Monday, December 14, 2009

Is Democracy on Life Support?

Has this 233 year experience outlasted its usefulness? This question keeps coming to mind as I recall being taught somewhere along the line that even as far back as the latter part of the last century our form of government was the most enduring on record. And why not? As Winston Churchill famously remarked "… democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms...."

But I can't but wonder if it is winding down at this point. Last Saturday, in the second week of December, I was making my usual rounds to the YMCA and the Farmer's Market while listening to NPR. A report was issuing forth from Washington D.C. about the unprecedented Senate session on the second consecutive Saturday in December.

Just about then I passed the parking lot of a large commercial center. In a prominent corner there was an amalgamation of Maricopa County Sheriff's vehicles, including busses, ribboned by caution tape. I recalled the news article that Sheriff Joe was conducting operation Bad Parent and seeking to execute on some 1500 arrest warrants issued for back child support. To his credit he was conducting a toy drive for the unfortunate issue of these ne'er do wells who have now cost the public triple for their reticence to fund their own children: first by causing the state to pay support for the kids (the myriad programs that we fund to feed, educate and provide health care for the young innocents), the legal costs of assessing the unremitting parent for the amount that, based on their income they should have been paying (which is no where near the actual cost incurred in the whole legal charade) and now the law enforcement resources for hunting them down and adding their care and feeding to the list of ever growing state expenses. [I suspect the actual cost of dealing with these bums far and away eclipses any return on that investment, but who would ever pay to study that?]

In my mental free association I got to thinking about the recent antics of the Sheriff and our County Attorney as chronicled that morning in Laurie Robert's column: Indictment of two county supervisors, criminal charges against a county judge who coincidentally had found in contempt a Sheriff's office detention officer who was out of jail while his case is on appeal to the same court where the presiding judge went to block a possible search warrant even as the Sheriff has just submitted a request for a $7 million budget appropriation from the half-indicted Board of Supervisors to retain even more high powered legal advice to keep this kind of stuff up. [And yes, there is a whole corollary of similar shenanigans on the Supervisors side of the equation.]

Meanwhile, at the capitol, the state is literally bankrupt and fringe party elements are being stripped of Senate committee chairmanships via the wholesale elimination of the committees while the Governor's call for a temporary sales tax increase is so far behind the eight ball that it could not even get on the ballot and become effective in this fiscal year which is half over but already nearing a zero balance in the coffers that fund its very existence.

Simultaneously, the corporation commission is hearing a water rate case for several hinterland populations that involves such complexities and vagaries that dozens of "experts" are needed to evaluate the calculations of the proposed rates which will represent up to 200% increases for water users who themselves have no experts or money to hire them but are irate and activated never the less.

It struck me that the fundamental problem with the evolution of democracy is that politicians exist for power and the easiest way to do get it is to erect extremely complex and wide ranging programs that contain volumes of rules and regulations so dense and complicated that even the experts have trouble discerning and assembling them. One certainty is that there are inevitably holes in these regulatory schemes which require constant tinkering, thus rendering them incomprehensible over time as it is never clear just which version is applicable when. But it certainly represents job security for a huge panoply of players all of whom are funded, in one way or another, by the people at the bottom of the food chain for they hold the least amount of power.

That might be OK but for the fact that each and every one of these regulatory schemes presents opportunity for corruption through the use and misapplication of the power amassed by the people (and "experts") who are in charge of interpreting and applying them. The complete lack of notice to the public that results causes each and every one of us to, at any given time, be in jeopardy of unwittingly committing a violation of a civil or criminal nature without even knowing that the broken rule even exists.

The fact is that, like so many high profile folks in Maricopa County, we are all indictable.

As bad as all of the above sounds, it is merely scratching the surface of the endemic problems we are currently facing as a society within our political organizations at every level from the HOA on up. It is like Atlas Shrugged at the Animal Farm and the dish ran away with the spoon.

Even as I write this the guilt is rising up. I absolutely hate it when people criticize but don't offer up an alternative.

But frankly, I think it is time to start over. The question is how to do that without literally blowing it all up first. I am still mulling that over.

In the meantime, most of us will blithely go about trying to make it through each work day we are allotted between furloughs so we can get home and escape into our second lives facilitated through the constant and equally dumbfounding advances of technology – like porn and video games and serial affairs and facebook and movies and TV shows and Dan Brown novels and burning our own CDs (which is not as easy as it looks, much like every technology-based pursuit I undertake) and the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night football. Who knows how much longer any of this will last. Might as well enjoy it while we can.

But if you think of a better system give me a call. I will pass it along to the next generation so they can implement it. I think the boomers have jumped the shark for sure.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Judicial Reality-I Could Not Have Said it Better Myself

Phoenix Republic "My Turn" article, 12.9.09

Frank J. Conti is the elected Justice of the Peace for the Dreamy Draw Justice Court, which serves northeast Phoenix and parts of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale. You can reach Judge Conti at

It’s not that the judge doesn’t care

There are times when serving as a judge is an extraordinarily trying task. This is especially so in our current tough economic times, when many people in dire financial straits are involved in litigation.

Maricopa County's 25 justice courts must handle tens of thousands of debt collection and eviction cases a year, most resulting in displacement and/or bankruptcy for unfortunate families.

Recently a distraught woman appeared before me as a defendant in an eviction matter. Crying and nearly hysterical, she asked why the government is bailing out homeowners who can't pay their mortgage but does nothing for those who can't pay their rent. She implored me to take action to help her.

Unfortunately the law does not permit a judge the luxury of weighing the misfortune of all those who cannot pay their rent and choosing who is worthy of “a break” and who isn’t. No human being could accurately perform such a task. I had no authority to step into the landlord-tenant relationship and fashion a new bargain that the parties had not reached on their own accord. Nor could I grant her license to live on another’s property without paying rent as required in the lease agreement.

All I could do was ensure that her legal rights were protected and refer her to a social service relief agency to assist her in coping with the result.

Although it provided her little comfort, I explained the role of a judge in our legal system. A judge takes an oath to follow the constitution and laws, and cannot create new law from the bench in an effort to reach a desired result in a particular case. Sometimes the facts are heart-wrenching, and the temptation is great to muddy what the law clearly mandates.

It is at such moments that a judge must remain true to the oath of office. To do otherwise is to assume powers that do not properly come with a seat on the bench.

For instance, when the law says that a judge “may” do something, it allows wide discretion. When it says that a judge “shall” do something, it leaves no discretion at all. And in Arizona the law does not recognize financial hardship as a defense to the nonpayment of rent.

If I rewrite the law to suit my fancy in every case I render the law meaningless, and essentially make myself a legislator. If every judge acted in this way the law would mean whatever a particular judge felt it should mean on any given day, rather than what our elected representatives intended it to mean. Such a whimsical judicial philosophy confounds the notion of equal justice for all.

When judges do not limit themselves to the written word it creates uncertainty bordering on legal anarchy, as there would then be no reliable, consistent way for those who use our courts to measure the strength of their cases or predict outcomes. Fewer cases would reach settlement, clogging dockets that are already overcrowded.

