Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Deardle Heart

One of my favorite pictures of Julie. For a more current photo, there are two on my sidebar. Do click to enlarge.
Last year at this time I posted Julie Yvonne, December 31, 1965, about the day Julie was born.

Julie has always been a sheer joy to me. She was the most serious, sweet, funny, smart, and loving child. Deeply sensitive, she hated winning Monopoly games against her grandmother, because she didn't want Grandma to lose. She has a natural affinity for animals which, combined with her sensitivity, could lead her to bring a snail with a cracked shell in to me to be fixed (we put adhesive tape, which seemed to do the trick) or to nag me until I fixed the small hole in the screen door that she was picturing the kitten escaping through.

Julie has become a woman to be proud of. She is an excellent mother and a good wife. I can't imagine that anyone in the world has a better daughter. She lets me know how much she loves me. She loves and trusts me enough to tell me when she needs me to do something for her or not do something to her.

Julie is still funny and smart and sweet and loving and brave and . . . The list is long; perhaps the list is endless. Julie is a treasure.

You can read her blog, Thinking About and learn her take on the world.


Do click on the M&M wall and enlarge.
Julie and I were talking last night and we got to laughing about how I like to have choices that I then never make. It started with my recalling going to the M&M Store in Las Vegas and seeing the wall full of tubes of M&Ms in all colors. Not just the colors in the packages, but all colors. Black. White. And I wanted that wall. I at least wanted a large jar of every one of those colors. Although, I seldom eat M&Ms.

The first example she could think of was when she was in fifth grade and reading Paddington Bear and Paddington had tea with marmalade all the time. She mentioned it to me, and somehow we ended up buying all these different kinds of tea and then different teapots to make them in. You know, for English Breakfast Tea, a fine English pot, for herb tea, a slab pottery pot.

And then, all sorts of marmalade. Orange. Lemon. Pineapple. Grapefruit. Lime. So, we were going to have tea and toast and marmalade. But, we seldom did, because as it happens, we don't really like tea and Julie doesn't really like marmalade.

This would be silly enough, if it were the only time I'd ever done anything like that, but it isn't. The first I remember began when Auntie and I went to a restaurant on our way to Berkeley to get me signed up for student housing. I had a wonderful fruit salad that came in half a pineapple shell and was served with a waffle. The great thing about that was the six bottles of assorted syrups that were brought out with the waffle. The idea of having such choices really must have impressed me, because three years later when I got my first apartment, almost the first thing I bought was a number of different kinds of syrup. Rather silly, since I didn't have a waffle iron and I don't remember making pancakes all that often.

I took that apartment over from Julie's future father, Michael, my future husband, Dick, and Michael's girl friend of the day, Kt. They moved to New York, and I moved in. On the wall they left Kit's thread board, which I think either Michael or Dick had made for her, which was a large square with ten rows of ten pegs. I immediately started filling the thread board. I arranged it so that each row was a different color, each color was arranged from dark to light. It took me a couple of years, and I seldom sewed. But, the board itself was an object of beauty for me.

Since then, I have done the same thing with embroidery thread and knitting wool. Although I neither embroider nor knit. I mean, I have done all of these things, but not much and never to the extent that I had the supplies. Right now there is a little mending kit of 100 small rolls of thread in my closet that I bought when I could no longer see well enough to thread a needle. I just love having the colors.

Julie says that when she and Richard have to deal with my belongings after I die she at least will know why I have these squirrelly little collections of things around. I don't use them. I just like to have a lot of choices of what not to use. As in, I'm not going to sew today. I think I won't sew in lilac.

M&M wall by Eagle.csd49
Teapots by Design Sponge
Marmalade by Pictopia
Thread by Always Quilting

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Saturday was a lazy day, with snow on the ground and no real tasks needing to be done. So, I snuggled up in my recliner under a blanket, with both Hooligans using me as a chaise lounge,* and watched Serenity.

I didn't discover Firefly until the word was out that it had been canceled.** Since then, it has been rerun on the science fiction channel and come out on DVD, which I gladly purchased. The incredible fan phenomenon that led to a short lived TV show being made into a movie pleased me no end.

When I was younger, there was no way I would ever have believed that I could actually own movies and TV programs to watch whenever I chose. Maybe one or two, if I loved them enough to put that kind of money into them. But, that the technology would exist that would allow me to have a library of films was not something I had considered. And that they would be smaller than books would have blown me out of the water.

