Sunday, December 31

End of the Year Wrap-Up

So this has been quite the year.

Some time ago, I wrote about Melissa, our bad-tempered calico, who's got a cancerous tumor which has invaded her lymph nodes. At the time I wrote it, I didn't think she'd still be around by this point but, surprisingly, she's not only around, but she's still her usual self-- eating not as much as she used to and sleeping a lot, but still interested in food, and still interested in waking us up at 3am to get pet.

So, it continues, and we're exactly where we were a few months ago-- she may live another day, another week, another month or two, and the only thing to do is to enjoy the time we have left. So I'm doing my best to do this without breaking into tears from time to time, which of course I do every time I talk or write about this, but eventually I get past it and I figure everything is okay for now, which is pretty much the best any of us can hope for.

So it goes on, this day-to-day living with this ongoing illness. It's strange that I feel so much more strongly about this with respect to animals than I do about humans. I've known humans who were slowly dying, and I've had friends who have died suddenly and without explanation and I don't really cry for them the way I do about pets. I think there's something about being human that I know -understands- this. We all know we're going to die eventually and we all cope with that in our own way, I don't know whether or not animals understand this, and I just wish that I could know what they actually want. I've been through this with three different pets in my adult life where I have had to personally pay someone to kill them and while, intellectually, I know it's the right thing, emotionally, I still have trouble with it.

And so it continues. One more cat that's dying slowly but living comfortably for the moment, and I guess that whether or not I'm okay with that, there's nothing left to do but make sure she remains comfortable and happy and gets food she likes and has Sebastian (insane manic kittenish cat who, as I write this, wonders why he hasn't been fed yet (though that could apply to any moment, including the ten minutes it takes him to figure out that he -has- been fed) to keep her company when we're not around.

In the meantime, our winter resident red-tailed red-shouldered (I had this one misidentified for over a year--oops) hawk is a constant source of yard drama. Shown above is picture I took yesterday, as either I or the blue jays were pissing it off. You can find a larger version at:

http://juliesmagiclightshow.com/index.php?pic=1102&qty=12&trz=6

I got to watch it fly from tree to tree as it screeched its -very- loud sound. (There's a blue-jay picture there, too).

I haven't been doing as much photography as of late (less time for birding, plus not as much variety in the winter-- it's always a slower season), so I've been experimenting with black and white renderings of older photographs-- I've posted some of those as well-- the thumbnails are shown below the picture.

The other day, I got a microphone attachment for my iPod which I'm thinking will be fun to use. It turns my iPod into a very small stereo field recorder. I tried using it to record a piece of music the other day and I came up with this very cool rendering of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. It's available for download at:

http://juliewaters.com/mp3s.php

I like the way it sounds-- it's not what I would call top professional quality, but it works well for what it is, and will allow me to record concerts and jam sessions without having to bring my gigantic mixer along. I may also use it as a field recorder when out birding-- I've been thinking for awhile of mixing bird sounds into some of my own music so I may do some experiments with that down the line. I'd love to get the sound of the red-tail screeching and use it as a baseline for a piece of music. This may be a whole new area for me to explore.

I'm still thinking that even if I do record a whole album, I'm more likely to do it through digital distribution with a very small run of physical CDs, but I'm getting some nice ideas for pieces to perform. I'm thinking specifically of doing a run of pieces inspired by classical guitar music I used to play, like the Jesu piece I just referenced. I've been working on a Bethoven theme, and would love to do a version of Debussey's "Claire De Lune" which features banjo as its primary instrument, though it may be awhile.

In short, I'm in no rush to do anything new right now, but I'm thinking about it and exploring ideas, etc. Now that I have the iPod microphone, podcasts may become more frequent as well. We'll see where it all goes.

I'm going to mention two more things before I wrap up-- first, I just want to say how amazed I am by what we managed to accomplish in November with respect to rejecting the completely insane rightwing agenda that's controlled our legislature for the last few years and I can only say "more, more, more." Honestly, this group makes me miss the days when Republicans were primarily about screwing the poor and waging war. Goldwater, by today's standards, looks almost leftwing compared to this group of religious zealots.

In Vermont, we actually got even -more- Republicans booted out and a recent statewide recount switched our auditor results from the Republican to the Democrat. I met Randy Brock (the Republican who just lost) and I don't think I've ever met anyone else whose entire demeanor better suggested "middle management at a used car dealership." There's something about him I found inherently untrustworthy, so I'm glad to see him go for that, and a variety of other more specifically political reasons: his office blew me off on an audit request until someone asked about it in one of the political debates and suddenly he was all interested in it, but still delayed any report until after the election. I don't know how much of that was just slowness of process and how much was evasion of the issue, but either way, an audit request in early September shouldn't take until mid-December to resolve when it's an extremely simple piece of information I'm looking for. So yeah, one less Republican in control of an important state office pleases me.

The last thing I'll mention is that this "winter" we're having is scaring me, in a serious way. It's been unseasonably warm here, which happens sometimes, but the behavior of the animals is just really different and suggests, to me, not just local unusual weather, but something more global. Migration patterns seem to have shifted considerably this year-- a lot of birds still around that are constantly surprising me and, scariest of all, bears not -hibernating-.

So one of my goals for this year is to figure out new ways to affect my energy usage and waste and keep it lower than it's been. Having bought a Prius is good. Composting all our food waste is good. If I could carpool with people, I would, but I don't see it working given the sort of driving I do (commuting 200+ miles on various days from week to week don't make for good carpool companions). But I can, at least, try to work something out with my students, or other people teaching that night, this Spring-- see if I can can arrange a carpool with three of them for the consistent ride to teach, and encourage them to do the same. Anyway, this whole thing wants me to figure out how to change how I use energy-- investigate solar panels to supplement the power-- I can't imagine a windmill working on our small amount of land, but the solar panels make perfect sense, and there are plenty of other options.

It's just got me thinking-- I don't see how we'll fix this without finding creative ways to approach things.

That's it-- much longer than I expected. Be well, everybody and have a good new year.

Friday, December 29

Friday Bird Bloging: Snowy Egret

The snowy egret is a bird I've seen rarely in Vermont, but frequently down at Parker River Wildlife Refuge. It's about half the size of a great egret and a lot more mobile and it's distinguished by its black beak and yellow feet (I think of them as akin to clown shoes just because of the garish color).

Watching one of these creatures hunt is an entertaining experience. Instead of casually standing still, being very quiet and blending in until it spots prey, it aggressively goes after its prey, but does so with an odd, diagonal, pattern. You can see it stand for a bit then suddenly just dart about five or more feet to grab something out of the water.

This particular picture is from Parker River Wildlife Refuge in Plum Island, MA, but my first sighting of a snowy was in coastal Maine, on a dark and wet day, when we spotted a small group of them on some rocks in a nearby river. At the time, it was true excitement to spot and photograph a new bird for me, but even years later, I love watching them move, dart, weave and bob about.

As usual, the image links to larger pictures or a list of thumbnails.

Thursday, December 28

A New Experiment

I've been working on various arrangements of Bach Pieces for solo flatpick guitar-- the most recent one is my rendition of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." I just posted it at http://juliewaters.com/mp3s.php.

How the Brain Tunes Out Background Noise

Crossposted from my psychology blog:

Last year, Live Science published a nice little summary article (How the Brain Tunes Out Background Noise) about our mental process and how our perceptual process will tend to phase out the aspects of our surroundings which are routine or predictable:
The "novelty detector neurons," as researchers call them, quickly stop firing if a sound or sound pattern is repeated. They will briefly resume firing if some aspect of the sound changes. The neurons can detect changes in pitch, loudness or duration of a single sound and can also note shifts in the pattern of a complex series of sounds.

"It is probably a good thing to have this ability because it allows us to tune out background noises like the humming of a car's motor while we are driving or the regular tick-tock of a clock," said study team member Ellen Covey, a psychology professor at the University of Washington. "But at the same time, these neurons would instantly draw a person's attention if their car's motor suddenly made a strange noise or if their cell phone rang."