So the next time you are in court and see your local justice of the peace apologize, hesitate, sigh deeply or wince before rendering a decision, you can probably guess that the judge is humbly doing what the law requires, rather than what the heart desires.
Frank J. Conti is the elected Justice of the Peace for the Dreamy Draw Justice Court, which serves northeast Phoenix and parts of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale. You can reach Judge Conti at

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Talented Boys with a Big Message

Check out this you tube performance. The kid on the right is practically a family member.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

HIGH SCHOOL -- 1959 vs. 2009

This is one of those emails that go around. My friend who never forwards was struck by this one. It does give one pause...

Scenario 1:
Joe goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack.

1959 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Joe's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Joe.

2009 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Joe hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers...

Scenario 2:
Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1959 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.

2009 - Police called and SWAT team arrives -- they arrest both Johnny and Mark. They are both charged with assault and both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario 3:
Jeffrey will not be still in class, he disrupts other students.

1959 - Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2009 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for ADD. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4:
Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1959 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.

2009 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario 5:
Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1959 - Mark shares his aspirin with the Principal out on the smoking dock.

2009 - The police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is then searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6:
Pedro fails high school English.

1959 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English and goes to college.

2009 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against the state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is then banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 7:
Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.

1959 - Ants die.

2009 - ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents -- and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated. Johnny's dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario 8:
Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

1959 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2009 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We Live In A World of Extremes

(Mohamed Nureldin Abdallh)Former journalist Lubna Hussein leaves the cafe where she was arrested in Khartoum

In the Sudan, Lubna Hussein, a former journalist who works for the United Nations is going on trial and may be subject to 40 lashes for wearing a pair of green slacks in public.

In the United States, the blog entitled "The People of Walmart" is highlighting the mode of dress of many of our fellow citizens in the public shopping space. And what a sight it is!

The juxaposition of these two stories shows how extremism in the pursuit of certain concepts of morality or lack thereof certainly is a vice--to painfully paraphrase the late Barry Goldwater.

It is a given that communities set their own standards and laws according to their own customs. To be sure, there are lots of stupid ideas that get adopted into the vernacular as religions, societies and cultures evolve. Many are eliminated over time by enlightenment, improved economies, scientific discovery and so forth. Many remain as they are a source of power for segments of those societies. Of course, the pursuit of power over one another is the root of most things that end up being evil.

But the flip side, as we can see from the Walmart example, has equal if not greater perils. It is one thing to be in favor of individual freedoms in a society that presumes an inherent level of decency based upon cross-cultural and religious tenets. It is true that all the religions of the world share the golden rule-do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But the erosion of religion and morality in a fiercely independent democracy spells disaster. That is because most people simply do not stop to reflect upon the greater meaning of their lives. Being caught up in the falling prices at WalMart and rushing to preorder the 2012 movie even before it comes out on DVD so you can watch it over and over again, leaves little time to ponder just what it would mean if the world did come to an end, or what, if anything, is the point of this lifetime we are living?

Here is the creepiest part of all. In her country Lubna Hussein likely cannot vote. Here? Each and every person shopping in Walmart can. Explains a lot doesn't it?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


"Recommendations from an independent panel that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s, and should get one every two years starting at 50 have spurred intense debate."


"Angry reaction to new government-funded guidelines on mammography has grown so hot that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, is trying to put out the fire."


These are the leads on two NPR stories today on the subject of new guidelines for breast cancer screenings done by mammogram. The reaction to this new information is not a medical one. It is a knee-jerk political debate that is harbinger of things to come; we will be having the same discussions about annual physicals into the next millennium that we have been having about climate change since the last millennium once the federal government gets involved. We will be lining up doctors and researchers on opposite sides of the aisle like we now do with climatologists and undereducated Nobel Prize winners.

Notwithstanding my long personal aversion to the whole "test people to death" mentality that is the root of our spiraling medical costs and cultification (to apparently coin a word that is not in my computer's dictionary) of certain ailments, I am totally disgusted at the politicization of this latest report. It and the fact that the local Catholic diocese sent $50,000 to the Maine anti-gay marriage campaign combined to raise my stress level over the past couple of days requiring extra chanting at yoga tonight.

What makes me crazy is that these issues cannot be generalized. What is good for one may be awful for another. Each of us needs to make an educated decision about what to do vis a vis our personal situation. Here is an example. Both of my grandmothers and their mothers before them lived well into their 80's (90's) with their breasts intact. My mother is now 73 and her sister 63. Same deal. I concluded long ago that I come from very breast healthy stock and chose to forego the risks (albeit relatively small, but unnaturally present nonetheless) associated with regular mammograms. I have had couple but that it is it.

Of course, we all seek validation and I got mine by reading Barbara Ehrenreich's controversial but straightforward treatment of the whole breast cancer issue "Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch" . To read her speech about the topic go to:


That is not to say I am naïve about these things, only that I have made a decision that is right for my own situation. I know a woman who I admire very much for having the courage to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy before even having children as her own grandmother succumbed at a very young age to a breast cancer death. She too made a decision that was right for her situation.

Such conclusions are drawn on the basis of reviewing all available information and appyling that guidance to one's own facts. We should take all the information into consideration and we should keep gathering information in a meaningful way-to wit, through objective data gathering. Sadly, the politicization of healthcare will do exactly the opposite. Mass hysteria over generalized reports does no one any good. Once we become politically correct about how we decide which data to collect and how to collect it, it will cease having any value whatsoever, thereby depriving each and every one of us the opportunity to make sound health decision.

The political objectification is not endemic to either the liberals or the conservatives. Both are guilty of doing that to amazing extremes that have real world consequences. In this example it is the conservatives who are making ridiculous hay with the issue by suggesting that the study is representative of the death panel components that will necessarily creep in to any public health program. Shame on them for tainting this data with the stupid suggestion that somehow there is a connection. There is absolutely no evidence that this study was conducted with that end game in mind.

Ironically, my conclusion is the same as the conservative position, though. Once the government gets into your body there is no freedom left. I wish to remain free to choose whether or not to have a mammogram. That is my right. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness used to be the thing. This threat to my life by limiting my health care liberty and confusing the marketplace with political rhetoric over scientific information is not making me any happier than Al Gore is about the reaction to alleged climate change. But think of the energy I am saving by foregoing the annual tests!





Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is There Really Any Difference?

One of the fun things about being an all-inclusive household is that you get all the mail. Until very recently (I say recently because one of us threw in the towel and went independent, unable to take it anymore) we have had a registered republican and a registered democrat living in near perfect bliss under one roof. This is not unusual; my parents are the same way and have just celebrated 56 years of marriage. This dual registration has enabled me, over many years, to conduct an empirical survey of sorts by comparing the mail.

I suspect that one of the major impediments to resolving the huge problem that has developed in each and every one of our fundamental institutions stems from the two party system of politics. Although they may seem to be completely different, the two parties are actually exactly the same.
I came to this in part from my own survey of the mail and in part from my observation of the general goings on. I know, I know, it has always been like this-I only read non-fiction as you know. But I have also concluded that as voters we are all being duped into thinking that what has evolved into a mere political categorization of cash presents no real differences between the groupings. Sure, they espouse platforms that seem diametrically opposed, but fundamentally they are just the same. [I just can't stop thinking about Paulson and Geitner-- the twin towers of Goldman/Fed greed and financial frontmen of different political persuasion.]

The masters of the game are the head honchos in Washington DC known as "Democratic Party Headquarters" and" Republican National Committee." These organizations are the lifeblood –the aortas facilitating the green blood that feeds the guts of all campaigns. Sure, you can make your measly limited donations to individual candidates, but all those local fund raisers are just a feel good moment to appease the little guy into thinking he actually plays a role. Compared to the party blood clot, your money is just a white blood cell.

