I intend to take the next week off from weblogging.

In an effort to build some positive inertia, I’m taking vacation days from work on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. This will give me five(-and-a-half counting this afternoon) days to get done some pressing chores.

On the agenda:

  • dinner with Marcela, Pierre, and the Beautiful Children; Done! Delicious!
  • Asian Dinner at Mac and Pam’s Done! Fun!
  • diagnose network back-up issues at WACO; Done!
  • complete the rough-draft of a story for the Woodstock Writer’s Guild;
  • complete the book purge begun two months ago, which includes:
    • posting the valuable books on eBay Done! (And a system is in place to this repeatedly in the future.)
    • taking the un-valuable books to Powell’s
    • mailing The Tick to John Done! (Shocking!)
    • re-organizing the remaining books As done as it’s going to get for a long time.
  • clean the workshop; (two-thirds finished)
  • organize all my tools, both shop and garden;
  • respond to all unanswered e-mail (hi, Andrew, Bill, and Amy!);
  • exercise every day (Sat 304 cal, Sun 417 cal, Mon 515 cal, Tue 327 cal and strength, Wed racquetball — Done! I exercised everyday!) — I’ll sign up for a one-month membership at a gym and force myself to go every day, hoping to override my tendency to remain at rest Done! (I even have an appointment on Monday with a “personal trainer” — good grief!);
  • make one nice dinner for Kris (and Tiff?); I made Hamburger Helper two days in a row — does that count?
  • Prepare taxes for Sabino, including my labyrinthine Computer Resources mess Done!
  • build a shelf for Kris;
  • get myself back on the Getting Things Done system; The system is in place again and now I just have to follow it
  • and a whole lot of other little things.

This is an ambitious list, but I’ll do my best to tackle everything here. All of these are things that have been in stasis for weeks or months. It’s time for me to get off my ass!

This afternoon, however, I’m going to head outside with the Gates girls and get that darned tree cleaned up. Done! (Or at least as done as it’s getting ’til spring — look for photos soon.)

What do other people do when they’re unmotivated? When I’m motivated, I can plow through chores like nobody’s business. (I’m not quite the force of nature that Jeremy is, but I can certainly get things accomplished.) I’ll even go through prolonged periods where I’m happy to make sure things are done quickly and well. Most of my life, though, is a mass of procrastination. How does one avoid this? How do other people stay on-task?

Saga Without End

If you thought you’d heard the last of our weather woes, you were wrong! Chapter one was the flooded basement, chapter two was the leaky roof, and now comes chapter three.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon Monday, relatively speaking. That is to say it was not particularly cold, and there was no rain. My mood was giddy. “Perhaps,” I thought, “there really is something to Tiff’s theory that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.” On the drive home, I cranked my new classic rock CD mix. There’s nothing like Styx cranked to eleven on a sunny afternoon.

Once home I decided to walk to the store to buy a bathroom scale. I carried my iPod and marched in time to the pulsing beats of techno music. There’s nothing like techno cranked to eleven on a sunny afternoon. After much deliberation, I selected a scale with a digital readout and a body fat indicator. Upon returning home I was somewhat dismayed (okay, really dismayed) to discover that a third of me is fat. Since something like 60% of our bodies is composed of water, that leaves only 7% of me to be anything else. Scary.

To take my mind off this bad math, I decided to play some World of Warcraft-based capture-the-flag. There’s nothing like playing video games on a sunny afternoon. I had just captured the flag and was returning to my base when the doorbell rang. (In real life, not in the game.) What a dilemma! I had the flag and needed to capture it for my team. If I just left, I’d letting the team down. Yet the door needed answering. After a few moments of indecision I just got up and left the computer.

The man at the door introduced himself as Randy, our new neighbor on one of the back corners of our property (replacing the drunken idiots). “Did you know that one of your trees fell over?” he asked. I did not! We walked to the back of the property to survey the damage. A tallish tree of indeterminate species had become uprooted, had fallen across the fence into Randy’s back yard. We spent about half an hour talking amiably, discussing what to do with the tree, but the whole time I was worried about my game of capture-the-flag.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon Tuesday, relatively speaking. That is to say it was not particularly cold, and there was no rain. My mood might have been giddy if I were not faced with the prospect of purchasing power equipment. I’m not a manly sort of man, and, for example, chainsaws are as mysterious to me as computers might be for a logger. I stopped at the hardware store on the way home from work, and I examined their chainsaw selection. I narrowed my options to two models, both gas powered, but it took me twenty minutes to decide on the 16″ Poulan Woodsman 2150 LE saw instead of the 14″ saw. When I got home it was too late to cut anything, but not too late to play capture-the-flag.

It was a cold and damp afternoon Wednesday, typical for this time of year. My mood was apprehensive. When I got home, I pulled on my work boots, my work pants, and a warm sweatshirt, then headed to the shop to puzzle out the chainsaw. I spent twenty minutes reading the manual before I even opened the box. Much of it was baffling: bucking, bar length, chainbrake, kickback, etc. I took my time, though, and soon had the chainsaw operational. It roared with delight at the sight of all our trees. “Let me chomp that redwood,” it said, but I ignored it. “Come on,” it said. “How about that little apple?”

I carried the chainsaw back to the fallen tree. I made my first cut directly at the base of the twelve-inch thick trunk. Midway through the cut, the tree groaned and cracked, then shifted its weight, pinching the chainsaw and almost crushing my leg. It occurred to me that this was no trivial task. This tree was fucking heavy. I’d been treating the job as a light-hearted romp but there were some serious forces at work here. (Namely gravity.)

I stopped to reconsider my plan. “Maybe I should take some weight off at the top of the tree first,” I decided.

I walked around the block and knocked on the neighbor’s door. Randy’s wife, Miriam, took me to their back yard — a thick morass of mud — and showed me the damage. The tree had fallen onto the fence (a barbed-wire contraption erected by the previous owner of our house) and directly onto a stout metal post that had been used to anchor a clothesline. There were branches splayed every which way. The entire tree was entangled with some sort of vine.

