23 August 2009

I'm outahere.

No, no, I'm not going to stop blogging. I like blogging. But I've moved Blue Wren over to WordPress, so I humbly as you to click over to me there. I made the move because I wanted a little more flexibility regarding the look of the blog, using my own photos for the header, etc. I hope you'll put my new address, www.bluwren.wordpress.com in your favorites and visit soon.

18 August 2009

Showing 'em how to do it

Senator Barney Frank speaks truth to a wingnut.

Finally. I hope the rest of our Congressional Democratic leaders took notes.

16 August 2009


13 August 2009

The right to decide

Right now one of the big “issues” surrounding health insurance reform is that by putting a mandate for coverage of “end-of-life counseling” costs into the bill, we’ll be condemning the sick, the disabled, the injured and the elderly to euthanasia.

This is ridiculous.

I recently had that counseling myself. I had a routine quarterly appointment with my VA rheumatologist a few weeks ago. During the pre-appointment check-up (weight, temperature, blood pressure, “how are you feeling today?” questions), the nurse surprised me by asking, “Have you thought about doing an advance health care directive?”

Caught off guard, I stammered that I had, indeed, thought of it, but hadn’t followed through.

So she explained exactly what it was and went on, saying gently that while this sort of thing is uncomfortable to think about when we’re relatively young and healthy, we never really know what tomorrow might bring. By filling out an AHCD, the nurse explained, I can make it clear how I wish my family and doctors to care for me should I ever become so severely ill or injured that I’m unable to make that decision myself.

This is both sane and sensible. I wouldn’t want to be a living vegetable, kept alive indefinitely by machines, running up horrendous, impossible hospital and doctor bills that would certainly bankrupt and impoverish my family. What a horror! I don’t know anyone who would want that, personally, but I realize that there are some people who feel that as long as there’s life, there’s hope for recovery. I respect their feelings, even if I don’t agree.

The thing is, by having an advance health care directive available, people who do want heroic measures taken to keep them alive can make that perfectly clear, in writing, in the directive. And it’s a binding document.

The AHCD takes that horrible decision out of the hands of my grieving family members and makes it my decision, no matter what.

The VA nurse at my appointment was doing exactly the “end-of-life counseling” that would be covered by every health care insurance plan if the bill passes. All it means is that rather than having to pay for that counseling, the individual would get it for no cost. I don’t know about you, but I think arguing against free counseling is pretty silly.

The VA nurse didn’t force me to do anything. She simply informed me of the potential importance of such a directive, filled out voluntarily by myself. She told me how to get the paperwork through the VA should I wish to go ahead. She also explained that I could change that directive at any time after it was made. I’d simply submit a new one if I changed my mind regarding what sort of care I wanted at the end of my life.

And that was it. Sure, it was a surprise to find myself talking about my inevitable death in such a routine way. None of us really wants to think about that. But I left that appointment knowing more than I had before I walked in. I left with something to think about. And I’ve decided that I will, indeed, fill out that paperwork and take the simple steps necessary to make it legal and binding. Instead of frightening me, the idea gives me a sense of peace, knowing that when the time comes for me to die, I’ll die. That event will be hard enough on my family without bankrupting them by dragging it out indefinitely.

Want to learn more? Click on this link for a good explanation of what an advance health care directive is.

Update: Well, so much for having your health care provider cover "end-of-life counseling."

"... it appears, according to the Wall Street Journal, that the Senate Finance Committee will not be including a provision to reimburse Medicare doctors who provide end-of-life counseling to dying patients in its bill."

Hooray, health care insurance reform opponents. Your malign misinformation and propaganda campaign won one for the Gipper.

10 August 2009

Inspiration in odd places

After zipping down-mountain to take my daughter’s fiancĂ© to the doctor following his shoulder surgery, we stopped at Wal-Mart for a prescription. As we were leaving, we passed an elderly woman with a little dog.

“What a cute dog,” I said.

“I walk him a mile every day,” she beamed. “And I just turned 90!”

“No! Really?”

“Yes!” she laughed. “I stay  real busy. That’s how I do it.”

“Well, happy birthday!” I said. “That’s wonderful!”

A second elderly lady joined us. “I just turned 90, too,”she grinned. They were obviously friends.

“Happy birthday to you, too!”

Now that’s inspiring.

06 August 2009

Why do they want to kill Grandma?

Well, they don't. Proponents of health care insurance reform want your insurance to cover end-of-life counseling. Think "living will." It's so you can decide what you want done if you're terminally ill. Pull the plug, or don't pull the plug? It's up to you.

In addition, the ugliness we've been seeing at town hall meetings about health insurance reform isn't a "grassroots" movement. It's an orchestrated attempt, by big corporations and the Republican party, to keep Americans like you and I uninformed, terrified, and angry. They're manipulating us into acting against our own best interests, gang.

Here -- watch Rachel. She's just about the only one on TV these days telling the truth.

02 August 2009

Put up or shut up

House Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) challenges House Republicans to put up or shut up regarding government run health care, which they vehemently oppose, by introducing legislation to repeal Medicare, here and now:

"In the end, despite Wiener’s “double-dare”, all the Republicans voted no (how often do you see a unanimous “no” vote?), thus proving on the 44th anniversary of the signing of the Medicare Act that nobody’s going to mess with Medicare anytime soon."
--Matt Yglesias


01 August 2009

It’s personal

Health care reform, with a single payer system like that in Great Britain and Canada – or at least, a public option for health care that’s affordable for all Americans regardless of income – is vital.

Fifty million Americans are without medical insurance in this country. Many millions more are a mere paycheck or layoff away from losing their health insurance. Individual insurance is so inordinately expensive that many people simply can’t afford to buy it. Many of those who can are denied because of pre-existing conditions.

This really has got to change.

As some of you already know, I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis since I was 28 years old. For almost 15 years I suffered frequent, painful flare-ups of the disease that often rendered me temporarily disabled. One day it would be my hands; the next an ankle; the one after that a hip. I even had it in my jaw. Each flare lasted anywhere from 24 hours to five days. Sometimes there would be a brief reprieve between flares; more often there was no reprieve at all.

For a great portion of that time I was under the care of an internal medicine doctor – the nearest rheumatologist was a four-hour drive away. We tried just about everything available to the Army medical system at the time – NSAIDs, injected gold, malarial drugs, aspirin and Tylenol. None of them had any effect at all on the RA, though a lot of them came with bad side-effects. To ease the pain when the flares were unbearable, I was given opiate painkillers in limited amounts. I was even hospitalized once. Eventually, no longer believing that modern medicine could do anything to help me, and fearful of adverse side-effects, I stopped taking any RA drugs – except the opiate painkillers, which were the only ones that worked even a little. They had no effect on the disease, but at least they muffled the pain.

Eventually the RA flares became less frequent. Then they stopped. I was normal again. I could walk without limping and gimping. I could use my arms freely, twist caps off jars and open doors without first steeling myself against the inevitable pain. And oh, I was glad. The RA was in “remission.” I went backpacking, fishing and camping. I hiked. I lived without wondering each morning when I got up which of my joints would plague me that day. And after a while, I started forgetting how it had been.

But rheumatoid arthritis is incurable. For its own mysterious reasons, it sometimes does go into remission, often for many years. It’s a disease of the autoimmune system – the body actually turns against itself, attacking the synovial fluid between the joints and causing inflammation and pain. And it attacks different individuals in different ways. One person might have it for years and years with only minor pain and little or no disability. Another will contract it and be wheelchair-bound, unable to walk, within a couple of years. Some people end up with twisted, gnarled wrists, hands and fingers. RA can also attack the body’s internal organs, like the lungs, the heart, or the vascular system. It can cause blindness.

I lived flare-free for almost ten more years. Then, in 2007, my hands started flaring again.

I was unemployed. I couldn’t afford individual health insurance. Fortunately, I’m a veteran, and although I had to wait nearly a year before I was destitute enough to qualify, I was able to get medical care through the Veterans Administration.

Today I’m being treated for RA by a VA rheumatologist. I’m back on RA meds. I’ve been lucky so far – while my hands ache and twinge nearly every day, they’ve not got so bad I couldn’t use them. Not yet. And so far, beyond a few, thankfully transient twinges here and there, no other joints have been affected.

