Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bits and Pieces

*109 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq in December, 2006 (as of 12/30) - we are now only 2 away from the not-so-magic number of 3000. We may hit that tragic milestone in 2006 and be ready to start a'fresh on the next 1000 in 2007. Update - the 3000th soldier died in Iraq on New Year's Eve.

- Well, what a surprise - another Bush crony, another screw-up. Donald Bolinger is a Bush Super Ranger, the designation for those who brought big bucks ($300,000 plus) into the Bush political campaign. Bolinger is also the Chief Executive Officer of Bolinger Shipyards. Turns out that a few year's ago, the U.S. decided to up-grade the Coast Guard. Instead of letting this branch of the military plan the logistics of what was needed itself, because we believe everything is better if it is privatized, don't you know (sound familiar, Hoosiers?), the job was handed over to Lockheed Martin and Grumman. They in turn, subcontracted to Mr Bolinger, one of their business partners.

Even before 2003 when the actual upgrades began, Coast Guard engineers expressed doubts about the feasibility of the conversion of boats Bolinger had come up with. Chris Cleary of the Coast Guard Engineering Logistics Center is quoted as questioning whether the boats could bear the extra weight. "You could have a buckling of the structure of the ship."

Nope, Bolinger Shipyards insisted, not to worry, all is well. But all wasn't well. The Coast Guard critics were right. Bolinger can't explain how it happened. In a New York Times article, T.R. Hamlin, Bollinger senior manager said, "the computer broke for some reason, whether it was a power surge or something, who knows?" Sounds a little casual about a program that started out with a $17 billion dollar price tag that has now ballooned to $24 billion and nary a ship or helicopter in sight, doesn't it? But that's what crony capitalism gets you, I guess. We ought to be used to this by now what with FEMA trailers that don't get delivered and gazillion dollar construction projects in Iraq that don't get built and oil tax revenues that don't get collected......I could go on......

- According to an article by Jonathan Amos, Science Reporter for BBC News, 10,000 U.S. scientists, including 52 Nobel Laureates, have issued a statement protesting the injection of politics into political research.

They claim scientists working for federal agencies have been asked to make their data conform to political policies, ranging anywhere from sex education to global warming. They say their work has been censored by agencies, such as the EPA and the FDA. The American Union of Concerned Scientists has released a guide that illustrates dozens of recent charges involving censorship and political interference.

- Similarly, Grand Canyon National Park employees are not allowed to tell visitors the scientifically estimated age of the Grand Canyon, because of Bush administration appointees. In fact, the Grand Canyon gift store sells a book that claims the Grand Canyon wasn't created by geological forces at all, which is what scientists believe, but was instead, created by the Biblical flood, "A Different View," by Tom Vail.

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," said Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Peer. Because of protests, the National Park Service promised a review of the issue but according to the response to a Park Service Freedom of Information Act request, such a review was never requested, conducted or completed.

Park Service officials pass off on this book, claiming that the gift store offers a wide variety of "opinions", this just being one of them, but according to PEER, in 2003, 22 books and other products were denied while they approved only "A Different View."

What in the world is going on in our country when science is perverted into politics? Science and religion are two completely different things. Religion is based on faith and science is based on evidence. Most people are able to interweave their faith with the facts of science. The age of the Grand Canyon doesn't reflect one way or the other on whether it was God's plan unless a person believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible AND that everything in the Bible has been interpreted correctly by its human interpreters. It almost seems that while the rest of the world is leaping into the high tech 21st century, anxious to compete in the global marketplace, America is sliding backwards toward ignorance.

- Have you ever noticed how almost everyone who dies becomes a saint overnight? The television has been All Gerald Ford, All The Time as his several funerals take place. For someone who has been described as a humble, unassuming man, his family sure did go to excessive lengths to bury him. Well, that's okay. If my father was an ex-president, I would probably do the same. But, in the way of the media, Gerald Ford has been re-cast from a somewhat mediocre president (my opinion) to practically the savior of his country. I totally disagreed with Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate and I still think he set the stage for diminishing America's belief that we are a country that lives by the rule of law. I didn't want Nixon burned at the stake but I at least wanted him indicted in the interest of "no one in America is above the law". Since then, George Bush, Sr. pardoned the key Iran-Contra figures and I expect that George W Bush will pardon Scooter Libby, proving that, in fact, elite Americans often are above the law.

Even as one of his last acts, Ford didn't shine. In 2004, he gave an interview to Bob Woodward, saying that he thought our Iraq War policy was a mistake but the interview was embargoed until after his death. I guess his rationale was that it is unseemly for a former president to criticize the decisions of the current one which seems pretty gutless to me. After all, we are talking about people's lives here, not some aspect of presidential protocol. If he could have made a difference, then it seems to me, it was incumbent upon Ford to try to do it for the sake of all those who have been killed and wounded since 2004. After all, if anyone ever has, Gerald Ford had seen first-hand via Vietnam what the costs of "going along" with a war can be.

In the same way, James Brown has been elevated since his death. I loved James Brown's music and I think he deserves a lot of the credit for pioneering the type of music he performed, leading the way for the Michael Jackson's and Prince's and many other black stars. I'm sure James Brown did some really good things with his fame and money. On the other hand, in some ways, he was a garden variety drug-abuser and wife batterer, just like people we see right here in the courtrooms of Wabash County and everything that he was doesn't excuse that - even now that he's dead. One thing I will say though, comparing the dry, droning of boring old white men at Ford's funeral with the performance art of Brown's, you have to give African-Americans credit for knowing how to turn the celebration of a loved one's life into a joyous occasion.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

America the Conformist

I saw the day as a double opportunity. First, I visited Tim in the VA Hospital in Indianapolis and then Christmas-shopped my way home - going to Castleton and some of the strip malls in the area, then proceeding on to Noblesville to visit some of the shopping centers strung out along Highway 37. I plodded through Target and Kohl's and Meier's, looking for stocking stuffers. I went to Linens and More and Bath and Body and Penney's and Macy's and Pier One and Barnes & Noble - in other words, exactly the same stores I'd have visited to if I'd gone to Fort Wayne instead of Indianapolis. I bought a few things but then I came home and found different gifts that really pleased me at The D Shoppe and Billings and Treasured Dreams Cottage.

I have certainly noticed this before but on the trip to Indianapolis, I was especially struck by how generic we are becoming as a nation. Lazarus used to be one of my favorite department stores but Lazarus is no more. It has now become Macy's. L.S. Ayres used to be one of my favorite department stores but now L.S. Ayres is no more. It has now become Macy's. In the same way, we long ago lost the big department stores that we used to find in most downtowns - stores that were so much fun to shop in like Wolf and Dessaurs (I think I have the spelling wrong) in Huntington and King Leeson's in Elwood and Olsen's in Logansport. And here in Wabash, shopping downtown was great with individually owned stores like Beitman & Wolf, Resneck's, Wassman's, P.N. Hirsch, P.K. Department store and the Francis Shoppe. Now only the Francis Shoppe remains. I also loved to go to downtown Marion back then because the whole square was packed with stores.

I bought some things in Macy's and I guess the advantage is that it will make it easy for the kids to return anything they either don't like or doesn't fit because the store in Indianapolis is the same store they have in the mall at Fort Wayne.

If someone put you on a plane with a blind fold and ear plugs, then put you in a taxi to a main highway anywhere in America, there would be few clues to tell you where you were. You would see the same fast food restaurants, the same Lowe's and Office Depots, the same Walmarts and Radio Shacks and Cracker Barrels and Outbacks.

Maybe you'd know you were down south if you saw some palm trees or Spanish moss. Maybe you'd know you were in the west if you saw some towering mountains in the distance or in the southwest if the malls were built to look like adobe haciendas (although even this isn't necessarily true). Some different regions of the country have their own department stores but I believe Macy's is national (or international) so it is probably only a matter of time before those stores are bought out too. Some areas have their own restaurants. You are probably in the south is you spot a Po' Folks but if that franchise is anything like Cracker Barrel, they are probably building northward even as we speak.

And if you think turning on the radio would help you to identify where you were, you'd be wrong. Newscasters and deejays all have generic American voices now. Even when we lived in Charleston, South Carolina back in the late 70's, we loved listening to some of the local news anchors because of that slow, gracious Charleston accent but I expect that is a thing of the past in the 21st century. Probably all modern media people have to go to a special school to eliminate any trace of accent or regional dialect from their speech - and that's because they want to jump to a bigger market someday or expand their market - Bob and Tom are heard all over the country now.

The most fun I ever had Christmas shopping was one year when Bryan and I had to pick up a prisoner in Fort Lauderdale. Poor Bryan got deathly sick with the flu and had to spend a full day laid up in his hotel room. I felt bad for him but that left me free to take the car to a shopping district called Las Olmas Boulevard which consisted of blocks of unique shops and restaurants. I spent the whole day there and came back thrilled with gifts I wouldn't have found anywhere else.

I really hate our tendency toward more and more conformity. Part of the fun of traveling the highways and by-ways of America was the interesting individuality of our different regions of the country - the sights and the sounds and the smells. You can still find some of that if you get off the beaten track but mostly, you're going to find more of the same everywhere you go.

Iraq

* 86 American soldiers killed in Iraq in December, 2006, as of Christmas Day

- I simply do not understand why Americans aren't raising all kinds of hell about the war in Iraq like we did back in the 60's and 70's about Vietnam. Most of us are opposed to the war. A large majority of us have decided it wasn't worth what we've had to give up in lives and dollars. We believe, collectively, that there is no way America can win anything that could be remotely called victory, unless you're looking at the situation from behind the Bush looking glass. We voted that way in November. But even electing a Democratic congress isn't going to end the war when the Commander-in-Chief is determined to fight on, even most likely, increasing the number of troops by at least 20,000 - this is called "surging", the media's new favorite word.

