Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some Want To Fly Isn't That Crazy

My co-worker whom we Poor Impulsives call Chuan was born in Singapore and emigrated to New Jersey as a small child. A few weeks ago, Chuan and his two sisters spent two weeks visiting China, where one sister works. It was, judging by the pictures, a grand adventure. Here, Chuan kicks up his heels at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which was under construction. It's quite possible I might be a little jealous, but of what? Maybe the once-familiar escape from the iron grip of gravity.

Today, my dear friend Lala forwarded a reminder that history is nothing if not a bitch.
The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic."

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the "Night of Terror" on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food - all of it colorless slop - was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

I don't know who wrote that, but it rang a distant bell for me. I'm ashamed to say it but I'd forgotten who Alice Paul was, so I looked her up. Imagine my chagrin:
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972. During the 1940s, both the Republicans and Democrats added the ERA to their party platforms. In 1943, the ERA was rewritten and dubbed the "Alice Paul Amendment." The new amendment read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Fuck! I forgot Alice! Did you remember Alice? This is a blog post about Alice. Back to the letter of unknown origin about HBO's Iron Jawed Angels:
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

This would be an excellent, life-preserving moment to remember the unbelievable courage that brought us - all of us - to where we stand - or fly - now, because our politics have gone crazy.


Monday, April 28, 2008

This Is For the Discotheque

Saturday afternoon, I found my sister Corinne staring at the shelves in the family toy store, conversing with a teenager whose resemblance to the fair Georg was startling. The teenager was an acquaintance of Corinne's, which was news to me. The question at hand: birthday party, present, another teenage girl nobody really knew well. Suggest a gift. Ready....go. I made a long, long list.

Block of Velveeta. Dryer lint. A pineapple. A bag of cat litter. All the colors of PlayDoh conveniently pre-mixed, which would save lots of time. Pot pourri and a broom - for parades. Like on Fractured Fairy Tales. Safety matches. You could need those! A snow shovel. It's, like, an investment. For an hour, I babbled about gifts because that's what stores are for when I'm in them. The whole time I was thinking about this Barry and Levon bit, because the best gift I ever got was in three huge Korvette's bags: enough boxes to make 240 lbs. of banana pudding.

Aw yeah.

Some things, kids have got to discover for themselves.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

And Things Were Looking Like A Movie

A little while ago, Pete walked out to the fence to take that nightly picture we've neglected for the last week. As he framed this shot, he heard people talking, then saw them and their sleeping bags in the dark on the other side of this fence. Startled, he turned and walked back. Just then, a cop car materialized in the cul-de-sac and Pete waved. "There are people sleeping behind that fence," Pete said.

I wouldn't have done that, but Pete did because his tiny, middle-aged girlfriend sleeps 20 yards from this fence and he's alarmed. The river people were down closer to the bridge and at river level a few days ago. I haven't worried about them, but with a third night of rain predicted, I'm worried for them.

If they're still there tomorrow, I should make them sandwiches.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Know Where We're Going To

The juxtaposition of these two items on RawStory is alarming.

VA official denies cover-up of veteran suicides

A top-ranking official at the Department of Veterans Affairs defends the agency's treatment of disabled veterans and denies the agency has tried to cover up the number of veterans committing suicide.

Dr. Michael Kussman, a department undersecretary for health, testified during a trial in San Francisco federal court that will determine whether the VA is shirking its duty to provide adequate mental health care and other medical services to millions of veterans.

The two veterans groups suing the VA want U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti to order the agency to dramatically improve how fast it processes applications and how it delivers mental health care, especially when it comes to preventing suicides and treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

The groups contend that veteran suicides are rising at alarming rates in large part because of VA failures. In court, plaintiffs' lawyer Arturo Gonzalez clashed Thursday with Kussman over how to compile and report the suicide rates.

For instance, VA Secretary James Peake told Congress in a Feb. 5 letter that 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005.

But Gonzalez produced internal VA e-mails that contended that 18 veterans a day were committing suicide. Kussman countered that the figure, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included all 26 million veterans in the country, including aging Vietnam veterans who are reporting an increased number of health problems.


Joint Chiefs chair: US prepping military options against Iran
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Pentagon is planning "potential" military actions against Iran, reports The Washington Post.

Mullen criticized Iran's "'increasingly lethal and malign influence' in Iraq," writes Ann Scott Tyson for the Post.

Addressing concerns about the US military's capability of dealing with yet another conflict at a time when forces are purportedly stretched thin, Mullen said war with Iran "would be 'extremely stressing' but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force," Tyson notes.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," she quotes the U.S.'s top military leader at a Pentagon news conference.

If you follow veterans' affairs, you must be aware of how seriously this will fuck up the active military and wounded veterans in the future. We must prevent this madness born of hubris, thoughtless cruelty and greed. Please speak up and don't shut up.

Crossposted on Brilliant@Breakfast.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Crazy Diamond Edition


Pete has, as a reporter once remarked of Olga Korbut, a metabolism like a raging wildfire. After those three meals most of us eat, Pete scavenges a fourth around 9:30 or 10 p.m. Two days ago, I threw a cloth napkin on the floor and made a ruling: all dinners made must include sufficient vegetables and meat such that a fourth meal may be easily prepared for him. Also: roughing the kicker. Five yards.

Sleepy Topaz.

In an effort to enforce my own ruling, I made tortellini and opened a can of petite peas. Opening a can of peas at my house is like Christmas morning and Chinese New Year rolled into one. Topaz spins around at my feet, chirping gleefully. Drusy stands on the washing machine, breathless and alert. Suspense is killing them! I pour the water into Topaz and Drusy's bowls, which is tougher than it sounds because now both cats are trying to climb into the can with very sharp edges - but I prevail! Water in both bowls, both bowls placed on the floor. The pussycats rejoice! The pussycats drink deeply! Tonight, pussycats feast on the water of their enemies, the petite peas.