There are new drugs available now that weren’t the first time I went through a period of “active” RA. The ones I’m taking can slow the progression of the disease, which at least buys me some time. But there is still no cure. It means that I’ll be taking these drugs under the care of rheumatologist for the rest of my life. In time I may, even with the drugs, become permanently disabled because of it.

I have a dear friend who’s been very ill for some years now, plagued by a cascading series of serious ailments, from diabetes to uterine cancer. She’s survived, but she’s bed-bound, no longer able to walk. Her days are spent fighting over the phone with employees of the health insurance company that continues to cover her only reluctantly and which frequently denies care ordered by her doctors. She’s constantly having to appeal the insurance company’s decisions; the appeals take weeks and months, and her condition worsens before resolution can be achieved. She lives in mortal fear of being dropped from their insurance roles – and she is covered by her husband’s medical insurance. He’s a doctor.

In today’s society, with so many pre-existing conditions, my friend could never find new insurance, even for the highest of premiums. Her care has depleted their life savings already; they couldn’t afford individual care for her now, anyway.

And here’s the worst of it. If her insurance company drops her, without affordable care she’ll probably die within a year.

We need to reform health care in this country. Not just for me and my friend, but for the millions of Americans who face potential devastation or catastrophe simply because they fall ill. Please write or call your Congressperson and tell them that Americans must have a public option for health care. That without it, we condemn millions of our fellow citizens to bankruptcy, poverty, untreated illness and even death.

It’s that important.

Note: Jonathan Alter of Newsweek asks "What's Not to Like?" about America's health care status quo. Do read.

h/t: Lance

Mr. Potter gets a clue

Surfing the ‘net over coffee this morning as per my usual habit, I clicked on a link posted by Duncan Black of Eschaton for a Bill Moyers’ Journal video.

I didn’t watch the video, but instead read the transcript, which is conveniently placed directly below the video. And as I read, my blood began to boil.

Moyers was interviewing Wendell Potter, who until he retired recently, was the head of corporate communications for CIGNA, the gigantic health care insurer. Potter, during the course of the interview, proceeded to blow the top off what’s behind the current opposition to health care reform in both American political parties.

We all know that health insurance companies are in the business for profit. What we may not know (or perhaps would rather not believe) is that they’re in the business for profit even if it means bankrupting us with catastrophic health care bills, denying us coverage for vital treatments and care, or even dropping us and allowing us to die. Their bottom line is profit. If you or I get too sick, despite faithfully paying premiums year after year, then to hell with us. Will we die without treatment? Who cares? That’s our problem if we start costing our health insurance provider more than they want to pay. If we start cutting into their profit margin, we’re dead weight.

This didn’t come as huge surprise to me. What did was Potter’s candor. Apparently he’s afraid of going to hell if he continues to sit by, complicit, while the health insurance company he worked for and all the others profit from American illnesses and death. Potter, on a whim, visited a health care expo in Wise, Virginia. There he saw hundreds of uninsured Americans lined up to see doctors who’d volunteered their time and expertise in an attempt to bring some sort of health care to those who couldn’t afford it. Potter was stunned. He went back to his job shaken and unsure about what he and his company were doing to those who relied on them for, in many cases, their very lives.

“And it was hard to just figure out. How do I step away from this? What do I do? And this was one of those things that made me decide, "Okay, I can't do this. I can't keep-- I can't." One of the books I read as I was trying to make up my mind here was President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

And in the forward, Robert Kennedy said that one of the president's, one of his favorite quotes was a Dante quote that, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain a neutrality." And when I read that, I said, "Oh, jeez, I-- you know. I'm headed for that hottest place in hell, unless I say something."

Mr. Potter finally got a clue. He testified before Congress in support of a public option that will allow all Americans to get quality health care, regardless of income or health, and in support of health care reform.

Most of us know of someone who’s had medical procedures or medications denied because their health care provider refuses to pay for it, even with a co-pay. Some of us know people who've had their provider drop them entirely. And some of us know people who cannot get health care insurance at all –or who face huge monthly premiums that are beyond their means – because they’re already sick. It would cost the provider way too much to help them, improve their quality of life or even save their lives.

This is a horror.

It is vital that health care reform includes, at the very least, a public option. Please watch the Moyers video or read the transcript. Then call or write your representatives in Congress and tell them to make fair, affordable, quality health care available to all Americans, not just to those who can afford to feed the profits of the health care industry while praying that they never, ever get really sick.

22 July 2009

100 Words – Day 11: Nightfall

Sun’s down. Stars prickle the blueblack sky. There is no city light here to dim the view of sparkling red Mars, low on the horizon. The air is soft, a caress of fleeting coolness in harsh mid-summer. A cricket chirrups in chorus with the tree frogs. The robins have gone to sleep in spite of the crazy hilarity of one or 12 coyotes downhill, a cacophony of laughter rippling the still night air like whale songs in deep water. The fan whirls while the dog sighs, sleepy at the foot of the bed. The cat rumbles, snug against my hip.

21 July 2009

100 words - Day 10 of 50: Fat clothes

I have three big bags full of clothes. I’m donating them to the local hospice thrift store; I need the closet space. Some of the clothes are pretty old. Some are almost new. They’re my “fat clothes.”

They’re all up to four sizes too big for me now. Today I wear the size I wore about 20 years ago.

This is a big step for me. I’ve never banished my “fat clothes” before; I was afraid I’d need them again. But I know I won’t. I’ve learned.

Those stuffed bags represent decades of blumphy discomfort. They no longer weigh me down.

18 July 2009

Almost 3000 words: Spirit Walk

This is the beginning of an unfinished story I wrote a couple of years ago. I'd love to hear what you think.

My friend Ellie says I should write this so I guess I will.

I was born on the reservation in Montana on October 25, 1969. My father, Terrell Gray Wolf, was 17. My mother, Rosa Spotted Owl, was 15. They were just dumb kids and they never got married. Terrell died when I was five months old. He got beat up behind a bar by a bunch of drunken Anglos. He probably deserved it, he was always getting too drunk and picking fights. He had a bad temper. That’s what my uncle Henry Spotted Owl says. When I was three Rosa got tired of living so she drank some Drano. There were no more women in the family to take me so Spotted Owl and his woman Jewel Limpy took me.

I don’t remember these things. Spotted Owl told them to me. He says my father was big like I am now and my mother, his youngest sister, was very pretty. He says if she hadn’t started drinking maybe she would be alive now, but almost everyone drinks too much. Spotted Owl thinks alcohol is the Anglo way of killing off all the Indians the slow way. Sometimes I think he’s right.
He says he drank too when he was young but he stopped when he was 15. He went on a spirit walk then because old Jim Running Horse told him he should do it before the alcohol took his spirit away. Spotted Owl says while he was on his spirit walk Old Grandmother walked with him a while. She told him he would be a good medicine man. He thought this was crazy because she looked like a mouse and she was very funny, but he never knew mice could talk before, so he decided maybe she was right. He took her advice and it worked. He is a good medicine man. He has helped many of the People and even some Anglos.
I was in trouble a lot as I was growing up. Jewel Limpy got sick from diabetes when I was 10 and went away. I think she had a sister in Oklahoma so she went there. I missed her because she was nice to me. Spotted Owl missed her too but he never said much about it.
I had a bad temper like my father and I drank too much with my friends. I also liked to smoke weed, which was better than drinking because it didn’t make me angry. But weed cost too much and it was harder to get, so mostly I drank. I did OK in school but I had trouble with reading so I just listened hard but the teachers didn’t say all the things I needed to know.
When I was sixteen I got into a big fight at a party with some Anglo kids in Ashland. We were all drunk but the cops only arrested me. I stayed in jail for ten days because a girl said I tried to rape her and I beat up some of the boys. They beat me up, too, but that was different. It was true I wanted to sleep with the girl, but not that I tried to rape her. The Anglo cops didn’t believe me, though.
After a while the girl’s spirit felt bad so she admitted that she had lied about me trying to rape her. That was brave because she was in a lot of trouble with her parents. I was very glad she decided to tell the truth. I never saw her again. Her family went to live somewhere else. I hadn’t done anything wrong but get drunk and get into a fight. Lots of people did that, so the police let me go home.
Spotted Owl was mad at me for being stupid like my father and getting drunk and fighting and trying to sleep with girls. He told me I was dishonoring my ancestors. I knew he was right but I was mad at him for saying it. He said I should take my spirit walk but he thought I wasn’t strong or brave enough. That made me even madder so I did it. I wanted to prove that I was a man and not as weak as he thought I was.
I lost track of how long I walked but Spotted Owl told me later it was 12 days. At first I thought it was stupid to walk all over the prairie. I thought Spotted Owl was stupid, too. I was going to trick him and go to the highway and hitch a ride to the town and shack up there for a while.
But I got lost. I couldn’t find the highway or find my way back home. I got real hungry, too, but then that stopped and it didn’t matter if I was lost. After I walked a while I thought I would sit down under some trees and look inside the medicine bundle Spotted Owl gave me. I was curious.

