samedi 31 octobre 2009

Night watchmen, Halloween

Jack o'lanterns at the gate
at least we have a gate, almost

Now I know what I needed in the pillars. Jack O'lantern niches. Actually, year 'round lanterns niches would have been lovely. Why do we have these ideas too late?

Actually, they haven't actually finished the pillars, and there are niches... not too late. Something to think about.

It's Halloween. It's my favorite -- absolute favorite -- night of the year, even here in France. Halloween is anywhere I am, with or without children in costumes, mine, or someone else's.

Mine is grown. It's the first year since he was born that he is not home on Halloween. He is in Amsterdam. With friends. They are not trick-or-treating. They are probably sampling Dutch and Belgian beers in the cafés along the canals.

I remember the first Halloween. He was just a month old. Someone had given me a hand-me-down pyjama, cream-colored with gray leopard spots. We were still at my office in Manhattan. I took a piece of gold paper and cut it in the shape of a Venetian mask and started to cut holes for his eyes as he gazed at me from his seat on my desk, alongside where I worked. I cut them quickly, with a sure gesture that startled me. What if I got it wrong? We needed to catch the train back to Greenwich. There wasn't much time to start over and get it right. I placed the mask over his tiny face, and two dark irises gazed back at me from the center of the holes. I had gotten it exactly right.

That's what comes of staring at your newborn for hours
, I thought, putting the mask in my bag and scooping him up to head up Fifth Avenue to Grand Central.

At home, I got out the pyjama, tied string to his mask and put it on him. He didn't make the slightest objection. So new, and already an old hand at dressing up for Halloween; ready for any adventure I could offer. I headed out the door to take him to see all our favorite neighbors and friends. His first trick-or-treating.

I bought the pumpkins more than a week ago, the day I saw them in the big wood crate in the entry to my supermarket. They were especially beautiful this year. The French are getting better and better at this pumpkin producing thing for this hallow'd fête, one over which they shook their heads for some time, muttering something about McDonalds and the USA destroying their culture, before caving in to their own children's delight. Pagan, yes. Evil? Not near enough to disappoint eager little children, dying to dress up and go door to door asking for candy.

I dreamed of my new entry for this Halloween. I was going to have the windows alight with candles, a lantern hanging from the beams, jack o'lanterns on the benches. The gate would be open, and I would be there, wearing my crone hair and peaked black hat, feigning fright and not having to pretend any delight with the children who would come. But, no. It's not done. The work has dragged on and on, and there is still no paved courtyard, no new kitchen entry with its windows, beams, lantern and benches. There isn't even a bell to ring so that we know to run and offer the bowl of candy to the children who can't see that we are home.

I hoped the jack o'lanterns on the pillars would be a hint.

"Mais tu pourrais mettre les bonbons dans un bol au portail --" I said to my husband.

"Non. Ils n'ont que de venir frapper."

"Mais! Ils ne vont pas oser rentrer comme ça. On n'a même pas de clochette cette année, et tu es allé au supermarché exprès pour acheter les bonbons pour eux." It's true. He went all the way to the grocery store, while I carved my pumpkins so the children would find candy here.

Halloween is contagious.

I am going to put some in a bowl at the gate. Excuse me.


There. I think all the kids passed through the street when he left to go to the store, but I have made the essential gesture. They trick-or-treat too early here, and too briefly.

Halloween is warm and safe. The holiday just after a new school year has begun, just after the leaves have turned all the colors of the holiday -- orange, brown, and red and gold -- and begun to fall, drifting and scuffling across the road under our feet, cloaks and bags filled with candy knocking against our legs, out far past when our parents call us home, they walk at our sides and still there is a charge of adventure in the air. This is no ordinary night. And, we are going to have candy to empty all around us on the carpet, to divide into piles of Almond Joys, candy corn and pumpkins, Three Musketeers, lollipops and the boxes of raisins the well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided give out with our health in mind.

"Did you get an apple, too?"

"Yeah. Do you think it's true? Do you think we can eat it, or is there really maybe a razor inside?" The awful tales grown-ups told on the evening news to make sure our parents were vigilant, but no one ever got a razor in their apple. Ever.

They finally admitted it recently, before my son and I left for France. Or maybe it was just after. Anyway, it was an overblown fear; it was true, no one could remember a single episode of a child biting into a razor blade on Halloween, or ever, for that matter.

But Halloween! Ah, Halloween. It is special forever, even when we are nearly grown up and ready to fall in love, bewitched. A friend left this comment on the post Evening. Ennui. as part of a longer comment. It belongs here.

Never told you how I met my Denny...if not for Halloween... We met at a Presbyterian Church Halloween party/dance in 1963. Skeletons and witches on the walls. Great cobwebs suspended in the corners of the hall. Black and orange crepe paper streamers shivering delightfully overhead. And enormous bowls of (demonic) candy everywhere.

This beautiful, blond Scandinavian guy asks me to dance. He sings in my ear as we dance.

I was bewitched. Stayed bewitched for the four years of courtship that followed--and
for 42 years of marriage. I hope that, when the day comes I am with him again, it is Halloween...


Talking to myself

Yeah. That's the front door. Sort of
We have two.

I wish we had one.

It's taken me forever to get back to the windows after stripping them. I think I hated to put anything on the wood I worked so hard to uncover. And, what if I didn't like it?

But what's not to like about a clear stain?

Well, there are the two windows that are actually Iroko, an African wood, and they won't look the same. Not to mention the two that are in pine, as well as the pine window frames. What are you going to do about those?

I don't know. Maybe just stain them clear, too, and hope for the best? Maybe they'll be alright, and I won't have screwed them up trying to make them look like the old oak ones, or even like the two new oak ones.

Yeah, but, they're pine.

I know.

Listen, you can start with clear stain, and then if that looks wrong, you can always apply something else on top of it.

[Nodding] Yeah, that's true.

Listen, just get it done, OK? You'll feel better once it's done and you can worry about something else.

Like when the workers are going to show back up again and how miserable they are going to make me this time?

For example.

vendredi 30 octobre 2009

Evening. Ennui.

