Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Remember When Freedom Wasn’t Free?

I read last week that Dan Rather is suing CBS news for $70 million, seeking retribution for the debacle following his story on Bush's military record that cost him his job just before election 2004.

You remember that story, right? The one where Rather's team acquired documents that indicated that our illustrious War President had received preferential treatment to avoid serving in Viet Nam during the war, and in fact had been allowed to duck out of the military without fulfilling all his obligations? The story that resulted in Rather's "Swift-boating" by nefarious factions of the Right Wing Media Noise Machine?

I was fascinated to discover, in reading about Rather's current lawsuit, that those documents that were deafeningly decried as forgeries by conservative bloggers (they claimed to have evidence that the type faces and fonts used on the documents did not exist in the military in the 1960's) were never actually proven to be anything but authentic. And that neither Bush nor his team ever denied the contents of the records.

More than anything, this story brought back memories of the Bad Old Days: those months in the wake of 9/11 when George W. Bush was allowed—no, not merely allowed…begged—to ride rough-shod over the American public's freedoms in the name of gathering us all, trembling and wetting ourselves—under his great, fearless, protective wings. Those were dark days, indeed; days when an ambiguous administration, and a man who struggled to attain mediocrity on his best days, were elevated to Knights of the Right and Protectors of All Things Sacred. Days when we traded our rights to privacy, due process, dissent and a free press for a security to which citizens of a free nation should never condescend to aspire.

But that was years ago, wasn't it? The Bush Administration is gasping its last breath, and Barack Obama is waiting in the wings to take over and initiate course corrections to our ship of state. Right? So why is Dan Rather suing now? Why keep beating a dead horse? Why not just…get over it?

I don't know. Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I was never a Dan Rather fan. Sure, we share many of the same political opinions…but that's the point. Opinions do not have a place behind the anchor desk. At least, they didn't twenty-five years ago. I was never comfortable with the in-your-face liberal slant with which Rather branded his "news" broadcasts. Invariably, I could watch him for about five minutes before I would tune him out in disgust. He always came off as way too "holier than thou." "Just report the news, Dan," I would chide him in my mind. "Don't tell me how to think about it."

Little did I know then that Rather was blazing the trail of the future of journalism. The future where the boundaries between news and editorialism completely evaporated; the future where the public would be bombarded with so much skewed and often contradicting "information," put out there by factions with varying agendas, that they would ultimately be forced to choose a reality.

That future that is NOW.

So, it is true that, in some respects, Rather was hoist on his own petard. He was one of the original polluters of the information stream; eventually, he was forced to drink his own poison. I feel bad for him; I think he got a raw deal. And I think he wants vindication. And if he can get it, though it's too late for it to free us from one more minute of Bush Administration bungling, I think he deserves it.

But more importantly, we as a nation need to watch Dan Rather reopen this can of worms. We need to be reminded of where we were four short years ago. Remember when the president was so revered, almost sanctified, that any whisper of negative press about him was called un-American and punished as severely as law—or society outside the law—would tolerate? Remember when you refrained from voicing political opinions at your local watering hole, lest you meet with some embarrassing or violent incident? Remember when you were afraid that a petty fight with a neighbor might result in him imagining a terrorist plot and ratting you out to the FBI? Remember when one of the nation's pre-eminent journalists was discredited, disgraced, and ridden out of town on a rail on the basis of a story that was, in all likelihood, true?

Remember not feeling very free in the land of the free and home of the brave?

We absolutely need to remember these things. Because we absolutely need to make sure they never happen again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

White-out Christmas

I posted my "Bleak Midwinter" entry both here and at "Coming to Terms."

It seems that those few who read it thought I was creating a quaint little card celebrating the winter wonder of the first White Christmas we've experienced in the twenty-five years we've called Oregon home.

Ummmm…not so much.

A White Christmas is something to love in a place like Chicago, where there are snow plows, road salt, snow blowers, and platoons of technicians trained in the art of confining the sparkly white stuff to front yards and toboggan hills.