* Pippin curled up on my shoulder, Merry between my feet.
** I still find it hard to believe that with as many people who I know, starting with Richard, who know that I love quality science fiction, no one told me about it. They just assumed that, of course, I knew. No, no. Of course I may know about books. Not necessarily TV.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Helix Nebula

Hairy eyeballs from deep space: An infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Helix nebula, a photo fave of amateur astronomers. The nebula, about 700 light years away in the constellation Aquarius, surrounds a tiny white dwarf (dot in center). The red indicates the final layers of gas blown out when the star died.
I don't have all that much to say today, and here is this lovely picture, so I thought I would share it with you.

Photo NASA; text

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ravens "Singing in the Rain"

Bob Armstrong, the Juneau photographer who took this picture, has this to say about it:
Studies indicate that ravens in Alaska have at least 30 different kinds of calls. I came across these two ravens near the State Office Building in downtown Juneau. They were so busy "talking" to each other that they ignored my presence.
Click to enlarge

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yet Another Teen Survey

Shark-fu, over at Angry Black Bitch has posted And I'll bet there is a study that shows studies are full of shit...., where she says
According to the survey conducted by Junior Achievement Worldwide, nearly 40 percent of teens believe that lying, cheating or violence are necessary to succeed. 23 percent who said violence toward another person is acceptable on some level. Overall, the number of teens who said they’d fuck with the rules doubled since 2003.

Okay, but mayhap someone should ask some not so obvious questions about this survey data.

Factoring in this new data, how can we trust that the teens are telling the truth when they say they don’t value telling the truth?

Or could it be that these teens are actually being more honest that the 2003 teens? If so, wouldn’t that indicate a decrease in survey dishonesty and wouldn’t that sort of contradict the new survey results?
And what it reminded me of was my junior and senior year in high school.* I was in a gifted program. Twenty eight of us took our requirements and many of our electives together. In our senior year, we had mornings at the local community college and afternoons at the high school. And part of being involved in what would now be called a pilot project was that we spent a lot of time under the microscope. Our parents were interviewed.** And we took psychological test after psychological test. And one test, during our senior year, when we were missing regular classes in two schools for what we could see little use for,*** a group of us decided to answer at random. We couldn't get out of the test, so we did the next best thing. After all these years I can't remember whether we got in trouble for it, but I imagine that we did.

But, the point is, these days teens are surveyed and tested all over the place. Not just the ones in a particular group, but all of them. And most especially they are asked about risk-taking behavior and moral behavior. Do the testers, I wonder, ever think about whether the kids are giving them true answers as opposed to answers to please and/or answers to shock?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you really want to know what teens think and believe, you aren't going to get it from a forced-choice survey.**** You need to actually talk to them and really listen. You need to get examples. And you need to observe how they really act.*****

* Remembering that I graduated in 1960.
** My mother well remembers the hours of interviews that covered everything from my toilet training to checking out the books on the family bookshelves.
*** Surely all the other tests had covered everything important, hadn't they?
**** Just this week I went to the HGTV website and took their test for determining my interior decoration style. It was forced-choice, in that I was to choose which of four pictures I liked best in a number of categories. Except there wasn't anything in any of those pictures that I would really want in my home. Nothing awful, but none of it my style. So, if I can't find something that represents my answer about furniture, how will I find it about lying?
***** Maybe it's my unusual training first as an anthropology minor and then in my Montessori masters program, but it seems so obvious to me that if you want to know what anyone really believes, you observe what they do.

Graphic by INdiana Systemic Thinking

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What A Lovely Christmas Present

Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science has awarded me A Roar for Powerful Words. This is a project launched at The Shameless Lions Writing Circle, that celebrates the best and most powerful writing in the blogosphere. Being totally lacking in modesty, I am quoting Sandy both on what the rules are, and what she said about me when she awarded it. Not only would this make me blush if I were the blushing type, but it also sort of identifies what kind of a blog this is, which I've never been exactly sure of.
As part of this honor, I’m to name three things that I believe most important to powerful writing and then pass on the award to five blogs I believe deserve recognition.
Maya’s Granny — Joycelyn Ward writes the most heartwarming, comforting and cozy blog that makes you feel like you’ve been invited into the folds of her family. It’s a lovely-written family historical diary sprinkled with sage and inspiring insights to life.