I found two little stones, a black one and white one. There was also a wolf tooth. This made me happy because I was named for the wolf. There was also a handful of cracked corn and a little, blackish, dry, wrinkled disk. It was about as big as my thumbnail.
I knew what it was, even though I’d never seen it with my own eyes before. It was peyote. I remembered what Spotted Owl said. When I found the right place I should stop and wait there. So I stayed. I softened the corn in my mouth until I could chew it, and then I chewed the peyote button. It tasted terrible, but I knew it was right that it did. I just kept it in my mouth and chewed until I could swallow it.
It made my stomach feel sick for a while, but then that stopped. I drank a little water to take the bad taste out of my mouth and then I just waited. I got bored. I wondered if all those braves in the old days who took spirit walks got bored too, or if they had adventures. I thought they probably had adventures, but I wouldn’t because I wasn’t a real brave.
I was a little mad because I knew peyote was supposed to give you visions. I didn’t know what those were like, but I wasn’t getting any. It was a gyp.
The tree I was sitting under was nice. The shade felt blue. I slept a little because my legs got too heavy to walk more.
When I woke up the moon was in the sky. I drank a little more water, and then Rosa came and talked to me for a while. She was only a little older than me and real pretty. I didn’t recognize her, but I knew it was her because she didn’t have a throat or a belly. I could see the prairie and the stars through the holes where they’d been. It didn’t bother her any.
Rosa sat with me for a while. She told me I had an animal spirit. She knew this because since she was a spirit, she could see mine, and she told me I should think about that. I didn’t understand what she meant but I told her I would. That made her smile at me. We talked a little more about my animal spirit but mostly I didn’t understand. It was crazy talk to me because I was still thinking too much like an Anglo.
When we stopped talking about that she made me get up and follow her, so I did. She showed me where there were some camas plants and told me I could eat the bulbs if I could dig them up. So I found a sharp stick and dug them. I couldn’t cook them but that didn’t matter. They didn’t taste very good. Rosa said my belly would like them anyway. She was right.
After I ate some camas I asked her if she ever saw my father. She said no, but there was no hurry. I wanted to ask her why she’d drunk that Drano and left me, and if she was ever sorry she did that or if she missed me, but I couldn’t make those words. I knew then the answers didn’t matter. So I asked her how she knew about the camas. She giggled a little and said all the People knew about camas. I didn’t, until she showed me, but I was just a dumb teen-ager.
A while after that Rosa walked away into the tall grass. There were stars over her head. I was sad when she left but I knew she didn’t need to say good-bye to me. She could see me whenever she wanted to. That made me feel better.
I stood up and walked a while but then I got dizzy so I stopped and just sat down. It was a good camas place. There was lots of tall grass. I thought maybe I would die and be like Rosa, except I wouldn’t have holes in me, so I waited. I wondered if I would be a human spirit or an animal spirit. I hoped I would be a wolf, like my name. I wasn’t afraid though.
To give myself something to do I looked at the two stones Spotted Owl gave me. They were smooth and round. I thought they might be river stones from the Tongue. I put one in each hand and looked at them. After a while I could see that the white stone was me now, with my spirit strong and well. The black stone was me when I was angry or drunk. Both stones were beautiful, but the black one was heavy and dragged my hand down. The white one had no weight. It was like the stars.
I thought maybe it was better to be like the white stone, if I could. I felt dumb thinking I could be like a stone, but then I remembered that even though the stones were small and didn’t do anything, they were as old as the world. A long time ago they were mountains. They were very patient and never got angry.
Sometime after that Coyote came. He sat down pretty close to me but he didn’t talk. He just looked at me and I looked at him. Once in a while he scratched his fleas. He went away for a while, but he came back. He had something in his mouth. He dropped it in front of me and walked back into the grass. I didn’t see Coyote again after that.
It was a ferret he dropped. He was generous to give me this good ferret he caught so I could eat it. But I couldn’t eat the ferret. I didn’t have a knife to skin it or a way to make a fire to cook it. And it wasn’t dead. I was sorry for it, though. It was a nice ferret. It didn’t deserve to be caught by Coyote just so its death could be wasted on a stupid man who couldn’t even eat it.
I had a little water left so I put some in my palm for her. The ferret was very brave. She drank the water and asked if she could have some more. She was very polite. I gave her more. She said the places Coyote bit her hurt. So I used a little more of my water to clean them, and then I tore the blanket and wrapped her up in it. She went to sleep. I thought she would probably die.
She didn’t die though. After a while she woke up and told me her name was Ha’hahn’e. Coyote had eaten her four babies, but she understood he had to. It was the way of things. She had never been a mother before, so she was still learning the right way to hide them.
Ha’hahn’e asked me if I would make her hurts stop. I told her I didn’t think I could, but I would try. She said that was OK. But when I touched her fur, I could feel the places where she hurt. I could see brown fuzz in those places. It was ugly, and bad. It scared me a little.
But I told her I would try, so I did. I found out I could make the fuzz stick to my fingers. It didn’t hurt me. So I started taking it out of her. It wanted to stick to me but I knew I shouldn’t let it do that. I shook my fingers and it floated away. Ha’hahn’e was very quiet and only bared her teeth and snapped three times. She apologized, though. I told her I was sorry if I hurt her, but this was my first time being a healer. She told me she understood.

It took me a while to find all the brown fuzz. Some of it was very deep inside her. But I didn’t have anything else to do. I was too dizzy to walk anymore. I was afraid the wind would blow me away, but if I sat on the ground like a stone it couldn’t. So after a while the brown fuzz was all gone. Ha’hahn’e said she felt better. I was glad for her, but I was very tired then so I went to sleep.
When I woke up the moon had moved some. I thought Ha’hahn’e might be gone, but she wasn’t. She told me if I didn’t mind, she would stay with me. I said OK, she could stay. I liked her. She was my first animal friend.
I stayed at that place for a while, watching the sun rise and set a few times. I thought a lot about what Rosa told me. I had always liked animals. I guess that was because I had an animal spirit but I didn’t know before. Now I could see the brown fuzz and take it away so they could be well. So I thought maybe this was what I was meant to learn on my spirit walk.
I should be a medicine man for animals.
Also I learned I should not be like Rosa and make myself die. Life is very hard sometimes but it’s better than walking alone in the dark. Rosa told me she didn’t mind being a spirit, but sometimes she missed hugging people. I thought maybe I would miss that, too. It would be better to live until I was old. To be like the white stone, like the stars.
I thought I should walk back home. I didn’t know the way but I started walking even though I was dizzy and it was hard. My legs didn’t want to walk anymore. Ha’hahn’e rode on my shoulder. Sometimes she ran ahead of me and teased me. She made me laugh because she didn’t only run, she leapt and bounded and did funny somersaults.
When the sun rose I saw the town. I was surprised because I had been looking for it but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Now here it was, like always. I walked down the street and the people all looked at me and Ha’hahn’e. Some smiled and some only stared but no one stopped me or talked to me. Later I found out some of them thought I was drunk, because I was walking funny and I was only wearing that stupid loincloth. When I got to Spotted Owl’s house he was waiting for me on the porch. He said he had water and food for me.
I never told him about my mother Rosa or about Coyote. Spotted Owl didn’t mind if Ha’hahn’e stayed with us, but he asked me to tell her she should go outside like we did if she had to make water or pellets. I told her and she did that. She was a very cooperative ferret.
When school started I worked harder than I ever had before that. I had two more years to go and I wanted my grades to look good to the Anglos. I knew if I wanted to be an animal doctor I had to do that. So I had to stay after school for help most days.
I stopped drinking. It was the hardest thing, because it was in my mind, like a blackness. My old friends got mad at me because I wouldn’t party with them. I wanted to, because it would be easier and more fun than doing homework, but I was afraid my animal spirit would leave me.

