March 6th, 2006

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Morning -


I woke feeling healthy and happy and content.  Then, Steve and I talked and, now that he is back, he wants to complain about the treatment I received last week.  I tell him that everyone understands and has apologized and it won’t happen again, for anyone. 

Then, I talk to Jane, and I feel how frightened I am. 

I see the surgeon today.  I’m hoping  she will approve chemo tomorrow., and let me know what was determined in the group meeting as to further surgery 

After five hours of the chemo world tomorrow, I meet with the radiation oncologist, who seems unable to comprehend that that is too much for a day, and that I was hoping to leave my final chemo and celebrate as the Benadryl wore off, and before the affects set in.

So, in my free-write of this morning, this is what comes.  I also find it interesting the colors of ink I choose this morning.  Red and purple.  I feel bloody, sad,  and bruised.    



there is a place in us
where no matter how open we might feel
and trusting of the universe
which has always held us in an open palm,
there still is a place that knows that palm can close,
and make a fist,
and yes, there is a place to fight,
to survive
and there is also a place to cry -
and so I float down
held in that open palm
and walk along the stream
and into the trees
where I don’t know what is there -
I don’t know what is there,
and I am scared -
I have managed all I’ve met
and today the forest seems dark
and close -
I can only enter alone -
I know you all are here,
and I can only enter alone,
and there, is fear.


I’m not sure why I feel alone today.  All through this I have felt such support, and maybe it is the fear of the radiation machine.  I envision it as huge, though I haven’t actually seen it.  I think today I don’t understand.  I think when I feel well like this, and happy and content, I think, well, then, why all of this.  What is going on?  I look out on a beautiful day, and tears gather, like clouds.  My body, mind, and spirit don’t understand. 

I want to see the movie Joyeaux Noel which is about the Christmas truce in the trenches during WWI.  I hear it is graphically violent.  I realize, at one time, that would really have bothered me, but maybe right now, I feel violated enough, it won’t.  I don’t know.  I will see. 

So, I write all of this and then, talk to Jane.  She reads me a wonderful article from the Chronicle yesterday which I will post.  I also read the Chronicle this morning.  The average life span for those born in 1950, and I was born in 1949, is 68.2 years.  Thirty years ago, breast cancer was an automatic death sentence.  That isn’t so now, as we know, but I think today mortality is up for me, and that is okay.  It just allows me to appreciate this day even more.  May your day be as precious as if it were your last, for, I see that is the only way to live.   Take care, and bounce, or not!


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The only thing we have to fear is cheer itself.

Now, here is an interesting article. Enjoy, and smile, or not!! : ) or : (

Vicki Haddock, Insight Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006

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Sunday Insight

Wipe that smile off your face and consider this: Being cheerful might not be such a good thing. Listen to the Podcast: The only thing we have to fear is cheer itself

Granted, it's been described as the grease on the axles of American culture.

Cheerfulness is as American as Norman Vincent Peale, who penned the bestseller "The Power of Positive Thinking" in 1952 with an exhortation that everyone make it "a habit to be happy."

And graphic artist Harvey Ball, who in 1963 created the ubiquitous yellow "smiley face" that would become an icon.

And marketers Murray and Bernard Spain, who in 1970 trademarked the phrase "Have a nice day!"

And Carnegie Mellon Professor Scott Fahlman, who in 1982 invented the most pervasive computer emoticon :-)

Our national urge to perkiness is evidenced by the smiley faces found on a grassy hillside near Palo Alto, in Fourth of July fireworks above New York, on the buttons of Wal-Mart employees -- even on U.S. postage stamps. Peoria Girl Scouts distributed hundreds of construction paper "hands" for citizens to dangle from their rear view mirrors on "Smile and Wave" day. Florida activists endeavored to enforce "grump-free zones" by flashing cardboard happy faces at passing motorists, labeling their practice "drive-by smiling."

But underneath the superficial symbols lies something quite serious: the expectation that everyone should join the glee club. Even in the throes of the Great Depression, Little Orphan Annie was never fully dressed without a smile.

Today, a few hardy curmudgeons exist, but Americans tend to see that lack of cheer as a flaw, an offense. Our ethos of cheer can strike outsiders as slightly bizarre.

