Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

It snowed two days ago in the Skagit Valley. The roads are still ice-covered because we have no snowplows or trucks to spread sand on the slippery stretches. It's very cold at night and the snow will not melt until next week. We've been starting the fire in the wood stove first thing in the morning, to keep the frost out. It's not like real winter back in the Midwest, but it's cold enough for me.

BUNKY THE BALD EAGLE. I call him Bunky. He perches at the top of the cottonwood in back of our house on Fir Island. He only recently got kicked out of his mama's nest -- has those mottled juvenile feathers. The adult bald eagles look like they own the country, with a commanding predator's glare. But Bunky looks lost, "Mom?.... Mom?.... Where's the food?....What am I supposed to do?" Bunky is perched up there in the cottonwood, all alone in the world now, looking into a lean winter before he figures out that he has to get his own dinner.

HE'S SERBIAN. Illinois Governor Blagojevitch is neither corrupt nor insane, he's Serbian. Chicago has a large Eastern European contingent -- Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Slovaks, etc., and they are aware of the ethnic distinctions. Serbia was that country that Pres. Clinton bombed back to Bejesus after they invaded Kosovo. They also started World War I at Sarajevo, in Serbia, and now we have this Governor, the most famous Serbian-American in the country. But his name will be forgotten by next week. As they say, in Chicago, to the rest of the country "What's it to you?... It's not your state and it's not your tax money."

Of course it does reflect a bit on our new President, as the nation slowly realizes that Obama is the brains and the style, but Mayor Dailey is the muscle. It took muscle to kick that cowboy out of the White House -- just being right and asking nicely won't get you anything.

TAKE IT BACK. But another event in Chicago will become an important date in American history, December 5, the day when the workers at the window factory in Chicago decided to take it back. They were laid off with only three days notice, more than 200 workers, many with more than ten years experience -- no severance pay, no accrued vacation pay, just "get out."

But they didn't just clean out their lockers and go home -- they refused to leave the premises until they got paid. They began a six-day occupation of the window factory, until all the politicians, and reporters, and bankers, and owners came by to hear their story. Their calm determination prevailed, and they got their back pay.

And did those workers win because they deserved it? Because they were right? No, they prevailed because they seized the premises -- an illustration of muscle effectively deployed on behalf of labor.

I am just astounded by this act of labor militancy, because it marks a turning point. Labor has been meek and subnmissive since another famous date in American history, August 3, 1981, when President Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for going on strike. Eleven thousand he fired, with a stroke of his pen, and ever since that date 27 years ago American workers have cowered while Reagan spoke about a city shining on a hill. Reagan's shining city exists, but most of us don't get to live there. Instead we bought his promise, "If we all work for less money, the nation will prosper" .... ? .... Reagan said it with such a nice smile, that many of us believed him, and many of us got confused. "Okay, I get it, I'll get rich if I just work harder for less money" ..... but that doesn't actually make sense.....

UNLESS you live in Alabama. Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, was the leading voice in oppostion to the Detroit bailout. Alabama is the home of cheap labor. Their state motto is "Dirt Poor and Proud of it."

Alabama gave America slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, sharecropping, mule plowing, George Wallace, the Klu Klux Klan, corn pone, fat back, pellagra and tuberculosis, and six different flavors of chewing tobacco.

That's all I need to know about the bailout. Think what you will about Mayor Dailey and the Big Three automakers -- but people got paid well. I don't want to live in Senator Shelby's cheap labor world, do you?

So, I will close with a wonderful, moving song, sung by Mahalia Jackson, often considered the finest gospel singer who ever lived. Her voice, with its infinite power and grace, represents that best of life of Chicago. Even her life story illustrates the story. Mahalia was born and raised in New Orleans, but she came north, as so many other Southerners did, black and white, to escape grinding poverty, because they could get factory jobs in Chicago, and the jobs paid so much better than picking cotton. Mahalia Jackson came north to freedom. Listen to her music. Listen to "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We're Not Like That

I was reading about the scandal in Illinois and how Governor Blogo was arrested for selling favors. Like many Washingtonians I was shocked at the depth of corruption coming out of Chicago. I am so glad that we're not like that here.

Take our Governor, Christian Gregoire -- she is an angel of the highest ethical standards. It's true that the tribal casinos made substantial contributions to her campaign fund, but does that grant them any special access? Of course not, Gregoire doesn't even return their phone calls.

Bud Norris, the mayor of Mount Vernon, is so careful not to do any favors for his friends that he doesn't even HAVE friends.

Our Skagit County Commissioners are utterly beyond any attempt at influence. It's true that they sometimes play golf with local business leaders. And it's true that those same business leaders might benefit from zoning changes, but of course those subjects are not discussed. Our commissioners simply cannot be bought.

No, we're not like those crooks in Chicago and thank goodness for that. We can trust our local leaders. In Skagit County, we pay our property taxes with the complete assurance that every penny will be honestly allocated.

CHOLERA IN ZIMBABWE. Go to Google, type in "cholera AND Zimbabwe" then select Images -- you will see some very disturbing photos. They are still able to bury the bodies, but if it gets worse, you will soon see photos of dead families lying in the road.

THE NAKED NEWS. The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times have gone bankrupt. I report the demise of the Mainstream Media with some glee. I have never made a penny from those idiots. There are a number of prominent editors and publishers who enjoy reading Frog Hospital and occasionally I ask them for paying work. They always reply in the negative and say they can't use my kind of writing -- although it's my independent spirit that causes the biggest problem.

What you see in this blog is not news writing, and I don't claim it to be -- but I can write the news as good as anybody in America. So, yes, I watch the big papers go down with grim satisfaction -- knowing that I could help them if they asked, knowing that if they hired more people like me they would not be in such a jam.

EMPTY STOREFRONTS IN LACONNER. Business is way down in LaConner, in part because of the national economic slowdown, but also because LaConner has become one of the most boring towns on the West Coast. Visitors get a huge dose of "Been There, Done That," and they stop coming back.

HEALTH CARE IN CANADA. National health care in Canada is a good thing, and we need to have something like that here in the US, except the part about waiting in line. It's a matter of national character. I lived in Canada for five years as a young man, and I discovered that Canadians are simply more polite and patient than Americans. Therefore, in devising a better health care plan for America, we need to take into account our rambunctious, ornery nature and design the system accordingly. Waiting in line? Can't do that here.

FROG HOSPITAL HEADQUARTERS. We've had computer problems at Frog Hospital, my ancient ( 4-years-old ! ) laptop is wheezing and giving off ozone odors plus I had some problems with the mailing list, plus the hospital work is exhausting me -- all that slowed things down. But we're still here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I favor government-paid equal health care for all Americans. Full-tilt socialized medicine — that's what I want -- completely free at the point of service — and that includes all dental work and vision care. I believe that every useless bum in the country should receive health care as good as you or I get.

I'm a nursing aide at a local hospital — I don't discriminate between "worthy" and "unworthy" people when it comes to health care. We get some real losers here, with medical problems that are almost entirely their own fault — and yet we give them the same quality of care that we give to your grandmother. And, if you have insurance, part of your insurance fee is the money we use to pay for the health care of some of these useless bums. It's a weird system we have now.

I also believe that people should be fully accountable for their behavior -- I believe there is a time and place for judgment, but not at the hospital, and not at the doctor's office.

It is appalling to me, to drive by a doctor's office and realize that I would be turned away from that same office if I did not have money or insurance. The receptionist would hem and haw and make apologies, but it still comes down to, "If you don't have the money, you ain't gettin' in to see the doctor."

Now, many doctors deplore this situation, but they are also good at shielding themselves from it -- which is why the receptionist, not the doctor, tells you to go away -- if you were to be so bold as to ask for treatment.

However, most of us are well-trained and we do not make those demands on individual medical practitioners. But maybe we should?

In the Skagit Valley, if you don't have money, you will be directed to the SeaMar clinic in Mount Vernon, and you can get in to see the doctor for $20, if you have $20.If you don't have $20, you can go to the emergency room at the hospital.

WHAT TO EXPECT. The dreadful economic climate effects hospitals just like every place else. More people will be coming to the emergency room this winter with ailments that could be easily treated in a doctor's office, and the treatment of these ailments will take up the valuable time of emergency physicians and nurses who are trained to handle far more serious problems.

So, demand on hospital services will increase, but income from paying customers will decline. Insurance companies will pay off more slowly, co-payments from individuals will be bargained downward. State medicaid payments will be reduced. Hospitals will be in a squeeze. Expansions plans will delayed. Purchases of new and better equipment will be postponed. Non-essential services will be pared back.

How would you like it, if you worked at a hospital, and some administrator deemed your job to be non-essential? Man, that hurts.

But we'll get through it.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS. I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I went to work Thursday night and the nursing staff brought all kinds of delicious food to the break room, where a banquet was spread on the table. Good food and overtime pay -- we were all thankful for that.

On Friday, I went to a friend's house for a leftover feast. They had such a big gang at their house for Thanksgiving, that the party was will going on Friday night. And the food was fabulous -- like a white cake with lemon/coconut frosting.

One of the guests was a Lutheran minister, for 32 years he has been a pastor at a church on Beacon Hill in Seattle.

He introduced himself as Victor, but his pastoral vocation came out in the conversation later.

He was wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt, and we talked about that with a shared enthusiasm. He said to me, "Do you have high expectations?"

I was taken aback by that difficult question, and I stumbled before I answered, in this way, "Yes, I have high expectation for Barack Obama as President. But if I have high expectations for him, I must also have high expectation for myself."

Did I get that right? Do we all have high expectations? Don't answer too quickly.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Breeds of livestock

Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and swine -- hundreds of photos and breed histories from all over the world. You will be surprised at the variety -- lots of fun, hosted by Oklahoma State University.

