Friday, March 23, 2007

I am not a spy

I live in America and work in Russia. This has created high anxiety among those responsible for intelligence and counter-intelligence in both countries.

I’ve been investigated up the wazoo by the services of both countries. If either the Russians or the Americans wanted anything from me, they've had eleven years to figure out who I am and what I'm doing over there.

Worst was in the mid 90’s when nobody could figure out who the hell I was. Single person repeatedly traveling to Russia, not on the American list—hence suspect, and not on the Russian list—hence suspect. Just a humanitarian, it took several years for them to get their minds wrapped around that strange fact.

Every time there was a new list revealed---Ames, Hansen---I wasn't on it. Probably made my minders ever more insane. What was I doing at this Russian hospital. Surely I wasn't simply a humanitarian? Out of the question.

I accepted that I would be investigated [to this day, most likely] by the Russians. Why am I there. Well, on their national tv I said I was working to save the lives of children in Russia because I am a Christian, like their Orthodox Christians. Could that be a sufficient explanation? Of course not.

So they follow me, listen to my phone conversations, and demand explanations from every taxi driver. The good news is I have brought a large number of Russian taxi drivers to realize that things can be better by a concerted investment in their children's hospital.

On the American side, I have been followed and probed by a minimum of three intelligence organizations. At first I was angry, then I realized it meant we were sufficiently large and effective to draw the attention of such agencies. If I worked with one of them I would be investigating this organization. So that led to peace of mind.

One agency in Maryland sent a very junior person who was quite sweet and who was horrified at being forced to report on my very obviously humanitarian work.

One agency in Virginia sent a senior team with a trap that they thought was very clever, to ascertain if I was for real, but their charade collapsed when I confronted them with the knowledge that I knew they were investigating me, and if they wanted to know what I was doing, they could call my three most recent ministers in the Presbyterian Church. That was pretty much the end of their investigation.

One agency in a place I won't identify to be merciful to the person assigned to my case, sent an agent to an international conference to follow me and question me and my colleagues. It was truly amateur hour. I was embarrassed for my government. He questioned me in detail but in return had no knowledge about the subject of the conference. DUH PEOPLE can't we do better than that? Then I observed him following me, so I abruptly turned around and he panicked and zipped off in a different direction. I was insulted that I didn't deserve a more subtle agent. Oh well, the price of serving the poor in another country. My motives will probably always be suspect.

I hope that the intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have had sufficient opportunity over the last eleven years to investigate me and find disappointing results: I am just a humanitarian, trying to save the lives of newborns, and trying to work for peace between two countries that have long been enemies. How very unhappy they must be, the people who have been assigned to investigate me over the years. I'm sorry! Hope you find some good stuff on your other cases.

All in all, this has been a great burden on me which just piles on to my usual bipolar manic-depression and ADHD and OCD. What's one more issue? But the strange thing is, as my mental health improves, I am increasingly unwilling to accept these indignities, border problems, customs issues, intelligence investigations. Russia is improving, but my mental health is improving faster. It is a dangerous disconnect. Lives are at stake. Better to be sick and accept all these indignities as only what I deserve.

Got a better solution to save thousands of lives? I'm all ears.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Music --- The Road Not Taken

Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away --- ok Middletown, Ohio --- I was destined to be a musician.

On piano I could sightread nearly anything written before 1920 and played with abandon. I took flute lessons from a man in the Cincinnati Symphony, wonderful person who corrected my mistakes not by criticism, but by saying I could do better.

My piccolo, a Christmas present, carried me thru high school and college and all the way to Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center. The Washington Post said our [Cornell] symphony played better than the local orchestra. Probably this was due to the deficiencies of the National Symphony rather than anything stellar about us.

Our director, Karel Husa of Czechoslovakia, was quite tempermental. I forgave him his tantrums because they were always in the service of superior music. He won the Pulitzer Prize just as I began college. One of my favorite memories of him was our walking toward Carnegie Hall for our concert there in '73. I ran up to him and asked the famous joke question, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? And he shook his head, "I don't know." I had to explain the joke.

At my 40th birthday I examined my Dream List and decided to go for at least one major dream. It was singing lessons, which I did for three years and had some small roles at church.

For fun I taught myself how to play organ and became the emergency backup organist at church. This was a long way from being a child who came close to the organ at church and was sharply scolded DON'T TOUCH THAT, she didn't know or didn't care that I was a piano virtuoso, and it was another 30 years until I played organ for real. But what a pleasure to learn. I play with bare feet, to the great amusement of the children in the choirs.