This war has had so many "last chances". In fact, in the blogs, a six-month period of time is called an F.U., for Friedman Unit, for the number of times the famed New York Times (this would be on the editorial page of the oh-so-liberal New York Times) columnist has said he thought the next six months was critical in Iraq. When that six months had passed without progress, he extended it for another six months and another. (Now his position is "10 months or 10 years" - either give it all we've got for 10 months and get out if there is no real improvement or be prepared to stay for the long haul). Generals have described a relatively short "window of opportunity" which has passed and passed again. Now, we are most likely (Bush will give us a speech about Iraq in January) going to surge in what has been described as one last chance to salvage Iraq. It is almost like, "well, okay, we have to give Bush his last shot." But I don't think we need to give him any more last shots or surges or F.U.'s. He's had all the opportunity he needed. His last chance could result in being the last day for lots of young Americans or maybe the last day they can walk or the last day they can see or the last day they can think.

Someone told me not long ago that he didn't feel sorry for the soldiers in Iraq because, after all, they are all volunteers and knew what they were getting into when they signed on the dotted line. But I don't think they did know what they were getting into. I don't think anyone ever expected that America would, for the first time, send the same soldiers into a theater of war for two and three and four tours. I don't think they expected that their country would initiate a "stop-loss" policy so that even when their commitment was over, the military could just say, "sorry, we're keeping you - off to Iraq you go - again." I don't think most National Guard soldiers thought that would end up giving over their lives and their families and their careers to practically a full-time military assignment. Maybe if they'd read the fine print, they would have realized all this was possible but even if they had, I doubt they would have thought their country would really do this to them.

Now Bush wants to increase the size of the Army and Marines. Maybe this is a good idea but I don't see how he's going to do it. Already all the Armed Forces have lowered their standards for recruits in order to meet their goals. They raised the age limit and lowered the educational level and allowed minor criminal records that wouldn't have passed muster several years ago. And if it wasn't for Iraq, would this be considered necessary? Afghanistan was the righteous war and I expect we'd have plenty of soldiers to send there if Iraq wasn't sucking up all the resources in both manpower (I don't know the pc term for manpower - man/woman power? body power?) and material.

As it is, we spend more on our military than the next 20 countries in the world combined!
So it isn't like we nationally stingy with our tax dollars. But nothing is ever enough for Bush. He is now going to ask Congress for another roughly $100 billion for Iraq. This is on top of the $70 billion already approved for 2007. So I say, Congress should say no to the president. No to a surge. No to billions more dollars. I think they should simply say that Americans gave him almost 4 years and it hasn't worked out and now they want their kids brought home. I think they should tell him, "game over, Mr. President. You lose."

And if they don't, I believe the American people should once again put on their walking shoes and take to the streets.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Coat-aholics

I really need to get rid of some coats. Between Mom and I, and a few residual coats John left here, we have not seen the individual hooks on the hall tree for years. I had Brenda order this hall tree from a guy at her factory who makes them as a sideline. It is made of oak and has two hooks on each of the four sides - a total of eight hooks. I envisioned how convenient it would be if Mom, John and I could simply pluck our coat from a hook on the hall tree instead of having to dig around in the coat closet.

The reality is that it is much more difficult to find your coat on the hall tree than it is in the closet because each hook holds two or three or four coats. The hall tree now appears as a gigantic mound of outer garments. Spray it green and it would seem that I had physically moved one of the smaller Appalachian mountains directly into my dining room. You can see almost nothing of the actual structure except for the very bottom.

It now takes actual skill to place your coat on the hall tree in such a way that it doesn't slide immediately onto the floor because it is being set over several other coats so that there is really no defined hook any more. You have to sort of tent it over the other garments hanging there. Sometimes you skip the hooks and simply float it over the top of the entire pile. Over the years, Mom and I have mastered this technique to a T.

The over-abundance of coats, jackets and vests hanging on the hall tree make it extremely difficult to find the actual coat you are looking for. Say you want your black jacket with the fur collar. You first bury you head into the pile of coats, looking for some tell-tale sign of the one you want to wear. Possibly you spy a black sleeve that you believe is part of that particular coat. You then grasp the sleeve and follow it through the stack to where the main body of the coat is located. You note that this particular coat has 12 other coats hanging on top of it. You now have two choices: 1) you can decide, "the heck with it" and abandon that coat in favor of one that is closer to the top or 2) you can persevere in trying to extricate the black jacket. This will mostly likely mean that approximately 47 coats will all fall to the floor, the ones above this one as well as those on either side, which are so precariously balanced that a butterfly could drift past and cause a coat avalanche.

You might wonder why we have such an abnormally large number of coats. After all, we are poor people, not rich fashionistas like Paris Hilton. There are two reasons:

First, Mom is a garage-saler. No matter how many coats we currently have, if she finds a practically brand-new London Fog for $3, she can no more pass up that bargain than an alcoholic could pass up a free beer.

The second reason we have such an abundance of outerwear is my forgetfulness and/or bad weather luck. Invariably, when Brenda and I take one of our mini-trips, I forget to take a coat or jacket. Perhaps, it is in the heat of summer and I think a jacket isn't even necessary. But I guarantee you that if I leave home without a coat, an unseasonable cold spell will strike wherever I am at. I went to Las Vegas once and nearly froze to death until I broke down and bought a white knit jacket with "I (heart) Las Vegas" across the back. At that point, the temperatures dropped even more and I nearly froze to death until I bought furry blue jacket with LAS VEGAS across the back. (It is almost impossible to buy a piece of apparel in Las Vegas on which the city's name does not appear). Naturally, after I bought not one, but two coats, Las Vegas resumed its normal pressure-cooker temperatures.

I forgot to take a coat when Brenda and I went to Lake Erie in April. It was warm and beautiful here in Wabash but at Lake Erie, February had set in to stay while. It wasn't long before I was shivering and Brenda and I hit the strip mall where I bought a pink and gray reversible coat - and then, well, we found these darling white jackets with all the Lake Erie Islands printed on them in red and we just had to have one. I resisted because I'd just spent money on a coat but Brenda bought it for me as an early Birthday present or maybe it was a late Christmas present.

When Brenda and I met LeAnn in Iowa and decided to take a ride on a riverboat down the Mississippi, you could tell it was going to be chilly out on the river - so I had to purchase a jacket prior to going or I knew I could never enjoy the view.

Anyway, I could go on but I won't. I've told you enough to explain the stuffed closet and the hall tree volcano that erupts with coats in all materials, shapes and colors, until lava-like, they ooze down onto the floor periodically. Sometimes when this happens and you are picking them back up, you find a garment that was on the bottom that you forgot you even had, which can be pretty exciting.

Occasionally, either Mom or I will make the comment that we should go through the coats and get rid of some of them. The other one will nod vaguely, saying, "mm-hmm," and that's pretty much the end of that for another year or so. In the meantime, the coats keep coming.

Monday, December 4, 2006

So far in December.....

*39 US military killed in Iraq so far in December

- The Iraq Study Group finally provided its report and it turned out to be much ado about nothing. Looks like more of the same to me - playing around the edges. A little bit of acknowledgement that things aren't going so hot, a little bit of recommendation that we might need to start withdrawing some troops at some unknown point in the future, a little of bit suggestion that, you know, maybe the Iraqis themselves could pick up the pace. Meanwhile our president was first snubbed by the leader of the Iraq government and then taken to task for not providing them with the equipment they need to kill each other in even greater numbers, even though we are practically bankrupting our own damn country to prop up his. We let one of our own great cities die, so we can send the money to Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush stated that there is no graceful exit from Iraq. Well, finally, he gets something right! It probably doesn't matter what the Baker/Hamilton group come up with anyway. I don't think Bush has any intentions of taking anyone's advice.

I think we ought to just bail. Just say, "see ya" and pull our troops. Tell them we got rid of their awful dictator for them, gave them over 3 years and almost 3,000 lives and God knows how many grievously injured, both physically and emotionally, and about a gazillion dollars - now its up to them to do the best they can. Of course, that probably means Sunnis and Shiites will blast each other back to kingdom come but you know, that's what they are doing anyway. I think it is what they will continue doing, with us or without us. Only difference is that our soldiers won't be caught in the cross-fire.

- As an aside, I saw former Chief-Justice Sandra Day O'Conner being interviewed about the Iraq Study Group report. She would hear no criticism of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. "We didn't look back," she said, "only forward." I wondered if she felt some responsibility for the tragedy Iraq has become seeing as how she was one of the 5 votes that put Bush in the White House despite a significant majority of Americans having expressed their preference for Al Gore. Doesn't she ever second-guess that vote, do you suppose?

- No, no, no! I don't want to hear about the 2008 presidential campaign! Please, national media, leave it be. You can report who is announcing they will run and who is forming an exploratory committee but beyond that, just shut up! It is too early for the prognosticators to begin telling us who is going to win. There may be someone out there we've never even thought of who will catch fire with their party's supporters. The front-runners of today are not necessarily the front-runners of two years from now. I don't want to listen to endless hours of how Barack Obama affects Hillary's chances and whether Republican evangelicals will vote for the Mormon Mitt Romney and how much the media loves the "maverick" McCain and on and on and on. Give it a rest for a year or so.

- There is a great dispute in the Washington in-crowd about an incident that occurred between President Bush and newly-elected Senator from Virginia, Jim Webb. Webb attended a ceremony at the White House along with other incoming freshmen Congresspeople. He deliberately avoided the Bush receiving line as well as not having his picture taken with the president. He didn't make a big issue of it but simply stayed out of the way. But Bush sought him out especially and asked him how his boy was doing. Webb's son is a Marine in Iraq. Webb believed we should never have invaded Iraq and campaigned on that issue. He responded to Bush - "I'd like to get them home, Mr. President." Bush snapped back, "that's not what I asked you, I asked you, 'how's your boy?'" Webb replied, "that's between me and my boy, Mr. President."

Oh, my goodness, what an uproar erupted in the media. This simply isn't how it is done in Washington. Our capitol city survives on charade. People who despise one another refer to their congressional brethren as "my esteemed colleague, the honorable...." Hypocricy is elevated to the level of Olympian skill. (Unless, of course, you are the vice-president and tell a senator to "go f--k yourself", then it is simply an amusing little side story but then, that's our liberal media for you.) But honest emotion on the part of a father concerned about his son's safety in Iraq and no doubt bitter toward the president who put him in harm's way, that is simply unacceptable in a city where insincerity is an art form.

