Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Saudi Arabian detainee died of an apparent suicide early Wednesday afternoon at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military announced today.

The death marked the fourth detainee suicide at Guantanamo Bay since the U.S. began jailing suspected terrorists at the U.S. Navy base in January 2002, said Jose Ruiz, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

The detainee was found “unresponsive and not breathing in his cell by guards,” according to a Southern Command press release. A physician pronounced the detainee dead “after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted.”

Ruiz said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death and that the command “will release the details as soon as they become available.”

Ruiz, based in Miami, did not yet have details such as the detainee’s age, where the detainee was captured or the length of time spent in captivity.

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
You won't have a name when you fly the big airplane
And all they will call you will be "Deportee."
-- Woody Guthrie

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Johanna schmoozes

"Now, when I hand you back to Daddy, I want you to spit up on that Green Party t-shirt ... "
Winter appears to be over

Boy, when the snow is gone, does this place green up! This scene is on my way to the office, across the road from the high school. When I prepare pictures, I usually fiddle with the contrast, since my camera tends to shoot a little flat. But this one I left as is. The depth of green here is stupefying.

And apparently delicious, these girls say.

Here we have Des and Ziwa on the Whistlestop Trail, one of our new favorite walking spaces. This is an old railbed set up primarily as an ATV/snowmobile trail that runs from here to Jay and Livermore Falls, which is close to 20 miles, I guess, though we only need a small portion of that. We walk a mile or a mile-and-a-half and then come back, and often without running into anyone at all, rarely seeing more than one or two other people.

On this particular day, we ran into two good-sized groups of ATV riders, but these are not the motor-revving hotdogs who would make it unbearable -- just family groups including grandparents and little kids, putting along at more than a walking pace but nothing that stirs up any dust or comes up on you like Marlon Brando in "The Wild One." I grab the dogs' collars and stand off to the side, we wave, everyone smiles.

Incidentally, I've noticed that folks around here don't leave for vacations. They stay and work on their houses, go out on ATVs or snowmobiles, depending on the season, and basically do the stuff they don't have time or energy for during the work week.

I mentioned this to one of my neighbors and she said she and her husband like rural Florida but don't have much use for the city. They went to Disneyworld once because everyone told them they should. They found themselves standing for two hours waiting to get in and someone said, "You know, once you get in there, you'll do this again for anything you want to do." That was the end of their trip to Disneyworld -- "We were out of there," she said. "Who needs that?"

The concessions are cheaper on the Whistlestop, too.

This is the view from a bridge near the trailhead. That's Temple Creek below, but quite far below. I was taking this, with the dogs standing around saying, "Why are we stopping?" and looked up to find one of the groups of ATVs we encountered quietly putt-putting towards the bridge, then turned around to see a guy alone on an ATV at the other end, waiting for the larger group. I shooed the dogs off ahead of me and we let everyone pass before moving on.

That was the closest we've had to a "Stand By Me" moment. When Stephen King was a kid, this was probably still a train line, but he grew up about 50 miles south of here and I'm sure his childhood rambles didn't take him THIS far.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Howard goes swimming

Just a quick update on Howard at nine months of age. The upper left is a picture of him as a hatchling, the one next to it is Howard at six months.

As you can see, the last three months have seen some real changes in the boy. I had been under the impression that, because they don't need a great deal of food, you should be careful of overfeeding them. (Possibly because I read this on a Web site about raising snapping turtles.)

However, a few months ago, I read another Web site on the same topic that said you should go ahead and feed them when they were hungry. Howard was very much in favor of this approach.

The result is that he has somewhat outgrown his tank. The timing is good, though, because he can be in a nice sweater box on a platform on the backporch much of the summer and in his original tank at other times. This also gives him a chance to work on his swimming skills, since there's more water in his sweater box than in his little tank.

At the moment, we're having a Call of the Wild moment as he goes to the edge of the tank and swims as if he would get through the translucency and into the Big World Outside, but I expect him to settle into his new home soon enough.

His sudden growth made me pause and wonder if he should, indeed, go back to the Big World Outside this summer rather than next, but he's still, at this point, snack-sized as far as any raccoons, skunks or other opportunistic feeders are concerned. By next spring, he'll probably be bigger than any snapping turtle I would like to have as a roommate, but a fine size for being released.

In the meantime, I'm scouting for ponds that I can get to with the canoe but where he won't run into a lot of people, since he is apt to think of them as food sources. He's still no more gentle and cuddly than ever, but he's become more trusting than is likely good for him. Fortunately, this part of Maine is sparsely settled and honeycombed with water sources, so it won't be terribly difficult to find him a quiet corner somewhere.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ranking W, Covering Carter ... and those annoying grasshoppers

I was looking for the audio link of the Carter interview which demonstrates clearly that his remarks on W were not misinterpreted, misquoted or taken out of context, but it appears to have disappeared.

