Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The President's Gall Bladder

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had his gall bladder removed. After the surgery, he returned to the White House and held an informal press conference. When the reporters asked him how the operation went, he hoisted his shirt and showed them the stitches on his sagging middle-aged belly.

LBJ was a brilliant man, a master manipulator, hugely sympathetic, and very vulgar.

This was a famous photo at the time, and it changed the way we view our elected officials. LBJ destroyed a necessary barrier of privacy, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you have surgery, why hide the scars?

So, this summer, we were all delighted -- everyone but me -- to learn that President George Bush would be checking into Walter Reed Medical Center for a colonoscopy. All the newspapers proceeded to give full color illustrations of the whole procedure -- How wonderful, we all said -- except for me.

I think, personally, if the press and public had been told that the President had undergone a "routine medical procedure," that was all the information I needed to have.

I am not squeamish. I have worked as a nursing aide in a hospital and I have seen and cleaned up more nasty biological messes than you can imagination. I have been literally up to my elbows in corporal effluvia, and I don't mind at all. It's the truth. It's the job. It's what you do. It's how we take care of each other. But It's also a private matter, done under private circumstances.

Back to the President and the public. I only need to know if he's healthy or not. The rest is private.

I do not salute the courage of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate Senator John Edwards. She has revealed to the world her battle with breast cancer.

So? I do not know this woman. Our relationship is not personal, and I don't want to know about the intricacies of her lifelong struggle with death. I too face death, and might very well suffer a debilitating disease before I join the graveyard. I pray that the ones who love me stay by my side as it happens.

But I'm not going to make a TV show about it.

Think of the people who are qualified for public office, highly experienced and highly motivated, but they want to keep their private lives private. They don't want to hoist up their shirts to the world like LBJ did.

"Openness" should not be a requirement for public office.

Anyway, it all started in 1965 with LBJ's gall bladder.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wind Rocks the Ferry

We had quite a wind storm two weeks ago and the wind made it rough for this ferry coming across Puget Sound on the run from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island.

I love that name, Mukilteo, the accent is on the next to last syllables.

Items and Sightems:

* I was st the Skagit Valley Food Co-op this afternoon and all the women there looked beautiful.

* Gem is the LaConner librarian and that's her name. Her name used to be Melody, but she changed it to Gem.

* I had an hour-long discussion with a well-known local architect and Columnist Jim Smith while drinking coffee at the LaConner Produce Market today. This was after I visited the Co-op. Of course I reported to them about the beautiful women at the Co-op, and the architect, to my amazement, said the same thing -- that he had been at the Co-op this morning and had struck up a conversation with a woman of dazzling loveliness.

* This morning I spent 3 hours, in brilliant sunshine, climbing up and down a step ladder whilst trimming the climbing rose that entwines the barn. It's a fine old-fashioned rose with trunks as big as your wrist. It was three large wheelbarrow loads of clipping by the time I took it down to the winter bones. The old girl hadn't been pruned in ten years, so there was a lot of dead wood underneath this year's growth.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Else we would be Angels

My trailer by the barn is too small. It keeps warm inside, but I am only inches away from the cold. The main room is 8 feet by 12 feet -- too small.

It's very cozy and clean inside, with a well-appointed kitchen, and pleasant over head lights, and a nicely upholstered couch. I make coffee in an old-fashioned percolator and I listen to talk radio, using my remote control device to switch from one station to another.

But it's not very stable, being on tires and propped up on trailer jacks -- it rumbles slightly, like jello, when I walk from the couch down the corridor -- 15-feet -- to the bathroom at the far end. I'm wishing I was more rooted to the ground, like in a a cabin that was small but not tiny.

That's what I want. It's good to want things. It's desire that keeps us on earth -- else we would be angels

The Previous Post is Too Rednecky

I thought my previous post with a photo of Hank Williams might be too rednecky. I have a CD of Hank's Greatest Hits, which I enjoy, but than I get tired of that Alabama twang.

I also greatly admire the songs of Leonard Cohen, a Jew from Montreal who practices Buddhism in the mountains near Los Angeles. He might have seen the fires burning near the monastery where he often goes to pray and meditate. Then he would say something profound, such as "Fires burn, and burn again. The mountain is down in ashes."

The fire is real and terrible -- and a complex poetic metaphor as well. Cohen would love to see it, as much as seeing an ant walk across his knee.

And he would never say that Hank Williams music was too rednecky. He would say that he enjoyed listening to it, and that Hank's song have inspired his own work.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I can't help it if I'm still in love with you

"I can't Help it if I'm Still in Love with You" is one of Hank Williams' best songs. I can play it on the guitar and sing it quite well in a meaningful way. Nobody likes the way I play the guitar or the way I sing, so mostly I just pick away at it in my lonesome trailer out by the barn.

Maybe I ought to have my own place, I thought today, instead of doing chores for people in the big house, and maybe I will have my own place in a few years, and my own dog, and my own garden. It'll be just like those old drifters in "Of Mice and Men." except I won't have any rabbits.

I'm reading a book about the author John Cheever, written by his daughter Susan Cheever. It's called "Home Before Dark."

Cheever had little success as a writer until his first novel was published when he was past 50-years-old. Then he made a lot of money and bought a fine house.

But before that, when Susan, the daughter, was growing up, the Cheevers lived in a series of rental houses, and Susan suspected that her father never really wanted to own property. He was happy enough to look at green meadows and dewy dawns wherever he happened to me.