But here in the valleys of western Oregon, snow is a freakish meteorological hiccup. We have no more capacity to deal with it than we would a biblical plague. Two inches of snow is a monstrous inconvenience that paralyzes entire towns, cancels school, and causes a noticeable blip on the insurance rate scale, as clueless drivers skid and crash into one another with wild abandon.

Two feet of snow is a bona fide disaster.

Christmas 2008 will go down in history as the Christmas that was literally canceled by snow.

It made its first appearance on December 14th. We should have been warned of its malicious intent by the fact that, rather than turning to rain and dutifully washing away almost immediately—as is the usual habit of snow in these parts—the weather instead turned icy cold and froze us below this first six inches of snow. Four days later, we were still slipping, sliding and crunching around on the stuff when another storm blew in and it snowed some more.

And again the next day. And the next. In fact, it snowed every day for an entire week. Up to and including an additional two inches—adding insult to injury—on Christmas Day.

By the time all was said and done, I had easily twenty inches of white Christmas piled in my front yard. And that same twenty inches had fallen on every street in town—this town which does not own a snow plow.

In 1984, the young hubs and I emigrated to Oregon. Hard as it is to believe now, I worried that I would miss the four distinct seasons we experienced in Illinois. I was sure I would miss snow. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that all we would have to do was drive a couple of hours to the mountains whenever we suffered from acute snow deprivation.

Can I now confess that, in all these 24 ½ years, we have never got so homesick for snow that we jumped in the car and drove up to the mountains to visit it? Especially since it has adopted the habit of blowing down out of the mountains to visit us every couple of years?

Turns out I don't miss snow too much after all. But I would love to be given the opportunity to try…




Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Have a save and warm Christmas. And hug those close to you. Even if it's in your dreams.

Holiday Greeting

To the ladies of "Women On..."
From My House to Yours:

Merry Christmas?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can Our Government Shine?

The weather has gone abominable in the Pacific Northwest, and, since people are staying home in droves—which means they are not darkening the doors of the cafĂ©—I have found myself with considerable amounts of time on my hands. My first instinct is to wring those very hands in worry and frustration with the evil-looking numbers we are putting up for this week (and probably for the rest of the month, considering that the weather is not slated to improve much between now and New Years'…) Instead, I've decided to pick up the book I've been trying to read for the last month, and see if I can't get through to the end. Yes…I'm still reading Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.

When I first cracked open the book several weeks ago, I found myself often reading through tears. I was still in the "relief bordering on disbelief" stage of post-election euphoria. I could hardly read a well-formed, comprehensible sentence crafted by the man slated to become our next president without experiencing an almost overwhelming feeling of awe, gratitude and victory. It felt for all the world like a religious conversion experience. (And I know from where I speak on such things, believe me…)

As time has passed, the euphoria has given way to practicality. I'm starting to wonder how many wheels our broken economy has to lose, as one seems to go spinning off into the gutter every few hours. If the wails of woe issuing from the Senate, the auto industry, the energy and oil industries, China, real estate and construction concerns, and just about every other contributor to our nation's financial stability don't snap one's attention back to dire reality, nothing will. So I have continued my reading in a more subdued state of mind.

And, here's the thing. It's not that Mr. Obama isn't intelligent, well-read, even-tempered and introspective…all traits that will indeed be pleasant to attribute to an American president. It's just that he is very much a regular guy. The things he writes are refreshing and reasonable, but they are not revolutionary. What makes him look like the second coming is the backdrop of the last eight miserable years of intellectual and moral retreat through which this nation has suffered under the Bush Administration. It would be hard for anyone not to look like a knight in shining armor coming out of that cistern of muck. What I fear now is that the media, the government, and the American people are going to expect way more from Barack Obama than any human being could possibly deliver. And then turn on him like a pack of wolves…

The nation is watching closely as Mr. Obama selects his cabinet and top advisors. Everyone is still gun-shy of the cronyism that was the hallmark of Bush Administration appointments. We ooh and aaah over Obama's thoughtful selection process as he calls upon experts and scholars, people who might actually have credentials, some of the best credentials, in fact, to fill key roles in his government. Once again, why do we find this so fascinating? Isn't this how the process should look?

