Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Party to Murder

by Chris Hedges
Published on Tuesday, December 30, 2008 by TruthDig.com

Can anyone who is following the Israeli air attacks on Gaza-the buildings blown to rubble, the children killed on their way to school, the long rows of mutilated corpses, the wailing mothers and wives, the crowds of terrified Palestinians not knowing where to flee, the hospitals so overburdened and out of supplies they cannot treat the wounded, and our studied, callous indifference to this widespread human suffering-wonder why we are hated?

Our self-righteous celebration of ourselves and our supposed virtue is as false as that of Israel. We have become monsters, militarized bullies, heartless and savage. We are a party to human slaughter, a flagrant war crime, and do nothing. We forget that the innocents who suffer and die in Gaza are a reflection of ourselves, of how we might have been should fate and time and geography have made the circumstances of our birth different. We forget that we are all absurd and vulnerable creatures. We all have the capacity to fear and hate and love. "Expose thyself to what wretches feel," King Lear said, entering the mud and straw hovel of Poor Tom, "and show the heavens more just."

Privilege and power, especially military power, is a dangerous narcotic. Violence destroys those who bear the brunt of its force, but also those who try to use it to become gods. Over 350 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, and over 1,000 have been wounded since the air attacks began on Saturday. Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, said Israel is engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas in Gaza. A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, has labeled what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza "a crime against humanity." Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as "a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention." He has asked for "the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

Falk's unflinching honesty has enraged Israel. He was banned from entering the country on Dec. 14 during his attempt to visit Gaza and the West Bank.

"After being denied entry I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems," he said. "At this point I was treated not as a U.N. representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search, and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed. I was separated from my two U.N. companions, who were allowed to enter Israel. At this point I was taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away, required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room, taken to a locked, tiny room that had five other detainees, smelled of urine and filth, and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food, and either lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office."

The foreign press has been, like Falk, barred by Israel from entering Gaza to report on the destruction.

Israel's stated aim of halting homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel remains unfulfilled. Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel, killing four people and wounding nearly two dozen more, since Israel unleashed its air assault. Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and has called up 6,500 army reservists. It has massed tanks on the Gaza border and declared the area a closed military zone.

The rocket attacks by Hamas are, as Falk points out, also criminal violations of international law. But as Falk notes, "... such Palestinian behavior does not legalize Israel's imposition of a collective punishment of a life- and health-threatening character on the people of Gaza, and should not distract the U.N. or international society from discharging their fundamental moral and legal duty to render protection to the Palestinian people." Read rest of this excellent article here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yesterday in Meeting

Yesterday in Meeting
at Wellesley
feeling so tired
and sad.

Reciting the serenity prayer.
Saw my hands reaching up to the ceiling.
Maybe a dream?
Reaching towards the angels.
Something or maybe someone was coming down to meet them.

Something refreshing
But I didn’t get a clear look.

Because a man stood up right then and started talking about what peace means.
After he had finished, the hands were gone.
I don’t blame him.

But now.
More sad.
More glad.

Is this what people call Spiritual Work?


Sortie after Sortie

Sitting at our gate in the Cleveland Airport.
Just after Christmas

CNN showing Israel bombers making “sortie” after “sortie”. (I find that word, sortie, rather nauseating, makes a bombing run sound like…..going for a bike ride, visiting the farmer's market, or something equally innocent).

How about a murder run? Stukas over Poland. The terror. The British and Americans over Dresden during the Second World War. Flying sortie after sortie after sortie. The sorcerer’s apprentice of firestorms and death. Endless..

Then cut to Israeli tanks roaring into Gaza.

Blitzkrieg. Lebensraum. (wow, lebensraum is even in my spell checker!)
Everything old is new again.

The news voiceovers a scene of a house demolished saying “the Israeli army is destroying houses as they go”. Casually. Like the Patriots demolished the Bears yesterday with a strong ground game of football.

Over 300 dead, the voice says.
But they never show the dead.
On either "side".
All lined up.
Or all blown up.
The pieces, both humans and.....
The fragments of bombs and rockets made in the USA.

The announcer calmly mentions that a refugee camp has been “overrun” but she doesn’t say where. Or exactly what “overrun” means. She does look serious behind the makeup. I’ll give her credit for that. Cut to commercial for exercise videos. Oh, and a plug for good old Oprah. Overrun. Sortie. Numbing words.

I voiced my anger and horror.
An old man overheard.
Looked at me.
Said grimly, “It’s a tough time”.
Pulled his hat down over his ears, and walked away.

They’re human, my friend says. Yes, I agree.
It's not just Jews against the Palestinians. Good guys vs bad guys.
But I want to vomit.

Another friend opined: “I lost family in the camps. If we don’t defend ourselves, they will kill us all”.

My head is dizzy.

I’m flying west, now, enjoying my inflight beverage as I write this, above the clouds, into the sunset bloody red.

Goodbye to all that.
Until I turn on my television and let some of the world leak into my privileged life.


Cleveland Airport

Pretty exciting.

Sipping a diet Pepsi while Julia wanders around the airport
Stretching her legs.

I hear the voice of a Friend who is also a friend.
The whole family is flying back to Madison after THEIR holidays, too.

So we hopped on our plane and off we went.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Word for the Day

Learned a new word today. "Meaniac". Prominent meaniacs include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Elmer Fudd, Wily Coyote, Chris Matthews, Lord Voldemort, Pat Buchanon, Darth Vader, Genghis Khan, Mrs Williams (my 5th grade teacher) and Ty Cobb. To name a few. History is overflowing with meaniacs. Is there a a reason for having meaniacs? Why do they exist? Is there an "antidote" to meaniacs?

Milky Way

Walking back to the house last night, the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. I slept well that night, knowing we are not alone. And knowing I'm an insignificant part of the universe. Kind of takes the pressure off, really.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day: The Truth

A comment on an earlier blog of mine by world famous blogger, Ms Ether, got me wondering just what the heck Boxing Day actually celebrated. I just didn't know if it had to do with boxing gloves or with making boxes or boxcars or what. So this is a quick sketch of what I've learned.

Stolen from Wikipedia with a grain of salt:

"Boxing Day is a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong and countries in the Commonwealth of Nations with a mainly Christian population. In South Africa, this public holiday is now known as the Day of Goodwill. It is based on the tradition of giving gifts to the less fortunate members of society. Contemporary Boxing Day in many countries is now a "shopping holiday" associated with after-Christmas sales.

This day is historically England's name for St. Stephen's Day. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr, being stoned to death in Jerusalem around A.D. 34-35. St. Stephen's Day is usually celebrated on December 26, which is a public holiday in some countries or areas in Europe (UK, Germany, Alsace, northern part of Lorraine, Catalonia) and around the world with predominantly Christian populations. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St Stephen's Day is celebrated on the 27th of December, although in Greece the Greek Boxing Day (Synaxis Theotokou, Σύναξις Θεοτόκου) is also celebrated as a public holiday on the 26th of December and is not related to the English version.[citation needed]

In Ireland the Bank Holidays Act 1871 established the feast day of St. Stephen's Day as a non-moveable public holiday on December the 26th, although since partition the name "Boxing Day" is used by the authorities in Northern Ireland and it has become a moveable public holiday in que with the rest of the UK. The Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 established "Boxing Day" as a public holiday in Scotland. In the Australian state of South Australia, December the 26th is a public holiday known as Proclamation Day.

