Monday, March 31, 2008

Oregon Country Fair: Still nursing the inviolable shade

Fair people, 2004
For those who do not know, there is an event that takes place every year, on the banks of the Long Tom River, near Veneta, Oregon: the Oregon Country Fair (OCF). The event will be 39 years old this year.

Recycling is nearly a religion at the Oregon Country Fair
The Oregon Country Fair (which runs for 3 days in the second week of July every year) has grown from its humble beginnings as an arts-and-crafts fair in 1969 to an event of international renown, attracting artists and musicians from all corners of the globe. It is billed as a "green" event, promoting environmentalism, recycling, alternate energy solutions, and various other Earth-friendly practices. The food, music, and crafts at the Fair are top-knotch. And the ambiance of the event is an experience that will deeply affect attendees: an other-wordly, hippie/stoner, rustic celebration of Earth and the inherent beauty of people.

Fair people, 2005
In 1989 I was a young man of 27 years, only a year out of college and newly-entered into the working world of high technology. After one year in the high tech game, I was even then starting to realize that a professional career, which I had been striving to initiate for the previous 6 or 7 years, probably wasn't going to be the fulfilling endeavor that I had imagined.

So the day that my brother, Eric, my friend, Brian Davis, and I climbed onto that bus in Eugene and headed out to the "hippie festival" of which we had heard rumor, was to become a significant day of awakening in my life.

A tree-man at the 2007 Fair
I had never before been exposed to the counterculture movement. For me, hippies were curios that I had rarely come into contact with, but by whom I was genuinely intrigued. Well, that first day, we three country boys from Klamath Falls were immersed into a bizarre world of tolerance, peacefulness, and love (yes, love) that forever changed our perceptions. All three of us were moved by the experience.

Headhunters, 2005
One brief story from that first visit in 1989 perhaps conveys the spirit of the Oregon Country Fair. It had been a long, dusty day wandering around in the "8" (which refers to the long, double loop of the main path within the Fair) gawking at all the sights and listening to the great music and browsing the wares of the vendors. I was hungry and couldn't decide between a bowl of jambalaya or a plate of fried rice. After some deliberation, I decided on the rice. I had just finished eating when I espied a beautiful young woman eating a bowl of the jambalaya. I shyly approached her, and asked her, "So, how is that jambalaya?" She smiled at me (a smile that would have charmed a man of stone), dipped her spoon into her bowl and loaded it with some delectable morsel. Then, without a word, she extended the spoon toward me. I opened my mouth and accepted the offer. "Thanks," I said. She smiled again and resumed eating. (And the jambalaya was delicious.)

This is but one of a myriad of experiences that routinely occur at the Fair. There was also the young man, dying of AIDS, at Global Village, with whom Eric and I spoke, who was determined to get the message out to prevent others from sharing his fate. There is Diane Patterson, the song-writer activist, whom I befriended, who spends her life touring, singing for peace and justice. There is Artis the Spoonman and Jim Page and the Kitchen Syncopaters.

The incomparable Diane Paterson, song-writer and activist
Over the years, I have continued to attend the Oregon Country Fair. I have graduated from daytime visitor to official "Fair person," in that I am now associated with a crew that works at the Fair and am, therefore, an integral part of it, I suppose. I am the Fair; the Fair am I.

Make way! Make way! Make way for the magic dragon!
Some people complain that the Fair has become "too commercial" over the years, that the focus has strayed from its original intent. And I can't argue. But nothing is ever static in this world and, in my mind, it does little good to bemoan what is past (which is not to say that I don't indulge in thoughts of the "good ol' days" myself). But the Oregon Country Fair is still going strong, and I still come away from it every year with a feeling of rejuvenation and hope. And, these days, that's saying something.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Zombie Queen

"A long road lies behind us now; we're far from humble Casper,"
So spake the monstrous zombie king, amid his wrought disaster;
"And don't you think we've done quite well, considering the odds?
We've forged an empire all our own, defended by death squads;"

"That is just so," replied his wife, herself a haggish crone,
"We've reaped the windfall profits from an upstart overthrown,
But even so, there is a price: the peasants love us not;
Our bed of gold is lovely, yes, but odium we have bought;"