Yes, there will be quite a contrast between the government assembled by a privileged, ne'er-do-well scion of a Texas oil baron-turned-politician, and the one brought together by a middle-class Constitutional scholar who came to politics via the route of public service. Bush's philosophy of government is that it act only in ways that will enhance the power of the powerful…thereby keeping our nation strong and, through trickle-down, improving the lives of those without power. And all that power must intersect in the person of one central figure: the President. The guy who at least appears to hold all the cards and make all the rules.

Mr. Obama's philosophy is that government is a coalition of the best minds and practitioners, even those with opposing viewpoints, working together for the greater good of society. The president is the guy whose responsibility it is to call all these various factions together and facilitate their cooperation. I think we can expect Mr. Obama's to be a government of conviction rather than agenda. It is one thing to have solid beliefs and to live by them; it is quite another to have an agenda to force everyone else in the country to live according to your convictions. In Mr. Obama's mind, the way to govern—indeed, the very foundation of our government—is to bring the best, most capable minds together and allow them to have at it. Here are his words on the subject:

"Whether we are for or against affirmative action, for or against prayer in schools, we must test out our ideals, vision, and values against the realities of a common life, so that over time they may be refined, discarded, or replaced by new ideals, sharper visions, deeper values. Indeed, it is that process, according to Madison, that brought about the Constitution itself, through a convention in which 'no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument.'"

Imagine that. A government that would be all about encouraging people to open their minds, or even change their minds; as opposed to a goose-stepping regime that adheres to a strict list of written-in-stone commandments, crying "flip-flop!" at the slightest prospect of an enlightened recalculation.

I don't know about you, but I personally am very eager to see Mr. Obama's—and the Founders'—theories of government get a chance to shine. No matter what happens, we will no doubt be living in a very different country than we have been of late. And it is SO about time!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Craving the Magic

It seems to be a point of honor for bloggers to showcase how well-read they are. We have gadgets like "Shelfari" available to us, where we can show off all the wonderful books with which we are currently enchanted. Me? I'm still wading through The Audacity of Hope (I've committed myself to reading at least a few pages every night until I'm finished…I may be done by the Inauguration…) So, yeah…I guess, in the end, I'm not much of a reader.

Series novels have always been big. Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and now the "Twilight" series. Okay. I can play that game, too. I have a favorite series. The one I have read over and over and over and never tire of. I love it as much today as I did when I first checked the books out of the grade school library a lifetime ago. I can nearly recite the best parts by heart. (And, do you know, I still do not own my own copies of these books?)

My favorites? Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.

Christmas time always brings Wilder's stories to mind. Especially this Christmas—as we watch our consumer economy undergo the trial by fire that will distill it to the essence of necessity. I consider all the things we think of as part and parcel of Christmas… The standing in line outside of whichever store commands the largest supply and lowest price on the latest electronic toy or game without which our child cannot live. The ubiquitous animated reindeer and giant inflatable snowmen appearing on every other lawn the day after Thanksgiving. Twenty-dollar-a-pound chocolates and forty-dollar bottles of champagne; crown rib roasts, caviar, chanterelles, artisan breads and parmegiano reggiano.

And then there are the Little House stories. Stories of a family, one hundred twenty years ago, drawn by the pioneer spirit of its young patriarch out of the Big Woods of Wisconsin, to Indian Territory in Kansas, back to the creeks of Minnesota and then to the Dakota Prairie.

How I love the stories of the Christmas magic in each of those places. Young women crimping their hair and starching their finest lace collars for a holiday dance in Wisconsin. Three little girls heading to bed on a Christmas Eve out on a lonely claim, miles from anyone; thrilled upon discovering one candy stick and a small cake made with real white flour nestled in the toes of their stockings on Christmas morning. Or the year of the Long Winter of blizzards and near-starvation, when Christmas—in the form of barrels of clothing, food, books and newspapers—arrives in April, on the first train able to get through since before Thanksgiving.