It is usually celebrated on the 26th of December, the day after Christmas Day[1][2]; however, unlike St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day is not always on the 26th of December, its associated public holiday can be moved to the next weekday if the 26th of December is a Saturday or Sunday. The movement of Boxing Day varies between countries."

I have to wonder what St Stephen would have thought about folks going shopping in his honor. Perhaps they are buying Pet Rocks? It's good to know he was the first Christian martyr. I have been curious about this for a long time. When and where did the first martyrdom occur? Were Christians the first to have martyrs? Or did they coopt this idea, too? But in all seriousness, I will have to look into this....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Red Pines

I could hear the fog blowing through the trees as my head hit the pillow. Air full of water rippling the red pines. Creaking and whistling, the trees have much to say. Planted years ago to become telephone poles. A plan that never worked. Trees that were raised to carry wires an voices from countless humans, sing to me goodnight.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A life that is new

Noises in the fog today. Men’s voices booming through the trees while fixing the power lines. A boy’s laughter as he hits me with a snowball. My son on the phone, far away and moving farther away. Chopping of ice on the steps. Breath shoots from my mouth joining the fog, making it denser. Everything’s changing. Constantly. The pace of change slows in the dense fog. With a long wintry sigh, I lay down for a nap in a bed and a life that is new to me.


Cozy living room in New Hampshire. The kids are playing with my camera. A cardboard tube from Christmas wrapping paper becomes, in rapid succession, a juggler's pole, a sword and a gun. It's foggy outside and I'm contemplating a walk to the other house.

I tried to call my son because I was missing him, seeing all this kid energy. I reach his mom, who says he'll call me later from Phoenix, where I don't think it ever gets foggy.

Dark Prayer

by Robert C. Koehler

The water churned and pushed against the ice with a dark seriousness that reminded me of prayer.

Subzero Chicago night at the edge of the year, the edge of change, the edge of what's bearable. I stood on an old breakwater, a long, crumbling construction of concrete and steel that jutted into Lake Michigan — just stood, feeling the wind scrape my face. Whatever thoughts came to me were honest ones. Or maybe I just needed to grieve.

"Courage grows strong at the wound."

Someone said this to me earlier this year and I felt a rush of reverence as I contemplated wounds and war, a wrecked economy, a wasted planet, hope, illusion, the holidays, the human condition. My niece just got married; the same day, a friend was mugged in the alley behind her house. The dark water undulated beyond the ice, gurgling, whispering. Dear God . . .

I don't pray easily. At least not for the big stuff. But there I was, praying, it seemed, against the tide. Dear God, let us find the courage to endure whatever is to come and the wisdom to pull together around the worst of it. Europe, shattered after World War II, finally understood this. Grant us transformation at the point of our wounds and the vision of a future beyond them. Grant us a president who believes in something beyond the military-industrial consensus that surrounds him and would own him. Grant us sanity and the courage to face our worst fears. Grant us peace.

"Peace activists in Pakistan and India are attempting desperately to be heard above the din raised by warmongers . . . in the wake of the Mumbai carnage. Jingoism is in the air — be it from so-called nationalists (posing as analysts on television) advocating a nuclear attack for the defense of their country, or the man on the street. Be they from Pakistan or India, they speak of war with great abandon as if it is child's play."

These are the words of Zubeida Mustafa, writing for The Women's International Perspective (published a few days ago on Common Dreams). They scratch at the collective unreason of our age, the unyielding obstinacy at which I felt my dark prayer hurling itself. It's so much easier simply to be angry. How do we get beyond our national — our global — impasse over what empowerment means?

We live in a world in which no word is more feared than "disarmament" — and the logic of that fear brooks no compromise. There seems to be an unbroken line of logic that runs from personal sidearms to nuclear weapons. My prayer as the year ends is that a few more stalwarts see the greater logic of laying down both their weapons and the fear that makes doing so unthinkable.

Since I was out, I decided to walk on this raw night to the Barbara Tree. That's what I call it — the tree I had specially planted by the Chicago Park District some years ago to honor my late wife, who died of cancer in 1998. Originally the tree was a linden, but that one died in its second summer, during a drought. Eventually another tree was planted on the spot; a cherry, I think. It's still, at any rate, "her" — leaning, just like the other one did, irreverently off square.

Death is the ultimate fear and the ultimate enemy, but when Barbara died I learned that death wasn't the enemy at all — rather, it was something like the waves and the darkness, unknowable and beckoning and maybe no more than a doorway. What does this awareness change? I don't know, but if I hated death, my grief could have no dimension, no restorative power, and would be as trite and hellish as regret.

As I thought about Mustafa's observations about nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and the carnage in Mumbai, I found myself groping along the seam of the horror for the wrong turn toward revenge and a desire to hurt back, consequences be damned. "They speak of war with great abandon as if it is child's play."

The turn is political: the instant promised land of victory. This real estate always appears attainable at a bargain rate, even in the nuclear era that mocks the very idea of victory. The face I see at the juncture of this wrong turn is that of our own Departing Fool, whose greatest (known) crime, in my view, was steering the United States down the path of revenge after 9/11. But he didn't do it alone.

Dear God, let George Bush be the last of his line, the 20th century's smirking bookend. Let his successor be a true leader, whose agenda transcends the interests that surround him. Courage grows strong at the wound. Let us move as a planet to a unity greater than the blood cult of nationalism.

I stroked the cold bark of the Barbara Tree one last time, then turned, struck out across the snow toward the lights of the city and the life waiting for me there.

© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Went for a short drive through the New Hampshire countryside. A bit gray and rainy. I was astonished by the tree damage from the ice storm two weeks ago. Looked like some of those old photos of the woods near the front lines in World War One. Limbs split off everywhere. Mailboxes along the road have small, hand-written signs saying "power out". Back to lunch. We have power from the propane generator. So we are lucky.


Waking up in New Hampshire. Kids awake. Nice Christmas tree which is great because I didn't get one this year, being out of town and all. Light saber duels in the living room. I sit in the corner, cup of good coffee in my hand, except when I'm typing. It's gray and raining on the snow. Looks like a day to be inside. Don't mind the snow and cold. Rain on top of snow seems so................distasteful. Well, maybe yucky is a better word.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Off to New Hampshire!

Tomorrow morning it's off to New Hampshire to spend Christmas with Julia's family at their lovely house in NH. Then its back to Boston for a day, then back to Madison. Should be fun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Letter Czar

This last month, since the wonderful, historic election of Barack Obama, it's become quite common to write and publish letters to the President-elect. Letters advising him on what he should do on various matters from human rights to the environment to food production. I've read some of these letters. They are generally compassionate, well-reasoned and informative. Lots of good ideas.

But............does Mr Obama read the letters? I mean, there's a lot of them and he's pretty busy naming his cabinet and all, picking a dog, etc. Does he have time to read them all? What happens to them?

