Wednesday, September 28, 2011

At This Narrow Bridge Again

At This Narrow Bridge Again
@MaryWalkerBaron 2007

Here we are again at this narrow bridge
Ready to begin our annual crossing --
Returned to this moment by ancient migratory
Patterns mapped in stone.
For a month we’ve wondered
What to bring – how best to pack and what to wear -- .
Difficult preparations even though
We try to make them every year.

I always over pack and now at this
Pre-crossing liminal moment I wonder –
Will I really need a flashlight?
If I haven’t yet read that issue of ‘Scientific American’
I bought on impulse last year at the Jet Blue
Terminal of JFK maybe I should admit
That I’ll never read it
And leave it behind.

I open my pack for a final inventory before
Stepping on to the bridge.  Does my Zip Lock
Bag of anger weigh too much?  Is my Nalgene
Bottle of tears absolutely necessary?  Did I pack
Enough hope and forgiveness?  Where is that
Stuff bag of patience I meant to take?  Is there
Time to repack before I cross to the other side?
Is anyone less prepared than I?

Rav Nachman -- our tour guide – said that
The important thing is to not be afraid.
I just heard a scream.  No wait.  We’ve heard
That sound before -- our shrieking
Hollow filled with awe horn
Reminding us to watch our steps.
This bridge between our sunsets is, indeed,
Narrow.  Each year we journey together we

Become better packers.  We learn to travel
Lightly.  The anger was too heavy.  Tears once
Shed are gone forever.  Maybe the flashlight is
Still a good idea.  We make these crossings
Together to steady and prepare for the moment
We must cross the bridge alone – comforted by
Our yearly migrations to sacred moments at this
Fearless time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

No More Last Meals

The State of Texas has stopped letting about to be put to death prisoners order special last meals.  The stated reason is that the whole thing was nonsense.  I'm not sure if the nonsense referred just to a special last meal or to the whole notion of murdering someone as pay back for another murder.
Texas started its last meal ritual after it first execution by electrocution in 1924.  The most popular last meal requests have been hamburgers. Prison cooks have tried to honor all requests -- if not in quantity, then in quality. For instance an inmate once requested a pound of barbecue, but received a smaller amount because that's all the prison kitchen had available.
Texas State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, has been getting increasingly miffed over these last meal requests.  One request in particular so outraged him that he demanded Brad Livingston, executive director of the state prison agency, instruct prison workers to stop preparing special last meals.
Here's what sent him over the hospitality edge:
Lawrence Brewer was convicted of a gruesome murder. He was a self-described white supremacist and by all accounts a really awful person.  Before his execution he requested a last meal that included: two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.
Apparently for that particular meal the prison kitchen was well stocked and filled the order completely.  And then as his final act of completely anti-social behavior, Brewer ate none of it.
The guy was convicted of a hate crime.  He was found guilty of dragging a man to death and apparently he didn't argue with the verdict.  I'm not sure why anyone expected him to suddenly develop manners and follow the last meal rules.
Nevertheless, because of his in your face last meal behavior no one about to be executed in Texas gets to request a last meal now.  Apparently the Senator has gotten quite a few calls asking to show a little compassion and allow those about to die even for crimes they might not have committed to at least enjoy a hamburger in their last moments.  So far the Senator is not moved.
Kathryn Kase, interim executive director of Texas Defenders, a nonprofit organization that trains and assists lawyers who represent death row inmates, said the state's decision to end last meals shows a lack of "compassion for the condemned." The action "says more about us, I’m afraid, than perhaps was intended.”
“I’m very sorry that the state of Texas has chosen to send that message,” she said.
 In all that's wrong with our justice and prison systems, refusing a reasonable last meal request seems so far off the mark as to be ludicrous but possibly not as ludicrous as the entire concept of murder for the sake of murder.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Best Moves

For the last few months, people have been suggesting that I should get a dog, because “the dog park is a great place to meet people.” Well, the last time I was single I had a dog, and I used to go to the dog park all the time. While it’s true, I did meet women there, it was always as I was leaving with a big bag of poop. And, the worst part was, it was usually on days that I didn’t bring my dog...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is the FBI doing?