A funny thing happens when either Pete or I gets down on the floor: Drusy gnaws on us. It's quite adorable and doesn't hurt a bit unless she gets overexcited and uses her claws on your un-fur-covered thigh, but such is life! The cats come running now if Pete grabs the camera and sits on the floor. As you can see, Topaz is exhausted after mere moments of tousling with Pete. She claimed the box and nodded off.

Craaaaaaazy Drusy.

Drusy claimed Pete and did the backstroke; everyone was happy.

Last night, I baked pumpkin bread. Turns out the pussycats are mad for canned pumkpin, too. Yes, I used canned. It was on sale for like a quarter and it didn't have dents or anything. Don't go all "A Mr. Death is here from the village. Something about the reaping?" and "It was the canned pumpkin" and "Oh, I'm most dreadfully embarrassed." I had some this morning. It was very tasty with a moist crumb. Also: holding. Five yards.


Flash At the Sound of Lies

Blogger is once again a mattress pea to your pretty principessa. While I'm here muttering, "Gimme strength! And coffee! I'll settle for coffee..." please note events, they are eventing.

The Independent:
The global price of wheat has risen by 130 per cent in the past year. Rice has rocketed by 74 per cent in the same period. It went up by more than 10 per cent in a single day last Friday – to an all-time high as African and Asian importers competed for the diminishing supply on international markets in an attempt to head off the mounting social unrest. The International Rice Research Institute warned yesterday that prices will keep going up.

The buffers stocks of staple foods that governments once held are being steadily exhausted.

This morning, the Today Show reported that the big club retailers are asking customers to limit purchases of rice. The financials lady I'd never seen before says in many countries people are going to die but in the US, hey, it's all hype. I was plotting and scheming a crazy plotty scheme to hoard Quaker Instant Oatmeal when I saw the How To Of the Day - How to Make Dandelion Wine. Yippee! Let's mow!
* 1 package (7 g) dried yeast
* 1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water
* 2 quarts (230 g) whole dandelion flowers. Using 2 quarts (160 g loosely packed, 200 g tightly packed) of just the petals can make for a less bitter wine
* 4 quarts water (3.785 L)
* 1 cup (240 mL) orange juice
* 3 tablespoons (45 g) fresh lemon juice
* 3 tablespoons (45 g) fresh lime juice
* 8 whole cloves
* 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 g) powdered ginger
* 3 tablespoons (18 g) coarsely chopped orange peel; avoid any white pith
* 1 tablespoon (6 g) coarsely chopped lemon peel; avoid any white pith
* 6 cups (1200 g) sugar

1. Put the yeast in the bowl of warm water and set it aside for it to dissolve. (Option for prepared yeast)
2. Wash and clean the blossoms well. Think of it as a fruit or vegetable; you don't want bugs nor dirt in your food. Remove all green material.
3. Soak flowers for two days.
4. Place the blossoms in the four quarts of water, along with the lime, orange, and lemon juices.
5. Stir in the ginger, cloves, orange peels, lemon peels, and sugar. Bring the mix to a boil for an hour.
6. Strain through filter papers (coffee filters are recommended). Let the wine cool down for a while. While the wine is still warm, stir in the yeast mix.
7. Leave it alone and let it stand overnight.
8. Pour it into bottles, leave them uncorked, and store them in a dark place for at least three weeks so that it can ferment.
9. Optional: Rack the wine several times. Racking means waiting until the wine clears, then pouring the liquid into another container, leaving the lees (sediment) at the bottom of the first container.
10. After that time, cork and store the bottles in a cool place. Allow the wine time to age. Most recipes recommend waiting at least six months, preferably a year.

I get confusd between step 1 and 3. Am I really proofing yeast for two days? I doubt it. Maybe georg or minstrel will straighten us out on that score. The idea of storing liquid uncovered in my basement sounds like a recipe for sticky varmint-related disaster. Ooh! Tips, etc.:
* It may take more than three weeks for your wine to ferment if your home is cold. Try putting the bottles on top of your hot water heater or behind your refrigerator for faster fermentation.
* This recipe will produce a light wine that mixes well with tossed salad or baked fish. To add body or strength, add a sweetener, raisins, dates, figs, apricots, or rhubarb.

* Avoid using dandelions that may have been chemically treated. Also, try to stay away from dandelions that have been graced by the presence of dogs, or that grow within 50 feet of a road.

Graced by the presence of dogs? Also: I'm in New Jersey. There's not a speck of lawn further than 50 feet from road. Five blocks from my house, people grow pre-smoked tomatoes in postage stamp-size gardens on the curb. Bon appetit!

To sum up: while famine is spreading and white lightning is now $4.25 a gallon, lawn debris is actually foliage and you can brew up your autumn entertainment now. April and May are prime dandelion picking season, but it's never too soon to plan ahead.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Days Are Lit Like Everyone

Pete and I have had a tough time remembering whose shoes are whose, let alone remembering to go outside and pad back in with pictures and shoes on our paws. Such pressure! It's so silly to fret when sun dapples our afternoons and yellow pollen coats our cars, which means that spring in the air and a rising prices at the pump turn a middle aged lady's fancy to hoofing it to work. And hoof it, I do! I should start carrying a camera, shouldn't I? I certainly thought so this morning, as I loped across the Albany Street Bridge over a Raritan River so smooth a single duck's paddling strokes rippled gently from center and side to side. So let's talk about space.