I've been imagining a "Letter Czar" who's job as part of the "transition team" it is to read all the letters and hand Mr Obama a digest of the letters. Maybe. I think it would be excellent if he did at LEAST get a digest. I am growing uneasy as I read about his choices for cabinet. Very conservative. Change? Hmmmm. I'm not optimistic. Hope? Keeping Robert Gates on as Defense Secretary? I am left shaking my head. Yes, it's a historic occasion. I'm happy about this. But how much are people willing to give up to get out of this "economic downturn"? Maybe those pesky unions? If only those unions weren't so demanding about workers rights, pensions and health insurance, we wouldn't have to do these bailouts. Yes, I hope there's a letter czar and Mr Obama is getting the message.

Otherwise, they're just like letters to Santa.

Shoe Bomber?

Gosh. An angry Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at George W. Bush, as Bush took his last tour of Iraq. The nerve! Throwing your SHOES at "The Leader of the Free World". As a Quaker, I've been wondering: was this a violent act? Certainly, Iraqi's have the right to be angry with Bush. His invasion of Iraq has caused the deaths of over 1.2 million Iraqi's. How many US soldiers? Over 5,000 now? Destruction of "insurgent strongholds". Sending drones to kill. Using rendition and the cozy walls of Guantanamo to hold humans for YEARS without a trial. So throwing shoes certainly pales by comparison. But a violent act? Would it be a violent act if the reporter had stood up and called "W" a "gravy sucking pig"? Most Iraqi's interviewed about the shoe throwing agreed with the action.

Bush is a man who likes killing. He's right up there with the Churchill's, the Stalins and the Hitlers. From his days as Governor of Texas, leading the nation in executions, to his wars, wiretaps and big bucks for his friends, the man likes to kill and dominate. He is evil. There IS that of God inhim, but he's chosen to listen to another part of his soul.

Throwing shoes? Today I feel like W deserved it. Maybe he should be pelted with the shoes of all his victims. Sorry Mr Gandhi. Sorry Mr Woolman. If that makes me a "bad Quaker", so be it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Burning Questions

Several burning questions have arisen lately, mostly at the dinner table. Thought I'd share these with my six regular, loyal readers for amusement, if nothing else.

1) Do men and women still have boy and girl "cooties" respectively? OR have their "cooties" grown up in some way?

2) Is the "poop deck" of an old time sailing vessel called that because of it's location at the stern of the ship or because that's where the sailors, um, poop into the ocean? This came up over dinner lsat night because Poodledoc, Jr had just finished up his sailing ship for his 8th grade Colonial Project. I've been sent pretty convincing evidence that it's called a poop deck because of location but I still remember reading IN A CHILDREN'S BOOK that it had to do with bodily functions. There was even a drawing. Yikes!

3) Sauron's eye (shown above, twice). Can we tell what kind of creature he is by examining "the lidless eye" depicted in the Lord of the Ring films? I'm still mulling this over, but this bad guy has a vertical slit pupil, so that pretty much rules out human. No surprise there. So......some creatures that have vertical pupils include cats, vipers, and Republicans, to name just a few.

4) And sticking with the Lord of the Rings theme, what happened to Gollum's eyes? Tolkien fanatics know that Gollum started his life as a fairly normal, hobbit-like creature, with presumably fairly human eyes. Then, he gets this Ring and something happens. His eyes become apparently larger. He becomes photophobic (hides from the sun), develops excellent night vision so he can find Orcs to eat in the depths of the Misty Mountains. Still working on these last two.

5) And, as long as we are on the topic of fantasy eyes, and drifting over to the fine literary classics in the Harry Potter series, how would Mad Eye Moody's eye Magical Eye work? What would we see if we looked inside? (I've examined a lot of eyes, but never a magical one. There's still time, though.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tagged. Again.

Ok, so here's a meme for me to do on the first cold night here in the north. Courtesy of my friend, Luminiferous Ether.

1. Five names you go by:
a) Chuck (or Charles if I'm in trouble with mom or it's a telemarketer)
b) Doc or Doctor Schobert (professional namings)
c) Bark! (feed me, walk me, pet me)
d) Dad, Daddy,, etc
e) Other personal nicknames

2) Three things you are wearing right now:
a) Crane Foundation T shirt
b) a wristwatch
c) a smile

3) Two things you want very badly at the moment:
a) a chocolate milkshake
b) 24 straight hours of sleep

Three people who will probably fill this out:
a)Enriched Geranium
c)my mom

Two things you did last night:
a) watched old Monty Python episodes with Poodledoc, Jr
b) made some bread

Two things you ate today:
a) Julia's famous squash black bean chili
b) waffles

Two people you just talked to on the phone:
a) Rebecca
b) Barack Obama (asking me to be First Veterinarian)

Two things you are going to do tomorrow:
a)develop a perpetual motion machine
b) look at eyeballs under a microscope

Two longest car rides:
a) from Matagulpa to Managua, Nicaragua after spending the night tossing my cookies
b) from San Francisco to Reno after tossing my eggrolls

Two of your favorite beverages:
a) chocolate milkshakes

A clip from my favorite movie? So many to choose from I'm going to wimp out on this one.......sorry.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Farmer in Chief

Published: October 9, 2008
New York Times

Dear President Obama,

It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign. Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them. Let me explain.

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

In addition to the problems of climate change and America’s oil addiction, you have spoken at length on the campaign trail of the health care crisis. Spending on health care has risen from 5 percent of national income in 1960 to 16 percent today, putting a significant drag on the economy. The goal of ensuring the health of all Americans depends on getting those costs under control. There are several reasons health care has gotten so expensive, but one of the biggest, and perhaps most tractable, is the cost to the system of preventable chronic diseases. Four of the top 10 killers in America today are chronic diseases linked to diet: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is no coincidence that in the years national spending on health care went from 5 percent to 16 percent of national income, spending on food has fallen by a comparable amount — from 18 percent of household income to less than 10 percent. While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health. You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.

The impact of the American food system on the rest of the world will have implications for your foreign and trade policies as well. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little — a lesson we should keep in mind as we set about designing a new approach to food policy. Read the rest here.

The Last Harvest of the Year

Yesterday, on a frigid afternoon, our cooperative garden group harvested our carrots. It's been a cold autumn, so the soil was already frozen, and the carrots in turn were frozen. A bit of an unpleasant surprise, but the carrots still tasted sweet. Guess they won't keep as long.

The garlic, already in the ground, was covered with straw mulch to sleep through the winter.

We had a meeting to "de-brief" on the past growing season. What went well, what didn't go so well. It was a great, bountiful year. There was a palpable sense of our little community. I've been part of this group for a half dozen years or so, and this felt very close and rich.

Then, a feast as people gathered around the woodstove. And finally, off into the dark night. See you next year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


This blog game was posted by my friend Luminiferous Ether. See what YOU come up with!

The Book Grab Game
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence in my comments. Post the rules on your own blog, if you wish to continue the fun.

Mine came out of....well, maybe you can guess the book:

"It has been a time of peace?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's not over....

As my six loyal readers may recall, I was shocked that my parakeet,
Bob, "came out" as a McCain supporter just prior to election day. Well, I figured, he's got a brain the size of a pea and it IS a free coutnry (well, sort of). It's been two weeks since the election and Bob has continued to spew what I intermpret to be pro-McCain rhetoric. A friend thought I was making this up. But that's not my style. To prove myself right, I printed out a photo of the former POW and taped it on the wall near Bob's cage. For the next hour or two, he was over as close as he could get to the photo, crooning and chirping. So....I may be living with the next head of the RNC. Wow. I'd personally enjoy seeing Joe Lieberman taking orders from a parakeet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Top 10 questions I've been asked as a Veterinarian!

