This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Icky Creepy Underpants Tree


THERE IS A PLACE I PASS ALMOST EVERY DAY on my morning walk down to Happy Land and back with Fionn, which I call 'The Road to Nowhere.' (See pic)
I first noticed it several winters ago. As one walks along the Fellsway, if you keep a sharp eye, you'll see these old guard rails in the woods, (right near where the milkweed grows) and then, just beyond that and running perpindicular to the road, this clearly delineated old road, (which actually might have been an old railroad bed) going straight off into the woods-- too straight to have not been made by people. It's quite striking in that its lined on both sides with beautiful white birches. It goes straight into the woods about 200 yards, and then ends abruptly at roaring Route 93-- which it obviously predates-- but I suspect it may have been the old streetcar line that, way back when, used to carry city people out to Happy Land for a day's sylvan delights, when governments still cared about such things for its citizens. Because there are railroad tracks in Happy Land, here and there, and I've found out that there was once such a line taking people into Happy Land, from Wellington Station, I believe. I think it skirted the eastern and northern edges of Spot Pond, then cut across the Fellsway here.

Anyway, when I first discovered this 'Road to Nowhere,' it was around sunset of a cold winter's afternoon, just getting dark, and I was on my way home from having taken a long walk to Happy Land with my dear departed Biscuit. It was a day or two after a snowstorm, and we had gone up to a deserted Happy Land where we danced in the snowy fields to the music of Dead Can Dance, which was playing on my CD Walkman. On the way home, we saw the 'Road to Nowhere' and decided to check it out. It's somewhat overgrown now, as it was that winter's twilight evening, and we went down, and down, wondering what we might find at its end. About halfway along, I was surprised to see what seemed to be bright colors coming from somewhere at the end-- pinks and baby blues and bright whites. We got closer and, yes, undoubtedly, there were many colorful objects just ahead. Soon we discovered what they were-- old ladies' underpants, about twenty or thirty pair, tied and dangling from this one particular tree. They were all different sizes and shapes, and were in various degreees of decomposition-- some looked fairly new, while others were clearly old, and old fashioned. I can't tell you how much this creeped me out! I could almost hear the 'Deliverance' banjo playing in the woods all around me, and, making matters worse, I looked down into the gulley that runs beside the Road to Nowhere, and saw what I was sure was a freshly mounded earthern grave-- the whole thing looked like something you'd find in the back woods of West Virginia, outside a serial killer's house. Creepy!!!! I suppose this was like three or four years ago-- maybe more. Anyway I told a few of my friends about it, and they suggested I call the police-- which I never did. Last year me and Scotty were taking a walk along there, and I told him the story, and then we went to look at it again-- but the icky creepy old lady underpants tree was nowhere to be found.
Creepy.
In other news, work goes on apace on my new novel, Lucky in Love. It's rather different in that one of the main characters is a 200 year old Silver Maple tree. I've got about 100 pages done thus far. I'm also working on a children's story in which a city subway, quite uncharacteristically, doesn't stop at the usual urban stations but instead brings people out into the deep woods, onto mountain tops, and into the heart of the rain forest.

I've got a few gigs coming up-- March 9 at Pride and Joy Bookstore in Northhampton, Massachusetts, at 8:00 pm, and the next day at 6:00 pm for a potluck to be followed by a reading/signing at 7:00 pm for the Brattleboro, VT Men's Program, which will be held at a place called 'Menspace' in that lovely city. Both events are open to the public. On Thursday evening, April 26, I will be at the Barnes and Noble in Saugus, Massachusetts, for a reading/signing event. Please come to any and all events, if you can.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Whenever I Feel Lousy....


I look at this picture and it always makes me feel better. This is Santorum's concession speech. WA-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Support Our Troops: Impeach, Try, and Convict Bush and Cheney Now

WHILE THIS INSANE ADMINISTRATION BEGINS TO TROT OUT reasons why we should attack Iran-- and a complicit media goes along (the NY Times and AP to name two)-- care for our returning veterans is unravelling, underfunded, and mired in bureaucracy. Perhaps the cruellest hypocrisy of this flag-waving, decal-displaying, Bible-thumping crowd of murderers is their utter disdain for the men and women who are doing the dirty work for their imperial misadventures. This from the Boston Globe:



Told to wait, a Marine dies
VA care in spotlight after Iraq war veteran's suicide
By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff February 11, 2007

