Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kevin Paul's Heart

"It's not a rare disease if you have it."

That's a saying I made up for Kevin Paul, the famed Swinomish singer and sculptor.

Kevin has an unusual form of cardiomyopathy, and his wife, Patricia, shared this information with me for Frog Hospital.

It helps to know Greek and Latin, because that is how they make these words.

Cardio = heart
myo = muscle
pathy = in a bad way

So cardiomyopathy means that Kevin's heart muscle is in a bad way.

The particular condition Kevin has is called Isolated Left Ventricular NonCompaction.

Each term can be explained:

Isolated -- because it effects only a portion of his heart.

Left Ventricular -- because it occurs in the Left Ventrical, which is the main pumping chamber in our four-chambered hearts.

NonCompaction -- because a portion of Kevin's heart muscle is spongy and not firmed up like it should be. This is the source of the problem and it is genetic.

NonCompaction of the heart muscle means that the original sponge-like character of the heart muscle, when Kevin was in his mother's womb, stayed that way. The sponge-like character is supposed to compact and become more firm as the baby grows and gets ready to be born.

This NonCompaction is rare. Fewer than one in 100,000 people have it, meaning that Kevin is probably the only person in the Skagit Valley with this condition.

It is suspected that cardiologists under-diagnose this condition -- that it is more widespread than one in 100,000m but, because it is rare, cardiologists might not recognize it.

But Kevin got "lucky." The doctors correctly identified his problem. They found that his heart was pumping at less than 50 percent of its capacity. He takes medication now, which has improved his circumstances, but the underlying NonCompaction cannot be reversed.

I saw him just a few days ago. I drove by his house and he was sitting out in the front yard in a lawn chair. He gave me a big wave and a smile -- a sign of better spirits. At least he knows what he has and how he can deal with it.

Kevin sings for everybody in LaConner and tells jokes all day long. That's why so many people love him and pray for his better health.

Because it's genetic, Kevin and Pat had their daughter, Kathy, checked out with an echocardiogram and found that she's perfectly healthy. But Pat said, "there's a long history of people dying young from heart problems on Kevin's father's side of the family."

Strawberries. Mike Riley of Conway is the first grower in the Skagit Valley to have strawberries for sale. He's first by a mile. He had several flats on display at the Rexville Store and they sold out in two hours. "I wish I had a hundred flats -- I could sell them all," he said.

The bigger growers will have their berries for sale in a week or so -- things are very late this year, and we need sunshine right now to put some sweetness into the berries.

Grow your own. The newspaper reported a dramatic increase in the sale of vegetable seeds for home gardening. Yes-- if you want your food to be local, you can't get more local than your own back yard. It's not hard to grow a hundred pounds of potatoes, or 25 pounds of onions, or a bushel of green beans -- I've done it.

Stay home this summer -- grow a garden. Tell your kids if they don't help they won't eat.

We're all Partners. Last week I met a young female person carrying an infant and she introduced the male person with her as her "partner." I answered, "Well, I guess we're all partners," and they both smiled.

What is "partner" supposed to mean? I know husband, lover, and boyfriend because they are words rich with association and meaning. But a partner can be anything, and anything is the same as nothing.

Frog Hospital takes a stand against such meaningless terms as "partner." The treasure of life is meaning. Our language and culture depend on a common or shared meaning. These meanings evolve over time in a collective process.

Okay, so here's a test question: What do poets and lawyers have in common? ....... Give up? ...... It's words. All laws are made of words. All poems are made of words. Words are the writer's tools, be it a law or a poem. So when I dispute the usage of "partner" it's because it matters. Not that my own view will prevail, but it still matters.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

San Angelo

SAN ANGELO, TEXAS. The women of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sect may have their children returned to them, thanks to a ruling of the appeals court. They are accused of child abuse. I can't judge the merits of that charge, but I think those ladies should all be arrested for bad hair dos.

Hillary is OK. Why can't a candidate act like a human being once in a while? I heard what Hillary said as she recalled the assassination of Robert Kennedy forty years ago next month. It's an emotional memory for her and millions of Americans who remember that terrible day. With Teddy Kennedy facing a possibly fatal illness, the emotions are even stronger. Hillary's comment carried absolutely no implication of anything. She has nothing to apologize for. She has nothing to explain. The Obama campaign was wrong to find meaning that wasn't there. The media has blown this up to ridiculous proportions.