On Wednesday, Spencer Ackerman, senior writer for's national security blog, "The Danger Room", broke a disheartening story. The FBI has been training its agents to believe that American Muslims are dangerous and violent, and that the more religious they are, the more likely they are to be terrorists. This is not a random misstatement or error; he has released dozens of pages of documents. The original story can be found here: and Ackerman says that there is much more to come. All the FBI can say in response is "the individual who was teaching this material no longer works for the FBI". Senators, counterterrorism professionals and civil rights advocates have been shocked by this news, and frankly, I think we all should be, too.

In the spirit of both full disclosure and boasting rights, I freely admit that Spencer Ackerman is the son of my best friend, I have known him since he was born, and I am very proud of his work. Go, Spencer.

Impression Number Two

I’ve decided I’ve been neglecting my repertoire of obscure impressions. ... Impression #2: "Well, you can either get me another drink, or sniff my brown petunia!” Yes, you’re right. That was the gifted wordsmith, though surprisingly inappropriate when drunk, Maya Angelou.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Impressions Really Do Matter

I’ve decided I’ve been neglecting my repertoire of obscure impressions. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to start working on a few here before I include them in my act (Oh yeah, I decided I’m also going to start working on an act). Impression #1: "Hunnnngh! Oh Jesus! Aarrggh! F**k me!?!” Ok, that was Carl FabergĂ©, laying one of his famous eggs. Thank you.

True Rock Hounds

It's come to this.  We joined the Basset Hound Club of Southern California.  Ordinarily we are not joiners.  However, joining this outfit seemed at the time to be a must do sort of thing.  Every October the group hosts the Basset Hound Picnic in a local park.  Come on!  The Basset Hound Picnic!  And so we joined.
The other day we got out first newsletter - Basset Tales - which is the Official Publication of the Basset Hound Club of Southern California.
The president's column got our attention right away.
One of her female Basset Hounds '...ingested yet another rock.'  And, the column went on to tell us, underwent her second rock removal surgery.  She has, we learned, eaten and passed many a rock in her years but only two have required surgery.  The dog is only four years old so apparently there remain a lot of rocks in her future.  The column then sadly described rock hounds less fortunate.  Rock hounds who, as a matter of fact, died from, well, ummmh, eating rocks.
Absurd, thought we.
No self respecting Basset Hound and certainly no responsible Basset Hound human would engage in or allow such behavior.
Funny how quickly life wipes smiles off of our faces.
Just hours later our Basset Hound became listless, wouldn't eat his breakfast, and ultimately (at the risk of being gross) relieved himself of a rock.
Bradford has given new meaning to, "I'll have it on the rocks."
He has also lost the ability to be in our backyard unsupervised.
I knew we had a Basset Hound.  I didn't know that we also had a Rock Hound.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Company Loyalty

We have a budding small business so we opened, quite appropriately, a small business account at the local branch of a huge multinational bank. The employee who opened the account for us explained that there would be a service charge which would be waived if, every month, we used the debit card that was attached to the account. We used it each month and avoided the charge until July when we forgot to use it, and got smacked with a $16.00 service charge. In August we made sure to use the debit card, and got a statement with a record of the debit card usage and, on the same page, another $16.00 service charge. I brought that to the attention of the bank teller, who called over one of the people who sit at desks in the lobby. She looked at the statement. "You see," she said, "the card must be used during the time period of the statement." "It was used on August 11th, " I replied, "and the statement is from July 31st to August 30th." "I already checked that" murmured the bank teller, but lobby-desk-woman waved her off furiously. She frantically began looking at the back of the statement. I would have been impressed, except that she was looking at the part of the statement where they show you how to balance your checkbook. "The bank made a mistake", I offered, "You need to refund the service charge". That did it. She glared at me as if I had insulted her beloved child. This woman must have earned her lobby desk through company loyalty. "You must speak to Robert", she proclaimed, "Robert will take care of you". Gosh, that sounded ominous. Heaven only knew how much company loyalty Robert would have.

