Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Memo to Sarah

From God, upon the news that Ted Stevens lost:

Don't let the slamming door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

See Below

OK, I get that the entry just below this one is completely out of character with one below it. I'm still struggling with idealism and internal consistency.

The New GOP

Last night, as the election results rolled in and the map took form in red and blue, my friends and I discussed the future of the Republican Party. We agreed: it is unlikely to change in fundamental ways but might benefit from a new name, one that better reflects its base.

The Confederate Party, anyone?

Heck, they already have a flag.

This is America

Not us, apart from them, but every one of us.

Let no one ever say that to be an American you must fit a narrow mold: looking, thinking and living just like all the others.

Let no one ever say cookie-cutter conformity is a good thing.

Each of us brings a life history, a perspective informed by experience, a set of connections to other human beings and a dream for the future. God bless America for that!

Diversity is our strength.

And for those who fear, remember: Respect for diversity, and the rights and dignity of every last one of us, is the glue that will hold us together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bob the Plumber

My next door neighbor, Bob, is a plumber. And a lifelong Montanan.

I ran into Bob and his wife on my way to the polls this morning.

They voted for Barack Obama.

Joan explained: It was his confidence and his demeanor in the debates. He was, all in all, the more presidential of the two.

Mr. Bill Speaks

Mr. Bill is my other cat. He's shy, which is why you haven't heard from him before.

Mr. Bill wants me to remind you that he is not named after the famed Saturday Night Live character -- oooooooohhh, noooooooo, Mr. Bill (splat, as some object falls on the claymation character)! Instead, he is named after the lesser known brother of a famous baseball player: Bill Ripken. A noble tradition.

Anyhow, this morning Mr. Bill made an unprecedented request. You see, he doesn't ask for much of anything except a little taste of yogurt once in a while. But as I rolled out of bed this morning, Mr. Bill looked up at me with his soulful green eyes and he said, "Would you please vote for the black cat?"

And I said, "But Mr. Bill! Why?"

And he said, "As you know, I am a black cat and I am a uniter." (Indeed, Mr. Bill is: for more than a decade, he mediated Bessie and Harry's often tempestuous relationship!) "And," Mr. Bill continued, "I just think that other black cat, he's what we need now to unite America."

Nice to know my cat agrees with me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pity Party II

Sarah Palin got a prank phone call yesterday from Montreal's Masked Avengers posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The conversation went on for about six minutes. It was recorded and broadcast around the world. The pranksters said all sort of outrageous things, and Palin did not catch on.

The conversation revealed a lot about Palin. She was clearly starstruck, giggling and gushing over the impostor. She apparently does not have a professional voice and persona for conversations with world leaders: it's Sarah the hockey mom all the way. But most off all, I noted that this woman, who rapidly rejects what she sees as offensive statements from her enemies (e.g., the media, political opponents), lacks a nonsense detector for those who seem to agree with her or those who flatter her. That does not bode well as an indicator of her judgment.

Nonethless I feel sorry for her because:
  • Her staff is so incompetent that they put her on the phone with the impostor without checking to see if the call was legitimate or, apparently, checking with the campaign leadership about it.
  • She answers her phone just like I answer mine: "Hi, this is Sarah" (except I use my first name, not hers). If the President of France called, I might or might not have the good sense to do different.
  • Despite copious clues that the call was a hoax, it is hard to imagine who would get up the gumption to contradict, challenge, correct or hang up on someone you think might be the President of France.
  • Pranks derive their humor from making another person look stupid and feel stupid about themselves, and I have always found intentional humiliation of another person hard to laugh at.

The marginal value of what we could learn from that call was not worth its price in mean-spiritedness and incivility.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A dingelhead on the first amendment: Run for cover!

Sarah Palin on conservative talk radio today:

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations...then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

The first amendment says that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech."

Wake up, Sarah! Is there a law against what you are saying? Does the media even pass laws? Are the media and Congress the same thing? Are in you jail? Have you been fined for what you said? Have you been told that if you don't shut up you'll be charged with a crime? (Is that too many questions, with too many big words, for you to keep track of?)

If the answers to those questions are "No", then your first amendment rights have not been abridged. The first amendment says you can say whatever you want. So can I. So can the media. It doesn't say I have to agree with you or nod along. It lets me, and the media, dissent. Down in the lower 48, we call that Democracy. So, bite me.

Your understanding of the US Constitution, however, abridges my right to live in a society where candidates for national political office have the decency to understand the most basic elements of the US Constitution.

Though I am sure it looks that way from Alaska, you are not the center of the universe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Real Montana

Finally, something about Montana that sounds like the real deal.

You can vote however you like

In case you were wondering, these kids will set you straight!

They should be here

Tuesday I’m bringing my beautifully framed photo of Jackie Robinson to an election night party. It would not be a party without him.

After the ‘Barack Special’, I headed out for a walk to the sound of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. It’s the first track on my Ipod. A quarter mile in I felt so good that I started to run, and I ran for almost 2 miles until I reached a steep hill. I walked up the hill, marveling at the stars. On a clear night in Bozeman, you can see infinity.

My Ipod continued through the tracks in turn, and as I crossed Wilson Avenue two blocks from my house, Amy Martin was singing her tribute to Paul Wellstone. You may remember him: the college-professor-turned-senator from Minnesota was the lone dissenting vote in our tragic march to war in Iraq. He died, along with his wife, daughter and several others, in a plane crash on October 25, 2002.

“And we cry in the night across the nation
There may have never been a time
When we more desperately needed him
They say we all march in lock step
To beat of the war drum
But this man raised his hand and said
No, not in my name
And he spoke for me
And my future children
He left us a legacy
Of what a true hero could be.”

And I sat in the dark on my porch and I shed some tears for someone else who should be here.

Just do it

In the worst of times, this family recognized the needs of others.

"And Cannady said Anne actually goes on, in a sense, telling Smith, "When it became evident late Saturday afternoon of the outcome for Anne, we discussed the organ donation, and knew that that was something she would certainly have wanted to do. Twenty-four hours later, Sunday evening, we were advised that six people had been the recipient of Anne's gift. So there's a legacy that will continue to live on in other people through her. And for that, we're thankful and grateful.""

Surely, in the light of day, when all is well in our lives, we too can sign up to be organ donors.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crocodile Tears from Hypocrites

So spreading the wealth is bad? It's socialism, the scourge of the earth according to McCain, Palin and red-staters.

After his Meet The Press endorsement of Barack Obama, Colin Powell explained taxes and redistribution well:

"Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who paid them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there is nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less. And for us to say that makes you a socialist, I think is an unfortunate characteriziation that isn't accurate."

So, let's take a look at how federal taxes are 'redistributed', on a state by state basis. Some states pay more in taxes than they get back again. Connecticut gets 73 cents back on each dollar it pays in, California - 80 cents, New York - 82 cents and Washington state - 89 cents. Other states get more back than they pay in: Mississippi gets $2.02 for each dollar it puts in, New Mexico - $2.00, West Virginia - $1.75, Kentucky - $1.48 and South Dakota - $1.51.

Pretty clearly, there is a redistribution of federal tax dollars going on: Some people are getting back more than they put in. It's an outrage. It's socialism. It's a travesty. It's downright un-American.

And weirdly, given the vociferous objection to 'redistribution' from red-staters, red states across the country get much more back from the feds than they put in. Take a look for yourself. And blue states? What a bunch of chumps!

Thank goodness McCain and Palin have stuck to their principles by pointing out the gross inequity of the redistribution of federal tax dollars!

Let's take a look and see how our candidates do here, just to make clear how awful and socialistic the Democrats are in stark contrast to the fair and just Republicans.

John McCain: Arizona gets back $1.19 for each dollar it puts in.

Sarah Palin: Alaska gets back $1.85 for each dollar it puts in.

Barack Obama: Illinois gets back 78 cents for each dollar it puts in.

Joe Biden: Delaware gets back 80 cents for each dollar it puts in.

Whoa, Nellie! My head just did the 'exorcist' spin. John McCain and Sarah Palin are accusing Barack Obama and Joe Biden of being socialists?! Really?

Based on the evidence, I conclude that Obama and Biden are really ineffective socialists, much less effective than, oh say, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Luckily for the Republican candidates, Colin Powell isn't going to call them a socialist over this. He might, however, think they are hypocrites.

In my email: So Bite Me!

I didn't write this but I fully concur. Now we just have to turn Montana blue.

From: Laura Grindstaff
Subject: An Open Letter
Date: Monday, October 27, 2008, 3:37 PM

Dear Red States,
If you manage to steal this election too we've decided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we're taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that includes California , Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss. We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms. Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we're going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs turn up, but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80% of the country's fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of the nation's fresh fruit, 95% of America 's quality wines, 90% of all cheese, 90% of the high tech industry, 95% of the corn and soybeans (thanks Iowa !), most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT.