I'm interested in how this applies to driving-- there's a lot we need to attend to, as drivers, and a lot we don't even notice on a conscious level. How much of what we do when driving is necessary and how much of it is background? Do some people tend to have more trouble with the distractions than others? Do some of us have the ability to better distinguish background noise from necessary information?

As I am known to do from time to time, I will use birding as an example. When I'm looking for birds, I pay a lot of attention to the sounds and calls of birds, but I suspect that, after a short while, I do not pay any attention at all to familiar birds. Once I know that there are American Robins around, do my ears pay attention to them any longer, or do I just mentally dismiss them?

Or, on the other hand, we can think about music: when I am listening to a fairly common and unoriginal melody, I may not notice it at all on the surface, but I may notice unusual harmonies or arrangements of that same melody. Or, alternatively, unless I specifically attend to it, I may not even notice the chord progression of a tune, once it's gone through once or twice. Unless the music does something interesting, it may fade entirely into the background-- how often have you not even realized what song was playing on an intercom until someone pointed it out to you?

Monday, December 25

Ambigrams

Crossposted from my psychology blog:


This picture is an ambigram, an image which can be viewed in more than one way depending on how you perceive it.

The thing about this sort of image, in particular, is that it manages to convince you visually that you're looking at two completely contradictory views at the exact same time.

What does this tell you about perception, and the way our brain processes conflicting stimuli? Can you see it as both images simultaneously, or merely as one, then the other, alternating based on how you squint or tip your head?

Thursday, December 21

Friday Bird Bloging: Northern Harrier

There is something about this particular view which makes me glad I'm not a mouse.

The Northern Harrier is one of my favorite hawks to watch. It hunts low to the ground and will do so with careful deliberation. This particular shot is one of my favorites, and helped sell me on how great digital photography can be-- this was one of over a hundred pictures I took in a very short period, and very few of them were anywhere near this quality. With nature photography especially, there's really something to being able to get off as many shots as are humanly possible in a very short period in the hopes that just a few will be the quality you're looking for.

Friday, December 15

Friday Bird Blogging: The Belted Kingfisher

For years, I tried to get good pictures of kingfishers, but with very little luck. They will stand still for long periods, but not always where they're easy to spot, and when in motion they fly -very- quickly. This particular shot is a favorite of mine, not for the quality of the images, but for the fact that I managed to get a series of shots which capture a specific moment. When the kingfisher sees prey in the water, it will fly directly above the prey and simply hover, flapping quickly while it prepares for a dive. Then it drops directly down into the water and, if all goes as planned, plucks a fish out and flies out with its meal. What you see here is the "before" picture. My next plan is to get a picture of the kingfisher the moment -after- it gets is prey, with fish in hand (or, technically, beak).

Wednesday, December 13

My not-so Dumb-Ass Election Predictions

Shortly before the election, I posted this:
In national news, I expect the House to break with 233 Democrats and
202 Republicans. I'd like to see the Republicans drop below 200 in
the house, but I don't expect it. As far as nearby races go, I
expect Paul Hodes to win in NH, which was unheard of three weeks ago.

I expect the close Senate races to reflect a six-seat gain for
Democrats, picking up Missouri Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Virginia. Ford and Pederson will both lose and Menendez
will hold his seat.
Now that all the results are in (at least on the official level), it actually looks like I got the numbers right after all.

How the hell did that happen?

Friday, December 8

Friday Bird Blogging: The Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is a great little feeder bird. It's not as striking as its larger counterpart, the hairy woodpecker but it's the sort of bird that will, if you're careful, let you get incredibly close looks at it while it's feeding on suet, giving you wonderful opportunity for some amazing detailed looks, such as this one.

Tuesday, December 5

2007 Calendar: Wildlife Photography

So I decided to collect together some of my photography into a nifty 2007 Calendar. It's some of my favorite pictures from this year-- pictures from Parker River Wildlife Refuge, the Connecticut Lakes Region of New Hampshire, Southeastern Vermont and Lighthouse Point.

If you're interested, you can find the calendar, as well as several other items I put together (such as a wall clock, a poster and a set of postcards) at http://www.cafepress.com/juliewaters

Sunday, December 3

Scott Adams on Music

Scott wonders Why is Music Legal?. My favorite line:
Music is clearly unsafe. Suppose you’re in a perfectly good mood and a depressing song comes on. That could make you sad and break down your body’s natural defenses. You could get sick and die. Thank you very much Tori Amos.

Friday, December 1

Friday Bird Blogging: The Northern Mockingbird

Any number of times, I've heard an interesting sound while out looking for birds, only to discover that it came from a mockingbird. Even so, I'm rarely disappointed; these are striking birds, with a true elegance to their appearance.

Monday, November 27

The war on... peace??

In Colorado: Lisa Jensen hung a peace symbol-shaped wreath on her house. The homeowners' association president ordered her to take it down, citing concerns about Satanism and anti-war sentiment. When the entire architectural committee disagreed with him, he fired all of them.

Read the whole heartwarming tale here.

I knew it was just a matter of time before the "war on Christmas(TM)" would intersect with the war in Iraq, but jeez.

Update

OK... the homeowners' association have since changed their minds.

Sunday, November 26

On The Edge of a Cliff

Many years ago, I saw a heist film. I don't remember the title. I
don't remember many of the actors. I don't remember the plot. The
only detail I remember is the end: a bus with all the robbers in the
front, all the gold in the back, and the bus balanced on a cliff
ledge with the people in front being the only weight keeping the
whole thing from crashing over the side.

At this point, Michael Cane says something along the lines of "okay,
I've got a plan..." and the ending credits roll.

This is what I think of when I see our elder statesmen claim that
we're doing the right thing in Iraq and that we have a plan of some
sort to solve problems there, or that we're investigating options and
performing yet another study. Picture that same bus on the cliff,
but with a fire in the fuel line. Imagine that instead of gold in
back, its a group of young Iraqis who are trapped in rubble and
instead of robbers, its solders that have climbed in there to try to
help them.

But sure, "we'll succeed unless we quit."

When we invaded Iraq, I was teaching an interpersonal and small group
discussion class-- they wanted to have a discussion on the topic of
the invasion, and I facilitated it-- the results were a microcosm of
the population: in a group of nine, three were adamantly in support
of the invasion. Three were unambiguously opposed. The other three
weren't sure. In deeper discussion, it was clear: the three who were
unsure were opposed to it, but they felt an obligation to support
their country. This is similar to what happened nationally: right
before the invasion, support for it was weak. Immediately after, it
rose dramatically.

Later, I was telling friends that this would drop off: the 1/3rd or
so of the country which was willing to give tentative support for the
war, they didn't really like it, but they hoped it would work out
okay. This is cognitive dissonance at work: reality conflicts with
your beliefs, and you can't change reality, so you change your
beliefs. It's temporary.

This year, the support for the invasion of Iraq finally stretched the
limits of the cognitive dissonance-- it's become more and more clear
to everybody that there is nothing -working- about this invasion, no
nuggets of good they can cling to. Some still try, but I think more
and more, the remaining support for our continuing occupation is a
desperation: the bus teetering on the cliff and no one having a clue
as to how to escape it, but dead certain we can come up with some
sort of plan that will take care of everything.

I don't have anything funny, or clever, or pithy to say here.

A lot of us saw this coming years ago.

I -so- wish that we were wrong.

Friday, November 24

Friday Bird Blogging: Whimbrel

Last summer, at Parker River Wildlife Refuge, a birder was kind enough to point out several whimbrels in a nearby field. I was able to get a barely adequate picture of one of them, but nothing spectacular.

These are relatively rare birds in the Northeast-- we tend to see them only during a brief migration period, so I thought it unlikely that we'd get to see them again anytime soon. This year, however, we managed to spot a whimbrel in a flock of geese and as I kept taking pictures, more joined it, and they kept walking -closer- to us. This is one of the best shots I got of it-- clicking on the picture brings you to a larger version, with more detail.