I've been a veterinarian for 13 years. I've worn a lot of "hats". Dairy vet, emergency vet, housecall vet and a brief stint as a monkey vet. Now I'm a veterinary pathologist. So I get asked a lot of questions. Amazingly, I know the answers to some of them! Here are some of my favorites!

1) Why do dogs eat grass?

2) Why do dogs eat poop? (and the related question: what can I do about it?)

3) Is my cat/dog fat?

4) My dog pees/poops/chews up the rug when I leave for work/don't let him watch the Packers/etc. Is he angry with me?

5) Need some light? (said as I'm expressing a dogs anal glands)?

6) Can you teach me to do that (express anal glands)? This is always asked BEFORE I actually do the deed. The question is NEVER repeated when I am through.

7) How big will my puppy be when he's an adult?

8) How long will my dog live?

9) So, Doc, what breeds do you see in my dog?

10) My personal favorite: Doc, isn't it true that the longer my dog keeps his testicles, the more muscular he'll get?

I can't recall learning the answers to these questions in SCHOOL. Maybe I was sleeping........

Disclaimer: That is not actually me in the illustration above. Click on illustration to enlarge.

Inaugaration Tickets Wanted

About two days after Obama won, I woke up and felt strongly that I wanted to be at the inaugaration, the swearing-in. I couldn't shake this visceral pull. I will be out in DC at the appropriate time, visiting my fiancee, so that's halfway there, right? Right?

The answer is maybe.

I heard that 240,000 tickets are going to be given out to Congress People. I heard that my Congressional Rep will get a bunch. So, I did like many others and called her office. They took my name. They said they didn't know how many tickets they would even get, nor how they were going to distribute them. A lottery was suggested. So they took down my name and how many tickets I would like.

So tonight I heard on NPR that even though the tickets are being given away, the scalpers are ready. One price was as high as 40 grand. Another scalper said $500 to $1700. A bargain. Senator Dianne Feinstein is introducing legislation to make scalping inaugaration tickets a Federal Crime.

And there's all the talk about the lack of hotel rooms in DC for the Big Day. Area residents are doing creative things to cater to the multitudes like renting tent space in their backyards, renting out their condos for $3,000 a night. I can't plunk down $1500 for a ticket. I can't plunk down much.

I started wondering if it was ok to pray to God for tickets?? I decided no, that wouldn't be ok. I mean, I don't pray to God for things like a BMW, so why should this be different? (OK, I admit I DID pray to God for the Cubs to win the Worlds Series this year, but apparently God is a Phillies fan.)

So, I'm just going to be open and see what happens. I feel so much desire to be there, even if it's cold and packed (which it will be). A huge moment in my life. I have the images of assasination seared into my brain: JFK, MLK, RFK and on and on. Death after death after death. This feels like a birth and I want to be in attendance.

Then I had this dream. And in the dream, God was offering me two tickets: one was to Game 7 of a Cubs World Series game. The other to Obama's inaugaration....before I could make a choice, I woke up! OH no! Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dog Intelligence

A recent comment left by Mr Ether to an earlier post claimed that Corgis were more intellignet than Standard Poodles! A bit rankled by this, I Googled "dog intelligence" for the correct information. This site Dog Intelligence Site ranks dogs according to different levels of understanding commands. 79 breeds are listed. The top ten, according to this site are, in order:

1: Border Collie
2: Poodle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
3: German Shepherd
4: Golden Retriever
5: Doberman
6: Sheltie
7: Labrador
8: Papillon
9: Rottweiler
10: Australian Cattle Dog

According to the site, these dogs are "able to understand new commands in less than 5 repetitions" and "respond to a first command 95% of the time". Well that describes my Standard Poodle. NOT! But he is working on a Masters Degree in Science.

As for the Corgi, according to this site, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi comes in at #11. Not bad, but not quite good enough to get into a GOOD obedience school!

The least intelligent dog is the Afghan Hound, which barely beat out the Shih Tzu for the bottom of the doggie IQ barrel.

Presidential Dogs

As I wrote the previous post, speculating on an appropriate dog for Mr Obama, I wondered which other presidents had owned dogs, and what breeds. So, here goes:

W: "Spot", an English Springer Spaniel.

Clinton: "Buddy", a chocolate Lab, shown in the photo above. Sadly, Buddy was hit by a car. One wonders where the Secret Service was on that incident? And.....do presidential dogs get Secret Service protection at all? (maybe they have to walk the dog.....?)

George HW Bush: "Millie", an English Springer Spaniel.

Reagan: "Lucky", and English Springer Spaniel and "Rex", a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Carter: "Grits", an unspecified breed given to him by his daughter's teacher. Later given away....

Ford: "Liberty", a Golden Retriever.

Nixon: Well, "Checkers" the Cocker Spaniel, of course. But Nixon had several other dogs: "Vicky" the poodle, "Pash", a terrier and an Irish Setter.

LBJ: Four beagles, a white collie and a mutt.

JFK: "Charlie", a Welsh Terrier owned by daughter Caroline, a bunch of mutts, and a German Shepherd.

Eisenhower: "Heide", a Weimaraner

Truman: "Feller", a Cocker Spaniel and "Mike" and Irish Setter

FDR: He and Eleanor owned a host of dogs. a German Shepherd, Scottish Terrier, Gread Dane, a Mastiff, an Old English Sheepdog named "Tiny", and several other pooches.

Hoover: 9 dogs.

TR: "Pete", a Bull Terrier.

James Buchanon: "Lara", a Newfoundland.

James Monroe: a Spaniel

Jefferson: 2 Briards

The First Poodle?

As most every one knows, Barack Obama promised his two daughters that if elected, he would get them a dog. As most every parent knows, once you let the, ahem, cat out of the bag, it's hard to be a "flip-flopper". This morning I heard that one of his daughters is....allergic to dogs! I briefly worried that this might be the first campaign promise that Mr Obama breaks. However, I have a suggestion for the president-elect, which could get him out of some family hot water! (and no, I'm not trying for the position of "First Veterinarian") My suggestion is a simple one: get a Standard Poodle! Great for people with allergies! And, the smartest dog out there, so perhaps the dog can help with the economic crisis or orchestrate a US troop withdrawal from the Middle East. Imagine it: The First Poodle!

Mr Obama did state yesterday that: "Of course I'd like to get a shelter dog, but that might not work out" given the allergy situation. So, Mr Obama, a Standard Poodle may be just the thing for you and your family. As every parent knows, getting one's child to clean their room or do their homework is MUCH more difficult than foreign policy. Therefore, getting the "right" dog could really help maintain domestic tranquility. So best of luck, Mr President.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night


I watched Obama speak last night, along with millions. All over the world. There was this tangible vibration. Emotions bubbling up. Remembering the King assasination. Forty years seems like a long time. It was hugely scary to me, at age 12, to see this violence. But right now, there's a man, on a stage and it's awesome. I didn't think I'd ever see this happen. Nor did I think the Berlin wall would ever come down. As a colleague put it, this is a "historical day". I am soaking up the moment before I move on with my next forty years.
(click on the photo to make it larger, although it will never be large enough)

Monday, November 3, 2008

The dog says it's time to go.

