Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wayne's World in LaConner

Wayne Everton is the Mayor of LaConner. He's pushing 80, or past it, raised a Mormon in Utah, but never looked back, served in the Navy during WWII -- the big one. Married Beverly, raised a family and published weekly shoppers in the Bay area -- made a good living at that.

Wayne retired from publishing 25 years ago and moved up to LaConner. He and Beverly operated a bread and breakfast for a while -- too much work. Wayne was also active in local Republican politics. He was outspoken in his views and encountered the opposition that comes with speaking your mind.

Wayne has cherished his enemies ever since -- or, to put it another way, pretty much the same people in LaConner have always been mad at him.

Wayne has done a great job as Mayor of LaConner these past four years. First, because he didn't screw anything up. Second, because he runs a tight, quick meeting. Third, although he has always favored the Moore-Clark development and never disguised his views on that ongoing conflict, he did not abuse the office of Mayor in pursuit of that goal. Fourth because he solved problems as they arose -- like renewing the contract with the Skagit County Sheriff to provide police protection in LaConner.

The Sheriff wanted to stick the town of LaConner with a huge increase in the contract fee, but Wayne took a tough stance and worked it back down to a reasonable amount.

Wayne didn't take this personally, but the Sheriff just wanted too much money and Wayne wouldn't let him have it.

Wayne has many friends in LaConner, including me. I have enjoined numerous interesting arguments with him, sometimes over a glass of white wine.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Schlitt goes to Ann Arbor

David Schlitt grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. He attended Columbia University and studied Yiddish. I met him in Columbus, Ohio where we both worked very hard on the John Kerry campaign -- worked hard, but lost, and I have been highly critical of the Democratic machinery ever since, but one of the good things I got out of my two months in Ohio was forming a friendship with David.

After the campaign, he went to Washington DC and worked for pennies for some Jewish non-profit, then he lived in New York for a while, but just this year he has enrolled in graduate studies, history, at the University of Michigan.

Possibly, David has a compelling need to return to the Midwest -- to spend a few years away from coastal trends.

No Health Care like Canada

Canada has a national health care system and we don't. While I have often wished we had such a system in the US, we have to consider the essential character of these two distinct societies.

Canadians are nicer than we are. Canadian are more willing to wait patiently in line. They are less rambunctious, less aggressive, and not quite as noisy as we are.

I'm looking at the American character and realizing that we have to have something entirely different. I'm not sure what that is, but I just know that the Canadian system won't fly down here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Leslie, Elaine, and Arch

What follows are three posts about three individuals from different parts of the country, all vitally interested in public affairs, and not really in any kind of agreement.

But the underlying link is that Leslie, Elaine, and Arch are all good friends of mine, so they must have something in common with each other.

In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I would easily put the three of them in charge of the whole shebang country, because the people who are running things now are not very good.

Leslie Burg in New England

Leslie Burg is running for a second term as Alderman-at-Large in Newton, Massachusetts. Newton is a large, leafy, affluent suburb of Boston, and I used to live there in 1993-95. Leslie was my friend and neighbor. I did some work on her garden -- reconstituting her special bed of irises and figuring out a way for her beloved dogs to co-exist nicely with her nice flowers in the same backyard.

When my daughter, Eva decided to home-school herself instead of going to high school, Leslie acted as a mentor and helped Eva complete her high school studies and go in to a very good college.

Leslie recently retired from a career as a professor of education at Northeastern University in Boston. She studied sculpture for a while and made some nice pieces, but that wasn't enough. So she plunged into local politics -- What, is she crazy?

Whatever, she got elected, and mastered the complexities of the Comprehensive Plan and all those dreadful committee meetings. You couldn't PAY me enough to do that kind of work. But this is a public service that Leslie does and she seems to be thriving.

I read her statement on her campaign website and wished it were a little more candid and informal. But I can tell you that even in real life Leslie is more circumspect than I am.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Elaine Kolodziej Speaks

Elaine Kolodziej publishes the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas. The Wilson County News is, without a doubt, the very best weekly newspaper in Texas and also, in many ways, better than most daily newspapers.

