Monday, June 29, 2009

Red, White, and Bristol

Here in Bristol, RI, the single biggest holiday of the year isn't Christmas or Thanksgiving, not Easter or Halloween. It's the 4th of July, hands down.

Dubbed "America's Most Patriotic Town," Bristol and its main streets have played host to a July 4th parade in each of the last 223 years with number 224 only days away. In 1976, a reported 250,000 people were on hand to watch it and the crowds routinely break the 100,000 mark. Not bad for a little shoreside town of 24,000 people in a state with roughly 1,000,000 residents.

However, the parade is merely the culmination of the festivities with free concerts every night for the two weeks leading up the big day. You've got the Miss Fourth of July Pageant and the Little Miss Fourth of July Pageant. The town's fire brigades face off against each other in games of skill and competitive hoses. You get a vintage baseball game, an orange crate derby, a week-long carnival on the town commons, the July 4th Ball, a patriotic speaker, and a U.S. Navy vessel anchoring off the town, open for tours, and with the officers and crew joining the parade festivities.

The big finale (excepting the parade of course) is the July 3rd competition among marching bands and drum corps from across North America on the high school football field followed by the grand fireworks display over Bristol harbor. While it's a pleasant walk into town via the bike path near our house, we typically enjoy the fireworks from the comfort of our deck, watching the big chrysanthemum explosions over the tree line, the booms shaking our house, and our cats crouched by the screen door really hoping that mom and dad will come inside and make the loud noises stop.

The parade itself has taken on legendary proportions with generations of families always racing to claim the same spot along the route year after year. Property values are spiked for homes along the parade route, and the police patrol to prevent anyone from claiming a spot on the grass or sidewalk before 5:30 AM. The parade route itself is roughly 2 and a half miles, winding down by the harbor and then up through the quaint main street, past the Herreshoff Museum (a must for boat lovers) and then back around to the Town Commons. It's easy to follow, marked as it is by red, white and blue street stripes authorized by a special act of the U.S. Congress. Several years ago, parade marchers frequently passed out due to the high temperatures and in other years, costumes were distinctly sodden due to the rain but the parade continued on.

Broadcast live across the region, the parade is must for politicians, celebrities, cultural groups and more. It's considered the culmination of a Bristol resident's career to be selected to serve as the Chief Marshal. A Johnny Depp/Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator was a featured marcher last year (well, rider actually as he swayed and waved from the back of a truck with pirate-themed decorations). The governor was roundly booed last year as Bristolians (or Bristolites depending on who you're talking to) clearly weren't happy with his budget cutting plans.

The parade makes for strange bedfellows or at least brings them into close proximity -- radio show host, frequently disgraced former mayor of Providence, and felon Buddy Cianci walked in the parade last year only a few months after being released from federal prison. The parade route brought him past the home of Raymond DeLeo, the man Cianci assaulted with his hands, a fireplace log, an ashtray, and a lit cigarette in 1983, one of the events that led to Cianci's first ouster from his mayoral seat. Cianci just kept walking, never looking at DeLeo's home, DeLeo, or all of his guests who were celebrating on the lawn. Of course, in true Rhode Island fashion, Cianci was treated like a folk hero by many people along the rest of the length of the parade route.

But those moments of political or celebrity sniping are just icing on the cake. Of course there are always little side stories but the true wonder is the parade itself and how the town goes all out. Flags and bunting decorate homes throughout the town. Last year, as my aunt wheeled my then 92-year old grandmother down the hill from the nursing home to see the parade, military personnel, out-of-towners, and Bristol residents all helped get Babci safely and comfortably over the bumps and the grass, and down the street, and to the start of the parade route where she would be able to wave at the marchers, say hello to the kids, and just enjoy the day.

