Sunday, July 31, 2011

Credit Ratings as Blackmail

Here's a new one on me:

It turns out that Standard & Poor's, the big credit rating which has been threatening to downgrade America's credit from its current AAA level, is doing something quite unethical. Its ratings actions were actually one of the major causes of the 2008 mortgage crisis, but when Congress tried to call it on this, announcing investigations, S&P responded by demanding that the U.S. government cut social programs or it would downgrade our credit rating.

From the firedoglake website:

First, Standard & Poors threatened to downgrade the US credit rating if cuts were not made to Social Securty and Medicare to reduce the deficit.

Then, two days after a bipartisan Senate committee found S&P's misleading mortgage ratings to be a 'key cause' of the 2008 financial crisis, the agency issued another downgrade threat.

A few months later, after the SEC announced they would investigate agencies like S&P for fraud, S&P issued yet ANOTHER downgrade threat, this time with the arbitrary ransom of $4 trillion in deficit reduction which would likely include deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Is S&P blackmailing the White House into absolving them of any responsibility for the 2008 crash by threatening downgrades every time there's an attempt to hold their feet to the fire? If that's the case, big benefit cuts are on their way.

"Revoke Standard & Poor's NRSRO designation as a credit ratings agency for their attempts to influence the political debate over deficit reduction and to use their ratings as a weapon to avoid accountability for their role in the 2008 financial crisis."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Congress? Govern? Really?

Well, now I've officially joined Madame L as a slightly crazed worry-wart about how our members of Congress appear to be willing to run our whole country and our economy over a cliff.

I've called and written to my Representative in Congress repeatedly. When I have received a response to my email messages, it's always the same thing. Finally, today, I went again to the "Comment" page and wrote a completely new message.

I'm pasting it here so that if any of you have received the same kind of response to your calls, letters, and/or emails, you can use any of these points that seem applicable.

Just copy and paste. If you want.

If you're perfectly satisfied with what's happening in Congress, then you're probably in a happier state (pun intended) than I am! Here's what I wrote, without any hope of receiving a real reply, but to get it on the record:

Dear Rep. (Name Here):

I have just received your standard response to my email messages and phone calls regarding taxes and the U.S. budget and the issue of raising the debt ceiling.

And I am very disappointed that you thought so little of my intelligence, and the intelligence of all your constituents here in This State, that you assume we will believe the lies the Republican Party is disseminating from Capitol Hill.

I am very disappointed that you didn't really address the issues I wrote to you in a personal way but instead had a staffer send your standard e-mail response which is full of boilerplate language and Republican talking points, without any truths, without any acknowledgment of the issues you are supposed to be addressing in Washington.

The election is over, you have been there for 6 months now, and you should be GOVERNING, acting like a grown-up, not still playing these little political games.

With regard to your talking points: You are WRONG on EVERY count! We HAVE TO raise taxes to take care of our people, our neighbors and friends, the citizens of the This State. Taxes pay for YOUR JOB IN CONGRESS. If you own a home in This State, you probably got your mortgage through some U.S. government program which is supported by tax dollars. If you own a car that was made in America, it was probably produced with help from U.S. taxes. If you ever had a job before becoming a politician, taxes were deducted from your salary to pay for social welfare programs to help the poor, the elderly, the sick, children, school children, teachers, nurses and doctors, and so on. Taxes provide a social safety net which makes us a functional society.


OR are you in favor of giving these people a free ride?

Maybe you're planning on having your own corporate jet someday that you'll get a tax break on, while ordinary middle class people like me and my husband are paying higher taxes than you are, to support your wealthy habits?

A constitutional amendment to force a balanced budget is a mistake. The American economy and budget are not like some household budget.

Where did you go to school? Why do you not know the first thing about economics?

Or are you misled by these rich people, these liars and hypocrites? Do you really believe anyone is asking for taxes on REAL people? No! The real people are being taxed to the limit, while the rich people get all the benefits.

Also, have you not read any recent history? Do you not recall that Pres. George H.W. Bush rightly accused Ronald Reagan of practicing "voodoo economics" when he suggested that wealth would "trickle down" from the wealthy to the ordinary folk, that by giving the wealthy more tax breaks they would magically decide to create jobs and help the rest of us? And do you not recall that our problems with balancing the budget began when Reagan gave those tax breaks to the wealthy? Jobs were not created. On the other hand, do you not recall that when Pres. Bill Clinton raised the taxes even very slightly on the wealthy, the budget was balanced, jobs were created, and the middle class and working poor actually had money to spend, which created more jobs, which brought in more money for federal and state social programs? Do you not recall that during the 8 years before Pres. Obama took office, the Bush II years, when the wealthy got all the breaks again, the economy went straight downhill?