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92% of all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing the war, the death penalty or guntha laws, 44% say that evolution is only a theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and 61% of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals than we lefties. Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

Peace out,
Blue States

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Ghost of Strother Martin

McCain blames the media for his failing and flailing campaign, including his running mate’s unfavorable ratings. Journalists are biased and unfair, or so the story goes.

John McCain has no coherent message, and not because the media has garbled it. He and his campaign have been here, there and thither since the end of the primary season: he’s experienced! He’s courageous! He’s a fighter! He’s an outsider! If you are going to run a campaign predicated on character, it is best to settle up front on what that character is going to be.

And if the theme is experience and judgment, then align your decisions with that: vet your vice presidential candidate, know what you are talking about and save the drama for your mama.

As for his running mate’s poor favorability ratings, Palin blames a media filter that distorts who she is. She says she wants to talk directly to the American public without going through the so-called biased media. But when it comes down to it, she has refused to answer anyone's questions except her own.

Case in point: When NBC's Brian Williams asked her about whether abortion-clinic bombers were domestic terrorists and Palin immediately launched into a condemnation of Bill Ayers. That's not the damn question!

A key to good communication is listening. Sarah Palin has shown herself to be an abysmal listener. Questions are filtered through her own personal lens and the answer that comes out has nothing to do with what was asked and everything to do with what she wants to say. It may make her feel good, but it is deeply unsatisfying to the listener. This, I suspect, is part of our frustration with her interviews: her drivel is unresponsive to the question asked. She makes you wonder if she even heard or understood the question, not a good concern about someone so close to having the nuclear codes.

Reporters have generally been unwilling to point it out to her. Interestingly, when Katie Couric pressed her, Palin admitted responded poorly and later said she was annoyed with Couric for not asking questions she wanted to answer. Welcome to big-time politics, Governor Palin. It’s not about you anymore.

To steal a line from Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke, “what we've got here is failure to communicate.” And it’s not the media’s failure: It belongs squarely on the shoulders of the McCain-Palin campaign.

Guest Post: The Audacity of Chutzpah

[from my mom, who knows what she is talking about]

Last Thursday I shopped at my favorite thrift shop, returning triumphant with five lined and beautiful jackets for $27 (total, not each).

They are all quality label (Ann Klein, Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, Talbot's), all like new. As you know, your mother dresses on the cheap from thrift shops, consignment stores and the Talbot's outlet.

Well, that's yet another place where I part company with Sarah Palin. Although we live in Northern Virginia and are counted by the McCain campaign as part of the liberal east coast elite, I've never set foot in Neiman Marcus or Saks. I do confess to buying a bathing suit (on third markdown) at Macy's in the 1970s. It was a Monahan mainstay for 23 years until it literally fell apart in the water at a Hawaiian beach (a fairly racy story for another day).

Returning from my thrift shop excursion, I turned on television news and heard about Guv Palin's new $150,000 high-end (what else at that price?) wardrobe, makeup and hairstyling.

Sarah Palin: Just the average middle class hockey mom, dressing for a dash to Wal-Mart's meat counter.

Lordy, Lordy, Miss Scarlett. I fear I shall swoon. What y’all don’t know about other folks!

In my entire life I never paid more than $80 for any outfit except a winter coat (top price of $125 on that and I wore it f o r e v e r.). Think how much the GOP could have saved if they allowed me the bonding experience of taking Miz Palin shopping. For that I would even take off my Obama button.

With $3,000 at Talbot’s (not even Talbot’s Outlet, shrine to thrift which it is) I could dress the Would Be Veep in enough coordinated skirts, jackets, shoes, handbags and dresses to see her to November fourth’s gala events and the GOP wake beyond.

With just $1,000 at a couple of thrift and consignment shops she could be dressed to kill (or attack, as is her wont) in dozens of outfits, many with designer labels. There would be enough apparel to carry The Guv through to Bristol’s baby’s high school graduation.

As for makeup, did anyone consider the drug store? A good supply of hair styling needs may be found there as well for well under $40. Quality stuff. Vidal Sasson, Pantene et al.

Let’s be clear about this kerfuffle and GOP contributors, please note: The Republicans blow $150K on designer duds and makeup for a candidate when the McCain campaign desperately needs those funds to buy advertising air time.

It makes a lady wonder about what kind of priorities and decisions a McCain administration would make on life and death issues. Oh, yes, remember Terri Schiavo? Remember the Iraq War?

When was the decision engendered to retrofit The Guv at the cost of a new 3br/2b house with a Lexus in the garage in Iowa? My suspicion is the scheme was born when Cindy McCain first laid eyes on The Guv at the deep vetting interview with McCain at his Arizona ranch. Mother’s imagination flashes: Cindy takes one appalled look at Sarah's outfit and thinks "That tacky polyester has to go. Let's get this babe to Neiman Marcus so she will LOOK Republican."

And so they did, also acquiring a hair stylist and make up artist to travel with The Guv at a cost of about $23,000 for three weeks work. That's more than my pension and social security combined for a year.

How could I ever have doubted the empathy, the deep compassion, the McCain campaign has for the middle class? Remember the story about The Emperor with No Clothes? Well, that is not Sarah Palin's story.

Now The Guv's handlers protest the utter unfairness of the press disclosing this. No one had to go through garbage or hack a computer for the facts: The campaign itself reported the expenditures.

One of the McCain whizzes whined that the plan is to give the clothes to charity ("Hey, Sue, look at the bag lady in Dior!"), adding that some of the outfits would be returned to the stores.

Consider the ethics of this: You wear very expensive clothes to campaign events and then return them to the merchants for a refund. What reason do you state for the return?

Reluctance to pay the bill, perhaps. No, customer service might deem that insufficient reason. Perhaps you could plead the outfits didn't photograph well or they smelled after the candidate perspired in them. No wonder many stores require expensive apparel be returns with the original price tags attached.

Just when I think the McCain campaign can't screw up any worse, they confound the world anew with their audacity of chutzpah.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Sarah Palin has largely avoided the so-called mainstream media since her Vice Presidential nomination. In retrospect, I’m not surprised: she’s not of the mainstream and I can understand why she might not want to mingle with them.

Her religious beliefs and practices are a bit odd. Case in point, her ‘blessing’ from Thomas Multhee who laid hands on her to cast away the witches. Seriously, witches. I wonder if the Palin kids get to go trick-or-treating.

Her husband’s political affiliations are also out of the mainstream. The Alaska Independence Party is the Alaska version of the Montana Militia, except that the Montana Militia got a lot more attention back in the day from the mainstream media.

Most odd, to me, is Palin’s weak record at getting her kids through high school. High school. Her son joined the military before graduating. Her daughter joined the campaign trail and will likely have a baby before graduating. Her future son-in-law dropped out of school as well. High school graduation is a pretty mainstream American goal.

What so wrong with the mainstream, and who's out of step with it?

Alternate Reality I

Sarah Palin, in Des Moines IA on October 25:

“See, under a big government, more tax agenda, what you thought was yours would really start belonging to somebody else, to everybody else. If you thought your income, your property, your inventory, your investments were, were yours, they would really collectively belong to everybody.”

She should know.

Her family received over $3300 in payments from the state of Alaska in 2007. In 2006, the amount was just over $2200. Sarah Palin's popularity as governor of Alasksa was due, in part, to her support for increasing that payment by $1200 last year.

Alaska does not grow money on trees. They collect it from oil companies and redistribute it to Alaska residents.

Socialism, anyone?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eight long years

Remember the 'wassssup' beer guys? Well, they're back.

The last eight years haven't been good to them.

But they still know hope.

This may be my favorite Obama campaign ad yet.

Real men live in Montana

I was reading magazines today in Borders.

Three men sat down nearby: one wearing a cowboy hat and the other two wearing baseball caps with farm equipment logos. One had his 3 month old daughter with him. I inferred that his wife was shopping and he was on baby duty. In the hour I sat by them, they changed the baby’s diaper, held her, cooed at her and told her how cute she was. Then she slept and they talked.

Me, I just read magazines.

When they got up to walk away, the oldest of the men, probably in his late fifties, pointed to the New Yorker magazine I’d been reading—the one with the “How John McCain Picked Sarah Palin” headline—and asked: “Did that book tell you where they got her?”

Sensing dangerous territory, I did my best imitation of Sarah-herself: “Well, I think they found her in Alaska.”

“But did they say how they found her?” he persisted.