I'm looking for a comprehensive poultry site -- if anybody knows of one. I've had chickens before and I've liked them -- entertaining and not too much trouble.

I had a goat once, but I came home one day to find her standing on the kitchen table. Anybody who has ever had goats will believe that story. I realized that I just wasn't smart enough to keep a goat.

Peonies -- I could not locate a good peony slide show on the Internet, but there are lots of websites hosted by plant nurseries. My mother had peonies in the backyard near the gate to the alley. Just three or four plants, but they bloomed every June, and they lasted for almost fifty years. At least they were still growing when mom died and we sold the house in 1996.

When I was a kid, among other chores, Mom had me cover the peonies and the base of the rose bushes with leaves from the oak tree. I did that every fall. That was back in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The ground freezes hard as rock in the Midwest, but the leaves protect roses and peonies from a January thaw and sudden re-freeze.

I recommend viewing the horses and peonies whenever the news gets to be too much. It is good to stay informed, but not good to be obsessive, which is why we say "If you can't help, don't watch."

This is a self-imposed rule for my work at the hospital. The second part of this rule is, "If you can't help, get out of the way."

Do you ever slow down to gawk at the people in the traffic accident? Well, it's wrong. Their pain is not for your entertainment. It's the same with the national news. There's a part of the problem that you can solve yourself, and the rest of it is not in your hands.

More news, and no comment:
Judge sentences noise violators to listen to Barry Manilow...

Speaking of music, I was driving down the freeway last week, punching buttons on the radio dial, listening to this Rolling Stone song, and I realized that I DO NOT LIKE the Rolling Stones anymore. They're too nasty, but I still like Eric Clapton.

Meanwhile, down in Wilson County, Texas, Sheriff Joe Tackitt is putting on his Santa Claus outfit and getting ready to give out toys and presents to all the happy children. Tackitt has a fundraiser every year to pay for this goodness. I used to visit with him often, to get the crime stories, when I worked at the Wilson County News a few years ago.

Tackitt would lean back in his chair and talk about farming and the price of hay and stuff like. He kind of missed being a farmer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Origins of a Good Party

One cannot live a serious life without enjoying a good party. I was at the Robert Sund birthday party in LaConner last night, held in LaConner's most wonderful building, the Civic Garden Club. The building is 130 years old and once held the county courthouse, and was later used as a school and library. It's very warm inside.

Robert Sund -- he died seven years ago -- but we still celebrate his birthday and his poetry every November. Arthur Greeno came up from Taos, New Mexico. Charlie Krafft showed up from Seattle. Tim McNulty, from Port Townsend -- a lot of stories assembled in one room. After the dinner and the poems, we had music and dancing, led by Jeff Winston and his son Wyatt. Jeff came back from Italy -- he said he's there half the time these days.

Most importantly Holly Graham was there. For her, as for so many others, LaConner will always be home. But she has been in Olympia these past years.

Holly is a magnificent entertainer. I was searching for comparisons -- Mary Martin, Ethel Mermann, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan -- no, no, no, comparisons are never good. But then I would need adjectives to describe Holly's voice -- her range, texture, power, sweetness, and complexity. I'm not good at this. But she is having a concert in LaConner at Maple Hall December 12.

Prior to the birthday bash, I had dinner with the Tahas, Kwami and Shani. This is a warm house. Kwami was raised in New York City, which is cold enough. Then he served two years in the Korean War -- two horribly cold winters, which he will never forget. Since then, he has made it a life's objective to stay warm -- plus many other accomplishments, of course.

Over dinner, we discussed the idea of having an Inauguration Party in LaConner on January 20. I raised the suggestion -- why should we just watch it on TV? Why not be a part of a national celebration, by throwing our own party in Maple Hall?

Obama will be sworn in and give his speech on the Capitol steps. This we can watch together. Then the parade goes down the Avenue, but in the evening comes the Inaugural Ball. So we can set up a big screen TV in Maple Hall, and gather there in our best party clothes, and wait for the music to begin. The lights will dim at the Ball in Washington DC. Michelle and Barack Obama will step out onto the dance floor for the first time as President and First Lady. The whole world will be watching. Won't it be sweet?

Then we'll begin dancing at our party in LaConner -- what a lot of fun that could be. Everybody join in. Good parties are good politics. Don't wait for instructions from headquarters -- start planning now.

MORE ABOUT PARTIES. I have these brilliant insights, which I share with you. Parties are a way to get through hard times. Suppose you were hoping to buy a new truck. Sorry, the money's not there. And the Mrs. has been dreaming about a kitchen remodel for years, but the bank won't lend you the money, and you can't afford the debt anyway.

But you can throw a party -- parties don't cost a lot of money. Have a dance party, a costume party, a Parcheesi and Monopoly party, with food, music, drinks, and dancing. Have a house party. What are you going to do, sit around and think about things? I figure if I'm spending more than one hour a day thinking, it's too much. Serious people know how to have fun.

ENOUGH OF THAT. We now offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Frog Hospital. While we try to present a pretty face to the world, and we want to make it look effortless, the actual production process in the Frog Hospital laboratory can be a bit gruesome and untidy. I was going to write something about the Clintons -- like why can't they just go away. Aren't they ever going to leave?

Then I was going to write about Gay Marriage in California, until I saw Dr. Phil having debate on the same subject in his afternoon TV show. Who cares about gay marriage? it's a Dr. Phil issue.

Then I started to write a very compelling story about recent events at the hospital, but the truth is that I don't get to tell those stories. I don't take notes either. Maybe years from now, I can write some wonderful stories about what I have seen here, but it's a matter of privacy now. So I hit delete on that one.

Then I came up with a really good idea on a Tom Robbins story, and I will tell it next time. And finally, I settled on this story about the good parties.

You see, it can get kind of messy. But I don't want to say too much about the inner process. Honesty, and the courage it takes to be honest, are of the highest virtue. But Full Disclosure is a modern disease. Never Tell Anybody Everything.

And lastly, I used to work at the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas. It was a good job and I was well paid. But now I have this blog, which I send to my old paper and they host it on their website. I get no money for this service, but I am glad to do my old paper a favor. It is one of the best newspapers in Texas, even in the whole country, so check it out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sentimental about General Motors

When I heard that General Motors was going bankrupt, I immediately thought of my father's Buick. It suited him so well, a light-green four-door Roadmaster, bought new in 1956. He drove the whole family, five kids, from Chicago to Yellowstone Park, then on to San Francisco, Yosemite, Disneyland, The Grand Canyon, and back home, all the way across Oklahoma and Missouri on old Route 66. We saw America in that Buick.

When I heard General Motors was going bankrupt, I realized it wasn't just about money and jobs. I could hear Dinah Shore singing, "See the USA, in your Chevrolet..."

I remembered my bright red 1986 Chevy S-10 pickup, it was the sweetest truck I have ever owned. I spent money on repairs for this vehicle, but it was this situation where I lived near a mechanic's garage, that was owned and operated by a luscious Italian widow. Just for the chance to talk with her for a little while, I would order up a radiator repair that I didn't really need. The result? My vehicle received first-class maintenance, but the lady never went out with me.

Still, I loved that truck. I wish I hadn't sold it.

When I heard that Lehman Brothers was going bankrupt, I didn't care. Nobody loves a bank, it's just money. The bigshots took a bath -- they deserved it. And the tigers of Wall Street -- they live by the market and they die by the market, I do not pity them.

Or look at Microsoft -- a very strong company, still doing all right now. The world could not live without Windows. And the company provides many high-paying jobs in the Seattle area. But love it? Does anybody love their computer?

So I realized, passionately, that we cannot let General Motors die. It will be a cultural calamity. GM is at the root of our psyche.

There is a sound economic argument to allow GM to go into bankruptcy. I understand that. And if it was only a matter of money, I would say, go do it.

But if I listen to my heart -- maybe that's why I'm not good at business -- I'm not a good bottom line thinker.

And yet, American brand names are a powerful and profitable global presence -- Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse, McDonalds, Nike, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, Oreos, etc. Image, identity and sentiment can be marketed and sold. It's a large part of our economy.

You can say, Oh I hate advertising and all that hype, but I don't say that. Back to my father -- he sold advertising for a living, that's how he bought the Buick, and that's how he put all five kids through college.

So there is a valid economic argument to support both the substance and the image of General Motors -- Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, and so on. If GM goes bankrupt, it will be hard to get over, especially if you have one of their cars sitting in your driveway.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Correction

"Barack Obama is the first President to come from Illinois since Abraham Lincoln," as I wrote in yesterday's post. Not true. We're forgetting Ulysses Grant, also from Illinois, a two-term President. They say Grant's Presidency was notable for corruption. But I have heard different. Rod Garcia, who got his doctorate in history from UCLA, said that Grant made some notably progressive proposals and has gotten a bad rap.

Anyway, General Grant and Mr. Lincoln, working as the team from Illinois, kept our nation united. That is a fact, and that was my point -- and both their records will serve as a guide and inspiration to our next President, Barack Obama.

Furthermore, Grant's Memoirs is one of the finest books every written by a victorious general. His prose style is so direct and clear, Grant's writing is a model for any serious non-fiction writer.

But I want to go back to my error. It's the nature of blog-writing that there is no one to check up on me, before it goes on the air. When I worked for the Wilson County News in South Texas, I had an editor with a gimlet eye. She would look at me once in a while and say, "Are you sure? Maybe you should get back on the phone again and make sure you have it right."

After she approved the copy, it went to a proofreader, a retired high-school English teacher -- she was bulletproof, she caught things that the editor missed. And my copy, under my byline, got published in the newspaper, and I was sure I had something solid -- something that I knew, to the best of my ability, was correct and true. And on top of all that, I got paid every week.

That's newspaper writing -- which is rapidly disappearing. There are no more newspaper jobs. Why do you think I work at the hospital?