But where do they get their dough? Well from big donors mostly. But once in a while they want to keep up the theater that they are actually listening to you, the voters, so they send out a "survey" which if read properly is a pay to play, or a fund-raiser disguised as a chance at participation.

What I found most interesting about the latest salvo in the big time political game is how homogenous it is. Both parties are conducting a survey. They must have internal spies in one another's organizations for low and behold both parties surveys landed in the mail box on the exact SAME day. Aside from the fact that one was blue on grey and the other had a bright yellow envelope, they are virtually the same. Oh, one other big difference—the democrats are at least up front about it-the funding ask is right at the beginning. Those clever republicans wait until they have you all riled up after reading the specifically worded questionnaire before they actually get to the money part.

Otherwise both have charming and personalized letters to Dear Mr. or Mrs. MacEachern from the Chairman himself regaling us on the importance of recognizing the horror of the opposing party and rising up to save the country from them. And how will they accomplish this daunting task? By having you return the survey (top priority) and throw in some money along with it (priority number 2, of course) right away or all will be lost. And best of all you get to do it without even having to put a stamp on the envelope. They pay the postage!

The fun part is you get to tell them exactly how you feel by answering their questions in their own words. The Republicans have boiled it down to only 15 hot button items to which you can answer yes, no or "no opinion." The probing questions of course are sweepingly broad and not so subtly worded and they give the impression that these issues are all basically pretty cut and dried. You agree with the President and his minions or you don't. The Democrats on the other hand are more interactive, asking us to rank their list of issues by priority using similarly accusatory language (still blaming Bush-will they never get over that guy?) and generalizations that are equally as devoid of true meaning as their counterparts. At least they give subsets of questions within 8 general categories and a couple of blanks for you to actually fill in a very tiny concern, as if anyone will actually ever read it. Most amusing is the presumption among all of it that there are simply no grey areas; everything can be reduced to essentially black and white sound bites. {Maybe the democrats chatted with some color expert when they chose to print on grey paper. No doubt such a huge decision would require an outside consultant to determine if that would impart some sublimal effect of lulling the survey taker into a false state of admiration for the depth of the insight contained in the questions.}

Would that the world were so simply summed up that a two page multiple choice test is all we need to solve the massive concerns before us. Obviously each group has an agenda that has been set in stone in some dark carbon dioxide-filled room by a bunch of egotistical, self –appointed, hapless schmoes who value power and the money that goes with it over truly making things work; they have all the answers and only need us to confirm their suspicions by checking some boxes.

Both parties are equally deplorable as they are equally nonsensical. This exercise proves one thing for certain. There is not enough brain power or creativity among the whole lot of them to simply figure out how to differentiate themselves from one another. Given that they can't even do that, it is no wonder things just keep getting worse and worse.

Having carefully reviewed these documents I have but one regret--free shredding day was yesterday—the same day they came in the mail. (Do you suppose they researched that?). I could always just send them right back unanswered. After all it would be free. I wonder if they would even notice.

For Veteran's Day

My friend Chuck Blanchard, a brilliant lawyer and all around nice guy, is currently serving the Obama administration as the General Counsel to the Air Force. He passed this along and it certainly is worth sharing.

Captain Wendy Kosek, a young Air Force JAG officer now recovering from injuries suffered in an IED attack in Iraq. I had the chance to meet Captain Kosek a few weeks ago-she is still on crutches, and has multiple surgeries, but is on the road to recovery:

Remembering Why We Serve

Veterans Day, a day which honors the patriotism and sacrifice of men and women in the service and who have served before us, is a day that now has a special significance in my life and the lives of several members of the JAG Corps. On 21 August, 2009, while riding in a convoy from Camp Victory to the International Zone (IZ), my vehicle was hit by an IED known as an explosively-formed projectile (EFP). Although only two JAGs were in that vehicle, several other JAGs and paralegals were in the same convoy. Inside the downed vehicle, Army and Air Force personnel, both officer and enlisted, found ourselves in a dangerous position and immediately came together as a unified, cohesive team. I owe my life to the actions of the team.

The first person to react and bring the group together was the gunner, an Army Specialist, who called out "IED, IED, IED" after we had been hit. Another member assessed the injured and called for immediate medical assistance. Personnel immediately evacuated the vehicle and began to cross-load the most seriously injured, an Army Major and me, to another vehicle. Once inside the vehicle, I watched a fellow JAG wrap the Major's leg with a bandage and put pressure on his heavily-bleeding wound. From behind me, I could hear the voices of the other members of our convoy trying to keep the Major conscious by asking him questions. Beside me, I placed my hand on the arm of an Army Sergeant First Class, who called me "Ma'am" and told me that I could squeeze as hard as I wanted because I could not hurt him. In front of me, another service member held my ankle between his legs to prevent my leg from hitting the floor and causing more damage.

Once at the triage unit, the Army Major and I were put on gurneys and separated from the group. However, I was not alone. An Army Colonel from my vehicle came to my side. I had seen her before in the IZ, but I had never met her. While the staff removed my right boot and cut off my pants, the Colonel took my hand and asked me about my life back home. I was not her soldier; I was not even in her service branch, but she stood beside me. Her support embodied our core value of service before self.

That morning, the lines of distinction between Army and Air Force did not exist. AFSCs and MOSs were replaced with knowledge learned in pre-deployment training, and a group of brave Americans came together as a cohesive team and did what was necessary to stay alive.

We are lawyers and paralegals who strive for excellence in our Corps, but first and foremost, we are Airmen. We are all warriors. This Veterans Day, I am honored to serve in a military where no Soldier or Airman is left behind, where we defend each other lives without hesitation, and where we lead the way in ensuring justice is established.

Assistant Staff Judge Advocate
Little Rock AFB AR

Monday, October 26, 2009

Commissioned Quilt

The Inn on the Intervale in Judique, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, aside from being in an exquisite location also is next to the home of Yvonne McDonnell. A multi-talented crafter, quilter and appliqu-er, she is also an avid fisherwoman, outdoorsperson.

My brother in law Michael commissioned a quilt and it just arrived. Here is her amazing work depicting the Inn and the River beneath a map of Cape Breton. She even embroidered the flowers in the yard and hand quilted all the squares in addition to some machine stitching.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Silky Spicy Squash Soup

This turned out so good I just had to share it.


Take an assortment of fall squashes, such as butternut, spaghetti, acorn, kabuka, etc. weighing about 3 pounds. Halve them and roast in a lightly greased pan in the oven at about 350⁰ and bake or roast until tender, about 45 minutes.     

Meanwhile prepare:

1 T olive oil

1 large shallot, chopped

1 leek, sliced, white only

2 serrano chiles, seeded and finely chopped

2 yellow peppers, seeded and finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon whole coriander

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water


In the bottom of a large pot heat oil and add shallots, leek and chiles. Saute until wilted. Add the remaining ingredients and the flesh of the roasted squashes. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Using a stick blender puree the contents of the pot. Strain through a mesh sieve, adjust for salt. Enjoy!

Friday, October 23, 2009

And They Are Obsessing Over Fox News?

Sorry to ruin your Friday but this is very important stuff and Victor Davis Hanson is one of my favorite go to guys...

