Monday, December 31, 2012

Raped to Death

I cannot stop thinking about the young woman in New Delhi who was raped to death.  Raped to death.  I choke on the horror of her ordeal.   Not satisfied with their hour-long assault on the woman, her attackers forced a metal rod into her body.  The media decline to speculate on how this was accomplished.  There are only two orifices through which the rod could enter: anus and vagina.  The damage to her internal organs could not be repaired.  I wonder, was this the rod with which her boyfriend was beaten?  Did she lose consciousness before this final act?  As they lay together on the street, left naked and bleeding by their assailants, could they comfort one another?  Did she have hope for recovery? Will he ever be able to love again?  India is not prepared to prosecute rapists in a way commensurate with their crime.  This incident has been the cause of new promises and proclamations but culture is slow to change. Murder is punishable with death.  The assailants are in custody.  Women around the world will watch. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night of Believing

For millions of children and children at heart
the night before Christmas is finally the start
of the magical mystery tour of their dreams
when reindeer can fly, and through the fog beams
a bright shinny nose that emits a red light
and Santa with sleigh dashes on in the night
where time is suspended beyond the earth's end
and magic allows each believer to send
her wishes to catch the red blur of his coat
that twinkles with mystical starlight and hope.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

George, Again

On December 19, 235 years ago, George Washington's Revolutionary Army troops completed an exhausting march from their quarters in White Marsh outside Philadelphia.  British troops commanded by General Cornwallis had taken Philadelphia in September after a successful three pronged sweep through the countryside.  White Marsh was no longer safe.  Washington's destination was Valley Forge, a community named for a nearby iron forge on Valley Creek.  Valley Forge is 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia, a distance that Washington considered safe for winter quarters, but close enough to counter any British move out of the city.  Several days later snow began to fall in what would become a severe winter storm.  Temperatures plummeted reaching a low of 6 degrees.  Images of Washington's Valley Forge encampment endure - bloody footprints in the snow, men without proper clothing huddled in blankets, inadequate food.  Washington sought money from the Continental Congress  for provisions.  Moral was terrible.  Men suffered, men deserted, men died.  Think about their travails as you shovel snow this week.   Washington prevailed against these odds.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Sensless Tragedy"

In the wake of the deaths at Sandy Hook School politicians, including our President, call for action to prevent future sensless tragedy.  In my view, their focus is on the wrong thing.  They all talk about guns.  Only a handful mention mental illness. Ours is  a country in which the mentally ill still struggle for recognition and help.  Many insurance policies exclude most treatments for mental illness.  The shooter in Newtown was known to be unstable.  It was no surprise to some that he seemed sensless to the horrible consequences of his actions.  We would be far better off if our current grief caused focus on better treatment for the mentally ill than on trying to rid the country of guns.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Here's A Science Demonstration You Can Do At Home

You can demonstrate the most powerful force in the known universe right in your own home.  Amaze your children.  Gratify your high school science teacher.  Grow paperwhites.  Let photosynthesis begin! Paperwhite is a narcissus.  Buy several bulbs at any garden store.  Put some pebbles or smooth stones in a glass jar or vase.  Settle the bulbs on the stones and secure them with more stones.  Add water.  Put in a sunny window.  Pull up a chair and watch what happens.  Within days roots will reach down into the watery bed of stone.  Green stems will reach up into the sunlight.  Within weeks the flowers will form, still covered in the growing stem.  And then the blooms.  Fragrant.  Wonderful.  All done by the water and the sun.  Take a break and watch it happen.  Here is a website to help you.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Prayer for Children

When my children were growing up I often sang to them at bedtime.  One of our favorites was the children's prayer from Englebert Humperdink's opera Hansel and Gretel.  Today as I learned about the deaths of so many children at the school in Connecticut I sang this song to them.  Here are the words.
When at night I go to sleep
Fourteen angels watch do keep
Two my head are guarding
Two my feet are guiding
Two are on my right hand
Two are on my left hand
Two who warmly cover
Two who o'er me hover
Two to whom 'tis given
To guide my steps to Heaven.

Here is a lovely performance.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Oh Tannenbaum

I stopped by a rummage sale yesterday and bought a nice size artificial Christmas tree that was already strung with lights.  It was only $5 because one of the light strings was out.  For $.50 I bought a string of lights.  Today my husband and I took the tree to the boarding kennel where our dogs stay when we travel.  This kennel is wonderful - run in the well worn buildings of a former horse farm.  The dogs' day is nice.  The dogs go out in groups to play each morning.  Then in for a nap, and back out at 1 o'clock for another play.  Supper, and lights out.  I don't worry about leaving the dogs there.  They are glad to go with the staff when we drop them off.  We put the tree up in the kennel office.  We took off the dead lights and strung the good ones.  Plugged in, the tree glowed in the way a tree has glowed in my Christmas every year of my life.  I am sad that I cannot acknowledge Christmas without offending someone.  It is a fact that December 25 is Christmas and that many, like me, associate this season with renewal and commitment.  The Hanukkah menorah that is lit tonight is not  a "Holiday Candlestick".  My tree is not a "Holiday Tree".  Get a grip.

Friday, December 7, 2012

War is Hell

In the news this morning is an article written by Elizabeth McIntosh.  She offered her story to editors of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin a week after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.  They judged the story too graphic and it did not run.  It is published for the first time today and you can read it here if your own paper doesn't have it.  Today is a good day to search the web for writings, photographs and films of our country at war.  Thanks to the internet the horrors endured by our armed forces are just a few clicks away. Last month, at a school in North Carolina, a first grader wrote a poem about her grandfather's experience fighting in our war in Vietnam.  The poem was to be part of an assembly recognizing Veteran's Day.  Perhaps she interviewed her grandfather, looked at his souvenirs, heard his stories.  In her poem she wrote, "He prayed to God for peace. He prayed to God for strength".  I have no doubt that her account is true.  In the hell of war many would do the same.  The school principal required her to remove the reference to God.  Read about it yourself.  I ask, must we be so politically correct that we cannot tell things the way they are?  Do we think that eradicating mention of God in public schools improves our children's understanding of history?  Do we expect them to believe that a scared and tired soldier would not petition a greater force than his enemy?  Nonsense.  The child did not seek to enshrine belief in God within her public school.  She wanted to tell the her grandfather's story.  Shame on the school.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

High Fives at NASA

Amid all the talk about the future of US manned space exploration, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 travel on.  Remember them?  Launched in the summer of 1977 they were sent to explore our solar system - and beyond.  They are each billions of miles from earth.  Voyager 2, 9 billion.  Voyager 1, 11 billion.  The plan has always been that they would travel to the edge of our sun's sphere of influence, and go beyond into so-called interstellar space.  The project team is still manned by some of the original visionaries.   And now it appears that the project goal will be achieved.  Get a cup coffee and visit the Voyager web page.  Get ready to have your mind stretched.  Visit the heliosheath heading towards the heliopause - the boundary where solar wind ends and interstellar space begins.  Learn about the magnetic highway over which solar particles heading out into interstellar space pass particles coming the other way.  Try to picture all this in three dimensions.  Our space exploration was in its infancy when the Voyager mission was on the drawing boards.  Here's a shout out to those who thought way outside the box.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What Do You Make of This?

The National Science Foundation collects data about foreign nationals who attend college in the United States.  A summary for 2010 shows that foreign students earn nearly half of the graduate degrees awarded in science, math and statistics, and engineering.  In the same fields, foreigners represent an insignificant percentage of recipients of bachelor's degrees.  Close to half of the foreign population in US colleges come from China and India, about equal numbers from each country.  You can learn much more about these students at the National Science Foundation website.  Ponder what to make of it.  Much is made of the importance of technology transfer from the developed nations to the developing world.  In my experience, little is noted in these discussions about the simultaneous transfer of English language fluency and state of the art knowledge that occurs with the award of each degree.  Now companies are pressing Congress successfully to allow easier green card access to these foreign graduates so they can remain in the US for post graduate work.  This should be a warning to our young and to those who pay for their education.  Those are the jobs they might otherwise have. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One Lump or Two?