And that's why I'm glad that old John McCain is in the race this year, because one of these days the press is going to push him too far and he is going to blow his legendary top at them. "Okay, you guys, Ill tell you what I think of you -- you blankey, blankety, blank," and granma cover your ears because he's going to let them have it, and I'll be cheering him on.

The Desert and the Tundra. "We can't drive our SUVs and, you know, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on, you know, 72 degrees at all times, whether we're living in the desert or we're living in the tundra, and then just expect every other country is going to say OK, you know, you guys go ahead keep on using 25 percent of the world's energy, even though you only account for 3 percent of the population, and we'll be fine. Don't worry about us. That's not leadership."

Barak Obama said that last week in Oregon. A lot of people will applaud this sentiment but I don't. We don't owe the rest of the world an explanation. I don't care for the world-dominating bluster of some Super Patriots, but I won't replace that with the kind of false, guilty humility that Obama expresses here. That's not leadership.

A strong initiative toward energy independence is very important -- but skip the apologies.

Bush goes to the Desert. Meanwhile, President George Bush, in a real desert, in a real act of humility, went with his hat in hand to beg a favor from King of Saudi Arabia, "We need more oil, Your Highness, please, for old time's sake." And the king turned him down, but did give him a set of gold cuff links as a remembrance.

My opinion is that we are over-extended in the Middle East and that President Bush wrote a check he can't cash.

Nation building begins at home.

Dictators in Latin America. Dr. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was the ruthless dictator of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza controlled Nicaragua from 1967 until 1979. Other members of the Somoza family had ruled the country since 1936.

Duvallier, Trijillo, and Somoza -- this was the norm in Latin America during those years. There was no democracy, but only control by the great families, and great wealth amid great poverty.

Fulgencio Batista was the dictator and father of all Cuba from 1933 until New Year's Eve in 1958, when Fidel Castro ran him out of the country. Everyone in America cheered. Then he seized the sugar plantations from the wealthy elite and they went into exile in Florida to plot their revenge. Then he imported missiles from Russia and went from being an independent freedom fighter to becoming a communist stooge -- Kruschev's puppet. He became our enemy.

Now Fidel Castro is barely alive. The Cubans have no missiles, the Russians send no money. The older Cuban exiles in Florida no longer dominate their society. The younger Cuban-Americans will not carry on their parents hatred. Cuba will come back to us soon, but we won't be going down there for prostitution and gambling -- we'll be going down there because they have some of the best doctors in the Western Hemisphere.

Jim Smith. Jim Smith writes a column for the LaConner Weekly News. His writing reminds me of Molly Ivins, the late, great Texas columnist. Jim turns out a consistently warm and memory-strewn prose. Everybody* in LaConner likes Jim Smith -- the way you like a meat loaf sandwich.

*LaConnerites are very contrarian and you can't say "everybody" about anything around here.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Groups. Political reporting is dominated by demographics. The media doesn't need to know what you think -- they only need to know what group you belong to, like "white working class" and "latte drinkers" and "young voters." Your age, gender, race, income, and education determine your political views. There's no need to think, just follow the herd you have been assigned to.

Serious. The farmers were at the coffee shop this morning. They can't get into the fields because of the incessant rain. The discussion was about rising fuel costs -- but the tone was different. It's not so much an abstract matter anymore where the guys are making points in a competitive free-for-all. It's getting closer to "what are we actually going to do about this?" I saw the first $4 per gallon gas prices up in Bellingham yesterday -- this concentrates the mind wonderfully.

It's about time America got resourceful. Nation building begins at home. Can do. Yankee know how. Don't wait for instructions from headquarters. Get started now.

Mashed Potatos. This week at Water Cress Medical Center, the cafeteria is featuring it's famous mashed potatos and brown gravy with Salisbury steak. Doesn't that bring back memories of times when you were too sick to move and they brought the food in on a tray? Potatos, shipped by the truckload, directly from barges on the Snake River, and before that picked from the vast potato fields of Idaho -- direct to your hospital bed, as it has been for generations. And absolutely no lumps. Water Cress Medical Center mashed potatos are smooth going down the gullet.

Seriously. Seriously, the food is getting better at Water Cress -- fresher and not so overcooked. And sometimes they serve local potatos. Yes, our famous Skagit Valley red potatos, grown right here, and now served at the hospital for your dining pleasure. I am very pleased with this. As I said to one of the nurses, if the cooks got paid as well as the surgeons, we'd really have some good chow.