I know about that. I owned my own house a few years ago. Owned it free and clear. Didn't owe the bank a nickel. Had complete Sovereignty over my own small territory. And that was fine, but when my marriage fell apart and I sold the place, I didn't miss it too bad, and I don't feel too lowly about being a caretaker on someone else's farm -- except once in a while I feel a little blue....

but I'm liable to feel a little blue about almost anything.

President Bush arrives on Air Force One -- and California is so Grateful

President flew into California on Air Force One today -- to everyone's immense relief. "We are so grateful that the President has arrived, be cause he'll know what to do," said one exhausted firefighter in the burnt hills of San Diego.

Although some of Bush's critics claim that the President is actually the cause of recent natural disasters, he neverthless brings a lot of experience to the job. "I did it to Baghdad, I did it to New Orleans, and now I'm going to do it to you folks in the Golden State," he said before a bank of microphones at the airport.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Santa Ana wind improves Malibu surfing

I called my sister in Los Angeles this morning. "We are surrounded by tragedy," she said, describing the ring of fire in the hills around Los Angeles and San Diego. "But it's weird too, because the wind isn't blowing here at all in Venice, just a brown haze in the sky from the smoke of the fires."

My sister lives in Venice, near the beach and 8 miles from the nearest fire at Malibu Canyon. The Santa Ana wind blows hot and dry every autumn.The humidity drops to almost zero and the ultra-dry wind makes everyone a little crazy, whether there is a fire or not.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have described one beneficial aspect to this fierce offshore wind. The hot wind comes over the mountains and on to the ocean, and stirs up the water, causing colder, nutrient-rich water to rise to the surface -- it makes more food for the fishes, in other words.

Another good effect of the Santa Ana wind, is that it shapes the waves nicely at Malibu Point, one of the best and most famous surfing spots in Southern California.

During the peak of the wild fires yesterday, I cruised the Internet and tuned into the Surf Cam that is trained on the Malibu Point break. It was fine. There were only a half dozen surfers on the water yesterday, when there would usually be more than 50.

So, wild fire or not, when the surf is up, you gotta go.

I'm not being glib about the massive destruction of these terrible fires. I am just pointing out that surfing is the soul and essence of Southern California culture.

I have spent many delightful hours sitting on the sand at Malibu, watching them ride the waves. And someday, with a little help and a little coaxing, I'll get out there myself.

That's why I checked the Surf Cam at the height of the disaster -- Now I know everything will be all right again.

The surfing photo was taken at Malibu in 1949. They used really big boards back then.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ideal conditions for a huge fire in Los Angeles

A very wet winter in the Mountains of Los Angeles spurs the growth of abundant wild flowers and grass, and creates basically a huge pile of fuel. Then the following winter has no rain at all and all the fuel gets tinder dry -- just like what happened the past 2 years in LA -- a recipe for disaster, and now it's burning down from Malibu to San Diego.

I love that Southern California region, the beaches and the dusty trails through the brush, and the incredibly expensive homes in Malibu.

It's not really a disaster. It's natural, and the longer any hillside or canyon goes without a fire, then the bigger the fire will be when it comes.

Homes can be rebuilt. Firefighters should not risk their lives to save buildings.

In any event, the winter rains that everyone now prays for will sweep down barren hillsides and block more highways with raving-red-brown mudslides.

And then next spring all the mountains and hills will sprout emerald green again.

The point is -- Los Angeles is not where it is for a reason. There is no practical basis for the existence of that vast metropolis, except for the unceasing ability of the native peoples there to defy and ignore reality.

So, Keep on surfin' -- because the world already came to an end.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jim Bertolino, re-nouned poet, and Anita Boyle emerging

Jim Bertolino is a re-nouned poet. That is, Bertolino began life as a noun, but took the pose of an adjective as young man. Finding this adjectival status to be somewhat derivative, Bertolino underwent the difficult and not always successful procedure of re-nouning.

I am happy to report that Bertolino is quite happy these days, living as a re-nouned poet, no longer the object of scorn or controversy.

"I am much more myself than I have ever been," he said, last August, whilst sipping a beer in a lawn chair. He was in deep settlement with his living partner, Anita Boyle, both seated in lawn chairs, next to the Frog Pond, which adorns her property, a horse-riven farm on the Mount Baker Road outside of Bellingham. One can't see the big highway from the little frog pond. One can only see, or more often, hear the frogs.

Anita, an emerging poet, parsed that status for me. "You see, Frog Freddy, I had been for many years a merged poet, even, at times, a sub-merged poet. I did not know my own strength. Yet I threw off the shackles that bound me."

I was so glad to hear this about Anita. I too was sipping a beer by the frog-riven pond. She continued, "In Latin, the word emerge comes from the Latin verb ex-mergere, which means to become unjoined, or even to mean becoming unglued. Therefore, and upon researching this, I, like a mayfly on a trout stream, emerged."

With all three lawn chairs established that summer evening, we drank more beer until it became too dark to hear the frogs.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Full Disclosure has little to do with Honesty

I had a dream last night. I was hitchhiking through South Texas and I got arrested -- it was only a night in jail. None the worse for wear, I got on my way the next morning.

In real life, I traveled through Texas in 1967 -- my very first time -- hitchhiking with my college buddy, Mark Mikolas. We went on down to Mexico City and then to Oaxaca -- but we never got arrested in Texas.

I have other places to write about my private concerns, which is why you don't hear about them in this blog. I keep a journal, full of dreams, daily jottings and self pity. The journal is about one yard wide, counting all the volumes over 20 years. I have never re-read it -- too embarrassing, even when I am by myself.

I also belong to an Internet Forum which is semi-private, and it costs me $25 per year to participate in this moderated discussion. This is another outlet for personal concerns. I recommend it highly because I can post something in the nature of private turmoil without the whole world watching.