Paul Revere may be known as the herald of the Colonies' war with England, but a tea tax was the underlying economic trigger.  By the end of the 18th Century tea was no longer solely the drink of the aristocratic and wealthy.  Powerful trading monopolies with fast new sailing ships brought tea from China to Britain and Holland at a price that soon made it available throughout the population.  The tax levied on tea supplied to the colonies symbolized their strained relationship as the American economy prospered.  Colonists boycotted tea and prevented the cargo from coming ashore. And then the Boston Tea Party. Hundreds of crates tossed overboard.  Followed by the War of Independence.  The world order changed, but tea did not.  We drink today the same varieties enjoyed Since Chinese Emperor San Nong, in 2737 BC found tea leaves by chance in his boiled drinking water. 

Tea comes from the tropical plant Camellia sinensis. Today tea bushes cover about 6 million acres of the earth. All styles of tea come from the same bush.  The geography and timing of the harvest along with the method of processing yield the variations we know as Black, Oolong, Green and White tea.  For your tea drinking pleasure, visit the web pages of Mark T. Wendell, Tea Company tea purveyor since 1904.  Order their Hu-Kwa Tea.  Enjoy

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Meet Rep. Thomas Tudor Tucker, SC

Representative Tucker was born in Bermuda, received his medical education in Scotland, and settled in Charleston, SC.  He served as a surgeon in the Army and after the war was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.  He ran successfully for Congress and served two terms.  He subsequently served as Treasurer of the United States under four consecutive Presidents.  In his first term, during a floor debate he expressed concern that a proposed action would exceed Congressional authority as specifically established in the Constitution.  The year was 1789.  The action under consideration was a resolution to be proposed to the President that a national day of thanksgiving be declared.  Representative Tucker said this: " Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?  If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the several States."  As I read his words today, and think of the actions proposed by the Federal Government that I have no mind to do, I say Amen.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Believe the Warnings

Railroad crossings are marked to let drivers know that a train is coming.  A train cannot stop when it sees an object in the crossing.  A fast moving train requires a mile or more to stop.  Rail transport is efficient and effective at moving large loads - not at negotiating in close traffic.  I have ridden in the engine of a train.  I have listened to train crews recall incidents in which they could not stop.  Incidents in which they watched helplessly as the train plowed into a object on the track.  With emergency brakes on, with whistle blowing all they can do is slow the impact.  In Texas last week a train  hit a flatbed truck which had pulled onto the crossing even as the warning lights began to flash.  The truck was decorated as a float carrying wounded soldiers to a parade.  As the news spread of the incident in Texas sympathy was expressed widely for those on the float, especially the injured.  I express my sympathy for those on the train crew who saw the event unfold but were helpless to stop it.  The moral to this story is obvious - be cautious approaching and entering a train crossing.  Believe the warnings.  Take responsibility.

PS Perhaps you know the song about Casey Jones, an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad at the end of the 19th century.  Jones lost his life in a train wreck - an event made legendary by the popular song.

Read the incident report filed a month after the crash to learn what really happened. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More From the News

Yesterday I called attention to ubiquitous pressure on the public purse.  Today I add this note.  Rita Crundwell served for over twenty years as comptroller of the small city of Dixon, Illinois (population 15,700).  She has plead guilty to stealing more than $53 million over the course of her career.  $53 million.  $2,650,000 average in each of 20 years.  As a taxpayer, I ask "How can the loss of such an enormous sum not be noticed?"  Politicians all promise to fight fraud, waste and abuse.  They count on such a campaign as a source of funds to spend elsewhere.  But somehow, it doesn't happen.  Ms. Crundwell may stand out as a particularly aggressive fraud, but she is just the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the News Today

Here is a sampling of the stories in the first few pages of our local paper. The Senators who represent states hard hit by "superstorm" Sandy are asking the President to add more relief aid to his next budget proposal.  Wind energy advocates, including Governors and industry executives, are demanding a continuation of the federal subsidies supporting the production of wind electricity.  The President will hold a series of campaign-style events after Thanksgiving which will build on over 100 rallies organized by labor unions urging Congress to avoid cuts to entitlement programs. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued against the demotion of four star General William Ward despite a finding of lavish personal use of federal funds.

Everyone has a hand out these days.  Even a 100% increase on income over $250,000 will not help - not even raise enough to save the wind energy subsidy.  Before we reach agreement on the best solution to our budget deficit, I believe we need to reach agreement on some basic civics principles.  Civics - the study and science of the privileges and obligations of citizens.  It used to be taught in high school.  I wonder if it still is.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Luther's Revolution

Many will dress up in Halloween costume today. One in three adult Americans, and the majority of children and teens.  Take a minute between rings of your door bell and consider one of the greatest revolutions of all time.  Not ours from British rule, not the French overthrow of the monarchy, not those in the recent Arab spring.  Today, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther's act began the Protestant revolution, leading Christians away from the moral and intellectual domination of the Pope and the Catholic Church.  Luther's proposition was that absolution from sin was not achieved by buying a pardon, called "indulgence" from the church, but rather by acts of love and submission to the will of God.  His act was as life-threatening as the capital crime committed by our Founding Fathers when they signed the Declaration of Independence.  Luther was excommunicated, giving anyone permission to kill him without consequence. 

Luther did not mince words.  He took his case directly to the Papacy. Here are some of my favorite from the 95.  Read an excellent presentation of them all at this site.

  • It must therefore be the case that the major part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of relief from penalty. 24
  • There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest. 27
  • No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of receiving plenary forgiveness. 30
  • Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence 36
  • Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties. 44
  • Again: since the pope's income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers? 86
  • These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy. 90
  • And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace. 95

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


As we listen to the politicians talk about war, and sending our troops into "harms way", it is good to get a different perspective.  The Battle of Sulva Bay was part of the Gallipoli Campaign in the Great War.  As with the stalemate on the battlefields of France, the landing at Sulva and subsequent effort to displace the Ottoman stronghold brought slaughter to the troops, shame to the generals, and no resolution to the war.  This song needs no additional comment.

Monday, October 29, 2012

God Said the Fire Not the Flood Next Time

Monster storms are not new to the planet.  In the millennia before the current era the crashing waters and rushing winds of a flood became the stuff of received wisdom and warning.  In a world lit only by fire the loss of an ember could mean death.  As the account of the rising water was passed down from year to year the true scale and magnitude were lost to dramatic storytelling.  The books of the Old Testament include the story of Noah and his flood.  You can find it in Genesis chapters 6 - 9.  In light of tonight's storm on the East Coast of the United States, it is easy to imagine a more primitive people describing waters wiping out all life on earth.  Its easy to imagine passing down a story that involves a life-saving ark and a dove searching for evidence that the waters have gone down.  It is easy to understand how survivors might believe that  a greater power saved them when all others were lost.  The myths and legends of earlier societies survive today in our folk songs and tales.  In the acoustical age of my youth, Peter Paul and Mary sang such a song about Noah's flood.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Do You Remember Thomas Eagleton?

In recent weeks we have heard about Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s treatment for bi-polar disorder.  Jackson has made his illness public, and spoken with confidence and relief that he has entered the Mayo Clinic, and will take his doctors' advice to follow through with treatment and rest. His constituents report that he will easily win reelection to his seat in Congress. 