Come on, Ms. Congresswoman. You are not facing the issues squarely. You are either misled yourself, or you are in a very cynical and hypocritical fashion hoping to mislead the people you're supposed to be representing.

I am asking, and thousands of your constituents in This State are asking, that you represent US, the people who live here, not the Republican Party or the Tea Party or Grover Norquist.

Don't tell us about all those ridiculous bills you've co-sponsored. Tell us what you're going to do to create jobs, tax the wealthy, and make sure the hard-working people of your district get the benefits they have been paying for during their entire working lives.

I would appreciate your answering my specific questions and addressing these specific issues instead of sending me another can of Republican talking points.


Aunt Louise (I really put my real full name and address here)

P.S. I have sent a copy of this message to the chair of my State Democratic Party, so he will be aware of the kinds of issues I'm imploring you to address honestly and forthrightly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fiction Friday (July 29, 2011): The Last Child

If you've witnessed a death,but you know if you tell the truth about it some people in your family will get in trouble, and if they get in trouble you'll get in trouble, BUT ...

No, Madame L is going too far. She must stop, now, to keep from giving away the whole plot. She'll start again from the beginning:

If your sister is dead, and you don't think the police are doing a very good job of finding out who killed her, so you're looking on your own, but if you keep up your own investigation you're going to get hurt, BUT ...

No, Madame L will try again:

If you're a beautiful but fragile woman whose daughter is missing, and then your husband disappears too, and then your son keeps getting in trouble at school and with the police, BUT ...

One more try:

If you're a police officer investigating the disappearance of a child whose mother you've had a crush on since high school, and you keep thinking you almost have the answer, but the mother's son --- and everyone in town --- sees you as a rogue cop who's taking advantage of the woman, BUT ...

"The Last Child," by John Hart, follows all these threads and a few more, leaving you hanging until the very end. It's an unpretentious but literary and masterful mystery thriller which the Washington Post described perfectly as "Huck Finn channeled through Lord of the Flies."

John Hart's first novel is "The King of Lies," which deals with the same issues of human knowledge, avoidance and protection; and was nominated for the Edgar Best First Novel award. His second novel is "Down River," which also deals with human fallibility and redemption.

All are available in paperback at for about $10.00. Madame L expects all three to be made into movies sometime soon. Madame L only hopes the movies are half as good as the books!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lost and Lonely, All Alone?

A funny thing happened to us the other day on the way to the temple. We saw a little dog running down the street, looking scared. A man on the sidewalk was running after it, trying to catch it, and cars were slowing down and swerving to miss it, so it headed across the median strip into oncoming traffic.

We could see that it was just a matter of time before this little dog would be hit by a car that didn't see it as it ran through and across the lanes, so Jeff made a U-turn and stopped, hazard lights flashing. I opened my door and waved at cars to stop, and squatted down in the street, arms spread wide to invite the dog to come to me. And he did. He jumped right up into my arms. I got into the car and we drove back to where the man was standing on the sidewalk.

"Here's your dog," I said.

"It's not mine," he said. "I was just trying to catch it so it wouldn't get hurt." He had no idea whose dog it was, where it had come from, or anything about it, but he said the driver of one of the cars that had stopped earlier had asked about it. Where had that driver gone? He thought the car had turned into the parking lot of the grocery store up ahead.

Anyway, long story short, after we drove around that parking lot and up and down the street several times, asking people if they recognized the dog, and after we called the phone number on the dog's collar and got a "No longer in service" message, we took him to the animal control shelter. (And we saw on the collar that his name was Gizmo. Cute name for a cute dog. We guessed he was a poodle mix, maybe a shih-poo or yorkie-poo.)

The people at the animal shelter found a microchip in Gizmo's neck, called the phone number given there, and a little girl answered. Yes, Gizmo was their dog, she said, but her mom and dad weren't home but, yes, they would like to have Gizmo back.

The lady at the animal shelter asked me if I'd be willing to take Gizmo to his home. She said, "We had 60 dogs turned in yesterday, and I don't know what we'd do with another one, or if this family would actually come and pick up this dog." I said I'd be happy to take the dog back, and the lady asked the girl on the phone if it was okay for her to give me their home address. The girl said yes, so we were off again.