Is it admirable -- a way of creating our own euphoric contentment despite circumstance? Or is it a cheap tranquilizer -- a suffocation of true emotion and feeling?

In an article in the Journal of Social History, scholar Christina Kotchemidova assesses the cult of cheerfulness and why it has become what she calls "the main emotional norm of 20th century America."

Kotchemidova decided to research the topic after immigrating to New York and being taken aback by the smiles, friendliness and cheer that effused social interactions between New Yorkers. Yes, New Yorkers. It may be useful here to note that she grew up in Bulgaria, where a mayoral candidate in the capital city of Sofia came under withering criticism for smiling -- a sign to Bulgarians that he wasn't sufficiently serious about their concerns.

"I do come from a very different emotional culture," said Kotchemidova, now an assistant professor of mass communications at Spring Hill College in Alabama, where the locals are considered more affable and jovial than New Yorkers. At work on a book titled "The Culture of Cheerfulness," she posits that someone with her perspective may be uniquely situated to research American cheerfulness, because it's so pervasive here that domestic social scientists overlook its impact by presuming it is merely natural behavior.

Her work traces the trajectory of the American spirit -- she calls it "a major emotionological shift" -- from fashionable European melancholy in Colonial days to chirpy effervescence today.

As but one example, look at historical portraiture and notice the austere countenances -- the only people depicted grinning, much less smiling, are idiots and peasants and Huckleberry Finn. Following the tradition of European portraiture, no American president smiled in his official White House portrait for the country's first 200 years. It was jocular actor/ad man turned politician Ronald Reagan who broke the smile barrier -- epitomizing his winning political slogan "It's morning in America." (The majority embraced the clarion call, although the minority reacted much in the way of Bill Maher, who observed "But I'm not a morning person.")

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who similarly displayed their pearly whites in official portraits, successfully campaigned as jocular optimists. The gallery of presidential wannabes is lined with losers who seemed, by comparison, simply too somber.

The standard is the same outside politics. The first photo portrait studio in London told sitters to say "prunes" as a way of capturing the correct puckery pose -- but as Americans developed snapshot photography for the masses, everybody learned to say "cheese" just this side of in vitro.

In the first century of U.S. history, foreigners who came here helped cement the stereotype of Americans as can-do optimists following their constitutionally guaranteed "pursuit of happiness." With a blind eye to some glaring exceptions -- notably slavery -- observers wrote in their diaries and letters about the inexplicable good cheer of Americans, attributing it to national character, the precepts of democracy, and the lack of a caste system that would otherwise foster sneering resentment among the poor and cold hauteur among the wealthy.

As the country developed, capitalists and moralists seized upon the ethos of cheer to tame the labor force and the restlessness of those with less power, such as laborers and housewives.

When there was only one miller or grocer in town, politeness was optional -- but as competition increased, companies saw the competitive advantage and promotional value of niceness on cue. A hit ditty advised even soldiers to "pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile!"

In the 1930s, the railroads began sending employees through "smile school." Factories instituted psychological tests that helped identify employees with positive attitudes as ripe for promotion. By the 1950s, phone companies were using a "phone power" training program that instructed businesspeople to smile when talking on the phone because even though their faces were unseen, the person on the other end of the line could "hear" the smile in their voice. And in her treatise "The Managed Heart," UC Berkeley Professor of sociology Arlie Hochschild explored the human toll when workers must always adapt their emotions to commercial aims -- when flight attendants must always smile "from the inside out."

By the dawn of the 21st century, other entrepreneurs were inspired by financial adviser Charles Schwab's claim that his smile was worth a million dollars. Colin Powell insisted that "perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." And the governor of California, a beaming Arnold Schwarzenegger, strode into office promising to positively "pump up" California.

What became reality in the American work world was mirrored at home.

In the 1800s, wifely manuals began instructing women to fill their parlors with gay embroidery and cheery chat. A husband, one guide said, must be able to rely on his wife's "never-tiring cheerfulness." Advertising in the 20th century only reinforced and exaggerated the expectation, and the Archdiocese of New York warned women never to "present her husband with a tired mind and body at a time when he looks forward to cheerful encouragement. ..."

Betty Friedan theoretically put a feminist blasting cap to that attitude with "The Feminine Mystique" -- but the covers of women's magazines today continue touting the utility of smiling to snare a mate.

