pet it.

Car hunting ...

Mr. Wren and I are about to go test drive one of these. I'm not sure whether to laugh at it or pet it ...

Now, if you're looking for a giggle, you must to visit Dragonlaugh's blog, Dream of the Dragon, and spend a minute of your busy day watching "Hedge-face." Call it a mental health break.

12 February 2008

That windblown look

As I stacked a freshly delivered cord of seasoned firewood today, I was thankful that I’d decided to put it under the carport this time. That will make it a bit easier to get to if we get more snow this winter, but really, I was mainly grateful to be able to work in the shade and avoid a freaking sunburn.

See, it’s nearly 60 degrees today. It feels at least 10 degrees warmer. I stripped off my fleece jacket. I pushed up my sleeves. Sweat started trickling down the back of my neck. Almond and walnut stovewood is heavy; lifting it and chunking it onto the stack, piece after piece after piece, isn’t sissy-work. As I bend, lift and twist, I remind myself of the old saw about how good firewood warms you thrice: Once in the chopping, once in the stacking, and finally in the burning. I’ve managed to forego the first warming by purchasing the wood already cut into stovelengths. But after its been dumped on the driveway in a giant pile that’s about a foot taller than I am, I have my opportunity to experience the second stage fully.

The third stage is the best, of course. It’s the one where the fire is burning cozily in the woodstove and I’m sitting curled up in my chair with a good book a few feet from it while cold rain lashes the windows or snow piles up in silent beauty just outside them.

So today I actually feel a little silly buying more firewood, given the sunny brightness and soft warmth. But even if winter seems a little ambiguous around here, the reality was that we were down to about a quarter-cord of firewood. The weather here in the mountains tends to change quickly. Since that wood is our only source of heat, running out of it with another six weeks of winter possibly in the works just isn’t acceptable.

In other parts of the country, it’s still unambiguously winter. Poor Madison Guy, who writes the Letter from Here, is trying hard to stay cheerful about the record 77 inches of snow they’ve had there in Madison, Wisconsin so far this winter, but it’s taking its toll on him. He can’t help but show us a picture of a city park under a heavy cover of snow and write, pointedly, that he shot the photo last April. Guy thinks his cat, who sleeps most of the winter, has the right idea.

Like frosty Wisconsin, sunny California is living up to its reputation. Each day I peruse the weather on my Yahoo home page, hoping to see the little icon of clouds with stuff underneath them – rain or snow or that coy “wintery mix.” But for the last five days or so, it’s just been sun and maybe a little cloud. And that’s all there is in the forecast, too, all the way through the end of February. Sun. A little cloud. Sun. Sun. Sun. Oh, maybe a few showers on a Thursday two weeks from now.

So you can imagine my excitement when, after stacking the wood and getting all sweaty, I opened the home page on my browser, scrolled down and saw, yes, a line of suns and little clouds. But next to the words “Camino, CA” there was a tiny red asterisk.

Omigod! A Severe Weather Alert! Could it mean snow on the way? Heavy rain? Flooding? Blizzards?

Then I got a grip. Around here, Severe Weather Alerts can mean nothing worse than a few showers three or four days from now, which might make the roads a little damp. They’re warning us if water does happen to fall from the sky, we should be a little more careful than usual behind the wheel.

Or, I thought wryly, this time they’re going to warn us about the sunshine. They’re going to remind us that with all these ferocious and unrelenting UV rays, we’d best slather on sunscreen and not venture out without sunglasses.

Breath held, I clicked into the weather site to discover what this Severe Weather Alert might possibly be Alerting Us To.


Honestly. This is not Severe Weather. Seventy-seven inches of snow and it’s not even mid-February, that’s Severe Weather. This is … It’s Doing Something Out There Weather. This is … Look! The Trees are Swaying Weather.

This is Embarrassing.

Just for fun ...

1. Grab the nearest book (that is at least 123 pages long).
2. Open to p. 123.
3. Go down to the 5th sentence.
4. Type in the following 3 sentences.
5. Tag five people.