Thursday, November 23

Friday, November 17

Friday Bird Blogging: More Snow Geese at Dead Creek


Imagine this scene, with the birds flying right by you as they take off from an open field.

As usual, the pictures, just barely do it justice.

The picture links to four thumbnails from my visit to Dead Creek last Wednesday.

Monday, November 13

It's about time someone said it.

Liberals have a lot more in common with Christians than Conservatives. To quote an article by Tom Krattenmaker:
Apparently, those of us who hold different positions on the hot-button issues as framed by social conservatives — those of us who turn our attention and hearts to other imperatives such as peace-making, poverty relief, environmental preservation and tolerance — have no values. According to the rhetoric of social conservatives, progressives are the "anything goes" lot. Secularists, liberal Christians and followers of other faiths — we're the ones tearing America down with our moral weakness and hostility to the conservative Christian worldview.
[snip]
Dwight Moody, a Baptist minister and writer on religion and culture, had this to say about values in a recent e-mail exchange with me: "Progressives, moderates and liberals are also undergirded by deeply held moral convictions, much of it driven by a religious and Christian view of the world: the value of creation, the dignity of the human person, the need for equity and justice, the cause of the poor and the dispossessed. These are values rarely articulated by the religious right, but they run deep and wide in the Bible."
http://www.commondreams.org/views06/1113-26.htm

Sunday, November 12

Friday... Saturday... SUNDAY bird blogging: Snowy Owl


Sorry-- lost track of the weekend, as we took a nice ride down to the Parker River Wildlife Refuge. While there, we saw many good things, including this snowy owl. Parker River, located on Plum Island out of Newburyport, MA, is one of my favorite places to do birding-- you can see my whole archive of Plum Island photos by clicking here.

Soggy day, but great sightings. In addition to the owl, we saw an american bittern (very close) as well as ring-necked ducks, a pie-billed grebe, buffleheads, a northern mockingbird, a flock of snow buntings and much, much, more.

Friday, November 10

In 2004...

...I found myself giving up on most of my work for a few days to
watch the Massachusetts constitutional convention. It was a
wonderful object lesson in how a single issue can drive an entire
political realignment.

As the Massachusetts legislature debated, something became clear: in
Vermont, when civil unions were established, they were seen as
radical and a major change by those who opposed same-sex marriage.
Shortly after, when Massachusetts was debating, civil unions were
suddenly the only conservative option. There was no chance of
passage of any legislation which didn't support some form of
acceptance for same sex unions.

In Vermont, Democrats suffered a major defeat the next election
cycle, which was quickly reversed. Today, their majority is not only
strong, but strong enough to override a veto if necessary.

In Massachusetts, the legislative body simply chose not to act on
their Supreme Judicial Court ruling, allowing it to stand, though it
took much argument and sometimes vicious rhetoric to get there. A
number of people were angered by this and attempted to produce their
own amendment to the constitution in Massachusetts to eliminate the
scourge of gay marriage and, apparently, protect their own marriage.

Well, they needed legislative consent to make such an amendment and
it turns out they didn't get it. The legislature didn't vote it up
or down. They simply ignored it. Not the most aggressive stance
one way or the other, but still a completely appropriate punt.

The people who oppose same-sex marriage have an option here: they can
elect a new legislature, one who will heed their concerns. They have
that right. They, however, have been failures in this regard.

Personally, that makes me happy.

Revenge of the Zombie People

I was up until 12:30 watching returns last night When I went to bed,
I thought McCaskill had lost and that the Senate would break down to
50-50. Three hours later, I woke up, only to learn that McCaskill
had, in fact, won.

I think we all owe Rush Limbaugh a great big thank you.

Cutting and running from "Mission Accomplished"

Shameless:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/11/07/white-house-caught-allege_n_33521.html

--
----------------------------------------------------------------------
julie@riverartsproject.com http://juliewaters.com/

We've heard that a million monkeys at a million
keyboards could produce the Complete Works of
Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know
this is not true.

--Robert Wilensky

Thursday, November 9

My Very Favorite Post-Election Political Cartoon

A Brief Comment About Pat Tillman

When Pat Tillman died, the administration tried to paint it as a patriotic war story and used it primarily for promotional purposes.

I don't know whether or not his death was a crime, but the coverup of how it happened, and the reappropriation for it should be. The AP did a very thorough review of the probe of his death. Warning: this is NOT easy to read.

Tuesday, November 7

Wow

It didn't even occur to me that Carol Shay-Porter would win in NH-01.
I'm pretty much floored by this.

Molly Kelly seems to be in a solid lead as well, which may change the
control of New Hampshire's state senate. It's looking less and less
like Democrats will take the Senate at the national level, but even
with that, this is the best election I've seen in ages.

I didn't expect this two weeks ago

We took the weekend to work for the Paul Hodes campaign, realizing it was closer than we expected it to be, but still figuring he was unlikely to win. Turns out that Hodes has actually won this race. It was a sizeable margin, too.

I'm not used to working for winning candidates. I'm not sure I can identify this feeling.

Election Day: All Atwitter

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm really excited about tonight, and also in mild panic. I just woke up from a dream that Bush and Cheney declared martial law and then realized they didn't have an army left to enforce it.

I love elections, but I sort of hate them too just because I've rarely been happy with the results and these days I'm scared that the results are simply not what people claim them to be. On the plus side, the big Republican robocalling scam seems to be getting attention all over the damned place, so maybe this is one time where the dirty trick is too dirty to have escaped attention.

But, basically, it's down today to just getting people out to vote, and if the votes -are- counted accurately, it's going to be good news for the Democrats. I'm not a great fan of the Democratic party, but I'd rather have people with whom I agree 40% of the time in power than people with whom I agree 4% of the time, so there you have it.

Okay, now to breakfast, and figure out where we're going to help out today.

Monday, November 6

If Vermont goes to war with Wisconsin, what side will Martha be on?

I just can't add anything to this.

My Dumb-ass predictions

Okay-- first, local:

I expect in Vermont that the big winners in tomorrow's election will
be Sanders, Welch, Douglas and Dunne. Vermont Republicans will
suffer badly this time around at the local legislative level, worse
than four years ago.

In national news, I expect the House to break with 233 Democrats and
202 Republicans. I'd like to see the Republicans drop below 200 in
the house, but I don't expect it. As far as nearby races go, I
expect Paul Hodes to win in NH, which was unheard of three weeks ago.

I expect the close Senate races to reflect a six-seat gain for
Democrats, picking up Missouri Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Virginia. Ford and Pederson will both lose and Menendez
will hold his seat.

My one upset prediction is that Lamont will beat Lieberman.

I hope I'm wrong about Douglas and Pederson, but I'm probably not.

--julie

Saturday, November 4

Slimeballs at Work

It looks as though there are Republican robocalls happening in quite
a few states, including my neighboring New Hampshire where I'm at
work on the Hodes campaign.

The problem is that these are calls which make it sound as though
they're from the Hodes campaign, calling people over and over again,
at all hours. You don't learn that they're -not- from the Hodes
campaign until the end of the message. Of course, with a three
minute message, and multiple calls over and over again, people just
hang up, pissed off at the Hodes campaign.

As far as voter suppression tactics go, it's probably one of the more
clever ones, and it demonstrates -so- clearly that there's nothing
these people have in the way of actual -issues-.

This is politics which is toxic to its core.

We deserve better.

Friday, November 3

Important Question

Why did the federal government post plans for how to build a nuclear
(sorry: "nucular") bomb and how can we blame it on John Kerry?

Friday Bird Blogging: Election Edition

Ah... the American Bald Eagle... symbol of our great country.

And carrion eater.

Yes. Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders. They'll hunt and eat live prey, but they'll also feed on a carcass of dead meat, or whatever else is available.

But, for me, when I think about the eagle, I think about the fact that we did a lot of damage to their habitat and species and still somehow managed to realize what we were doing and come back from it.

Without active and conscious effort to change the world around us, and change how we interact with the environment, our own carlessness could have easily destroyed this species. It may yet happen on the global sense, but on the macro level, we've done a lot of the necessary things that will keep them from going extinct any time soon.