So you end up with a blog, which is free and error prone. You get what you pay for.

Now, watch Ernie Kovacs and the Nairobi Trio on Youtube.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A President from the Midwest

Barack Obama is the the first African-American President, a younger man with a handsome family. The nation rejoices, even the people I met last night at the Arts Alive show in LaConner. I sat by the stage next to a carved wooden parrot and many people greeted me with words of happiness.

I would like to add some words which have not been stressed. Obama is the first White Sox fan to become President -- this only matters to a subset of Americans, of course, but I am in that group, so our pleasure has been doubled.

Next, much more important -- Obama was a teacher. He was a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago. He is the first President since Woodrow Wilson to have an academic background. Wilson had been President of Princeton University before becoming Governor of New Jersey and then taking over the White House.

Obama was disparaged during the campaign for having "accomplished nothing," yet he was a teacher! They said Obama "did nothing," yet he wrote two very good books.

There is an element in this country that despises teaching and writing -- but we are relieved of them now. Those clods! They were defeated.

Now, even more important, Barack Obama is the first President to come from Illinois since Abraham Lincoln.

Obama's theme of unity is a direct descent from Mr. Lincoln's ideal. Lincoln united the country with the Sword of Righteousness in bloody combat, because Lincoln believed that the Union may not be dissolved. Many men gave their lives for that same cause.

Or, as Lincoln might have said if he was a Mafia chief -- "Once you join up, youse can't leave."

Such is the lesson of Lincoln which Obama absorbed while he taught his class of constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

Finally, Obama is a President from the Midwest. Did you see his first press conference yesterday, with all the assembled and powerful financial notables standing behind him? Yes, and where was this press conference held? At a ranch in Texas?

No, brother, it was held Downtown, in Chicago, where Obama said he could re-right the economy.

The Midwest is the strength of the nation. The Midwest is the future of America.

You don't believe me? You think the Midwest is some sorry rust belt that people only want to get away from?

Well you are wrong. Let me put it another way. If the Midwest has no future, then America has no future.

Obama knows this better than anybody. I'm not sure what he can do about General Motors -- he could prop it up, or let it go. I am not sure. But this new beginning, this economic reconstruction, with or without the power of government, will commence in the Midwest, or it won't happen at all.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Feelin' Good

You can't govern the country based on a good feeling, but it sure feels good to win.

Senator John McCain gave a first class concession speech -- I was proud of him, and I think he has a future now that he no longers represents a party he never agreed with in the first place.

Obama's Election Night celebration in Grant Park had a special meaning for those of us who got their heads banged up forty years ago in the same spot. I had the good sense to stay away from that riot, based on long experience with the Chicago Police Department -- but some of my friends went down to that hot August Democratic convention demonstration figuring that they could hurl curse words at the cops without retaliation. They found out different. In Chicago, it's all about turf, and rarely about politics. But that was forty years ago, and a great curse has no been lifted from that site -- we have a new meaning and a new message.

All our good deeds have a basis in crime and sin -- this wonderful country, our powerful constitution -- founded in slavery and the taking of land from native people. We did not begin innocently, but it is our national determination to seek innocence and redemption. We do not live in a weary and cynical country.

I salute my African relatives. As many of you know, I was married to a Zimbabwean woman for seven years and spent one year in her country. I know they are thrilled by Obama's election. And now, in America, their names are become familiar -- Malaba, Mpofu, Mataka, and Sibanda -- commmon names in Africa, but now our President has a name more like theirs than mine. This is great happiness.

Obama gets a Frog Hospital honeymoon. That is, we support him 100% now and until 100 days after January 20. After that, everything that goes wrong will be his fault.

We're looking for changes of style. It won't be country and western music at the White House -- although Pres. Obama might continue to be political agile and play the music of Ray Charles, the great blues singer, who often sang country music too.

But I'm ready for some Count Basie.

Some folks won't be invited. Snoop Doggy Dog and his foul-mouthed rap singing brethren are not going to be sleeping over in the Lincoln Bedroom. They're going to have to clean up their act before the Obamas return their phone calls.

Yes, failure is the greatest teacher, but it feels good to win once in a while.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"What if we had an election and everyone came?"

"What if we had an election and everyone came?" High voter turnout could swamp the system. There's a chance that Obama will make a landslide win and, in that case, the results will be in early.

But it's far more likely that Obama will win by a narrow margin, and that means we'll get no conclusive results on Tuesday evening.

Therefore, I have altered my party plans. I'm going to work on Tuesday evening, from 3 to 11 at the hospital. Some of the patients will have the TV on and tuned into the election, so I'll be able to keep tabs as the evening goes along.

After work, at 11 p.m., I'll stop by Democratic party headquarters in Mount Vernon and see what's up. But unless it's an Obama blowout, I'm not going to stick around.

I'll just go home, go to sleep, and wait until Wednesday. If they DO have any problem counting the votes, it won't help for me to be breathing down their necks impatiently.

Florida is, of course, a problem. It's not so much cheating down there, it's more like they can't even COUNT.

But we will get a winner sooner or later.

And this message is for Frog Hospital readers in foreign countries --- In America, we have elections that are very long, very expensive, and very complicated. We could do that six-week in-and-out type of election like they do in Canada and England, but that's not our style.

I have been immensely interested and entertained by the election battle this year.

I expect the Democrats will take over. After all, it's our turn to screw up the country.

Friday, October 31, 2008

They finished harvesting the potatos

They finished harvesting the potatoes across the road from our house on Fir Island. It's a very big field and it took them a week, working dawn to dusk and into the night -- the harvester going slowly down the rows, running potatoes up a moving belt into a heavy truck that follows behind. An empty truck waits idling, at the edge of the field, and then pulls into place behind the harvester for the next load.

The famous tasty Skagit red potatoes get hauled to huge warehouses -- mountains of potatoes, left for storage without being washed, because they keep better that way.

I'll bet they're glad they finished harvesting, because it's raining steady all day now -- a muddy mess for anyone who is not done for the year.

Some fields are planted with young cabbages that winter over and grow into green-yellow bushes next year -- they will be harvested for their seeds next August.

Other fields have winter wheat and barley crops. But the rest of the fields lay bare through the winter, except the farmers run what they call a V-plow at various places -- as a way of digging a trench to get the water off.

Fir Island is at sea level, and surrounded by a dike. So drainage is a continuous year-long task. All property holders on Fir Island pay pretty good money into the the dike and drainage district. Without those dikes and ditches, we would all be standing in about six inches in water.

That's government up close. You have to pay that tax if you live on the island, but you can see the dike, and you can see all the ditches, and you can see the crews working. You can go to the district meetings and put your vote on how it's all being done. It's money well spent -- I am very glad to be living here. But that's as close as I want to get to politics.

The snow geese are back -- out grazing in the barley and wheat fields. Coyotes work the edge of the flocks at night, and eagles fly over the flocks by day. If you see a snow goose limping or hopping on one leg, it won't last long.

I keep walking out to the slough to look at this beaver trail slithering through the cattails, up the bank, and into the raspberry field - but I think I've gone out there too often and left a scent -- so the beaver must be going someplace else.

The farmer who runs that field on the other side of the slough will shoot the beaver if he can find him, because the beaver likes to plug up the drainage pipes in a dam-building effort. I am only an observer in this beaver-farmer war. I should get a blue and white United Species flag.

But I am pro-human, when you get down to it. I love you all the very best.

Now, as far as the election goes, John McCain is in Pennsylvania and that makes me nervous. I want Obama to win. I already voted for him and I have done other things for him. I heard him speak in person when I was in Texas last spring, I also met Michelle Obama at a smaller gathering and shook her hand. I think they will do really well.

Two high points of the campaign for me were: when Senators McCain and Obama met in New York on September 11 to jointly and quietly lay memorial wreaths at Ground Zero. The other high point was Gen. Colin Powell's comprehensive endorsement of Obama on Meet the Press -- Powell said it just right, and that's how I feel about it too.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Looking Good in High Heels

Sarah Palin has spent more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories since gaining the VP nomination in August. Some people are outraged and consider it an extravagance, but not me. It costs a lot of money to look that good, and Governor Palin looks pretty good to me. You see her walking in 4-inch red high heels -- you think that's easy? Try it.

I salute the beautiful women of America, and I support the cosmetic and fashion industries. Women spend billions of dollars on makeup, jewelry, pedicures, and so forth, for the worthy cause of Looking Good.

When a woman says she needs new shoes -- well, there's a lot of dumb men out there who reply, "but you already have a lot of shoes."

For me, these are feminine mysteries and their perfume is designed to intoxicate and befuddle us.

It's just the nature of things.

Now, America has plenty of problems, and this fashion commentary in no way constitutes a political endorsement of Sarah Palin. I have no problem with her life, I just won't vote for her.

In fact, we need more amateurs in government -- not as President or Vice-President -- but we have fifty states and we ought to more often take a flyer on the man or woman on the street. We should put some of that plain talk in the Congress too.

I have learned to do Twitter. You can find it at If you need an explanation about how to do Twitter, than you can't do it. It's one of those things like Ken Kesey's Magic Bus, where the Merry Pranksters said, "You're either on the bus, or you're off the bus."

Twitter is a Zen koan -- I can feel hundred of readers becoming confused right now, but bear with me. The trick is you DON'T figure it out.

All right, I should tell the story sometime about how I rode on the Magic Bus, back in 1967, with Ken Kesey and Neil Cassidy. It was an astounding experience -- but some other time.

Barack Obama has suspended his campaign for two days to visit his beloved, but ailing grandmother in Hawaii.

Gallup polls conducted on a global basis, show that Obama is preferred by a huge margin in countries such as France, Korea, and Canada. May be we should listen to our friends.

