Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year - old traditions

Most likely I'll be too busy to blog over the holiday, so...Happy New Year! Today I got the coin --- expect big things from me in 2006! ;)

What does that mean, exactly?

You see, at New Years, we traditionally have vasilopita - Greek sweet bread -- made with rosewater, adorned with sesame seeds. Before baking, inside each loaf a lucky coin is placed. Whomever finds the lucky coin while cutting bread is said to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.

My aunt used to supply everyone's vasilopita. Before her, it was my Thea Maria. Since my aunt passed this summer, I realized someone had to step-up to the New Years' bread plate, as it were. So, why not me?

Even though it's not 2006 yet, I've had a bit of good luck already today, in the form of a potential telecommute writing gig. Also a bit of bad, with courts closing early today. Portend from that what you will.

When I call this tradition, the word is not used lightly. The history of vasilopita stretches back to the days of St. Basil. In fact, the word Vasilopita is a compound Greek word which means the sweet 'bread of Basil'. He was my grandfather Vasil's patron saint.

"This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

This original event which happened in Cappadocia of Caesarea in the last half of the fourth century, is very much alive in our Orthodox homes each year on January 1st.

According to tradition, special sweet bread (in some areas of Greece, it takes the form of a cake) is prepared both in the Orthodox homes and in the Church community which is called Vasilopita. Sweets are added to the bread which symbolize the sweetness and joy of life everlasting. It also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance. When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is usally added to the ingredients. When the bread is cut and the observance begins, the individual who receives that portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed.

This tradition adds joy to the celebration at the beginning of the New Year, which everyone hopes will bring joy to all. Many Orthodox Christians enjoy the Vasilopita at home with their loved ones during the New Year celebration. The head of the family cuts the pieces of pita for all members of the family. Since Saint Basil loved the poor people, a special piece is cut for the unfortunate of the world, which symbolizes our concern for the poverty-striken people of all nations.

May all of us find the gold coin in 2006, remembering to care for and love one another, whether family, friend or stranger.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Seen and Heard

Stuff you might've missed between the tinsel and wrapping paper...

Keith Olbermann tears into Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson for their lying during this fake War on Christmas.

As always, when Olbermann tells it like it is, he does so with the facts on his side. The result? A thing of truth and beauty, lovely to behold.

Very telling that O'Reilly - unable to counter with facts and rebuttal of his own - prefers instead to compare member size. And by that, I mean demographics for both shows. As if having more viewers (despite the fact research has shown Daily Show viewers were better informed than their Fox News counterparts) somehow allows for O'Reilly to lather and froth over his own created lies.

Speaking of The Daily Show - and its brother, The Colbert Report: are you missing it during the holiday break? I am. Even repeats don't suffice. However, I have caught some great stuff previously missed. If you'd like to watch a bit of Daily Show 2005 for Auld Lang Syne, here it is.

My personal fave? "Until Hell Freezes Dover." Samantha Bee's deadpan delivery and implicit acceptance of wacky Pat Robertson's premise that God has forsaken Dover for voting out the "Intelligent Design" school board proponents is just hilarious.

Juan Cole takes on the current Iraq war mythology. Not comedic, at all. But full of Cole's usual insights, like Myth 4:

4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country.

"Opinion polls show that between 66% and 80% of Iraqis want the US out of Iraq on a short timetable. Already in the last parliament, some 120 parliamentarians out of 275 supported a resolution demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, and that sentiment will be much stronger in the newly elected parliament."

Especially since they elected religious fundamentalists. Not quite the plan Bush had in mind.

Say, maybe Anna Nicole Smith's been doing a little spying on her own?

What besides blackmail could possibly incite Bush to support her claims on her dear, dead hubby's estate?

Speaking of myths, and spying, Media Matters gives the skinny on the media promulgating misconceptions about the Bush/NSA warrantless spying program.

Among them?

4: Clinton, Carter also authorized warrantless searches of U.S. citizens

Another tactic conservatives have used to defend the Bush administration has been to claim that it is not unusual for a president to authorize secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without a court order, asserting that Democratic presidents have also done so. For example, on the December 21 edition of Fox News's Special Report, host Brit Hume claimed that former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton issued executive orders "to perform wiretaps and searches of American citizens without a warrant."

But as the ThinkProgress weblog noted on December 20, executive orders on the topic by Clinton and Carter were merely explaining the rules established by FISA, which do not allow for warrantless searches on "United States persons." Subsequent reports by NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and The Washington Post also debunked the conservative talking point while noting that the claim was highlighted in the December 21 RNC press release.

From ThinkProgress, which documented how internet gossip Matt Drudge selectively cited from the Clinton and Carter executive orders to falsely suggest they authorized secret surveillance of U.S. citizens without court-obtained warrants:

What Drudge says:

Clinton, February 9, 1995: "The Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order"

What Clinton actually signed:

Section 1. Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) [50 U.S.C. 1822(a)] of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act, the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.

That section requires the Attorney General to certify is the search will not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." That means U.S. citizens or anyone inside of the United States.

The entire controversy about Bush's program is that, for the first time ever, allows warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and other people inside of the United States. Clinton's 1995 executive order did not authorize that.

Drudge pulls the same trick with Carter.

What else did I miss between turkey and breakdowns?

Monday, December 26, 2005

The long Christmas march

At six years old, I spent my first-ever night away from home. Persuaded by a cousin during a Christmas gathering, I was sure it was a great idea. Sure, that is, until seeing my mom's car pull out of the driveway, headed in the opposite direction.

Then I started crying, becoming so distraught I threw-up before my aunt's car even made it to the corner.

At six, the distance across two counties and four cities is enormous, both physically and psychologically. I couldn't stand to see her leaving me. Thought we'd be apart forever.

This Christmas, everything that could go wrong really did - starting with three hours sleep and greeted at my mom's by a still frozen-solid turkey. I left it sitting in her sink and went to search for a worthy poultry replacement. Finding nothing open, we ran back to the house, determined to thaw by microwave.

Unexpected company arrived at their house. I spent three hours searching for, and manually installing, drivers for my daughter's new Zen Xtra mp3 player. Dinner got pushed forward. And forward again. And then, once more.

I forgot like five items needed to prepare dinner. Drove from her house to mine over and over again. In the car, alone, I was at or near tears more than once. Usually things that don't matter - and big family dinners are definitely amongst them - don't bug me.

Lousy potatoes? Oh, well. Eat something else. Turkey's dry? Here, have some gravy. No pie? No biggie.

By the end of the night, under cover of darkness driving home, I was struck by other things, things that really did matter: as the day wore on, it became clearer just how little my mother is now able to function.

Sometimes she said she gets "stuck" and can't move forward at all. Alternatively, she hobbles in a way that makes Chaplin appear graceful. It's so scary, so sad, so painful for her -- and painful to see this once physically strong woman deteriorate. Same with my dad.

I'm not ready to lose them. Never will be ready. Think this is the hardest part of my life thus far, of anyone's life, watching the long downhill march of old age as it cripples and kills the people you've always loved. It's merciless. It's relentless. It's brutal. And it's daily.

I'm six all over again, watching her drive off in the opposite direction, unable to follow where she is going, certain we won't see each other again. Only this time, it's for real.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Silent Night

A great friend and I spent last night reminiscing, and spouting-off on the unprecedented power abuses enjoyed by the Bush administration. Good times.

I've truly got nothing left to say lately. It's just all too much.

Which is likely exactly what they intended: outrage fatigue. No subject exists in relation to the Bush administration that doesn't upset the majority. Perhaps that is the only good news.

People are waking up in droves.

So, to honor the spirit of Christmas, and because I've got so much work to do between now and this time tomorrow, here's a poem from one voice, written shortly after 9-11-01.