Her editorial, about whether the President of Iran should have been invited to speak at Columbia University this week, stirred up a vigorous discussion among her readers. Here it is:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is clueless if he expected to visit the United States, lay a wreath at Ground Zero, and not upset the American people.

Or, is he? Perhaps we are the ones who are clueless based on how Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York City this week is being handled by the press and by Columbia University. While we in America have come to expect such nonsense from the United Nations and CBS, shouldn’t the line be drawn when it comes to a leading U.S. university extending a civil invitation to one who declares he will wipe Israel from the face of the earth?

As the host country for the U.N. headquarters, Americans have learned to hold their collective noses at activities hosted by the United Nations. Allowing Ahmadinejad into the United States to visit the United Nations is bad enough, but inviting him to address a leading U.S. university is another matter.

Ahmadinejad said in a CBS interview during his trip to the United States that “of course” he is against any killing or any terrorist activity!

I didn’t hear the entire interview, but did they ask Ahmadinejad how exactly Iran is going to carry out its vow to “wipe Israel off the map” being that he is so opposed to killing and terrorism? Why was CBS interviewing him anyway? Did they ask about Iran’s policy toward women? Or its intolerance of gays?

Was he asked about his ties to al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and to the militants (politically correct term for terrorists because we want to be sensitive to Ahmadinejad) in Iraq? Was he asked about the bold military display in Iran on Saturday just before he left for the United States? (Among other things, the parade featured trucks hauling Iranian missiles painted with slogans such as “Down with the U.S.” and “Down with Israel.”)

Were the tough questions asked either by CBS or by students at Columbia University where Ahmadinejad had gone to participate in a forum?

Said one supporter of Columbia University’s decision to invite the Iranian leader: “It never hurts to be cordial and if nothing else, take an opportunity to get to know your enemy.”

Said Ahmadinejad, in so many words, on CBS when asked about Iranian weapons being found in Iraq, “Who do you want to believe? Me or Bush?”

So much for good faith.

Regardless of the questions asked, just allowing this man, who thinks nothing of boldly asking for our destruction and then “wanting to show respect,” to visit is a win for Ahmadinejad.

Assuming any tough questions do get asked, just his presence in a respected American university will make for great propaganda television back in his home country.

And one more point about the open-mindedness and dedication to free speech at Columbia University: This is the same esteemed organization that kicked out the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) years ago, and just recently denied a visit from the leader of the Minutemen, the vigilante group dedicated to protecting the borders since the government seems not to be doing it.

The United States finds itself in a predicament because of its policy of blindly following politically correct speech. It’s my contention that there is a basic difference between free speech and politically correct speech, and we no longer know the difference. - One Opinion

"Arch" speaks his mind

Alan Archibald, a teacher from North Carolina, gets set off by my statement that Israel is very likely to destroy Iran's nuclear capability before it becomes usable.

Here is what he says:

Although Israel does have better intel than the United States, it is also more paranoid.

I can not imagine Iran nuking Israel.

There is not a nation on earth that doesn't assume Washington will OBLITERATE any polity that nukes Israel.

When Ahmadinejad talks about the destruction of Israel, he may envision -- as Ariel Sharon himself did -- that demographics are very much against Israel's survival while simultaneously favoring Palestinian “absorption” of Israel.

In terms of Palestine's ancient history, the day is not distant when Israel will become Palestinian due to changing demographics within Israel.

My sister's friend Dana used to perform "live" interpretation at the United Nations. Decades ago, Dana informed Janet that U.S. press coverage of Kruschov's proclamation “We will bury you” was substantively inaccurate. The more accurate translation would have been "We will leave you in the dust."

Israel, like many economically-developed countries is not replacing its population.

Although such reproductive shrinkage has evident downside effects concerning support for a large number of retirees and the need for lots of imported labor to service the burgeoning retiree population, it is also true that when societies fail to replace themselves a profound ennui takes root which does not bode well for future vitality.