You will no doubt be happy to know that Robert was as nice as pie, and just as efficient. He refunded the service charge and put in a claim to customer service to ensure that the problem would not recur. He had no trouble acknowledging that the huge multinational bank which employs him had made an error. I was glad to meet him. And I suppose it's also nice to know that there's still some company loyalty around in the world.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Separation of Church and State

A family I know has to relocate. It is not because they lost some of their income, or for any other economic reason. Rather, they have been taking a stand with the school board of their community for the past three years, and they've finally had enough. Three years ago, they learned that teachers at their children's school were supporting an outside church group and encouraging their students to participate. The parents, who are Jewish, began by politely informing the school officials that not everyone in their district was Christian, and reminding them that separation of church and state is a first amendment right. They carried on their battle, becoming less and less polite, until the school board president spoke at last year's commencement and told the graduating class that, "As long as you believe in Jesus Christ, you can't go wrong". At that point, they put their house on the market and started looking for a home in a more enlightened area. They found one, and have enrolled their children in the new school district for the coming year. They feel sad about leaving a home and community that they otherwise liked very much, and they feel as if they are giving up. I feel sad that any public school system can so easily fail to acknowledge the religious diversity of their population, and wonder how prevalent this must be in how many other school systems in this country.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Posted On Behalf of Equity California

The race to the White House in 2012 has already begun and extremists in one party have already made it clear they don't plan to let up on their attacks on LGBT people or the freedom to marry. Demand that President Obama stand up to his potential opponents and stand up for equality by fully endorsing the freedom to marry for LGBT people. Send a letter or email immediately to President Obama.  Make sure he knows you want full equality and demand it now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Justice Cannot Be Decided By Those In Power

Disenfranchisement is at the heart of social justice.  If all were treated equally there would be no need for social workers or social reform.  Would that day soon arrive!
But not now.  Not yet.
The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on whether proponents of Proposition 8 have the right to appeal a federal district court decision issued last August by Judge Vaughn R. Walker, which found the measure that eliminated the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in California unconstitutional. Proponents are asking for legal standing to challenge the ruling even though the Governor and the Attorney General have refused to do so.  The argument of the proponents is that the courts have no right to deny the majority its ballot won rights.  Fair and square, they say.  Fair and square to go against the wisdom of the Supreme Court in favor of the bigoted hysteria of the majority of voters.
If the disenfranchised were in the majority they wouldn't be disenfranchised.  There would be no struggle for equal rights because there would be no inequality.  So what sense does it make to allow the majority to overthrow a ruling of unconstitutionality handed down by the courts?
Social injustice is a minority reality.  Never, therefore, under any circumstances should the majority -- those with the power and the voices -- have the right to independently decide the rights of the minority.
There is no sense in this.  And yet...
Time perhaps to buy a ticket on a freedom bus if those buses are still allowed to run and if anyone has any interest in riding them.
We need our heroes back.

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Festival Time In Duarte

The Friends of the Duarte Library invited Steel Cut Press to host a table on behalf of But This Is Different at its 9th annual Festival of Authors.  Please plan on attending.  You can learn more about the South Pacific, Brooklyn, homelessness, Amelia Earhart, and even buy a copy of the book.  You'll also get a chance to meet a lot of other authors and hear guest speakers talk about their books.
Hope you can make it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Future Tense Driving