Our model is some sort of reality TV personality. Please don't tell me who because I promise not to care. No, what's important here is that our model's spine looks like a spiral staircase and her toes could only be closer together if they were webbed. Women: I'm about to say something important. This momentousness may never happen again so please take note of both the date and what follows. Here goes: nothing says, "Infantilize me!" like standing around pigeon-toed and helpless. No man with a pulse and a say-so about your raise will take you seriously if you think this is an excellent posture to work, supermodel, work in your workplace, as in life. Strike this pose and you are toast, professionally.

It doesn't matter if you agree with me. It doesn't matter if you don't like it. You will not be respected if you make yourself look feeble. Don't bother exclaiming, "That's how the models all stand now!" Despite our darling's musculature, her feet make her look like a 98-pound weakling, unable to get out of even her own way, let alone up a flight of stairs or down to business.

Women, Miss Lynda Carter knew something thirty years ago working femmes may or may not know now: if you're going to bump up against big boys you'd better take up some space. Think I'm kidding? Let's experiment:

1. Sit in a booth with three male persons. No matter how big you are or how small they are, the menfolk will slouch, knees wide. If you cross your legs they will spread out wider. It doesn't matter if these are your brothers, cousins or James Brown's horn section; they will assume you are much smaller than you are, and the space under the table belongs to them.

2. Walk down a hallway where you know men will be walking in the opposite direction. Pretend for a moment you're fully human and walk straight ahead. When a man walks dead into you and looks surprised, say, "Excuse you" and walk on. Another man will thump into you. It's as if you're only visible to special people, possibly with night vision goggles. Try not to act shocked. Back in film school, you saw Delicatessen, and somewhere deep down you know you're edible.

echidne is in a bit of a mood, and as a no-wave feminist, I understand. Probably. My parents were feminists. My daughter is post-post-feminist. It's all so very over in a time when girls grow up and skip off to corporate jobs without a moment's thought as to what happened to both allow and force them to do so. In fact, we live in a time of enormously unexamined behavior, and for the most part, it's up to each of us to give ourselves a vigorous look-see. Though I'm no expert at anything other than looking or seeing, I'll help you get started. Stand up straight, shoulders back. Plant your feet parallel about shoulder width apart. Wear shoes that make you able and not unable. You've got to get some ground and stand it. Woman, take up some space.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Story Of How We Begin To Remember

Tristero at Hullabaloo published a blog post the other day that made me frown.
Al-Qaeda As Catch-All Term

by tristero

Glenn Greenwald rightly takes Kenneth Pollack to task for this idiocy from the NY Times:
Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain's portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a "perfectly reasonable catchall phrase" that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, [emphasis: Greenwald's] a place that "does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing," said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

What Glenn doesn't realize is something that Pollack surely knows, which is that Philip Bobbitt is trying to make the catch-all "al Qaeda" academically acceptable as well. From a review of Bobbitt's latest:
Bobbitt’s central premise is that today’s Islamic terrorist network, which he calls Al Qaeda for short...

I frowned because a few weeks ago in conversation I heard two adults discussing how sane and level-headed John McCain was and I said, "No, no. He's batshit crazy, which will be unmistakable at some point soon." MaCain had already begun conflating Sunni and Shi'ite, Madhi Army and al-Qaeda, which is inexcusable but sounded like a mistake the first time, the second time, even the third. Twice, Joe Lieberman whispered in McCain's ear and McCain corrected himself. The sixth and seventh time the candidate misspoke, it was apparent to keen observers a pattern had developed. Hopefully, I thought, a good night's sleep and a little gingko biloba might fix up the old coot. He's disqualified himself from serious consideration for the office in question by virtue of being unable to state who's the actual enemy we're pretending to fight, but maybe he'll be okay at dinner parties. Except, that's not what's happening here.

This morning, Pete turned on CNN while we did that daily How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up? ritual. While I was in the "Three - no, two!" phase, our blond newscaster talked and talked and talked. Each story seemed unbelievable to her. The sound of her voice reminded me of Drew Barrymore's Jillian on Family Guy, which is already annoying before coffee. Then our story turned to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - that's who we were looking at - but the broadcaster talked about "al-Qaeda in Iraq." I sat up straight and growled. She went on to say al-Sadr had indeed warned the Iraqi government to cut out what it's doing. I have no opinion about who is good or bad in this situation, and I won't be drawn into discussion of it.


What pissed me off beyond the ability to speak was the presumption that I, CNN viewer coming to on Sunday morning, don't know that al-Sadr is Shi'ite, allied with Iran and al-Qaeda is profoundly, deeply Sunni, allied with Saudi Arabia, and these two groups are not fucking conspiring. They hate each other so much, so thoroughly and for so many hundreds of years they haven't joined up to destroy the occupation.

Sure, it's all about me, and by me, I mean news-watching registered voters. Here is a related CNN story that is more clear about who's who, but not by much.

CNN has some explaining to do. Care to ask them to try?

Update: Crooks and Liars takes up Intellectual laziness and the ‘al Qaeda’ shorthand as our chief diplomat calls al-Sadr "coward."


Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Was Not Ready For the Wnter

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Poor Impulse Control as a blog Paulie Gonzalez set up in self-defense. Well, sort of.

Paulie: It's called blogging and you should do it.
Tata: I don't know. It's a new medium. I can't write anymore.
Paulie: You're going to write again because when you don't you go crazy.
Tata: It's that bad, huh?
Paulie: I priced a woodchipper.