17 July 2009

100 words - Day 9 of 50: Young people today

Oh, he looked a sight!

Young people today had no sense of decorum, Gertrude thought as she surveyed the young man standing in her kitchen. He held a steaming bowl of her mutton stew, wolfing it with a soup-spoon as if he hadn’t had a bite to eat all day. He wouldn’t sit down proper at the table – said he had no time, he was due at the dance in just 15 minutes – but she couldn’t see why that meant he had to stand to eat, like he was a young horse. All that was missing was the feed-bag.

16 July 2009

100 words - Day 8 of 50: Dusk walk

Dusk gathers, the shadows beneath the great trees deepening. The earth is dry and spongy from the fir and pine needles slowly, slowly dissolving into the soil but if he steps just so, even in his thick-soled hiking shoes, he makes no sound. The air is sharp and chilly; a light breeze lifts his dark hair and caresses his ears.

A jay – a Steller’s, with its aquamarine and royal blue body and wings, its sooty-black, tufted head and feet – scolds him. Shhh, bird, you’ll alert them to my position. He steps deeper into the trees, making himself a shadow, invisible.

15 July 2009

100 Words – Day 7 of 50: Why peppermint tea?

Summertime and peppermint tea. They go hand-in-hand, like winter and gloves or autumn and orange leaves. Spring and changeable weather. You get my drift.
My reasons for loving peppermint tea? Three:
1. Gloriously refreshing on hot days, made strong and mixed with lots of ice.
2. Blessedly therapeutic boiled, steeped, set on a kitchen table and inhaled while tenting a towel over your head. Clears blocked sinuses in minutes.
3. A tea brewed from peppermint leaves is so whimsical and magic, it’s hard to believe it exists. It’s a faerie drink.

14 July 2009

100 words - Day 6 of 50: Girl in black

Later, on the train, Tom took his laptop out of his briefcase and, sitting with it on his knees, started typing.

“I met the most intriguing young woman today,” he wrote in the journal space under the day’s date. “Her name is Emma. She works in a book shop in the Canal Road. She was wearing black from head to toe, a black clip in her hair, jet chips in her ears, a slim black dress and black Mary Jane-type shoes. Only her skin, rose-tinged porcelain, and her lips, pink as dawn, provided contrast.

“I think she is quite beautiful.”

13 July 2009

100 words – Day 5 of 50: Little white lies

It had been a fishing trip, a fact-finding mission. Tom had known the man for years, and he was often a very good source of information, moving as he did through the shadowy world of arms buyers and sellers. A devout Muslim, he had no more moral problem with his work than did the Christians from whom he often bought his inventory. What Mohammed did was perfectly legal; in fact, he’d purchased this particular high-powered automatic rifle from the Americans.

He felt a little bad about his white lie to Emma, but he couldn’t have told her all that, anyway.

12 July 2009

100 words – Day 4 of 50: Sunday bells

Church bells sounded through the heavy sea-fog, flat and fey, everywhere but nowhere in the small German city on the sea. The bells competed with lonely foghorns. Seagulls mewed. In summer, when the sun bathed the cobbled streets and stone buildings in clean yellow light, the church bells sounded bright and reverent, a soundtrack for red geranium petals drifting to the sidewalks. But when the wind blew topsy-turvy the Sunday bells wavered and rippled, and in heavy rain the peals sounded underwater, as if they were calling Neptune and his mer-people to worship.

There are no church bells here.

11 July 2009

100 words – Day 3 of 50: Firewood in summertime

Mr. Wren and I bought three cords of firewood this week. We had it delivered – read “dumped on the driveway” – and then stacked, all ready to go. We won’t need it for three or four months, but there’s a quiet security to knowing our
winter’s warmth is already paid for and waiting. Now we’ll have the chimney sweep out with her odd, spiky brushes and traditional black clothes. She brings us good luck: no chimney fires in bitter February.

The almond wood smells spicy-dry. It evokes chilly days and warm sweaters in the middle of short-sleeved, barefoot summer. I’m smiling.

10 July 2009

How my garden grows ...

Sometimes when the muse returns after a long absence, she comes loaded for bear. Other times, like now, she knocks politely on my mind and asks to be allowed in once again. I'm letting her in. She brought a camera and told me I should tell a garden story. So here it is: Mr. Wren is a master gardener (I am decidedly not). He has ideas about gardens and their creation. This year, he wanted to try straw-bale gardening. The idea is that you plant your vegetable starts in holes forced into bales of straw that have been soaked thoroughly. In the hole goes soil and the small plant. Doing this means that many of your plants are at about knee-level, meaning that you don't have to kneel or bend to reach them, which he appreciates because of his disability. Me too -- I'm not as young as I once was.

So he placed the bales for planting. I weeded out about a half-ton of soil and compost that had been ... seasoning ... and we filled the empty middle sections of the bales for further planting. All this took place in late April. I lost 10 pounds in the doing. No complaints.

Once everything was planted,we waited. And now things are growing like crazy. The tomatoes have little yellow flowers. The crookneck squash has big orangy-yellow flowers and a couple of actual squashes. I took the first one this morning and am now considering the best way to serve it. Battered and fried? What a temptation.

I got to work on the rest of the garden in May, clipping and deadheading and weeding. More weight loss. I can't complain. And the result of all that work is a thriving, colorful garden that makes me smile. The foxgloves were glorious. The blackberries are coming and so are the grapes. Daylilies glow and roses are blooming in Technicolor. Even with the gray June we had, everything is busting out in wild, fecund good health.

Butterflies flutter and loop. Bees hum. Even m'ol dog Logan is getting in on the fun.

I'm looking forward to August, when the tomatoes will be nearly ready for picking, the crooknecks will be overwhelming, and the Japanese eggplants purple and
sublime. I intend to make spaghetti sauce by the gallon, eggplant parmesan, and salads filled with bright yellow cro
oknecks. Not to mention yellow and red bell peppers and fiery little jalapenos.
I musn't forget The Girls, our five Rhode Island Red hens. They're strangely menacing but they give us four or five big brown eggs a day and eat up all our stale bread and elderly store-bought veggies, along with scratch and feed. Nice Grrrrls.
This is what I've been doing during the long blog silence. I've been reading, too. Organizing old stories and considering which to bring back to life. I've missed you all, but it's been good. Really.

100 words – Day 2 of 50: Summer gray

It was the strangest summer she’d ever spent in sweltering-hot Northern California. Nearly every day in June was gunship gray and cool, but there was no rain. The daytime house looked winterish, flat and shadowy inside. Flowers bloomed without benefit of sunshine. Tomato plants grew. Haunting wind-chimes dingled in the breeze. Twice, thunder ba-boomed. Once, hail rattatatatted for thirty seconds.

Years ago, her elderly friend Magrit in Germany complained the weather there had changed drastically since she was a girl. She blamed it on jet contrails.
Oh cool, quirky un-California June. Global warming? Or just the bitter surprise of age?

09 July 2009

100 words – Day 1 of 50: Inspiration

OK. I note that Blue Girl is doing the 100-word, 50-day challenge again. As you may have noticed, I have not written anything for quite a long time. Why? My muse has deserted me. For the last couple of months I’ve been unable to think of anything I care enough to write about. Or maybe I haven’t been able to think of anything to write about that I want to share.

Anyway, I think I’m back. I’m going to follow in the inspirational BG’s footsteps and make myself write 100 words every day for 50 days.

25 June 2009

Let the Earth bear witness

By the Waterboys' Dublin singer, Mike Scott.

19 May 2009

Attaboy, Jesse

Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura calls torture torture on The View:

I'm thankful for people like Ventura for having the guts to tell the truth on national TV. I actually clapped.

22 April 2009

Rep. Barton (R-Texas) seems to think he stumped Energy Secretary Steven Chu with this tricky question:

Incredible. People like Barton are making decisions about our lives in the House of Representatives. No wonder this country is in such deep trouble.

Hat-tip to TPM.

21 April 2009

Food enough for a week

Daughter and I went out yesterday to buy a new wireless router, a chore neither of us was really looking forward to. But once we'd done our duty, it was lunchtime. We decided to stroll Placerville's Main Street and, once we found a restaurant that was actually open (many businesses in Placerville seem to think no one wants food or anything else on Mondays, for some reason) we'd have some lunch.