Everyone seems to get involved somehow, even if it's just walking into town on the 4th, finding a spot to sit, and cheering on the parade participants. And oh how to people cheer. It's easy to scoff at the rah rah patriotism that is used to sell liquor or used cars this time of year but on July 4th in Bristol, as veterans from all of America's conflicts march proudly by, as students from around the country march and play music and dance in the streets, as groups large and small display their pride in their heritage and in their country, it's impossible not to smile and cheer and clap and maybe even tear up a bit. Sure, you might not always agree with the people in elected office but when you see recent events in Iran and elsewhere, you realize how truly remarkable our nation is and there's no place better to celebrate it and our Independence Day than here in America's Most Patriotic Town.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Freshman year of high school I took a typing class for the first quarter of the year. I hated it. We sat row upon row with electric typewriters in front of us and typed endless exercises designed to force our fingers through every permutation of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitalization. The stated intent was to teach us to become touch typists, never needing to look at the keyboard and capable of 60 words per minute.

I was horrible at it.

I learned the finger placement and the fingering sequence but it was a nightmare. It just didn't make sense. The muscle memory for all 10 fingers never established itself in my brain. Sure, I got to the point where I was pretty fast but not when I was 10-finger touch typing. I found myself knowing where every key was and capable of hitting them (mostly) unerringly without looking but only while using 2-4 fingers.

Needless to say, that didn't go over too well with the teacher, an elderly battleaxe who I recall took great joy in pointing out our failures. If she'd been allowed to rap our knuckles with a wooden ruler, I think she would have carried two so she could whack two of us while simultaneously providing an object lesson on the need for coordination between both hands. And so I suffered through it for the first quarter of my freshman year hating the fact that my parents had recommended I take the elective.

It was a few years later that I found out why touch typing never made sense to me. It's because the keyboard didn't make sense. The QUERTY layout we've all been using was designed specifically to slow people down and prevent keyjams on old manual keyboard! Personally, I always thought that was cool when I was a kid and would try to see how many keys I could get jammed up at once on my dad's old green manual typewriter (sorry, Dad!).

You would think that with the advent of personal computers that can clearly keep up with even the fastest fingers on the planet the manner in which we actually type would evolve alongside. Obviously, as I sit here typing away on my Mac's QWERTY keyboard, that hasn't happened. Sure, there have been some alternatives proposed but nothing has managed to displace the venerable, frustrating QWERTY. Even efforts to slightly modify the layout result in howls of outrage. The simple fact that computer maker Lenovo is changing the height of the DELETE and ESCAPE keys is noteworthy enough to warrant an 800-word article in the Associated Press (and inspire this blog entry, in case you were wondering).

Now of course, I'm a professional writer and occasionally spend achingly long hours in front of my computer. My style of typing, while much faster than hunt-and-peck, certainly isn't 100 words per minute but I rattle along at a pretty good clip. Do I wish there was an easier way that would allow me to be faster? Sure. Do I want to force myself to learn touch typing or a new keyboard layout 26 years after I first tried? Nope. That old battleaxe at least drilled into my head where the keys were, even if my fingers were never where she expected them to be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keep the pants on, boys

What is it with GOP representatives, senators, and governors (especially those who called for Clinton's castration in l'affair Lewinsky) that they keep getting caught with their pants down?

At least SC Governor Mark Sanford added some originality this time around -- jetting off to Argentina (insert obligatory "don't cry for me, Argentina" joke here) and his wife apparently choosing not to go along with the "stoic wife standing tight lipped by her man" cliche.

I'm sure that an equal number of Democrats are cheating, too, but they aren't getting caught and even if they do, according to right-wing commentators, liberals are all free-loving commie horndogs so no one really cares.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eeeek! Keep that white coat away from me!

The AMA is investigating whether or not to do away with the classic white coat for doctors in hospitals due to concern that the garments might actually be a vector for infections among patients. Sounds like a double dose of success when it comes to getting the cost of health care under control -- you might reduce the number of infections and the cost to treat them while simultaneously cutting the wardrobe costs for doctors seeking to pay off their med school bills and malpractice insurance.