However, I did find this interesting blog about religion and journalism, which not only wraps up the entire incident but offers some interesting moderated commentary. Apparently the bloggers are not only willing to delete comments that are irrelevant to the purpose of the blog but weigh in to keep things on-topic. This amazing secret keeps the flamers to a minimum and makes the blog worth a visit regardless of the actual subject matter. I'm bookmarking this one.

The comments on Columbia Journalism Review's blog, by contrast, are useless -- a handful of flamers ranting at each other and none of them making serious points about the various entries. Religion isn't the only thing the media apparently don't get -- Over at the Poynter Institute, there's a discussion of how to keep things civil but allow "The People" to be heard.

IMNSHO, there are a lot of people who don't deserve to be heard. If there is one thing my brief stint in talk radio taught me, it's the difference between who thinks and who dials the phone. The frequent callers are not representative of the average person. However, there is a fascination in extreme behavior that will provide an audience for movies like "Jackass," for radio shock jocks, for exploitive reality shows and for what, in an earlier age, would have been called inappropriate material.

Is this the first time in history we've seen crowds gather to sup the swill? Certainly not. In post-medieval times, the entertainment in the public square was coarse, bawdy and frequently cruel and violent, and people crowded to enjoy it.

But those people were disenfranchised cogs in the machine. They were flesh-robots and cannon-fodder whose views and opinions were not part of what guided the polity. Once we began to count on them to participate in governing, we also started a system of public schools and general attempts at moral uplift.

Today, that's seen as oppressive, and the Voice of the People is revered. Well, that's theoretically a good thing, but, if the media were really interested in hearing what people think, and not just gathering a throng of gape-jawed peasants for their Punch-and-Judy show, they'd invest more money in polling and in competent reporting rather than simply opening the gates to the loudmouths who represent our basest instincts while intimidating and shouting down our better sides.

One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Edmund Burke:

Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

And as far as ranking presidents goes, I consider Jimmy Carter a representative of our better sides. But what he said about the Bush administration would have been correct no matter who said it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thy Servant Kirstie

One of the features of our paper is a church column, in which the various churches can briefly (250 word limit) share what they've got going on.

In summing up last Sunday's service, a Baptist minister mentioned a reading from First Samuel about Hannah.

I emailed him back saying that it was probably a good choice because half the little girls in his congregation are probably named Hannah. The trick to reaching the other half, I suggested, would be to find a biblical verse about someone named Kirstie.

His response not only made me laugh out loud but will now, for better or worse, surely pop into my head every time I hear the name:

Ecc 7:21, 22
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ignorance and freedom

Someone asked me for the complete Jefferson quote about newspapers and government. In digging it up, I came across a column of mine which ran October 2, 2001, less than a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

If truth is, in fact, the first casualty of war, it may be a victim of friendly fire.

While Washington ponders the difficulty of fighting an enemy with no particular base of operations and no concrete goals to achieve, American journalists are pondering the ethical boundaries of their profession and erring on the side of caution.

It is a delicate balance, reporting the news in a time of crisis. There certainly is an obligation to be responsible and to, as the physicians say, "Do no harm."

But doing no harm works both ways, and it's shameful that you can log on to the Australian press and read stories about our own nation's activities that are missing from the American press.

For instance, the New York Times wrote a nice feature story this past week about the town where the top-secret Delta Force is stationed. Nobody knows where they went, the story said, but all those quiet young men seem to have disappeared.

Somebody knew. A day earlier, the Age, of Melbourne (, reported that about 1,500 American special forces and British SAS troops were in Uzbekistan, on the northern border of Afghanistan.

Is the argument that you can put 1,500 troops on the border of Afghanistan without the Taliban or al-Qaida finding out? Are we to believe that Osama bin Laden reads the American press, but doesn't know Australia also has newspapers?

Or is it that the American media has become such a corporate entity that they tailor the news to suit the spirit of the times? The Boston Globe reports that, when USA Today finally got around to reporting the American presence in Afghanistan (a secret only if bin Laden doesn't read the Pakistani press), talk shows assailed the story as disloyal.

Granted, in a time of crisis, news organizations must weigh freedom against responsibility. But the real disloyalty comes when a timid press fails to report the news so citizens can make their own decisions on crucial issues.

This is not a new mission. When the French Revolution was degenerating into terror, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter from Paris stating that he felt a literate, informed citizenry was a better safeguard against mob violence than any government security force:

"The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right, and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

It was never a perfect system. Upon reaching the White House, Jefferson dismantled the anti-democratic Alien and Sedition Acts, but then conducted his own private war with the vicious, partisan newspapers of the time.

Apparently, he didn't like their approach to keeping public opinion "right."

We no longer have opposition papers, at least in the sense of each town having a different paper for each major political party.