- And speaking of hypocricy, Mary Cheney, that would be the Vice-president's lesbian daughter, is pregnant and whew, Baby, is she ever catching it from her father's so-called friends and allies. The right-wing has gone off the map registering blistering criticism. You just have to wonder how much of a split personality you have to have to be a conservative religious-right Republican and also a pregnant gay woman. Talk about working against your own self-interest. Mary was officially involved on the Bush/Cheney ticket even as they were trumpeting their disapproval of her very situation. Mary and her "wife" live in Virginia which passed one of the most onerous anti-gay marriage laws in the country. Mary's partner will have no official right to a claim on this baby. Should Mary die, I guess it would fall into some kind of familial limbo state (although I presume, the Vice-president would ride to the rescue when his very own grand-child was involved). If Mary's father were't the Republican vice-president, wouldn't her natural home be with the Democrats who tend to get more exercized about thousands of military deaths in Iraq than two people who love each other choosing to have a baby, be they man and woman or two women?

- In the same way, the evangelical Christians saved most of their outrage against the Reverend Ted Haggard for engaging in homosexual sex. They barely mentioned what I thought was much the more serious of his failings, buying and using meth. If I was a member of Ted Haggard's family and loved him, I'd be much more concerned about his use of meth than his gayness.

In fact, the whole issue of gays is one that puzzles me. I have gay friends and family members. They are just like straight people in every way except who they are sexually attracted to. They have the same strengths and weaknesses; they love their kids and worry about paying their bills. Some of them hate their jobs and some of them hate to get up in the morning. Some of them drink too much and some of them are active in their church.

- In the same way, I am taken aback when told by the media that some people simply wouldn't vote for a black person, even one like Barack Obama, who is only half-African American. Can that really be so? In the 21st century? I barely even notice that Barack Obama is black and if I do, I certainly don't care. What is Black anyway? If you are half white and half black, are you black? If you are one/fourth black and three-fourths white, are you black? In the old days (and even in the not so old days) in Louisiana, if you were even one 32nd black, you were black. Isn't it ridiculous to label a person based on some tiny percentage of ethnic heritage? If we have moved beyond declaring a person black if a 32nd of their DNA is black, then where is the line to be drawn?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Waving the White Flag

You may remember that I cleaned out the freezer while Mom was gone to Illinois to visit her sister. I got rid of three huge trash bags of food - steaks and chops and roasts and chicken and vegetables and bread loaves and various kinds of potatoes and ice cream - items all far past their "sell-by" date. When Mom came home, the freezer was clean, empty and unplugged. We had a polite discussion about it, with me insisting that the freezer should not function as the "black hole" of food storage, into which things disappeared, never to be seen again.

Mom is like the squirrels that bury walnuts in the back yard, then forget where they have stashed their hoard. Very likely, Mom and the squirrels are motivated by the same innate need for security, in other words, having provisions put back for a rainy day. The only difference is that there is a natural reason for the squirrels' behavior, as it helps the walnut trees perpetuate their species. There is no such rationale for Mom's actions, unless you consider the molecules of freezer burn as on par with baby walnut trees.

My dad used to say about my mother that when it came to arguing, "she's like a termite; she undermines from within". He stated this with resignation, a warrior who had lost many a battle against the peace-nik. What he meant was that Mom hates head-on confrontation. She will never just take you on, even when she vehemently disagrees with your position. Instead, she is the voice of polite reason. She very seriously considers your side and allows as how you could be correct. But if you know her, as I have known her for 60 years, you know the war is far from over. This is only her opening gambit.

This is what she did with the freezer. "Yes," she said, "I think you're right. In fact, we probably ought to just sell it. It is only the two of us now and we don't really need a freezer."

"Well, Mom, " I responded. "You bought it, so it's your decision. I don't really care to keep it as long as we don't fall back in the habit of stuffing it full of things we never end up using."

(You notice how I used the term "we" in order to sound cooperative although I doubt I've ever contributed even $10 worth of stuff to the freezer.)

"No, I think we should probably just get rid of it. It will give us more room on the back porch."

"Well, all right, then."

So, it sat there on the back porch, not running. Every now and then, I asked Mom if she'd called the paper to put an ad in yet about selling it but she always said, "not yet, but I'm going to."

Then we were within a couple weeks of Thanksgiving. I asked her if she was going to get a turkey breast, which is what we always have for Thanksgiving since a whole turkey is too big for the four of us and no one will eat anything but white meat. Sadly, she replied, "well, Krogers (or Lo-Bill or Bechtol's) had them on sale but I didn't go ahead and buy one."

"Why not?" I asked, somehow knowing I was being set up.

"I didn't have any room to keep it frozen until Thanksgiving."

"You don't think we could make room in the freezer in the refrigerator?"

"No, its clear full. So, I guess I'm just going to have to wait until the very last minute. Of course, by then, I may not be able to get a turkey breast. Well, that's okay." She smiled brightly. "We'll just have something else for Thanksgiving, maybe a nice pork roast."

"Mom," I said, "I love roast pork but I don't want it for Thanksgiving! I want turkey!"

She just looked at me until I said exactly what she knew I would say.

"You know, Mom, maybe we should keep the freezer."

"Well, Honey, if you really think so. That way I could go out and buy a turkey breast and have some place to put it until Thanksgiving." She paused. "So, do you want me to go plug it in so it can start getting cold?"

"Go plug it in. But, Mom, let's just not cram it full of stuff we don't use again, okay?" I said, a little desperately, knowing I was waving the white flag of surrender.

"Oh, no," she said, "I absolutely agree."

One good thing about Mom is that she is always gracious in victory.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you - to my friends and foes alike. I hope you have a wonderful day of family and fine food. Perhaps we will disagree again tomorrow but for today, I wish you the very best.

My mother, who is the most cheerful person I know, always says that if you feel down, you should make yourself think of five good things you're grateful for.

Here are my five for Thanksgiving Day:

I'm thankful for my family and friends. I'm thankful that Mom is her perky little self at 86. I'm thankful that I'm a mother-in-law and that I really like my daughter-in-law and I think she likes me too. I'm happy that Lisa and John are doing well and seem to be enjoying their life together. I'm grateful that I have many close friends who mean as much to me as family. I'm even grateful for the friends who aren't friends anymore. Misunderstandings have occurred and diverging paths were taken but the memories of the good times we had together can never be erased.

I'm thankful that I have a job. It is amazing how changed circumstances serve as a reality check on situations we normally take for granted. A year and a half ago, I was down to my last unemployment check and had no prospects. Thank God, a position came open in the Prosecutor's office. It was a familiar world of legal papers and law enforcement and working with people I already knew and liked. Looking back on jobs past, I feel fortunate for the years at at the Sheriff's Department and City Hall, working for men like Dallas Winchester and Tim Roberts, who were friends as well as bosses, and where going to work every day was fun.

I'm thankful that I'm relatively healthy at 60. Even though, I will admit that I was grumpy when I was diagnosed as diabetic and when the doctor told me to avoid all white foods as well as most fruit. I told him I thought it would be easier to give me a list of foods I could actually eat and he said, "green vegetables are good." That was not a thankful moment in my life. But, over all, despite some aches and pains, I have no major complaints in the health department. I'm also thankful for the improved health of others I care about who have had medical crisis lately.

I'm thankful for the personal computer which makes both work at work and work at home so much easier (I am old enough to remember carbon paper and trying to erase oh-so-carefully so there wasn't a big ugly blot on a letter or report and typing manuscripts over and over rather than deleting and replacing). The computer opens up entirely new worlds of communication so that you can now read newspapers and blogs from all over the world and and tap into opinions and stories you'd never have been exposed to. You can easily stay in touch with friends and family. And from my end, it also allows me to share thoughts in a freer way than writing for an organization. On computers, you can entertain yourself by playing games or watching video clips on YouTube or Crooks and Liars. If you miss almost anything on t.v., you can usually track it down on the computer. You can look up information on any subject you're interested in. You can listen to any song you want to hear or burn cds with only your favorites on it - mixing up Barbara Striesand with AC-DC and Elvis with Toby Keith.

I'm thankful that the Democrats took over both houses of Congress. Not that I have absolute, complete faith in any political party but I hope the Dems will take the country in a new direction where workers are given a little fairer shake and corporations are taken down a peg or two (or three). I hope we'll start bringing our kids home from Iraq sooner rather than later. And I hope from now on, we'll always have divided government. Too much power in the hands of one party has not turned out to be a good thing.

No one gets out of this world without some scar tissue. We've all won some battles and lost some. We've all been hurt and felt as if we were treated unfairly at times. But we've also all had our joys and triumphs. Most of our glasses are either half full or half empty at any given time but which one of those perspectives you concentrate on will determine what kind of Thanksgiving you have......on this day and every day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Searching for the Peon

These days, if you're not paying attention, it is so easy to get behind the times. I've been thinking of buying a new car since I gave the little truck back to John. I want a brand-new one because of the reliability and the warranty but I know that what I can afford is cheap. So I went on the internet to check out car prices. I was thinking of maybe a Ford Escort or a Chevy Cavalier. But guess what? Ford doesn't make Escorts anymore and Chevy no longer produces the Cavalier. Now Ford's lowest priced vehicle is the Focus and Chevy's is the Cobalt. I'd never heard of a Chevy Cobalt.

Since I've been thinking of cars, I've been looking at the ones on the road and parked around to see if I can find a car I really like. I have yet to see a Cobalt although I have seen a couple of Ford Focuses. One thing I've noticed is that many of the cars look pretty much alike and that's so regardless of price. Back in the days of my youth, you could tell an upscale car from a low-priced one. Expensive cars were big and just had a look of luxury about them - Cadillacs and Lincoln Towncars and Mercury Marquis', for instance. You could never confuse any of them with a Maverick. Now, sometimes, you have to look for tell-tale gold. If a vehicle's logo is in gold, it is probably on the higher-priced side even though it has the same boxy body as the cheaper cars. And it probably won't be huge. Hugeness seems to be a thing of the past with cars, although not with SUV's.