Man Friday
Armageddon Time
Peter Robinson, 10.23.09, 12:01 AM ET

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian; Robert Baer a former CIA field officer. Both have studied the Middle East for decades, traveled to the area repeatedly in recent years and written about the region extensively. And both have become convinced that we may be facing a cataclysm.

Hanson and Baer each presented his analysis during an interview this past week. Although they differ on certain matters, they agree on five observations. The first: If not already capable of doing so, Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons in mere months.

Baer noted that Iran's scientific and technical capacity is impressive. The country may very well be able to produce enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons on its own. If not, Iran can obtain enriched uranium in other ways. "The Iranians are very good at procuring banned materials very easily," said Baer. "They are very close [to having what they need to produce weapons]. They could move very quickly."

How quickly?

"Six months, a year."

The second observation: The Iranians have no interest in running a bluff. Once able to produce nuclear weapons, they will almost certainly do so.

"We see Iran as the power in the region," Hanson said. "But when Iran looks at the region, it sees danger everywhere." In Iraq, a democratic government has achieved stability, which can only incite the dissident movement in Iran. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, Iran's client, has failed in its attempt to capture control of the country, finding itself contained and marginalized instead. The Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and the emirates look upon Iran, a Shia state, with sectarian hostility.

"The Iranians, think, 'My gosh, we are in an unstable position,' " Hanson said. "'Maybe a bomb or two will allow us to do what Pakistan has done. Maybe it will allow us to achieve some autonomy.'"

The third observation: As the Iranians scramble to produce nuclear weapons, the Obama administration appears too feckless, inexperienced or deluded to stop them.

Already, the administration has committed two errors. Last summer, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest their country's corrupt presidential election, it failed to encourage the protesters, merely looking on. "Obama could have said to the Iranian people, 'We support your legitimate concerns over constitutional government,'" Hanson argued. "Instead he was saying, 'Let's wait and see who wins.' It did not look good."

Then last month the Obama administration announced that the U.S. no longer planned to deploy anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. These emplacements, which the Bush administration had promised, would have protected Eastern Europe against long-range missiles from Iran. The Obama administration canceled the anti-missile defenses to please Russia, hoping that Russia would pressure Iran in return. "Russia is never going to help," Hanson said. "Tension in the Gulf would raise oil prices, helping Russia. Anything that causes the United States problems, Putin is for."

What options does the administration still possess? "We could get the Europeans to immediately stop exporting gas to Iran," Hanson explained. "We could have some kind of blockade of the Persian Gulf. We are talking about very serious things. But they would put pressure on Iran, ostracizing it." Will President Obama pursue such options? Does he possess the political will? Hanson and Baer doubted it. "We have a president who likes to be liked," Hanson said.

The fourth observation: Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran.

"The Israelis have some bunker busters," Baer said. "They could take out some sites underground. They could set the Iranian nuclear program back years." Would the Israelis be willing to accept the risks a military strike would entail? "This is just 65 years after the Holocaust," Hanson said. "My God, we are talking about 6 million people who were executed while the world watched, and now we have a person [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran] who is promising to do it again."

What is the probability that Israel will strike Iran within the next six months?

"Forty-nine percent," said Baer.

"I would say 50-50," Hanson replied.

The final observation: Iran would retaliate.

"Iran's deterrent doctrine is to strike back everywhere it can," Baer explained. "We should expect the worst." Iran would attack American supply lines in Iraq and command Hezbollah to start a civil war in Lebanon. It would fire surface-to-surface missiles at every oil facility within range, wreaking devastation in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states while removing millions of barrels of oil a day from the world markets. The economy of the entire globe would suffer a paroxysm. The Middle East could descend into chaos. The U.S. would experience the worst crisis in decades.

After the assassination 95 years ago of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the great powers of Europe engaged in meaningless diplomatic maneuvers. "Austria has sent a bullying and humiliating ultimatum to Serbia, who cannot possibly comply with it," British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith confided in a letter. "[W]e are in measurable, or at least imaginable, distance of a real Armageddon."

A big nation attempting to humiliate a small nation in a way the small nation simply cannot accept. Unseriousness among great powers. A gathering sense of impending catastrophe. Once again, it may be Armageddon time.

Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a former White House speech writer, writes a weekly column for Forbes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


As a devoted member of the Christown YMCA, I frequent it at least three times a week and have done so for years; nearly 18 to be exact. My regimen includes a Saturday morning step aerobics class that has been meeting virtually the entire time.

Naturally, when you spend an hour a week together you get to know people. And when that hour is first thing on Saturday morning, you don't tend to get too dolled up, especially since you are going there to sweat.

Once a year in January we try to round up the class and treat ourselves to breakfast at the First Watch, a local eatery that has yummy and healthy breakfasts. It is our way of thanking Jim, our devoted instructor. Jim is my age and we have similar taste in music and often sing along to the older songs while the younger students stare. He is from Michigan and so there is that. He is a foster parent and is always bringing in new infants. An ex-military guy, he has instruction down pat. And he encourages our participation in things like the Strong Kids Campaign;our group has become a major participant over the years, bringing lots of resources to the folks who need the Y but maybe could not afford it.

Jim also works for the organization in additional to being a volunteer. When he worked at the Christown location he looked out for my brother-in-law Michael who is also a YMCA devotee, going even more often than myself. You may recall my post when Michael was the member of the month. There is no question that Michael's amazing come back from his stroke is attributable to the tremendous opportunity he has been afforded at the Y.

But perhaps the most telling anecdote about the benefit of the Y happened last week. A lovely young mother named Leslie joined our class almost a year ago. We learned each others names and exchange pleasantries. She noticed I was gone for while and upon my return inquired. When I noted we had been in Nova Scotia she seemed interested so I gave her my blog address and invited her to "read all about it" as I am wont to do.

The following Saturday she caught me at the water break and indicated she had read my blog and while she generally liked it she noted "there is something terribly wrong with it!"

Well, a panic ran up my spine as my mind was racing. What I could possibly have in there that is so bad? As I was mentally scanning the site she said: "It indicates that you are 52."

Snapped back to the present I replied "Well actually I will be 53 in a couple of weeks!"

"That is just not possible! I thought 42, max!"

Wow! I was blown away. When I regained my composure I let her know that I guess that is what 20 years of going to the Y three times a week will do for you. She vowed to remember that, having recently marked her one year anniversary.

Now, I do not post this story as a matter of braggadocio (you all know me too well for that). The point I think it makes is that when all these so-called experts keep pointing to diet and regular exercise as the magic formula to a healthy life, I think they are on to something. I eat like Michael Pollen says to: Eat food, not too much, lots of vegetables. I shop organic and right after my Saturday morning exercise I head to the farmer's market every week. I take no medications except the occasional herbs for my gall stone and hot flashes symptoms that just go with age, regardless. I generally sleep a solid 8 hours a night.

According to Leslie at least, it seems to be working. After our conversation I felt inspired. I hope that by sharing it, you too will find some inspiration to work on your diet and incorporate some regular exercise into your routine.

Or at least join the YMCA! They also have Bingo.

Cowgirls Eat Sheep

Here is the link to the fall issue of Edible Phoenix which contains my article about an amazing experience on the Navajo Nation. Sort of an immersion program of Native American culture, the Sisters on the fly were privy to an entire weekend with a Navajo family. The trip in included the sheep slaughter which is the subject of the article, but there was so much more.

