Friday, May 28, 2010

The Oil Spill, Who's in Charge?

Yesterday I heard President Obama say he was in charge of the oil spill -- to stop it and clean it up. When people are in charge, they don't have to call a press conference to say they're in charge.

BP is in charge, as best as I can tell. They are the only ones who know how to operate at 5,000 feet deep. The Gulf of Mexico is their lake. BP should not be in charge, but they are.

It's already happened. We can prevent this from happening again, but right now, BP has the ball and the rest of us are just stuck watching. I don't like it anymore than you do.

I wish President Obama was in charge, or that nice rear admiral from the Coast Guard, or Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. But wishing won't plug the leak -- which should be called an eruption, not a leak.

This oil "eruption" can result in a good thing -- because it unites us. I am finding common cause with a wide variety of people -- because so many people are extremely angry about this.

This experience can result in positive changes. The eruption will be stopped, the oil will be cleaned up, BP will no longer be in charge, and a new day will come our way, all those good things we hoped for.

This eruption in the Gulf of Mexico is not the worst. The worst is oil from the Persian Gulf. I am not completely opposed to offshore drilling because it's not the worst -- maybe the second worst, but not a close second. Oil from the Persian Gulf is far more dangerous.

Oil from Nigeria --- millions of barrels of oil piped out of the delta of the Niger River. Desperately poor people live there. Oil is spilled on their mangrove swamps every day. There is no protection, none, no safeguard, no media watching, no government oversight. BP is in charge there.

Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is not as bad as oil from the Persian Gulf or from Nigeria.

If we did not have one army in Iraq and one army in Afghanistan, and a fleet in the Indian Ocean -- all noble American young people risking their lives to protect our supply of oil........ if we withdrew from that region, then we could apply our resources to sound oceanography and drill for oil offshore in a much safer way, with serious submersibles watch-dogging the whole operation at great depths.

And meanwhile plunging even more resources to onshore, domestic sources of energy -- all those pretty things -- wind mills, solar panels and biodigesters, which is where the real answer lies.

But the priority is to get rid of the worst -- the oil from the Persian Gulf. Get our troops out, bring our navy home. And then President Obama would not have to call a press conference to say he was in charge. He would just be in charge and he would make good decisions.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grumbling about Facebook

"One means of communication is as good as another." I wrote that last week to mean that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube were just as good as newspapers, books, and magazines.

That's true, but glib. The big problem with the new social media is that nobody gets paid. Thousands of journalists are walking the street, or pounding out blogs for Huffington Post -- for free. Doing for free what they used to get paid to do. Doing it for free because they can't help themselves.

And thousands of clerical workers --thrown out of work by There used to be a room full of women at the offices of the Skagit Valley Herald -- lots of jobs -- and these women answered the phone and took down the details for classified advertising. And the newspaper made money off those ads and used that money to hire reporters to get the news.

Everybody got paid.

In the new model, nobody gets paid, except the people who own Google and they are wealthy beyond measure.

You could say they were innocent, the people who invented and YouTube and Twitter -- just a bunch of geeks who found a cool new app and let it loose on the world.

Innocent like two-year-olds who have no sense of responsibility for the damage they have left behind.

No, these people, these inventor geeks are not innocent. If you don't take the time to think of what the longer and wider consequences of your actions will be, then you can make no claim to maturity.

Many thousands of people out of work.

I have no solution, the job-killing spread of social media, these crazy ideas about how it's supposed to "advance communication" and "create new jobs." That is a fanciful lie. Because I know too many people who used to get paid, and now they can do it for free.

Facebook is free. Twitter is free. YouTube is free. And nobody gets nothing.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Talking with Digger Jerry

I ran into Digger Jerry by the front desk of the Anacortes Library. I said hello and walked over to speak with him while SIMULTANEOUSLY sending a photo from my cell phone to my Twitter page.

Frog Hospital was multi-tasking. Such a miracle. Digger Jerry and I got into a somewhat animated conversation about kohlrabis -- a most favored vegetable in his mind and in my mind as well.

Such conversation segued over to a story I had written about Mother Flight Farm on Fir Island. This twenty-acre organic establishment is where I was first introduced to the wonders of kohlrabi.