Appetite is a sign of well being. When you get sick and come to the hospital, you don't want to eat -- no delightful treat will tempt you. Even the smell of food becomes abhorrent. If you can get down a little jello or broth, that's good enough. But, when you start to get better, you get hungry again. That's when you need some really tasty food -- to catch that upswing and boost it with solid nourishment.

In the End. But it's not so easy to make nice food here. Let's consider the importance of elimination. Nursing and medical staff are incredibly interested in how much you pee, because if it's not working down there, you got a big problem, and that's a real medical fact. Where else can you get a round of applause for making water? So, how much you eat is not so much of a concern here.

Anyway, when you start asking for a pizza, you're getting better and you'll be home soon.

Waiting. Keith Bodell, in LaConner, had chest pains and called the ambulance on 911. Keith wasn't sure what the pain was, so he figured it was better to call. The ambulance came and they put him on the stretcher and wheeled him out the door. It's standard procedure -- if you call the ambulance, you have to take the stretcher, which is a bit of drama for the neighborhood.

But so what. Kevin gets to the ER at Water Cress and the doctors check him out. They run tests. He's fine, it might have been heartburn.

"Chest pains" are the magic words at the ER. You go right to the head of the line for that. No waiting. Top priority. Quicker treatment can make a huge difference in case of heart attack or stroke.

So it's like a good luck/bad luck thing. If you come to the ER with something serious and they tell you to wait, that's good. I mean, waiting is no fun, but why would you want to get to the head of the line? Like, "I'm dying, so I get to go first."

But, if you wait an hour or so, that means they think you're not too bad --- So be happy about that.

LaConner Weekly News. This week's issue has a great photo on page 4 of a teenage girl with a dazzling smile. Now, they just need some advertiser to step up to the plate and buy a color ad, so they can print photos like this in color. That's how it works. Color is beautiful but it isn't free.

Here's how to get color advertising in the local paper -- it's kind of round about but it might work. First, convince the people in Shelter Bay that they need to construct their own strip mall where the golf course is now -- including a small grocery store and gas station and a few other local necessities. This would save them a trip across the bridge. The commercial rents from a strip mall (with tasteful architecture, of course) would alleviate the increased lease payments that Shelter Bay residents currently face.

AND, if there was a small grocery store in Shelter Bay, it would be in competition with with the Pioneer Market in LaConner, AND both grocery stores would need to ADVERTISE in the local paper in order to get customers, and THEREFORE the LaConner Weekly News could that increased revenue to print pretty photos in color.

So, let's get started on this right now, and remember, nation building begins at home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Trucks are coming back. With gas going beyond $4 per gallon, people are starting to use their trucks for hauling goods. There's a payoff when you take a load to the dump, or move furniture, or haul gardening supplies -- that's why you need a truck. And we have, in America, the most beautiful and best trucks in the world.

But for going to the store, or to visit your friends, or getting to work -- we're not going to use the truck for that anymore. If all you have to do is haul your own personal body from one place to another, you don't need your truck for that. You park the truck and use one of those lightweight vehicles.

However, you still might want to impress your friends with your size, power, and brawn -- a growling pickup serves that purpose, but it's getting too pricey, and you can find other ways.

You could take an 8-pound hammer and hold it out at arm's length. You could keep practicing on that until you could outlast every one in the county. That's man tough.

And you can still use your truck when you have stuff to haul.

A Cup of Sugar. Here's another suggestion for those of us who fear Al Gore's New World Order. The underlying premise is that you go can back in time just as easily as going forward. Let's say you need a cup of sugar to make some brownies, and you're out. Or it's in the evening, and you notice you don't have enough coffee for tomorrow morning.

You can jump in the car and drive to the store, OR you can go to your neighbor's house and borrow it -- saving you a trip.

Another idea is you could call your neighbor before you go to the store and ask her if she needs anything -- saving HER a trip to the store.

Of course, she might be a he, and the neighbors might be these nice Pakistani people who moved in two years ago and you've been waiting for an excuse to get to know them. Mahmood and Yalda, the Pakistani couple, seem like nice people. He's a chemical engineer, and she runs an eBay collectible business out of their home, and they have children, like yours, of a similar age.

That brings us to the next concept.

Go Outside and Play. After school, instead of driving your little tykes to Brownies and Pee Wee baseball, and then going to pick them up, you can just fix them a snack and tell them to go outside and play. "How do you do that?" the children might ask. "Well, go outside and play is something you figure out by yourself, and you do it with those nice children who live next door."