Of course, it's good for them that they're opportunistic feeders, because if we don't start paying attention to another issue, they'll be all out of fish to eat. Unless we do something to head off the depletion of our oceans, we'll be in serious trouble.

Thursday, November 2

An odd coincidence

On a recent episode of the Rachel Maddow Show, she made a reference
to how the GOP had decided to pull out of several house races, one of
which was an obscure Colorado rep named Rick O'Donnell. Survey USA
has him down from his Democratic opponent by a very wide margin (last
I checked, it was 54-38 pts.).

So I'm listening to that show and thinking "why do I know that name?"
It sounds awfully familiar.

And then it hit me. That's the guy who had the health care quote
that ended up on Martha Rainville's web site.

Oh, and after the national GOP bailed on O'Donnell, the local GOP
sent out a direct mail flyer about his opponent which was designed to
look just like a sexual predator notification letter.

Wow.

Now -that's- desperate.

Absolutely Unacceptable

From an Editor and Publisher Report:
The true stories of how American troops, killed in Iraq, actually died keep spilling out this week. On Tuesday, we explored the case of Kenny Stanton, Jr., murdered last month by our allies, the Iraqi police, though the military didn't make that known at the time. Now we learn that one of the first female soldiers killed in Iraq died by her own hand after objecting to interrogation techniques used on prisoners.
I have nothing funny, nothing pithy or clever to say about this.

I am simply disgusted.

Tuesday, October 31

Limbaugh and Michael J. Fox: the Backfire


Michael J. Fox is probably one of the most favorably viewed
celebrities in the country. During his acting career, he was always
seen as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.

When his Parkinsons forced him to drop out of "Spin City," he left a
popular show at the height of its publicity, doing so in a very
public way. Since then, he's been a tireless advocate and has done
so in a consistently respectful and charming fashion.

When Rush Limbaugh chose to mock him, he made a major error: it's
easy to go after politicians. It's even easy to go after River
Phoenix, shortly after his death, making snide comments about his
drug addiction. Limbaugh's basic demographic is twofold: bullies and
people who like to suck up to bullies. But he only has wider appeal
at the sufferance of the broader public. Most people know he's a
blowhard, but he's a blowhard who advocates for issues that a lot of
people support, and he rarely crosses the line where he's going to
lose support.

Attacking Chelsea Clinton (referring to her as the "White House Dog")
was one time he went over that line. In that case, he immediately
backed away from the statement.

In this case, he took his "apology" as an opportunity to slam Fox
further, and made himself look to the rest of the public the way he
looks to most of us left-wingers: like a hypocritical liar. In doing
so, however, he helped raise the profile of Fox's campaign, made for
-more- interviews with Fox, who repeatedly made his own comments not
about Limbaugh but about the broader issue of stem-cell research.

Limbaugh thought he could go up against someone with real class and
character when most of his experience involves going up against
politicians. Clearly, he misjudged this one.

Saturday, October 28

Medicine/Health Care Update

It turns out that if my insurance company covers a medication,
there's a price cap on it, which keeps it to ridiculously expensive
(as opposed to "ludicrously expensive"). Turns out that without that
cap, the price goes up an extra 27%. This morning, I spent $253.00
on a one-month supply.

I had to get special approval for this medicine from my insurance
company. Had they refused to cover it, it would cost me $3,036/year.

This is, by the way, a medication intended to -supplement- the
effects of my other medication.

Did I mention that, on top of this, I pay out of pocket for my insurance?

Medicine, Health Coverage, etc.

There's a medication I have to take for my diabetes which costs me
just under $200/month. I got a refill of it four days ago and last
night I managed to lose it. (I left it -on- the car before driving
off. Oops).

Now, this is totally my mistake, and I'm perfectly willing to pay the
extra $200 to get a new dosage of it. I don't -like- the idea of
doing this, but hey, sometimes we make stupid mistakes and sometimes
we make stupid expensive mistakes.

But this morning, I was thinking about it-- my insurance company
might cover that $200, but they might not. I can't find out until
Monday (I see no indication anywhere that they have an emergency
line) and I need to get the prescription refilled a.s.a.p.

Furthermore, the way my insurance company works is that I pay in
advance for the prescription and they reimburse me.

That said, I am one of the fortunate people who can afford to make a
$200 mistake and have it just ruin a weekend for me, and not have it
be a choice between medicine and food (or rent, electricity, heat,
etc.).

But it got me thinking-- what exactly would this mean in terms of my
well-being if I weren't in that situation? If I didn't have the
resources to take care of this relatively easily, this would not just
be a frustration and an inconvenience, this could be
life-threatening. What if this were heart medication? The risk I
have right now is that my blood sugar will spike, and I'll feel like
crap for a couple days, and I'll get it back under control again. If
I were in a worse circumstance here, this would be a major deal for
me.

What does this mean for people who are poor and have chronic medical
conditions? What does this mean for people who are poor and have
short-term medical conditions that they don't treat because the
antibiotics are too expensive? Do we, as a society, simply accept
this?

What if they use the antibiotics for a time, but stop them early
because they can't afford the refill? From a medical standpoint,
this is quite the problem for one simple reason: it helps create a
new, stronger, strain of the disease: one which more easily resists
antibiotics, creating potential superstrains?

Something is seriously wrong here.

Friday, October 27

Friday Bird Blogging: Snow Geese at Dead Creek


While no picture can do them true justice, this shot is but a qick encapsulation of the sky at Dead Creek, filled with Snow Geese as they would swarm in circles, deciding where to land.



The sheer size of the flocks is sometimes staggering, even when seen from quite a distance away. If you haven't made it to Dead Creek yet this season, now is the time to go. You may need to be patient. When I first arrived, few were visible, and they were all off to a distance. The distance didn't change much (though I got a better view from Gage road than from the viewing area) but the numbers increased dramatically during the short period in which I was watching.

Wednesday, October 25

What are you going to do about it?

The world's Coral Reefs are in trouble:

Researchers fear more than half the world's coral reefs could die in less than 25 years and say global warming may at least partly to blame.



Sea temperatures are rising, weakening the reefs' resistance to increased pollutants, such as runoff from construction sites and toxins from boat paints. The fragile reefs are hosts to countless marine plants and animals.

So... right now, today, what are you going to do to change this? Will you keep your speed on the highway under 65 mph? Will you turn off that light you're not using?

Tuesday, October 24

Reasons to Vote Against these Guys

Each of these links shows you just how bad Republicans can be these days. This is all courtesy of mydd.com. A team of us got together to create this list, and it was a lot of fun.




--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert



The Republican party was a lot better when it was just about screwing the poor.

Headline Stew

Headline #1: Iceland breaks ban on commercial whaling

Headline #2: Scientists Fret over Starving and Missing Whales

Headline #3: Humans living far beyond planet's means: WWF

(Banging head on desk)

Thoughts for the Day

I'm taking a Master Composter class right now. Literally, I started
to write this while sitting in the class. Bad student. Bad. Bad.
But right now it's review from last week, so I feel okay about being
slightly distracted.

I've been composting for a few years now, but I feel like I could use
what I know about the process a lot better and hopefully this class
will help me not only improve my own methods, but spread the word to
others about how easy composting is, and to try to inspire local
businesses to reduce their solid waste by composting what they can.

So while I sit here learning about microflora and actinomycetes and
the way things rot and how these bacterial and fungal organisms
convert food scraps from waste to soil, I think about the environment
and the world we're in and what we're doing to it.

To wit: I just read this morning that children in day care easily suffer from pesticide exposure.

This isn't due to pesticides being necessary. It's due to pesticides
being easy.

So here's the question: how do we change human behavior? Knowing
that people will generally prefer the easy path to the one which is
less damaging, what do we do to convince them to take the time to do
good things for the world than to take the simplest approach?

