Saturday, December 24, 2005


In celebration of the season, the fish won't be jumping for a week or so. See you in 2006.

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What I Would Wish For You

Up and down the street, colored lights blink from the sides and roofs of houses and from bushes and trees. From the corner to almost as far as you can see down this side of the street, points of red and green and white and blue shine in the night.

Just outside the window, old-fashioned Christmas tree bulbs hang from the eaves: red, white, orange, green, blue -- and then the sequence resumes. Beyond them, the Silver Leaf Germander and Hummingbird Bush blink and flash and fade, first one bush then the other.

In the dark of the night, these shining lights are message enough for me.

In the cold and the black, gleaming color and the shining brightness are what I would wish for you, in what remains of this year and for all of the next.

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 Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Scariest Thing

In times like these, their voices should ring out in the silence.

Which brave souls will stand up and say "Enough!"? Which Senators? Which Representatives? The future of our republic depends on them.

Sadly, that is the scariest thing of all.

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 Monday, December 19, 2005

Consultations with Congress

From a hand-written letter composed by Senator Jay Rockefeller in response to notification by the White House of their authorizations of extra-judicial NSA wiretaps:

[Rockefeller/Lingering Concerns]: I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication.

Does this sound like consultation with Congress to you?

Hat tip: Talking Points Memo.

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King of the Free

I don't care what they do or don't do. I don't care about extraordinary renditions in Gulfstream jets or secret prisons far from our shores. I don't care about torture in secret places or the absence of American justice in Guantanamo. I don't care about the arguments of leftie lawyers and slacker hippies shaking their fists for another cause.

This is about our way of life. This is about our freedom.

Broken bones and sleepless nights are the cost of doing business in the grown-up world. And a few dead prisoners just don't matter. Shipping the terrorists off in the dead of the night for a dose of their own medicine is the right thing to do, and we ought to be doing more of it.

So don't complain to me about a little electronic eavesdropping, for heaven's sake. Don't whine to me about warrants or the lack of them. Don't waste your breath about due process or presumption of innocence. Those things don't matter anymore.

This is the land of the free. They may do anything necessary to keep it that way. And they may do it again and again. Absolutely anything.

Long live the King!

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 Thursday, December 15, 2005

This Little Conversation

The sun set long ago, it seems. And now the light bulb overhead is flickering and perhaps threatening to leave me in darkness -- if light bulbs can indeed threaten.

The day started out cool, I seem to remember. It really was a long time ago. And now the programmed thermostat is letting the nighttime temperature in the house drop. I can feel the winter thru the legs of my jeans.

I won't tell you about the dog. I know you're not interested. Nor will I talk about the cat. I won't tell you about the daises out front that gave up on fall a week ago when ice descended from the north. I won't tell you about the compost pile in the back any more than I already have.

I know you're not interested in these things. I wouldn't be, either.

So with that, with the sun gone and the temperature down and so many things I vow not to say, perhaps it is best that we just agree to bring this little conversation to an end.

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 Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Daily Medicine

Five doses to the arms and shoulders daily. That's what the doctor says. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. From here until -- well I don't know when. What I do know is if I miss a day, I bonk.

Bonk, did I say? More like testy. Tyrannical. Hungry. Humorless. Angry. Edgy. Impatient. Exhausted. If I miss even a day.

Hormone balance is a magical thing. When it goes out, you don't know what hit you. When it comes back, the sky clears and the birds start singing. If I do what they tell me, the birds still sing.

This would have happened eventually. The surgeries brought it on earlier than otherwise, but it would have come anyway. And when it came, I would have slowed down. I would have lost my humor. I would have become impatient. I would have become a grumpy old man.

So I tell myself this. Perhaps the dose still isn't quite right. Perhaps the grumpy old man in me derives from some residual imbalance at work.

I tell myself this when I hear politicians speak. I tell myself this when I read the mainstream media. I tell myself this when I turn on top-40 radio. I tell myself this when the happy stories push out the other stuff on the news. Or when helicopter scenes of police chases are beamed across the nation on cable TV. I tell myself this when I look at the lines of cars backed up to go shopping at the mall.