I close with this news story from Blue Ash, Ohio, and ask your opinion "Whose football is it?"

Ohio woman, 89, accused of keeping kids' football

BLUE ASH, Ohio (AP) — Police in Ohio say an 89-year-old woman was facing a charge of petty theft because neighborhood children accused her of refusing to give back their football. Edna Jester was arrested last week in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash.

Police said one child's father complained that Jester kept the youngsters' ball after it landed in her yard. Police Capt. James Schaffer said there has been an ongoing dispute in the neighborhood over kids' balls landing in the woman's yard.

Jester said Monday she has received many calls and didn't have time to discuss the matter any more.

Jester is to appear in court next month. The maximum penalty for a petty theft conviction in Ohio is six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

popular in France

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

Read my blog at

Monday, October 20, 2008

Riding Bicycles in the Rain

Even though it's late October, I've got a powerful urge to be gardening -- to be out on the soil and to get my hands dirty. The Pacific maritime climate is fairly mild and there's plenty of things that can be done in the winter -- planting trees and clearing brush.

They have closeout sales at the nursery every fall. It drives the nurserymen nuts, because everybody wants to plant trees and shrubs in the springtime, but the fact is that late fall is the very best time for this.

But I'm smart -- in many ways I'm even smarter than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman -- so I shop the closeouts.

This year I bought some sparkling pretty arbor vitae, small ones in gallon pots, for only $1 -- that's a steal. So I bought two dozen -- not that I have any place to actually put these little trees, but I just wanted to have them. It makes me feel rich. Buying and planting trees makes you part of the future.

I got tired of all that bad news from Wall Street -- so I'm investing in trees -- long-term growth. I told you I was smart.

Also, the snow geese have returned from Alaska where they spend the summer. Thousands of beautiful white birds, often very near to our farmhouse or flying overhead.

The goose hunters are also out -- in the fields, squatting in camo clothes near a spread of white goose decoys. I only hope the hunters can tell the difference between a goose and a house -- because I live in the house.

I enjoyed watching General Colin Powell give a comprehensive endorsement to Senator Obama on Meet the Press. I couldn't agree more, and Powell spoke very well. His motives were instantly challenged by conservative critics, and with some justice, I would say. Powell's motives are undoubtedly complex -- aren't we all like that?

Rergarding our serious financial problems,I feel that it's a matter of "Who do you Trust?" and which expert do you believe.

The predictions vary from bad, to very bad,to very,very bad. I choose to trust the prediction of Warren Buffet, who is betting on a serious but not disastrous recession, followed by a recovery and continued growth.

Warren Buffet is investing in stocks right now, I am investing in trees, and we're both going to win.

I have had some good patients at the hospital this past week -- some very old folks in their 90s who are going out laughing. Nothing bothers them at all. You meet people like this and it makes you proud to be a human being.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Meeting Jesse Jackson on the South Side of Chicago

When That Evenin' Sun Goes Down
That's when you'll find me hangin' around.
I said the night life -- it ain't a good life,
But it's my life.

Those are words from a blues song by B.B. King. I used to hang out on the South Side of Chicago -- I had aspirations to be some kind of cool guy, or maybe I could ride in B.B. King's Cadillac, or maybe I could smoke some reefer with Paul Butterfield out in the back of the club. Or hold the door open for Dinah Washington. I used to have a picture of Nancy Wilson on my wall. And Lou Rawls records.

I used to listen to Daddio Dayley's Modern Jazz Patio -- "for those who live it, love it, for those who make a living of it." Daddio Dayley came on in the middle of the day from an under-powered AM station, but he played all the best -- Arthur Prysock, Billy Ekstein, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown and so many others that I learned about.

I was cool, I was gonna have roots, know people, be on the street, on 63rd Street, Cottage Grove, Stoney Island, and places like that.

I saw Louis Farrakhan and the Black Muslims and their clean bow ties selling their newspapers. I saw Blackstone Rangers. They were a gang, everybody was scared of them. I saw plain clothes Chicago police detectives park their car anywhere they wanted to. They were the toughest men I have ever seen in my life -- they didn't strut, they just stood there, trench coat like Colombo, cop shoes.

I wasn't that stupid. I kept my eyes open. I kept moving if I needed to. I learned to trust my instincts, if things didn't feel right. People tell lies, they act friendly, but they're playin' you.

I ate sweet potato pie at the Mount Olive Baptist Church at the Sunday dinner, after all that fried chicken and all that gospel music.

In 1966 I associated with Jesse Jackson on the South Side. He was not known by anyone at that time, just getting started. He worked out of the basement of the Mount Olive Baptist Church. We did something called "community organizing." Have you ever heard of that?

It was called Operation Breadbasket and it was about getting jobs for people in the neighborhood -- all the black people lived in that neighborhood, but it was more about where they lived than it was about race.

So, we targeted the Pepsi Cola Company. We said to Pepsi Cola, "You sell lots of Pepsi around here, but you don't hire any of us to drive your trucks or to work in your bottling plants."

Jesse Jackson did the talking. He was only 25 years old in 1966, and just making a name for himself.

"We want jobs for our people, or you're not going to sell any Pepsi products in our neighborhood," he said.

Pepsi didn't listen and wouldn't deal. So our task, at Operation Breadbasket, was to organize all the little grocery stores on the South Side of Chicago ( they only had the big supermarkets in the suburbs ) -- go to each one of those little grocery stores and convince the owners to take the Pepsi products off the shelf, and put up a "Boycott Pepsi" sign.

Everybody knows that black people prefer Pepsi over Coke, because Pepsi tastes better, but they wanted to get those good jobs driving the Pepsi trucks.

So, the boycott worked. Pretty soon, after a few weeks, Pepsi couldn't sell a bottle of soda anywhere, and they caved, and began to talk to Jesse Jackson, and they promised some jobs for people in the neighborhood.

I liked that kind of economic muscle. It wasn't like, "Oh, we're poor people and you have to give us jobs." No, it was much more real. It was, "We drink Pepsi every day. You're making money off of us, so you have to give us jobs, or we just won't drink anymore Pepsi." That's real. And it worked.

Funny how you remember things like this years later. It kind of blows my mind to think about it now that another man, who did some "community organizing" on the South Side of Chicago, is on the verge of becoming President of the United States.

Barack Obama -- I expect he learned a lot from Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright, and a host of very colorful characters that one can easily encounter on the South Side, a neighborhood that might seem exotic to the likes of Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin -- I have not heaped abuse on her like others have done, but I will continue to make fair comments. Other says that Palin has no foreign policy experience. But I would say different. I would say that you don't need experience in foreign travel to be a good President. But what you DO need, is to KNOW your own country. If you really know America, then you can deal with foreign leaders.

And how can you ever know America, if you have never been to America's most vibrant and vital neighborhood -- the South Side of Chicago?

Today, in St. Louis, Barack Obama drew a crowd of over 100,000 people. That's amazing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lunch with Rebecca

I had lunch with Rebecca Darling. We met at the La Casita -- only two blocks from her house. The way it happened -- I had just left the Riverside Health Club, I was driving over to the hospital to go to work.

But I was hungry, and I remembered what my sister had told me -- I needed to shake up my routine a little bit.

Plus -- visions of enchiladas had been dancing around my head this past week.

It all came together as I approached La Casita. I made a quick right turn into a residential street. I parked the car. I grabbed my baby blue sweater and my Pendleton wool shirt and walked over to the restaurant.

They have very nice booths at La Casita, and I was hungry. It was then that I remembered to call Rebekkah Darling -- she lives only blocks away and she was happy to hear from me and not occupied, so she came right over.

I peeked out the window to watch and notice her when she began approaching the restaurant. I wanted to notice any change in her appearance - you can tell a lot by the way someone walks.

No, she looked good, but her hair was a little different.

So, we had lunch and shared some anxiety -- it was small pains, quickly laughed away.

But she said she hadn't been out of the house much lately, so we addressed that concern in a more deliberate way. I proposed some transitional steps she might take to bring her more out into the world. We went through it step-by-step, and it made sense to both of us -- that it was time for her to be getting out of the house more often, and mixing it up with people.

It was time to do that. So I suggested she come to watch the debate tonight, as there would be a good crowd of people -- many people that she knew, many people that liked her. It would be easy and welcoming.

At first she thought the debate was too conflictive and contrary and argumentative. I said yes, so for sure you shouldn't watch it alone. It would be much better to watch the debate with a nice, warm group of people. Then the conflictive part of it will not matter.

So, we had a good lunch, talking about things like that, and the enchilada plate was excellent. I left a large tip -- I usually do. I am so grateful for the food and service, even if I am paying for it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

It's a peaceful Sunday afternoon in the Skagit Valley, nothing to worry about -- and only six hours until the stock markets open in Asia, and the madness begins again.

A mood assessment of folks around here shows a surprising lack of anger or panic -- more of a numb and shaken feeling that "things are not what they seemed to be." A friend left a phone message on my machine. She said, "Well, I've been fine. I lost a lot of money this week, and I'm going out with a cute guy Sunday evening." Now, this friend holds her money dearly, but I also know her to be determined about keeping a balance in her life.

The conversation about the financial crisis is going on everywhere and all the time. People, at least, are getting very educated about such words as "uptick" and "mark to market," which are understandable terms. But "credit swap derivative" defies common sense understanding -- it was dubious financial products like that which brought the market down.

In the future, we should demand a kind of regulation that goes like this, "If you can't explain it clearly to an intelligent person, then you can't DO it."

QUIETING THE MOB. "Crash" McCain makes a most unreliable leader -- He stirred up his own troops into a mob reaction, and had to publicly quell them by insisting that Obama was a decent man.

But he continues to play the association game. Obama, he says, has associated with Bill Ayers. True. And "Crash" McCain has associated with George Bush. Also true.