I simultaneously began composing music for voice and piano with 15 or so copyrights. I'm especially proud of one piece which is original music and lyrics about depression, asking God if He has forgotten me. For giving back to the community I was the accompanist for children's choirs at church and at the local elementary school, and was the treasurer for the middle school band for nearly a decade, even after my children had graduated.

Each of my three children performed at the Kennedy Center in separate events. I fear to add up the number of music lessons they had. One learned to play numerous instruments and had perfect pitch. One took up my lovely instruments and performed at the national level. One took up both instrumental and vocal music and also had perfect pitch. Thank God for these amazing creatures.

It was a severe challenge to encourage my children to take up music, which was an integral part of my life, without demanding so much that they would simply quit. One of them could have been a prodigy but I refused to go that route, I know too many young people who were forced to play and quit it entirely later. How to encourage them enough to develop, without overwatering them.

So why didn't I become a musician? I struggled with this in high school and college. It was what made me happy, yet there were so many egregious problems in the world, I felt I needed to be involved in helping to find the solutions. One final turning point came when this lovely Czech conductor had me play a Rachmaninoff concerto with the Cornell symphony one night at rehearsal, bless his heart. After that I realized I needed to work for world peace more than I needed to play music.

I have often joked to my Russian medical colleagues that they should be grateful I didn't win the Tchaikovsky Prize in high school, else they would be struggling without my input. Music is the road not taken. It would have made me happy, but I chose to make others happy. In so doing I have helped to save 3,000 lives. Was it the right choice?


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Will Blog for Food"

When I showed up at Plamehouse for the first time, I carried a sign that said "Will Blog for Food." Little did I know how ironic this would turn out to be.

I've been thinking about the support structures that we need as our political involvement becomes more complex.

I trust you have read my post on Plamehouse where I had to beg them to consider eating, and finally take action on my own. After about an hour of hinting about dinner, including putting a sign saying WE NEED FOOD in front of Jane and Marcy, I had to take action myself and go forth in search of pizza.

Today I watched people laying utility lines for some unknown future near my house. Investing in capacity for future use.

My own aha moment came when ordering another AC adapter and power plug for my laptop. I'm frequently running from room to room, one where I often work, the other where I sometimes work and where the electric connections exist.

What I thot I was doing was ordering was a spare set for keeping in my travel bag, to save time and mental energy when packing for my frequent trips. Just as I was about to push "order" I had the idea---get another set. For the other room here. So for a small additional amount I have solved the running back and forth problem. I can now work and post from either room.

We need to think about administrative support, and it can be as elemental as feeding Jane and Marcy in DC. How can we put together the people who must work to the exclusion of thinking about things like food with the people who want to support that work.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Happy Girl Scout Day!

Many of the survival and camping skills I learned were thru the Girl Scouts, which celebrate their 95th birthday today.

Juliette Gordon Low, known as Daisy, began with a handful of girls in Savannah, Georgia and the rest is history.

I always loved camp because it was with new girls, who did not yet know me as someone different and strange. It was a level playing field, everybody was a little different.

Does anybody learn survival skills today, unless their parents teach them or send them to Outward Bound programs? We learned to pitch a tent, construct shelter if necessary, dig a latrine, start a fire from next to nothing, purify water, and distinguish edible plants from those that would take your life. I am unlikely to need these in my current suburban life, but I'm glad to know how just in case.

Wonder what kinds of skills we will need for the upcoming generation? I had an opportunity to learn more about computers today, maybe that's more important than knowing how to build an emergency shelter. We will see.

Love and cookies, Girl Scout cookies today,


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Senator Webb on war and peace

Senator Webb [man, I just cannot stop smiling at that phrase] was great today on ABC This Week.

Let’s see if this link to the video will work. Ok looks good.

Democrats have pushed the administration into having serious diplomatic talks with the nations around Iraq.

Wounded are being severely undercounted in the official tally.

Backlog of 400,000 for transition to the VA system is part of the Walter Reed mess.

For Rayne—he says Levin is particularly effective on these issues.

He has a poker face when asked about being the VP nominee. I know his expressions pretty well, this is a question he’s obviously heard many times. He says he is enjoying being in the Senate and there is much to do.

Committees: Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Veterans Affairs

Both Armed Services and VA committees have had separate hearings and now there will be a joint hearing.