And why do they wear the white coats anyway? Here's an explanation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Be nice and share...a quick Kindle update

After submitting an inquiry to Amazon, I received a clarification on the sharing of Kindle books. It turns out that you are able to share books and other publications among as many as six Kindles provided that all of the Kindles are registered to the same account. That must be how I'm able to access and sync books between my Kindle and the Kindle app on my iPhone.

Of course, I mentioned this to Jennifer and immediately got the "yeah, uh huh, no way" face followed by "No, honey we are not buying another Kindle."

I know. I'm just saying that if we did...

How does this make sense? Guns and the Terror Watch List

From Saturday's New York Times:

People on the government’s terrorist watch list tried to buy guns nearly 1,000 times in the last five years, and federal authorities cleared the purchases 9 times out of 10 because they had no legal way to stop them, according to a new government report.

In one case, a person on the list was able to buy more than 50 pounds of explosives.

The new statistics, compiled in a report from the Government Accountability Office that is scheduled for public release next week, draw attention to an odd divergence in federal law: people placed on the government’s terrorist watch list can be stopped from getting on a plane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.

How exactly does this make sense?

Read the rest of the article.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I've become a Kindle addict

Just a quick update on life with my new Kindle...

I'm hooked.

I'm not getting rid of books by any means and there are definitely some items that I wouldn't read on the Kindle. This week, Farhad Manjoo at Slate offers a perfect example as he dissects why a Kindle, at least as it is currently configured, doesn't fit the newspaper reading model. Earlier this year, Jacob Weisberg, also of Slate, penned a fascinating column entitled "How the Kindle will change the world". When I read it, I could understand his premise -- a culture that reads electronically doesn't need to be any less literate than one that reads works printed on dead trees -- but in all honesty I had my doubts.

It wasn't so much about the electronic presentation of the words. I get probably 85% of my news from online sources now with the notable exceptions of the Sunday New York Times, the New Yorker, Newsweek (though I'm not sold on the new version, which feels a bit like a knockoff of "The Economist" to me) and my guilty pleasure, Entertainment Weekly. Instead my doubts centered around the idea of reading extended works on a screen. News articles on my computer monitor were not a problem but a novel? Really? Yup. Being given a Kindle and settling down to read using it has completely sold me on the idea.

Once I start reading a book on it, it doesn't seem to matter that I'm not physically turning pages. The text is crisp, I can adjust the size for given situations -- smaller type when lying in bed with the Kindle up close, larger type if it sitting a bit farther away on the kitchen table. It's comfortable to hold especially with the optional black leather cover (the second part of the birthday gift that landed the Kindle in my hands) and I definitely notice more often the hand cramps that can occur when keeping a book open now.

The gizmo is an ideal, one might say dangerous, means of addressing our need for immediate gratification. You finished a book and want another? Just download it and your one-click account at Amazon gets charged automatically and invisibly. If you want to avoid that easily bloated American Express bill, the Kindle is a great vehicle to revisit the classics. Many books in the public domain are "Kindle-ized" by volunteers and are now available for free or less than a dollar. As a result, I've enjoyed such favorites as "Beau Geste" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" for the first time in years while many others, including the complete works of Shakespeare, are waiting in the wings.

It's even extending beyond books. I recently renewed my subscription to The New Yorker's print edition. I'm wondering now if I should have instead gone with the Kindle edition that I found out about later - less expensive and more green. On the other hand, it wouldn't be well-suited to tearing out an article to hold on to for reference any more than a Kindle book lends itself to...well...being loaned or given to someone after you're done with it.

That issue aside, it's actually quite a joy to know I almost always have a book to read with me now, even if I'm not carrying my Kindle. Amazon conveniently offers a free app for the iPhone that allows you to order and read Kindle books. The value for me is that the iPhone app also synchronizes with the Kindle itself so if I have a bit of a break when eating lunch or while waiting for an appointment, I simply open the app on the phone and it brings me to the exact page I stopped on when last reading the Kindle. Admittedly, the screen is pretty small and I read quickly enough that my finger is swiping almost constantly to turn pages, but it is readable. Plus, when I get back to the Kindle, it then opens to the last page I read on the iPhone. Talk about convenience!

