Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mugabe's Insane Hatred

Robert Mugabe is like Jeremiah Wright on steroids -- there is a parallel at least in that both men are angry about conditions that no longer exist, fighting battles that have already been won, and hating enemies that died years ago.

When Barack Obama speaks about change, I believe he means about the difference between himself and his former Pastor. Wright's anger was appropriate at the time. It was the angry determination of the African-American community that overturned the regime of segregation in this country. But that anger is misplaced now, and Obama has moved past it.

In Africa, Robert Mugabe lives only in a dream world of old Rhodesia. His heart burns with hatred of the British colonial masters of those days. Back then a white man was always addressed as "boss" and a black man was always called "boy." Those rules were strictly enforced in old Rhodesia, and Robert Mugabe hated that regime, and fought it, and destroyed it. Old Rhodesia is gone, except within the foul heart of Robert Mugabe.

This is 2008, white people, in Europe and North America, have rejected those old ways. There are still a few virulent racists among the exiled Rhodesian community -- but they are not gaining any converts.

In fact, the best thing that could happen to the desperate countries of Africa would be an influx of professional, middle-class Europeans and Americans -- also Asians. People with education, people with a modest amount of capital, people with no overt racist intentions, people who would willingly adapt to the language and customs of the African people, people who are very different than their parents or grandparents -- but people who could bring their own skills and abilities to a continent that desperately needs them.

I'm not talking about do gooders and social engineers. I'm talking about plain old economic opportunists who would come to Africa and take their chances -- not especially to do any one a big favor, but to do an even better thing -- make an honest living and build a home for themselves. Africa needs these kind of people.

Yet it is these very people who are most feared by the racist leadership of most African countries -- a hatred expressed most virulently by Robert Mugabe, but shared by the more moderate leaders of other African countries.

LACONNER TEARS. Former LaConner Mayor Wayne Everton had this to say in a recent email to Frog Hospital

I think I discovered many years ago that the La Conner merchants aren't really interested in doing those things that would improve business. I think they'd rather bitch than be creative. I see what Anacortes does, I even see what Sedro Wooley does and I don't see what La Conner does except spend $20,000 putting brochures in racks with several hundred other communities.

Twenty years ago people came to La Conner whether we wanted them or not. It was "quaint" and "cute" and "warm. Now other towns have learned to be "quaint" and "cute" and "warm" but we, for some reason, think competition doesn't exist.

It's interesting, and ironic, that when we had a volunteer Chamber of Commerce business was good. Now that we have a highly paid professional Chamber business has fallen off. I wonder if there's a connection.

--- So that's what Wayne Everton thinks, and he has a good point

Meanwhile, Anna Ferdinand is a rising star at LaConner's weekly newspaper. Her story about Georgia Johnson's school lunch innovations was most excellent. It's too bad the LaConner weekly doesn't have a website -- because Anna's reporting needs to go around the world.
Speaking of art, one of LaConner's best artists, Joel Brock, had quite a show last week --- in Edison, not in LaConner. In fact, Brock is no longer a LaConner artist -- he moved to Edison some years ago. Why did he leave LaConner?

Why is Edison the most creative hotspot north of Seattle, while LaConner is becoming the capital of Old Fogeys eating ice cream? Sic transit gloria. Or, as Ernest Hemingway said, "It's a Moveable Feast" and it sure has moved out of LaConner.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

African Tears

Robert Mugabe is at war with his own people. Bishop Tutu called him a Frankenstein. Morgan Tsvangirai is in asylum at the Dutch Embassy in Harare the capital of Zimbabwe. The Security Council at the United Nation is discussing the matter -- but what can they do? African leaders utter condemnations -- but Mugabe owes them nothing.

All eyes turn to Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, the leader of the most powerful government in Africa. Mbeki is the one man who can do something about this, but he will not.

A part of Mbeki supports the deep racial hatred of Robert Mugabe, who blames the old British colonials for every recent harm.