Digger Jerry knew of Mother Flight Farm himself and we both praised the owners, Glenn and Charlotte Johnson, for growing vigorous vegetables.

What happened next could only happen in a library. Someone walked up to us and asked us very politely to stop talking so loudly.

They were reading books! In a library!

Digger Jerry said he wanted to read books too, so he went off upstairs "to get lost in someone else's thought" as he put it.

Meanwhile, I had finished transmitting the photo of a kohlrabi from my cell phone to my Twitter page, and I felt triumphant.

Serious Discussion. Communication always requires effort. You need to first gain the attention of the person you wish to communicate with, and then you must have something to say ("content" to you children out there).

The Internet does not make communication easier or better. The Internet is a solution to a problem we never had.

I am NOT techno-phobic. I am techno-indifferent. One means of communication is as good as another.

Which is why you can often find me on Facebook ( go to "LaConner Views") or on Twitter ( go to "Frog Hospital")

Is there a lot of tedious nonsense on Facebook and Twitter? Yes, indeed, and it's much like the tiresome and endlessly boring stuff that people used to say in face-to-face conversations.

Human beings have been yawping about nothing for a hundred generations. Imagine two aborigines sitting around a fire in Australia five thousand years ago.

"Do you like to eat those frogs?"

"Nope, but I was hungry"

"So you could have ate those antelope bones?"

"Yeah, but the bones were over at Xhasi's camp and I'm mad at him because he borrowed my short knife and he won't give it back"

"So why are you and Xhasi always getting mad at each other?"

"I don't know, it just happens. Do we have to talk about this?
I just want to eat the frogs and go to sleep"

See? A boring conversation, but completely organic.

You can be boring in any language and through any medium.

Or you can be interesting, which is "having something to say."

Being interesting requires effort. Make that effort and you will make the world a better place.

Book News. Books are not going out of business, not in the least. I am sure of their enduring value and feel no need to promote or defend them.

You walk away from books because you get caught up in other interests, but then you come back -- because they are so awesome.

Frog Hospital Book News. The Frog Hospital book, Frog Hospital in italics, has gotten off to a good start. Sales have been brisk at the Next Chapter bookstore in LaConner. The book-signing went really well on Friday night. It's Lisa Nielsen's bookstore and she is a pleasure to work with.

I also spent three days in Seattle flogging the book. People don't know me down there, so this will take a little longer.

After Seattle, I'm going to take the book to Los Angeles.

Why Los Angeles? Because it's a honking big city with millions of people who read books, that's why.

You can buy Frog Hospital on the Internet -- cheap and easy.
For a signed copy, write a check for $25, make it out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or you can hit the PayPal button on the Frog Hospital blog for $25, but then you have to send me an email with your mailing address.

Kohlrabis Continued. Digger Jerry is upstairs someplace, lost in the stacks. We might have to send out a search party. He's a hard guy to find when he doesn't want to be found.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Book Is Out

Frog Hospital, the book, at 196 pages and costing $14.95 is on sale at the Next Chapter bookstore in LaConner, and also at and at, the Barnes & Noble website.

On Friday, at 5 p.m. The Next Chapter will host a book-signing. Please come if you're in town.

On Saturday afternoon, I will be reading at the Robert Sund Whoop-Tee-Doo on Guemes Island. That should be fun. I might read a very dramatic episode titled. "Lunch with Bob Dole."

This is what the book is about:

Frog Hospital is a story about LaConner, a small town at the mouth of the Skagit River, where it flows into Puget Sound. In LaConner, there was once a grocery store in a quonset hut, run by Mr. Grobschmidt. Clyde, an old drunk who lived out on the river, thought that Mr. Grobschmidt looked like a frog, so he took to calling the store the "Frog Hospital." That became a local joke. Now the quonset hut, Mr. Grobschmidt, and Clyde are all gone, but that's how I came up with the name.
Frog Hospital begins in LaConner and leads out to America and the places I've seen in the past ten years. Then it comes back home. That's the theme of the book, coming home. You will find it easy to read and very likable.

