Saturday, June 27, 2009

News From Spokane

(note: I decided against writing about Michael Jackson - left it to others - but it's made me so sad, melancholy... the whole world's been crying.)

Three things about Spokane in recent days.

First: Today is the first day of a weekend of Hoopfest. This is the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world. 6,701 teams will be competing on 428 courts spread through 40 city blocks in downtown Spokane. They expect a total of 200,000 players and spectators there throughout the weekend.

Second: There's a trumpeter swan named Solo who may be 46 years old who just sired a family with his new love. Apparently Solo got his name after his first mate died when they both were quite young. He'd played the field some in the ensuring years, but hadn't really settled down - until this year. Personally I didn't need him to have a bunch of babies (four total) to appreciate his new zest for partnership. But I was pretty impressed that he had it in him to mate for life again, after all these years.

Third: (this was southwest of here, in Prosser, WA): A marmot has made national news. This item is most interesting not for what the marmot did (he - or she - went into a restaurant) but for the fact that it all made national news, from the Los Angeles Times to the Washington Post. I thought, what did this marmot do - sit at a table and order dinner? So I read the articles. Apparently all he (or she) did was walk into the restaurant and hang out in a corner, creating enough of a ruckus to make headlines before getting "other" customers to build a tunnel for him out of advertising pamphlets.

Also interesting is how all the news items had to explain what a "marmot" was. The further east the article, the more likely that the story began with "what's a marmot." (For those wondering, a marmot is a lot like a varmint.) (ha ha.) No, seriously, it looks like this:

photo credit: Inklein, edited by jjron, photo found here

And here's a Wikipedia description.

But mostly a marmot is a lot like a beaver without the weird tail and sharp teeth (I'm thinking). They say marmots are essentially large ground squirrels.

The rest of the world may not know about marmots. But here in Spokane, we do. In fact, there's an actual marmot club here. It may have been started as a joke, sure. But there is an actual club, started by local newspaper columnist Paul Turner. They call it the International Order of Friendly Marmots. The group, through Paul, threatens to hold events someday (and sell hats and t-shirts). For instance, there may be a gathering sometime this summer, if only so that Paul can show all club members the secret Marmot Lodge handshake. (According to Paul, members have suggested gathering at "the park" or "the lake," which only adds to the rumor that Spokane is either very small or very clique-ish.)

As noted in the initial set-up for the club - published in the paper two years ago tomorrow: "Being accepted as a member in good standing of the Marmot Lodge will fully entitle you to all the rights and privileges of Marmotdom." And as they say at the Marmot Lodge: E Pluribus Marmot.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nico Pitney's Question

There are two main places that I've gone over the past week or so to get my information on Iran: the Huffington Post and The Guardian. Both news sources have bloggers who are gathering information from and about Iran and then posting that information throughout the day. (With both, click on the Iran headline and it will take you to the blog.)

It's nice to read headlines too, sure - and Roger Cohen of the New York Times also has been an important source - love Richard Engel at NBC too -

But there is something unique about what these bloggers are doing at the Guardian and the Huffington Post. And the more they do it, the more contact they receive from people on the ground in Iran, trying to ensure that accurate information makes its way out of that country and into the world. They are accessible - "email me here," it says at the top of the HuffPost's Iran blog... They are discerning (knowing which twitters and emails come from reliable sources)...

So yesterday, at a press conference, President Obama called on Nico Pitney. (Who? I know - here I'd been, reading all his stuff, and I had to figure out who, in fact the HuffPost blogger was - it's Pitney). In calling on Pitney, Obama said, “Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we've been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran. I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

And Pitney asked this, from one of the many Iranians who had been communicating with him through his blog this past week: “Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn't that a betrayal of the — of what the demonstrators there are working towards?”

Pretty darn good question. Obama's answer:

Well, look, we didn't have international observers on the ground. We can't say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country.

What we know is that a sizable percentage of the Iranian people themselves, spanning Iranian society, consider this election illegitimate. It's not an isolated instance, a little grumbling here or there. There is significant questions about the legitimacy of the election.

And so ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States.