After spending a few minutes surveying the wreckage, I devised a plan of attack. I fired up the chainsaw. For the next half hour, I methodically sliced my way through the mass of branches, cutting the wood to manageable size (though not attempting to trim it to any sort of final, usable size).

As the light turned gloamy and a heavy rain began to fall, I returned to our side of the fence and attacked the main trunk once more. Again my cut into the base of the tree was stupid: the moment the chainsaw had passed through, the fat log shifted, sliding heavily toward the fence, several hundred pounds of unstoppable force. The tree butted into thick mud with a thunk. Nothing was damaged (not even me), but only from sheer luck. I spent a few more minutes cutting before the chainsaw suddenly stopped, turning itself off. It restarted fine, but the chain would not turn. I turned it off and restarted it, but still the chain would not turn.

A close examination revealed that a little twig had managed to find its way into the, well, I don’t know what to call it…into the body housing where the chain winds itself up and around. The twig was stuck, but after some coaxing, it came free.

It was here that my troubles began.

Even after removing the twig, the chain would not turn. It would not turn when the power was on, and it would not turn when the power was off. Worse, eventually the chainsaw refused to start at all! Worse still, when I let the chainsaw sit for a spell, oil oozed from the lubrication “port”, an opening I cannot see.

Frustrated, I gave up and called it a night.

And that’s where we are this morning: we have a tree that is half-sawed, a fence that is half-damaged, and a brand new $160 chainsaw that half-works. I’ll try to take the bar and chain off this afternoon, try to see if I can spot what’s causing the lubricating oil to leak. I’m not sure I know what I’m looking for, though.

During this entire process, I keep hearing Walter shout, “You’re out of your element, Donny!” I’m better off playing computerized capture-the-flag.

Thai Yum

I was rummaging through the damaged sections of this web site last night, looking for an old entry, when lo-and-behold I found my long-lost recipe for Thai tuna salad.

J.D.’s Thai Tuna Salad

2 cans water-packed tuna
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar (palm sugar, if you have it)
1 teaspoon Thai chilies, minced
1 tablespoon shallot (or green onion), chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced

Mix all ingredients. Use as you would normal tuna salad.

I’ve been craving this stuff for months. It’s delicious. For some reason, though, I never wrote out the recipe but only stuck it on the weblog. I’m glad to have found it.

What I really wanted to find, however, was my good recipe for myang kham sauce. I’ve tried several, but only one was any good. (The others were various degrees of awful.) I think that the following is the good recipe, but I’m not sure. I’ll whip up a batch today or tomorrow to check.

Myang Kham — tasty Thai leaf-wraps
(or Miang Kum, or however you want to spell it)


  • 1/2 cup minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste (not sauce)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • palm sugar or honey (or brown sugar?) to taste

Combine sauce ingredients in small saucepan and heat over medium heat until well-blended. Allow to cool some before pouring into serving dish.

1/2 cup each of:

  • unsalted, unseasoned roasted peanuts
  • roasted, unsweetened coconut flakes (roast in oven)
  • peeled ginger cut into 1cm cubes
  • shallots cut into 1cm cubes
  • lime cut into 1cm cubes
  • dried shrimp (I use the stuff found in the Mexican section of supermarket)
  • whole “mouse dropping” chilies (I use ladybird (aka skypointing or just Thai) chilies but into pieces)

The Portland-area Thai restaurants use large spinach leaves. I’ve used spinach leaves in the past, too, but I’ve been unable to locate leaves the size and uniform quality that the restaurants use. Recipes often call for “wild tea leaves”, though I’ve never found these. Apparently red lettuce or butter lettuce is acceptable, too.

To Eat
Take a leaf and fill it with a pinch of each filling. Add a dollop of the sauce. Wrap the leaf around the ingredients and pop it into your mouth. Delicious!

Myang kham was the very first Thai dish I ever tasted. Paul and Amy Jo introduced us to it at Typhoon! about eight years ago. I was very wary of trying a new cuisine, but with one taste of myang kham I was hooked. In fact, I credit this one dish with turning me into an adventurous eater.

Before this meal, I was both picky (possessing a long list of individual items I didn’t like to eat) and un-adventurous (unwilling to try new types of foods). Now I’m one of the most adventurous eaters I know! In fact, I often crave foreign cuisine. If I could eat Asian food (or Middle Eastern food) every day of the week, I would.

(I’m still a picky eater, though. Broccoli — yuck!)

Reminder: Amy Jo has opened From a Corner Table, her weblog of food-related adventures.

Brokeback Mountain

The Gates girls and I went to see Brokeback Mountain on Saturday. It was a good film, amazingly faithful to Annie Proulx‘s short story. It may be the best adapted screenplay I’ve ever seen, but all the same, I’m not sure the film is Best Picture-material. The cinematography was fine (though not as spectacular as I’d been led to believe), the acting was fine (especially Heath Ledger), and the script was fine (though it softened the story some). Yet the film lacked greatness. It felt mundane in parts. If it were not a story of a homosexual love, it would likely considered unremarkable.

However, the film is a story of homosexual love, and is groundbreaking as the first major film to tackle these issues, to be produced with such quality, to garner such attention, and to achieve such critical acclaim. Maybe this context is enough to elevate the film to greatness. I don’t know. (My cousin Nick tells me he found the film incredibly sad, heartbreaking. He dreamed about it. Perhaps if I had not read the short story beforehand it might have affected me more.)

Because the film is so true to the story on which it is based, it’s interesting to note how differently I react to the two media. I first read the story a couple of years ago, and then re-read it after viewing the film. Each time, the story struck me like a hammer: it’s powerful, dense, and moving. It’s a finely honed piece of fiction. It’s focused.