Little Gizmo, who never barked or did anything impolite, crawled over to Jeff's lap. Jeff petted him and said, "Lost and lonely, all alone? I've felt that way sometimes, myself."

Meanwhile, the temple session we'd been planning to attend had started. Later we called and apologized to the missionary who had gone through the temple for the first time that day, and she graciously agreed that rescuing the little dog was more important than anything else we could have done at that moment.

We found Gizmo's house, and five little children came out to greet him. They were overjoyed to have him returned.

This isn't anything like the rescuers who risked their lives and their health to bring the handcart pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, but it illustrates the same point. It's important and wonderful to go to the temple and go to church meetings and such, but when someone is lost and lonely, all alone, or in danger of any kind, God wants us to help that individual.

The latest issue of the Ensign reprints an excerpt from President Gordon B. Hinckley's 1996 general conference address, "Reach with a Rescuing Hand."

Thank you to all those people who have reached out to me with a rescuing hand when I was lost and lonely, all alone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Whom Do You Trust?

Not only can statistics be used to tell lies, but so can histories.

I've had reason lately to think about how Joseph Smith's own history has been misquoted and misrepresented over the years. It's astonishing the number of ways that people who would denigrate that great prophet have lied, made up stories, and skewed other people's accounts.

I just found a great article on this topic, I recommend it for everyone who's interested in church history. "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," by LDS historian Richard Lloyd Anderson, shows how lies have been spread in the past and how a careful reading of available historical materials sheds light on the truth.

Willard Chase, who hated Joseph Smith but believed his account about the golden plates enough to try to steal the plates from him, later made up stories about how the plates were delivered and then went around the neighborhood getting other people to accept his story and to tell further lies about the young prophet.

Years later, Mark Hofmann, a convicted forger and murderer, used Chase's stories as background for a set of forgeries which some contemporary historians accepted. A lot of work was expended trying to explain the inconsistencies between Joseph's account and the falsehoods contained in the forgeries. But once Hofmann confessed, historians were able to sort out the truth from the lies.

Here are a couple of quotes from the Anderson article:

"Scholars should not underestimate how rumor, speculation, and sarcasm erode true history. A clear example concerning the Smith family is furnished by the newspaperman and regional historian Orsamus Turner, who was slightly older than Joseph Smith, Jr., and knew him as a boy.

"With heavy satire, Turner portrays Alvin as carrying the religious hopes of the family. Alvin, he says, was “originally intended, or designated, by fireside consultations, and solemn and mysterious outdoor hints, as the forthcoming Prophet.” What Turner really means in his satirical narrative is unclear, but no serious source names Alvin as anything but an assistant to Joseph. Turner mixes nine parts parody to one part history: “Alvah … eat too many green turnips, sickened and died.” As will be seen, this rough-shod view of an agonizing family tragedy merely shows how unfit many were to write anything about the Restoration. Indeed, Turner closes his guide to LDS origins justifying his levity 'because it will admit of no other treatment.' 

"This spirit of sarcasm and love of exaggeration were rampant in Palmyra, as is evidenced by the community’s support of the Reflector, a weekly newspaper that ran a year and a half with little else than caricature, including regular mockery of Mormonism."

I've got to say, this treatment by the so-called historian and the "Reflector" newspaper reminds me of the way Mormons are treated in the press today. I read just last week in an article about the church which made fun of our doctrine about the Godhead and the eternal plan of happiness, "I'm not making fun of the doctrine. It's impossible to make fun of it...." It was just a modern way of saying what the "Reflector" said, justifying mocking a religion and its adherents.

And it reminds me that we've got to be careful as church members and responsible citizens to:

---Correct misinformation about us, AND other misunderstood religious and social minorities.

---Stand up for the right, not only for ourselves but for others.

---Demand, expect, and accept only the truth!

Who do you trust to tell you about our church's history and early leaders? I trust our church historians and leaders!

Monday, July 25, 2011

More Bugs

As pleased as I was to see the spiders hatching from their little web balls a month ago, I was less excited the other day to be the one who disturbed a bunch of bees emerging from their underground nest.

It was next to impossible to take photos of them, as they buzzed around me angrily. In fact, they buzzed around me so angrily that I finally left for awhile. When I came back to work on my project again, I covered over the hole they were coming out of. This just made the queen bee angrier. She was about 2-1/2 times larger than the others, and she started digging down to get to her young who were still underground.