And that's why I've been very clear — ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.

What we can do is to say, unequivocally, that there are sets of international norms and principles about violence, about dealing with the peaceful dissent, that — that spans cultures, spans borders.

And what we've been seeing over the Internet and what we've been seeing in news reports violates those norms and violates those principles.

I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that — that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.

It's an okay answer. It seems to be buying time, more than anything - which probably we need, to let things unfold. But the question was strong, and it now has given Obama something to think about. I expect that Obama will return in his mind to this question as days progress, mulling over what the ultimate answer will be - should be.

Now, here's the hullabaloo. The White House press corps is up in arms because Pitney got to ask a question. The ire spans from saying the question was planted, to even bigger conspiracies. Apparently it's irrelevant that Obama had no knowledge of the question itself - or that the idea was to get a question from an Iranian, whatever that question might be. And apparently it's irrelevant that Pitney is at the forefront of the most pressing issue of this past week (MIA SC Gov. Sanford notwithstanding).

If NBC's Richard Engel was gathering information from Iranians, and had questions from them, and was called upon by Obama, there would be no ruffle. It's the idea that a "blogger" could be doing such work that makes the whole thing controversial, in my opinion.

I've gone on line. I've read the back story. Here's what happened, from my perspective, and piecing together the puzzle:

Someone at the White House noticed, like I did - and like so many others did, like Charlie Rose and Andrew Sullivan and The Economist - that Nico Pitney was doing a fantastic job on keeping his finger on the pulse of Iran. So the White House called him two days ago and asked if he had been planning on coming to the press conference yesterday. In fact, the statement from the White House is, "We did reach out to him prior to press conference to tell him that we had been paying attention to what he had been doing on Iran and there was a chance that he’d be called on. And, he ended up asking the toughest question that the President took on Iran. In the absence of an Iranian press corps in Washington, it was an innovative way to get a question directly from an Iranian." And here's Pitney's account of what happened - and how he gathered up questions the night before the press conference, then chose the best of the best so he could be asking a question that represented what Iranians wanted to know.

So hullabaloo, move over. Be grateful to Pitney instead, for all his hard work and ability and for the fact that the press conference included a question from Iran.

And thank you, Nico Pitney, for your work this past week. It's kept me informed. It's broken my heart. It's kept me emotionally tied to what the Iranian people are going through as they walk through these fires - not only of questionable elections but the silencing aftermath. And thank you for choosing a question that goes beyond the moment into the throes of tomorrow. We all need to think about what lies ahead.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The BeerBQ

In another day of defying my own expectation of not blogging for the next week or so....

On Saturday, after my archetypes class (which was so, so much fun - I am loving that class), I made my way over to a BeerBQ, sponsored by Taryn and Bent, two bloggers at HBO - aka the Huckleberries blog (our friendly neighborhood newspaper blog focused on the Inland Northwest). I was committed, for I had volunteered to be a judge of the BBQ portion of the BeerBQ, and Bent had promised me that he had a summer beer that I would love. (He brews his own beers.) (Liked it!)

On the way over to the event, I swung by to pick up a good friend of mine. I'd told the blogosphere that I was bringing a guest, but didn't reveal who it was until the event itself (chuckling the whole while, as I knew that they would know him as a fairly conservative Republican - or, um, should I say very). Hey, who says the farmers and the cowboys can't be friends?

I figured being judge of all the good food was a good thing. Since I've never been a food judge before, though, I wasn't well versed in the process. Looking back, I think I should have approached it like a wine tasting - you taste a little, but you don't down the whole glass (or, in this case, several portions of meat). Luckily there were only six contestants! Still, I was very, very full, and hope that my overloaded tastebuds didn't adversely affect contestants 5 and 6 in my voting process.

Now, to the controversy...