The film exhibits some of these same qualities. At the same time, the film fleshes out certain story elements. In the story, which is primarily told from Ennis’ point of view, we only hear about Jack Twist’s life in Texas. We never see it first-hand. The film dramatizes Jack’s life, adding details that were only hinted at on the page. In the story, Alma plays a small but important role. She’s effectively de-emphasized, though, through skillful writing. It’s less possible to do that on the screen. I liked the actress who played her (though I don’t know who she is), and found myself paying more attention to her in the movie than I did in the story. I wanted to see more of her (as a character), to know more of her situation, to be shown more of her point of view. The movie felt especially strong when it was dealing with her reactions. I liked the screen Alma better than the story Alma.

I admit that I was worried that the scenes of hot gay sex would make me uncomfortable. There was only one such scene, and it was filled with shadows and textures, not remotely as graphic as the straight sex scenes found in many modern films. The scene did make me uncomfortable, and that’s my problem, but I dealt with it. (I long ago became inured to seeing two men kissing, but anything more makes me squirm. Does this make me homophobic? Does this make me gay? I think it means I’m normal.)

Brokeback Mountain is a good movie based on a great short story. You should read it. You can find it in the fantastic Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction (the best short story compilation I’ve ever read) or in Close Range, an Annie Proulx collection. (Also, I’ve posted a plaintext file of “Brokeback Mountain” here.)

Kris and I have now seen two probable Best Picture nominees (the other being Capote). Both films were good, but not spectacular. We each agree that our favorite film of 2005 so far is Crash. (Crash was also Roger Ebert’s favorite of 2005.) Other 2005 films we may see in the coming weeks include: Hustle & Flow, Crash (again), The New World, Munich, Syriana, and Walk the Line.

Films coming soon that I am anxious to see include (links lead to trailers): She’s the Man (yes, really), The Fountain, Tsotsi, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (actually a 2005 film).

Super Bowl Bound

I can hardly believe it: my dream Super Bowl match-up has come to pass. The Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers will meet in two weeks for the first Super Bowl game that has ever really meant anything to me.

I’ve always supported the Seattle Seahawks. When we were kids and did not have a television, Jeff and I would listen to Jim Zorn and Steve Largent and the lowly Seahawks every Sunday. We took great delight in the fact that the team would often run trick plays. Nothing pleased us more than a fake field goal.

We did have a television during the era of Dave Krieg and Kurt Warner, the golden age of Seahawk football. The team did well, often thrashing those hated Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks even made the playoffs from time-to-time.

In college I learned about fantasy football, and that completely changed the way I viewed the actual game. Still, I clung to my Seahawks through ups-and-downs. The fall after I graduated, the fall I was selling insurance door-to-door, the Seahawk radio play-by-plays were often my companions on Sunday afternoons as I drove to the far corners of Oregon.

Then, in the mid-nineties, my interest waned (though not my loyalty). I watched football less and less. I was more interested in fantasy football. Still, every year I’d follow the team in the paper. When Seattle played Pittsburgh, my cousin Nick and I would engage in friendly trash-talking. (Nick is a lifelong Steelers fan. About a decade ago he won a radio contest and got to fly to Pittsburgh to watch a game from the sidelines.) I always used to joke that Seattle and Pittsburgh ought to meet in the Super Bowl (which was impossible because (a) the teams were both in the AFC and (b) the teams sucked).

That joking dream, however, has become a reality. For once, a Super Bowl I really care about.

I’m sorry, Seattle, for having been lukewarm in my support during the past few years. I’m sorry I haven’t watched you on TV every week (or at least listened to your games). I’m sorry I don’t even know all your players anymore. I promise to be a more faithful fan.

Go Seahawks!

State of Confusion

My wife is a wonderful woman. She’s intelligent, funny, and competent. She’s probably the most able person I know. However, she is not without flaws.

For one, she has an abysmal sense of direction. She rarely knows where she is, how she got there, or how to get anywhere else. She has no real internal map. If you asked her which way she was facing this very moment, she probably could not tell you.

In contrast, I pride myself on a near absolute sense of direction. I used to say that after I’d been to a place once, I could always get there again. As I’ve grown older, this ability has waned somewhat. Still, except for on our property (where, for some reason, I’m always turned around 180-degrees), I generally know which way I’m facing, and I always know where I am and how I got there.

Naturally, this disparity in directional abilities occasionally causes conflict. For example, on Monday was headed to Sheila’s for a stitch-and-bitch. “Can you give me directions?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “but haven’t you been there before.”

“Yes,” said Kris. “I don’t remember how to get there, though.”

So, I wrote out directions:

Head north on McLoughlin, take the Tacoma exit, go left at the light, go left at the stop at the top of the hill, go straight through the stops. When you reach the light at Johnson Creek, go straight, but then almost immediately take a left up the hill. Take a left on Ogden. Sheila’s house is on the left-hand side.

“These directions suck,” Kris told me. I drew her a map instead. “This isn’t any good, either.”

We were frustrated with each other. “I don’t know what else I can do,” I said. “Try Mapquest.”

“Mapquest is wrong. It tells me to get off at Bybee, but I can’t. There’s no exit there.”

I sighed. “Well, then, you’ll just have to do with the directions I gave you.” Neither of us was pleased with this solution, but she did eventually get to knitting and back without incident.

We met Craig and Lisa for a fine dinner at Ciao Vito the other night. After dinner, I was not in the mood to drive home down McLoughlin/99E. Instead, I took 32nd down to Burnside, then cut over to 39th. I pointed out landmarks from my life along the way.

“These are the apartments where Myung lived. He was my sales manager when I was with Combined Insurance. Amy Ratzlaf lived just a block over there. Remember that upstairs apartment where Chris and Cari lived just after college? It’s just beyond that record store. Here’s Stark. What do yo know that’s near Stark and 39th? Portland Nursery, remember? The place we bought our fruit trees and berry plants.”

Eventually Kris became somewhat engaged. “If this is 39th,” she asked, “does that mean that if we followed it long enough, it would run down near Andrew and Courtney’s house?”