The introduction was written by Gary Bornzin of Fairhaven College who had some very nice words to say:

Somehow, amidst all the noise and clutter and artificial urgency and perpetual responsibility that regularly fills up my email box, I continue to receive and read Frog Hospital. Realistically, it’s a small part of my life, yet I occasionally print out a paragraph or two to share with my wife because of the insightful or moving way you expressed something. I often find your words refreshing and reassuring. Even when you’re down, your “everybody hurts” honesty helps me carry on, sometimes even with a bit more hope and courage.

I enjoy your insights, the connections you make, your shared feelings, your ability to see good in the commonplace, your longing/grieving for a better world, and especially your honesty, your lack of phoniness. I appreciate that you allow your readers to see things and experience things vicariously through your eyes that they themselves might never encounter -- like living in South Texas, or joining the Mexican laborers in field work.

You’re a good man, Fred Owens. I wish you well

I should have the book at Watermark Books in Anacortes and at Village Books in Bellingham by next week.

If you buy the book on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble online, please be sure to write a review. Unfavorable reviews are especially welcome. My book is deeply flawed, and it will be child's play to point out the more obvious errors in composition. However, keener minds will discover more subtle faults -- ones I haven't yet realized myself.

Nevertheless I am more proud than embarrassed in presenting this work.

The best way to buy a copy is to order a signed copy directly from me. Make out a check to "Fred Owens" for $25 and mail it to P.O. Box 1292 LaConner, WA 98257. I will promptly mail you a copy of the book. Or you can pay $25 in the PayPal on my Frog Hospital blog. But be sure to email your mailing address to me.

Thanks a lot,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Friday, May 07, 2010

When the Nurse Abuses a Patient

I haven't brought a problem to the readers in some time, but I'm doing it now. My only motive for telling this story is that I want to be believed.

I left my job at Skagit Valley Hospital several months ago, and I figured that the passing of time would settle things and I would just leave it all behind. I left because the stress of the work was just getting to be too much. That's what I told everybody, but it was worse than that.

I saw a nurse abusing a patient. Working as her aide, I was not only a witness to this, I was an accomplice. It was horrible. So many hundreds of hours bedside, working with wonderful nurses, and I had never seen anyone act like that. I had seen kind and caring nurses. I had seen nurses, tired and under a lot of pressure, but still managing to act professionally.

But this nurse was just being mean. There's no other way to put it. The patient was past 80, hard of hearing and confused. He hardly knew he was in the hospital. This is a common situation. There's medication for anxiety and people like me are with the patient to help them get through the day.

Then she comes in and says, standing at the foot of the bed, "Mr. Jorgenson, It's time for your medication.....MR. JORGENSON .... Why you're as deaf as a stump!" Then she gave him a slap on the leg and a poke in the chest, and that seemed to stir him a bit. He woke a little and took his pills.

You had to be there. I was deeply shocked. I had never, ever seen anything approaching this kind of behavior. Of course, the patient couldn't hear here mocking words, but he could feel her contempt. He was just a kind old man living out his last days.

You never take it out on a patient. You take it out on the rest of the staff if you need to, or your dog, or your family.

This kind of behavior is rare, but it happens. And it was the third time, on three different shifts, that I had seen this same nurse act this way, scolding patients and treating them with contempt. She wasn't having a bad day. This was habitual behavior and very wrong.

And yet it was so deniable. I didn't report it. I knew what would happen if I did report it -- lots of trouble, for me. Jan Iversen, the Chief Nursing Officer at the hospital, had made it very clear to me in prior conversations that the "chain of command" was inviolate.

And I knew the culture of the hospital. It had become almost ingrained in me. "Keep your head down and do your job."

I didn't report it, because I would not have been believed.

Three choices I faced:

1. Report the abuse, and go through Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell.
2. Continue to work and pray that I would not be assigned to this nurse again.
3. Leave the hospital.

I left the hospital and never told anyone. Months have passed. It still bothers me.

You don't need to go to nursing or medical school to know abuse when you see it. Her behavior and attitude was dramatically different. My instincts and life experience are enough to make that judgment. She knew she could get away with it in front of me, because of my position. That was awful too.