Now, who has done more damage to our country -- George Bush or Bill Ayers?

AFTER NOV. 4 WE WILL KNOW. I had a dark vision of John McCain taking the election, but it passed. Let us look at the likely outcome -- Obama wins. Things become more certain. Consider the global financial crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel maintains informal contacts with the Obama campaign to keep him in the loop, as do other world leaders.

But after Nov. 4, she will be speaking directly to President-elect Obama and making plans to resurrect the system (while formally acknowledging that Bush is still President until Jan.20).

AND DON'T FORGET ABOUT HOPE. Obama has downplayed the old charisma thing -- it's not really his job to brighten our days and he simply has too much work to do, but I will tell you a little story about hope and redemption.

I was with a patient at the hospital who was out of sorts and we talked and we watched TV for a while -- it was Larry King interviewing Michelle Obama.

Honoree, a young black nursing aide, came into the room for a minute and began to watch Michelle Obama on the tube. Honoree began to beam with intensity -- I couldn't help noticing. She was too busy to sit down and watch Michelle, but I know she wanted to.

Honoree had told me about her boyfriend the week before. "Oh, he's so cute, and he's so funny," she said. But in talking with her I found out that this "boyfriend" was without a job and living in her apartment for free. I disapproved, I said, I don't care how cute he is, he's taking advantage of you. But she got huffy and said "that's my life, not yours."

So, Honoree won't get the message from me, but she will get it from Michelle Obama -- I'll bet you that. I'll bet you that on or after Nov. 4, when Obama gets elected, Honoree goes home from work and throws that bum out with the trash -- because it's going to be a new day around here.


In a recent post, I claimed to have no debts. In fact, I have a rather large one, but it is being managed. I also have a significant real estate asset which is larger than the debt. It's not like I'm in great shape or anything, I am just not going into the hole.

Virginia Smith writes from Toronto that she does not care to be referred to as "Ginny" Smith. I went to college with Virginia years ago, at the University of Toronto. She was known as Ginny back then, but not now.

Virginia is about to embark on a flight to Capetown, South Africa -- I hope she has a wonderful time.

And, Simon Bell writes from England "Just letting you know that the 'all American girl' Dusty Springfield, was in fact British" --I had mentioned Dusty Springfield's version of Jacques Brel's classic "Ne Me Quitte Pas" in a recent post.

Thanks to the wonderful readers of Frog Hospital for pointing out these errors.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jacques Brel, the great French songwriter

Jacques Brel, the great French songwriter, died 30 years ago today. One of his songs is an enduring legend, "Ne Me Quitte Pas."

Please, take a listen. It's a very sad song, "If you go away." Feel your heart ache, or remember when it did. For an English version, please listen to that all-American girl, Dusty Springfield, sing this classic number, "If You Go Away."

If these links don't get you to the song, it's very easy to find on Youtube.

A LOVE MESSAGE FROM GINNY SMITH IN TORONTO. "Canada loves Obama," It's a cute little video that will bolster your spirits -- if you love Obama -- and they love Obama in Canada and in France. I'm glad about that. These two countries have been wonderful friends to America over the generations. We can look to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, paid for by the collected pennies of French school children. We can look to French President Sarkozy, who was elected on a forthright promise of friendship toward America.

We can visit the graves of our fathers and grandfathers in the lovely fields of Normandy, Anjou and Champagne. We are joined to France in this manner.

And Canada, too. We are wedded -- our border with Canada is too long for anything else. Canada won its independence from Great Britain in 1867 -- it was a peaceful dissolution, something the Canadians have always been proud of.

But we had fought a bloody war against the British to achieve our own independence, and maybe -- just maybe -- that made it easier for Canada to become free as well.

THE WEATHER. It's fall. The stock market is closed for the weekend. I'm going to be watch the baseball playoffs -- especially the Dodgers and the Phillies. All that bad news can wait until Monday. Just a thought about France and Canada -- it's good to remember who you're friends are.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

With Bill Ayers in Chicago

WITH BILL AYERS IN CHICAGO. The Students for a Democratic Society held their national convention in Chicago in the summer of 1969. College groups gathered in the dingy smoke-filled halls of the aging Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Street. The Coliseum was a derelict facility, with leaking plumbing, torn linoleum flooring and battered folding chairs -- but it was a cheap rental for this meeting of 2,000 student radicals.

I had just graduated from college myself and I was at home in the Chicago suburbs contemplating my fate. Richard Nixon was President, the war in Vietnam was raging, and America was in turmoil. Those were black years.

So I took the subway down to the Coliseum to see the SDS people, more as a visitor and observer. I was strongly opposed to the war and inclined to the left. I had waved a few sign at student demonstrations and argued into the night with my college chums about how to change this country -- which seemed to be going off the deep end after the assassinations and the riots.

I was looking for an answer, or a means to confront the chaos. But the SDS convention that year was a bizarre and unmitigated disaster. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorn were up on the stage haranguing the crowd. A large and very militant gang from the University of Michigan was chanting slogans from Chairman Mao's little red book. Stalinist wannabes were hawking pamphlets that praised the governments of Albania and North Korea. Everybody was shouting in deadly earnest.

There sitting in front of me was a man wearing a beaten brown leather jacket. He had thick cascading curly hair. I heard him say, to no one in particular -- "These people are all nuts."

It was Abbie Hoffman. Now, if Abbie Hoffman, the premier madcap Yuppie, the purveyor of anti-war mayhem, thought the SDS was nuts -- that was saying something.

I could only agree with Abbie. I didn't stay long. The convention broke up into warring factions, and one faction became the infamous Weather Underground, led by Dorn and Ayers -- a bunch of idiots.

And what was I to do? Nixon was a mad man, the war still raged on, and the student resistance was equally insane.

I headed for the woods. A year later I, was living in a teepee in the Skagit Valley, working for the Forest Service and local farmers. I have avoided joining organizations ever since.

BARAK OBAMA AND BILL AYERS. Obama was 8 years old in 1969 when the Weather Underground went on its rampage. Well, I was there at convention and I don't recall seeing any 8 year old African-American boys running around the hall, so I don't think Obama had anything to do with it.

Forty years later, Obama is accused of association with former student radicals such as Ayers. I guess Obama should avoid my company too.

Financial Prudence

BUFFET'S RULES. To help pay for the rescue, the government should raise taxes on the wealthy, Mr. Buffett suggested. "I'm paying the lowest tax rate that I've ever paid in my life," he said. "Now, that's crazy."

"CRASH" MCCAIN "Crash" McCain -- as he was known in the Navy -- is the son and grandson of admirals. McCain crashed three planes while in training to go to Vietnam. And he's still a reckless driver.

ADVICE. Advice to a friend who is unemployed:

1. Get up early
2. Eat breakfast
3. Leave the House

MRS. KIM AT THE CONWAY STORE. She runs a good business -- sells lots of gas and beer and food to go. I buy gas there, but I never buy the fast food, deep-fried, synthetic, mass-market tacos -- nooo, not this Yupppy.

But I like her deviled eggs. Mrs. Kim makes them herself. "They're good -- fresh every day," she says. I get three deviled eggs for $1.59 -- just right for a quick breakfast plus a bottle of apple juice. And Mrs. Kim is making money on the deal. Her cost is less than 50 cents -- for the eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, paprika and plastic container.

HOSPITAL BILLS. My friend Archie had out-patient surgery last week. They replaced the battery in his internal pacemaker. He said the battery lasted five years because it only kicked in two times -- lifesaving moments. The pacemaker de-fibrillates his heart muscle and gets it back on a steady beat.

"So, it took an hour and a half, and the bill was $47,000 from the insurance company, and I have to pay $7,000 out of pocket," Archie said.

Okay, on the one hand, Archie got a good deal -- for $7,000 he gets to live for another five years. I'd pay that.

But I told him to negotiate. Archie is in the construction business and he can bargain hard for a load of plywood, but he forgot to think that he could also negotiate with the hospital. I told him -- "Offer them $4,000. Tell them you can write a check today, but if they turn that down, you'll need to stretch out payments over several years."

You can ALWAYS negotiate with the hospital. In fact, in today's uncertain economic climate, you can negotiate with EVERYBODY. Every dollar coming in and every dollar going out -- can be re-negotiated. You might be scared because you've lost money on your IRA -- but the other guy is losing money too. And if he needs the cash more than you do, as in right now, then that puts you in a position to dictate terms.

FROG HOSPITAL -- FINANCIAL GENIUS. I am dispensing financial advice, because I can make a claim to prudence -- and lessons painfully learned from past failures. As of today, my income exceeds my expenses and I have no debts. I have two grown children who make more money than I do. That makes me part of the solution, not part of the problem.

I did take serious losses four years ago -- I made some bad decisions, and then I got stubborn and doubled down my bet. The consequence was that I lost a lot of money. I made the decision to sell my house to pay off my creditors. That gave me a clean slate and a smaller chunk of equity, which I still have.

It was very painful to lose 75% of my grubstake, but I took the medicine. No one was mad at me, because everybody got paid. It was just my own damn fault and my own money, which I lost.

But trimming away the toxic debt, as we call it now, left me in a true position and got me down to the solid nugget of what I truly owned. And from there I began the re-building process.

It has been slow going since then, but it feels awfully good to be moving in the right direction.

That's a personal story -- but it might be of some benefit to others who are facing similar troubles today.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Poverty is a Misfortune

First, a baseball trivia quiz. Seven states have two major league baseball teams, not counting California which has five teams.

Name the states and the teams. The answers are at the bottom of this letter.

POVERTY IS A MISFORTUNE. Poverty is a misfortune, it does not provoke nobility or generosity. It must be accepted, endured, fought, and overcome.