In 2006, a bumper sticker admonishes "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." But confronted with the mounting death toll in Iraq, job outsourcing, a failing health care system and spiraling debt, the American attitude is better summed up by the credo "Don't Worry -- Be Happy." Hundreds of Web sites extol the virtues of a cheerful smile and offer inspirational happy-thoughts. "If you can't see the bright side," says one, "polish the dull side."

Americans are proud of their upbeat reputation, and there are reasons why they should be.

For one, there is hard scientific truth in the adage that you can make yourself happy just by smiling. The psychologist William James was among the first to argue the point: "Actions seem to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together, and by regulating the action ... we can indirectly regulate the feeling," he said. "The sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there."

Medical studies have demonstrated biological benefits from a positive
attitude: Some studies suggest it can bolster the immune system and speed healing.

And the social rewards are real: Smile and the world smiles with you -- cry and you cry alone. Americans learn that a smiling countenance and an upbeat attitude can help land them the job, the sale, the big tip, the hot date, the favor, and of course, a likely smile in return. By lubricating the roughness of all kinds of social friction, cheerfulness works.

So what could possibly be the problem? Must the United States -- already assailed as too materialistic, too imperialistic, too paternalistic -- now be made to feel guilty because its people are too gosh-darned cheerful?

Kotchemidova sees her role more as cultural observer than critic of our dominant national emotion, but she does note some potential drawbacks.

The most obvious: The pressure to be cheerful is, for some, emotionally exhausting.

Another consequence is the potential for miscommunication. People from other countries may dismiss Americans as frivolous and insincere -- and Americans may eschew them as aloof and cold -- because the emotional norms are so different.

Still others blame the cult of cheerfulness for complacency, counterfeit feeling, and a superficiality that prizes bubbly "friendliness" over something deeper and richer, "friendship."

And it is possible that depression is over-diagnosed precisely because of our unrealistically high expectation for merriment.

A 2002 analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry titled "The Tyranny of the Positive Attitude" even asked: "Could it then be that the pressure itself to be happy and optimistic contributes to at least some forms of unhappiness?" Various researchers contributed examples of how the negative can be positive. Complaining can trigger reform, after all, and even the depths of despair can be plumbed for creative inspiration.

Some psychologists have begun to call for a revolt against the national emphasis on "positive psychology," which risks isolating nonconformists in their misery. Julie Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesley College, authored "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" after her research led her to conclude that optimists are about as successful as pessimists.

It's time to stop guilt-tripping people who feel bad, argues Barbara Held, a psychology professor at Bowdoin College and author of "Stop Smiling, Start
Kvetching: A 5-Step Guide to Creative Complaining."

So smile! Or not. And have a nice day -- unless you already have other plans.
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Jane's poem of this morning -

I feel lifted on Jane's poem.

After the rain, the earthworms.

Drowned and thirsty they undertook their blind pilgrimage

Across the concrete to an unknown destiny.

I was the hand of god

And laid them in the gentle grass.

Though small, I could do this.
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Jon Carroll in the SF Chronicle today -


Monday, March 6, 2006

The other weekend we were up at Sibley, one of the jewels of the trail-crossed necklace that is the East Bay Regional Parks system. There were a lot of dogs at the trailhead -- plus, I should say, a lot of dog owners. It seems that 5 p.m. is considered prime walking time for many dog owners, because when we had been at the same trailhead two hours before: zip doggies.

There were lots of breeds. I am a little behind on newly fashionable dogs, having stopped paying attention in the era of the collie, the poodle and the cocker spaniel. But there were undoubtedly shiatsus and kickapoos and Venusian ridgebacks milling about waiting for their owners to collect the distinctive blue New York Times wrappers so useful for upscale sanitation techniques.

So there were three dogs. Two were going north and one was going south. There were also three leashes and three owners. One of the two northward-facing dogs made a move to investigate, if that is the word I mean, the southward-facing dog. The owner of the southward-facing dog pulled the leash abruptly, glared at the owner of the other dog and said, "Please, no. He doesn't do well with dogs on leashes." She was frantically handing treats to her dog, hoping to distract him from the proposed social interaction.