STEWART, Minn. -- It took two years of hell to convince him, but finally Jonathan Schulze was ready.
On the morning of Jan. 11, Jonathan, an Iraq war veteran with two Purple Hearts, neatly packed his US Marine Corps duffel bag with his sharply creased clothes, a framed photo of his new baby girl, and a leather-bound Bible and headed out from the family farm for a 75-mile drive to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Family and friends had convinced him at last that the devastating mental wounds he brought home from war, wounds that triggered severe depression, violent outbursts, and eventually an uncontrollable desire to kill himself, could not be drowned in alcohol or treated with the array of antianxiety drugs he'd been prescribed.
And so, with his father and stepmother at his side, he confessed to an intake counselor that he was suicidal. He wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
But, instead, he was told that the clinician who prescreened cases like his was unavailable. Go home and wait for a phone call tomorrow, the counselor said, as Marianne Schulze, his stepmother, describes it.
When a clinical social worker called the next day, Jonathan, 25, told again of his suicidal thoughts and other symptoms. And then, with his stepmother listening in, he learned that he was 26th on the waiting list for one of the 12 beds in the center's ward for post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers.
Four days later, on Jan. 16, he wrapped a household extension cord around his neck, tied it to a beam in the basement, and hanged himself.
In life, Jonathan Schulze didn't get nearly what he needed. But in death, this tough and troubled Marine may help get something critical done.
The apparent failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer him timely and necessary care has electrified the debate on the blogs and websites that connect an increasingly networked and angry veterans community. It has triggered an internal investigation by the VA into how a serviceman with such obvious symptoms faced a wait for hospital care.
And it is being cited by veterans' advocates and their allies in Congress as a searing symbol of a system that they say is vastly unprepared and under funded to handle the onslaught of 1.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning home, an estimated one in five of them with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. One in three Iraq war veterans is seeking mental health services, according to a report by an Army panel of experts last year.
The death of Jonathan also raises questions, among veterans and in Washington, about how far the military culture still has to go in dealing with the stigma often attached to cases of mental illness. Marines, especially, just aren't supposed to cry out for help.
"My feeling is no veteran should be turned away, and definitely not a veteran who is openly saying he needs help and that he feels like taking his life," said Jonathan 's father, James, who is a Vietnam War veteran and comes from a family with a long tradition of military service.
"My son did his duty, he risked his life for his country, and he came home a broken person. And then the VA failed in its duty to care for him," he said, sitting in the family home in front of a coffee table transformed into a shrine for his son, with framed photos and, folded in a neat triangle, the flag that draped his coffin.
Across the country, there are stories of veterans suffering with combat stress and PTSD, who are struggling to find help at VA facilities to deal with the problems they face, according to Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for the Washington-based Veterans for America, an advocacy group.
"Sadly, there are a lot of Jonathan Schulzes out there," said Robinson, a veteran of the Gulf War who investigates cases all over the country of service members suffering from mental illness and other injuries who are struggling to get the care they deserve.
A plea for help Jonathan's case has prompted the US Department of Veterans Affairs , with 235,000 employees at a network of medical centers for servicemen and women, to launch an ongoing internal investigation into the details surrounding Jonathan's death, according to Phil Budahn , a VA spokesman in Washington.
But beyond that, Budahn could say little. All patient files are confidential, he said, declining comment on any of the specifics of Jonathan's case.
But VA officials have released 400 pages of documents on the case to the Schulze family. One document from that file showed that the VA clinical social worker, Daniel Ludderman, with whom Jonathan spoke by phone on Jan. 12 did not indicate in his notes that Jonathan had expressed suicidal thoughts.
A VA spokesman told local news organizations that there were emergency beds available in a psychiatric hold unit throughout January. But the VA has not responded to questions about why, if that was the case, Jonathan was not placed in one. Another looming question in the VA investigation is why there are only 12 beds for in-patient PTSD treatment in Minnesota. That number has remained unchanged for a decade, former state VA officials say, even as the nation has engaged in two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the past five years.
James and Marianne insist they both heard Jonathan clearly state that he was suicidal on Jan. 11. Marianne says she heard it again when Jonathan was speaking with the VA's Ludderman on the phone the next day.
James believes the VA response thus far indicates that officials are worried more about protecting the VA's image than in meeting the overwhelming need for more and better PTSD counseling for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I heard what Jon said. They can doctor the records all they want; it is not going to change what I heard," he said.
Major Cynthia Rasmussen, who worked for 18 years as a psychiatric nurse at the VA and who now runs the Army Reserve Combat Operational Stress Control Program at Minnesota's Fort Snelling, said, "Jonathan's case is classic and classically tragic."
Rasmussen said that there are many excellent programs and treatment centers within the VA, but that effective delivery of service is spotty and inconsistent and that problems of poor communication between the military and the VA are thwarting attempts by service providers to treat those veterans who need help.
"That is what happened to Jonathan, and there are just hundreds of cases like this across the country. We are seeing them every day," she added.
Descent into mental illness
Behind the stark details of the case is a more complex and nuanced picture of Jonathan's descent into mental illness.
He arrived home last fall after a hellish tour of duty with Second Battalion, Fourth Marines in the Ramadi/Fallujah area of Iraq, where fighting was particularly intense in the spring of 2004. In letters home, Jonathan had described the combat deaths of 16 men he called friends. He himself was wounded by shrapnel twice.
In his neat grammar-school cursive, Jonathan described the death and danger that confronted his unit daily. He made it very clear: He was terrified.
"My heart is filled with sadness. And I ask God why," he wrote on May 13, 2004, the day after two close friends were killed. "I pray so much and ask God to keep me out of harm's way and get me back in one piece."
One of his fellow Marines in the Fallujah area was 25-year-old Eric Satersmoen, who knew Jonathan from local bars in the Minneapolis area where Jonathan had worked as a bouncer. They traded news about mutual friends and the Vikings and the Minnesota Wild hockey team, and they vowed to stay in touch when they got back home.
When they did return, in the winter of 2005, they found they shared some other things: persistent nightmares, sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, and a tendency to use alcohol to numb themselves to all that.
But their experiences diverged in a critical way that underscores how the VA system sometimes succeeds and why it so often falls devastatingly short -- right from the moment demobilized troops get ready to go home.
Returning Marines and soldiers are routinely asked to fill out a form in which they are told to self-evaluate their own mental health on a questionnaire about nightmares, anxiety, aggression, and suicidal thoughts.
The military says the forms are a way to highlight problems early. But veterans advocates say that all too often servicemen, eager to reunite with family and friends, give the forms short shrift . They simply check "no" to every question because they do not want to be delayed at the base with mental health appointments.
That's what Jonathan told friends and family he did. And that's also what his close friend Eric had done after his first tour, but was determined not to repeat this second time around.
This time he knew he had a problem. He checked "yes" to the boxes that asked about nightmares, anxiety, and violent outbursts. He was given a schedule of appointments and began to enter a long process of counseling that has allowed him to slowly heal and eventually to have in-patient treatment at the Minneapolis VA where he was given a bed in the PTSD ward.
Jonathan, meanwhile, returned home for 30 days' leave. His family immediately saw that he was depressed and anxious. They heard him thrashing and yelling in his sleep. He was not the big, fun-loving young man he was before he went off to war, they said.
The family doctor, William Phillips, saw him and wrote a report that Jonathan appeared to be suffering classic symptoms of PTS D . He prescribed Valium and encouraged Jonathan to seek help when he returned to Camp Pendleton.
"I told him that when I came home from Vietnam, I just closed up and hardened my shell. It hurt me in life. I was a pole cat to live with, and I wanted to be sure he didn't make the same mistake," said his father.
After his 30 days' home leave, Jonathan returned to Pendleton for 90 days before his final discharge notice would be given. That was when he really went off the rails. He was drinking heavily and getting in violent confrontations at local bars off the base and even with his own Marines. He had nightmares of firefights in which comrades died and civilians were caught in the crossfire. He refused to admit he suffered mental problems
"Marines don't do weakness," said his older brother Travis, 27, a Marine who also joined up straight out of high school. Travis served in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 during the US-led military response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "That's the attitude, and Jon was caught up in that world," said Travis.
Jonathan was completely out of control. In the fall of 2004, he brutally beat a fellow Marine. He also threw a 200-pound potted tree through a plate glass window during a bar fight. He ended up spending one month in the brig. Military Police searched his locker and found steroids -- he was an obsessive body builder. He was busted in rank from lance corporal to private and given a "general" rather than an "honorable" discharge.
Drinking and self-loathing These kinds of discharges are on the rise among returning veterans, particularly among those suffering from mental trauma who veer into violence and substance abuse, according to Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey, who supervises the legal defense of Marines at Camp Pendleton.
For Jonathan, the "general" discharge status meant that he was ineligible for GI Bill benefits, including assistance for college tuition, and it was technically up to the discretion of the VA whether he would receive medical treatment.
The VA did accept Jonathan for treatment of his shrapnel wounds and back pain. Eric, his Marine buddy, tried to help him get assistance for his mental health issues as well. They sometimes waited the entire day for appointments and group counseling.
Through it all, Jonathan never stopped drinking. Friends and family say that every night he drank his trusted Wild Turkey by the shot glass and one beer after another to chase it down. When he was tired, he drank "Jager-bombs," a mix of the potent German liqueur Jagermeister mixed with the energy drink Red Bull.
His friend Eric drank with him. It was not easy for either one of them when they talked about the war. Eric lost control sometimes, but nothing compared with the bouts of anger and depression and violence that he watched Jonathan go through. "Crazy Jonny," as he called him, was on a different path.
Jonathan was wracked with feelings of self-loathing about his demotion in rank, his tainted discharge, and what he felt was a failure on his part to save his friends, several of whom were killed right by his side in Iraq. The obsession with lifting and steroids, Eric believes, were an expression of low self-esteem.
"He just never could be big enough and bad enough . . . It was like he was going to drink and lift his way through the mess," Eric said.
Then at 8:35 p.m. on Jan. 16, Eric, who was in Florida on business, received a phone call from Jonathan, who was staying in an apartment in New Prague, Minn., that Eric owned and where he gave Jonathan a room.
Jonathan told Eric he was in the basement standing on a stool and tying a noose around his neck with an extension cord. A bottle of Captain Morgan rum, three-quarters' full, was at his side, and he was slurring .
"I tried to stall him by being nice, and then I tried getting mad at him, telling him he was taking the easy way out. I told him, 'What about your faith?' I was doing everything I could," said Eric.
"He said: ' The hell with it all, the Marines, the VA, the hell with religion. The hell with it all. I am doing it,' " said Eric.
Then, Eric said, he heard the phone fall to the floor.
A family mourns Last week, it was 10 below zero with the windchill factor in the farming town of Stewart . Before his shift at a nearby dairy plant, Jonathan's father crunched through dry, drifting snow toward the St. Paul's Lutheran Church cemetery to visit his son's grave .
Dead flowers from the funeral and a small American flag that marked the grave were disappearing beneath the drifting snow.
"This never should have happened," said James, tears welling behind a pair of sunglasses.
"This country should have taken better care of one of its sons. They owed that to Jon."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sick