I ventured further: “It said that Republican officials visited Alaska last spring, and she hosted them at the governor’s mansion. That’s how she met them.”

“I don’t know her but she’s pretty famous now,” he responded.

“Yeah, she’s made quite a name for herself.” I said that with a completely straight face.

And then he said with complete certainty: “Doesn’t matter. They're not gonna do it.”

Maybe he was baiting me, but it didn't seem like it.

He seemed more like nobody's fool.

(props to Richard Russo)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On a lighter note

I have three criteria for shoes:
  • No high heels.
  • No pointy toes.
  • Must be able to walk a mile in them.

Well, four:

  • That mile just might be in snow and ice.

No pretty shoes? No great loss, if you ask me.

Liberal Feminists

Liberal feminists are distinguished by their belief that if only women would act like men then everything would be OK. No changes in society are needed, just changes in women's behavior. Get with the damn program!

As for John McCain's assertion that Sarah Palin is an antidote to the 'liberal feminist agenda':

I don't think McCain would recognize a liberal feminist if she jumped aboard the straight talk express and ran it into a ditch. Neither would Sarah Palin, not even looking in the mirror.

Pity party

Alone among friends and family, I feel sorry for John McCain. I don’t excuse his poor choices but I cringe for what he has become and the promise that he and his advisors have squandered.

In the spring, when it was clear who was left standing, I was certain that Barack Obama would win come November 4. Why? First, because it was going to be damn difficult for any Republican to win in 2008, following years of mismanagement by the Bush Administration. But second, and specific to John McCain as a candidate, I was certain that—someway, somehow—his campaign would implode. I had vague visions of McCain, for example, losing his temper in public or being unable to contain his contempt for an opponent who challenged him.

Certainly, those things have happened, but they are not why McCain’s campaign collapsed. McCain’s campaign began its downward spiral to certain death when its top advisors convinced John McCain that the only way he could win was by tacking right rather than center in the final months of the campaign. In this, McCain was ill-served by his advisors, yes, the very ones he chose to hire and listen to.

The promise in tacking right is simple: it would energize the ‘base’, ensuring that a bloc of voters would get out and vote when they might otherwise take a pass on the election. But the problems in going right are substantial. First, George Bush did not win the last two elections solely by securing the ‘base’: he won two elections by combining strong support from the base with other factions including fiscal conservatives who are now justifiably skeptical of the Republican Party. McCain and his advisors got it wrong: Alone, the base cannot win an election for the Republicans, and this is only going to become a more acute problem in future elections as the racial and ethnic demographics of the US are transformed.

More importantly, however, was the problem of finding a candidate who met two criteria: broadening the appeal of John McCain and appealing to the base. I can see what McCain’s advisors were thinking: “Find a conservative woman to put on the ticket, and that will broaden his appeal and get the evangelical Christian vote out!”

[Footnote: I never believed that Sarah Palin would appeal to Democratic women who had supported Hillary Clinton. Seriously, Republican strategists need to get out a little more: visit with women outside their immediate circles. Then dare to presume that they can predict how women will view a particular candidate.]

Turns out, however, a qualified, socially conservative, Republican woman candidate is a myth. The Republican Party’s best options – any of a number of women senators – share an irreparable flaw: they are not, as it turns out, sufficiently conservative to meet the needs of this strategy. In particular, on the abortion continuum, they tend towards choice. This, by the way, indicates a significant flaw in the infrastructure of the Republican Party: it espouses a platform of social policies that its most prominent women do not support. Go figure.

So instead of choosing the candidate with whom he was most comfortable – Democrat Joe Lieberman, of the self-imposed political exile – McCain caved to party pressure and acquiesced to the bad advice from his campaign: He chose Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, to be his running mate. Instead of waging a likely bloody and public fight to get Lieberman through the Republican convention, McCain gave up on his vision of reforming the Republican Party and advancing a new way of doing politics. Who knows? Perhaps he decided to do what his party and advisors thought it would take to win this election, hoping to get back to the reforming after he won the election.

But his choice of Palin as running mate backed him into a corner he cannot escape. His campaign, rooted in the premise that experience and judgment matter, botched its most important, most visible decision, the one decision for which there is no do-over: He selected an inexperienced and, now it is apparent, ill-prepared running mate.

After that, what is left of his campaign? He can, unconscionably in my view, defend the qualifications of his running mate; few are buying it. He can try to talk on the issues; the historical context, especially an epic financial meltdown, is not on his side, however, and his running mate offers no buttressing, no insight and no cover. Or he can tear down his opponent; anyone beyond his base finds that distasteful.

Make no mistake: my pity does not lead me to excuse the failings of this campaign. There is no excuse for the anointing of Sarah Palin as emissary to the base: she is unqualified to be Vice President, nay, hardly seems to understand what the job entails, and shows no promise that she can learn the substance necessary to be a national leader.

The divisiveness of the McCain campaign has been stunning, especially in stark contrast with the inclusiveness of Obama’s message. According to Republicans, there’s ‘us’ and there’s ‘them’, and ‘them’s the problem.’ Well, ‘them’ is the problem: the distaste for such discourse among many independent voters, and the ever-growing size of ‘them’ compared to McCain’s steadily shrinking ‘us’.

I have heard that campaign manager Steve Schmidt does not plan to run another presidential campaign. What a relief: that is blessed insurance against the dwindling chances that anyone would be foolish enough to ask. The advisors to McCain’s campaign have made a ruin of things: they did not have a good starting point, but instead of going high, with dignity and respect for themselves and the voters, they went low. And, for the most mundane of reasons -- personal ambition, disdain for an opponent -- John McCain went along.

Nonetheless, I pity John McCain: The historical context is against him, he was ill-served by his closest aides and his ambition got the best of him. It has been painful to watch the final, tragic act in the political life of a man who showed significant independence and promise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Guest Post: Anatomy of a Distortion

[With thanks to my mom, for giving permission to post her work here.]

Did you know?

Senator John McCain's brother lived for months in 2003 with an Alexandria, VA woman who was arrested by Washington, DC police during a radical mob protest which stormed an embassy, terrifying the occupants. Anne ("Anarchist Annie") Monahan was incarcerated in shackles but, reportedly due to political pull, escaped prosecution in the left-leaning D.C. court system.

She met McCain's brother Joe, a sometimes writer and actor, through theater connections. He moved into her plush Alexandria townhouse in 2003, just as the Iraq war began. Alexandria is often referred to by right thinking Virginians as "The Peoples’ Socialist Republic of Alexandria."

Monahan, known in ultra-liberal circles for her virulent opposition to the Bush administration and the Iraq war, has a long history of radical beliefs and behavior. Sources said her own mother often called her a "holy terror."

Monahan marched in anti-Vietnam war protests and sheltered New York college agitators in her home while living in Maryland. At the time she was employed by U.S. Senator Charles E. Goodell, a peacenik legislator from New York whose staff comprised a den of radical thought and anti-administration activity.

Although she maintains the guise of a kind grandmother type, Anarchist Annie is a vocal participant in an Alexandria group which meets weekly in a nearby coffee house, frequently and loudly plotting the radical liberal politics for which Alexandria is noted.

Obama campaign signs adorn her house, she sports an Obama button at all times and has been observed "canvassing" otherwise peaceful neighborhoods for the Obama-Biden ticket. Interestingly, Joe McCain recently referred to Alexandria residents as "communists", leading to speculation that he was part of Monahan's far left political circles. "How else could he know about the Commies?" an observer noted.

McCain, a senior advisor in his brother’s presidential campaign, could not be reached for comment on speculation that he is a mole for ultra-liberal elements hoping to defeat the senator from Arizona.

Evidently the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Monahan's daughter is a professor of sociology at a Montana university. "We all know sociology is the euphemism for teaching socialism and terror in the United States," a Virginia resident said.

But really...

The anatomy of distortion is shown by comparing the above with the truth: The Rev. Anne Monahan, an Episcopal minister, was arrested in the mid-80s for protesting apartheid at the South African embassy. She was one of a group of 80 clergy and laity, led by Bishop John Walker, who staged a peaceful protest. Before arriving at the embassy, the group filled out booking cards for the convenience of the DC police who were to arrest them when they approached too near the embassy.

Wearing plastic handcuffs, the protestors were cheerfully and peacefully transported to the DC lockup where they were booked and released on their own recognizance. In accord with an agreement reached prior to the demonstration, charges were later dropped.

Mrs. Monahan met Joe McCain through her husband, Will, an actor, and the three became friends. When Joe needed a place to stay during a personal transition, he moved into the Monahan's home. Mrs. Monahan was serving a Delaware church at that time and the house was vacant most of the time so McCain became their house sitter.