We didn't stroll long before we discovered a new restaurant in an old location. Mexican food! We love Mexican food. So in we went.

The meal was fabulous. Much better than we expected, actually. And once we'd eaten, the very nice waitress suggested that we might like dessert, and proceded to reel off the dessert menu for the day. The first choice was "chocolate tower cake with raspberry sauce and vanilla bean ice cream."

For some reason, daughter and I could conjure up no willpower. We decided we'd share a single order of the cake and ice cream, expecting that the portions of both goodies would be rather small. Heh. Well, to the right you can see what the grinning waitress brought to our table a few minutes later.

That's the largest serving of cake -- meant for one person -- that I've ever seen. We laughed and laughed. And then we dug in.

It's been nearly 24 hours since that meal and I haven't gotten hungry yet. This is fortunate, since the calories and sugar I consumed yesterday equal about what I'd eat in a week.

I figure I'll eat again on ... Saturday.

13 April 2009

An open letter to the President

Dear President Obama:

First, I want to make it clear that I voted for you in November. I did so in part because you inspired me to have hope for America's future. I liked the fact that you'd worked for the disenfranchised as a community organizer in your early career. I liked that you'd been a professor of Constitutional law. You'd proven yourself a good representative of the people in the Illinois state legislature and as a junior senator for Illinois in the U.S. Congress. The story of your life was inspiring, as well. As I listened to you speak during your campaign, paying attention to what you were saying, over time I became convinced that you were sincere, inordinately intelligent and honest – a rare attribute in a politician.

The other reason I voted for you was because you promised change. This was very important to me after eight years of watching helplessly as the Bush administration set about destroying the very things America stands for: democracy, freedom, civil rights, equality and justice. The rule of law. A country run by the People and for the People.

As someone who served in the armed forces and later, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense in Europe, I was proud of America's reputation overseas. I tried to be a good "ambassador" while I lived there. And so it was terrible to watch President Bush and his henchmen methodically destroy America's reputation both at home and abroad. He changed our system of taxation so that the rich got richer on the backs of the rest of us. All those things America stood for were under attack by our own President. I was apalled.

And I was angry. President Bush had started two wars. The first, in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and the Taliban, was arguably just. The second, against Iraq, absolutely was not. Our soldiers were dying for no good reason. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were dying because of our President's ego. As a nation, we were spending billions to prosecute a war that was both unnecessary and wrong. President Bush turned America into a nation that tortured her prisoners, held them in indefinite detention and refused them the right of a fair trial. He spied on the people of his own country without the right to do so and without apology. And it went on and on and on.

You promised to make it all right.

Since your inauguration you've worked hard to change and repair many of the things the Bush administration wrecked. Guantanamo is being closed down. You've set a timetable for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. You've put some good people into important government positions so that they, too, can start the long task of repairing the damage that was done by the previous administration. You've stood up for workers and reversed the ban on stem cell research. You've ordered Bush's CIA "black sites" all over the world dismantled, once and for all. You've made it clear that torture will no longer be used by this country. You've proven your mettle as America's most powerful representative and diplomat during your recent travels across Europe, going a long way toward restoring respect for America and our reputation abroad.

And you've worked as quickly as possible to try to save our economy, which President Bush and his cronies left teetering on the edge of the abyss after enriching themselves, with our money, to the point of obscenity. Time will tell whether your solutions worked or not, but I feel confident that you made your decisions in good faith and with the wellbeing of the people of the United States foremost in your mind. I have hope.

For all these things: Thank you.

Mr. President, you ran for office on the slogan, "Change you can believe in." But recently you've made some decisions which disturb, disappoint, and concern me. I always knew that I wouldn't agree with everything you did – that's impossible and this is a democracy. But these decisions are not consistent with your campaign slogan or the promises you made to us.

I never thought you'd hide, as George W. Bush did, behind the excuse of "state secrets" in the defense of "national security" and continue to defy and break the laws of the land and deny us our civil and constitutional rights without offering a truthful and valid explanation.

So once again, I'm appalled. The laws and constitutional civil rights of Americans apply equally to all of us, regardless of party, gender, skin color or religious affiliation or lack thereof. I'd be a hypocrite if I wasn't upset and angry with you and your administration regarding these decisions. Here's why:

You've decided to maintain the prison at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan, continuing to refuse the detainees there access to a fair trial and the justice that they, as human beings, deserve. Many of them have been held without charges for six years or more, living in limbo, some of them treated like animals.

The only reason? "State secrets." "National security." This is wrong, sir, and you know it.

You've decided to continue wiretapping all Americans without a warrant. I say "all Americans" because Bush's reassurance that he was only wiretapping our overseas communications to the Middle East was a bald-faced lie, as you well know. This is, simply, spying on your own people for your own reasons, just or unjust. We don't know which because once again, the only reasons for your actions we're given are "national security" and "state secrets."

President Obama, wiretapping our communications – listening in – spying – without a lawful warrant to do so is against the law, it's unconstitutional and it violates the civil rights of all Americans. You were a professor of Constitutional law. You know the Fourth Amendment intimately, sir. And yet … you continue its flagrant violation. Why? Why would you thumb your nose at our Constitution just like your predecessor did? This is an ominous development.

Finally, your administration is holding back documents which could, if they were released, indict members of the Bush administration as war criminals. Why would you do this? We've been offered no explanation at all, so far. Could it be that these documents might also incriminate people you've kept in your own administration? If so, buck up, sir. It's crucial that the people who defied the laws of the United States of America and the Geneva Conventions be brought to justice. It's crucial to our democracy and to our respect, standing and credibility in the world at large. And you know this, too.

It is my hope that you are maintaining these atrocities – because that's what they are, sir – only until you know the full scope of the damage that has been done by the criminal Bush administration and have worked out a viable way to stop them once and for all. I hope that you really are the good man I and millions of other Americans believed in strongly enough to vote for as our President. I hope you'll stop hiding behind the craven excuse of "state secrets" and "national security."

I hope you're a better man – and President – than that. We're depending on you to do the right thing, the lawful thing. President Obama, our democracy stands in the balance.

11 April 2009

State of the Village report

If the population of the world was represented by a village inhabited by 100 people, what would it be like? How many would be black, or white? How many Christian or Muslim, or Hindu? How many would eat well and how many would go hungry? How many would know how to read? Have computers? Internet access?

Visit The Miniature Earth and find out. You'll be surprised.

10 April 2009

Blogoversary 3

This month marks Blue Wren's third blogoversary. My very first post was on April 5th, 2006, actually, so I missed the Big Day, but I've always had a terrible time remembering birthdays, anniversaries and the like so I'll give myself a pass.

Since then, I've posted 535 times and Blue Wren has collected 44,119 "hits." I know – not many when compared to blogs like Daily Kos, Eschaton, and Firedoglake, but I'm happy. I have a few regular readers who comment occasionally. Who needs more? I consider each of you friends.
My first first post on Blue Wren was short. "Hello, world. This is Wren," it was titled:
"I'm Wren. I'm an American, a disgruntled Democrat, a veteran, a Mom, a wife, an artist and a journalist, a non-believer. I've never been political. But I can't sit silent and watch while America is taken over by the religious right and our democracy and great Constitution are shredded away by inches.

"I'm deeply worried about America. I don't want to see the day come when we find ourselves, by virtue of our silence, powerless subjects of an imperial theocracy. I have a lot of questions and not much in the way of answers. But I have a sharp, questing mind and increasingly, feel compelled to speak out.

"And so, I'll blog. I hope to get a good conversation going here so that perhaps, between us, we can find our way home."

The second post was a story about a visit that I and some friends made to East Germany in 1990, a few months after the Berlin Wall fell.

In that first month, I wrote posts about my concern over the war in Iraq, about how America had changed since 9/11 and the frightening idiocy of the Bush Administration's nuclear sabre-rattling at Iran. I also told the story of how Mr. Wren and I met, and his fabulous-but-smelly musical abilities. I wrote about our chickens, affectionately and collectively named "The Girls." I wrote about the Japanese maple outside my bathroom window, and about the connection I discovered between my dog and "The Emissary," an old Ray Bradbury short story I read years ago.

In the months that followed those first tentative posts, George W. Bush and his administration fed more and more of our Constitution into the shredder. I wasn't alone in my unease at the dark, violent road my country was taking into the New Millennium. Millions of other Americans were also appalled, and when the 2006 mid-term elections came around, we spoke out decisively through our votes and tossed a bunch of the Congressional bums we were saddled with out and voted a bunch of saner people in.