MY DEAR FRIEND DERMOT has what he calls an irrefutable, utterly unanswerable excuse for getting out of something: "Tell them you have the shits," he says. I'm not sure how many times he used this when calling in sick to his job as a judge, but I am sure (after the last 48 hours) there is something in what he says. This comes to mind because on Friday-Saturday (I've lost track of the days) I had that horrible stomach virus that is going around, and was so ill I hardly cared whether I lived or died. For the sake of reportorial accuracy, I will be brief and explicit. It started Friday morning at 7 am and ended at 5 am Saturday morning. In the interval, I had the runs TWENTY times; not nineteen; not twenty-one; but TWENTY. Who ever heard of such a thing? And interspered among that was about seven 'vomiting episodes,' occasionally in concert with the former. Gross doesn't even begin to describe it. Thus said the Boston Globe on January 22:
January 22, 2007
An outbreak of gastrointestinal illness is sweeping New England and other parts of the country, packing emergency rooms with patients stricken with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Disease specialists suspect that most of the illness is being caused by a germ called a norovirus. So what can you do to prevent catching that nasty bug? And if you do come down with it, what should you do?
The Boston Public Health Commission has answered those questions in podcasts -- one in English, one in Spanish -- at
www.bphc.org.
The virus is most often transmitted when infected people fail to wash their hands thoroughly after a bowel movement. The germ can then pass from one person to another through a handshake, for example. It can also be transmitted through food.
Most people recover within 24 to 36 hours with no treatment other than drinking lots of fluids.
STEPHEN SMITH



Enough said on that. This morning I feel much better, though still a tad wiped out. My sleep is all screwed up as basically I was sleeping for two hours, then up for two hours. And had to cancel a reading/signing event in Cambridge Friday evening, which we will reschedule to May or June.
It's really wonderful to feel well again.