David Maritz,a resident of Camano Island, but with strong family roots in Zimbabwe, wrote this:

"It will change when the useless Thabo Mbeki is out of power and stops keeping Mugabe in power."

Maritz also said, "The ultimate strength of a democracy is a vibrant middle class. It is the buffer that keeps the upper class from turning the lower classes into powerless starving masses as Mugabe has done. Mugabe can buy most of the masses with a bag of mealie meal and beat up the rest."

But it is the very middle class professionals -- doctors, businessmen, teachers, nurses -- who have fled the country.

It is also very possible that the crisis will destabalize South Africa. Already millions of Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and there have been mass riots and killings by angry South Africans who are unwilling to share their resources.

It is a wonder that Mbeki does nothing when his own country might suffer so drastically.

But Mugabe, at age 84, did say that only God can remove him from office. Africans are strong believers in the power of prayer and many have beseeched the Almighty for this very thing.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cruelty in Zimbabwe

Gangs of violent thugs are rampaging in the cities and villages of Zimbabwe, in a frenzy of looting, burning, raping, and killing. All known or suspected opponents of Robert Mugabe's regime are in peril for their lives. It has come down to this awful place. There is no future and no hope. This site, the Zimbabwe Situation, summarizes all the terrible news.

The people of Zimbabwe, despite the direst provocation, show no sign of rising up in arms against the despot. Neighboring countries, especially South Africa, lack the determination to intervene. No one knows what will happen next -- if the destruction and violence will finally destroy every good thing in this once wonderful country. It's madness.

Why has Zimbabwe gone over the brink into insanity? Why does it happen there and not here? Are we lucky to be in America? Are we God's special friends? Are we doing something right? Because we have problems, but life is much better here than in Africa.

I attended the Zimbabwe Independence Day party in Seattle in April. This is an annual event and many immigrants from Zimbabwe come to have a good time and to celebrate their culture. This year, I saw many new faces -- new immigrants from Zimbabwe who were young, talented, and energetic. They had escaped a savage dictator. They were working and sending American dollars back to their hungry families. A slim hope of salvation rests in this exiled community, not just in Seattle, but in most big cities in the English-speaking world -- immigrants who are safe, for the time being, who will never return, or who hope against hope to return some day.
But how will Zimbabwe survive this calamity?

A CAR DEALER LAMENTS. If he makes half as much this year, he still won't be poor -- that's what I thought. But it was still an outstanding spectacle -- a car dealer, a well known man in this area, who said that his business is terrible. He's got a fleet of trucks and SUVs that he can't give away.

Car salesmen are the soul of the American economy -- they are the ultimate source of our national exuberance. They are the truest of true believers -- and the most cynical.
It doesn't make me happy to see them brought low.

GIVING AWAY HER SUV. A friend of mine had been driving an 8-year-old GMC Yukon -- it was a good vehicle, but a gas pig. So she replaced it with a Subaru Outback because of its good mileage.

Anyhow, she couldn't sell the old Yukon for peanuts, but decided to give it to one of her relatives. "I can always use it when I need to haul a big load," she said.

I was making fun of the philosopher's group in the last issue -- they do not actually get drunk at the LaConner Tavern, but there is a real group of men who meet on weekday mornings at the Next Chapter in LaConner and listen to taped lectures before discussing the works of Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and other great thinkers. It is a discussion that has been going on for more than a thousand years, and I have joined in.

DELIRIUM. People should understand, in my own defense, that I spend my working hours in the company of delirious people at the local hospital. "Daft" I call them, or "addled" -- there are lots of words for this, but delirium and dementia are medical terms that are well-defined.

The problem is that people with serious medical problems, such as a broken hip, or a urinary tract infection, can be so seriously impacted by the illness that they temporarily lose their marbles -- to use another common phrase. This delirium is a symptom of the underlying illness -- and my job is to stay with the patient and help them work through it.

This babbling of nonsense and fluttering of hands can be very difficult for loved ones to view. Imagine your parents or your spouse -- solid and sensible people -- only know they are howling at the moon from their hospital bed. So I counsel these people as well.