I am strongly opposed to the confessional writing and the wanton indulgence of self-expression that is so common today. Please remember this -- NO ONE WANTS TO KNOW.

Telling one and all the gritty details of your personal mess has nothing to do with honesty. It's a fake, it's called full disclosure and it's wrong. It is far more the real truth and the real loving kindness to be careful about what you say and careful about who hears it.

Spilling the beans requires no effort and has little to do with the courage of telling the truth.

Friday, October 19, 2007

When the King of Sweden Came to Kansas

Who can for get that wonderful day when King Carl XVI of Sweden came to Lindsborg, Kansas in 1976. That's him on the left receiving a bouquet of flower from a little Kansas girl. And that's him on the right, as he looks today.

King Carl, like me, was born in 1946, and, also like me, he visited Lindsborg, Kansas, but I got there a few months after his trip, and they didn't bring me flowers.

What happened is my International Pickup, truly the worst vehicle I ever owned, broke down on the verge of Lindsborg, and I was forced to a camp ground on the nearby Smoky Hill River.

What could I do? I was broke, I had to get a job. Thankfully, Lindsborg was a wonderfully tidy town founded by Swedish immigrants -- that would explain the King's visit -- so they had a factory to provide employment.

The factory made aluminum windows for the booming housing market in Wichita, 40 miles down the road.

I got a job at that factory, on the assembly line, cutting glass to fit into the window frames. I had to work very fast to keep up with the line. An empty aluminum frame would come by on the belt. I would grab it and place it on a table, I would then grab a pane of glass, place it over the frame, make two quick cuts with a glass cutter, drop the glass into the frame, and then put it back on the moving belt. I broke a lot of glass, but they didn't care as long as I worked really fast.

And it was awful hot, over 100 degrees every day -- that's August in Kansas.

It wasn't any plan of mine to live in Lindsborg but, as I said, my truck broke down, and it wasn't a bad place.

We rented an apartment in the alley in back of a Swedish bakery which smelled like cinnamon.

Those Swedes really know how to take care of themselves. They had a program of complete independence, with graceful amenities and cleanliness -- a four-year liberal arts college, a beautiful park with a summer bandstand, a grand municipal swimming pool, and their own power plant to provide their own electricity.

It was an agricultural center as well, but you would expect that in Kansas. Then there was the factory -- to get those kinds of jobs.

On top of all that, they had removed all the buildings from the Swedish Exhibit at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904.They re-established these historic buildings in a city park, and made it a tourist attraction.

And then the King of Sweden came, to visit all his Swedish-American children.

King Carl went back to Sweden to resume his normal job of handing out the Nobel Prizes. I left Lindsborg a few months later, I got my pickup repaired, I had a little money by then -- I got really tired of working on the assembly line at the aluminum window factory, but it was a good town. At least I had the luck to break down in the right places.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anahuac, Texas -- a quiet, swampy kind of place

Anahuac is one of the oldest towns in Texas, and one of the few towns to have a Mexican name as opposed to a Spanish name. "Anahuac" was also the name of the ancient Aztec capital.

The people of Anahuac got lucky because progress passed them by a long time ago. You can see the lights of Houston a way on the other side of Trinity Bay, but Anahuac is just a quiet, sleepy town, surrounded by rice fields, and verging on great fishing water in the bays and sloughs.

Bird watchers come to Anahuac from all over America to see the fall and spring migrations. Anybody with sense stays away in the summer because it's awful hot and humid.

I lived there in 1986 for only a few months, but I cherish the memory.

Ron Paul wants the federal gov't. out of health care, Froma Harrop says otherwise

I endorse two inconsistent positions on health care. One, I support Ron Paul for President. He is an obstetrician from Texas, representing a Congressional district in the hot, swampy Gulf Coast region, including the blissful town of Anahuac, where I once lived, in 1986. Be that as it may, he takes a conservative view that the federal gov't. should not get involved with health care because they will do it badly. He says that the more complicated the issue is, the more it needs to be locally decided. Being a strict constitutionalist, Dr. Paul has no objection to state solutions to health care.

I also support columnist Froma Harrop's appeal for universal national health care, as she describes it in the column in the previous post.

I suppose these two views are inconsistent, so what I mean is, one way or the other, let get 'er done.

And no, I don't care what they do in any other country. They can do whatever they want in Canada and in Europe. The solution to American health problems will never be imported, it has to be home-grown and grass roots.

Best on Health Care

Froma Harrop's column in the Seattle Times today is the best I have seen on the necessity of universal health care.

"Really, how did American workers become the last people in any industrialized democracy to be subject to such anxiety about paying for medical care? They already fund the health care of retirees, the poor, the disabled, convicts and government employees, including members of Congress. Their taxes pay for everyone's health care except their own."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Farming in the Skagit Flats

The Skagit River tumbles out of the Cascade Mountains and then creates a broad, fertile delta -- that's where I live, on the Skagit flats -- best farm land in the country, put a broom stick in the ground and it will sprout, dig half way to China and you won't find a rock.

Not all that rosy, we are at ten feet above sea level and surrounded by dikes -- it has flooded here a few times.

But then again, floods go away and leave the soil a bit richer.

In late October the farmers are still out in the fields. The Roozen family is planting tulips, we're talking about hundred of acres of tulips, not your small garden, but on a commercial scale, so they haul out bulbs by the truckload and load them into the planter, and put them in the ground -- The tulips will bloom in glorious color next April.