Domestic violence is no joke but the mental picture of smiling Paulie returning rented equipment dripping with blood and a hearty, "I had to compost a wildebeest" is hilarious. I gave in and agreed to blog, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Ever get so sick of yourself you think 'If I don't start doing something new and different there's going to be an Unfortunate Incident at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, with film at 11'? Yeah, me too. If we pass one another on the way to making this terrible mess, let's double-park on Easton Avenue, exit our vehicles and incite onlookers to riot. But with music, so technically it's dancing.

Fortunately, the Kentucky Fried Chicken burned down and took two businesses with it, then I moved back across the river to the town that hugs Route 27 like a swollen prostate. Decorative pear trees line the main drag and today I'm soaking up sunshine at the family business as the pear trees snow white petals on traffic. It looks like a sunny blizzard out there. That guy driving the Lexis convertible looked a little perturbed.

I still don't know what I'm doing but check out the archives. I sure have done a lot of whatever it is.


Friday, April 18, 2008

You Can Only Train Elephants

Meet Zaidie.

Wendy, whom I've never met and no, we have NOT practiced this trick in front of a mirror ten thousand times, sent along this picture of her new puppy. If you've missed reading the comments here for a few months, Wendy worked up the nerve to acquire a pup. Zaidie is an impetuous fellow with a great deal of energy, which is a great combination in all one's closest wild animal friends outdoors. Indoors? Hide your shoes. And the couch. Everything's so delicious! How can he be blamed for the deliciousness of EVERYTHING?

I love stories about people acquiring animal companions. The shelters are full of people disguised as dogs, cats, ducks, reptiles - you name it - waiting for people to love. Our homes are happier and we're happier when we find the right companions. Look at that face! That little guy is so cute I made the "nom nom nom" noise. I'm deeply ashamed!

But really. That is one adorable puppy. Congratulations, Wendy!


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Like A Record, Baby

Let's talk about focus. Here are 41 seconds of the tightest focus you may ever see.

On Monday, I got into it with the emotionally charged commenters at Shakespeare's Sister, which has happened before. This morning, I found I'd written about it several years ago.
Siobhan: You're talking about Shakespeare's Sister?
Tata: Yeah, how'd you know?
Siobhan: That's the expression your face gets everytime.
Tata: What? I have a look just for a person I've never met?
Siobhan: At least she makes you think!

Life is short, unless you're in prison. A gal's got to pick her battles and fewer of them as age creeps up and metabolism slows. For instance: that I get to work in the morning is a daily miracle; there's no way I'd have the time or energy to pick a fight with a bigtime blogger and pin him to the mat. So I'm watching the fracas with the expression on my face that says, "Look at that girl go! She's gonna run out of stomach lining before she runs out of opponents."

Except in this case, I'd said to Melissa, "Let's make some noise," and the ensuing ruckus turned out to be just another pointless argument with misogynist trolls. It was disappointing, but I remember a time when I thought it was simply peachy to vent my frustrations in bar fights. Nothing changes when energy is dispersed this way. I don't have the strength anymore to argue, let alone to no result, and Shakespeare's Sister is not my blog. In my vast middle age, I prefer direct action to simmering in my emotions: I gather information, then write letters or phone. Here, Digby lays out the facts.
As you well informed blog readers all know by now, last week ABC broke an interesting little story. It was about how Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Colin Powell, George Tenent, John Ashcroft and other Bush "Principals" all gathered in regular meetings in the White House to discuss and approve of the various torture methods being used against prisoners held by the United States in the War On Terror. ABC interviewed the president a couple of days later and asked him if he was aware of these meetings and he said he was not only aware of them, but that he'd approved of them. Moreover, he specifically said he had no regrets about what was done to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who we know was tortured with simulated drowning --- also known as "waterboarding" -- which is considered by the entire civilized world to be torture.

As I said, we know all this. The blogs have been writing about it non-stop since last week, stunned and appalled at the picture of these high level public officials sitting around watching power point presentations about the efficacy of sexual humiliation and CIA operatives "acting out" various torture techniques for their approval. (According to ABC's source, they went farther than the Yoo memos and mandated that certain techniques could be used in tandem to make the "enhanced interrogations" even more painful.) At the CIA's request, they explicitly signed off unanimously on each instance of torture -- torture which included many of the techniques described here by former POWs of North Vietnam. POW's like John McCain.

Please read the rest. It's concise and effective, leading to a plan at Firedoglake.
Bush Approves of Torture. We Don't.

In a stunning admission on April 10, George Bush admitted that he approved of torturing detainees in U.S. custody.

Write to the editors of local and national newspapers to help get the word out that while Bush approves of the U.S. torture, we – the American people – do not.

Individual effort. Focus. A tidal wave of voices. I like it. I'm going to write, and I hope you will too, wherever you are. And for the time being, I'll avoid comments threads steered to time-wasting nowhere by the whims of trolls.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Everybody Stand Up

This has been playing on the mental jukebox for days.

Wendy's got a new puppy I'm dying to hear more about. What's going on with you?


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow


Everything happened at once on Sunday and Monday. I couldn't go to Virginia last weekend and the guilt was tremendous. Daria, Darla and Dara packed the up the house, though the packing never seemed to end, and on Sunday night, Daria had to leave to get her children to school Monday morning. Darla's ex-husband drove down from Canada with a truck they packed all night. At about dinnertime yesterday, they closed up the house and Darla went home to Canada. Today, Dara went back to high school. We have said goodbye to Dad's house, and to our life with Dad. For us, it is over. For Darla, a new life begins.