Can you imagine? Can you for one moment imagine being twelve years old, enchanted to speechlessness by the sight of the first Christmas tree you had ever seen? To us, that sounds like something from some emerging nation, maybe in Africa or the Far East. But it was here, on our continent, in our own country…not so very long ago.

That wide-eyed wonder…that child-like naivetĂ©.


What has happened to the magic of Christmas? Is it me? Am I just too old, too tired? Have I seen too much, yet not enough?

Have I had too much? Yet…not enough?

No, please don't lecture me about "the Reason for the Season."

And don't point me back to the simpler times of MY life—fir trees, tinsel and big, hot lights; marshmallow Santas, jello, onion dip and cans of whipped cream; vinyl dolls, wooden sleds, Monopoly and Candyland… Yes, those were less complicated times, but they still foreshadowed our great monster of a consumer society.

I crave the truly simple days I never knew. The life that was anything but simple, but which thrilled to plain and humble pleasures.

I am so very aware that my life is not nearly hard enough. So simple pleasures could never be enough to satisfy my craving for the magic.

And that is not a good thing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


After watching the posturing on the Senate floor last week and the total meltdown in Illinois I have a suggestion. I know it will never happen, but it gives me some small satisfaction to imagine it. How about this amendment to the constitution? No person can run for any political office until they fulfill this requirement. They have to spend at least five years working for a living. And I don’t mean sales or moving numbers around. I mean the getting out and getting your hands dirty kind of work. Logging, farming, fishing, mining or carpentry; the kind of work that gets you tired down to the bone.

Then after we’ve checked the quality of their calluses, we’ll consider letting them run for dog catcher. After that? We’ll think about it. But, no access to power over the likes of me until you have some idea what life is like for me and those like me.

Planned Obsolescence

This weekend, I read a good op-ed piece in the New York Times regarding another drain on the American wallet. It's all about planned obsolescence and our throw away society. This is something I feel like we've been living since we moved into this house. In the first year we were here we have replaced the washer, dryer and dishwasher. We've had to have a major repairs on the air conditioning and the water heaters. The refridgerater also has an issue. It isn't critical, but it would cost $800 to repair. This house is only 6 years are the appliances.

In this piece, Gerri Hirshey opens talking about her stove, which happened to be engineered to be non-repairable.

Do you remember when we were kids? Our parents bought a refridegerater or a new furnace, or a washer....and they were done. If there was a problem, a repair guy could make it right in a matter of a couple of hours. Why have we come to accept that when something breaks, it should be replaced...whether it cost us $10 or $1000?

I have this strong feeling of guilt when I throw out an iron, or a hairdryer, or A COMPUTER because it makes more sense to replace it than repair it. I remember going in to the repair shop with my dad with a tv or a radio...of COURSE those things could be fixed. No more.

Today, our dryer (less than 6 months old) stopped working. It has all kinds of fancy indicator lights and it "said" that the air flow was restricted. That puzzled me because I do clean out the lint trap every single time. We got into cleaning out the vents anyway, but while we were doing that...something started beeping from somewhere else in the house. We thought it was a smoke detector needing a battery. Aaron climbed up to change it but it didn't take a was hard wired into the house. He disconnected the unit, but the beeping continued. In the meantime I was reassembling the dryer venting but I still got the "restricted flow" readout and no heat.

We finally came to realize that the beeping was coming NOT from the smoke detectors but from the carbon monoxide detectors. We looked them up online and determined that it was signaling a malfunction, not a life threatening situation. These were hardwired into the house as well and Aaron ended up disconnecting them too.

On Friday, our phones stopped working. We have no dial tone. We have a phone/cable/internet package from the cable company and our tv and computers are still working. So, it seems to me that it's something in the phone lines in the house.

