Saturday, June 26, 2010

Martha's on vacation until July 13th

Charlie and I are heading west for a couple of weeks. At some point we will visit with daughter Lizzie in Colorado and help her build a chicken coop.

Sara Prince will be blogging in my place, when  she is so moved.

All cheer to all of you. Stay cool. . . .

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Grandchildren's Half-Told Family Story by Kathy Nixon

On my desk is a photograph of Opequon Cemetery. It celebrates the end of a thirty-year quest. Finally, I’m here, at Winchester Virginia, to see where my ancestors are buried. The old iron gate arches over the entrance and frames the background. The focal point is the engraved granite stone. It honors my Scottish ancestors’ gift of land to their church in 1745.

A few seconds before the picture was taken, my three grandchildren and I were ready to pass through the gate. But we’ve been called back for this Kodak moment. The camera has captured us posed above our ancestors’ chiseled names of Hoge and Hume.

At the camera click, I guided Alexis, age seven, Ben, four, and Shannon, three, through the gate. I hurried to find the gravestones of other ancestors lying close by.

Now, when I reflect upon this picture, there’s a lot I don’t “see.” The tears in my eyes. The writing on the historical plaque. Alexis’ incipient pout, which she continues to perfect. Ben’s compressed energy ready to erupt the nanosecond my hand leaves his shoulder. Even Shannon’s balletesque leap, a bit blurry, doesn’t readily register.

Instead I “see” how my grandchildren tell America’s story.

From their mother’s side comes a long documented genealogy of Europeans. They immigrated here to escape religious, economic, or military repression. Opequon’s Presbyterian Church and its historic burial ground symbolize those ancestors’ flight to freedom.

My grandchildren show this heritage. Alexis has inherited my daughter’s upturned nose and chin. Ben’s striking red hair is so reminiscent of my sister’s childhood shade. Shannon has the same cornflower blue eyes as my father. Her eyes contrast sharply with her dark ringlets that never stay in place.

Their paternal side bequeaths a different story. It’s one of unknown white masters and an undocumented history of slavery. My grandchildren’s black ancestors were not seeking freedom. They were forcibly brought to the New World in chains.

This history also proclaims itself in my grandchildren. Alexis with her warm brown face the color of tea. Ben whose once blue eyes are changing to his father’s yellow. Shannon’s arms glowing just the shade of long treasured parchment.

The significance of their heritage resonates in my photograph. It is the convergence of their parents’ stories running against the backdrop of America’s history.

My grandchildren were too young to realize their feet were touching the same ground their ancestors had walked almost three hundred years ago. When they are older and look at this picture, I’ll share the story of their Presbyterian ancestors buried at Opequon. I’ll also tell them that they were what made the occasion special. For that day was bittersweet. There were no corresponding written histories or burial grounds on their father’s side. My grandchildren have been robbed of half their family story.

This is my hope. When they show their grandchildren this picture and tell the story of our day together, racism will have, long ago, passed into America’s history.

-- Kathy Nixon is an amateur genealogist looking for information on those "pesky" Garretts from McGaheysville

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Heath care, again . . .

Ezra Klein, 26, writes a very worthwhile blog for that he calls Economic and Domestic Policy and Lots of It. As a woman of a certain age, I like reading what a very smart, educated person at the other end of adulthood has to say about how things are going.

Yesterday he posted news of a new poll on the Affordable Healthcare Act (remember that?) which I found quite interesting.

Most everyone's happy (and trending happier) except those Americans on Medicare. And they are worried (and becoming more worried) that they will lose some of what they already have in the interests of improving the heath care of others.

Yesterday, on the WMRA Facebook page, I posted news of a study which shows that, when it comes to health care, Americans spend more . . .

and get less than everyone else.

The Pew Research Center recently released a report on how the press reported the rowdy and contentious health care reform debate. In its introduction, this reports states:
It was a wild political donnybrook and the defining policy initiative of the Obama presidency to date. A Democratic chief executive was staking the crucial first year of his presidency on health care reform—a legislative achievement that had eluded several of his predecessors. And he was facing off against an equally determined opposition spearheaded by a new groundswell of fear about exploding government intervention.

There was a third major player in the health care debate as well. Much of the battle over health care reform, and much of what the public knew or thought about it, played out through a changing media system.

Prior to the legislative battle, curiously, health care had often flown below the news radar screen. Though the system affects virtually every American and represents about one-sixth of the U.S. economy, it accounted for less than 1% of the overall coverage in 2007 and 2008 according to data from the Pew Research Center’s  Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It also amounted to the first long-running policy debate the press would have to cover in what was in some ways a new media era. It was one in which bloggers were being recognized at White House briefings, cable news and talk radio seemed to play an ever larger role in the media landscape and new technologies such as Twitter and social media had become important components of politics.

Add to the challenge, the health care industry itself, a particularly complex and often confusing topic. And the cacophony of charges and countercharges, commentary and criticism from advocates on both sides further complicated efforts to comprehend the issue. Indeed, as the coverage continued, the public seemed more confused. . .
It is interesting in hindsight to think about how both our politicians and our press treated health care reform more as a political issue than a health issue. Wouldn't it have been more sensible and ethical for them to have made the issues under discussion as accessible and understandable as possible?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roadside gazing and grazing . . .

There has been at least one personal upside to governmental budget tightening -- the day lilies that line our road haven't been mowed this year. And so last night when a friend gave me a ride home, they were in full, glorious, beautiful bloom.

photo by Charlie Woodroof

"Did you know you can eat those?" my friend asked.

I did not.

My friend had learned this, she said, from reading Euell Gibbon's Stalking the Wild Asparagus many, many years ago. Now she would never call  herself an old hippie, which I do. Or at least I used to. I'm not sure someone who's never read Euell Gibbon's 60's classic is still allowed to do that . . .