Night falls early

L'ennui. Ou la fatigue. Ou la déprime. De l'amour. Ou saisonnière. Ou la grippe tout court.

Who knows.

I must report on Eugénie G. Toad. Eugénie is not in her toad house. She has not been seen since the first day, when she settled into a burrow and began to tunnel. I thought the hole meant she was there, but, being unable to refrain from being certain, I removed the dry linden leaves, reached in and felt the inside of the tunnel with my fingers. I was rather afraid to stick Eugénie in the eye, since they dig backwards, pushing the dirt up and out, but I felt nothing but the end of the tunnel, somewhat abruptly. Eugénie had gone.

Was ittoo hard to tunnel in that location, beneath the yew? Was it not to her liking? Whatever the reason, she is wherever she is, I'm unreasonably sad about it, and the several toadlets I removed from the skimmers and the pool, preparing to close it for the winter, didn't stay long in the toad house either. I added, by the way, another one. Both are vacant. They don't even seem very interested in the shallow pool I made for them to sit in.

In the days that I waited and hoped to see Eugénie again, witnessing the massacre of the toads trying to cross the road that cuts across the forest at the center of the boucle de la Seine, I joined Froglife, and I wrote to ask them who might be organizing here in France to do something with amphibians other than eat them.

For the record, we do not eat toads.

Also for the record, I do not eat frogs.

I received a reply from Lucy in the UK (I love that name), who offered to put me in touch with Ninon, near Rambouillet. Lucy told me that they use a system of fences along the road side and pitfall traps to collect the toads, adding that "this system is very popular in Europe but for some reason is not widely used here." This year, according to Lucy, the group in Rambouillet "helped 4,000 toads across the road!"

I love the exclamation point. I love the enthusiasm for the toad lives saved for another season, or at least until they migrate again.

Now, to contact Ninon and see who they are, what they are doing, and how I can set up a similar "toads on roads" effort here in the boucle. One reason they don't use the fencing might be the expense in setting it up and maintaining it. I read about that.

As long as Eugénie is safe out there. That's all that matters.

Peut-être je la reverrai au printemps. Peut-être.

Maybe I will carve my pumpkins tomorrow, even though Sam -- 18 now -- is in Amsterdam, and definitely not trick-or-treating (which they now do here in France, too). I still believe in Halloween, even if most of the candy of this season has been "dedicated and prayed over by witches".

Sounds good to this croan.

Just kidding you. Bwa-cacklecacklecacklecakle!!!! Funny, though, that the original blog post, The Danger of Celebrating Halloween: Spiritual Life in God, by guest writer Kimberly Daniels on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network, has been taken down from their site.

Does this mean someone over there at CBN still believes in America as we know it and has a little sense in their head? Evil children, trick-or-treating in America's exurbs with the full approval and participation of their parents. Good God. What is America coming to when parents encourage their children to participate in the work of Satan and to consume the sweets that will lead them to His ways?

I mean think about it. All the shelves in school and public libraries we would have to empty of picture books with reference to this Satanic American holiday! And -- save us! -- "The Peanuts" It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! All the DVDs and VHS tapes that would have to be confiscated, reburned and taped over with Pat Robertson's choice of the best fundamentalist American Christian sermons of all time! And, once, invited by a family with whom my young son and I were acquainted, I attended a Halloween party for families at The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints in Greenwich, CT with quarterback Steve Young's parents present, actually condoning this holiday. Think of it, Steve Young and his wife later defied the Mormon church, actively opposing California's Prop 8 on October 31, 2008!

See? It's Halloween at fault. Now, that is ghoulish. What were the Mormons thinking?


Health care reform: When history calls, what Rep. Dingell will do

Op-Ed: Numbers, not shouting, overwhelm health care debate

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., smiles in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington in this Dec. 13, 2005 file photo.  (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File) AP – Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., smiles in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington in this Dec. 13, 2005 …

By Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)

Washington, DC — We have the best medical professionals in the world, but fewer and fewer Americans can afford to pay for the care they can provide. The trends indicate that problem will get much worse.

About 17 percent of our $14 trillion dollar economy is dedicated to health care. We pay more for health care than we do for food. Too much of what we spend on our care does nothing to improve our health. We pay for our highly bureaucratic and unwieldy health care system not just with dollars, but with the lives and well-being of millions of Americans. The Affordable Health Care for America Act will reform our health insurance industry so companies prioritize policyholders’ health instead of investors’ profits.

The insurance industry has done everything possible to make you think otherwise. This summer’s massive disinformation campaign – exposed by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone magazine last month – has distracted millions of honest, engaged citizens during this debate. During two town halls in my District this summer, I witnessed first hand how fear hijacked a much-needed serious conversation.

But the facts scream louder than even the angriest protester – and the data tells us the current system could literally destroy our way of life. Consider these statistics:

• The top ten health insurance companies made $8.2755 billion last year and they stand to make more when medical costs go up.
• The average annual premium for employer-sponsored health insurance is $13,375 for family coverage.
• Approximately 45,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance.

This is why we must ignore pressure from the health care lobby, now spending $1.4 million a day spinning its story in Capitol Hill offices (that’s chump change when you consider the top ten health insurance companies saw profits soar 426 percent between 2000 and 2007).

This is not a time to give into fear. I say this to both the general public and my Democratic colleagues. Our party lost control of Congress in 1994 after voters watched Democrats cower in the face of massive pressure from the insurance industry. We must learn history’s lessons or again face questions on whether Democrats deserve to lead.

Reform is neither easy nor cheap, but the cost of inaction is far greater – in terms of lives lost, quality of life, and dollars. Make no mistake, if we don't reduce costs we face certain economic disaster. My father was one of the first members of Congress to fight to change the private insurance system in place today. His fight began in 1943, 66 years ago. If we go another 66 years with costs continuing to rise at the same rate they have over the last three decades, estimates project health care spending to approach 100 percent of our GDP. This is simply not sustainable.

On the other hand, President Obama has said slowing the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year could reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the House Democrats' health reform bill reduces the deficit by $30 billion over 10 years, costing less than $900 billion over that time and meeting the benchmark set by President Obama. The President asked for a deficit-neutral bill and we gave him that and then some. It is a reasonable price when you consider the Democrats’ bill will fix the current system which has left so many Americans without proper care and/or bankrupt.