Consequently, this week will most likely be spent waiting for repairmen. How's that for a complete pain in the ass. I don't even know who to call about the CO monitors.

It's corporate America's dirty little secret to keep us on the consumer hook on a regular basis. What a stroke of marketing brilliance, manufacture items engineered to irreparably fail. It's exacerbated by the fact that everything is made overseas and the order goes to the lowest bidder. We no longer expect quality in anything.

On top of they can actually convince us that the extended warranty is a good idea. They continue to rake in the dough and we pay betting that the new appliance, tv or computer is barely going to outlast the factory warranty period. What's wrong with THAT picture?

We could get into how women are sucked into another form of planned's called fashion. That's a discussion for another day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Presidential Reality

I didn't actually hear the entire speech. In fact, I didn't even know Mr. Bush had spoken at a commencement on Friday (or that there was a self-respecting school on the planet that would want him) until I found this little quote on a friend's blog.

And I immediately thought, "This explains a lot." And it is more than a little disturbing, coming out of the mouth of the man who has been the Leader of the Free World for the past eight years:

"Remember that popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind. Character and conscience are as sturdy as the oaks on this campus. If you go home at night, look in the mirror and be satisfied that you have done what is right, you will pass the only test that matters."
-- President George W. Bush, from his commencement address Friday at Texas A&M

Isn't this just a fancy and inspiring way of saying, "Choose your own reality?" To hell with truth, justice, and everyone else in the world. As long as YOU can live with what you've done, that's all that matters.

Evidently, Mr. Bush wants everyone to rest assured that he will be able to sleep like a baby every night in his approaching retirement. I'm SO reassured…aren't you?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bursting the Handbag Bubble

As is typical of the season, I receive about ninety-five ads, catalogs and solicitations in the mail every day. My kitchen counters are awash in shiny, full color spreads from Home Decorators', Walmart, Kohl's, Touch of Class, Fred Meyer. All clamoring for their share of the general population's fast-disappearing discretionary dollar. Some retailers are even trying to adopt the, "Our loss is your gain" tactic. Kind of like, "We're sinking fast but you can get some real good deals before we go under…"

And then…and then, there's Nordstrom. Steadfast in its appeal to the "Haves." As opposed to the "Have Nots." Or the "Did Have but Won't For Longs."

Nordstrom with its hand-picked selection of $250 costume jewelry watches, with which one can adorn one's wrist while toting a $600 designer handbag. Nordstrom…in all its unerring allegiance to pricey, unnecessary affectation.

Nordstrom stands alone here in the Pacific Northwest as a testament to the excesses endemic to the lifestyle of riding the economic bubble. That bubble which burst…sometime in the relatively recent past. (The Bush Administration is allowing now that it actually burst sometime last December…?)

But burst it has; causing those of us who might once have foolishly considered the purchase of a $600 purse to pull the strings on our shabby little $25 tote bag as tight as we can, the better to hold in the funds we need to merely survive.

Not that I ever entertained the notion of owning a multi-hundred dollar handbag. But it makes you wonder…who would? What in god's name would make a stupid purse worth what many people pay in monthly rent?

What were we thinking?

Makes one realize that this country was badly in need of an…economic correction, doesn't it?




So I went out to run a couple of errands tonight and as is my habit at this time of year, I stopped in at Crate & Barrel. It was about 6:30 in the evening, and Christmas Day is exactly two weeks from today, so imagine my surprise to see that except for holiday staff, Crate & Barrel at the Galleria was practically deserted. I have never seen it so empty in the evening, so close to Christmas. Out of curiosity, I stopped in at Pier I, a little over a block away. Same story there. On the way, I passed the brightly lit Container Store, and that, too, was strangely empty of shoppers. I also passed Restoration Hardware, but I didn't have to look inside to know RH is in major trouble. They've been holding their annual linen sale monthly, and I've stopped counting the number of emails I've received from them, imploring me to shop there. To be fair, these stores are across the street from the actual mall, and I didn't go into the mall, so I have no idea how crowded or not that was, but the absence of shoppers in these four stores, in this neighborhood, with less than 14 shopping days until Christmas, is depressing and ominous.

