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Demystifying DC - part one

For being our common capitol, there’s probably no place in these United States more misunderstood than Washington DC. These misunderstandings are understandable, since the place seems way too complicated to ever fully comprehend. Like most towns, it never was exactly what it appears to be. Nor has it ever been true to its legend. It’s a mystery to most of the country, and remains somewhat of a mystery to itself.

But it’s a place worth investigating. It runs on more than money. Though money plays a stunningly important role here, abject poverty is commonplace. It also runs on truly remarkable dedication. I know, the media and the more ingenuous politicians have never stopped complaining about the cost, the waste, and the most obvious absurdities of our government, and DC, being the seat of that government, gets unavoidably painted whenever their terribly broad brushes take another swipe. And from the distance across a continent, it pretty much all looks the same. Slip over here for more ...

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Dispatch from the front lines ...

They don't return your phone call. They don't acknowledge receiving your resume. It's as if the profession you crawled to the top of no longer exists. Imagine the legal profession suddenly evaporating, leaving exactly no demand for attorneys of any stripe and you'll come close to imagining the size of the community who surprisingly find themselves on the front lines of our first white collar recession. Slip over here for more ...
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Open Mike Night

Forty years ago, I spent every Monday night at one or another Open Mike Night. These were invariably hosted by some geeky guy in an untucked blue, long-sleeved oxford cloth shirt (sleeves half-rolled); a scraggly, half-long hair with a box filled with cables. He was stage manager, sound technician, and unflagging acoustic enthusiast in a hard rock world, otherwise unemployable. We were all otherwise unemployable then, in between dream and realization, fueled by the inertia of talent, inspiration, and pure delusion. God Bless Us.

"There's a show going down tonight
It's the hottest show in town
Down to that Gypsy Cafe
Where the freeway turns around
Once a week or so you know
These people show up to play
And they're gonna be stars someday
They're gonna be stars someday!" Slip over here for more ...

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Surviving The Downturn


Last Tuesday, Amy and I convened a conversation. Sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce to bring the business community together to consider: Surviving the downturn.

To our surprise, most reported no loss of lift, no panic. No one wore a barrel.

How does one take the temperature of a town? I'd spent the morning waiting with my dad while my mother was injected, inspected, reflected, and ultimately rejected for now: no obvious cause. Scheduled for continuing tests. Conclusions inconclusive.

Life, being holographic, presents herself in various equivalent disguises. Where ever I go, there she is. The phantom hitchhiker. "Say, isn't that the same woman we passed a hundred miles back?" Rod Serling authors every life.

So we convened, listening more than facilitating. Prepared to be changed by what we heard. What DID we hear? The conclusions inconclusive. More tests coming.

How to represent what we heard? One way is a word cloud- see above graphic. Another is word jazz, where the sound and shape and meter carry as much meaning as the words: see below- Slip over here for more ...

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The Recipe For Doing The Impossible

Years ago now, more than a decade ago, I sat with JR Clark in a conference room one long, long, very long Santa Clara afternoon. We were in deep dialogue about the nature of prescriptions, recipes, and process descriptions. We shifted through what Betty Crocker could teach us in her test kitchens, and concluded that the best we'd get there would be replication. We considered what might happen if we were to go looking for a recipe for innovation --- and what we might find if we found it, and found little opportunity for replication there. Slip over here for more ...
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Did You Serve?

Amy and I attended an Association of University Women pot luck where we were the only non-retired people. I learned that I was also the only non-veteran there as well. One of the attendees is a semi-retired colonel with the Corps of Engineers, and over dinner, war stories started floating around the table. These weren't stories of heroics or high ideals, but the dumb crap that every soldier in the history of the world has experienced. Slip over here for more ...
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Who Will Defend Us Against Ourselves?

The Missile Defense (aka Star Wars) Agency holds the dubious distinction of spending the most while producing the least of any procurement program in American history. The entire Manhattan Project cost about $22 billion in today's dollars. Missile defense—so far— has cost more than $100 billion. Our Congressional Budget Office estimates missile defense will be costing us nearly $19 billion a year by 2013, about half the current budget for the entire homeland security department. Slip over here for more ...
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Ain't No Fleas On Me!

For a century following the Civil War, Southern voters with lingering resentments against Mr. Lincoln’s Republicans claimed that they would vote for the Democrat, even if the party nominated a yellow dog as their candidate. Many of these Yellow Dog Democrats shifted allegiance during the sixties’ Civil Rights struggles, becoming born-again, Pit Bull Republicans. Now, after nearly thirty years piddling on the Congressional carpets, shredding the White House furniture, and sometimes both, the old yellow Republican attack dog no longer seems able to hunt. Slip over here for more ...
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The Wonder I Have Found

Seasonal greetings to anyone passing by here.