But you might have to teach them a few of the old games, or give them a ball to kick around.

In summary. Use your truck to haul stuff. Make practical arrangements with your neighbors and be friends with them. Tell the children to go outside and play. That's the Frog Hospital plan for a better America. Al Gore also has a plan. But the best plan is the one you make yourself.

Charlie Berg lived in the house that isn't there anymore. Charlie died twenty years ago. After that some kids moved into the house and started growing pot in the attic. They papered the attic with aluminum foil and strung up Gro-lights, and started growing their little plants. But the old house had the funkiest wiring in town, so this was a very dumb idea. Pretty soon the house caught on fire, and the pot plants and the funky wiring were discovered by the Volunteer Firemen. Afterward, the house was condemned, but I don't know if the kids were arrested. Everybody knew they were growing pot in the attic because LaConner is a very small town.

Either way, the house was finished and they tore it down. They put in a double-wide trailer and a guy who runs a locksmith business in his van lives there now.

But when Charlie Berg lived there it was different. He was the master recycler and junk collector of all LaConner. Charlie could compost a car if he wanted to. Anything he touched started growing moss. He could turn an air conditioner into a broom closet, and he always had this mysterious, far away look in his eyes -- he saw diamonds and jewels everywhere. What a rich country! and it was all free! and he just had to go pick it up in his truck and then pile it in the yard. He would figure out what to do with it later.

They changed the rules in heaven when Charlie got there -- they let him have all the old cars he wanted. He's up there now turning Oldsmobiles into picnic tables.

Charlie's widow, Beth Hailey, grows flowers out on Best Road, and she sells them around town. I often see her driving her flower truck. She's a very good friend, although I have never actually talked to her. I just say hello. It's a community where you get to know people that way.

The Chicken Coop. Adjunct to Charlie's palace was a spacious, low slung chicken coop with a wooden floor. It was for the overflow people, because Charlie didn't just bring home junk, he also brought home people, and they flopped in the chicken coop for weeks or months. I stayed there. Many people, who later became substantial citizens of LaConner, drifted through there a long time ago. It would be called substandard housing today, but there used to be a lot of that -- cheap or no rent, something you could fix up.

It Didn't Flood. That was the newspaper headline after the hot weather caused a big snow melt in the mountains, but the river ran very high just the same. So, I asked Jim Smith, "If the Skagit River didn't flood yesterday, how many other things didn't happen yesterday?" Jim thought that was a pretty spacey idea, a real conversation stopper.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Candidates

THE CANDIDATES. I suspect that, deep down inside, Senators Obama and McCain actually like each other.

National security. National security is the only issue that really matters in selecting a President. Senator Hillary Clinton was very right to bring up that point in her "Who will answer the phone at 3 a.m.?" commercial. It's the most important question, and it wasn't fear mongering for her to broach that subject.

We don't need a President to fix our economic and health care problems. We don't need a President to decide social questions about marriage, or legal questions about gun ownership.

The President has to get only one thing right -- keeping our nation safe. Senator Obama is the one who has been right about national security. He took a clear position in opposition to the invasion of Iraq and he has kept that position, and that gives us our best chance.

Obama hasn't promised results as far as I know. There is no "End the War" button in the Oval Office. The war in the Middle East has gone on for generations. It will continue until the Moslem population learns to love the Jews in their midst, and it will continue until we take the oil weapon out of the hands of Arab despots.

Keep Obama Real. It has been easy for me to restrain my enthusiasm for Obama. My job is to keep him real. When he formally clinches the nomination, the media is going to lay on the hype as thick as whipped cream. I sure hope he doesn't believe it. He's a guy from the South Side of Chicago, and he might make a good President.

Old John. Old John McCain is a far different man than George Bush, and a better man too. I am not hellbent on his defeat.

A Polarized Nation. We are not. I am not polarized. I have widespread friendships across the country and across the political spectrum. I am not mad at any one -- except I was mad at Hillary last month, but I got over that.

What to think. I don't know what to think about same sex marriage, but then I realized that thinking wasn't necessary -- the California Supreme Court relieved me of that burden.

Frog Hospital Dating Service. I got a call from Teddy Olensky in Boston asking me for dating advice. He's an old pal from when I used to live there, but he was calling me now because he just signed up for JDATE -- that's an Internet dating service for Jews.

Last month I said to him -- go ahead and try JDATE, for $4o bucks you might meet someone. So he put up his photo and his profile. Teddy has got big ears, like Barak Obama. He has a manly look and a warm-hearted smile. So he put up his photo and got lots of hits from women all over the country.