And just how is the health insurance industry spending your money?

• In 2007, each American paid more than $500 to administer health insurance. The U.S. health insurance industry spends roughly 20 cents of every dollar it pays for “nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing,” according to T.R. Reid, author of “The Healing of America.” This figure is often referred to as “medical loss ratio” or the money spent on actual care versus the money spent on non-medical costs.

That $500 you pay funds a small army, about 463,000 people (more than the active military in Iran today), employed by the health insurance industry. Many of those employees spend their days looking for ways to slow payments or deny your claims.

• No other country has a medical loss ratio close to ours. Our administrative costs are more than double any other country, including France, where Reid points out everyone is covered by non-profit, private insurers. The French spend just 5 percent on administration, while Canada, with a single-payer, government-run system, spends only 6 percent. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that $91 billion a year is excess insurance administrative costs due to complexity.

Look again at the previous points and replace "health insurance industry" with "government". If that was government waste there would be protests in the streets. So why is it okay when your money is wasted by corporations? As I will explain later, Democrats are prepared to fix it, despite the best efforts of the insurance industry to stop us.

So what are we getting for our money?

• Better health? No. A 2008 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study looking at deaths that could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care placed the U.S. last among 19 countries. If the U.S. had performed as well as the top three countries (France, Japan, and Australia) 101,000 deaths per year would have been prevented.

• More care? No. In Japan, citizens average an astounding three times more visits to doctors’ offices than Americans and twice as many MRI scans and X-Rays. Even with all these visits, the Japanese still spend less than half as much per person on health care as we do. Life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases there are much better than ours.

• Fiscal health? No. In 2006, our economy lost as much as $200 billion because of the poorer health and shorter lifespan of the uninsured.

• Premiums for small businesses are up 129 percent since 2000. And the insurance industry is quoting increases of 14-15 percent for the next year.

• The high cost of health care causes a bankruptcy every 30 seconds. In 2007, 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies were due to medical costs. Reid points out medical bills force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy, while there are ZERO medical bankruptcies in France, Britain, Japan and Germany.

• Security and Stability? No. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports last month “one third of Americans (33 percent) say they or someone in their household has had problems paying medical bills over the past year.” That’s up nine percentage points from August and represents the highest level in nearly a year.

• Health coverage for all Americans? Not even close, and believe me, the uninsured are costing you money. This year, every insured American family will pay the health insurance industry $1,017 -- and insured singles will pay $368 -- in premiums just to cover the medical expenses of the uninsured. This "Hidden Health Care Tax" will total $42.7 billion this year.

View Slides of graphs illustrating health care comparisons (click each thumbnail to enlarge)

And there are signs the future could be worse. Employees’ premiums and out-of-pocket charges will go up 10 percent – with the average employee paying $4,023 – next year, according to the benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates. An Aon Consulting survey of employers found 70 percent plan to increase employee contributions, while 67 percent expect to raise deductibles, co-pays, coinsurance or out-of-pocket maximums. About three out of every five Americans under 65 get their insurance through their employers.

Acclaimed Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt says if current trends hold, total health spending by or for a typical family of four will hit $36,000 a year in 2019. In 10 years, half of all American families will have to spend more than half of their income on health care.

That’s the future for those lucky enough to keep their health care. More than four Americans lose their coverage every minute. According to the think tank Third Way, the coverage for 88 million Americans dealing with factors like pre-existing conditions, expensive premiums, or high out-of-pocket costs could be at risk without reform. New findings from the Urban Institute indicate the number of uninsured could rise as high as 65.7 million in 2019 and the cost of uncompensated care could go up as much as 128 percent - that leads to higher premiums and taxes for all of us. So it is not enough just to create new policies, they have to be better than what exists and push other insurers to do better.

Our bill will boost the nation’s economic well-being and protect the pocket of patients and doctors

Under the Democrats bill, you can keep your plan and your doctor. The House bill will also create an insurance exchange with affordable options covering 96 percent of all American citizens, including millions currently uninsured and underinsured. Perhaps PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a report that was NOT paid for by the insurance industry, summed it up the best:

“Broader coverage, particularly if paired with an individual mandate, could reduce the cost shifting that increases medical costs to private payers.”

Other measures in the bill will put money back in your pocket, including:

• Ending co-pays for preventive care;

• Implementing a year cap on your out-of-pocket expenses with no caps on what insurance companies pay;

• 50 percent discounts on brand-name prescriptions for Medicare Part D beneficiaries and shrinking out-of-pocket costs by $500;

• Elimination of the donut hole (the gap in coverage that leaves beneficiaries on the hook for the cost of prescription drugs when the cost of their prescription drugs passes $2,700 in a year) by 2019; and

• Phasing out wasteful spending for Medicare Advantage (MA) – which costs beneficiaries an extra $1,000 per enrollee. Paying for the MA subsidies costs a couple using traditional Medicare an additional $78 to $90 a year.

Steps like this will strengthen Medicare, keeping the program solvent an additional five years. Medicare is one of the most successful government programs in our nation’s history. Without reform, large numbers of doctors, who face a 21 percent cut in payments next year, would certainly drop out. Already, physicians are burdened with both outrageous malpractice insurance charges as well as meeting insurance companies’ demands, which cost them on average 142 hours – worth $68,274 - a year. We’ve simultaneously introduced a separate bill which will prevent that 21 percent cut.

Many doctors will also applaud efforts to move away from the fee-for-service system. Over the summer, we strengthened incentives for the development of “accountable care organizations (ACOs)” which have lowered costs and improved care in several communities. Doctors and administrators at providers like Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and the world famous Mayo Clinic haved used such systems after deciding they could do better by shrinking insurance-driven incentives. They instead make more money by keeping costs down and meeting quality-of-care indicators. ACOs are run by doctors and hospitals with no government role whatsoever. CBO scored the ACO provisions in our bill and found savings of $2.6 billion through 2019.

These doctors and hospitals have shown a real commitment to bending the cost curve. I wish I could say the same about the insurance companies.