The Chee family took us under their wings and treated us like family, sharing their Dine traditions, including the traditional prayer ceremony in the hogan led by the Patriarch complete with smokes of the mountain herbs wrapped in corn husks he grew himself and eagle feathers. Musicians, artists and weavers shared their skills. Traditional song and round dancing were also part of the adventure. And perhaps our favorite part was the sweat lodge that was built into the dirt and powered by the super heated rocks from the bon fire made especially for that purpose.

We literally had in intimate window on a different world that was as moving as it was enlightening. And quite a feat, when you think about it, for a multigenerational family to open its home and hearts to a bunch of strangers in such a personal way. This was an experience that will not be forgotten.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recession or Paradigm Shift?

Don Tapscott, the Canadian author of Wikinomics gives a very thought provoking talk about the "reindustrialization" that may be taking place and how you can make the most of it by following his 7 principles. Check out the 63 minute video here:

Monday, September 14, 2009

1909 FORD Model R
Show this to your children and/or grandchildren

This will boggle your mind, I know it did mine!
The year is 1909.
One hundred years ago.
What a difference a century makes!
Here are some statistics for the Year 1909 :
************ ********* ********* ******
The average life expectancy was 47 years.
Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.
Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.
There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles
Of paved roads.
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower!
The average wage in 1909 was 22 cents per hour.
The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year .
A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year,
A dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME .
Ninety percent of all doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION!
Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which
Were condemned in the press AND the government as 'substandard. '
Sugar cost four cents a pound.
Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used
Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from
Entering into their country for any reason.
Five leading causes of death were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke
The American flag had 45 stars.
The population of Las Vegas , Nevada, was only 30!!!!
Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea
Hadn't been invented yet.

There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write.
Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, 'Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health'
( Shocking? DUH! )
Eighteen percent of households had at least
One full-time servant or domestic help.
There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE ! U.S.A. !
(Mainly because there was a firearm of some sort in almost every home! An armed society is a POLITE society!!)
I am now going to forward this to someone else without typing it myself.
>From there, it will be sent to others all over the WORLD - all in a matter of seconds!
Try to imagine what it may be like in another 100 years.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vernacular Vacation


Dana, my niece who is dying to design and build a house, reads Dwell, a pretty cool magazine I have noticed when rifling through bookstore magazine stands.
I uncovered this quirk about Dana after we spent time together in a car with my immediate family on a two plus-day drive from Michigan to Nova Scotia, culminating at the Inn on the Intervale near Judique on Cape Breton Island. The Inn is the summer hostel, or more correctly resort, of my father-in-law Duncan and companion Carol whose "Rest By the River" they are anxious to share with any and everyone, but most especially their children and their progeny. My discovery occurred while unloading the car. As I stood in the foyer, I flipped through the magazine and the Editor's letter caught my eye.

There in a highlight was the word locavore, a term with which I am intimately familiar given my status as a farmer's market denizen, not to mention the fact that my daughter Melanie was reading Michael Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma and the companion book to the new documentary film Food, Inc. during the road trip. So what does eating local have to do with houses, which obviously is the topic of Dwell? It turns out that the main feature of the July/August issue is vernacular buildings; the Editor deftly traced a connection between the trends for eating closer to home to the local flavors appearing more and more often in the designs and building materials of homes themselves.

At that moment I had an epiphany—I was standing in a vernacular building that was perhaps an even finer example of the concept than those featured in the pages of the periodical in my hand. And just like the last visit we made to the Inn this idea of site-specific-ness infected nearly everything we did. Only now we had a name for it-a Vernacular Vacation!
All about this place speaks to one thing, the place itself. The more obvious unique qualities are plainly advertised in the fact that this Island housed the cast off highlander victims of the Scottish clearances of the late 1700 and early 1800s. The remoteness served as something of an incubator for the Gaelic language and the musical traditions of the fiddle, piano and step dancing whose pure preservation has only been disrupted in the last couple of generations by the insinuation of modern conveniences and mechanical connections to the mainland. But in the locality of the Intervale, the modern world is left behind by the acts of a couple of people that unwittingly conspired to enable an immersion in all those things that are truly Cape Breton because of Cape Breton.

The Inn, ( the brainchild of Duncan MacEachern, started out to be a home that would accommodate all 8 of his stateside sons at one time. Enter Carole Levens, the Minnesota Swede with an energy quotient that would have inspired the white tornado. She immediately saw the potential for making Duncan's dream pay him back, in a way. (Also, being the practical one, she realized that getting the 8 boys and their families, who are spread out from coast to coast, coordinated for a simultaneous romp to this remote location- literally at the edge of the world-for any length of time would be a rare feat, if indeed it ever could come to fruition, so they simply had to find a use for all those bedrooms.)

Boasting 13 sleeping rooms each with its own bathroom, plus common sitting rooms, decks and balconies, the Inn itself represents all that is the best of Cape Breton. [fn1]Using Juniper timber { from the property, the three story lodge has a rustic yet refined sense that is reflected in the hand hewn wood paneling and literally in the hand-glossed shiny wood floors. And for those with longer term intentions, across the drive is the 3 story apartment building with 3 self -contained 1- bedroom units complete with kitchens.

Rounding out the buildings on site is the newest which ironically looks the oldest. The "barn" complete with red siding provides workshop space for maintenance projects, furniture restoration and crafts. Upstairs the loft boasts a wide open space for lolling in a hammock, having a party or just standing in front of the hay door to take in the view of the brook. While we were there a newly assembled bonfire pit situated just to the east of the barn appeared to be yearning to roast marshmallows for S'mores. Although we never got around to making S'mores, we did take advantage of the crafting opportunities and came away with vernacular souvenirs.

Virtually everything in each building is from local materials. The ambiance they create is merely an extension of the beauty that makes up the landscape, which is lush and moist, woody and piney, with wild flowers dotting the deep browns, blues and greens.

The brook, known as the Intervale, is actually a river that meanders just below the spanning decks that drape across the south side of the lodge (there are constant debates about whether this is the front or the back as one can enter from the south or north but the parking is off the north and so too is the foyer-perhaps there simply is no back). Notwithstanding the opinions of the local EPA, Duncan's vision let him to see the crook in the brook as it turns on its way to the ocean as not just a sink but a pool for swimming and a pond for fishing.

He had a screen building of weathered wood erected on the edge at a prime location for fishing, sunning or just sitting and taking it all in. My sister-in-law and I found it amenable to a discussion of our life challenges and paths to better understanding (in other words it was a nice place for a bitch fest-not that we have anything to complain about).

Speaking of screen buildings, Carole has a seaside lot not far down the Shore Road just a couple of miles from the Inn. Although the road is more like a path, given the harsh winters and proximity to the raging ocean, the challenging trek is more than worthwhile. The property overlooks a rocky beach scattered with the most interesting seaweed that when bleached in the sun is a dead ringer for shredded paper, but is otherwise brown and ubiquitous amongst a large variety of ocean-ground rocks and formations.
Investigating the geology and the tide pools offers a near career. A larger version screen house is perched above the St. Lawrence Bay whose enormity gives one the impression that it is indeed the North Atlantic. Although so far she can't find anyone will to give up their cushy lodge beds, Carole dreams of spending a whole night there under the Plexiglas roof section thoughtfully installed for optimizing star gazing, which in this remote area is a phenomenon in today's light polluted world.

