Monday, December 30, 2013

Good Bye Dr. Khan, 2013 and Thoughts on Writing...

This will be the last entry for 2013, as I work tomorrow and then will be traveling across California on New Year's Eve (a brave thing to do).

First off, I must pay my respects to a Psychiatrist that worked the occasional weekend with us at the hospital. Dr. Khan was always pleasant to me. He loved to hike and we always planned on taking hikes together. As it turns out, we only took one.

Dr. Khan (I'm old school when it comes to MD's and I have a  hard time not calling an MD "Doctor" even on a social basis)---passed away while visiting his native Pakistan over the Christmas break. He was only 52 and he left behind a wife and two girls under the age of 8. Dr. Khan was also the Medical Director of Napa State Hospital. He always asked me what I was writing about and when my next adventure was planned. We always talked about taking more hikes together.

You never know what is going to happen when you get up in the morning.

Or to borrow from John Lennon: "Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans."

Of course we are all terminal. Joni and I both got a hint of that this last year. Joni had a pacemaker placed on her heart, got infected, and then had a second pacemaker put in. The first pacemaker costs $21,000 and ended up in the trash (it was a newish kind that you can actually have an MRI done with this brand). So that's $42,000 that our insurance paid just in hardware.

And on May 3rd, I was assaulted by a patient and I haven't returned to my job yet. I remain in pain when not medicated. Thoracic Myofascial Chronic Pain Syndrome. It means that my rhomboid, trapezius and subscapular muscles are always in spasm. Activity makes it worse. So I spent much of the year in a Lazyboy. Both Joni and I experienced ER visits for dehydration. In addition there are a few other things that are a bit worrisome that we are keeping an eye on regarding my health.

I had my first stress echocardiogram. Things looked good. I also got to experience a Workers Comp system that blames the worker for an injury and always looks upon your response to the injury with suspicion that you are faking it. That gets rather tiresome. I actually laid into the Workers Comp MD and told him what I thought of his opinion of my injury.

So we start 2014 not really knowing what will happen regarding my employment status and whether I will ever be able to return to work again.

2013 was sort of a breakout year for me as a writer. I was made a Contributor to the Chico News and Review after writing two very popular pieces. I also have been doing some paid work for a couple other publications. A fun hobby. I don't consider myself a journalist; I consider myself a writer.

I don't think Journalists exist. There are Reporters and Writers---but Journalism doesn't exist. Too bad for all those kids who went to Journalism School, thinking they actually have a profession. Your profession is really reduced to being a Reporter, an Editor or a Writer. Journalists always think they are neutral and balanced. When they say they are neutral, we all should be very cynical. Best to get the bias right up front and let it be known that you have an opinion and that mostly you are an Advocate for a position. If you aren't an Advocate for a position, you are then a Reporter---a mirror that only reflects what the Reporter thinks is important. There are good Reporters, fair Reporters and bad Reporters. There are good mirrors, warped mirrors, circus mirrors and foggy mirrors.

I am not a Reporter. I am not a Journalist. I am a Writer who attends events searching for truth, as I see it. Writers write. Journalists don't exist; they are sort of a mixed breed of part reporter and part writer; some are good; many are bad. But journalism, as a profession, doesn't exist.

When I look at "Journalists" I admire, I see people who never went to "journalism school". Can you imagine what class would be like with Alex Cockburn trying to learn how to write a lead while Chris Hitchens sits in the front of the class--eagerly copying every word the teacher said while Hunter Thompson, from the back of the class, rolled a joint; Ed Abbey would be staring at the behind of Ann Coulter, who is busy scribbling an essay on how to be sexy and vile at the same time. Alex Cockburn, and the whole talented Cockburn family, learned the trade from his Commie father Claud. Hunter worked at a newspaper until he got lucky with his Hell's Angels book. Ed Abbey free-lanced his whole life and stitched together a living as a Fire Lookout, Ranger, Professor. Abbey famously said he failed the only journalism class he took. And he failed it twice.

So are  you saying there is no value in Journalism school? Yes and No. But I think journalists would be better served if they just took one class on how to edit and spent the rest of their time learning grammar. Writers should read. A lot. Writers should live hard. Get dirty. Tangled up in messes. Get divorced a couple of times. Fail. Live in many different cities. They should figure out who they are by figuring out where they came from. Look back to look ahead. Hell, all of us should do that. And all  of us write our own lives, whether we know it or not.

But I could go on with this all night. I have to get up early. Need to sleep.

So how was that year, 2013? I don't know if any year can be all good that has the number 13 in it. I'm hoping 14 is better.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Nest. Doug LaMalfa on the Take? Dan Logue's Paranoia...

