Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Living with the fact of the Really Big One

We all know the dire realities.

Nine point two on the Richter. A mountain of water 700 miles wide.  

When. Not if.

Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Eugene.

The greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

Old news. We've known for years. But Kathryn Shultz's  "The Really Big One," which appeared in the New Yorker last week, is a hair-raising reminder.

We need to prepare. As individuals and collectively.

You can learn a lot about preparation at You can also contact your elected representatives. You can also get emergency training at many local fire departments. Gratis.

As a first step, my wise and prudent wife and I will build an emergency kit. Not a small step. It takes discipline and effort. Storage space must be found. Investments will be required. Supplies must be rotated.

There is another kind of preparation, as well.

Foreknowledge of disaster instills a sense of fate. Like the fact of one's own death.

As a proud, lifelong Oregonian, I nurture a certain resignation. A recognition of forces greater than myself.

To quote Shakespeare's Richard II, "Cry woe, destruction, ruin, and decay. The worst is Death. And Death will have his day."

When the time comes, I hope to be ready. In both senses.

(Click here to listen to a reading of Jim Shepard's "Cretan Love Song," a short story dealing with the same subject matter. The story begins at the 20:50 mark of the podcast. It's just over 5 minutes long. I hope I could have the same self-awareness and courage as the protagonist in this powerful story.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two crazy predictions by a koo-koo crazy liberal

Wow! The times sure are a-changin', eh? When things happen this fast, I feel like I should have a look in the ol' crystal ball and see what I might see.

Having done so, I present the following two predictions, formulated well within the koo-koo crazy liberal bubble of inner southeast Portland.

Indulge me, if you will.

Prediction #1: Our society will eventually become "gun-segregated"


In an insane counter-reaction to the horrific murders that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, and more recently in Charleston, South Carolina, gun rights advocates in Texas and other states are actually pushing laws to make openly carrying lethal weapons the new societal norm. The "Open Carry" movement, if you will.

Fearful of some nefarious (and yet-to-materialize) plot from the federal government to seize their precious guns, "Open Carry" folks hope to preempt any attempt at reasonable gun regulations by pushing legislation expressly designed to make guns more visible and present in our culture.

It seems impossibly backward to imagine that living in a society where people strap weapons to their hips to go to church, dine out, or go shopping will be a less violent society. But some folks insist on it. And, so far at least, they have the political upper hand.

Regardless of the passion of the gun rights folks, many people aren't comfortable being around guns. As I said to a friend who is a vociferous gun rights advocate, "Most folks don't wanna sit down for Thai food at a place where half the clientele is packing heat."

But I'm not all that worried, frankly. I think this will all sort itself out.

Open Carry advocates may (and do) have the legal right to carry their weapons with them in public. But that does not give them the right to carry their weapons onto private property. When the non-gun-toting public starts avoiding businesses frequented by folks with assault rifles and pistols, I predict many businesses will quickly announce "No Guns Allowed" policies.  In fact, it's already happening: at department stores, restaurants, and coffee bars, people carrying guns are politely asked to leave.In other incidents, people carrying guns have caused panic and mayhem.

Not exactly good for business, eh?

On the other hand, some businesses will specifically cater to the gun-friendly crowd. So, certain restaurants, stores, and (who knows?) maybe even bars and taverns which actively promote their tolerance for firearms will become haunts for gun fetishists.

Businesses will eventually build reputations as "gun friendly" or not, with commensurate patronage by the general public. Eventually, gun advocates will be pushed off to "open carry" enclaves, where they can admire one another's guns and imagine that they're manning the bulwarks of freedom.

And the rest of us can have a plate of pad thai in peace.

Prediction #2: Ganja! Ganja everywhere!

Now that ganja is legal as a recreational drug here in Oregon (as well as in Colorado, Washington, and Alaska), I predict that within a decade people will be openly consuming marijuana in public places.

Ganja has long been tolerated publicly. Here in Portland, certainly, and in many other cities throughout the US and Europe. But it's going to become even more prevalent.

In spite of the wording of Measure 91, which was passed by Oregon voters in last year's election, I predict that authorities will put small effort into enforcing the "no smoking in public" stipulation. For a while, they'll receive complaints from unenlightened souls, but law enforcement simply doesn't have the resources to spare in these days of austerity. People have been smoking dope more or less publicly for years. It's not going to stop.

And really, who are the benighted souls that would object to stoners passing the peace pipe in the park? Or around the campfire? Or on the beach?

And isn't it strange that smoking ganja is somehow perceived to be a threat to public safety, while carrying a loaded gun into a crowded marketplace is not?