So my question is: If the dog doesn't do well with other dogs on leashes, why bring him to a known nexus of leashed dogs? I am glad that nothing untoward happened, but clearly it could have, which might very well have led to injured dogs, angry owners, several fistfights and a protracted lawsuit. Is there some sense of entitlement involved? Is the dog consulted? "Hey, Sparky, let's go to a gathering place of all those animals you hate!" I'm not buying it.

All of which put me in mind of a recent article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. He was talking about, among other things, aggressive dogs, and in particular the reputation that pit bulls have as being particularly dangerous. He made three interesting points.

First, although most people believe that most social phenomena, when graphed, result in a sort of bell-shaped curve, the incidence of violent dog behavior (and, by the way, renegade cop behavior) has a sort of hockey-stick-shaped curve, with a few dogs accounting for an overwhelming number of the cases, and most dogs having not a single blemish on their records.

Second, in a recent 20-year study, pit bulls were not responsible for a majority or even a large minority of the attacks on human beings. Dobermans, rottweilers, German shepherds, Great Danes -- they all have black marks on their records. Remember the French woman who had the face transplant? The dog that mauled her was a Labrador retriever.

But further massaging of the data yields something even more interesting. It's not the dog that's dangerous, it's the dog owner. "In about a quarter of fatal dog-bite cases, the dog owners were previously involved in illegal fighting. The dogs that bite people are, in many cases, socially isolated because their owners are socially isolated, and they are vicious because they have owners who want a vicious dog. The junk-yard German shepherd -- which looks as if it would rip your throat out -- and the German-shepherd guide dog are the same breed. But they are not the same dog, because they have owners with different intentions."

The problem is that there is no method by which we can ban certain people from owning dogs -- and, given everything, there is no likelihood that there will ever be such a law. There are constant efforts to ban specific breeds, but, according to Gladwell, they miss the point. Gladwell describes a large-sample experiment done by a Georgia group called the American Temperament Test Society: "A handler takes a dog on a six-foot lead and judges its reaction to stimuli such as gunshots, an umbrella opening, and a weirdly dressed stranger approaching in a threatening way. Eighty-four per cent of the pit bulls that have been given the test have passed, which ranks pit bulls ahead of beagles, Airedales, bearded collies, and all but one variety of dachshund."

All of which flashed through my mind that afternoon at the Sibley trailhead. It was a moment in time, hardly an incident at all. But we have all seen things that turned bad unexpectedly and rapidly, so rapidly that no one had time to react effectively, and what had been just a walk in the park became the worst day of your life. If we're the smarter species, probably we should think about this stuff a bit more.

Should you take your pet to a place where it will feel nervous and fearful, or to a place where it will feel serene and secure? Is that a hard question?
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Redwood trees -

Here is an uplifting article.

Big tree ambitions
Volunteers try to reforest East Bay hills with indigenous redwood
Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, March 6, 2006

There was a time centuries ago when redwoods covered most of the East Bay hills. But that was before logging, before grazing and before development.

The hills will never again be so thick with the mighty trees, but some of the splendor they brought to the landscape is returning, little by little, as volunteers spend their weekends reseeding 220 acres of land above Claremont Canyon with redwood seedlings.

They were out again Saturday, hacking through underbrush, slogging through mud and climbing over the ubiquitous eucalyptus stumps that litter the hills, looking for just the right spot for each of the 1,100 tiny trees they planted. It's an ambitious effort to reseed much of the East Bay hills with redwoods, which reached as high as 200 feet when the Europeans first came here.

"Redwood trees are a powerful, emotional symbol of coastal California," said Joe Engbeck, vice president of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and the man who organized the effort. "We can't bring the redwoods back everywhere in this urban area, but we can transform this canyon."

The volunteers sought out small creeks, culverts and marshy areas where redwoods are more likely to thrive. Others were planted just below ridge tops near the border between Berkeley and Oakland, where visitors enjoy sweeping views of San Francisco Bay.

"You've got to look at what you're doing, each little micro site is different," Bridget Tracy, a senior forestry major, said as she cleared eucalyptus debris to plant a seedling. "A few inches can really make a difference for their survival."

Tracy was among a dozen students from the Cal Forestry Club who were joined by members of the Claremont Canyon Conservancy.