Most of the richness of cars is now on the inside. If a car has seat warmers and navigational systems and leather everything and an extravagant sound system, it is probably an expensive model. Of course, you can get all these extras on inexpensive cars too if you willing to pay for them but then your inexpensive car isn't inexpensive anymore.

I've noticed this especially on television ads for cars. They will advertise whatever vehicle and in big letters, will be the starting price - STARTING AT ONLY $18,995!" Then in tiny little letters will be - "as shown, $27,895". So, if you want the car and are satisfied with an a.m. radio, a fan mounted on the dash instead of air conditioning and seat covers made from re-cycled brown paper bags, you might be able to purchase it for the "starting price".

Most of the lower-priced models feature four cylinder engines or even something featured as a "super-charged four". I had one of the newest Ford Escorts when they first began making 4 cylinder vehicles. It was a 1984 1/2 Escort. If you wanted to pass someone in it, you had to make sure you had a stretch of highway approximately as long as the state of Montana to do it in, otherwise, you would get right beside the vehicle you were trying to pass and just hang there, watching in terror as a semi bore down on you. I got to the point of simply never passing on a two-lane road because that Escort had no little extra burst of speed to call upon in an emergency. It got up to its max, about 70 mph, and settled in. Surely though, they've improved the performance of four-cylinder cars in the last twenty-plus years.

Cars are harder to recognize than they used to be. People at the Courthouse probably wonder about me if they see me stooped down,peering at the name plates of vehicles. A lot of car producers now go with a series of numbers and letters rather than names. If I see a J92Z, I have no idea what kind of car that is. For better or worse, if a vehicle bore the label, Vega, I knew it was a Chevy.

I guess it must be hard to constantly come up with new car names. They've already used most of the rugged-sounding place names, like Montana and Dakota, Tahoe and Yukon and Outback. Some car companies went with geographic names that imply elegance, like New Yorker. The newest Buick is the Lucerne. (You can't quite imagine a car or truck called an Indiana, can you?) Some cars have been named for tough, brave and speedy animals, like Cougar, Mustang and Ram. But how about Grizzly? Don't you picture that as a monster SUV? And there are names that seem to imply luxury even though you're not sure exactly what they mean, like Escalade and Avanti. Honda gives its cars names that make you think of solid, reliable, good citizen vehicles - Civic and Accord. They save the most impressive names for the expensive cars. The cheap little cars get cheap little names. You know without ever seeing it that a Neon is going to be a reasonably priced, small car. They are not going to give a vehicle like Buick Park Avenue a name like Neon.

Anyway, I know I probably can't afford any car with a royal sounding name, like a Marquis or a Crown Victoria but if there is a vehicle called Peon, that is probably the one for me.






Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Night at the Races

Well, Flaming Kisses came in second. It would have been fun to go down to the winner's circle with Phil and Brenda but second is nothing to be ashamed of. I got to see the race track from the owner's side of it this time. We watched some races just like ordinary folks but then I went to the saddling paddock with Phil to see Flaming Kisses get saddled. The trainers and owners were upset because there weren't enough saddle boys. Apparently, they are the only ones who can saddle the horses, so we waited and waited while grooms walked the horses round and round. Thoroughbreds are Type A personalities. They know what's coming and they don't like to wait so some of them were getting hyper and cranky. Their walkers tried to keep them as far apart as possible although this isn't easy to do when there are so many animals crammed into the small space of the saddling area. I thought I would not like to be a groom in that melee of high-spirited horses who sometimes aimed an impatient kick or tried to take a testy bite out of a walker's arm. Meanwhile, Flaming Kisses stood quietly, looking around with interest at all the hubbub, waiting for his turn to be saddled.

After the race, we went back to the barns. I had never been in the Test Barn, which is where the top three winners of each race have to go to be drug-tested. I discovered that horses have to be relaxed in order to urinate. They come back from a race with the adrenaline pumping, just as humans do. In order to calm them, they are put in a closed stall where they can't be distracted by what is going on outside. A recording of whistling is played to them which I suppose has the same effect as "white noise" on people. Eventually, the lack of sensory stimulation settles them down. Someone sits in their stall with them until they are relaxed enough to pee. This person's job is to collect the output so it can be tested.

I have always been interested in all the different jobs that people do. When I was unemployed, I toyed with the idea that I might try to be something besides a secretary but I can honestly say that I never realized one of the opportunities available to me might be "Equine Urine Collector". Maybe if this is what I did, I'd tell people I was a professional E.U.C.

We went into the restaurant back in the barn area. The same bottle of water that costs $2.40 at the track is only a buck in this restaurant. Everything else is cheaper too. This is the kitchen that feeds the trainers and jockeys and grooms and owners. It has an easy-going feel to it. The people all know each other; they know the horses. They speak in a foreign language not easily understood by an outsider to the world of racing. There are monitors in the kitchen on which you can watch the races. You can place a bet in the kitchen and collect your winnings too, if, in fact, you have winnings, which I never did.

We went into one of the barns looking for a man who was supposed to be getting Phil and Brenda's filly a gate card. The young racers have to pass a test proving they will smoothly enter and exit the starting gate before they get their gate card. This is a requirement before they can be entered in a race.

There are several long barns at Hoosier Park. Each stall has a window opening outside. There were horse heads poking out of almost all the windows. Horses are curious creatures. They like to know what is going on around them. I guess I would need something to occupy my time too if I had to stand in a stall most of the day.

Most of these horses are not the creme de la creme of thoroughbred racing. Indiana's breeding program is still in its infancy and the state's tracks haven't yet earned the prestige of places like Kentucky and New York and Florida and California although the Hoosier horsepeople hope for the best.

Still, unless you are a breeding and racing afficionado, you won't know the difference between a Kentucky Derby entrant and a $5,000 claiming racer. The horses all look beautiful to me as they prance onto the track with tossing heads. They gleam in shades of chestnut and bay and black and dappled gray. I don't suppose they know either that their names probably won't go down in the racing history books or that they'll most likely not be setting any speed records here tonight. They'll do the best they can to win and give you back $8 for the $2 you bet. A bunch of thoroughbreds battling it out to reach the finish line first is just as entertaining in a cheap race as an expensive one. You can't tell by looking that they will arrive a few seconds more slowly at the finish than their more aristocratic brethren.

And you never know, do you? One of those horses with his or her head poked out of the stall window, just could be the next Cinderella story of racing. It happens. The money people spend millions to breed the ideal horse and it often pays off but on the other hand, champions sometimes come from the most unexpected places. Suddenly, there he is - the perfect combination of speed and heart. Its the possibility the horse people work toward, long for, dream of.......

We Can!

Everyone probably has different ideas about what they hope the new political alignment in Congress will achieve (or fail to achieve). Here is my wish list:

1) Iraq, of course. I think both Republicans and Democrats are hoping the bi-partisan Iraq Strategy Group, led by James Baker and our own Hoosier statesman, Lee Hamilton, will come up with some solutions everyone can live with. No one quite knows what to do about Iraq and there are no easy answers but maybe the ISG can provide a framework to build on - something midway between "stay the course" and "cut and run", giving both Republicans and Democrats cover to meet in the middle. My own preference would be to give the Iraqis a deadline, and not a very long one, to get their act together and then say, "we got rid of Saddam for you; you voted; you have a government; most of you hate us and want us gone, so as of _____ it's your baby, do the best you can with it - we're out of here." I don't expect that to happen.

2) My number two priority is heathcare. I think it is time to re-visit the national health care issue. We were so spooked by the Harry and Louise ads about Hillary's healthcare program that we ran terrified into the arms of the HMO's and "managed care". Now all the things Harry and Louise warned us about if we went with Hillary have come to pass anyway. Our premiums keep going up even as our benefits go down - if we are lucky enough to even have health care. More Americans families are forced into bankruptcy by medical bills than for any other reason.

I believe national health care makes good economic sense as well as being the morally right thing to do (we are the only industrialized nation without some form of universal health care for its citizens). Our health care premiums keep going higher because we have to help pay for the treatment of Americans who don't have insurance and can't pay. One reason our auto companies are doing so poorly is that they have to pay huge group health premium on their employees, whereas companies in other countries do not have this expense. Furthermore, I know many people who would retire and who could afford to retire if retirement income was the only consideration. Instead, they'll keep working until they are 65 because they can't afford health care until they are old enough for Medicare to kick in. This means fewer jobs open up for younger people who are looking to move in or move up. Many in the medical community worked against national healthcare. They were afraid they would be dictated to by the government but would government be any worse than the insurance companies who now determine both treatment and payment with their profit margin being the bottom line?

3) Reform tax policies. Democrats want to reduce the taxes of the middle class (even the upper middle class) by doing away with the Alternate Minimum Tax. It is the right thing to do but they need to make up that tax income from somewhere else in light of the budget deficit. I think they should re-institute the top tax rate the highest income achievers paid during the Clinton administration. The rich got richer under Clinton. Lots of Americans became millionaires and even billionaires. The tax rates then didn't act as a drag on competitiveness or motivation for success. The upper, upper classes have had some glory years of economic gain under Bush but its time to slow the gravy train down a little.

Corporations have probably benefitted most from Bush policies but they need to start being forced to be good American citizens. No more tax breaks for moving overseas; no more windfall profits on oil and gas; no more giveway deals on leasing land for logging, mining or drilling; no more no-bid contracts for re-building Iraq with bonuses and cost-overruns approved even as they didn't achieve what their contracts called for. I could go on and on.....

4) Do away with earmarks with which incumbents try to buy permanent seats in Congress. Come up with some formula to give each state x amount of dollars, based on population or amount of taxes sent to the federal government or whatever and then let the states decide what their most pressing needs are for that money. Hopefully, the states themselves would be more sensible than to build "bridges to nowhere". Museums and swimming pools and parks are nice but we all have to be willing to give up some things if we don't want to leave enormous deficits for our kids and grandkids to have to pay.