Somebody has been building a nest in a Ponderosa. Do you see it?

We haven't figured out who is building this thing. We do know by the scat underneath it, that it is a fairly large bird. A hawk? We've found evidence of feathers from other birds that have been caught with only a few feathers as evidence, very near this nest. I've seen a hawk flying around close to here quite a bit. I don't know what species. My knowledge is pretty much limited to identifying a Red Tail. I need to learn more.

2014 resolution: Spend more time identifying trees and birds.

We will continue to monitor this nest and see if construction continues on it. It isn't complete: they haven't finished the floor of the thing. From the green boughs though, it is obvious they have been working on it recently. Joni and I just noticed it today--and we walk by it everyday.

I've been remiss in not talking about the local politicians. Well, they haven't been idle this Christmas season. My favorite, Doug LaMalfa (and the Congressman many suspect forced the Park Service to issue me citations---I have no proof other than conjecture from almost everyone who is familiar with me and my discussions in print about LaMalfa). After all, his staff knows me by name; I've embarrassed him and have been highly critical of him in print; he has blocked me from his Twitter feeds for no apparent reason; his chief of staff, Mark Spannagel, is known for such childish tricks and also didn't accept my request for following him on Twitter; and LaMalfa is drunk with power---so again, I have no proof other than every left wing journalist who lives around here has said the same thing: LaMalfa ordered it. I wouldn't put it past him. He never did offer to pay my fine.

So what has LaMalfa been up to? He has offered legislation for a casino to acquire land in southern California to house their employees. A county Supervisor there has lots of questions of why LaMalfa is butting into something that is none of  his business. The tribe that runs the casino gave LaMalfa a thousand bucks in a campaign donation. But that is chicken feed to Doug. There must be something more to the story. So Doug, please tell us: Why are you involved in this land grab in southern California?

Dan Logue, the Assemblyman who believes global warming is a fraud, has now done everything in his power to keep poor people from getting health insurance. He was quoted in a Kentucky newspaper (which grabbed it from the Sacramento  Bee) that the government wants the health information to snoop on you. Here is the direct quote:

Even as the exchange works to come into compliance, some elected officials say they don't see it as the state's job to get involved. GOP Assemblyman Dan Logue questioned what health insurance policies have to do with residents registering to vote.

"Are they going to threaten to cut off their health care if they don't register to vote?" asked Logue, vice chair of the Assembly Health Committee and a member of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. "Is that the next step by an overreaching government that thinks they should tell us how to blow our nose and when we should do it?"

Logue, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. John Garamendi next year, said public confidence in the law and the exchanges was eroding.

"Nobody trusts what the big government says. Nobody believes them anymore," he said. "There's always an agenda that goes beyond health care. The real fear is: What is that agenda?"

And to end this thing, here is Dan Logue writing an Op/ED in the Marysville newspaper (one of the last of the Right Wing Rags that will publish him). Dan is concerned about Democrats taking away the right to vote in this piece. Of course, Dan Logue has argued for years that Hispanics are cheating in elections, committing massive voter fraud. He also claims thousands of Carolinians who were dead voted in the last election (all of it turned out to be untrue upon investigation). No matter. Doug repeats it anyway as part of right wing lore. So for him to be all upset about appointing politicians to finish out terms, well, Logue's concern for the democratic process is a bit suspect. You can read the piece  here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013



Well, this was an activity filled Christmas with plenty of food and plenty of people around the table. Lots of gifts. Smiles. Joni gave me Satellite radio for the car. Now I can listen to music and talk radio, something other than the Right Wing tripe offered on the local stations. My CD player died years ago---a victim of this Concow dust. Now my commute should be a bit more pleasant.
It was a good Christmas.  Kylie got "spider bites"---yes, a piercing that kids are into these days. I'm not one to approve of such an act, but she has proven herself with her commitment to school. Work hard in school, you get what you want. That's the rule. Sucks.
Joni will get new Binoculars. Recommended by Cornell University and their Ornithology program, she should receive them in March because of the backlog from the endorsement.
Jazmine was happy to receive a Ukulele.
The girls made me a new Hiking Stick. It is etched all along the thing. A bit crooked. Sturdy. With "Owl--an" carved into it. When the girls were young they couldn't say my name. Allan sounded like "Owl--an". Like the Owl---an. An inside joke and a precious Walking Stick, sure to protect me from rattlers and Pot grower's pit bulls. Strong enough to fend off a mountain lion. I look forward to using it.


On the Importance of Oyster Stew on Christmas Eve...

Christmas Eve, 2013.