Better Corporate Behavior = Savings for Consumers

Currently, insurance companies do not compete to offer better plans, cheaper rates, or even better customer service. "Successful" companies are those best at shedding risk. Our bill will stop discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and rescission – the practice in which insurers search for problems with patients’ policies while they are waiting on the gurney for emergency care. Three insurance company executives acknowledged during an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing this summer that rescission saved those companies $300 million by canceling about 20,000 policies over five years.

Watch Video of the subcommittee hearing here

There may be no number that can state how many families have lost a loved one or were financially decimated by these practices. But it is clear that without reform, the companies will go on with these kinds of practices. It will be business as usual unless the government steps in.

But new health insurance industry regulations would only prevent the tactics the industry employs now. Americans need more choices to allow them to fight back against new forms of rascality, especially while insurers enjoy almost near monopolies in dozens of states. I believe a marketplace with increased competition, coming from a public health insurance option, will push the insurance giants to behave better than even increased government oversight could.

The public health insurance option would have leverage to force insurers, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals to bring their prices down.

As promised, back to medical loss ratio: when California state lawmakers tried to require insurers to spend at least 85 percent on medical care, hundreds of industry lobbyists worked to kill the effort. Our bill includes a two-year fix establishing the ratio at 85-15. That will deal with the immediate concern while in the long-term, the public health insurance option and other safeguards will force insurers to be more efficient and cut their administrative costs on their own. A public health insurance option would likely have administrative costs similar to those of Medicare, which operates at 3-4 percent. This kind of competition is the best way to drive insurers to spend our money wisely and more efficiently.

As for fears the public option would crowd out other healthcare providers, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated fewer than 5 percent of Americans would sign up for it.

Without the public option, what you have is 47 million more people being added to the marketplace that the health insurance industry can charge whatever price they want. It's a wonderful way to drum up business for the insurance companies. How can we ask doctors, hospitals, drug makers and all other stakeholders to make enormous sacrifices without asking the same of the insurers?

The loyal opposition has provided no help. Neither the Republican leadership of the House nor of the Senate has offered comprehensive health care legislation for consideration. While they decry our efforts, they offer no alternative even though – as National Journal has reported – nearly half of the House Republicans (84 of 178) come from districts where the proportion of the uninsured exceeds the national average of 15 percent. Without a bill of their own, Congressional Republicans’ intractability is simply a thinly veiled defense of the status quo. Conservative think tanks cry for deregulation, but this to me is like trying to get a fox out of the hen house by letting in more foxes. The CBO said a 2005 bill allowing plans to be sold across state lines would have caused about 1 million people to lose employer-sponsored insurance. More bad plans and fewer people insured sounds like a step backwards to me.

In a recent Reuters poll, 63 percent of respondents said they’d pay higher taxes to get serious health care reform. I believe they realize this is one case where investing in reform now could put more money in their pockets later. They know the screaming should stop and reasonable discourse must rise above the rancor.

Let me close with a personal note. I make an effort to treat each class of Congressional interns to a lunch in the Member’s dinning room. During that lunch, I take questions about any topic they want to discuss. Almost every time, these interns – many of whom regard Ronald Reagan as ancient history – ask me about votes like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In my more than 50 years here, I’ve cast ten to fifteen votes which are repeatedly revisited by the general public, both young and old, because they have such a dramatic impact on the world we live in today. And while public mood may color their sentiments or the way they ask the question, the basic premise behind the interns’ questions are always the same:

When history called, what did you do?

Without a doubt, the vote on this bill will join the list. I will tell my fellow members, when you explain a vote like this one to the generations that live with the consequences of these decisions there is no poll, not even an election result, that can justify your decision. You will be asked about this vote until the day you die. Years from now, none of these things we put so much stock in now will matter. All anyone will want to know is: did you do the right thing when history called on you? It is time for health care reform. We can’t afford to wait. We can’t afford to think small. We can’t afford to fail.

Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell has served Southeast Michigan for more than 53 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, making him the longest serving congressman in U.S. history. He has introduced and fought for legislation that would create health care coverage for all Americans since 1957.

Links to studies, stories and documents cited in Op-Ed:

Affordable Health Care for America Act - U.S. House of Representatives

• "The Sick Business of Health-Care Profiteering" - Vanity Fair

The World Factbook: The United States, October 2009 - Central Intelligence Agency

Accounting for the cost of health care in the United States - McKinsey Global Institute

Employer Health Benefits 2009 Annual Survey (PDF)

Projected Health Care Spending When Excess Cost Growth Is Assumed to Continue at Historical Averages - Congressional Budget Office

OECD Health Data 2009: Statistics and Indicators for 30 Countries (2009) - Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development

Current Employment Statistics, July 2009 - Bureau of Labor Statistics

• "The Asian Conventional Military Balance in 2006" (PDF) - Center for Strategic and International Studies

• "How Health Care Reform Can Lower the Costs of Insurance Administration" - Commonwealth Fund

• "Improving Incentives in the Medicare Program" (PDF) - Medicare Payment Advisory Commission

• "Health Care by the Numbers" (PDF) - House Democratic Leadership and Committee Staff

• "Private Health Insurance Administrative Costs per Person Covered, 1986-2007" - Kaiser Family Foundation

The Hidden Health Tax (PDF) - Families USA

• "The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform: Key to Cost Control and Quality Coverage," (PDF) - Institute for America's Future

• "Cost Estimate of H.R. 2355 Health Care Choice Act of 2005" (PDF) - Congressional Budget Office


mardi 27 octobre 2009

Health Care Insurance Monopoly

Don't leave it to the states

"The state Departments of Insurance in six of the seven most concentrated markets for health insurance—including Rhode Island, Alabama, Maine and Montana—have taken no significant consumer protection actions against health insurers in the past five years."
-- Dave Balto , Stephanie Gross, Center for American Progress

Montana? Oh, no! Say it isn't so!

Progressives? Are you there? Ms. Maddow (and I, most humbly, not wanting to even suggest that I might be even remotely in the same league as this wonderful woman), right along with all our friends at Firedoglake, and everyone else who is going to wake back up again after the lull of getting the appearance of a win (ps: I contacted Dodd's office, my senator who isn't the evil one saying he will join the Republicans -- Wait! Didn't he already do that? --, and filibuster the Reid plan to tell him that contrary to what he claims in his latest email seeking contributions, to tell him that, no, this is not a "big win") and get back to work.