Israel's greatest existential threat is that Israelis are not willing to have enough children.

I encourage you to listen to "Voice of Dissent" in which Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji supplies a view that diverges greatly – and very intelligently -- from the "official story" of Washington-Israel. Clearly, Ganji is NO friend of the mullahs. However, he also sees that military action against Iran is the worst imaginable tactic.

Although there is plenty of blame to go around, on balance the Israelis perpetrate more violence on Palestinians than vice versa.

More fundamentally, I do not honor modern Israel's territorial claim to Palestine, and therefore do not prioritize Israel’s "existential" concern.

The statute of limitations ran out sometime between the Diaspora in 70 A.D. and the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

Any American who thinks otherwise should support the return of the United States to Native American Tribes whose expropriation began in 1620 and ended in 1890. (Arguably the Seminoles “held out” – as did southern Quintana Roo Mayans -- til the 20th century.



Just give Florida back.


Give it back.

As for recent Israeli belligerence, Olmert's war on Lebanon was an act of barbaric savagery.

I continue to wonder: “Where are the four Israeli soldiers whose "rescue" motivated the war - a war whose substantive outcome is that Arabs everywhere know that Israel is now beatable (except for her nukes).

As we will hopefully learn in Iraq, firepower is most persuasive when used as a threat and not as enacted policy.

Pax on both houses,


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gleaning Potatoes

The First Annual Beaver Marsh Road "As God as my Witness, I'll Never Go Hungry Again" Potato Gleaning Jamboree will be held Saturday September 29, at 11 a.m. All are welcome. Bring gunnysacks and buckets. Many hundreds of pounds of yellow Finn and red potatoes have been overlooked by the mechanical harvester -- and they are yours courtesy of the landowner, who has given permission for the gleaning. It's an old custom -- you can get a winter's supply of potatos in a few hours. Otherwise the potatos will rot and go to waste.

Come to Beaver Marsh Road, one-half mile north of McLean Road -- you'll see us out in the field.

Willie and Joe

Willi and Joe were my favorite guys when I was a kid. We had a copy of the cartoons by Bill Mauldin in a book called "Up Front."

I never went to the war or to the Army -- it was Viet Nam -- but I always wanted to dig holes like Willie and Joe did, and tramp around in the mud. Maybe that's why I became a landscaper. Man, I have shovelled enough dirt to fill a cathedral

Monday, September 24, 2007

Not Iran, but Michael Hood from LaConner

Iran -- no problem. If Iran develops a nuclear capability, Israel will take it out. Iran's bomb will be aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel knows this, and has much better intelligence than the US has, and also has the means and determination to destroy an Iranian nuclear threat. Therefore, let them. The US doesn't need to get involved.

Having said that, let's go back to 1979. Shouldn't we have backed up the Shah more vigorously? He was your average, brutal, corrupt Middle Eastern dictator, but he was on our side. Ideally, we should have propped him up, while nurturing the nascent professional middle class in Iran which strives, then and now, for Western-style democratic customs.

BLOG BUSINESS. Many old FROG HOSPITAL newsletter readers do not like this blog. I can only say that they will continue to receive the newsletter, and they are right to say to hell with blogs.

BLATHERWATCH. LaConner's own Michael Hood, father of Milo, ex of Rose, is doing well down in Seattle with his BlatherWatch Blog -- insider media gossip. He does that semi-erotic thing where he tells you a little bit about who's zooming who at certain Seattle radio stations. You get the impression that Hood knows a lot more than he is telling. That's the tease.

He also gets the Seattle zeitgeist -- I know I don't. I'm down in Seattle once or twice a month, and I really like going there, but I haven't got a clue. Actually I don't even care. Seattle is an expensive adult playground. It's claim to be progressive is laughable. There's no children -- Seattle has the second lowest children per capita in the country -- San Francisco is first, of course. There can be no progress, no matter how you define it, without children.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rexville Store -- the Koreans might buy it

Stuart and Joyce Welch have operated the Rexville Store, between LaConner and Mount Vernon, for eight years, but they are looking to sell it.