This is true, what I have told you.

I'm not going back to the hospital. I'm not going to pursue this in anyway. We'll be getting back to the farm and garden news shortly.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Solution to Suburban Sprawl is to Farm It

People have been concerned about suburban sprawl eating up acres of valuable farmland. But it's not really a problem. You just need to think about it in a different way. The American lawn, all 50 million acres, is our largest agricultural reserve.

That's an estimate of the acreage. Some sources say we only have 40 million acres of lawn. But it's still a lot of ground. Take all the farmland in California, the most productive fields in the nation, and that totals only 27 million acres.

Our vast lawnscape is already growing grass and proven fertile. It's flat and free of stones. The irrigation system, i.e., your garden hose, is already installed.

And consider how low your fuel costs will be when you bring your crop to market -- you just walk it to the kitchen door.

So, all you have to do is remove the turf and start growing some food.

Typical yields for potatoes. I'm trying to find a typical yield per square foot for potatoes. The closest I could get was this figure from the Ohio State University Extension Service website. It said you could harvest 150 pounds of potatoes from a 100 foot row, or four 25-foot rows. That's a lot of spuds.

Of course, you can't plant potatoes in the same ground year after year, so the next year grow some beans and squash.

Are We Too Lazy?
A newspaper critic said Americans are too lazy and we have to import immigrants to do our farm work for us. The critic said, "Would you work in the Imperial Valley in California, harvesting lettuce in 120 degree heat?"

Well, I have an answer to that. Nobody should work in that kind of weather. We don't need to be growing lettuce in the Imperial Valley. Grow the lettuce in your back yard, and take a shade break when it gets too hot. It still takes quite a bit of sweat and toil, but it's decent work.

And a lot of us are overweight and we need the exercise. In fact, we can work off our enormous Fat Reserve by converting our Agricultural Reserve (the lawn) into a productive garden.

In our Skagit Valley, with a cold frame, you can harvest lettuce nine months of the year. And in the darkest days of winter, you can serve cole slaw for Pete's sake.

Or we can abuse the labor of some desperate immigrant and have it all done for us, and have our lettuce shipped hundreds of miles, spewing excess carbon dioxide from trucks fueled by oil from the Persian Gulf. It's our choice.

In my forays into Seattle neighborhoods and in trips down to Los Angeles, I have discovered the burgeoning urban garden. So what I have described is not some silly hippie dream. It's actually starting to manifest in a big and productive way.

Growing vegetables in your backyard has just become cool.

After the Arab oil embargo in 1973, it seemed that changes of this nature would happen all over the land -- from lawn to garden being just one of many better ways to do things.

Thirty-seven freakin' years ago, and waiting all that time, but it seems to be happening now.

The Opera.
Here's something I wrote in 2006 when George Bush was President and when I was working at the newspaper in Texas. It's relevant to the recent failed car-bomb in Times Square:

I listen to the opera on Saturday afternoons. There is nothing better than hearing it broadcast live from the New York Metropolitan Opera. A lot of you already know about this, but the stubborn people I work with here in Texas are still gung-ho on the War on Terror, and they don’t even know what they are fighting for. Maybe they can understand it, if I explain it this way:

Osama Bin Laden never heard of Texas. It’s not worth a suicide bomb in his book -- that would only kill a few cows. He aimed – he’s still aiming – at New York City because he wants to destroy the Opera. Defending America, defending against his threat, means protecting the Opera.

That’s what the Texans need to hear. Now, if these fighting Texans had some good leadership, they could do a lot better than to invade someone else’s country. They are willing, but they lack direction.

But what the rest of you need to hear is that the Opera, and a lot of other good things are worth defending and worth being proud of, and we do have something to offer the rest of the world.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Who's happy?

A major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, like somebody poked a hole in the floor of the ocean, wild-eyed foreigners streaming across the border in Arizona, or an impending police state, depending on who you ask, and the Goldman Sachs bankers are squirming under the hot lights at a Senate hearing.

And you know who's happy about all this? Pope Benedict. "I'm so glad to be off the front pages," he told me last week.

