Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This Work Is Closed

When my daughter's children were young they attended a Montessori pre-school. I was impressed with the school and their approach to the very young learner.  From the web site of the International Montessori Index I learned that "The basis of Montesssori practice in the classroom is ...individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted  concentration".    Because the children are encouraged to work alone at their own initiative there is much activity in the school rooms.  The youngest child quickly learns how to follow one of my favorite Montessori directions: This work is closed.  Crayons back in box.  Books back on shelf.  Its time for something else.  And so it is with ernesta-passinggo.  Thank you for reading.  This work is closed.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"What Brought It On?"

Winston Churchill called it his "Black "Dog".  A psychiatrist who knew Churchill said of him "Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940". Much the same could have been said about Robin Williams. Those who suffer as they did from depression and it's dark partner anxiety are hemmed in by forces that do not rise from the rational mind. Their demons are not summoned by events of the day.  They linger and taunt and then seek to destroy by cloaking and choking and snuffing out all light. Don't ask "what brought it on?".  Grieve that there is no warning and no cure. Marvel at the courage and strength required to overcome.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Father

Tomorrow, September 29, 2014 would have been my father's 97th birthday.  He died in the spring of 2001.  He lived much longer than his own father who died at age 54.  My grandfather's name was Frederic Lyman Ballard.  He named his son, my father, Frederic Lyman Ballard Jr.  My  grandfather was still alive when my brother, his first grandchild, was born and was named Frederic Lyman Ballard III.  They followed my great grandfather, in turn into the law. They practiced in the same firm.  When my grandfather died, my father dropped the "Jr" from his name and my brother took it in place of his "III".  When my father died my brother dropped "Jr" too.  He died this year, too young at 72.  As the year turns to 2015, there will be no Frederic Ballard practicing law.  One hundred years have passed . Their combined effort spanned a full century. I loved them all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Succeed in School, You Have to Get There

This afternoon I drove several miles behind a school bus.  We were on a country road.  It was never safe to pull around the bus when we were underway.  I was content to sit and watch as the driver and children made their way home.  Each stop offered a short story about America.  Friends disembarked,  animated by their plans for the afternoon.  A father waited as first one, then a second and finally a third child emerged.  Each was embraced.  They walked off tightly, lovingly.  A dog joined the crowd of moms at the end of a cul de sac development. Backpack personalities: "Twelfth Man" for the Seattle Seahawks; Dora the Explorer; Skip Hop Zoo; Disney Frozen Princesses; courageous transparent plastic; day glo orange.  The earliest bus collecting children for school was called a kid hack. It was often just a farm wagon.  Children in the late 1800's bounced along like so many pigs or chickens.  It would be 50 years before young passengers had much comfort and protection from the weather. Until the 1930's school buses remained crude adaptations of trucks and wagons. The best offered roll-up canvas side curtains.  Many remained open to the elements.  In 1939 rural education representatives met at Columbia University and took up school bus design and safety.  The body and chassis manufacturers were there.  Also the paint companies.  Among the 44 agreed upon industry-wide standards was adoption of National School Bus Glossy Yellow, favored for visibility and sharp contrast with black lettering. There is an American School Bus Council.  You can visit their website and learn much more.  It is their assertion that to succeed in school you have to get there, and they offer convincing statistics about school bus efficiency, effectiveness and safety.  For example, 58% of student fatalities during school hours occur when a teen is driving.  23% when an adult drives but only 1% when students are traveling in a school bus. Twenty five million children ride 480,000 busses every day. The bus dropped off three little girls who skipped and hopped away.  Then it turned off, leaving me, and the line of cars behind me free to go. The pageant was over.   I was a little lonely.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

You Could Not Make This Up

There is a (usually) dry lake bed in California's Death Valley called the Racetrack.  Since 19th Century pioneers pushed their tired oxen across this arid land, diaries and travel logs have told of large rocks that appear to have slithered across the sand.  The rocks left trails behind them dredged from the hard pan.  How could this have happened?  What force slid boulders hither and yon leaving no evidence of method but the trail in the sand. Theories have been offered.  Observations and measurements made.  But until last winter, the mystery remained unsolved.  Follow this link to NPR and read how it happened.  There is even a video of a rock on walkabout.  Go to the source if you want to know more.  The research is documented in PLOS ONE, a free-access journal for peer-reviewed work.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Have Not Looked At The Videos

I have not looked, but I have obsessed about the events.  I am a mother. James Foley and Steven Sotloff were the same age as my children. Could I bear it?  Could I watch.   Could I ever resume my own life?  Are these ISIS fighters the cruelest men who have walked the earth.  Beheading the enemy, killing babies and raping women is not new. Does the video recording make the act more cruel, or is reality-barbarism simply more accessible? From 1206 until his death on August 18, 1227 Genghis Khan ruled over what became the largest contiguous empire in history.  What is now China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and substantial portions of Eastern Europe were conquered during his reign, and the reigns of his sons.  The Mongol Empire was forged through ruthless, wholesale slaughter - no doubt using the same barbaric acts we are now witnessing.  For Genghis Kahn, the driving force was economic power.  He introduced uniform script and writing to advance trade along the "Silk Road".  He promoted those who performed well.  He encouraged religious tolerance.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS force are driven by ideology.  Where barbarism is concerned, is this a distinction without a difference?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remembering the Dead

I am at a loss for words.  On Sunday, the memorial mass for slain journalist James Foley took place in his home town.  A letter of condolence sent by Pope Francis was read.  The congressional delegation representing New Hampshire sat with the Governor.  The President chose not to send a representative.  On Thursday of the previous week Major General Harold J. Greene was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.  General Greene was serving in Afghanistan.  He was shot at close range by a terrorist.  Hundreds of people joined his family at the funeral.  His wife, retired Army colonel Susan Myers, his son Army First Lt. Matthew Greene, and his daughter Amelia held hands.  Lt. Greene supported General Greene's father. The President chose not to send a representative.  Today Michael Brown was remembered in a funeral.  Brown was shot and killed in an altercation with a police officer.  President Obama sent three representatives.  The Brown funeral will have been covered extensively by the press.  General Greene's honor deserves the same.  Here is a video.  You may wish to stand and salute.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Technical Upgrade

When I started this blog very few read on a hand held device.  Today, not so.   Imbedded videos do not play on such devices.  I have learned how to insert videos in a different way so that they can be viewed on tablets and smart phones.  Here is one of my favorite videos, going viral right now.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Man Hug

From the "Urban Dictionary": A handshake that transitions into a hug-like, semi-embrace that lasts no more than one second and may be accompanied by a firm slap on the back. An acceptable way for one guy to show appreciation for another male friend.

