Friday, December 29, 2006

Are You Pondering...?

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the President spends the Holidays pondering the way forward in Iraq, I find myself pondering a variety of politically-related observations.
  • On December 26th, the number of U.S. soldiers killed while serving in Iraq exceeded the number of casualties on 9/11. The number of Iraqi civilians killed during this war remains unclear and the reported numbers vary widely. One source reports that 300 people were killed in the last week.

  • On a side note, it appears that the casualties in the Korean War (a three year conflict) were roughly ten times higher. I also note that number of local civilians killed in that conflict is reported simply as "millions." What a waste of life and opportunity, both then and now.

  • A month ago, it was reported that we've been involved in the so-called War on Terror longer than we were involved in World War II. That runs a chill up my spine.

  • Speaking of chills, did anyone else catch the posthumously published interview Gerald Ford (may he rest in peace) had with Carl Woodward? I can appreciate the man's discretion, but wouldn't it have been nice if someone of his stature had taken the current administration's Iraq policies to task publically before the Invasion?

  • Today, Reuters reports some confusion regarding the timing of Saddam Hussein's pending execution. I'm not sure what to think about this development. I don't think anyone seriously believed he would be acquitted, but something doesn't feel right about the rush to carry out judgment. It's their country and I respect that. Still...

  • And, it seems Representative Virgil Goode, Jr. (R, Virginia) feels we should adopt stronger immigration policies because newly-elected Representative Keith Ellison (D, Minnesota) wants to take his ceremonial oath of office on the Qur'an. Goode apparently believes that unless we tighten immigration rules, we will eventually have more Muslim Americans serving in Congress and this would undermine the country's fundamental beliefs.

    Rep. Goode's remarks seem ill-considered given the following:

    1. Rep. Ellison's American roots go back at least to 1742. Since he was born in Detroit (Michigan), it seems inappropriate to link his decision of faith to immigration.

    2. Many other officials have not used the Christian Bible while taking their ceremonial oaths of office. Many members of Congress, such as Joseph Leiberman (I, Connecticut), Barbara Boxer (D, California), Arlen Specter (R, Pennsylvania) are Jewish and are therefore unlikely to take their oaths of office on the Christian Bible.

    3. In 1997, Gordon Smith (R, Oregon) included the Book of Mormon in his ceremonial oath of office.

    Given that religious freedom is one of this country's fundamental values, it appears that Rep. Goode is creating a teapot tempest in order to push a personal agenda. It's too bad he's chosen to borrow tactics from McCarthyism. Let's hope that as the 110th Congress convenes, Rep. Goode finds the true meaning of diversity and bi-partisanship.

It's all politics as usual, I suppose. *Sigh* Perhaps we should find leaders who seem less, well, Looney.

(If you're not familiar with Pinky And The Brain, this site may help explain the theme for today’s post.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas Eve Eve (or Whatever)

I hear you say 'Why?' Always 'Why?'
You see things; and you say 'Why?'
But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'

-- Serpent, Back To Methuselah, by George Bernard Shaw

Today, Christmas began in earnest for our family. We've been preparing for this for the last few weeks and, to be honest, we're actually in pretty good shape this year. (Last year, we were wrapping presents until 3:00 am on the 25th.) At this point, everything's wrapped and it's all execution from here on in.

It's been a wild day. We had a few last minute things to pick up, so we braved the mall traffic (and parking) to try to find them at a local Target store. We found most of what we needed (and more that we didn't know others needed, but more on that later). DD was with her other parents, so we had to drive out to pick her up. I drove JP and DD back home, did a few chores that needed doing, headed out to pick up Kara for Christmas Eve (which is our time with her this year), and then drove out to another Target to pick up one (or two) final presents we didn't find at the first store.

Once I got home with Kara, I needed to run to the grocery store for a few last minute comestibles (including cookies to bake for Santa). When I got back, I cleaned watercolor stains from the carpet because Kara had spilled while working on her present to JP. That done, I needed to vaccuum up the pine needles and put out the tree skirt (so we could put Kara's presents out this evening). Now, JP finished 90% of her wrapping yesterday. Me? I procrastinated and kept trying to find some time to wrap her gifts while doing everything else that needed doing. I was nearly finished with it when it was time to open the traditional Christmas Eve presents (which we did a day early because it's when we're all together).