"You mean to say you'd rather we were want of all these things?
These stocks and bonds, portfolios, and all your jeweled rings?
And don't forget the power of the future we can make,
Where anything that we deem good is there for us to take;

No, no, my queen, do not succumb to pity for the mass;
The ovine herd must ever follow those who have the brass;
Now, fret no more, my corpse-like wife," proclaimed the zombie lord;
"Hark thee the wailing of the throng: it strikes a restful chord;"

The withered queen relented then, reclining in her tomb,
But found no rest within her vault; her thoughts were filled with gloom;
The crying from beyond the crypt provided little peace;
Anon she rose to peer outside, seized by a new caprice;

And there she saw the wreckage that her liege-lord had brought down:
The orphaned babes, the burning walls, the rubble strewn around,
A church aflame, a wailing maid, a plague of rats and snakes,
A mindless crowd, a thread-bare shroud, a martyr burned at stake;

'Twas this hell before her that had locked her in her cave,
Away from all the suffering, apart from all the slaves;
The strength required to make that hell was awesome in its power,
She laughed to see the misery...then slept within the hour;

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book review: American Fascists

Recently, I read Chris Hedges' book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, first published in 2006.

The work is a depiction of the Christian Right, its methods, its motives, and the dangers it poses to the United States. Hedges opens the book with an essay written by Italian writer Umberto Eco, entitled "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt."

The essay outlines 14 points that describe the features of fascism (such as a "cult of tradition," "rejection of modernism," "action for action's sake," et cetera). Hedges then goes on to illustrate the similarities between the fascism that Eco describes in his essay and the modern Christian Right movement that has grown ever more dominant in the American political landscape.

Hedges interviews many "believers" and leaders in the movement and explains how it preys on the despair of people that have been left behind in this apparent age of economic prosperity. He explains that the leaders of this movement play their victims (because, really, there is no other term to use for the desperate, hopeless people that come under their sway) by giving them hope for a mythological future. This future will come when Jesus returns to Earth to save the righteous and damn the wicked. And it is easy to become one of the "saved" according to these leaders. One need only submit: wives submit to their husbands, husbands to the church.

Hedges shows how Christian Right leaders use time-tested fascist tactics to attract followers. Basically, recruits are offered the promise of eternal life and salvation at the price of complete, unquestioning submission to the church. These leaders also put forth enemies upon which their followers can focus their rage: homosexuals, liberals, "secular humanists," Muslims... even Christians that do not proscribe to the right-wing particulars. Hatred and intolerance toward these others, the economically-disadvantaged, war victims, refugees, and others is not only acceptable, but justified: they are being punished because they are not right with God.

Perhaps most alarming is the eager expectation that many followers of this Christo-fascist movement have for a coming Apocalypse, where they will be lifted up to heaven while everyone else remains on Earth to suffer the horrors of war and death. Hedges points specifically to the success of the "Left Behind" novels that depict a post-Rapture world where newly-converted Christians (those who were not believers before the Rapture) engage in violent battles with the forces of darkness. There is a longing, a frenzy, for the lusty release of violence on all non-believers, on all those who have wronged the faithful.

American Fascists is a frightening read. Hedges exposes the hypocrisy of the authoritarian bigots leading this ugly movement, but is not callous or scornful toward those poor unfortunates who, through despair and emotional vulnerability, have fallen victim to its siren song.

In my own experience, I've known quite a few of these ultra-right Christians. I've worked with them, debated them, and sometimes even befriended them. I've always privately (well, maybe not-so-privately) scorned their views. But their movement is real and growing. One need look no further for evidence than the 2004 national election, when an obvious liar and physical coward was put forth as a patriot and hero and received the votes of millions at the urging of right-wing pastors to see how high their tide has risen.