Three things that I believe are most important to powerful writing are:

1. Accuracy. There is nothing more upsetting than being convinced by a powerful statement and then discovering that it was based on lies. That doesn't mean that a writer doesn't sometimes make a mistake -- that is sometimes unavoidable. But it does mean that those mistakes made are not due to sloppy research or outright twisting of data or facts. The bloggers I have chosen all fact-check carefully. I know I can trust that they are telling me the facts to the best of their ability to find them out.

2. Carefully considered. The writer has done the work necessary to take the facts and show me how s/he got to the conclusion presented. I don't have to agree with that conclusion. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. But I do have to see clearly how the writer got there.

3. Honesty. Two of the bloggers I've awarded write from a depth of personal experience with such honesty that it sometimes takes my breath away. Being willing to stand naked and say, "This is me. This is what I am feeling and thinking and how I sometimes come short of the ideal."

&c. I also like passion, humor, and creative word play.

Six blogs I believe deserve recognition (yes, I know it is supposed to be five, but I already cut the original list twice and I just can't cut it any more. The one good thing is that since Sandy recognized me, I can't recognize her, and so I'm not listing seven.):

Sharf-fu at Angry Black Bitch who has passion and humor. She writes in the vernacular, in the tradition of Mark Twain. Shark-fu lives her beliefs. She volunteers at the women's shelter, teaches sex education, is a mentor, cares for an autistic older brother, and still has time to write for us, to tell us not only what she thinks but give us "yummified" recipes and enjoy vodka crans.

Blue Girl, Red State, whose sidebar reads "Deal in facts and check the sources." This is a "twit free zone." In covering political issues, you know she comes from a liberal perspective, and you quickly learn that her opinions are backed with facts and understanding.

Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast is one of the first political blogs I discovered and I read her daily. She covers a wide range of mostly political topics, always well written and thought out. I have linked to her posts on a number of occasions, because once Jill has said it, I can't improve upon it.

Echidne of the Snakes is the other political blog I discovered when I first started reading blogs. Echidne writes five days a week, and her friend olvlzl on the weekends. Both do excellent research, have well considered opinions, and write well. My day doesn't feel complete if I haven't visited Echidne.

Laura at I Promise Not To Laugh During The Seance, who writes powerful words because of the honesty of them. Laura is a recent widow with two children, one of whom is in the hospital at the moment. Her willingness to share her pain and despair, to pour out the doubts and fears she experiences, as well as the moments of joy, demand respect.

And, finally I am adding a sixth roar, because I can't not. Never That Easy, a young woman who has been wheel chair bound for a long time now and writes with grace, humor, and truth about her experience with a "condition" for which there seems to be no cure and little alleviation of the constant pain.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

& Christmas Morning

As promised, the rest of the animal pictures I liked. Gentle moments with wild wonders.

Here we have a tiger with a donkey pinata all his own.

And a white tiger with cubs. Including the one who thinks climbing Mom's head is fun.

And a lovely green snakes.

Ah, Mama Tiger and Baby Pig.

And several baby pandas. These are the result of an artificial insemination breeding program. It seems to be working.

Mama cat has adopted some chicks to raise with her kittens.

It doesn't matter how big they get, a cat is a cat and a cub is a kitten.

Baby lemur holds on tight to his stuffed toy, just like any child.

Here we have a lamb being carried by a donkey.

And a little bear caught in the folding chair.

Knut's first public appearance.

Friendship between a kitten and a puppy.

A zebra and a dolphin contemplating each other through the glass.

Tiger cubs and orangutan babies playing.

Monday, December 24, 2007

T'was The Night Before Christmas

And Maya's Granny wanted to give you something nice, so here we are. has posted its Day In Pictures annual archives.

All of the ones I chose are animal themes. I love animals. You love animals. All God's chil'ren love animals.

Here are a few of the ones I really like. Upper - bee and hummingbird.

Then, gosling and child.

Goslings hiding under Mama's wing.

Crane chick being fed by artificial Mom so it won't imprint on humans.

A dog taking a balloon ride.

These bunnies entered the cage of the tiger cubs. The cubs played with them. No one was hurt.

A bear after my own heart. Going for the Pepsi.

An alligator climbing a wall. Perhaps he will turn off the circuit breaker and a householder will come out and feed him.

There are more wonderful animal shots, and I will post them another day. I'm currently working on a post that requires thought, so this makes today's post easy.

Do click to enlarge.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Discovering Nature

I was thinking, after yesterday's post, about how we discover the nature of things. Particularly the nature of the young child. I used to wonder how it was possible for my great-grandfather, who was a math professor, to be so unobservant as to misunderstand infant dependence for selfishness. To think that the crying new born even knew that her mother was exhausted in the next room.