When I looked online to try to figure out what kind of bees they were, I realized they are harmless pollinators, so I went back and uncovered the hole I'd covered earlier. It was fun to watch more of the young ones come out. But I didn't stay for long!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Modern Pioneers --- You and Me

We all share the pioneer legacy. You don't have to have an ancestor who crossed the ocean or traveled across the plains to be part of it.

We're part of it in just the same way that we share the legacy of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the legacy of Joseph who was sold into Egypt; the legacy of Moses who led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land; the legacy of Nephi and his family who fled the destruction of Jerusalem to settle in the New World. 

And our pioneering is not finished, as Elder Robert L. Backman reminded us. He quoted from a talk by Pres. J. Reuben Clark:

“In living our lives let us never forget that the deeds of our [pioneer] fathers and mothers are theirs, not ours; that their works cannot be counted to our glory; that we can claim no excellence and no place, because of what they did, that we must rise by our own labor, and that labor failing we shall fail. We may claim no honor, no reward, no respect, nor special position or recognition, no credit because of what our fathers were or what they wrought. We stand upon our own feet in our own shoes” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1947, 160).

Elder Backman continues, "We may not be required to make the physical sacrifices our forefathers made. Rather, the test of our devotion to the gospel largely comes from within us. We demonstrate our obedience to the laws of the gospel and show our willingness to sacrifice by our acceptance of calls to serve, the quality of service we render, and the faithfulness we exhibit in living the gospel...

"We pioneer when we quietly and humbly, in large ways and small, follow faithfully and endure to the end....  

"We are all pioneers who stand by this heritage of faith, serving one another selflessly, sharing the riches of the gospel with all of God’s children, and living in light and truth each day. With those who have gone before, we walk with faith in every footstep. We follow Jesus Christ, the Lord!"

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fiction Friday (July 22, 2011): The Lemonade War

Madame L here again, at Aunt Louise's invitation, and this time Madame L wants to share with you a funny and thought-provoking book for independent readers.

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy "The Lemonade War," by Jacqueline Davies, if you've ever been a kid.

Have you ever had a brother or sister? Has your family ever gone through hard times? Have you ever wanted more than anything else to make a success of a project? Have you ever been so angry at someone that you didn't care if your actions hurt them? Have you ever envied other people who had more money, better looks, more people skills, better math ability, or anything? If even only one of these apply to you, you'll love the book.

What? You want Madame L to give away the plot? Not on your life!

But she will say this: A brother and sister decide to earn summer money by setting up a lemonade stand. Or two. With help from each other. Or not. Or friends. Or frenemies. They make some money. Or not. They learn a few lessons about life. For sure.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Going Farther Back

Anne Marbury was born in 1591 to Bridget Dryden and Rev. Francis Marbury. Marbury was imprisoned twice in England for his religious views, which struck the authorities as sounding more like Puritan than Anglican beliefs, and he was ordered to stop preaching.

Anne Marbury married William Hutchinson in 1612, and they came to America in 1634 with Rev. John Lothrop and settled in Boston.

In the New World, Anne Hutchinson started to run afoul of the ministers in Massachusetts Bay Colony when she held Bible discussion groups for women in her home.  Eventually her former friend John Cotton turned against her, and along with Lothrop, persecuted (and prosecuted) her for heresy.

Fat lot of good that did them: She became one of the founders of Rhode Island after her banishment from Massachusetts Bay Colony.

But the trial was grueling. She was in her 16th pregnancy during the trial, and the baby was stillborn. Some accounts say the baby was deformed, but my reading suggests that it was the baby of Mary Barett Dyer, Anne's friend and follower who was eventually hanged for the gross and unthinkable crime of being a Quaker, that was deformed. (Mary Dyer is considered the only woman in U.S. history to die for religious freedom.)

(Their heresy? --- the Antinomian heresy, which claims that God speaks directly to individuals rather than only through the clergy. Sound familiar?)

Gov. John Winthrop:  Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are the cause of this trouble, and to be nearly joined not only in affinity and affection with some of those the court had taken notice of and passed censure upon, but you have spoken divers things, as we have been informed, very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and notwithstanding that was cried down you have continued the same. Therefore we have thought good to send for you to understand how things are, that if you be in an erroneous way we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here among us. Otherwise if you be obstinate in your course that then the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further. Therefore I would intreat you to express whether you do assent and hold in practice to those opinions and factions that have been handled in court already, that is to say, whether you do not justify Mr. Wheelwright's sermon and the petition.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: I am called here to answer before you but I hear no things laid to my charge.