Hopefully you'll eventually view it as a gift. I did, and do. Click here to hear it

self evident

us people are just poems
we're 90% metaphor
with a leanness of meaning
approaching hyper-distillation
and once upon a time
we were moonshine
rushing down the throat of a giraffe
yes, rushing down the long hallway
despite what the p.a. announcement says
yes, rushing down the long stairs
with the whiskey of eternity
fermented and distilled
to eighteen minutes
burning down our throats
down the hall
down the stairs
in a building so tall
that it will always be there
yes, it's part of a pair
there on the bow of noah's ark
the most prestigious couple
just kickin back parked
against a perfectly blue sky
on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze
on the day that america
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
or please

and the shock was subsonic
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line
cuz we were all on time for work that day
we all boarded that plane for to fly
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill
and then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky

and every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
looked more like war than anything i've seen so far
so far
so far
so fierce and ingenious
a poetic specter so far gone
that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over 'oh my god' and 'this is unbelievable' and on and on

and i'll tell you what, while we're at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that's been trying to convince me
to participate
in some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air
and there's ash on our shoes
and there's ash in our hair
and there's a fine silt on every mantle
from hell's kitchen to brooklyn
and the streets are full of stories
sudden twists and near misses
and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
with tales of narrowly averted disasters
and the whiskey is flowin
like never before
as all over the country
folks just shake their heads
and pour

so here's a toast to all the folks who live in palestine

el salvador

here's a toast to the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore

here's a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice
who stand down a threat the size of oklahoma city
just to listen to a young woman's voice

here's a toast to all the folks on death row right now
awaiting the executioner's guillotine
who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
to find peace in the form of a dream

cuz take away our playstations
and we are a third world nation
under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
who stole the oval office and that phony election
i mean
it don't take a weatherman
to look around and see the weather
jeb said he'd deliver florida, folks
and boy did he ever

and we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 george w. bush is not president
#2 america is not a true democracy
#3 the media is not fooling me

cuz i am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
i've got no room for a lie so verbose
i'm looking out over my whole human family
and i'm raising my glass in a toast

here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
let us vow to get off of this sauce
shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
and find that train ticket we lost
cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
and peeked into all the backyards
and the laundry was waving
the graffiti was teasing us
from brick walls and bridges
we were rolling over ridges
through valleys
under stars
i dream of touring like duke ellington
in my own railroad car
i dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
in a grand station aglow with grace
and then standing out on the platform
and feeling the air on my face

give back the night its distant whistle
give the darkness back its soul
give the big oil companies the finger finally
and relearn how to rock-n-roll
yes, the lessons are all around us and a change is waiting there
so it's time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets
and clear the air

get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand
of someone else's desert
put it back in its pants
and quit the hypocritical chants of
freedom forever

cuz when one lone phone rang
in two thousand and one
at ten after nine
on nine one one
which is the number we all called
when that lone phone rang right off the wall
right off our desk and down the long hall
down the long stairs
in a building so tall
that the whole world turned
just to watch it fall

and while we're at it
remember the first time around?
the bomb?
the ryder truck?
the parking garage?
the princess that didn't even feel the pea?
remember joking around in our apartment on avenue D?

can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
following a fantastical reversal of the new york skyline?!

it was a joke, of course
it was a joke
at the time
and that was just a few years ago
so let the record show
that the FBI was all over that case
that the plot was obvious and in everybody's face
and scoping that scene
the CIA
or is it KGB?
committing countless crimes against humanity
with this kind of eventuality
as its excuse
for abuse after expensive abuse
and it didn't have a clue
look, another window to see through
way up here
on the 104th floor
another key
another door
10% literal
90% metaphor

3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play
so now it's your job
and it's my job
to make it that way
to make sure they didn't die in vain
baby listen
hear the train?

---- Ani Difranco

Thursday, December 22, 2005

How apropos - the Grinch breaks tie, steals Christmas

Interesting that Darth Cheney made it back to DC just in time to save Christmas for the rich, on the backs of the poorest Americans:

"The vice president votes in the affirmative," Cheney said from his seat on the Senate dais, having returned early from an overseas trip to cast his tie-breaking vote.

Is wishing Cheney an eternity in Hell not befitting the so-called Christmas spirit? Oh, well. There goes my giving mood...well, not really. I always try to get people the gifts they most need and deserve. This is no exception.

Said legislature, the "Return to Dickens' Era" bill, sets the stage for 2006's planned implementation of 70 Billion in tax cuts for the wealthy.

Forget ideology for a moment, and focus on practicalities as well as economics. The country historically does best economically as a nation with a strong, thriving middle class. You saw it under Clinton, Kennedy and FDR. On the flip side, during every Republican administration, our economy is characterized either by huge deficits, recessions, or both.

And yet every time a Republican become president, we try the same outmoded, failed supply side model. Every time. Since, well...Hoover. And we all know how great he did.

While Republicans point to a 4.1 percent increase in economic growth, they do so with a blind eye towards the fact that any economy built on borrowed billions from Asia is fragile in the extreme. It's illegitimate growth. Monopoly money masquerading as legitimate increases, where even a 40 percent growth rate would still spell diminishment.

Also forgotten? Said increase doesn't reflect the cost of what it took to get there: a few more million people without health care and jobs. Unfortunately (fortunately?) the unemployment rate stopped reflecting most of them awhile ago. Once your time for benefits runs out, so does your slot on the official unemployment numbers.

Oh, and it's unprecedented - even in the worst of administrations - to cut taxes during a time of war. Good reason for that - the cost of war needs to be funded somehow. Those crazy former administrations always thought funding the war should be done at home, rather than with foreign borrowed money.

But nevermind all that. Let's instead pass more tax cuts for the wealthy and ignore history.

The legislation, the product of a year's labor for the Republicans, would affect Medicare, Medicaid, student loans and other programs.

Home health care payments under Medicare would be frozen at current levels for a year, and Medicaid would be altered to make it harder for low-income elderly to qualify for federal nursing home benefits by turning assets over to their children.

The student loan program would be targeted for $12.6 billion in savings over five years, much of it from a change that would peg loans to a fixed interest rate. Business would be required to contribute $3.6 billion to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that protects certain pension plans.

As was the case with ANWR, the vote closely followed party lines.

Five Republicans defected on the deficit-cutting votes, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Snowe, Chafee and DeWine face re-election next year. Also in opposition were all 44 Democrats and Sen. James Jeffords, the Vermont independent.

Look, maybe you're not political. Maybe you're just cold, despairing and trying to make a few bucks to buy some last minute cologne and a cheap DVD player for your jerky brother. What the government just did to you will mean that next year, or the year after, you won't have to worry about those gifts. Instead, you'll be focused on more important issues -- who to quickly marry in order to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.

But, hey. Who follows politics? They're all crooks, right? Except those 45 who voted against harming the middle and poor classes. The ones who actually think getting a college education and medical care in old age are still things that should be available to working people.

I'm just crazy enough to believe that maybe they do care -- or atleast, vote as if they care - about the future for all Americans, not just the wealthiest one percent. And that we need more like them, immediately.

I'm also crazy enough to believe that if all of us don't start caring now, and doing something about it, in the not-so-distant future, Dickens era is going to appear quaint and sweet in comparison.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Maybe it can happen here

Public enemy

By Joe Keohane | December 18, 2005

PICTURE THIS: A folksy, self-consciously plainspoken Southern politician rises to power during a period of profound unrest in America. The nation is facing one of the half-dozen or so of its worst existential crises to date, and the people, once sunny, confident, and striving, are now scared, angry, and disillusioned.

This politician, a ''Professional Common Man,'' executes his rise by relentlessly attacking the liberal media, fancy-talking intellectuals, shiftless progressives, pinkos, promiscuity, and welfare hangers-on, all the while clamoring for a return to traditional values, to love of country, to the pie-scented days of old when things made sense and Americans were indisputably American. He speaks almost entirely in ''noble but slippery abstractions''-Liberty, Freedom, Equality-and people love him, even if they can't fully articulate why without resorting to abstractions themselves.

Through a combination of factors-his easy bearing chief among them (along with massive cash donations from Big Business; disorganization in the liberal opposition; a stuffy, aloof opponent; and support from religious fanatics who feel they've been unfairly marginalized)-he wins the presidential election.

Once in, he appoints his friends and political advisers to high-level positions, stocks the Supreme Court with ''surprisingly unknown lawyers who called [him] by his first name,'' declaws Congress, allows Big Business to dictate policy, consolidates the media, and fills newspapers with ''syndicated gossip from Hollywood.''

Carping newspapermen worry that America is moving backward to a time when anti-German politicians renamed sauerkraut ''Liberty Cabbage'' and ''hick legislators...set up shop as scientific experts and made the world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution,'' but newspaper readers, wary of excessive negativity, pay no mind.

Given the nature of ''powerful and secret enemies'' of America-who are ''planning their last charge'' to take away our freedom-an indefinite state of crisis is declared, and that freedom is stowed away for safekeeping. When the threat passes, we can have it back, but in the meantime, citizens are asked to ''bear with'' the president.