The Monahans did participate in the Moratorium Against the War and offered one night’s housing and meals to four University of Buffalo students whom they found, hungry and without shelter, on the steps of a Capitol Hill church. ["They were groovy," recalls Monahan's daughter who was five years old at the time.]

Mrs. Monahan was employed as a staff assistant by Senator Goodell. Her main responsibilities were processing grants and loans for sewer systems upstate. Goodell was one of the first Republican senators to oppose the Vietnam War.

The coffee group is a meeting of retired professionals who discuss current events, films, plays, philosophy and good places to eat.

The Monahans' daughter lives a peaceful life, teaching and catering to two beautiful and personable cats. [One of them is named Bessie.]

Speaking to the Thwarting Ploy

Holly Weeks has written a nice little book, "Failure to Communicate" (Harvard Business School Press). She talks about how to approach impossibly awful conversations with effective strategy.

Thwarting ploys are efforts to derail substantive conversations -- by injecting emotion, irrationality, bullying or other distractions. Response to such ploys is hard, because they surprise us and because they take us to uncomfortable places. But Weeks recommends 'speaking to the ploy' -- not ignoring it and not responding in kind, but putting the ploy itself into the light of day.

We've seen thrwarting ploys in the presidential election. We've been distracted by insinuations and direct claims of Obama's otherness: his name is weird, isn't it Muslim and he can't possibly be American.

Well, last night at the Alfred E. Smith dinner, Barack Obama very effectively 'spoke to the ploy' using droll, self-deprecating humor. He followed the rules laid out by Weeks: respect yourself, respect your counterpart and respect the conversation.
  • "Many of you may know that I got my name from my father, Barack. What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for 'that one'."
  • "And I got my middle name from someone who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president."
  • "My middle name, it's not what you think. It's actually Steve. That's right, Barack Steve Obama."
  • "There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd. I've got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats, they were lowlifes, they were unrepentent no-good punks. That's right. I've been a member of the United States Sentate. Come to think of it, John, I'd swear I saw you at one of our meetings."
Obama shouldn't have to speak to these things every day, but it was refreshing to seem him do so last night. Perhaps we can just play that speech over and over again on prime-time television? I think Obama raised enough money in September to do this.

McCain's Campaign Strategy

The model for McCain's campaign strategy goes back about 40 years. Watch this and weep.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rabid dogs and their owners

A couple years ago, I was walking in my neighborhood and a dog ran out of my neighbor’s yard and bit me. I still have the scar on my left leg. To get away from the dog, I scurried up on top of a car. Meanwhile the dog continued to dart about, barking excitedly, for five or ten minutes while the hapless owners tried to get him under control. I learned later that the dog’s name was “Cyclone.” How appropriate.

I went to the emergency room for treatment, where I was joined in the waiting room by the dog’s owners. I learned that their dog had not been vaccinated for rabies. In that awkward moment, I experienced one clear thought: I did not want to be mean to the irresponsible dog owners, but I also did not want to be nice to them. I just wanted them to leave me alone.

I feel that way about Republicans. They have made a hash out of things, including some things I hold dear. I don’t want to sit next to them in a diner (or a bar or a church) and make nice with them. But I also don’t want to be mean to them. Life’s too short. I would, however, like to be left alone.

I’d like to be able to listen to the radio without hearing a decent man being linked to so-called ‘terrorists’. I’d like to be able to watch the evening news without being slapped in the face by racist and xenophobic rhetoric. I’d like to hear the ideas of Republicans without seeing their candidate cringe at the product of his own party’s fear-mongering. In this election, Republicans have built up a scary and unpleasant world for themselves, and I want no part of it.

Leave me alone.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Troopergate: Who's the victim?

Sarah and Todd Palin worked relentlessly to get their ex-brother-in-law, Mark Wooten, fired from his job because of a personal dispute with him. That turns out to be a violation of Alaska ethics law. You don't get to use your position as governor to settle personal vendettas.

But some say, Mark Wooten is a bad person...why protect him?

Well, if you take a step back, you'll notice that Mark Wooten is not the primary victim here: He still has his job.

The victims in this mess are all the state government employees, including Walt Monegan, who were pressured and harassed by the governor and her husband over something they had no business meddling in. Those folks were repeatedly asked, by someone with power over them, to do illegal and unethical things. Or else.

That's the ethical violation, if only the Palins could see it.

Reform this!

The ‘Troopergate’ report reveals that Sarah Palin and her husband vindictively used the position and resources of the Alaska governor’s office to try to hound her ex-brother-in-law out of a job.

The job of governor is not to get your ex-brother-in-law fired. It is to serve the people of your state by suggesting legislation and formulating policy to address the larger structural issues facing the state. Palin showed that she is capable of such reform with the natural gas pipeline project.

But when it comes to issues facing an abused and scared woman in a messy divorce, Palin failed as a ‘reformist’ governor. She did not review divorce laws and propose new legislation that would better protect those in this position. She did not examine the court system and how family court judges are appointed, trained and evaluated. She did not review the public employee disciplinary system and union agreements to identify possible flaws in policies and procedures. She treated her sister’s case as an isolated one, rather than one symptomatic of larger problems within the legal and employment systems of Alaska.

It is not reform if all you do is replace someone else's judgment with your own.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Color me confused

You'll have to forgive Barack Obama if an "I told you so" slipped out. Why?

Last summer, Barack Obama warned Americans that: "What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. Aw, he's not patriotic enough...He's got a funny name...He doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

At that time, he was slammed by Republicans and the conservative press for -- what is it they call it? -- 'playing the race card'.

Well, now who's playing the race card? John McCain, Sarah Palin, McCain campaign staff and GOP boosters are engaged in a coordinated, premediated effort to instill fear of Obama ('pallin' around with terrorists', 'risky guy') and make him out to be the 'other' ('Barack Hussein Obama!?').

Looks like Obama's pretty good at reading the future.

But why is it OK for desperate Republicans to highlight the salience of race when Barack Obama is villified for merely mentioning that such things happen?

Finally, in addition to her other attacks, Sarah Palin called Obama 'out of the mainstream' and claimed that he would 'diminish the prestige of the US presidency."


Each time I hear her speak on Obama's character, I am reminded yet again of her close ties to the secessionist Alaska Independence Party. Yes, that's right: secessionist. As in, aimin' to depart the good ol' US of A. Kinda treasonous, don'tcha think? Her husband was a member for years and in recent years, including as governor of Alaska, she has spoken at their convention and expressed her support of their group.

All of this leads me to conclude that Sarah Palin isn't really running for Vice President of the United States. She's running for leader of the American White Supremacy movement. That, she could win.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

McCain's Brain on Sarah Palin

Here’s John McCain talking on NPR about Sarah Palin’s insights into foreign policy, based on Alaska's proximity to Russia:

MCCAIN: Well, I think the fact that they have had certain relationships, but that’s not the major reason she has stated, and you know that. The major reason she has stated is because she has the knowledge and background on a broad variety of issues, including probably the major challenge of America, and that’s energy independence. And she has been responsible, taken on the oil companies, and we now are going to have a $40 billion natural gas pipeline. She has oversighted the natural gas and oil and natural resources of the state of Alaska and, by the way, quit when she saw corruption there. She has the world view that I have. She is very highly qualified and knowledgeable.

Good God! Merely talking about Sarah Palin makes you stupid: the natural gas pipeline has nothing to do with Alaska's proximity to Russia and almost nothing to do with foreign policy.

Besides, as Gary Tuchman of CNN has authoratively established, Alaskans may be able to see Russia from their shore but Sarah Palin's never been there. Why does that not surprise me? It's not like she's been anywhere else.

What's wrong with America

This morning I awoke to the sound of country music on my radio. No! That's not what's wrong with America. That's just what is wrong with me.

And then the morning show hosts, Pete and Coleen, began what appeared to be an entirely serious conversation about the cost of the financial sector bailout package. Their gripe: That the bailout package is going to cost $625,000 per taxpayer (they figured about 112,000,000 of us). Yup, that was the number they kept repeating: $625,ooo.

The bailout is estimated to cost $700,000,000,000 dollars. For 112 million taxpayers, that works out to $6250 per taxpayer. Or, as the mainstream media has regularly pointed out, about $2300 per American. Taxpayer or not, there are about 300 million of us.

Now, Pete did say that his math might be off. A little.

A little?

Try by a factor of one hundred. Like he didn't know how many zeroes are in billion and how many zeroes are in million.