November and it’s still so warm
says my dog.
Is it a zephyr, he asked?
I said I didn’t know
as we started on our evening walk.

On the sidewalk, along the lake, warm wind
but somehow a chill
blew into my body
raising goose bumps.
A warm chill.
Not scary.
Beckoning me and my dog
down to the shore
amongst the tall trees.
Cradling and wrapping me in fingers and blankets unseen.

I ask questions into the breath wind.
God, I’m worried, anxious and scared.
Tell me, God, who will win the election?
A feeling fills me
with more warmth
and certainty.
God is saying
there is a plan.
I might not see it or understand.
But God has a plan.

Even if the “bad guy” gets elected?
Are you kidding me?
Are you messing with me, God?

I have a plan, said God.
Not a voice.
Instead, a shimmering, rolling heat down my nerves
branching out to tickle every cell, every chromosome, gene and nucleotide.
Stunned and curious,
I plunk my self down on a bench by the river mouth
And soak it up.
After a time
And some tears
The goose bumps leave me.
The dog says it’s time to go.
So we head home.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

McCain Collects Another Big Endorsement: Bob the Parakeet

Today, Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked up the eager endorsement of Bob the Parakeet. McCain, speaking at a rally outside of suburban Scaramento, spoke movingly about Bob's life circumstances: "Under Barack Obama's plan, Bob's cage size would be reduced, his food would be taxed and if he wanted to start up a small business, he'd be penalized. My plan would give Bob 5000 pounds of birdseed per year. He can start a family. Send his kids to college. He can fulfill the American dream".

Bob, reached for comment in the living room of his fashionable, East side Madison apartment chirped long and loud about the virtues of Mr McCain. It was clear that in some way, Bob was actually hearing the McCain message.

Vice presidential candidate, Sara Palin, commented: "I love birds, especially at Thanksgiving. heehee!". Pundits regarded this as just the latest in a series of major gaffes in the often troubled and confused McCain campaign. "Thanks to this stupid comment by Palin," said Republican Senator Norm Coleman, "we've lost the parakeet vote".

Protestors have gathered on the lawn of Bob the Parakeet's apartment. One local resident, Mr Ether, carrying a sign that read "Birdbrains for McCain" commented that "the only way Bob the parakeet can spread the wealth around is on the newspaper lining the bottom of his cage!" Bob could not be reached for comment.

The Road: Quaker Peace Testimony to Conscientious Objector

This past First Day, I had the joy of "leading" a group of 7 Quaker high school teens in the first part of a journey to understand the Quaker Peaace Testimony and move towards building a file in support of conscientious objector status. It was a lively group (brownies and cupcakes always help). We read the early phrasing of the Peace Testimony from the 1600's. We talked about it a bit. One teen said that it bothered him that Quakers are often quite good at talking the talk, but not WALKING the talk when it comes to the Peace Testimony. Others talked about the fighting that goes on in their high schools. The fights are almost "entertainment" for some. One teen shared how her principal declared a "Patriotism Week" which included "patriotic" music piped over the PA system and other events. Her dad went in and talked with the prinicipal about his objections to this "Week". The teens were very moved by this action of someone walking the talk. I asked about what a "Peace Week" might look like. Several ideas were tossed around. At the end, a couple of the teens voiced interest in getting to the part of this "journey" where we start building the file. We will get there, but building a foundation is key. As always, I come away from my experience as "leader" feeling led into some new wisdom that the teens offer. It's a blessing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"God looks after drunks, little children and the United States of America."

John McCain in the Echo Chamber
by Gore Vidal
Published on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 by TruthDig.com

October proved to be the cruelest month, for that was the time that Sen. McCain, he of the round, blank, Little Orphan Annie eyes, chose to try out a number of weird lies about Barack Obama ostensibly in the interest of a Republican Party long overdue for burial.

It is a wonder that any viewer survived his furious October onslaught whose craziest lie was that Obama wished to become president in order to tax the poor in the interest of a Democratic Party in place, as he put it in his best 1936 voice, to spend and spend because that's what Democrats always do. This was pretty feeble lying, even in such an age as ours. But it was the only thing that had stuck with him from those halcyon years when Gov. Alfred M. Landon was the candidate of the Grand Old Party, which in those days was dedicated to erasing every policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose electoral success was due to, they thought, Harry Hopkins' chilling mantra, "we shall ... spend and spend and elect and elect." Arguably, the ignorant McCains of this world have no idea what any of this actually signifies; Hopkins' comment is a serious one, and serious matters seldom break through to cliché-ridden minds.

Although I am no fan of the television of my native land, I thought that an election featuring two historic novelties—the first credible female candidate for president and the first black nominee—would be great historic television, yet I should have been suspicious whenever I looked at McCain's malicious little face, plainly bent on great mischief. Whenever Obama made a sensible point, McCain was ready to trump it with a gorgeous lie.

When Obama said that only a small percentage of the middle class would suffer from income tax during his administration, McCain would start gabbling the 1936 Republican mantra that this actually meant that he would spend and spend and spend in order to spread the money around, a mild joke he has told for the benefit of a plumber who is looking forward to fiscal good fortune and so feared the tax man, using language very like that of long-dead socialists to reveal Obama's sinister games.

Advice to Obama: No civilized asides are permitted in McCain Land, where every half-understood word comes from the shadowy bosses of a diabolic Democratic Party, eager to steal the money of the poor in order to benefit, perversely, the even poorer.

So October (my natal month) was no joy for me, as the degradation of our democratic process was being McCainized. McCain is a prisoner of the past. Later, in due course he gave us the old address book treatment: names from Obama's past, each belonging to a potential terrorist. Even from the corpse of the Republican Party, which Abraham Lincoln left somewhat hastily in the 19th century, this was an unusually sickening display.

Happily, physicists assure us that there is no action without reaction.

There were still a few bright glimmers of something larger than a mere candidate of the Republican Party, but Mr. McCain seems to be in the terminal throes of a self-love that causes him to regard himself as a great American hero. From time to time, he likes to shout at us, "I have fought in many, many wars," and, "I have won many of them," but he has, so far, never told us which were the ones that he has actually won, since every war that he has graced with his samurai presence seems to have been thoroughly lost by the United States. Consistency is all-important to the born loser as well as to the committed liar.

So what little fame he has rests on the fact that he was taken a prisoner of war by the Vietnamese—hardly a recommendation for the leadership of the "free world"—and thus aware of the meagerness of his own curriculum vitae, for his vice presidential choice he then turned radically, in the age of the awakening to power of women, to an Alaskan politician; a giggly Piltdown princess out of pre-history.

Her qualification? She has once been mayor (or was it "mare"?) of an Alaskan village and later governor of what had been known as "Seward's Icebox," named for Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, who had over the misgivings of many bought all that ice from Russia.

One does get the impression that the senator from Arizona is living in a sort of echo chamber of nonsensical phrases, notions and unreality.