Sure, some say these methods are extreme, but the plain folks are tired of wishy-washy leaders, and feel the president's decisiveness is its own excuse. Besides, as one man says, a fascist dictatorship ''couldn't happen here in America...we're a country of freemen!''

. . .

This is a description of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel ''It Can't Happen Here" recently reissued.

Why, what did you think it was?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tsunamis and tigers and poor: Oh My!

What do these three have in common?

They're the focus of groups being monitored by our very own FBI, these days. Your tax dollars at work, government spying on agencies such as Greenpeace, PETA and the Catholic Worker's group.

FBI watched political, social groups, agency records show
By Eric Lichtblau

Originally published December 20, 2005

WASHINGTON // Counterterrorism agents at the FBI have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

With the President staunchly (after yesterday's bilious display, some would also include "bellicosely") defending his decision to spy on Americans outside FISA law and perhaps against the Constitution, one would assume that those being surveilled were clearly threats to America.

After all, that's what he said yesterday, right? These are "speedy, tricky" enemies of freedom.

Oh, that insidious Greenpeace - the infidel fighter of democracy.

Catholic charities are speedy? Not if you've ever been on the receiving end of them, I'd wager. They're hardly tricky, either.

Without a doubt, however, they are all "the enemy."

Not to this country, but to an administration whose ideology is so unfounded and slipshod it cannot stand up to scrutiny and counter-argument, let alone factual data. Groups that support the environment, animals and the impoverished not only have the angels on their side, they have statistical evidence and a fair amount of financial clout.

All of which makes them, along with the Quakers and anti-war groups in this country, a direct threat to the Bush administration's fantasy world where things like global warming, species extinction and the ever-growing ranks of America poor simply don't exist.

Even Orwell couldn't have imagined things going this far off the beaten path.

Hello, Dali

It's 3 a.m. and what's eating me? Something very much like this Dali I used to keep hanging on the wall.

Fascinating piece of art.

Under, around, within each image lies a different image, sometimes obvious and sometimes not. Most of the larger picture is created from smaller, more commonplace objects and images; one often must step backwards to really sense the image in totality.

Even with that benefit, it doesn't always make sense.

Separate, active, detailed worlds exist on either side of the central image - but that center is so large, so compelling, it eclipses everything else. Too much to take in, all at once. A viewer is drawn to what looms largest and shines brightest.

Yet the darker detail summons a sense of unease; we instinctively recognize making a potentially imperiling choice by ignoring the swirling, industrious nightmare background in favor of the soothing, placid central fantasy, a face of such calming reassurance that we cannot look beyond it even when we should. Two worlds so sharply in contrast that they can scarcely exist together.

I had to take it down.

It's a testament to human failure in seeing and processing events and images not by scale, but by importance and danger. The picture mocks our limited ability to understand, our unconscious drive to seek out benevolence, and our potential for drowning in frightening, frenetic details.

Social programs, the safety net of American life, swept away. Billions borrowed from Asia. Tens of thousands dead. Civil liberties cast aside by an unapologetic cabal. Katrina victims, forever entombed in wet, forgotten homes. The drumbeat of war with Iran growing louder now. UnChristian religious zealots, leading a charge. No health insurance. Terrorists. War profiteering. Job losses. Heating bills. Auto fuel. Christmas presents. Surveillance. Education. Foreclosures. Outsourcing. Freezing.

At 3 a.m. in George Bush's America, there's just no place for the imagery of a Salvador Dali painting and the conflicting human responses it evokes.

After all, we're living in it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fourth Amendment, RIP

After a lengthy illness and a rapid downturning, our Constitution's Fourth Amendment died today. America asks that in lieu of flowers, admirers send wiretaps, email spying software and letters of support to the NSA,Washington, DC. Memorial services will be held today, briefly, and then completely forgotten by our media by Sunday evening.

Who was the fourth amendment? As a close friend and ally, allow me to paint a picture of the Fourth Amendment I knew and loved, that allowed citizens:

..."to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The amendment's custodian of record, George W. Bush, is currently being investigated for failure of fiduciary duty. In his defense, Bush had this to say:

"Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country."

Further, he said he would continue to allow for spying on American citizens (paraphrase).

The actual quote appears a viable defense at first blush. It's wrong, however. The death of our friend Mr. Fourth Amendment did not come as a result of our media reporting on illegal domestic spying. It came the moment Bush secretly decided to allow for such research on 80,000 known American citizens.

The moment Bush declared us "One Nation Under Surveillance" and began to monitor the Quakers, amongst other outspoken opponents of this war, our Fourth Amendment rights ceased to exist. The actual danger and damage done was in his unlawful act, not the reporting of same by our media.

As a visibly shaken Russ Feingold said today after Bush's speech, "We have a president, not a king!" adding that these activities were most certainly illegal.

Let's be clear, shall we? Under no circumstances should we, as American citizens acting within legal constraint, undergo surveillance by our elected officials.

Lest you think I'm merely being paranoid, and that "as long as there's nothing to hide, there's no need to worry" let me explain it like this:

In life, I'm one of those annoying people who, when someone says, "How are you?" feels compelled to respond in minute detail.

In short, an open book. But the minute someone else opens that book without my knowledge and consent, they're acting illegally and unethically. Period.

Exigent circumstances are accounted for when it comes to probable cause for surveillance. In other words, if a warrant cannot immediately be obtained, but suspicions indicate an immediate need for action, then conditions exist to meet those requirements. Warrants can be issued retroactively within a time frame, as long as certain requirements are met.

This is never, ever the same as ongoing hidden surveillance of American citizens without probable cause or in the case there's not enough reason to issue a warrant.

As Americans we need to know the difference, and know our rights, in order not to be blinded by deliberate obfuscation from a government hell-bent on overstepping its boundaries.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Patriot Act extension vote -- We Won!!

Per the AP, Senate votes down Patriot Act provisions

Thank you, Senator Feingold. You said you would filibuster, and you got enough people to vote against extending the Patriot Act. You, sir, are a true leader.

How sad/funny is it that this news makes me feel like it's Christmas morning already?? In fairness, it's a pretty big symbolic victory; yet another sign of the sea change taking place across America.

AP agrees:

WASHINGTON - The Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the USA Patriot Act as infringing too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders.

I had a feeling it might go this way, particularly after today's New York Times article detailing how the President authorized illegal spying on American citizens. Nevertheless, color me thrilled.

The phony, fake, annoying" War on Christmas"

I've just about had enough of this garbage. Apparently, so has Michigan Congressman John Dingell. On the House floor, he provided this witty and wise retort to Bill O' Reilly aka BOR.

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed 'bout which Fox News could grouse;

Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;

In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to...well...

Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;

Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger
Wake up Congress, they're in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go,
From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes...even Costco;

What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy,
When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we're taught to unite,
We don't need a made-up reason to fight

So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs;
You should just sit back, relax...have a few egg nogs!

'Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch
With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight,
A merry Christmas to all,

and to Bill O'Reilly...Happy Holidays.

More on a personal skirmish in the fake war's "front lines" later.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The little engine that could

I live on coffee.

It's not a lifestyle undertaken lightly; for years, my coffee fix consisted only of a few small cups in the morning. But, given what my life has become , eventually the habit grew in proportion. First came the larger cups - glass canning jars, actually. The big ones.

Next came a parade of coffemakers that did everything but tap dance. Electronic timers that wake before you do. Pause 'n serve. Pause 'n Serve and turn-off by themselves. Coffeemakers with built-in grinders (messy beasts not recommended for the fainthearted.)

Mr. Coffee, Proctor Silex, Sunbeam...

I'm a coffeemaker slut and I've had you all.

Alas, the Mr. Coffee Thermal Carafe monstrosity, this huge, imposing beast my oldest used to refer to as "sexy", passed on Monday morning after only six months. I didn't position it correctly, causing a counter full of coffee and burned out electronics.

Being Christmas time with little frivolous income, another $60.00 coffee machine was not in the immediate future. So I did a little research and found this:

Not so sexy, huh? Hardly an adequate replacement for the gleaming stainless steel uber java machine, right?

Well, looks, and price, are deceiving.

The Braun Aromaster, at approximately $19.99, makes coffee unlike any I've ever tasted. It's fabulous - better than any in Arabica. Seriously. I'm taking a mug of it to my dad when we bring them dinner tonight.