OK. The nearest book at hand right now is a paperback copy of The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman. On the cover it has a compass-like thing with arcane symbols around the edge in the foreground; in the background is a child standing next to a gigantic polar bear (all I needed to see to get the book, since I'm truly partial to polar bears). The bear and the child are looking across a plain of snow at a glowing city.

Page 123, sixth, seventh and eighth sentences:

There was a light in the parley room window. It was too high to look through, but she could hear a low rumble of voices inside. So she walked up to the door and knocked firmly on it five times.

I heard that the film version of The Golden Compass wasn't particularly good, but I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, which did indeed include a wonderful polar bear, whose name is Iorek Byrnison, as a major character. The story is written simply but beautifully, and the author is masterful at painting with words. I also heard that the story was controversial as being down on religion and promoting atheism. Maybe. I think it depends on how you read it. Personally, I was looking for a good story that took me to another place and time. It did that, and more.

I won't tag anyone, since participating in these memes ought not to be obligatory. But do enjoy, if it catches your fancy.

11 February 2008

A simple explanation ...

"If the Goverment is a car setting out to give every one a ride to work, then for 40 years the Republicans have been puncturing the tires, pouring sand in the gas tank, stealing the distributer cap, and, whenever they can get their hands on the wheel, driving it straight into the nearest ditch and then, pointing to the wreckage as the tow truck backs up to it, saying, See, this proves that people were meant to walk.

"And they do this so that they don't have to chip in on gas."

That Mannion. So clever.

Wait a minute ...

When you've stopped laughing, watch this:

09 February 2008

Haiku Bush

Poet and author Steve Kuusisto and his wife Connie, who write on their blog Planet of the Blind, challenged me and Blue Girl and several other bloggers to write a haiku for President Bush. They invited me to tell George how I really feel.

After I got over wanting to use undignified words that rhyme with "tuck" and "hit" and "crass" and stuff, I came up with this:

Evil rich boy George
Can’t have everything he wants
So he stomps it all.

As you can see, poetry isn't my strong suit. But haikus are fun and they get the creative juices flowing. So I'm extending Steve and Connie's challenge to my readers, all three or four of you. Write a haiku for President Bush, telling him how you feel.

And then, go ahead and send a "Haiku Postcard to the President!" c/o

Split This Rock Poetry Festival
The Institute for Policy Studies
1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

The festival, by the way, sounds very cool. I wish I could go. Visit the festival's website -- maybe you can!

January thaw in February

January was pretty wild around here, weather-wise. We had more snow in three weeks than we've had in three years. But now things are warming up. It's about 50 degrees out; the air feels soft, like silk against your cheek, and a little balmy. The yuletide camellias I've been waiting for since November are opening all over the bush now, bright red and yellow buttons of color against the house.

It's warmish for this time of year, and the snows of January are melting, but it hasn't all gone yet. On the north side of the house, where it stays shady most of the time, there are still several inches holding on tenaciously. But everywhere is the sound of water dripping, running, rivuleting down and down, joining trickles that become streams that become rivers and finally, reservoirs.

The snowman Jake and I made is only a shadow of his former self. I can't bring myself to retrieve the scarf and hat just yet, though. February will bring more weather; so will March. I'm being mindful, looking for the beauty of the thaw, and thankful for the break and the unseasonable, gentle and welcome warmth in mid-winter.

08 February 2008

Setting a fine example ...

File this one under: "Yet Another Unbelievable News Item from Camp Wingnut":
"Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a certified public accountant, had pushed for months for an internal audit of the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to GOP members, but the committee’s treasurer at the time was reluctant.

"Finally, at a recent meeting, the now former NRCC treasurer, Christopher J. Ward, relented, giving Conaway what was supposed to be an official internal audit from 2006. That document was a fake, the GOP members said. Even the letterhead on which it was sent was a forgery. (emphasis mine. I'm all agog.)