Verdi  was way ahead of his time.  In his epic masterpiece, "Don Carlo" he provides the tenor and baritone leads a magnificent duet in which a Man Hug is mandatory.  The men are Spanish noblemen.   They are acknowledging their bond and pledging themselves to liberate the oppressed people of Flanders.  Their commitment is dangerous and treasonous.  The oppressor is their own king, Phillip of Spain.  Carlo, the tenor, on the right in the video, is the king's son.  This clip is drama at its best.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Snake in the Grass

We live on the shore of a very small lake - really more of a pond.  One of the features of our shoreline is garter snakes.  These beautiful creatures rustle through the tall grass and swim quickly away as I approach.  They have a dark body with three stripes - most often yellow although green, blue, red and orange are not unusual.  The little boys in our neighborhood search for garter snakes in a nearby vacant lot.  Cats sometimes carry them home.  I know that many people do not welcome snakes in their grass, but I do.  Here is a web site from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife that will tell you all about our snakes.  If you live in another state, check your browser for snake information.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Israel is getting some bad press.   My mind is clear.  A country has a right to defend against attack.  Death and destruction will be a consequence of any path Israel chooses.  Standing down in the face of an enemy such as Hamas is a certain death sentence for her people.  Attacking with the intent to destroy Hamas' military capability is a certain death sentence for some Palestinian civilians.  Hamas declares their intent to destroy Israel and all Israelis.  I'm in for Israel.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

To Save a Forest Harvest a Tree

I visited the stump of a large maple tree today.  Yesterday I and others in our neighborhood watched as men came with chain saws and pulleys and climbing spikes and cut the tree down, limb by limb.  They were careful to spare the houses on either side.  The tree had rot in its trunk.  It was in danger of falling.   My husband and I made much of our living managing timber harvest and the manufacture of wood products.  I was sad to see the maple go and sadder for those who enjoyed its shade.  The maple's job was ornamental, part of a prized landscape.  The trees of our careers had different jobs.  They were part of working forests - grown for the value in their fiber.  While growing fiber, the trees in a working forest provide other benefits. The forests offer shelter for species of all kind.  Their bogs and marshes filter water.  Their shade keeps streams cool for fish.  A working forest consumes carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.  Working forests support a vast economy of jobs and raw material for many products.  Did you know that rayon is made from cellulose?  56% of America's forest land is privately owned.  62% of that private ownership is in small, family farms.  Most privately owned forests are managed carefully and with far more investment and intensity than public lands.  Seedlings are planted after each harvest to assure that the forest will remain.  Setbacks and set-asides are managed to protect rivers, streams, endangered and threatened species and public views.  Here is a link to a US Forest Service publication that tells the story of private forests.  A tree cannot live forever.  Like the maple on our street, it will rot and fall.  But a forest can live forever - as long as there is market value for the wood.  Without a market for wood products, the landowner might be tempted by a higher value use for the land.  Perhaps a housing development or a new highway.  If you want to save a forest, harvest a tree.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Badass People

Yesterday I wrote about the exhilaration of a physical challenge.  As I was writing, my son-in-law was achieving one of his own goals - completion of the 24 mile Crow Pass Crossing.  This was the 30th annual running of this ultimate marathon.  My son-in-law went willingly, eagerly to the starting line.  He has run this race before.  The race is a rugged up and down through a pass in Alaska's Chugach Mountains.  Runners reach the pass after an ascent of 3,888 feet in the first 3.5 miles.  The trail then moves across fields of sharp scree, patches of snow, through a swift glacial river.  It is not for the faint hearted.  There is a registration fee which 150 people pay for the opportunity to climb, scramble, crawl and wade through stunning country.  And there are bears there.  Watch this short video shot yesterday to get an armchair glimpse.  According to my son-in-law the weather was perfect.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Do You Have a Goal?

Last week I talked with a friend about her goal.  As have I, she has passed the time in life that is generally associated with the kind of ambition that requires physical fitness and exertion.  Nevertheless, she recently achieved her goal which was to ride (successfully) a first class horse over big jumps.  I have a goal to earn my black belt in Taekwondo.  My friend and I agreed that pursuing such goals is consuming and that as you approach success each effort is electrifying.  The pounding heart, adrenalin surge, fear and release of a physical challenge are hard to beat for sheer joy.  This is surely the reason why President Bush the elder still jumps out of airplanes.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sheep Camp - again

Last summer I wrote about sheep camp.  Here is what I said:

Actually, sheep, cattle and duck camp.  Perhaps more accurately, stock herding camp.  There are 35 campers.  I am one.  All adults. We all have at least one dog.  Some have 5 or 6.  One woman brought along six four week old puppies with their mother since they could not be left at home alone.  There are about 140 dogs at the sheep farm where camp is underway.  They are the herding breeds: Heelers, Australian Shepherds, Corgis, Kelpies, Bearded Collies, Shelties, and, in large majority, Border Collies.  The dogs work stock with passion and intensity.  Work is their reward.  Toys and treats play no part in their training.  When it is not their turn, the dogs watch others work.  During the lunch break the dogs sleep in crates and small portable pens.  The humans wear name tags. I am glad that camping is no longer exclusively for the young.  As with children away at summer camp, we are the essence of indulgence.    We may not be cannon-balling off a dock, but when our dog goes out wide around the sheep and fetches them back to us, we are getting the same thrill.

I am back again, with two dogs this year.  We had our kick-off briefing with wine and cheese this evening.  Very much like similar orientations except it took place in a barn.  Again, over 150 dogs waited outside, mostly quiet, some dozing, all focused on the sheep grazing in nearby pastures.  Tomorrow we will divide up by skill and inclination.  We will hear advice, take our turn and despair at our limitations.  Our dogs will be eager, happy and ready to go again.  The sheep will assure that the diagrams we see on white erase boards are mere suggestions of the path forward.  They think for themselves, unlike a golf ball.  They stop to graze, to pee, to turn around and look at the dog.  They turn and run flat out towards the gate to the barn.

We try to anticipate, react, stay calm.  The dogs are in it for the work.  What looks like an escaped-sheep disaster to us is just another long fetch to them.  We humans need to remember that the dogs are not scoring our effort or our results.  They are just looking for another chance to herd sheep.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Driving Miss Daisy

Last week my husband and I drove to Athena, OR, home of the annual Caldonian Games.  Here is what the organizers say about themselves and their event:

The purpose of the Caledonian Games Association is "to preserve and perpetuate Scottish social manners and customs" as sited in the 1899 Constitution of the Caledonian Society of Umatilla County; and to illuminate the city of Athena and its heritage. Our shared vision is to sponsor the Caledonian Games, a Scottish Heritage Festival with games, events, entertainment, music, food and dancing that are founded in the Scottish tradition."

Put a visit to Athena on your calendar for July 2015. Visit their website.These Games have it all: Gathering of the Scottish Clans, Massed Bands, Sheepdog Trials, Celtic World Music Concerts, Heavyweight Scottish Athletics, Highland Dance Competition, Solo Piping & Drumming, & Scottish Harp. And, strawberry shortcake, sausage rolls and shepherd's pie. The athletic events are not for sissies. For the men, a 16 pound hammer throw, a 56 pound weight toss for best height, a caber toss, and the traditional Braemar Stone (a standing put of a 26 pound stone.) The women compete in the same events, but with lighter objects.

My dog and I competed in the sheepdog trial.  It was 100 degrees.  Unlike those in the Heavyweight Scottish Athletics, I did not have to wear a woolen kilt.  My dog was awesome (as were the others).  Their job was to move sheep and they did it well.  Their reward, a long dip in a water trough.  The games went on in the suffocating heat.  We actually had a very good time.