Is it a perfect product? Of course not. It is still early days yet and there are definitely things that I think need to be updated in future versions. For example:
  • God help you if you ever actually needed to type anything on it beyond a basic search in the Kindle store. The keyboard seems to fight you every step of the way.
  • Please add a touch screen! I'm so used to tapping and swiping on my iPhone that to have to shift to a 5-way controller/joystick feels like returning to the Stone Age. I don't necessarily need to swipe my finger to turn the page (though it's fine when using the Kindle app on the iPhone thanks to its smaller size). I'm OK with the "Next Page/Previous Page" buttons. I just leave my hands where they would be normally and a brief pressure from my thumb turns the page. However, it's a mild form of torture to have to use the controller to move up and down through the lists and menus.
  • WiFi! Where's my WiFi? We have barely adequate cell phone coverage at our home and the Kindle's WhisperNet doesn't always pick up the signal unless I go stand by an open door or window first. I'd much rather rely on WiFi when it's accessible.
  • Flat lists bad, nested lists good. Apparently, the Kindle 2 is capable of storing 1500 books. Anyone who tries to do that is nuts because you'll never find anything or get to it easily. The Kindle's filing structure for the books you have stored is a single flat list that stretches on for as many pages as you have books with three choices for organization - most recent first, by title, and by author. At some point, you're going to want to have the option to establish your own organizational system or have additional options (by genre, for example) with the choice to show the whole list or only certain subsets.
However, I'm not trying to type e-mails or other documents on the Kindle, the 5-way controller isn't used when you're actually reading a book (usually), downloads of new books happen in the background so the slower cell connection isn't a huge problem, and the ability to archive books on Amazon's servers means you don't actually need to have 1500 books stored on your Kindle. As a result, these are relatively minor elements in an otherwise addicting product.

Nope, the single biggest problem is that the books I want to have available on the Kindle often aren't and in ways that seem rather arbitrary. For example, the single most enjoyable fantasy series I've ever read is The Belgariad by David Eddings (that includes the second 5-book series, The Mallorean, as well). It's become comfort food of a sort, something to be revisited every few years like an old friend. However, only books 3-5 of the Belgariad are available for the Kindle. Where are books 1 and 2? And no Mallorean at all?

Like the Eddings books, the Harry Potter series seems to be one that would lend itself well to the Kindle, something you could recall from your archive for that brief break in a crazed day when you just need something fun and comforting to reread. We already own the Potter books in hardcover (bought at midnight on their original release dates), paperback (for actual reading because those 800-page hardbacks get heavy), and on CD (and then digitized for background noise via iPod on long, non-stop flights). I'd be willing to buy them again to have them accessible via my Kindle. Sure, I can click the "Tell the publisher you want to read this on the Kindle" link on Amazon but will they ever be available? Do I just have to check back from time to time?

In the original "Men In Black," Tommy Lee Jones shows Will Smith some of the alien technology on hand in MiB Headquarters. He points to a small gadget and says, "That's going to replace the CD. Looks like I'm going to have to buy The White Album again." I can sympathize. Amazon has come up with the perfect way to get more money out of me as I seek out those trusted literary friends and bring them along for a new ride.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taking 150 Steps

While "Walks in the Marsh" offers me a venue to write about sports, politics, movies, books, and more, I've come to the conclusion that the adoption journey that Jennifer and I are on is an entirely different beast. With that in mind, I've decided to move my observations about the journey into an entirely new blog, which I've named "150 Steps." Here's the URL:

I hope you'll come along for the journey...or at least visit once to find out what the hell the name means!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Eenie meenie miny moe...