"Revelations about the falsified document touched off an unfolding scandal that has rocked the NRCC and spurred a criminal investigation by the FBI into the committee’s accounting procedures."

No kidding?

I swear, every time I think the Republican leadership of our country can't shock or surprise me any more, they go and shock or surprise me yet again. And imagine! We've got almost a year to live through before this most dishonest period in American history ends with George W. Bush's ignominious departure.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Hat tip to TPM.

07 February 2008

This is what's left of a house in Clinton, Arkansas that was lifted off its foundation by a tornado on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. I wonder where the rest of it ended up? Is the family who lived there all right? My eyes keep going to the skateboard and the stuffed toys in the foreground of the photo. It's hard for me to imagine devastation like this, harder still to imagine living through it. It makes my heart ache.

According to the latest reports, at least 55 people lost their lives on Tuesday, when some 93 tornadoes were reported across the mid-South -- Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennesee, I think -- over a 15-hour period between the evening of Feb. 5 and the morning of Feb. 6.

Hundreds of people were injured. Many of the victims were poor. It was all taking place while the media's full attention was focused on the presidential primaries and caucuses across the country, so most of us didn't hear much about the disaster striking our fellow Americans who lived in the path of the storms. I do remember hearing that they'd shut down some polling places in Tennessee because of the danger from tornadoes. That was it.

During a speech he gave at an event in Washington, DC the morning of Feb. 6, Bush told the victims that they've been "held up in prayer":

"Thanks for the warm welcome. Before we begin the ceremony today, we turn our thoughts to those suffering from yesterday's tornados.

"This is a bad storm that affected a lot of people in a variety of states. Our administration is reaching out to state officials. I just called the governors of the affected states. I wanted them to know that this government will help them; but more importantly, I wanted them to be able to tell the people in their states that the American people hold them up and -- hold those who suffer up in prayer. Loss of life, a lot of loss of property -- prayers can help and so can the government. And so today before we begin this important ceremony, I do want the people in those states to know the American people are standing with them."

That's nice, but prayers don't feed, clothe or house those who have lost everything. Blogger Monkeyfister, who lives in the area, liveblogged the storms as they passed over and is spearheading aid efforts.

Send donations to:
American Red Cross
Mid-South Chapter
1400 Central Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 726-1690

or phone in a donation to United Way of the Mid-South at (901) 433-4300. Monkeyfister says "They take DIRECT donations, so you can skip all the National-level waste and delay, AND they serve nearly every community in the effected radius."

If you live near any of the affected areas, food closets are in dire need of food for those affected. Canned goods and non-perishables are best. People of all ages will also need basics like toiletries, clothing, bedding and outwear.

Hard to say how FEMA will handle this one, but I'm not holding my breath. Please do what you can to help.

06 February 2008

Presidency for sale

Hillary Clinton is using her own millions to fund her run for president.

That was the gossip that hit the blogosphere this morning after Mark Halperin of Time magazine posted a question regarding the subject on the mag’s blog. Teddy Davis at the ABC News blog Political Radar jumped in with "A Democratic strategist allied with -- but not working for -- Clinton told ABC News Tuesday that the Clinton campaign has discussed investing as much as $20 million into the race."

And then, Clinton campaign communications director Howard Wolfson confirmed the rumors in an e-mail to the Politico’s Ben Smith. "Late last month Senator Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million. The loan illustrates Sen. Clinton's commitment to this effort and to ensuring that our campaign has the resources it needs to compete and win across this nation. We have had one of our best fundraising efforts ever on the web today and our Super Tuesday victories will only help in bringing more support for her candidacy.”

Five million dollars ... Well, it primed the pump, didn't it?

I guess it’s nothing new – and certainly not wrong -- for a candidate for public office to contribute personal funds to his or her own campaign. Mitt Romney has reportedly dropped the equivalent of a small nation’s operating budget into his failed run for the presidency, after all. And we’ve been hearing rumblings about ultra-wealthy New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg joining the presidential race on his own nickel. Ugh.