Not that I was about to spend lavishly myself. There's apparently some sort of weird inverse relationship between home values, homeowner's insurance, and real estate taxes that I wasn't aware of until now. Although my house is worth less than ever, my real estate taxes and homeowner's insurance have increased dramatically this year, a fact reflected grimly on my latest mortgage statement, which shows the increased payment that I'll need to make into the escrow account. And don't get me started on energy costs. I love my house, but for the first time in a very long time, I am seriously considering whether or not it's worth it to me to stay here. On the other hand, I would hardly make money selling it in this market, and I don't know where I'd move.

I'm not writing about this to elicit sympathy; I'm writing about it because this is happening all over America. I'm luckier than many people in that I have a job, and that job provides me with a good salary and decent, affordable health insurance for Mike and least it does for now. But what about all the people who don't have that? To turn this economy, and this country, around is going to take time and work. I spent childhood Decembers impatiently waiting for Christmas, but this December all I can think is that January 20th can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Day The World Changed

It was the first day of summer vacation, 1983. Two little girls, aged 12, rode their bikes to a mall in one of the suburbs in Louisville called Bashford Manor. What happened to one of them after that has remained a mystery for the 25 years. The image of a bike, leaned up against the entrance to the Mall has been burned into the minds of every single person who lived here during that time. The face of a beautiful red haired little girl, with blue eyes and freckles was on television for an eternity. Her parents, with their halting Russian accents, begged for her safe return.

That face eventually was featured on milk cartons so that her features were known to many more outside of the Louisville area. The search turned cold, the face began to appear less often. In time only on the anniversary of her disappearance the story was resurrected and speculation once again was the subject of conversations.

I was stunned along with the rest of our community. My daughter was only two years old the beginning of that summer. I would look at her and understand the horror that the Gotlib family was feeling for their lost daughter, Ann. Abductions and kidnapping happened SOMEWHERE ELSE. Not here, not to us. Not to one of our children!

Could it be that abductions and murder of random children was not reported to us? Or was the plight of Ann Gotlieb the first national "mystery" that gripped our nation?

Because they had no leads, there was no ransom note, there was nothing...nothing! that it was thought she had run away. Her parents vehemently refused to believe that their 12 year old child had left her beloved bike behind. They refused to give up.

Last week, 25 years later, the police broke the news that they had a suspect. And that the suspect had died in 2002 after being released from prison on a medical release. His crime had been assault against a 13 year old girl, also in the Louisville area. They were confident now, with the addition of some new information. Actually some very old information that had never delivered to them but held in the silence for 25 years.

Finally the missing piece of the puzzle. Finally the missing girl, which had gripped Louisville for so long, was explained, if not found.

I double they will ever find her tiny 12 year old body after all these years. The monster that killed her has left this world to meet his fate with God. Maybe all his victims will be standing along side as his eternal judgement is handed down to him.

As for Ann Gotlib's parents? They were offered an apology from the police force and the detecives that were working on the case. Maybe if they had tried harder.....

When I heard the news Thursday night I cried for Ann Gotlib. I cried for her family and I cried for the world that had changed so quickly and without warning that first summer night in 1983.

Monday, December 8, 2008


School gardens aren’t a new idea. Upscale Montessori and Waldorf classrooms have incorporated hands on learning for decades. But, until recently, you didn’t find very many school gardens in big city schools.

The path to this edible schoolyard starts in Berkley’s Chez Panisse restaurant. Co-founder Alice Waters is one of the pioneers in the use of fresh, local, in season ingredients. The restaurant models its offerings around the small French eateries with menus that reflect what was available in the local markets that morning.

Add a local middle school principal less than happy about a story in the local paper that quoted Ms Winter’s remarks about the appearance of grounds around his school and you get……fresh veggies. In 1993 Martin Luther King Middle School had nearly one thousand students from widely divergent economic and ethnic backgrounds. The school cafeteria was closed; it was too small. Students could buy microwaved or package items at a location in the parking lot. The school was nearly surrounded by blacktop.