It's a question of balance, I tell myself. And I just need to take my medicine.

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 Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Plain Paper

Suppose I invented some special paper and a special pen.

Suppose that you could only read what you wrote as long as you held the pen close by. As soon as you put the pen down, the words would disappear. And whenever you held the pen close, the words would reappear.

And you could buy it all from me.

Suppose further that my pen wrote in luscious colors. And by pushing a button or holding the pen at a certain angle, you could illustrate as well as write. With my pen, your lines would always be straight, and your letters would always be immaculate. And you could share your work with others.

As long as they also bought my pen.

Suppose that my pen became a great success. Everyone began using it. Instead of a geeky novelty, it became a de facto standard. People wrote letters with it. Committees kept minutes with it. Academics wrote dissertations with it. Organizations drew charts with it.

And it made me billions.

If you wanted to keep notes, you bought from me. If you wanted to read letters, you bought from me. If you wanted to take notes or write lists, you had to buy from me. And of course every few years you had to upgrade.

Now suppose that someone sitting somewhere in the halls of some paper-pushing bureaucracy woke to the folly of this. What of the public record? What of posterity? What of future generations? Will we be able to read our own reports and regulations decades hence?

Not without the pens. Not without my pens.

But then what if this bureaucrat took the issue seriously? What if he acted? If he declared that henceforth all official documents shall be written with pencil or pen or crayon of any sort as long as they work on plain paper that works with standard ink. What if he proclaimed this as a way to ensure openness.

Openness without my pens.

Would it surprise you if accusations and rumors began to fly about this man? Rumors of trips taken at government expense. Accusations of inappropriate reimbursements filed. And would it surprise you if these all proved to be lies?

Don't let it surprise you. My pen is Microsoft Office. My paper is the ever-changing .doc format. The bureaucrat is the Chief Information Officer of the State of Massachusetts. And plain paper is the Open Document Format.

For more background:
[1] Groklaw/Peter Quinn
[2] Cairns/Mess n Mass

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 Monday, December 12, 2005

In Her Genes

Lexi had a few thoughts about uniforms, today. Schoolchildren's uniforms. The starched white collar and grey pants and skirts kind, I suppose. Lexi, my niece, had these thoughts, and she wrote them down.

We do not deserve to be tortured by so-called uniforms, she said, uniforms made with itchy cloth.

She stood up and spoke. She made her points, one by one. First of all, wearing the same thing every day is dull. Secondly, uniforms cause problems such as the expense of buying new uniforms every year (because the colors will change).

On these points, I'm not sure she convinced me, although the itchy cloth comment had me scratching my neck. Then thirdly: many students do not enjoy wearing skirts.

Skirts are annoying, she said. And she penned a pamphlet in protest.

Lexi wants to wear pants. My niece, she wants to wear pants! You better watch out. I think it's in her genes.

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 Sunday, December 11, 2005

Five Bags

I spied five bags of fallen leaves sitting beside the curb -- five bags of finely mulched oak leaves, ground into a virtual powder. I spied them from the car. I spied them from my bike. And eventually Ben and I went down there with a wheel barrow and brought those five bags home.

The five of them filled the compost pile, filled it with the fine, powdery stuff of leaves. And in spite of the chill in the air, by this afternoon the pile was beginning to get warm.

I spied five bags of fallen leaves, and it kind of made the weekend worthwhile.

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 Saturday, December 10, 2005

Trail of Lights

Several thousand gathered at the top of the hill. It was dark, but the flood lights and the spiralling colors of the Zilker tree lit the scene. We were there to run. Five kilometers thru the Austin Trail of Lights.

Santa spoke to us from an elevated platform over the starting line. The mayor spoke from an extended fire truck platform. A huge flag 30 feet in vertical dimension hung suspended in the air from a crane before us.