Something about this really bothers me. Perhaps it’s because more and more, it seems like candidates for the presidency are all multimillionaires. And it seems like … well… they’re out to buy themselves a position as the ruler of the most powerful nation on Earth. And you know what? It shouldn’t be for sale.

Am I being too sensitive here? Is my inner Pollyanna coming out? I dunno, but there’s something really, really creepy about the idea that a candidate would spend millions and millions of their own money for a chance to be president. I mean, this takes an incredible ego, right?

I guess it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that some really, really rich guy bought the kingship to some little backwards nation somewhere. I could see smarmy ol’ Donald Trump, back when he actually was a real millionaire, doing something like that to make himself feel important. Just investing in a nice, new, natural-looking hairpiece would probably work just as well, though.

But buying the presidency of the United States of America? Aren’t the People supposed to have something to say about that? Or are we just being propagandized into voting for the person who can spend the most money?

My Mom tells a story about when she was a little girl in Lewiston, Idaho. She and her big sister went to see a Shirley Temple flick at the local cinema. Shirley was about to do something that was going to get her into a lot of trouble, and Mom says she got so upset, she leapt up and shouted at the screen, “Don’t do it, Shirley! Don’t do it!”

Her sister nearly died of embarrassment.

I’m still largely ambivalent about Hillary Clinton as president, but I’ll support her if she gets the Democratic nomination, fair and square. I’m proud of the fact that a woman is finally making a legitimate run for the presidency. It’s about time, even if I’m not sold that Hill’s the right person for the job this time out.

But … jeez. The last thing I want her to do is buy it.

That’s what Romney has been trying to do, and many people have lost their respect for him because of that and the fact that he changes his positions on issues as it suits him, and then lies about it. No, it would be a lot better if Hillary Clinton just lets democracy work the way it’s supposed to. If she’s a viable candidate who inspires people, who has the skill and charisma and gravitas for the job, then people will donate the money to fund her campaign. If they don’t, well, she can’t keep running. She doesn’t have the backing of the People.

Yeah, it’s tough. But it’s honest. It preserves the candidate’s honor and personal integrity, and also preserves the integrity of the Job.

Well, it seems that she’s already dropped $5 mil into her own campaign pot, so it’s probably too late, but for the record, I’m standing up here and shouting, loud as I can, “Don’t do it, Hillary. Don’t do it!”

Update -- Maybe this IS democracy in action, like we've never seen it before. Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central:

"This is nutso. The Obama campaign's response to the news that Hillary lent her campaign $5 million last month is to highlight the fact that they raised nearly that sum in the brief period that's passed ... since the polls closed yesterday!

"In that time span, the Obama camp has raised: $4, 252, 184.

"This highlights, yet again, a key emerging factor in the race: The Hillary camp faces the prospect of a weeks-long contest, perhaps leading all the way to the convention, during which they could find themselves dramatically outspent by their rivals."

Jay II

Because I like it so much, and because Patrick couldn't see it for some reason, here's my photo of the Stellar's jay again. I absolutely love these jays. They yell and holler at each other -- and everything else -- high up in the fir trees early in the morning, and while you can't see them in this shot, they have the most wonderful electric blue eyebrows. I first got to know these jays on a backpacking trip up in the Desolation Wilderness, which is about 25 miles east of here, wayyyy up in the Sierra. I was delighted when we moved here and, though it's only about 700 feet higher than where we'd lived in Placerville, discovered we were in Stellar's jay territory. They truly are my favorite birds.

05 February 2008

That boy can shoot!

My best friend's son, who's 12, has been coming to visit a couple of times a week. My friend is homeschooling him while also trying to run her marketing business, so I offered to supervise homework times and grade papers for her. I like Jake. He's a bright, sweet boy and, since I didn't have any boys but raised a daughter and stepdaughter, he's a fun new experience.