The principal wrote Alice a note. She asked him to lunch. When the idea for the school garden was broached “she was already at step ten.” It took nearly two years but part of the black top has been replaced by a one acre organic garden. The students incorporate what they learn in the garden with their science, math and language classes.

The cafeteria has been renovated and is also a class room. The kids learn how to prepare what they’ve grown, cook it and serve it. Approximately one third of the schools students prepare and share what they’ve grown each week. They sit down at tables with tablecloths and flowers and share what they’ve prepared.

Along the way the students learn where their food comes from. Their garden is a little oasis in the city. They learn there is a cycle from worm to soil to food to the kitchen and back again.The kids even build simple fences and arbor type structures with their teachers. Each ninety minute garden class is followed the next day with journal entries. Many of the class room lessons are ecology based and may include studying the effects of pesticides, composting, or growing earthworms.

Link to Edible Schoolyard website. It includes information about the garden, lesson plans, and some recipes.

Cross posted in Walking With Hope.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Cottage has a new name, and I hope a new purpose. The reading I've been doing has introduced me to determined creative people who are working to save their little corners of the world one garden, one plant, one market, one craft at a time. They've given me a little hope and with luck maybe I can tell some of their stories. So I'm going to take a little walk with Hope.

Pixels will still be around as the general journal it started out to be.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fox Suggests How to Protect the Chickens…

So, on the front page of today's Oregonian was a little story about how the insurance industry wants to weigh in on the health-care crisis.

Their solution? Mandatory health insurance. Pass a law that every man, woman and family in America be required to purchase health insurance.


I can just picture the gaggle of avaricious brain trusts sitting around a conference table racking their brains for this one… "Hey! WE can help! All we have to do is make it so that everyone in the country HAS to buy our product!"

And what does the public get in return? A promise of equal access to decent health care? A promise that costs will be cut so that we can actually afford to purchase this mandatory health insurance?

Ummm….no. But hey…they DO promise to stop denying insurance coverage to folks with pre-existing conditions. With…uhhh… no guarantees that those folks will not have to pay MORE for their coverage because they might actually have to use it…

Somebody please tell me the Obama Administration will give this plan all the consideration it deserves…



Tuesday, December 2, 2008


So it’s official. The economy has been in a recession since last December. And the soon to be Former Occupant is “sorry” that things have come to such a ………..frankly words fail me. Actually they don’t fail me; but I’d have to make up cuss words to fit the occasion.

That said it’s a bloody miracle that I didn’t get laid off long before the Friday before Thanksgiving. You see the dealership where I hung my hat for nearly ten years not only sells cars but trailers and RV’s. The RV side has been slow since the fuel prices spiked but September was good for cars and then things basically stopped. I actually made to about the fourth round. At this point they’re just trying to survive until things turn around. The family owned Ford dealership just up the street closed a month ago. Luckily I’m among the forty odd percent of American eligible for unemployment.

My reading these past few weeks has included books like Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva and Hope’s Edge by Frances Lappe author of Diet for a Small Planet. Anyway I have this cockeyed idea. I’m not sure I’d call it a newsletter; collection might be a better word. I’d like to explore what’s happening with small scale local produce, sustainable farming, preservation of local crafts, herbs, plants, whatever. Do it in Word and pass it around on the net.

And since there’s a whole world of information I haven’t even heard of, would anyone else like to join me? I’d love to share this. We’ve got followers from all over the country. What’s happening with craft fairs, spinning, weaving, community gardens, the list is endless. You see I believe that what the nearly Former Occupant calls Democracy isn’t and what small groups around the world who are working to preserve their land, seeds and livelihoods is.

It’s said that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. There are little candles being lit in the most unlikely places. I want to search for them, and I’d love some company.