In 1972, George McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton to be the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic slate with him.  Within three weeks McGovern's campaign had imploded in the backlash of questions about Eagleton's fitness for office.  It was learned that he had been hospitalized for depression and had received electric shock therapy. 

Is a candidate with mental illness that is managed with best currently available treatment less fit for office than a candidate with chronic heart disease?  Before our obsession with societal norms, great men with mental illness lead great nations. Abraham Lincoln was probably one.  Winston Churchill was certainly another.  Churchill called his depression "Black Dog".   Representative Jackson (who may not be qualified for other unrelated reasons) has demonstrated that in 2012, mental illness is not the political death sentence it was 40 years ago.  Whatever else Jackson contributes to civil society during his years of public service, his forthright treatment of mental illness is huge.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My name is Carlos. How can I help you?

If you are very lucky, you will find "Carlos" at the answer end of your call for help.  I don't mean help in a life threatening crisis.  I mean the kind of help that consumes your afternoon (or midnight hours) as you trouble shoot the problem that has  blocked you out of your own computer.  My problem was with my phone - a Sony Xperia Ion.  Carlos was in the Dominican Republic where Sony has a call center.  It was pure luck that put Carlos on the phone when I was ready to throw mine out the window.  Actually, he was the second Carlos to whom I spoke that day.  The first Carlos put me on hold "for a quick second" and never returned.  Carlos # 2, aka Carlos Fernandez, stayed with me for four hours.  We each ate lunch.  As rebooting occurred, first on the phone, and then, repeatedly, on my computer through which we would update the phone, we learned about our families and hobbies and talked about cruising in Alaska. My husband joined us and we talked about fishing and the species he caught in warm water.  He asked about salmon - that world renowned cold water fish caught with relative ease in SE Alaska.  I took a break to take our dogs out.  When I was in deepest despair, Carlos was right there with "not to worry", and we turned to plan B.  Then plan C.  We used every port on my computer, and moved over to my husband's.  When Carlos was stumped we searched the owners manual (107 pages) together. We fixed everything.  We cheered one another.  The mess was tidied.  The mysteries revealed.  The storm passed. 

Here's a shout out to Sony and to Carlos.  We mortals are at the mercy of the electronics that rule our lives.  I happily carry today the phone I was ready to toss yesterday.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tenors Behaving Badly

As I drove about my day today, the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast offered up Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.  Puccini (1858 - 1924) wrote beautiful music.  He had patrons and commercial success.  He had his choice among the best possible stories, and the most talented librettists with whom to tell his stories.  Why did he single out lead roles for men behaving badly?  Tune in and listen to the glorious melodies.  Think about what is happening.  In Madama Butterfly U.S. Navy lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton comes ashore in Japan and succumbs to the ministrations of lovely geisha Cio-Cio San aka Madame Butterfly.  In a cruel deception, he marries her, understanding that there is no legal obligation associated with the union.  His lust for soft light, soft skin and a subservient sex partner overcome any self control he might have learned at the Naval Academy.  The union ends badly with a child whom he takes from the heart broken Butterfly who chooses honor over shame and eviscerates herself with her father's sword.  The world was introduced to this cad in 1904.  Eighteen years later Puccini outdid himself when he introduced Calef, exiled Prince of Tartary in Turnadot.  Calef falls in love with Turnadot, the cold, vengeful and very mixed up Princess of Peking. In the climax of Act III he stands by to watch his father's faithful servant Liu tortured because she would not reveal his name.  What kind of man would  do that?  He is so taken with himself and the mystery he has introduced into the court of Peking that he sings an ode to himself, "Nessun Dorma" (meaning "no one sleeps" in which he refers to the mad search for clues to his real name).  Ironically, this beautiful aria sung at the height of conceit by Calef, was sung by the most unassuming contestant on Britain's Got Talent in 2007.  If you missed Paul Potts, and the electrifying reaction to his voice, feast your ears and grab a hanky.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Britain's Bogs

A battle over bogs brews in Britain. A bog, or peat bog, accumulates because plants decompose slowly in waterlogged soil.  Bogs can spread widely.  Bogs burgeoned in the cool and humid lowlands of northern England and central and north east Scotland. Britain's bogs are thought to have developed 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.  Peat was cut and dried for centuries and used for fuel.  In modern times, peat has been praised as an ideal medium for growing and mulching gardens.   Advocates are passionate about the benefits to the soil.   Bogs build slowly, adding about 1/2 inch in 100 years. Today  there is widespread support for a ban on cutting in order to preserve the unique bog habitat. The British will manage this touchy issue.  After all, they managed to ban fox hunting.  I am willing to bet that the remaining bogs will be preserved.  That will be an ecological win, but with an unfortunate unintended consequence.  Out of the British bogs have come archaeological treasures.  The most astonishing was the discovery of the upper torso of a man buried in the deep Lindow Moss outside Manchester.  He turned up during a commercial peat harvest.  His body bore the clear signs of ritual sacrifice, and has been a goldmine of clues to the mysteries of Druid society.  There have been other similar finds, all well preserved in the oxygen-free acidic moisture of the peat.  If no more bogs are cut, no more mysteries will be revealed.  So. Indulge your curiosity.  Read about Lindow Man in this short, action packed book, "The Life and Death of a Druid Prince".  You will learn what he ate for his last supper, why he might have died and much more.  A first century thriller.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Change of Life

I never heard my grandmother say anything about her personal health.  In my childhood women referred to "the change of life" in hushed tones with mild raising of the eyebrow.  Boys were brazen and cruel, with cutting remarks about girls "on the rag".  At school we called it the "curse".  In our "Health" class we were given a pamphlet with diagrams of ovaries, uterus and cervix.  The illustrations showed the thickening lining in the uterus each month and explained that it "sloughed off" .  A sanitary napkin was passed around.  This dry and clinical  information was for girls.  I have no idea what the boys were told.  It was inconceivable that we would talk to them about a woman's menstrual cycle.  We swirled around this issue in a cultural climate of confusion.

Today, we have unabashed public discussions and product advertising that were unthinkable just a decade ago.  Erectile dysfunction and low testosterone share the airwaves with Cheerios, investment trading,   incontinence and arthritis pain. But even in the rush of excitement about so many previously unspeakable maladies, the airwaves are largely silent with respect to menstruation.  Why?  Why do we still blush?  Do we somehow believe we are alone?  One-third of men and women ages 30-70 have experienced loss of bladder control at some point in their adult lives.  The nightly news sells their needs to advertisers and apparently has no qualms that viewers might be offended by cartoon-like figures fabricated from copper plumbing fixtures.  Every woman experiences the body and mind altering cycles of fertility. 100%.  From the onset of her periods at age 11 or 12, for the rest of her life, each woman learns that her equilibrium is easily put off kilter.  Menstruation lasts about 40 years.  Menopause lasts forever.  (Note to reader: don't believe "its just for a year or two")  For many women parts of the journey are unsettling, painful, even debilitating.  In polite society of even the recent past women were banished to insane asylums as they struggled with "the change".  Why isn't more known today?  Why so little research?  Do we still harbor aboriginal  taboos? When will we have the courage, or common sense, to bring it out of the closet?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Come Bye

"Come bye" is part of the shepherd's vocabulary.  It tells the dog to run around behind the sheep in the clockwise direction.  "Away to me" is for the counterclockwise direction.  The vocabulary is brief and concise.  "Walk up", "take time", and the absolutely essential "lie down".  "That will do" tells the dog to turn away from the sheep.  These commands are translated into whistles, a unique whistle for each one. They are non-negotiable.  Armed with this shared vocabulary, handler and dog should be able to move a flock of sheep safely and efficiently across a pasture, through gates, around obstacles and into a pen.  A successful handler trusts her dog to use initiative when circumstances warrant. I am in Klamath Falls, OR at the United States Border Collie Handlers' Association National Sheepdog Finals.  150 of the best dogs and handlers are here.  I am one of the many volunteers who make this trial possible.  Each of these dogs has a heart of gold.  It is hot.  The field is dusty.  The sheep have their own view of the best path to take.  Sometimes the handler and dog achieve a perfect balance between pressure and release for the sheep, and things go smoothly.  Sometimes not.  Before the course is complete, the dog has run close to two miles, stopped hard, changed direction, walked cautiously forward and waited as the sheep developed the trust necessary to proceed.  The handler has whistled, called, anticipated, and waited as the sheep developed the trust necessary to proceed.  Those who score well know that success lasts only until the next time-up presents new sheep and new challenges.  Those who don't score so well know there will be another chance with new sheep and new challenges.  Many of those watching hope to walk out onto the field at a future National Finals.  I am one of those whose life has been changed by these dogs, and who shares that hope. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Have You Smiled Today?