I don't have a good answer to this. I can only tell you my own
experience: when I realized I had to purchase a car for work (rather
than continually renting who knows what from week to week for my
occasional 200+ mile round trip commutes), I had a few choices to
make. I could have bought a Toyota Echo, which is a nice vehicle
with good mileage. I probably would have been happy with that
choice, but instead I chose to spend what I had on a used Prius. It
cost me about $1.5k more to go with the Prius. That $2k was a lot of
money, but I've made well over $1,200 of that back since buying the
vehicle in gas savings. If you assume gas has consistently been at
$2/gallon, and you figure out the difference between the average
50mpg that the Prius gets and the 40mpg that the Echo gets, that's
what it boils down to. Of course, gas has been a lot -more- than
that so I've probably made that money back and then some, and the
average Prius mileage is closer to 52mpg, except when I forget to
keep the tires inflated.

Of course the deciding issue for me wasn't MPG. It was emissions.

I bring this up not to get into economic details or to chide people
who haven't made the same choice, but to focus on the idea that
making choices that are better for our world and our environment are
somehow difficult. They're only difficult if you focus on the
short-term. They're only difficult if you buy into the notion that
environmentally sound choices somehow come at a cost.

And that depends on how you define "cost." If I have to travel
throughout the state for my work, and the nature of that work means
that I'm usually doing this alone, what am I doing to harm the world
around me in doing so? How do I define the cost of the toxins I emit
into the air? How do I define the cost of the extraction and
refinement of the fuel I use?

For me, the Prius is the bare minimum: it's what I can afford, but
not what I truly want. I want a car that runs on a combination of
electric and biodiesel. I want a vehicle which, when available,
makes use of the power of the sun to recharge itself. And I want
that to be the standard. I want 50mpg to be the -minimum- road
standard, not one of the best mileage rates available.

So back to composting... it's impossible to be seriously into
composting and not pay attention to the interaction between life,
death, pollution, sewage, landfills, disease and soil. And yet, as
a planet, I don't see how that many of us pay much attention at all
into what we put into the ground. For most of us, trash is merely
something we put away and it goes to a place where we don't have to
worry about it any longer. It's not. Every chemical, every toxin,
every pesticide, every disease, we throw away goes somewhere.
Landfill chemicals filter into the water. That water spreads into
the rivers, lakes and oceans.

I don't know where to go with this exactly except to say that
everything I've decided to do to change things is a starting point,
but I'm just doing it on a local and personal level. This is
something which needs to be accomplished on community, statewide,
national and global levels.

Sunday, October 22

That was kind of fun

When the Martha Rainville stolen ideas thing broke a few weeks ago, I
got a call from Gorty, a producer of Brattleboro's local WKVT talk
programming asking if I'd come in for an interview. I have to say, I
just didn't think I had that much to say, especially not to fill an
hour. But, I eventually decided that it might be fun to go ahead and
do it.

I'm glad I did. It was actually nice and relaxing. I'll have audio
of the show sometime next week.

Friday, October 20

Friday Bird Blogging: Falcons

Last weekend was a particularly nice treat for me. Not only did I get to see all three of our regional falcons (Peregrine, Kestrel and Merlin), but I got excellent pictures of all three. I've had acceptable pictures of a peregrine (upper left) before, but never quite like this. The kestrel (upper right) flew directly overhead. The merlin (bottom) was just hanging out in a tree for hours. It let me get right beneath it and rattle off 40+ shots without even seeming to care.

The Peregrine picture was taken at Parker River Wildlife Refuge, in Plum Island, MA. We got to watch it fly by and hunt for a time, fly off, get chased away by a Harrier, come back and hunt some more before flying off.

The Kestrel and Merlin were both at Lighthouse Point, a major migration route in East Haven, CT.

More Trouble for Martha.

On Martha Rainville's web site, you can find the following statement:
Former Rep. John Freidin, D-New Haven, also spoke highly of her when he first nominated her for election. “Martha Rainville’s record is one of optimism, creativity, initiative, determination and strength”, said Freidin.
(source: http://www.martharainville.com/meetMartha.htm)

In a letter to the editor in today's Rutland Herald, you can find this statement from John Freidin:
Nine and a half years years ago, I nominated Martha Rainville to be adjutant general. While I have no regrets that I did so, I was flabbergasted to learn that Ms. Rainville is using a quote from that speech on her Web site to bolster her candidacy for Congress.
Note exactly what he's saying here: he nominated her to be adjutant general. What does Martha's web site claim? It refers to when he "nominated her for election." When did this nomination take place? Nine years ago.

Perhaps if I ever run for office I should quote from the letters of recommendation I got for graduate school. They were very complimentary and highlight some of my better qualities.

That's the ethical lapse, but there's a political problem it creates for Martha. Freidin continues:
Although she served nine years as adjutant general, Ms. Rainville is not someone I would recommend for the far more challenging job of representing Vermont in Congress. In particular, I have been struck by her unwillingness or inability to take a stand — on Iraq, global warming, health care reform, federal tax cuts that have helped millionaires — or even whom she favors to lead the next Congress. Denny Hastert?

I enthusiastically support Peter Welch for Congress. He understands the issues and has repeatedly had the courage to tell Vermonters where he stands. Peter has grappled with public policy for years as a state senator, president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, and Democratic candidate for governor in 1990. At this critical time, Vermont needs Peter Welch as its representative in Congress. We do not need someone who neither speaks clearly on the issues nor has the courtesy to ask permission before using a quote from someone she has not spoken to in nearly 10 years.
I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, October 17

A Lord of the Rings Contest



Salon.com is reporting that Rick Santorum just made a Lord of the Rings reference during an interview with the Bucks County Courier Times.

This inspired me to create a contest. I will give $50 (Paypal only) to the first person to successfully get a mainstream senate or house candidate (i.e., Democrat, Republican, Sanders or Lieberman) or any Vermont statewide office candidate from the Democratic, Republican or Progressive party, to use a metaphor which includes references to Gimli, Legolas and Samwise Gamgee. There must be evidence of your success which can be linked from this blog, and it must come from a reputable news source. You must post your evidence of this heroic deed in the comments section of this post. This is first-come, first-serve-- first person to prove this deed wins and this is a one-time offer.

If you prefer, you can have me donate the $50 to the candidate of your choice (hint: this might be a way to get your targeted candidate to do the deed). This contest officially ends at 5pm on Halloween.

Conservatives Eating Their Own

This hasn't made a lot of news, but it's just surreal enough to post. The American Family Association (an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-sanity, organization) is, apparently, having a bit of trouble with Condi Rice.

You see, Condi recently swore an openly gay man in as global AIDS coordinator, and referred to his partner's mother as his "mother-in-law." Now, I think Rice is a shill for the Bush administration's absurdly misguided (and lethal) foreign policy, and completely incompetent as Secretary of State. In this specific case, however, I was impressed. It takes more awareness than I gave her credit for to be that accepting.

The American Family Association, on the other hand, is sort of freaking out:
"So, for her to treat his partner like a spouse and treat the partner's mother as a mother-in-law, which implies a marriage between the two partners, is a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act," the FRC spokesman states.
Really?

So the Defense of Marriage act is not simply about protecting heterosexuals from having to share the their special privileges with us scary queers, but it's about what people get to call our relationships in conversation as well?

Well isn't that special?

Monday, October 16

Wow

I don't know if any of the rest of you caught the Connecticut Senate
Debate that aired this afternoon, but it was quite unexpected.
Schlessinger did a lot of damage, and not to Lamont. His attacks on
Lamont were exactly the same as Lieberman's-- no real harm to Lamont,
but he launched the exact same attacks on Lieberman and I think
that's going to hurt Lieberman's conservative base.

Schlessinger was respectful, but strong-willed, and nothing like the
candidate we'd been led to think he was. I wouldn't vote for him;
he's an avowed conservative, but from a rhetoric and charisma
standpoint, he clearly won this debate. Lamont came across as
acceptable, but not spectacular, and Lieberman came across as a fool.

Lamont, for his part, focused almost entirely on Lieberman, which
made perfect sense. There's no reason for him to go after
Schlessinger. Schlessinger looking good -improves- Lamont's position.