“Exactly! See, here’s Hawthorne. There’s lots of stuff along Hawthorne: a Powell’s, the Bagdad Theater, all sorts of stuff. See this Safeway? Nick lives someplace around here. Here’s Holgate. As soon as we cross Holgate, I feel like we’re in the extended range of the area we usually hang out. See? Here’s the Trader Joe’s. Here’s Steele. Who do you know that lives on Steele?”

Kris thought for a moment. “Celeste?”

“That’s right.” If this sounds condescending in the re-telling, that’s because it almost sounded condescending during the event, too. I don’t mean to be condescending, of course, but I find myself trying to simplify things, trying to explain things like I might explain them to a child. Kris is not a child.

“Celeste lives just down there, across from Reed. Here’s Woodstock. We need to cut over to 99E now because 39th dead ends.”

“It does? I thought I took 39th home from Sheila’s the other night. Oh wait — I crossed 39th to Bybee.”

“Right. Bybee’s okay, but it kind of twists through that ritzy neighborhood and the intersections are all funky. I tend to avoid it when possible. Woodstock is easy. Now here’s the Bybee bridge. What would happen if I were to go straight instead of turning onto McLoughlin?”

“I don’t know. Would you hit 17th?”

“Yes! Where would you hit 17th?”

“I don’t know. Near the Verizon ad?” (There’s an annoying big electronic billboard at the Verizon store where 17th meets 99.)

“That’s a good guess, but it’s off a little bit. You’ll see. You should recognize where you are.”

“I don’t recognize it,” Kris said when we reached 17th.

“I forgot that it splits in two,” I said, pulling up to the next intersection.

“Wha—? How did we get here? It’s like we’re in a completely different state!” Ah, the flash of recognition. She knows the area around Bybee & Milwaukie: Caprial’s, Cha Cha Cha, Fat Albert’s Breakfast Cafe, Springwater Grill, Stars Antique Mall, Wallace Books, etc. She also knows a little of the area up by the Cronks and Bennetts near Woodstock. We’ve even driven this connecting route before, but apparently the points have never been connected on Kris’ internal map.

“Why don’t I take this way to Andrew and Courtney’s?” she asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier?”

I laughed. “Maybe. It’s not the quickest route, but it might be the best one for you to take.” We passed Eckankar! The Church of the Light and Sound of God! (Changed, apparently, to the Religion of the Light and Sound of God.) “Here, let me show you how this all connects up to the Tacoma Street overpass.” I turned onto Tacoma. “Remember: the Sellwood Bridge is on this road, too, directly behind me. That’s how you get to Marla’s.”

“Don’t push your luck,” muttered Kris.

A Dangerous Breach

I generally don’t pay attention to national politics or to current events. There’s no point. The same conflicts have been roiling not for months or years, nor even for decades, but for centuries, since the establishment of this nation. (For more about this eternal struggle, see my entry from two years ago in which I discuss the book Founding Brothers.)

Because I tend to bury my head in the sand, I rarely have a strong opinion about the sitting President. Reagan? Bush? Clinton? Eh, they were all fine in their way. But George W. Bush? I loathe the man and what he stands for.

George W. Bush has done more to undermine this country in five years than I could have believed possible. He has destroyed any credibility the U.S. once had on the global stage. If people around the world once suspected we were the playground bully, they have no doubt now. Perhaps more worrisome are the policies Bush and his cabinet have implemented domestically: financially, socially, morally, environmentally, politically, and militarily, this President has no regard for anyone other than himself (and his supporters).

I was no fan of Al Gore. I did not vote for him. However, it seems I might vote for him if he were to run again in 2008. Why? Because of this speech he gave yesterday. On a whim, I listened to the entire thing last night (while playing World of Warcraft with Joel, naturally), and damn if it didn’t get me fired up.

Here is an mp3 of the speech (right-click to download; the file is about 40mb, and the speech is about an hour long). Pasted below is a transcript of the speech. Yes, it is very very long. It is also very very important and very very good. If you have time, cut-and-paste it to a word processor, print it out, and read it. (But, really, it’s best listened-to: download the mp3 and spend an hour staring into space, thinking about what Gore has to say.)

Mon Jan 16 2006 12:40:14 ET

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.

In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.

As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.

It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored.

So, many of us have come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences and join with us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved.

It is appropriate that we make this appeal on the day our nation has set aside to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who challenged America to breathe new life into our oldest values by extending its promise to all our people.

On this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during this period.

The FBI privately called King the “most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country” and vowed to “take him off his pedestal.” The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King’s murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King’s life, helped to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

The result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of according a level of protection for private citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue.

Yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on “large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States.” The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program “without search warrants or any new laws that would permit such domestic intelligence collection.”

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President’s soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he has no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution – our system of checks and balances – was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: “The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution – an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, “On Common Sense” ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America’s alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that “the law is king.”

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law strengthens our democracy and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint.

The rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power.

A commitment to openness, truthfulness and accountability also helps our country avoid many serious mistakes. Recently, for example, we learned from recently classified declassified documents that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false information. We now know that the decision by Congress to authorize the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information. America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding both of these colossal mistakes in our history. Following the rule of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government to protect Americans from terrorism. In fact, doing so makes us weaker and more vulnerable.

Once violated, the rule of law is in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.

The President’s men have minced words about America’s laws. The Attorney General openly conceded that the “kind of surveillance” we now know they have been conducting requires a court order unless authorized by statute. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act self-evidently does not authorize what the NSA has been doing, and no one inside or outside the Administration claims that it does. Incredibly, the Administration claims instead that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September 11th.

This argument just does not hold any water. Without getting into the legal intricacies, it faces a number of embarrassing facts. First, another admission by the Attorney General: he concedes that the Administration knew that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that they consulted with some members of Congress about changing the statute. Gonzalez says that they were told this probably would not be possible. So how can they now argue that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force somehow implicitly authorized it all along? Second, when the Authorization was being debated, the Administration did in fact seek to have language inserted in it that would have authorized them to use military force domestically – and the Congress did not agree. Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Jim McGovern, among others, made statements during the Authorization debate clearly restating that that Authorization did not operate domestically.