And this is what is wrong with America:

  1. people who cannot do a simple arithmetic computation
  2. people who don't see a number like $625,000 per taxpayer and immediately wonder if they might have something wrong here
  3. people who have radio shows as a platform for their ignorance
  4. people who so studiously avoid the mainstream media -- the evil New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal (for God's sake) -- that they haven't yet encountered an actual accurate estimate of the cost per taxpayer or American

These are the same kinds of people, by the way, who take out adjustable rate mortgages and then express surprise -- no, shock! -- that their monthly payments recently went up.

Studied and prideful ignorance is what is wrong with America today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Whining about the liberal media

Did Sarah Palin think she could come out with her pit bull teeth bared at the Republican convention and not have that come right back at her again?

Did she think she could insist she was ready to be the Vice President, a heartbeat from the presidency, and not have people quiz her on her knowledge and qualifications?

Did she think that she could utter hardly a word to reporters for a month and avoid having each and every word that finally emerged dissected under a microscope?

Did she think she could spew gibberish in content and form—talk in sentences, already!—and no one would notice?

On September 30, the New York Times reported that, in one of the Alaska gubernatorial debates, Sarah Palin answered a criticism of how few debates she had attended by claiming to have ‘balls’: “‘It’s been a year today that I’ve been on the campaign trail,’ Ms. Palin responded, ‘attending many, many more forums, more debates, than either one of you, Tony and Andrew, because I had a primary opponent. You know, you got to have the balls to take it on in the early part of a campaign, and not just go right to the big show.’


Perhaps it is time for Ms. Palin, and her Republican handlers, to grow a pair.

Magic Word

Tip for Sarah Palin:

So when the cat has got your tongue
There's no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And you've got a lot to say...

Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough you'll always sound precocious

With props to Mary Poppins, who said it first.


I can't say where I got this. I promised not to ruin her well deserved reputation for goodness and decency.


Sarah Palin is like a goose, overstuffed with words by her Republican handlers, and now it's a mess comin' out both ends.

Bike Update

Back in July, I had my old grad school bike tricked out for the 21st century.

Worked out great!

Only had to put gas in the car once between early July and now.

Went grocery shopping, coffee house hopping, Lowe's bopping and more, all on my bike.

Got my blood work from the lab, and for the first time in recorded history: I am in the 'normal' range for everything!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Community Service comes a'callin'

I’ve always wanted to be called for jury duty: to have the chance to observe the court system and serve my community. I have friends who’ve been called for jury duty three and four times. They sit in the courthouse all day and miss teaching classes. But not me, not even once.

Instead I nobly serve my community by being a “Nielsen” family. You know, those people who record their television viewing so that advertisers can get the most bang for their buck? Four times in the last eight years I have been ‘randomly’ selected to represent my community’s television viewing habits.

The first two times I served with enthusiasm, recording every last minute of my TV viewing. The third time I declined when asked. Just said, “no, can’t help you this time.” I figured, geez!, how many times do you come to this well for data?

From this I learned that the Nielsen Company does not have to report to the Institutional Review Board of any university. They don’t have to take ‘no’ for an answer as would any academic researcher who tried to recruit a human subject. They can call you back after you decline, to ask again. And again.

And when you decline for the third time, resisting the hard sell on the other end, do you know what they do? They send you the TV viewing diary anyhow, with two bucks in it. Since I had repeatedly declined, I threw the diary away and spent the two bucks. That was a couple of years ago.

Now I am a Nielsen family yet again. This time I didn’t decline, mostly because of how easy it will be to keep the diary. I don’t have cable anymore, nor do I have satellite TV. For a while I had rabbit ears for my TV, and I got five stations, sort of: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and PBS. But even with the rabbit ears I mostly got snow on my TV. For example, I couldn’t watch tennis at home: I could see the players running around, but I could not see the ball they were chasing. So I tossed the rabbit ears and now I get PBS and CBS, loosely speaking. I hardly watch TV at all.

So being a Nielsen family will be easy this time around. And they now pay five bucks!

In case you are wondering, I don’t have a ‘modern’ television and I don’t plan to buy the converter box for the big change to digital broadcasting after the Super Bowl in February. The next time Nielsen comes a’callin’, I’ll be able to honestly say that I don’t get television at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Economy: Is the customer always right?

Turns out Murky Coffee, a local coffee place in Arlington, has 'policies' about its coffee:

"No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice."

This ticked off a customer from Brooklyn (there's a surprise) who thought that if he paid for his expresso, he should get to do what he wanted with it including put it over ice. So after being denied his triple espresso over ice, he bought a triple espresso, requested a cup of ice and mixed his own, but not before throwing a hissy fit.

And then he wrote a scathing account of the whole thing on his blog. That was read by thousands of people and winged electronically around the world.

And now for some promised opinion:

In the end, the store decides if they are selling the thing you want. If they're not selling it, and that's their choice, then the option available to you in a free and civilized market is to take your business elsewhere.

Arguing and cussing and leaving profanity-decorated tips are uncivilized options. And by engaging the craziness, they subvert the market: The guy gave his money to the coffee house, including a tip, even though he was treated badly. Wrong incentive structure!

Oh, and note to the coffee house: Give the guy his espresso over ice, for God's sake. Life's too short.

It's a cliche but not a bad principle: 'practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty'.

Economy: Failing Banks

The FDIC presently has a list of 90 banks at risk of failure. They aren't naming names, however, accourding to Nancy Trejos of the Washington Post.

Reminds me, though, of a story in the Wall Street Journal last month about how the FDIC comes in and takes over a failing bank. You'd think this was pretty dry stuff, but it's not! This article makes the process seem more exciting that Crime Scene Investigation. Almost made me want to change careers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Politics: Is this Obama humor?

In Spring 2007, Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live: “Is America ready for a black President? I say why not? We just had a retarded one.”

Oh, that's not Obama humor: it's Bush humor.

Food: Cheesecake

A quick story about cheesecake.

When I was a freshman in college, I lived on a dorm that had 'study breaks', Tuesday night snack fests for everyone on the hall.

My roommates and I made cheesecake for our study break -- four of them. Our hallmates ate a two and a half of the cheesecakes, and then my roomie Karen went in search of a friend of hers to share the remaining pies. "Don't eat the cheesecake," she instructed me and Stephanie.

Well, Karen was gone a long time. A really long time. The cheesecake beckoned. Our will was weak.

Karen returned, with her friend Stephen, about an hour later. She found me and Stephanie, laying in the dark, moaning in discomfort as we had between us eaten the remaining cheesecake and a half. And I'd do it again tomorrow. That's how much I love cheesecake.

And it's why I particularly love the Friends episode, the one with the cheesecake. You know, the one where Rachel and Chandler end up eating cheesecake off the floor in the hall between their apartments. Get me a fork!

Nothing fancy in this cheesecake recipe. It's adapted from "Loaves and Dishes", a church cookbook from the 1980's (St. David's Episcopal Church in Washington DC).


3 packages of cream cheese (8 oz each)
3 tsp vanilla (2 tsp, 1 tsp)
1 cup sugar (3/4 cup, 1/4 cup)
4 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

This works best if ingredients, especially the cream cheese, are at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350. With electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy (2-3 minutes). Extra points if you manage to keep the cream cheese off the ceiling. Add 2 tsp vanilla and blend. Add 3/4 cup sugar and blend. Add eggs and blend until just smooth. Not much more, though, because overbeating eggs makes the cheesecake tough.

Pour into 9 inch spring pan with a graham cracker crust (see below). Bake for 50-55 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.

Raise oven temperature to 450. Mix 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar. Spread on top of cheesecake, after the cake has cooled for 15 minutes. Bake at 450 for about 10 minutes.

Remove and cool.

Optional items: Graham cracker crust and raspberry sauce

Graham cracker crust

1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, very finely crumbled
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Mix graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar well. Add melted butter and mix. Press dough evenly in the bottom of a 9 inch spring pan, maybe using a folded up piece of wax paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool before filling.

Raspberry sauce

1 bag frozen raspberries
1 T sugar

In a saucepan, cook the raspberries and sugar over medium heat until you have a syrupy, chunky sauce. Use to drizzle on top of the cheesecake, or decorate the plate.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Politics: Obama Not Funny?

Apparently Barack Obama is not feeding the late-night humor frenzy. The consensus: he hasn't done or said much of anything yet that can be mocked by the middle-aged, white, male comedy writers and monologists.

And attempts to date at satire have fallen flat. This week's New Yorker cover showed Obama "dressed as a Muslim fist-bumping his gun-toting wife" but nonetheless and shockingly, as Philip Kennicott argues, it missed its audience. Perhaps it would have been funnier if the depiction of Obama had been embedded in a daydreaming bubble rising up from Dick Cheney's head.