To further add insult to injury, as it were, he describes himself as a "maverick," which one critic in the audience assures him he is not, anyway, like the great Maury Maverick, a New Deal congressman from Texas who was so dedicated to freedom that he allowed his cattle to roam unbranded, freely on the range—a tribute to a time when Texans were freer than now in the post-Bush era.

The critic in the audience said that he was no maverick in the usual sense on the ground that he was simply a sidekick. That just about sums it up: Sidekick to the only president we have ever had who lacked any interest in governance.

As we are going through a religious phase in this greatest of all great nations, I am reminded of Chancellor Bismarck's remark about us Americans in the 19th century when he said: "God looks after drunks, little children and the United States of America."

Copyright © 2008 Truthdig, L.L.C.

How is the chicken cooked?

"I look at these people and can't quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention? To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. "Can I interest you in the chicken?" she asks. "Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it? To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked."

- Author David Sedaris, on undecided voters

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Every Day, in Every Way, I'm Getting Better, and Better

It's been a couple of weeks. Some hard weeks. Yes, that's right. The mighty Chicago Cubs blew it. AGAIN. The leading offense in the National League. The second best won-loss record in the Major Leagues. Great hitters up and down the lineup. Great pitching. Great manager. It had been 100 years since there last World Series Championship. Cub fans were hopeful. Even I allowed myself a smile, however grim, at the thought of a Cub championship. So.....the first game arrived. Cubs versus the Dodgers. At Wrigley. Cub pitcher Ryan Dempster walks 8 guys. (hasn't walked that many all YEAR!) Cubs lose. Oh well, we've got Zambrano pitching tomorrow night, no problem. Tomorrow night comes. Cubs commit five (5) errors. One by each of the four infielders and one by the bat boy, I guess. Cubs lose. I felt myself sinking farther and farther down. The Cubs lost the third game. It was all hazy to me. I can't recall anything that happened. I just remember they lost and that was that.

So now I'm watching the Phillies. Tears in my eyes. Maybe the time has come to take a break from being a Cub fan. I tried being a White Sox fan, briefly, in high school. It just didn't feel....right. Well, spring training is only fourt months away. So maybe next year......

My dog is laughing at me.

Windy Day at the Farm

Poodledoc,Jr, Ms Ether and I went out to Zephyr farm, where we cooperatively grow organic vegetables with a dozen or so other really nice people.

Today we gathered in the squash. Butternuts, acorns and delicata (not sure of the spelling on that one). Poodledoc, Jr and his friend Seth were busy loading bin after bin of squash into the big white pickup. The seed garlic was tucked away for planting in a couple weeks. A few of the carrots were forked up. There was a sweet smell of the carrot mixed with the sweat smell of the wonderful soil out here at the farm, just south of Stoughton, WI.

The wind was gusting up to 40 plus miles per hour. But the sun was shining. We filled the car with various goods and drove slowly home. All that extra weight. Very satisfying to drive slow and enjoy it. A great day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lefties for Obama, Round Two

Published on Thursday, October 16, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
by Ira Chernus

I've written a lot of columns for Commondreams over the years. But I don't recall any that got as much response as a piece I posted recently urging lefties to support Obama. Many of the responses were heartfelt outbursts of emotion; some of them were surprisingly angry, even venomous, attacks. Hey, I thought we lefties were supposed to be the tolerant ones.

But some of the responses were quite thoughtful, and they call for a response in kind.

Most of the thoughtful writers offered a list of ways the Democrats were quite similar to the Republicans, and they challenged me to give some specific issues on which Dems are demonstrably better than the GOP. Fair enough. So here are just a few highlights. To name all the meaningful differences would take far too long for one column.

Let's start with the big economic picture. Noted economist Larry Bartels has run the numbers for the past sixty years and here's what he found: "Real incomes of middle-class families have grown twice as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans, while the real incomes of working-poor families have grown six times as fast under Democrats as they have under Republicans."

There's no mystery about it. Republican economic policy aims, above all, to protect the interests of the very rich. They make nearly all their money from investments. Inflation is their greatest enemy, because it eats up the profits they expect from their investment. So Republicans regularly throw the economy into recession. Lots of people lose their jobs, which means wages go down, which means inflation stays low.

That's why we had major recessions during the first Reagan administration, the George H.W. Bush administration, and the current Bush administration. Republicans are happy to see the middle class and the poor suffer, as long as they damp down inflation to protect the rich.

On top of that, of course, the GOP gives massive tax cuts to the rich, much larger than the Democrats. That runs up budget deficits. With government having to borrow huge sums, there's more competition for investment capital, so interest rates go up. Working people have to pay more on their mortgages and credit cards, but the rich get better returns on their investments.

Labor unions give huge sums to the Democrats because they understand these significant differences between the economic policies of the two parties. In return, of course, Dems are much more likely to support legislation that protects the rights (and the safety) of workers and helps unions build their strength. Republicans have a long record of supporting laws that gut labor's efforts to organize.

Perhaps the biggest single group of workers who are consistently pro-Democratic is not a union but a professional organization: the National Education Association. Teachers know that Republicans pursue all sorts of strategies for de-funding and weakening public schools. Democrats consistently support public education, which in effect means the right of poor children to get as good an education as the rich. Read rest of article here.

Boston Eye Conference

(cut away view of an eye showing the globe partially filled with tumor. It's not sushi)
I'm out in Boston with my Vet School lab at the ACVO (American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologist) annual meeting. There have been lots of interesting talks. I myself presented a poster, sort of like high school science fair stuff, except we don't get blue ribbons or best in show. My poster concerned feline eyelid tumors. I stood by my poster for an hour or so, and talked to lots of interesting people about my work.

Then tonight we went out for sushi. I had never tried eel before. But I have now. The hair provided an interesting sensation as it slid down my throat. The flavor was wonderful, too. Eels have eyes, as well, but they didn't appear on this particular dish.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where Have all the Protest Singers Gone?

by Tony Hicks

One would think the time is ripe for an explosion of protest music.

We're witnessing what pundits are calling a historic presidential race at a time when even the party holding the Oval Office admits that a big dose of change is needed. We've been at war on two fronts for years with no end in sight, while there's less than a month to go in the election. The economy appears to be in free fall. The race is close, and the rhetoric is heating up fast as each side lobs verbal grenades at each other almost daily.

So where are all the protest songs, calling for one brand of change over the other?

Protest music is rare from conservative artists, but even the liberals songwriters seem to be sitting this one out.

"People are overwhelmed by the corruption of our government," says Paul Kantner, a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, who just released a new Starship record, "Jefferson's Tree of Liberty. "They don't think their vote counts "... people don't have enough faith."

In other words, even if we have two new candidates promising change from an outgoing and unpopular administration, it might just be that musicians aren't feeling they can make a difference, especially after the outpouring of activism in 2004.

That was the year John Kerry had the support of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews, among other big-name artists, performing on the "Vote for Change" tour. Linda Ronstandt was grabbing headlines for speaking out in the face of open hostility at many of her shows. It was the year that gave us songs like Ani DiFranco's "Animal," the Beastie Boys' "It Takes Time to Build," and the Roots' "Why (What's Goin' On?)," among others.