This made him happy because when he called me he kept laughing. I said to him -- well, it's flattering to get so many emails from interested women, but most of them are just interested in chatting.

"I mean, Teddy, are you looking for an email friend, or some woman you actually want to meet and start a relationship with?" I said.

"Oh, I don't want to be just friends," he said.

So you need to pass them up, I said. Except for one, she was a Jewish woman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Teddy said he was very struck by her messages and felt quite an attraction to her.

"I felt like just jumping on a plane to meet her," he said.

I reflected on this. The woman is Jewish, she wants to meet and date a Jewish man, yet she lives in a small city in the Deep South, and has few contacts with the kind of man she would like to meet. So I decided she might be a serious person, not just interested in email chatting. And, as impractical as it might be, two people can begin a relationship from a distance and still find love and happiness. My belief is that doors begin to open for couples who are truly meant for each other.

But don't forget the local girls, I told him. He said, yes, he was going to meet a woman the next day for coffee -- and you never know what might happen.

Further advice. Some people say that Internet dating is dumb. Yes, that's because dating is dumb. Dating is like being in high school. But that's what we do -- we make an effort to meet someone, we put on a smile and face that awkward moment.

And it doesn't work. Nothing works. You meet someone when you're supposed to meet someone, not a day sooner. But while you're waiting, you need to be doing something, which is why they invented dating.

What do I know? It's funny that Teddy calls me for dating advice -- it's the blind leading the blind. I know nothing about romance. Experience is no benefit. I wouldn't know how to get a date if I fell off a truck. I see all kinds of attractive women at the hospital where I work, but I can't think of anything to say.

I go to Haagen's supermarket in Mount Vernon, because the groceries are so good there. Plus, it's a good place to meet women, especially in the produce section. The presence of fruit and vegetables encourages me and I feel stronger. I think women like that.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I am that man

I am that man

I finally got over high school. I was walking down the street from the LaConner post office, and it just happened, like 44 years later. I immediately told John at the bookstore, "Hey, John, I just got over high school." And he replied, "Well, I haven't."

And you all know what I mean. High school was hell, and the resentment was almost permanent. But I'm over it now -- through no effort on my part, so I'll call it a miracle of divine intervention.

The high school was Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois -- an all boys Catholic school. The student population swelled to 1,600 when I got there in 1960, thanks to the baby boom. The Jesuit order ran the school. They were zealous and demanding. They had me spotted for a wise guy and they pounced on me every day. I didn't have any friends either.

But Loyola was academically sound. The priests taught me how to write and how to think, and I am grateful for that.

I found this essay in some old papers. I wrote it when I was a senior in 1964. This was the part I truly believed. I still believe it. I am that man.

The Value of a Liberal Education

What is a liberal education? What is its goal? Why does the Catholic educational system wholeheartedly subscribe to it? These questions have and will be asked many times, by laymen in the Church and outside of it. The answer is simple. The answer has been drilled into me as long as I have been attending Loyola: the development of the whole man, the integer homo.

The whole man, the completely educated man, if he does exist, is the man who has knowledge of the whole truth. The closer a man comes to knowing the whole truth, to having real wisdom, the more complete he is in the eyes of God. The whole man, the man who has concomitantly studied religion, literature, and science, can better cope with moral matters; he has a better chance of reaching total wisdom and understanding after death: the Beatific Vision.

The concept of a liberal education differs radically from that of educators who see little value in the mental discipline of the traditional subjects, and who would make the primary end of education be social adjustment or the direct preparation for the physical life. While it is silly to say that liberally educated men are totally unprepared for such matters as making a living, holding down a well-paying job, and being an enlightened citizen in this democracy, these matters are only by-products of the integer homo.

It is the liberal education which gives a man a clear, conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a confusion of thought, to detect the sophistic argument, and to discard the irrelevant. While this type of education does not prepare him for the specifics of business or computer science, it prepares him to fulfill any job with credit and to master any subject with facility. The liberally educated man is at home in any society because he has an understanding of them all. He has common ground with any class. He knows how to converse intelligently and, more important, when to remain silent. He learns the humility of Socrates and Christ, the perseverance of Sysiphus, the cunning of Odysseus, and the loyalty of pius Aeneas.
The liberally educated man has a gift which serves him in public and the privacy of his own conscience. It will support him when he is young, middle-aged and senile. It will serve him most of all in the next life.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


My definition of a redneck is "a man who takes pride in his ignorance."