Hedges' exhorts his readers to stand up against this movement openly, ending the book with this passage:

"All Americans- not only those of faith- who care about our open society must learn to speak about this movement with a new vocabulary, to give up passivity, to challenge aggressively this movement's deluded appropriation of Christianity and to do everything possible to defend tolerance. The attacks by this movement on the rights and beliefs of Muslims, Jews, immigrants, gays, lesbians, women, scholars, scientists, those they dismiss as 'nominal Christians,' and those they brand with the curse of 'secular humanist' are an attack on all of us, on our values, our freedoms and ultimately our democracy. Tolerance is a virtue, but tolerance coupled with passivity is a vice."--Chris Hedges

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's going on in Basra?

What's happening in Basra?
Something big is happening, right now, in Iraq. More specifically, in Basra, Iraq's third largest city. Basra is the country's vital port of some 2.6 million souls, sitting beside the Shatt al-Arab waterway (the conflux of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers) and less than 30 miles from the border with Iran. The city is largely populated by Shiite Muslims and is a strongpoint for Shiite militias that are more-or-less aligned with outspoken and anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Approximately two days ago, al-Sadr allegedly called for civil disobedience as a response to some kind of crackdown imposed on Shiite militias by the (Bush-installed) al-Maliki government. There has been fighting, not only in Basra, but in Baghdad, as well. Even Bush's private enterprise paradise, the Green Zone, has come under attack.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has issued very stern ("menacing" might be a better word) warnings to the Shiite militias and, ominously, has gone so far as to travel to Basra to direct the fighting himself!

What appeared to be American or British jets also soared through the skies, witnesses said, providing air support. The operation, which senior Iraqi officials had been signaling for weeks, is considered so important by the Iraqi government that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who went to Basra on Monday, intended to personally direct the fighting, several Iraqi officials said...--New York Times
This is an alarming development. To me, it suggests that al-Maliki wants to be on the scene to better control the information that leaks out about what is really happening.

US military authorities are apparently playing down the role of coalition forces in the fighting. This is another indication that something particularly horrible is in the offing and the Coalition forces are preemptively trying to disassociate from it.

God help the people in Basra that get in the way of whatever is happening down there! It's ugly and going to get uglier.

Is this Junior's bid to rid himself of Moktada al-Sadr? Given what I believe about Junior, he must truly be offended by a man like al-Sadr. The Shiite cleric is an upstart, from Junior's perspective; a rabble-rouser and a loud-mouth, and his support may be genuine, not manufactured, like Junior's. When al-Sadr came on the scene, after Saddam Hussein crashed and burned, al-Sadr stood dead-center in the way of Junior's Iraq plan.

The ramifications for American domestic politics are huge. Although it hasn't been reported much in the US media, al-Sadr's cease-fire, declared last summer, was vitally important to the perception of success that is attributed to Junior's "surge." If the violence heats up, especially now, on the eve of a report to be delivered by General Petraeus and US Ambassador Crocker, and with the American public pining for a troop draw-down, opposition to the war, while already widespread, could become vehement and non-negotiable. If that happens, hapless John McCain will be left raging to himself in the political desolation created for him by the same man that slurred his wife and child, Junior Bush.

Keep your eyes on this, folks. And be prepared to see some things that will mar your perception of the world, of humanity. Undoubtedly, whatever trickles through the corporate-owned media will be filtered and scrubbed and watered-down. But they won't be able to hide the truth, in the end.

When Junior started this cursed war, he caused this reality to come into being. He may not have intended it to unfold like this, but he was too much of an ignorant pig to care much either way. The roller coaster is blazing down the track, y'all. Hang on! Hang on! Hang on!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Why blog? (A self-indulgent post)

Of course, I've always been an outspoken guy. All the way back in elementary school, I can remember wanting to respond to teacher's questions, wanting to weigh in, to express my thoughts on the matter at hand. I was curious to know what people would think about my thoughts and opinions. It probably stems from some need for external validation. You know, existential reassurance: People acknowledge me, therefore I am? So be it.

That's undoubtedly one big semi-subconscious reason that I maintain this blog. But there are other reasons, too.

I don't harbor any illusions that what I write here makes any real difference in the course of human events. At least not directly. But I do hold out the hope that if my voice is added to the conglomerate of voices (check out the Links of Interest) that speak out for change, for justice, it might help to make a difference somewhere. Maybe.