Poverty is no blessing, except in the larger sense that all life is a blessing, or pancreatic cancer is a blessing. Certainly one can learn from the experience. One can exhibit grace.

But to say, Wouldn't it be fun to be poor, is like saying, Wouldn't it be fun to be sick.

One choses the state of poverty as better than a dishonorable life, but one does not seek it for its own sake.

Poverty is not simple living. In fact, it can be both immensely complicated and continuously boring.

But simple living is a happy state. Defined as this: You are living simply if your income is greater than your expenses. Poverty is the reverse of that condition.

BE LIKE WARREN BUFFET. Be a little Buffet. Invest in long-term value, just like he does. If you belong to the one-third of America that is NOT in debt, then this is a great time to get out there and start buying. Old Warren just put $3 billion into General Electric -- because he's a good guy? Nope, because he saw the value.

How much money do you have to invest. $500 0r $5,000 -- either way, if you go out looking for something you can hold and keep, you're going to get a lot of interesting offers.

Be a true American -- Invest, not shop, not consume -- Invest!

The duty of debtors is to be making more money. Earn!
Debt is not guilt, debt is a result of someone else's belief in your worthiness. That's why they call it credit, which comes from the Latin word credo -- I believe. If you are in debt, it's because someone believes in you. So, go forth and fulfill your promise.

BASEBALL. I favor the Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox. Both teams are in the playoffs and a possible all-Chicago World Series has the old town on fire.

The White Sox first need to beat the Tampa Rays. I like those Rays, those low payroll wonderboys. I like the way the Rays made mush out of the Red Sox and Yankees.

But I gotta be for the White Sox. They are my home team. A young boy, growing up in Chicago, faces a serious decision early in life. Should I be a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan? Because you can't be both. I made that choice for the South Siders and I'm still with them.

I mean -- nice if the Cubs win, I guess, but that's all.

Meanwhile, another favorite -- those blue Dodgers out in Los Angeles with the incredible Manny Ramirez and Pharoah Joe Torre. They're two games up on the Cubs right now and they could go all the way.


New York -- the Mets and the Yankees
Pennsylvania -- The Pirates and the Phillies
Ohio -- the Indians and the Reds
Illinois -- the Cubs and the White Sox
Missouri -- the Cardinals and the Royals
Florida -- the Marlins and the Rays
Texas -- the Astros and the Rangers
California -- the Giants, the As, the Angels, the Dodgers, and the Padres

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Shop at the Gap this weekend

Vicky Schlessinger at the LaConner Chamber of Commerce, the publicity and promotions director, is excited about her new plan to stimulate retail business in LaConner.

"Well, you see, we have these empty store fronts, and people are like worried that it doesn't look good, you know, like the bloom is off the rose and LaConner isn't the cool place to go anymore.

"So I figured let's take these lemons and make lemonade. That's where I came up with this promotional campaign -- Shop at the Gap -- get it? Gaps are cool. People will gather around the empty storefronts and wonder what will happen next."

ALSO IN LACONNER. The Next Chapter bookstore has a new owner. John and Sharon will still own the building and continue to live upstairs, but Lisa has leased the bookstore and will be .... Actually, I don't know what her plans are. She might keep it exactly the way it is or make it better.

John and Sharon ran the Next Chapter for ten years and it was always a good place to browse and converse, so thanks to them and the best of luck to Lisa.

I got into an interesting conversation with Tom at the Produce Market -- about politics and government in various African countries. I said that if you were a true Libertarian, you would enjoy living in Somalia, because they don't have any government at all. Then Tom and I discussed the recent history of Zimbabwe and the disastrous government of Robert Mugabe. We agreed that, as much as we complain, or because we complain, our American gov't. is much better.

But everybody is talking about the economy and the financial crisis -- all over town. Everybody is angree (a new and better way to spell angry), Democrats and Republicans alike. Well, I beg to differ. I am not angry, and I feel that the rest of you are indulging your emotions in moral indignation. It's true that nobody loves a banker, in good times are bad, but we sure need them -- and right now, they need us, so I support the bailout plan. The principle actors --- Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Hank Paulson, and George Bush -- are all deeply flawed individuals and no better than the rest of us in that way. Even so, we elected them and they're trying their best.

Maybe we need Donald Rumsfeld now, because we have entered the territory of the "unknown unknowns," a concept Rumsfeld is familiar with.

I am very calm myself -- which is not a good sign -- because my instinct is to become very calm in an emergency. Yet I urge others to be calm as well because it fosters a good climate for decision making.

Some people say let the chips fall where they may, but I say there's a hundred pound chunk of concrete flying at my head from a Wall Street bank, so I want to help them keep their structure intact.

Other people say we can return to simpler times and keep a barter economy. To those people, I say "Go camping and get it out of your system."

But there is a quiet reward for those of us who have planned well. Our farmhouse has wood heat, and we have six cords of wood all cut and stacked, sufficient for the winter. It sure feels good to look at that wood -- all paid for and ready to use and not having to worry about the heating bill.

Monday, September 29, 2008

l'shana tovah

L'SHANA TOVAH. L'Shana Tovah to one and all -- that means Happy New Year in Hebrew. This evening, at sundown, the Jewish New Year begins and the rabbi will blow the ram's horn. So bring out the apples and honey and be happy. We've had a good year and, God willing, the next year will be a good one, too.

JUST LIKE THE HUXTABLES. If you want to know what America will be like once the Obamas move into the White House, just find a re-run of the old Bill Cosby Show with the fictional Huxtable family. Bill Cosby was the pater familias with a Father Knows Best attitude. It was a fairly conservative program in terms of social dynamics. The road ahead was made very clear to the Huxtable children -- You will do your homework, you will stay in school, and you will respect your parents. And when you grow up, you will work for a living, get married and raise your own family, and serve your country and be of good service to mankind.

It's a good image. For those of you conservatives concerned about Obama's liberal objectives -- keep in mind this conservative aspect of his character.

EVERY DAY IS A NEW DAY. Every day is a new day for Senator John McCain. He has cast himself free from the burden of memory. Critics point out that he said one thing on Monday and another thing on Tuesday. He wasn't lying or being inconsistent. Not at all. He simply doesn't remember. I call it the joy of forgetting - one of the true blessings of advanced age.

FINANCIAL TURMOIL. Things are happening too fast. That's never good. Markets are in turmoil. What is the cost of not knowing what the cost will be? I support the bailout proposal as I have studied it. Sure, we're all paying attention now -- but who can we blame for being asleep two years ago? There were warnings and concerns, but the good times were rolling in, and few of us became alarmed. I see no point in blaming anyone right now. In fact, our best chance to is use the talents of the very people who screwed it up. I do not hate Wall Street. They have created a river of wealth for America over the generations. Of course, we have to spank 'em good right now.

ON FIR ISLAND. September has been a glorious month. Wonderful sunrise, sparkling air, apples falling off the trees. The swallows are gone. One day I looked around and they were all gone. I watched them with delight all summer, darting about the house. They had a dozen nests under the eaves.

But they're gone now. I asked my neighbor Meynard Axelson where the swallows sent. "South?" he said. You don't know?" I replied. "Nope," he said. The thing is Meynard is a renowned local expert on waterfowl and geese. He raises more than forty kinds of ducks on his farm property, and he is highly in tuned to the fall migrations. But apparently he knows squat about the other birds.

Anyway, Meynard did say that the snow geese are starting to trickle in and he expects the main flock -- over 100,000 -- to arrive in mid-October.

Meanwhile the slough in back of the house has gotten plugged by a beaver dam. The adjacent farmer removed the dam once, but the beaver put it back the next week. Then the farmer put up a wire fence around the culvert which the beaver had dammed up. Do you think the beaver will give up now? Stay tuned.

Farmer Dave reports a fairly good year in agriculture. He and I have concluded an ongoing alliance. I said, "You gotta keep farming as long as I keep eating." He said that was fine with him.

The potato crop is off 20 percent this year because of the cold, wet spring. But the price held up so it isn't too bad. The spinach and cabbage seed crops did fairly well. The cucumber crop came in incredibly late. They usually finish the harvest by early August -- but they were more than a month late.

Thankfully, the warm weather held up in September and the cucumber harvest was decent. Skagit Valley farmers compete with farmers from India -- that's right, India -- in growing pickles. The big pickle company can sometimes get a cheaper price by contracting out to farmers way over there. But Farmer Dave said, if they want to go to India to buy pickles, then let 'em. He said there was a price that made it worthwhile for him to grow pickles and he wouldn't do it for less.

So they bargained a decent price with the pickle company. You can grow pickles cheaper in India, but you can't get them here cheaper.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who do you Trust?

Once again, Senator Barack Obama has set the agenda for the nation's business. Yesterday morning, Obama initiated events by phoning Senator John McCain and suggesting that they issue a joint statement about the bailout proposal. McCain agreed to that, and then went Obama one better -- "I'm going to suspend my campaign and go to Washington to make this deal," McCain said.

Not to be left out, President George Bush pre-empted both Obama and McCain by inviting (summoning) both of them to the White House for a conference.

The conference proved productive. The bailout deal, as of this moment, has been worked out, and the credit goes to Obama for pulling it together -- if it works.

But, the debate will go on as scheduled, and Obama is right about that. The nation's voters need to hear from both Obama and McCain. We need to hear them engaged in a lively discourse.

There is no reason or precedent for delay. In 1944 America was deep in conflict, fighting wars against Japan and Germany, with millions of men mobilized and sitting in foxholes, bravely fighting and dying -- but we had an election that year. The candidates, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey, made whistle-stop tours around the country competing for votes. Our parents and grandparents marched to polls in November 0f 1944 to cast their votes. In the midst of war, we argued, debated and voted, because that is what we do.

In a far less dangerous situation today, there is no reason to postpone the debate.