But it sure is scary being a journalist who doesn't wear a flag lapel pin and reproduce the White House press releases exactly as written.

Item: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer attacked "Politically Correct" television show host Bill Maher for making, um, politically incorrect remarks. Fleischer warned reporters that they need to "watch what they say" and then deleted his chilling phrase from the transcript of the press conference.

Item: A columnist in Grant's Pass, Oregon, and a city editor in Texas City, Texas, lost their jobs for questioning the president's leadership in the hours after the attack.

Item: Missouri state legislators are threatening to cut off funding for the state university's school of journalism, after the news director of the school's TV station told on-air news staff not to wear flag lapel pins, since it might suggest a lack of objectivity.

The old phrase "All the news that's fit to print" takes on an anti-democratic tone when subjected to a political litmus test.

Jefferson also wrote "If a Nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. ... If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."

To that end, it is the responsibility of the press to report the news, even when those in power do not wish it.

Especially then.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Who's my mommy?

Okay, here are four eggs, with a quarter to give you some sense of perspective (though observe that the quarter is against the drawers while the eggs are touching it, but sticking out more).

The question is, what kinds of eggs are they? The hints I'll give are that no wild nests were disturbed in making this photo, and that I have already eaten some of the evidence and intend to eat the rest, too, while it's still fresh.

Answers at the end of the weekend.

(Love this country living!)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Guest blogger
Hannah Gay is a local woman who graduated from our high school a few years ago and, after college, is now teaching at a middle school in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Periodically, she sends us a column. I wish she'd write more often, if she could keep up the level of inspiration and quality you're about to see. Mostly, I wish my granddaughters would have her for English when they reach middle school. I asked her to let me post her latest column here because it's not at all the sort of thing I would, or could, write, but I sure liked it a lot.

They say Chicago is the windy city. They, whoever “they” may be, have never been to Crownpoint.

Spring is wind season, and the gusts here have, at times, exceeded the highways’ speed limits.

Desert sand blows into coughing mouths and keeping the windows open, despite the summertime temperatures, becomes risky should one wish to refrain from spending an hour picking dirt out of a computer’s keyboard.

Occasionally, a freak hail or sleetstorm will accompany the blustery wonder.

Ten minutes later, peace temporarily arrives and I find myself cheerily washing dishes and gazing out my kitchen window into yet another one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, made possible in part by the organic smog of fine dust lingering in the air of the Navajo Reservation.

I hear there’s snow in Maine, and my mother left me pictures after her recent visit here of the trenches she dug in the March coat of white covering my hometown.

My friends in New York send me messages about monsoons, and a recent flight I was scheduled to take was canceled due to tornadoes in Dallas.

Strange weather, it seems, is everywhere.

Yet inside Room 3 in Crownpoint Middle School, things are unseasonably calm and in order.

I began school last fall wishing to do nothing other than lead my students toward publishing some kind of class anthology.

People told me to have high expectations for my students, to accept nothing less than what kids in more affluent areas would be producing.

Kids in a wealthy private school in Albuquerque had published an actual book; certainly my students and I could aspire toward that.

Yet in my first semester of teaching, overwhelmed by textbook methodology and the prescriptions of various supervisors, I temporarily forgot the bigger picture.

Then, as the frost began to disappear from early morning windshields and desert shrubs, so did my care to follow anything the books and authorities said.

Our state standardized test was over, and as a successful English major, I finally trusted myself to know what it took to be a successful reader and writer.

My kids are well on their way into creating an anthology of personal narratives, writing about everything from breaking their pinky in fourth grade to grandparents’ deaths to their first encounter with drugs on the reservation to a recent unexpected explosion in their science class.

Today we spent class trying to figure out if memoirs and personal narratives ever were really true non-fiction if they were written from memory, and we read and discussed excerpts from and articles about the controversy surrounding James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.

We even got to watch and respond to a clip from Oprah. Tomorrow we’ll be discussing a Navajo memoir set around here that was similarly found to be fabricated (Nasdijj’s “The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams”), and I am finally confident that my students are actually thinking and questioning the world in my classroom, not just memorizing and mastering sometimes irrelevant standards.

And with that, I’m starting, just a little bit, to feel at home here.

On Friday I could barely hear my principal speak at our weekly staff meeting, as the drums and singing of a small pow-wow happening in our gym drowned him out.

My art teacher, a Navajo herself, shouted jokingly to the darn Navajos to quiet down in school, and I had no self-consciousness laughing at her joke.

Yesterday about twenty of my girls arrived at school in traditional Navajo dress, with velvet skirts, yarn in their hair, handsewn moccasins and immaculate silver and turquoise jewelry.

It was a stark contrast to their usual KSwiss sneakers, blue jeans from Hot Topic and black hoodies.

They were going on a field trip to the Navajo Nation government in Window Rock, Arizona, and they were beautiful.