The Oil Spill. I'm not mad. I might be if I lived down there. Plugging the leak is a challenge of dramatic proportions. It reminds me of the scene in Apollo 13, when Tom Hanks and his crew are lost in space, and Mission Control in Houston faces a technological challenge such as they had never seen before. It's not in the manual. This is not an exercise. Ed Harris, in the movie, says, "Failure is not an option."

That's true down in the Gulf. They have to plug that leak, no matter how dangerous and difficult it might be. At whatever cost. And they have to do it now.

I'm not joining the chorus of weepers with photos of oil-stained birds. And it doesn't serve to be angry. Every bit of energy needs to be focused on working the problem.

The people of Louisiana will not be helpless victims this time. They will act with resolution and courage and do what they need to do to protect their coastline

Bow your heads for the 11 who died on the rig, and the 29 who died in the coal mine, and the seven who died up our way in a recent oil refinery explosion.

And we can do better than this and we will. Disasters focus the mind.

I'm way ahead of everybody else. I've been boycotting Arizona since 1975. I used to hang out there with the wrong kind of people, and I got in a lot of trouble. It was my own fault I have to say. But I am not going back to Arizona just the same.

Nevertheless, I'm seeing major over-reactions all over the place. The new crime bill authorizes the local police to act on immigration matters. It would be pretty easy up here in Seattle to call this the hysterical reaction to a non-existent problem. It would be easy to say the people of Arizona "feel threatened."

I would urge more motivated persons to attend and be present on the border, as I have done, for many days and weeks, over many years, along the Rio Grande River in Texas.

That's a country I know. A once peaceful border region in the 1970s has become tense and dangerous. Mexico is a different country and good boundaries make sense.

The boundary needs to be restored in a meaningful way

I love to see them sweat. I strongly endorse stricter and more careful regulation of investment bankers. I made a proposal concerning possible regulations. I made this proposal to a banker and he said it was a good idea.

It's simple, I said to the banker. "If I can't understand it, then you can't do it." I'm no dummy. I understand stocks and bonds. I understand trading commodities on the futures market. I know that speculation is a necessary ingredient for market liquidity. But these derivatives and credit default swaps are a pure horn-ball swindle and should be banned out right.

The Pope. Meanwhile the Pope is enjoying the week off.

Our Troops in Afghanistan. Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, stationed in Afghanistan, made a remix of Lady Gaga's monster hit, "Telephone." Over 1,693,000 people have viewed this on YouTube. It's pure fun. What magnificent young men they are -- the best we have.

But, tell me, what are they doing in Afghanistan? I want these boys home tomorrow. We have no business in Afghanistan. We should depart and leave a post-it note to the Chinese Army -- it's your baby now.

We have problems here in American -- oil spills, financial chaos, and serious problems with immigration -- so why are the troops risking their lives on a foreign adventure that does not enhance our security?

I'm not sure about offshore drilling and how we should respond to this disaster. I'm not sure about the new law in Arizona, whether it's a good or bad thing. But I'm very sure about the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We should never have invaded Iraq. We should get of there completely. We should leave Afghanistan. We should get the navy out of the Persian Gulf.

No Politics.
I don't have too much energy for politics. I don't spend too much time reading the news either. This comes not from defeat and cynicism. Quite the contrary. I am hopeful that we can solve these problems. I have faith in my own past efforts -- seeds I have planted at one time or another. True words that I spoke. My own good effort. My best intentions. Good things will come to pass. It just doesn't happen all at once.

Farm and Garden News.
Frog Hospital readers like the farm and garden news much better than this political claptrap. I believe I cleared the deck here and will get back to the good earth in the next issue.

Spring Subscription Drive. Many thanks to those readers who have sent in checks. Your dollars are greatly appreciated. But there is still time -- the spring drive is not over. You can support Frog Hospital by writing a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens, and mail it to Box 1292, LaConner WA, 98257. Or you can go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay $25 with the PayPal button. Thanks a bunch.

T-shirts still on sale.
Frog Hospital t-shirts are now available in three sizes -- XL, L and M. You can buy them in LaConner at La Crema coffee shop, or order them from me direct.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257