5) Rebuild New Orleans. The fact that this country cannot even manage to reconstruct one of its major cities a year and a half after it was devastated simply amazes me. America is the land of enterprise, the nation that rises to challenges. We rebuilt whole freakin' countries after World War II and now we are not even capable of rebuilding a city? Bring in Dutch engineers if our own aren't capable of figuring out a levee system to save New Orleans from flooding. It's not just for New Orleans itself, it is for our own sense of national pride. If we do not have the will and the spirit and the creativity to do this then America has lost something invaluable. We are no longer the country that sent a man to the moon and and built an interstate highway system and the Golden Gate Bridge and......

6) We simply must achieve energy independence from foreign oil. Everything should be on the table on this one. Fuel standards, gas taxes, big bucks on research and development. I would maybe even go along with off-shore drilling and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge if it was accompanied by all the other policies that could lead to energy self-sufficiency. We can't afford to need Middle-east (or South American) oil so badly that we have to hold hands with authoritarian regimes like the Saudi royal family.

7) I'm an economic populist. I think it is past time to re-negotiate NAFTA and CAFTA and all the other trade agreements that have not been fair to the American worker. Ideally, trade agreements should bring the lower-class workers of other countries up, not bring our own down. Not only are we dependent on middle-east oil but it seems we are also dependent on other countries for everything else. We are so busily exporting our industrial base, I doubt we could even clothe ourselves anymore if we didn't buy from China. If the rest of the world shut us off, we wouldn't have televisions or sneakers or lamps or computers or even some of our crucial military components. We wouldn't be able to call customer service about our credit card bills or get a'hold of tech support to help us with our software problems. I'm not sure just what America does produce anymore. Evidently, we don't even have any companies that are capable of managing our ports.

8) I want the new Congress to pass stiff ethics legislation. I want them to limit the influence of the lobbyists. I want them to start thinking about what's best for the American people and not just their big donors. I want experts to sit in on energy meetings and disease control meetings and education meetings and environmental meetings. I want union representatives to be included on labor meetings. I don't care if the lobbyists sit in too to present their side of the story but theirs shouldn't be the only voices to be heard.

Those are my main hopes for America's future. They all have one thing in common. It seems to me that in the last several years, America has become a "we can't" country. We can't give our citizens health care; we can't rebuild New Orleans; we can't become energy self-sufficient; we can't build cars and televisions and keep ourindustries and jobs in America; we can't write fair tax laws; we can't legislate ethics in our leaders; we can't find a way to end a war and bring our soldiers home. It's all so hard, we "just can't". If I have ever believed one thing about America, it is that we "can" do anything we set our minds too. This fearful, "we can't" America just seems so alien to anything I ever believed about my country. I believe we "can" and I hope we "will".

Monday, November 6, 2006

Attention: Wabash County Voters

Concerning the race for State Representative in District 22, there is a radio ad running in which Larry Rensberger says that he is not running for office and gives his complete support to Bill Ruppel. The Larry Rensberger in the ad is a ringer! He is NOT the same Larry Rensberger who is actually opposing Ruppel! People have told me about this ad and asked if, in fact, the real candidate has dropped out and if they would be wasting their vote if they vote for Larry Rensberger. The answer to these questions is no. Larry Rensberger has NOT dropped out. If you planned to vote for him, please do.

I think this comes under the heading of "dirty politics".

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Through the Looking Glass

* 105 American soldiers killed in Iraq during October - 13 American soldiers killed so far in November

The way things are going in this country these days sometimes makes me feel as if I have slipped behind the looking glass where black is white and up is down. It reminds me of that commercial where the guy is talking to his psychiatrist about a dream and how much it disturbed him and the psychiatrist responds in a foreign language. I listen to the Bush administration and its spokepeople and echo the psychiatric patient when he says in utter confusion, "what?"

One hundred and five of our service people killed in Iraq in October and our esteemed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, says that what keeps him "up at night" is the ability of our enemies to "manipulate the media." Really? That's what disturbs his sleep? Tens of thousands of our soldiers in harm's way, in danger of being killed or injured, and it is the way the media reports it that obsesses Rummy? I mean, how many ways are there to report the deaths of over 100 Americans? They are either dead or they aren't. There is no way to "spin" that terrible fact to make it sound not so bad.

Mr Rumsfeld said that we should "back off" and "relax". I guess he thinks some of us are just making too much about the war and the resulting casualties. We need to just go shopping or something and quit worrying our heads about it - just trust our leaders to handle it. Well, I was against the war from the beginning but if they had handled it with even a minimum level of competence, critics like me would have been silenced by now.

Evidently, our president agrees with Mr. Rumsfeld because Bush says he believes Rummy is "doing a fantastic job in Iraq, a statement from so deep in denial that it literally takes my breath away.

And speaking of "black is white", Vice-President Cheney also engaged in a bit of double-speak that left people scratching their heads. In an interview on a radio show, the host asked him, "would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney allowed as to how "it is a no brainer for me."

I expect everyone on both sides of the torture argument knew that Cheney was talking about water-boarding but when it was reported that way, the administration and their supporters went nuts and acted as if Cheney had been violated. Words were put in Cheney's mouth, they declared. Tony Snow said Cheney was not referring to waterboarding and would never have made a misstatement of that kind. When asked what else "a dunking" could possibly mean, he declined to answer as did Cheney himself.

Now people can argue whether water-boarding is acceptable under extreme circumstances (although all civilized nations, including until recently the United States, calls waterboarding torture), but let's not play silly little words games. The radio host meant waterboarding; the Vice-president meant waterboarding. Talk about your media enthusiastically engaging in their own manipulation......

And talk of manipulative media brings us to Rush Limbaugh. I have hated Rush Limbaugh since early in the Clinton administration when he said about Chelsea Clinton, who was 12 at the time, that the White House didn't need to get a dog because they had Chelsea. I have hated him since he said all druggies should get the maximum penalty because addiction was no excuse, until it turned out he was a addicted to drugs himself and then he expected special treatment because after all, he is Rush. I have hated him for lies and cruelties too numerous to mention so his willingness to mock a man suffering from a horrifying terminal illness like Parkinson's really didn't surprise me. It just made me detest him that much more. Rush is mean and not even mean with a scalpel-sharp wit, which I can sometimes chuckle over even when I disagree, but mean in a thuggish, blunt instrument way.

What has always surprised me most about the Rush phenomena is how many people, even people I respect, have happily referred to themselves as "dittoheads", as Rush's devotees are called. To me, Dittohead connotes someone either unable or unwilling to think for themselves. The last thing in the world I'd want to be considered is a Dittohead of anyone, even someone I admire.

And now, the latest administration amazement is how they posted the means and methods of making a nuclear weapon on the freakin' internet! Oh, they didn't know they were doing it, of course. How is came about is that we "liberated" a kazillion pages of documents when we entered Iraq - documents, but no weapons of mass destruction. Republicans were anxious to prove that Saddam had WMD and they believed there might be proof of it in these documents but the problem was, they were in Arabic. We have about three people who can read Arabic in our military and foreign services because we fired the rest of them for being gay. So they came up with the bright idea of just posting them all on the internet in the hope that whoever was out there might translate them and let the administration know if there was any truly juicy stuff in there. And, guess what? There was - there were actual instructions on how to make a nuclear weapon (dating back to before the first gulf war). So who do you suppose might have read those Arabic documents posted on an official US government website? Probably not you or me. I can't read Arabic and even if I could, I probably wouldn't be sufficiently motivated to comb through a gargantuan mountain of material. But how about Arabic jihadists? Do you think they might possibly be interested enough to employ readers to see what all was there? Now the government has discovered its mistake and deleted it, years too late. We have no idea who might have gained this knowledge in the meantime but whoever it was, chances are good it wasn't friends of ours.

And these are the people who are out there, one day before an election, oh-so-earnestly telling us we must vote for them because only they can be trusted to keep us safe.

And who knows what will happen tomorrow, election day, because from behind the looking glass up is down and black is white.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Awful Responsibility

When the kids moved to an apartment in Louisville, they brought over their prized Hibiscus, which is five feet tall and nine feet around. It was no problem in the summer, as it sat outside soaking up the benefits of sun and natural rainfall. I watered it with the hose a few times during dry spells and other than that, I more or less ignored it.

Then there was a frost warning and I figured I'd better get the indoor plants back inside the house. We already have a monster Schefflera which has sentimental value for Mom because Becky Waggoner got it for her when my Grandma died many years ago. It was pretty as a youngster and even into middle age, but it is now a senior citizen Schefflera and has, I'm sorry to say, become ugly and angry with age. It now weighs approximately the same as a Volkswagen but is more awkward to carry. It despises being the house and fights me every step of the way, even though I'm risking slipped disks to save its life.

From almost the minute it comes through the door, it starts to shed its leaves. In fact, shed is not precisely the right term. It actually seems to fling its leaves in all directions out of temper at being confined to the too-small space between the piano, the dining room table and the desk. Schefflera leaves cover the carpet surrounding the pot, as well as the piano keys and the dining room chairs and I've even found a leaf in my coffee cup, something that seems nearly impossible considering where the Schefflera is in relation to the location of my cup - but, obviously, a pissed-off plant is capable of more deviousness that I had previously given it credit for. (I've heard that Schefflera leaves are poisonous but I don't know if it's true).

Every winter is a race between the end of the season and the demise of the Schefflera. By February, a grossly twisted nest of bare branches rise from the pot, desperately seeking fresh air and sunlight. It could be used on the set of a documentary illustrating what the world would look like after a nuclear holocaust. It could star in a Stephen King novel. Trust me, it does nothing to enhance the ambiance of my dining room, not that ambiance is necessarily one of my strong points anyway, but what little I manage is cancelled out by the Schefflera.

Every year, Mom hopes for it to live while I secretly wish for it to die so I never have to lug the nasty thing back and forth again.

Our other enormous plant is the Rubber Tree. I have to give the Rubber Tree credit. It is the most patient of plants. You can put it pretty much anywhere and if it doesn't thrive, it will at least hold its own. Now and then, one large leaf will turn brown and float to the floor but mostly, it simply endures. It is like the good-natured little kid who uncomplainingly reconciles himself to the backseat of the car because his demanding older sister, the Schefflera, always insists in the place of honor in the front. It isn't fair, but there you have it. None of us want to confront the "throwing herself on the floor until she turns blue" tantrum of the Schefflera if she has to spend the winter in the dim spot beside the fire place. If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then the Rubber Tree will prevail in another time and place.