They're still harvesting potatoes. The potato harvest stretches out over two months because there is no hurry -- Potatoes can sit in the ground all winter and it won't hurt them a bit. This give the potato farmer the luxury of not having to work around the clock to get a crop in -- he can even knock off for bad weather.

The wheat planted last month in our field on Beaver Marsh Road is almost 3 inches tall. It will grow a little bit more and then just sit there all winter -- not growing in the winter, but ready to take off first thing next spring.

They planted wheat across the road from us just last week, so I guess it's not too late for that.

And, I suspect, but need to ask questions in order to confirm -- that the farmers are planting a lot more wheat around here this year. Could be that $9 a bushel price for wheat on the futures market -- more than double what it was last year.

Swinomish Slough

It was flood tide on Swinomish Slough this morning. It's called Swinomish Channel these days because the Army Corps of Engineers keeps it dredged and even large vessels can traverse the channel at low tide.

But I would help the government save money -- don't bother to dredge the channel. In my plan, you leave the channel the way it is and it turns back into a slough, with the tide sloshing in and out twice a day. Large and small vessels make the passage through the channel because it's a sheltered route instead of facing the open water of Rosario Strait, which can be stormy in the winter.

But we don't need to make the large annual expense of keeping it dredged. What you do, instead, if you have a big boat -- and this is a dramatic discovery I am sharing with the world now -- is WAIT FOR HIGH TIDE.

It sounds too simple to be true, but in fact the tide changes as regular as clockwork, and if you come to either entrance to the channel and the tide is low, then by golly, all you gotta do is wait six hours, and the water will rise just like magic.

I'm going to send a telegram today to the Corps of Engineers and fill them in on this new plan.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


When I was a small boy, my mother scolded me for shoving food in my mouth. She said, "Don't eat like a starving Armenian." I had no idea who those people were, but now I know. And now I realize that my Mother, born in 1914, grew up with real stories and images of the terribly suffering inflected on the Armenians by the Turks.

When I lived in Boston, I often drove through Watertown, the focus of the New England's Armenian culture. I never studied this group, I only stopped in Watertown to get lamb kebabs on pita bread -- they really know how to cook lamb, and the restaurant was always packed.

Comes now a resolution before Congress to condemn and name the Genocide against the Armenians by the Turkish government. I oppose this resolution for two reasons -- because there is no justice for historic crimes. When the survivors and the perpetrators have both perished, justice is finished and the historic study begins. Even the Jewish Holocaust will soon become history as well. This is my own standard, to only go back so far.

If the Turks are condemned for their crime in 1915 and afterward, then we might go back ten years earlier and condemn the British for their internment of Afrikaaners in the Boer War in South Africa.

This lesser known atrocity marked the invention of the 20th century concentration camp. The British regular army was combating a rag tag band of crafty guerillas, fighting on horseback calvary. The British had the firepower, but the Boers knew the land and hid everywhere.

So the British invented a new tactic. They stopped attacking the Boer irregulars, but instead went to the Boer farms and villages and rounded up all the women and children, many tens of thousands, and herded them into barbed wire enclosures with little food or shelter and poor sanitation. Some 27,000 women and children were said to have died in those camps.

This was not a major crime, by 20th century standards, but do we forget it? No, but when we remember what the British did to the Boers, then we need to go back further and remember what the Boers did to the Zulus, Xhosas and other South African tribes. How far back do we go?

We shall not forget the Armenian Genocide. But we are past the time of justice or apology.

The second reason I oppose the Congressional resolution against the Turks is that we ought to concentrate our energy on opposing the crimes of today. It is important to defend the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey today. Their lives and their freedom are at risk -- this is where we ought to stand on principle.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come

In Iowa, where Corn is King, a Midwestern Renaissance is upon us, and it will save the nation.

In the movie, "Field Of Dreams," there was a memorable line, "If you build it, they will come." and there was a haunting image of a baseball diamond carved out of an Iowa cornfield.

The field is still there, located outside of Dubuque, where the movie was filmed. The house in the photo was and still is a private residence, but the family that lives there has continued to welcome hundreds of tourists every year.

I was last in Dubuque in the winter of 1996, one of many trips I have made to that Mississippi River town, where red-brick buildings that pre-date the Civil War still line the waterfront.

Corn is shipped in barge loads, down the river, down to New Orleans, outbound on ships to a hungry world, but it begins here, in Iowa.

What we are seeing today is another beginning, because they are building something new in Iowa, not a Field of Dreams, but 28 corn-fed ethanol plants scattered all over the state.

Here's from the Economist: "YOU might think that the opening of a new ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa—a town of 6,700 in the centre of the state—would be of interest mainly to the local farmers who supply the corn that the factory turns to car fuel. You would be wrong. Investors in the refinery include the person who delivers fuel to it, a couple of local parts-suppliers for John Deere (a big farm-equipment company) and the local school-bus driver, among 900 or so other small investors. Like many others in the corn belt, the Nevada refinery is seen as a way for the whole rural community to thrive by exploiting America's new craving for ethanol and the corn (maize) that is being used to make it."

Local people own it. Sure, Archer Daniel Midland and other huge agri-businesses own some refineries, but most of them are owned by small farmers and their neighbors.

Corn is at a record price. And people throughout rural Iowa are making some good money now. There is no more deserving group in America.

And if they are smart, they will grow these small towns in a diversified way, first taking the left-over corn mash from the ethanol distillery and using it to feed cattle, then collecting the manure from the cattle feed lots and producing more fuel, and then establishing slaughter facilities for the ripened cattle, and gaining dairy products from the dairy cows also feeding near the corn-fuel plant.