We've got a real public option that is not optional, limited to the uninsured, nor up to the states to decide.

Here's one place to start today (thanks, Q):

Lieberman's phone is (202) 224-4041.

Check out his lobbying/contributors at

CT News Media contacts here.

Hm. Lieberman. Connecticut. Hartford. Insurance.

I wonder --

The public option, with a big *

The public option:

only... for the UNINSURED

only... in SOME PLACES

"I think Senator Reid has taken a strong step in the right direction."
-- Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR

But, that's what it is: a step in the right direction.

Senator Wyden is right when he says he thinks Americans want it for everyone, should be polled to make it clear and that progressives should continue to work for a real public option, for everyone who wants it, everywhere:

"I think that if progressives stay at this, continue at the grassroots level to make the case that all Americans should have a choice, all Americans ought to be able to make insurance companies accountable I think that we will have 60 votes in the United States senate for a strong bill, but obviously this is they key time."

Don't put your signs away because he's right:

"It's not good enough that only 10% of the population can hold insurance companies accountable; it's not good enough at a crucial time in American history to have choice available only to a handful of people who are sick and unemployed. That's almost like a heath care ghetto."

Am I ever glad for Rachel Maddow. Nice to have a voice on national television.

mercredi 21 octobre 2009

Rain and Eugénie digs a hole


I just came back up from the pool pump, turning it back on for the first time since I found Eugénie G. Toad waiting for a miracle or the end of her forces, clutching the handle of the pool filter basket for all she was worth. The presence of the lid pressing on her back must have helped. Wedged into that small space of light and air and hope, she had only to wait. I wonder, did the energetic and cheerful little frog below her annoy her, or distract her from her distress?

She was like a triathlete, running as long as the finish line remained before her, collapsing as soon as she was released from her predicament, the lid no longer there to hold her in place. I watched her head drop, her hind legs loose their grip and slip, hanging below her thick toad body, pulling her down, down, down. I took hold of her; it was the only kind thing to do. She'd had it.

Yesterday, I helped her take possession of her new home, somewhat against her will. I, convinced she found safety with me and didn't want to leave me. She? How can I know? She is a toad. I know my own thoughts, but I cannot know hers. I can see that she holds onto me, that she struggles against my putting her down, returns to my hand, to any part of me in reach rather than stay on the ground, but what is she thinking? We look at each other in wordless communication. I talk to her. She can hear me, unless she is deaf, which she might be after some 30 meters, shooting through the pipes of the pool. But does she trust me? Am I safety? Does she feel now that she needs me? These are human responses, but we look at our pets -- unless we're talking about cats, of which I have two, have had many more, and can definitely say that they would prefer that I not believe this of them --, and we are certain that they respond just like we do. And maybe Eugénie did. I read this in the toad biology section on
Toads are extrememly [sic] smart and toads are much more human like [sic] in personality, but these are just generalizations since I have known smart frogs and not so smart toads, as well as toads with no personality and frogs who had alot [sic] of personality.
I stopped to see if I could see Eugénie, like I surprised myself and did yesterday afternoon, when I broke down once and lifted the leaves and brushed carefully at the dirt, suddenly feeling her cold flesh under my fingertips. Startled, I pulled my hand back and then lowered my head, tilted to the side to be able to see inside her house. Two big round eyes gazed back at me.

"Excuse-moi, Eugénie... je suis désolée, je ne voulais pas --" I fumbled, reaching for the leaves to return her to the protection and quiet of her nest in the dirt under the yew, by the clematis, the holly and the Falstaff rose.

I intended to leave her alone, let her be a toad, free of me (unless she came looking for me. One day, I'd open the French door to go out and see her sitting there, waiting to be with me. I'd think how I had nearly stepped on her and wish to install a tiny bell for Eugénie G.), but there I was, heading across the terrace under a heavy rain, to kneel on the brick ledge along the planting bed. Once again, I removed the large, dry linden leaves from inside her flower pot house. Very carefully, I placed my fingers where she had been yesterday and felt an Eugénie-sized depression in the soil. I pressed a little harder, brushing the soil ever so gingerly, but there was no cool flesh, only a hole. Eugénie, the real toad that she is, is doing the very toady thing of making her own hibernaculum, leading from the house I made her.

Hoping not to be considered impossibly intrusive, the very worst sort of human neighbor a toad could have, I followed the hole as far as I could with my fingers, but I never felt her cold skin. The hole leads under the roots, towards the center of the yew, either where she was sitting, staying warm, or which she had left, heading out to explore her surroundings at the top of the garden.

In case she could hear me, I said, "Salut, Eugénie. Je reviendrai te voir encore."

mardi 20 octobre 2009

Chez Eugénie G. Toad

Home, Sweet Home

Eugénie Grandet Toad
found (again) 19 October 2009

"Mais tu ne peux pas le mettre dehors la nuit!" dit-il.

"Pourquoi pas? Il a passé toutes les nuits de sa vie dehors jusqu'au présent," répondit-elle.

"Mais il ne sait peut-être pas creuser son lit par nuit." But maybe he doesn't know how to burrow his bed at night. Lame. I don't think they follow a plan (just like our workers) or need to see much at all to dig a little hole into which to bury themselves. "Et," he added gamely, "il fait froid."

"Mais il s'est rechauffé et en tout cas, il a l'habitude." In the space of two hours, we had gone from "Mais tu ne vas pas garder ça dans la maison, non?" to "But you can't put it out at night!" It wasn't worth arguing. I didn't really want to stick him outside in the dark, either. Besides, another friend sent a link for making your own toad house and village. I wanted to do that.

"Bon, d'accord." He spent the whole time I set the table, made dinner and we ate nestled under my sweater on my chest.

"He's a living brooch! I've seen those. Usually they're tiny lizards, but, hey, you're a trend-setter," said my sister on Facebook.