TRUSTING BARNEY FRANK. Democrat Barney Frank is the Chairman of the House Finance Committee. He is the man I trust in working out the details of the bailout. Trust is a difficult thing. If it goes wrong, then I will share the blame.

Frank is 68 and has represented the 4th District in Massachusetts since 1981. I don't know him personally, but I know many of the people who sent him to Congress -- I lived in that district for 2 years. The 4th District comprises Boston suburbs, such as Newton and Brookline, as well as towns that have seen better days such as New Bedford and Fall River.
Frank represents all kinds of people -- except they all tend to vote Democratic.

Well, it's Massachusetts. Newton is a prosperous place, with an outstanding public school system and magnificent public library. If you conservatives out there despise the elitists, then Newton is ground zero. The average Newtonite -- first, would object to being called average -- but he would be educated, professional, highly competent, and well-informed. He does not often grouse about the evils of big government or the oppression of high taxes, BUT he wants his money's worth. I lived with these people for two years and, by and large, they are level-headed and generous.

Further south from Newton are the historic whaling towns of New Bedford and Fall River. You can almost see the ghost of Captain Ahab in these haunts. But the fishing and whaling days are long gone. They were replaced by textile mills that employed thousands -- but those mills are gone too -- gone to the South, and then to Mexico, and then to Viet Nam and Lesotho -- leaving behind an industrial heritage of empty brick factories and unemployed people waiting for jobs that will never come back.

In addition, New Bedford has one of the largest Portuguese communities in the country. Portuguese fishermen settled in these parts many generations ago and continue to celebrate their culture.

The Fourth District is in New England, of course, and the fall colors are beginning to show. There is no place that I have ever seen that is more beautiful than New England in the fall. And it's not the colors -- which are gorgeous and intense -- even so it's not the colors, but the very air -- intoxicating, refreshing air that gave birth to the word "crisp" like the crunch of a New England apple.

This story about the people of New England and the fall colors is in no way a diversion from the current economic crisis, because it is most important to realize, at times like this, that critical actors, such as Barney Frank, are rooted in a community which they represent, and whose judgment they will face in early November.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


President George Bush is going to address the nation tonight on prime time -- I can hardly wait.

But I have a better idea, instead of listening to him, you can listen to a Real President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who often spoke to the people in what he called "Fireside Chats.

At the time he took office in March 1933, the nation was deep in Depression. Unemployment was over 25 per cent and stocks were in the basement. A banking crisis was sweeping the countryside. Long lines of depositors were closing their accounts in big banks and in small banks. Many banks failed and closed their doors.

It was a dangerous and frightening moment. The American people were being pushed to the brink by forces they barely understood.

Roosevelt took dramatic action in his first week in office. He declared a bank holiday -- meaning that he ordered the temporary closure of every bank in the country, until the Federal Reserve could distribute enough cash for the needs of most of the banks.

Upon taking this action, Roosevelt addressed the people on the radio, for the first time, to explain what he had done and why he hoped it would work.

Roosevelt began:

"My friends:

I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking -- to talk with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking, but more particularly with the overwhelming majority of you who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks...."

He explained the banking system, how it worked, what went wrong, and how it could be fixed, in a language that was very clear and not condescending.

It's a short speech and he finished with an appeal to the spirit of the people:

"After all, there is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people themselves. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work.

It is your problem, my friends, your problem no less than it is mine."

Ahh -- there was a man! We need Roosevelt now, and we can find him now, because the spirit of Roosevelt is embedded in the American tradition. That spirit is still here and so is the strength.

"Confidence and courage are the essentials of success," he said --- Amen to that.

Our current President is really not up to the task of reassuring the nation, but I haven't got time to hoot and holler at him.

Instead I will look to that candidate who most truly imbibes the spirit of FDR -- Do you know who I'm talking about?

HISTORICAL NOTE: Roosevelt had an enormous majority in Congress in 1933. He rushed through a large stimulus package and established many government employments programs -- it was called the New Deal.

In hindsight, it has been argued by Roosevelt's many conservative critics, that his New Deal prolonged the Depression rather than healed it.

Be that as it may, I believe that Roosevelt saved the nation from a far greater peril -- civil strife, violent rebellion, mob action, and a complete rendering of the social fabric. Maybe the programs didn't work too well economically, but they sustained us, they kept us going, and they kept us working together.

Last week, I was at Deception Pass State Park. Walking around I viewed the sturdy stone cabins built by the CCC boys in the 1930s. These cabins are weather-worn and moss-covered, now 75 years old. But they were built strong and they should last another century.

We can do at least that well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

No fear, No Deal, and No Comment

FOREIGN POLICY EXPERIENCE. Gov. Sarah Palin will meet with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia during the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

THE $700 BILLION BAILOUT. The Bush administration is trying to hold out for a clean bill that deals only with the financial rescue, and will not include any add-ons.But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Congress would not simply hand over a $700 billion blank check to Wall Street. Democrats would insist on independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive executive compensation

Paul Krugman said -- "Looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal. Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets."

Frog Hospital says -- Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson used to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs and he knows everybody on Wall Street. Critics of his bailout plan say that Paulson will help out his fellow "malefactors of great wealth," and not take care of the rest of us. But personally, I'm inclined to go along with his plan.

However, many Senators, including Joe Biden, regret the blank check they gave to George Bush when he wanted to invade Iraq. They succumbed to his argument of "national emergency" and were duped into supporting an unnecessary war.

Now those same Senators are being asked to give another blank check to Bush's people because of a new "national emergency. I don't think they will be that dumb a second time.

ANGER MANAGEMENT, PART TWO. The Obamas are not allowed to express anger because they are black, and the first black President cannot be angry. That's a handicap, but it's also a reality.

Sarah can be snarky as hell, and McCain can hop up and down and get red in the face, but the Obamas have to stay cool.

Although I wish we could let Michelle be Michelle. I mean, there's Alaska tough, which isn't bad, and then there's Chicago tough, which is getting there, and then there's South Side of Chicago tough, which is the baddest thing in America.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Anger Management

I spent five days in jail, and then I had to go to anger management class in 1999 because I belted my wife. Five days in jail wasn't so bad, because I shouldn't have done what I did, so I was punished for it. But the Anger Management class was a session of totalitarian feminist thought torture which I did not deserve to suffer. I went to those classes and you can't get out of them until you repeat all the lies that they want you to to tell. It almost destroyed my soul. A braver man would have gone back to jail instead of debasing himself like that.

I'm remembering that experience because so many Democrats are urging Barack Obama to get angry. Oh, he's plenty angry, but he's too smart to show it. Michelle Obama is angry too, but she smiles and makes nice on Ellen's Show. The Obamas are not allowed to be angry.

But other people might do it for them. Take action, my friends. Say it. Do it. Now.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. The Big Apple. The Financial and Cultural Capital of the the Western World. Manhattan -- the most important and most expensive real estate in the country.

I love New York. Frog Hospital readers are expected to know when I am being ironic and when I am being sincere.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and the financial collapse of this September are the bookends of the Bush Era. I pray to God that we never elect another Texan to be President, because Bush has almost brought this country to ruin.

But with as much study as I can muster, I place the blame for the Wall Street disaster on the bankers and financiers themselves -- those exceptionally talented New Yorkers who made it all happen. They made all that money and now they have lost all that money.

And yet I say, these people are national treasures, because making money is so important. Our free market economy is based on self interest -- a most dependable sentiment. Gone to excess, self-interest becomes greed, but in its normal state, you can deal with it reliably. If your adversary is rational, you can assume his self-interest too. You can make laws and plans.

And so the bankers of Wall Street do not make good villains. All they want is money, at their worst. I do not fear them like I fear Ideologues who want to control my mind or Religious Zealots who want to steal my soul.

Therefore, I endorse the government's rescue plan, as it has been presented in a simple format. The Democrats, including my man Obama, want this plan to include measures for the rest of us common folk such as protection from foreclosure, but I feel that a quick and simple plan is the best solution right now. Give them the money their asking for -- those bankers.

Then elect Obama President, and give him a solid majority in Congress -- we'll start taking the money back in January -- you and I. It's our turn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Money Talks

I went to a gathering of liberal bloggers in Seattle last night. They were STILL talking about Sarah Palin. She is so over.

The financial collapse on Wall Street is bad for all of us, but it sure makes Obama looks good. The swing voters, the independents, are thinking about their money today -- forget Sarah.

Money talks -- it's screaming.

What do you know about investment banking and hedge funds? Probably as much as I do. But surely, if they accept the bailout money from the federal government, then they must likewise accept sterner regulation.

Now, you and I COULD understand the arcane workings of Wall Street if we put our minds to it, and it might be necessary for us to study this problem in a serious way, so let's get off the lipstick wars.

McCain's seat of the pants style will not serve, but Obama's professorial style inspires trust. Competence is not a virtue, or the highest good, but it does come into play at this point --- a calm, deliberate manner, a sorting out, a "taking stock."

ONE MORE DIG. All right, I can make one more comment about Sarah Palin. I live in the country where a gun-totin' redneck mama is a common sight. You city folks might get scared the first time you meet one, but I've seen them around for years. I just go Fffft !

CHICAGO RULES. Obama is in league with the power players of Chicago politics, especially His Honor, Mayor Richard Dailey. Chicago Rules are as follows: "Do unto others before they get a chance to do unto you." Obama's friendly critics have urged him to talk tougher, but he's already there. Do not underestimate Obama's steel.

MISERY ON THE GULF COAST. My attention has been on Chambers County, a lightly populated area near Galveston, but on the other side of Trinity Bay. Little hamlets in the vast coastal wetlands -- Double Bayou, Oak Island, High Island -- no longer exist. Hundred of vacation homes on the Bolivar Peninsula are destroyed. I was thinking that maybe people just can't live there anymore -- it's too dangerous, it's too expensive for relief to help them out over and over again.