At the BeerBQ, it was rumored that Kerri Thoreson, ultimate winner of the contest (with her quite-delicious beer balls, I think they're called - sausage type food with a touch of jalapeno in the middle), attempted to influence the judges by bringing them (us) s'mores in the midst of the judging. I can confirm the facts of the controversy - we three judges were indeed in the midst of finalizing our decisions when Kerri came into Taryn's kitchen with her s'mores. I also can confirm that Kerri insisted it was not a bribe, and that she claimed to have absolutely no idea what we were doing there in the kitchen - that she was just being the Good Samaritan that we are supposed to know her to be... I also can confirm that the s'mores were really quite delicious, and brought me back to those days of yore, when my girl scout troop went camping...

As to the s'mores' influence on ultimate outcomes? You be the judge.

Here's a link to some photos from the event. Love, love this particular photo, of Thom (on the left) and Duane - the friend I brought - on the right. For it is exactly that - the epitome of the left and the right, in living color. This photo also is endearing to me because it reminds me of how I first met all the Huckleberries crowd. It was Duane who told me to say hi to Thom at the Fourth of July parade last year (I walked with the Dems, and Thom, while Duane led the Repubs), and when I told Thom that Duane said to say hello, Thom had our photo taken together. He must have sent the photo to HBO fearless leader Dave Oliviera, because the next day Duane called and said I had made it on the Huckleberries blog... I went to the blog and read how Dave thought Thom had converted a Republican... Suddenly I was commenting on HBO myself, saying I had always been a Dem (actually, Independent) - no conversion here - but maybe that should make them all question who it was that Duane really hung out with, in his spare time. No one believed me. Here's the link to HBO last July 5, sans photo and comments (I guess those things dropped off when the paper archived the entry).

So this past Saturday, we came full circle. See? Duane really, really is my friend! And he's one of the best there is, people. I should be so lucky, to have him as my friend. And I am.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Security Theft in Health Care

According to CNN's Paul Begala, there's more than one way to cut someone off at the knees.

He posted a concise commentary today about a congressional hearing this week that received virtually no national attention. There are two main parts of the article.

There's the part where he talks details about the people who had their insurance yanked out from under them just as they readied for an expensive medical treatment - and how insurers get kudos for coming up with loopholes to undermine people (their clients) in exactly that position.

And then there's the part where the three insurers testifying at the hearing refused to vow to stop that practice in the future.

So you really, really think that no public option is necessary in this health care reform process? These people were paying their premiums. If we make a competitive public option that allows for people to choose their own doctors, then the insurance companies will be forced to compete, and won't just be able to dump all their now-uninsurables (who were customers just yesterday) onto the public health care system.

That's how auto insurance works. Everyone except the worst of the worst is insured by a handful of private insurers. Coverage for damages after accidents get covered over a huge, primary accident-free customer base, so that the risks of payout can be monitored without gouging anyone's pocketbook.

Keep in mind, whatever we do now will be the way things go for decades. I don't expect that we will be reforming health care more than once...

(And yes, I realize it was just yesterday that I said I may not be doing any blog entries for awhile because of my screenplay writing. But this was just too jarring not to post.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Information From Iran

There are some amazing websites tracking Iran right now.

For faxes out of Iran (since much of the Internet is blocked right now) - though no faxes yet (just started a few hours ago):

Here's a picture from Twitter (found here) of the protest yesterday:

For live blogging: Both The Guardian ( and the Huffington Post ( are live blogging events in Iran. I'm sure there are more bloggers. Those are the ones I've found. According to the blogs, the protests have numbered between 500,000 and 1 million.

I would post something about Twitter, but apparently some news organizations' use of twitter entries is putting some people in danger.

YouTube has decided to relax its normal "no violence" standards, and instead is permitting Iran posts that show what is going on there.

A few things I have read so far: the march yesterday was eerily and powerfully silent; a supposed "spot check" of ballots by the government has revealed no fraud, but those same people refuse to allow a review of the ballots themselves by opposition candidates (one of the minor candidates from the election was specifically denied); this candidate has asked all those who supported him to send them their names and voter i.d. numbers - so far he's received 200,000 responses; the police have been protecting the protesters from the police...