How do you figure out which adoption agency is the one you want to work with?

When we were thinking about an international adoption, it seemed pretty straightforward -- we knew a number of people who had successfully adopted children from different countries. Plus, certain agencies specialize in certain countries. Therefore, we just needed to figure out the country we'd be interested in, talk to the people we knew who might have dealt with agencies supporting that country, and then interview a few agencies to decide who we wanted to work with to find a child for our family.

It got a bit more complicated when we shifted our view toward a domestic adoption. We only know one couple who adopted domestically (twice and very successfully) and they spoke very highly of their experience with their agency. However, my call to the agency revealed that we weren't going to be a good fit due to the agency's Board of Directors-mandated mission to place children in Christian households. With a non-practicing Jew and a never-practicing Catholic/Protestant/Unitarian/Episcopalian/who-knows-what making up our loving household, I think we'd have trouble qualifying. But hey, that's cool and no hard feelings. There are plenty of other agencies out there.

And there are. And that's the challenge. Because we simply need a Rhode Island-licensed agency to conduct the home study and help with paper work, we have the option to work with any agency in any state for the actual placement. However, a simple Google search for "domestic adoption agencies" reveals 2,200+ hits. Using one of the general adoption resource sites, we find 399 domestic agencies. How on earth do we choose? Part of me just wants to print out the list and just start throwing darts to see which ones I hit. I've held off on doing this as I'm not very good at darts so I might miss them all, which would bring our adoption journey to a confused halt.

We've started to talk to a few and it's been an eye-opening experience. Jennifer highlighted one such call in a recent "In the present moment mom" blog entry. Eventually we'll figure out which one to work with but while there will hopefully be some level of comfort and confidence in the agency, part of me feels like it will simply be the result of a wild-assed guess. Of course, while WAGs are fine from time to time, it's not exactly my preferred basis for adding a child to our family.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Delayed gratification

***Garden Update***

Nothing we planted or moved a few weeks ago appears to have died yet! Woo hoo!

Not only that, but the on-again, off-again rain has been absolutely brilliant, saving us from having to water and ensuring that everything is sufficiently moist to settle in and hopefully thrive.

Sure, there was the gratification at the end of Memorial Day Weekend as we stood by the gardens, aching. We'd done a ton of work and were largely finished. However, the real gratification is really beginning to happen now. The azalea out front exploded with white flowers (nary a green leaf in sight), the transplanted astilbes are settling in and sending up their stalks in preparation for some serious color, and the irises are all in bloom.

Jennifer is very big into irises. The birdbath was my choice.

OK, I'm getting into the irises, too

Plus, our backyard takes the prize again for apparently being an absolutely ideal spot for clematis of all shapes and colors.

Sedum, clematis, heather, and decorative grasses make our shed look like it belongs there

Clematis blooms bigger than my hand are spilling across the trellis in the corner

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: Justice in the Big Horns (The Walt Longmire Mysteries)

It's always a pleasure when a favorite author pens a new book. You find yourself waiting in anticipation for it, looking forward to the moment you get to crack it open and find out what your friends on the page are up to this time.

There aren't many authors who fit that particular bill for me -- Donna Leon and her wonderful Venetian mysteries; the prolific David Weber, creator of the Honor Harrington series; Jim Butcher and his Codex Alera; non-fiction author Bill Bryson; Arturo Perez Reverte, creator of Captain Alatriste among others, and Lee Child with his manly-man hero Jack Reacher.

Late last year, Craig Johnson and his Walt Longmire mysteries came to occupy that rarified space as well, which was great because his first four books were all out and I was able to cruise them quickly and with great pleasure. Johnson's mysteries are well structured and compelling, not relying on gimmicks or tricks, but instead on fleshed out characters, snappy dialogue, close observation of human nature, and a vivid landscape that is just as important as any person in the book.