And enough money is flowing into those rural towns right now, that every farmer in the state will be buying a new pickup. But if they are smart, they will make long-term decisions that benefit their communities -- like funding a new public library, or building a swimming pool at the high school, or building parks and sweet meadows for tourists.

Remember that the Corn Belt, that broad band across the middle of America, going from Nebraska, across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and to Ohio -- coincides with the manufacturing center of our country, and what used to be our most powerful economic generator -- John Deere plants in Iowa, Caterpillar plants in Illinois, and a broad swath of steel mills from Chicago to Pittsburg.

And that is all known now as the Rust Belt, as our economy changed to a service orientation, and the power of this region diminished.

But it rises again, thanks to the mighty power of corn and ethanol. Ethanol, a subsidized and imperfect solution to energy problems, is serving as a catalyst for economic and cultural growth in the Midwest.

For too long this country has been dominated by trendy air-heads from California, entwined with neurotic academics from the Boston-Washington Corridor, and bitterly fought by intransigent, thick-skulled Southerners and all this time, these past 20 and 30 years, the Midwest has remained self-effacing, saying "We're not much," in a courteous tone.

But it's changing now, the climate has changed, the impetus is arising in the center of the country, and the people of the Midwest will now speak up Up, and they will now make more sense, and speak with more truth and more kindness, and more certainty.

This is going to be good. It all begins with Corn, and if they build it in Iowa, the rest of us will come to them, if not in person, then in spirit, with eyes and ears opened, to discuss solutions to America's problems, and the Renaissance in Iowa will save the nation.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Notes on a culture

President: Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is stylish. Afghan men wear cool hats, turbans, cloaks, daggers, and masculine jewelery -- they would put any LA steet rapper to shame. It's definitely the bong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is also a pretty sharp dresser. We should have never invaded Iraq, and since we did, we should never have let Rumsfeld design the strategy -- but he did look good in a suit.

** Conceptual artist Bobby Vilinksy, featured in a post several days ago, will be hosting a show at his Waltham, Massachusetts studio. It will be a group show in this cooperatively shared space. Waltham, a suburb of Boston, was one of the first industrial cities in America. In the early 19th century textile mills, powered by dams on the Charles River, employed thousands of men and women in Waltham.

The old brick buildings are still there and Vilinsky works in one of them. In a few days, Frog Hospital will post photos of his art, so stay tuned.

** Al Gore jumped in line again. If a Nobel Peace Prize is given to a man who has worked to save and improve the environment, it should have gone to agricultural essayist Wendell Berry. Berry's work -- his written words and his small farm in Kentucky -- form a true and wholesome integrity. In the Jewish prayer book, it says, "Blessed is He who says and does..." --- that's Wendell Berry. Compared to him, Al Gore is just another grandstander.

** However, Al Gore would have made a better President than George Bush. Of course, that's easy to say -- you could pick a name out of the phone book and find a better President than Bush.

** The Salvation of the Nation will come from Iowa. Read all about the "Corn Renaissance" in the next post.

October is the most beautiful month

October is the most beautiful month. The weather is good almost everywhere in the country. You can go camping and sleep well in the crisp air. Frost has killed most of the bugs.

Of the four seasons, autumn is the only with a home -- New England. It was created there. Pictures of pretty leaves -- that's not it. The visual splendor is the lesser joy. It's the air itself that breathes magic. And if you're lucky to be in New England now, I'm happy for you.

It's pretty nice here in the Skagit Valley too, so we can't complain. Even Southern California has been blessed with a rare October rain -- my brother Tom called from Pasadena to say that the grass was growing there.

On Beaver Marsh Road, we are still gathering potatoes left over in the field after the harvester has passed through. I have about 200 pounds in a big pile by the barn. They store better unwashed, I have learned. I clean them up in five-pound batches, making a nice gift for friends.

Gleaning is not just for poor people anymore, because there are literally tons of potatoes out there for anyone who cares to gather them, and the farmers readily give permission for this traditional activity.

I don't give a hoot about global warming, but you might think about all the energy required to grow these potatoes -- come on out and get some spuds and earn your carbon credits.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One Harebrained Scheme after another

My life is about one harebrained scheme after another. Nothing ever turns out right for me because I have global dyslexia.

In my journey these past few years from here to Ohio, to Texas, and to California, I have lived in tents and lived in mansions -- but nothing really happened. And I haven't exactly risen up in the world -- it seems I mostly move sideways.

It looks like I am right back where I started from -- with this one very large improvement, because I no longer live in the insular, incestuous village of LaConner (pop. 800) but enjoy the spacious air out on Beaver Marsh Road, among farm-fields.

Out here, I am not aggravated and do not return the the favor. It's better. I visit LaConner almost every day. It's only five miles away, but, if you may have noticed, I write nothing about the town in this blog.

The petty feuds bore me, the arts are not interesting, there is a ban on music and dancing -- not an official ban -- but I only see the dullness of older people sitting on oak benches besides potted geraniums. There is simply nothing to write about in LaConner.

Maybe that's good, because it's still a great town for raising children, and nothing else matters nearly as much.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Picking onions

Re: Immigrants, legal and illegal.

Nice people, but too many. Any large population shift is inherently unstable.

Also, I am angry that there are other people in this country with false papers. I keep papers in my wallet, SS card, drivers license, etc. It has always been a pain for me to keep this ID up to date, because I have moved around so much. But I am who I say I am, and I am not willing to share this country with somebody who can't live up to that standard.

There is no historic crime which we need to explain or apologize for -- this is our country, and we get to decide who comes in and who doesn't. It's the same thing in Mexico - try getting into Mexico if you don't have any money -- they won't let you in, and they don't have to. In fact they don't even need a reason, and neither do we.