Even two years later, just in time for midterm Congressional elections, there was still an echo of the outrage, most notably in Neil Young's "Living With War" record and his passionate summer tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Some of the stalwarts are still around, such as Bruce Springsteen, doing benefits for Barack Obama. And bands that are almost always political, like Bad Religion, are still addressing the issues. Punk singer-songwriter Ted Leo just wrote and recorded a four-song EP after witnessing the treatment of protesters at the Republican convention, the timing of which made it only available on his Web site. And people like John Legend and Billy Joel have also appeared at events.

But all in all, the desperation that was apparent among artists willing to sing protest songs four years ago is largely absent at this year's political crunch time.

"There's baggage to becoming a protest singer," says Chris Walla, guitarist for Death Cab For Cutie and an admitted political junkie, whose band has played Obama rallies. "Because of the media portrayal of the protests, nobody wants to be associated with it. I don't think it would work with our audience all that well."

Plus, Walla says, there's a strong perception that, unlike Kerry in 2004, Obama doesn't need the help. And there's no George W. Bush in the race to focus on.

"When your candidate is a rock star on his own, why does he need Death Cab for Cutie?" Walla says. "What Obama needs is 'Rednecks for Obama.'"

Nathan Berg, a professor of economics and sociology at the University of Texas at Dallas, is the singer for the Halliburtons, one of the few bands out there continuously making political music.

"It's noticeably more quiet regarding the musical discourse this year," he says. "I think there are those of us who thought 2004 was important and thought things would change. It's hard to see strong rebuttal for pessimism."

Berg speculates that Kerry's loss deflated musicians. They're getting change one way or another this year, which de-focuses years of targeting President George W. Bush.

"My band played at Dealey Plaza on the anniversary of the Iraq war, but I'm feeling my time is better spent speaking as an economist and social scientist," says Berg, whose band has toured Ireland and Germany. "There's actually much more of an anti-Bush and anti-war scene in Europe." There's also some low-level recorded activism, coming at a lower profile from groups like metal band Testament and bluegrass group the Del McCoury Band, an indication of big names laying low this year. McCoury's new record is called "Moneyland."

Kanter says that with each passing year, technological distractions and a corporate media unwilling to take chances make it more difficult for musicians to make a difference.

"People are overwhelmed by modern times," he says. "There's an overflow of information and they become confused. In the '60s we thought we could change the world - and we did change some of it," he says. "People today don't have that hope."

Copyright © 2008 - Contra Costa Times

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Year Later, Creation Museum Claiming Big Crowds

Published on Friday, October 10, 2008 by Associated Press
by Dylan T. Lovan

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The museum exhibits are taken from the Old Testament, but the special effects are pure Hollywood: a state-of-the-art planetarium, animatronics and a massive model of Noah's Ark, all intended to explain the origins of the universe from a biblical viewpoint.

This Thursday, July 6, 2006 file photo shows an exhibit depicting two archeologists coming to very different conclusions while unearthing the same skeleton, is part of what will become the Creation Museum, near Petersburg, Ky.,(sorry, folks, all I could find was this picture of Noah's ark, shown above). The Creation Museum, which teaches life's beginnings through a literal interpretation of the Bible, has become an unexpectedly strong draw for visitors. More than a half million people, organizers claim, have toured the Kentucky attraction since its May 2007 opening. The Creation Museum, which teaches life's beginnings through a literal interpretation of the Bible, is claiming attendance figures that would make it an unexpectedly strong draw less than a year and a half after it debuted. opening, museum officials said.

For creationists -- Christians who believe the Bible's first chapter of Genesis is the literal telling of the universe's start -- the museum is a godsend (is this a play on words, or what?). Many have returned with family and friends, some from faraway states (like farther than Wisconsin, like, has Sara Palin been there?) arguing it's one of the few with a Christian worldview.

Many scientists say they fear damaging effects on science education when young people tour the museum and fail to square its lessons with what they're learning in school. One display shows humans coexisting with dinosaurs -- despite the two species being separated by 65 million years in most science texts.

"We're depressed, I think," said Dan Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontology Society, who toured the museum shortly after its opening. "There's been such a push in recent years to improve science education, but stuff like this still hangs around."

Phelps said he fears some teachers, shying away from the origins controversy, may choose to omit mentioning evolution studies in the classroom.

State education officials said they have seen no sign of students challenging science teachers in their classrooms based on conclusions drawn from visits to the Creation Museum.

"It's not been a huge issue. In fact it's almost a nonissue for public schools," said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. "Teachers have been dealing with these things long before the Creation Museum came into being."

The Creation Museum doesn't draw nearly as many visitors as the nation's top science museums, which boast larger facilities and government funding. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington attracted 5.8 million visitors in 2006; the Children's Museum in Indianapolis brought in 1.2 million that year, according to a list compiled by Forbes magazine.

But for its size and budget -- it took $27 million in private donations to build -- the museum has been an overwhelming success, founder Ken Ham said.

The museum in rural northern Kentucky, a 30-minute drive south of Cincinnati, has drawn more than 550,000 visitors in 15 1/2 months, by its own count.

Regular visitors pay $20 for admission, but about 10 percent were admitted for free over the last 15 months, museum officials said. Ham said it draws families, home-schooled children, Christian school groups and even many skeptics. (hey, I'm going next time I'm in Kentucky!!!)

Inside, evolution is replaced with the Old Testament stories of Adam and Eve as the first humans and Noah rescuing the human race from a worldwide flood.

Ham feels the sleek presentation puts it on par with well-funded science museums. Patrick Marsh, who helped create exhibits at Universal Studios in Orlando, was brought in as the museum's director of design.

"We made a decision quite a few years ago, that we wanted to do it first-class ... as good as you would see at museums or Disney World or Universal Studios," Ham said. "It's become an attraction in its own right, regardless of the message that we have here."

One visitor, Bill Michaletz, drove his family from Wisconsin in May. (Isn't there already a Noah's Ark in the Dells?)

"I do believe in creation, that God created it all," said Michaletz, who has five children. "I'm appreciative that there is a place to go for ourselves and our kids, to look at that view." (And, I'm told Bill believes the moon is made of green cheese and, oh yes, the earth is flat....).

© 2008 Associated Press

McCain and the Meltdown

Published on Friday, October 10, 2008 by The Nation
by Ari Berman

The parallels between the collapse of the savings and loan industry in the late 1980s and the Wall Street meltdown of today are unmistakable. Few pieces explain the roots of the S&L debacle--and its relevance today--better than legendary investigative reporter Robert Sherrill's breathtaking 1990 exposé in The Nation, "S&Ls, Big Banks and Other Triumphs of Capitalism."

The section on jailed Lincoln Savings & Loan magnate Charles Keating is particularly memorable. "If any one hustler was the living symbol of the underlying rot of the savings and loan industry as created by Congress and Reagan's biography in the 1980s, it was Charles Keating," Sherrill writes.
A constant in both crises is John McCain. McCain and four other senators (dubbed the Keating Five) intervened to protect Keating from banking regulators. McCain was later rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for "poor judgment" and embarrassed by the $112,000 in campaign contributions, trips and gifts he had accepted from Keating. Cindy McCain and her father were also partners with Keating in a shopping mall development in Arizona. In his autobiography, McCain called the Keating episode "the worst mistake of my life."