He got pretty active towards the end of dinner and wanted to crawl over me. I went to find a cardboard box and stuck a cushion cover from IKEA I have never used in the bottom and set the cardboard protection from the printer that came in the box in one end. It would offer him a little space. I wet some paper towel and set that in, too, in case he needed some moisture. After the dishes, I took him upstairs and sat the box next to the bed. Audouin was already there, reading in bed, magnifying glasses perched on his nose. It gives him this old but pert look.

"C'est qu -- oh! Mais non! Tu ne vas pas le mettre dans notre chambre?" Mais, why not? "Mets le carton plus loin au moins. Si tu te lèves dans la nuit, tu vac marcher sur lui."

Like I'm stupid or something.

"Ici je peux voir facilement s'il va bien." He returned to his book. This is when you know you have indeed been married seven years. It's very nice. The disagreements end much sooner, before they become full-blown arguments. To the death. Almost. Or, as good as.

In the morning, I found the box next to my side of the bed, uncrushed. I had not gotten up and stepped on it during the night. Such a relief. I lifted the lid, took out the towel I had put over him in his corner, where he had climbed right onto the cardboard protection like it was a little toad apartment, and peered in. He was very still. I touched him. He was very cold. I looked closer. I didn't see much to indicate breathing. I picked him up, very carefully. His left eye slid back around to look at me. He was alive. I put him back in and went back to sleep for another hour.

There would be time enough to attend to his house and wait for the plumber after Sam and Audouin left.

But first, there was a more pressing question: is he a toad, or is he really a frog. And, if he is a toad, is he a he, or is he really a she?

This was actually too easy to determine. First, it is most definitely a toad, and the toadiest of toads, one of the ones that cannot be called a frog: being a Bufo of the family bufonidae, the "true toads". One look at the photo to the right (from Wikipedia), and there was no doubt about what I had rescued, a Fowler's Toad. The Bufo bufo, or the common frog, is very common in our part of Europe. So are Bufo fowleri.

The next part struck me as being a little more challenging. I mean, would I recognize toad testicles? How big are they? Do they stay up inside the toad and descend as required?

As it turns out, I had no need of testicles to make my identification. At I read:
One of the most frequently asked questions we get from visitors to is how to determine the sex of a toad or frog. I am going to give you a basic idea but I think it is important to understand that there can be many exceptions to this and that it's more of a generalization than a rule.

One of the easiest species to differentiate between male and female is bufo americanus (American toad). The rules here apply to other species like bufo fowleri and bufo woodhousei, as well (Fowler's and Woodhouse). However, some of this doesn't seem to help in differentiating between male and female Rococos (bufo paracnemis), so again, this is more of a generalization than a rule.

Bufo Americanus males have one of the most beautiful songs in all of nature. Their shrill call is easy to identify and can be heard only briefly each year during mating season. I would also like to point out that there has always appeared to be less [sic] males than females. Here on, we get many emails asking us if we can identify the sex and species of a particular toad and most often, it's a female regardless of what species it is. I don't know if anyone has factual data on this, but this has been my observation. Also, I might add that I can usually tell on first site if the toad is male or female without much investigation. I guess 27 years of experience makes it easy.

Italics mine.

Since I had found the toad, it was almost surely a female. I read on and looked at the toad. It was bumpier than smooth (female), it had an "even-colored", or light, throat as opposed to a dark throat (female), it was largely silent (female), it's arms appears more slender, like the one in the photo of a female (female), and it had no nuptial pads for hanging onto the female during mating (female). It was, therefore, not Trevor T. but Eugénie G., who will zoom about the countryside not in her Tin Lizzey (T. Get it?), but in her 2CV, the top rolled back and secured with rubber bands.

Another scene from our life in the provinces.

Avant Yard. In her post, Diane Rixon suggests a flower pot, half-buried in the soft dirt. She covered hers with smooth pebbles, like river stones, because she's "into a more naturalistic look, something I think might be more likely to attract wildlife, too." I gave it some consideration and decided not to drive to Truffaut for a bag of pebbles. Instead, I covered Eugénie G back up to protect her from Wisp's needle-sharp claws and headed out to find a flower pot and some stones.

For once, not throwing something away came in handy. There was the tin rimmed (the tin gets in here, after all) terra cotta pot from IKEA out of which the bottom fell, making it perfect, since the missing bottom makes the perfect escape hatch in the event of aggression. Now, for the stones. I looked around. There was a ton of chips of chaux and bits of brick and concrete, but these broke the sharpness rule for basic toad safety. I remembered the stone gravel in the courtyard next to the old school across the street that they are transforming into three apartments, where we parked one of our cars until the work started. Then, I remembered that there is some in front of the neighbors' house. I didn't need much, and he gets excited about the same kind of idiosyncratic (to put it nicely) projects I do. I headed over and scooped up some gravel in lovely ocher and grays, beige and reds and headed in to look for the super glue. The plumber arrived while I was painstakingly gluing small stones to the pot.

It's okay. He appreciates the same sort of projects. That's why he's our plumber still after 7 years. That, and we like him. He always stops and takes the time to appreciate the fish in the basin, offer advice and praise. I told him the story and showed Eugénie G to him.

"Il est dans le carton, le crapeau?" I nodded. He peered in and made the appropriate noises of appreciation for this perfect specimen of nature. I covered her back up, and we headed out to the furnace in the garage.

By the time I finished gluing stones, the bits of dry grass and bay laurel leaves to the pot, my fingertipss were coated in super glue. I was a little nervous about picking up Eugénie, in case I'd never be able to put her back down again. I could just hear Audouin, "Mais on ne va pas vivre avec un crapeau collé à ta main!"

Especially not once I failed to nourish it sufficiently and it -- . Never mind.

I heard Baccarat bark. I suspected she had gotten out of the garden when the plumber came, but I figured it would serve her right to have a good scare and think twice about flying out the next time. I detached my fingers from the pot, pushed my chair back and headed out to the gate. There was my neighbor, from whose little lot in front of their garden, I had filched some stone gravel.