After our fun in Athena we drove to Idaho to pick up a new dog for my husband.  She was bred on a cattle ranch from working Border Collie stock.  She is one year old.  Her name is Daisy.  We drove home, 700 miles, smiling all the way.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Contribute to Research Right Here at Home

My husband and I have seen an unusual squirrel in our neighborhood.  The squirrel has a white tail, white feet and white on her (or "his" if you prefer) face.  We each have seen her several times within a few blocks of our house.  We live in a retirement community that covers about 250 wooded, landscaped and built up acres.  This morning I saw the white tailed squirrel on the other side of our campus in a small park that was formerly part of a golf course.  As the crow flies this is about 1/2 mile from our house.  I wondered if squirrels usually roam that far afield.  I went on line to learn more about our squirrel.  There I met Rob Nelson, principle investigator of the White and Albino Squirrel Research Initiative.  I recommend that you meet Rob, too.  He offers a video of unusual squirrel sitings and lots of easy to read commentary.  Here's where to find him.  He runs a video production company called "Untamed Science".  He seems to live an untamed life.  I learned that the squirrel in our neighborhood is a Pibald White - neither traditionally colored, nor pure white.  There is a picture of a similar squirrel on his web site.  I was able to submit a summary of my sighting which will add to his research.  His sightings have been predominately in the Eastern United States.  He shows no sightings at all from Washington State where I live.  So.  Look sharp, neighbors.  You might see a Pibald squirrel too.  If you do, send your report to Rob.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Gingko Next Door

In our community someone has planted a Ginkgo tree.   It is very new, a small thin trunk with the crown standing no more than six feet high.  It is glorious.  The Gingko is native to China.  It is a unique species.  It is unchanged over millennia and is easily recognized in fossils dating back 270 million years.  The leaves are a lovely fan shape.  There is no other plant with similar leaves.  They are vibrant green in summer and a beautiful gold in autumn.  Gingkos come in separate sexes.  The females develop seeds after pollination which are soft and fleshy.  The seeds look lovely but smell rancid when they fall.  Gingkos grow to 100 feet or more.  The house that I grew up in had a stand of Gingkos along a wall beside the garage.  My mother loved them and had a gold pin made in the shape of a Gingko leaf.  I have that pin.  Gingkos grow very slowly.  Another generation, or two will live in our community before this tree reaches its full height.  I'm glad I will have time to watch its beginning.  My thanks to whoever is planning so far ahead! What a gesture of faith in the future.

General Motors and Me

It turns out that I drove a car for five years that had the potentially fatal ignition-switch defect.  Today, nine years after I purchased that car, I read that it is included in the models recalled on Monday.  I read, and reread the article in today's paper. I felt alarmed and angry.   I drove a five year crap shoot.  I will not receive a notice because I traded that car for a newer model 18 months ago.  My new GM car has been recalled twice for safety issues.  First, a warning light in the side view mirror failed.  Then, just this month,  acceleration was subject to possible delays of several seconds.  I don't know how many people have been injured or died because of these safety issues.  I am not one.  But I could have been.  I have been loyal to GM in my recent car buys.  I may not be again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Perfect Commercial

I enjoy advertising.  It tells me much about the research done by advertisers.  They want to tell a story tailored to their audience.  In my car I listen to channels on Sirius/Xm.  Apparently many truckers also listen to the same channels.  Often I hear ads directed to them.  One of my favorites is for Mobil Delvac's oils for diesel engines.  I know nothing about diesel engines.  But I know that if I had a truck with one,  I would use Mobil Delvac products.  I tried, but cannot find an audio of the ad that I consider the perfect commercial.  It is the voice of Rick Tanner, an independent owner/operator.  He has a wonderful slow southern drawl.  He loves the open road.   He loves the independence.  He had always wanted to drive, and has driven for many years.  After over 1 million miles on his engine, he rebuilt it, himself.  He uses Mobile Delvac.  He testifies that his bearings showed little wear.  He offers his view of life:  all you need for success is a clean engine and ambition.  Indeed.  Works for me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...

My friend the sheep farmer has a breeding flock of about 60 ewes.  Yesterday she turned them, and their 110 two month old lambs, out into her back pasture.  The pasture is 24 acres, bordered by woods on the far south side.  There are coyotes in the woods.  We see them from time to time.  They usually leave the full grown sheep alone, but the lambs are their prey.  My friend had been keeping watch, occasionally driving the perimeter of the pasture in her four wheeler.  It was time to bring the flock home to the safety of her inner fences.  It was raining hard.  She sent one of her dogs, a Border Collie named Playa.  Playa is a small dog, less than 30 pounds.  She is very good with sheep.  She can move the most stubborn and ornery.  My friend waited at the gate to see the flock through.  The rain came harder.  With great bleating and braying the ewes and their babes came through the gate and headed up the hill to the barn.  The rain came in torrents.  My friend called her dog.  Playa did not come.  She did not come after repeated whistles.  My friend feared the worst.  Perhaps Playa had become disoriented in the storm.  Perhaps she was on the road or had been hit by a car.  My friend alerted others at the barn and headed back out to the pasture.  There, at the very back, at the edge of the forest, she found her dog keeping watch.  Just beyond Playa, tucked in under the boughs of the trees, sheltering their lambs, were two ewes.  They would not come out into the storm and Playa would not leave them.  My friend helped her dog and together they got the ewes up and moving.  They made their way home.  The four lambs would spend a warm night in the barn with their mothers.  Their fate would have been very different if Playa had heeded her whistles and come home without them.  Some behaviors are hard wired.  Border Collies come into the world knowing the rules.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Won't You Be My Neighbor

For forty years Fred Rogers produced television programing that offered children (and their grateful parents) simple talk and stories about life.  One of his trademark cardigan sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian museum.  If you did not watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood yourself, or with your children, you missed one of the great communicators, guiding his young audience to explore and delight in themselves and their neighbors.  Last Sunday I delighted in my neighbors.  I sat in our local Middle School gymnasium and watched 31 children, teens and adults receive Black Belts, signifying their accomplishments in the Korean martial art form, TaeKwonDo.  I was proud to be associated  with this group.  We come from many different backgrounds to our shared love of martial arts.  Listen to some of the the surnames from Sunday's program: Cismowski, Carbonel, Bookter, Baek, De Jesus, Kwak, Ryckman, Stewart, Uon, Willis, Young, Vasisht, Yi.  I work out with these fine athletes.  I will test for my Black Belt soon.  On the wall of our dojang (training hall) are these words: Courtesy; Integrity, Perseverance; Self-Control; Indomitable Spirit.  We have a Student Creed.
  1. I must develop myself in a positive manner and avoid anything that could reduce my mental growth or physical health.
  2. I must develop self-discipline in order to bring out the best in myself and others.
  3. I must use what I learn in class constructively and defensively to help myself and mankind, and never be abusive or offensive.  
The commitment to Black Belt is a choice to join a team.  Our team is made up of our neighbors who can fit classes at our dojang into their busy schedules.  We support one another as we develop our skill.  We make sure each student achieves success. Fred Rogers was right about neighborhood when he said, "When we know care is there, life can seem well worth living, even with the ups and downs of our ever-changing world".