I worked in the Napa Valley and then headed out across the State of California in my trusty Yaris (she has 102,000 miles on her now---all acquired since 2009). Since my CD player doesn't work, I flipped through the FM stations as I drove the 165 miles home. Turns out I heard Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" nine times. Yes, I counted them. Radio Christmas music tends to be up beat. I didn't hear "Silent Night" once. And John Denver's Christmas album is now a thing of the past, listened to only by JD fanatics and washed up 70's culture admirers.

The girls were gone when I got home. Joni was barely awake. "It's a Wonderful Life" was playing on the television. As George Bailey realized his life wasn't so bad after all, I made Oyster Stew in the kitchen. This is a way for me to remember, and honor, my Mother.

Joni fell asleep.

Mom used to make Oyster Stew every Christmas Eve. I don't really know why because nobody in the family liked it except Mom and me. I believe this was a Christmas Eve tradition in her family, passed down from Mom's Mom. I always loved the Oyster Stew; whereas most kids (and adults) hate oysters, I love them. Smoked, barbecued, raw, in stew---I love Oysters.

I left Minnesota back in March of 1993. Mom passed away on Thanksgiving in 1999. Someplace in between those years, I started the tradition of having Oyster Stew myself on Christmas Eve. This is rather problematic when you work many holidays. Most years I pulled it off. I remember one year I stopped into one of the few restaurants that was open in St. Helena hoping they would have Oyster Stew. They did. I paid a fortune for that bowl---but it is one of the more memorable Christmas Eve's I have ever had. I also remember going to Trader Vic's in a casino in Sparks, Nevada that makes some of the best Oyster Stew on the planet. It is a regular menu item. If you are ever in Sparks, Nevada, go to Trader Vic's for the Crab and the Oyster Stew. You won't be disappointed.

I've been alone many Christmas Eve's. Years in between relationships, alone in a city--Reno, Grand Junction, Rochester, Las Vegas, traveling alone in St. Helena (having to work), while Joni stayed at the farm. Christmas Eve by yourself can be one of the more lonely nights a person can experience. I think that is partially why I started the Oyster Stew thing: it was a way to bring my Mother back to share Christmas Eve with me. I wasn't alone with that bowl---and the memories the stew dredges up.

The Stew was good tonight. Joni raised an eyelid to say "no" she didn't want any and then fell back to sleep. She doesn't like Oyster Stew. Not many people do. Just me and Mom.

So Mom and I enjoyed our Stew tonight. I thought about the year, eating the soup, watching the beautiful tree. I know those years went fast for Mom when she died at the much too early age of 71. That's only 18 years away from the age I am now. I've been on Disability since May 3rd and have wrestled with my own health issues this year. More issues than really should be written in a public blog. I started to feel my own mortality this year---with a few very serious problems that my excellent personal doctor and I continue to monitor. I spend a lot of time at the Doctor's office. I put my pills in a morning/noon/afternoon/night pill dispenser so that I remember which ones I've taken. I carry my meds in their very own suitcase.

Joni also felt the icy hand of the reaper when she had a pacemaker placed on her heart. Actually two of them, when the first one became infected and had to be pulled out. Between Joni and me, we've both had to rehab ourselves back from surgery and an injury from a patient that turned out to be way more serious than expected.

Such thoughts to be writing, alone, late at night on a Christmas Eve. I feel content. I listen to the wind blowing hard outside. I walk down to the shed to turn off the generator, and the stars are so beautiful, they seem they are almost there just for me. The wind through the 100 foot tall Ponderosa pines sway. I think of crazy John Muir, riding out a storm in the top of a Ponderosa. I won't join John in the top of a Ponderosa tonight. Instead, I'll finish the stew and visit with my Mom. Fifteen years after the loss of the kindest, most wonderful person I've ever met, it is good to spend some time with her.

That's why I have Oyster Stew on Christmas Eve.

Oh yes, the last words I heard my Mother say, were "I love you". She was in the hospital, dying of cancer, inadequately morphined up by a bunch of RN's that seemed more interested in reading their daily horoscopes than treating a dying woman's pain. I had driven from Reno to Mesa, Arizona in a marathon fashion to reach her room. "I love you" were the last cogent words I heard her say as I entered the room, alone. I stayed up all night with her as she babbled incoherently---after driving all day. It was like she worked hard to stay lucid for me to get there so that she could tell me she loved me. Saying "I love  you" is something we stoic Norwegians never say. We act like we love each other; we just never say it. Until we reach our deathbeds, and then we struggle to stay alive until we can get those three words of magic out.