"J'espère que ça ira mais j'ai trouvé Baccarat dans la rue et je l'ai mise dans le jardin. Elle a failli se faire écrasée par une voiture, en plus." I looked at Baccarat. She had gotten the fright, but I wasn't certain we could count on her to even realize it. Cars are not toys, Bacs. She had her baby in the carrier and her almost 5-year-old was gamboling up the railings along the street, at the school bus stop. We chatted. I remembered I hadn't covered the cardboard box again. I needed to cut her off shorter than usual. I explained the concept of the toad house I was making in 10 words or fewer and promised to tell her husband about them so he could make a toad village with their son in the spring.

Wisp was up on the ironing board, licking her paws.

I glanced over at the table. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Eugénie was in her corner, unsnacked upon. Besides, had Wisp tried that, she'd be howling from the poison Eugénie could unleash from her glands.

I picked up the stone-covered pot, went and got a spade and installed the house under the yew by the clematis and the Falstaff rose bush. It seemed fitting to move Eugénie Grandet in by Falstaff. Come spring, she will have the pink and white tulips, then the deep violet clematis and violet-red Falstaff English roses with the blue holly berries, followed by the flowers of the Hosta. Then, I went and fetched Eugénie. She flattened her cold belly to my hand and wrapped her fingers and toes around mine, the pad of my hand. I carried her out to her new home. She was not eager to quit me, but I insisted.

She is now contently burrowed into the damp soil and leaves of her toad house.

Next, a hibernaculum.


lundi 19 octobre 2009

Another day, another crazy miracle in the garden

Hanging on, just barely

It turns out miracles aren't very uncommon. I don't know what made me think they had to be, come to think of it. They are merely miraculous; they might very well happen all the time. I am sure, in fact, that they do, otherwise I'd never get to see so many.

It all started when I went to take my motorcycle yesterday to pick Sam up from a friend's house, where he had spent the night. It was a gorgeous fall day, and I thought, "Perfect. I'll take a ride across the countryside south of Mantes." Only my bike had another idea.

It has a temperamental battery that is becoming an issue. I hit the electric starter. The bike whined and choked. It wasn't going to start, but I tried again. It made a faint noise that dropped and faded. The battery telling me that it was now out of j u i c e.

I left a note for my husband to explain why the car was gone when he returned, since when he gave me a peck good-bye before heading out at the same time, I was in my leather, carrying my helmet and one for Sam across the terrace, heading down to my bike.

This afternoon, I was stripping the last window frame, the one in the kitchen, when I remembered that I needed to take the extension cord and BMW motorcycle battery charger down to the bottom of the garden to charge my battery (for the second time in a week, but who's counting), and on the way back up to the get back to the window, I remembered that my husband would appreciate my closing the pool for the winter.

I passed through the gap in the overgrown hedge to go take a look at the pool, empty the skimmers, check the pressure of the jets and so on. The jets were a little weak, so I stopped off at the pool pump and started to empty the air from the sand filter when my eye caught a glint of gold and bronze in the filter basket.

I looked closer, and there was a toad. All in one piece. He was clinging, or had been clinging anyway, to the handle of the yellow basket, between it and the clear plastic lid. I bent down to look closer still, and I could see his flanks moving. He was breathing! I pounced on the valves to shut down the circulation and hit the power switch to stop the pump, and since he had survived that long, I dared to run up the thirty steps and across the terrace to the house for my camera, Baccarat on my heels and shooting past me into the house, and then all the way back down, where she bolted on past me, thinking we were heading out the gate for a walk, when I cut left to the pump house.

"Sh, there, there, little one. Hang tight. I'm here, don't move."

Like he was going anywhere. He was lucky already to have gotten a hold on the basket handle, or he'd have gone right past the top of the basket and on into the pump blades, unless this basket is higher than the old one and covers the hole.

What's gold and bronze and red all over? Oh. You've heard that one already?

There was also a small frog, green-backed with striped legs, in the basket with the leaves. He was quite energetic and leaped away. Holding the water-logged, frozen and beyond terrified toad on my left wrist, I managed to grab the little frog in my right hand and make it up the stairs to deposit him in the basin.

I tried to pry the toad off the cuff of my sweater to put him in a potted plant to rest and recover, or, alternatively, to die, but he wasn't having any of that. He stretched his legs out and locked them, pushing off against the edge of the pot, grasping my sweater with his forepaws. So, I helped him back up onto my wrist and to gather his legs. Apart from the effort to remain attached to me, he was very weak. Bubbles formed over his eyes and with his left forepaw he tried to wipe them away, his breathing slow and shallow, making occasional peeping, clicking noises.

The death rattle of a toad? He'd been sucked up by the intake for the vacuum, flown through the pipes and been flung into the filter basket, where he'd found refuge between the handle and the lid and where he'd been since sometime since I emptied the little yellow basket of leaves a week ago. That's a lot for a toad to handle.

The phone rang. I gathered him up, which wasn't hard since he was still hanging onto me for dear life, and ran to answer it. Sam's cell phone number.


"I've been trying to reach you for like 10 minutes. I've called your cell phone over and over." I'm used to being chided.

"Oh? I don't know why I didn't hear it." Dumb thing to say. Of course I hadn't heard it. I was rescuing wildlife in the bottom of the garden.

"I'm on the bus, at the mairie in Rosny."

"I might be late. I, um, saved a toad from the pool filter basket and --"

"Oh, Mom! Just put it in the garden."

"I can't. He won't let go of me. I think he's really cold, or something." He made a sound, something like mild disgust with me. "I'll be there in a sec, Sam."

The toad was still making bubbles when he breathed and wiping at his eyes. I had already rinsed him in the clear water (no chemicals) of the basin, and thinking about a friend on Facebook, who told me what I remembered as soon as he said, that the oils on our skin are bad for frogs; I figured that might be the case for toads and went to get a paper towel, even though he wasn't on my skin now. He was crawling up my sleeve to settle near my armpit.

Definitely must be cold.

I wrapped the toad in the paper towel (he didn't really enjoy that), grabbed my keys and bag and headed to the car. I could just imagine what Sam would say.