And I can now see, with knowing that the idea was not original with him*, but rather a part of the dogma of his ancestors' religion, how that came to pass. Because, when you start out, as anyone before the age of science pretty well did, with a belief that God has already given you the answer to this, you see the events in the world in that frame. The baby whose crying deprives his mother of sleep is seen to prove that babies are selfish and the idea that the baby only knows she is hungry and has no way to feed herself or ask politely will not occur.

But, when you have science, you observe the events without the frame, and you can see more clearly. Maria Montessori, who was the first woman physician in Italy, studied children as part of her internship**. She watched them with as little a priori theory as she could. As she developed materials, if the children did not learn from them as intended, she did not blame the children but changed the materials or the method. She gathered a great deal of new information about the way children learn.

Jean Piaget was a student in a Montessori school when he was young. Later he wrote a paper on marine biology that was so impressive the society to which he had submitted it invited him to present it. He wrote to decline, because the meeting was being held past his bedtime; he was only 8.

It is no wonder that Jean Piaget revolutionized the study of young children. Where Montessori had studied three year olds, Piaget studied his own children from birth. He watched them, he played games with them to see at what age they could perform certain mental tasks.*** Like Montessori, he looked at them with an eye as free from preconception as it was possible for him to have. He became, not only a developmental psychologist, but also a Montessori teacher. Any students who worked with him had to take Montessori training before they began. As a Montessori teacher, one of my major tasks was to sit and observe the classroom when the children were busy. It is that observing with as little prejudice as possible that leads to new knowledge.

* It wasn't just the idea -- when I read Fischer's book, the example he used and the words were exactly what had been quoted to me from Great-grandfather Upton.
**Because of her gender, she was assigned to work with feeble minded children. That work led her to further develop educational tools for them, some the creation of others, some her own. When her impaired students tested out at age level with normal Italian children, the authorities in both medicine and education were impressed with what a great job she had done. Montessori was appalled that normal children were being so poorly taught that her students could do as well as they did and went on to apply the materials and methods she had used with six year olds to normal three year olds. Montessori approached this work in a new way partially because, before she studied medicine, she studied engineering. How lucky for children that her father indulged her intellectual curiosity.
***It was Piaget's work that showed that one reason babies demand to be fed right now is that they have no sense of time. Now is all there is. When a baby is hungry, he is starving to death, he has always been starving to death, and he will always be starving to death. When the baby can wait the few moments his mother needs to pick him up and feed him, he has learned about time.

Portrait of Jean Piaget courtesy of Robert Kovsky; Maria Montessori courtesy of Edith Stein. This is my favorite picture of Montessori; it shows her as the young woman who was sent to speak to the issue of women's suffrage in Italy. She was chosen because feminists were, then as now, dismissed as ugly women who couldn't find husbands. Montessori so obviously was not.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Understanding Family

I'm currently reading Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. Wikipedia says,
The book's descriptions of the four folkways grounding American society is one of the most comprehensive, almost encyclopedic, guide to the origins of colonial American culture. According to Fischer, the foundation of American culture was formed from four mass emigrations from four different regions of Britain by four different socio-religious groups.
The four migrations are discussed in the four main chapters of the book:

* East Anglia to Massachusetts
The Exodus of the English Puritans

* The South of England to Virginia
Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants

* North Midlands to the Delaware
The Friends' Migration

* Borderlands to the Backcountry
The Flight from Middle Britain and Northern Ireland
As it happens, my maternal grandmother (Lillian Upton) descended from the Puritan migration (before the English Civil War) and my maternal grandfather (Percy Herndon) from the Cavalier (after the English Civil War). And, their families had been on opposite sides of the American Civil War, as well. And, Grandma's family won both of them.

So far I am only partway through the first section; it is amazing how reading this throws light on things in my family. We have been in this country a long time, and we have done well in many ways. But we are not among the powerful, and never have been. I can see from our Puritan origin that this has been so all along. The Puritan leaders tended to be ministers and come from East Anglia; my ancestors tended to be craftsmen and came from Devonshire.

We have many ancestors named Sarah, including the one who was accused as a witch at Salem (Sarah Osborne) and my great-grandmother's great-grandmother (Sarah Proctor) who raised her. Sarah was one of the most popular Puritan names. We have a quote from Sarah Proctor that she had read the Bible "civer to civer" and it turns out that civer was not a sign that Sarah was illiterate, but the way the word was pronounced by Puritans in general.