The traditional C.E. presents for the kids are Christmas pajamas. This year, DD decided I needed a new pair of PJ's, so now JP and I are part of the tradition...except I didn't have time to find her a set of PJ's. I had, however, picked out an ornament for her and used that instead.

Anyway, the PJ's were opened and modeled (DD's having been purchased just this morning, during the first Target run). DD loves the "new" Charlie's Angels and was hamming up for the camera, posing with her fingers held like a cocked pistol. Oh, I may have hammed up a little too. (But only a little. ;-))

And, yes, Kara gets her presents in the morning, which is Christmas Eve Day. I told her that Santa knows that some children have two families to spend Christmas with these days, so he makes special trips for those children who'd been especially good throughout the year and leaves some presents at the other parents' home so they can share in the joy. Of course, her response was shocked; her eyes got big and she asked, "You know Santa Claus? The real Santa?" I tried to minimize it by saying I had sent a letter, but she started happily singing, "My Daddy knows Santa Claus. My Daddy knows Santa Claus." I'm just waiting for her to tell DD and frantically trying to invent a cover story when the inevitable happens.

So, Kara gets to open presents tomorrow morning (which also gives her some time to play with them before going back to her mother's). As a result, we negotiated a reasonable waking time (7:00 am) and then prepared reindeer food. Yes, reindeer food. You know, something for the tired reindeer to snack on while they wait for Santa to fill the stockings and leave the loot, er, presents.

Reindeer food, by the way, should be a packet of flavored oatmeal mixed with green and red sugar crystals. (Some recipes call for glitter, but that's made of foil and therefore environmentally unfriendly. Besides, you can use a hose to melt the sugar.) Because the sugar crystals are in Christmas colors, they sparkle in response to Santa's Christmas magic when he flies his overhead in his sleigh. In turn, this tells the reindeer where to land and find munchies.

At least, that's what I've told the girls. And, as Dennis Miller used to say on Saturday Night Live, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

And, yes, as soon as I post this, I'm heading outside to sweep up the reindeer food in an attempt to add a bit of truthiness to the story.

Look, they're children. They believe in magic. They deserve to see magical things.

I take it as a personal responsibilty to find ways to let them continue to believe, whether Christmas magic or just the everyday magic of truly caring for another soul, for as long as possible. It's the only kind of genuine magic I can teach them.

I know we're playing a little fast and loose with the legends. To me, that's okay. What's important is that we believe in something beyond ourselves and our direct experience, that we believe our actions can make a difference. If, to teach my children that magic can be real and can truly happen, I have to use a few theatre tricks, well, I'll do it and follow it up with the reasons behind the beliefs.

Think of it as improvisational parenting. (Which some may call an oxymoron. Having seen parents that do not improvise, I disagree. But, as my friend Tim says, I disgress.)

It's kind of like the idea in the movie The Polar Express. I want my girls to hear the sleigh bell jingle for years to come. And I want their faith in some form of magic, especially the kind we make ourselves, to last beyond the inevitable awareness of "the truth about Santa" and the other little cuts of reality ahead of them. And, faithfully believing that magic can be created, I hope they find ways to help their children find the same experience.

As long as there is faith, magic can exist. As long as there is life, there is love. And we all know that magic, true magic, flows from love. If we can create a world filled with magic and with love, what a wonderful world it would be (with apologies to Mr. Armstrong).

However you celebrate this time of year, I wish you peace, happiness, and comfort. As my Jewish friends say, "La'chaim" (For life)!


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unexpected News

Tonight, I offer a poem inspired by this week's One Deep Breath prompt ("Storms") and dedicated to Darlene, her family, and their crisis.