And then there is this column by NYTimes' Roger Cohen, written last week, when all this first began. "She was in tears like many women on the streets of Iran’s battered capital," he wrote. "'Throw away your pen and paper and come to our aid,' she said, pointing to my notebook. 'There is no freedom here.' ... [A man] grabbed me. A purple bruise disfigured his arm. He raised his shirt to show a red wound across his back. 'They beat me like a pig,' he said, breathless. 'They beat me as I tried to help a woman in tears. I don’t care about the physical pain. It’s the pain in my heart that hurts.' He looked at me and the rage in his eyes made me want to toss away my notebook."

Back to Writing

I'm back in the midst of writing (editing) the screenplay - so I will be sporadic with entries for the next week or so. Inspiration is with the script, not the blog. But the writing is going well!

See you soon - on the other side of creation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Daily Free Write

Hold all, and within this holding
will you find the balance of all

click on the image to see the larger size - very cool

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)

photo credit: Aditya Bhelke , found here

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Senator Maria Cantwell and Health Care

Yesterday, I somehow got invited to a health care forum held at Spokane's city hall, sponsored by Maria Cantwell, one of Washington's U.S. senators. This is what happens when you get on one email circulation list - you end up on all of them. But I was glad to get the invitation and attended. As noted in an earlier entry, I'm willing to participate in this push for health care reform. That makes information key.

What an interesting forum! It was a panel of health care experts, and included physicians, nurses, hospital CEOs, and insurers. One of the key points at the outset was how there are fewer primary care physicians now than ever before. This is an issue that my sister (an ER doctor) has mentioned. It impressed me that this panel was on top of that issue, and that Sen. Cantwell has proposed a bill in Congress to attempt to support primary care physicians financially. Apparently Spokane has a lot more primary care physicians (i.e., family doctors) than a lot of places around the country. Also, and I did not know this, it turns out that Washington is a cutting edge state in the medical field in a lot of ways. I did know that my monthly insurance premiums are cheaper here than they would be in other states. Apparently that has to do with various networking and streamlining programs - designed at cutting costs - that the state of Washington has.

It was also interesting to hear how states with the highest per patient medicare costs do not provide better health care. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Here's an article from the New Yorker where the reporter went to McAllen, Texas - with the highest per capita spending of medicare is - to try to figure out why the costs are so high there. The article compares costs in McAllen to El Paso - a similarly situated community where the costs are half the costs of McAllen.

Also interesting was the intention of the panelists and the senator to figure out a way of acknowledging quality care versus quantity care. Right now, the financial reward goes to quantity (number of tests done, procedures, etc.).

There was one guy there, a doctor, who was chosen to be on the panel because of his advocacy for a single payer system (meaning, a publicly funded private health care system). Every time he talked, the audience clapped. Tough crowd for the follow-up speaker, who happened to be an insurance guy. Though he did hold his own. One thing he said, which I think took a lot of courage, was that there are no "sacred cows," that what might be best for the country may not be best for the insurance companies, and that the insurance companies will have to bite the bullet and accept that. He also spoke about how his company (Blue Cross Blue Shield) had promoted a wellness program, and that 1,500 employees had lost a total cumulative of 18,000 pounds through the program. It seemed almost symbolic of what needs to happen with the health care system overall. You know - cut out the fat.

At about the same time yesterday, in Chicago, President Obama was talking to the AMA about the problems with health care costs - too much discussion about insurance, too many tests being run. He told the doctors, "You entered this profession to be healers - and that's what our health care system should let you be." (Here's a short article on his speech, though I don't particularly care for the "corrupt" comment. To me, the health care system is like the legal system, when it comes to the professionals - most doctors, like most lawyers, do a stand-up job. And then there's the few that ruin it for the rest of us.)

Speaking of lawyers... With health care, there is that additional issue of lawsuits, and the cry for tort reform. It came up only briefly in the forum. Personally I've never filed a medical malpractice case (and have turned down several). And I'm sympathetic to doctors who feel they are in front of a firing squad when they practice medicine. I see it, I understand it. I'd like to see control. No sacred cows.