Not sure what it is, but the Aromaster consistently rated highest in blind taste tests among consumers, according to this Consumer Reports article.

The Aromaster bested six other coffee machines priced between $100 and $300. And while I don't know why it's so good, after buying one I now understand why it won raves.

It has no electronics. No buzzers, bells or whistles. If you don't turn it off, it's not going to shut off.

But. . .

Maybe it's the gold filter, the temperate at which it brews, the water dispersal system that provides "fast, uniform saturation of coffee" or the alleged self-sealing carafe.

I seldom provide even verbal product endorsements, let alone write about products. So whatever the reason, Braun has really impressed me. The Mr. Coffee might look better, but it's bilge water compared to what the Braun creates.

It has but one downside - if one considers such things a downside - and that's an excess of caffeine. I feel like I'm 20 again, taking over-the-counter caffeine pills the night before a big exam. Maybe there's something in those gold filters?

The kids are spending the night away from home for the first time since October 2004, tomorrow night. Better lay off the coffee before then, or I'll be up all night dancing around the house.

Well, maybe I will be anyway, with or without coffee.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Department of Defense: Making a list, checking it twice, and you're on it!

Again, Michael Moore was right.

In yesterday's Countdown, Keith Olbermann detailed how the Pentagon is spying on regular American citizens.

Nothing new, really. If I were an Iraqi, I'd have to wonder about this whole "democracy" America wants to import. First we come with the propaganda - the military paid to plant stories in the press. Next, the questionable elections with rumors of fraud. Finally, the domestic spying and violations of civil rights.

Yep. American democracy - coming soon to a country near you.

The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

So, this is what our taxpayer money is going to: taking down names of people who dare to protest the war. A natural outgrowth of this administration's desire to control every facet of the conversation. If you can't be converted, or subverted, you must be threatened and monitored.

But who is monitoring the monitors? A former DOD official worries:

Somebody needs to be monitoring to make sure they are just not going crazy and reporting things on U.S. citizens without any kind of reasoning or rationale,” says Lotz. “I demonstrated with Martin Luther King in 1963 in Washington,” he says, “and I certainly didn’t want anybody putting my name on any kind of list. I wasn’t any threat to the government,” he adds.

Here, let me make this easy for you DOD guys. Maybe save some of that tax money:

You can find me most days at the listed address during morning and evening hours. I drive that overpriced heap with the squeaky brakes. Yes, it's a Canadian import. Does that affect my terrorist score?

If I'm not at home, look in the courts around this and surrounding counties. And yes, that is a real laptop I'm carrying. No need to bring out the sniffing dogs.

I've still got the long curly hair. Although, sometimes just to throw you guys off I use that ceramic straightening iron your cameras caught me buying at Rite-Aid awhile back.

Which look is better, by the way? I'm partial to the straight.

But as you guys know, it takes hours to get all my hair straight. Remember all the cussing you caught on camera? That was during hair straightening time. Well, okay. At least some of it was.

Speaking of that, do you guys think I swear too much? If you have a moment, perhaps review all the tapes and count the number of times I take the Lord's name in vain, or use a short euphemism for the act of procreating.

Get back to me with those numbers. Maybe you could charge me a quarter every time I swear. Just tack it on to my income taxes or something.

When push comes to shove, if you have any footage that shows me wearing white in winter, or the same pair of jeans two days in a row, or even worse, my hair looks like I didn't brush it before heading to the store...please, keep those to yourselves. My hair is just way too long and unmanageable these days. Let's not get my parents upset.

And whatever you do, keep my cigarette habit on the down-low. They think I don't smoke excessively.

Feel free, however, to let them know I really did quit drinking completely three years ago. Can you believe it? Oh, how silly of me. Of course you can. Your footage will be reassuring to them.

What's that? Your surveillance of them indicates they're already spending 30 percent of the time worrying about whether or not I'll ever get married again since I'm "dressing like a streetwalker" and they suspect I'm still secretly buying beer?

Thanks for the heads-up. See ya 'round.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"The Wizard of Oil" by Dood Abides

Ever see something so brilliant, so funny, that you wanted just everyone to see it?

This is IT.

Dood Abides, photoshopper extraordinaire, has rewritten and illustrated The Wizard of Oz into. . .The Wizard of Oil. With lyrics and everything.

Click the underlined text. I cannot do it justice. Nevertheless, here's just one preview pic:

But you definitely need to read and see the entire thing.

George Bush is a sociopath - more or less

The phrase has stuck in my craw since yesterday: more or less.

"I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," said George Bush, yesterday.

What an odd choice of words for a normal human being to use when speaking of death. Put it in any sentence of a serious nature, one requiring depth:

Dear Friend:

We regret to inform you your whole family died. More or less.


The Government

"Sorry, son. You're going to lose all your limbs, more or less."

What the bloody hell is that phrase doing in a sentence regarding human life?

Aside from sticking out like a sore thumb, mocking the worth of a person, should he or she be unfortunate enough to be on the business end of America's quest for empire. Especially should he or she have darker skin, and speak another language. Then they are a person more or less.

Generally, to the Bush administration, less.

I'm so disgusted by his unfortunate, though deliberate, choice of words, as well as the stupid, painful joke he made immediately after his comments. It was meant to be humorous, more or less. But it was completely inappropriate. As usual.

I said once they didn't count the Iraq civilians because to them, they don't count. And you know what? I was absolutely right. Not more. Not less. Absolutely correct.

When given the opportunity to rise to the occasion and be more or less of a decent human being, George Bush yet again proved yesterday he is unequivocally less.

But what of the rest of us? Where are we? Do we realize these are civilians - not insurgents, not terrorists, not enemy combatants, but 30,000 people just like you and me? While we're all snuggled in our intact homes, watching television, dreaming about Happy Holidays (take that, Bill O'Reilly!), do we think at all about these people whose deaths are America's responsibility - collateral damage from a war we waged under false pretenses?

Do we even really care? More? Or less?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Please pick up your suitcase - and deceased veteran loved one - at the baggage carousel

You know, just when I think I'm fresh out of new outrage, the Bush administration brews more. Just like Braun, only not remotely wonderful.

Saturday at one a.m. I read an excellent diary by Sherlock Google at Daily Kos detailing how phony defense companies are created as fronts for money to be funnelled to the GOP -- the consequences of which we're starting to see in the form of resignations like that of Duke Cunningham.

Granted, it was one a.m. and I was just waking up, so the vision and mental processes weren't firing on all cylinders; but that was only a partial reason I was left scratching my head, reading it over and over. It's all so very beyond the pale, outside the realm of decency, that often I'm simply left cold, unsure whether to cry or vomit first.

Take this, for instance:

Families are upset because their children who are killed in action in Iraq are being shipped back home AS FREIGHT.

Our thoughtful, extravagant Pentagon (only both those things when it comes to finding creative ways to make more money off the war), rather than honoring the troops by bringing them home in the traditional flag-drapped coffin, is sending them back amidst the luggage in the plane cargo holders.

I cannot imagine being a parent, like John and Stacey Holley, who went to retrieve the body of their only child, Matthew John Holley, only to discover he was treated like so many boxed computers and suitcases.

Of course, the Holleys contacted their senator, Barbara Boxer (D-California) who had to intervene to make sure their son was brought home with the dignity and respect he deserved. How horrible.

If anyone in the Bush administration dares suggest others do not support the troops, one need only look at how they treat soldiers who gave up their lives fighting this war.

Last time I checked, people shouldn't be left in boxes that say "This End Up."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hackett supporters wage GOP lite attack against Sherrod Brown

I'm disheartened to read of several shots across the bow at Sherrod Brown by those who claim to be Hackett supporters. This one, in particular.

His complaint? That "Brown is dissing Hackett" too much. Ripped right from a Rovian playbook, it is.

And here's the play:

First, have Hackett supporters go ballistic about Brown deciding to run, and have them pass innuendo off as truth (saying Brown "promised" Hackett he wasn't going to run, yet never providing any such factual basis for their claims).

Then, at Daily Kos and perhaps elsewhere, post faux questions designed to smear Brown ("I wonder why he doesn't want to post here?" ad nauseum). Question his integrity. Call him a flip-flopper.

Not only do these machinations ring false, they're also evidence of a failure of imagination. For God's sake, can't Hackett and Co. do better than invoking cheap GOP shots from the 2004 presidential campaign? When your candidate is a total unknown who considers himself a "Democratic Libertarian," maybe trying to beat a solid, true Democrat requires dance steps Astaire would envy.