A Parent's Nightmare:
Child Hurt; Hospitalized.
Heartbeat Stable. Wait.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Jump to the Left

"I see you shiver with antici..."
Say it! Say it!
Thank You!

Today's Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Anticipation" and, as one might expect, some folks thought of Carly Simon. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course. As a song (and ketchup jingle), it's become an integral part of the American pop culture.

Now when I see a number of people tap into the same gestalt, there are times I feel a perverse need to be deliberately contrary (much, I’m sure, to JP's dismay). It's not that I'm trying to be cantankerous (well, not often), it’s just that I suddenly feel the urge to stir the pot and see what else can be brought to the surface. Yes, it gets me into trouble from time to time. Sometimes, though, interesting things come out of the experience.

So, my musical reference to "anticipation" comes from a different corner of the pop culture basement.

DD is beginning to get into "grown-up" musicals in a big way, so I’ve been thinking of American (and British) musicals. As I understand it, she was really into Cats when she was younger. She's also gotten into Rent, Phantom of the Opera, and so on. It's all part of a creative streak that she's developing and nurturing. I've been trying to think of musicals to possibly share with her (when she's older), like Les Misérables, Chess (the original concept album), Sweeny Todd, Miss Saigon, and so on.

It's been interesting to see her experience with different creative forms and forms of expression. Recently, she's gotten into scrap booking and she does a terrific job of reducing a pile of photos into a loving narrative of memories.

Of the various things I'm looking forward to over the next several years, one of the most anticipated is watching this little spirit grow, develop, and mature. I can't wait to see the young woman she's going to become and I'm very much looking forward to sharing that process with her.

And maybe, when the time is right, I'll teach her the following words:

"A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,
God said: 'Let there be lips,' and there were.
And they were big and they were red and they began to sing!"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Aftermath

Well, the wind storm is over and we've all survived. According to news reports, this was the worst windstorm in our region since 1993. I can well believe it. More than one million people lost power and it may take as much as a week to return power to everyone affected. (We were among the lucky ones; we had power in the morning.)

DD woke up in the middle of the night, frightened by the howling. She crawled into bed with us and wanted me to cuddle and comfort her. It took about an hour to get her back to sleep, but she was more relaxed after all the attention. (It's so nice to be more than "just a step-dad" to her.)

As you can see, there was some damage throughout the neighborhood. The feeding gremlins I wrote about in my previous post were shingles from our roof. I picked up about 100 of them from the front yard and our roof showed bare wood in places. (Our landlord, though, took the afternoon off and got everything fixed very quickly, which we're very grateful for.) As you can see from the photo, though, other homes fared worse.

Here's the other side of the garage shown in the opening picture. It seems the wind picked up a railroad tie and pitched it through the roof of a nearby garage. I don't believe anyone was hurt, though it could easily been a different story had the angle been a little different.

There was a variety of other damage, too. I saw a a broken tree limb hanging precariously from the power line down the street.

A few blocks away, a fallen street light scattered broken glass across the road.

All in all, we feel very lucky having gotten off so lightly.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Thar She Blows

It's blowing in the Pacific Northwest tonight.

Great gusts of wind throw clouds across the sky, enthusiastically herding them toward the mountains like Shelties herding sheep.

Trees bend dangerously. Like a man stressed beyond his breaking point, they're close to snapping and falling. Weaker branches shear away and skitter across the roof, gremlins feeding after midnight.

Rain splatters against the windows and reverses direction every few seconds.

Ventilation covers dance like the high hats underscoring the blues playing on the radio. Asphalt shingles rise and fall, testing the currents, ready to follow geese flying south.

Electric wires keep time erractically following their own rhythms, flapping and flopping to the beat of changing pressure and shifting temperatures. The lights flicker in response...nervously giggling before an impending crisis. Blackout?

And the wind wraps around the house, howling threats through the pet door. Dorothy Gale's twister promises to get the little pretties, and their little dog too. Fortunately, everyone's inside and safe...and perhaps stirring a bit nervously, like a chandelier (or a vodka martini) unexpectedly shaken.