So that brings us to the newest addition to the family - the Hibiscus. We finally decided the only spot we had for the Hibiscus was in the middle room at the top of the stairs. This room is narrow and the Hibiscus is fat so that it sticks out far into the available floor space. When you go upstairs, instead of simply turning when you reach the top as you used to be able to do, you now have to keep walking straight until you almost hit the wall, then make a sharp right turn, bumping your shin on the bookcase, before making another 45 degree turn to the left to avoid cramming your toe into the rocking chair. Only then have you circumnavigated the Hibiscus' space so you can go on about your business to enter either of the bedrooms.

You may remember when I wrote about the truck, that once something has belonged to John, if he then gives it to you, it comes with strings attached. He never wholly gives up his ownership rights. And it is so with the Hibiscus. It was his and Lisa's Hibiscus. I never wanted it but now he has taken the position that he was being generous to pass this treasure on to me. He checks on it when he comes to the house to make sure that I conform to the rigid requirements necessary for the Hibiscus to prosper.

One day, he came downstairs in a snit. Had I not noticed all the yellow leaves on the Hibiscus? Did I just plan on ignoring it, letting his and Lisa's prized, exotic plant die? How could I be so uncaring, so inconsiderate, so, so, cruel!

"Huh," said I, taken aback at the strength of his passion for this plant, (he who, so far as I know, never exhibited the slightest concern for any plant ever before). Truthfully, I had watered it a couple times but mostly, when I go upstairs, it is dark. The health of the Hibiscus simply didn't rank as high on my priority list as it clearly did on his.

Then he told me that he and Lisa had some problems with the Hibiscus themselves and they had experimented with various aspects of sun and water and discovered that optimum conditions to keep it in peak shape included precisely 32 ounces of water per day!

I stared at him in disbelief. I cannot even conceive of a plant whose demands must be met on a daily basis. I'm lucky if I remember to go to Reynolds Oil when I still have a 16th of a gallon of gas left in the car. I'm lucky if I remember to take my blood pressure pills at least every other day. I'm lucky if I pay my bills on time and make it to my dental appointments when they're scheduled. And now I'm expected to be responsible the daily care of a Hibiscus?

Mom, ever the peacemaker, promised John that each and every day, she would carry a 32-ounce pitcher of water up to the Hibiscus. Of course, that laid a guilt trip on me because Mom doesn't bound upstairs as easily as she used to so then I had to backtrack and say that I would do it after all.

So now, here I am, burdened by the weighty responsibilities of the Schefflera and the Hibiscus and even the Rubber Tree, made paranoid by yellow leaves and falling leaves, religiously measuring out water in a measuring cup, praying for an early Spring.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Positive Plans?

*75 soldiers killed in Iraq so far this month

Aside from Iraq, here is what the Democrats have said their priorities would be if they win a majority in Congress next month: raise the minimum wage, allow the government to negotiate directly with the drug companies to lower presciption prices for seniors, repeal corporate incentives to move jobs overseas, make college tuition tax deductible, implement all recommendations of the 911 Commission. I don't know what's not to like about any of those issues.

The minimum wage hasn't been increased since 1996 but the Congresspeople evidently believe that the cost of living has, indeed, gone up because they've raised their own pay six times since then.

The Republicans who wrote the Prescription Drug bill deliberately included a provision that the government not be allowed to negotiate with the drug companies to keep prices down. Please tell me how that could possibly be a benefit for anyone but the drug companies themselves (and, of course, the senators and representatives who get big donations from them in return)?

Anyone who doesn't believe that what is happening to our jobs is a national shame just can't be paying attention. It started with our industrial base and no one much seemed to care about a bunch of factory workers who, common wisdom said, had priced themselves out of the market by fighting for a living wage and decent benefits. By God, if those people had only had been willing to work for a buck two ninety eight like the Mexicans, Chinese, Bengladeshis, etc. etc., those good jobs would still be right here in America. But, you know, I've not noticed that the CEO's have been willing to do "givebacks" in order to keep their companies solvent. In fact, their pay just keeps going up and up and up. Now, outsourcing has moved on to white and pink collar positions and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. We can't stop all out-sourcing but we certainly shouldn't be rewarding companies for doing it.

The Bush administration hypes education as the answer to the above but first, it is unrealistic to think that everyone in America is going on to college. It simply isn't going to happen for various reasons - lack of money, lack of will, lack of intelligence. And, second, even if it did, then what? Would we simply have college graduates working at McDonalds and Walmart? Those jobs would still have to be filled even if 99 percent of Americans had college degrees. So the idea of universal higher education as the solution to the problem is a silly one. But many of those who do manage to go to college, graduate with huge student loans to pay for, loans that it will take much of their working life to pay off. If we want more people to achieve higher education, then we should come up with a way to assist them in not racking up tens of thousands of dollars of debt as a result.

And, lastly, implement all of the 911 Commission's recommendations to make the country more secure. Five plus years after 9/11, we still do not check most plane cargos; we check less than 10 percent of shipping containers coming into the country; we have not secured our chemical companies or nuclear facilities. And to top all that off, we haven't even secured our borders. I suppose that if illegal aliens can cross the border in huge numbers month after month, then it probably wouldn't be all that difficult for terrorists to do the same.

The recent crash of a small plane into a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan is a case in point as far as our continued lack of security. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we were told it wasn't a terrorist attack but what if it had been piloted by a terrorist instead of a baseball player? Presumably, it could have happened just the same. What if the plane had contained explosives? Would it have brought down the building and everyone in it? How safe does that make you feel?

But, you know, for myself, I'm not especially worried about being attacked by terrorists. I might be somewhat more concerned if I lived in the heart of Manhattan or in Washington, D.C., but here in Wabash I think I'm way more susceptible to any number of every day catastrophes than becoming a victim of terrorism, things like cancer or an automobile crash or my house catching fire or being bitten by brown recluse spider or eating spinach contaminated by E Coli or.....

I think fear of terrorism has made America a country of cowards. We seem to be willing to simply hand over our American ideals out of our abject fear. We don't have to worry about terrorists taking away our freedom, our civil rights, our honor, our constitution, hell, we're just willing to trash them on our own. Habeas Corpus, who needs it? Just because it has been the backbone of civilized jurisprudence for centuries.....Those quaint little Geneva Conventions (which were written primarily by us)? We can't afford them anymore. We must be able to torture 'cause we're scared. Three co-equal branches of government? Nah, these fearful times demand an authoritarian president in which we are willing to endow far more dominance than the Founding Fathers ever could have conceived of - or would ever have been willing to agree to. Our government having to get warrants to spy on our phone calls and our personal information? Don't you know, silly limitations like warrants are an old-fashioned notion in today's terrified-by-terrorism world.

And as for Iraq, I can't say much more than I've already said in these posts. I thought it was a mistake from the start and every month that passes only convinces me that a) it was a tragic decision to make and b) once we made it, we did everything wrong to even have a prayer of a positive outcome. I think, at this point, there is nothing to do but get out and let the chips fall where they may. A poster asked if the Democrats had a "positive" plan for Iraq. Short answer: no, they don't. No one has a positive plan for Iraq and asking the Democrats for one is like setting your house on fire and once it is fully engulfed, asking your neighbor what his positive plan is for saving your home.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Same bunch, same result

No wonder I have such a sense of deja vu. The most disturbing revelation in Bob Woodward's book, State of Denial, is that the Bush administration is in regular contact with Henry Kissinger. According to Woodward, Old Henry consults with Cheney frequently. Its like the song, "The Boy are Back in Town". Turns out it is the same old crowd that brought us Vietnam. They have been nursing a malignant tumor of resentment all these years in the belief that the only thing wrong with Vietnam was that America lost its will and gave up.

My God, for those of you not old enough to remember, we gave them 10 years and over 50,000 lives! And it is not like we were right on the verge of winning in Vietnam when the people finally called a halt. We were losing, just as we are losing in Iraq now. If anything, we stuck with our leaders way longer than we should have. And it was bi-partisan. We hung in with Democrat presidents and Republican presidents and when neither of them could show us progress, but only body bags, we finally said, "no more."

But now Kissinger, Cheney, Rumsfield, et al. are back. Via the ever-manipulatable George Bush, they finally got their opportunity for a re-do. We are fighting in Iraq but we are supposed to be proving a point about Vietnam. This has been a right-wing mantra about Vietnam for as long as I can remember. If only the American people had been willing to tolerate a few more thousand dead soldiers, a few more sieges of carpet-bombing, a few more sorties into Cambodia and Laos, a few more canisters of burning death called napalm, a few more forests defoliated by Agent Orange, we would have won in Vietnam. If only the American people hadn't turned gutless and lost their stomach for the war.

I truly cannot believe my country has bought into this same disastrous policy brought to us compliments of the same egotistical power-mongers that did it to us before. You would have thought handing over one generation of young Americans to use as pawns in their murderous theories of geo-political chess would have been enough. But no, now they ask for the sons and daughters of those earlier soldiers and obediently, we order our children off to war. A war which we are now losing, just as we lost the one before.

Lost, not because our military wasn't up to the task, but that what was asked of them was not possible, because their leaders weren't up to their task. They weren't then and they aren't now. Thank God, they are all old now - Cheney and Kissinger and Rumsfield - too old to ever do it again. I'm sure they'll totter off to the Rest Home for the Extremely Well-Off still crying that the American people just don't have the fortitude to win a war. They will never admit they screwed up - twice.

And the worst thing about all this is that George W. Bush had a whole other group of wise old men he could have called on, one of them being his father. As well as Jim Baker and Bret Scowcroft and others who would have saved him from himself. But he wanted to prove that he could do it better than Daddy so he brought back the Nixon cabal and here we are again.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Fanciful Fall Festival

Autumn is a glorious pageant with all the royal families in attendance. In anticipation, we watch them arrive from across the far hills. Here comes the Maple Court, with the dashing young prince in his robe of blazing gold, surrounded by all his courtiers. And the Queen of Sweet Gum bedecked in eye-catching scarlet. And the venerable old Oak King, not so flamboyant as the rest, but even more impressive in somber bronze. And the Japanese Princess, shimmering in burgundy. And all the lesser nobility - the Duke of Walnut and Countess Cottonwood and Baron Beech. And here come the representatives from the Kingdoms of Fruit - Sir Peach, Lady Cherry, Lord Apple and Squire Pear.