Miss Sasha, Mister Sasha and baby Panky - now nearly four months old - are leaving their house in California right now. Miss Sasha reports the house is clean, the boxes are stacked in another truck they'll drive to San Francisco today. They have a plan, places where they have to report to the Air Force, and sights to see on their journey to North Dakota. They leave behind a forwarding address for packages that did not arrive in time, which turns out to be important. The birthday presents I mailed a week ago did not arrive. Let's hope weary travelers are greeted at their new home by felicitous gifts.


I am washing and drying crisp pinstriped sheets and luxurious bath towels at home this afternoon. Yesterday I had some dental work done, so this morning, I called work and said my head wanted to stay flat for the foreseeable future. When you sit up and your skull says, "No, no, you had it right the first time," you go back to bed too, right? Even Blogger refused to publish until now in the face of all this. The windows are open wide and a breeze perfumes the apartment. Sunlight dances along the surface of the gold organza curtains. This day was always coming. I can only let it pass through me on its way to Long Ago.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

You Should've Left the Light On

ABC News:

President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.

"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

Game over. That's an admission to a war crime. In any civilized nation, the people would have taken to the streets and demanded the head of that lawless bastard on a pike, but no. We've got dentist appointments and Monday morning commutes. Via Hullabaloo, where the analytical mind goes to scream into its pillow:
"When word of torture and mistreatment began to slip out to the American press in the summer of 1969, our public-relations-minded captors began to treat us better. I'm certain we would have been a lot worse off if there had not been the Geneva Conventions around."
- John McCain

The current administration has disposed of habeas corpus. McCain now says torture is hunky-dory. We are in grave danger.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Swan That's Here And Gone

Let's say you have a friend called Plain Cheese Pizza. You and your friend get along great so long as everything else in your life is kinda hip, kinda now, kinda Charlie. You talk on the phone. You meet for beer and darts. You overlook your friend's faults and glare at anyone who speaks ill. Plain Cheese Pizza has always been there, from earliest memories of school lunches to the latest of late nights. Your mother's not thrilled but you have never had reason to doubt.

What about when something goes wrong? What about those times when you're flirting with disaster, when nutrition goes out the window and takes your health along for the ride? Deep down, you've always suspected Plain Cheese Pizza was a fair weather friend, someone who would abandon you when times got tough. It's a terrible disappointment, finding out the friend you love can't be trusted to nurture and sustain you. This is how we grow. We accept the truth about our friends' failings, love them anyway as we distance ourselves and look for more satisfying, dependable relationships. It hurts, but in the end, we will be happier.

There in the background, we find the one friend you could have counted on all along, if you'd just known what you needed in life. Now you know, and now you know that Wheat Crust White Pizza with its flavorful variety of vegetable toppings will always provide you with calcium, fiber, vitamins C and D, healthy fats, iron and other minerals. If you're very lucky and choose your sumptuous vegetable combinations well, you can enjoy Wheat Crust White Pizza's delightful crunch, satisfying crust, heavenly aroma and creamy cheeses without worrying about how you could have ever settled for Plain Cheese Pizza's hollow promises. You will always be able to rely on Wheat Crust White Pizza, come what may! Apologize and give your heart willingly but know: there's no reason to ever go back.

Your relationship will be even better when you stay home and make your own fun. And your mom is so happy! Did you know you could ever feel so good?


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Classic Symptoms Of A Momentary Squeeze

Most days I have an idea of what I'll write before I get a chance to do it, but not always.

Tata: Did you see the pictures of Pete's dining room?
Mom: I heard you painted it red. Are you sure? Red?
Tata: It's a deep red with blue tones, a kind of Chinese red. It's not at all orange. The trim is ultra white, and you remember Sylvia's modern teak furniture.
Mom: It's an Italian color scheme, like the restaurant table cloths.
Tata: It's not like that!
Mom: I can almost picture the flocked wallpaper.
Tata: Like one of those wedding palaces on Route 22?
Mom: Your father had relatives with red flocked wallpaper. They were so proud. They actually thought it was beautiful.
Tata: You thought it was -
Mom: Tragic.
Tata: Huh. No wonder I'm a raving bitch!

No, sometimes I'm bumbling along and a blog post happens.

Tata: My grandmother was a woman of exceptional taste. She had lovely furniture and jewelry. She was well-read and ran her own beauty salon. She had good taste.
Perplexed Co-Worker: How timely of you to mention it, since I was just wondering if your grandmother was a woman of good taste. But why do you say so?
Tata: My grandmother had a lovely apartment and, mysteriously, plastic fruit. After her death, we divided up the ancestral plastic fruit and I had a large collection. My friends and I took to pinning plastic grapes into our hair on festive occasions.
PCW: My goodness, that would be festive. Even so, I cannot say where this story is going.
Tata: Years ago, a friend borrowed some plastic fruit and misplaced it. She offered me dollar store substitutions but I would have none of it! I well know quality when I see it or the lack of it in plastic fruit and gave it back.
PCW: That's right! You can't lower your standards where plastic fruit are concerned.
Tata: Then last night I received a phone call from another friend. As she cleaned part of a room she hadn't used much in some time, she unearthed two bunches of plastic grapes with hair pins still attached. My plastic fruit and I will be reunited tonight!
PCW: You must bring them to work so that I can see them.
Tata: Maybe someday. For now, the plastic fruit and I need time alone, as a family.

You'll be happy to hear the plastic fruit are recovering nicely from their long ordeal.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

While They're Dragging the Lake


A funny thing happened today: the manager of the grocery store I've been haunting called me at work to say he'd found an approved supplier of green products. He offered to fax me a list. I stuttered a bit, thanked him for his thoughtfulness and said I'd love to have a look at that list.

I took this list, sat in the middle of my office and asked the women about these products. One thing that makes environmentalists sing like a Baptist preacher in a bus station is disposable diapers. What about biodegradable diapers?