They built the business up very nicely and everybody loves going there, but 12 hour days, seven days a week got to be a bit too much after all these years, so a for sale sign got pounded into the ground in the gravel parking lot.

I hope they can sell it for a lot of money, and all cash -- they deserve every penny and may they take a long trip to somewhere else and maybe send us a postcard. They gave us so much, we can only be grateful and wish them the best.

So, I want to firmly counter any criticism of the Welches should they decide to sell it to the Koreans, who happen to own most of the other small grocery stores in this area.

For one thing, I like the Koreans, they are excellent merchants. It's true that they can be a little stiff in their presentation, and not too much of that "Hey, how are you doing?" like you get from Stuart and Joyce. The Koreans actually are friendly people, just a little shy and a little formal.

Anyway, the idea that the Welches owe the community anything -- like selling the business to the kind of people we want -- that is repellent.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Support the Skagitonians

Support Skagitonians Dedicated to the Genteel Decline of Agriculture in Our Valley. The annual Skagitonians banquet is being held this very night, a big fundraiser -- a sold out affair, according to Stuart Welch of Rexville who has rented a tuxedo and will serve as M.C. for the festivities.

People support this group because --- I could never figure that out -- because they have nice posters and good art. It's a public relations thing. Skagitonians makes farmers look good. But it seems much simpler to me because my notion of agriculture is not romantic. Farmers keep farming if they make money. If they don't make money, they stop farming. All those guys you see out there farming are making money.

For myself, I sometimes support agriculture -- when it supports me. Last month I worked for a farmer near LaConner for one week, planting cabbages. I got paid -- that's what I like about agriculture.

If you're not really interested in farming, but if you want to feel good about it, then you should support Skagitonians and buy one of their posters.

Truce with the Co-op

I became critical of the Co-op management when they wouldn't hire my African wife to work in the Deli -- they said her English wasn't good enough. She was hired shortly afterward at another deli, where they thought here English WAS good enough. This disturbed me. I began to look into the history and structure of the Food Co-op, which is now a successful natural food business with millions in sales and dozen of employees who earn good wages and have decent benefits.

I voiced my criticisms and was met with shocked silence by other Co-op members who, almost unanimously, feel that the Co-op is simply too good and beyond any reproach.

What could I do? Wage a one man war? Forget that. Instead I resigned my membership and absolved myself of any responsibility. I sit now in the Deli enjoying a delicious bowl of oatmeal. I often meet my friends here when I shop.

But, I still notice, have always suspected, not just here, but at other natural food businesses, a disturbing Aryan quality.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Photo by Tara Nelson

Photo by Tara Nelson, one of the really sharp minds in journalism these days. Tara took this photo -- of me -- at the Fishtown Revival and Clambake down in Seattle last night. The survivors, aging artists who once built alder wood fires, huddling over darkened stoves, in small cabins out on the Skagit River, gathered once more to drink a toast to the glorious past of "never was."

It never happened -- those moonlit nights, quiet paddling canoes, and the song of birds. Fishtown was only a dream.

The exhibit of the Fishtown artists, including work by Robert Sund, Charlie Krafft, Bill Slater and several others, is at Kobo in the Higo Gallery in the International District.

Why Ron Paul?

Ron Paul -- I like him better as a person than anyone else. I never liked John Kerry -- no one else did either. Also, the big parties kind of run things from the top down -- I would have no chance of input. I had no input on Kerry's campaign, and I would not have any input for Obama et al.

Paul is quite a steady fellow, not the angry type, a doctor, ob/gyn, not originally from Texas and does not have the accent, age 70 -- a good role model for a 61-year-old like me.

This is also a matter of self-preservation. Call me paranoid, but Hillary is going to purge the ranks when she takes over -- deviant liberal males will be put through harsh self-criticism routines. I have made more than a few intemperate remarks myself -- nothing on the scale of Don Imus -- but when I saw what happened to him, I figured I would be next, except that I am protected by my insignificance.