This morning, I got up and did some research about the culinary possibilities of day lilies. It turns out they are not only edible, but somewhat nutritious.
Day Lily (per 100g)
Hemerocallis fulva
Calories 42
Protein 2g
Fat .4g
Calcium 87mg
Phosphorus 176mg
Iron 1.2mg
Sodium 24mg
Potassium 170mg
Vitamin A 3,000 I.U.
Thiamin .16mg
Riboflavin .21mg
Niacin .8mg
Vitamin C 88mg
And they are also versatile--who knew one could prepare stuffed day lilies, day lily fritters, and day lily cheesecake. Not to mention

Oriental Daylily Buds

2 cups daylily buds
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/3 cup almond slivers
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 Tbs. Rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbs. Water
2 cups cooked brown rice 
Steam daylily buds for 10-15 minutes, until tender. In a wok or heavy skillet, heat the oil over a high heat until very hot. Add the almond slivers, saute until browned. Quickly remove the almonds from the pan, set aside. Turn heat down to medium. Add grated ginger and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add vinegar, tamari, and water. Stir to mix. Toss in daylily buds. Serve over hot rice, topped with sauteed almonds. Serves 4.

So why am I blogging about day lilies on the day General McChrystal may lose his job, the Gulf Coast is under siege from its own economic life blood,  Nicky Haley wins the GOP nomination for governor in South Carolina, the U.S. must win or go home in World Cup soccer, and Kenneth Turan gives a Tom Cruise movie a good review?

Because, as Sir Edmund Hillary said of Mount Everest, they are there, all those lilies of the fields; allowed to bloom this year as an accident of governmental cost-cutting. And, I thought that even in the midst of all the other turmoil in our lives, they are worth taking note of.

Even if you decide not to stir-fry them for lunch.

another Charlie photo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shameless hustling for another mother's daughter's band . . .

I really admire people who want to make a living in the arts and are willing to get out there and hustle to make it happen.

I also really admire people who play musical instruments I've never heard of.

Denise Zito, who's written two fine Civic Soapbox essays, has a musician daughter, Suz Zito Slezak, who does both. That's her, pictured below, making music on something called a Donkey Jawbone. (She also fiddles and sings harmony). Beside her are  David Wax (middle)  and Jordan Wax,  the two other members of the band The David Wax Museum. They are one of those bands that is never not playing gigs -- which is, after all, exactly what it takes to get your music out there. (check out their the band's large presence in NPR's Here and Now story on Mexico-centric Indie rock)

These three folks describe their band as a a "jarana-strumming, donkey jawbone-whacking, accordion-pumping folk group out of Boston." Their website describes the David Wax Museum as "infus[ing] Mexican son into its literary, countrified folk rock." A donkey jawbone (quijada), by the way, is a traditional Mexican percussion instrument and a jarana is a small Mexican guitar. The David Wax Museum's music, in other words, is music that's never seen the inside of a box.

WMRA really is a community operation. A listener happened to hear Suz's band in Staunton and took pains to let me know that she'd been entranced, to put it mildly. Then another listener let me know that the David Wax Museum is one of three finalists in competition to appear at this year's Newport Folk Festival. As we do get by with a little help from our mother's fellow public radio station listeners, I got Suz's phone number, called and asked her to let me know what the deal was. Here's what she e-mailed back:
"Hi, I'm Suz, from The David Wax Museum. We are absolutely thrilled to announce that we were chosen as a top three finalist for a competition to get to play at the famous Newport Folk Festival! Over 150 bands submitted applications for these three spots and the band with the most votes by June 30 will get to play at Newport. The voting is neck and neck, so we need your help!
This is a huge opportunity for us! Playing at Newport would not only allow us to perform in front of thousands of music-lovers, but would also give us a chance to meet some of the most renowned artists in the country.

We would be honored and most grateful to receive your vote! It's very easy and only takes two minutes of your time. Thank you so much and we hope to see you when we're back in Virginia!"
Here's how to vote to send The David Wax Museum to the Newport Folk Festival (it takes less than 2 minutes!):

1. Go to 

2. Type in your birthday
3. Scroll down and click "REGISTER" to vote in this poll
4. Enter information (only fields with asterisks are required)
  a. username
  b. email address (any old email address will do!)
  c. zip code
  d. password
5. Unclick "newsletter" (unless you want to receive the Magic Hat newsletter!)
6. Click "Create new account"
7. Click on the dot next to our band to VOTE for David Wax Museum! 
I would never, ever use this blog to suggest that you do something. But I do think it's part of this blog's mission to let you know what is going on out there in WMRA Land -- including the Boston branch of it!

So, if you are so moved, give The David Wax Museum a listen and take it from there . . .

Artwork by Alec Dempster

Monday, June 21, 2010

The toad in the pot and other social challenges . . .

I keep a row of wounded plants that need extra tending on the lip of our garage. This year one of them, a snapdragon whose roots were attacked by a vole, didn't make it. But as I didn't need the pot for another struggling garden resident, I left the dead plant and its pot where it was.

Charlie, however, did need the saucer under it. And when he went to pick it up, a piece of the dirt in the pot blinked.

We Woodroofs run a very live-and-let-live household, at least as far as toads are concerned. Toads are welcome in our pots, anytime. Charlie and I, personally, don't want to live in pots, but if living in our pot floats this particular toad's boat, then who are we to tell a toad it shouldn't be doing that.

Charlie and I try hard to extend that attitude to people, as well, and to carry it beyond our one acre of Rockingham County. But for us, as for everyone else, it's sometimes a challenge to let others be. The trick, I think, is not to let the fact that others' behavior may not be like ours and so may make us uncomfortable, give us permission to believe that it is also wrong.

I was thinking about the toad in the pot this morning as I read about President Obama's Father's Day proclamation; thinking about how we humans do love our rules, our rigid codes, our "morality" -- all those human social concoctions that makes us feel that how we live is right and how those who live differently are wrong. During the proclamation, President Obama noted that:
Nurturing families come in many forms, and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step father, a grandfather, or caring guardian. 
A presidential Father's Day proclamation is tradition; honoring "two father" families is not. And I cannot think of anything that makes many people in this country more nervous than the idea that such a practice should be considered normal.