Lieberman just fell back on the same crap he's been pulling all
along: complaining about attacks by attacking Lamont. I don't think
he was expecting Schlessinger to come across so well and it seems to
have thrown him for a loop. The next debates should be interesting,
and I can't wait to see the post-debate polls. Lieberman's at his
worst when he feels his position is threatened, and if the polls
tighten up due to Schlessinger's performance, the next debate could
do Lieberman real harm.

Friday, October 13

Friday Bird Blogging: White-Throated Sparrow

It's clearly Fall in Vermont, as demonstrated by the return of the white-throated sparrows:





This one was quite close by, and obliging enough to hang around for a few minutes while we were observing at Herrick's Cove; along with a flock of them was a much rarer bird, the Rufous-sided towhee. On that same day, down in Brattleboro, we spotted a Yellow-Rumped warbler.

Seasons are changing, changing, changing.

Wednesday, October 11

Rainville Robo-Call?

We've received robocalls from candidates in the past, so they're not
a major surprise. We expect them from left-wing candidates because
we've signed up to support them in the past. We don't expect them
from right-wing candidates because we never offered them our names or
contact information. But still, we get unsolicited contact from
Tarant's campaign as well as Rainville's from time to time. It's
annoying, but we don't raise a fuss over it because it's expected
during campaigns.

This, however, is a bit different: for the past few weeks, we've been
getting hangup calls from the caller I.D. # "000-000-0000"

No one ever left a message on those numbers, until tonight.
Tonight's message was a robo call explaining how Martha Rainville was
the best candidate for Vermont, etc.

Now, I expect to get calls sometimes from unlisted numbers. The
"000-000-0000" item, however, is different. It means that software
is being used to actively fake the phone number.

To be clear: I'm not sure where this call came from. The robospeaker
didn't identify himself and there was no indication of who sponsored
the call. Clearly, the anonymous caller supporting Rainville is
enough of a coward that he doesn't want to be identified or reached.

I'd like to know if Rainville's campaign has anything to do with
these harassing phone calls and, if not, who is behind them.

Monday, October 9

I Wish I'd Voted for Jeffords, just once

Peter Freyne's blog has a great story on Jeffords and Rainville.

The quick summary: the NRCC has an ad for Rainville which features a picture of Jeffords. Jeffords tells them, in short, knock it off; I didn't want to be involved in this election, but since you decided to appropriate my image for partisan purposes, I'll say openly what I've said in private: I don't want your candidate to win. Peter Welch is a better choice for Vermont and for the future.

I voted against Jeffords the first time I was eligible to vote in Vermont. I liked the guy, but I wasn't about to support a Republican for any Senate seat. I'm not sorry about my vote, but if I knew then what I knew now, I'd have voted for him in a heartbeat.

Political Vandalism

I noticed this weekend that quite a few of the "Bernie for Senate"
signs in the area have Martha Rainville bumper stickers on top of
them. While I find it plausible that people would support both
Sanders and Rainville, I somehow doubt that's what's going on here.

What's more likely is that someone supporting Rainville is doing
something slimy: vandalizing Bernie signs which can't be easily
replaced in order to create the illusion that a widely popular Senate
candidate is supported by the same people who support a
not-so-popular house candidate.

Martha Rainville, if she wants to support the notions and ideals of a
clean campaign, needs to put a stop to this immediately. She needs
to announce to her supporters that they need to stop it and that
running a clean campaign doesn't just mean for her, but for everyone
who supports her as well.

Saturday, October 7

Why a Republican?

I'm looking forward to Bernie becoming the next Senator from the
great Green Mountain State; it seems a good continuation of Jeffords'
legacy (though clearly quite a different approach).

Here's what I don't get: in this political climate, with this
particular administration in charge, why would anyone run for
Bernie's old seat as a Republican? If Rainville had chosen to run as
an independent instead, she'd actually have had a serious shot at
this.

I've voted for Republicans in the past, but there's no way I'm going
to vote for anyone who willingly chooses to work under that party's
label in this cycle.

Friday, October 6

Friday Bird Blogging

Work sometimes takes me all over the state of Vermont, which means that on occasion I get to stop by nice birding areas. Thursday night, at Dead Creek (off rte 17, Northwest of Middlebury), I got an amazing look at a pair of black-crowned night herons. Here's one of them:




Okay, this is ridiculous

Does this sound familiar?

From http://www.martharainville.com/articles/budget/accessFedBudget.htm:
We need maximum transparency for government. There should be no secrets unless it involves critical aspects of National Security. Every earmark, every grant, every contract should be online so the public can get access to it
If it sounds familiar, it's because it's the exact same passage, unchanged, that I found on Sunday night that was stolen from the PBS show NOW. Just in case she takes it down, a screenshot:


This is just getting silly.

Thursday, October 5

NOW it's down

Apparently, someone's paying attention. NOW we get the 404 error:


Not Found
The requested URL /issues/issuesTxt.htm was not found on this server.

Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Apache/1.3.36 Server at www.martharainville.com Port 80


Martha, you get a break, because I'm busy tonight. But just in case, double-check your site again. I'll be rechecking tomorrow morning.

"We are reworking the wording of our issues" redux

Okay, so Martha's site is now back up again, and she's fixed all the stolen language problems, right?

Not so much as you might think:

http://www.martharainville.com/issues/issuesTxt.htm::
I also support making health insurance portable. Too often when people switch jobs their health insurance isn't portable, forcing them to change doctors and coverage or lose it entirely.
http://www.rickodonnell.com/healthcare.html:
People switch jobs but their health insurance isn't portable, forcing
them to change doctors and coverage or lose it entirely.
As with before, I kept a copy of the site.

The Greater Internet Culture (agreement)

Odum notes:
At the very least, you have to admit that the greater internet culture enabled your great work. Without search engines, the research would likely have been too much work. Without email, it may not have been as timely.
I fully admit this. There is no way I would have even thought to do this if it were something time consuming or complicated. I think the internet played a very valuable role in all this. And I think blogs did as well. I just don't think this blog did, because (frankly) until this blog got all sorts of media attention, I don't think any of the people now talking about it even knew it existed.

From a strictly personal, standpoint, I think I should have posted it on my website because then it would have been linked to the music I have for sale :).

Wednesday, October 4

A few Rainville updates

I've been on the road most of today; when I checked this afternoon, Rainville's whole site was finally taken down.

The reformer has a really nice editorial about the problems the stolen ideas incident created.

But now, something seems ready to blow the whole stolen ideas concept out of the water. Peter Freyne's print column has a broad story about the Vermont political scene which suggests a fairly major problem during Rainville's tenure as head of the VT National Guard. Per Peter:
As for the charge she covered up an internal Guard pornography probe — she denied it. “That’s completely untrue,” said the Vermont congressional hopeful. “I had a relatively short incident that I dealt with immediately,” said Rainville, “and since then some other stuff has developed that Mike is having to deal with. This is not something that either one of us would take lightly.”
I'm thinking that this isn't a week Rainville is going to be looking back on with pleasure.

So why isn't Ranville's website really down?

Martha Rainville does claim that her website's been taken down, but that's not accurate: you can still get to all the stolen material. The MAIN page indicates that the site is down, but all the other pages are still there. Take, for example, this page. Right there and available to anybody.

The Meta-Story

Much of the focus on the whole Rainville story has become more about me and how I uncovered it, and so much of it has been about the power of blogs to influence the mainstream media.

I don't think it should be about any of those things. Here's why:

I'm concerned by the number of people who are impressed by my amazing Google skills. This is not a talent. It's not even a skill. It's just copying some words from text posted on the web, putting them into Google and seeing what happens. Try it yourself. Try it with the phrase "The squares marked A and B are the same shade of gray" and you'll see that I took those exact words from a very cool site about an optical illusion.

This isn't about the blogosphere rising up to get the mainstream media to focus on something. I found this information on Sunday night. I posted it on the blog because it was easiest (and because there's a comments field, in case anyone wanted to respond), but I could just as easily have placed it on any one of my websites. If I'd done this, would anyone be framing it in terms of blogs or the blogosphere?