In light of all the mud they've been slinging at Brown long before he announced his candidacy, their feigned surprise and worry that Brown would dare respond to Hackett's unwarranted attacks is decidedly Oscar worthy.

They conveniently forgot Hackett's (and their own) cheesy assaults on Brown?

Give me a break.

But the absolute BEST has to be their newest accusation, one I've leveled at Hackett and his supporters from the moment they started mudslinging: the other guy's running scared.

To accuse Brown of this is ludicrious. Facts don't support it.

It's Brown who has party backing in Ohio.

It's Brown who has the proven populist track record.

It's Brown who labors day and night to fight the GOP machine in Washington.

It's Brown whose positions on issues are without question both Democratic and populist, unlike Hackett -- who remains an unknown, unproven -- just a candidate.

It's Brown whose donations are frequently so abundant they're given to other Ohio Democrats to help their races.

I've always thought - perhaps in light of these latest stunts, erroneously - Ohioans were above such nonsense as Hackett and his supporters are currently displaying. We liked civility between candidates, keeping a race above-board and honest.

Perhaps we won't know how correct that assumption is until next November.

But I humbly submit to Hackett and his supporters that, as a lifelong Ohioan, my money's on it still being true.

By firing first, and continuing to spin half-truths into sustained false outrage, Hackett and his supporters are disrespecting Ohio voters, the process, and themselves far more than anything else.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

All in a day's work

Say, since this is my blog and stuff, is it okay if I vent a bit? If you're here for political insight (admittedly slight lately), Sherrod Brown updates (also slight) or snark, you may just want to ignore this post.

Cool? Cool.

Okay, now that the formalities are over: AAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!

Someone yank me off this habitrail wheel. I'm so done.

I'm running out of paperclips, wire hangers and super glue and just can't MacGyver loved ones' lives anymore. It's just not working, and didn't even MacGyver get a hiatus? Some summer re-run time? A chance to recharge his batteries (and assorted power packs used for derailing the plans of bad guys)?

Someone call Richard Dean Anderson, quick. I need a stunt double.

Yesterday, the phone rang about 1 p.m. and it was my youngest.

"You're never gonna believe this, mom. I need you to pick me up. I twisted my other ankle."

Boy, did she. It's swollen to the size of a tennis ball, and maybe broken. I say maybe, because we decided to wait overnight before deciding if an ER or doctor visit was necessary. Judging from watching her crawl through the house - an act she finds easier than leaning on me and hopping around - it's necessary.

Only I'm supposed to be at my mom's today, helping install a new hot water tank. By helping, I mean simply handing Dennis tools while I do their laundry.

My mom, yet another goofy gimp these days due to the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis on 79 year old bones, really shouldn't go downstairs. So I try to do her laundry. Which sounds simple, but ends up being something more.

And by "something more" I mean a Cecil B. DeMille or David O. Selznick production, where Mom gets to be Selznick, bullhorn in hand, barking orders:

"Make sure you put the plug in the water basin! I save the water between loads of darks! Now don't forget the fabric softener. No, no, not that fabric softener, the other stuff. No, not that other stuff - the other, other stuff!"

(She's long since left behind just having mom-eyes in the back of her head. Now she can see through corridor walls, down steps, and into basements from the top floor.)

When the call came yesterday, I was enjoying my active social life -- talking to Andy and John, of Home Depot and Lowe's, respectively. They were seductively laying-out all the fabulous details of 40 gallon hot water tanks and their attendant warranties.

Before that, after finishing work and foolishly assuming I'd have from noon on to read George Plimpton's Capote oral history, I realized my oldest needed the finishing touches on her outline delivered.

For better or worse, this is my life. Right now, maybe forever, it belongs to everyone else.

All I get out of letting that bother me is a sense of guilt. This is my family. My parents have done so much for me throughout my life that a simple day, week, month, year or decade of helping them is just a drop in the reciprocity bucket.

And my kids? Well, they're my kids. And I'm the only parent they have, anymore. They're called dependents for more than just tax purposes, right?

Since my parents have gone so downhill over the past five years or so, it's become increasingly hard to keep up the pace. I wanted to sell my house and move home to deal with their yardwork, housework, laundry and other domestic stuff, but frankly, they're pretty happy living alone. The noise and flurry of teenagers would just disrupt that.

But trying to take care of two homes and work enough to pay the bills is beginning to eclipse other, seemingly trivial matters. My sanity, for instance. The quality of all our lives, for another. Well, their lives.

When there's time, we can examine my life. If we can find it.

Sometimes, mostly when I'm sleeping because that's my time, I dream about a future where I'm an active, happy participant. Usually Al Pacino factors in there somewhere. But young Al, circa The Godfather era. Pre Scarface, pre Scent of a Woman Al Pacino, who pops-in with flowers and whisks me off on a private plane to dine in New York. Just as things are getting good, the waiter brings a shiny, gold phone over to our table.

It's my parents, asking me to fly home with some good bagels.

If I'm not actually there at my parents' house, then I'm out somewhere buying one of the many things my dad decides he suddenly needs: new plastic to cover the perfectly fine current plastic over the fireplace, more fertilizer for the yard, or two bolts. I kid you not. Twobolts he sent me out for, in the middle of a perfectly lovely day at home. He never even used them, as far as we know.

And the calls. They never stop. I tried getting on their "Do Not Call" list. Sent the form and everything. I'll be doing dishes and the phone rings:


"Don't you ever pick up the phone?"

"Uh, yeah. We're talking right now, aren't we?"

"Ha-ha, very funny. Remember when I asked you (six months ago/two weeks ago/two days ago) to come trim the bushes? Do you think you could do that (today/five minutes from now/yesterday)? Mom says they're getting kind of tall."

"But, dad, I trimmed them two weeks ago. They can't have grown that much --"

"Oh, they have. They really need trimming. And while you're out, could you pick up a package of plastic sandwich bags? We're all out."

"Anne...where did you go? Did you hear the part about the sandwich bags? Oh, and a loaf of bread. Anne?"

"Yeah. I'm here. Just tossing the rope over the beam to make sure it'll hold my weight."

"Oh. Okay. We need some milk, too, okay? Just not the 1 percent. Remember you got that last time and it was awful. Two percent or more. Oh, and don't buy it at Convenient. They'll charge you an arm and a leg. Buy it at Giant Eagle..."

Yes. They do direct me which stores to go to in order to get their stuff. Because getting the stuff isn't enough. It has to be "from" the proper place.

Well, what can you do, really? I mean, this is life, after all. The time to run screaming came and went a long, long time ago.

In the meantime, I've got some knots to make in this rope. With any luck, I'll actually finish before the phone rings again. . .

Friday, December 09, 2005

Patriot "balancing" act - little progress

The House and Senate reached agreement yesterday over the controversial extension of 16 Patriot Act clauses set to expire by the end of the year, due to the "sunset" clauses.

In a process which dealt Democrats out of the decision making, there's little to cheer over; librarians, however, might be feeling a bit better knowing it's no longer possible for the FBI to access patrons' records carte blanche. Instead, all requests for business and library records must be reviewed by a judge.

The only other positive outcome is in new sunset terms for the 16 provisions; wrangling was fierce over the proposed limit for these controversial clauses, and the House called for a ten year term. The Senate preferred a four year cut-off, and won that battle.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat and the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, called the agreement "a major disappointment" and promised to do "everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report."

"Merely sunsetting bad law is not adequate," Feingold said in a statement released after the agreement was announced. "We need to make substantive changes to the law, and without those changes I am confident there will be strong, bipartisan opposition here in the Senate."

As we move away from 9/11 and common sense increasingly begins to replace fear and panic, the public will likely judge harshly the (unfortunately powerful) handful of legislators who continue to press for expanded power and decreases in citizens' civil liberties. After all, they begin to appear as they truly are: blatantly abusive attempts to concentrate power in the hands of the few against the will of the many.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8, 2005

OCTOBER 9, 1940 -- DECEMBER 8, 1980

Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

Close your eyes
Have no fear
The monster's gone
He's on the run and your daddy's here

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy

Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It's getting better and better

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy

Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we'll both just have to be patient
'Cause it's a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes it's a long way to go
But in the meantime

Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy

Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It's getting better and better

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful boy
Darling, darling, darling
Darling Sean

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Meet the golden ager of our home

No, it's not me.