I based this definition on a man I met in 1977. I got a job at a sawmill in Lee's Ferry, which was about twenty miles out into the woods, outside of Vickburg, Mississippi. They put me on the line and they told me to do whatever Albert said, and he was the dumbest guy I ever met. The first thing he did was double the speed of the line until I got buried in half-sawn boards. Then he would stop the line and help me back on my feet, while the rest of the crew had a good laugh.

After a week of this Albert challenged me to a head-banging contest. I declined, but he said I was chicken, and I figured he would bother me until I said yes. I stalled so I could figure out a way to lose the contest and not get hurt. I knew I better not win, because then Albert would want to do it again. So we started banging our heads together harder and harder. I figured if I hurt myself just bad enough, he would let me lose, and then we wouldn't have to do that again.

The sawmill was in kind of a backwoods situation. It was closed down on the opening day of squirrel hunting season. It actually takes brains to hunt a squirrel -- there's nothing wrong with that.

But I'm talking about Albert -- he was the dumbest man I ever met.

I just remembered this because Hillary Clinton has all the rednecks voting for her. So, if you're ignorant and proud of it, I guess she's your gal.

But I'm voting for the smart guy.

MY CAR. I don't believe in personal attachment to vehicles, but it happened anyway. I love my car. It's a 1993 red Toyota Corolla -- I don't give it a name, I won't go that far, but I have developed quite an attachment.

I bought it four years ago from a man in Bellingham. It cost me $2,900, when the car had 130,000 miles on it.

This Toyota was the first car I ever owned which wasn't a Ford or Chevy, so I was crossing the line.

I basically lived in the Toyota for the next three years -- lived out of it, I mean -- camping and travelling and staying with friends and relatives. We drove all over the country -- to Texas, California, Ohio, and New England -- it was a beautiful car. Back then, in 'o4 and 'o5, gas was cheap and we just flew over the highway

The seats were just right -- I could drive 12 hours at a stretch and my butt would never get sore. Nothing ever broke. I just changed the oil every 3,000 miles. And it looked so pretty when I washed and waxed it.

It's four years later now. The Toyota has 220,00 miles on it. It has a few small dents, it doesn't polish up so well, the upholstery has a few spots and signs of wear, and there's a crack in the windshield -- all these things add up.

But it still runs as good as it ever did, and I still love it. People say a Toyota will go to 300,000 miles easily.

This is pathetic -- writing about my car. I really need a girl friend.

A GOOD-LOOKING NEWSPAPER FOR LACONNER. With all due respect to Alan Pentz, the founder of the Channeltown Press, he published one heck of an ugly newspaper. He had a bitter, black sense of humor and he hated art and poetry -- feared it, actually. The current owners have not been able to revise Pentz's misanthropic vision.

In contrast, the Puget Sound Mail, which is the old, original, and true newspaper for LaConner, has always been as good-looking and as optimistic as the community it served. Previous publishers -- Pat O'Leary, Bonnie McDade, Dick Fallis, and myself -- put out a paper that was bright and cheerful. McDade published a very nice-looking paper in the early 1980's featuring Art Hupy's candid photography. Dick Fallis was short on business sense, but he had some interesting ideas. And Pat O'Leary was an editor and publisher of legendary proportions.

My own effort at the Puget Sound Mail was at least cheerful. And it was good-looking too. Helen Farias was the graphic designer, and she was the best in the Skagit Valley.

A good-looking town like LaConner deserves a good-looking paper with an optimistic outlook.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


TRUTH: If we were not so over extended in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could easily overthrow the dictators in Burma and Zimbabwe -- it wouldn't take a week.

A SAYING: When you're really good, you don't waste your time trying to get better.

I made up this saying on Saturday afternoon while watching the Fanny Alger band playing at Quinn Thompson's 45th birthday party out at Rexville. Fanny Alger is my favorite rock band -- they make noise, they bang on the drum, they jump up and down -- they ain't trying to get better, they're too good for that.

SCOOP: Frog Hospital scooped the Skagit Valley Herald on the crop forecast. The Herald had a story in their Sunday edition about how the cold spring weather will likely cause a poor yield for local farmers -- but we put that same news out on Saturday afternoon. Of course, several editors and reporters at the Herald read the Frog Hospital -- maybe that's how they found out.

