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?