I almost always get depressed when I am this sick. I suppose it's hard to feel good emotionally and mentally when one feels so amazingly hideous physically. As I feel better physically, general malaise remains-- a nasty taste in the mouth, body aches, fatique, and a restless depression. This seems to diminish on its own as I improve, helped along by my list of favorite things, which I seemingly must compose from scratch. Well, I like the birds, I think. There's one for me. Well, I like hiking in the woods. I like writing. I like painting. I like playing my drum. I like swimming. And so own. It seems brick by brick I come back into the business of living, and enjoying this thing called life. George and Bob came by Friday night with soup and ginger ale, and to walk Fionn; Clay came by yesterday morning to walk Fionn and brought two large jars of organic applesauce and a lovely plant of small yellow daisies that just seem to shout out happiness and cheer. God bless them. Understandably people are reluctant to come by, as it's like the plague, and very catchy. I'm very glad it's over. Fionn seemed very distraught and confused by my illness and the fact that Daddy would not/could not get out of the bed. Once he expressed his concern by jumping on my stomach when I was not expecting it. To say the least, this didn't make me feel any better. I am afraid he got yelled at for that, for only the third time since I've had him. He can't STAND when I yell at him. His whole body posture becomes very low to the ground and worm-like, his tail wags like crazy in nervousness and alarm, and he crouches to me, nuzzling and worming his way into my body-- he just cannot abide the fact that I might be mad at him, poor thing.

I plan on laying fairly low today and abandoning my regular Sunday routine of church, brunch, and a big walk in Boston. If I feel up to it, I may scrounge around out back in the woods for some firewood, as we are expecting a blizzard here on Wednesday, and I always like to have some wood in, in case we lose our power in the high winds. It's been very cold lately, but thus far we haven't had any real snow to speak of this winter. Apparently, that's about to change. Like most kids, I so loved it when we got snowstorms when I was a boy; in fact, I once built what I called a 'Snow Machine,' out of my Tinker-Toys, this kind of spinning device; and I would lower it outside into the air from my second story bedroom window by a string, spin it, and intone, "Snow! Snow! Snow!" At the time I told my brother Bobby, and half-believed myself, that it had evocative powers to create blizzards. I wonder what happens to us that these things lose their magic and become things to bemoan and complain about. Maybe some of it is that we don't go outside and play in the show anymore. Maybe on Thursday I'll build a fort or something. But part of the problem of course is that most adults can't find any comperes to play with in the snow, and this of course diminishes the fun.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bush Asks for 90 Billion More for Iraq...

While funding for our National Wildlife Refuges gets slashed...again.

Christ on a crutch, I can't wait for these people to just GO AWAY.



January 19, 2007
Contact:Deborah Bagocius (202) 772-0239
FEDS SLASH STAFF AT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES IN MIDWEST

Over 70 Refuge Positions Cut in 8 Midwest States, 3 Refuges to Lose Entire Staff


Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is making drastic reductions and redeployments of staff in the National Wildlife Refuge System throughout the Midwest region. Reductions in services will be felt in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. The consequence of these reductions will be the elimination of environmental education programs for school children, endangered species recovery programs, reduced habitat management and law enforcement. These cuts come on the heels of a crippling budget backlog of over $2.5 billion.
"Years of neglect are finally having devastating impacts on the refuge system," stated Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. "The only solution is to provide adequate funding for the refuge system; funding commensurate with the nationally significant benefits the system provides to the American people."
FWS released its "Midwest Region Workforce Management Plan" to cope with what it calls a "nationwide budget decline in the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the ever rising cost to conduct business." Instead of allowing budget-forced attrition of staff and resources to occur haphazardly across the region, FWS has proposed a management restructuring so that appropriate resources can be targeted to the highest priority needs.
"The cuts the Fish and Wildlife Service is being forced to make are damaging our nation's protected refuge system. The Bush administration and Congress need to step up to the plate and provide the funds the refuge system desperately needs before it collapses," stated Schlickeisen. "Wildlife refuges provide unique educational opportunities for tens of thousands of school children annually, many of whom will now be turned away. These refuges provide some of the last vestiges of open space for people to enjoy, whether for birding, photography, hunting, fishing or just taking a peaceful walk in nature. It's a tragedy to see them being abandoned one by one."
The Midwest region is home to 54 national wildlife refuges, 12 wetland management districts and more than one million acres of public land and water. According to FWS officials, refuges in each of the eight states will lose staff positions. Two refuges in Minnesota, Hamden Slough and Crane Meadows, and one refuge in Iowa, Driftless Area, will lose all their staff. This is on top of the 19 others that have never been staffed.
"Wildlife refuges are national treasures--home to some of our nation's most imperiled wildlife and critical to ensuring our nation's waterfowl remains healthy and abundant," said Schlickeisen. "Just four years ago we celebrated the centennial of the refuge system, which brought badly needed funding to these important lands. Yet today the refuge system is suffering the steepest cuts in its history. We must invest today to ensure that these special places are here for our children to enjoy tomorrow."
The announcement means that the Fish and Wildlife Service will not allow refuge managers to fill 35 already vacant positions. An additional 36 positions will be cut over the next three years. Combined, these reductions represent 20 percent of the Service's workforce in the region. The plan notes that if there are further declines in the budget or if budgets do not keep pace with increased fixed costs, FWS will be forced to close more refuges to the public.
Examples of the impacts of staffing reductions include:
Iowa will lose 15 percent of the workforce on its six national wildlife refuges and one wetland management district, which total over 100,000 acres and host over 600,000 visitors a year. De-staffing of the Driftless Area Wildlife Refuge will force recovery programs for endangered species to grind to a halt.
Illinois will lose 17 percent of the workforce on its 10 national wildlife refuges, which total over 110,000 acres and host one million visitors a year. Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge has already eliminated the refuge's entire environmental education and interpretive programs attended by more than 5,000 school children and other visitors.
Indiana will lose 38 percent of the workforce on its three national wildlife refuges, which total 63,000 acres and host 94,000 visitors a year. Staff losses on Indiana refuges will eliminate all of the cooperative wildlife conservation programs the refuges had been able to accomplish with surrounding landowners, and cripple partnership programs with conservation groups used to leverage additional resources for wildlife.
Missouri will lose 18 percent of the workforce on its 10 national wildlife refuges, which total 70,000 acres and host almost 240,000 visitors a year. Staff losses at Mingo Wildlife Refuge will curtail habitat management activities important for migratory birds and other species.
Minnesota will lose 20 percent of its workforce on its 13 national wildlife refuges and eight wetland management districts, which contain over 539,000 acres and host 4.4 million visitors annually. Staff losses at Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge near Minneapolis will force day closures of its visitor center and reduced maintenance of public facilities.
Wisconsin will lose 25 percent of the workforce on its eight national wildlife refuges and two wetland management districts, which total over 177,000 acres and host 800,000 annual visitors. Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge expects that with additional staff cuts, invasive plants "will expand unchecked across Refuge prairies and wetlands" and that education programs for 10,000 students and visitors will be completely eliminated.
Ohio will lose 10 percent of the workforce on its three national wildlife refuges, which encompass 9,000 acres and host 268,000 annual visitors. At the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is a nationally recognized Important Bird Area, reduced staff means that invasive plants will continue to ravage habitat for migrating waterfowl and songbirds, while the lack of dike and road maintenance will result in a reduction in public access to refuge facilities.
Michigan will lose 20 percent of the workforce on its seven national wildlife refuges and one wetland management district, which contain over 113,000 acres and host over 143,000 visitors annually. Seney National Wildlife Refuge will be forced to "discontinue its environmental education programs and teacher workshops."
For more information, please visit http://www.fws.gov/midwest/workforce/
###
Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife works with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, private organizations, and landowners to protect America's national wildlife refuges.
_