On Our Black Magic Economy

Here is the opening paragraph in Wikipedia's entry under "Economics:"

"Current economic models developed out of the broader field of political economy in the late 19th century, owing to a desire to use an empirical approach more akin to the physical sciences.[2] A definition that captures much of modern economics is that of Lionel Robbins in a 1932 essay: "the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."[3] Scarcity means that available resources are insufficient to satisfy all wants and needs. Absent scarcity and alternative uses of available resources, there is no economic problem. The subject thus defined involves the study of choices as they are affected by incentives and resources."

Okay…I am not a stupid woman. Perhaps I'm less educated than I would like to be, but I think my intelligence level is right up there. And I have no idea what any of that means. A couple of weeks ago, my landlord rather sheepishly confessed that he has a degree in Economics. "Geez, Brian," I groaned, "That's like having a degree in witchcraft."

From all that I can gather, I've come to the conclusion that economics is an infuriating concept which no one really understands, and upon which no two people seem to agree, yet it governs the relative ease or challenge of my daily existence. It can dictate whether I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and decent medical care when I need it, yet it is so ethereal that I have as much personal control over it as I do over spirits on The Other Side. There are words, like incantations, that only a privileged few are allowed to speak, and even those chosen few are loathe to utter them. Words like "recession," "slow-down," "correction," and the most powerful of all—the "Beetlejuice" of the economic lexicon—"depression."

Somewhere along the line, the decision was made that the best way to rebuild the economy after the September 11th terrorist attacks was to hand the whole smoking mess to the richest of the rich, promise a stream of unlimited profits pouring into their treasure chests, turn the other way and let them have at it. It was so vital that the United States be able to stand up, dust itself off and say to the world, "Ha-ha, didn't hurt!" that we sold our souls to the devil. And the economic witch doctors to whom we turned have conjured and chanted and eye-of-newt-ed us to the top-heavy, over-inflated monster that is even now falling down around our heads.

"Black Friday" is the aptly named holiday upon which we celebrate the apex of our greed-based economy. The traditional game of this holiday involves retailers dangling irresistibly priced carrots in front of frenzied customers, who must then jump through demoralizing hoops—like lining up in the middle of the night in the rain outside the local Wal-Mart. This is the reward we get for carrying the nation's economy on our backs, year-round, by dutifully streaming to the stores and trading a hefty portion of our income for the latest technology, newest toy, or flashiest bling. What is wrong with this picture?

In the past weeks, the demise of our black magic economic model has been the star of the global stage. The entire world has watched as our booming gaseous blimp of an economy has lumbered toward the same end as the Hindenberg. And it is to be hoped that any country in its right mind, rather than queuing up behind us to subscribe to the same system (and help bail our burning butts out of our flaming ship), will run screaming in the opposite direction. I have no idea what healthy national economies are supposed be based upon. But it's pretty obvious, for a whole host of reasons, that rampant consumerism isn't it. For the past seven years, we've built an economy based largely on lending large amounts of money that did not really exist to people and entities that were not likely to be able to pay it back. How can that not fail, in the end?

It seems to me that a healthy economy must first and foremost be a moral economy. There needs to be equal opportunity for all members of society regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, religion; fair wages for fair labor; an equal chance for any business—large or small—to succeed. There needs to be access to superior education, and the best health care must be considered an inalienable right. There needs to be a sense that enough is enough, and too much is never a good thing. There needs to be a sense of stewardship, of protection of the earth and its resources. There needs to be a spirit of service, of the necessity of doing things that help other people, and not just looking out for number one. In short, there needs to be a means to responsible sustainable growth, rather than rampant irresponsible expansion.

Change is always difficult. It is too easy to get into the middle of something that you come to realize is wrong, but you don't know how to get yourself out of it. Perhaps the Universe is doing us a favor with this economic crisis. It is giving us the opportunity to start over. Let us hope it isn't too late. Let us hope that the people taking over the reins now will be bright enough and far-sighted enough to build something meaningful and substantial that will carry us well into this century, and beyond.