The house feels strange, unsure how to respond. Should it hunker down? Be uncomfortable? Nervous? Scared? Is this how a Christmas present feels inside the wrapping? Does it wonder if the opening will be gentle or a torrent of shredded paper, flying willy-nilly at the whim of the wind.

It's blowing in the Pacific Northwest tonight.

My wife is home, safe and sound. My daughter sleeps the sleep of the innocent, secure in the knowledge that whatever happens, we'll face it together, as a family. A family blown by hard winds at times, but surviving through the strength of our love for (and our connections to) each other.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I took this a few weeks ago, while driving into work one foggy morning. There are times when the weather in the area is breathtaking. On this particular morning, I drove through that transition area where cheesecloth haze begins to give way to hard details. After rolling down the window, I tried to capture the subtle beauty of translucence.

It's hard to take good pictures while standing still. It's even harder to do so while hurtling down a freeway at 60 miles an hour. (Fortunately, digital photos are cheaper to preview than traditional film.)

While driving, I thought of characters like Arthur, Gwenivere, Merlin, and Morgan le Fey. I imagined cloud kingdoms rising to meet the rising sun and invented legends of impossible romance and improbable destinies. Dragons, druids, and (of course) gentlemen of the pad.

What can I say? I'm a romantic soul at heart and my imagination runs rampant at times.

Here are a few things I've been pondering over the last view days.
  • My friend McGlk posted a very interesting reply to my last post, which I greatly appreciate. I highly recommend his ideas for your consideration. I think he's spot on and thank him for taking the challenge so directly.
  • Does anyone else find it curious that, upon hearing the report from the Iraq Study Group, President Bush immediately commissioned three other reports? Is he, perhaps, trying to find a report that reinforces his previously chosen point of view?
  • Speaking of things that our President doesn't quite seem to understand, isn't it amazing that the best he (or anyone in his administration) can come up with after watching protests against the current policies is, "I applaud a society where people are free to come and express their opinion." Would someone please send these folks a clue?
  • Speaking of missing the forest for the trees, many interesting observations can be made from a decision made by the officials at our local airport. When asked to include a menorah with the Christmas trees, these folks instead chose to remove the Christmas trees and defer a more thoughtful decision until after the Holidays.
  • I thought Daniel Schorr's commentary on NPR this evening regarding the failures of the 109th Congress to be particular insightful. (More on the "Do Nothing" Congress can be found here.)
My next post will not be about politics. I promise.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Potpourri

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Tonight's post is a potpourri of ideas, follow-ups, and thoughts to consider.

My previous post highlighted a recent story by NPR that outlined problems at one U.S. Army base in dealing with soldiers experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their tours in Iraq. Today, NPR reported that three U.S. Senators have sent a letter asking Dr. William Winkenwerder, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, to investigate the allegations. The Associated Press reports that the letter, signed by Barbara Boxer (D, California) Christopher ("Kit") Bond (R, Missouri), and Barack Obama (D, Illinois) have asked the secretary to confirm the allegations in the report and to provide details regarding any plans to address the alleged problems. Let's hope this marks a change where the U.S. Congress actually returns to the business of holding people accountable for their actions and organizations accountable for their duties.

Earlier, I mentioned a (possibly) new member of our household and kristy (who has a terrifically named blog) asked if he was still around. Well, I'm happy to report that while Tramp is not yet entirely committed to living inside the house with the rest of our brood, he has taken up residence under the house. He comes into the kitchen twice a day for meals and limited cuddles. He's still very skittish, though. He flees out the pet door and back under the house at the least sudden movement or noise (or when Dog is around). Still, it's progress. JP's taking point on making the poor fella feel at home. I'm not sure what Tramp has gone through that's made him so very nervous, but he is beginning to relax and enjoy himself when he doesn't think anyone's looking.

In passing, I note that France's new news network is now live. Excellent! I look forward to exploring it in more detail. Let's hope they follow the best ideals of journalism, rather than the worst.

And, finally, here's something to think about over the next couple of days: Given that so much of our world is becoming more and more connected, why is it that people are feeling increasingly isolated?