His take on the Libby trial: part of the overall politics of character assassination by Rove and others against anyone who criticizes the rush to war as he and Wilson both did.

It's so refreshing to see REAL LEADERSHIP in Washington. We have waited so long.

PS---Here's a link for all of Senator Webb's videos at his website.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Being brave

Well that was a short rest. I am congenitally unsuited for mental inactivity. If only that would extend to my exercise program....

I am thinking about small steps, about being brave and facing various obstacles, excuse me, various possible alternatives. Rather than blustering my way thru, which is the normal approach and the fastest, I am experimenting with trying to discover the dimensions of these intervening factors.

And speaking of dimensions, yesterday I took the plunge and got out the flexible tape measure for spring clothes buying. Sigh. Those numbers happen every year, I don't know why it's such a stunning surprise each time. But I set aside the entire day for shopping if necessary, to get things going.

I prefer to shop online, try things on in a quiet safe place, and then return the extras. In the middle of shopping, I called my credit card people and got a woman who said she does exactly the same, because she has a toddler. We had a pleasant chat about the horrors of noisy and crowded stores. Now see, if I hadn't faced that tape measure, I wouldn't have found a fellow store avoider.

Then the program to fit those lovely clothes involved getting out the door into the cold weather for a forest sanity walk. But it's cold! I like my couch. Fine. Out the door. Once I get going it's fine. I read somewhere that people with adhd have difficulty with transitions, that sounds right on the money.

I finished wrestling the previous day's computer problems with a victory. That took some courage, and some perseverence. My motivation is either on high or off. It's hard to find motivation for something in between, so this was a real victory.

The wellbutrin that I'm on does help with motivation, that moment of thinking about doing something interesting and actually beginning it. If that doesn't work then I just force myself, but after all these years I am becoming disenchanted with that as a reason to do things.

It's a great luxury to work independently and have the time to figure out how to do things right. It will be a great experiment.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sabbatical: we all need time off

I am taking some time off to rest. I am exhausted from the trial, and quite honestly, still wiped out from the elections. I need to rest. It's not forever but I need to not do this for a while. But who knows, being bipolar, I'm sufficiently volatile that "a while" might only be a short time.

Looking around pretty much everybody who was involved with the trial is beyond operating on fumes and close to the edge. We have given our all and everyone now needs a rest.

The heading on this blog: "Lead. Follow. Support. Teach. Learn." I don't see any permission there to rest and reflect. Maybe that's part of the learning, or providing one's own support.

Thanks for your love, support, and much needed prayers for everyone involved with Plamehouse.


People will help you

If you hear a loud wailing noise, that's probably the echo of me screaming about evil computers. I have spent the day and the better part of my patience trying to download some new virus protection software. As a public health person the concept of virus protection appeals to me in principle.

The frustration is my ignorance and my lack of patience. Trying to be a good little Jedi Knight.

And several people have tried to help me including the people at the aforementioned software site. ['re on my list for tomorrow if I can't get make this work.]

I have tried to be open about what I don't know, in order to learn. That's gotta be a good thing, right? And people have been very generous with their time and patience trying to lead me step by step in order to meet my goals.

Interrupted this vain pursuit to go to the bank and wire several thousand dollars to Russia for our children's hospital. This lovely bank once RE-OPENED THE NATIONAL WIRE TRANSFER CAPABILITY because they had made a mistake and I urgently needed funds to get to Russia. Talk about service. People will help you if they know -why- it's important.

Am trying to be philosophical and view conquering difficulties as one of my gifts to the children of Russia. Sometimes this works. The problem one encounters is not simply what's blocking one's destined path; it becomes the next step in one's path. Or so I can think when I'm not screaming.

I am giving more thought to the process of shoving obstacles out of the way. I imagine egDau the younger pushing those giant sets off stage in between acts of the play.

In Dr. Gridlock [great name for a traffic column] today in the W.Post he talks about removing traffic obstacles, one at a time. This is my philsophy in general, One Catastrophe at a Time.

In principle, this works. In practice, it leaves me screaming with frustration. Rather like Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut's concept: In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Plamehouse! So...I'm the cook?

One of the funny things about Plamehouse is while it may be a Vonnegutian karass, it is not a well-ordered home.