The comments on 44, the Washington Post's political blog on the president, were predictably disapproving . . .
Georges 2:  I'll try to make it simple for you. Americans are sick and tired of their traditions and their values being maligned and trampled on. They're sick and tired of people like you trying to change everything from Christmas to Father's Day to Easter. This country was founded by Christians, htruman1, and we're not backing down. . . .
37thand0street   Time for the gays to just STOP PUSHING THEIR AGENDA ON EVERYONE ELSE.
This stuff has to stop.
The leftists are way out of line on this issue.
logicprevails:   What is this idiot who doubles as the Mainstream Media's President up to now?
I did find one post by someone who welcomed the president's reference to gay families . . .
kecooper23:  As a 24 year old lesbian who plans on having children with my partner of 6 years, this was such a great moment for our country. The thing is, whether people like it or not, gay people are in this country, and they have families. Either we can talk about it and try to understand, or we can be totally hush hush about the matter. But no matter what, it is still happening and it is going to keep happening. If you have questions, ask, but please do not judge because you don't know or understand. And for those of you who keep bringing religion into this matter, I appreciate how worried you seem for the GLBT community, but please just worry about yourself. Thank you!
Worrying about ourselves, now there's a real challenge. Why are we humans so eager to judge each other? What the heck do we get out of it?

Charlie says it's a reach to compare human and toad lifestyles, but I'm less sure of this. A useful metaphor is a useful metaphor is a useful metaphor.

I crouch down beside the toad in the pot whenever I wander out into our garage. I look at toad; toad looks at me.  I can't for the life of me see that either one of us needs to spend a second being uncomfortable about the other's ways. . .

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Senator Warner and the Dream Act

Martha note: I don't usually post on Saturday, but I got the following note from Dream Act Virginia that I thought I should pass on. As always, your comments are welcome . . .
Immigrant Student Advocacy Group Gets a “Yes” on the DREAM Act from Sen. Mark Warner 
WASHINGTON D.C., June 18, 2010:  On Wednesday of this week, six immigrant high school and college graduates from Harrisonburg, Virginia, arrived in Senator Mark Warner’s D.C. office wearing graduation caps and matching shirts emblazoned with the words “Support the DREAM Act.”  It was one of Senator Warner’s monthly “Congressional Coffee” events where Virginia residents are able to nab a photo opportunity and, for the persistent, a few minutes to advocate for an issue important to them. For the first time, Senator Warner stated he would vote “Yes” on the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, if it came to the floor of the Senate. 
Amidst a crowd of visiting Virginians and lobbyists, the young DREAM Act team wound their way toward the Senator in order to use their personal stories to urge him to co-sponsor the DREAM Act. DREAM Activist – Virginia leader, Isabel, told Senator Warner her story. She was brought to the United States at age 6 by her parents without documents (although her father had work papers). She passed through local schools and received a bachelor degree with honors in social work. But even after 19 years in the Valley, she still cannot get a social security number and work due to her legal status. The group then urged Senator Warner to co-sponsor the legislation this year rather than wait for comprehensive immigration reform.
The futures of these high achieving graduates rest in the Act, which would provide a pathway, via higher education or military service, to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors, have no criminal background and have lived in the United States for at least five consecutive years. At present, the DREAM Act has 38 co-sponsors. It is currently the only immigration bill proposal receiving Senate consideration so far this year. It needs 13 more co-sponsors for Senator Durbin (IL), the chief sponsor and Senate Majority Whip, to bring it to the floor for a Senate vote.
Senator Warner has thus far refrained from committing to co-sponsorship of the Act. However, according to Isabel, “His verbal support is an encouraging sign.”
 P.S. from Martha: If you missed the Virginia Insight program on the DREAM Act and would like to listen to Tom Graham's conversation with Nicole Budiuz, Bob Dane, Alexandria de Havilland, and Elizabeth A. Kohler Maya, here's a link to the Virginia Insight archives. Just click and scroll down until you reach the May 17th, 2010 program.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Civic Soapbox Friday: Hattie's Story by Claire Martindale

Hattie Pitts had just reached the part of her story where she would tell the teenagers about her husband going to jail. I knew because I’d heard her tell this tale every week for most of the summer. It was 1983 in the sultry south Georgia town of Americus, where I was six months into a volunteer term with Habitat for Humanity International. I had no construction skills to help Habitat build affordable homes for families like Hattie’s, but I helped in other ways, such as organizing these afternoon chats between future Habitat homeowners and teenage work campers.

All Habitat homeowners had to work sweat equity hours in building their own homes and other projects. To earn some of her hours, Hattie Pitts agreed to meet each week with a new group of mostly white, mostly affluent work campers and tell them what it was like for her growing up black and poor in south Georgia.
Hers was a hard life, and I was astonished with Hattie’s openness in sharing her journey. She told about having to quit school in the third grade to pick cotton and earn a little money. She confessed that her lack of schooling left her with limited skills in reading and writing and made it difficult to get a job as an adult. Her voice could not hide the pain of her constant struggle for steady work.

What surprised me was that Hattie was not an old woman. She was a few years older than me but still under forty, and I couldn’t help thinking how different our lives had been. When I was coming home from school to play with dolls, Hattie was dragging a back-breaking sack through the cotton fields. I went to college and took foreign language courses for an easy credit, while Hattie struggled to hide her illiteracy from potential employers.

I was still single; Hattie was married but not happily. Then her husband was arrested and sent to prison for robbery, and she was left to care for four young children. The only place she could afford to rent was a crumbling house in a bad neighborhood, and friends encouraged her to apply for a Habitat house. She had been approved that spring, and her new home was under construction.

As Hattie neared the end of her story, I waited for the part that I loved best. Hattie described how being involved with Habitat had changed her life. She told about meeting volunteers from all around the United States and even other countries. She described how she was encouraged to try things she would never have tried on her own – things like hammering shingles on her roof or talking to 20 teenagers.

“These past months with Habitat for Humanity,” Hattie Pitts said fervently, “It’s been the best time of my life.”
I found myself comparing my life with Hattie’s again. Since moving to Georgia, I had met volunteers from around the globe. I, too, had been encouraged to try things I never would have dreamed of trying on my own. I had met people with stories that stretched my world.

Yes, Hattie, I silently agreed. It’s been the best time of my life, too.

          --Claire Martindale lives in Bridgewater and volunteers for Central Valley Habitat for Humanity

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Scary movies, scary life . . .