As always, your comments are invited. As they used to say on Laugh-In, "Sock it to me!" (By the way, I have a six degrees of separation link to the production of that show, which is pretty cool when you consider I was four went it went on air and nine when its curtain fell.)

Tonight's picture is courtesy of Windows Media Player. It's a random "snap" (Alt+PrScr) of the random visualization that appeared while I was listening to the NPR piece, so I've no idea who to credit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Regarding Patterns Of Misconduct

Today, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a chilling story describing how American soldiers trying to seek professional help to cope with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are routinely disciplined and dishonorably discharged from an American Army base near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

According to the story, very senior leadership in the military, are on record supporting programs designed to help veterans obtain assistance with any mental disorders. That's all well and theory. But, if NPR's story is accurate, the practice at Fort Carlson describes a very different and disturbing practice.

I encourage you to review the original story, especially the audio portion. Be warned that the audio portion of the story is more detailed and contains parts that may be difficult to hear. These young men do not pull punches in describing what they've gone through and how it affects them.

To me, one of the most excruciating moments of the story occurred when three different soldiers described sleeping problems after returning from their tours in Iraq. Each one spoke of waking in the middle of the night to find they had their hands around the throats of their respective wives, girlfriends, or partners. Three different men, each responding to horrific experiences, responding with violence to the violent memories their subconscious minds were attempting to deal with. This violence was directed toward innocents, the very people these men promised...and protect.

Each man recognized a need for counseling and sought such help...and each was hampered and actively discouraged from obtaining help. According to the story, military leaders at Fort Carlson are going so far as to drum up ways to dishonorably discharge these soldiers, soldiers who seek counseling.

To me, the behavior of these leaders is unacceptable and should not stand. It's tragically unfair to people who have experienced unimagined horrors while trying to serve their country and do their duty. Senior military leaders claim to provide all necessary support and should be held accountable for subordinates who actively interfere with those seeking that aid.

PTSD is not new; we now know it affected nearly one in ten Vietnam veterans.

Now, before you roast me with your comments, let me make a few things quite clear.

I do not support this war. I've consistently criticized policies of the current Administration and stand by those statements. I do not believe this is a just war and I do not believe we (the citizens of the world) have been told the truth regarding the reasons underlying the war. I do not defend this war.

Nor am I trying to ignore the fact that some American soldiers have committed hideous crimes during this war. Whether bad apples or bad orders, I do not defend prisoner abuse or other violations of the Geneva Conventions. Criminal behavior should be dealt with directly and swiftly.

Nor am I attempting to defend, in any way shape or form, personal acts of violence.

However, I do know that rational people, when exposed to extreme circumstances, can do irrational things, things that can only be understood...and healed...with professional care. I do defend and actively support the right of people to freely use medical benefits that have been promised to them, without fear of retribution or retaliation. Indeed, I personally find it a sign of integrity and nobility that these people are aware enough...and brave ask for help when they need it. Indeed, they should be applauded for taking very difficult steps.

And they should be supported in their attempts to heal.

By the way, it looks like we're not the only ones dealing with these issues. The BBC recently reported similar difficulties for British soldiers. And I expect that other countries are seeing similar issues.

Regardless of the genesis of this war, we should provide the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan a far better "thank-you" than was given to those who served in Vietnam a generation ago.

(Tonight's photo has been borrowed from the LA Times, by way of Details here.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

On closing night, in the last hour before curtain…

Today's post is a reflection in response to this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt, In the last hour. As you'll see, it serves a couple of other purposes, too.

Several years ago, I lived in a community with an active and vibrant theatre community. It was local theatre, not professional, but the people who consistently participated had a passion for doing professional quality work and for genuinely exploring artistic expression and creativity.

During the time I lived there, I participated in a number of interesting productions, was cast as a wide variety of characters, and met a number of people with a broad range of personalities, interests, and lifestyles.

As an actor, I really enjoyed being able to explore ideas I might not have otherwise considered and working with a people I probably would not have met otherwise.