I do have strong feelings, however, against capping jury awards, for at least two reasons. First: the claim that awards are getting larger is only reflecting the change in laws already, since many states (like Washington) have created huge procedural and financial hurdles to even filing a medical malpractice lawsuit so that, now, virtually the only cases filed are the ones where damages are both substantial and easily proven. And those are the cases that we, as a society, would want to see filed - where we want to see some justice done. Second: insurance companies feed on caps. When there is a cap, insurance companies do not settle cases. It is only the threat of a large jury award that brings insurance companies to the negotiation table. And even then, the agents can be so arrogant, and their actuary tables so set up, that they simply ignore plaintiffs until the day the case is set for trial. If there were caps, the insurance companies would no longer have anything motivating them to settle.

Lawsuits only bring money. It is an incomplete system. But money brings motivation, creates accountability down the road. And the losses suffered are often phenomenally real. How much money would you be willing to accept for a doctor amputating the wrong limb by mistake? None, I know. No money can compensate. That doesn't mean that no money should be paid. Luckily, amputating the wrong leg is the extraordinary case, not the ordinary one. It's the kind of case that can be absorbed in a responsible health care system. So - how do we protect those patients with legitimate, significant claims while also giving good doctors relief from bad lawsuits?

I do think there's a difference between negligence and gross negligence - a mistake, versus a mistake of such grand proportions that we all are shocked it could possibly have occurred. Maybe there is a line to draw there, when it comes to medical malpractice cases. But have no doubt - if power corrupts, then absolute power corrupts absolutely, and insurance companies with capped jury awards is not a world you want to live in.

Daily Free Write

bless all, and through this blessing
will begin the tragedies of life


Try this. It'll surprise you, how the tragedies in life suddenly start to make more sense.

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Tom Tennstedt, found here

Monday, June 15, 2009

Making Movies in the Inland Northwest

This past Thursday we had our monthly KNIFVES luncheon (KNIFVES is a movie networking group in the inland northwest, found at The purpose of this luncheon was to discuss what happened in the Idaho state legislature to fund the already-passed filmmaking incentives (rebate) program that Idaho has.

It was a lively meeting. We had legislators there from every level in Idaho - federal, state, county and city. As I listened to the information, it dawned on me that both sides - the legislators and the movie making people - had some misconceptions.

On the legislative side: the legislators haven't yet funded the rebate program in part because they apparently believe that funding will cost Idaho money. In reality, however, the funding is like a trust fund and the movie people need to spend the money before it can be rebated. The way I understood it, and based on a conservative analysis, the money rebated is recouped - in taxes, and not just indirect investment into the community - by at least a 1.5 times margin. For example, if $100,000 is rebated, $150,000 already has been gathered in state and local taxes. And this formula does not incorporate the overall financial shot in the arm that the local communities and businesses will get wherever the filming takes place.

On the movie industry side: the movie folks stopped coming to Idaho after "Dante's Peak," a movie with Pierce Brosnan (oh, btw, I was an extra on that movie!) after other states gave them incentive/rebate programs and Idaho did not. But what I realized, as I listened to the various people at the luncheon, is that Idaho is being written off out of hand even though making a film in Idaho is likely cheaper in terms of overall costs than making a film in other states.

My conclusion: Idaho needs to fund its incentive program. Movie people need to look at the details of costs.

And then there is the issue of Washington's program. In Washington, as I understand it, the incentives/rebate program is alive and kicking (and improved, after this most recent legislative session), but there is a rule against using non-Washington residents on "below the line" (as opposed to "above the line" producers and directors etc.) workers. (Gosh, I hope I'm getting these terms right.) (This "above" and "below" issue was just passed in the most recent legislative session, as I understand it.) What that means is that, for any incentive-oriented movie set, no one from Idaho - or anywhere else, for that matter - can be employed for it if their work is "below the line," even though they may have the proper movie-making experience. Actually, I guess the defining feature is that the film company must make "every effort" to hire locals for crew, actors and support staff. (My guess is that the definition of "actors" is extras.) Here's a link to the Washington program rules. (FYI - the site at that link may be updated after July 1, when the new laws go into effect.)

Idaho is different. In Idaho, only a third of the "below the line" employees need to hail from Idaho.