It can be a very hard job. And it's not really about skills so much as it's about attitude.
I have a very strong belief in my own sensibility and consciousness. I use that strength to project a return to reality upon the patient. I don't always succeed, but I never give up.

But, in order to keep myself in good shape for this job, I need to spend my off hours with clear-headed, healthy people -- like those morning philosophers I just told you about.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Uncertainty as Considered by various philosophers

Sunshine and receding floodwaters in Iowa caused a small dip this week in the price of corn at Chicago's commodity markets, but those same markets await a more accurate estimate of flood damage to crops. Right now, corn is hovering between $7 and $8 per bushel -- a price higher than anyone imagined. You just have to remember that for every buyer there is a seller, and if you're a consumer of corn -- and you are -- you're going to pay more. But if you're selling corn, it's a happy day.

Think of the Iowa farmers who did not get their fields flooded -- they're doing all right. As for the speculators at the commodity exchanges -- they are necessary creatures. Most of them have never seen a cornfield. They inhabit the dark canyons of LaSalle Street in downtown Chicago, screaming frantically at each other day after day, feeding off every rumor of crop failure, government coup in far away countries, or drought in Australia.

We don't know -- we have fear of uncertainty. What is the cost of not knowing what the cost will be? The price of corn, wheat, all foods, oil -- sure, the price is going up, but how high? How can you plan? How much will it cost to fly to Denver at Christmas to see your family? You don't know, and no one can tell you.

In the best of times, prices rise steadily because of our increased productivity and the extra value added. But everything is catterwonkus now. And the weather isn't cooperating either.

So with everything so screwed up, this is an excellent time to consider the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, an important German philosopher of the 19th century. I don't often think of Schopenhauer or Kant or Kierkegaard, but there were several fellows stumbling out of the LaConner Tavern late last night, in their cups, and arguing intensely about the primacy of Will.

"You Hegelian buffoon," George roared at Handsome Jim, who smiled back, knowingly, and smugly.

"Yes, I am a Hegelian," Handsome Jim finally said, "and I can reduce his entire philosophy to one word -- Becoming."

"But the key figure was not Hegel -- his work lacks certainty. There is no ground left to stand on. It was left to Schopenhauer...." George said.

John, the Designated Diviner, intervened at this point and attempted to summarize: "As you know, Schopenhauer was born in the eastern Prussian city of Danzig in 1788, and as he grew up and found his calling to philosophy, he became an ardent follower of Immanuel Kant -- not merely to broadcast Kant's ideas, but to develop them further.

"Schopenhauer believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of human nature, and an attempt to demonstrate to the audience a certain existential angst. A wide range of authors, from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen, have been influenced by this system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of Schopenhauer's work garnered more attention and praise than any other."

"Oh, horse puckey," George said, and he began weaving down the street, stepping one foot into the gutter and one foot on the sidewalk, chanting "Either, Or, Either, Or, Either, Or."

Friday, June 20, 2008

June-uary in the Skagit Valley

They're calling it June-uary in the Skagit Valley because it's been so cold and so wet. The slugs and snails are eating everything. Anybody who planted a garden has to re-plant their beans and cucumbers and any tender-seeded vegetable.

Onions and peas are doing all right, though, but just growing slowly.

The farmers are looking at a disaster. Strawberries are rotting in the field. Some potato fields haven't even been planted. Everything else is either late or soggy.

Farmer Dave once said, "I can add anything but heat." How true, all the fertilizer in the world won't make up for a lack of warm, sunny days.

The farmers seem remarkably calm in the face of financial ruin except that farmers, more than anybody, know that weather can be fickle and the best plans of mankind are puny. All this talk about global warming is very welcome -- it seems that urban people are beginning to realize what their country cousins never forgot -- our lives depend on the weather.

Out on Fir Island, where I live, at the mouth of the Skagit River, I have spent a lot of time walking up and down the slough in the back of the house. The slough has wheat fields on either side, and I can tread a narrow path between the emerging wheat and the cattails that tumble into the water. The wheat is 8 inches tall now -- it keeps growing in this cold, wet weather, but slowly, and any fertilizer or herbicide might get washed off and be useless.