And, I do love to write. I love to play with the English language. It's such a versatile toy, this blend of the Latin and the Old Germanic that has been the medium for William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and John Gardner and JRR Tolkien. I love to learn and use words and try my hand at the clever turn of phrase, the biting double-entendre, the subtle pun.

In this soul-deadening age of 30 second ad spots, platitude-spouting glad-handers, and cotton-candy materialism, human beings long to express themselves, to find an outlet for the feelings and emotions that roil within them; feelings that are so often drowned in the bewildering cacophony of the modern world. For some people, this expression takes the form of craftsmanship or music or just being good at one's job. Well, this blog is my little outlet, my minuscule riff in the Great Orchestra.

I'm very grateful for those of you who do stop by this blog, from time to time, to scan through whatever I happen to be yammering about. Whether you agree, disagree, think I'm a blow-hard, or worry about my mental stability (and, trust me, you wouldn't be alone on that count), I'm just glad that you lent me your "ear." It is much appreciated.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Iraq is still burning: US dead exceed 4000

Composite of photos of Iraqi war dead
The criminal tragedy of Iraq rages on, with the number of US service persons killed in the conflict surpassing the 4000 mark this past Easter weekend. For some reason, the 4000 number is deemed significant enough to warrant media attention, although the number of Iraqi civilian casualties (somewhere between 80,000 and 1.2 million, depending on which study you believe) and the number of wounded Americans (approximately 29, 500) go largely unmentioned.

Junior Bush, now the lamest of lame ducks, has abdicated his responsibility to try and mend the situation, offering nothing new politically or tactically to change the dynamic. Instead, he doggedly insists on maintaining the US military presence through the end of his term, leaving the mess for whoever comes next.

White House mouthpiece Dana Perino marked the occasion of the casualty milestone with this reassurance: "The president feels each and every one of the deaths very strongly and he grieves for their families. He obviously is grieved by the moment but he mourns the loss of every single life." Oh, yeah, Dana, obviously. But, he's also envious, right? Because confronting danger is romantic, remember?

Well, after all, this is a man that has never, never lived up to any of his responsibilities. We'd be fools to expect anything more from him now.

More troubling is the stance taken by madman John McCain. He's on record as saying that he would not be against another 100 years of American military presence in Iraq. He insists that the surge is working, despite the failure of the Iraqi and coalition authorities to establish any kind of political structure, despite the hemorrhaging of US prestige throughout the world.

It is difficult to understand McCain's way of thinking, when you consider that polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans think that Junior is mishandling the war, and nearly as many think it was a mistake to ever have invaded.

There's little point in trying to understand McCain's line of thought as regards the war and his presidential ambitions. It's irrelevant. McCain, with his every angry pronouncement and growled oath, indicates that he will continue on as Junior has done.

It all comes back to the neo-conservative movement and their Project for a New American Century. By their way of thinking, the 4000 dead Americans, and the countless dead Iraqis are a necessary expenditure. If the war effort were to collapse in failure, as I believe it inevitably will, the neo-conservative movement, the dream of corporate dominance and unfettered oligarchy would die an ignominious death. It is more important to them to expend human lives to keep that dream alive, at least until they can find someone else to blame for their failure. After all, in that neo-conservative dream, humans are just resources anyway.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Recession, war and the need for an open dialog

Yesterday, at work, we got the news that our "head count" would be reduced. Two of my immediate coworkers were "let go" along with 400 others throughout the company. The news was startling, but, on reflection, not too surprising. I believe that these lay-offs are harbingers for the coming storm. My company is, I believe, moving in anticipation of an economic downturn that everyone sees coming.

Poor horse is played out...
The vaunted and glorified American consumer who, for so long, has kept the global economy afloat with his insatiable appetite for whiz-bang gadgets, frivolous services, and cheaply-made goods, all purchased on credit, is becoming aware that a transition is at hand.

Just as a drunken reveler will, at the break of day, find that his good-time friends, those who egged him on and happily drank at his expense, have slunk away when the bill comes due, so, too, are the American people finding that the corporate interests and corrupt politicians now have no answers.