Longmire, the maybe-retiring-in-a-few-years sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, isn't a supercop or a kick-butt guy like Jack Reacher. He's an older guy, a Vietnam vet, and a native of Wyoming. He grew up on a ranch, is a widower with one adult daughter, and a strong sense of justice that is served well by his skills as a steady methodical cop. More than that, he's an interesting person, something of a renaissance man without feeling forced (as Reacher can at times). This is a good thing as the mysteries are all in first person so if we were bored with Walt, we'd have a problem and not much reason to keep reading.

While the Longmire mysteries are well stocked with eccentric characters, it's his two primary sidekicks -- Henry Standing Bear and Victoria "Vic" Moretti -- who stand out. The Bear, aka The Cheyenne Nation, is Walt's oldest and best friend, a fellow vet, and his guide in the Native American reservations and communities. Moretti, his deputy, is a transplant from Philadelphia, an excellent cop, and perhaps one of the sexiest and foulest mouthed law enforcement characters in current fiction. In all three cases, the characters have grown and changed over the course of the books. One of my pet peeves with some mystery writers is that they often refuse to acknowledge the passing of time and the evolution of a character. I read series like this not simply for the mystery but to go on the journey with the characters, to see what happens to them and how they grow.

This past week, I got my hands on Johnson's newest book, "The Dark Horse", and it didn't disappoint. Told in alternating pieces -- what's happening now and what happened over the preceding days -- Johnson leads us through a fascinating murder mystery in which the prime suspect in a brutal murder is found with the gun, with gunpowder residue on her hands, and who confesses to the crime on multiple occasions. For reasons that become clear through the flashbacks, we learn why Walt has gone undercover in Absalom, WY, on the belief that the confessed murderess is actually innocent. The mystery is intriguing, the new characters in Absalom are quirky without being cartoonish, and, of course, Vic and the Bear are along for the ride.

While not as strong an entry as Johnson's debut , "The Cold Dish", I enjoyed "The Dark Horse" tremendously. None of the books are written to fit the bill of a "page turner" but that's OK. They aren't intended to be thrillers, though they do have their moments. Instead, they are a close look as the diverse community that Longmire inhabits and how he copes with the occasional violence through the lens of a man with a strong moral code, a compulsion to set right an injustice, and who has seen and done violence before, much to his regret. It's for that reason that I look forward to reading about Walt Longmire for many books to come.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

She's the gift that keeps on giving

I will pay good money to anyone who can successfully translate into English this excerpt from a recent speech by Sarah Palin:

"Reagan knew that real change and real change requiring shaking things up and maybe takin' off the entrenched interest thwarting the will of the people with their ignoring of our concerns about future peril caused by selfish short-sighted advocacy for growing government and digging more debt, and taking away individual and state's rights and hampering opportunity to responsibly develop our resources, and coddling those who would seek to harm America and her allies."

Here's the full transcript with commentary. Of course, if you need an antidote composed of coherent public speaking before your brain explodes, I encourage you to read this alternative (or watch it).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Another great bit of humor spurred on by the iPhone

A few weeks ago, I came across this terrifically funny spoof of the iPhone TV commercials. Now, in today's New York Times "Week in Review" section, there's a biting send-up of the weekly full-page iPhone print ads highlighting the cool products that are available, only this time, the ad was for the iPanic, "Helping you deal with the loss of your life savings, one app at a time".

As a recent convert to the cult of iPhone-ism, I've been so trained by the Apple ads to just go right to the apps in their print ads to see what's there that's new and cool. And so it was with the iPanic ad. I'd already read the description of "4merly Hot" and wondered why someone would need an app to connect formerly wealthy singles with other formely wealthy singles who want to pretend that they're still rich when I realized I'd been snookered. If you take a look, make sure to check out the artwork for the app icons. It's every bit as funny and disturbing as the faux apps themselves.