Almost as proof our evening sky scan in anticipation of Hurricane Bill revealed an enormous big dipper just above the horizon punctuated by a falling star that seemed to appear on cue. We heard tales of views of the aurora borealis but apparently our timing was not quite right, though Mars was closer than it will be for a few centuries and its intense glinting assured it was not missed.

All of this made it very difficult to leave the property of course. We had lots to do and our own slice of heaven without ever going to the main road. But the famous Cabot Trail[fn2] called out to the newcomers who joined our adventure and we took a day to drive the entire circumference. In the French territory, an oddly treeless area, in sight of the big water, a woman named Ethel has established a village of scarecrows that cannot be missed. Further up the trail the landscape becomes at once much more harsh and beautiful. The rugged rock formations suggest a major formation upheaval as the road passes through the National Park offering challenging inclines. There are numerous hiking opportunities along the way to visit falls or scale to heightened vistas or just to walk among 350 year old maple and other enormous tree varieties. In fact this diversion caused us to literally miss the boat for whale watching off the northern tip of the Island. We have managed to make this a couple of times before and were never disappointed. Oh well, our charges have something to come back for.

Our trip was not without wildlife highlights however, as we noticed a clump of cars pulled off the road. There, casually grazing away with her calf was a mother moose, looking a bit worse for the wear in that she was very skinning, we surmised from the rigors of nursing. Her spawn looked like he was about ready to make it on his own, however.

The Trail circles through some amazing landscape and offers a stop at one of the most inviting and beautiful beaches you would ever want to partake of. The Black Brook Beach features large dark rock formations, smooth gorgeous sand, manageable waves and a grassy picnic area overlooking the relatively secluded spot. We could have stayed all day, but we just had to show off the gorgeous Keltic Lodge, which is owned by Canada and run as a resort. It has its own beach, spectacular golf course and wonderfully wooded 2.5 mile hike out to the point in the water called Middle head which I have done in the past.

Our last stop as we came around the Cabot Trail was the Gaelic College, St. Ann's. This is the heart of the preservation of Gaelic culture. Complete with its own museum of the history of the clans which features an exhibit on the giant McCaskill, a local celeb of enormous size whose tragically short life consisted of exhibiting the strength he mastered based on his [un]natural condition, the College is the premier world location for Gaelic language and customs. The curriculum includes music and crafts. As noted, the isolation afforded the Gaelic people who unwittingly found themselves here has served to ensure that the purity of the Gaelic spirit has seen less evolution than elsewhere. Fortunately, the founders of St. Ann's had the foresight to recognize that education is the key to maintaining that piece of history.

The final leg of the Cabot Trail takes you past Baddeck, the most picturesque of places situated on the Bras D'or Lakes. This is where Alexander Graham Bell summered in a gorgeous home overlooking the lake where he tested the first hydroplanes. Unfortunately by this time we were out of time and had to pass on the Bell Museum and a stroll along the lake to look at the boats.

In fact we were headed home for another great dinner brought to us from the sea and the shore of Cape Breton Island. For the bulk of the visit we did the term locavore proud. Duncan's giant vegetable garden was just on the verge of maturity when we arrived. His crop of asparagus, in its newly designed wood container that replaced the old ratty one that so reminded Carole of a casket because of its ominous shape, was waning but in its place were wonderful yellow beans that tasted at once like the sea and the sun. Their crunchy sweetness argued against cooking them, but we did have them both ways. The lettuces, green leaf, green head and romaine, were in their prime. Snow peas were busting out all over and zucchini offered blossoms as well as tender tubes of delight. Leeks were gaining in size and the potato plants survived an attempted onslaught by the potato beetle which Duncan make short work of. The only disappointment was the lag from the raspberry bushes.

But not to worry, there were yards of rhubarb and best of all it was the height of blueberry season! Our first morning we took a team ranging in age from 10 to 83 to the blueberry field and in about an hour had more blueberries than the 14 of us could eat in a week. Because of the volume the task never reached the point of tedium. As Sylvia, the groundskeeper's wife pointed out when she advised us of the plethora of fruit still remaining down the road at Dixie Walker's place, you merely had to comb your hand through the bushes like you would run your fingers through your hair, to come up with an entire handful. And that we did-which led to glorious mornings for everyone but my hubby Doug who was constantly in demand as a semiprofessional pancake maker to work his magic one more time. He got so good at it that he expanded his repertoire to waffles one day. Topped with real butter that Doug melts in as the cake sizzles on side b after the flip and drizzled with local maple syrup, each bite offered a sparkling freshness and purity that stayed on everyone's mind all morning long (and apparently in their dreams as well).
Imagine a whole week of dinners consisting of just caught lobster, snow crab, halibut, brook trout with flaky pink flesh the color of salmon, alongside a pile of just picked veggies and salads. Of course bread is big up there and Melanie
made a loaf of beer bread with the local India Pale Ale branded Alexander Keith's (pronounced Keats in the vernacular accent) and a cranberry, nut wheat bread besides. One the night of the Storyteller's Ceilidh (gaelic for party) a quick dinner of Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with fresh made dressing using the local mustard pickles and white wine rather than Dijon met rave reviews.

And during Hurricane Bill's last gasp which kept us indoors for an entire day due to rain, we braved the weather to purloin a leek for a frittata with zucchini that featured cheese handmade in the monastery just across the causeway that was delivered to us by Sister Anne. Together with homemade hash browns as well as a yeasty fresh baked wheat bread, the baby bowls of blueberries splashed with cream perfectly rounded out of this summer storm meal.

Great use was also made of the herb garden that nestled in the myriad potted flowers that adorned all the porches and their railings. No wonder a bunch of bees was attempting to set up house on the log right outside the entry doors; they were next to a virtual pollen warehouse! We got our exercise moving the massive pots back and forth to protect them from the potential hurricane force winds that thankfully never quite materialized.
As abundant as the veggies were we did supplement with some fresh purchased produce as the tomatoes were not even close to being ripe. And we made cauliflower grits and julienne d parsnips roasted in olive oil and a dusting of cinnamon.
The best eating came on the last night. Earlier, under the tutelage of his father, Doug unearthed the bountiful potatoes that lay just beneath the soil. Once cleaned and scrubbed, tossed with olive oil and coarse salt, they roasted in the oven to al dente perfection. These orbs of gold actually had a discernible flavor all their own that seemed to enhance that of the seafood that served as their table companions. Duncan did not oversell these little gems when he exclaimed that they would be unlike anything potato you have ever had before.
Lots of stories can be told of this unique place that once came in second to the fjords of Norway as a National Geographic best vacation location. In fact we have a much earlier issue of that magazine in which Doug's grandparents are featured in a photo illustrating a story investigation the Gaelic life style of Cape Breton. We also were lucky enough to learn of a project that had recorded those folks signing the traditional songs that have been made available on the internet. Doug got chills listening to his grandfather Duncan Gillis' voice come over the computer speakers.
The storytelling tradition is being maintained in the town of Judique through its gallery that features old black and white photos of local families, maps of land ownership from the 1940's and an outhouse photo exhibit that enlivens the walls of the restroom. Once a month the gallery is host to a Ceilidh (after all it is situated on the Ceilidh Trail as designated by the Doers and Dreamers guide – see footnote). The Ceilidh we attended was nothing if not a talent show to rival America's got talent. It featured an 85 year old fiddle player, an Irish orator, an aging step dancer, a refined fiddler/emcee and the piece de resistance, Sadie. As she was celebrating her 68th wedding anniversary that weekend (to a Frenchman from Cheticamp, the French community about an hour north, who says he has never been accepted in the Scottish community but has managed to hang out there for nearly 3 quarters of a century despite his awful toupee), she was not as prepared as she might have been, or so she said. Nevertheless she calmly took the stage, notes and magnifying glass in hand and proceeded to regale us with tales of outhouse mishaps from her past. She also described an uncanny incident involving horses and buggies and mistaken identities. Sadie was dead pan of course and for a large part of her presentation had the audience reeling, although it was never quite clear if humor or history were her intended topics. In grand Nova Scotian fashion and despite it being 9:30 at night, the gala was followed by a lunch complete with tea and coffee and quite lovely at that. We dallied so long at the lunch that we lost steam for heading up to Mabou for the dance.