Sunday, June 8, 2014

From the New England Journal of Medicine on Veterans' Care

Here is a very thoughtful editorial from The New England Journal of Medicine from two doctors who have experience with the Veterans Administration.  While the US Senate congratulates itself that providing more money, looser personnel rules, vouchers for private care and and Blue Ribbon panels will solve the problems at VA hospitals, Drs. Kizer and Jha offer a different agenda.  I am not sure how long the link to the Journal will be live.  Read this now to become better informed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Beware of Those Who Invoke Moral Superiority

Out of Ireland comes news of the final account of a nine year investigation.   The findings are sickening.  The subject is the Irish Catholic church-run schools and orphanages in the last century.   The reader will learn of abusive treatment that is incomprehensible when delivered at the hands of religious orders with pious missions.  The boys were sent into the care of the Christian Brothers order, founded in the 19th Century to provide education, opportunity and access to independence for the poorest of the poor.  The girls were taken in by the Sisters of Mercy, also founded in the 19th Century to care for the sick and the dispossessed.  The Sisters ministered to all people but provided special care for young women and girls who were vulnerable to exploitation.  What, then, were these religieux and religieuse thinking as they beat, sodomized, raped and humiliated their young charges?  What was the excuse for ritualized beatings and intimidations?  Was personal denigration part of God's plan for these children.  Sit down and read the full 2600 page report from  The Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse.  But don't believe that the inquiry underway in Ireland changed behavior in other countries.  In 2007,  at the Christian Brothers Briscoe Memorial School in Kent Washington, lawsuits were underway regarding sexual abuse and beatings.  There is also news from Ireland that 796 bodies of infants and children have been discovered in an old septic tank on the former premises of a school for orphans and children of unwed mothers.  The orphanage was run by the Bon Secours Sisters whose mission is to recognize the Christ in each person and affirm God's love for every individual. Where was that recognition when these children were segregated in public school from "normal" children?  Where was the recognition when they were denied baptism because they were born out of wedlock.  The Sisters' mission also seeks to bring hope to the dying.  What did they say to dying children who would be placed in unmarked graves, in unconsecrated ground?  The septic tank tells all.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Words About War

In the reporting about Sgt. Bergdahl's exchange for five prisoners from Guantanamo, members of our President's administration have said "... that's what you do at the end of a war... exchange prisoners".  In other interviews the same spokespeople have said that we are "winding down the war in Afghanistan".  Is a war over just because we choose to wind it down?  It used to be that you won (or lost) a war.  The side that prevailed generally required a cessation of hostilities as a condition of peace.  No such guarantee is in the making with the Taliban.  We may be winding down but they are not bound to do the same.  The war is only over in the new language of engagement: our war is over because we are going home.  I do not feel safer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mon Dieu!

The French interjection is appropriate to the news from the Hollande administration.  D-Day approaches and throughout the world interest in commemoration remains high.  Francois Hollande is not content to let the world's press work out a way to share the broadcast as they have with similar news events of world interest.  Instead, he is treating the ceremony as though it were a sporting event.  Two French broadcast networks have been provided exclusive rights to the international ceremony which will include participation by at least 18 heads of state.  Those networks will charge a fee to  global news providers for online streaming and live coverage of events.  Evidently M. Hollande shares a very tin ear with our own President who had access to the memorials and cemeteries at Omaha Beach blocked during the government shut down last fall.  On D-Day 156,000 Allied troops landed on the French beaches.  Their heroic conquest of the beaches and bluffs led to the liberation of France, and ultimately to victory in the war with Germany.  Over 4,000 died, the ultimate measure in service to the free world.  24 warships and 35 support craft were sunk.  And now, on the 70th anniversary of this tremendous and successful thrust toward Berlin, the French government thinks little of those in the Allied nations who rightfully want guaranteed coverage of the commemoration.  Mon Dieu, indeed.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Focusing on My Brother

I have learned in the last week that the loss of a brother or sister starts a tolling in the heart.  I am not ready to be the "older generation".  I don't want to hear a doctor say "we will manage..." instead of "we will fix...".  My brother's death was a good death as far as finality goes.  He did not suffer a lingering decline.  His cancer roared up and overcame him.  Now I am working on my three minutes at his life celebration next Saturday.  How do you condense a lifetime of love and caring into three minutes?  Some of you know because you have been there.  Soon I will know and be ready to help others.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Brother

My brother died on Sunday.  He will have a fine obituary. He had a distinguished career. He and his wife raised three children who all survive him with their husbands and wives and children of their own.  He was a generous contributor in his community. To me he was a demi-god.  My child-self thought he could do anything.  The five year difference in our ages placed him in a world seemingly beyond reach. My grown up self relied on him, enjoyed his company looked forward to visits. We were as many others, siblings who grew up to be friends. Lucky us. He was much too young.  I am suddenly old. His light has gone out and left a shadow on my heart.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ernesta Drinker Ballard

Ernesta Drinker Ballard was my mother.  On May 13 she would have been 94 years old.  Sometimes Mothers' Day falls on her birthday.  Three years ago I wrote about her.  I cannot improve what I wrote then.  Here is that post from May 11, 2011.

My mother has been dead for only six years.  From our house I can see Mt. Baker in the North Cascade Range.  With the candor of the old, she told me that I had been conceived on a hiking trip there.  I miss her every day.

My mothers' passion was the power of vision.  What she could imagine, she could do.  Whomever showed up was enlisted in her cause.  With volunteers her armies mowed down the opposition.  She believed in belief.  To watch her work a room was to know that you were an amateur to her mastery of teamwork.  As she lay dying people came to her room to say goodbye - people my sister and I could no longer count or account for.

One of her close friends sent us this poem that was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay about another woman who dedicated her life to the cause of women's rights.  We printed it in the program for my mother's memorial service.

To Inez Milholland

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;—
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay


I attended a Women's Self Defense class this week.  We learned how to block a grabbing hand, how to break free, how to inflict pain.  There were 28 women in the class, friends in a martial arts program, taekwondo.  This was serious business.  Our instructor works with police and prison guards.  He reviews police reports of attacks on women.  Of rapes.  Of murders.  Of women just like us who are struck at random in a dark parking lot.  We came to the class unsure.  We paired up and grappled.  We found the jugular vein. We learned how to choke.  We agreed to meet again to practice and learn more skills.  We felt lucky to have been there.   We left as warriors.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Promise this is the Last Opera Post for a While

Jacques Offenbach's wild and wonderful opera "The Tales of Hoffman" follows a love starved poet through three calamitous love affairs.  Through all, he is sheltered and protected by his muse who offers the consolation of his passion for his art.  The muse is usually played by a woman and is scored for a mezzo-soprano voice.  In Act 3, Hoffman has travelled to Venice in search of the feckless Giulietta, who has elevated hedonism to a fine art.  His ever faithful muse observes the goings on and begins a simple barcarolle.  A barcarolle is sung in the style and meter of a gondolier, poling his boat forward shaping the lilting rhythm of his song.  The muse is joined in her song by Giulietta.  The song leaves no doubt what the evening will bring.  Here are the words of their song in English:

Lovely night, oh night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh beautiful night of love!
Time flies by, and carries away
Our tender caresses for ever
Time flies far from this happy oasis
And does not return
Burning zephyrs
Give us you kisses!
Your kisses! your kisses! ah!
Lovely night oh night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh beautiful night of love!
Ah! Smile upon our joys
Night of love, oh night of love!