Gov. John Winthrop: I have told you some already and more I can tell you.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: Name one, Sir.

Gov. John Winthrop: Have I not named some already?

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: What have I said or done?

Gov. John Winthrop: Why for your doings, this you did harbor and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: That's matter of conscience, Sir.

Gov. John Winthrop: Your conscience you must keep, or it must be kept for you.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: Must not I then entertain the saints because I must keep my conscience.

Gov. John Winthrop: Say that one brother should commit felony or treason and come to his brother's house, if he knows him guilty and conceals him he is guilty of the same. It is his conscience to entertain him, but if his conscience comes into act in giving countenance and entertainment to him that hath broken the law he is guilty too. So if you do countenance those that are transgressors of the law you are in the same fact.

Mrs. Anne Hutchinson: What law do they transgress?

After her husband William died in 1642, Anne moved with her younger children to New York. A few months later, she and her children were killed in an Indian attack. Only her daughter Susanna survived the attack, apparently because of her red hair. Anne's five older children, Edward, Richard, Samuel, Faith, and Bridget, who did not move to New York, of course survived and had many descendants.

Brave, forceful, and articulate, Anne Marbury Hutchinson was one of the ancestors of Parley P. Pratt. The Jared Pratt Family Association has much more information about Parley.

One of Parley's children with his wife Sarah Houston was Teancum Pratt. Teancum married Annie Eliza Mead; their son Nephi Pratt married Marian Charlotte Hurley; and their son Nephi Hurley Pratt married Elaine McBride.

A statue of Anne Hutchinson stands in front of the State House in Boston, Massachusetts.

The statue was erected in 1922. The inscription on the marble pediment of the statue reads:

In Memory of
Anne Marbury Hutchinson
Baptized at Alford
Lincolnshire England
20 - July 1595
Killed by the Indians
at East Chester New York 1643
Courageous Exponent
of Civil Liberty
and Religious Toleration

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Come, Come, Ye Saints

Lots of people died before they got much of a start on that westward trek.

Our ancestor, Freeman Nickerson, was one of those.

He died January 12, 1847, in the Chariton River, Pioneer Crossing, Iowa, at the beginning of the trek to the Great Salt Lake Valley.  This river is less than 100 miles west of Nauvoo. 

It's not even as far from Nauvoo as Locust Creek, where William Clayton wrote the hymn "All Is Well," later known as "Come, Come, Ye Saints." Wikipedia notes that Clayton wrote in his journal that he had  "...composed a new song—'All is well.' I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again."

Freeman Nickerson's daughter, Caroline Eliza Nickerson, married Marshall Moore Hubbard.

Caroline Eliza Nickerson
Here's a copy of her journal, in which we read, "Marshall Moore Hubbard died 18 Sep 1838 of congestive chills, leaving me with my four children and in a land of strangers far from home and friends."

Caroline and her family were among the first to arrive in Commerce, Illinois (later named Nauvoo), fleeing the Missouri mobs. In Commerce, they lived in a rough log cabin and all suffered from fever and ague, "shaking every day." Two years later, in 1840, her four-year-old daughter, "my dear little Emma," died of exposure.

Her son, Elisha Freeman Hubbard, lived, though. He eventually married Almera Wilson. Their daughter Emma Jane Hubbard was the mother of Elaine McBride, who married Nephi Hurley Pratt.
Some of their children and grandchildren and a great-grandchild are:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Trek West

Wikipedia map of sites along the trail

The people didn't even really start in Illinois, did they. By the time they left on that grand trek to Salt Lake City, most of them had already traveled hundreds or thousands of miles.

The church was founded in New York State, and the Saints moved from there to Ohio and then Missouri before settling in Nauvoo, Illinois. Many members came to Nauvoo from even farther away, England and the Scandinavian countries. Many served missions in Canada, Europe, and South America and participated in the 2,000-mile march of Zion's Camp.

What made them start the trek from Nauvoo to Utah? (I mean besides being chased out of Nauvoo by mobs.) What made them continue?