In mile 165 of a 200 mile trip today,  my satellite radio station "Willy's Roadhouse", offered up this classic.  See if you can listen without a smile.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You've Got to Be Carefully Taught

With the hateful chaos spreading in North Africa and the Middle East, Rodgers and Hammerstein come to mind.  We often speak of them as one.  Together they wrote, produced and directed great musicals in the great era of Broadway big-shows.   They tackled big topics in their shows:  Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.    South Pacific  ran on Broadway for over five years.  The story is based on work by James Michener.  Many of the songs such as Younger than Springtime and Some Enchanted Evening are well known, and still performed often.  One song is perhaps less known.  It is not often recorded separately.  Too bad.  It is an important message today:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You've got to be carefully taught.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Honor of Their Act

On September 11th there will be much written and said about the attacks on America 11 years ago.  I add this.  Look at your watch.  Wait for 10 seconds.  That is the time that it took for a jumper to hit the ground from the upper floors of Tower One.  He or she would be hurling down at greater than 150 miles per hour.  Such impact is impossible to survive.  Perhaps he had already lost consciousness.  Perhaps she had felt a rush of release from the inferno that was melting steel and would kill her for sure if she stayed.  Sometimes two held hands as they fell showing the world that they were alive on the descent.  Reports estimate that 200 jumped, almost all from Tower One.  Incredibly to me, some observers, some family members refused to accept that the jumpers jumped.  Jumping was a conscious, willful act.  Those who would not believe what cameras and eye witnesses saw were sure that those trapped would obey their religious prohibitions against suicide.  They would wait on the will of God.  All of the official reports term the jump a "fall".  I choose to see it differently.  In the face of the unimaginable choice between death and action they chose action.  Their will to live transcended their stockpile of shoulds and oughts.  Their leap into the abyss was their final fist-shake at fate.  I cannot get them out of my mind.  I will dwell on them tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Last Ice Cream Sandwich of the Summer

An ice cream truck comes by our house on Thursdays and Sundays in the summer.  I can hear it's music when it turns off the arterial into our neighborhood.  I take my money and stand at the end of the driveway.  I am 10 years old again.  I know what each item looks like because I have studied the pictures on the truck.  They have not changed in my lifetime of hoping for an ice cream sandwich or a creamsicle.  Here is a picture that is labeled "Vintage Ice Cream Truck".

This could be me and my school friends. Apparently many of us still crave the indulgence.  This summer Dove Ice Cream set up a truck in Minneapolis to dispense free Dove Bars along with a five minute massage.

The ice cream trucks of my youth often played Scott Joplin's rag, The Entertainer.  By the time my children ran to the corner for ice cream Frank Mills had composed his piano song Music Box Dancer.  The tune had been forming in his mind when his young daughter brought him her broken music box to fix.  The rest is history.  Music Box Dancer became the #1 record in 26 countries.  Recordings, sheet music and arrangements together have sold  6 million copies making Frank a wealthy man who could retire to Vermont and the Bahamas.  The ice cream truck in my neighborhood, and hundreds of others around the world, plays the Music Box Dancer".  Here it is:

Two final thoughts: during this political season much has been made of the role of "small business" in the American economy.  Most ice cream trucks are owned by their drivers.  There are very few chains or franchises.  These are hard working Americans with a shared sweet tooth.  And - running to the sidewalk to meet the truck is not just for kids or day-dreaming "vintage" kids.  After her loss in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open last week,  tennis-great Maria Sharapova licked her wounds with her choice from the ice cream truck around the corner from her hotel: vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Isn't This Supposed to be a Secret?

It's happened again: top secrets on page 3.  In today's newspaper there is an Associated Press story with this headline: "More Spies, Diplomats to Syrian Border".  I thought the deployment of spies was a top secret event.   Why does James Bond need all his fancy fake passports and rocket throwing cars if every one knows there is a new spy in town.  Should be easy to spot him if you know what you are looking for.  In our small town home in Alaska we could always tell when someone had an out-of-town banker or lawyer visiting - it would be the person in a business suit carrying a leather briefcase.

The AP story explains that the spy deployment is part of a "...two-pronged effort by the Obama administration to bolster the rebels militarily without contributing weapons to the fight, and politically to help them stave off internal power challenges by the well-organized and often better-funded hard-line Islamic militants who have flowed into the country..."  And then "Officials [who had been briefed] spoke on condition of anonymity".   What kind of spy - referred to in the article as "intelligence operatives" wants his assignment announced to the world before he even arrives at his destination?  What kind of "official" gossips to the press?  What kind of administration allows this kind of behavior to continue to happen?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Look Right and Left

For all those who have sent youngsters off to catch the bus: here is a traffic video to rattle your nerves.

Was the Trade Worth the Price?

By now you may have heard about the trees.  The space shuttle Endeavor will soon be on the final leg of it journey to the California Science Center.  Its twelve miles from the Los Angeles airport to the Science Center.  This week those miles will be littered with the debris left behind as over 400 trees are removed so that the shuttle's wing span can be accommodated on the route.  By removed I mean cut down.  Cut down and chipped immediately.  I am very much in favor of cutting trees in the course of using wood for sawn and pulped products.   On a macro scale, trees are a renewable resource.  Start with 100 acres of fast growing pine, cut 5 each year, replant immediately and in 20 years you can start the rotation over again.  But trees planted early in the last century to shade the sunny streets of Los Angeles present a micro landscaping problem.  Despite the Science Center's promise to plant 2 trees for every 1 cut down, the street scene will not be the same for generations.  No argument in favor of tourism and school field trips would have made the trade off worthwhile to me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dog Days PS

We are going fishing.  I'll be back at my desk early in September.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Why do men rape?  Is it because an aroused man has no conscience?  Why is a helpless woman arousing?  Why is a struggling woman arousing?  What freak of evolution failed to place a governor on man's libido?  The earliest written records speak of rape.  It is assumed that conquering armies will rape.  The women thus violated become mothers on whom we depend to teach the shared values of civil society.  Their burden is great.  Their child a daily reminder of the degradation and pain of his conception.  That they succeed at all to nurture and love is the miracle that must compensate for the vile act.  Our national leaders say that when the Syrian army resorts to chemical warfare on its civilians, they will have "crossed the line".  Oh?  Is it that easy to accept rape as less evil?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

Its hot here - too hot to do much outside.  I woke early and took my dogs for a cool walk well before dawn.  Venus and Jupiter shone brightly beside the waning moon in the Eastern sky.  I watched for meteors.  I looked for Sirius - the Dog Star.  Sirius is called the Dog Star because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (greater dog).  I looked for it because it is not visible in winter and spring, and reappears just at the time of the summer solstice.   At one time, the Egyptians based their calendar on the reappearance of Sirius which was also the time of the annual flooding of the Nile.  The Romans believed that Sirius was responsible for extreme heat, and sacrificed a brown dog during the days when Sirius rose just before dawn.   Throughout the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Sirius is associated with hot sultry weather.  We are in the dog days for sure.  My dogs move from shadow to shade searching for something cool to lie on.  Soon enough it will be windy and cold.  We will wish for sunshine.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Saudi Olympian Addendum

In June I wrote about Dalma Rushdi Malhas.  She is the young woman who has achieved success as a show jumper with her horse, Caramell KS.  At the time, she was expecting to be the only female athlete to represent Saudi Arabia in the Summer Olympics. 