Since then, bloggers have become a force to reckon with in America. A lot of them, like myself, started blogging because we felt that as citizens, we had no "voice" anymore. The news media we relied upon for a truthful and balanced account of what our leaders were doing in our names was falling down, shamefully, on the job. Under Bush, many people were afraid to speak publicly about their opposition to the needless war in Iraq, the warrantless wiretapping, and the ongoing destruction of our civil liberties.

Blogging gave those of us who love to write an outlet for our thoughts and opinions. It still does.

I supported Barack Obama for president wholeheartedly and voted for him in last November. He went into office facing a huge task: fixing an economy that had been looted with gleeful, greedy abandon during the Bush years; a huge deficit that now can only grow huger because of the need to stimulate the economy so that it doesn't collapse entirely; changing the course of the country in terms of its relationship with the rest of the world; reworking how we react to and fight terrorism; how we can best protect ourselves and maintain our national security without being bloodthirsty warmongerers; and and yes, how to restore and protect our Constitution, our precious civil rights and our very democracy.

I think President Obama has done a fine job so far in most of those areas. He hasn't been in office very long yet, and none of this can be accomplished overnight. The economy, in particular, is in such gargantuan trouble that it's almost unbelievable.

But we haven't found our way home yet.

Like many other progressive Democrats, I'm deeply concerned about and disappointed in the Obama administration's latest moves regarding warrantless wiretapping and the declassification and release of important documents regarding the Bush administration's torture policies. I want the wiretapping to stop, and I want those who made "torture" synonymous with "America" brought to justice and punished.

But I'm not ready to condemn Obama – not yet. I believe there's a lot we don't know – and a lot that the Obama administration doesn't know and is still finding out about regarding the nasty, quicksand swamp that was the Bush torture policy and its policy of spying on Americans. That not knowing – or perhaps discovering far worse things than we can imagine – may be what's preventing Obama from taking the steps toward governmental transparency that he promised during his campaign.

So far, we haven't received a good explanation for that lack of transparency. We haven't received a good explanation for his administration's seeming decision to go along with, continue and even expand Bush's policies in warrantless wiretapping and presidential imperial power. This is truly, deeply upsetting.

I'll be writing more about those subjects in the future. That's why I created Blue Wren in the first place – so I could give voice to my opinions. But I've never been so partisan that I couldn't perceive my own party's failings, and I'll not start being that way now. Obama has achieved many good things since he took office on Jan. 21, and he's done some things I'm not so happy about, too. I expected that, to be honest. He's not going to be able to please all of us. Democracy is slow and it's quite messy.

But I still have hope.

Thanks to all of you who've read my posts over the years. And a special thanks to those who've read them and then commented, too. I can't begin to describe how much I love being part of this new, fluid form of communication – or how much I appreciate all of you.

07 April 2009

Do re mi

Forgive me, but I discover I have a deep sentimental streak running through my being. After awakening in a foul mood this morning (for no particular reason), I found the video below. And then I was laughing and crying at the same time. I simply find this sort of thing ... wonderful:

Nothing has changed, but my day is looking a lot brighter.

h/t: The usual. Thanks, Andrew.

04 April 2009


When I was a young adult and my idealism less battered by experience and disappointment, I believed that problems could always be solved without resorting to violence. I wish it could be so, but I no longer believe that as a species we'll ever really accomplish it. There will always be one person in the group who won't go along. Peace -- real peace -- doesn't seem to be part of our internal make-up.

And yet ... and yet ...

Maybe it's just a matter of changing weapons. And then sharing a drink.

Tipping my hat to Sully, again. He always finds the best videos.

02 April 2009

Six Things

So I was sitting here just minding my own beeswax yesterday when the strangest feeling came over me. A thought-voice, not my own, was whispering in my head, as if there was someone else in there besides me.

Unlike our former President, I'm not given to hearing voices in my head, so this seemed rather unusual.

The voice was distant, yet close. Right there. I couldn't quite make out what it was saying. I closed my eyes, thinking that maybe if I wasn't perusing Facebook and trying to think of witty things to say, I might hear it better.

It was a male voice. "Bagged," he whispered.

Bagged? What in the world? What was bagged? Some groceries? A rabbit? A thief? None of these things had any immediate relevance in my life at the moment, though the word did remind me that I needed to run to the store. I didn't, but today I have to. I'm out of soy creamer for my coffee. That's serious.

I put my hands over my ears to block out the birdsong coming in the window. Little feathery suckers are really loud right now, it being Spring and all. Especially that little wren. I listened harder to the Voice.

"Not bagged," he said. I think I heard a little chuckle, but I'm not sure. "I said wagged."

Right. Wagged. "Wagged what?" I asked out loud, also whispering because I wouldn't want my future son-in-law to hear me talking to people who aren't there. Might make him nervous.

"No! Not wagged!" There was a disembodied sigh. "Tagged! I said tagged!"

Oh! Tagged.

"Like, tag, you're it?" I inquired, remembering long, warm, giggly summer evenings playing tag with the neighbor kids on the front lawn, dodging mosquitoes and turning my feet and ankles green with grass stains. I smiled. This could be fun, but I wasn't quite sure how one played tag with a voice in one's head.

"Well, sorta like that," the voice said, going all velvety and persuasive. "I know - go visit the Sprawling Ramshackle Compound. Everything will be clear."

He was gone. I was alone in my mind again and oddly relieved. It's a strange feeling to have someone else talking in there after a lifetime of total mental alone-ness. I took my hands off my ears, opened my eyes and, oddly compelled, clicked on Sprawling Ramshackle Compound in my blogroll.

He was right. It was all clear by the time I'd read the post he'd left at the top of the page. What a relief that the "voice" was that of Bubs, one of the Chicago area's finest, a handsome, friendly family man with a penchant for cocktails, mannequin heads and the weird crime juxtaposition between Germany and Florida. He also has an irrational fear of clowns and alligators, but I won't hold that against him. While I've never heard of alligators stalking the streets of suburban Chicago, I'd be afraid of both if they showed up unexpectedly around here, too. Live and learn! As Bubs says, you can never be too careful!

Now, it seems that Bubs, along with having a twisted sense of humor, has been practicing up on his telepathy skills. I'm here to tell you he's getting pretty good at them, and I'd advise any crooks out there to watch out should they choose the Chicago area in which to commit crimes. Bubs will know. Believe me.

Anyway, what Bubs meant by "tagged" was that he'd tagged six of his blog buddies to complete a meme he'd been tagged with recently himself. He was being dutiful and passing it along, as per The Rules, but decided to test his telepathic powers instead of doing the tagging in the usual way. It's hard to say if he really meant for me to be one of his six 'taggees," but maybe telepathy isn't all that easy to control, after all. His thoughts could have leaked out and infected people at random, all over the country.

For all I know, there may be some confused old lady in Florida who can't figure out what all that "tagging" was that she started thinking about, right after her 4:30 p.m. supper at the hofbrau with her fellow retirees.

"Really, Joseph! You want to play what? You're in a wheelchair!"

Anyway, since I'm still feeling strangely compelled, I'll complete the meme as Bubs ordered. Here it is – but first

The Rules

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Well, Bubs certainly followed The Rules, even No. 6, even though he chose to do so in a typical Bubs-sort-of-way. Now I warn you, I'm pretty boring in real life (other than being virtually acquainted with a telepathic, tiki-hut-nut cop), but here goes:

1. I'm a natural blonde, but my hair is falling out, brushload by brushload. It's because of the wicked arthritis drugs I'm taking. My hair isn't falling out in patches but in strands all over my head, slowly, so my hair, which was once luxuriously thick is now distressingly thin. Given the choice between gnarled, useless hands before I'm 55 or wearing quirky, interesting hats for the rest of my life, I'll take the latter. Maybe Bubs will send me one of his old policeman hats. Or maybe I'll pretend to be Sinead O'Connor before she found religion. After all, bald is beautiful!

2. Speaking of Irish people, I hope to go to Ireland someday and spend a year there, at least. I'd like to see the Republic too, but I really want to go to Belfast in Northern Ireland so I can learn first-hand about the Troubles. See, I'm trying to write a novel about the place and its people but it's hard to do having never been closer to Ireland than Massachusetts for a summer vacation with my grandparents. Also, I have no money and the world's economy is falling apart. But I can dream, can't I?