Upon my arrival for the blowout Verdict Party yesterday, I took inventory: two over the top giddy bloggers---Hamsher and Wheeler; one enormous bottle of wine from looseheadprop; one regular bottle of wine; and not a damn thing to eat. I mean not a granola bar. Not a cracker.

Open the refrigerator, absolutely nothing. I've seen more food in bachelor apartments. What did these people have for lunch? Turns out neither had lunch. What about breakfast? One of them had no breakfast. [Wait, didn't Jane blog about coffee and pastry at the courthouse? Historians want to know these things. Maybe I’m remembering one of the Stoller DQ crowd who had no breakfast. In any case absolutely no one was interesting in procuring food.]

For the next couple of hours, we drank a wee toast or two to our combined efforts to make the law apply to the high as well as the low. It's been a long time working to understand the details of a complicated legal case. Finally: success. A toast to the hardworking bloggers. A toast to Fitzgerald and team. A toast to the faerie godmother.

I'm the daughter of a city prosecutor, who died exactly 17 years ago as of the verdict. I like to think he is looking down from heaven with a smile on his face. One of his HLS classmates, Kleindienst, was declared guilty in Watergate. He thought this was justice indeed, for the fellow showed up the last day of their group project and just signed his name. My father debated the real Paper Chase professor, Eddie Morgan, until the end of the class, leading to applause for this unusual feat. Should I wonder why my son can argue circles around me?

Perhaps I am just carrying on family tradition. In fact my Republican mother worked for the Boston law firm that took down McCarthy in the early 50's. She worked to register "Negroes" for the vote in the 40's and was surprised to learn that a woman could be fired as soon as she got married.

My mother left the work world when it was time for children, first my brother who died at age 3 hours, right in the middle of law school exams. Then a year later, me, who lived HOORAY! then my 3 sisters and 3 brothers. And you wonder why I work to save the lives of infants. So for the next 30 years my mother cooked three meals a day, tired or not. I felt this was a kind of slave labor and rebelled against this. For my own children, I only cooked them three meals a day until they got to the teen years, and then looked for relief.

So I had to laugh when I realized that these two blogger and media superstars were too absorbed in Verdict Euphoria to deal with such a mundane matter as food. And I, the feminist since 1968, the one who tried desperately to escape the cooking role near the end of my 15 years of full-time motherhood, here I was the one who was going to have to come up with some food.

So I walked out into the unseasonable cold and braved the two city blocks between Plamehouse and a rather decent pizza place. The two pizzas I brought back were the only food available until much later in the evening, when Pach and Stoller and other assorted lovely people assembled for a restaurant excursion. Since I had been up since bolting awake at 5am in verdict mania, it was time for me to sleep.

How I can contribute to the first feminist uprising: refuse to be the only cook. How I can contribute to this political upheaval: be the cook. We live not for ourselves alone.


Guilty Guilty Guilty Guilty

History in the making. Libby is found guilty in 4 of the 5 charges. Successful: obstruction of justice, perjury in front of the grand jury, and lying to the FBI.

It was a great privilege to be one of the first few citizen journalists ever to have official press credentials to cover a trial in federal court. My days were February 13, when Fitzgerald swiftly disposed of John Hannah's excuses, and March 2 during jury deliberations. It was fun to get to know the other media people better. Now when I watch the news I think, yeah, nice guy, met him last week :)

We had a party to celebrate at Plamehouse. I got to meet Pach and Stoller. Jane is off, and Marcy leaves today after her last radio gig. Everybody is elated but exhausted.

We enjoyed celebratory wine provided by looseheadprop.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Not "Stuck" --- Evaluating available options

While we are on the edge of our seats waiting for the Libby verdicts, we observe that the jury seems to be held up on some issues. What is reasonable doubt? Must the government prove it was not "humanly possible" for Libby to forget? [Answer----arrrgh/RTFM]

We all encouter obstacles in our daily lives. This afternoon a tree fell across my driveway, blocking any further progress. This morning, a metaphorical tree fell across my progress with the Russian hospital work. It's been quite the time of surprise and anger, followed by cursing and general anxiety and depression. The usual meltdown. This is part of my job description I guess.

No wonder we can't find a successor. No one in their right mind would do this work, and mentally ill people do not customarily make it thru 8 years of college and go work in another country.

This was not a good day to have computer troubles thrown onto the pyre. Rains => pours. Don't they know, One Catastrophe at a Time™. OH YAY! I can't find my little trademark sign due to eponymous computer problems. Use your imagination here. YAY!! Success! Blast those obstacles!!!