And let us not forget the powerful Houses of Evergreen, a plain and somewhat stubborn folk who eschew formal clothing for the autumn party, preferring to remain in their everyday garments of green. Still, when the other glorious raiment has faded and been cast to the ground to be swept up with the trash, the Evergreens will still be proudly wrapping their heavy green cloaks around themselves against the wintry storms.

And paying service to the royals are all their attendants. Vast military-straight ranks of butternut-uniformed corn soldiers and lovely butter and copper and dusty rose Chrysanthemum courtesans and crimson sumac outriders. Spread across fields and along roadsides are the ivory filigree blooms of Queen Anne's lace and elegant drifts of Goldenrod and the fluffy purple blossoms of the evil terrorist, Thistle and vines of wine ivy twining through the trees.

There are the final harvests - heaped up piles of fat red tomatoes and yellow squash and orange pumpkins and bushel baskets of red and green apples and ears of speckled Indian corn. There are the good kitchen smells of baking - pumpkin pie and apple dumplings and zuchinni bread - fall food fit to celebrate a festival for kings and queens.

Too soon the autumn get-together is over. The Royals have bowed and smiled to their admirers, some of whom travel long distances just to see them, but now they, along with all their retainers, have packed up and gone. No more golds and scarlets and coppers. Only the leftovers from their party remain - a stray gilt leaf, clinging hopelessly to its twig when all the others have given up. A pumpkin rotting in the field. A Mum blossom turning brown.

It is left to the scouring storms of winter to move in and clean up after them.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

What is a Liberal?

In a recent comment to one of my blog entries, a reader told me that my "liberalism" shone through my print, as if I was trying to hide this aspect of my political bent but he'd (I'm assuming a he although perhaps that's not right) caught me out and revealed me for what I really am.

But I've never tried to hide the fact of my liberal leanings. When I worked for the Sheriff's Department, I was often teased by mostly conservative cops as their "token liberal". In fact, I'd probably describe myself more as a progressive than a liberal but I won't dispute the liberal label.

Liberal politicians brought the American people such modern innovations as the 40-hour work week, holiday pay, sick leave, social security, Medicare, laws against child labor, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, collective bargaining, WIC, Head Start, housing subsidies for people too poor to afford a place to live and on and on. In this day, even old-time Republican politicians would be considered liberal. Teddy Roosevelt started the National Park Service, Richard Nixon created OSHA, George Bush Sr. gave us wetlands legislation.

If you hate all these things, then you truly are a modern ultra-conservative. If you hate all these things, then no doubt should you get laid off, you won't even apply to collect unemployment. If you hate all these things, you'll probably refuse to accept any over time pay if you work over 40 hours a week. If you hate all these things, mostly likely you wish you could send your kids to work down in the coal mine on their tenth birthday. You probably won't want to visit Yellowstone or Yosemite. I expect you'll only take your social security until your original contributions are paid back to you (which will be in the first few years) - but maybe not, since you probably figure the government cheated you out of all the interest you'd have collected if you'd been allowed to invest it for yourself - because we all know, don't we, that had you been left to your own devices, you'd have saved every penny of this money toward your retirement in some high-yield plan (and if anyone was stupid enough to not save or to invest in some company, like say, Enron) and lost it, then they deserve what they get and let them hie themselves off to the Poor Farm. If you hate all these things, you probably think they should dismantle the dust collectors in your factory because you're willing to take your chances with the good intentions of the corporate owners. If you hate all these things and your mother gets Alzheimers (or any other physical or mental disability), you're probably going to keep her home and pay for all her medications and take care of herself, because you certainly won't want the government to get its hands on her via Medicare.

If you are an ultra-conservative, you probably want to outlaw Roe v. Wade, which I can understand, even though I disagree with you, but you probably also want to do away with any assistance for the mothers and the babies that are born as a result. Let those Moms get out and work and pay for their own housing, transportation, child care, medical care and food. Because as an ultra-conservative, I'm sure you hate the "welfare state".

If you're an ultra-conservative, you are probably conflicted about states' rights (which used to be one of your principles) as in yes, you think states' should call their own shots when it comes to affirmative action but no, the feds should move in if states approve such travesties as medical marijuana or assisted suicide. You are all for states' rights if they legislate a ban on anything that smacks as rights for gays but totally against states' rights if they approve civil unions or gay marriage. So, it sort of comes down to whether a state agrees with you positions as to whether you believe they should have the right of self-determination, doesn't it?

If you are an ultra-conservative, then you probably thinking torturing people is fine and dandy, even before we determine whether the person to be tortured is innocent or guilty. No one that I've seen, not in person or on Fox, as ever explained how they reconcile their Christianity with their approval of torture. I am truly curious about how they think a conversation with Jesus on this subject would go.

So, yes, I'm a liberal, all right. And I consider being called Liberal, not a mark of shame, but a badge of honor.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Too Many Glasses!

Mom came home from Springfield with glasses, lots and lots of glasses. Supposedly, she inherited them from her sister, DoDo, who died a few years ago. Not that Dodo actually designated Mom as the recipient of these glasses, I think it was more that they were passed on to various family members, none of whom wanted them and so, by default, they came to Mom. The family was even so thoughtful that they, eagerly, loaded them into her car. I think they all heaved a huge, collective sigh of relief, knowing they were being sent off to a new home in Indiana.

The thing is, when Mom told me she'd brought back some glasses that were Dodo's, she sort of played it down. I don't know what mental picture the word "some" conjures up in your head, but to me, some means, maybe a dozen, at most. But, this was no dozen - Mom unpacked glasses and unpacked glasses until the influx took up the entire dining room table. There are water glasses and champagne flutes and rocks glasses and wine glasses and pony glasses and a decanter with shot glasses. And they all match - crystal with gold leaves. The White House could ask to borrow our house to host a State Dinner for the Sultan of Brunei and there would be plenty of glasses for all the guests (there wouldn't be enough chairs, parking spaces for limousines or bathrooms but by Gosh, they'd all having matching glasses).

And, we didn't really need glasses because Mom came from the old school when it was protocol that the respectable homemaker should have the "good china", the "next best china" and the "every day china". And we are definitely respectable, at least in the china area, if very few others.

We have a set of fine bone china with matching crystal goblets and silver plate and starched linen napkins to go with it. I remember exactly when we last used these things. It was the Christmas of 1988. Jim knew he was dying and wouldn't see another Christmas. He asked us to go all out for Christmas that year and we did, pulling out all the stops. Mom has threatened several times since to drag out the good stuff for a family holiday but we never have (since it would all have to be washed first). This china is in the china cabinet.

(Incidentally, this "good, better, best" theory of chinaware is now a thing of the past. We tried to pawn the good china/crystal/silver off on John and Lisa. We thought of them rather like a part of our family heritage we were passing on to the next generation, but Lisa, polite as she is, could not hold back a look of horror at to the suggestion that she take on the responsibility for the good china.)

Next, we have a set of "nice" china - a set Dad bought Mom for their anniversary many years ago. (My Dad died on my 27th birthday and I just turned 60). This china is mostly black and Mom bought a set of cut glass-type glasses to go with it. This dishware is in one of the kitchen cupboards. Up on that shelf is also the second set of silver flatware that Jim inherited from his Grandma.

Lastly, we have a set of Pfalzgraf, I bought from Todd Titus when he and Anne were married. His mom had bought it for him and, bachelor that he was then, he rarely used it. I paid him $15 for the whole set. This is what we consider our every day dishes. In the intervening years, Mom has bought every piece of this china she ever found at garage sales - and that's a lot! We have additional plates, cups (both coffee and chocolate), saucers, platters, gravy boats, cereal bowls, salt and pepper shakers, pitchers, soup tureens, etc. As much as will fit of this china has the place of honor in the most easily reached kitchen cupboard shelves. In the high cupboard that you have to use a step ladder to reach, are the extra pieces - because if we should break a plate or cup, don't you know, we could get right up there and have the replacement piece waiting in the wings!

There are two sets of glasses that "go with" the Pfalzgraf. A set of brown goblets that hold approximately one thimble-ful of milk. John always complained about these glasses because he had to re-fill them ten times per meal. So I bought another set of gold glasses, bigger ones, to use with the Pfalzgraf.

We also have glasses that Mom bought once in Colorado - they have pictures that celebrate that state's centennial. I have a set of western-type glasses that have branding iron symbols painted on them. My first husband won them on a tip board (along with a matching cookie jar) in 1967. We have souvenir glasses from various bars and pubs from which one of us once got a pina colada or margarita or specialty ale. We have strays left over from various other sets of glasses we got through the years. We have a set of plastic glasses, which every one sticks their noses up at using but me. I like plastic. I think, somewhere in the garage, we even have a brightly colored set of metal glasses that you used to get as a gift for buying something, I don't remember what.

The bottom line is that we are overwhelmed by glasses, over-run with glasses, being crowded out of our very house by glasses. If our glasses were stacked up on top of one another, they would reach the top of the Empire State Building. We could have a "glasses only" garage sale for people with a glasses fetish. If I ever ran for political office again (which isn't going to happen), I could give every potential voter in Wabash a glass as a little campaign offering.

By crowding other stuff together, I managed to get the new glasses put away in cupboards and on shelves where they will remain, never to be used, just like all the other good and slightly less good china. As a matter of fact, with just the two of us, Mom and I now have 4 sets of china - the best, the next best, the next-next best and, our new favorite, the least best, which are the paper plates and glasses, so convenient to pitch in the trash when you're done, no washing required.

Torturous Strategy

* 16 American soldiers were killed in Iraq last week.