Sadly for Dalma, Caramell KS was injured and she withdrew from competition.  Apparently the IOC was a bit relieved, as her previous competitive success at the Youth Olympic Games was considered "below the qualifying standard".  Her acceptance at the Games would have required a qualification waiver which the IOC was reluctant to provide.  Funny.  The IOC accepted the Saudi woman (girl, really) who was entered in the heavy weight Judo class.  She clearly was not qualified.  There was another Saudi woman, Sarah Attar entered in track.  She runs cross country in the US for Pepperdine  She finished her 800m qualifying heat 45 seconds behind the winner, failing to reach the next round.

Perhaps in 2016, there will be more Saudi women on the team.  These young women paved the way.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cheering for the Winner

The media army covering the Summer Olympics went crazy when members of the Royal family were seen sharing in a "wave" from the Royal box at Wimbledon.  Their countryman, Andy Murray won the gold for Great Britain.  Television broadcasts showed anguished parents as they moved their own bodies in rhythm with their child's event. In every venue there were ear splitting whistles urging on even the most unlikely competitors.

But nothing - nothing at the 30th Olympiad or any other sporting event - nothing can match the scene in the NASA control room on Sunday night when their rover, Curiosity touched down on Mars.  In case you missed it, here it is.  Enjoy.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's Not Free

The long debate about health care insurance is making me crazy.  Insurance is different than care.  The issue at hand is insurance so that the cost of care is, in part, offset for the patient by payment from an insurance pool.  If there is no co-pay required of the patient, the care is free of charge to the patient.  THAT DOES NOT MEAN THE CARE IS FREE!.  All medical services will be paid for.  They will either be paid by the patient, an insurance carrier or the provider.  There is no such thing as free care.  The insurance carrier will spread the cost across all policy holders.  The provider will have to raise rates to cover losses or eventually go out of business.  We do a terrible disservice to ourselves by talking about free medical services.  There is ample evidence that consumers can, and will control medical expenses when they have both good information about costs, and accountability for payment.  Telling them that something can be had for free assures the opposite.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Open Daily 7:30AM - 9PM

I am sitting in a comfortable chair with a table by my side. I have tea and a piece of chocolate. The hostess has just tidied the lobby and wiped the table where another customer had left newspapers and a coffee cup. From my seat I can see my laundry tumbling in two driers. There is music. The tumbling is mesmerizing. I admire the plants growing in pots placed on the counter behind the washers. This small business is thriving. The owner is resourceful and friendly. She sells soap by the small cup - just enough for one load. It was her idea to put in plants. She keeps the reading stand stocked with current magazines and children's books. The carpet is spotless. Each machine is clean of lint. I look at the business cards on the bulletin board. Customers come here from neighboring communities. They bypass other laundromats to patronize Sea Breeze Laundry. Self serve laundries are a commodity. She has differentiated with ambiance and service. She built her success on her initiative and high standards. Our Presidential election may alter the fate of the entrepreneur.  The owner of the Sea Breeze has achieved what is the dream of many.  I am using her wi-fi to tell her story.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Post Script on Marriage

There were readings from the Bible at the wedding I went to on Saturday.  As is often the case at weddings, the Old Testament reading was from The Book of Ruth.  The passage is two verses, and reads this way in the King James Version:

16 And Ruth said, "Entreat me no to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; they people shall be my people and thy God my God;
17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: The Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me".

This passage is a lovely declaration of commitment.  But it is not commitment between husband and wife.  The speaker is Ruth, the Moabitess. She addresses Naomi, her Hebrew mother-in-law.  Theirs is a difficult situation, both widowed in a foreign land.  Naomi plans to return to her own people in Bethlehem and urges Ruth to, likewise, return to Moab where her family might care for her.  Ruth pledges her loyalty and love to Naomi, and readies to go with her to Bethlehem.  I won't spoil the plot for you.  Read it yourself.  It is a good story of good things happening to good people.

Do You Take This Woman...

We went to a wedding on Saturday. The bride and groom were radiant.  The afternoon pleasant for the outdoor ceremony.  Fewer families share this experience every year.   Saturday's happy couple are members of a cohort that is declining: newly married adults.  The "newly married" are those married in the past 12 months.  The number dropped from 4.51 million in 2008 to 4.23 million in 2010, even as total population continued to climb.  All of the statistics pertaining to marriage show the same trend.  The share of American adults currently married reached an all time low of 51% in 2010, down from 72% in 1960.  More interesting, 39% of those interviewed by the Pew Research Center in their analysis of decennial census data agree that marriage is becoming obsolete.  More interesting still, only 26% of adults who have been married before say that they want to marry again, compared with 61% of never-marrieds who want to marry in the future.

What to make of all this when the sun is setting on the hugs, kisses and tears that accompany the exchange of vows and introduction of the newly-weds to their family and friends?  Hope springs eternal? Or, a new fool born every day?  I am an optimist.  I believe that the commitment adds value to the union.  I was pleased to be witness to a new union.  The champagne tasted best during the toast to their happiness.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flash Mob Ode to Joy

I know that many people have already viewed this wonderful, random act of culture.  If you have not, I invite you to get happy with Beethoven.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


American bird watchers disparage the Starling.  The starling we have in North America is the European Starling, part of a large family of birds that includes the Myna group so popular with those wanting to teach a bird to talk.  Their squeaks, warbles, chirps and twitters are well known across the continent.  They are gregarious and social.  They have been reviled by bird-snobs for years on the incorrect theory that they are to blame for every song bird decline in the last century.  They were brought to New York at the end of the 19th Century by fans of Shakespeare.  In Henry IV Hotspur considers training a starling to repeat the name of Henry's prisoner in hopes of driving him (Henry) crazy.  The Shakespeare fans wanted each bird specie mentioned by Shakespeare (600 of them) introduced into the New World.  No doubt today an environmental impact statement would be required, and permission denied. 

The European Starling is a scruffy fellow.  Perhaps you have seen one, or fifteen, or one hundred on a power line near you:

They may not sing like a sparrow, or dive like a hawk, or soar like an eagle, but they can do this:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Beast Within

My take on Bashar al-Assad:  His cruelty was inevitable.  Observers of the human mind have all discovered the beast within - the astonishing capacity of men (and, probably women) to justify behavior that is not condoned in civil society.  In Assad's case the decline into depravity is made a bit more interesting by his education and early career.  Assad graduated from medical school in 1988 and worked first as doctor.  Apparently the Hippocratic oath, taken by doctors for over 2,000 years, made little impression on him.  Here is a well-known quote from the oath:"I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone."

Lord Acton was correct.  "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  The University of Damascus should withdraw his degree.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Good Mrs. Murphy

A mondegreen is a phrase that results from mishearing what is actually said.  The term was coined from the mishearing of Percy's "Reliques" :
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl O'Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual last line is : "And laid him on the green". 

Another example is provided by national correspondent Gregory Jaynes who, as a child, was asked by his pastor to sing Hymn No. 508 which he forever since has recalled as "Lead On, O Kinky Turtle".  The hymn is actually "Lead On, O King Eternal". 