LITTLE IMPROVEMENT: The Channeltown Press, LaConner's weekly newspaper, came up with the brilliant idea of changing their name to the LaConner Weekly News. They also gave themselves a graphic design makeover. Our impression is that they don't look any better than they used to. It's a dull but competent newspaper -- competent in that they publish a decent summary of the week's news in this small community, but needlessly dull.

What LaConner needs is a lively newspaper -- gay friendly, pro-agriculture, and anti-Wal-Mart/big box -- those three editorial themes would resound strongly throughout the community and increase the paper's ad revenue.

But the paper's biggest shortcoming is the editor's failure to appreciate art. Aesthetic judgment is essential in a town that prides itself artistically, but is woefully lacking at the LaConner Weekly News.

GOODBYE: It's goodbye to Rush Limbaugh. This right wing blow hard has made a living for 16 years by creating anti-Clinton hostility. When Hillary and Bill make their expected departure from the national stage, Rush Limbaugh will have no reason to live. Isn't that sweet?

DECENT: I'm serious about a decent campaign between McCain and Obama. I want to see both men at their best -- so we can get the best President. My idea is that the two candidates should make a mutual agreement -- to campaign as hard as they can, but each to go home and take a break on one day each week. It's better if they both stay rested -- you make better decisions that way

Otherwise you end up with a President so worn-out he's like a machine.

JOHN F. KENNEDY. The last time West Virginia had a primary that mattered was 1960, when JFK battled with HHH, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, the Senator from Minnesota. Kennedy swept the state and went on to the nomination.

I remember the 1960 campaign. I was 14. I went to a Kennedy rally near my suburban Chicago home. I greeted him as he jumped out of a limousine into a roaring crowd. Kennedy had to fight his way through the crowd like it was a rugby match, with everybody trying to pound him on the back. The air was electric with excitement.

After the rally I picked up a few "Kennedy for President bumper stickers," which I could not use at the time because I was too young to drive and my folks did not share my enthusiasm for that candidate. So I put the bumper stickers away.

I found them a few days ago, going through a box of old things. Since I had two of them, I decided to use one of them now. If you see my red 1993 Toyota around the valley, look for a "Kennedy for President" sticker on the back bumper -- it's an original.

TOUGH: Barak Obama is the toughest man in America. Obama is tougher than Vladimir Putin. Obama is so tough he doesn't even act tough -- he doesn't need to.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ground Rules

I missed a couple of news cycles. Things were happening too fast and I couldn't keep up, and the Clintons were driving me crazy.

But it's all worked out. Obama has prevailed and my equanimity has been restored. Let us not forget, even if you don't support Senator Obama, that he has two equally important responsibilities. One is to be the Democratic candidate for President. The other is to be a father to his two young daughters.

I don't think Senator Obama is right about everything and he is not the savior of our country, but I will go a long way to protect his privacy and his dual role. The fatigue that was showing on his face last week was obvious to many -- he has more to do than to race from airport to airport. He also has to read bedtime stories. And when Michelle Obama talks about the sacrifices they are making on this campaign, she means the loss of family time.

So, give these people a rest, and that goes for John McCain and his family as well. He has a boy in the service in Iraq. That weighs on his mind as much as becoming President.

With that in mind, and with the two nominations being fairly settled -- this is a very good time to take stock and to get off the frantic pace.

A few ground rules or in order: Age is not an issue. John McCain is not too old to be President. Cindy McCain won't reveal her income taxes. Neither did an equally wealthy Teresa Heinz reveal her income taxes in 2004. The men and women serving in Iraq are not stupid farm boys. They are educated, intelligent, and motivated -- as is John McCain. They say McCain has a hot temper, but that doesn't mean much, unless you're on his personal staff.

As for Senator Obama, charges that he is unpatriotic, un-American, and elitist should be fiercely resisted. He's from Chicago. He's not a country boy. I live in a rural area myself, but the idea that country people are truer folks is completely wrong. Obama plays basketball -- that's a city game. He plays hoop and other people shoot ducks -- fine. Most of our population is urban, despite the Jeffersonian myth, and pandering to the "rural elite" is a phony ploy.

CHANGE OF SUBJECT. Madonna, at age 50, having borne two children, is going on tour again, so her picture is on all the magazine covers -- her new "figure" is unveiled. It is so unattractive. She has somehow acquired the body of a prepubescent androgynous 12-year-old. The new mechanical Madonna body is presented like a styling change in Detroit when they had new models every year. This year she is anorexic, unlovely, unnatural, and anti-erotic. Where is the pasta? She is a disgrace to Italian woman everywhere.