In case anyone is wondering, which it seems that hardly anyone is, the three Republican senators who professed such concern that America should not be a nation that rejects the Geneva Conventions or engages in torture capitulated almost completely to the Bush administration. If their proposed legislation regarding torture ultimately becomes law, it will mean that detainees can forget having the right of habeas corpus. They will not be allowed to challenge the truth of any accusations made against them (if, in fact, the administration even bothers charging them with anything) or the legality or length of their treatment (i.e. torture).

Under the McCain/Warner/Graham plan, the U.S. government can (continue to) "detain" anyone, including U.S. citizens, never charge them with a crime, torture them - forever - while denying them the right to challenge their detention and treatment. And some are innocent, as in the case of the recently released Canadian who was determined not to have any ties with Al Qaida or any other terrorist group. Of course, finding him innocent of wrong-doing was a little late for him since the United States had already picked him up and sent him to Syria (you know, that great ally of ours, Syria?) who kept him and tortured him for ten months. And guess what? He confessed. Confessed to everything they wanted him to confess to, including that he was trained by Al Qaida in Afghanistan although it was later discovered that he had never been to Afghanistan or had any contact with Al Qaida. So, the information we got out of him was really valuable, wasn't it? And this is usually what you do get when you torture people.

This is the kind of stuff we used to read about with horror when it came out of the Soviet gulags. I had no idea that America would so easily give up its ideals and principles out of cowardice. Back when they were trying to impeach Bill Clinton, the Republicans raised such a hue and cry about their respect for the "rule of law" that it seemed to be their driving principle. You got the feeling that if you put your hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and then lied about jaywalking, it was just as bad as if you'd told an untruth about murder. It was the principle of the thing, you see. Perjury was perjury and it was all equivalent.

Now they sweep away the very bedrock of America's rules of law as if they were no more than specks of dandruff on our collective collar. Not that the Bush administration has ever committed perjury, I guess. They learned from Clinton so that they simply refuse to ever give testimony under oath (on the few occasions it ever comes up since the Republican-dominated Congress rarely exercizes its oversight responsibility with this particular president.)

Habeas corpus and not engaging in torture and not surveilling its own citizens all form the foundation of who we've always thought we were as a nation but, no more. It was easy enough to have integrity when it was never put to the test but now we're scared and when you're scared enough, principles fall by the wayside and you can justify almost anything. And so, we allow ourselves to become the very thing we abhor. We are back to the days of the lawless wild west, undoubtedly George Bush's favorite American era. Then it was "shoot first and ask questions later". Now it is, "torture first and don't even bother asking any questions".

I have to say, the Republicans set this up perfectly. They remain the masters of political positioning. Now, they can say that these three concerned Senators forged a compromise with the President and all has worked out for the best. They can assure Americans who might have had some doubts about our policies that we are "doing the right thing". They successfully put the Democrats in a Catch 22. Are the Dems to go to into the fire of voting on the McCain/Warner/Graham legislation and in essence, condoning torture or the frying pan of voting no and being labelled as "soft on the war on terror" in ads that will no doubt spring up like poisonous mushrooms as the November elections loom?

I know what I would wish for my representative. I'm realistic about the political world. I know that staying in office requires a certain amount of give and take, sometimes you settle for half a loaf, sometimes you vote with the majority for political expediency. But, there are some issues that so go to the heart of America's soul that your conscience should demand that you fight against it with all your strength and if you lose, well, you can sleep at night knowing you fought for the honorable course.

The Bible says, "for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" I think that may go for countries too.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Political Perspectives

* 16 American soldiers died last week
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I constantly see new political polls on television or read about them in newspapers on the internet. Bush is up; Bush is down. The Democrats are gaining; the Democrats are falling behind. The number one concern of the American people is terrorism; the number one concern is the Iraq War; the number one concern is gas prices. And on and on - up, down and all around go the polls.

And I wonder who these people are who are polled and how they can be so fickle in their determinations. Bush's poll numbers, for instance. They move higher or lower from one poll to the next. But, why? Who are these people who love him one day and change their minds the next? How can you not have decided about President Bush by now after 6 years? And what could change your mind at this point? Is it really possible to turn on the president, even if you were once a true believer, and then watch him give a speech which causes you to go back to your previous position, only to revert once again a week later?

And the Iraq War. Surely, after all these years, we have decided that we either a) think it was a mistake that has turned into a disaster or b) believe it may not be going well, but it was, over all, a good thing and in any case, it is vital to stay the course or some variation thereof?

I'm not dogmatic about my own beliefs. I'm capable of changing my mind on various issues. I'm not questioning people who move from one position to another based on new information. We all should be capable of and willing to change our minds at times. It is those who, if the polling is to be believed, flip up and down like jumping jacks, believing one thing one week and something entirely different the next that I wonder about.

Gas prices, for instance. Gas averaged about $1.97 in October of 2004, then rose to the neighborhood of $3.00 a gallon in many areas in August of this year. And people reflected their anger in their poll answers. Gas prices were high on their list of outrages. Now gas has dropped down to about $2.50 and lots of us are all happy again. Purveyors of various commodities do this to us all the time. They raise their prices and raise them again and we're mad as hell. Then, voila, the lower them and we forgive and forget that we are still paying 50 cents a gallon more than we were a year ago.

In any case, we are told by the business experts that politics plays no part in gas prices and the president and Congress couldn't do anything about them if they wanted to. If gas prices stay down after the November election, maybe I'll buy that but if they go up again right after we vote......it will be one of those things that makes you go "hmmmm".

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I watched a program on C-Span in which an author of a book about military blogs was interviewed (I was cooking at the same time I listened so I never did catch the writer's name). What suprised me was the number of callers, especially those who are or had been in the military themselves, who are totally committed to the Bush administration's policies, even to the extent of trashing their military brethren. I have been amazed by this in other contexts.

In the last presidential election, for instance. It surprised me how willing soldiers or ex-soldiers were to excoriate John Kerry in favor of an administration consisting mainly of people, who whatever their reasons, passed on the Vietnam War themselves. Many of them were even perfectly in accord with casting doubt on the inherent honesty of the system of awarding honors, such as Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. Okay, maybe they were angry with Kerry about his anti-war stance and statements he made upon returning from Vietnam. But, now this has moved beyond Kerry. It has become a acceptable thing, with some ideological group like the SwiftBoat Veterans for Truth, rushing out to question the awards of anyone whose political stances, they disagree with, like John Murtha.

Do these military people not realize that what they are doing is lessening the value of every single honor given to every single veteran? Can they not see that by questioning the validity of the awards of John Kerry and John Murtha, they cause every award to be looked at with suspicion? It isn't possible that back during Vietnam, the military somehow knew who was going to "grow up" to be a Democratic politician. A commonsense claim can't be made that only Democrats were awarded undeserved honors. If the system was so untrustworthy that it handed out medals willy-nilly, without regard to actual merit, it must means a cloud hangs over everyone who received one (or more). I wouldn't think most veterans would care to slide down that slippery slope.

In the same vein, it also astonishes me that many in the military are even eager to bash those fellow veterans that belong to the same party the soldiers claim loyalty to if they dare to disagree with Bush in any way. It isn't so surprising that the former and current soldiers and sailors that called into the program about military blogs would criticize John Murtha, although he is a former Marine who has devoted his political life to veteran's issues, as a phony and insincere show-boater. He is, after all, a Democrat, but they were eagerly willing to say the same about John McCain and Lindsay Graham and John Warner. John McCain, we all know, is a former P.O.W. Lindsay Graham is a former Judge Adjutant General. John Warner is a former Secretary of the Navy, veterans all. They were concerned about military issues when George Bush was still only worried about where his next drink was coming from. In this particular case, they disagree with the administration on torture and the Geneva Conventions and military tribunals, believing that giving Bush the free rein he wants will, ultimately, hurt both the military and the country. But McCain, Graham and Warner got zero credit on the part of most of the callers. They were unwilling to entertain the possibility that these men could be motivated by genuine principle. Nope, they were just being political, unlike our president, who, presumably, never does anything for political reasons. But, if these three were driven by politics, what about Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State, who has never expressed any interest in running for political office as far as I know? He agrees with McCain, Graham and Warner but if he isn't being political, then why is he speaking up? We don't know but certainly not out of sincerity according to C-Span callers.
I don't know for sure but I think if I were a soldier or a former soldier, I would tend to believe veterans inside the system who have proven over and over again their sincere love of the military before I would believe the current crew in the White House.

Some of the callers were even enthusiastically making excuses for the administration and the Pentagon for not sending our soldiers equipped with the proper body armor to protect them! It almost seems to me that the following Bush has in the military is cult-like and not explainable by any of the rules of logic. Maybe I'm wrong. If someone would like to explain it to me, I'd be glad to listen.

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On another call-in show earlier in the week, the subject was "Should We Torture Terrorists?" and only Republicans were allowed to call. I could only listen for a short while before I had to leave for work but in that time, eight out of ten callers were gung-ho for torture.

One man called who said he had been involved in intelligence-gathering for twenty years and had participated in many interrogations. He made the point, quite forcefully, that torture does not work! He said that, sure enough, the tortured will talk their heads off, telling you anything you want to know in return for an end to their suffering but it is unreliable information.

Not one person who called in after him addressed this. It was as if they refused to hear him. It appeared that to the pro-torture people, the intelligence issue was beside the point. Based on statements they made in their calls, I think they are more motivated by emotional vengeance than practical "does it work" logic. In fact, some of their justifications for why they believe America should torture, were themselves rather tortured. Many of them wanted to play down what we've done, just as the President himself always seems to do - but when you have to have doctors standing by to monitor whether a prisoner can stand a few more volts of electricity or another dose of cold water while naked in a freezing room before death is imminent, that is far beyond putting a pair of underpants over someone's head.

What seems so remarkable to me is that the conservative Republicans in recent years have so co-opted Christianity that it almost seems you can't also be a Democrat and a Christian (or for that matter, even a moderate Republican). I think many of the rabidly right-wing Christians truly believe this. But how on earth can they fold acceptance of this kind of brutality into a religion founded by the Prince of Peace? Would Jesus truly have condoned torture? If He would, he surely is not the Jesus I learned about in Sunday school.