Puritans revered age. Men who were elected to office in their later years were not voted out, they resigned or died in office. The elderly were believed to be particularly wise and strong. So strong, that when they did bad, they were considered particularly evil. So, one side of the coin was reverence for Granny, making sure she had the best seat in the house and was listened to. And the other side was the witch trials. Since elders had the capacity to be so evil, they were particularly fearsome as witches. And here we always thought they were persecuted because it was safe to go after old women with no power. And, instead, they were old women perceived to have more power than anyone.

My mother tells me that my great-grandfather Upton used to say that babies were utterly selfish. The mother could be dying in the next room, and the selfish baby would cry and demand what it wanted with no regard for her. I was appalled that an ancestor of mine could be so self-centered (I thought he was thinking that women should be paying more attention to their husbands!) that he couldn't see the nature of a baby is innocent. It turns out that this idea was not his, it was the basis of Puritan child rearing methods, and indeed of much of Puritan belief and life. That babies are born corrupt because of Adam's sin and must be taught to be good. That their will must be broken. Interestingly, with the notion that the child's will was always bad and had to be broken, and with laws that allowed parents to kill their children for bad behavior, Puritans tended to be loving parents and seldom even spanked.

My grandmother, Lillian, was the second child named Lillian that her parents had. The first had died. Julie and I thought that was odd and more than a little macabre. But, according to Fischer, that was the custom. If a child died, the next child of that gender would be given that name. There were families that lost multiple children to outbreaks of disease and then gave all of those names to the following children.

It is always interesting to see how my family is not unique or nuts. How what we do and who we are has its roots so far in the past. How things we do not even think about, which seem natural to us, are not the norm for everyone. I expect that there is more in this section of the book that will prove illuminating to me.

When I read about the Cavaliers, I'll bet I learn things about the Herndon side of the family as well.

Photos: Puritan courtesy Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
Cavalier courtesy Wikipedia.
Do click the pictures and see the stern Puritan, carrying his Bible, and the handsome Cavalier, with his sword, up close.

Update. It occurs to me that my grandmother's people were forced out of England by my grandfather's people. Then came the English Civil War, and Puritan rule. So, my grandfather's people were forced out of England by my grandmother's people. Sort of a hoot.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Few More Memories of Christmas

The year Richard was born, my husband was working as a department store Santa. So, here they are together. Richard was a very unusual Santa's lap baby, in that he didn't cry. I think it was because he recognized Dick's voice. Since I taught the kids that Santa was a story that wasn't real, this is the only picture of either of them on Santa's lap that exists.

I've always liked this picture -- it is so unlikely that the person under that outfit is a tall, slim, 21 year old. A young actor getting experience at everything he could, rather than an older man down on his luck.

There was the year we had to attach the top of the tree to the curtain rods with guy wires because that year's crop of kittens, Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser, kept climbing it and pulling it over. You can't see the wires here, but this was the tree and that is Fafhrd and Mouser playing with an ornament they've knocked over. And, yes, I know that Fafhrd is supposed to be very tall and the Mouser short and sleek -- and when they were fully grown, my boys fit the myth. Meanwhile, Mouser was older than Fafhrd, and so bigger for a while.

There were the college years, when the tree was decorated with origami cranes and strings of popcorn and cranberries. I think that this is the one the lot owner wouldn't let me pay for. The kids were so young, Julie less than one, that even though the naked tree was there when they went to bed, they were amazed at the decorations when they woke up. They were so delighted with the decorations we didn't get around to presents until about mid-morning.

There was the tree in Fairbanks that Julie brought home at the beginning of Christmas break that got frozen on the bus and proceeded to drop needles by the fistfuls, until it was half bald by Christmas morning. The last day of school before break, the teachers asked if anyone knew someone who needed a tree, and Julie said that we couldn't afford one and so they gave it to her. We could have afforded one, really. However, I'm not too proud to take a perfectly good tree.

The year that I was waiting tables and the tips were so good that the presents threatened to lift the tree to the ceiling it looked a lot like this. This tree was at my parents' house a couple of years before we moved to Fairbanks. And, at this point Richard and Julie were the only children in the family, and it was all for them. All the presents and all the attention.