When I am doing puzzles, which thankfully have no emotional content [tho I could make an exception for crosswords, since words remind us of things], I work carefully around obstacles. I never say I am "stuck." It sounds like surrender. Rather I say I am evaluating available options.

Sark said of me, without ever meeting me, that I am a "surrendering soul." This is right on so many levels. She also said eldest egDau was "exuberant" before ever meeting her. This woman has the Sight indeed.

In between crying jags I've been evaluating a whole lot of available options. This always has the same ending: a realization that I don't have the answers today, and pray to God that something brilliant will occur to me in the future.

Stepping out on faith? Hell, I'm rollarskating on faith. Hope God knows what I'm doing, because I've lost track.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Are you from...THAT BLOG?"

At court yesterday SEVERAL people came up to me and whispered—

“You’re from... [looking around]... THAT BLOG right? I just wanted to let you know that I and lots of other people read you very carefully and thank you for what you are doing. I’m in profession X.”

It got to be where I could tell on approach whether they were coming over to compliment my Louboutins or firedoglake. I think my favorite compliment, from a female reporter at a Well Known Newspaper, was "Killer shoes!"

It's been an interesting experience to be in the courtroom and in the media room. Other journalists [notice how I promote myself, a humble citizen journalist, into their number] are seeing that we are not the rabid lambs of the left. We are real, human, interesting, funny. It makes it harder for them to dismiss us when they are laughing at our remarks.

Being a journalist, even a humble citizen journalist, means trying to be aware of our audience and what they need from us. There is a great hunger for the truth, a desperation. Not everyone who works for mainstream media is blind to what is going on. In fact I think you would be surprised at some who express sympathy for what we are doing.

Several members of the public are in the courthouse, following the trial. No one has bothered to interview them, to get the story of why they are there. Just brief conversations show that they care deeply about what is going on with our government, and want to be there to observe. It's a problem that reporters tend to either stay in the media room or go sit quietly in court. Why not interview all these concerned citizens and get their stories?

We are here on behalf of those we represent, including the readers that we know and love, and those who furtively approach us in the hall.

Yes, lots of people are reading us. But they are afraid. Hmm wonder why. Maybe they see the same monster we do. It's ugly.

We have truth and beauty. Our weapons.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Money for hospitals: never enough

I am reflecting on the scandal at Walter Reed Hospital while finishing up the annual report for our charity supporting Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg Russia.

There is never enough money for hospitals. I worked at Mass. General for 4 years before taking time off to raise my lovely children. Who knew it would be a 15 year maternity leave? I couldn't leave them to the care of anyone else. But while I was there I was first a financial analyst, then business manager. In Boston, at MGH---medical mecca---there wasn't enough money.

In Russia our hospital scrapes along as well as it can. Several years ago I saw the health budget for the whole city. Reaction: no way! Where's the rest of it? And that's not even counting the sums that never quite *cough* reach the hospitals. Twenty million in that offshore account would buy a lot of supplies. Just sayin'.

At Walter Reed, I imagine there are similar dynamics in play. The VA hospital system has been shrinking over the last several years, as the bulk of wounded World War Two veterans pass away. The system was totally unprepared for the influx of 30,000 seriously crippled young people from what was supposed to be a quicky war.

Shock and awe. Well, we are shocked at the results, and they are awful: the army's top hospital in a scandal for not caring for its most grievously wounded patients.

When there isn't enough money, it's necessary to be attentive to the necessary choices, as every family on a budget knows.

I think what happened with Walter Reed is that there was chronically not enough money as with every hospital in my experience, from rich to poor. Then thousands of severely injured people came pouring in. Then their plans for expansion and improvement were several years behind the urgent need.

In addition, there may be callous administrators and any number of nearly burned-out people who have been desperately carrying small buckets of water to put out this fire.

So where DID all that money go, the regular Congressional appropriations, the 'emergency' appropriations? Well, clearly not enough to this hospital.

But beyond that, in an era of scarcity and urgent need---which I know a little bit about from Russia---it is necessary to prioritize; to watch your funds like a hawk; and to manage your institution with diligence. It is entirely possible that Walter Reed Hospital failed on all three accounts.

It's easy to be a manger when there are plenty of resources. But in scarcity, you need top people to run things. This didn't happen, and our young men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyes, and sanity are the poorer for it. FOR SHAME.