Psycho turned 50 yesterday. And the women of a certain age I know still fleetingly think about Janet Leigh sometimes as they step into the shower. Whoever suspected before Alfred Hitchcock's movie that closing that curtain and turning on the water could place one in the quintessentially vulnerable position?


My sister was attending girl's boarding school when Psycho came out. Surely the adult who decided to show it to 500 sequestered girls as their Friday night movie treat was pretty psycho, herself. Paranoia is contagious at boarding school. Being scared is much more entertaining than trigonometry. After the movie, one of my sister's dorm-mates decided to playfully scare a friend who was taking a shower. The friend ended up in the emergency room. It was all very thrilling.

Thinking about Psycho got me to thinking about other scary movies. We do love them, don't we? It's such of a relief to know who or what, exactly, constitutes Big Trouble. Even if it's only pretend Big Trouble, and it's only for a couple of hours.

I remember watching Jaws from the back of a Charlottesville movie theater.When that enormous white fish reared up out of the ocean behind that puny little boat containing Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw, I watched the entire audience jump in unison. I left the theater that night chattering with strangers, bonded with them for life by having experienced together the vanquishing of the Big Bad Fish.

I was interested in the reaction to President Obama's Oval Office speech night before last. David Brooks complained on PBS afterward that it was short on specifics, as though the president should know the specifics of what to do. But then, maybe such knowledge is inferred by giving a speech from the Oval Office. As Dan Kennedy put it on,
There was something odd and silly about the idea of Obama's delivering a prime-time, televised address – his first from the magisterial setting of the Oval Office. The oil continues to gush, with estimates about the quantity revised upwards on an almost daily basis. What could he possibly say?
There was also much debate on public radio airwaves yesterday as to whether the war in Afghanistan is going well, what to do about the Gaza blockade, and how could a complete unknown possibly have won the South Carolina Democratic Senatorial primary? People argued and argued and argued, because nobody really knows what's going on, much less what to do about it. And we Americans prefer anything to the unknown, don't we? Or, even worse, the unknowable.

The great challenge of real life these days, as I see it, is to accept that destructive things are out there that cannot be vanquished or even understood in a couple of hours, the time it takes in a cinema. Life is scary; but it is not a scary movie.  We have to keep talking, keep learning, keep trying things. All our arguing, it seems to me, is merely running scared disguised as bluster.

This is Jaws in real life. And the truth is nobody knows what to do about it. The real question is do we, as American citizens, have the guts to face that.

Where is Alfred Hitchcock or Roy Scheider when you need them?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The NRA, rampant on the Hill . . .

Every morning I head into the computer a little after 7 and start trolling the news for the first WMRA Facebook post/question of the day. Bob Leweke and I chat back and forth about what's coming up on Morning Edition so, if possible, we can coordinate what I post with what he talks about.

This morning while trolling, I came across an AP article on the NPR site, that, even at such an early hour, made my jaw drop and my eyes pop. For me, it was a better wake-up than umpteen cups of coffee, so, in case you could use a little waking up at whatever time you're reading this, here's a link to the article and its first few paragraphs.

Displaying its remarkable clout, the National Rifle Association agreed on Tuesday to permit House passage of tougher disclosure requirements on campaign advertising and other political activity, one day after Democrats pledged to exempt the gun-owners' group from the bill's key provisions.
Supporters of the measure conceded that without the NRA's acquiescence, it was doomed to defeat.
"Any efforts to silence the political speech of NRA members will, as has been the case in the past, be met with strong opposition," the organization said in a statement in which it pledged to refrain from lobbying either for or against the legislation's passage as long as the exemption remains part of it.
The measure requires the listing of the names of the top five donors to an organization running political ads, including unions, businesses and nonprofit organizations. It also mandates that any individual or group paying for independent campaign activities report any expenditure of $10,000 or more made in excess of 20 days before an election. Expenditures greater than $1,000 would have to be disclosed within 24 hours in the final 20 days of a campaign.
In a concession negotiated over the weekend, House Democrats agreed to an exemption from the disclosure requirements for organizations that have been in existence for a decade, have at least 1 million dues-paying members and do not use any corporate or labor union money to finance their campaign-related expenditures.
In addition to the NRA, other organizations meeting the same criteria would also be exempt, but Democratic officials said Tuesday they were not immediately able to name any.
The Washington Post reported in Post Politics that the AARP and the Humane Society of the United States would also qualify for the exemption.

The liberal Huffington Post reporting on the exemption was titled "The NRA Remains King of the Hill."   That article, posted twelve hours ago as I write, has already drawn 4,922 comments ranging from "Awesome, I love it!" to "if senators [note: it is a House bill] are elected by the people only to then be instructed by a third party, what purpose does maintaining the charade of democracy serve?"

Snowflakes in Hell, a website devoted to firearms policy and politics in Pennsylvania had this to say:
I’m glad they got themselves an exemption, but by no means does that let the Democrats off the hook for trying to stifle free speech like this. Campaign Finance laws protect incumbents, which is why I’m sure the Democratic leadership in Congress is pushing this hard before November.
The House bill is designed to push back against the recent Supreme Court ruling that gutted existing campaign finance regulations. It's interesting, isn't it, that just as Congress deems some businesses too big to fail, it also evidently deems some special interest groups too big to regulate. Kansas reports the bill is expected to have a much better chance to pass now that the NRA has agreed to stop lobbying against it.
"The reality is that NRA controls a goodly number of members of Congress and they're not going to vote for a bill it's against," said Sarah Duffendach, the vice president for legislative affairs for Common Cause, a non-profit government watchdog group. "You have to balance what you get in the disclosure bill versus what the NRA gets. You don't want to kill a good bill because of one provision."
My job, as WMRA's blogger-in-chief is to present rather than comment. But I sure would like to know your reaction to the latest Congressional compromise made to move legislation forward.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A bug in the system . . .

Martha note: We battle many adversaries in the world of public radio, but none more baffling than the one Matt  Bingay, WMRA Program Director and techno-whiz, confronted over the weekend. If you were listening on Saturday morning (and who wasn't) you may have noticed that our programing was a little -- how shall I put this? -- different.