When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him all the power he wanted when they passed the AUMF, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: “To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between President and Congress.”

This is precisely the “disrespect” for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the steel seizure case.

It is this same disrespect for America’s Constitution which has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution. And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, the President has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, the person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer-even to argue that the President or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.

The President claims that he can imprison American citizens indefinitely for the rest of their lives without an arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, and without informing their families that they have been imprisoned.

At the same time, the Executive Branch has claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture in a pattern that has now been documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive Branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. In the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were innocent of any charges.

This shameful exercise of power overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War and has been observed by every president since then – until now. These practices violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, not to mention our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals in foreign countries and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.

Some of our traditional allies have been shocked by these new practices on the part of our nation. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan – one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons – registered a complaint to his home office about the senselessness and cruelty of the new U.S. practice: “This material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful.”

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is “yes” then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch’s claims of these previously unrecognized powers: “If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.”

The fact that our normal safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is deeply troubling. This failure is due in part to the fact that the Executive Branch has followed a determined strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to restore our constitutional balance.

For example, after appearing to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation of torture, the President declared in the act of signing the bill that he reserved the right not to comply with it.

Similarly, the Executive Branch claimed that it could unilaterally imprison American citizens without giving them access to review by any tribunal. The Supreme Court disagreed, but the President engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the Court from providing meaningful content to the rights of its citizens.

A conservative jurist on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Executive Branch’s handling of one such case seemed to involve the sudden abandonment of principle “at substantial cost to the government’s credibility before the courts.”

As a result of its unprecedented claim of new unilateral power, the Executive Branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America’s representative democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized.

These claims must be rejected and a healthy balance of power restored to our Republic. Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo a radical transformation.

For more than two centuries, America’s freedoms have been preserved in part by our founders’ wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government into three co-equal branches, each of which serves to check and balance the power of the other two.

On more than a few occasions, the dynamic interaction among all three branches has resulted in collisions and temporary impasses that create what are invariably labeled “constitutional crises.” These crises have often been dangerous and uncertain times for our Republic. But in each such case so far, we have found a resolution of the crisis by renewing our common agreement to live under the rule of law.

The principle alternative to democracy throughout history has been the consolidation of virtually all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group who together exercise that power without the informed consent of the governed.

It was in revolt against just such a regime, after all, that America was founded. When Lincoln declared at the time of our greatest crisis that the ultimate question being decided in the Civil War was “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure,” he was not only saving our union but also was recognizing the fact that democracies are rare in history. And when they fail, as did Athens and the Roman Republic upon whose designs our founders drew heavily, what emerges in their place is another strongman regime.

There have of course been other periods of American history when the Executive Branch claimed new powers that were later seen as excessive and mistaken. Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political opponents.

When his successor, Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses he said: “[The essential principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation… [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”

Our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Some of the worst abuses prior to those of the current administration were committed by President Wilson during and after WWI with the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII marked a low point for the respect of individual rights at the hands of the executive. And, during the Vietnam War, the notorious COINTELPRO program was part and parcel of the abuses experienced by Dr. King and thousands of others.

But in each of these cases, when the conflict and turmoil subsided, the country recovered its equilibrium and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring cycle of excess and regret.

There are reasons for concern this time around that conditions may be changing and that the cycle may not repeat itself. For one thing, we have for decades been witnessing the slow and steady accumulation of presidential power. In a global environment of nuclear weapons and cold war tensions, Congress and the American people accepted ever enlarging spheres of presidential initiative to conduct intelligence and counter intelligence activities and to allocate our military forces on the global stage. When military force has been used as an instrument of foreign policy or in response to humanitarian demands, it has almost always been as the result of presidential initiative and leadership. As Justice Frankfurter wrote in the Steel Seizure Case, “The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority.”

A second reason to believe we may be experiencing something new is that we are told by the Administration that the war footing upon which he has tried to place the country is going to “last for the rest of our lives.” So we are told that the conditions of national threat that have been used by other Presidents to justify arrogations of power will persist in near perpetuity.

Third, we need to be aware of the advances in eavesdropping and surveillance technologies with their capacity to sweep up and analyze enormous quantities of information and to mine it for intelligence. This adds significant vulnerability to the privacy and freedom of enormous numbers of innocent people at the same time as the potential power of those technologies. These techologies have the potential for shifting the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the freedom of the individual in ways both subtle and profound.

Don’t misunderstand me: the threat of additional terror strikes is all too real and their concerted efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction does create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the Executive Branch with swiftness and agility. Moreover, there is in fact an inherent power that is conferred by the Constitution to the President to take unilateral action to protect the nation from a sudden and immediate threat, but it is simply not possible to precisely define in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when it is not.

But the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power grab lasting for years that produces a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government.

There is a final reason to worry that we may be experiencing something more than just another cycle of overreach and regret. This Administration has come to power in the thrall of a legal theory that aims to convince us that this excessive concentration of presidential authority is exactly what our Constitution intended.

This legal theory, which its proponents call the theory of the unitary executive but which is more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the constitution that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition. Under this theory, the President’s authority when acting as Commander-in-Chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed by the judiciary or checked by Congress. President Bush has pushed the implications of this idea to its maximum by continually stressing his role as Commander-in-Chief, invoking it has frequently as he can, conflating it with his other roles, domestic and foreign. When added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war, the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into the future as we can imagine.

This effort to rework America’s carefully balanced constitutional design into a lopsided structure dominated by an all powerful Executive Branch with a subservient Congress and judiciary is-ironically-accompanied by an effort by the same administration to rework America’s foreign policy from one that is based primarily on U.S. moral authority into one that is based on a misguided and self-defeating effort to establish dominance in the world.

The common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control.