The slough is bursting with wildlife -- schools of minnows darting about, probably sticklebacks, but I'll bet the salmon fry get in there too. The little fish feed the stalking herons -- some pretty big bull frogs too.

What do the ducks eat? I could ask Meynard Axelson, he lives one mile down the road and he keeps more than 30 varieties of ducks and other waterfowl in a half-acre sized pen with a net roof. Meynard is known far and wide as the go-to guy if you have a duck problem.

I did ask Meynard about the nest of duck eggs I stumbled across. It was in a side ditch near the slough, with eleven eggs, and the mama duck burst out of the tall grass and flew away as I approached. Meynard advised me to avoid going near the nest until the eggs were hatched.

He said the mama duck usually tucks feathersand grass over the eggs when she goes off to feed to keep them hidden, but if the mama duck leaves suddenly, she leaves her eggs exposed to the crows and hawks. He also said some possum or raccoon might follow my foot trail and discover the eggs.

So I will walk another way for the next couple of weeks. Otherwise I can still watch the red winged blackbirds and the sparrows and this beautiful yellow bird I saw yesterday -- but I don't know what it is.

There's a beaver, one or two, that lives in the slough somewhere. I saw it swimming around last month. Around here, the beavers dig burrows in the bank. I discovered one burrow, but it seems not be used anymore because there are no fresh tracks.

Meanwhile, and everywhere, people are complaining and talking of gloom and doom. All you readers have no doubt joined in these gripe sessions. It seems that most people don't trust the oil companies, to put it mildly. But there is a development of great importance which has not been reported in the media, but you will read it here, in Frog Hospital.

The news is that we have definitely embarked on a course of energy independence. The media reports how the Republicans favor nuclear power and off-shore drilling while the Democrats favor conservation, wind power and other alternatives. This is a vital debate. But the underlying and unreported premise to this debate is that ALL NEW SOURCES OF ENERGY WILL COME FROM WITHIN OUR OWN COUNTRY. This is great news and this is something we can do, because nation building begins at home.

Every conceivable source of energy comes with a toxic cost -- there is no free ride, there is no 100% clean, pollution-free supply. And every solution to our energy crisis will create further problems which will, in turn, require further solutions.

That means stay flexible in your thinking. Don't be discouraged and NO WHINING -- because I'm getting tired of hearing gripe sessions day after day. After a while, you gotta stop talking and get your rear end in gear.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Suffering is Good

Suffering is good, because it’s the truth. I learned that working at the hospital. When the old man in the bed says, “It hurts,” or “I want to die,” he isn’t playing a game, or trying to be my friend, or wanting to impress me -- it’s just the truth and nothing else and we say the truth is good and beautiful. So there it is.

I work at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, Washington. My daughter, Eva, was born in that hospital in 1979. Dr. Logan was the obstetrician. Eva came out all pretty. The nurse washed her and combed her hair -- she was born with nice, black curly hair -- and ever since then I’ve thought that Skagit Valley Hospital was a pretty good place.

Dr. Logan is still catching babies at the Birth Center. I saw him awhile ago near the cafeteria. I reminded him about my daughter’s birth and thanked him

Three reasons why people void going to the hospital:
1. Death
2. Pain
3. Confinement

Death, the biggest fear, is also the easiest to define. The heart stops beating, breathing stops, and the brain becomes unconscious. It is clear and certain, completely and utterly, dead gone, most assuredly not alive, kicked the bucket, bought the ranch, pushing up daisies. Death is most certain and most equal -- it happens to everybody. It’s what happens after death that is so debatable. Those who believe in the soul might discover that they don’t have one, or vice versa. But the main choices seem to be reincarnation, heaven, hell, the astral plane or oblivion.
I am afraid to die, although the adventure of it is somewhat appealing. I lack religious certainty. I have strong spiritual thoughts and feelings, just not the kind of certainty you can take to the bank. My code of conduct is derived from established models. I have a conscience -- when I break those rules, I feel guilty.