A certain, sheltered element of our society is burdened by an irrational fear of marijuana, and for these folks the future looks frightening. But I predict that, as they become exposed to marijuana use (willingly or otherwise) they will overcome these fears. In fact, I can foresee a day when even the most uptight, suburban conservative might be heard to say: "You know, those potheads are pretty peaceful folk."

Que será, será

Prognostication inevitably makes a fool out of every practitioner. But whaddya gonna do, eh? It sure won't be the first time I've made a fool out of myself.

Let's see what happens!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Junior Bush: Still cashin' in on Iraq

How sweet it is, eh, Junior?
Junior Bush. No matter what the Iraq War did to the rest of us, for him it continues to yield lucre.

Yesterday came the revelation that the most vacuous and unenlightened man to occupy the White House in my lifetime charged $100K to speak at a charity fund-raiser for wounded war veterans.

That's right. In 2012, Junior Bush charged the Helping a Hero charity $100K for the honor of hearing his folksy, homespun adages and idiotic jokes. (Helping a Hero raises funds to build homes adapted to accommodate veterans with missing limbs or other severe injuries.)

Meredith Iler, the charity's former chairwoman gushed, "It was great because [Bush] reduced his normal fee of $250K down to $100K."

That was big of him, eh? (And what a sorry display of Battered Wife Syndrome by Ms. Iler: being grateful that your abuser held back, that he didn't abuse you quite as much as he might have.)

Former marine Eddie Wright, who lost both his hands while serving in Iraq, had a different take on it: "For [Bush] to be paid to raise money for veterans that were wounded in combat under his orders, I don't think that's right."

Although he worded it a little more temperately than I might have, I agree with Mr. Wright.

But is anyone surprised at this revelation? If you are, then you haven't been paying attention.

Remember, even while he was still "president," Junior was rubbing his palms together in anticipation of all that money he'd earn in speaking fees when he retired. Here's the quote from 2007:

"I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch," [Bush] says. He also has big plans for making money. "I'll give some speeches, to replenish the ol' coffers," says Mr Bush, who is already estimated to be worth $20m. "I don't know what my dad gets - it's more than 50-75 [thousand dollars a speech], and "Clinton's making a lot of money".

Congratulations, Junior! Your dream is coming true!

There are many people in this country, nearly all of whom have net worths less than Junior's $20 million, who donate their time and money to help war veterans. But, for Junior, you know business is business. Can't let sentiment get in the way.

Don't get me wrong. It isn't that the man has no regrets. He has a great many regrets that will haunt him to the end of his days. At least, I believe he does. It's just that his regrets are not the regrets that one might expect.

I've said it before many times and this latest effrontery is just more proof.  That flaccid, hopeless little man who brought unprecedented ruin on this country is an out-of-touch cake-eater, a thoughtless, shallow simpleton, a sociopath.

It must be a terrible revelation for those who, at this late date, still believed in him.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Ganja never hurt no one


July 1, 2015. Portland, Oregon. It has finally happened. As of 12:01 am this morning, marijuana is legal for recreational use here in the Beaver State.

It is now legal in Oregon to possess as much as 8 ounces of marijuana in one's home. It is legal to carry up to an ounce of marijuana on one's person at any time. It will soon be legal to purchase marijuana at grower-affiliated businesses. (Just as soon as the OLCC can figure a way to get its fingers in the pie). It is also legal to have up to four mature plants in your home. Smoking in public is still prohibited. (Good luck trying to hold anybody to that.)

I tell you from the heart, I thought I'd never see this day. I've been smoking dope since I was 13 years old. Marijuana is a part of my life, and always has been. Sentiments in Oregon have always been tolerant toward marijuana (don't forget, I've lived here all my life), but this common sense change is both overdue and proof positive that people in Oregon make things happen.

In the eyes of the federal government, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, equivalent to heroin. But, oddly, alcohol, which destroys far more lives than does ganja, is absent from the list. It's good to live in a state where people dismiss such an absurdity.

And done in the Oregon way: through ballot initiative. Put forth by the people. Approved by the people.

Hats off to the folks at NORML, who have worked tirelessly on this issue for many long years. They certainly have my gratitude.

And for the uptight folks out there right now, worrying about this new, more open, more tolerant world we're about to enter?

Rest easy.

Life is going to go on the same way it always has.

People are going to use marijuana to get high. They're going to be stoned.

They're going to be all around you.

Just like they always have been.

It's okay.

Ganja never hurt no one.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Progressivism on the march!

Take a look, people. The last few weeks have revealed something.

We, in these United States are in the midst of a huge social transformation.

The Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, the sudden and surprising demise of the Confederate battle flag as a legitimate symbol of "heritage," and the flustered and flummoxed reactions of conservatives (as typified by Nino Scalia's ranting legal dissents, post-decision) all point to it:

Progressivism, liberalism, is on the march.