I have long held the tradition of writing a series of Christmas poems. The rules of engagement are simple. Each poem must be written between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (with a strong preference for before Christmas "morning", which I define as "before people open presents.")

I usually manage something between six and a dozen poems. In the past, I've written a unique poem for unique cards, painting an image that melds my feelings about the person and the picture on the card. This year, I decided to do a series of poems inspired by a single image, one of a youngster catching snowflakes on her tongue. The whole poem cycle, then, is entitled Catching Snowflakes On Your Tongue, which seems to encapsulate my feelings about this Christmas season this year.

Regaining lost innocence emerged unbidden as the overall theme.

Here's one from the series, written for a very special someone and posted here for all of the likewise very special someones who peruse this blog.

“There are so many,” she whined, standing knee-deep in the snow.
“I haven’t a chance to make a difference, unless it’s falling slow.”


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A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country

I came across this video this morning, while cruising through the links in Phil proctor's latest Planet Proctor dispatch. It describes my sentiments exactly. Thanks to Randy Newman for his usual terrific composing Slip over here for more ...
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Citizens for Good Grievances

Let’s say you have a government that doesn’t serve your personal agenda. You have a grievance. You’d like to make some changes to better serve your interests. What do you do?

One popular local strategy undermines. Rather than helping officials leverage their power to serve your interests or taking their power for yourself, this approach diffuses their power by defaming it. No need to painstakingly work through issues or risk personal injury.

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Erosion


You might not have noticed. Not much media coverage of this latest erosion of freedom. Slip over here for more ...
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Letter to the Editor: Know When To Fold 'em

Our president seems to suffer a normal, human confusion. The kind that keeps casinos in business.

We face daunting odds in Iraq. Many professional soldiers say that we lost this war some time ago, and that we’re just trying to accept this fact now.

But anyone who’s ever watched the television show Deal or No Deal knows that people don’t always approach uncertainty with a clear head. Something about the tiniest promise of reward can motivate a naive gambler to hold ‘em way too long.
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Joy

It all started innocently enough.
Me, being four and feeling tough.
Decided, if just to assert my best,.
To challenge old Santa to a little contest.
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The War on the War on Christmas

As sure as that first hint of winter turns my breath to clouds, some pundit or another starts encouraging surly crowds. The heathens, see, (or so they say) are hell-bent to do us wrong by threatening legal action should our lil’ angels sing a song. So school pageants, which used to gush with Christian themes, have turned anthropological, and wishing the wrong one “Merry Christmas” could send you off to jail.
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Picky and Choosy

I appreciate Congress for appropriating a million bucks to fund the Iraq Study Group, distressed that Congress needed to, and concerned that the resulting bi-partisan consensus could be wasted.
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Veterans Day

This might become a bit of a rant, but I won't apologize.

Last year, I got to spend a little time in Flanders. Near where the trenches were. Where a generation of English and French and German  kids were sacrificed to an ancient folly, War. I asked my Flemmish friend how Belgium survived the wars. He replied that his country was very good at rolling over and playing dead. The enemies just pass through. Have for centuries, he said.
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Department of Defensiveness

Reliable Washington officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, report a plan by the Bush Administration to consolidate all three branches of the Federal Government under a new Department of Defensiveness. “We find ourselves in the awkward position of needing to comply with truth in government statutes,” one source confided, “And the truth is, we are on the defensive. Under present law, we could either tell the people the truth or more accurately label our actions, and we’ve chosen to more accurately label our actions.”
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Tiny Minds and Big Mouths

A few years ago, I was driving across Eastern Utah looking for a radio station. I found two, but they were both playing Rush Limbaugh. Okay, I might disagree with Rush's politics, but I find his form of discourse even less agreeable. He's a blowhard. A riot inciter. A tiny mind hiding behind a big mouth.
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Forgetfullness

Our society seems stuck in remembrances. We almost celebrate the anniversaries of bad things that have happened in the past. 9/11, of course, but also Oklahoma City, which I remember because that was the day my sister Susan died in a car accident. I don't grieve Susan's passing like I did the day it occurred. I think it's evidence of a healthy human to move beyond grief and integrate losses rather than celebrate them by picking at the healing scab. Slip over here for more ...
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Letter to the Editor - Hindsight

