Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stand calm in the wind

Beautiful, blustery day on Mt. Tabor
Anxiety's been at me for the last several days. Chewing on me like a nasty, evil-tempered old dog gnawing on a bone.

That's the way I've come to think about it --about anxiety. It is something apart from me. Something that prowls around the periphery of my consciousness, lurking, waiting, ready to strike.

I don't know these berries... do you?
What if I fall? What if I fail? What if I am not all that I should be? The rational mind knows that there are no answers for these questions. But anxiety will not let them be dismissed.

So I took pilgrimage to Mount Tabor

The air was both muggy and blustery, a rare combination in these parts. Heavy clouds blew south to north across the sky like chastened sheep, fat for the slaughter. As we ascended the mountain, we passed through invisible pockets of calm, folds in Tabor's skirts where the wind did not reach. There, the air was calm as death and not a blade of grass stirred. It was strange to stand quiet in these areas and listen to the sighing boughs of Douglas-firs higher up or lower down. Maples flapped shredded leaves at the wind as it passed.

The giant sequoia that stands watch over Reservoir #6 was in one such pocket. A solemn, tall figure of peace in the middle of a raging battlefield. We guessed that it might be 150 years old. Giant sequoias may stand 1200 years or more, so it is still the morning of life for this tree.

Giant Sequoia overlooking Reservoir #6
It was calming to think that this tree, some 5 or 6 hundred years from now, might recall this time. This time when the reservoir lay at its feet. (It seems certain that the tree will outlast the reservoir, no?) This time when the wind would howl. And it might even remember the other trees that grew here, all those centuries before. And maybe the great tree might even remember the man that would now and then pass by, worrying and muttering, and flailing his hands. Flapping them like the maples do with their leaves when the wind blows hard.
Arbor-grown watermelons
On the way home, we saw a watermelon garden. The gardener had trained the vines to scale an arbor. The melons hung like huge, green grapes, unmoved by the wind.

When I got home, I stood for a moment and listened to the wind howling outside. Rage as it might, it couldn't reach me where I stood, in the living room of the home I share with my wife.

Peace.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reasons for God


I'm agnostic. I don't believe human beings can conceive of God. I don't believe people can know what God might want. In my experience, people who claim such things are trying to manipulate other people. Manipulate them with fear and and anger.


They tell us that God will reward us with an afterlife. But I don't need God to comfort me. I do not fear death.


They tell us that God will make us whole, will address all our grievances. But I don't need God to bless me. I am not aggrieved or bitter.


I don't need the God that those people offer. And yet, as an agnostic, I see how God, the concept if not the fact, can help me to lead a better life.


Atheists will often concede that holy writings, the wisdom of humanity accumulated over thousands of years, reveal extemporaneous truth. 

And if scripture teaches anything, it warns against the deadly sin of Pride.

So, I ask God to keep me humble. I thank God --whatever that may be --for confronting me with the stark fact that I am at the mercy of entities and forces that I can never understand.

And I ask God to receive my gratitude. For all I've been given. For all the beauty and joy in my life.

Mostly, I thank God for releasing me from the fear that I might one day have to pass judgement.

That would be beyond me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Portland feels the Bern!

Bernie takes the stage
Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders came to the Rose City last night packing Portland's  Moda Center to capacity.

“Whoa. This is an unbelievable turnout,” Bernie said. "You've done it better than anyone else."

Indeed. As as I confidently predicted two days before the event, "Little Beirut" (as George Bush the Elder named us), brought together the biggest crowd for any candidate anywhere at any time so far this election season.

Some 28,000 people showed up at the Moda Center to hear Senator Sanders speak. The crowd overwhelmed the venue's 20,000 seating capacity and dwarfed the 15,000 person turnout in Seattle the day before. Eight to 9 thousand people were turned away at the door. (They didn't get completely shut out, however. Screens in the plaza outside Moda displayed a live video feed.)

Comrade Hauth and I, waiting for Bernie
Fellow left-wing freak David Hauth and myself walked the ~5 miles from my home to Moda Center, arriving 10 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open and over an hour before Bernie was to speak. But even at that early hour a torrent of Bernie supporters was already flooding into the arena. We were lucky enough to snag seats in the 200 level, behind the stage.

The general mood was upbeat and hopeful. These rallies always lift people's spirits. When Bernie took the stage, the crowd roared.

And the roaring continued, as Bernie talked about comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, universal healthcare, affordable college education, civil rights, raising the federal minimum wage, and the need to overturn Citizens United.