I'm just going to hope I never need to download one of these.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Home-grown Terror

Scott Roeder, the suspected murdered of Wichita doctor George Tiller, announced from his jail cell today that he was aware of plans for additional violence and additional killings should abortion remain legal. For all we know, this guy is a complete fruitloop who gets his instructions from a shower loofa.

On the other hand, look at the record: 5 doctors and 4 others killed over the last 15 years, the bombs at abortion clinics, the use of butyric acid and anthrax threats, the national and regional radio and TV hosts calling for doctors to be stopped, and the clinic personnel who must live in fear and wear bulletproof vests as they try to provide a legal medical service to women in need. Sure, Roeder might be a nutjob talking out his ass but the network of anti-abortion extremists, the media support, and more is reason enough to be concerned.

What I wonder is why these actions never seem to get the label "terrorism" in our current culture and media that is so eager to see and label terrorism everywhere (or lambaste a politician who doesn't say "terrorism" in a speech to a global audience)? The media has no problem tagging environmentalists who try to prevent the destruction of forests as terrorists. The anti-fur activists or animal rights activists who set animals free or spray paint on fur coats are called terrorists in the media. (An interesting exception...the Sea Shepherds featured in the reality show, "Whale Wars").

While I don't condone their methods, I haven't heard about anti-fur activists killing the owners of fur coats or tree huggers blowing up trailers full of loggers. Why are these people reviled and vilified in the press as terrorists but those who cold-bloodedly murder doctors, nurses, and clinic workers excused in some circles, celebrated in others, and seen as disturbed individuals acting of their own accord rather than as terrorists supported by violent extremists and egged on by incendiary radio and TV hosts as part of a national campaign to terrorize people in our neighborhoods? If it was a Muslim man who had shot a doctor in Kansas and then claimed to know of plans for similar actions nationwide, the firebrands on Fox News would be be screaming bloody murder and we'd see headlines of "Terrorism in the Heartland".

As I've been writing this, I've checked around online and I know I'm not the only one asking these questions. I've seen a number of reasons, among them the lack of a threat to profits as well as a lack of lobbying power and the fact that violence against women just isn't taken seriously in many corners. We're even presented with the Republican candidate for vice president trying to parse why a U.S. citizen who would try to bomb the Pentagon is a terrorist and a U.S. citizen who bombs abortion clinics isn't. I have my own cynical theory: cowardice. Cowardice on the part of the media and politicians.

The anti-abortion extremists have a very loud megaphone and aren't afraid to use it, spurred on by vocal and visible members of the media (e.g., O'Reilly, Limbaugh, etc.), and their supporters in Washington. As Cristina Page points out, these people get even louder when a Democratic is in the White House and the violence has a corresponding spike. Someone with stature willing to stand up and use the national stage to publicly declare that these people are terrorists will be vilified in the right-wing press, painted in the same way that those who opposed Bush and Cheney were painted as enemies of the state and weak. The religious aspects of the abortion debate add to the dynamic. No one in public life or depending on advertising dollars wants to go toe to toe with a clearly active and noisy movement based in part of religious belief. It would be too large a risk to their business or their hopes for re-election.

Of course abortion is a divisive topic and many very good people have honest disagreements. Those opposed have every right to demonstrate against it in the same fashion that others can demonstrate in support of a woman's right to choose. However, there are limits that no one should be permitted to cross. Thankfully, those that have crossed that line have usually punished via the legal system. Still, the level of public incitement and the acceptance of the actions taken by anti-abortion extremists will continue to exist and fester until we all put the true name to it. It is terrorism.

"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal." -- Scott Roeder, Suspected killer of Dr. George Tiller, June 7, 2009

Terrorism: the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.

Yep, sounds like terrorism to me.

Book Review: "Year of Wonders" is exactly that

Hey, let's read a novel about the plague in 1666! That's sounds like fun!

OK, not exactly the reaction you would expect from someone looking for an entertaining read and while "Year of Wonders" by Geraldine Brooks isn't a "fun" book, it is an outstanding book and a worthwhile read.