"It's so cool that what we're doing today will be around in a hundred years for future generations," said Eric Meta Smith, a graduate forestry student. "We're bringing back an important native species and really changing this canyon."

The seedlings, which could reach 40 to 50 feet in 30 years, were grown from seeds taken from Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. They are being planted on UC Berkeley property along Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Claremont Avenue. Organizers hope to spread the project to nearby parcels owned by the East Bay Regional Park District and East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Most of the seedlings are replacing nearly 3,000 highly flammable eucalyptus trees felled in the past four years under a fire safety campaign by UC Berkeley. Others are being planted in areas once thick with poison oak and blackberry bushes along creeks near Claremont Avenue.

"What we're doing here is replanting this entire forest in a more thoughtful way," said Tom Klatt, UC Berkeley head of emergency services, who organized the eucalyptus logging and helped with the weekend redwood planting. "These redwoods are fire resistant and, when they mature, will provide a canopy that holds moisture underneath them.

"Everyone loves redwoods and for fire safety they are great," said Klatt, who is working to get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove more eucalyptus, a rapid-growing tree native to Australia and now rampant in the Bay Area.

The same group planted about 1,100 seedlings last year, the first year of the project. But only about 40 percent of the seedlings, which received no irrigation, survived. Organizers believe they can improve the odds of survival and are considering watering the seedlings during the summer if they can find enough volunteers.

"I think we learned a lot since last year," said Engbeck, a co-founder of the group now called the Greenbelt Alliance. "We need to plant the seedlings where there is more shade and wind cover. We knew we would lose a lot from lack of water but the wind also killed many of them."

Engbeck and Klatt hiked through the area last week to pick the perfect locations to plant new ones. They discovered that most of the seedlings planted last year in a sheltered area along the western side of Grizzly Peak near South Park Drive did well, but just 100 feet away in a slightly exposed ridge almost all the seedlings died.

"We need to use the cover that's already here to protect the seedlings," Engbeck said. "Eventually the ones that survive will grow tall and take over this area. But right now they need some help."

Klatt and Engbeck hope to come up with a plan for volunteers to water some of the seedlings using water drawn from a fire tank placed on university land off Grizzly Peak. But the logistics remain to be worked out.

Until recently, much of the land the volunteers are reseeding was covered by thick stands of 100-foot tall eucalyptus trees that were first planted in the East Bay hills about 1910. At the time, people thought the trees would provide timber for homes after the 1906 earthquake. But when the trees, which tend to be brittle, proved useless for construction, they were allowed to spread throughout the hills from Richmond to Hayward.

Today, one of the largest remaining stands of eucalyptus is in the hills just east of the Cal campus. But the trees are highly flammable, and after the 1970 Berkeley Hills fire, university officials decided to chop down thousands of eucalyptus trees. Most of them regrew.

"This was a complete no-man's land," said Klatt as he walked along a steep slope off Claremont Avenue. "You're right off the street but it was impossible to walk here. "

Klatt envisions a future when people will be able to hike through an area resplendent with redwoods, able to appreciate and learn from trees.

"This land was just unused and ignored for years," Klatt said. "What we're doing is returning it to its natural state but also making it available for recreation and research."

Student volunteers, most of them in their 20s, such as Lana Schide, a senior, rejoiced at the chance to bring redwoods back to the East Bay hills.

"I look forward to coming back here in 30 years and telling my kids 'We planted all these trees,' " she said.

How to help
For information about joining the effort to plant Claremont Canyon with redwood seedlings, e-mail project organizer Joe Engbeck at or visit the group's Web site at
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Einstein quote -

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."

- Albert Einstein
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Recycling for a good cause!

My sister-in-law Sue just emailed this to me. Check it out. It seems well-worth doing and easy as can be.

Want a way to get rid of used printer cartridges and your old cell phones AND help a good cause?

It's super easy! I emailed them the list of the stuff I had - a dozen empty inkjet cartridges, 2 palms, 3 cell phones and they sent me (by email) a prepaid UPS shipping label to stick on the box! They recycle and donate to breast cancer research. What a winning solution - and no toxic stuff to go to landfills!
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Politics -

I read this in light of just having finished the book on Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and I wonder when it became not polite to talk about politics. Certainly, in Lincoln's time that is what people talked about. There were many newspapers in each small town, and they had no problem stating their bias. A bias was understood, and then, you could read as many papers as you wanted or needed to get the news. Anyway, I place this here. It seems that listening to the voters is what matters. This is a democracy after all.