So here was my idea: if Idaho funded its incentive program, the state of Washington could pass a law that allowed for reciprocity in employment with Idaho people. The Idaho law already provides that kind of reciprocity by the natural structure of the law.

In Washington, it has been our area of the state that has taken advantage of the WA incentives program. Rich Cowan, who runs North by Northwest (a movie production company working on national projects,, has used the program wisely, and only recently have some Seattle film companies begun to take advantage of it. From what I've been told, Rich has a Boise office and is poised to do work in Idaho if that darn incentives/rebate program would just get funded.

I do have an ulterior motive. The script I've just written (that I started in Paul Castro's workshop this past March) right now is based in the beautiful rural northern Idaho. It's relatively inexpensive to make - or so Paul believes, and my gut tells me he's right - and I'd love to see it made up this way, since I first began writing in Sandpoint, Idaho, where the workshop was.

There was a nice article about KNIFVES in the Coeur d'Alene Press newspaper this past Sunday. But even there, the reporter talked about the incentives program as though it would cost the state of Idaho financially, rather than cause a net gain. We really need to correct that perception. And maybe movies will never be made in Idaho - though the time we had on "Dante's Peak" was a blast, and the film group seemed more than satisfied with the whole set up, and we were cheap extras, and it really should be repeated now...

The Idaho Film Office did give me permission to post a few photos from the website,, of some of the beauty of this region. Here goes -

Spirit Lake, near Coeur d'Alene

Cataldo Mission, on National Register (also near Coeur d'Alene)

Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay), up by Sandpoint

Daily Free Write

the sweetness of breath, the essence of being,
the beginning of life

they are yours, were yours, have been yours
since the beginning of time

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Bill Barber, found here

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Screeplay Update

So, I heard back from Paul. Whew. Good stuff, though. Thinking, thinking, thinking... We're talking later this week. His notes seem geared to fleshing out and honing in. I'm calling it "color commentary" - you know, there's the football announcer that calls the plays, and then there's his colleague who gives you the back story. We need more back story. We need some more John Madden (famous color analyst - and really my favorite announcer of all time, but hmmm, his style would be a little rough... can't be more Al Michaels that we need, since he does play-by-play... I like Greg Gumbel, but I guess he's play-by-play too...)

I'll have to come up with my own color analyst style. We'll see how that goes.

Daily Free Write

seek the fullness of heart

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Jamil Soni Neto, found here

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Daily Free Write

please beseech and belong, within and within

This phrase often showed up back in 1998, when I wrote these free writes. What did it mean? Later, I figured it out - don't remember how, now. "Beseech" is reaching to the ethereal for guidance (called God by most). "Belong" is connecting to each other. Do them both from "within" (from your own center, your own core). That was the request.

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Alice Cornelia Kopp, found here

Friday, June 12, 2009

Daily Free Write

each step is the right step
each mistake is the right mistake

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit:Tearsandrain , found here

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Back in Town

Well, I'm here in Spokane. And this is a posting. And I'm glad to be back. And the cats were mostly happy to see me. And I had a blast in Chicago. I loved seeing my sis and her hubby. And my dad, over the weekend. The star of the show, of course, was my 19-month-old nephew. Such a cutie pie. He'd figured out how to say my name (without the "th"), and was not shy about invoking it, which I loved. He figured out how to say "Grandpa" for my dad (the "g" wasn't all there, but the "pa" was clear, and he was definitely using two syllables). And he's working on the "ABC" song. He's got "p" down pat. So cute! We would sing "LMNO" and pause, and he'd get a twinkle in his eye, and smile, and say, "p." And we'd celebrate! And he'd laugh at our crazy antics. (Man, it's easy to make these people happy.) And once, when he was building blocks, and got to a celebratory point, and expressed joy and clapped, and I also expressed joy... he reached over, grabbed hold of each of my hands, and put them together. Apparently my celebration was missing the obligatory hand clap.