And then there was the year we were driving to Big Delta from Fairbanks and ran into a white out and had to turn back. We ended up having sandwiches at the only restaurant in town that was open and feeling very grateful indeed. Not only was someone feeding us, which in my exhausted state from driving for three hours at 6 mph with full knowledge that the lives of my children depended on me was more than I could have done, but the skid that could have smashed us into the mountainside or over the cliff hadn't. For a while there I had been trapped in the nightmare that we had wandered into the Twilight Zone and nothing existed except for the seven feet of snowy road that I could see directly in front of me. In one way, that grilled cheese sandwich was the best Christmas dinner I ever ate.

There were the wonderful "Granny Christmases" that Maya, Julie, Ted, and I had when I was in California over Thanksgiving. We had Granny Christmas for several years because I had a month vacation at Catholic Community Service. Then I left there, and my next two jobs not only did I not have a full month vacation but I was needed in November. Sad. I loved those November vacations. A week with Julie, Ted, and Maya. A week with Kate. Two weeks with Mama and Aunt Flo. Thanksgiving dinner with Ted's family -- a wonderful experience with relatives coming out of the woodwork.

Click on photos to enlarge

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Meme

This one came from Scarlett, who started this meme herself just for us, and calls it “12 of my favorite things”. Here are her rules:

Please share 12 of your favorite Christmas things: they can be memories, traditions, songs, presents, beliefs, whatever it is about this season that you love.

I'm supposed to send it to 12 people, but I'm just going to open it up to anyone who wants to continue it.

1. The year that Richard had just turned 12 and Julie was a week away from 10, I bought them new bicycles. I put cards on the tree with hints, which led to hints, which led to hints. They followed their hints around the house and finally out to the garage, where they were so busy looking for another hint or a wrapped box that they didn't see the two bikes until I gave them a few verbal hints.
2. For years Christmas dinner was curry. When we returned to California from Fairbanks, we had Christmas with my parents, which was a traditional meal. So, we had curry on Boxing Day (December 26).
3. When Julie moved out and was dating Ted, they went to his parents for Christmas, and Richard and Kathy and I went to visit Julie and Ted for Boxing Day -- and, of course, had curry.
4. One year in Fairbanks, a friend of mine spent Christmas Eve and Christmas with us. The two of us sat up all night listening to music and making snacks and talking. Finally it was so late that I realized that I couldn't stay up till the usual time for opening presents, and if I went to bed right then it would be noon before I was willing to get up again. So, we woke the kids, opened presents, and had breakfast before I went to bed.
5. When the kids were very young and I was going to college, I put them in the stroller Christmas Eve and went out to see if there were any cut price trees. The lot owner helped me pick out the nicest tree that would fit in my apartment and then wouldn't let me pay for it.
6. When the kids were younger than that, I used to hold Christmas on December 27 so I could get them presents on the 26th -- they were too young to know the difference and I could get them much better presents at the after Christmas sales.
7. When I was about 14 Daddy had a pair of diamond and ruby ear rings made and froze them in an ice cube. Then, before we started opening presents, he brought a glass of orange juice with that ice cube in it to my mother. She had to be told to look in her glass, since she was paying attention to us kids open our presents.
8. For my 12th Christmas I received a wood burning kit and a paint-by-numbers kit, which was a good thing because that day I broke my ankle with the skates I'd received. Daddy was home with scarlatina, and so the two of us wiled away the hours of our convalescence painting and burning wood together. Since I couldn't go out, I couldn't get home late, and since I couldn't do chores, I couldn't get in trouble for that, either. It was probably the best time Daddy and I ever spent under the same roof.
9. I used to love going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, even after I became an atheist. But then the Catholic Church stopped doing Latin mass, and I never bothered to go back. There was something about the Latin, the singing, the incense -- it really made me feel connected to the time in my childhood when I went to Catholic boarding school and began every morning with mass.
10. These days, Mama and Aunt Flo are living on fixed incomes and helping my niece Kristie out more than they should, so they tend to skimp on their own nutrition. Julie, Ted, Richard, Kathy, and I get together and send them a box of steaks. They enjoy them for months.
11. The year that Mama was engaged to Daddy and Aunt Flo was engaged to Uncle Wes, when I was nine, unknown to each other, the two men bought Mama and Aunt Flo the same satin lounging set -- one was red and one was blue.
12. Before my father died, we would always travel from where ever in California we were living that year to Modesto, where my parents had grown up. We would stay with my father's mother, and spend part of Christmas day with her and part with my mother's parents. I was the only child in the family at the time, and most of the presents under the trees at both houses were for me. I was the center of attention and I loved it.