This same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the Executive Branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all Executive Branch employees.

For example, CIA analysts who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure at work and became fearful of losing promotions and salary increases.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened to FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover’s view that Dr. King was closely connected to Communists. The head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence division said that his effort to tell the truth about King’s innocence of the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated and pressured. “It was evident that we had to change our ways or we would all be out on the street…. The men and I discussed how to get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious matter. These men were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes, children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing money on their homes, as they usually did. … so they wanted another memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in.”

The Constitution’s framers understood this dilemma as well, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “a power over a man’s support is a power over his will.” (Federalist No. 73)

Soon, there was no more difference of opinion within the FBI. The false accusation became the unanimous view. In exactly the same way, George Tenet’s CIA eventually joined in endorsing a manifestly false view that there was a linkage between al Qaeda and the government of Iraq.

In the words of George Orwell: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

Whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.

Last week, for example, Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the Administration’s eavesdropping on American citizens by saying that if it had conducted this program prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the hijackers.

Tragically, he apparently still doesn’t know that the Administration did in fact have the names of at least 2 of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had available to them information that could have easily led to the identification of most of the other hijackers. And yet, because of incompetence in the handling of this information, it was never used to protect the American people.

It is often the case that an Executive Branch beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.

Moreover, if the pattern of practice begun by this Administration is not challenged, it may well become a permanent part of the American system. Many conservatives have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this President means that the next President will have unchecked power as well. And the next President may be someone whose values and belief you do not trust. And this is why Republicans as well as Democrats should be concerned with what this President has done. If this President’s attempt to dramatically expand executive power goes unquestioned, our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost. And the next President or some future President will be able, in the name of national security, to restrict our liberties in a way the framers never would have thought possible.

The same instinct to expand its power and to establish dominance characterizes the relationship between this Administration and the courts and the Congress.

In a properly functioning system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands – notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process — by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.

The President’s decision to ignore FISA was a direct assault on the power of the judges who sit on that court. Congress established the FISA court precisely to be a check on executive power to wiretap. Yet, to ensure that the court could not function as a check on executive power, the President simply did not take matters to it and did not let the court know that it was being bypassed.

The President’s judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive – a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not – and I do not – we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

And the Administration has supported the assault on judicial independence that has been conducted largely in Congress. That assault includes a threat by the Republican majority in the Senate to permanently change the rules to eliminate the right of the minority to engage in extended debate of the President’s judicial nominees. The assault has extended to legislative efforts to curtail the jurisdiction of courts in matters ranging from habeas corpus to the pledge of allegiance. In short, the Administration has demonstrated its contempt for the judicial role and sought to evade judicial review of its actions at every turn.

But the most serious damage has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the Executive Branch to attain a massive expansion of its power.

I was elected to Congress in 1976 and served eight years in the house, 8 years in the Senate and presided over the Senate for 8 years as Vice President. As a young man, I saw the Congress first hand as the son of a Senator. My father was elected to Congress in 1938, 10 years before I was born, and left the Senate in 1971.

The Congress we have today is unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served. There are many distinguished Senators and Congressmen serving today. I am honored that some of them are here in this hall. But the legislative branch of government under its current leadership now operates as if it is entirely subservient to the Executive Branch.

Moreover, too many Members of the House and Senate now feel compelled to spend a majority of their time not in thoughtful debate of the issues, but raising money to purchase 30 second TV commercials.

There have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don’t really know what an oversight hearing is. In the 70’s and 80’s, the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the Executive Branch to the fire – no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today.

The role of authorization committees has declined into insignificance. The 13 annual appropriation bills are hardly ever actually passed anymore. Everything is lumped into a single giant measure that is not even available for Members of Congress to read before they vote on it.

Members of the minority party are now routinely excluded from conference committees, and amendments are routinely not allowed during floor consideration of legislation.

In the United States Senate, which used to pride itself on being the “greatest deliberative body in the world,” meaningful debate is now a rarity. Even on the eve of the fateful vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd famously asked: “Why is this chamber empty?”

In the House of Representatives, the number who face a genuinely competitive election contest every two years is typically less than a dozen out of 435.

And too many incumbents have come to believe that the key to continued access to the money for re-election is to stay on the good side of those who have the money to give; and, in the case of the majority party, the whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization.

So the willingness of Congress to challenge the Administration is further limited when the same party controls both Congress and the Executive Branch.

The Executive Branch, time and again, has co-opted Congress’ role, and often Congress has been a willing accomplice in the surrender of its own power.

Look for example at the Congressional role in “overseeing” this massive four year eavesdropping campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill of Rights. The President says he informed Congress, but what he really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees and the top leaders of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed that they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the intelligence committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to VP Cheney and placed a copy in his own safe.

Though I sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed, I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program.

Moreover, in the Congress as a whole-both House and Senate-the enhanced role of money in the re-election process, coupled with the sharply diminished role for reasoned deliberation and debate, has produced an atmosphere conducive to pervasive institutionalized corruption.

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg that threatens the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by our Executive Branch which now threatens a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of government you’re supposed to be.

But there is yet another Constitutional player whose pulse must be taken and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that has emerged with the efforts by the Executive Branch to dominate our constitutional system.

We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America’s democracy. We-as Lincoln put it, “[e]ven we here”-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson said: “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

The revolutionary departure on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke: “All just power is derived from the consent of the governed.”

The intricate and carefully balanced constitutional system that is now in such danger was created with the full and widespread participation of the population as a whole. The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely-read newspaper essays, and they represented only one of twenty-four series of essays that crowded the vibrant marketplace of ideas in which farmers and shopkeepers recapitulated the debates that played out so fruitfully in Philadelphia.

Indeed, when the Convention had done its best, it was the people – in their various States – that refused to confirm the result until, at their insistence, the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent forward for ratification.

And it is “We the people” who must now find once again the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution.