This story, from a 1997 talk by Elder Robert L. Backman, titled "Faith in Every Footstep,"  may help explain how they did what they did:

"Of all the illustrations of faith in the Lord, few stories are more powerful than that told of the pioneer who years later stood to defend the decision of the Martin Handcart Company to start for the Salt Lake Valley late in the year of 1856. He had been one of the nearly 3,000 Saints who walked from Iowa and Nebraska to Utah between 1856 and 1860 in one of 10 companies pushing and pulling handcarts loaded with their belongings.

"In a Sunday School class there was sharp criticism of the ill-fated Martin and Willie Handcart Companies, which met with tragedy because of their late start on the trek to the Salt Lake Valley.

"An elderly man arose and said: 'I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts … give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife … too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but … we became acquainted with [God] in our extrem[i]ties.

“'I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

“'Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company' (as quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” The Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948)."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pioneer Day

Yesterday our stake had its annual Pioneer Day celebration. (I don't know why they did it 8 days early.) It was drizzling when we got to the high school where it was held. Girls were running around in their adorable pioneer costumes, getting their faces painted and listening to old-time stories. Boys were running around in their not-so-adorable not-pioneer- costumes, "fishing" for treasures at one booth, checking out old-time weapons at another.

Hmmm, did I detect a bit of stereotyping? Not on the part of the people who planned the festivities. They had something for everyone, and if boys didn't want to get their faces painted and girls didn't want to look at knives and guns, that's the way it still goes, I guess.

There was a long line of people waiting for their paper plates of fried chicken, corn on the cob, and ... wait for it ... Cheetos. Good authentic pioneer food, no?

Authentic or not, the day reminded me of similar days when I was a kid. We arrived too late yesterday to see the Primary children's parade, but I remembered decorating a wagon and tricycle when I was little, then helping my own children decorate wagons and bikes years later.

And the day reminded me of how easy our life is now compared to the lives of the pioneers. We could afford to complain about the rain. Our teenagers were preparing for a trek to the Temple, and some of them took an initial training walk earlier that morning, while others had dressed in pioneer clothes and pushed wagons on a more realistic trek.

Our LDS pioneer ancestors were not so different from the children of Israel who left the world to create their own civilization in the desert, in the unknown.

Elder Russell M. Nelson said: The travels and travails of our pioneers were of eternal consequence. Their mission was not limited to an international immigration or a transcontinental migration with wagons and handcarts. They were to lay the foundation of an endless work that would “fill the world” (Joseph Smith, quoted in Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, selected by G. Homer Durham [1946]). They were essential to Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock” (Jer. 31:10).

Our celebration was the least we could do. Remembering our pioneer forebears every day and thinking about what we can do nowadays to emulate them would be even better.

I'm going to be writing about some of my ancestors during the coming week. Meanwhile, here's Wikipedia's fascinating article about this celebration.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiction Friday (July 15, 2011): If Rupert Murdoch Hadn't Been Born

Madame L here again, with apologies. This is really Saturday, July 16. Madame L was very preoccupied (read: "sleeping a lot") on Friday.

Madame L also apologizes for repeating a mention of a great TV bit from her own blog: the brilliant "What if Rupert Murdoch Hadn't Been Born," or, "It's a Soaraway Life."

It's worth repeating because of our current political/social/economic state and how it's being reported in the news. Madame L has heard that viewers of Fox News, for instance, are not aware of the problems Murdoch's empire is having now. Strangely enough, the man who so relished being the power in English politics, to the point that politicians courted him and dreaded crossing him, has finally had to eat a bit of humble pie. Not as much as his victims, though.

But it's mostly worth watching because it's so hilarious. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Call Congress Now!

I'm not letting Madame L speak for me on this:

PLEASE call your member of Congress now, and request that s/he VOTE TO RAISE THE DEBT LIMIT.

Call 1-202-225-3121. 

Someone will answer, "U.S. Capitol." 

Ask to speak to your member of Congress. 

If you don't remember who your Representative is, the operator will be able to help you figure out who it is.

You'll be connected to the office of your Representative. You will most likely not be able to speak to your Representative directly, but to a staffer. Or, if you call in the evening, you'll be able to leave a message.

Say, "My name is ******, and I'm in your Congressional district, and I'm calling to ask you: Please vote to raise the debt limit. Thank you. My name again is ****** and my phone number is ******."

If you want, you can add more, like I did. I said, "I voted for President Barack Obama, and I did NOT vote for you. However, because you represent me, I am asking that you actually DO represent me and all the people of this district by keeping our nation from defaulting on its fiscal promises and responsibilities. I am asking that you keep us from becoming a third-world nation, a laughing-stock, a promise-breaker, a country that defaults on its loans."