Twelve Days of Christmas Tree © Peter Y. Chou,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Think He Passed My Test

Chris Dodd was on Countdown last night, talking about his action on the FISA bill on Monday. He said that after they passed the Military Commissions Act, he realized that he should have filibustered it. And he promised himself that he would not allow such a bill to be passed again without standing to support the Constitution. He also said that if he becomes president, his first order of business will be to restore the Constitution. To return this country to a lawful standing. To honor the Geneva Convention.

And his action on Monday proved what so many of us have been saying all along -- one brave man can make a difference. One brave man who doesn't assume that the fight is lost and so he might as well give up. One brave man who not only votes against bad laws but filibusters and whatever else it takes to drive back the forces of darkness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some Days They Sing

Do go over to and read Sam Stein's Dodd's Filibuster Threat Stalls Wiretap Bill to know why I am in a singularly happy mood.
Senator Chris Dodd won a temporary victory today after his threats of a filibuster forced Democratic leadership to push back consideration of a measure that would grant immunity to telecom companies that were complicit in warrantless surveillance.

The measure was part of a greater bill to reorganize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Earlier on Monday, the Senate, agreed to address a bill that would have overhauled FISA, authorized the monitoring of people outside the United States, given secret courts the power to approve aspects of surveillance, and granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for past cooperation.

But the threat of Dodd's filibuster, aimed primarily at the latter measure, persuaded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to table the act until January.
Dodd flew back from Iowa last night to personally rally against the amendment to the Protect America Act. After the Senate agreed, by a vote of 79 to 10, to move to debate, Dodd took to the floor. Over the course of the day, the Connecticut Democrat criticized the idea of granting immunity. Expanding on similar remarks made by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, he noted that that the original FISA bill already included an immunity clause and that the courts, not Congress, should decide whether telecom companies deserve legal protections.

While he never technically conducted a filibuster, according to aides, Dodd left the floor only once, to address a press gathering. He did, on occasion cede time to his Democratic colleagues. But even then, they say, he remained engaged in the debate.

"Everyone who spoke on the floor said they were grateful for Dodd taking a stand," said a staffer to the Senator who asked not to be named. "They said if it weren't for him they wouldn't be having this much-needed debate."

Dodd was the one Senator currently running for the White House who left the campaign trail to debate the Protect America Act, an absence he hinted at while on the Senate floor.

Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Biden did offer their rhetorical support for the filibuster. Dodd, according to aides, will rejoin the three on the campaign trail tomorrow.
I can't literally throw confetti down on Dodd and his colleagues, but I can and have e-mailed them and thanked them for their service to the country.

And I wonder about Clinton, Obama, and Biden who were too busy campaigning to return to Washington and fight for the Constitution.

One of the things that no one is asking so far in the debates or in interviews, is how the candidates feel about restoring constitutional guarantees and what they would do about it if elected. Kucinich has spoken to it, and we know that if by some miracle he should win he would stand firm for this issue. Edwards and Richardson are not senators and so could not do anything today. But Obama, Clinton, and Biden are all in the Senate. All three of them could have gone to support Dodd, all three of them should have gone to support Dodd. But, only Dodd cared enough to leave the campaign trail for a day and do what he believes is right. Only Dodd, of the four senators running for the Democratic nomination, has shown us that he will stand up and be counted for the Constitution that they all have sworn to uphold.

So, set off the fireworks. Throw the confetti. Release the balloons. There are some heroes out there. And today ten of them stood up and were counted.

The ten Democratic, of course, senators who stood and were counted today:
Barbara Boxer of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington State, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. We may not have won this one, that remains to be seen. But, these ten Senators gave us reason to celebrate the human spirit. Thank you.

And, it looks like Senator Reid is going to keep the Senate partially in session over much of the Christmas recess to prevent recess appointments. Maybe the Democrats will notice those of their number who do have guts and realize that a spine is a wonderful thing.

Fireworks by
Confetti by
Balloons by
Do click on any of the photos to enlarge.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bound & Gagged

Don't some days just seem to be like this? Actually, this was how I was feeling the other day when I hadn't the heart to write anything.

Luckily, these moods seldom last long, and this last one didn't. It is hard, though, to look at all of the things that keep coming to light concerning the mismanagement of the current administration. And, the sign on the back of the island, the thing that makes it worse, is that the Dems don't do anything about it now that they have a majority in both houses. Maybe their majority in the Senate is too small for veto proof legislation, but they should make Bush veto it, damn it. Perhaps the Senate GOPs can stop bills from coming to a vote, but if that is so, then I think that Reid should make them actually filibuster to stop them. Not just pull a bill because of a threatened filibuster.