Otherwise, I have no special approach to this looming reality, but I am afraid to die. It is so damned irreversible -- that dying room you enter and never leave. So many years of outdoor living, camping, and working outside as a landscaper is because of my innate claustrophobia. Specifically, I am afraid of dying in a room, and I hope, when the time comes, that they can put me in the patio in the back yard, so that the last thing I see is the sky, and the last thing I feel is breeze on my face. That sounds good.

So it has been instructive to spend time with older patients who are facing their last days. The same thing will happen to me some day, so it’s good to learn.
What surprises me is how little fear the old ones have. It may be their next to last day, but they don’t waste time whining about it. It’s probable because they are more certain than I am that the day is coming. They are more accepting of it, ready for the adventure of it. They do say that old age isn’t for sissies. You have this body that just isn’t working anymore. Everything keeps breaking. The doctors fix one thing, but them something else breaks. The meaning becomes clear -- it’s over. And they face it without terror, with or without religion.

It’s often harder on the loved ones gathered around.

Anyway, I have my own death figure out. It will be in the parking lot of the 7-11 convenience store, maybe the one over in Mount Vernon. I’ll be getting out of the car and walking into to get some coffee or something, and I’ll be hit by a blinding stroke and drop like a stone onto the pavement, stone dead, so dead my head bounces when I hit, and the people will rush around and look at the old man lying there.
I like the mundane quality of this departure.

I remember when the doctors put my father on a salt-free diet because of his high blood-pressure. That was in 1974 and it pretty much killed him. They didn’t know how much my father loved to eat. Mom used to make him spare ribs and sauerkraut, and it would almost bring tears to his eye, he loved it so much.

But they took the salt away from him, and then he died. They said it was heart failure, ha! He died from loss of appetite. He told me, one of his last words, “If it tastes good, I can’t eat it.” They shouldn’t have taken the salt away from my father. Why not let somebody die as they lived? Truth be told, he wasn’t going to last long anyways. Heck, they should have given him a martini and let him go out with a smile one his face.

Fear of pain and confinement are the two more reasons to avoid the hospital -- I will address those questions next.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Touching People

I wrote this for students in a nursing class -- you might find it interesting because it gives you a look on the other side.

Nurses touch patients. There is a right way to do this and it can be learned.

I begin with my experiences as a patient, in hospitals, clinics, and doctors' offices, going back to childhood. When the nurse or doctor touched me, putting their hands somewhere on my body, it always felt good.

It's kind of difficult to describe how it felt -- sort of warm and cool at the same time, and both comforting and firm.

If a doctor or nurse touched me and it didn't feel good, I would get out of there really fast, but this has never happened.

The nursing student might recall experiences of being touched by health care people. Did it always feel good? Try to remember how it felt.

New nursing students are not used to touching people in the way that doctors and nurses do, especially the men. It's a little scary and it feels awkward and embarrassing, but think of it simply as a skill, something you can learn, something that you will get better at with practice and experience.

Consider the body. In our culture, for the most part, the safe areas are the arms, shoulders, neck, head, and the feet below the knees.

I like to make a "get acquainted" touch when I first meet a patient at the hospital, usually by putting my hand on their arm for a second. This gives the patient a chance to get used to me. It gives them a chance to object -- with words, rarely, but more often with a kind of flinching that can be quite subtle. It's hardly ever happened to me, but if that does happen, I back off a few feet, and give the patient some space, and begin to talk instead.

If I have the time, but often enough I'm dealing with a necessity and must act fairly quickly. I still go through an approach procedure, even if it's very compressed in time. "Hello, I'm Fred, I'm the Nursing Assistant and I'm going to help you move into a more comfortable position so that you can eat your dinner." Then I come closer, but a hand on their shoulder or arm, pause for a moment to see that it's okay, and then go ahead and prop them up or help them move to a chair.