The other evening I was driving home from work switching radio stations between KNX 1070 AM and KPCC 89.3 FM.  It was hard to decide which station because both each in its own way were ranting about the zero jobs growth and the ever sagging housing market and the decision of the White House to screw the climate in favor of possible corporate jobs growth and this and that and the other.  The more I listened the more stressed I felt because even though I am employed, own a home and do my part to help save the planet from our own destructive march this was awful stuff filling me and the old red Jeep.  I couldn't stop thinking about what would happen if this and then what would happen if that until suddenly I had to brake hard to avoid hitting the car in front of me.  All six lanes of traffic on the 210 West had come to a stop.  While I did avoid slamming into the vehicle in front of me, I realized that up until that horrifying moment when I realized I had been paying very little attention to what was going on in the here and now in front of me I had been driving in the future tense.  I was listening to more portents of doom and worrying about this and worrying about that to the extent that I wasn't paying much attention at all to what was going on right in front of me.
So I got to thinking about how much time I spend living in the future and how little I spend living in the right here and now this very moment.  My goal, therefore, is to change my address from future dweller to present dweller.  That's where the traffic stops, where I have to pay attention, and where life really is.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In defense of newspapers

Newspapers have been having a rough time recently.

In the city where I live, Tucson, with a metropolitan population of about one million, the evening paper died a few years ago and the morning daily has been shedding staff in an attempt to hang on. The collective consciousness of our country seems to be turning against print newspapers in favor of faster, more efficient electronic media like blogs, e-newspapers, and (gulp) Twitter.

One cluster of stories on an inside page of today's Arizona Daily Star shows why that would be a terrible mistake. The collection of headlines reads:

  • Voters in Quartzsite get rid of their mayor;
  • Toy poodle saves sleeping man's life; and
  • Man bites snake.
That last one is the kicker, a variation on the old saw "if a dog bites a man, it isn't news; but if a man bites a dog, it is." Just think how much more news value there is, if a man bites a snake.

The lead on the snake story explains: "A snake bite in a north Sacramento neighborhood left the victim seriously hurt, but the injured party isn't whom you'd expect." A tussle between a man and a 3-foot-long python left the python in need of emergency surgery, and the man charged with unlawfully mutilating a reptile, the story went on to explain.

I'm telling you, you can't make this stuff up. And I don't know where you're going to find stories like this -- and even stories of greater consequence, like investigations into political and financial misdeeds -- without a newspaper and its staff of skilled reporters to track them down.

I like blogs like witsendmagazine a lot, but I'm going to keep my newspaper subscription too. Otherwise the blogs would be a lot poorer, and so would I.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Infomercial Miseries

I was having trouble sleeping last night, so I was just lying on the couch flipping channels. I paused on a commercial, which commanded, “Forget everything you know about kitchen knives!” So I did. And, I gotta tell you, it really was a load off my mind. Then the commercial tried to sell me knives, and I just lay there, dumbstruck, because I didn’t have clue what they were! In my barely lucid state, I got so excited about this modern miracle, I'm afraid I might have ordered several sets.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Let's all have a tomato fight

Those folks in Spain sure know how to have a good time.
Thanks to Ernest Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises, we know all about the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
Now, there's the somewhat lesser known "Tomatina" festival in the eastern Spanish town of Bunol. I first learned about that event this morning, when I saw a newspaper picture of a festival participant floating in a pond of tomato muck. Maybe you saw it too.
The "Tomatina" event, the Associated Press story explained, attracts some 40,000 people who pelt one another with 120 tons of ripe tomatoes. The hourlong tomato battle has its roots in a food fight back in 1945, between childhood friends.
I swear, I'm not making this up.
Now, I know that cultural events don't always translate well from one country to another, but I think the "Tomatina" has possibilities here in Washington, where a new round of gridlock is taking shape over what to do about the economy.
There's nothing like getting splatted in the face with a ripe tomato to give you a little perspective. Who knows, it might even help feuding Democrats and Republicans focus on things that really matter, like putting people back to work.
Maybe we should give it a try. Nothing else seems to be working.