Conversation and my thoughts today have been pretty heavy; rather than do the political thing, I've decided to lighten the mood and go with the whole adorable pet angle.

On that note, this is Marlon (and my oldest daughter)- taken last winter after their nap. I'll be disowned by both of them for posting it:

Marlon is, simply put, the best, strangest, most interesting animal ever.

Sure, all pet owners say that. But I'm telling the truth.

Just a few things that make him the oddest dog I've ever met:

1. He sleeps in my spot when I get up from bed, but won't sleep in anyone's bed when they're in it.

Big deal, you say. All dogs lay on beds, right? Yes. But all dogs don't lay stretched out on their sides, with the right side of their head on the pillow, in the exact same manner of a person. Marlon does. He literally looks as though he just tossed back the covers and is ready to get up. It's weird. He could be me, lying there.

Which brings me to item two of Marlon's weirdness. . .

2. He doesn't lick people, or slobber.

Seriously. No slobber. He eschews traditional dog behaviors and only licks hands once every year, usually around Christmas. When he's feeling all the festive love and whatnot.

3. He doesn't hump - not legs of people, legs of chairs, or generally other animals.

The only person he ever tried to do that to was the youngest. We think it's because he gets angry when she and I curl-up on the couch together, or hug. He then growls and tries to place himself between us. Because, after all, he believe he's my youngest baby. So it seemed when she was a bit smaller, like 9 or so, he tried to achieve dominance over her. But it only was once or twice and, however gross, didn't become a habit. Though he still tries to get in my lap before she can.

4. He will not eat in front of you, or while you're in the room.

You can pour him food - dog or human - and he will patiently wait until you leave the room before he starts eating. Or drinking. He sits and waits. . .and waits. . .and waits. . .until the room is his. Which is problematic when I feed him before starting dishes, or while cooking dinner, because he's fed in the kitchen. No matter how long, though, he's gonna wait it out.

5. He does not chew people. He does not jump on people as they walk (except me sometimes when he's excited to see his leash and the prospect of a stroll). He does not scratch things.

He simply doesn't engage in many non-human behaviors. He thinks, for better or worse, that he's simply one of us. Until he sees us scratching each other, or biting, or jumping on visitors -- he's just not gonna engage.

6. He's smarter than me.

I'm trying to give him medicine for an ear infection since Thanksgiving, right? So I start by putting the capsules in leftover stuffing, making a ball around the pill. This works - for a day. Then he starts carefully eating around the stuffing. Takes him ten minutes to polish off a piece smaller than a golf ball. But he does it. And then he does the same with cheese. Finally we had to open the capsule and put the powder on buttered bread, then roll up the bread and give it to him.

Marlon came to us in the summer of 2001. We frequently visited animal shelters, despite the fact it's a painful, sad experience and for the most part, I'm afraid of strange dogs. So, every month or so we'd visit just to pet and look and be friendly. It was good therapy for the dogs and good practice for the girls.

So the day before our scheduled trip to Massachussetts, being nearby we thought we'd visit. My youngest found Marlon there.

We spent the better part of two hours, until the workers nearly kicked us out in order to close for the day, weighing what we wanted more: our cherished vacation, or this big, strange, scraggly, matted white fuzzball?

I wanted the trip. Was looking forward to the annual visit with people I love, and really jazzed about the girls spending time with them. Plus, you know - a dog?!? They're loads of work, time and money. I hadn't excess of any such things.

We got the dog.

A Great Pyrenees mix, he'd been allegedly the companion of an elderly man whose children felt could no longer take care of an animal. He'd spent most of his time in a room with newspaper on the floor, so he could go to the bathroom without being let outside.

Yet, when we got him home, he was fully housebroken.

The first week, Marlon decided that his insides belonged on the carpet; he contracted some godawful disease and I thought he was going to die. A night at the vets, testing, and $700.00 later, nobody could figure out what was wrong.

Personally, I've come to believe it was simple stress. He wasn't sure what we'd expected, and he had to live up to whatever it was. Extremely well-mannered, the thought of making some major faux-pas probably ate at him.

Since then, he's had seizures - something I'm still trying desperately to get used to, because they scare me. But we've worked through them to some degree; I hold and soothe him as his muscles contract and contort, and he knows enough to lie down and let them happen. Afterwards, he gets a spoon of vanilla ice cream (they say it helps). If I'm stressed, so do I.

Adapting to Marlon has been easy. After all, he's probably better tempered and more refined than the girls. ;)

Just a few problem areas:

We had light grey carpeting. Still do, actually. Between his copious summer hair loss I've gone through five carpet cleaners. One each year. We've tried them all: Bissell, Hoover, Eureka. . .they all died within one year. It seemed a bad sign, until my dad bought me an industrial Shop Vac last Christmas.

A Great Pyr's hair is more like cotton balls than anything else. It sticks to everything. I'm constantly lint rolling, and as we're the modern-day Addams family, we all predominantly wear black clothing.

White fur, black clothing. You do the math.

It's also nearly impossible to remove his hair from the dark grey cloth interior of my car. Consequently, nobody rides with me anymore. This has its benefits: last summer, my aunt stopped asking for me to take her to church every Sunday. Even with sheets over the car seats, she emerged from the car covered in Marlon fur.


When left to his own devices, and when we're gone and it's available, Marlon will carry all the trash into the living room, piece by piece. That had a simple enough solution in the form of a large, lidded garbage can with a foot pedal.

So, that's it. No other complaints.

It's hard to believe Marlon's only been with us for nearly five years. He's so deeply ingrained into our daily lives, and such a joy to watch rolling around on his back in the snow, or to snuggle with on the couch.

He's getting older, and since we don't know exactly how old, we just know he's well over seven. I can't imagine ever having another dog; that's how perfect a fit Marlon is with us. If ever we do, though, it will be a Great Pyr or mixed Pyr breed. They're amazing.

The main thing life with Marlon has taught me (maybe simply because I'm older now, but he illustrates it perfectly) is that what is meant to be will be. It won't require undue struggle, machinations or hoop-jumping. Instead it will simply become - quietly, organically and nearly effortlessly. Given a chance, things do work out as they're intended.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Why are tortured mental cases the best writers?

Okay, I just finished a ten page paper on "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf. As you can see from my signature, the book had a profound impact. Well, as profound an impact as anything someone reads and writes a paper on in one short day. Without sleep. Nursing the mother of all Coldzillas. Under the influence of TheraFlu. After a long day of work.

You get the drift.

So, the relevance of Woolf's hypothesis: women's creativity and genius can only be fully expressed within the existence of financial independence, lack of internal obstacles and adequate privacy to nurture one's dreams -- while clearly important, is secondary.

The real question is this: why are all the best writers, male or female, abso-freakin-lutely nuts? Or as Jon Stewart is wont to say: batshit insane?

Most of my heroes and heroines offed themselves in dramatic, brutal fashion. Woolf. Plath. Edie. Hunter Thompson. Kurt Cobain. Van Gogh.

What is the tie between creativity and suicide? Writers and artists are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than any other group in society. They're also more prone to insomnia. That one I understand. All too well, in fact.

I wonder if the first one only applies to good writers? Did the original scribbler of "It was a dark and stormy night" also kill himself, only to have nobody notice?

In a perfect world, only the truly crappy would even think about sticking their heads in ovens. Jeff Foxworthy, for instance. He'd obsess about his own widely chronicled mediocrity. Or Clay Aiken. For God's sake, give George Bush a little introspection and guilt poison cocktail and give Sylvia Plath a second chance!

Perhaps part of the answer lies within Woolf's own theory, from "A Room of One's Own." In it she argues that the unfortunate by-product of genius is the susceptibility to the opinions of others, a certain heightening of the sensibilities that not only allows for the ability to look inward from an outside position, but requires such insight in order to bring to life universal truths.

Too much self-consciousness keeps one from focus on the subject of a writer's work; too little self-confidence inhibits a writer from reaching full potential and revealing greater truths. An imbalance in either can completely derail not only one's writing, but one's life:

"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others."

That's not to discount organic mental disturbances within Woolf, Plath or any other creative genius who tragically chose to take their own life. And it doesn't really address the connection between creativity, depression and suicide.

But in an imperfect world, it's maybe a start.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Wish every day was BNL concert day

We survived the Barenaked Ladies concert, despite the creeping crud illness. was amazing, as always.