He's doing this new thing (to me) where he spins these plastic half-balls, like tops. He's amazing. He should be on Oprah. He gets one going, and then another one, and then another... sliding across the patio to keep them all spinning in sync... I tried it. I wasn't very good. They just landed flat on the ground. No spin. Finally I got one going. His face lit up, he clapped (of course!) and then - I swear he said - "All right, Beth!" (ah ri Be!)

I did pull out an old favorite. I'd forgotten, but - ahem - I can speak like Donald Duck. Not very well (my brother does a much better imitation) but well enough to get my nephew smiling and laughing. He laughed at Donald Duck counting... Donald Duck sleeping... Donald Duck sneezing... he just laughed. I love to make him laugh, to hear that sound when he really gets the giggles. Like I've said before, he sounds just like a waterfall when he laughs like that. What happier sound can there be than that?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Not Happening

Well, I was pretty optimistic that I'd be able to blog while I was away on my trip to Chicago. Four days later, I think it's pretty safe to assume that it's not happening. Between visiting with family and helping out with my nephew (1 1/2 years old), I pretty much only have time to say that I have no time to blog. I'll be back Thursday!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In The Mail

My screenplay's in the mail. I've sent it to Paul (Castro, my writing instructor from March). It's ready for his read. Can hardly believe this step has been taken. He had said, back in March (when I was working on the screenplay in his workshop - it's a mystery-intrigue kind of theme) to get it in as final of a shape as I could before getting it to him. So now, that's what I've done. And mailed it, just now. It feels very, very good.

Tomorrow I leave for a week to Chicago, to see my sister and hang out with my 19-month-old nephew. My dad's coming for the weekend as well. The cats will have a sitter (they like her lots - always nice to have a change of pace). I think I'll be posting while I'm gone, but I'm not quite sure... This is my first excursion since beginning the blog. I'm thinking yes, I'll blog. But we'll see.

Daily Free Write

know that this, too, is a journey of soul
that is precious beyond understanding

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Juan Jose Aza, found here

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

D.C. Myths

Here's the downside of starting this blog. I keep finding out that stories I have loved forever were never true.

This happens when I go to verify before I publish. Something I've been saying for years under the guise of "I've heard" or "they say" - that I never had to verify since I was just saying it in casual conversation - suddenly becomes untrue because I go to find a link for it for the blog and I read "a commonly mistaken belief is..." etc.

Take Washington, D.C. for example. I lived there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's where I went to law school, it's where I worked for a small law firm with a national practice (where they terrorized me for three years about not making a mistake, any mistake, large or small... ah, the joys of being a lawyer).

After living in DC for a decade or so, I had stories. I loved the stories. I regaled people with the stories. It is only now that I keep finding out that all these stories are myths. Sigh.

Take, for instance, J Street. Or the lack of J Street, actually. There is no "J" Street in DC. The streets jump from "I" to "K." It goes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K... The story? That when Pierre L'Enfant designed the District of Columbia, he deliberately left out "J" street because he hated John Jay (who ultimately became a Supreme Court justice).

This was a great story to tell. The Washington Post magazine even had a column for awhile called "J Street" (sub-captioned "the street L'Enfant forgot"), which told the stories of DC life that were little known. (I went just now to look this up on the Washington Post... begun in 1986, created to tell of "unusual sightings, strange tales, unsung occupations and noteworthy obsessions of all kinds," the J Street column "vanished" in 1994, "not unlike Brigadoon.")

The J Street legend? Turns out, not true. Or probably not true. Apparently "J" was left out because, way back then, with their curly-q lettering, the "J" looked too much like the "I" so L'Enfant eliminated the confusion by removing the letter J as a street name. Simple. Succinct. No conspiracy. Story-wise, though - this is not what legends are made of.

Or take, as another example, the lack of skyscrapers in DC. I've told people for years that there is a law in DC that does not allow any building to be taller than the Washington Monument, which means nothing taller than 555 feet. "This is why there are no skyscrapers there," I have said often. If you look right across the Potomac into Virginia - huge buildings. Back to DC - nothing. So I was getting ready to post this information on my favorite local news blog (Huckleberries), which was posing a question about skyscrapers in general, and I thought, hey, I'll just research this....

Alas, another myth debunked.