I asked Matt to tell the story as he lived it . . .
A Bug in the System
Matt Bingay here… thought you’d like to know why we were unable to present this week’s Car Talk and Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me this past Saturday morning.  It’s something that happens maybe once in a decade, if even that, and it took us 3 hours to figure it out.  Basically, our entire link to the public radio system almost came to a crashing halt on Saturday because of the Hymenoptera Apocrita, otherwise known as the Wasp. 

Without going into too much detail, we were unable to receive new programs, and we began trouble shooting the system.  It might help to know that our system involves many computers, a few servers and a satellite link.  After rebooting, testing and rebooting again…  we got a call from a tech specialist at NPR.  This was someone on-call for the most complex of emergencies only… and he said, “sounds like you’ve got bees.”

Bees are not the first thing that come to mind when one begins vetting a complex technical system.  However, we were at our wits' end and decided to humor him.  Dan and I walked outside and starred at the feed horn on our 15-foot satellite dish.  Everything seemed fine, but after 5 minutes of gazing up at a small space-age looking cone, I saw the culprit.  A wasp lazily flew up to the little hole in the center of the feed horn and walked right in.  My jaw dropped.  Car Talk disrupted, Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me compromised and a Saturday afternoon of IT agita, thanks to a busy group of wasps.

We then called our engineer, Bill Fawcett, who dropped his afternoon plans to come in and remove the offending nest.  He pulled out a ladder, sprayed the wasps, removed the nest with a screw driver and that was it.  The signal was restored and all systems returned to normal.

I’ve heard the proverb, “for want of a nail, the Kingdom was lost,” but this is the first time I’ve almost lived it.

-          Matt
This is the nest that took out Saturday morning programming

And please, if you live in Virginia's 26th District, don't forget to vote! This is not a primary! Tomorrow either Carolyn Frank (I), Tony Wilt (R), or Kai Degner (D) will represent the district in Virginia's General Assembly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

An admission of personal cowardice . . .

Back sometime in the 1980s I tore a photograph of a starving Ethiopian woman and her starving baby out of the newspaper, stuck it in a frame, and put it on my telephone table at work. It's still with me on my desk at WMRA, because I never want to not be reminded that there is great, great human suffering in this world. And that it is my calling as a human being to do whatever I can to alleviate it whenever and wherever I bump into it.

I've stared at that starving Madonna and child for over a quarter of a century now without flinching. And yet, in the long weeks that BP's been spewing oil into the Gulf, whenever I've opened newspapers and seen a photo of of an oil-soaked brown pelican, I've refused to look at it. I've turned the page or clicked the mouse.

No more.

Today on Morning Edition, Nell Greenfieldboyce's story asked the question, "Should Oiled Birds Be Cleaned?"  The story pointed out that the birds caught in oil are not just soaked, they're poisoned as well -- ingesting oil as they preen.

I poked around on the internet and found similar articles on CNN, The WeekThe Daily Beast, and other blogs and on-line news sources. The British newspaper Telegraph's article was bluntly slugged, "BP oil spill: It would be kinder to kill these oil-drenched birds."

It seems we humans may have created suffering on our planet that simply cannot be fixed. So the least I can do is have the guts to look at pictures of it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Soccer and the Human Brain by Jeff Holt

I am both a neuroscientist and a soccer fanatic. Though seemingly unrelated pursuits, my appreciation of neuroscience has strengthened my passion for soccer. Let me explain. Soccer in the United States, football to the rest of the world, is not just a game that involves putting a ball in a net. Soccer is a triumphant display of the incredible plasticity of the human brain. More than any other sport soccer requires a brilliance that redefines the cerebral cortex, because the soccer player is limited by one simple rule: no hands!

This one rule takes away eons of evolutionary advantage we humans have developed. Hands are what we do best. A peak inside the brain of the average human reveals that the hands are vastly over-represented relative to other regions of the body. There is no question that our achievements with the hands are remarkable. In the sporting world, the hand is a major advantage. Compare the size of the net or the difference in score between soccer and basketball. Hands do make a difference.

Yet, since soccer eliminates the use of hands and focuses on the feet, soccer emphasizes another powerful human capacity: the plasticity of the human brain and its ability to learn and be shaped by experience. The feet, the principle instruments of the game, are represented by a very small region of cortex in the average human brain. Remarkably, this feeble cortical representation is not set in stone; clay would be a better analogy because the brain can be molded by experience. In fact, the ability of the human brain to be remolded and learn from experience is so pervasive in humans that it may be our greatest evolutionary advantage.

The brain of a soccer player illustrates this point beautifully as it reshaped by extensive training and experience. Since the soccer player’s feet are both exquisitely sensitive and remarkably powerful and must be used as tools of the trade as well as for their usual purpose, the brain regions devoted to the feet undoubtedly expand to allow greater neural representation. It is not difficult to imagine that the brain of Lionel Andres Messi (left), perhaps currently the world’s greatest soccer player, may be very different from the average human with expanded representation for the feet.

A remolded cerebral cortex in the minds of the best soccer players is a testament to the incredible plasticity of the human brain and its ability to adapt and learn from new experiences. Every artful touch of the ball, exquisite pass, explosive burst of speed, and thundering shot on goal, begins in the cortex of evolution’s greatest achievement, the human brain. Its awesome power to learn and be reshaped by experience will be on display for a month this summer beginning today in South Africa at the Soccer World Cup. Check it out…you might learn something.

                       --- Jeff Holt is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Virginia.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deja vu all over again . . .

My husband, Charlie, is an omnivorous reader. If it's in print, he's interested. Currently he's working his way through a stack of old Life magazines, including the October 11,1968 issue. Which is what I want to write about today.

To put things into cultural context, the issue contains a full-page add proclaiming that the "1969 Ford Mustangs shatter 295 speed and endurance records."  Bullitt, featuring Steve McQueen and his Mustang, would be released in a week.

And speaking of movies, there's a full-page ad similar to this one.

But then you turn the page and there's a photograph of Richard Nixon giving  Eisenhower's famous double-fisted, waggling "V" sign, shown below. The attendant article is called "A Vision of Victory at Last Within Reach."

And, if you're a person of a certain age, you zoom back 40 years to the quagmire that was Vietnam.