Prior to 2004, I had never voted either Republican or Democrat, and I may have to go back to that again. The Dems should be exercising oversight in a responsible manner. They should be standing up for what they supposedly believe in. They should not be caving and passing legislation that they claim they don't believe in. And so, I have to wonder, will a Democratic president and Congress work to restore the Constitution? Will they appoint directors to regulatory agencies who believe in regulation? Will they stand for the things we want them to any time soon? Do we have any hope?

The one thing that they have done recently that has pleased me is keep the Senate open over Thanksgiving so that Bush couldn't make any more recess appointments. If they can do that over Christmas as well, that would be good.

Click to enlarge and read

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Spice Of Life

Juneau has very scarce parking downtown, and for ten years I had a job that required me to do home visits three days a week. The office I worked out of, where I hung out the other two days of the week, was three blocks from my apartment. The solution was to deal with Rent-A-Wreck on a weekly basis. This was an ideal solution in many ways. I had the car when I needed it and could run errands to the cleaners or grocery store after work on those days. If anything went wrong, Rent-A-Wreck met me where I was with a replacement car. They worried about getting studded tires on before the first snow and off before the legal date. They delivered the car to my office parking lot one afternoon and picked it up from in front of my apartment on the appropriate morning.

The only problem was that I never knew what the layout of controls was going to be from week to week. There was the steering wheel that was so positioned that I could not see* the headlight control. The cup holder that sat (attached) on the floor and would have been perfect for an orangutan. The ignition switch on the left hand side of the steering column. The rear window defroster control disguised as a lighter**.

None of these things would have been a problem (well, that cup holder would have) if a person owned the car and so knew about them. But, driving a different car every week -- it was always such a crap shoot! I always started with a five minute hunt for various controls before I even turned the key. It is singularly amazing the variety of placements and shapes that the same basic controls can take. Occasionally I would have to call the owner and ask where something was. The only thing that didn't give me trouble was the hand brake -- as cold as it gets here, the hand brake can freeze and require heating to undo it. So, we just crimp wheels on the hills and trust the earth to stay flatish on the flat.

* I am short. The wheel was low. My line of sight was directly on the curve.
**The list used to be much longer, but time has dulled it and these are the only ones I can recall off-hand.

Logo courtesy Vancouver Island Travel.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Perfect Spiral

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA)- ESA / Hubble Collaboration
Acknowledgment: R. Chandar (Univ. Toledo) and J. Miller (Univ. Michigan)

Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. Constructed from image data recorded in 2003 and 2005, this sharp composite is from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Spanning about 30,000 light-years across the face of M74, it includes exposures recording emission from hydrogen atoms, highlighting the reddish glow of the galaxy's large star-forming regions.

I am posting the pretty picture today because the world is too much with me, late and soon. The political landscape is so ugly, so rotted, so depraved that I can't write about it, and yet to write about anything else would be trivial. So, here is a picture of something that is both beautiful and non-trivial.

Photo and text from Astronomy Picture of the Day. Do click and enlarge.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The 2:00 Show

Before I moved back to Alaska, I lived in Sacramento, California. I was working in downtown, in a skyscraper with glass walls, across the street from another skyscraper with glass walls.

And there was this beautiful peregrine falcon who was nesting on the top of one of these buildings, and hunting in the valley between them.

What she hunted was pigeons. And she had found an ingenious method of attack. She would wait until a flock flew between the buildings, pick out one and chase it into the windows of the building across the street from us. Whack! would go the pigeon as it hit the glass, breaking its neck. And the falcon would swoop down and pluck its dead body as it fell from the sky. For those of us who tend to root for the predator, it was a wonderful thing to watch. And we got to watch it often, because the falcon had a schedule. However many pigeons she took at other times, for some reason at just about 2:00, she always took one. In the firm I was working for, we would gather in Tom's office to watch.

But in the firm across the street, the one with the window that the pigeon always smacked up against, there worked a man who did not enjoy the spectacle. Actually, I imagine that if I had worked in that office, if I had seen pigeon after pigeon fly into the glass inches from my desk and break its neck, if there were streaks of blood on my office window, I might not have liked it either. At any rate, long about 2:00 as we gathered in Tom's office to watch, the poor guy across the street would dart out the door to avoid watching.

Photos: Falcon, Free Information Society; Pigeon, Greece