When the doctor visited at 5 am, I asked him to stop the IV's that provided hydration to her. As a family, we had decided that death should come naturally. We got Mom transferred that day to a real hospice where treating pain and dealing with death was done with grace and mastery by the RN's that ran the place. When Mom died, when she took her last breath, a tear ran down her cheek. She knew it was too soon to  leave; life had just gotten good for her.

Now she visits me when I have my Stew on Christmas Eve. Sometimes, I share a smile or a tear in her memory.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bare Naked...

Christmas Tree, 2013.

I have spent twenty years in a row away from Minnesota during Christmas time and I admit that this time of the year, my heart certainly misses that sleepy little town called Rushford and all the good people who call that wonderful small town home.

I think of the Christmas Tree that must be lit up on Magellssen's Bluff, by the lookout. If you climb under the tree, do a ladder like climb down some 10 feet of loose sand stone, you will come to a cave--one of two on that Bluff. At night, that Christmas tree shines over Rushford---providing multi colored cheer from 600 feet off the valley floor.

To the east, there would be the "Star" lit up in white light on an opposing Bluff. I can't remember if it was a five pointed or a six pointed star. I used to hike up there once and awhile. If you hike around to the right of the star, around 100 yards or so, you'll find a cool little rock outcrop complete with a hole for some sort of critter. I remember it well from my childhood days. We used to haul tents up the hill to the top near the star and camp out, overlooking the valley.

Christmas in Rushford, in this close knit small town, has all sorts of charms. The Christmas displays on the street lights. The houses that had lights on them (my Dad went all out for this, nearly causing car accidents as cars would unexpectedly stop to watch the contraptions Dad had set up).

There is a tradition called "Yulebakking" where neighbors would dress up in costumes and try to appear incognito. You dropped in on a neighbor dressed in strange garb that hid your face, and the custom was that the people you stopped in on had to feed you until they guessed who you were. I think some houses had the custom of giving you alcoholic drink, but we had none of that in my family.

More traditions around food. Forgive my spelling. There were rosettes, and struell and fattimande (poor man's cake). All delicious. There were date cookies from the bakery. And lefse. Homemade lefse---every family with a slightly different recipe. One of my family's tricks was to let the potatoes cool outside on the porch. For some reason, that added flavor.  Another trick is to roll it as thin as possible. Lefse is a potato tortilla, but much more than that: lefse is just the best food on the planet. Oh, how I miss it.

And blood Klub. Flour and blood made into a dumpling. It tasted the best the next day when you added butter and cream to it (and you wonder why my coronary arteries are clogged). It sounds gross but tastes divine. Anthony Bourdain really needs to explore these Norwegian treats.

And then there is Lutefisk; Cod fish soaked in lye. It has the texture of snot and tastes like rat poison. And I love it. You eat it with meat balls and potatoes. Lots of mashed potatoes with drawn butter poured over the whole thing.

I miss the Christmas Eve service at Rushford Lutheran with the candles. I won't go there again since they broke away from the rest of Lutherdom when the ELCA said it was okay to ordain Gay Pastors. Shame on them. But there is precedent because this church was the one that split away from a prior Lutheran Church back in the 1870's (in Rushford) because some Lutherans thought black people should still be slaves. Another church couldn't handle such a supposition and went on to create another brand of Lutheranism.

I miss Rushford during Christmas time. I would like to see that Christmas tree on the Bluff and that Star on the opposing Bluff one more time in my life. If anybody wants to take a photo of them and send them to me, I'd love it. I miss it so very, very much.

Friday, December 13, 2013

LaMalfa and Logue and the Air in China

Well, Doug LaMalfa left the Tea Party right wing and joined John Boehner and most Democrats in voting for the budget agreement. Granted, the budget deal is skewed towards the Republican view of things. Still, he left the True Believers behind. Why? I'd guess because it is getting a little late for anybody to mount a primary challenge against him. The coast is clear so he need not worry about any challenges from his right. Good thing too. Doug's extremism was getting more than a little embarrassing. Looks like that visit John Boehner made to Doug's farm in the summer of 2012 paid off handsomely.

And then we come to Dan Logue who is running for Congress in a District currently held by a Democrat John Garamendi. Logue had this article in the Sacramento Bee blaming the loss of jobs in the United States, and income inequality, on (drum roll please) Government Regulations.

Yeah right.

In the early 90's the "plant" that kept my hometown alive picked up and moved to Mexico. Why did they leave? Well, first off there was no penalty to do something like that---in fact, there were tax incentives to do that (gotta shrug your head on that one). And why did that plant leave along with thousands of others, first to Mexico and then, for many of them, to China? Labor costs.