Yes, we've got the guts to take you on, robber barons!
I shouted myself hoarse early on during the nearly hour-long speech. Bernie's remarks played like music to this progressive. But I honestly believe that if working- and middle-class conservatives are open-minded enough to listen, they might hear a lot that they like as well.

That's what makes the king-makers in both political parties nervous. Bernie's message is not partisan.

Twenty-eight thousand  in and around Moda Center. The biggest turnout of any campaign event anywhere, by any candidate, so far this election season
The conventional wisdom (at least among the national political punditry) is that Bernie can never win the nomination, that the hoopla and enthusiasm are all for naught. Maybe so. But like the 28,000 folks who came to the Moda Center last night, I'm on board with Bernie. Let's see how far we can take this thing.


Highlights from Bernie's speech:

Friday, August 07, 2015

Ranking the Republicans from bad to worst


Well, here we go. Another political primary season underway. It'll be a fascinating show, if you've got the stomach to watch it.

Last night, Fox News hosted the first Republican debate of the campaign.

(Actually, they hosted two debates. There are 17 major candidates vying for the Republican nomination. Too many to crowd onto a stage. So, with typical Fox News chicanery, Roger Ailes and his organization divvied up the debaters into two groups based on how they polled. Those candidates that polled in the top 10 got to appear in the "main" debate, which occurred in the evening and was watched by 1 in 6 American households. Those who didn't make the cut got to participate in the kiddie debate, which occurred in the non-prime time afternoon.)

I didn't get to watch either debate but, being the political junkie that I am, I'm well-acquainted with the candidates. (Sadly.)

And so, discounting the candidates in the kiddie debate whose support is down at the "white noise" level, I present here my ranking of the GOP field, rated from least bad to absolute worst.

 #10 John Kasich
I despised John Kasich when he was a loud-mouthed congressman from Ohio's 12th district back in the 90s and even more when he was a crazy-eyed Fox News host. His contempt for women's rights is deplorable, but that hardly makes him unique in this field of misogynists. And give him credit: when, as a first term governor of the Buckeye state, the voters rejected the union-busting centerpiece of his legislative agenda (by a 62-38 margin), he learned his lesson and took a more moderate approach. Honestly, Kasich is the GOP candidate I fear the most. He can appear reasonable at times. He voted in favor of the famous assault weapons ban that passed during President Clinton's first term and he expanded Medicaid in Ohio in order to receive the benefits afforded by the Affordable Care Act. Neither of those facts will sit well with the rabid GOP base.

#9 Rand Paul
Rand Paul claims to be a libertarian, whatever that may mean. He recognizes the futility and injustice of the "War on Drugs," and he has expressed legitimate concerns about the growing Big Brother state that has come in the wake of 911. On the other hand, his supposedly deeply held beliefs about personal liberty seem to evaporate when it comes to women's rights. And he's an Ayn Rand acolyte. Rand's world is not a world I want to live in.

#8 Chris Christie

Chris Christie missed his Big ChanceTM in 2012. Back then, he was riding high as a popular Republican governor in a sapphire-blue state. Republicans were desperate for a winner, and if they hadn't settled for hapless Mitt Romney, Christie might have fit the bill. But now that the bloom has come off his rose (with the Bridgegate scandal, with his embrace of President Obama), his time is gone. But don't take it too hard, Chris. You probably would have lost to President Obama in the general anyway...

#7 Ted Cruz
I used to think Ted Cruz was utterly despicable. The very sight of him would make my skin crawl. But now that I've learned a little more about him, I find him less odious than I had previously believed. Why? Because he's a showman. His antics (the pseudo-filibuster during which he read "The Cat in the Hat," his vow to "throw [him]self in front of a moving train to stop Obamacare," and so on) are delivered with a wink and a nod. The man is no fool. He clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a debate champion at Yale University. Fools don't do things like that. (And how badly can you dislike anyone who is willing to call Mitch McConnell a liar to his face?) Cruz knows that to succeed in the GOP, he will have to appeal to the Tea Partiers and the Know-Nothings. He needs to make them believe he is the Real DealTM. I doubt he'll succeed, though. He's been Trumped.

#6 Marco Rubio
Nasty, morally adrift, and ambitious. That's how I describe Marco Rubio. He's an opportunist, which makes him not at all unique in politics, but he's banking his entire campaign on his youth, his ethnicity, and his ability to speak Spanish. Remember back in 2013, when Rubio was part of the so-called "Gang of Eight?" You know, that bipartisan group of senators who were tasked with writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill? When the product of that endeavor became known to the general public, Tea Partiers freaked out! "It's amnesty! It's rewarding law-breakers!" Etcetera, etcetera. So, how did Rubio react to the criticism? Did he demonstrate bold leadership and stand by the Gang of Eight plan in the interests of the country? Did he insist that the GOP get in line as part of a necessary outreach to Hispanics? Hell, no! He dropped the plan like a hot potato and jumped on the Tea Party's anti-immigration bandwagon. That's the kind of leader we would get with Marco Rubio.