This wasn't picked up by mainstream media because I posted it on my blog. This was picked up by mainstream media because I sent an e-mail out to everyone I could think of who worked for a paper with which I was familiar, and used the blog as an information archive. Mainstream media was all over the story more quickly than most bloggers, and the one blogger who was on it quickly (Peter Freyne) got the story because he was affiliated with Seven Days, one of the newspapers to which I sent the original story.

Blogs are very important, and I think they've provided some valuable resources, but this particular story is not about blogs, nor is it about me. It's about a candidate with manufactured talking points who only seems to have a surface understanding of the ideas she's using to pretend her independence.

Tuesday, October 3

"We are reworking the wording of our issues"

The phrase "we are reworking the wording of our issues" suggests to me that somewhere, the point got lost.

This isn't just about stealing words from other people. No question: that's bad. But what does it mean when a candidate has to steal policy statements from other politicians?

I'm not naive. I've been watching politics for long enough that I know not to expect anything new or original from politicians. I know that people write speeches for them and that not everything they say is likely to be their own words.

But I still think this is different. This is not merely echoing talking points. This is letting other people write your policy agenda and signing off on ideas which you may not even understand or comprehend.

The Fallout

Busy day yesterday: all the following are in today's news on Rainville's campaign:
They're mostly accurate, too. The one error was from the Rutland Herald which said, about me, "she produces Rep. Bernard Sanders’ Internet broadcasts." I don't produce anything. I just manage the podcast feed. Every once in awhile, someone from the Sanders' campaign sends me a URL for a Sanders speech, and I add it to the podcast. Minor detail but, as someone who produces her own music, I see a big difference between producing broadcasts and just adding URLs to an internet feed. One takes talent. A trained monkey could do the other.

Monday, October 2

And one more update...

From Peter Freyne again:
Rainville Website Shut Down & Staffer Fired

GOP Congressional hopeful Martha Rainville told yours truly Monday afternoon she has fired campaign staffer/researcher Christopher Stewart following an internal investigation of the plagiarism scandal involving Rainville’s website.

“I am incredibly disappointed in him and we have shut down the website,” Rainville told us. “We are reworking the wording of our issues and we are continuing an internal investigation to see if there were any other cases of this or if anybody else was aware of it.”

Candidate Rainville said she was not aware of the plagiarism until the matter was brought to her attention on Monday morning. She called it “very disappointing news.” Said Rainville, “It’s not acceptable and we are not going to condone it in any way.”
Would it be wrong for me to ask if she said those words herself, or if someone wrote them for her?

An update from Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne's blog (Freyne Land) has a wonderful bit on this:

Just before the conference call, we did reach Rainville for Congress spokesman Brendan McKenna. He said he was online checking it out as we spoke.

"Martha Rainville," he told us, "has always taken good ideas because they're good ideas, without regard to the source."

Press Secretary McKenna (nice guy, formerly with the Rutland Herald), corrected himself and asked if he could replace the word "taken" with "considered."

Politics in the Pulpit

The "House of Worship Freedom of Speech Restoration Act." That sounds empowering. Allow those poor, innocent churches freedom of speech! This bill, introduced in 2005 by Rep. Walter Jones, would allow churches to endorse political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.

Well, it's back, this time sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe as the Religious Freedom Act of 2006, described as, "A bill to protect freedom of speech exercisable by houses of worship or mediation and affiliated organizations."

Unfortunately, the Library of Congress doesn't have the full text yet (it was introduced on 9/27/06), but it's S.3957, and in the Senate Finance Committee.

The problem is probably best expressed by this quote on the 2005 bill:

The Rev. Chan Chandler is an enthusiastic supporter of President Bush and wanted to make sure his North Carolina parishioners knew it. If they didn't agree with him -- and at least nine of them fit that category -- they were forced out, some congregants said.

Chandler himself resigned last week, a symbol to his detractors of the dangers of partisan preaching inside a church. But to supporters of a congressional bill that would "take the muzzle off" religious leaders, Chandler should have been free to issue endorsements from the bully pulpit -- if not bully the flock into leaving -- without endangering his Baptist church's tax-exempt status.


It's not just conservative churches that run afoul of the law; a church in California nearly lost its tax-exempt status because the minister gave an anti-war sermon:

The dispute at the 3,500-member Episcopal church centers on a sermon titled "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush," delivered by a guest pastor. Though he did not endorse a candidate, he said Jesus would condemn the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.
The United Church of Christ's television ads were also refused on "political" grounds:

“After screening the spot … we must decline as our guidelines state we will not accept religious advertisements that take a position on controversial issues or may be deemed as disparaging to another religion,” according to a company statement on March 31.

Frankly, the law isn't frequently enforced as it is; a google of "church tax-exempt politics" fails to turn up large numbers of oppressed churches.
According to the IRS, the only church ever to be stripped of its tax-exempt status for partisan politicking was the Church at Pierce Creek near Binghamton, N.Y., which was penalized in 1995 after running full-page ads against President Clinton in USA Today and The Washington Times in 1992 during election season.
There's also no reason why churches should be held to different standards when other tax-exempt organizations (501(c)(3)) aren't allowed to endorse political candidates, either.

I also wonder how consistently this law would be enforced in the current political climate.

That was Quick

Last night, I made copies of the stolen parts of Martha Rainville's website. Apparently this was a good choice, because now when I go to her website, it reads.

Currently Under Construction

We will be back up as soon as possible!

Sunday, October 1

Rainville's Stolen Ideas

While trying to find polling information about the Welch / Rainville race (Vermont race for the house seat left open by Bernie Sanders) I discovered something interesting:

From Martha Rainville's web site, there is the following statement on energy:
"Briefly, I strongly believe that our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks and threatening our children's future."
source: http://www.martharainville.com/issues/issuesTxt.htm

In May, Hillary Clinton delivered the a speech which includes the following comment:
"Our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values and threatening our children's future. "
Source: http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=255982


Martha Rainville on easy access to the federal budget:
“We need maximum transparency for government. There should be no secrets unless it involves critical aspects of National Security. Every earmark, every grant, every contract should be online so the public can get access to it,” Rainville said. “Letting the American people see exactly how their money is being spent is one of the best ways to control spending and ensure accountability.”
Source: http://www.martharainville.com/articles/budget/accessFedBudget.htm

This was dated September 8th. On August 25th, there was an interview on the PBS show NOW, which included a segment with Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN), which includes this statement by Cooper:

"Absolutely. I think we need maximum transparency for government. There should be no secrets unless it involves certain parts of national security. Every earmark, every grant, every contract should be online so that the public can get access to it. But the key principle is this: sunshine is the best disinfectant. And we need a lot of disinfectant in Washington today."
Source: http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/234.html

Here's the best part about this: notice the grammatical error in Cooper's original comment: "There should be no secrets unless it involves certain parts of national security." (the noun is singular but the verb is plural). Rainville's statement makes that exact same grammatical error-- it's not just a rendering of the same idea. It's cut and pasted from the statment by Cooper.

Earlier I found these other items on Rainville's health insurance policy:

Press release from Martha Rainville, dated September 17th:
“Our health insurance system is in a crisis,” Rainville said. “Employers face spiraling cost increases for employee health insurance, forcing them to reduce coverage or drop it completely. People switch jobs but their insurance isn’t portable, forcing them to change doctors and coverage or lose it entirely The uninsured show up in our nation’s emergency rooms and leave unpaid bills, so hospitals cost-shift the added burden onto those with insurance. We see a similar problem with Medicare reimbursements that are far below the cost of care.”
Source: http://www.martharainville.com/articles/MedicareReform/healthCareReform.htm

Here's an excerpt from Rick O'Donnell, who's running for congress in Colorado, dated July, 2006:
America's health insurance system is in crisis. More than 10% of 7thCongressional District residents - nearly 150,000 people - lack healthinsurance. Employers face spiraling cost increases for employee health insurance, forcing them to reduce coverage or drop it all together. People switch jobs but their health insurance isn't portable, forcing them to change doctors and coverage or lose it entirely. The uninsured show up in emergency rooms and leave unpaid bills, so hospitals cost-shift by charging more to those with insurance.
Source http://www.rickodonnell.com/healthcare.html

Monday, September 11

Hawk Watching

I spent four days out of the last week up on Putney Mountain, squinting at hawks, examining their details and features, taking pictures as best as I could, and enjoying the cool fresh air.