Meamwhile, Sojourners, a colation of Progressive churches that seek to be a counter-voice in American politics to the Nazi Christian Taliban, are planning action in Washington around the war . Here is their press release:

Four years ago, as the buildup to war with Iraq heightened, 3,500 people attended a service hosted by Sojourners in the Washington National Cathedral and marched to the White House. Now, four years later, thousands of lives have been lost, billions of dollars have been wasted, and all of us have been diminished in the midst of so much destruction and heartache. On March 16, 2007, thousands of Christians will gather – in Washington, D.C., and at local vigils across the country – for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. We must reclaim the hope that stands at the center of our faith and declare, "Enough! The war must end."
Please join Jim Wallis and other national faith leaders at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 16, for worship at the National Cathedral, followed by a march and late-night vigil at the White House. United by the cross, thousands are expected to join us in Washington, D.C., as we call for the real support of our troops through an end to the U.S. occupation and phased withdrawal, the total rejection of torture, and an international commitment to the physical and human reconstruction so desperately needed in Iraq. Your participation in the events in Washington, and across the U.S., will send a message to our leaders and the world that peace and reconciliation stand at the very heart of the Christian message and our respective traditions.
Click here to register for the Christian Peace Witness in Washington, D.C.!
Seating at the National Cathedral is limited, so registration is very important. Printed registration receipts will serve as your "ticket" to the worship service at the Cathedral. In addition, you may register online for denominational gatherings and nonviolence training. Please see the logistics portion of the Christian Peace Witness Web site for more information about ride-sharing and transportation options from across the country.
Click here to host a peace vigil in your hometown or city!
If you can't make it to Washington that weekend, there are still ways to make your voice heard. Consider hosting a local vigil and inviting others in your city or town to join you. Registering your event on the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq Web site is easy, and you'll find a downloadable toolkit to help you plan your event.
The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq provides the Christian community an opportunity to reclaim our prophetic voice for peace. Please join us in Washington, D.C., on March 16 as we commemorate this tragic fourth anniversary with prayer and actions for peace.
Sincerely,
Kim, Adam, Kevin, Robin, Gini, Bob, and AmyThe Sojourners Organizing Team
Visit the link below to tell your friends about this message. Tell-a-friend!
If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for Sojourners.

Bush Asks for 90 Billion More for Iraq...

While funding for our National Wildlife Refuges gets slashed...again.

Christ on a crutch, I can't wait for these people to just GO AWAY.



January 19, 2007
Contact:Deborah Bagocius (202) 772-0239
FEDS SLASH STAFF AT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES IN MIDWEST