The Politics of Shoe Leather
By William Rivers Pitt

Monday 06 March 2006

All politics is local.

- Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (D-Mass.), Speaker of the House

If you met Rudy Perkins on the streets of Keene, NH, you would not immediately suspect that you were dealing with a shaper of momentous events. If you told him he was such a man, he'd laugh and shake his head. Perkins, with his silver-toned hair and neatly-trimmed moustache, has been a horticulturist and a lawyer in his time. He is self-possessed and soft-spoken, quick to smile and easy to talk to.

The thing is, Rudy Perkins played a significant role in one of the great stories of the 2004 election. The thing is, if you met Rudy Perkins in Keene, NH, he'd likely be shaking your hand from behind a folding table covered with political and campaign literature. Perkins has, for the last several years, been working as a dedicated political activist, and in his own small way, helped to turn the state of New Hampshire blue in 2004.

Rudy Perkins is one of the founding members of a group called New Hampshire Swing the Vote. Swing the Vote was founded in the run-up to the 2004 Presidential election. The goals of the group were neither grand nor epic in scope; their mission was not to stop the Iraq occupation or impeach George W. Bush. They weren't looking to get involved in the national push to get John Kerry elected president. Their goal was singular and narrow, small and attainable, and entirely local.

Swing the Vote sought to flip Cheshire County, in the southwest corner of New Hampshire, to the Democrats.

"There were nearly 30,000 eligible voters in Cheshire County who didn't vote during the 2000 election," says Perkins. "Bush won the state by a margin of 7,211 votes. Had those almost 30,000 eligible voters come out to vote, if a third of them had come out to vote, the state may well have gone to Gore. Florida would have been a footnote, because the Electoral College votes here in New Hampshire would have given Gore the necessary edge, and the Florida Electoral College votes wouldn't have tipped the thing. The Supreme Court would never have gotten involved."

Analyzing these numbers, the might-have-beens became unendurable to Perkins. He decided that the next election was going to be different. It worked like this: Perkins, along with Swing the Vote steering committee members Bonnie and Leah, cobbled together a group of volunteers as the 2004 election season began to loom. They mapped out Cheshire County and parceled out areas for volunteers to work. The volunteers went out in pairs, clipboards in hand, and knocked on as many Cheshire County doors as they could manage.

This was not, however, your standard canvassing project. First of all, the volunteers were sternly instructed not to stand there and proselytize to the people they spoke to. They had a series of questions to ask, beginning with "Are you registered to vote?" before moving on to "Do you vote?" and concluding with "What issues are of most concern to you?" The basic idea was to get people talking.

"It was pretty amazing," recalls Perkins. "At first, the person who answered the door would be incredulous, like they were dealing with a salesman. But the questions we asked drew them out, and allowed them to express their opinions without interruption. These days, with the television news convincing people that what they are being told is what they already believe, there isn't a lot of political conversation happening. I got the sense that, for a lot of the people I spoke to, this was the first time they were asked what their opinions were in a long time. For some of them, I really think it was the first time."

"It is a strange thing in America," says Perkins, "that, for some reason, talking about politics is improper or impolite or rude. But people really want to talk, they want to express what they believe. I had one guy talk my ear off for twenty minutes and then follow me down the driveway after I left so he could keep telling me what he believed. It was great."

Another aspect of their work that was different was the choice of who to canvass. There were many groups making similar efforts in New Hampshire at the time. Some spoke only to registered voters, some only to registered Democrats, some only to registered Republicans. Swing the Vote decided to talk to everyone, Democrat or Republican, registered or unregistered.

Each volunteer was given a specific goal: so many doors per day, per week, per month. They wore out the shoe leather in Troy, Alstead, Swanzey, Keene, Dublin, Jaffrey, getting people to talk about what concerned them in the upcoming election. If people weren't registered, they explained how to register. They let people know that New Hampshire allows same-day voter registration, and if they wanted to, they could go down to their polling place on election day, register right there, and vote.