Lupe: I had friends who used those. They were kind of brown and not cushiony.
Tata: So...a little too biodegradable?
Lupe: Yecch.

I called my sister the socialist businesswoman.

Tata: Biodegradable diapers?
Anya: No? No. No!
Tata: What about the 8 lb. size, before poop smells like poop?
Anya: Yes? Yes. Yes! That would make a great baby gift.

I checked it off on the list.


When the list arrived, my hands trembled for a few minutes. I wasn't bluffing, but Stop&Shop called my bluff. What, I fretted, if I picked products that didn't sell and proved the corporate buyer right? Well, it's not about me, and if I pick wrong, the grocery store will still have to pick green products because customers will buy somewhere else. It's not about me, and though it could go wrong it could also go right, possibly after some trial and error.

I expected to rant for a few years like the little old lady from Second Avenue who pushes a granny cart and rants about secret messages from space - I didn't expect anyone to listen to me. Crap! There are so many stores. I guess I could throw more toilet paper-based hissy fits.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

People All Over the World Are Shouting, "End the War."

On Saturday night, I had dinner with friends. I was seated across the table from a very close friend whom I love with my whole black heart. A guy I don't know well asked my friend, a George Bush fan, a question about politics. My friend and I know better than to discuss politics because my dear friend stopped thinking for himself in 2000. It's deeply disappointing. Moreover, even though I broke my own rule by answering a direct question, then not backing down or away from my opinion, this conversation really got under my skin.

A few things:

1. To say that John McCain is the most sensible candidate Republicans could have fielded is to disqualify yourself from adult conversation. McCain has repeatedly conflated Iran and al-Quaeda and doesn't know the difference between Sunni and Shi'a. Further, no one on an international stage should apply for a diplomatic position by stepping up to a mic and singing, "Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran." This is a disaster in the making, at a time when we are seen internationally as a lawless superpower, a bully with nukes.

Surely, there must be one sane man in the Republican Party. Why isn't he running?

2. Discussing winning the war in dispassionate terms does not mark one as mature or serious: it's monstrous. For no discernable reason, we have destroyed a sovereign nation. If we invaded for oil, we're not going to get it. If we invaded to take out Saddam, we've murdered him. If, as I more and more hear, we invaded to restore our Vietnam-wounded pride, we have done the very thing that will insure this pride is injured further.

(As an aside, what is it with men who were too young to serve in Vietnam and who didn't bother joining the service talking about what WE lost? I was in pigtails and ballet slippers, and I'm not stewing. And that these same dodos end arguments by shouting, "We saved your ass in WWII!" speaks volumes about great insecurity rather than great accomplishment.)

3. The Middle East is not a fucking game board. Real people live there and die there when we take our giant dick substitutes out and fire off a few missiles. Now, just because we forget and go play somewhere else does not mean the survivors won't remember. Think for a second about Israel and Palestine. How far does that little tiff stretch back in history? Is it...ALWAYS? Why yes, yes it is. And these people, whom we've only noticed because they stand on oil, will remember that we've dropped bombs on them. We may forget. They never will. Weren't we trying to win their hearts and minds?

We cannot make the Middle East anything other than what it is.

4. Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It must arise from the people, who must be willing to die for it. The think tank assholes who keep saying Democracy can be exported know that no such thing is possible and they're only saying it to people too stupid to read their own nation's history.

Democracy has nothing whatever to do with what our government's done to Iraq. It's an invasion, pure and simple, for oil and George Bush's Daddy problems. Imperialism is not democratic.

5. The war cannot be won.

6. The military is being destroyed in the war that cannot be won.

7. No one has any idea how to pay for the health care for the veterans of the war that cannot be won.

8. My favorite:

"I believe in less taxes."
"I believe bridges should remain standing. One of us is going to be unhappy."

One more thing: when you're talking politics and you shout at me while I'm discussing peace you've told me you know your argument's weak. It is the refuge of the man who factors the sufferings of other human beings - especially women - into the cost of doing business and doesn't give his part in creating it a second thought. If you know your argument's weak, rethink the question.

I've tried to reconstruct this glittering little quotation but I've failed.* The point is really important. I'm paraphrasing:
The role of Commander In Chief is the smallest part of the American Presidency because war represents the failure of diplomacy.

We're not electing a Commander In Chief. We are electing a President, hopefully a person smart enough to guide our nation to peace, prosperity and energy independence.

So maybe I'm in a mood.

*If you have a line on who said the line I can't reconstruct, shout it out, my dahhhhlink.

Update: The salute I think of each time minstrel mentions Reagan's fetishy love of pomp and parades.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Transmit the Message To the Receiver

My brain is full of soda.

Tata: Is there a special tool for painting staircase spindles?
Man: Besides paint brushes? Why are you asking me this?
Tata: Someone has to answer all my questions. Today, I have chosen you.
Man: I have a meeting, and a question: who are you?
Tata: Sheesh, even I know that.

Questions, questions...

Tata: Pete, what would happen if you replaced sandbox sand with granulated garlic?
Pete: Terrible burns.
Tata: Would it still be funny?
Pete: Oh yeah.

...all day with the questions.