You could even add, like I did, "I am also asking that you go against the right-wingers and Tea Party people who elected you --- and support your actual constituents  --- by voting for tax increases for the wealthy individuals and corporations who are getting richer and richer, while middle-class people like me are worried that we won't even receive Social Security and Medicare benefits that we've paid into for our entire working lives. Vote to retain Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as the social nets they were designed to be. Help us!"

Call Congress Now!

The number is 1-202-225-3121.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Karner Blue Butterfly

The butterfly I took photos of on Mount St. Helens last week is a Karner Blue Butterfly.

This species is on the federal endangered species list. It has been declining for years as its habitat is being lost and fragmented. Larvae (caterpillars) of the species can feed only on wild lupine plants, while adults feed on nectar of several flowering plants.

Its scientific name is Lycaeides melissa samuelis.  

Did you know that the novelist Nabokov was the first person to describe this species (in 1944)? He believed it was a separate species from the similar-looking Melissa Blue Butterfly. Entomologists, though, decided it was just another form of the Melissa Blue. Recently, however, scientists using DNA analysis have recognized that the Karner and the Melissa are distinct species.

You can read more about and see some more beautiful photos of the Karner Blue Butterfly at the Butterfly Conservation Initiative website.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Health Care Professional?

Why do some** so-called health-care professionals drive me up the wall? I guess it's their condescension.

Example: I'm being told the results of a lab test. I ask, "Could you please give me a copy of the lab report itself so I can read it?"

"Why? Are you a health-care professional?"

"No, but I know how to read English." (The doctor reluctantly gives me the lab report, which of course is much more interesting and detailed than the summary the doctor had been trying to give me, which was apparently designed to answer all the questions a four-year-old child might have.)

Example: I'm being prepped for surgery, which includes an EKG. I ask the technician who's running the machine if I can see the tape that's spitting out the results.

"Why?" she asks. "Are you a health-care professional?"

"No," I reply. "But I've taken high-school biology, so I have an idea of what an EKG readout looks like and what the spikes and valleys mean." She reluctantly lets me look over her shoulder.

Example: I'm talking to a dermatologist about a mole she's about to remove. I say, "I was going to take it off myself and look at it under the microscope, but I realized that it had to be done through your system, so I came in for you to do it."

"Oh!" She stops and actually looks at my face. "Are you a health-care professional?" she asks.

"No, but I teach biology, and I know how to use a microscope," I reply.

Example: At the dentist office, the hygienist, with her hands and a sharp pick in my mouth, starts talking politics. She summarizes her discontent with our current president by saying, "What we need today is another George Washington, another John Adams, another Abraham Lincoln." Lots of responses come to mind, but I say nothing: I don't want to lose my gums.

A few minutes later the dentist comes in to look at the dental X-rays and check my teeth. He says nothing to me. (I've been seen by this guy before. He has less humanity and charm than a dead fish. Being "seen" by him is just that. He's doing his job, and you're no more than a set of teeth to him.) But he does speak to the nurse. Apparently they have similar political views.

He says, "It looks like we're finally going to get some agreement in Washington."

She says, "Yeah, looks like that budget is going to work out."

He says, "I don't know why they were pushing to raise the budget cap anyway."

And, glory be! He takes his hand out of my mouth long enough for me to say, "They raised it eight times during the Bush administration. I don't see why it's such a hard thing to do now."***



Silence again. Once he leaves, the hygienist tells me all about her recent bike ride from Portland to Gresham.

**On the other hand, and to be completely fair, most of the doctors, nurses and technicians I deal with are REALLY health-care professionals. Visits with them are pleasant and uneventful, which is why I don't write about them.

***Here's what U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown said about this issue:

“Just last December, the Republicans forced a vote on extending the Bush Tax Cuts for millionaires, adding $700 billion to our deficit.   It was not that long ago, during the Clinton years from 1993-2000, when our budget had a surplus.  Yet eight years of horribly reckless spending and excessive tax cuts for the rich under President Bush and the Republican leadership left us trillions of dollars in debt.