3. One of my favorite poets is Rainer Maria Rilke. This poem, in particular, stopped me cold one day a long time ago. I first read it in a different, more lyrical and less rhymy translation, but it's still beautiful, even translated this way:

I live my life in widening gyres
which spread over earth and sky.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but that is what I will try.

I circle around God's primordial tower,
and I circle ten thousand years long;
And I still don't know if I'm a falcon,
a storm, or an unfinished song.

Those last two sentences got to me. I burst into tears.

4. I wish I could meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in Buckingham Palace like President Obama and the First Lady did yesterday. I was so envious! Of course, I'd have to buy new clothes and I hate shopping, so maybe it's better that I don't try for an audience with Her Majesty anytime soon.

5. I've nearly kicked a lifelong addiction to coffee. I know, that doesn't mean much to you, but it does to me. I still love the stuff, but I can't take the caffeine anymore. I'm down to four cups a day. I savor each one, slowly.

6. I absolutely love maps and I have no trouble at all reading them. When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do on rainy days was peruse the gigantic Atlas that came with the set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas my Dad bought when I was a baby. I'd open it on the floor in the living room and lose myself in it. That Atlas awakened my wanderlust before I even knew what a wanderlust was and made me want to travel all over the world. I've traveled some of it, but not all, so I've still got work to do.

And that's it. Like Bubs, I don't really want to tag anyone and make them feel they have to complete this meme, but I'll try exercising my telepathic powers to contact those of you I'd like to know more about.

There. You know who you are. Start writing.

01 April 2009

Green jobs

Is marijuana part of the solution to our problems?

Our economy is in the dumpster. Maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long and treacherous and a lot more people are going to lose their livelihoods, their retirements, and their homes before it's all over. And that's just in America.

Once it is over, our world is going to look a lot different. I don't think it will ever again be like it was a year ago, or even six months ago. The era of mindless consumerism and consumption is dying fast.

Now, I don't think that's all bad. As a nation we were on a ruinous road anyway. The silver lining to this economic disaster we're facing may be that we'll somehow save ourselves and the rest of the planet from annihilation courtesy of global warming or nuclear war over oil. That doesn't make the challenges we face easier or less painful, but it does offer a little hope in the middle of the maelstrom.

During the White House's Electronic Town Meeting the other day, a question regarding the legalization of marijuana and the possible economic benefits to be had from its sale and taxation, and that legalization's effect on crime and the costs associated with it, was put to President Obama.

His answer was stunningly un-serious, even mocking, making it sound as if the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for the question be asked were nothing but a bunch of blissed-out stoners.

That's regrettable, because I'd bet the vast majority of those who supported that question are no more stoners than most people who enjoy an occasional cocktail are alcoholics.

Granted, the sale and use of marijuana is illegal right now. But that doesn't stop people from buying it and using it, any more than Prohibition in America between 1919 and 1933 stopped people from buying and drinking alcohol. The prohibition of marijuana powers a huge criminal industry and wastes billions in taxpayer money each year as our government attempts to fight it. The prohibition of alcohol in this country was eventually, wisely overturned – and alcohol is arguably far more harmful to the physical and mental health of those who become addicted to it, to their families and to society at large, than weed is.

And yet even now, in 2009, we can't seem to look at this issue with any real seriousness or clarity.

It's been more years than I like to count since I last smoked a joint. And except for an occasional and rather rare glass of wine with a meal, I don't drink. And yet I support, wholeheartedly, the legalization and government taxation of marijuana. I voted for that question to be put to the President during the Town Meeting. I wanted to know if our government would finally treat it with the sober adult attention it deserves.

Sadly, no. It wouldn't.

I was married to an alcoholic once. It was miserable. I loved him and he was a good person at heart, but the booze made him mean, verbally abusive and irresponsible. He didn't have the willpower to stop drinking. I don't hold that against him, though I did finally leave him for my own and my daughter's sake. There are many, many people in the world addicted to alcohol who, tragically, will also never be able to break their addiction, people who are also good at heart and who, when sober, would never hurt anyone. Just like my ex.

But I've never met anyone who turned mean or abusive after smoking a joint. In fact, most people (to use an old but apt cliché) just mellow out. I have met a few who became so dependent on marijuana that it took over their lives. They and other like them are the unfortunate "stoners" that make President Obama snicker. But I believe they were the exception rather than the rule.

Today, I know that many of my peers smoke their doobies secretly. They're upstanding citizens, parents, taxpayers, and good people all around. They aren't stoners, just like most of the people I know that drink alcohol aren't drunks.

America imprisons more of her own citizens than nearly any other country in the world. A large percentage of those prisoners are people who have dealt or used marijuana. This is insanely stupid. It creates and perpetuates violent crime and ruins people's lives just for selling or using a substance that does them and society less harm than, potentially, a six-pack of beer. I know. A six-pack was all it took to turn my ex from a nice man into a slobbering, irrational monster.

I expect that in reality, President Obama would like to legalize pot. It would make a lot of money that would go directly into the nation's coffers and help pay down the huge debt we're all facing, like it or not. Those who use it won't suffer or cause any more harm than drinkers do now, and perhaps less. But Obama is a very new and different President. He has enemies all around him, hoping to bring him down and make him politically impotent. Backing the legalization of marijuana at this point in his young presidency would probably be disastrous, given the general attitude about it on the right, which unfortunately still represents around half the nation's citizens.

So, while I'm disappointed in President Obama for laughing off the question – I'd have liked it much more if he'd been dead serious – I understand why he said "no" to it's legalization right now, even if I vehemently disagree. But I think that its time is coming. Perhaps in a few years, when we're all adjusting to the Brave New World we're staring down right now, the legalization and taxation of marijuana, just like alcohol, will become a practical reality. And perhaps (I can hope, can't I?) it will mean fewer alcoholics, as those who start drinking as a way to relax and unwind turn to the gentle weed instead.

Oh – and as for the title of this post: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs chortled over the idea of marijuana creating "green" jobs during a presser yesterday. In fact, he chortled a lot (see the video, below) and blubbered through his answer. It was excrutiating to watch -- and it was just as disappointing to me as his boss's reaction to the question of legalizing pot a couple of days earlier.

But President Obama and Mr. Gibbs, the question was sober and pragmatic. It deserves a serious response. Imagine the "green jobs" a new and growing American industry in marijuana would create. The sky's the limit, eh?

31 March 2009


When I was a teen-ager, I had a Boston Terrier named Hector who sang as beautifully as this dog, but he wasn't tall enough to reach the keyboard, so I had to play the notes for him. I'd laugh til I cried, and ol' Hec just loved every minute. Whaddadog.

Ephemeral books?

Should we rely on electronic technology to provide us with books?

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been posting his thoughts about the Kindle e-book reader for the last couple of days. As a lifelong, voracious reader myself, I've also pondered Amazon's Kindle with a mix of fascination and apprehension. The device is far too expensive, at well over $300, for the likes of me right now, but I'm guessing the price will fall considerably over the next couple of years – or that I'll win the lottery or something. And then maybe I'll get one.

My fascination comes from the idea of being able to have a good book, magazine or newspaper – or many – at hand all the time, tucked into my purse or briefcase for those idle moments at doctor's appointments, etc., without having to cart them around with me. And of course, I'd use my Kindle at home. It's much lighter, weight-wise, than a book, so I'd appreciate it for that quality simply because of my arthritic hands. Holding a book of several hundred pages for extended periods hurts these days and makes reading a lot less enjoyable. It's hard to "fall into" the story when your hands, wrists and fingers ache from holding the book open. And while I know there are stands available in catalogs that will hold the book open for you, they strike me as clunky and inconvenient. You sure couldn't carry them around. But the Kindle would eliminate the problem.

However, like Josh, I'm ambivalent. I LIKE books. I like the look of them on my bookshelves and I love curling up in a chair and reading them. I love the sound the pages make when I turn them and the tactile "feel" of the book in my hands (even as I fight RA), particularly hard-bound books. I love the scent – that unique musty and particular smell of paper and ink, bindings and glue. Libraries send me into ecstasies.