McCain eventually became a born-again crusader for campaign-finance reform. But he continued to surround himself with corporate lobbyists and push for greater deregulation of the finance industry, missing the greatest lesson from Sherrill's story: "thievery is what unregulated capitalism is all about."

Sherrill's pathbreaking reporting sheds light on all that was wrong with the deregulatory politics back then--as well as on what has fed our current financial crisis. It's worth a second read: "S&Ls, Big Banks and Other Triumphs of Capitalism," from the November 19, 1990, issue.

Copyright © 2008 The Nation

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lefties for Obama

by Ira Chernus
Published on Tuesday, October 7, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

If you have decided to vote for a third party candidate for president, or not to vote at all, because you can't stand voting for the "lesser of two evils," this message is for you. Though I'm supporting Obama and the Democrats, I understand and respect your choice.

You may be taking a lot of criticism for standing on your principles. I know how the criticism can hurt. I took the same kind of heat eight years ago as a Ralph Nader supporter in a razor-thin election. I've never regretted that choice. I felt totally comfortable with it in 2000, partly because the outcome was a foregone conclusion in my home state. My vote would not make any difference one way or another.

This year is very different, because in my state the Obama - McCain race is much too close to call. If that's true in your state too -- or if there is any chance Obama might not win your state -- please consider carefully the other big difference between 2000 and 2008. Back then, I failed to imagine how much damage eight years of Republican rule would do. Now, the thought of another eight or even four years of the same seems intolerable.

Imagining what the Supreme Court might look like four years from now under a President McCain makes the thought even worse than intolerable. And if a President McCain were to die in office . . . Well, golly gee, sometimes the good old English language just doesn't got the words to express the horror.

When the greater of two evils gets bad enough, the lesser is so much less that it really is the better choice. So I am out there working for Obama and the Democrats. I won't scold you or look down on you for taking the opposite course. But I'd like you to consider changing your mind.

No, Obama is not the kind of crusader for progressive causes that you and I would like to see lead this country. But he has a different view than you or I might have about how government works. In his years as a community organizer, he learned that you should never expect government officials to initiate change. That's not their job. This is a democracy, and they are elected to do the will of the people, to bend whichever way the political wind blows.

Obama really means it when he says, in effect: "Making change is your job. I want you to pressure me. If you put a lot of pressure on me, I'm willing to bend to your will. But the conservatives are always out there putting pressure on me from the other side. You have to create a political wind strong enough to blow the opposition away and blow your elected leaders to the left."

With Democrats in power in Congress and the White House, the doors of power will be open at least a little bit to progressives. We won't get all, or even most, of what we want. But there will be people in Washington willing to listen to our views. Some of them will be in pretty high places. And they'll know that our movement will get attention -- even in the Oval Office -- if it's massive, well-organized, and highly visible.

McCain and Palin aren't going to move an inch to the left no matter how powerful the political winds are. They'll claim that their victory gives them a mandate for right-wing intransigence. And if they win, the disappointment may take all the wind out of the progressives' sails. After eight years of fighting Bush, who will have the energy left for another four years of the same? A McCain victory might convince a lot of people, across the political board, that we are just fated (or doomed) to have Republican presidents forever.

I'm especially concerned about the huge numbers of young people supporting Obama, thousands of them working full time on his campaign and learning invaluable political skills. If he loses, most of them may be so dispirited that they'll give up on politics altogether for a long time, perhaps forever. If he wins and then doesn't produce the change they want, they may turn their energy and skills to the left, as so many did in the '60s.

And it's pretty predictable that a President Obama would not produce nearly as much change as most of his young supporters want. He has chosen to be a compromiser. He understands how much power conservatives have these days. A president who wants to get anything done must have a working relationship with those conservatives, or else they'll simply block everything.

So he has taken all sorts of moderate stands to let conservatives know that he doesn't plan to shut them out. The alternative is to stand on principle and paralyze the government, insuring there won't be any progressive change at all.

The few changes the Dems would bring may not seem very significant to you. But they could mean a great deal for those who have no voice and no power at all.

Here at home, there are millions of poor people who depend on government programs for their basic needs; Democrats will respond to some of those needs, while Republicans will ignore them and blame the poor for their own suffering. There are nearly 50 million without health insurance; Democrats are at least moving toward covering all the children and most of the adults among them. The number of unemployed grows daily; Obama's talk about giving them jobs, by rebuilding the infrastructure and creating alternative energy technology, won't all be translated into action, but some of it will.

On the other side of the world, people in Iraq are suffering daily under a U.S. occupation that Obama would significantly reduce and perhaps eventually end completely. Around the world there are government leaders eager to talk with the President of the United States, talks that Obama would have but McCain would reject. Then there are all the non-human species who are at risk every day from the Republicans' callous disregard for the environment. Democrats won't save all of them, but they will give many species a better chance to survive.

The voiceless depend on us to speak up for them -- not just on Election Day but every day after that. We have to keep pushing relentlessly to the left. We have to recognize that in politics no one wins all the time. But even a small victory on one issue can make a huge difference for a lot of people, most of them people we will never see. Yet all our pushing for victories will do little good unless Obama and the Democrats win.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. chernus@colorado.edu

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the name of love.....

It's extraordinary to me that the United States can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion dollars to saved 25,000 children who die every day from preventable diseases.

- Bono, rock star and anti-poverty activist. (Source: The American Prospect blog)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Madison's Olbrich Gardens in the Mist...

Madison has a garden called Olbrich Gardens, on the east side, where most of the good stuff in town can be found. They have a tropical dome, which is great in dead of winter. I'd never really spent much time in the rest of Olbrich Gardens, which is this rather intricate, lush maze of flowers, brick walkways and shrubs and stuff, all leading to the Thai Pavilion, although the paths can lead you where ever you want, I suppose. It was a Saturday afternoon, with a pause in the steady rain. Drops fell now and then. Very humid and "close" as we (Nancy Poodledoc, Poodledoc,Jr, and my fiancee Julia)wound our way through what felt like a jungle.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A smart film about stupid people

Ok. I stole the title to this little post. But this movie was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. It reminds me of Fargo, another Coen brothers movie, where someone's stupid plan goes very, very wrong through the work of.......fate? Anyhow, this movie is a good spy farce mixed in with a variety of hilarious and strange sexual twistings and turnings. Throw in some extremely dark humor, a health club, a plastic surgeon, George Clooney, some other more accomplished actors, and some very clever, very amusing scenes happen. It's enjoyable to watch them unfold. Almost as much fun as writing this vague "review". But, if you want something that's a notch up from Get Smart in terms of cleverness, but just as dumb. See this movie. Get popcorn. Laugh out loud. You won't be the only one in the theater laughing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Exciting Week for Cub Fans

Well, the giant sucking sound from Chicago seems to have stopped. The Cubs came out of their doldrums in style. Carlos Zambrano, rested his "heavy arm" last week and then pitched a no-hitter Monday night. The next day, Cub's pitcher Ted Lilly almost had a no-hitter of his own, allowing one hit. Then the Cubs lost to the hapless Brewers. I tuned in todays game and the Cubs were down 6 to 2 in the ninth so I figured they were about to lose. Tuning in later, the Cubs had scored 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie, then won the game in the 12th. So this Cub fan will sleep well tonight......