Nevertheless, acting on this fear, I am running for cover with the Paul people -- all the kooks in America are joining up here -- I might even feel normal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm going to support Ron Paul for President. He's not one of those angry shouters -- he actually seems like a very kind man. Paul is not some crazed athletic overachiever -- just vigorous. In other words, he acts his age -- 70.

I am examining his positions on various issues -- but agreeing with him is hardly the point. That is not how I make a decision on who to support. Mainly, I think I could have an honest conversation with Dr. Paul. and if we had that conversation we would understand each other. Agreeing is always nice, of course.

But the whole work of politics is working with people you don't agree with

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Charlie Krafft at Fishtown, about thirty years ago. Fishtown was torn down in 1988 -- just a bunch of old shacks out on the river. It's gone now, and it doesn't matter.

The Cabbage Gang

First, a comment about "climate change." The phrase is redundant. Climate and change mean practically the same thing. That's why we call it "the weather."

Which is something that farmers understand. I have a friend who farms outside of LaConner, and being short of help, he asked me to work for him last week to plant the cabbage seed crop.

Many thousands of cabbage seeds had been carefully, mechanically deposited into hundred of trays in late July to begin the crop. By mid-August the little plants were 3-4 inches tall with several light-green leaves -- ready to go into the field.

The seedling trays are loaded on to trucks and carried out to fields in various parts of the Skagit Valley for transplanting.

The transplanter, powered by hydraulic hoses, is carried behind a medium-size tractor. Two field hands ride on the transplanter and take the plants from the trays and drop them into a tube, which goes down to the ground, where a small furrow has been made. The transplanter squirts a bit of water and then smooths the soil around the seedling as it moves down the field at the pace of a slow walk.

Another field hand walks behind the transplanter. His job is to poke little plants into holes which may have been missed, or to straighten them out a bit, if they are planted sideways or upside down, as sometimes happens.

All the cabbage seedling trays are carefully labeled, according to type, and whether they are designated male or female. The boy cabbage seedlings get blue tags, and the girls have pink tags.

Every variety must be placed in a separate field to prevent one kind from breeding with another. It's very complicated, and the farmer, who organizes all this, sometimes tears his hair out with frustration if the wrong tray gets sent to the wrong field.

This is a seed crop. The seedlings will mature into youthful cabbages by late fall, and then go dormant through the winter. In early spring, they will grow again, but, because this is their second season, the cabbages will not turn into cabbage heads, the kind we eat, but will grow into 4-foot bushes with creamy-yellow flowers in the merry month of May.

The plants continue to mature and produce seed pods, which are harvested in July. These seeds will be cleaned, sorted, and sold to farmers all over the world and we will all have plenty of cabbages for kole slaw and kim chee and sauerkraut.

The farmer I worked for is a first-rate fellow and, as hard as we worked, there were plenty of jokes and songs and stories among the crew. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I also found it, at age 61, exhausting. My co-workers were all under the age of 30 and none the worst for wear. But I made a joke about it. "Soy viejo y mi espalda se duele," I sang out, as we walked across the dusty field, "I am old and my back hurts."

I was the only one who spoke English. No matter, I can speak country Spanish pretty well, by which I mean that country people from Mexico are very tolerant of mangled Spanish. It makes them laugh. So I began to make up nonsense songs, like, "Yo no puedo cantar, porque no se las palabras, la-la-la, la-la-la." That means, "I can't sing because I don't know the words, and la-la-la, and la-la-la."

Singing made me feel less tired. Fairly soon I was getting requests from the two ladies on the crew. I dug into my repertoire of Tejano music -- the Hispanic music from Texas -- especially the great soulful songs of Freddie Fender, who died last year.

Surprisingly, they had never heard of Freddie Fender. I guess not, because they were from Cuernavaca, a pretty little town near to Mexico City and they have a different kind of music down there.