From the pool filter basket to the BMW. What an experience for a small, wild creature. His first car ride. kd Lang's cover of Jane Siberry's The Valley, already in the CD player, filled the car when I turned the key in the ignition. His first music.
You rise every morning
Wondering what in the world will the world bring today
Will it bring you joy or will it take it away
And every step you take is guided by
The love of the light on the land and the blackbird's cry
He blew more bubbles, clicked, peeped and I noticed the thin, mucous film covering his head. He was trying to wipe it away. Gingerly, I took a corner of the paper towel and slid it off his eyes, his snout and mouth. Almost instantly, his breathing improved. The bubbles stopped.
You will walk in good company
The valley is dark
The burgeoning holding
The stillness obscured by their judging
I settled him in my lap, attached my seat belt, and we headed out for his first ride. I nearly ran into a van parked on the side of the street and then into a bicyclist.
You walk through the shadows
Uncertain and surely hurting
Deserted by the blackbirds and the staccato of the staff
And though you trust the light towards which you wend your way
Sometimes you feel all that you wanted has been taken away
I decided to pay more attention to the road.

Sam was already walking toward me along the place where the péniches captains tie up to rest and refresh the paint on their hulls, when I neared the bus stop. I slowed to a stop past him and he turned and jogged up to the car and hopped in.

"Oh, Mom, you've got the frog? That's disgusting."

"Toad, and he wouldn't let go of me, and it's not disgusting. Do you want to drive?" He shook his head. It's only 4 kms back home.

"A friend and I found out there was free coffee at the literature club that meets at 1pm. It was cold, so we went. It was 1:10 when we got there, and all the French teachers and the losers were there, but I said two brilliant things."

"How often does it meet?"

"Once a month, but I wish it were once a week for the coffee."

"What were the brilliant things you said?"

One was countering someone's argument that writers don't write to be published with Voltaire's statement that he writes to take action and make change. The other was to counter another who said that writers publish for money, "Zola," said Sam, "wrote to get the word out about the injustice of the mines." Or something like that. He admitted that Honoré de Balzac wrote for a franc a page, staying up all night to write to make as much as he could to live.
Que votre nom, vous dont le portrait est le plus bel ornement de cet ouvrage, soit ici comme une branche de buis bénit, prise on ne sait à quel arbre, mais certainement sanctifiée par la religion et renouvelée, toujours ...
-- Eugénie Grandet, Scènes de la vie de province

"What did your old teachers say?"

"Madame [une telle] was smiling with pride that I remembered that stuff."

"Will you go back?"

"It was fun, but I'll go back for the coffee."
You will walk in good company
I love the best of you
You love the best of me
Though it is not always easy
Lovely? lovely?
We will walk in good company
The shepherd upright and flowing
You see...
Now, the toad is nestled in my lap, Shadow, the big black and white cat, the last of the three from the same litter who flew here ahead of me from the States when we moved here 7 years ago, sleeps with her head against him, keeping us both warm.

He's going to live.

Do you think he will like being in my pocket while I make dinner? I could add string and everything that little boys and big girls are made of.

The Valley

I live in the hills
You live in the valleys
And all that you know are these blackbirds
You rise every morning
Wondering what in the world will the world bring today
Will it bring you joy or will it take it away
And every step you take is guided by
The map of the light on the land and the blackbird's cry
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company

The valley is dark
The burgeoning holding
The stillness obscured by their judging
You walk through the shadows
Uncertain and surely hurting
Deserted by the blackbirds and the staccato of the staff
And though you trust the light towards which you wend your way
Sometimes you feel all that you wanted has been taken away
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company

I love the best in you
You love the best in me
And though it's not always easy
Lovely? lonely?
We will walk
We will walk
We will walk in good company

The shepherd upright and flowing
You see...


"That's a socialist mop"

President Obama addressing the DNC in San Francisco

Grab a mop!

Love that chuckle. Gotta' love that chuckle.

Ah, the GOP. What would we do without them?

Gotta' give them credit for entertainment value in the material they provide for parody.

Can you chuckle again, Mr. President? That'd do me good.

Tracy Chapman's opener for the President wouldn't be bad, though, to start the day. And here's Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remarks, followed by the President's.

dimanche 18 octobre 2009

And now for something completely different: Kitty Litter Cake

Kitty Litter Cake

"And every bit is edible!"

I so wish that this post followed immediately after "Oh! Shit". What a shame.

The other day, my sister sent me an email inviting me to participate in a recipe swap. I usually don't do these things, but, hey!, seriously, who can't use a few new recipes? This one, shall we say, took the cake.

From Ma Renrut, of MyBO fame and Las Vegas, Nevada, here, everyone, is the recipe for Kitty Litter Cake. She got it during GOTV for Obama.

Disclaimer: This recipe has no relationship to anything concerning our President. None whatsoever.

Anyway, as Ma says, "It may not be for every event, but it will definitely be talked about and remembered!"

Oh yeah.

Kitty Litter Cake
Cake Ingredients:
1 box spice or German chocolate cake mix
1 box of white cake mix
1 package white sandwich cookies
1 large package vanilla instant pudding mix
A few drops green food coloring
12 small Tootsie Rolls or equivalent

Serving Dishes and Utensils:
1 NEW cat-litter box
1 NEW cat-litter box liner
1 NEW pooper-scooper
Prepare and bake cake mixes, according to directions, in any size pan.

Prepare pudding and chill.

Crumble cookies in small batches in blender or food processor. Add a few drops of green food coloring to 1 cup of cookie crumbs.

Mix with a fork or shake in a jar. Set aside.

When cakes are at room temperature, crumble them into a large bowl.

Toss with half of the remaining cookie crumbs and enough pudding to make the mixture moist but not soggy. Place liner in litter box and pour in mixture.

Unwrap 3 Tootsie Rolls and heat in a microwave until soft and pliable.

Shape the blunt ends into slightly curved points. Repeat with three more rolls. Bury the rolls decoratively in the cake mixture.

Sprinkle remaining white cookie crumbs over the mixture, then scatter green crumbs lightly over top.

Heat 5 more Tootsie Rolls until almost melted. Scrape them on top of the cake and sprinkle with crumbs from the litter box.

Heat the remaining Tootsie Roll until pliable and hang it over the edge of the box. Place box on a sheet of newspaper and serve with pooper-scooper.

And to think I nearly passed this recipe swap up.