But Dan Logue trots out his continuing war on air quality boards and the management of diesel trucks. I guess Dan Logue would be happy to have our air resemble the polluted skies of the cities in China where people have to wear masks inside, let alone go outside.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Weather, Nukes and GMO's....

Record lows last night brought frozen water pipes to us this morning. Our water pipes can handle the temps down to around 22 F. Last night the temperature was in the teens: 16 F. in Paradise. A record. The water pipes in the kitchen thawed this afternoon. But for the first time, the exposed part of the well pipe to the cistern froze, despite being wrapped in lots of insulation. Luckily we have a spigot close to the well, which is inside a little structure protected from the elements, so we can get water there.

We will just wait for the weather to warm up and thaw the pipes. Until then we will haul the water in buckets to the house, something we did for a couple of winters when we didn't have the money to put in an improved water system and the old one broke.

Of course the lesson from all of this is no matter how much you plan and prepare, more than likely it won't be enough and nature will prevail one way or another. As extreme weather related events become more prevalent due to the build up of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere, we will be talking about the weather a whole lot more. And weather will take us by surprise. Like last night.

Part of the reason to be against nuclear power and genetically modified food is that the potential for things to go wrong with these technologies overrides any benefit from using them. Think Fukushima. Those four nuclear reactors had state of the art protection systems. They had a sea wall 40 feet high. They had backup generators to last weeks if power ever went out to the plant. They had state of the art containment walls around the reactors. And all it took was an unexpected 7.2 earthquake and tsunami to make all of that planning and preparation null with health consequences that will extend on for generations. Of course, Fukushima wasn't weather related; it was still natural forces making mincemeat of human preparation.

The same for GMO's. The potential for disaster playing around with genes from different species in order to improve on something nature has already created is just too risky to do. I know the Monsanto people have their studies that prove their food is safe. My question is: When is it that we have ever had to do a study on a staple product in order to  prove it is safe to eat? Just having to ask the question should make us pause a bit as to what we are doing. Of course, we are overly dependent up on corn and Monsanto corn at that. All it takes is some specific blight against the Round Up tolerant corn and all of us will end up losing quite a bit of weight.

And so it isn't the potential for disaster that motivates the use of these technologies---it is monopoly and the profit motive (to borrow a bit from Marx). I'm of the opinion that if a technology used in a mass scale manner has potential calamities linked to it, we should pass on that technology and employ something that makes more sense.

Of course, nobody asked me before they built all these reactors and planted all that corn.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter Snow and more.

Cold here. Cold everywhere, it seems. The low tonight is supposed to be 19 degrees Fahrenheit. We had a bit of snow fall overnight. Usually it melts the next day but this time, as in the rest of the nation, cold temperatures will mean the snow will stick around for a bit.

We took a short hike in the snow with the dogs. The dogs ran and ran and ran---enjoying the powder. We had fun watching them and playing with them. Moments like that are delicious; best to savor them.

Nelson Mandela died a couple days ago. A great man. I was contacted by the editor of the ChicoSol to write a response. You can read it here.

Out of curiosity I checked out our Congressman Doug LaMalfa's Twitter feeds to see if he had any statement regarding the death of Nelson Mandela. LaMalfa has two Twitter feeds--one for his Congressional office and another that is very informal and, at times, downright offensive. I checked both of them for any word about Mandela. The result? No mention of Mandela.

I'm blocked from following Doug LaMalfa's informal Twitter feed, but that doesn't mean I can't read it. I find it amazing that so many media types can follow that feed and never comment on the feed's content. It is often sarcastic and juvenile. Definitely on the extremist fringe, he retweets people who post images of Obama as Hitler. Yes, he will retweet the opinions of weirdo  kooks, but he goes out of his way to block the respectful opposition from following him. Par for the course for LaMalfa. Play to the gallery and run from the more serious minded people.
I'm getting a bit tired of the Republican party. It seems they want to stop the agreement with Iran. Do these right wing knuckleheads really want war? Is it because President Obama negotiated this thing that they decide to sabotage it? These people hate Obama more than they love America. Don't ever let them tell you otherwise.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Took a Break...

Took a little break from writing this thing. Been busy. What with Park Service Law Enforcement Officers stopping by the house with citations and trying to go back to work with a partially effective back---I haven't had time to deal with this.

So I'll just provide links to the Lassen Solitaire story. I think this is the best thing I've had published thus far. I'm very proud of it.

And here is my story about Officer Troy serving me citations.

And here is my editors response to the whole mess.

And here are two sets of letters to the editor: one and two. And here.

We shall resume  regular writing at some point when things simmer down.

Oh, and thanks to William. Nice letter.