Inspired by the English village of Eyam, which voluntarily quarantined itself in 1666 to avoid spreading the plague to neighboring villages, it is a remarkable look at the villagers' sense of community, of their relationships to those around them, and of their relationship to a God that is seen by some as wrathful and by others as setting a test through which the survivors will emerge stronger.

Ms. Brooks' protagonist is a remarkable woman, Anna Frith. Married at 15, the mother of two and a widow by the time she is 20, Anna serves as our eyes and ears in the unnamed village. She becomes far more than an observer however. As we live with Anna through the plague, witnessing the loss of her family and friends along with more than 75% of the villagers, she finds herself growing in strength and confidence, nurtured by the charismatic and visionary young priest, Michael Monpellion, and his wife, Elinor. Together, the three serve as the foundation for sustaining the village through heartbreak and loss, tending to souls as well as bodies.

In truth, "Year of Wonders" isn't necessarily the kind of book I would have spotted on a shelf and picked up, despite my love of history. I'd seen it before (it was published in 2002) but hadn't ever thought to pick it up. OK, I'm a guy...the picture of a woman in a bonnet on the cover didn't exactly sing out to me. However, it came highly recommended as a gift for my wife and, after she read and was enthralled by it, I thought I should take a crack at it. I'm glad I did. Yes, there's a bit of melodrama, at times Anna and Elinor do seem a bit too saintly, and the last two chapters offer a dramatic change in tone and course, but in the end, those bits didn't really matter.

"Year of Wonders" is a quick read and well worth the effort, both in recognition of the people of Eyam memorialized in prose and of the view it gives us into a world where people are faced with the choice of fear and violence or hope and strength.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Plus One

Things may be changing in our lives at some point in the future. My wife, Jennifer and I have decided to upgrade to Family Plus One by starting the journey toward adopting a baby. Over the course of our 8-year (and counting) marriage, family has occasionally been a topic of discussion but it always came down to two differing opinions -- I hoped to have one, Jenn leaned more toward the "nope, not gonna happen" side of the spectrum. As a result, it was something of a shock when, as my birthday gift, she told me that she was ready to consider it. Wow, things really do change when you hit 40!

Since that particular barrier fell, she has thrown herself into the process wholeheartedly, debating baby names, coming home with baby user manuals, and launching her own blog to record the journey. It's quite a change and in all honesty, one that I'd given up expecting to ever see.

Now the research into the adoption process is well underway, initial inquiries have been made, interviews have been had with a few agencies, and the smelling salts are always at hand to help rouse me to consciousness when the dollars start getting discussed. At times I feel like Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride" as, under stress from the costs of his daughter's wedding, he stands in the supermarket tearing bags of hot dog buns apart so he can buy just the number he needs. Want to specify a particular gender? Certainly we can do that for you, sir! It will just be another $5,800. Would you care to look at the menu of options one more time? Thank you and come again.

Unlike hot dog buns, of course, setting out to add that long-hoped-for Plus One is not the time to pinch pennies. Instead, it's a time for long, serious discussions about what we hope our family will be, how we will raise our child, and what it means for our future. We look ahead toward our jobs, our goals for the years ahead, our plans for the house, and everything now revolves around someone we don't know yet, like a player to be named later but in diapers, and it's extraordinary.

When I told my father our plans, he replied "It will be most important thing you'll ever do." I expect he's right, which raises all sorts of pressure to get it right. Like any parents, I'm sure there will be plenty of times that we don't but hopefully, the times we do get it right will matter far more in the long run. After all, I want my child to think his parents are pretty cool, just like I do my folks. That seems like a worthwhile goal to shoot for.

Wow, that's a lovely boat you have. Cool plane! Now give them back please.

Otto Maddox never had it so good. Why worry about repossessing cars when you can go after yachts sitting at the dock or head to the wilds of South America to recover helicopters, Gulfstreams, and jumbo jets of the formerly rich and maybe not so famous?