The hard times are coming. Can we be honest enough to admit it? Decades of hedonistic living are coming to an end. From approximately 1980, when Ronald Reagan pooh-poohed Jimmy Carter's admonitions about an impending energy crisis, to the present day, Americans have been living as if there were no tomorrow. We think nothing of jumping in the car and driving 3 blocks to the store to pick up a pack of gum. We pour thousands of gallons of water on our front lawns so we can have patches of green in the middle of deserts. We seize resources from foreign lands at gun point, and murder and kill in the name of "patriotism."

Our politicians, even now, prefer not to lead, prefer not to discomfit us with talk of sacrifice and determination. Remember what Junior said, after 911? "[G]et on the airlines, get about the business of America..."

Look at the rhetoric they're using now: John McCain babbling about war, war, war, terrorists, terrorists, terrorists. His recent "misstatements" about al Qaeda's connections with Iran not only evoke unsettling thoughts about his age as it relates to his mental acuity, but illustrate his inability to think beyond war and aggression. Warlike rhetoric, he imagines, is the key to power. He has no clue about what is happening to our country.

Hillary Clinton seems unlikely to be able to attain the Democratic nomination without some fancy footwork, since she trails in the popular vote and in the number of elected delgates. So, she has resorted to the cut-throat politics of smear and slime, disparaging Obama rather than promoting herself. Well, she learned at the knee of the master, I suppose, having endured the most vile attacks that the Republican slime machine could manufacture. But, by using their tactics in her blind pursuit of power, she becomes one of them. She seems unaware of the need to unify, to move beyond the vicious political games in order to really address the issues at hand.

Barrack Obama, by contrast, has attempted to open real dialog in this country. With his speech on "race," recently, he has addressed a long-festering issue in the national psyche. The speech was an attempt at starting a real dialog. If we were to elect a president with that kind of courage, the courage to speak frankly and honestly, even when the words are uncomfortable, we would have taken a huge step toward doing what needs to be done to get this country back on track.

Obama transcends the old political game in which McCain and Hillary are still mired. Whether one agrees with his particular stance on any given issue is, in my opinion, less important than the knowledge that he will be willing to address issues openly, that he will engage in honest debate.

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge...
Hillary and McCain, both grasping indignantly at the power to which they believe they are entitled by virtue of having "played the game," turn a deaf ear to the daily tragedies that are transpiring for everyday Americans. The tragedies of economic insecurity, shattered futures, and war deaths are waved at vaguely with empty platitudes, while the wheels of their respective campaigns work away at dividing and undermining. In short, they continue in the vein of the Karl Rove method of politics.

This kind of campaigning does very little to assuage the doubts and fears of people like my unfortunate coworkers.

It could very well be that the time-tested tactics Hillary and McCain are employing, instilling fear and hatred and division, still have the juice to take down Obama. But if that happens, regardless of which of the two of them becomes President, it is imperative, it is vital, that he or she quickly adopt Obama's message of unity and his willingness to face difficult issues head-on. Can we dare to hope that either would have wisdom enough to do it?

For my part, I'm desperate for Obama.

A chance at a real dialog...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hustlin' Owls are national champs!

OIT Hustlin' Owls: National champs!

My old alma mater, Oregon Institute of Technology, from which I graduated in 1988, and at which my father was a football coach for some 25 years, won the NAIA Divsion II Men's Basketball National Championship on Tuesday.

Congratulations to the Hustlin' Owls, and especially to head coach and old family friend, Dan Miles.

This is the Owls second national championship, the first occurring in 2004. This time around, OIT was the eleventh seed in the national tournament, and tore through the competition, beating second-seeded MidAmerica Nazarene in the semi-final and following that up with an upset win over top-seeded Bellevue (Neb.) to win the championship.

You can read an account of the final game here.

Coach Dan Miles

I'm very pleased for my old school, of course. And also for Dan. As I mentioned, he's an old family friend that I've known for almost all my life. Dan was gracious and kind when my father passed in 1991, and I know that Dad considered Dan to be one of his good friends.