From the opening - our own Singing Angels and then BNL with them, performing "I Saw Three Ships" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," to the second encore of Duran Duran's "Rio" --- it was perfect. And Powder Blue, live!!! Big sighs for Powder Blue. I've never heard it live (and get the feeling Steve and Ed hate the song, but it was Kevin's turn to pick the lineup).

They did a great improvised rap on the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland, lots of witty, snarky high-speed banter using their song titles...and a fun story about Steve thinking he could walk from his hotel to University Circle and the Art Museum, yesterday. Whoops.

But writing about a Ladies' show never does it justice. You simply have to see them live. It's a few hours of absolute bliss - smiling and singing and dancing along with them.

They're such a joyful high - and a terrible act to follow.

Thinking of all the bands I've seen that just stand there and perform by rote. . . what a letdown it would be to see them after going to BNL where everything's always fresh, fun, amusing and filled with energy.

They work really hard putting together a great show. Tonight they were out signing autographs and posing for pictures in the lobby prior to the show. I've never seen a band do that once they've "made it." But BNL is not like that; they're really down-to-earth when you meet them and always availing themselves to their fans.

Unfortunately, they don't get the respect and airplay their music deserves. Now that they've got their own label, I worry they'll get even less radio time without the heft of a big label behind them.

Steve did a version of Silent Night that ostensibly seemed to be him playing 'Opera Man.' And yet his voice is so incredibly strong and beautiful it was impossible to not be awed and moved.

Well, off to bed. I sure hope Miss G. had a great first BNL experience. For awhile it took both our minds off her problems, I'd hoped - but then her ankle was bothering her and she didn't want to sit down and miss any of the show. Back to reality.

Oh, and here's the setlist - favorite's are bolded:

Three Ships
Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
For You (Acoustic)
Pinch Me
Get In Line
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings
Hanukkah Blessings
Brian Wilson
Upside Down
One Little Slip
Adrift (new song, Ed on Banjo)--hope this is on the next cd, it's great
Christmas Pics
Feliz Navidad (drums-Ed, keyboard-Jim, Bass-Kevin, Guitar-Steve)
One Week/Dreidel
Powder Blue
Green Christmas
It's All Been Done
Old Apartment
Million Dollars
Silent Night

Encore One:
Jingle Bells
What a Good Boy

Encore Two:

Rio (Duran Duran)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

We Wish You a Merry Sickness

So, tomorrow night's the Barenaked Ladies Jingle Bell Ball, and I've come down with this creeping crud flu from the girls.

The youngest's lasted all week since Thanksgiving, but she's better and this is her first BNL concert. The oldest is at the point where she sounds like a 16-year-old helium inhalant addict. When she can even speak, that is.

We somehow snagged eighth row seats dead center. So even hopped-up on TheraFlu, we're going.

Somehow, despite terrible luck most of the time, when it comes to Barenaked Ladies shows I'm the luckiest person around. We've had seats in the first dozen rows for four different concerts, and it never matters when they're purchased. Once we got 11th row seats 6 p.m. at The Gund the night of the show.

We call it "Mom's BNL Cosmic Connection." Whatever term you use, it's nothing short of amazing.

SBC Blue Room has some great videos of BNL performing Hannukah Blessings, Snowman and our personal favorite from Barenaked from the Holidays, Elf's Lament. There's just something about a rockin' song featuring an Elf and the concept of fair labor practices.

Only Barenaked Ladies could pull that off.

Rumor has it the show opens with the guys accompanied by a children's band. Sadly, we won't be able to stay and meet them this year, given that junior high students need sleep on school nights. Especially when they're getting over colds.

Speaking of colds, though - I'm feeling better already, just thinking about tomorrow's show. The healing qualities of Barenaked Ladies -- magical.

Elf's Lament by Barenaked Ladies

I'm a man of reason, and they say "'Tis the season to be jolly"
But it's folly when you volley for position

Never in existence has there been such a resistance
To ideas meant to free us
If you could see us, then you'd listen

Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages
There's no union
We're only through when we outdo the competition

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

A full indentured servitude can reflect on one's attitude
But that silly red hat just makes the fat man look outrageous

Absurd though it may seem, you know,
I've heard there's even been illegal doping
And though we're coping, I just hope it's not contagious

You try to start a movement, and you
think you see improvement
But when thrown into the moment, we just don't seem so courageous

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

You look at yourself
You're an elf
And the shelf is just filled with disappointing memories
Trends come and go, and your friends
wanna know why you aren't just happy
making crappy little gizmos
Every kid knows they'll just throw this stuff away

We're used to repetition, so we drew up a petition
We, the undersigned, feel undermined
Let's redefine "employment"

We know that we've got leverage,
so we'll hand the fat man a beverage
And sit back while we attack the utter lack of our enjoyment

It may be tough to swallow, but our threats are far from hollow
He may thunder, but if he blunders,
he may wonder where the toys went

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price
Naughty or nice, but consider the price
Naughty or nice, but consider the price -- to an elf

Transcript of Sherrod Brown's speech

Let me tell you why I ran for office in this city 31 years ago.

And let me tell you why I still fight for the values that we all share.

Every day when I go to work, I wear on my lapel—not the congressional symbol that most of my colleagues wear—but this small pin which depicts a canary in a cage.

One hundred years ago American coal miners took a canary down into the mine with them. If the canary died, it meant the air in the mine was toxic, and the miners knew they had to get out—fast. In those days, there were no mine safety laws and no trade unions. Miners had to look out for themselves.

America has come a long way since those days. But it has been a battle — a 100-year battle for social and economic justice. That battle has been difficult. But it has produced a record of remarkable achievement, achievements which have steadily improved the lives of all of us.

An American born at the turn of the twentieth century could expect to live 47 years; today life expectancy is three decades longer.

Working men and women—through their unions, and through their churches—took on the most privileged of society and won victory after victory; for health care, for pensions, and for workplace safety.

They pushed Congress and state legislatures to pass legislation on Medicare and Social Security, civil rights and rights for the disabled, food safety and public health, worker safety and minimum wage, clean air and safe drinking water.

It was mostly Democrats that made those advances, but it was Republicans sometimes too. Abraham Lincoln—Republican—ended slavery. Theodore Roosevelt—Republican—gave us the national park system.

And a couple of dozen Republicans courageously stood with Democrats to pass civil rights and Medicare, to create the EPA and worker safety rules.

But that progress has stopped. Because we have very different Republicans today in Columbus and Washington.

Instead of public servants we have monied interests—in Columbus and in Washington—who see government simply as a profit center, a chance to reward their friends, punish their enemies, and shower money on themselves.

More than at any time in our history, the people who run our state, the people who run our country, have abused power and used it for their self-interest, used it for their private gain.

You know the sins. Greed. Bribery. Threats.

You know the names. Bob Taft. Tom Noe. Tom DeLay. Dick Cheney.

And you know what they are doing to our country.

Too many of my days begin and end with stories of Americans who feel betrayed by their government. Workers are losing their pensions, families are losing their healthcare, young people are losing hope. Parents who want to give their children a better life through education are seeing their dreams shattered.

Since 2000, 5 million Americans have lost their health insurance.

Ohio has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the last five years.

Wages are stagnant, workers are working harder, and bankruptcies are at all-time highs.

How could this have happened in America?

How could this have happened in our great state of Ohio?

One-party government and its twin—greedy self-interest—have betrayed our people and abandoned our values.

Our political leaders refuse to find solutions to high gasoline prices, they reject any plan to reduce the outrageous cost of prescription drugs, and they show no interest in combating the shockingly high home heating bills which will soon hit us.

Their contributors—the oil companies, the drug companies—have paralyzed them.

Bush, Taft and DeWine, the Republican Leadership Team, have stood silently by while our state has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, while our communities are losing fire protection, police protection, and a traditional way of life. Their contributors have paralyzed them.

They have turned their backs on our families. Our young people are leaving our state in record numbers because we are not offering opportunities that make them want to stay. The Bush-Taft-DeWine team has failed our schools, from kindergarten to our great state universities.

We read about corruption—about a government that is unrecognizable to every government teacher in our great state, a cronyism that we believed ended with Tammany Hall, cast aside into the dustbin of history.