The last verse of the 23rd Psalm in the Old Testament Book of Psalms  begins with the comforting line: "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life".  I have known the mondegreen for this line as "Surely Good Mrs. Murphy will follow me all the days of my life", and I have wondered if that would be a good or a bad thing.  Now I know.

Earlier this week my husband and I were out on the waters of Southeast Alaska.  Our engine rpm's dropped dangerously 23 miles from the nearest community.  In the subsequent hours we received a tow from a passing seiner but were still miles from port, and very alone when he turned off to set his nets.  We had seen a visitor to our dock before we left, the Coastal Messenger.  She is a custom steel boat designed for the Coastal Mission Society out of Chemainus, Vancouver Island.  We have known these fine people for twenty five years and seen them often in the anchorages and harbors of Alaska.  Their purpose is to bring the joy and comfort of the gospel to the remote communities of coastal British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.  Visit their website for their remarkable story.  We called them on the marine radio.  They came out to help us.  Our engine could sustain only low rpm's.  We asked them to stay with us back into the harbor.  It would be a long afternoon at our slow pace.  As we made our way, I looked back to be assured that they were there.  Hour after long hour, I looked back.  They were there, off to port, throttled back to our speed.  We returned safely to our stall.  And so I knew that I had met Good Mrs. Murphy.  And it was a good thing.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bull Frogs

There are bull frogs in the shallows of our lake.  Cat tails, wild iris and scrub willow provide habitat and hiding places.  Bull frogs can weigh 1 pound.  They eat anything they can swallow including other frogs, birds, bats and fish. This is breeding season.  The girls are standing by, ready to pick the best guy.  And so, the males call.  Bull frogs are called bull frogs because their call sounds like the roar of a bull.  In the flush of competition, males demonstrate their bona fides. The calling goes on at night. 

I had intended to simply provide a link to a calling bull frog so you could hear for yourself. Here is that link. 

But I found a short video that is well worth watching.  It is a cliff hanger.  Don't skip to the end.  Watch the whole thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Not for Sissies

My friend is moving to Assisted Living.  There he will get help with his personal care and nutrition.  He will have a small apartment, surrounded by others with the same requirements.  I stopped by his house recently.  He was in his garage.  We stood there together and looked around.  It is a wonderful garage, telling the story of his life.  In the middle, a hot car.  He does not drive anymore. The car is one of many he has bought and loved.  On one wall his tools and work bench.  Tools for household repairs, and tools for his cars.  Screws, nuts and bolts in glass jars.  On another wall are shelves holding file boxes marked with the names of civic and community organizations.  Some were his passion.  Others his wife's.  She died several years ago.  Her grand piano is in the living room.  None of his children or grandchildren play.  Next to the files are the gardening tools, then the Christmas decorations.  There are cupbords holding paint for interior walls and exterior trim.  Pet paraphenalia for both dogs and cats.  A large fan, space heater, and then small kitchen appliances.

We didn't talk much.  We knew that none of these things would go with him to Assisted Living.  My friend is in his nineties.  He can no longer manage on his own.  As we closed the garage door he said "old age is not for sissies."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Five Foot two, Eyes of Blue

Almost 100 years ago this catchy tune was part of the reckless abandon of the Roaring Twenties. 

Five foot two,
eyes of blue
oh what those five feet could do....

Take a minute - get up and do the "Charleston" and listen:

More conservative countries were scandalized.  Our US "flappers" were finally free of corsets and long skirts. 

This summer another five footer will be in the news.  She is Dalma Rushdi Malhas, the only woman who will represent Saudi Arabia in the Summer Olympics next month.  She is a show jumper.  Many in her country are sill scandalized at the sight of even an uncovered female head. 
The Saudi's are creeping cautiously toward accommodation. It is probably fortunate that this world class athlete competes in a sport that does not require a skimpy costume. Read about Dalma's Olympic opportunity  and see an even better picture of her in mid-jump.  See in her eye the intense focus of a champion.   Oh, what those five feet can do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nit Picking

nit·pick·ing Minute, trivial, unnecessary, and unjustified criticism or faultfinding.

What it really means is picking the eggs of lice out of someone's hair.  Don't get squeamish.  Head lice is an equal opportunity problem.  It is not a sign of poor hygiene or lower income.  Lice infest opportunistically.  Scientists have found head lice on the scalps of Egyptian mummies.    25 million Americans will likely be infested this year.  That's a whole lot of tiny insects to get rid of.  Its easy to figure how "nit picking" moved into colloquial conversation to mean a micro-focused task.  Not just "nit picking".  "Lousy" is another common word derived from the human relationship with lice. 

This is a great country. Across the USA entrepreneurs have opened lice treatment salons where both chemical and mechanical treatments are offered.  Most popular (and successful) seems to be combing with a fine toothed steel comb - the kind you might use on your cat.  Enjoy this proprietor's jingle:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Severe Side Winds

Wind is considered a resource in this alternative energy era.  Wind resources are measured and mapped.  You can learn about the geographical distribution, the certainty credited to the wind resource estimates and the areal distribution throughout the United States.  Places where the wind blows a predictable 15 mph or greater are considered good potential for wind energy turbines.  Exposed coastal areas, high ridges, vast open plains are all places where high class wind resources are found.  In basins, valleys and lowland plains wind power is generally low.  Except.  Where air flow is channeled by surrounding topography the wind comes howling through.   "Wind corridors" can offer superb wind resources with regular wind speeds reaching 20 mph.  If you look at a wind resources map you will see small patches of excellent wind in lower Columbia County of Washington State.  This is the Palouse, one of the beautiful places on earth.  The wind is constricted, its force multiplied by the hills rising above the valleys that drain into the Columbia River.   It is wheat growing country.  The small towns connected by State Route 12 were settled in the middle of the 19th century.  The early settlers planted trees upwind of their houses to give themselves some respite from the gale.  Those houses, and their wind breaks are still there, dotting the landscape of rolling wheat fields.  Route 12 is marked frequently with warning signs of severe side winds.  Our big heavy truck shuddered at the crossings. We were there for a sheep dog trial.  We came away with respect for the wind, and for the people who have stayed on the farms settled by their ancestors to harvest the wheat. 

Driving home I kept thinking about the wind as a song ran through my mind.  Different time and place, but same majesty. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


In case you need evidence that time heals, look at today's Google home page.  The cartoon enveloping the "GOOGLE" logo celebrates the 79th anniversary of the June 6, 1933 opening of the first drive-in movie theater.  Was there no thought, or just no mention in the youthful Google offices of D-Day?

There are some wounds that should not heal.  There are some events that we should never forget.  There is some evil for which there is no other word.  As the world awaited word of the early slaughter, and final success on the beaches of Normandy, President Roosevelt offered a prayer.  Listen to his broadcast, and see the pictures of that great day. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Reading Suggestions

Seventeen years ago the inaugural Orange Prize for fiction was awarded. The  prize is awarded for excellence, originality and accessibility in a novel written by a woman.  Helen Dunmore won the first prize in 1996 for her book "A Spell of Winter".  A "Short List" of finalists is announced before the final award is made.  When I studied the archive of winners and Short List finalists there were names from my own library: Annie Proulx, Carol Shields, and Jane Smiley.  And new names beckoning: Rosina Lippi, "Homestead"; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Purple Hibiscus"; and Heather O"Neill, "Lullabies for Little Criminals".  Visit the website yourself.  Read about the 2012 winner, former classics teacher Madeline Miller who won with her first book,  "The Song of Achilles".  The archived lists of winners and finalists offer a feast for the lazy days ahead.  Bon Appetite !

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Police Blotter Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I read a small town newspaper.  It has a Police Blotter that describes local police and State trooper activity.  During the period April 30 through May 20 there were five domestic assaults.  Three were committed by women.  This caught my eye.  I read the Police Blotter regularly, and in the past, most domestic assaults were committed by men.  I looked for more information about women offenders.