It worked. On election day 2004, Cheshire County saw the largest voter turnout in recent memory. Some 6,000 unregistered voters came out, people who had not been targeted by any other group because they were not on any voter roll. They registered, and they voted. Cheshire County went blue, and for only the third time since 1948, New Hampshire was won by a Democratic presidential candidate.

"We certainly were not alone in this," says Perkins. "MoveOn, the Sierra Club, America Coming Together and a lot of other groups did great work here. But I do believe that Swing the Vote played an important role in what happened. Kerry lost the election, sure, but not in New Hampshire. We picked a goal, stuck to the mission, and won what we needed to win."

That was the trick, Perkins will tell anyone who cares to listen. One of the great difficulties on the Left is an all-encompassing sense that so much has gone wrong, and that so much needs immediate fixing. It can become unutterably daunting to try to take in the whole forest. Rudy Perkins and the Swing the Vote crew are well aware of everything that has gone sideways in the last several years, but they chose to let the forest be. They picked a tree instead, and bent all their efforts to it.

"It was all about mission," says Perkins. "We couldn't fix everything, but we could do something about Cheshire County. It required the discipline to stick to that one thing, to avoid drifting, to do it every single day. We needed to keep our volunteers on that same disciplined path - so many doors per day, a goal that can be accomplished. And it was hard. We got more than a few doors slammed in our faces. We walked miles and miles and miles."

They picked a critical area and dug in, a small piece of the larger puzzle where they could actually affect change. They did not stop the war in Iraq, end the Washington cronyism, bring accountability back to the White House, or derail the vexing budgetary priorities of this administration and this congress. But had the election gone the other way, Swing the Vote would have, in their own small way, done a great deal to move towards addressing all of these issues.

Swing the Vote is digging in again. The 2006 midterm elections are nine months away, but as far as Perkins is concerned, it is entirely the right time to begin the back and fill. All four of New Hampshire's Congressional representatives are Republicans, all four are stalwart supporters of the Bush administration, and two of them - Jeb Bradley in the 1st District and Charlie Bass in the 2nd District - are up for re-election in November. Rudy Perkins and the Swing the Vote crew are going to tackle Cheshire County again.

"It has been said many times about each of the last two elections," says Perkins, "that each was the most important election in our lifetime. But I do truly believe that these midterms in 2006 are the most important elections in my lifetime, perhaps the most important elections since 1864. This election could very well determine the fate and future of this country, of our rights, of everything. If the Democrats can take back Congress, or even take back one wing of Congress, everything that has been happening can be stopped."

For the record, there are fifteen Republican seats up for grabs in the House this November. Six Republican senators who are running again in November have approval ratings below 50%. Fifteen seats are needed for the Democrats to take back the House, and six seats are needed for the Democrats to take back the Senate. The anemic approval ratings for both Bush and the GOP majority in Congress suggest significant Democratic gains in November are not out of the question. At a minimum, solid gains would position the Democrats to regain control of Congress in 2008, and perhaps the White House as well.

"In every sense," says Perkins, "we are looking to emulate the victors. The GOP didn't come to control the entire government by accident. They picked their spots, small areas of critical importance, and worked them. They built what they have from the ground up, one brick at a time. It took a while and a lot of work, but you can see the results today. That's what we have to do, and that's what we are doing."

Big storms gather around small particles. The folks in Swing the Vote can tell you all about that.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.
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Afternoon -

Jeff and I shared a lovely lunch together at the Buckeye today. I told him about the article I read today that said a good many of us will live to one hundred, and in not too many years we may live forever. Jeff agrees. If we can each make it another 20-25 years, we may have the option of continuing on with life. Though I was feeling fragile and vulnerable this morning, and really valuing my days, I'm not sure I'm up for eternal life, and yet, in some ways we may have it already and just not recognize it. Who knows? It is all too much for my fragile brain. I am grateful for life today.
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Yay, chemo tomorrow -

So, even though I do still have a little bit of the infection, and so will continue with the two antibiotics, I am approved for chemo tomorrow. I am grateful to finally finish that up, and all agree I need a break, so I will see the radiation oncologist in two weeks, and the surgeon in three, and that will get me set up to begin radiation, but, for now, I just have to finish chemo, and then, rest. Yay!!