#5 Ben Carson
I don't know a lot about Ben Carson. But here's all I really need to know about him: "Our military needs to know that they're not going to be prosecuted when they come back because somebody has said you did something that was politically incorrect," he said in an interview on Fox News. "There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up. We need to mature." This is from a physician! Sorry, Ben, but torture and war crimes are more than just being "politically incorrect." They are gaping pits that descend into hell. They debase and dehumanize both the victims and the perpetrators. I know Tea Party folks eat that sh*t up with a spoon, but playing to it makes you weak and sycophantic.

#4 Donald Trump
The Donald is getting more media attention than any of the others on this list. And most of it is due to the vile and obnoxious spew that comes out of his mouth hole. He would make a a truly sh*tty president. In fact, were he to be elected (which will never happen) he would be a bigger disaster than any of these other men. But I just can't take him seriously. You see, despite his being a billionaire, I don't think the man is very bright. He's a megalomaniac who has captured the imagination of all the little would-be authoritarians that comprise the GOP base. He's a fad. He's a Tea Party cri de guerre.. Recall the 2012 primary season, when Republicans went through an entire slate of "anti-Establishment" candidates (Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, even Newt Gingrich, for Christ's sake!) before settling on Mitt. Trump is that. Trump is their what-might-have-been dream. When the 2016 election is past, after they nominate Jeb Bush or Scott Walker and lose another national election, they will look back at the Donald and get all misty. Can't you just hear them now? "If we had nominated Donald Trump, we'd be in the White House right now!"

#3 Jeb Bush
Bush has got to be the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. This despite trailing Donald Trump by double digits in all the polls. (It's very early, people.) And, call me crazy, but I'm willing to bet that his campaign is very glad to have Donald Trump in the race. Trump is the lightning rod that draws away all the destruction and negative attention that might otherwise have come crashing down on Jeb. That's got to be a welcome reprieve given that Jeb hasn't proven himself to be a particularly effective campaigner. He's made several gaffes that are, frankly, pretty surprising. A few weeks ago he fumbled an obvious question about his idiot brother's Iraq adventure and, more recently, undid any women's outreach the GOP might have been developing by claiming that the federal government spends too much on women's health. But with a whopping $100 million war chest, Jeb is going to be in the race for a while. His positions are entirely malleable. The Tea Party folks don't like him, but they'll get in line. The GOP establishment knows that. And they know Jeb. He's part of the Old Boys' network. And the Old Boys have the money to make Jeb happen. For my part, his ape of a brother has precluded the possibility of me considering him as anything more than a stooge for the corporate elite. 

#2 Scott Walker
The union-busting governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is about as low as they come. Smug, self-righteous, and unflappable, his demeanor alone is enough to make me change the station whenever I see him on the telly. Although he's certainly not a patrician, like Jeb, or a demogogue like Trump or Ted Cruz, he's something even worse. He's rejected the Medicaid expansion that would allow access to health care to low-income Wisconsinites. He's curtailed labor rights. He's thwarted any attempts in his state to combat global warming. He signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. The fact that he has only a high school education completes the profile. He's a real Tea Partier, people. He actually believes that sh*t. 
 
#1 Mike Huckabee
And finally, we've reached the bottom of the Republican barrel. This man is the worst possible choice for President of the United States. A moralizing hypocrite, a would-be dictator, and a religious zealot. He's all of those, dressed in an "ah, shucks" demeanor. While governor of Arkansas, Huckabee agressively pushed for the early release of serial rapist Wayne Dumond as a means of embarrassing his political nemesis, President Clinton. Then, when Dumond raped and murdered a woman in Missouri, Huckabee whitewashed his involvement in the affair. Huckabee's rhetoric is full of righteousness and fire and brimstone. He's a perfect encapsulation of the most ugly segment of the rightwing demographic: A pseudo-Christian hypocrite, a witch-hunter, a stone-caster. 

And there you have it
 
Well, that's it, folks. That's how I rank the current GOP field. Not that they care. None of these guys is worried about getting my vote. There are plenty of people who will buy their bunkum.

Besides, I'm a Bernie Sanders man.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Living with the fact of the Really Big One

Before
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 Ready.gov. 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.

After?
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.