I sometimes deal with cranky, irritable, delusional, and violent people. I get hit, scratched, and bitten. One time an older patient, a stroke victim, threatened to throw a hot cup of coffee in my face -- that was a little scary, but usually it's not scary, just very unpleasant. I really don't like it when patients act like this. It hurts my feelings, and it feels just as bad if I see one of the other nurses get treated this way -- but it's been a part of nursing for a long time. Very sick people are simply not responsible for their behavior -- they are sometimes very frightened and in pain -- who could blame them?

Nurses ­never respond to a disruptive patient with an attitude of "getting even." If you can't literally "take it on the chin" with a smile, then you should not be in nursing. Which is to say that the patient can touch you in a bad way, but you must always touch them in a good way.

This has never been a problem for me, but I always monitor my emotional balance. I strive to be sympathetic and yet professionally detached. Some patients are more fun to be with than others. It's all right to like someone, but within a fairly narrow margin. You still owe the very best of care to those patients who are not exactly your cup of tea.

Consider Mr. Jorgenson in Room Three. He is getting to be a pretty unhappy fellow. He keeps yelling, "Where's my shoes? This is a prison. I'm leaving."

But he can't leave. He's too sick, and if he tries to get out of bed, he's going to fall down and hurt himself. His desire to leave the hospital is rational, so the nurse can agree with that, but we cannot, ever, let a patient hurt themselves or someone else. So, a dialog begins with Mr. Jorgenson, and it might go on for hours. "Mr. Jorgenson, I understand how you feel. Of course you want to go home, but you're too sick to get out of bed. You really need to be in the hospital right now. We're going to get you better and get you out of her as soon as we can…"

Back to touching. The private part of the body is everything between the shoulders and the knees. We do not go here without the patient's permission. Even if the patient is asleep, unconscious, or delusional, we always announce verbally our intentions. "I need to check your brief, Mr. Jorgenson. It might be time for a change." The patient then has the opportunity to refuse permission.

Touching in this area is intimate. I think that "intimate" is the right word. It's not sex, it's not love, it's not even friendship -- it's health care, it's what we have to do when we have to do it, and we're good at it. And you will be good at it too, with practice and more experience.

I continuously verbalize as I'm working. "Yes, it looks wet. I'm going to change your brief and clean you up a bit....This cloth might feel a little cool...I'm going to turn you over on your side for just a bit..." --all said in that calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice which the nurses are so good at using. You will get good at it too.

This is not the time for "visiting" or being friendly or sociable, and, please, no jokes. Curiosity of a professional nature is good because that's how we learn. We work with human bodies, which are very interesting. They come in all sizes and shapes. And every part has a name -- and we only use the professional names. You will learn them and use them.

When you're learning to do this work on the private parts of the body, watch your own thoughts and feelings -- if you're too nervous, if you have inappropriate or unprofessional thoughts and feelings that persist and do not go away -- then, seriously, maybe you shouldn't be in nursing. You'll be doing yourself, the patients, and the whole world a big favor, if you are completely honest with yourself. No blame, just look for some other kind of work.

But you'll probably do just fine.

Then, when the procedure is finished, the brief is changed, and the covers are back on, we can go back to being sociable and talk about the baseball game or any other thing.

Generally, an older patient, or one who has been sick for a long time, is very used to being handled. This is where the beginner gets experience and where the nursing staff will assign you. If you are a little nervous or tentative, the older patients either won't notice or won't mind.
Just take a deep breath, pause for a moment, and do it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's Not a Matter of Belief

"I'm not a global warming believer. I'm not a global warming denier. I'm a global warming agnostic who believes instinctively that it can't be very good to pump lots of CO2 into the atmosphere but is equally convinced that those who presume to know exactly where that leads are talking through their hats.

Predictions of catastrophe depend on models. Models depend on assumptions about complex planetary systems -- from ocean currents to cloud formation -- that no one fully understands. Which is why the models are inherently flawed and forever changing. The doomsday scenarios posit a cascade of events, each with a certain probability. The multiple improbability of their simultaneous occurrence renders all such predictions entirely speculative."