The best hope, according to Mike Sweeney who's the head writer for Late Night's Conan O'Brien? “We’re hoping he picks an idiot as vice president.”

Better that, I suppose, than making an idiotic choice.

Economy: Local Advantage

Starbucks is closing the doors of some 600 shops in the near future because of a slowdown in business. According to this Washington Post story, however, the slowdown hasn't hit local coffee houses which are thriving in DC.

I'm not sure how Bozeman's local coffee places are doing, but we still don't have a Starbucks. A couple of places -- Wheat Montana, Barnes & Noble -- are selling Starbucks Coffee, but no actual Starbucks stores have shown up yet.

Last summer, while in Portland OR, I stopped in at a Starbucks to buy a piece of crumble cake. Starbucks baked goods are powerfully attractive to those of us who don't have regular access to them. When the barista asked if I also wanted something to drink, I said: "No, thanks. I just love the coffee cake and get it whenever I can since I don't have a Starbucks in my town."

The guy behind me in line burst out laughing, and asked: "Where do you live where there isn't a Starbucks?" That is, it turns out the response of many people in large cities: Amazement that a civilized place exists that doesn't have at least one Starbucks.

We do fine without Starbucks.

Leaf and Bean is one of our original coffee houses dating back to the seventies (and opened, the story goes, by Glenn Close's sister). They have two locations, both comfortable, friendly and local. They also have a wonderful coffee-and-circus-themed mural in their original location downtown.

Rocky Mountain Roasting in our local coffee chain, with outposts all over town. In addition to the standard coffee offerings, they do portable hot pots which I rely on for parties so I don't have to make coffee myself.

The Daily Grind has a shop up by Montana State's campus, and a new storefront on North Rouse on the way out to the 'M' trail and Bridger Bowl. They have fabulous baked goods. The absolute best.

The Coop has a coffee bar upstairs, and it too has wonderful baked goods both upstairs and downstairs in the main store. They are located at 9th and Main, across the street from Safeway.

On either end of downtown we have Rockford Coffee (at Main and N. 7th) and the Home Page (on Main near Rouse). The Home Page has free wireless access. And Wild Joe's, our newest entrant, has shops right downtown and also won the competition to open the coffee house in the new library on the east side of town.

And I have to mention our 'mud huts' -- little buildings in parking lots around town where you can get coffee. My favorite here is Mountain High Coffee, which had three huts around town at last count. They make the best tasting Chai Tea in town, and are owned by a graduate of the sociology program at Montana State University. Just goes to show that we do put out graduates with the skills to be successful!

My personal favorite, however, is the International Coffee Traders. They never have a line, they make fine drinks and they are located in a former laudry mat behind the Conoco gas station up by campus. They carry New Day donuts (as does, I believe, Rocky Mountain Roasting), and I am particularly fond of any donut that comes with chocolate frosting. They have free wireless and a couple of computers for customers. Ironically, however, they do not have a webpage!

Who needs Starbucks anyway?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

reduce, REUSE, recyle: Trick my bike!

Summer is finally here – this is Montana, people! – and with the advent of mild weather, clear blue skies and concomitant sky high gas prices, I have been longing to join the legions of Bozemanites toodling around town on bike. Oh, the freedom to peddle over to Borders to read a book or to the mall to catch a flick or to the grocery store to shop for dinner. Most of all, I daydream about hopping on a two-wheeler and using Sue-power to pick up my weekly vegetables from Towne’s Harvest.

Did you know the average American opts to drive at somewhere between four and five blocks? (When I find the link for this research, I'll post it.) For me, I nearly always walk if the distance a mile or less. If it fits into my daily 5-6 mile walk, I’ll walk to more distant destinations. This morning a friend and I hoofed it to the Saturday Farmer’s market, probably about a mile and half away. But the kinds of places I want to go on bike are further than that, often by roads that do not have good sidewalks the whole way. They are made for biking.

But I had a conundrum. Although I want to bike, I don’t want to ride my bike, a 16-year old Giant 10-speed. Don’t get me wrong: I love this bike. For about 3 years, I lived without a car in California and biked everywhere I needed to go: to Stanford’s campus, to work at the Menlo Park VA, to shop, to meet friends for breakfast anywhere from Redwood City down to Mountain View. Transportation-wise, it was the best three years of my life.

In April of 1992, as I was biking on Stanford’s campus, an elderly man who had just finished playing tennis rolled through a stop sign and hit me square on, looking at me all the way. When I realized he wasn’t going to stop and I couldn’t get out of his way, I started screaming wordlessly. My life did not flash before my eyes, but I do remember thinking, “I’m going to die.”

I did not die: He was only going about five miles an hour. I wish I could say, “I did not die because I was wearing a bike helmet.” I can say, however, that it was the last time I rode without a helmet. I will not tempt the gods.

I ended up half under his vintage 1960-era’s Corvair. Later he told me that he saw me and just couldn’t find the brake. Although I had the right of way, I was not able to summon much anger at him. He never evaded responsibility and was terribly sorry. His tennis partner gave me a ride home, and later the police called because the driver had reported the accident.

Somehow, I escaped serious injury – cuts and bruises aside – but I wondered if for him it might not be a painful wake-up call: How much longer could he drive if he was mowing down bicyclists on quiet roads in broad daylight? Maybe he should not be driving, but the loss of that profoundly American form of independence seemed sad to me even then. Today, having seen my grandfather and father swear off driving, it still leaves me a bit melancholy.

And my bike? It was crushed, unrepairable. The driver called me later, and we made arrangements for him to replace my bike with another just like it. And that is the bike that has lived in my garage since I left California in 1994.

Despite painful moments, this bike connects me to a beloved time in my life. I don’t want to throw it away. But it’s a road bike that forces me to hunch over the handlebars and its tires are too delicate for some of the roads I want to travel. So while I don't want to toss it, I also don’t want to ride it.

What’s a girl to do?

When the longing became too great, I took my confused self down to my local bike shop – Summit Bikes – located a couple blocks from my house. A nice young man named Ben, apparently the only sort who’s allowed to work at Bozeman’s bike shops, asked if he could help me.

“Well, I don’t know what I want but maybe you can talk me through it,” I responded. “I want to be able to ride about three to five miles from home, just to get around. I need to be able to ride on some unpaved roads. I have an old road bike but I don’t want to ride it. Do you sell used bikes?” I asked, revealing my distaste at buying a new bike.

He said they did not sell any used bikes. Then he showed me their lowest end mountain bike, which cost $319. And he said, “What kind of bike do you have?” When I described my 16-year old ten-speed Giant road bike, he said: “We can change that bike out for you, if you want.” My ears perked up.

Turns out, they aren’t selling as many new bikes these days as they are converting people’s existing bikes to something they can use today. They can change out handle bars to give you a more upright ride. They can switch brake levers and gears to work with the new handlebars. They have more comfortable seats for an upright ride.

I was sold! I brought my bike back this morning and left it with Ben. A different Ben. I wasn’t kidding: Apparently only nice young men named Ben are allowed to work in Bozeman bike shops.

Ben and I worked up my wish list for my bike: handle bars that will let me ride upright, new brake levers so the bike will stop when I want it to, a new saddle, low-end toe clips, knobby tires and a bike rack upon which I will be able to bungee cord a milk crate to carry vegetables home from the farm. Ben described the milk crate as ‘ghetto’, but I told him I loved it. The more makeshift, the better, as far as I am concerned.

And all of this, on the base provided by dear bike. Trick my bike!

I spent a good part of the morning gathering pieces for the bike project. Summit didn’t have the gear levers in stock. But Ben called Ace Hardware’s bike shop, where he used to work (continuing the theme of bike shops only hiring Bens), and they put them on hold for me.

Summit also did not have the 27 x 1 ¼ knobby tires in stock and Ben worried that they were on backorder. So I after I picked up the gear levers and learned that Ace didn’t have the tires, I walked to a couple of other bike shops and found the tires at Bangtail. I forgot to ask if Ben worked there too but I was more aware than ever of how wonderful it is to have four local bike stores within about 6 city blocks.

My bike should be ready later this week, in time for me to pick my veggies up from Towne’s Harvest on Friday afternoon. I’ll let you know how it turns out. But I am hoping for a transformation of a dear memory into something my middle-aged body can use today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

UPAFTC: I'm not alone!

Here's a link to 'stop buying crap' -- a blog after my own heart. In this installment: Things I'll never buy (my still unmaterialized) kids.

Note his car advice. He's going to buy his kid of a piece-of-crap, 23-year old used Japanese car. Well done! As I recommended earlier, it's something your kid can probably afford on his first salary after college.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Food: CSA's in the news

The New York Times has a story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). They frame it as buying a share of a farm. I like that idea, but I think it means I need to go volunteer at Towne's Harvest (my CSA).