Anyway, congrats to all. Go Hustlin' Owls!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Slipping sand

Glowing flame consumes the wick,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Burns down to the dead and quick,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Beauty shines in lover's face,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Dear-bought wisdom doth replace,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Crying child at mother's breast,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Soon enough is laid to rest,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Kingly pate bows 'neath the crown,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Castle walls come crashing down,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Acorn grown to hoary oak,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Awaiting but the lightning stroke,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Candle stub in candlestick,
The sands do slip, the sands do slip,
Flame consumes the dead and quick,
Slipping through the hourglass;

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

To despair is to turn one's back on God

The title of this post is a quotation from Marilla Cuthbert, a character in Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic, Anne of Green Gables. And this post is a rebuke of the despair in which I, Dade Cariaga, occasionally indulge when I think of the magnitude of the mess that we have on our hands.

Yes, we are in a very bad place economically, politically, socially. Yes, it is going to get worse. Yes, our lives as Americans are going to change in ways that we can't foresee and that will disrupt the insular illusion of security to which we cling. None of us is going to escape the coming storm.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the price-per-gallon display next time you pull into a gas station. Scan the headlines from Wall Street. Check out what the Federal Reserve is doing today. Look at how the dollar is performing on the foreign exchange. All the gurus that sit on the boards of the corporate banks and financial institutions are on the verge of a panic. But that's not all: the Iraq war, which is draining our national treasury to the tune of $275 million per day, is still raging full blast. Big Dick and nutty John McCain were just over there yesterday patting themselves on the back over the success of the endeavor. And then there are the chronic problems that are rapidly approaching crisis proportions: global warming, peak oil, the Palestine issue, Pakistan's instability.

The Bush administration is the epitome of a government run to benefit the monied interests at the expense of the common people. But, as one might expect, with their sole motive being the enrichment of themselves, they have been revealed as being completely unconcerned with the lives of the people below them, whom they view as mere resources. Well, their time is coming to an end. All but the very thickest of Americans are aware of their crimes and ineptitude now.

So, yes, the forecast is bleak. Nonetheless, there is still reason --strike that --there is still the obligation to hope. Historically, we've been in tough spots before. This country overcame the brutal economic blight of the Great Depression with pluck and determination, by uniting, by putting aside minor differences and changing the zeitgeist that was spawned out of the carefree, live-for-today Roaring 20's. So, now, we must unite again to face the consequences of the Junior Bush era of corporate greed and the plunder of the commonwealth by private interests.

Well, as I just witnessed last weekend, there are still plenty of people that are willing to roll up their sleeves and do what is necessary to fix things. When it gets bad enough (and, people, we're there), we will put aside our trivial differences and get to work on the repairs. When we have a government that helps us rather than hinders us, we will make progress on things like alternative energy, international peace, fair trade policies, universal health care and so much more.

We can. We must. We will.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Peace rally and birthday wish to brother Seth

My people, March 15, 2008
World Without War: A Day of Resistance and Hope

Last Saturday, in spite of intervals of torrential rainfall, several thousand people gathered in the South Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon, to demonstrate against the war in Iraq (and also the torture facilities in Guantanamo Bay, the war in Afghanistan, and other Bush crimes). The rally and march was sponsored by a group called PDX Peace.

I was there, as usual, although this time I went by myself. There were the usual workshops, petitions, and information stations at the rally, and then a slate of speakers. I particularly enjoyed Tom Chamberlain, President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. He was a powerful speaker, and I always love to see organized labor well-represented at these events. Union guys are the tough edge of the peace-and-love crowd: the yang to the hippie yin, if you will. The crowd was an excellent cross-section of the Portland metro area: college students, senior citizens, kids, hispanics, African-Americans, suburbanites and more.

Turnout was better than I expected, but nowhere near the massive demonstration that occurred in 2003. The weather undoubtedly played a role. At one point, during the march, the hail and rain came down so heavily that you'd have sworn the downpour was deliberate. The crowd of demonstrators, led by the March Forth band, put up a cheer of defiance during the deluge, which, made me feel proud...very, very proud in spite of it all.