And here is a lovely rendition.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Garage Engineers Go Long

Thirty six years ago NASA launched a space weather probe called ISEE-3 (International Sun Earth Explorer).  For almost 20 years the small craft worked at the tasks assigned by NASA.  For a few years she mapped solar wind and the earth's magnetic field, and then, asked to fire her thrusters, she was sent to chase comets.  Her last job was a fly-by of the familiar Halley's comet.  She was retired in 1997, left alive in space, still sending signals but receiving no commands.  Now come the "garage engineers", a motley crew of old time NASA guys and college students.  These are men with computers, imagination and ambition.  Seeking crowd funding for their plan, they intend to partner up with ISEE-3 as she whips around the moon this summer.  The opportunity won't come again until 2029.  ISEE-3 will be asked to monitor space weather again, and then, in 2018, fire her thrusters and go off after a comet.  Simple, right?  NASA has released all their ISEE-3 documents but isn't otherwise in on the plan. I love this team.  This is the geek equivalent of a start up rock band in your garage.  Cheer for them.  Learn more by listening to this piece from NPR.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Pain of Others is Not News

Weathermen say that the tornadoes tearing through the south are not unusual.  They have happened before and will happen again.  We know about the human tragedy left in their wake - know from video and film and first hand accounts. It is almost unbearable to learn the fate of Daniel Wassom. Wassom, his wife Suzanne and their two girls, Lorelei, 5 and Sydney, 7 took shelter in the center hallway of their home.  Wassom sheltered his girls with his own body and died - crushed to death by a beam that broke Lorelei's shoulder.  The rapacious reporters push microphones at survivors and loved ones and ask how they feel.  What possible answer?  Why do we have to interfere with their suffering to fill the hours of cable news?  Can't they be left alone to gather their strength and grieve in private?  The tornadoes of the 19th Century ravaged the same plains and left similar victims in their wake.  Perhaps in a diary, or private letter there are accounts.  Families share their grief and hand down stories of heroism.  I feel as though I have invaded the privacy of those on television today.  I don't like it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Tenor Voice

Always on the brink of chaos.  The tenor seems to barely keep his instrument under control.  The tenor voice thrills in every musical genre.  In opera the voice fills the house as nothing else can.  The opera goer stares at the performer with heart pounding.  A hundred years ago the Metropolitan Opera declared that there would be no encores permitted in regular performances that would interrupt the dramatic flow.  For only three singers have the audience demanded that the Met bend its rule.  All three were tenors.  Last Friday night the Met's headline tenor in "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella) was ill.  Juan Diego Florez was unable to perform so his "cover" was called in.  Javier Camarena was well prepared.  In the second act playing the prince smitten by the strange and beautiful girl, he became the third man to repeat an aria, "Si, ritrovaria io giro (Yes I swear I'll find her).  Florez himself was the second tenor so honored by the audience during his performance as the love struck stranger in "the Daughter of the Regiment".  The first tenor encore was the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti singing the role of the doomed lover in "Tosca".  I offer below a recording of each aria.  They are not from the encore performance, but will thrill you nevertheless.  Listen and watch.  The high notes are toward the end.

First, Javier Camarena.

 Then, Juan Diego Florez.

And finally, Luciano Pavarotti.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


I have written several times about my Border Collie Floss.  She is a wonderful dog who loves to work sheep.  A few days ago we went out to to a friend's ranch to try out different sheep in a new setting.  My friend's ranch sits on a hillside sloping down towards the Chehalis River.  She put out sheep for us in a 12 acre pasture.  The land there is cleaved by a drainage - a rivulet with low, steep banks.  At the edge of the field a culvert makes a dry crossing for their tractor.  Floss and I walked out to the far side, crossing on the tractor path.  The sheep were grazing on the other side.  We made our way up the hill and to the middle of the field until we were opposite the sheep.  I sent Floss out to the left.  She would be running clockwise down to the ditch and up the other side to the sheep.  She went very wide - over 30 yards wide so she could use the tractor crossing.  She got up the other side and came in well behind her sheep.  Pushing forward, she guided them down to the ditch and gave them a nudge to get across.  Then, to my surprise, she dashed to her right, all the way back to the dry crossing.  Safely across, she dashed back to the sheep, just catching up as they climbed through the brush growing on the bank.  In fine form, she came forward with her sheep, delivering them to my side.  The sheeps' legs were muddy.  Floss' feet were dry.  Princess!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shout Out to the Lacey Police

I live in Lacey, WA.  Lacey is a quite town of 44,000.  In 1853 the first school in South Puget Sound  was built here by Steven Ruddell.  Forty years later Saint Martin's College opened its doors.  Incorporation of Lacey came later, and with it the expected services: water, fire fighting, public works and police.  Today, a stone's throw from the site of Steven Ruddell's school, I met a member of the Lacey police force.  I was impressed. My friend's truck was stolen ten days ago.  It is a farm truck, a bit rusty and dusty, but low mileage and serviceable.  It is a small Nissan, gray.  It had a camper top.  My friend has hauled sheep in her truck; hay, feed, equipment and dogs.  She filed a police report and expected the worst.  We all assumed the truck was gone.  Today, a police officer was on his beat, cruising neighborhoods, protecting the peace and looking for trouble.  In a trailer park on the edge of one of Lacey's five lakes, he saw a truck parked "in an odd way" as he told us later.  It was right near a dumpster, set off from the homes, almost into the trees and brush at the lake's edge.  He called in the license plate.  Then my friend heard from headquarters.  They had found her truck.  He waited there for her, helped her go over the truck and record the damage.  The camper top was gone, the back window broken, but the truck was otherwise undamaged, drivable, and vacuumed!  We guessed that the thief intended to sell it.  Crime rates in Lacey are low.  Recently Sperlings's Best Places designated our town the "Most Secure Mid-sized City".  I can see why.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Recently I was riding in the car with my son, and his son.  My grandson is in 4th grade.  He reads about military campaigns with the enthusiasm of a West Point plebe.  We played Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" through the car's speakers.  We turned them up to high volume. All over America this spring bands and orchestras will be working up a presentation of this great piece to play on our own 4th of July celebration.  The vollies of canon fire, ringing church bells and brass fanfare are a sure way to excite and please a patriotic crowd.  Many assume the piece has something to do with our defeat of the British in the War of 1812.  It doesn't.  It was commissioned by Tsar Alexander I in 1880 to commemorate the stunning defeat of Napoleon and his half a million battle hardened French forces as they laid siege to Moscow in the winter of 1812.  The victory came at great cost and would not have been possible without Russians from small villages and towns rising to aid their army.  Bitter cold weather finished off the French.  The temperature dropped to -30 degrees.  Their canon froze to the ground.  In defeat and retreat, the French froze to death.  Only 10,000 made it home to France.  My grandson knew the story line.  He narrated as the music built to the climactic defeat.  He pumped his fists and cheered.  We had a grand time.  Here is the music.  Enjoy it yourself.  Listen to the French advancing with their national anthem, La Marseillaise.  Hear the Russian folk music weaving through the battles.  In  defeat, La Marseillaise is broken up by the Russian anthem God Save the Tsar and the bells and whistles of the final measures.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Be Sure You Read This Testimony

Catherine Engelbrecht is caught up in the drama at the IRS.  She has been snared in a web of reviews, audits, inquiries and inspections by Federal agencies.  She believes this activity is connected to the delay, review, re-review, requests for more information and re-review of two applications she submitted to the IRS for tax-exempt status.  She tells her story in testimony presented on February 6th to the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs.  Read it here.  Or just watch and listen.  You go girl.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Good Crew

Here is a shout out to the cast and crew of the television series "The Good Wife".  For over 200 days they kept a secret that was hot!  There was no leak.  No one knew the secret except those who had to plan and write the episodes that would follow the in-drama murder of Josh Charles' character last week.  Why can't the subjects discussed in a "top secret" meeting in Washington DC be kept secret for 24 hours?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

__ / __ __ __ / . __ . / __ / . .__ / . __ . / .

By now you will have read about Jeremiah Denton, squadron Commander of A-26 Intruders, shot down in North Vietnam.  Early in his 7 1/2 year captivity the Vietnamese forced him into an interview with a Japanese film crew and made clear he was expected to attest to the good treatment received by POW's.  He spoke in careful sentences about the food and accommodations.  He said he believed in and would continue to serve his government.  And at the same time, he blinked out the word T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code.  Watch him in the clip below.