Last week we picked up arugula, spinach, mesculan greens, cilantro and a thyme plant. It's still early in the growing season in Montana!

The arugula and mesculan greens made an excellent salad, and the spinach found its way into an egg bake. The cilantro went into fajitas and will also go on a Pad Thai I'll make tomorrow.

Sueism: When in doubt, read.

I am in the midst of writing a book with two colleagues. We tentatively entitled it: Religion Implicated - What Sociology Teaches Us About Religion In Our World. Doesn't that title make you want to run out and buy it?

I'm responsible for four chapters, maybe five. The first two went really easily: An introduction to the sociological study of religion and a chapter on religion and science (I co-teach a seminar on that). The third chapter mystified me, however. Religion and the environment: What to say?!

So I started by reading a research literature I barely knew existed: How religious belief is linked, or not, to environmentalism; how Judeo-Christian religion shaped the technological and scientific advancements that have left us in an environmental mess; how Native Americans and other indigenous peoples respond to the appropriation of their religious traditions by environmentalists.

And the chapter wrote itself.

So I have a new Sueism: "When in doubt, read."

Its corollary: "When stuck, read."

I hope this strategy works as well for the Religion and Politics chapter. Right now I am reading about 'theocracy'.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Budgeting: Really simple budgeting

Pear budgets calls itself 'really simple budgeting' and they are not kidding. I use Quicken for my financial stuff, despite Bessie's efforts to the contrary, but one thing Quicken does not do well, at least not in the old version I have, is handle irregular expenses (e.g., property taxes, insurance, car registration).

I saw a link for Pear Budgeting at the Get Rich Slowly website (also highly recommended), paid a quick visit and in less than 15 minutes had a budget laid out where I saw my monthly expenses and also what I should set aside monthly for my more irregular expenses.

I especially recommend these sorts of tools for my neices and nephews who are now young adults. Oh, the things I would have done differently! Saved $50 a month, no matter what, from when I got my first paycheck at age 15. OK, that's most of what I'd have done differently. But these websites give some nice tools for those new handling money. It's a nice headstart.

Food: Two more ways to eat vegetables


This is based on the Gazpacho recipe in the Joy of Cooking, but substantially modified over the years. I keep a big bowl of it in the fridge through the summer. It’s a good way to eat more vegetables and a variety of them, it doesn’t have many calories and it’s very filling.

2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 sweet bell peppers, yellow and/or orange, seeded and diced
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
3 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
1/3 cup each of fresh basil, tarragon, chives, dill (any 2, 3 or 4 will do), chopped
2 cups cold water
¼ - ½ cup olive oil
Juice of two lemons
Salt (to taste)

Mix the bell peppers, cucumbers, green onions and herbs in a large bowl. In a blender, puree 1 can of tomatoes, along with half the olive oil and 1 cup of water. Add to vegetable and herb mix, and repeat for the second can of tomatoes. Add lemon juice and salt (to taste).

This keeps nicely in the fridge for up to a week.

Summer-time Egg Bake

My friend Paula and I made this for ‘breakfast at Wimbledon’ this year. If you watched the men’s final, you’ll know that it extended well into ‘lunch at Wimbledon’ as well, but this kept us going for about 4 hours!

1 T olive oil
2 bell peppers (red and orange look best), seeded and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, torn into small pieces
¼ cup chopped green onions (green and white portions)
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 eggs
2 T water
¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until they just begin to soften.

In a shallow oven-proof dish, sprinkle the cheddar cheese in a thin layer. Top with spinach, sautéed peppers and green onions. Top with 6 eggs, distributing eggs evenly. Just break the eggs into the dish and lightly disrupt the egg yolk. Sprinkle water over mixture, and then parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until egg is set.

We had this, along with berry muffins, for breakfast. The berry muffins use the Joy of Cooking muffin recipe, but we used whole wheat instead of white flour. In my experience, whole wheat flour is fine for making baked goods provided you will eat them in a day or two. And it’s much better for you than white flour.

Health: Ways we die

Here's an entry in the "New Old Age" blog at the New York Times. A geriatric medicine specialist asks people: "How many of you expect to die?" Slowly, reluctantly, the hands go up.

Well, there are only a few ways most people die, and none is ideal. You can die from cancer, probably relatively young but having lived an otherwise pretty healthy life. You can die from heart or lung disease, on average ten years older than the typical cancer death, but after sporadic serious illness -- ups and downs -- for a number of years. Or you can live into your eighties and beyond, and die of 'frailty and dementia': that's what's left for those who elude avoid cancer and heart/lung failure. It's a long slow decline.

I understand the urge to cure cancer, end heart disease and forestall other major organ failures. But we seldom ask what we are saving ourselves for: No one cheats death.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


That's short for Unsolicited Parenting Advice From The Childless: What We Wish You Knew. It will be a best seller, once it has content to match the title.

Tip #17: High school students should not drive cars that are nicer than what they'll be able to afford on their salary from their first job after college.

By Request: Bessie

Bessie is my 13-year old tortie, eight pounds of black and orange cat, her claws sharpened on my bedroom walls. She’s full of opinion, often expressed with operatic precision at two in the morning.

She’s easily surprised: I can walk up behind her, talking away, but she doesn’t notice me until I pet her. Then it’s off to the opera. One night, as she yowled in the bathroom (all the better for echoing), I thought: “Oh my God. Can’t she hear herself?” Ah, insight. That’s when I realized she is a tad hard-of-hearing. Deaf, some might say.

Bessie is the only cat I know who eagerly approaches kids. She’s a big hit with the youngsters, most of whom have never seen a cat up close lessin' it had got a slow start running away. And then all they see is its patoshie, skeedaddling around the corner.

She does not like visiting the vet. The last time I brought her, she tried to escape by clawing to the top of the exam room window screen. We had to wrap her in a towel to give her shots. When released, she leapt at the vet assistant's torso, claws out, screaming like something out of Steven King’s Pet Cemetery. The vet decided to forgo further physical examination, settling instead for a visual scan from a safe distance. Then, with a straight face, he asked me: "So, does she have any problems?”

Bessie likes to sleep on my keyboard in the winter. Settling in, she has renamed files: I have icons on my desktop that I don’t recognize (-O(%29jfmp0?lod, anyone?). A few years ago, she permanently deleted my Quicken software. And on one particularly slow news day, she picked the r- and f-keys off my keyboard and played soccer with them. I never found the r-key.

Did you know that you cannot replace the r-key on your laptop keyboard without installing a whole new keyboard? That’s another story.

Health Policy: Universal Health Care

The New York Times has an in-depth story on a cancer drug, Avastin, and its positive but largely marginal benefits to patients. The problem: It's a really expensive drug.

What's a doctor, a patient, an insurance company to do?

From the article:

"Dr. Winer says that when he is not sitting in front of a patient, he thinks about whether drugs like Avastin are worth it to society. But when facing a seriously ill patient, who, based on clinical trial results, might benefit — even if only a little — from Avastin along with chemotherapy, he has to think about his patient’s needs.

“I can’t say, ‘Let’s not use Avastin; it’s a very expensive drug and I am worried about the cost to society,’ ” Dr. Winer said."

And here's one of the problems with rushing into 'universal health care' before we figure out and communicate to the public what that means in practice. What will be covered and what will be excluded? Who will decide?

You can think about health care, for society as a whole, as having three desirable characteristics: Ideally it would be of low cost, high quality and accessible to all. The problem is that you cannot independently maximize each of these dimensions: there is no such thing as low cost, high quality health care for everyone. You have to give on at least one of these dimensions.

So: You can have cheap health care for everyone, but it's quality will not be maximized.

Or: You can have high quality health care for everyone, but it's going to cost you big bucks.

Or: You can have cheap and high quality health care, but you are going to have a heck of a time delivering this to everyone.

So, before I am willing to go for 'universal health care', I want us to face up to this reality and articulate what it means.

A society where so many are convinced that they should never grow old, should never die, no matter how they neglect their basic health, is not the ideal spot to implement universal health care.

Baseball: Doug Glanville, the writer?

Nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about her fantasy baseball team. So I'll spare you.

But I will direct you to an occasional series of New York Times columns by former big-leaguer Doug Glanville. He's smart, articulate and literate.

"The problem with being pre-ordained" is a case in point. It's about the collapse of the Cubbies in 2003. High hopes, shattered dreams, and all. But read it, and try to convince me that it isn't an allegory for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid!

And "Lovers not fighters", well, you'll never look at a baseball brawl in quite the same way again.

I look forward to seeing what Glanville comes up with next.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Favorite Quote: Langston Hughes

“Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books – where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.”