"Pero yo conosco Cuernavaca, hace muchos anos," I said. "I know Cuernavaca, I was there many years ago."

Then they said, "Are you married." No. "Why not?" Mala suerte -- bad luck, I answered.

So it went, hour after hour, down the row, turn the tractor, down the next row. Stop at the water tank and fill the tractor again. Wait for the truck to bring out more seedling trays from the greenhouse. Take a longer break when the hydraulic hose snapped a coupler and needed repair.

Looking at the sky, it was not hot, but it was full sun and glaring in the wide field. I had taken off my flannel shirt as it got warmer. But I could feel the sun bearing down hard and sapping my strength. So I put my flannel shirt back on and rolled down the sleeves. I tied a cotton kerchief around my neck, and I put on my sunglasses. This made me more comfortable.

Later, I asked the tractor driver, "Que le gusta mas, una flaca o una mujer gordita?" Which do you like better, a skinny woman or a fat woman? This got a lot of laughs. The tractor driver said he preferred the fat ones. Whether he was telling the truth or being diplomatic, I couldn't say.

So the day passed and the week went by. I wasn't able to return to the fields the following week because of obligations in my landscaping work -- but I'm glad I did it, and I got paid, and I'd like to go again sometime.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Third Street in downtown Floresville, the county seat of Wilson County. Looks like a pretty quiet place. I worked there for 18 months at the weekly newspaper. I like to look at this photo because everything is so calm and quiet.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fred Owens

I worked as the farm and ranch editor of the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas -- they took this picture of me, smiling at my desk.

I left Texas earlier this year and returned to the Seattle area.

learning to blog

I invented the e-mail newsletter as a format in 1998 -- at least nobody told me there was such a thing until I thought it up myself. What I did was just start sending out a mass e-mail to myself with everybody else in BCC. It was clumsy then because I had to send them out in packets of 100 or less. That would take an hour or so, if it went well. But it cost nothing -- that was the beauty of it, and I actually made money because I sold subscriptions for $25, and took in as much as $2,000 per annum -- writing 25 issues per year. I made it clear that people could stay on the list whether they paid or not -- but I still got the checks.

I wrote on a variety of topics, about half of them political. The length was 1,200 words. I put in a zinger in the last paragraph to see how many people made it to the end. The letter was widely forwarded, so I figured I had about 500+ readers.

My politics were all over the place. I often wished I could be like Molly Ivins -- She made a good living with a well-known and established target -- fat cat Republicans -- never ran short of material, and her faithful lib readers knew she would never turn her critical gaze on them. Molly was safe and warm -- I often wished I could be like her, because Frog Hospital would be more marketable.

But my habit was to fire in all directions and no one was safe -- there are so many idiots out there across the political spectrum.

This was a great hindrance to growth, and I did not know how to fix it.

In an effort to be part of the team, I journeyed to Columbus Ohio in 2004 and spent two months working on the staff for John Kerry. I stayed on message the whole time -- a test of self-discipline, and something I will never do again. The motherfuckers lost. I was working for idiots. I could have won Ohio -- or at least they might have just once asked me what I thought. The campaign was run by lawyers from Mass and wannabe trendoids from California. Actual Ohio people served as drones. No wonder they lost.

A year later I went to South Texas and worked as a reporter for a large and very excellent weekly newspaper near San Antonio. My boss was a very conservative woman who had the guts to hire me. She paid me all right. She even solicited my opinion from time to time. I could not agree with her politics and yet I was well-treated -- got used to teenagers calling me Sir. I specialized in writing the farm and ranch news -- it was fun visiting cowboys and farmers and they loved my stories.

But it was a bit isolating in that small Texas town -- more than a bit isolating -- so I came back here.

I still like politics, but I have no home. Meanwhile Frog Hospital is languishing in the e-mail newsletter format. Revenue is down. Everybody has moved to the blogs. I am trying to get the hang of blogs, but I remain a bit bewildered by the format.