One man, in particular, comes to mind this evening. The play itself took a fictionalized look at Amelia Earhart, the people in her life, and the relationships involved. The play was told as a series of stories told to a newspaper reporter chronicling her disappearance.

The play was written by a local poet and had been selected for full production after a highly successful preview as a staged reading. The director of the staged production was so impressed by the staged reading that she asked the actors to reprise their roles in the full production. All but the reporter accepted.

Because we had already worked together before, there was an easy camaraderie between the returning actors during the first rehearsal. The new reporter, "Dennis," easily fit in with the rest of the cast as we began working to bring this new script to stage for the first time.

Dennis was disciplined and professional. He was always prepared, listened carefully, and gently shared ideas that helped lead to stronger and more authentic performances. He gave energy and responded to the energy he was given. All in all, he was a delight to work with.

Listening is one of the most important skills for an actor. Yes, you speak memorized lines in response to your cues and your movement across the stage is carefully choreographed for sight lines, composition, and audience focus. Yes, everything is staged, so to speak.

You repeat performance each night throughout the run of the show. You have to assume that no member of the audience has seen the show before, so you work to make each performance as fresh as the first. In my experience, the best actors do this by paying attention and listening actively.

By listening, you stay in the moment and are able to respond naturally to the innumerable variations that occur between each performance. Dennis was a master of this. He focused clearly on what the other actors were saying and, in doing so, kept the audience focused on the story unfolding before them.

During rehearsal, Dennis had an easy grace and was gently humorous. There are times, in a rehearsal, when you wait for the scene to continue. (Lighting rehearsals and costume fittings are notorious for this.) Some actors find this frustrating, as they feel they are pulled out of character just as they were getting into character.

Dennis, on the other hand, slipped in and out of character with the grace of Fred Astaire. Dennis would quietly chat while we were waiting for rehearsal to continue. During the weeks of rehearsal and performance, Dennis and I became casual friends. I enjoyed and learned from his professionalism. He was several years older than me and I'd started to think of him as a bit of a mentor.

On closing night, in the last hour before curtain, Dennis and I were preparing for the show. As he finished getting ready, I noticed Dennis taking some medicine. I asked if he was OK. He said he was. I said, "Good. I'd hate to see anything happen to you."

It was a comment meant to express my admiration for his work and the simple fact that I'd really enjoyed being in the show with him. It was a thank-you for making an artistic experience more enjoyable. I casually asked him what he was taking.

"AZT," he replied.

I looked at him and struggled to say something sympathetic and reassuring; however, he stopped me with that easy grace of his and reassured me that everything was going to be fine.

We went out and did the best performance we had done throughout the entire run. In one of the scenes that I had with Dennis, I marveled to myself how professionally and how focused he was on the show. His performance never wavered. He listened as actively as ever and gave his full attention to the performance.

A few leeks later, Dennis died.

While we weren't close, I was devastated, in part because this was the first time AIDS had touched someone I knew, someone I respected and had learned from. I wasn't unfamiliar with the details of the disease. In a current affairs course in college, I studied Randy Shilt's And The Band Played On. For my senior project, I and two other young men co-produced and co-starred in Harvey Fierstein's Safe Sex.

(The latter was "unusual enough" for the community that the local TV station taped a segment to run on their late night news program. We were also interviewed by the local NPR station. Raising what she thought was a delicate question, the interviewer said she assumed we were all straight men and asked what it was like to play a gay man. Without missing a beat, one of my partners replied that it was no different than asking a gay man to play a straight one. While marvelling at the elegance of the reply, I jealously wished I'd thought it first.)

I thought of these experiences as I grieved for my friend and realized that my previous understandings of the disease had changed and become more personal. Even in death, Dennis was still teaching me how to listen and how to focus.

I mention Dennis tonight because today is World AIDS Day.

In parting, I offer this small memoriam for my friend and everyone who's been taken or touched by this horrific disease.

Your body betrayed,
Your spirit fled. Yet, my friend,
In my heart, you live.

(Image borrowed, with minor edits, from Wikipedia.)