In the News: July 4, 2008

Barack Obama returns to Montana. What unexpected words! Obama spent the 4th of July in Butte, MT following up on very successful trips here before our June 3 primary.

Butte and Missoula are Montana's two biggest Democratic strongholds, but they are very different kinds of places. I have often thought of Missoula as Seattle/Portland-East, with hippies and health food and dred locks. Butte, in contrast, is a gritty working-class town orbiting around mining and labor unions before the decline of that industry.

The Post also had a story on a big, and secretive, land deal outside of Missoula, which will open up a significant amount of forest land to McMansion-style development: "Most are the second, third or even fourth homes of wealthy newcomers who have transformed the local economy -- 40 percent of income in Missoula County is now "unearned," from, say, dividends -- and typically visit only in the summer."

They're not building those houses outside Butte, MT. Enough said.

Health: Diabetes is serious

The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope reports on a recent study that shows people regularly underestimate the severity of diabetes as a health concern.

When I was in grad school in the early 1990's, I worked one summer doing intake interviews for a low-vision study at a VA Hospital. I remember two things, in particular: Of the low-vision patients I interviewed, most had diabetes and many were missing limbs (typically feet and legs). Turns out diabetes damages your body in all kinds of ways.

So, when I came up a couple of years in a row with blood sugar numbers that were 'pre-diabetic', you can believe I took it seriously. Here's a helpful site from the American Diabetes Association. It's good food and lots of exercise, not rocket science!

Food: Bruschetta

I made bruschetta for a dinner party earlier this week. I used a recipe that our long-time family friend Ray shared with me. The ingredients are the same as his, but I'm sure I have modified relative quantities over the years:

6 big ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
dash of salt
1 baguette, sliced

Combine everything but the baguette. Let sit for a while (minutes, hours, days). This is a no-cook sauce! Ray puts this on freshly cooked pasta (indeed, he probably puts it on freshly
made pasta). But if you put it on baguette slices, you have bruschetta. If you are ambitious, you can dip each piece of bread in a little bowl of olive oil and toast for about 5-6 minutes; then put the tomato sauce on it.

My dinner hosts asked where I got the tomatoes: "From the salmonella farm, where else?" The good news for Montana: We haven't had a single reported case of salmonella since the 'outbreak' began. Bring the tomatoes back!

Sueisms: A new feature

On making good food choices: "They'll still be making Oreo Cookies next week."

"If it's not enough, it's enough." (Actually that is a mom-and-dadism. But my corollary is "If it's not done by midnight, it's done." After all, "sleep is my friend.")

Silver Linings: The Beginning of the End of the Obesity Crisis

The Washington Post reports that the American Family Association (AFA) is going to boycott McDonalds because it is insufficiently unfriendly to gays and lesbians: "McDonald's joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce several months ago and placed an executive on the group's board of directors, in addition to donating to the chamber."

The upside is improved health of AFA adherents. The downside is an increased likelihood that I will run in them in the locally-owned places I frequent.

In case you missed it, here's a review of Fast Food Nation.

Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock gains 20 pounds after a month of grazing through the McDonald's menu, is also worth a look. But only if you plan to swear off fast food until you forget what the film was about. Check out the review by Christianity Today, an evangelical publication. It provides a quick dip into the evangelical worldview and mindset.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sociology in the News: Liberal profs retire?

According to the New York Times, there is a sea change in sociology: Old Marxists and conflict theorists on the way out, replaced by young and apolitical quant jocks. Just a note from the field: Sociology faculty are still pretty liberal.

Food: 4 for 11, not bad

From Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times, 11 best foods we're not eating.

I've got four of these in the house.

1. Cabbage. I buy it already shredded, purple and green, mixed with shredded carrots. It's packaged by "Duncan" from California in a little plastic bag with a twistie tie. It feels like it is something between fresh and sealed in an airtight bag. On the advice of Mark Bittman, I put it in a bowl and mix in some olive oil and rice wine vinegar, and let it sit an hour. Great cole slaw.

2. Cinnamon. I put it in the egg batter for French toast. I'm not sure that's the best way to eat it, though!

3. Tumeric. This doesn't have much flavor but adds a nice yellow/orange glow to a pork curry dish that I make. Again, I may be cancelling out its benefits with how I eat it.

4. Frozen blueberries. In the freezer, to mix with plain yogurt and granola.

Pomegranate juice? I don't drink any juices -- too sweet. Haven't eaten a pomegranate since high school.

Sardines? Do anchovies count? I love anchovies.

And I expect my CSA to deliver swiss chard, beets and pumpkin this year. Little Heathens has instructions for how to make pumpkin for pie from scratch. I plan to try this.

Vacation Reading: Animal Vegetable Miracle

This memoir of a year of eating locally is on my list of favorite books, because it is the most memorable of the recent books I've read.

I admit: I have never read one of Barbara Kingslover's novels (are her books about bounty hunters?!). But I recently joined a CSA (Towne's Harvest in Bozeman, MT) and I am taken with the idea of eating locally, as quioxitic as that idea is in a small isolated community where the summer growing season is about 3 1/2 months long. We received our first week's harvest on the 27th of June. Since I split it with three other people, I brought home a handful of lettuce (delicious) and one-yes, one-beautiful and not at all sharp tasting radish. The radish ended up on tuna salad.

A friend of mine told me that she'd only gotten about 1/3 of the way into AVM, because she found it preachy. I concur: Kingslover has her moments of self-righteousness. But those moments are balanced by humor, and the enormity of the task she and her family undertook perhaps entitles her to a bit of preaching.

I particularly appreciated her defense of meat-eating, provided you know your meat and how it lived and died. It was a deft balance of gory detail, righteous defense of eating turkeys your kids had actually named, and good humor.

I have considered vegetarianism in the last year or so, not so much out of empathy for animals as concern for how inefficiently we produce meat. I had arrived at the plausible option (for me) of 'vegetarianism plus bacon' (because by the time it is bacon, it is hardly meat anymore!).

But I am relieved to see that if I can eat locally produced meat, then I can elide many of the inefficiencies of meat production. It doesn't make me eager to go find a Hutterite (or as a student once wrote: 'Hooterright') chicken this weekend, of course. I'm still not much of a meat-eater. But I think I'll put vegetarianism on the back burner.

I was also struck by Kingslover's well defended ethical decision to pack her family up and move them to southwestern Virginia so that they could undertake this adventure. (Local eating is apparently less of an option in the desert Southwest.) I decided this spring that I could not move to exactly that part of the country, and for what to me are ethical reasons. That is, I could not see moving from a place where I can essentially walk everywhere I need to go in order to move to a place where I would have to drive my car for miles every day. Just goes to show, I guess, that there are lots of different kinds of ethics.

In the news: July 3, 2008

I was a little surprised to hear that Barack Obama has come out in favor of faith-based initiatives receiving governmental support. In addition to the news story, the Washington Post published two opinion pieces on this development: Michael Gerson likes it, as does EJ Dionne.

Of course, I'd have fewer objectives to government support of faith-based initiatives if any of the initiatives so supported grew out of non-Christian (or Judeo-Christian) traditions. As far as I can tell, the Bush administration has limited the understanding of 'faith-based' to Christian only. That, to me, is a real problem. I hope Democrats do better.

But, I remind myself that I am unlikely to agree with every position my preferred candidate takes. In my book, this does not rise to the level of declaring war. But it is not a policy I'm jumping up and down in support of.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Outdoors: Favorite Hikes

Around the Bozeman area, and about 10 miles or less. That's my limit!

1. Emerald Lake. In the Hyalite drainage. About 4 1/2 miles up to a lovely mountain lake. Graylings swim and jump.

2. Lava Lake. In the Gallatin Canyon. About 3 miles up to dramatic mountain lake.

3. Mount Blackmore. At the Hyalite Resevoir. About 4-5 miles up to a mountain top. Why? Because it's there. And because I can eat a MacKenzie River Pizza, a whole one, when I am done.

4. Bear Trap. Along the Madison River, just before you get to Norris. Everyone's favorite late fall/early spring walk. Watch out for rattle snakes and poison ivy. Don't go in the bushes.

5. The M. It's more a workout than a hike, because it is all of 10 minutes from downtown. 1.5 miles up to a beautiful view of the valley. Unless you take the 'most rigorous' way -- straight up the mountain.

6. South Cottonwood. My new favorite, south of town, west of the Hyalite drainage. Gradual assent, nicely shaded.

7. Middle Cottonwood. In the Bridgers, north of Sypes Canyon. You can hike up to the foothills trail or explore the ridge line.

Here are more suggestions.