The passion I have for birdwatching is a newfound one and I'm not sure where it came from, but it's a serious thrill for me. I love the work I do, and I'm good at it, but more and more it's becoming one of those things that's not as interesting to me as the play I do outside of work.

And in the meantime, I'm not keeping up with politics, ignoring a lot of what's going on outside of this particularly narrow focus of interest, finding it increasingly difficult to read about the apparently fraudulent ABC 9/11 film, about the elections, etc.

Now, I know all of this is extremely important. I'm actually excited about the prospects in November, for the first time in a long time. But at the same time, I'm also reluctant to care too much because I've been burned so many times.

But really, this is important. It's not just about the Bush administration and it's absurdly wrongheaded policies. It's also about the relatively narrow window we're in as a planet to correct the crash course we're on with our own atmosphere if we don't do something soon to find cleaner fuel sources and resources.

Now, I'm not convinced the Democrats will get it right. I think they may screw it up as well, but I can't imagine them screwing it up in as monumentally horrific fashion as the Republicans. Obviously, getting these ideological neanderthals out of the White House is necessary as well, but at least with Democrats in control of one house of Congress, we can slow down the bleeding a little.

Monday, April 17

It's been awhile

As may be obvious, I took a break for a time. I'm not sure if I have the time or interest in continuing this blog; things have taken a major turn for me, personally, in the last few months. The last time I posted here was just days before we lost one of our beloved cats to an aggressive lung cancer, and more recently we've been dealing with major health issues on the part of Melissa, our one remaining household pet.

I still care about everything I've posted about here, quite deeply, and I'm still politically active and involved. Our union agitating is going quite well, and Vermont politics are, as usual, surreal. I just don't know if I have the interest in maintaining this specific venue any longer.

Feel free to weigh in.

Saturday, February 4

Never let it be said...

that conservative Christians are merely opposed to the encroachment of homosexuality on their lives. The personal activities of an actor, apparently, is enough to condemn anything connected with them. Check out this article (excerpt below):
"End of the Spear," a movie that depicts the slaying of Protestant missionaries in South America, is provoking a side debate among some religious conservatives because lead actor Chad Allen has advocated for gay causes.

Wednesday, February 1

Complete and Total Crap

Check out this exerpt from AP's review of the State of the Union Address:
Figures on the sidelines gave a look at the nation's sharp divide over Iraq. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier whose summertime vigil near Bush's Texas ranch reinvigorated the anti-war movement, was arrested and escorted from the visitors section of the House gallery after causing a disruption just before the president spoke.
Now read the exerpt from this AP report:
Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt with an anti-war slogan to the speech and covered it up until she took her seat. Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond, the spokeswoman said.
Flip-floppers.

--julie

Tuesday, January 31

Coretta Scott King: Dead at 78

It seems somehow symbolic that her death coincides with putting Samuel Alito onto the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, January 25

Let's Draw a Comparison, Shall We?

Take a look at this article, which states that:
Hundreds of officers and health care professionals have been discharged in the past 10 years under the Pentagon's policy on gays, a loss that while relatively small in numbers involves troops who are expensive for the military to educate and train.

The 350 or so affected are a tiny fraction of the 1.4 million members of the uniformed services and about 3.5 percent of the more than 10,000 people discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy since its inception in 1994.

But many were military school graduates or service members who went to medical school at the taxpayers' expense — troops not as easily replaced by a nation at war that is struggling to fill its enlistment quotas.
Now let's look at this one:
Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.
So here is the question: how much longer can this administration pretend that it cares about our troops? Is it worth getting rid of thousands of soldiers for no valid reason in order to satisfy bigots? Does this complete and utter idiocy do anything but damage the military?

Belafante on Blitzer

Check out this transcript of Belfante on the situation room. Notice the part where Blitzer tries to accuse Belafante of blaming Jews for the holocaust.

I think Blitzer is losing his mind.

[...]
BELAFONTE: Well, Mr. Blitzer, let me say this to you, perhaps, just perhaps had the Jews of Germany and people spoken out much earlier and had resisted the tyranny that was on the horizon, perhaps we would never have had...

BLITZER: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, are you blaming the Jews of Germany for what Hitler did to them?
[...]

Sunday, January 22

Gay Families Celebrating Easter? The Horrors!

MSNBC has this report, which talks about how same-sex couples are trying to sign up to be part of the White House Easter Egg Roll:
Three months before the annual Easter egg roll at the White House, the usually festive event is already taking on a divisive edge because of plans by gay- and lesbian-led families to turn out en masse in hopes of raising their public profile.
This has, apparently, made some right-wingnuts angry:
On conservative chat rooms, some critics of Family Pride suggested the White House could make the egg roll an invitation-only event, as it did in 2003 when attendance was limited to military families. Other critics said conservatives should mobilize to outnumber gay families at the egg roll.
My favorite part of that paragraph is the last sentence. Let's see it again: "Other critics said conservatives should mobilize to outnumber gay families at the egg roll."

Is this a challenge of some sort? Outnumbering gay families? That's sure to show them!

Will it somehow demonstrate that gay families are, in fact, a minority?

Perhaps it's just their way of demonstrating their hatred without actually calling anyone "queer."

Tuesday, January 17

Thomas, Scalia & Roberts: Activist Judges

There is no logical fashion to interpret the Federal Controlled Substances in the fashion that Ashcroft interpreted it. This was pure fabrication on Ashcroft's part. Thomas, Scalia and Roberts, however, chose to try to create a law out of nothing in today's Supreme Court decision.

This is why we know that this nonsense about "Activist Judges" is exactly that: nonsense. Complete and utter crap.

Saturday, January 14

Ah, those late night production sessions

Not a spoof!

At least this sorry episode produces one smile.

Forecast: Pathetic and Inept, with Occasional Flurries of Competence

Watching the Alito hearings is just disappointing. Even when they have a good question, Democrats can't seem to get it together enough to make the point in a way that the public can understand.

So we're really down to the question of whether they can pull something out of their hat that they can use to justify a filibuster against Alito's confirmation, and even though, to me, they have every possible reason to filibuster him, they're not selling it right and some key (read: old-time) Democrats are abdicating their responsibilities on it. (this is one reason I've suppored a supermajority requirement for federal judiciary confirmations: not 50%, but 60%; with such a requirement, Bush would be forced to listen to Democrats, even as a minority party).

Alito's going to help overturn Roe v. Wade, not through a single vote, but through a slow series of whittling away at it, whch has been the plan all along. The intelligent anti-choice folks know that this is the only way to achieve it without losing at the ballot box.

I like seeing what Reid's been doing with respect to Delay and corruption in Congress, but that pales in comparason to the Supreme Court we're about to get. If the Democrats don't make this about wiretapping and Alito's history of deference to the executive branch, we're all screwed.

Friday, January 13

Someone's had too much coffee

Remember that very powerful bomb that was planted in a Starbuck's restroom by a terrorist the other day? They had to evacuate neighbors from their apartments?

Police initially said the device found in the store's bathroom Monday was powerful enough to seriously injure or kill someone if it had exploded. Police evacuated about 100 people from the Starbucks and apartments above it.

Turns out the "terrorist" was a homeless man and the "powerful bomb" was a flashlight with dead batteries.

I get being nervous about terrorism. I really do. But whatever happened to probable cause? Come on - flipping out over a flashlight? Making announcements to the press about the power of a bomb when you haven't yet verified that it even is a bomb? Is it still September 12?

If you're worried about bombs in coffee shops, then please be vigilant. Please be safe. But please don't be ridiculous!