Over 70 Refuge Positions Cut in 8 Midwest States, 3 Refuges to Lose Entire Staff


Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is making drastic reductions and redeployments of staff in the National Wildlife Refuge System throughout the Midwest region. Reductions in services will be felt in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. The consequence of these reductions will be the elimination of environmental education programs for school children, endangered species recovery programs, reduced habitat management and law enforcement. These cuts come on the heels of a crippling budget backlog of over $2.5 billion.
"Years of neglect are finally having devastating impacts on the refuge system," stated Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. "The only solution is to provide adequate funding for the refuge system; funding commensurate with the nationally significant benefits the system provides to the American people."
FWS released its "Midwest Region Workforce Management Plan" to cope with what it calls a "nationwide budget decline in the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the ever rising cost to conduct business." Instead of allowing budget-forced attrition of staff and resources to occur haphazardly across the region, FWS has proposed a management restructuring so that appropriate resources can be targeted to the highest priority needs.
"The cuts the Fish and Wildlife Service is being forced to make are damaging our nation's protected refuge system. The Bush administration and Congress need to step up to the plate and provide the funds the refuge system desperately needs before it collapses," stated Schlickeisen. "Wildlife refuges provide unique educational opportunities for tens of thousands of school children annually, many of whom will now be turned away. These refuges provide some of the last vestiges of open space for people to enjoy, whether for birding, photography, hunting, fishing or just taking a peaceful walk in nature. It's a tragedy to see them being abandoned one by one."
The Midwest region is home to 54 national wildlife refuges, 12 wetland management districts and more than one million acres of public land and water. According to FWS officials, refuges in each of the eight states will lose staff positions. Two refuges in Minnesota, Hamden Slough and Crane Meadows, and one refuge in Iowa, Driftless Area, will lose all their staff. This is on top of the 19 others that have never been staffed.
"Wildlife refuges are national treasures--home to some of our nation's most imperiled wildlife and critical to ensuring our nation's waterfowl remains healthy and abundant," said Schlickeisen. "Just four years ago we celebrated the centennial of the refuge system, which brought badly needed funding to these important lands. Yet today the refuge system is suffering the steepest cuts in its history. We must invest today to ensure that these special places are here for our children to enjoy tomorrow."
The announcement means that the Fish and Wildlife Service will not allow refuge managers to fill 35 already vacant positions. An additional 36 positions will be cut over the next three years. Combined, these reductions represent 20 percent of the Service's workforce in the region. The plan notes that if there are further declines in the budget or if budgets do not keep pace with increased fixed costs, FWS will be forced to close more refuges to the public.
Examples of the impacts of staffing reductions include:
Iowa will lose 15 percent of the workforce on its six national wildlife refuges and one wetland management district, which total over 100,000 acres and host over 600,000 visitors a year. De-staffing of the Driftless Area Wildlife Refuge will force recovery programs for endangered species to grind to a halt.
Illinois will lose 17 percent of the workforce on its 10 national wildlife refuges, which total over 110,000 acres and host one million visitors a year. Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge has already eliminated the refuge's entire environmental education and interpretive programs attended by more than 5,000 school children and other visitors.
Indiana will lose 38 percent of the workforce on its three national wildlife refuges, which total 63,000 acres and host 94,000 visitors a year. Staff losses on Indiana refuges will eliminate all of the cooperative wildlife conservation programs the refuges had been able to accomplish with surrounding landowners, and cripple partnership programs with conservation groups used to leverage additional resources for wildlife.
Missouri will lose 18 percent of the workforce on its 10 national wildlife refuges, which total 70,000 acres and host almost 240,000 visitors a year. Staff losses at Mingo Wildlife Refuge will curtail habitat management activities important for migratory birds and other species.
Minnesota will lose 20 percent of its workforce on its 13 national wildlife refuges and eight wetland management districts, which contain over 539,000 acres and host 4.4 million visitors annually. Staff losses at Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge near Minneapolis will force day closures of its visitor center and reduced maintenance of public facilities.
Wisconsin will lose 25 percent of the workforce on its eight national wildlife refuges and two wetland management districts, which total over 177,000 acres and host 800,000 annual visitors. Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge expects that with additional staff cuts, invasive plants "will expand unchecked across Refuge prairies and wetlands" and that education programs for 10,000 students and visitors will be completely eliminated.
Ohio will lose 10 percent of the workforce on its three national wildlife refuges, which encompass 9,000 acres and host 268,000 annual visitors. At the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is a nationally recognized Important Bird Area, reduced staff means that invasive plants will continue to ravage habitat for migrating waterfowl and songbirds, while the lack of dike and road maintenance will result in a reduction in public access to refuge facilities.
Michigan will lose 20 percent of the workforce on its seven national wildlife refuges and one wetland management district, which contain over 113,000 acres and host over 143,000 visitors annually. Seney National Wildlife Refuge will be forced to "discontinue its environmental education programs and teacher workshops."
For more information, please visit http://www.fws.gov/midwest/workforce/
###
Defenders of Wildlife is recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 500,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife works with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, private organizations, and landowners to protect America's national wildlife refuges.
_

Meamwhile, Sojourners, a colation of Progressive churches that seek to be a counter-voice in American politics to the Nazi Christian Taliban, are planning action in Washington around the war . Here is their press release:

Four years ago, as the buildup to war with Iraq heightened, 3,500 people attended a service hosted by Sojourners in the Washington National Cathedral and marched to the White House. Now, four years later, thousands of lives have been lost, billions of dollars have been wasted, and all of us have been diminished in the midst of so much destruction and heartache. On March 16, 2007, thousands of Christians will gather – in Washington, D.C., and at local vigils across the country – for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. We must reclaim the hope that stands at the center of our faith and declare, "Enough! The war must end."
Please join Jim Wallis and other national faith leaders at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 16, for worship at the National Cathedral, followed by a march and late-night vigil at the White House. United by the cross, thousands are expected to join us in Washington, D.C., as we call for the real support of our troops through an end to the U.S. occupation and phased withdrawal, the total rejection of torture, and an international commitment to the physical and human reconstruction so desperately needed in Iraq. Your participation in the events in Washington, and across the U.S., will send a message to our leaders and the world that peace and reconciliation stand at the very heart of the Christian message and our respective traditions.
Click here to register for the Christian Peace Witness in Washington, D.C.!
Seating at the National Cathedral is limited, so registration is very important. Printed registration receipts will serve as your "ticket" to the worship service at the Cathedral. In addition, you may register online for denominational gatherings and nonviolence training. Please see the logistics portion of the Christian Peace Witness Web site for more information about ride-sharing and transportation options from across the country.
Click here to host a peace vigil in your hometown or city!
If you can't make it to Washington that weekend, there are still ways to make your voice heard. Consider hosting a local vigil and inviting others in your city or town to join you. Registering your event on the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq Web site is easy, and you'll find a downloadable toolkit to help you plan your event.
The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq provides the Christian community an opportunity to reclaim our prophetic voice for peace. Please join us in Washington, D.C., on March 16 as we commemorate this tragic fourth anniversary with prayer and actions for peace.
Sincerely,
Kim, Adam, Kevin, Robin, Gini, Bob, and AmyThe Sojourners Organizing Team
Visit the link below to tell your friends about this message. Tell-a-friend!
If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for Sojourners.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cold Weather, a New Keyboard, A Short Movie, and Something from Azerbaijan