-- Charles Krauthammer

This is the best summary quote on the global warming issue that I have seen. I am just quibbling about words, but global warming is not a matter of belief or denial. It's a matter of science and the proper response is to be skeptical -- or to be agnostic, as Krauthammer put it.

I also support his instinctive response, when he said, "it can't be very good to pump large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere."

Here, again, Krauthammer used the right word, "instinctively." He might have said that he trusted his own intuition, or that it was common sense, or an assertion.

But it's not a fact, not yet. Mounting evidence suggests that it is a fact, and we ought to do something about it.

But at no time, now or in the future, will it ever be a matter of belief.

Monday, June 02, 2008


DENVER, COLORADO -- This trip is not an adventure. I came to Denver to visit my family. My younger sister, Katy, was married to Bruce Walters this Saturday in a simple backyard ceremony with both families attending. Friends came over later for a reception. The weather was perfect -- nice and sunny, but not too hot. My sister has three grandchildren and I enjoyed playing with them. Bruce comes from Iowa and his folks drove out for the occasion -- his Mom and Dad, in their late eighties, his two sisters and their husbands. Not being a first marriage for either Katy or Bruce, their children, his two and her two, were a part of the ceremony.

Lots of farm talk. Earl Walters, the Dad, ran a farm in Iowa for many years, after he finished his service in World War II, but he said he was glad to be out of it now. They are selling the old home and moving into a retirement place. Bruce will inherit his Dad's pickup truck -- but he has to go back to Iowa to get it.

Iowa farming is all about corn and soy beans. The Walters kids grew up on the farm and put in long hours helping their folks, but they have not pursued that profession. They asked me about farms in the Skagit Valley and I told them how different it was there -- being smaller farms and much more diversified into vegetable and berries.

Bruce's brother-in-law manages a hydraulic hose factory in Iowa. He reported that the factory is working around the clock seven days a week, because new farm implements need a lot of hydraulic hoses, and the high commodity prices, for both corn and soy beans, have enabled Midwestern farmers to buy new equipment.

But Bruce's sister works in another factory, right near the hydraulic place, only this business manufactures windows and other housing fixtures. Needless to say, the window factory is laying people off because of the housing slump.

So it's a mixed picture in Iowa -- some good and some bad. But the old folks are downsizing and moving into the retirement home and time passes on.

POLITICS. I used to know what I thought about the "great issues of the day" but lately I have been shedding opinions like so many old feathers. I have decided that this is good thing and I will just strip it all the way down and take a fresh look at things.

I still like Obama and feel that he has been right about the invasion of Iraq. Otherwise, I don't expect miracles from him. The kids may get excited about a young black man overtaking the White House. Enthusiasm is good. And our role as elders is to resist the enthusiasm of young people, so that it can be formed into something good.

I am not alarmed by the outspoken comments of various preachers. I heard Rev. Hagee -- McCain's man -- condemn the Gay Pride Parade in New Orleans and he said the wrath of God brought on Hurricane Katrina. Hagee is welcome to his own interpretation. Likewise, whoever mounts the pulpit at Obama's Trinity church in Chicago may speak as plainly and as bluntly as they wish -- it will not ruffle my feathers.

Denunciations are ridiculous. Both candidates have been associated with perfect fools, at one time or another. So what. How would you like to be responsible for the sayings and doings of everybody you have ever worked with or been friends with? It's an impossible standard.

Apologies are worse. McCain and Obama can't get a moment's peace. Sooner or later, one of them will say something stupid -- Obama prefers the term "bone-headed." When a candidate says something stupid, he should be issued a Take Back, like a friendly game of checkers.

And we need to stop whining. Gas is over $4 per gallon and you think the world is coming to an end, the way some people talk. Get over it. I predict that gas will level off around $5 per gallon and remain at that price for some years. Don't complain, adjust. It's time for America to become resourceful. Use your brain -- figure out a better way.

I will fly back to Seattle on Wednesday and return to my job at the hospital on Thursday. Getting away like this will make me feel glad to get back to work.