Try it yourself.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Assets or Prisoners?

Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula included all of Ukraine's military assets - ships, docks, buildings, cars, trucks, and everything else needed to defend the warm water port. These are all considered assets.  There have been no reports of conscription of members of the Ukrainian military forces stationed in Crimea.  And then this: the combat dolphins that were part of the Ukrainian navy have been appropriated by the Russians to train with their Emergencies Ministry divers.  There is no mention in the news of their trainers joining the Russians.  I expect that the poor creatures miss their human friends.

I have had a brief encounter with dolphins.  The only other nation known to employ dolphins in military operations is the United States.   In 2001, the Alaska Command (ALCOM) staged it 26th annual cold climate military joint training exercise in Ketchikan where I lived.  Northern Edge 2001 included a naval exercise which tested shared command of a port facility (our downtown dock) and harbor defense operations in a friendly host nation (Ketchikan).  The highlight of this week long occupation was the use of dolphins to help detect underwater intruders.  The dolphins were housed in a large temporary pool put up in a parking lot in town.  Dolphins are trained using a clicker.   They learn that the sound of the clicker signals an imminent reward.  Their behavior is gradually shaped into the desired task by clicking at just the right time.  People who train dogs use clickers too. I was part of the Ketchikan Dog Training Club, and we were using clickers to teach our dogs to compete in Agility (over jumps, through tunnels, up and down an A-frame and teeter totter).  Ketchikan is a small town.  It was easy to contact the dolphin trainers.  They came over to watch our dogs, and we went by to be introduced to the dolphins.

Here is a snapshot of Northern Edge 2001.  You can't see the dolphins.  They are working.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My March Madness

Sleep eludes me.  I know I am not alone.  Many others wander their home while family sleep.  I was saddened to read that the sleep-inducing effect of warm milk is an urban myth. Here is an easy to read summary of the current research. I will still warm my milk as I have for over 50 years. But this month the moon is spectacular - a bonus in an otherwise frustrating middle of the night. Tonight the moon is waning, four days past full.  The Algonquian Indians had a different name for each month's full moon. The names reflected the season cycle of hunting, fishing and farming.  The March moon is the Worm Moon signaling the start of spring.  Our lawn is alive with robins pulling earthworms from the soft, rain soaked soil. The nights this week are cold and clear.  The moon's light silver.  I have been lured outside for a better view.   April brings the Pink Moon named for the early blossoms.  In our neighborhood there are early blooming Daphne odora "Aureomarginata". the variegated winter daphne.  Daphne odora is wonderfully fragrant.  Its sweetness fills the air in the night, especially after rain.  It is intoxicating.  It will almost justify being wide awake when I would rather sleep.

Monday, March 17, 2014

3-D Printing, Again

Last October I wrote about 3-D printing.  I recommended an autobiography by Ping Fu, a pioneer in this field.  You can read my post from October, 2013 here.  3-D printing is no longer new.  It is being used in many industries.  Today there is wonderful news of a 3-D success in medicine.  Reported on NPR this morning was the story of 16 month old Garrett Peterson, born with a defective windpipe.  Garrett's breathing and lung function were so compromised that he has never been able to leave the hospital.  This winter, when Garrett was near death, a surgeon teamed with a biomedical engineer and together, using 3-D printing, created two custom splints that could support his failing windpipe.  The surgery was successful and little Garrett is smiling and reaching for toys.  Read the full story here and watch the video of Garrett's surgery.  I am expecting more news like this.  Lives saved with a revolutionary technology.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Iditarod 41

The Last Great Race wrapped up last night.  Earlier in the week Aliy Zirkle, aged 44, finished the race for the 13th time.  Many of those finishes were in the top ten.  This was her second finish in second place.  After 8 days, 13 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds, she was just two hours behind winner Dallas Seavey.  For the teams in the lead, the race this year ended in a life threatening storm.  Perennial Iditarod champion Joe Runyon blogged about the weather:

"What do I think about the wind?  Rarely do I insert my own direct personal anecdotes into the dialogue, but I think this race is shut down.  The winds into Nome are legendary and life threatening. They have killed people, and it’s not joking around.  If you have ever been caught in the wind, you will understand that wind is the ultimate weapon of an arctic winter.  In my racing days, I actually sat down and decided what I would do in a big blow.  My decision was to not test it.  Sometimes you can make it, but often you can’t.  To go into the wind and expect others to risk their life, or risk frostbite, to save your decision is foolhardy."

After Zirkle brought her team safely into the last checkpoint before Nome, she intended to wait out the storm.  When Dallas Seavey went on, she followed.  After the race she gave an interview to Julia O'Malley that I am linking to here.  In my view Aliy is every bit as much a champion as she would be with a two minute advantage over Seavey.  Enjoy what she says.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I am Not Making This Up

The Australian Phillip Island Penguin Foundation has rescued hundreds of penguins over the years, many after oil spills.  They have leaned that it is important to keep the birds from grooming themselves while their feathers are still coated with oil.  If they have a backlog of oiled penguins who must be managed while waiting for their turn in the cleaning lab, they turn to custom knit sweaters, called "jumpers" in Australia.  The little sweater vests do the job. The sweaters are always made of wool.  They prevent self-preening, draw oil out into the wool and keep the little guys warm en route to the Foundations' hot water bath.  The "ah, cute!" factor has yielded a shipping container full of fancy wool vests.  If you're fingers are itching to knit and purl and you are wanting a piece of this action, you will have to wait.  The supply will last for the foreseeable future.  Get ready to say "Ah, cute".  The wool may have cost a few dollars, but the picture is priceless.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Got My Girl Scout Cookies Today

I bought mine the old fashioned way.  No PayPal.  No user name and password.  No custom home delivery. I stood face to face (in the pouring rain) with a genuine girl scout and asked her how much the cookies cost.  She added up the price for my large selection, asked for the money, made change and handed me the cookies. I was happy all the way home until I looked on line for some more information.  I am disappointed to report that Amazon, eBay, and Candyland are among the online retail sources for cookies.  Through Yahoo you can have them delivered to your door.  Immaculate transaction.  No contact with a real girl.  I looked at the website for Girl Scouts of Western Washington.  They offer a nice video about how cookie sales influence girls' lives.  Visit the site yourself.  Watch the short video.  And then ask what benefit accrues to individual girl scouts from sales on eBay. I know the world changes.  This change does not feel good.