How, you may ask, could it have gotten much more vernacular than this? I haven't even gotten to the vernacular souvenir yet. You may recall mention of the barn including a reference to crafts. DIY, after all is all the rage. And Carole is in the perfect target market for Martha Stewart-esque living. In fact, I recalled my first MS exposure upon setting foot in the Intervale barn. It was that early PBS show where she was planning the perfect thanksgiving and going through all of the options, which of course included the meal location, which of course led her outside and to the concept of building a barn like structure to house and authenticate the ultimate American holiday experience, inspired no doubt by the relative proximity of her Connecticut property to Jamestown. The upshot was her husband acquiesced and built the damn thing, divorcing her just minutes later.
Carole and I had cooked up a craft gift suitable for my Spa Maiden crowd who will be making the Palm Springs Labor Day pilgrimage shortly after my return. We surveyed the barn for the proper working conditions and in appropriate Martha fashion immediately summoned Skippy, the groundskeeper to begin the preparations. Skippy made on the diagonal slices of birch wood with its elegant bark and soothing white interior and sanded them down and dipped them in polyurethane. He then cut a bunch of young alder branches and stripped the leaves. This was our cue to haul out the glue gun. We attached 2 inch sections of alder in a parallel pattern across the top of the birch and re-dipped them in polyurethane. Then we gathered up all the hand made soaps that Carole purchases from their creator who lives in Whycocogamaugh (about 40 km away) and cut pieces to fit atop the newly made soap dishes. We wrapped a slice of parchment and secured them with twine. Voila! A vernacular souvenir especially made for my spa peeps. What could be cooler? Needless to say, Carole was in hog heaven.

Being no stranger to the glue gun she has implemented many projects of this type over the years. Each of the boys were the lucky recipients of a slice of the juniper that house was built with festooned with a twig tattoo of the family name, not unlike the twig grate for our soap dishes. Carole took this and writ it large by doing a huge one that hangs above the entry door at the Inn proudly proclaiming its name. Here she is posing with Duncan and her son Michael's family beneath her work.

What could be better for a vernacular home than vernacular signage? About all I can think of is a vernacular vacation. I think you might agree? Thank you, thank you Duncan and Carole.

[fn1] As Duncan described one morning over blueberry pancakes, it took some research. Juniper was plentiful at the property and a likely candidate. What he learned was that because it does not lose its sap as it dries, like most wood, it can be used while in a relatively green state because it will not shrink when it dries. So building could commence once the logs were cut and trimmed. The catch is that this same attribute is a detriment in that it causes the log to twist into crazy shapes. To overcome this requires a series of heavy duty bolts to retard this tendency and tame the wood into staying put.

[fn2] The Nova Scotians have done a masterful job of organizing the tourism aspects of their province. Because of the distances between villages are pretty great mass transit is nonexistent so any tour is vehicle dependent. The entirety of the area is divided into “trails” with various themes, such as the Fleur de Lis Trail, Marine Trail, and Cabot Trail. These are laid out in the annually updated guide book entitled Doers and Dreamers where for each trail there are maps and listings of points of interest, entertainment, lodging, camping sites and anything else a tourist would need to know. This guide is quite efficient and compact and very cleverly done.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

RIP Anna Ruth Wilky

Although her immediate family chose to keep this a secret and allegedly could not afford to publish the obituary in the Arizona Republic, the least I could do was to post this here. Anna Ruth was my father's sister (the middle child and only girl in a group of 5 siblings) and an ever present member of the family until just several years ago. I have been waiting for her visit to pick up her volume of her mother's family history which I have been holding since our last family reunion. Its been nearly four years.
As noted she pursued handicrafts and she crocheted a number of keepsakes for the infant Melanie.
Anna Ruth Wilky

(December 28, 1935 - August 5, 2009)
Anna Ruth Wilky entered into life December 28, 1935 in Phoenix, Arizona and entered into rest August 5, 2009 in Sun City West, Arizona.
She is survived by: daughters; Laura (Micheal) Allen & Lou Anna (Jon Christopher) Selby, 3 grandchildren; Joshua, Jon & Colton, 2 great grandchildren; Whyatt & Sydney and Dylan who will be making his arrival on the 20th of this month.
She liked sewing, crocheting and crafts. She was an avid reader who especially liked romance novels and American history.
Celebration of life service 2:00 pm, Sunday, August 9, 2009 at Crystal Rose Funeral Home 9155 W. Van Buren St., Tolleson, AZ

Channeling Camille

This is an excerpt from the monthly column by Camille Paglia that may help you understand why I changed my political party affiliation last month to NO PREFERENCE. This is a fine example of how and why the 2 party system has run its course and unless that changes soon we will continue to wallow in the eddy of stagnation (this is a purposeful mixing of seemingly mutually exclusive metaphors that describes exactly what it is-circling the drain but never quite going down it).

Obama's healthcare horror
Heads should roll -- beginning with Nancy Pelosi's!

By Camille Paglia

Aug. 12, 2009 | Buyer's remorse? Not me. At the North American summit in Guadalajara this week, President Obama resumed the role he is best at -- representing the U.S. with dignity and authority abroad. This is why I, for one, voted for Obama and continue to support him. The damage done to U.S. prestige by the feckless, buffoonish George W. Bush will take years to repair. Obama has barely begun the crucial mission that he was elected to do.

Having said that, I must confess my dismay bordering on horror at the amateurism of the White House apparatus for domestic policy. When will heads start to roll? I was glad to see the White House counsel booted, as well as Michelle Obama's chief of staff, and hope it's a harbinger of things to come. Except for that wily fox, David Axelrod, who could charm gold threads out of moonbeams, Obama seems to be surrounded by juvenile tinhorns, bumbling mediocrities and crass bully boys.

Case in point: the administration's grotesque mishandling of healthcare reform, one of the most vital issues facing the nation. Ever since Hillary Clinton's megalomaniacal annihilation of our last best chance at reform in 1993 (all of which was suppressed by the mainstream media when she was running for president), Democrats have been longing for that happy day when this issue would once again be front and center.