In the same Life magazine is a one-page essay by Hugh Sidey on Lyndon Johnson's waning presidency. Johnson had famously declined to run for another term because he didn't want politics to conflict with  his efforts as Commander-in-Chief to "win" the Vietnam War. Writes Mr. Sidey,
His dreams of some grand drama which would bring a cease-fire or even total peace have faded now. He can be content, he insists, in making certain that the war is in the best possible shape for his successor--that the Saigon government is stronger, that the ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] is assuming more battlefield responsibility, that our own battlefield position is better than ever. A hope rises that Johnson can provide the new President, whoever he may be, with the option of bringing home a division of troops next year.
Back to the present, Jane Fonda is in her sixties, the Mustang became a shadow of its former muscular self,  we're fighting different wars. But the political speak around those wars is, at least to these tired ears, remarkably unchanged.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pat's post . . .

Martha note: This came to me from WMRA community member Pat Churchman, along with a note that said, "I'm hoping this might be helpful to women, but it also might be too personal. What do you think?"

As a woman, I thought yes, it would be helpful -- or, rather, yes, it would be helpful !!!!!!!! And I thought its helpfulness lay in the fact that it is so personal. So thanks, Pat.
Cancer…just the word strikes terror in one’s heart and soul. One in eight women have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in the United States. Since I’m 77, I’ve beaten the odds for a long time now. I responsibly had my yearly mammogram back in February. It came back negative, no problems.
One month later I was reading the book “Ice-Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole” when I casually reached up and touched my breast. There was a small lump I didn’t remember and there wasn’t one on the right side. As soon as possible I made an appointment with my doctor for an opinion, which was, “Yes, it looks suspicious. Go to the Women’s Health Focus and have it checked out.”
A diagnostic mammogram there showed a suspicious-looking little place. That was followed by a sonogram where a doctor also inserted a tiny piece of metal in the vicinity of the likely cancer, in case it needed to come out. Step by step the day approached til I was being asked whether I wanted to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. When we first started this process, I felt sure it had been a much smaller lump, but it was still only 2 millimeters in width and right under the surface. A doctor had determined that the lymph nodes weren’t affected yet, so I opted for a lumpectomy. The day came. The operation took place. The doctor took two lymph nodes just to be sure they were clear. Later examination revealed that they were indeed clear. My daughter drove me home. Friends brought a wonderful supper, which I had trouble eating because of the tube that had been down my throat. Day by day I healed.
The next step is to determine whether one will follow up with radiation or chemotherapy, another word that strikes terror in the heart and soul. The Women’s Health Focus offers classes on meditation and relaxation, and women who go to appointments with the befuddled patients to take notes and answer questions and be a friend. My tumor indicated that opting for either radiation or chemo would be responsible, but doing nothing, according to the consent form I am to sign states that I release the hospital from any liability and the risks and benefits of my treatment are that “Without treatment your disease may not be controlled, your symptoms may get worse and death may occur.” I didn’t actually see any benefit listed there. Seems like it actually just indicates the risks. We all realize we will die, at some future date, but not now and not by this malady, something later, more benign, quicker perhaps.
Since I had decided on the radiation route, the next step is to go and have one’s self marked, so they’ll know exactly where to aim the radiation. You must lie completely still with your arms over your head while they mold a sand pillow around your impression and align everything up for the radiation to have the maximum effect.
Ordinarily, I would get claustrophobic when told I have to stay completely unmoving for an indefinite period of time, but it seemed to my practical self that the option to run screaming from the room wasn’t a particularly helpful one and would only lead to having to start over and prolong the inevitable action.
With that thought in mind, I managed to calm myself by repeating to myself “God be in my heart” as I breathed in, and “And in my understanding” as I breathed out. The doctor came in at one point to have a look and say something about the length of time radiation will take. I thought to say, “You will probably say ‘I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on’ when you see me next,” but he’s probably heard that before and I didn’t want to stop my compulsive mantra.
Five days a week for five weeks and then a few more days at the new hospital cancer center and then it’ll be over. I can do it. I’ve proved it to myself. The next session won’t be nearly as lengthy.
A friend lent me the book “Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber, an MD and PhD holder whose friends discovered his brain cancer while he was in a CT scan and they were studying brain functions. A note on the cover says, “Why the traditional Western diet creates the conditions for disease and how to develop a science-based anticancer diet.” He feels that sugar is particularly destructive, but his recommendations are too lengthy to go into here, except to add another cover comment: “life with cancer can be enhanced by changing diet and exercise and living not in fear but fully.”
Martha addendum: I sent Pat a note asking her what she'd learned from all this and she wrote back:
I think the main thing I learned is to trust God, at least in this. I haven't been very trusting because of all the terrible things that have happened to my family. I know. I know. Lots of people, probably most people, have terrible problems and there's no reason to think I should be particularly blessed. So far, just taking it a step at a time, I didn't panic and run away because God seemed to be supporting me. That gave me the confidence to think that will be true each time I climb up on the table and lie there in the hands of kindly, unknown technicians who disappear behind protective barriers while they zap my spot which may or may not have any cancer cells left. It dang well won't have by the time this is finished!
 Martha addendum #2: If I may, I'd like to add a dignified "Go Pat!!"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Articles of what, exactly?

Have you ever read the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States?

I had not. Until last weekend that is, when, in residence at the Montpelier Constitutional Village, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. Saturday, so as to have time to do just that before my 9 a.m. class.

I found the Articles surprisingly readable and extremely thought-provoking. They begin with these three stipulations


The Stile of this Confederacy shall be
"The United States of America".


Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.


The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.
So thirteen colonies signed the Articles, and there we were, a country: the United States of America. Sort of. In reality, that name denoted 13 separate principalities bound together by a need to resist a common enemy.

My fellow students and I were fascinated and quite amused that anyone expected much successful governance from a "firm league of friendship" among those free and independent sovereign states. But the Articles would not have flown, we learned, if they had not recognized the supremacy of state government. It seems that the country one identified with back then was the state in which one resided. I would have called myself a Virginian, not an American.

The purpose of the Articles of Confederation was to hold the colonies together in order to defeat the British army, to raise the necessary money to do that, to begin to figure out how states could more smoothly do business together, to ease out travel between the states, and to address expansion. And, our leader Eugene Hickok pointed out, the Articles got those jobs done.