Here's a Political Analyst Everyone Can Understand

Scott Rasmussen is a political analyst and media entrepreneur.  He is a prolific author and commentator.  He wrote recently about President Obama's budget proposal.  His analysis is short and easy to understand.  It falls into the category of "naked emperor exposed" prose.  An easy read.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 7, 2014


The death of our dog Annie has silenced my muse.  I will write again soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


When I was in school, and television was black and white, we watched spellbound as Russian tanks rolled into Budapest.  The people of Hungary had dared to demonstrate for democracy and freedom.  The Russians crushed them.  We all saw.  It was 1956.  We watched again when President Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate, faced the cameras of the world and said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall". It was 1987. His speech was direct, without threat.  It was hortatory, commanding.  The President was backed by the moral authority of his conviction, shared by leaders of the Western World.  Today we are helpless - an unfamiliar plight in the free world.  We watch as Russia prepares to crush Ukraine.  The Ukrainian army is on full alert.  Will they be sent into a box canyon to their slaughter?  The West has squandered its authority.  We are morally bankrupt.  Who will stand and defy such aggression.  Watch President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate.  Watch, and weep.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wheels Up

Last night we said goodbye to our old dog Annie.  We shared the second act of her long life.  She had been abandoned in Spokane.  She was rescued by Mary Ann Lindsay.  Mary Ann was a one woman powerhouse of compassion.  I wrote about her death in 2011.  I am reprinting that post here.

874.  That is the number of Border Collies, Aussies, Kelpies and other herding dogs whose lives were saved by Mary Ann Lindsay.  Mary Ann died this week.  The cancer she had fought for 10 years took away one of the best friends dogs in the north western states have ever had.  Helped by her husband Jim Mary Ann took in the stray, the hurt, the frightened and the out-of-luck dogs collected off the streets of Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle. She made them well both physically and emotionally.  She found new homes for them - homes in 40 different states.  Each new owner made the trip to Hayden Lake, Idaho to be scrutinized by Mary Ann.  Knowing her was seeing the best.  No board of directors, no fund raising committee, no marketing program.  Just Mary Ann (and Jim).    Many dog owners are comforted by the prospect of visiting Rainbow Bridge where their pets wait for them after death.  Mary Ann is there as surely as there is hope and love in the world.

Annie came to us from Mary Ann.  She was already in her middle age, sick and scared.  We gave her back her health.  She taught us about sheep.  She lured us out into a field and showed us what Border Collies are bred to do.  She loved to work sheep.  She could move difficult young sheep as well as any dog, better than most.  In her old age she slowed, but still went out to gather her flock.  Sheep respected Annie.  They moved comfortably ahead of her quiet gait.  Her final gather was last week.  Her time had come - wheels up, Annie, and safe flight.

Here is a picture of Annie in her prime.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How To Be Powerful: My View

I work with dogs.  My dog-hobby is sheep herding. I am training a new puppy.  My puppy must believe that I mean what I say.  If I am honest, and ask for behavior that he has learned, I must expect that he will do what I say.  That means that I must not accept different or incomplete performance.  This seems simple enough.  But he is a smart boy, and sometimes ignores my command.  He quickly learns that if he gets away with it once, the command does not mean anything.  My power in this relationship derives from my resolve to mean what I say.  Our partnership flows well when he believes that I will teach him what I want, and then reward him when he does it.  His reward is working sheep.  He respects my judgment when he learns that I am consistent and fair.  This seems to be a good basis for international relations, too.  Its too bad that we have lost power as a nation.

Here is my puppy, Bach at 2 months:

Here is Bach at 12 months:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thought You'd Seen Enough Ice Skating?

There is one more performance to watch.  In 1984, at the Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean represented Great Britain in the ice dancing competition.  They skated to Bolero. Scoring was simpler 30 years ago.  The artistic merit of their performance was scored a perfect 6.0 by every judge.  Here is their program.

Monday, February 17, 2014

More about Abraham Lincoln

Today, Presidents Day, calls Abraham Lincoln to my mind. Here is a story not included in the major biographies.  Lincoln loved to listen to music and visited the opera when performed in Washington.  He is known to have attended nineteen operas during his short presidency.  He was particularly fond of the great soprano Adelina Patti.  (Verdi said of Patti's lyrical voice that she was a "stupendous artist".)  In 1862 he invited the 20 year old  Patti  to the White House where she was cordially greeted by both the Prersident and Mrs. Lincoln who was still in deep mourning over the death of their son Willie. Invited to sing, Patti offered a few arias from popular operas, and then, accompanying herself on the piano, she sang "The Last Rose of Summer".  This traditional Irish melody is featured in Friedrich Von Flotow"s comic opera "Martha" in which Patti would perform that evening. The Lincoln's were visibly moved by the song. The President, who kept his eyes shaded by his had, asked her to sing "Home, Sweet Home".  Neither the Spanish born Patti, nor her accompanist knew the song.  The President went to a small stand at the foot of the piano where there was a song book, already opened to "Home, Sweet Home".  Patti took the music and sang, as requested. In her own words, "Well, I sang the song the very best I could do it". The Lincoln's wept openly.  Patti went on to sing the song often.  There is a recording made in 1905 when she was 62 years old.  It is not hard to put yourself in the room with the Lincolns, removed from the trials of the war, mourning the loss of their child, letting the sweet ballad wash over them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

400 BC

400 BC, a man's vision is so clouded he is virtually blind. The lens of his eye is completely opaque, rigid and heavy.  He resorts to a medical procedure - one of the oldest documented successful surgical interventions. It is called "couching".  His eye is struck with a blunt object with such force that his wasted lens dislocates into the vitreous cavity.  His sight is restored, but without a lens it is entirely unfocused.  He believes he is better off.  Over the following centuries this crude procedure was improved upon.  By the 18th century practitioners were able to remove the lens from the eye.  the incision went half way around the circumference of the cornea.  The patient was made to lie still with head immobilized by sandbags until the wound healed.  Upon recovery, still no focus.  Improvements in the 20th century have been spectacular.  The advent of very fine stitching allowed safe removal of the lens and quick recovery.  During World War II the eyes of pilots wounded by shattered windshields inspired development of a replacement lens.  Surgical precision improved both lens removal and artificial lens quality.  Today, a surgical incision of 2mm allows removal of the emulsified lens and insertion of a new lens of artificial material.  I had such a procedure this week.  I have focus, color distance and clarity.  No blunt instruments involved.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Rapist Has Rights?

In our state there is proposed legislation that would strip a rapist of visitation rights with respect to the child conceived through his violence.  It has never previously occurred to me that he had such a right.  I learn from the debate that the subject of the rapist's rights is linked to, and complicated by the state's assertion that he must pay child support if the mother is receiving state assistance. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 32,000 children are born each year as a result of rape.  Thirty two thousand mothers raise a child trying to forget or forgive the assault.   Fortunately for me, my mind is not clouded by any sympathy for the rapist-father.  No rights.  All possible responsibilities. He should have thought about it before he unzipped his pants.