So, build a fence, send out the National Guard, deport a bunch of people, and then hopefully, the message will get down to Latin America and elsewhere that the U.S. is closed for the time being.

We should have limited immigration in the early 20th century before the Klu Klux Klan nativist reaction set in, ending immigration entirely for the next 50 years and contributing to the dull conformity of the 1950s.

Immigration should be "governed" like the governor on an engine, never too fast and never too slow.

So, nice people, send 'em back where they came from.

And the farmers can rot. They say they will go out of business if they can't hire cheap labor, but they love the superiority of watching campesinos bending over in their fields. And American consumers can stop acting so spoiled. If we want onions, then we either pick them ourselves, or pay decent wages to some one else to pick them for us -- or we just don't get any onions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

From New Jersey to Boston

Artist Bobby Vilinsky has traveled the world from New Jersey to Boston....I just wrote that because it sounds funny. Bobby is a good friend of mine and he has seen many things in many places, but it is true that he grew up in New Jersey and has spent most of his adult life in Boston.

Not Boston -- Cambridge. Local neighborhoods count quite a bit in New England. Cambridge -- anybody who lives there will tell you -- is on the other side of the Charles River from Boston and quite a different town.

Then, people in Cambridge will want to know in what part of Cambridge does one live -- certain neighborhoods have their peculiarities.

Bobby Vilinsky, depicted here, in a handsome and appealing portrait, used to live near Central Square in Cambridge, but now he lives almost midway between Harvard Square and Central Square and partakes of both, or neither.

More importantly, his apartment comes with a parking space for his Honda Civic, plus he can walk to either Harvard Square or to Central Square and descend to the Red Line subway, which will take him in to Boston if, for example, he wanted to visit the Museum of Fine Art, or go to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.

Bobby has had his art displayed at the Museum of Fine Art, an august circumstance which has not gone to his head. Bobby is the same old friendly fellow I have always known.

I would display a photo of his art, but it is conceptual, often three-dimensional, and does not reproduce well on this flat screen. But I think a photo of the artist himself works quite well. Bobby has a strong smile and it comes easily.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Mind is not "Open."

Ambiguity is essential -- it's the sign of a growing mind. Internal ambiguity is a reflection of the outward contradictions we observe. It is not necessarily our goal to resolved disparate views -- a large mind has room for many things.

John Kerry -- I didn't like him but for one quality - his deep, unresolved conflict about the War in Viet Nam. He wanted to serve, he wanted to be a hero, and that's why he earned his medals. Then he threw them away, because the whole war was a bitch. Decades later, Kerry's mental state is still ambivalent about that conflict -- in that sense he represents a large number of American men.

On another note, I will no longer use the term "open mind." I use the term "growing mind" and "large mind." Openness, being open, is one of our new faux virtues. My mind is not open. My mind has boundaries, barriers, walls, portals, gates, and doors. My mind has visiting hours, but I run the joint, and not every notion is welcome.

In support of that resolve, I have included an image of the famous slogan from the Revolutionary War, "Don't Tread on Me."

Quoting this slogan in a meaningful way, as it applies to myself, and as it also applies to our national defense, should not be read as any endorsement of President Bush's wildly irresponsible invasion of Iraq.

Monday, October 08, 2007

It's so Silly

You can de-construct Columbus Day all you want, but I am sticking with the original version by Samuel Elliott Morrison in his book Christopher Columbus, the Voyage of Discovery 1492. Morrison seems to think that Columbus was one of the outstanding navigators of all time -- but what does Morrison know? He's just old, stupid, and dead.

Frog Hospital mocks all the nonsensical historical revision going on about Christopher Columbus with the following satiric post.

Christopher Columbus was a Very Bad Man

Let us revile the memory of this supposed Discoverer. Let us question the sanity of our foreparents who made this day a holiday. For Christopher Columbus was a very bad man, his crimes innumerable, and his vices legion.

He was a pronounced Catholic bigot with no respect for other religious traditions, counting Moslems as heretics, and Native Americans as devil worshipping heathens.

He was in league with the supreme anti-Semites of his day, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who sponsored his brutal voyage of conquest and cruelty. The Spanish monarchs had only recently expelled all Moslems from the Iberian Peninsula, and were about to launch the Inquisition, to torture, evict, or convert the Jews who had lived in Spain for centuries.

Christopher Columbus was also a male chauvinist and despicable sexist. Staffing, "manning," he would have said, his three vessels, he insisted that not a single female be recruited, going so far as to say, with no apology, that it was bad luck to have a woman on board.

As leader of this pestilential fleet, Columbus assumed dictatorial powers, never once consulting his crew, or even his mates, but making all decisions himself. There was no vote, there was no consensus. To disobey the orders of this tyrant meant the lash.

Furthermore, besides being a bad man, Columbus was profoundly stupid. Discoverer? Pah! He was lost. he thought he was in China.

It is important to mention these crimes, alongside with his well-known role as enslaver and killer of Native American peoples.

We, his descendents, especially those of us from Italy, where Columbus was born, can only consider ourselves to be the evil spawn of this malignant monster.

It is entirely appropriate that this most awful day in human history, October 12, be a day of mourning, ashes and weeping.

It was all wrong, and everything that happened since then was wrong -- truly there is an Original Sin, but it was not Adam and Eve, but Christopher Columbus, who destroyed the Garden of Eden that was once America.

(Only we need to call it something else besides America, which comes from the name of a self-promoting mapmaker, Amerigo Vespucci -- another one of those damned Italians.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Power Couples -- and Powerless Couples

The pre-eminent power couple in the land is Bill and Hillary Clinton. I so strongly wish they would retire -- don't they have a ranch somewhere? like the Reagans did, or like George Bush does -- I can't wait for him to retire too.