Women comprise less than 10% of the US prison population: 113,000 vs 1,500,000 men.  However, in the last decade, the percent increase in female prisoners was almost twice that of male prisoners.  The little bit of information provided by the small town  Police Blotter fits a sad pattern.  57.2% of females report sexual abuse before admission to prison versus 16.1 % of males.  69% of these women  reported that the assault occurred before age 18.  These women grew up in a violent environment, and increasingly are turning to violence themselves.  7 in 10 of incarcerated women have minor children; 1,300,000 children who, in turn, have grown up with violence.  73% of family violence victims are female.  This is a deadly cycle.  Women may be striking back but they are not gaining safe ground.  Read more for yourself at

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nothing Runs Like a Deere

Yesterday I climbed up onto a John Deere tractor and mowed a large field.  I had plenty of time to think about my machine and the work we were doing.  My mind wandered to the past, and to the story of John Deere.  His story is the story of America.  His opportunity for success is what we call the American dream. 

He was born poor, Vermont, 1804.  He apprenticed to a blacksmith.  He moved west in search of opportunity and made his new home in Illinois.  He had an idea for a better plow - highly polished and properly shaped so it would scour itself as it cut furrows.  He took risk.  He made plows for inventory instead of on order.  He imported better steel from England.  He invested money in his business and time in his community, serving in public office and church leadership.  Throughout his long life he never lost sight of his customers' needs.  In his own words, He built a company "dedicated to those linked to the land."  175 years later, it is still true that nothing runs like a Deere. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wrangell Addendum

There is an 18 hole golf course in Wrangell - USGA rated Moderate to Difficult.  The course, called Muskeg Meadows, is owned and managed by the Wrangell Alaska Golf Club.  You can read about it on their website here.  The site includes photos of the entire course.  You can smell the fresh salt air.  The site also offers a modest history of the course, describing it as a "community" effort.  This is a significant understatement.  Volunteers worked shoulder to shoulder with iron garden rakes smoothing out the fairways for seeding.  Greens fee for all 18 holes is $33.  Better yet, annual membership is only $30, and then you play for $22.50.  Join the club.  Get your airline ticket.  Enter one of their tournaments.  And learn the Raven Rule: if a raven carries off your ball you get a free drop, but only if there is a witness.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Plugged In Again

We are back in Wrangell.  Engine trouble.  First time in the 17 years we have owned our boat.  Two men crowded in our engine room trouble shooting and using the language that men use under such circumstances. Too much testosterone. Long walk for me.  Wrangell is one of the oldest towns in Alaska.  Settled first by Tlingits who travelled down the Stikine River.  If you have time to include Wrangell in your travel plans, take a jet boat tour up the river.  You will not regret it.  Here is a website to help you plan your trip.  Russians arrived early in the 19th century to trade in furs.  They were followed by the British who established a Hudson Bay Trading company outpost.  Gold discoveries in the Canadian Cassiar and Klondike districts favored Wrangell merchants and the economy boomed.  Salmon canneries invested in fish traps at the mouths of local rivers, enriching their Washington State owners and depleting the salmon runs.  With statehood in 1959 came state control and the traps were banned.  Logging boomed in the second half of the 20th century.  Wrangell in 2012 is fine.  Population about 2,000.  26 graduated from Wrangell High School yesterday.  This is one of my favorite places.  Lots of energy and initiative.  Friendly.  After two trips to town I am greeted by the locals.

  I visited the Wrangell cemetary.  The head stones told the story - Tlingits, Russians, imigrants from across the United States.  There is one mystery to me - about a dozen graves marked with United States military stones for "Unknown Soldier" and "Unknown Sailor".  How did these remains come to rest here?  When I find out I will let you know.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Going Off Grid

We are heading out fishing in the morning.  We will be out of cell phone and marine radio range.  We are in Southeast Alaska.  Tonight in the inner harbor at Wrangell.  Tomorrow turning south to waters where we have fished  king salmon for many years.  We will follow a familiar routine, trolling slowing along a ledge or across a stream current.  We might stop and anchor to set a crab trap. We might just sit and watch the water.  There might be whales, or porpoises, or dolphins.  There will be ravens calling, gurgling, knocking and clucking in their throats.  Maybe a kingfisher.  Certainly eagles and the first of the migrating Rufus hummingbirds.  Early next week we'll return our boat to her stall in Ketchikan.We'll wash the decks, fill the water tanks, dump the ice and plug in to shore power.  We'll hear the bleep bleeping of our arsenal of phones and computers coming back to life.  We'll look at the pictures we took of those magic days of electronic silence  and start planning for our next trip. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spare the Child

Apparently neither John Edwards or Rielle Hunter have any shame.  Apparently each is so selfish, narcissistic and arrogant that they do not consider the plight of their child.  Money has changed hands.  Recriminations, lies, preposterous dissembling are more important to these two than the fate of the little girl they conceived in their recklessness.  If Edwards is as good a lawyer as his reputation says, he should be able to figure out how to bargain an end to the publicity and accept his fate.  This child has her life ahead of her. The internet will store all the lurid details for her and others to read. It's too bad she will not read that she was conceived in love, that her parents stepped forward to work together to create a stable home for her, or that she brought joy into their lives. John Edwards might not be a criminal. The court will settle that. But he is a moral thug.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Mothers' Day Message

Perhaps one of your friends will ask for your help with baby lambs.  At about two weeks of age, they need a shot of selenium and an ear tag.  Their long tails need to be docked and the boys, well, the boys need to be castrated.  These procedures require separating the lambs from their mothers (briefly).  You will be assigned a job.  Catching the lambs requires good hand-eye coordination and the ability to hold a squirming baby with four hooves.  (The boys are easier to catch than the girls, who are wily and fast.) Holding the lamb for the procedures requires strength, patience, knowledge of several "holds" to steady the necessary lamb-parts, and the ability to hold a squirming baby with four hooves.  Applying the ear tag requires experience with gripping a tool such as a hole-punch and squeezing steadily while the squirming baby tries to pull ear from pinching object.  Injecting the selenium requires good enough eyesight to see the millimeter markings on the syringe in bright sunlight while the squirming baby tries to pull away - period.  Docking the tails requires experience gripping a tool against the pressure of an expanding rubber ring with a steady hand while the squirming baby becomes frantic.  Castration is like tail docking, except you need to be able to count to two.  The entire undertaking is not for sissies.  The lambs complain bitterly.  The boys, especially, lie on the grass and make pitiful noises.  The mothers are inconsolable.  Behind the fence, they pace wildly bawling for their babies.  When the gate is opened the reunion is spectacular.  Mothers running to and fro.  Babies forgetting their indignities as they listen for just the right baaaa.  And then quiet.  Just the muted sound of rich mothers' milk going down.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Amy Finkelstein

Over 40 years ago, when I was in graduate school, a professor told us his frustration with economics.  He said: "An economist is stranded on an island.  He wants to know if there are rabbits on the island.  He busily goes about his research, looking at vegetation, habitat, water and other resources to determine if rabbits could thrive.  If it was me, I'd look for rabbit droppings."