And here there is cause for both concern and great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by television – a distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

Lincoln’s memorable call during the Civil War is applicable in a new way to our dilemma today: “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal source of information. Its dominance has become so extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes place within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements.

And the political economy supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America’s first century as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.

The constricted role of ideas in the American political system today has encouraged efforts by the Executive Branch to control the flow of information as a means of controlling the outcome of important decisions that still lie in the hands of the people.

The Administration vigorously asserts its power to maintain the secrecy of its operations. After all, the other branches can’t check an abuse of power if they don’t know it is happening.

For example, when the Administration was attempting to persuade Congress to enact the Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and Senate raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But, rather than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the Administration withheld facts and prevented the Congress from hearing testimony that it sought from the principal administration expert who had compiled information showing in advance of the vote that indeed the true cost estimates were far higher than the numbers given to Congress by the President.

Deprived of that information, and believing the false numbers given to it instead, the Congress approved the program. Tragically, the entire initiative is now collapsing- all over the country- with the Administration making an appeal just this weekend to major insurance companies to volunteer to bail it out.

To take another example, scientific warnings about the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming were censored by a political appointee in the White House who had no scientific training. And today one of the leading scientific experts on global warming in NASA has been ordered not to talk to members of the press and to keep a careful log of everyone he meets with so that the Executive Branch can monitor and control his discussions of global warming.

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information is by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. As President Eisenhower said, “Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.”

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment’s notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens’ right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President’s apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, “The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will.”

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We have had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive Branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of a special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President.

Second, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive Branch who report evidence of wrongdoing — especially where it involves the abuse of Executive Branch authority in the sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive Branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

Freedom of communication is an essential prerequisite for the restoration of the health of our democracy.

It is particularly important that the freedom of the Internet be protected against either the encroachment of government or the efforts at control by large media conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.

I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, “Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”


I’ve been a small-i independent my entire adult life. George W. Bush is doing all he can to make me a small-d democrat. The man is evil. Or stupid. (Or, more likely, both.)

(Thanks to Dave for digging up this transcript! His google skills are better than mine…)

Little Lulu

Some people are addicted to alcohol. Some people are addicted to cigarettes. (Some people are addicted to both.) My vice is comix. I love comic books, I love cartoons (single-panel comix like The Far Side), and I especially love comic strips. (Classic comic strips are my favorites.)

I’m amazed how huge the field of comix is. I’m always discovering new gems, some of which were sitting in plain view, waiting for me to notice. One recent example is Little Lulu.

For the past year, I’ve heard raves about Little Lulu all over the comic book world. “What’s the big deal?” I wondered. “It’s just an old kids book, right?” Well. I recently bought a volume, and now I understand the raves. Little Lulu may have been a kids comic book, but it’s a kids comic book with class. These stories from the forties and fifties exhibit a charm and intelligence (and a sense of spunk) completely missing from the Richie Rich comics I grew up with. They do a remarkable job of capturing the feel of a bygone era, not to mention a sense of childhood. Most of all, they’re just plain fun.

Lulu is an eight-year-old girl with a terrific imagination. Her neighborhood is populated by other children, including a gang of boys (the most notable of which is her friend Tubby), and various other girls. A little boy named Alvin lives next door to Lulu. Alvin is a pest: he often wants Lulu to tell him stories. And lord, what stories Lulu tells!

Here’s a short example from a recent volume of reprints:

I love this bit (and the rest of the story, for which I do not have scans), and bored Kris by recounting it once on the way home from a grocery trip. I love the little details that reveal what life was like sixty years ago (the self-service market has replaced the old-style market, for example, or the fact that you might bring your own shopping cart from home). I wish you could see the gag on the next page where Alvin keeps stashing cabbages on the bottom of some woman’s cart. It makes me laugh.

There are several great Lulu pages around the web, including Michelle’s Little Lulu page,Bob Pfeffer’s Little Lulu page and John Merrill’s Little Lulu page. Apparently, the HBO Family channel (who knew there was such a thing?) airs an animated series called The Little Lulu Show featuring Tracey Ullman as the voice of Lulu Moppet.

I’ve managed to track down seven Little Lulu comic stories on-line, and am hosting them here in order to share them with the world. The seven stories are:

If you’d like to read more Lulu, Portland’s own Dark Horse Comics has begun a Little Lulu reprint project. They’re reproducing a large number of her early adventures in small, affordable black-and-white volumes. I own several. They’re wonderful. I think they’re perfect for boys and girls who are just beginning to read. (And for their parents, too!) These delightful books can be had for only $10 each from Amazon (just use the links below) or from your local comic book store. (Also, Tales of Wonder has them for $8 each.)

  1. My Dinner With Lulu (Four Color 74, 97, 110, 115, 120)
  2. Sunday Afternoon (Four Color 131, 139, 146, 158)
  3. Lulu in the Doghouse (Four Color 165, Little Lulu 1-5)
  4. Lulu Goes Shopping (Little Lulu 6-12), from which the first three pages are excerpted above
  5. Lulu Takes a Trip (Little Lulu 13-17)
  6. Letters to Santa (Little Lulu 18-22)
  7. Lulu’s Umbrella Service (Little Lulu 23-27)
  8. Late For School (to be released in February)
  9. Lucky Lulu (to be released in April)

I often refrain from discussing comix in this forum, but one of my goals in 2006 is to cast off this inhibition. Every month or so I will share some comix-related feature that really makes me happy: Little Lulu, Little Nemo, Peanuts, Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, early Wonder Woman, Micronauts, Rawhide Kid, and more.

I know this will bore some of you, but I hope that others will get to glimpse the greatness of an art form that often gets only disrespect.

Flooding (Continued)

Oops. How embarrassing. All those rainfall numbers I cited on Monday? Those are for Astoria. Let’s redo the body of that entry but with the correct numbers for Portland, shall we?

Since January first, Portland has had 4.34 inches of rain, which is 1.70 inches above the norm of 2.64 inches. Over the same period last year, we received only 0.56 inches of rain. (And, remember, between February 15th and March 15th, we had no rain and record warmth.)