Books have been my dear friends ever since I learned to read. Is there anything as singularly wonderful as opening a new book in anticipation of the journey ahead? Books are chock-full of fascinating people and places and adventures I'll never experience in any other way. Space travel, anyone? A voyage to the bottom of the sea? How about life on a pirate ship or a sword-and-magic battle with goblins?

I feel that way about newspapers too, though not with the same sense of wonder. I get most of my news online now, something I thought I'd never be able to adjust to back when the Internet was still in its toddlerhood. Read a newspaper on a computer screen? Miserable! But I do it without a thought these days and don't mind it a bit. I rarely buy a newspaper anymore, even as I miss the crackle of the pages and the aroma of printers' ink. I even miss having ink-smudged fingers. As a journalist and a long-time reader of newspapers, I'm in mourning over their current demise. I can hardly imagine a world without them. What if the electricity fails? What if I can't afford an Internet connection? This is a real concern, and not just for me. Lots of people still don't have computers at all. What happens if we can't get online? It will be like the Dark Ages.

Yes, there's television. But as with the Internet, these days TV pretty much requires a cable connection or a satellite signal. If you can't afford one, you're in trouble, unless you have a set of rabbit ears or an antenna on your roof. And since the switchover to digital television signals, which has already started in many parts of the country, no cable connection means no television, period.

Besides, I don't know about you, but I'd hate having to rely only on teevee for my news. I'd never know the whole story, and frequently I'd be unable to get both sides. I'd be forced to understand what was happening in the world through a filter of biased opinion and 10-second news bytes. I'd be forever wondering what was propaganda and what wasn't. Television is a corrupt news medium – in all senses of the word.

This whole line of thinking brings me to another problem. Josh mentioned that he can no longer access the college papers he wrote because they were saved on floppy disks – and most computers now don't even have a floppy disk drive, not even for the small, plastic-cased disks that were ubiquitous a decade ago. The big ones of 20 years ago? Forget it. Even if the computer drives were available to read them, the software required to read and translate old word-processing programs aren't. So those papers – that information – is gone unless it was printed on paper and saved by the creator or user.

It was interesting to me that Josh brought that up, because just the other day I was thinking about it myself. There are things I wrote, saved on floppies and in no other place, that I can't access anymore. Worse, I've lost many of the floppies themselves over the years during moves and the occasional clean-out of stuff no longer needed. All that writing, all that thinking – saved indifferently and whether important to others or not – is just gone. Vanished. It made me sad.

If we stop making books out of paper and cardboard, bindings and ink, what will we do when the Kindle is outdated, like floppy disks are now? What if there's no simple way to transfer the electronic data from the Kindle to some newer, even better reader? Will those books, that data, simply be lost forever? The thought is sobering.

Therein lies my apprehension and my ambivalence toward the Kindle. I have several hundred books in my home now, collected over many years. A lot of them are new. A lot of the older ones I re-read every few years, and I enjoy them as much as I did the first time. As long as they live on my bookshelves, quiet, holding worlds inside them, I can enjoy and learn from them. I can take mind-journeys, bone up on a myriad of subjects, from birding to world history, and even teach myself to weave tapestries.

But if all those wonders are turned into strings of zeros and ones, there's a good chance I could lose access to all of them, someday. So could everyone, all over the world. And that would be the saddest thing of all.

30 March 2009


In his column today, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes about the steep decline of American financial prowess and influence in the world:

"Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along."

I'm no economist – far from it; I have to hunker down and sweat through balancing my measly bank account each month – but even I knew there was something terribly wrong going on with our economy throughout the Bush years. It niggled. I edited a weekly newspaper from 1998 through 2006, and I watched in fascination as the Sacramento bedroom community it served grew from a small collection of nice neighborhoods governed by the county and a community services district (CSD), into the county's prime money-making behemoth.

When I started editing the paper, there was a single grocery store in a strip mall, two fast-food restaurants, a pizza parlor and two gas stations, the nice neighborhoods, a high school, a middle school and a couple of elementary schools, and a brand-new, very exclusive country club and golf course with a fabulous"gated" community that was still mostly a gleam in the developer's eye. All these were on the north side of the highway. On the south side was another gas station, another fast food joint and a small mobile home park, the "poor" end of the community. A couple of miles further south down a two-lane country road was a slowly growing industrial park.

When I left, there were three giant grocery stores in their ubiquitous strip malls, four more gas stations, an eight-theater movie complex, a Mercedes Benz dealership, a huge, high-end retail center, a gigantic sports club, and several more restaurants, including one that claimed four-star status from the moment it opened. More neighborhoods were constructed seemingly overnight, including several high-priced "gated communities" that quickly sprawled out and dominated the surrounding, once-pristine hillsides. A second middle school was constructed, along with two more large elementary schools, and plans were in the works for another high school. The industrial park filled up so quickly with huge office buildings, techie firms, storage facilites for boats and Rvs, and light manufacturing centers that it had to expand. A gigantic company that did billing for other companies across the nation built a monster "campus" there and quickly became one the county's largest employers. And the sleepy local chamber of commerce grew into a powerful political entity with hundreds of active members.

At the same time, a huge migration of people, taking advantage of the suddenly inflating real estate prices in the San Francisco Bay Area and southern California, used the profits they made on the sale of their houses and bought themselves new ones in the growing community. They wanted a better, safer place to raise their children while enjoying far more house than they'd enjoyed before. Real estate prices, naturally, skyrocketed. It was nothing for a modest, 30-year-old home to go for well over half a million dollars; the new ones – the now infamous McMansions – sold for far more than that, some of them easily approaching two million bucks. If the house sat on a little land, too, the sky was the limit.

To serve the exploding community, the local fire department grew from two small stations to four, and added ambulances, a water engine, a ladder truck and many more firefighter/EMTs. One of the new stations was huge and included heated bays for its trucks, a marble-floored lobby and a gigantic kitchen, dormitory and gym for the firefighters. A fifth fire station south of the highway, was under construction when I left in 2006. It was slated to become a state-of-the-art firefighter training center for northern California, along with providing wildfire protection to the new retail centers and homes that were rapidly sprouting up all around it.

It was all dazzling. As a newspaper editor, my salary was peanuts, though I worked as hard as anyone else in the community. I couldn't afford to live there myself – as time passed, I could barely afford to buy groceries there. And I wondered how the residents could afford those gigantic houses. Even making $5-$6K or more a month (an income I could hardly imagine) their mortgages had to be crushing. And then there was the expense of furnishing the many rooms, of landscaping the yards and then maintaining them to the satisfaction of the snooty neighborhood associations and the CSD, the cost of cooling those houses through the long, sweltering valley summers and heating them through the mild winters. Yet everyone drove SUVs, gigantic trucks and high-end cars, even the high school students. Hummers abounded. And one of the main "issues" in the community was an increasing irritation with traffic gridlock as residents commuted to and from work each day.

Then it all started melting down. The year I was laid off (because my paper's parent company was "downsizing"), the real estate market was already tottering, and in spite of my attempts to get them to do so, no one was talking about it out loud yet. Some of the new, upscale stores had already gone under and the fancy four-star restaurant was barely getting by, depending heavily on evening alcohol sales in its beautiful bar. Construction was slowing down. One of the big homebuilding firms went into bankruptcy and the powerful local developers were putting some of their plans into holding patterns.

Today, my old weekly newspaper is about a third of the size it was when I left. It's struggling and no longer maintains an office in the community itself. Because its big advertisers have vanished (real estate and car sales) and the smaller businesses haven't got the money to advertise as much as they used to, the paper's editorial and sales staff has been decimated. A second weekly newspaper the parent company started in an adjacent, also-exploding community no longer exists at all. The parent company is shrinking as I write and layoffs have already put many local journalists and newspaper production workers out of work. One of the papers in this newspaper "family" now publishes only online.

Lots of the community's new storefronts and office buildings stand empty and echoing. There are many fewer Realtors. A lot of those pricey McMansions are dead husks and families are quietly moving away, victims of employer layoffs, guttering new companies and "creative" mortgages.
A lot of Americans knew the galloping economy was a fantasy, even if we couldn't prove it and were prevented by the prevailing attitude in the nation from even whispering much about it. I knew, even though I don't know much about economics. That old adage, "you can't get something for nothing" was ringing in my ears even as I watched the bubble grow and grow … and grow.

Well, it popped. As one of the millions of unemployed persons in America today, I don't feel so alone anymore, but that sure doesn't make me feel any better.