The pharmaceutical companies wrote the Medicare law. The chemical companies write environmental rules. The oil companies wrote the energy bill. Wall Street writes Social Security privatization legislation. Bankers and outsourcers wrote the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Sometimes—in politics and in life—we have to choose sides. We have to draw a clear line between what’s right and what’s wrong. Between what works for the people of our great nation and what works for only the privileged few.

Most of us here chose sides years ago. We chose sides based on our faith—a faith in God, and a faith in our country to live up to the promise of America. Our faith demands that we work tirelessly for social and economic justice.

I learned about faith and social and economic justice not far from here, from my parents and my church.

My faith teaches me that The Beatitudes is not just the greatest sermon ever given, it may be the best political speech ever delivered. It teaches us about caring for the least among us, about being a shepherd for the less privileged, about fighting for social and economic justice.

My faith informs me which side to take.

In 1993, I chose the side of families and communities and workers against the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico. As a freshman Congressman, I helped form a bi-partisan coalition and stood up to the president of the United States, a president in my party, and fought against the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As your United States senator, I will fight even harder for fair trade.

Three years ago, I chose the side of our men and women in uniform when I demanded of Secretary Rumsfeld and Administrator Bremer that their first priority should be the safety of our troops in Iraq. That no soldier, no Marine should go into battle—EVER—without body armor.

As your United States senator, I will fight even harder for our troops and our veterans.

Two years ago, again into the wee hours of the night, I chose the side of America’s senior citizens, helped form a bi-partisan coalition, and stood up to the drug companies which charge Americans three or four times what Canadians pay for their medicine.

"As your United States senator, I will fight even harder for affordable health care.

When you choose sides, you take the heat. The mark of true leadership is the ability and the willingness to stand up to pressure, to refuse to back down.

When I voted and spoke out against sending our young men and women to Iraq, I took the heat, I stood my ground. And many of you joined me.

Night after night, in the tradition of John Quincy Adams, I stayed after session and read aloud on the House floor dozens of letters from Ohio mothers and fathers, husbands and wives of soldiers and Marines in Iraq, dozens of letters from Ohioans who questioned the wisdom of this war.

Now I want to be their voice in the United States Senate.

And because I chose sides years ago, I will make a prediction: America’s largest drug companies will pour a million, two million, maybe three million dollars into our state to try to defeat me.

And, because I have fought for lower energy prices, this country’s largest oil companies will pour in another million dollars or two million dollars to try to defeat me.

Out-of-state insurance HMOs. Out-of-state pharmaceutical firms. Out-of-state tobacco companies. Out of state oil interests.

Well, here's what I have to say to all these out-of-state interests: Get out of our state. You've done enough damage.

Let me say something about Mike DeWine who has been our senator for 11 years. He is a decent man. Senator DeWine has tried to create an image of supposed independence from the hard edges of the Republican Party, the self-interest and greed of the 21st century Republican Party—telling us that he is no George Bush, that he is different from Bob Taft.

But too often, when called upon by George Bush, Mike DeWine has done his partisan duty. When George Bush said, Let’s make war on Iraq, Mike DeWine said, I’m right behind you, Mr President.

When George Bush said, Let’s privatize Social Security, Mike DeWine said, I’m with you, Mr. President; in fact, I already have a bill to help you do it.

When George Bush said, We need a trade bill with Central America so American business can outsource more Ohio jobs, Mike DeWine was one of its chief cheerleaders.

Mike DeWine has chosen sides. And, on issues that matter to Ohioans, Mike DeWine is on the wrong side.

Just two weeks ago, Congress passed a budget—of course in the middle of the night, of course with the roll held open for far too long, of course with Republican members changing their votes under the cover of darkness.

A budget is a moral document. A government budget, just like a family budget, reflects its values. This budget had it all wrong.

Cuts in Medicaid which will hurt our elderly living in nursing homes and hurt small children whose parents have full-time jobs. Cuts in student loans which will hurt our middle class families who are struggling to reach their dreams for their kids. Cuts in food stamps which will hurt the poorest families in our country. . . . All to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of people in our nation.

That is the 21st century Republican version of family values. Those are not our family values.

Republicans have sold us on their counterfeit values and phony priorities for way too long.

Tax cuts for their largest contributors masking as economic policy; an Iraq debacle pretending to be a war on terror; saddling our children and grandchildren with a huge debt in the name of fiscal responsibility; a quarter trillion dollar payout to the drug and insurance industries under the guise of a medical benefit for our senior citizens.

Washington Republicans have made their choices. Now it’s our turn to make ours.

My values tell me that our government and our country owe you more than that.

Republicans in Ohio and Republicans in Washington have proved over and over again that they deserve to lose. But that's not enough.

We as Democrats must prove we're ready to lead. Democrats have to be bold. We have to tell voters about our plan to change the direction of our country—a higher minimum wage and help for small business, a plan to bring down prescription drug prices for their parents and college tuition for their children, a chance for their families to reach their dreams.

That’s why, in the great tradition of Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn, I am running for the United States Senate.

My campaign for the United States Senate is about providing opportunity for Ohio—for all of Ohio:

I will represent the people of Ohio—not the pharmaceutical companies, not the oil interests, not the insurance companies.

I will represent Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—not do the bidding of the guy in the White House, whatever his party affiliation.

I will continue to wage the fight—now in a larger arena, in the United States Senate—for fair trade to protect American workers on Main Street, not sell out American workers to Wall Street.

I will continue to wage the fight—now in a larger arena, in the United States Senate—for a health care system which is affordable and accessible to everyone. . . Whether they work in a minimum wage job or serve as a corporate vice president.

Today, I announce my candidacy for the United States Senate. Join me, and together we will change the direction of our great country."

Published at The Mansfield News Journal

As someone fortunate enough to make money with words, I know they mean little without actions. Which is why I chose to print all of Brown's words, because I'm confident both his words and deeds align.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Listen live - BBC Radio tribute to John Lennon, Dec 3-9

To commemorate the life of John Lennon, BBC Radio has several days worth of programming. Beginning today, December 2, three stations are offering rare interviews, songs and special remembrances from Lennon's friends and peers.

You can check their scheduling and listen online, here.

Remember, all times are GMT, so adjust your schedule accordingly.

Sherrod Brown hits the ground running

If Sherrod Brown is even half as hard-working and loyal in the Senate as he's been to members of his Congressional district, Ohio will be in great hands after 2006.

You could actually feel the warmth and appreciation directed towards him as he entered the Lorain Party Center this morning for a pancake breakfast to announce his candidacy.

As he walked in, the crowd jumped up to provide an extensive standing ovation that Brown's wife Connie Schultz later said left everyone emotional, particularly Sherrod.

No fan of corporate interests, Brown knows he faces a protracted and likely ugly battle from both Republicans inside Ohio and special interests outside of the state. Why? In Washington, Brown is the water acting on the rocks of special interest; he may not win most of the battles, but that never stops him from trying.

His response to those outsiders who will try to interfere in Ohio politics with the goal of blocking his success?

"Get out of my state," he said, his naturally gravelly voice deepening.

His speech, while brief, touched on what he sees as problematic in Washington, after reminding the crowd that history is rife with examples of Republicans and Democrats working together to bring about change --on civil rights and the environment, for instance.

Today, however, this doesn't happen. Rather, a small group of politicians rule corrupted by greed, paralyzed and beholden to the wealthiest lobby groups.

While he seems to still be finding his voice as a candidate to a small extent, Brown's resonance comes from his proven voting record - progressive, yes, but populist at heart.

Introducing her husband, Schultz, the Plain Dealer's Pulitzer winner, provided a very good explanation why Sherrod Brown's both trusted and admired by those who know him:

After a long night spent battling the recent Medicaid bill, finally heading home, Brown passed a woman headed for work. It was early in the morning and she was clearly dressed in a housekeeping uniform.

Brown called his wife, saying he "could hardly bear to look at her," because he knew what they just did to her by passing that legislation.

His Congressional history is full of similar examples where Brown has voted his conscience and taken his lumps for it - voting against the war, against CAFTA, and as a freshman Representative from Ohio, against NAFTA even though it meant working against the newly-elected Bill Clinton from his own party.

Reviewing his record, it seems being able to look people in the eye is they only litmust test for every vote he's made. Because he votes from his heart, his constiuents made it clear Saturday morning that Brown has earned theirs, as well.

Witness this article from The Mansfield News Journal. Comments from those in attendance at Brown's Friday night event are further evidence of Brown's impact on Ohioans. Transcript and video are also linked.

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