I will not vote for Hillary, and I very much hope she is not elected -- primarily because "they" will return to the White House. The Clintons are addicted to supreme power and they can't let go.

In the new "classless" America, since we destroyed the middle class -- and I regret to say that I had a major role to play in that destruction -- but in the new order, we have power couples -- such as Bill and Hillary -- he's a lawyer and ex-President, she's a lawyer and US Senator.

And every power couple is matched by a powerless couple, call them Ted and Beatrice. Beatrice works swing shift at a convenience store, and Ted works construction, which used to pay well before illegal immigration trashed that occupation.

But Bill and Hillary are just folks, not the kind to put on airs -- I'm not being ironic here -- they truly do not act fancy. But they are all about power, keeping it and wielding it.

The Owens family could use more power, so could our fictional Ted and Beatrice, and we will attain more power, by opposing the Clintons.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Battle of the Sexes

Frog Hospital reviews the battle of the sexes, choosing archetypal couples from the 1950s, 1960s, and the present day. Scrolls down to the next three posts for photos of the couples, plus commentary.

George Burns's squarely fitted suit, careful hair, and strong, balanced cigar speak of confidence in himself and love for his wife, Gracie Allen. His gravitas balances her dancing spirit. She has the string of pearls and he has the last word.

Richard Burton's craggy, pockmarked, rugged features, and brassy-baritone voice are a wonderful contrast to violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor. She of the busom and you know they're real. And he, fearless, daring, moving towards her, never looking back. Did they feed off the enormous energy of the 1960s -- or did they create it?

The last couple hardly compares. Angelina Jolie is far too dominant. Men, where is our champion?

The Reign of the She-Goddess

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are not a couple. She's a queen and he is an accessory. She is beautiful, and he is merely good-looking. She is powerful, he is a doormat. Her power is unique -- unless it represents the triumph of womankind.

Angelina went to Namibia to give birth. It was significant that she chose pre-patriarchal Africa, and dropped a veil of secrecy around an act watched by the whole world.

As for Brad Pitt, well, he doesn't have much to do or say.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

"Liz and Dick." It was a match made in heaven -- or hell -- hard to tell. They fought, drank, loved, and threw furniture across three continents -- a titanic struggle. Elizabeth Taylor stole Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds and chewed him up for a light snack before lunch -- what a tigress!

But she met her match in Richard Burton, the bellowing, brawling Welshman. She could not out-drink, out-talk, out-act, or out-fight him, and she loved him more than anything.

And it was the death of both of them.

Burns & Allen -- Old TV is better than New TV

Look at the body language in this photo. Who's the boss? Who's in charge? George and Gracie are in the battle of the sexes. Love, equality, justice, fate -- it's all there.

And they look so good, such very nice clothes. Her hair is pretty and his suit is smart. She has the string of pearls, round gems of the ocean. He has the cigar, brown, burnt, and frankly phallic.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The New Moon is Coming

We're having the last quarter of the old moon right now, and we'll get a new moon on October 11. The new moon is a tiny little sliver in the sunset sky. And it will grow and grow and become a full moon two weeks after that -- at least I'm pretty sure it will. I mean it always has done that -- start out with a new sliver and grow into a big round luscent ball. The moon being one of those things you can count on.

The moon governs the tides. Here where I am on the farm, a few miles from saltwater, and the flood tide will back up the sloughs almost to the farm. Because the moon moves the water. I don't know how the moon moves the water, but I am sure that it does. At least that's what everybody says.

The great thing about the moon is that there is so little to argue about.

The Image is the cover page of Nancy Passmore's Lunar Calendar. She is the guiding spirit behind this important tool -- you hang the calendar on your kitchen wall and you only have to look at it to see where the moon is going to be. It's nice to know this kind of thing -- you can even tell your friends, "Hey, head's up -- we gotta New Moon on October 11."

Nancy works out of a small office in Jamaica Plain in Boston. You can get one of her lunar calendars at Luna Press.

Watermelons are supposed to have seeds

Watermelons are supposed to have seeds. The color scheme is a perfection of nature, from the green of the rind, to the white of the inner rind, to the red of the meat, and then the essence -- the black seed.

The green synmbolizes life. The White stands for purity. The red is our carnal nature and what is substantial, and Black of the seed is the most important color of all, for it is the key. Black for death, because it all comes to an end, but Black also for the fertility of the earth, and the black seed will grow and make more watermelons.

Seeing the seed, spitting it out, or picking it out with finger or fork, or watching it slide in watermelon juice across the kitchen table -- now that's a melon.

Eating a watermelon is about getting INVOLVED, you gotta tuck in and be one with the juicy abundance of America's biggest and most luscious fruit.

And so, I speak with rare authority and finality, but a seedless watermelon is an abomination. It marks the corruption and convenience of American life -- the squandering of important resources to produce a sterile (seedless) phony version of the real thing. You wanna know what's wrong with this country? I'll tell you -- seedless watermelonds.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Helen Hawes lives in Vermont now

Her daughter Kathleen and my daughter Eva were best friends in high school, so they decided to fix us up -- Helen and me. It was a memorable date -- at the S&S Delicatessen, at Inman Square in Cambridge Massachusetts. The S & S is a local landmark, always full, good food, nice prices -- the right place to go for a get acquainted date.

It was not too awkward, getting fixed up by our daughters. We had a nice time and split the check.