"The Republican plans for the FY11 budget, as well as the new budget blueprint they released last week, is nothing more than reverse Robin Hood: taking from the poor and middle class to give huge tax breaks to the rich.  It seems the Republican Party is exclusively concerned with decimating Medicare and block granting Medicaid, while simultaneously cutting billions of dollars for job training programs, environmental protection, disease control, programs to assist homeless veterans; transportation and infrastructure (including high speed rail and Amtrak), crime protection, education programs and dozens of other critical areas for our country.

"If the Republican budget plans are enacted, the pain will fall disproportionately on the shoulders on the working poor and middle class, while all the benefits will go to the richest 1%.  To me, it is obvious that Republican lawmakers are simply indifferent to the suffering these cuts could bring to the vast majority of Americans.

"The Bush years and prior Republican Congresses created huge holes in our budget that cannot be filled by just slashing discretionary domestic spending. In fact, the Bush tax cuts for the rich removed $2.5 trillion from the Treasury over the past 10 years alone.  And when the Republicans insisted that Congress extend them last December, it took another $95 billion off the table for the next two years. They also negotiated for an estate tax extension, which directly benefits an elite group of Americans by allowing exemptions of up to $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple (while taxing them at a 35% rate), adding on another $25 billion dollars to our national debt!

"And while the Republican Party refuses to ask millionaires and billionaires to make sacrifices, they instead ask our nation’s veterans, students, senior citizens, children, our teachers and the poor to make those sacrifices.

"Congress needs to focus on job creation, strengthening our nation and doing what we were elected to do: serve the American people, not destroy the services our government provides!”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fiction Friday (July 8, 2011): Kinky Boots (DVD)

Madame L, again, with another recommendation for your home-movie-viewing pleasure: "Kinky Boots," which has given her insight to those displays of size 12 to 14 women's boots she sees sometimes at the mall.

Yes, Dear Readers, that's what this movie is about: Designing boots (and fancy shoes) for male cross-dressers.

No need to be worried about seeing certain off-putting or downright scary images of, you know, male cross-dressers cross-dressing. The movie is rated PG-13, and about as risque as "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar."  

The film is based on a true-life story: a shoe-factory owner dies, leaving his son as the new owner. Problem: nobody is buying their carefully hand-made, and very expensive, brogues and other staid shoes. Solution: Bring in a consultant and new designs.

Great characters include the deadbeat friend of the new owner of the shoe factory, played by Nick Frost (remember him from a similar role in "Shaun of the Dead"?) and the transvestite Lola, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember him in a totally different kind of role in "Serenity"?).

Madame L thinks this movie is well worth watching, whether you buy it at Amazon. com ($16.49) or rent it using Amazon's instant video option ($1.99) or wherever. ("Inconceivable!" at Redbox.) Here's the trailer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Visits

First, we went to Mount St. Helens. Wow, we picked a perfect day. We stopped on the way to take photos of the mountain from a distance, and got some great photos there.

Then, at the Johnston Ridge Observatory and a trail nearby, we got some more good photos.

The next day we went to the beach. We did the usual things:

When we asked M. what he liked best about the visit, though, he said it was spending time with Mugwai. She obviously felt the same way.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fiction Friday (July 1, 2011): Ray Bradbury

Madame L here again, at Aunt Louise's invitation, to recommend another work of fiction you may not have heard of.

Perhaps nearly everyone in the Western World has heard of Ray Bradbury for his book "Fahrenheit 451," which was made into a movie in 1966.  The book is required reading for many middle- and high-schoolers, and there's even a Sparks Notes edition to help those who don't want to read the book but want to pass the class. (Hiss! Boo! These students remind Madame L of criminals who spend as much time and effort committing crimes as they could spend earning money legally, which: Why?)

Madame L suspects, though, that not so many people are aware of many of Bradbury's other works.

Madame L happens to love reading Bradbury's short stories. One of her favorites, years ago, was "Dandelion Wine," so she was delighted to read that the second half of this story, actually a two-part novel, was published in 2007: "Farewell Summer." And she was disturbed to realize she hadn't kept up with Bradbury's works enough to know about this until just now, searching on the website, where it's available in paperback for $7.99.

But that's not the story Madame L is writing about now. Now she's writing to encourage you, Dear Reader, to pick up ANY book of short stories by Ray Bradbury at any bookstore. Pick up the book, open randomly, and enjoy!

Madame L particularly enjoys the interconnected stories in "The Martian Chronicles," which is available at for $7.99.

Madame L hopes you'll also enjoy Bradbury's account of how he "happened to fall into becoming a writer.

Read on, and keep on reading, My Dears!