Snow and the Internet

We have had cold weather and snow.  Temperatures moderated before our last snowfall.  Our quiet neighborhood was invaded by snowmen.  Actually, snow men and snow women, and snow forts.  The young, and the young at heart could not resist the dense, moisture laden snow.  Today we have rain.  Snow has melted from lawns and driveways.  The snow objects remain, some still recognizable, others mere slushy puddles of twigs, carrots and scarves.  I entered "snowman"  on my search bar. There are many entries guiding the reader to the proper construction of a snowman.  (I am not surprised as I have noticed that our supermarket sells a large russet spud wrapped in plastic wrap with a label telling the purchaser how to bake the potato.  The "value added" includes a hole already poked in the potato to prevent exploding in the oven, the wrap and the directions.  The "product" cost twice as much as a similar size potato.)  On the Internet you can learn how to have fun in the snow.  The selections on snowman construction are quite detailed and tell you what supplies to collect in advance: scarf, hat, carrot, sticks and coal or stones for the eyes. Here is a link to the instructions offered by The Learning Channel.  I am glad such information is available but cannot imagine who would need to turn to the Internet when 8 sticky inches of snow call from outside.  Here is a picture of a snow man built by my sons and their children several years ago.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Here is A Reason to Visit New York this Spring

The Metropolitan Opera is staging a production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.  The Production Director is Anthony Minghella who has pioneered the use in opera of the traditional art of Japanese puppetry known as Bunraku.  In Bunraku characters as well as inanimate objects are manipulated by puppeteers.  The puppeteers are dressed entirely in black.  The puppeteers are masters who virtually disappear behind their animated puppets.  Pucinni's opera calls for the appearance on stage of Butterfly's three year old son, the love child she bore to American Naval officer Pinkerton.  The child;s role is demanding, set in scenes with his mother of great passion, excitement and sorrow.  The tender scene at the end of Act II requires the child to sit absolutely still for seven minutes. For the child,  Minghella has cast a puppet created by the American Blind Summit Theater.  I heard the production broadcast live from the Met on Saturday.  During the intermission I listened to an interview with Amanda Echalaz singing in her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cio-Cio San (Madam Butterfly).  She praised the puppet's performance, comparing it favorably to her previous performances of the opera with a live child actor.  Here is a link to images of the boy-puppet used in this and earlier Minghella productions.  I am wishing I could make a trip to New York.  The schedule for "Madama Butterfly" at the Met runs through Jun 9.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Death of Conversation

Perhaps you are following the outcry over remarks made recently by former Governor Huckabee.  He was immediately attacked by the press and pundits - all taking his comments so out of context as to accuse him of saying the exact opposite of his actual words.  I read an excellent review on this trend in our public discourse.  Here is the link to the article by Charles Cooke in the National Review.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Am I Prepared for the 21st Century?

I am thinking about my moral compass.  Here are events that would not have happened 50, 25, some only 10 years ago. (I have already written about some of them.) Technology makes them possible.  Are we ready to deal with the results?  A sperm donor is ruled as the legal father of a child, and held accountable for thousands of dollars of child support.  The Supreme Court considers what the viewers of child pornography owe to the victim of the videoed rape.  In Sweden, doctors successfully transplant a uterus taken from a live donor and are on track to implant the recipient's own frozen embryos.  Brain death declaration is challenged by the deceased's family who assert that she is alive.  A brain dead pregnant woman's body is kept on life support over the objections of her family to protect the life of the 14 week old fetus. A woman stands by the side of the road holding up a sign soliciting a kidney donation.  A man convicted of murdering his wife will receive a sex change operation while serving his life sentence.  There are many similar events, every day.  They are written up in the news papers.  I read them and wonder what view I would take if my loved ones were involved. Morals are supposed to help discern right from wrong.  I thought my own morality was grounded, my compass true.  Sometimes I am not sure.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Murmuration, Again

In 2012 I wrote about the astonishing flight of large flocks of starlings called "murmuration".  Two young women recorded a murmuration on a recent canoe trip.  Here it is.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


There is new information from the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.  A court ordered mediation has been underway between the Church and victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.  The mediation has been going on for almost a decade.  Church documents have just been released supporting the victims allegations.  This is just one sordid chapter in what is now apparent - until the churches' victims of the last quarter have come forward sexual abuse was condoned and managed by church leadership rather than condemned.  As I read today's news the scene from a movie played in my memory.  It illustrates the ravages of a dishonest life.  Watch it yourself.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tummy For Sale?

I am troubled by the medical news from Sweden.  You can read it here.  Doctors have successfully transplanted a "womb" (uterus) from a living donor to a woman who otherwise would be unable to bear a child.  They have completed this transplant nine times.  Doctors in other countries are also pursuing this course.  You will read about the life changing possibilities of this procedure.  The recipient may have been born without a uterus - about 1 in 4,500 girls.  Or, for some other reason be unable to conceive.  Her eggs will have been fertilized in-vitro and frozen in preparation for transfer into her new uterus.After successful use, the uterus will be removed, sparing the new mother a life time of anti-rejection medicine.  For a childless couple the chance offered is tantalizing.  Why am I troubled?  If, as is expected, the transplant procedure will lead to the birth of healthy babies, what will prevent a "uterus market" from flourishing?  What will protect a desperate woman from offering her uterus for sale on a black market?  What will assure that the recipient's benefits will outweigh the risks to the donor?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Home Again

I have been away from home for two weeks.  Sun, sand and surf - all novelties for a resident of the Pacific Northwest.  I am tired (and NOT sunburned).  I will post again soon.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Pigs Fly

An idiom of improbability. We are visiting family in Philadelphia. Much talking and walking and waiting around all in the name of fellowship. This is a large family. It is easy for the non family husband or wife to get confused, to loose the train of thought. Or, to simply get left out as reminiscing goes into high gear.  At the last supper tonight eaten by the last few to pack up and leave I glance at my husband. He is a gentleman to the core, as he says "jerked up by his mother to have impeccable manners".  He also has a new smart phone with new apps, and it is football playoff day. He is streaming live! Go Seahawks.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Would I Think?

If I were a Jew.  Living in Israel.  What would I think of developments in the Arab world?  Perhaps I was hopeful when press in the United States wrote about the "Arab Spring", quoting politicians who predicted the evolution of peaceful democracy.  Or perhaps I was skeptical, knowing that my Arab neighbors include many whose mission with respect to Israel is total annihilation.  Today I see clearly that my erstwhile American ally pursues a new strategy.  My own country's leaders don't appear to be in the inner circle.  I am expected to be patient as negotiations run their course.  Patience did not serve my ancestors well.  Patience is not a defensible plan.  If I were a Jew, living in Israel, I would be scared.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Death has become very complicated.  There are two cases in the news about brain death.  One, a child declared dead in the hospital, whose family wants her kept "alive" on a ventilator.  The other, a pregnant woman declared dead in the hospital whose husband wants her ventilator turned off.  State law may protect the unborn child, requiring that the woman's body be sustained 26 more weeks so the child may be delivered at term.  Here is a link to a recent article, written for a lay audience, that covers some of the basics of brain death.

I am thinking about the pregnancy.  I wonder what the remaining term might be like for the unborn child.  More than half the gestation carried out in motionless silence.  No back and forth as mother walks.  No music as she sings.  No caress.  No babble from excited 14 month old brother.  Nothing but the constant hum of machines.  Nature and nurture mingle in the womb.  Not for this babe.