That "firm league of friendship" held together effectively enough to win the Revolutionary War -- or, at least, long to keep soldiers in the field until Britain managed to lose the war.

But, Dr. Hickok also pointed out, the Articles outlined an alliance not a government. They did not give the central government enough power to glue those thirteen fractious principalities together for anything close to perpetuity. No "firm league of friendship" was going to triumph over the vicissitudes of human nature, which were as much in play in the founding of this country as they are today. We Americans have always had a difficult time with the concept of "the greater good," when it doesn't coincide with our individual good. Plus, times change. A country at war is often easier to hold together than a country at peace. There was an attempt to amend the Articles, but in the end they were scrapped as outmoded. Times change; issues change. Documents don't change -- at least not as fast as the times.

Americans appear to have been as politically fractious then as they are now. The writing and ratification of the Constitution required verbal war. All those Federalists and anti-Federalists going at each other hammer and tongs.

Today, we Americans are as divided as ever, and all sides tend to view the Constitution, the Founding Fathers' second stab at establishing a "perpetual union," as giving us permission to do what we want to do. We range from Constitutional fundamentalists, who read a document written in recognition that times change, as though times have not changed; to Constitutional creativists, who go searching in the documents for some clause that will let them do whatever they think needs doing.

I don't have any wise words to offer about the Constitution after my weekend immersion in it, but I do feel that, by going back and looking at the document and the men who wrote it, I've gained more perspective on today's partisan and divisive times. After all, if we as a country got through the clashes of conflicting ambitions and venal self-interests that informed the writing of our Constitution, surely our current political discord is capable of  producing some wise fruit.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My weekend with the Constitution and other historical documents . . .

Last week I had lunch with a young man who is deeply involved with the Tea Party Patriots. He was smart, well-stocked with information, had done a lot of thinking about important political issues, and was passionate about this country; in short, except for the issues he  focused on and the conclusions he drew, he could have been me at the same age --- back when I was deeply involved in the politics swirling around the Vietnam War.

This experience reinforced my belief that underneath our current American discord  is a shared love of America (which is not to be confused with approval of everything our government has done or is doing). And also, a shared love and respect for the U.S. Constitution, a document to which I frequently refer, but, until this past weekend, hadn't read in 30 years. Whether we agree with everything it says and sets up, that document is our American system of government.

If the Tea Party Patriots have done nothing else for me, they've made me realize it's time for each of us who engage in political discourse not just to think we know what we're talking about when we talk about the Constitution, but to know we know what we're talking about. After all, when it comes to arguing about what the Constitutions means, it's hardly legitimate to say that those who disagree with us haven't studied it, when we're not really all that familiar with it either.

Now please, don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying we have to become Constitutional scholars to be responsible citizens; we just have to read the document every decade or so. And think about it. And, perhaps, take a stroll through James Madison's head, its "Father," by reading some of his writings and some of  his friends' writings. And since we live close by, perhaps we could take a day and travel to Montpelier, James and Dolley Madison's newly restored home, and stand in the second floor study where Mr. Madison wrote much of our Constitution, and beam ourselves back to those equally partisan days.

That America was not this America, of course; its issues were very different. But I would argue its passions were not all that dissimilar from ours; just as I'd argue my passions are, perhaps, not all that dissimilar from my young Tea Party Patriot friend. Underneath all the anger and fear and yelling that fills our fractured discourse, both then and now, I would cautiously submit, we share a deep love of our country and worry about its future.

I do love my job. It got me invited to Montpelier's Center for the Constitution for the weekend, to attend a new seminar they're offering to re-introduce the general public to the U.S. constitution. It is a perfect situation in which to reconnect with Mr. Madison and his friends; both their world and their work.

I learned some, thought and read a lot. And plan to blog about it over the next couple of days.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The BP Oil Spill and Us by Larry Stopper

A little less than two years ago I spoke rather angrily from atop the WMRA Civic Soapbox about the absurdity of the chant being used at McCain presidential rallies – drill baby drill. Now we’re confronted with the effects of this movement to push the country into greater and greater efforts to find fossil fuel resources available within our own boundaries. To all who love wildlife and treasure the Gulf of Mexico as more than just an energy source, the current gusher flooding the ocean and the costal marshes with oil is an overwhelming tragedy.

Who is to blame for this unbelievable mess? The courts will certainly spend years sorting it out, but for me, it’s not entirely the corporations who made this mess. Yes BP and Transocean were incredibly careless and entirely focused on the bottom line. Profits are what drive corporation’s not environmental protection. It is the federal and state government’s job to protect the environment, especially many miles off shore.

For years, small government advocates have decried regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department as impediments to business. The longer time went on without a major oil spill, the louder the cries became to get government off the backs of our great companies and let them produce. But it only takes one mistake and now we have it. While we don’t have a definitive answer, it looks like the third largest oil spill since the world began using petroleum as a fuel.

So where are the small government advocates and the drill baby drill crowd now? Just listen to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, one of the leading voices in the small government movement and you will hear endless cries for federal government help. It seems you can have it both ways according to Governor Jindal. Complain about federal interference when you want and demand help at other times. Funny, but we haven’t heard much from Sara Palin lately on this spill. She must be fishing in the clean waters of Alaska right now.

But I’m taking easy potshots at politicians when I really believe the ones to blame for this mess are each and every one of us that has yet to take the steps in our lives to substantially lower our consumption of energy. We are currently 5% of the world’s population yet we consume 24% of the world’s energy. This is unsustainable and cannot continue. We cannot wait for our political leaders to come up with new energy policies, some of which are based on fantasies like clean coal. We cannot sit around and hope that a big technological breakthrough will magically make it so we do not have to change our lifestyles to accommodate the reality that we are changing our planet’s climate. We must all take real steps in our lives to lower our energy consumption and do it soon.

The enormous oil spill in the gulf is certainly a wakeup call, but wake up calls are only worth something if we wake up and don’t just push the snooze button. Glaciers are melting, Artic sea ice is retreating, and ocean temperatures are rising. These are facts, not guesses. We may live in Virginia, but the mess in the gulf is our mess too. It is the legacy we are passing on to our children and grand children. We should be ashamed and until we make serious changes in the way we consume energy, blaming it all on BP is just the easy way out.