But that would be very hypocritical for me -- I live on Fir Island, a diked and drained farming territory fronting on Skagit Bay -- plum at sea level. If the dike wasn't there, I'd be standing in a foot of water right now -- on a calm day. It's true we don't get hurricanes this way. But theSkagit River could drown this island anytime it chooses. It's true that not many people live on the island and that's good, but the farm land is so valuable and important. When the whole island flooded in 1991, many homes were damaged, but the farmland itself was quickly restored to productive use.

On the Gulf Coast, Houston reports a morning temperature of 67 degrees -- unusually cool for this time of year, and a great relief for thousands of people living without electricity or air conditioning. I hope they make it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ike Hits Texas

We used to live in Chambers County, about 60 miles east of Houston. Chambers County took the worst hit from Hurricane Ike. I read that 20,000 head of cattle were in danger of starvation and dying of thirst. The storm surge spread salt water all over the county and there is little fresh water for humans, much less livestock.

Chambers County is a hot humid place. We lived there in 1986 when the kids were little and I worked for a local newspaper. It was a hot Texas summer, but we had good AC.

It is a pretty place that gets lots of rain, over 50 inches annually. The principal crop is rice, and the green fields of rice waving in the breeze make a pretty sight. But there is no high ground in Chambers County, hardly a foot of it. It's just really a big wetland that has been diked and drained for pastures and rice fields.

The county fronts on the Gulf of Mexico. There is lots of good fishing, sport and commercial. It is also a famous place for birdwatching, and I can attest to that. It is a major stopping point on the migration route of songbirds, going south for the winter, and returning in the spring. Chambers County is a good place to visit, and an inexpensive place to life.

According to the news, the people of Chambers County have suffered catastrophic damages. I hope they make it.

AND WORSE NEWS COMES FROM WALL STREET. Who among us can adequately discuss the intricacies of investment banking? We can't. It's a special, valuable skill, practiced by the "elites" of Wall Street -- those same people whom the conservatives hate, those high-toned people in Manhattan who are so smart about making money. Those elites -- there were over 3,000 elites working in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and they took it pretty hard that day. How many people died that day in small town America?

But these financial elites have ill-served the country, since they were freed up from gov't. regulation. It was Phil Gramm's idea to unleash the banks, and we all thought that bankers were prudent, cautious people. We were wrong -- absent the guiding hand of government, the bankers became wild plungers and predators.

Gov't. regulation is expensive -- sure, it is. But does it cost as much as the $200 billion bail out to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? No, sound regulation of the banking industry is a very practical investment.

McCAIN'S NEED FOR REDEMPTION. John McCain is on a "journey of self-discovery" -- something that Gov. Palin disparaged in her convention speech.

But I think McCain seeks redemption. Something good has to happen for him, which he calls "victory," and that victory will validate his Vietnam experience. Because what he can't admit is that he spent six years in prison for a worthless cause.

In contrast, the much younger Barack Obama is not on a journey of self-discovery. He knows who he is now, and he realizes that he has the strength and the energy to serve his country by becoming President.

Obama's ambition is healthy, McCain's ambition is not healthy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Courtesy of Senators

Senators Barack Obamas and John McCain jointly visited the site of the Wolrd Trade Center attack last week, to commemorate the seventh anniversary of September 11.

Their united effort was a model of senatorial courtesy, and a moment of brotherly love, I would say, seeing these two warriors with their heads bowed solemnly.

Too much has been said about the executive experience of Governors -- you would think Senators don't do anything at all. And yet, with complete certainty, we know that our next President will be a Senator - either Obama or McCain. We hear them refer to each other as "my friend," and sometimes they mean it. It is a long-held custom of the Senate to maintain cordiality.

A Governor can run his own ship and say that the buck stops here. but Senators work in a group. One hundred men and women, representing each of fifty states, come together to debate and decide our nation's laws. Sometimes, one man, among the Senators, can hold his ground, and by filibuster bring this body to a halt -- one man. Or sometimes one woman can make the entire Senate pivot over to her point of view.

But those are exceptions -- because nothing happens in the Senate by individual decision, but by the group, the Committee of the Whole, or the various subgroups. You work together with other people, or nothing gets done at all.

And courtesy is the tradition, so that when Senator Obama invited Senator McCain to meet in Manhattan on September 11, 2008, McCain responded. News sources say that Obama spoke directly with McCain on the phone, and they quickly worked out the details.

This was senatorial experience at work, and that's what we need right now in America -- people who can come to an agreement. Such matters as energy independence are not questions of principles, but require a pragmatic compromise solution. Governors don't have that skill, but Senators do.

As the campaign continues, Obama can take great pride in the flattery that McCain has shown toward him. I say flattery because McCain is largely imitating the major themes of Obama's candidacy.

"We need change," Obama said, and McCain agreed, "Yes, we do."
"We need to achieve energy independence," Obama said, and McCain agreed, although not in the details.
"We need to open opportunities for minorities and women," Obama said, and McCain heard that, so he named Sarah Palin as his Vice-President.

Obama has already accomplished a great deal, because his ideas have set the agenda for whoever becomes the next President.

And, to say something about the horse-race aspect of this campaign, McCain and Palin are peaking now, in September. I say let them, because my man, Obama, will peak in October, and he will win.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Image of God

In the previous post, I said Obama was tired, I didn't say he was going to lose -- big difference.

My, my, but the Democrats panic easily. Sarah Palin sprinkles them with moose dust and they're ready to give up. What a bunch of sissies.

You know, if the Democrats don't start listening to me, they WILL lose.

And you Republicans better watch your mouth. If you call me an elitist one more time, I'm going to thrash your redneck rear end.

But enough of that. It's hunting season. Frog Hospital is a pro-hunting newsletter. I can understand people who don't hunt, and I can understand people who criticize hunting practices, and there is something that happened in the Skagit Valley this summer which requires a discussion.

It was one of the first days of bear-hunting season, August 4, a hot day. The Sauk Mountain Trail was crowded with hikers -- it often is. A fourteen-year-old hunter figured there might be a bear on that part of the mountain. He took aim at a woman, age 56, out hiking on the trail, and shot and killed her at a range of 120 yards. He thought he was aiming at a bear. He made a terrible mistake and the woman died.

Later, the prosecuting attorney filed charges of manslaughter against the boy. It frustrates me. Clearly, the boy had no intention to cause any harm. But to me, a hunter is totally responsible for what he shoots at, and the boy has to face some serious consequences for what he did.

Those are the hunting rules: If you kill it, you eat it. If you wound it, then you risk life and limb to finish it off. And if you shoot a hiker or birdwatcher, then you are 100 percent responsible. I would like to hear from anyone who sees this differently.

Hunting is an ancient and honorable activity. The problem is that there's less room for it. There's too many people on the Sauk Mountain Trail, and people say the bears never come there anyway, so one outcome will be that this area will be closed to hunting, and I agree with that.

I like to fish. I'm a catch-and-eat fisherman. You can fish in many urban areas. Elliot Bay, right off downtown Seattle, can be a good place to catch salmon. So there is little pressure on the fishing fraternity. There aren't many people who want to ban fishing, but plenty who believe hunting is now an archaic activity, no more suitable to modern man that rubbing two sticks together to build a fire.

I don't want to get too far into that argument. I saw an eagle flying over the house this morning, a young one, with no white feathers. Eagles are pure predators. The coyotes are pure predators too, and they eat the rabbits that run around our back yard. The herons wade in the slough and eat the frogs and little fish. Human beings are predators, but not purely. We are omnivores. We can do fairly well on vegetables and grains. And so we can make ethical distinctions and refrain from killing game when we don't need to.

The Bible says we are made in the image of God and that we are given stewardship over all the earth. I believe that. But I wonder about those rabbits. Maybe God told the rabbits the same thing, and the rabbits believe that the entire earth was made for their benefit. God may have told the same thing to all of His creatures. Maybe we're not that special.

I like to think about things like that when I look out the window. I am an expert theologian, among other skills.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama is Tired

Obama is tired. He's been campaigning for 18 months, sleeping in hotels, living in airports, and he misses his home. He has a healthy ambition and the ego to match, but Obama does not "live for campaigning." He does not need the adulation of the crowd to affirm his identity.

People talk about Sarah Palin and about how the election will take her away from her family. Well, she's not my candidate and I don't care about her.

But I do care about Barack and Michelle, and they need some time. Barack suffered from the absence of his father, and he will not let that happen to his two precious girls. Barack, should he be elected, will have the two most important jobs in the world, being President of the United States and being a father. The Obamas will have a more normal life when they move into the White House. It's like living above the store, and Barack can go home for lunch. But right now, it's pretty rough and he's getting tired.

Barack Obama also carries a load, call it the black man's burden. It's like running a race with a 25-pound pack on his back. Conservatives believe in the inherent sinfulness of mankind, and that we will always be tempted by selfishness, dishonesty, lust, and cruelty. But then those same conservatives cheerfully claim that we have banished racial bigotry from our shores. They say "it's not about race."

Yes, race relations have improved, but it's not hard to find a story. My friend, an older black man, past 70, was discharged from the army in 1957 after two bitter, cold winters in Korea. He went looking for a job, but they told him, "Sure, you're qualified, but we don't hire colored people in that position." To his face. That was fifty years ago, but he still remembers.

And in the present, another friend, a black woman my age with a good income and a nice house. And yet, with her remarkable intelligence and energy, she could have been so much more -- the Governor of Washington, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company -- if she had been white. I know her -- that's how good she could have been.

Or a young black woman I saw, looking into a mirror while she applied a skin bleaching cream, giving into a hopeless desire not to wear that face every day, wanting to disappear from who she really is.

That's the burden, and Obama is getting tired.