Over the last year or so, ever more groups of concerned citizens have assumed the role of Jiminy Cricket conscience for me. I see the stories and think, “Well, here’s another dedicated group of concerned citizens,” even though I can’t always see what they’re dedicated to and their tactics sometimes seem unconscionable. Slip over here for more ...
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Flying Away

I received word earlier this week that Kasha LynnMarie, a young and dear friend, died. Kasha epitomized the Silicon Valley professional. She trained as an engineer later in life than most. She raised two darling daughters on her own. She survived Dilbert-quality working conditions with healthy injections of Zen wisdom, humor, and sincere dedication.
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Possessing Truth

Anyone in possession of a major truth that he can’t get others to accept begins to feel that he’s losing his mind. The skepticism he meets turns him into a soreheaded obsessive. After a while, he becomes “pedantic,” and then, inevitably, “condescending” and “humorless.” Al Gore has been in possession of a major truth about global warming for more than thirty years, and he has suffered the insults of political opponents, the boredom of ironists, and, perhaps most grievously, the routine taunts of a media society which dictates that if you believe in anything too passionately there must be something wrong with you." DAVID DENBY New Yorker Current Cinema column "TUNING IN" 6/12/06 Slip over here for more ...
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The Right Click

My webmeister was talking me through a technical difficulty yesterday when I heard him say, "Right click on the upper left-hand box."

"Huh?", I responded.

"Right click on the box."

Silence. I thought, "Am I clicking wrong?" but I said, "I don't understand what you just said." Slip over here for more ...

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Letter to the Editor - All In The Family

(The following is a letter to the editor of my local paper, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Walla Walla, having been recently discovered as the "next Napa" is suffering from some familial squabbling... )

After a month out of the country, I returned to find the kitchen table piled high with Union Bulletins. Most of the news lacked fresh impact, but pouring through those pages brought one thing into clearer focus than daily reading could have. Walla Walla is having a family feud Slip over here for more ...

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Computerless

The last few weeks have seen me computerless. A manufacturing problem, left unidentified, caused me to burn out four logic boards and make three 140 mile round trips to the nearest service center. They finally found and fixed the problem. My machine cought up with me in Wisconsin last this last week, and I'm finally clicking keys again.

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Shakespeare and Company

And lost the lease where her business thrived.
Gone, where Joyce was well supported,
Gone but not entirely forgotted.
A man who claims to be
The grandson of Walt Whitman, he
Bought old Beach's library
and moved it to a Seine-side quay
And opened what you see today
with the original name and company.

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Arriving In Trastevere

The guide books all agreed that it is unwise to visit Roma in August. Not only is the heat oppressive, but many of the best restaurants and attractions are closed for the month as Romans escape to the countryside for their annual holiday. Our plane landed mid-morning on Saturday, August second, a day that promised both heat and humidity.

Our cab circled Trastevere for a half hour, seeming to end up in the same dead end alley way, retreating to a small piazza two or three times before the cab driver, after asking three different people, found himself pointed in the right direction to find the tiny opening to Vicolo Moroni. The cars parked on either side of the lane had their side rear view mirrors either pulled back against the side of the car or in some degree of being torn off. I saw a truck backing into this lane later in the week. A man on either side pulled rear view mirrors out of the way and guided the driver with barely millimeters to spare on either side. Our driver unloaded our luggage, heavy with the anticipation of a month's tour, and left, presumably to circle for another half hour searching for the way back out of this labyrinth.
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What The Teacher Doesn't Tell

What the Teacher Doesn’t Tell

They wouldn’t understand.
Who would want to burden the subject by including the depth of their own despair and their feeble attempts to counter it?
History shouldn’t be about me, or them, or anyone alive today,
Except it is and inescapably so.
The big black dog that trotted beside Lincoln trots today.
Galileo and Bruno and every one of true genius,
Their anxiety still floats free,
attaching itself intermittently to those so blessed with that curse. Slip over here for more ...

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School Daze

Senator Sam Ervin once said, "Hanglish am ma mothur taung." I know that had I home schooled, I would have passed on so much of my mother tongue (the approaches which I quite unconsciously employ), I wonder how my kids would have ever gotten untangled. I gave them plenty of "my stuff" anyway! But then, so did their public schools. Slip over here for more ...
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Democracy Then and Now (from today's NYTimes)

Today's NYTimes speaks of the Struggle Against Majority Tyranny, of checks and balances and how they don't always work. Nice read.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/23/opinion/23mon3.html

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Level Crossing

Today is my father's 83rd birthday. I wrote this poem for him. Many happy returns!

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