Basically, we became friends and helped raise those two girls together. We both lived in Cambridge at that time -- I had an apartment on Blakeslee Street near Fresh Pond. Helen owned a two-apartment town house on Line Street -- called Line Street because it formed the boundary with Somerville.

She was a successful artist. I was "a good enough writer to be bad at everything else."

AND -- this is key -- living in this busy, tense urban environment, neither of us ever locked our doors. Seriously -- I never locked my door, day or night. My two teenage kids didn't even have the keys -- the door was just always open. And Helen was the same way. When I went to her house, I just pushed open the door a little bit and hollered.

That was ten years ago. The kids grew up. I moved back to the West Coast, and Helen sold her townhouse in Cambridge. She lives in Vermont now.

Air Traffic Safety Improves -- Unnoticed Good News

In a wonderful announcement of good news that did not make the front page of most daily newspapers, the Federal Aviation Authority announced a 65 percent reduction in fatalities since 1996. That's a very impressive improvement, and we ought to feel un-cynically happy about this.

You will be treated like sardines in a can, your luggage will be lost, and the "on time arrival" is a fantasy -- that's the bad news. The good news is that you get to live. When you add it all up, I'd rather lose my luggage than get killed in a plane crash.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Barn on Beaver Marsh Road

I live here, near these fields of tulips. The Roozen family grows many acres of tulips just down the road from my house. The tulips blossom in April and this is a very pretty sight. The Roozens dig up the bulbs in late summer to sell to gardeners all over the world. Last year the Roozens grew ten acres of irises in the field next to our place -- pale blue and very fine, the irises bloom in May.

The barn is 100 years old. They used to store hay in the big room upstairs. You can still see the hooks and pulleys they used to hoist it up there. Then the cows lived on the ground floor, and had there hay ready to eat all winter.

My "house" is a small trailer next to the barn. I have it parked on the north side, in the lee of the barn, because the south wind blows pretty strong out here in the winter. I'm the caretaker on this property -- it ain't hard work, not like I've done for other people, but the owners like me to keep an eye on things.

Glenn, Wayne, and Al Gore

The next three posts profile the lives of three men. Glenn Johnson has a serious and commited life, dedicated to organic farming and the wise and spare use of energy. He is bursting with ideas and energy but he has failed to get his message across to the public, despite his attempts to run for office and write pamphlets. I have tried to help him improve his communication skills, but the results are not favorable. Suffice it to say that Glenn is an unrecognized genius.

George Bush, the current occupant of the White House talks conservatively but spends money like Donald Trump's wife. And one says of conservative philosophy -- maybe we ought to actually do it, and find out if it works. It has worked in LaConner. Wayne Everton,the mayor of this small town of 800 souls, is the first conservative I have ever met who actually governs conservatively -- would there were more. He does not do what he wants, but only does what needs to be done. Wayne's views on the wise use of energy are quite contrary to Glenn Johnson's. Let's just say that Wayne is more of a high-octane guy. But he has the virtue of consistency.

Our third man is Al Gore, who talks about the conservation of natural resources but lives pretty high on the food chain. Al, you gotta walk the walk to get my respect.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Attacked by a Mouse

[Photo: Glenn and Charlotte Johnson celebrate another good harvest of tall, sweet organic corn at Mother Flight Farm, on Fir Island, in the Skagit Valley.]

Glenn Johnson is not a pacifist. "If I was ever attacked by a mouse, I would defend myself, no question," he said.

Glenn farms 40 acres of choice bottom land on Fir Island, organically. No pesticides or herbicides, and he hasn't used them in 15 years. So he has to use his wits to outwit the field mice that live on his farm (or he lives on their farm, as the mice no doubt believe).

"I finally figured out how stop the mice from eating the squash. I do that by planting beets and squash together, a row of beets, then a row of squash."

Glenn showed me where the mice nibble the squash. "The little buggers don't eat the squash, they just take a little bite out of each one, then the next one, and the next, always leaving these little scars on the squash and then I can't sell them. But the mice would rather eat the beets, because their softer."

He showed me where the mice ate the beet – it was more than half eaten. So they eat the whole beet, but just one, and leave the rest alone, and stay away from the squash.

Yes, Glenn has to be thinking every day out there in the field, always working on a strategy, always carefully guarding his ultra-thin profit margin. You have to be smart to be a farmer.

Glenn has run for public office several times, but has not yet gotten elected. His political stance is straightforward He says that if he is elected President he will run the country just the way he runs his small organic farm. He will defend himself as a last resort, if the mice ever stage an armed attack, but mainly he will simply work to his own advantage, figuring that he can outsmart a rodent six days out of seven.

Al Gore is Scaring Little Children

Al Gore, former Vice-president and almost winner in 2000, has made a slide show that goes round the world, scaring little children with his doomsday, secular apocalypse of collapsing glaciers and rising sea levels. He has hijacked an important scientific discussion for the sake of his own tarnished glory. The man is a fraud.

I can only compare him to myself. I made a serious commitment to reduce my carbon foot print in 1969, almost forty years ago, although we didn't call it that back then. Nevertheless, I have accumulated a massive amount of carbon credits since that year -- in terms of energy not used, cars not driven, electricity conserved, and so forth. The Owens family has lived lightly on the planet for decades, while the Gore family has squandered and spent with hypocritical abandon.

And yet Gore has the nerve, with his slide show, to assume the leadership of something he has had little part in building.

I mention my own example as one who has made a lifetime of conserving natural resources -- there are thousands of people like me -- and we can all take a little credit.

But we lack Gore's showmanship.

All I can is that I wish Gore a future of simple obscurity -- it would do him and the world a lot of good.