It was dark. A half moon was overhead, with Mars alongside. Venus was descending to the treetops. They played the national anthem, and then the horn went off, first for the wheel chairs and two minutes later for the runners. But all were not running.

The walkers and the baby-joggers and the bedazzled kids and the sweatered dogs on leashes kept the pace slow. We weaved in and out, left and right, around and between. It wasn't really until mile 1 that we got any breathing room. And after that we had to slow down to look at the lights.

Slow down to look at the lights. We had to do that.

When I was a boy, we used to go to a place in Jackson, Michigan called, The Cascades. It was built in a park on the side of a hill with walkways going up and down on either side of a series of pools of water that flowed and fell in gradual steps from the top of the hill to the bottom.

You only went there at night, because the thing about the place was how they lit the water. Not only did it flow and fall, but it glowed in gradually shifting colors. And there was music piped in, an eerie, dreamy kind of music, as I recall.

My grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins would go there on warm summer nights and gaze at the shifting hues and listen to the rush of the falling water. We'd slowly walk up the right side, across the sidewalk at the top, and back down the other side.

The Trail of Lights here is something like the Cascades were. There are colored lights strung over the road. There are strings of lights wrapping the trunks and reaching into the far reaches of the branches of 50-foot Pecans and Oaks. And on normal (non-race) nights there is even a place to get hot drinks and sit beside a burning yule log (quite a treat for Texans). And there is music piped in.

You start at the entrance to the Zilker soccer fields, walk thru a tunnel of color at the beginning, wander by the displays, listen to the music, and exit thru a tunnel of stars into a field of trees decorated with exotic colored lights -- lavenders, and deep cobalt blues, and golden yellows. And you end up at the far side of the park.

That's what we did this evening. Thanks to the fair and industrious Trudy, who braved long lines and grumpy runners waiting to pick up their running packets, we registered for the Trail of Lights 5K and ran it this evening.

In the dark. Under the moon. Beneath the stars.

And we slowed down to look at the lights.

2005 Trail of Lights
Austin, TX

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 Friday, December 9, 2005

Changing Seasons

The snow is coming down in the north. They're talking about it on the radio. I've seen pictures of it growing increasingly deep in Joe's back yard. It came down so fast for a while, that the snowflakes must have made a racket as they hit the ground.

There is ice on the tops of the rain barrels outside our house. Ice. In early December. In Austin. A few days ago the warmth of sunny days fell with a crash as the air turned bitter cold and the grass crunched underfoot and green leaves dropped from their frozen twigs.

And the Europeans. Oh, those Europeans. We send our Secretary of State across the sea to speak of on matters of policy. And you can see the eyes of her audience rolling. And then the House of Lords refuses to admit coerced testimony in British legal proceedings. A chilly reception, to say the least.

Yes, the seasons are changing.

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 Wednesday, December 7, 2005

In The Attic

As the temperatures plummet and a freezing rain falls from the sky, coating the grass and the leaves and the branches of the trees... With the sun long gone, and the streetlight throwing a circle of orange onto the empty street...

On this night, we heard a thumping sound. First the dog. Then Ben. Then Trudy.

Can you hear it? she asked. I could not.

Sometimes loud, sometimes not. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Thumping, as if someone or something was tapping on the ceiling from the attic trying to get in.

Eventually even I heard it. But even then it took some spousal prodding to investigate.

When I opened the door to the utility closet, the thumping changed to clicking coming from somewhere up in the dark. Just over the wall, just beyond the rafters. Then it stopped. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

In Nevil Shute's "On The Beach", an Australian submarine crew is sent to investigate a signal coming from a radio station in Alaska after a nuclear holocaust. They heard clicking sounds. Sometimes fast, sometimes not. Sometimes stopping, sometimes going. Sometimes it spelled out words.

When they got there, they discovered only a telegraph switch in an empty room and a window shutter swinging in the breeze, periodically bumping into the switch.

I got the step ladder and a flashlight. I stood the ladder in the narrow space between the furnace and the water heater and squeezed myself up the steps, holding onto whatever I could.