Many women I know are 50 years old and older, and have born one or several children and the variety of their figures is very appealing. But I suspect those women aren't Madonna fans anyway.

It's the kids who look at Madonna's cover shot and think, "If I starved myself, and lived on wheat grass, and hired a personal trainer, and had a little work done, then I could look like Madonna."

Dreadful..... I like real Italian, but then I remember Sophia Loren.

COLD SPRING. Farmer Dave confirms that the Skagit Valley is having it's coldest spring since 1982 -- according to figures at the research station. It hasn't rained that much, but it sure has been cold, and the farmers are three weeks behind in the planting because the fields haven't dried up enough. Still, Farmer Dave says he has to plant now, but he feels guilty about that because running a tractor across a muddy field compacts the soil in a bad way.

Compacted soil is bad -- light, fluffy soil is what you want.

The berry crops -- blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries -- should come in fine, but they will be late.

But the potato crop is a worry, and that is the principle money-maker around here. Planting three weeks late in the spring does not mean that the weather gods will give you three weeks grace in the fall when the spuds are harvested. A shorter season means a poorer crop.

And potatoes are getting VERY important -- with rising food prices and all that. The time will come when people don't come up here to see the tulips -- they'll come up here to watch the potatoes grow and be very thankful that we have so much to eat.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Not in a Million Years

So, if Barak Obama fails to get the Democratic nomination, I will then reluctantly support Hillary Clinton........ Are you kidding? Not in a million years I won't. Don't even ask. There are so very few things in politics that I am sure of -- but this is one of them -- no Clinton, no Bush, and no Kennedy will ever get my vote -- I am so firmly opposed to family dynasties.

In the case of the Clintons -- they are trying to sneak around the 22nd Amendment which limits the President to two terms. The 22nd Amendment was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1951 in revenge against the four-terms of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The two-term custom was established by our first President, George Washington. FDR broke that custom in 1940 when he ran for a 3rd term. It was a radical move, but with World War II on the horizon, I would have supported his decision, and I would have supported his 4th term as well.

But Hillary and Bill Clinton are not extraordinary people -- I'm quite sure of that. They are just trying to sneak back into the White House, and to make an end run around the 22nd Amendment.

The Clintons are driven to obsession by a need to get back to the White House -- they have established no other home. Politics is their joint addiction, otherwise they can't stand each other. This is a very unhealthy couple. I couldn't vote for them -- I say this calmly.

I have worked so hard on maintaining a detached equanimity with regard to politics. I pride myself on my ability to listen to anybody -- even Rush Limbaugh -- without an increase in blood pressure. Although for Rush, I have to limit my exposure to no more than ten minutes.

I have travelled the country and mixed with people from all parts of the political spectrum -- and I'm always calm.

However, I must admit that I succumbed to a flash of anti-Clinton hostility these past few weeks. It was Hillary calling Barak Obama an elitist that got me into a total meltdown. I just about busted a gut. I swear I have not been so mad at a politician since Lyndon Johnson cancelled the War on Poverty because he wanted to bomb Hanoi.

I was furious to the point of physical illness. I was so mad at Hillary that I was going global and starting to get mad at all the people who supported her, including various friends and relatives whom I stopped speaking to. What a talent that woman has!

This fury lasted for ten days, but yesterday morning, I woke up after the sweetest dream -- a dream that had nothing to do with politics, but it was a romp on the beach with my California Sweetheart from 1970. It was nice of her to come back to visit me in the dreamscape -- You're not welcome to know the rest of the dream because there's a limit....... but I woke up with a smile, and I realized I was no longer mad at Hillary. In fact I was feeling a bit warm-hearted and magnanimous, and I wanted to forgive her and just let it go.

And the reason that I began to have such generous feelings toward Hillary? Because I know, from some profound depth in my heart, that SHE'S GOING TO LOSE and that the Obamas, Barak and Michelle, will prevail and go on to take the nomination and then take the fight to John McCain.

I offer no evidence for this conviction. I can marshal no facts in support of an argument, but I know that Hillary will lose. I know that this very week, in Indiana and North Carolina, she is peaking and reaching the high point of her political life -- but then it's all over.

Hillary, I understand how badly you wanted to be President, but it's not your time. There were so many good candidates this year -- especially Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards -- all hugely inspired toward public service -- I can only say I am grateful to you and to them for what you have done.