Last week, when his homework was done, we went out and built a snowman together. Then we had a snowball fight, which ended in a draw, and with me finding a big wad of melting snow in my coat pocket along with my cell phone after we went inside. The cell phone survived.

Just before Jake arrived this morning I put a pan of chicken scratch out for the birds, since we still have a thick blanket of snow. While they're quite capable of finding their own food, I love watching them.

So Jake got here and we settled down in the living room near the woodstove, where it's warm. The living room is also where the slider is, and right outside on the snow was my makeshift bird feeder, an old cookie sheet with the cracked corn and other small seeds spread in it. We talked for a while about the different kinds of birds that were dropping in for a snack -- juncos, sparrows, a couple varieties of towhees. Then, with the "new" worn off, he got started on his language homework. I plopped myself in my favorite chair and turned on my laptop, figuring I'd work on the freelance magazine article I'd contracted.

"Hey! What kind of bird is that?" Jake asked. His eyes were huge. "Wow, he's BIG!" I twisted around and looked.

"That's a Stellar's jay! Oh, man ... I've been wanting to get a photo of one those for the longest time!" I ran for my camera.

By the time I came back the jay was gone, of course. But he'd found the tray of seed, so I knew he'd come back. I hovered for a while, then Jake said, "Why don't you let me take the picture? I'm looking right at the window! I can do it!"

So I showed him how to operate the camera and left it with him. Now, this isn't the best way to get a flighty 12-year-old to concentrate on compound words and sentence structure, but he calls me "Aunt Wren" so concessions must be made.

Anyway, a few minutes later, the jay was back. And this time, Jake was ready. The bird flew before he could snap it at the feeder, but it landed in the branches right above the patio. Jake aimed, focused and shot. "Got it!" he yelled.

And indeed he did. The top photo is the one he took, the first photo of a Stellar's jay ever taken at the Wren's Nest. The photo below is one I managed to get about an hour later. My day -- nay, my MONTH -- is complete.

04 February 2008

This is ... wayyyyy too cool ...

What really fascinates me is how all those other people just kept right on going, as if there was nothing weird happening all around them. What were they thinking??

OK, if you insist ...

The psychodog gazes, Rin-Tin-Tin-like, into the middle distance, completely unaffected by the snow.

It looks like roughly two weeks worth of snowy weather is officially ending today. In the forecast? Sun and clouds, and temps up into the low 50s in the daytime. Time for a melt.

An early morning view over the back of Wren's little 2/3-acre and of the town beyond.

Will there be more snowstorms this winter? Who knows. But if there aren't, I won't complain. We have a monstrous snowpack in the high Sierra, which makes the coming summer a little less worrisome, since the reservoirs will be full. Down in the valley, they've had plenty of rain, so the earth isn't so parched and dry. This winter has been more "normal" than any we've had in the last 10 years or so. The relief I feel is deep, almost instinctive.

03 February 2008

Hope goes viral

This stunning music video was made from the words Barack Obama spoke after the New Hampshire primary a few weeks ago. While I've been unsure of who I'll vote for, particularly since populist John Edwards dropped out of the race, the video surely does give me a nudge in Obama's direction. Wow.

From CNN:

With just a few days to go before the critical Super Tuesday primaries, Black Eyed Peas’ frontman will.i.am and director Jesse Dylan, son of legendary musician Bob Dylan, have released a new song featuring a host of celebrities and one very unlikely music video star: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“Yes We Can,” released Friday, is centered around footage of the speech the Illinois senator gave after the New Hampshire primary last month.

The music video includes excerpts from that Obama speech and appearances from celebrities including jazz artist Herbie Hancock, former LA Lakers captain Kareem Abdul Jabbar, singer John Legend, model Amber Valletta, actresses Kate Walsh and Scarlett Johansson, and others.

(In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Johansson had joked that she was engaged to the White House hopeful, telling a reporter: “My heart belongs to Barack.”)

Dylan and will.i.am told ABC News they did not coordinate the creation or release of the video with the Obama campaign, and are unsure Obama knows about the production.