Over the past twenty-three days (since the cold spell ended on December 18th) we’ve had 10.77 inches of rain, which is 6.78 inches above the norm of 3.99 inches. During the same period last year, we received only 1.94 inches of rain.

All my babbling about this being a heavy water year is nonsense. We are above average, and have had a great deal of rainfall in the past three weeks, but our annual numbers are not as off-the-chart as I thought we were.

I apologize for the previous misinformation. It’s really quite embarrassing to have posted it.

Regardless of how much rain we’ve had, it’s still too much. Our poor house is being battered by the storm. The leak in the roof seems mostly contained, but I still suspect water is getting in somewhere. (I have no idea where, though — I went over that area of the roof in minute detail when I patched it at the end of December. I obviously missed something somewhere.

The roof worries me most in the long run. In the short run, the water in the basement is a significant headache. I may need to get in touch with the previous owner to get some tips on how to cope with it. (Of course, we could just move everything out of the basement, but that seems like an extreme measure.)

Last night we became well-acquainted with our sump pump.

When I got home, there entire basement was flooded, and the deeper spots had about an inch of water. I drained the area with the sump pump and went upstairs. When Kris got home an hour later, she went down to check things out. She came up angry. “Why haven’t you drained the basement?” she demanded.

“I did!” I said.

I went down to look. The water was even deeper than before. Throughout the evening, we took turns draining the basement every hour or so. We even set up shifts during the night. I drained the basement at 11:30, 2:30, and 5:30; Kris drained it at 1:00 and 4:00.

We have lots of questions, some of which have possible answers with severe negative consequences. For example:

Ought we just let the cellar fill with water? What would happen if we didn’t pump it? Obviously, we can’t be at the house 24 hours a day. How deep will the water get if we’re not there to pump it every ninety minutes? Is there a typical maximum depth the water reaches? Would it just rise to a certain level and stop? Or does it just keep rising indefinitely? Today before we left for work, we pulled up the sump pump and set it in a corner. (It’s not a submersible type, and the plunger thingie doesn’t work — it rises, but it does not fall.) What would happen if we just left the sump pump in the deepening water? If it became submerged, would it be dangerous to enter the water? Would it be dangerous to turn it on? Would it be dangerous to plug or unplug the pump if it were under water? Is there a way to treat the eventual mold growth? (I’ll bet there’s some liquid a person can spray that will kill molds. Am I right?) What can we do to prevent future flooding? (Or at least to minimize it.) We’ll re-evaluate the gutter system very soon, making sure everything is clear and functioning properly. We’ll also get tubing to drain all of the downspouts further away from the house. Aside from this, what else can we do? Dave has suggested digging some gravel-filled sump pits and trenches outside the house, and I think this is a keen (but daunting) idea. What’s the best method to do this? How many do I need? Where do I place them? How deep must they be? Would it help to run the well outside? (By which I mean: turn on the faucet attached to the well, activate the pump, and drain water through a hose to a spot near the road.)

These aren’t questions I’ve ever had to worry about before. They’re a little overwhelming. I’m sure we’ll be fine. This house has stood for over one hundred years, and for most of that time it did not have the sump pump. (It appears to have been set in place during the early eighties based on dates on the cord and the pump itself.)


Here at Rosings Park we’ve endured bad contractors, leaky roofs, flooded basements, (sort of) stolen camera equipment, and a hostile neighbor cat. Now we’re suffering an insect infestation: our home is being overrun by ladybugs.

The first documented ladybug in the house was the one I ate at the end of October:

I’m sitting at my desk, composing this weblog entry. I’m listening to Neutral Milk Hotel and munching on hickory smoke flavored soy nuts. As I’m mousing around, I bump into a soy bean that I must have dropped. Without looking, I snatch it and pop it into my mouth.

Crunch crunch crunch.

“Hm,” I think. “That doesn’t taste very much like hickory smoke. It tastes rather like grass. In fact, it tastes gross.” And so I spit it out into my hand only to see that I have not been gnashing a stray soy bean but a stray lady bug.


Since then, the ladybug presence has grown from a couple a week to a couple a day. We’ll be sitting watching Upstairs, Downstairs or playing World of Warcraft and a ladybug will alight on us. Or we’ll hear one tik tik tikking against the light fixture.

Kris and I disagree over the source of the ladybug infestation. “I think they’re coming in from outside,” she says. “They’re coming in the window in the entertainment room.”

“What makes you think that?” I say. “There’s no evidence that this is the case. And why would they choose only that window? Plus, look at it: it’s sealed tight. I think there’s a ladybug nest someplace in the room. Maybe in the Christmas cactus. I think they’re reproducing.”

“Right. What evidence do you have for that?” asks Kris. “Where are the ladybug eggs? The ladybug larvae? Why aren’t we seeing even more of them?”

So, we really don’t have any idea where the ladybugs are coming from. Meanwhile, they’ve started making their way from upstairs to downstairs. There were a couple in the kitchen last night. We don’t really mind. It’s kind of fun to have a ladybug infestation. “If they were any other bug, we’d be grossed out,” Kris observed last night. “But ladybugs are like friendly visitors from the insect world.”

I don’t recall that I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s an interesting follow-up. Last February, some camera equipment was stolen from the trunk of my car. Only it wasn’t. The thief took the bag from the car, and then dumped the camera and lenses in the bushes at the edge of the property. (He kept the cell phone. He didn’t take several hundred dollars in checks that were on the back seat.) Joel found the camera equipment when he was here in March.

Later in the year, somebody broke into Kris’s car. They didn’t take anything from the front, but they opened her trunk and stole the first aid kit and miscellaneous roadside emergency supplies.

What sort of thief is this? He leaves compact discs and checks (and a checkbook!) and thousands of dollars in camera equipment, but he takes a cell phone (easily deactivated in minutes), flares, and a first aid kit? I don’t get it.