In a huge victory for President Obama, his administration and his legacy, the SCOTUS decision in King vs. Burwell cements the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, as an institution. Generations of Americans yet to come will reap the benefits of universal health care. The President's name will now be added to the liberal pantheon of populist heros. FDR had Social Security, LBJ had Medicare, and now Obama has the Affordable Care Act.

Today's SCOTUS decision, declaring bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, ensures that homophobes and bigots will not have the ability to discriminate, even in their own backyards. Homosexuals will now be able to get married not just in Massachusetts or Oregon or Hawaii, but also in Mississippi, Utah, and Texas.

And in the wake of the horrific mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, last Wednesday, in which a racist who identified with the segregated South murdered 9 people, a movement materialized to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. The stars-and-bars that Confederate apologists so proudly waved around as their dog-whistle symbol of hatred is revealed to be pernicious and despised by the greater American public. Retailers (Walmart and Amazon, among others) have discontinued sales of items bearing that hateful image.

There is more evidence out there as well: four states have now legalized the use of marijuana as a recreational drug; public attention is focused on police behavior nationwide, raising the possibility of national reform.

The cultural and political Right is in full retreat. Demographic trends offer them no respite.

President Obama, for all his faults, is presiding over a great social transformation that promises to extend into the foreseeable future.

We're winning, progressives!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Seth Cariaga: Fine young man

Sierra Lutheran High School Graduate
Last weekend, the Cariaga family congregated in Minden, Nevada, to honor and acknowledge the accomplishments of  the youngest of my six siblings, Seth Cariaga.

Eagle Scout
In addition to graduating from Sierra Lutheran High School, Seth is accepted to attend the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs in the fall (field of study to be determined). And for his dedication to community and his sense of duty, Seth has been honored by the Boy Scouts of America as an Eagle Scout, the highest honor awarded by that organization.

It's an impressive list for a lad of such tender years. Seth is definitely further along than was I at a similar point in my own life.

Seth expresses gratitude to his scout masters
Although he is 35 years my junior, Seth is my brother and the last child of my father, Ross Cariaga.

Tami beams with pride
It is a sad fact of his life that Seth had very little opportunity to know his father. When Dad passed, in 2001, Seth was only 4 years old.

I asked him once, "Seth, do you remember Dad?"

"No," he replied. But then, when he saw how his answer saddened me, he emended it. "A little bit," he said.

He was and is such a good-natured and upbeat boy. It has always been a source of heartache for me to watch him growing up without a dad.

Uncle Don honors and loves his brother's youngest son
It had been several years since I'd seen Seth. In that interim, he's grown from a boy to a fine young man. Much of it is due to the ceaseless and loving efforts of Tami, his mother and Dad's widow. But much of it is due, as well, to Seth's innate decency and morality.

I couldn't possibly be more proud of this brother of mine.

Seth and big brother
Eagle Scout, graduate, loving and virtuous young man: Seth Ross Cariaga is off to a great start!

I know Dad is proud.

Dad, Seth, and Tami, a few weeks before Dad's passing

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tsarnaev verdict confirms: US is no "Christian" nation

Last week the sentence came down: Death to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The verdict, zealously sought by federal prosecutors, dispels any right-wing pretense that the United States is a "Christian" nation. Or it ought to, anyway.

Consider: Tsarnaev is no longer a legitimate threat to others. Live or die, the man will never again be able to harm anyone. Not even himself. Howsoever long his life may last, he will spend his days in a prison cell, isolated from humanity. If he lacks remorse, as the prosecution asserted, he will have ample opportunity to learn it in the long years of emptiness that await him. (Ask Sirhan Sirhan about that!) And if he did somehow maintain his hatred over the course of his life? If he continued his defiance and anger? Would that not be a fate worse than death? Decades of impotent rage! God save us all!

None of this is to say that human beings should not do what they can to protect themselves. For example, in the case of Osama bin Laden, death was necessary for a dangerous man who remained a threat to civilization. There was small difference between him and a renegade grizzly bear (an analogy I've made before.)

But how quickly do we desert our purported faiths in favor of primal satisfaction? (I refer Christians to Matthew 5:39). 

Fifty-eight percent of the residents of the (very blue and very Catholic) state of Massachusetts, including family members of some of the victims, oppose the sentence. But in the larger pool of the United States' general citizenry 53% support it. And the justice system came down on their side.

It's a fascinating and revealing phenomenon. And, make no mistake: the sentence is not about Tsarnaev or even what he did.

It's about us. It's about who we are.

Killing this man fulfills some primal need humans have for vengeance. It's residual behavior from our Stone Age state-of-existence. In the ~10,000 years since civilizations first arose, there has been much progress, but barbarous relics like the death penalty remain.

We're not a Christian nation. Can we let go of that ridiculous notion?