                                               ---Larry Stopper lives in Nelson County

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Get 'er done . . .

Yes, it's One Day Thursday, and our squished summer fundraiser is underway! It's the WMRA community's  equivalent of a barn-raising -- getting a big job accomplished in one day because we all pitch in and do whatever we can.. 

Here's the deal: We need to raise $37,500 dollars before Tom Graham and I, the final pitching partners, sign-off today at 7 p.m. 

We'll raise that much-needed money, with your help, one contribution at a time.

So, all together now WMRAers, 1-800-677-9672.

That's 1-800-NPR-WMRA.

Or, here's a direct link to the money-giving form on our website,

Call or click now. Please. Give whatever you can. Do it for yourself and for your community.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Supremes rule on Miranda

In case you weren't following the news in the early 60's, here's Wikipedia's account of Arizona vs. Ernesto Miranda (pictured left), the case from which a suspect's Miranda Rights derive their name.
On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Arturo Miranda was arrested based on circumstantial evidence linking him to the kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old woman 10 days earlier.[1] After two hours of interrogation by police officers, Miranda signed a confession to the rape charge on forms that included the typed statement "I do hereby swear that I make this statement voluntarily and of my own free will, with no threats, coercion, or promises of immunity, and with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me." However, at no time was Miranda told of his right to counsel, and he was not advised of his right to remain silent or that his statements would be used against him during the trial before being presented with the form on which he was asked to write out the confession he had already given orally.
At trial, when prosecutors offered Miranda's written confession as evidence, his court-appointed lawyer, Alvin Moore, objected that because of these facts, the confession was not truly voluntary and should be excluded. Moore's objection was overruled and based on this confession and other evidence, Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to 20 to 30 years imprisonment on each charge, with sentences to run concurrently.
Ernesto Miranda's conviction was appealed up the legal chain until it reached the Supreme Court as Miranda v. State of Arizona; Westover v. United States; Vignera v. State of New York; State of California v. Stewart. The Supremes overturned Miranda's conviction on June 13th, 1966, and a suspect's Miranda Rights became entrenched as a part of police procedure.

Yesterday in a 5-to-4 ruling the Supreme Court gave the police much greater room to question suspects within their Miranda Rights. Here's how Nina Totenberg tells the story of the case involved in that decision:
The ruling came in the case of Van Chester Thompkins, one of three men involved in a Michigan shooting. A year after the crime, Thompkins was arrested and interrogated by two Michigan policemen. They advised him of his right to an attorney and his right to remain silent, made sure he spoke English, and questioned him, though they said it was more a "monologue" by the interrogators. For nearly three hours, Thompkins said nothing, except that his chair seat was hard and that he didn't want a peppermint. Finally, one of the policemen asked him: "Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?" Thompkins answered, "Yes," and that answer was used at his trial to convict him of first-degree murder.
 Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, pointed out that
"Thompkins did not say that he wanted to remain silent or that he did not want to talk to police. Had he made either of these simple, unambiguous statements, he would have invoked his 'right to cut off questioning.' Here he did neither, so he did not invoke his right to remain silent."
 The dissent, written by Justice Sotomayor, was cited this way in The Huffington Post:
For Justice Sotomayor, deciding to make suspects speak to have the right to remain silent was a step too far. Sotomayor, the court's newest member, wrote a strongly worded dissent for the court's liberals, saying the majority's decision "turns Miranda upside down."
"Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent – which counterintuitively requires them to speak," she said. "At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded."
 Back to Nina Totenberg for some reactions.
"The doctrine makes no sense," says Harvard's professor [William] Stuntz*. "It provides lots of protection to suspects who don't need protecting — to the best educated, and to recidivists who know how to game the system. And it provides no protection to the people who need it most. It's dumb law."
Police officers, though, had a different take on the ruling. Former Newark police Capt. Jon Shane, now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, sees the decision as helpful. He says the court has told police "in this decision that someone's silence does not mean that they are protected necessarily by the Miranda warning." He says, "That's a good thing" because it not only gives police greater flexibility in questioning, it makes the process simpler and less likely to provoke legal problems once the case gets to court.
 *usually, according to Ms. Totenberg, considered something of a conservative.
Okay, now it's your turn. Any opinion on this decision or on the current Supreme Court in general?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kudzu, Colonel Nicholson and Lamar McKay , . .

This article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress caught my eye last week: "Creeping kudzu poses new threat."

According to the article, "Kudzu, a green leafy vine native to Japan and southeastern China, emits the chemicals isoprene and nitric oxide, which combine with nitrogen in the air to form ozone — a pollutant that can be harmful to human health and crops, trees and other vegetation."

We further learn that . . .
A new study has found that kudzu is a significant contributor to surface ozone pollution and the problem is projected to grow as the vine continues to spread. 
“People worried about kudzu invasion previously were worried about its effect on biodiversity,” said Manuel Lerdau, an environmental studies and biology professor at the University of Virginia and one of the study’s authors. “We’re saying there are more worries about kudzu than biodiversity. It has an effect on air quality and human health.”
The study, published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the invasion of kudzu might increase ozone pollution by so much that it overcomes the anticipated benefits of federal air quality legislation.
I grew up in Kudzu-covered North Carolina. When I was very young, I thought it was pretty, but I didn't have to get very much older to realize that any plant that grew so fast that it made daily, visible progress, was more problematic than your average marigold.

Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson in the movie The Bridge On the River Kwai rallies British and American prisoners of war to build a beautifully functional bridge for the Japanese. For Col. Nicholson, bridge building seems to be about duty and honor. It's only when he waits for the first Japanese troop train to cross his creation that Colonial Nicholson faces the reality that it's really been about building a bridge for the enemy. At that moment, the colonel stares at his beautiful creation and asks, "What have I done?"

I've often wondered if anyone who worked at the Soil Conservation Service--the government agency that  encouraged southern farmers to plant kudzu to deal with erosion--ever had a similar moment.

I also wonder whether BP President Lamar McKay, whose company's faulty, exploded, offshore oil well continues its seemingly unstoppable, record-setting pollution of sea and land, ever stops his PR speak long enough to ask himself that same question.