And for the first time, I felt comfortable gazing at their traditional dress, smiling that I knew the people inside those clothes, the girls who liked to listen to Godsmack or Akon and couldn’t figure out apostrophes and wouldn’t chew gum unless it was yellow.

I’m a Mainer by birth, and will never be a New Mexican, much less a Navajo. This is not my home, and I feel humbled every day how welcomed I am here and that I have such an opportunity to live on the beautiful reservation.

Yet I now secretly laugh at tourists who can’t figure out how to eat an unwrapped tamale as I used to laugh at people from away eating, or attempting to eat, a lobster back home.

The wind doesn’t bother me as much as it did in the fall, when it kept me up awake at night, kept me longing for the protection of my Maine woods.

Now I often fall asleep to its howling lullaby as I rest for yet another day in the life on the reservation and despite the violence of the weather outside, things feel a bit more peaceful all around.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Big Backyard

I have always loved the fact that reporters basically get paid for satisfying their curiosity. Of course, since I'm an editor and not hourly anymore, working on Saturday doesn't actually pay anything. But the paper is going to get some mileage out of a Saturday that was a whole lot of fun for me.

The Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine had a workshop on vernal pools this weekend, about 20 miles east of town. (Vernal pools being depressions that fill with water each spring long enough that some small critters from fairy shrimp to wood frogs can go through a breeding cycle there.)

I thought it would be mostly small loggers with questions about regulatory compliance, but, as the photo above suggests, it was mostly people who have bought several acres of land and are interested in taking care of it. They weren't all city transplants, and a few genuinely were working their woodlots rather than just living on them. Nearly all, I think, want to improve their property not in the sense of developing it but in the sense of cleaning it up and making it green in the metaphorical sense. (And, as it happens, there aren't a lot of regulations about these things for the timber industry -- it's a matter of them wanting to know how to do the best for the forests, which many of them do want to do.)

Our host for the event was Warren Balgooyen, a naturalist who is active in the county extension and serves on a state committee for the future of Maine's land. I suspect he's one of those people who is more active now that he's retired than he was when he was working. He's got a good sized spread on which he has built several small ponds and, no kidding, a salamander crossing.

One of the issues for the turtles and amphibians in this kind of countryside is the number that get splattered crossing roads. They move from pool to pond to pool over some surprising distances, but their world wasn't set up with automobiles in mind. If you've driven at night in this sort of country, you've seen those nights when the frogs are just teeming across the roads, but apparently that happens pretty much every night to some degree. We'd see the results more if the ravens and raccoons and other scavengers didn't get out at dawn and clean most of it up. But Warren was saying that, if you took all the salamanders in a three acre forest, and all the birds, and piled them up, the salamander pile would be considerably taller.

So he created a crossing under the road near his house by getting a grant so the town could put in a culvert at no cost to the taxpayers, and then threading a soaker hose through it, with the end in a 55-gallon drum of water so it has a steady supply of wetness. And he has seen it work.

We walked around on his property for about three hours and he would just take his net and scoop around and, each time, interesting stuff came up, like this salamander egg mass. Notice how much more cohesive it is than frog eggs, which would be running off the woman's hand.

This is a red eft, which would have been a yellow newt if we'd seen it sooner. They start out living in the water as newts, with external gills, and then they become these land-dwellers and wander off to wherever efts and salamanders go -- nice damp abandoned mouse holes, under logs, down in the duff of the forest floor. Then, after about six years, they come back to the pond and move back in again, which is when they lay their eggs there. Pretty interesting little critter, and this was the first time Warren had seen one scooped out of a pond in its "just about to split for a few years" form.

We also saw caddis flies, damson flies, frogs and a whole lot of other things. And, as we walked down to the final pond, he and I spotted a painted turtle sunbathing on a rock in the middle of it. The turtle quickly scrambled off into the water, but the interesting thing was that Warren didn't know he had a turtle in that pond. So, for all the ones that get mashed on the highway, here was one that found a new place to hang out. (And last year one of his other ponds acquired a turtle from who-knows-where.)

Now, like I say, I'm not really getting paid to go out and do these things anymore. I'm just getting paid to make sure cool stuff ends up in the paper, no matter who actually does it. But needing to get that stuff in the paper, with the accompanying fear of the blank page and empty folders, is a great way to motivate me to get off my butt and go see all this stuff that, otherwise, I would sit around planning to do later, some other time, when I get round to it.

This weekend was a good example of something that I might have done sometime, but did right now, instead.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Happy Birthday

To a daughter-in-law who makes me smile.

BAGHDAD, May 2 -- The Bush administration is planning to withdraw most United States combat forces from Iraq over the next several months and wants to shrink the American military presence to less than two divisions by the fall, senior allied officials said today.

Have you ever noticed that datelines don't include the year? Okay, usually they don't include the date, either. Anyway, here's the source of that encouraging report.