AFTER A WEIRD NON-SEASON IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER, when the temperature was 50 and 60 all the time and it was foggy and odd, winter has set in with a vengeance and it's been bitter cold. Another thing that dogs are wonderful in doing, and that is in keeping one intimate with the weather. You can speak with some authority at the corner store when the conversation turns to the weather, because you've been out in it for hours at a time. And like summer's heat, one does build up a tolerance for it. Currently it's 12 degrees F, with a howling wind out of the frozen Northwest, the home of Kabibonokka, the Algonquin god of the Northland, who "banishes the heron and the gull and the cormorant from his realm, locks the rivers with ice, and sends icebergs south, along with his frozen breath." It's supposed to go down to 5 tonight-- and I truly wonder how the birds, those little puffs of feathers and hollow bones, make it through nights like these. But they do, and will be at my feeder in droves tomorrow. And they are, of course, most welcome.

About once a year or so I find it necessary to replace my keyboard, due to its utter uncleanability. The thing is, I write all day, most days, then stop writing when it's time to do something else. There are notes and food and glasses of apple cider (some of which inevitably spill) and smears of peanut butter on things, and Fionn-hairs and cigarette ash and all the other flotsom and jetsam of my life. It accumulates on the keyboard, and gets so bad I sometimes can't see the letters. So, we get a new keyboard for 15.00, up at CompUSA. Black-- it always must be black-- and it's so exciting, suddenly, to write on a clean, solid-sounding keyboard-- the importance of the sound the letters make when you strike them cannot, in my opinion, be over-estimated. So if you feel your writing needs a jolt, a change, a cleaning-up-- invest in a new keyboard.

I went scavenging in my fridge tonight and found something I didn't know I had. Perhaps someone brought it one time but it's...Pomegranate Juice. We gave it a try, of course-- I've never had it before-- and it tastes pretty good, a little like cherry juice and somehow sweet and sour simultaneously. If one believes what's written on the bottle, it's very good for you. What I found most interesting is that it's a product of Azerbaijan. I feel like I can safely say I've never had anything from that country before; so, here I am, sipping my pomegranate juice, and feeling quite the citizen of the world. Click below if you would like to hear the music of Azerbaijan's National Anthem. Here are the words. It's awful to say, but all I can picture is Borat doing a funny dance while this plays...
http://www.angelfire.com/az3/meme37209/Azerbaijan.htm

Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan!
You are the country of heroes!
We will die so that you might be alive!
We will shed our blood to defend you!
Long live your three coloured banner!
Thousands of people sacrificed their lives
You're become the field of battles.
Every soldier fighting for you,
Has become a hero.
We pray for your prosperity,
We make sacrifice our lives to you
Our sincere love to you,
Comes from the bottom of our hearts.
To defend your honour,
To hoist your banner,
All the young people are ready.
Glorious motherland, Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan!
A while back I posted a short play by my friend Tom O'Leary. Recently a film written by Tom won Fourth Place at the 8th Annual PlanetOut Short Movie Awards. Congratulations, Tom!!! Again he has graciously given me permission to post a link to the film, so you can watch it here-- there's a small bit of nudity at the beginning of the film, so you may want to use discretion as to where you view it. Watch the movie (and the other winners) here:
And finally, a shout out to all those regular readers who visit here, especially Pam in Berlin, in appreciation of your kind comments. As the Baroness said to The Captain, "Auf weidersehen, darling!"

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Milkweed and McKennit


I had such an amazing walk yesterday morning-- I was on the edge of a cold, but dogs need to be walked, no matter-- and Fionn is wise enough that he never does 'his business' until at least twenty minutes into a walk. It was, as my great aunt, 'Auntie Mag,' would have called it, 'an elegant winter's day.' The temperature right about freezing, the wind light, the sky a deep blue and flecked with amazingly beautiful white puffy clouds. One sees so many things at a walking pace that one would never see by car. The texture of trees; the colonies and nations of lichens and mosses on boulders and trunks; the colors of winter. We think of winter as being this drab, gray time of year, but there are actually many colors around, if one takes the time to look-- the reds and russets of long grasses and their seed heads; the brilliant whites of birches against the deep blue of the sky; the yellows, ochres, and golds of reeds; the brilliant red of sumac seed heads, and the berries of the holly and bittersweet. The heartening, happy green of arborvitaes; the rich sombre green of hemlocks; the blue-green of junipers, and their deep blue berries.

We had another purpose yestreday morning to our walk, other than for Fionn to do his thing, and that was to make sure we imbibed our MDR (Miniumum Daily Requirement) of Beauty. We had, I would say, a good 100,000 I.U.'s (international units), about double the daily minimum required. We also were looking for milkweed seeds. As you might know, Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, a plant native to North America that is toxic to most other creatures. When the larvae hatch out, they eat the milkweed leaves-- apparently they have built up an immunity to it over the years-- and when they become butterflies, if a bird ever eats a butterfly, he or she spits it out immediately, for the awful, poisonous taste. Pretty ingenious.

Every autumn our monarchs migrate to the the mountains of Mexico, a staggering journey when one think of monarchs and their fluttering, almost haphazard, flight. Several years ago there was a horrendous frozen rain storm in these mountains of Mexico, and a tremendous amount of the Monarch population died as a result. Add to that loss of habitat (where milkweed grows) and it's no wonder that their numbers are down. So, the thing to do is to plant milkweed. Every winter around this time I gather milkweed seeds, and raise the plants from scratch. I plant some of the plants in my garden here, some in Happy Land (the Middlesex Fells Reservation) and give the rest away to anyone who wants them. So, if you want some milkweed-- lemme know!