Tata: Has Daria told you she calls me to discuss poop so I'll yak?
Todd: I'm totally going to remember that.
Tata: I'd be disappointed if you didn't.
Todd: To get you to chuck over the phone...priceless.
Tata: I've got Ziploc bags and postage. I'll mail you a souvenir.
Todd: Oh yeah, "Hey Todd, what'd you get for your birthday?" "Ahhh, I got some puke."
Tata: But it's birthday puke. That makes it SPECIAL!
Todd: When you're right, you're right.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Din Of Our Rice Crispies

I. I am a genius!

We dismantled Dad's kitchen and I ended up with a bigass container of dried black beans; by bigass, I mean a 7-quart Sysco restaurant container, and by beans, I mean of indeterminate age and/or magical power. For many long months, I stared at this container and waited for inspiration, which means breath of the gods and there's just not enough Gas-Ex, thank you. One day, a plan came to me. Pete laughed out loud, uncertain I'd do it. Two nights ago, we filled a quart bag with beans and went for a walk. The plan:

1. On a rainy night, fling beans near chain link fences everywhere.
2. Wait.
3. Watch out for falling giants.

The possible results:
1. Planting.
2. Composting.
3. Feeding outdoor critters.

We enjoyed furtively peppering lawns, alleys, empty planters and scrubby gardens with prospective beanstalks, which process became more entertaining the closer we walked to the center of town and spectators. No one asked us what we were doing. No one said, "You've literally beaned me." No. People watched as Pete and I walked by and I exhorted our little legumes to grow toward the sun, be free, be free! This public art project memorializing my father is called the Beany Benediction.

No cows will be harmed in the making of it.

II. I am an idiot!

As we prepared dinner last night, Pete asked if there might be garlic in my kitchen. This request surprised me. "I'm fresh out of fresh but I've got chopped, freeze-dried and a metric buttload of granulated. When I acquire Garlic In A Tube, I shall rule the Alium World. Mwah hah hah!" I cackled.

Pete sniffed the chopped and made a face. Pete stared at enough granulated garlic to temper the effects of beach erosion. Pete grabbed a freeze-dried chip slice and tossed it into his mouth. Five. Four. Three. Two -

Tata: What's the matter with you?
Pete: That was disgusting! Omigod -

And even though I watched him scrape the insides of his mouth with his fingernails I popped a freeze-dried slice of garlic into my mouth.

Tata: I'm not certain but my teeth may be on fire.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen, evidently waiting for the return of either common sense or blood to my extremities, as garlic still in my mouth continued hydrating. At no time did it occur to me to lean three inches to my left and spit out the tiny flaming tidbits singeing my tastebuds. For the rest of the evening, Pete and I randomly burst out laughing and moved a few inches further from each other. This morning, I woke up and the first thing I smelled was my own rank breath.

At work, I handed out emergency Altoids and promised I'd never do it again.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rotten Peaches, Rotting In the Sun

From this morning's A Word A Day:
The best way to be more free is to grant more freedom to others.
-Carlo Dossi, author and diplomat (1849-1910)

Today's New York Times Online:
Immigration Issues End a Pennsylvania Grower’s Season

Let's stop for a second and gaze into our crystal ball. Ours is a special crystal ball, in that it lets us look back and forward without fear or regret. We will simply observe. This time, we see what minstrel told us a year and a half ago:
This post was inspired by a family farmer out near Show Low. He had a gorgeous crop of peaches. Beautiful, inspired fruit. He was unable to find labor to pick this crop. Thank you all you border crawling sons of bitches. You're down here on my border screaming your racist, isolationist bullshit and a decent 4th generation farmer is going broke because you are off on some fool's errand to take focus away from Iraq, which your side fucked up beyond all repair, from the economy, which your side is selling to the Chinese for fucking counterfit yuan they are printing by the bale, from Katrina and the overall incompetence of their policies.

The farmer who grew these peaches got so frustrated and depressed that he put a box for donations by the side of the road and a sign that said "I'd rather you pick everything you can carry off than watch it rot."

I canned 30 quarts of peaches and made 8 pies. The pie recipe will come later. And, in case anyone might ask. I did leave a donation. I left what I thought was a fair market price for the fruit my son and I picked. Then I dug a little deeper and left some more.

That would be infuriating and heartbreaking if we weren't gazing matter-of-factly into our factful crystal factinator - for facts. Now let's cast our eyes again on that New York Times Online article.
Finding and keeping the field hands who can pick 10,000 tomatoes a day during the hot months of August and September is no less a test of organizational traction than any get-out-the-vote drive.

For 35 years, Keith Eckel, 61, one of the largest tomato growers in the Northeast, had the workers and the timing down to a T: seven weeks, 120 men, 125 trailer loads of tomatoes picked, packed and shipped.

This year, however, the new politics of immigration — very much on the mind of many of Pennsylvania’s voters, even if overlooked by the presidential candidates campaigning in this state and around the nation — has put him out of business.

State, local and federal crackdowns on illegal immigration have broken his supply chain of laborers. Most of those were Hispanic men who had come every year for decades, and whose immigration status Mr. Eckel recorded with the documents they provided to him. He kept them all in the file cabinets at his neat farm office — the Migrant Seasonal Farm Worker Protection Act forms, the Labor Department’s I-9 forms, the H-2A agricultural visa privilege forms — though he knew that, for the most part, it was a charade.

“It’s a ludicrous system,” he said the other day, sitting behind his desk in a light brown windbreaker that matched the fallow hillside beyond his office window here, 10 miles north of Scranton. “If the national statistics are correct, 70 percent of the documents in those cabinets are fraudulent.”

A year ago, my brother Todd and I discussed the mania surrounding immigration, legal or otherwise. I maintained it was a political red herring and Republicans would regret the strategy of villainizing the very same Latin demographic they were courting and would need to remain relevant in an increasingly non-white America. Todd, who lives in Los Angeles, had a different take on the matter, which changed abruptly when immigrants decided that, peacefully, they'd had enough.
They swept onto the Mall by the tens of thousands, waving American flags and chanting, in Spanish, "Here we are, and we're not leaving."