But who would have thought that the sober, deliberative Barack Obama would have nothing to propose but vague and slippery promises -- or that he would so easily cede the leadership clout of the executive branch to a chaotic, rapacious, solipsistic Congress? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom I used to admire for her smooth aplomb under pressure, has clearly gone off the deep end with her bizarre rants about legitimate town-hall protests by American citizens. She is doing grievous damage to the party and should immediately step down.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Obama's aggressive endorsement of a healthcare plan that does not even exist yet, except in five competing, fluctuating drafts, makes Washington seem like Cloud Cuckoo Land. The president is promoting the most colossal, brazen bait-and-switch operation since the Bush administration snookered the country into invading Iraq with apocalyptic visions of mushroom clouds over American cities.

You can keep your doctor; you can keep your insurance, if you're happy with it, Obama keeps assuring us in soothing, lullaby tones. Oh, really? And what if my doctor is not the one appointed by the new government medical boards for ruling on my access to tests and specialists? And what if my insurance company goes belly up because of undercutting by its government-bankrolled competitor? Face it: Virtually all nationalized health systems, neither nourished nor updated by profit-driven private investment, eventually lead to rationing.

I just don't get it. Why the insane rush to pass a bill, any bill, in three weeks? And why such an abject failure by the Obama administration to present the issues to the public in a rational, detailed, informational way? The U.S. is gigantic; many of our states are bigger than whole European nations. The bureaucracy required to institute and manage a nationalized health system here would be Byzantine beyond belief and would vampirically absorb whatever savings Obama thinks could be made. And the transition period would be a nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups, which we can ill afford with a faltering economy.

As with the massive boondoggle of the stimulus package, which Obama foolishly let Congress turn into a pork rut, too much has been attempted all at once; focused, targeted initiatives would, instead, have won wide public support. How is it possible that Democrats, through their own clumsiness and arrogance, have sabotaged healthcare reform yet again? Blaming obstructionist Republicans is nonsensical because Democrats control all three branches of government. It isn't conservative rumors or lies that are stopping healthcare legislation; it's the justifiable alarm of an electorate that has been cut out of the loop and is watching its representatives construct a tangled labyrinth for others but not for themselves. No, the airheads of Congress will keep their own plush healthcare plan -- it's the rest of us guinea pigs who will be thrown to the wolves.
With the Republican party leaderless and in backbiting disarray following its destruction by the ideologically incoherent George W. Bush, Democrats are apparently eager to join the hara-kiri brigade. What looked like smooth coasting to the 2010 election has now become a nail-biter. Both major parties have become a rats' nest of hypocrisy and incompetence. That, combined with our stratospheric, near-criminal indebtedness to China (which could destroy the dollar overnight), should raise signal flags. Are we like late Rome, infatuated with past glories, ruled by a complacent, greedy elite, and hopelessly powerless to respond to changing conditions?

What does either party stand for these days? Republican politicians, with their endless scandals, are hardly exemplars of traditional moral values. Nor have they generated new ideas for healthcare, except for medical savings accounts, which would be pathetically inadequate in a major crisis for anyone earning at or below a median income.

And what do Democrats stand for, if they are so ready to defame concerned citizens as the "mob" -- a word betraying a Marie Antoinette delusion of superiority to ordinary mortals. I thought my party was populist, attentive to the needs and wishes of those outside the power structure. And as a product of the 1960s, I thought the Democratic party was passionately committed to freedom of thought and speech.

But somehow liberals have drifted into a strange servility toward big government, which they revere as a godlike foster father-mother who can dispense all bounty and magically heal all ills. The ethical collapse of the left was nowhere more evident than in the near total silence of liberal media and Web sites at the Obama administration's outrageous solicitation to private citizens to report unacceptable "casual conversations" to the White House. If Republicans had done this, there would have been an angry explosion by Democrats from coast to coast. I was stunned at the failure of liberals to see the blatant totalitarianism in this incident, which the president should have immediately denounced. His failure to do so implicates him in it.

As a libertarian and refugee from the authoritarian Roman Catholic church of my youth, I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a "death panel" under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin's shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate's unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished.

Surely, the basic rule in comprehensive legislation should be: First, do no harm. The present proposals are full of noble aims, but the biggest danger always comes from unforeseen and unintended consequences. Example: the American incursion into Iraq, which destabilized the region by neutralizing Iran's rival and thus enormously enhancing Iran's power and nuclear ambitions.

What was needed for reform was an in-depth analysis, buttressed by documentary evidence, of waste, fraud and profiteering in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Instead what we've gotten is a series of facile, vulgar innuendos about how doctors conduct their practice, as if their primary motive is money. Quite frankly, the president gives little sense of direct knowledge of medical protocols; it's as if his views are a tissue of hearsay and scattershot worst-case scenarios.

Of course, it didn't help matters that, just when he needed maximum momentum on healthcare, Obama made the terrible gaffe of declaring that, even without his knowing the full facts, Cambridge, Mass., police had acted "stupidly" in arresting a friend of his, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Obama's automatic identification with the pampered Harvard elite (wildly unpopular with most sensible people), as well as his insulting condescension toward an officer doing his often dangerous duty, did serious and perhaps irreparable damage to the president's standing. The strained, prissy beer summit in the White House garden afterward didn't help. Is that the Obama notion of hospitality? Another staff breakdown.

Both Gates and Obama mistakenly assumed that the original incident at Gates' house was about race, when it was about class. It was the wealthy, lordly Gates who committed the first offense by instantly and evidently hysterically defaming the character of the officer who arrived at his door to investigate the report of a break-in. There was no excuse for Gates' loud and cheap charges of racism, which he should have immediately apologized for the next day, instead of threatening lawsuits and self-aggrandizing television exposés. On the other hand, given that Cambridge is virtually a company town, perhaps police headquarters should have dispatched a moderator to the tumultuous scene before a small, disabled Harvard professor was clapped in handcuffs and marched off to jail. But why should an Ivy League panjandrum be treated any differently from the rest of us hoi polloi?

Class rarely receives honest attention in the American media, as demonstrated by the reporting on a June incident at a swimming pool in the Philadelphia suburbs. When the director of the Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County cancelled its agreement with several urban day camps to use its private pool, the controversy was portrayed entirely in racial terms. There were uninvestigated allegations of remarks about "black kids" made by white mothers who ordered their children out of the pool, and the racial theme was intensified by the director's inept description of the "complexion" of the pool having been changed -- which may simply have been a whopper of a Freudian slip.

Having followed the coverage in the Philadelphia media, I have lingering questions about how much of that incident was race and how much was social class. Urban working-class and suburban middle-class children often have quite different styles of play -- as I know from present observation as well as from my Syracuse youth, when I regularly biked to the public pool in Thornden Park. Kids of all races from downtown Syracuse neighborhoods were much rougher and tougher, and for self-preservation you had to stay out of their way! Otherwise, you'd get knocked to the concrete or dunked when they heedlessly jumped off the diving board onto our heads in the crowded pool.

In general, middle-class children today are more closely supervised at pools because the family can afford to have a non-working parent at home -- a luxury that working-class kids rarely have. What happened at the Valley Swim Club, whose safety infrastructure was evidently also overwhelmed by too many visiting kids who were non-swimmers, may have been a clash of classes rather than races. Were the mothers who pulled their kids out of the pool that day really reacting to skin color or what they, accurately or not, perceived to be an overcrowded, dangerous disorder? The incontrovertible offense in all this, which went unmentioned in the national media, was the closure for budgetary reasons by the city of Philadelphia this summer of 27 of its 73 public pools. There is no excuse for that kind of draconian curtailment of basic recreational facilities for working-class families, sweltering in the urban summer heat....