The John Bates Clark Medal is awarded annually by the American Economic Association to an economist under the age of 40 "who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge".  This year Dr. Amy Finkelstein, a health economist at MIT was the winner. Amy was recognized for her work on the effects on well being and behavior of Medicare and Medicaid.  In economist-speak, she is honored in part because her work is a model of effective use of empirics (as opposed to theory).  She looked for rabbit droppings.  Amy has many other accomplishments.  MIT introduces her here.  If I am going to be stranded somewhere, I choose Amy for my team.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Unintended (Thoughtless) Consequences

In 1990 Washington State produced 100 million pounds of asparagus off 30,000 acres.  The asparagus was shipped locally and through distributors around the country.  For those of my age, asparagus was a seasonal delight.  In the late spring we looked forward to the thick, tender stalks.  In 1991, as part of the War on Drugs, a new law exempted certain crops, including asparagus, from tariffs.  The idea was that the Andean countries would plant asparagus as an alternative to drug crops.  The War on Drugs has produced violence, mayhem and destruction, and not eased the traffic noticeably.  An unintended casualty was the domestic asparagus industry.  In 2010, the Washington State asparagus harvest was a mere 17 million pounds.  The California acreage has declined by a third.  We have raised a generation who think fresh asparagus is pencil thin and dry.  Today farmers are hopeful again.  There are new varieties, and strong prices.  This year they expect to plant 6,000 acres. South American crops still flood the market.  Maybe enough people will remember the taste of truly fresh asparagus, and 7,000 acres will go in next year.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Neither snow nor rain nor heat ...

.. nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.  This is the inscription on the James Farley Post Office building in New York City.  It is the main office for New York, built in 1912.  The zip code at the James Farley Post Office is 10001. 

The United States Postal Service is in the news these days.  It is fashionable to sneer at "snail mail".  Yet every day except Sunday, a postal carrier delivers to every address in the country - every one, every day.  The carrier and the community he or she serves are neighbors, connected by name, recognized by sight.  Perhaps the hey day of mail is passed, but the unifying mission still serves a purpose.  No address, however remote, is too far to go.

This week my husband travelled to Ketchikan, Alaska to do some work on the boat that we keep there.  He forgot his cell phone - the symbol of 21st century personal electronics.  At 4:30 in the afternoon I handed it to a postal clerk in an Express Mail envelope.  At 2:00 the next day he picked it up at the Ketchikan Post Office - a reminder that the Service still serves. 

After the events of September 11, 2001, the Postal Service used the vast interior spaces of the Farley Office to set up a temporary mail pick up for addresses obliterated in the twin towers.  On September  14,  the carriers who had served these buildings stood to deliver mail to those struggling to pick up the threads of lives snuffed out by the attacks.  A few days later, this commercial ran.  Carley Simon worked with the Service to record her song in support of  "USPS Pride".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

And on this Farm He Had an Aardvark...

Last week I went to visit my grandchildren.  Not the ones in Anchorage.  The ones in Placerville, California.  One day we went to the zoo in Sacramento.  It is a very fine zoo.  I know for some that is an oxymoron.  They are those who think it is cruel to cage animals and that no benefit could outweigh the injustice.  I am not sure.  I say it is a fine zoo because the animals appear healthy.  Their living quarters are spacious and well appointed with places to climb, swim, hide and play.  The campus is clean and pleasant, cool and breezy even on a very hot day (90 degrees).  The placards at each den, cage or aquarium are informative.  The education program is innovative.  We arrived early, and saw a troop of girl scouts breaking camp.  They had spent the night at the zoo in tents pitched on a lawn between the big Cat House and the Parrot cages.  But mostly I think it is a fine zoo because it encourages visitors, young and old, to think about the bigger world.  Most of the children running from savanna to rain forest and back to the Reptile House knew the names of the animals  and the sound they make.  I believe that this knowledge and understanding is essential to developing any concept of accountability for the well being of creatures who live beyond our back yards.  I am going to suggest to my son and his wife that we sign up for one of the overnight campouts with his three children.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Capitale de la Musique

You don't need to know French to understand the city slogan for Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Kinshasa Congo Travel Information and City Guide tells you "Kinshasa is a huge, sprawling city.  It is hectic, confusing and colourful, a sort of New York of Central Africa."  10 million people live there.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the most unstable governments.  Keep this in mind, and follow this link to a 60 Minutes (CBS) story about the symphony orchestra and chorus in Kinshasa.  Beethoven would be proud. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Action in the Maternity Ward

I saved a life today.  Actually, probably three lives.  The pregnant ewes on my friend's sheep farm have started lambing.  There are 55 of them.  My friend tries to visit their large pasture every two hours.  Often I take a shift.  Around 1:30 I looked out over the field and saw a ewe in distress.  She was cast.  A cast ewe is down and unable to get up.  In a very pregnant ewe this is usually a fatal fall.  Her large belly makes it impossible for her to right herself, her large uterus makes it hard to breathe, and the fermentation vat - aka her rumen - continues to process food and produce gas which backs up quickly.  The end for the creature comes quickly, and can be accompanied by an explosive eruption of gas.  If you read some of the farm blogs you will learn that my ewe's situation is very typical.  Late pregnancy, early to mid day, cool and  clearning from morning rain, early grass season with fresh new growth.  Here is the "Sheep Production" message board that you might enjoy.

I found my friend and we righted the ewe.  She will live to bear her babies.  Most of the flock are having twins. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And All This Before Lunch

We went to the opera this morning. Yes, this morning thanks to the Metropolitan Opera's live simulcast which is shown in movie theaters all over the country.  We are on the Pacific Coast, so the matinee which opens at 1 PM in New York starts at 10 AM at our theater in Olympia.  Today was Verdi's La Traviata, the story of a courtesan who finds true love.  You can read the story summary here.  La Traviata is a tear jerker.  I wept openly through the last act. The theater was full as I expect it was in hundreds of other communities.  The Metropolitan Opera has an 80 year history of live radio broadcasts.  This is the sixth season of The Met: Live in HD.  Today's performance was stunning.  Perhaps some day I will go to the Met in New York.  For now, I'm happy to drive across town in my jeans and enter the mall long before shopping gets underway.  Give opera a try.  Check the schedule  for the 2012 - 2013 season.  English subtitles.  Popcorn during the intermission.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Free Enterprise in the Heartland

Last weekend my dog and I participated in a sheepdog trial.  As is usually the case, we drove out into the country to reach the venue.  Such trials require a large field - preferably 30 or more acres.  The field must be enclosed in sturdy field fencing, or there must be a secure enclosure nearby in which the sheep can be kept safe overnight.  There must be room for holding and sorting pens for the sheep, and electricity for the registration and scorekeeping crew.  There must be fairly flat ground for participant parking - room for fifty or more vehicles.  Many are RV's, campers, or trucks towing large trailers.  Understandably, most suitable locations are out in the wide open spaces.  Most trials also offer food for sale since there are generally no retail opportunities up or down the road.

The weekend trial had everything - great hill top location with spectacular views.  Lovely 30 acre grassy field - fenced.  Barn with electricity, and several enclosed corrals.  But right up until the day before the trial, no concessionaire had agreed to come.  There is also a house on this farm.  It is rented to a family of six, mom and dad and four children.  They were approached.  Would they be interested in making some coffee, putting out some muffins, grilling some burgers?  This family morphed overnight into concessionaire extraordinaire.  There were breakfast burritos, egg and ham sandwiches on English muffins, warm banana bread with butter and hard boiled eggs.  For lunch they offered teriyaki chicken with rice and broccoli. hot dogs and baked beans, potato salad, burgers with choice of cheeses and home made cookies.  They built a fire in an outdoor pit, and offered the fixings for S'Mores. Dad manned the grill. Mom cooked to order. Juniors took orders, delivered food and operated the antique cash register which they found in the barn. It was a dandy - push down keys, a cash drawer with wood dividers, and a "No Sale" sign when the drawer closed. On Sunday, Grandmother and Grandfather came out after church and chatted up the customers. They all reminded me of one of my favorite songs, "Daddy Sang Bass". Enjoy this clip from Johnny Cash.

I have not revealed any details. I don't want to say where we were. If the county health department found out about it they would shut the kitchen down. No license, no inspection. We ate like kings.