With voices raised in protest, with placards in English and in the language of their homelands and with slogans scrawled across white T-shirts worn to symbolize their peaceful intent, the assembled mass delivered a simple message: We are Americans now, too.

Demonstrators swept onto the Mall by the tens of thousands on Monday; Ranks of young men who listened in respectful silence, high-school students taking advantage of their spring break, immigrant mothers arriving with young children and day laborers who live in fear of deportation turned out in force.

Todd wasn't the only person who saw seas of faces in every city, crowds teeming with peaceful protestors in white shirts, and said, "Holy shit, what's going on here?" Conservative pundits crapped their pants when they realized that not only were they surrounded by the offended but that they hadn't the first clue that the offended could effectively organize in the big Conservative blind spot: Latin mass media in the United States.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the English-speaking mainstream media forgot about this almost immediately, and legislators resumed legislating most Draconian. Once again, the crystal ball clears and we see that Pennsylvania farmer today.
For years Mr. Eckel went along. “But in the current political climate,” he said, “I just can’t take the risk of planting two million tomato plants and watching them rot in the field.”

This is the crux of a tense, if largely unspoken, conflict between politics and reality in a state with 40,000 commercial farms. On many of those farms, crops requiring hand-picking are either not being put in this year, or are being planted by farmers who cannot be sure they will have the workers to harvest them, farm experts say.

Yet, in more than a half dozen state legislative races, getting tough on illegal immigration has become the premier issue in this state, as it has in many others.

In the 10th Congressional District, where Mr. Eckel’s 700-acre farm is located, the incumbent Democrat, Representative Christopher Carney, has made the enforcement of strong penalties for illegal immigrants and their employers a signature issue in a tough re-election campaign; Mr. Carney is one of two dozen incumbent Democrats singled out for defeat by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Over the last couple of growing seasons, farmers have been feeling a tremendous amount of stress over the way this issue has been playing out,” said Gary Swann, governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “And if people think all we have to do is raise wages and hire local workers, they are simply mistaken.”

Local workers will not do the job, Mr. Swann said.

The gentleman who sent me this URL spent his early years as a migrant farm worker. Today, he is a famous mycologist. Sometimes, I see him on television. His only comment is, "Expect food prices to skyrocket."
After newspapers and television stations in the Scranton area publicized Mr. Eckel’s decision to forgo planting tomatoes, he received a phone call from Senator Barack Obama’s agriculture adviser, Marshall Matz, who arranged a meeting for later this month.

But firestorms of protest have greeted nearly every proposal to regularize and temporarily legalize the supply of workers, like the immigrants who harvested Mr. Eckel’s crops. He said he did not expect anything to change until there was a broad new consensus about immigrant labor, which might never happen.

“I’m going to wait until February to decide whether I’ve planted my last tomato crop,” he said. By then, there will be a new president and a new Congress. But the tractors and seeding equipment in his warehouse will not wait forever. Their resale value is good for another year at most.

“This is all about economics,” added Mr. Eckel, who served as president of the state farm bureau for more than a decade until the mid-1990s, and whose office walls are decorated with photos of himself shaking hands with Ronald Reagan and the two presidents Bush. “I’m not trying to make some political statement.”

If one were to want to, though, three weeks before a state presidential primary would be good timing.

How delightful it is, when the sky is falling, to make jokes at the expense of the frightened. That shows real character. I wrote the snarky reporter a bon mot of my own.
"If one were to want to, though, three weeks before a state presidential primary would be good timing."

Cleverness is neither wit nor wisdom. You wrote a story about the consequences of xenophobia in real life and the future of food security for the country, and the most important observation you can come up with is "D'OH! Obama on Line 1"?

Maybe you could sit down, re-read what you wrote and recognize the horrors it predicts. I feel sure a different final paragraph will come to you. Eventually.

The crystal ball, however, has more to show us.
Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.

The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.

But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.

The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps was higher after a recession in the 1990s, but actual numbers are expected to be higher this year.

U.S. government benefit costs are projected to rise to $36 billion in the 2009 fiscal year from $34 billion this year.

"People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut," said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps. "Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we're at an all-time record level," said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

One hundred dollars a month...and food prices on the rise. Hmm. The cost of our mania run amok may be the starving in the street. Once a person cannot feed his or her children what more is there to lose?

Common decency would have cost us a great deal less.

Crossposted at Blanton's & Ashton's.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Time We're Gone And We Don't Know Where

Today, it's been a year since Dad died. In the month of his decline, we burst into tears, we burst into song and broke into the liquor cabinet. Yesterday, I wondered where Dad's Andres Segovia records went, though I suppose that doesn't matter anymore. We have video!

The man born on Mother's Day and dead on April Fool's would want you to raise a glass, read a good book, see or hear good art or eat a good meal in his honor, if you were so inclined, but he wouldn't permit false piety or that Above all, he loved his family shit. No, he was surprised when we found our asses with our own hands. During his last weeks, he showed us trays and trays of slides of his travels when he left most of us in 1973; he wanted his gaggle of unruly children to quietly see his life unfold in haunting gorgeous pictures. He growled most of he time, very angry at the universe that cut short his plans. There we were in a dark room, watching his travels through Brussels, Paris, Budapest, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Prague -

Tata: Hey! That's a Wankel engine!
Dad: It IS a Wankel engine!

In the dark, I could feel the white=hot glares of my sisters and brother, but Dad was an ounce less furious for a few seconds. He was not a patient man; he was very, very funny. I don't miss arguing with him.

Dad: (angry) You there! Complaints?
Tata: All your goddamn measuring cups are righthanded!
Dad: (laughing) I understand!

Maybe I miss it a little.

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