Turns out, there is a law, called the Heights of Building Act, from 1910. But it doesn't say anything about the Washington Monument. Instead, it says something about how no building in DC can be taller than 20 feet more than the width of the adjacent street. (If the building sits on a corner, which street rules?) So, wrong again. What's next? George Washington didn't really cut down a cherry tree? (And yes, I know that he didn't.)

There's a part of me, though... yes, it's true, I just might hold on to this myth about the Washington Monument anyway. Here's my theory: since the streets already were built, and their widths were already known, and the Building Heights law wasn't passed until 1910 (after the Washington Monument already was built), who's to say that the law wasn't written with an eye to ensuring that the Washington Monument stay the tallest edifice in the district? So even though they didn't use the words "Washington Monument" in the law - couldn't that have been their underlying purpose when they drafted it?

And along those same veins of holding on to our stories in spite of all the evidence to the contrary... Who's to say that L'Enfant didn't really hate John Jay? I mean, he could just have easily eliminated the "I" street and kept "J," right? Maybe he was a good designer, knew he should eliminate one of them, looked at the "I," looked at the "J," grimaced at the thought of John Jay and his (whatever the grudge) - and threw the J away.

Those are my new stories, and I'm sticking to them. No more research!

Torture, And General Sanchez

There was an interesting headline that I read in yesterday's news. Did you see it? Likely not. Which is the other interesting thing about this headline...

On Sunday night, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez - the general who ran Iraq and was a bit skewered for being in charge during Abu Graib atrocities - was on a panel and called for a "truth commission" on the policies and practices of the Bush Administration when it comes to torture. The General described failures at all levels of civilian and military command that led to abuses in Iraq and said that is why he supports a truth commission. "This was an insitutional failure, a personal failure on the part of many," he said. "If we do not find out what happened, then we are doomed to repeat it." He also stated that, during his time in Iraq, "there was not one instance of actionable intelligence that came out of these interrogation techniqes."

Personally, I am on the fence about a truth commission. I'm not against it, but I'm not vocally for it either. I've been on my own one-person truth commission bandwagon, at least with regard to the Spokane-psychologist connection (like here, here and here), so it might be surprising that I am neutral about an official version. The bottom line, for me, is what Gen. Sanchez says: that we have to know what happened so that we do not repeat our mistakes. The question for me is whether a truth commission is the best, or only, way to get to that information.

Truth commission or no, Gen. Sanchez's words here are powerful. This is the man who was forced to retire because of the atrocities at Abu Graib. He was the fall guy. And now we find out that Abu Graib was not due to the actions of an isolated few, but was the offspring of a methodical plan by the Bush administration - either a caricature of it or (I shudder to think) a perfect model of it. That never worked. Never worked, people. Gen. Sanchez's own words: "There was not one instance of actionable intelligence that came out of these interrogation techniques."

So why have you (probably) not read this headline anywhere? Because the MSM (mainstream media) has not reported on it. I saw it here, on the Huffington Post, with all the above quotes. I searched this a.m. for news items on it... All news items are from the blogosphere. The only MSM outlet - and some would argue that it's not so MSM - appears to be Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" show on MSNBC. I love Keith, and that's great that it's on his show (Obermann clip is on the Huffington Post link) - he even interviewed the General - but this is a startling headline to me, with great quotes and one more authentic challenge to Dick Cheney's assertion that torture saved lives. Why has the MSM ignored it?

So, two headlines: Gen. Sanchez supports the call for a Truth Commission, saying that no actionable intelligence ever came from these torture techniques; and the MSM chooses to ignore him.

FYI: Sen. Patrick Leahy also calls for a Truth Commission, and encourages the signing of a petition if you support it too. Here's his website: He has over 100,000 signatures so far.

Daily Free Write


know that this beginning is a leap of faith
into an unknown chasm of belonging

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Ivan Makarov, found here

Monday, June 1, 2009

Daily Free Write

there is nothing easy within this
except the challenge itself

(want to know what free writes are? Check out the "About Free Writes" category to the right)
photo credit: Feliciano Guimaraes, found here