Peering over the walls into the raftered attic revealed nothing but blown-in insulation and air ducts. The clicking continued, just beyond my sight. I climbed up farther. Still I could see nothing. So I climbed yet higher, losing my balance for a moment and grabbing onto a 2x4 to stop my imminent tumble.

Then I saw it. In the gallery over the living room just beyond the air duct that goes to the back of the house, I saw a hole in the plywood roof decking -- the opening for one of the attic turbine vents.

The clicking sound sped up as the wind picked up, and I could feel the warm air from the house rising past me.

Perhaps it was the ice. Or perhaps the turbine just broke. In any event, the mystery was solved. A clicking turbine is no cause for concern, and with that explanation we could all sleep comfortable in the knowledge that nobody or nothing was tapping on the ceiling trying to get in.

We could all sleep comfortably ... except for that thumping sound.

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 Tuesday, December 6, 2005

The Secretary's Words

1. The Secretary's Words

The Secretary of State recently told us recently,

The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.

2. Credibility

You'll have to forgive me, but the time has passed when I can give such statements any weight.

They have finessed their words. They have redefined common terms. They have spun minutiae at the expense of the facts. They have grandstanded. They have waved the flag. They have attacked all critics. They have evaded the heart of the issues. They have ignored their own experts in order to have their political calculus reign supreme. And in the interest of advancing their agendas and extending their rule, they have lied.

So you'll forgive me if I don't believe what the good secretary had to say. She has no credibility. And what's more, her very words drawn one to ponder where the deceit must lie.

3. Pondering the Definition of "Is"

The United States does not transport...

After all, the United States is a nation. Nations are geopolitical concepts, and as such can't transport anything anywhere.

...has not transported...

Notice the missing term, never. It is certainly implied but conspicuously absent. She did not say has never transported, but do you think that might be what we were supposed to hear?

....detainees from one country...

Perhaps from more than one?

...from one country to another...

Perhaps not from one country to one other. After all, didn't the extraordinary renditions involve the transport of detainees thru many countries, not only two?

...for the purpose of interrogation using torture.

And here we have the crescendo. Of course the purpose wasn't torture. The purpose was to get them to talk. Torture was at worst an accident and at best the means to an virtuous end.

4. Baloney

Or maybe I'm just being silly here. There are people, after all, who believe in the noble lie and the need for philosopher kings to wield it for the greater good.

Perhaps, then, this hair-splitting is a waste of time, and we should just see it for what it is: baloney.

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 Monday, December 5, 2005

On the Other Side of the River

After Tuxedo Junction had been played, after the sleigh bells rang and the cracking sound of the whip snapped from the percussion section, we streamed out of the theater into the cold.

Winter has come in earnest, it seems. And although we're thinking that the potted plants by the door will be fine tonight, when we walked out of the auditorium, the cold air was a bit of a shock.

We tucked our hands under our arms and turned down the walkway. Concrete columns ran along the sidewalk to the turnaround drive in front of the school. Beyond that was the practice field, although we couldn't see it in the dark, or the quarter mile track that runs around it. And beyond that, hidden in a strip of woods that stood only as a silhouette in the night was the hike-and-bike trail. And then the flowing river and the woods and the trail on the far bank. And then a hill and soccer fields with a rock island sitting in the middle.

Of course, we could see none of this, because it was night. But it was as if we could see it, because we have been to these places so many times.

On the hill beyond the road that runs beyond the soccer fields stood the Zilker Tree. Colored lights spiraling up more than 150 feet. A yellow-white star at the top. And a crescent moon was setting yet further beyond.

Trudy pointed at the tree. Look!

We started walking to the parking lot.

Do you want to walk over there? I asked.

She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, It's cold.

(Anyway, it was too far away.)

As I write this, I hear the sound of hot cocoa being stirred. And although I know this will sound sappy, I still see the moon setting behind that tree standing on that hill in the cold of the night on the other side of the river.

...and now for something hot to drink.

After the holiday band concert
S. F. Austin HS
Austin, TX

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