The wonderful thing about Nature is that so often one can find what one is looking for. I found a beautiful, withered milkweed pod, unopened, and when I pried it gently open there must have been 100 seeds in there. More than enough for my needs. Shortly after this, a red-tailed hawk-- one of my 'totems'-- soared directly overhead (and I do mean directly). After a while we came to Dark Hollow Pond, (surely named by the Puritans!) which was frozen over, and we walked on water-- marvelling at how different things looked from the middle, and teasing Fionn-- it's the only place where I am faster than him, and he can't catch me, much to his bewilderment.

The cd I've been wearing out this week is Lorena McKennit's Ancient Muse.
The folliwng is taken from her web site:

"Tell me, O Muse, of those who travelled far and wide”

Aptly, it is an echo of Homer’s timeless Odyssey that introduces Loreena McKennitt’s seventh studio recording, the latest volume of a project she describes as “musical travel writing”. This time, the journey takes her in search of the Celts’ easternmost paths, from the plains of Mongolia to the kingdom of King Midas and the Byzantine Empire. Along the way, she muses on the concepts of home, of travel in all its incarnations, of the cultural intermingling that underpins human history and our universal legacies of conflict and hope.

Recorded at Real World Studios and featuring a host of acclaimed musicians, the album proffers a treasure trove of instruments, from harp, hurdy-gurdy and accordion to oud, lyra, kanoun and nyckelharpa (the Scandinavian keyed fiddle). Highlights include the seductive rhythms and Silk Road influences of first single “Caravanserai”; “Penelope’s Song”, a paean to steadfast love; and Loreena’s musical setting of Sir Walter Scott’s poem of star-crossed romance, “The English Ladye And The Knight”. Together, the nine songs that comprise An Ancient Muse conjure up a wide world’s worth of human stories that are as unique as they are unforgettable."

One of the things I love best about Lorena's music is the liner note enclosure that comes with each CD, which explain the thoughts and travels that inspired the music and the lyrics. Here's an example:

"The first stepping stone on this journey of discovery was my exploration of the Celts and their history, and the many roads leading off from theirs, both historically and geographically. It is with an eye on this history that this musical document evolved, with ruminations on the universal human themes of life and love, conquest and death; of home, identity, the migrations of people and the resulting evolution of cultures. Our paths may differ but our quests are shared: our desire to love and to be loved, our thirst for liberty and our need to be appreciated as unique individuals within the collectivity of our society.

"Travels in preparation for this creative endeavour have encompassed the hospitalities and acquaintances of people in many places: a nomadic family in the inner reaches of Mongolia and the Uighur people in North-west China where the predecessors of Celts are believed to have been found; on the great plains of inner Anatolia and Ephesus in Turkey; amongst the intoxicating orange blossoms on the Greek island of Chios; and, in Jordan, amongst the echoes of Circassian voices and the stones of the ancient city of Petra.

"Ever-mindful of the weight of history behind us that allows us to draw lessons from its ancient voice, I have not wavered in my conviction that we are a culmination of our collective histories and that there should be more to bind us together than tear us apart. Nor have I ceased to hope that in striving toward harmonious, integrated diversity, we will be guided by collective beliefs that will be life affirming at their core. – LM

Incantation (This is the first song on the cd-- she now goes on to explain how it came to be, and what she was thinking at the time, and where she was.)


"Delphi, Greece, April 2003-- It is hard to imagine a more atmospheric place today, as a mist hangs over the valley below this ancient site. In 279 BC, the Celts attempted to sack the shrine, in a campaign that saw them suffer terrible losses. Were they seeking out the oracle for its divinatory powers? Given their faith in the supernatural world they might well have been hoping that powers beyond the human eye could assist them…

"Cappadocia, Turkey, October 2003-- We visit exquisite early Christian chapels carved in the volcanic rock of this astonishing landscape. In their changing fortunes over the centuries, these communities will have sought refuge here.

"Real World Studios, Wiltshire, August 16 2006- I wonder where our Muslim and Jewish friends are deriving their strength these days, and I think back on the Oracle in Delphi. At this time of global unrest and strife, one seeks such an oracle to summon more empathy and harmony…


"I am reminded of a Rumi poem (Mathnawi I, 3255-3258),translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski:

O brother, Wisdom is pouring into you

From the beloved saint of God.

You’ve only borrowed it.

Although the house of your heart

Is lit from the inside

That light is lent by a luminous neighbour

Give thanks; don’t be arrogant or vain

Pay attention without self-importance.

It’s sad that this borrowed state

Has put religious communities

Far from religious communion.

The Gates of Istanbul

"Jibacoa, Cuba, March 2005-- Reading a wonderful magazine from Turkey called Cornucopia, I find an article on the reign of Mehmed II (1432–1481) in the Ottoman Empire. It was a time of creative renaissance as well as religious tolerance when people were invited to repopulate the city now known as Istanbul, bringing with them their hopes and aspirations. I am reminded of Spain prior to 1492.

"Stratford, Ontario, February 2006-- In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford writes: “As he smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth, [Genghis] built a new and unique system based on individual merit, loyalty and achievement… took the disjointed and languorous trading towns along the Silk Route and organized them into history’s largest free-trade zone… [and] granted religious freedom within his realms.”

"Spring 2006 Heightened tensions over the Iraq war; the cartoon of Mohammed versus freedom of speech debate. I have long mused over our need to be spiritually engaged. How do we embark on our individual paths toward spirituality, while respecting the fact that others may take a different road?

"Wiltshire, England, April 2006-- An article in The Independent suggests that the Emperor Constantine (272–337 AD) may be an inspiration to those hoping for religious tolerance. His edict granted freedom of religion, marking the end of centuries of persecution for Christians and permitting Christians, Jews, pagans and those who followed traditional Roman gods to co-exist.