Because, to tell you the truth, I was sad, actually near to despair, during the rally and the march. I saw all the smiles and the hopeful expressions of the people around me, people of whom I am very proud and for whom I am eternally grateful, and I was heartbroken that these good people are discounted and ridiculed by others. I was heartbroken to think that hateful, ugly corporate titans can ignore the wishes of these people, can callously disregard their hopes and dreams, and do so with impunity.

But I remain committed. That's right. I continue to stand with my people. As long as there are peace rallies and demonstrations, and as long as I am able, I'll be there. I suggest no recriminations toward my sympathetic friends and family that did not attend: the decision to attend or not attend a demonstration is deeply personal. And besides, the necessities of life can often preclude one's ability to demonstrate. (The power brokers know this well, which is why they often view hard times for the proletariat as a good thing. After all, if people can scarcely earn enough money to fill up their gas tanks and put food on the table, they are less likely to make trouble when the mucky-mucks conduct their shady, bloodthirsty business.)

Hope is a scarce commodity these days. My own supply is severely depleted. But I want to encourage those that still have it to hold on to it. If we all indulge in despair, we truly are finished.

Seth and Maty
Happy Birthday to Seth Cariaga!

Today is Seth Cariaga's 11th birthday. Seth is the youngest of my siblings. He's very, very smart. And he's a great snow-boarder. He is a wonderful uncle to his nephew, Torin, and a joy to be around.

I've often told Seth that he is a good boy, but it bears repeating. Seth Cariaga, you're one of the brightest lights in my life and I love you very much. Happy Birthday!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sez Junior: If I was a tad younger, I'd show them al Qaedas a thing or two!

I'm a president man!
Yesterday, in a videoconference with US service personnel serving in Afghanistan, Junior Bush delivered this incredible nugget of... something:
I must say, I’m a little envious,” Bush said. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.”
It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks,” Bush said. --Reuters
This jaw-dropping soliloquy is so bizarre, so detached from anything like reality (you know, reality, the thing that real people experience?), that we should all be terrified. I mean, this is full on delusion, people.

I'm a big boy soldier today!
What the hell is the man thinking?

I mean, many of us have known all along that the guy was really just an underdeveloped human with delusions of grandeur. We got a whiff of Junior's affinity for make-believe when he played dress up with his big boy flight suit on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln back in May, 2003.

But this is different. I mean, doesn't it seem bizarre, and somewhat telling, that he envies the troops for "really making history?" He's the president, right? Isn't he "really making history" himself?

And, don't forget: Junior already had his chance to stand on the ramparts of freedom, remember? Remember, back when Junior was a young man, when there was that Vietnam thing? Remember? He was all in favor of that. But, apparently Vietnam was not "the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed." I guess, back then, Junior didn't think it was all that "romantic" to be "confronting danger."

Of course, if Junior really wanted to be on the front lines, he could probably get a job with Blackwater Security, torturing Iraqi civilians after he leaves office. Dick Cheney could pull some strings for him, yes?

And I wonder if Junior is jealous of Osama bin Laden? After all, bin Laden is about Junior's age, and he's out there in Afghanistan (or maybe Pakistan) right now, "confronting danger."

Seriously, folks, there are a couple conclusions we can draw from Junior's bizarre little reverie:
  1. The once-vaunted message machine of the White House is falling apart. After all, in the Rovian days of message discipline, Junior would have been well-prepped all the way down to his deliberate mispronunciations. He never would have been allowed to improvise like that. The few times when he did go off the cuff were disasters. But Rove's gone now. And maybe the White House staff figures it just doesn't matter anymore.
  2. Junior does, in fact, have doubts. This rueful wish to be somewhere else, free of the responsibilities of being president, free of the hatred and contempt of so many people, tugs at the little black pebble that serves as his heart. One imagines that he never thought he'd end up the goat when he set out to fix Daddy's mistakes.
More than anything, Junior's plaintive waxing makes me afraid. The guy is so out of it that none can know what wild, apocalyptic notion might pass through his whimsical mind.

Is there still anyone out there who can't see it? The guy is nuts!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another year of war, another peace demonstration

This Saturday, a peace demonstration is planned for the South Park Blocks in Portland. Here's the information:

March 15 World Without War: A Day of Resistance and Hope

Stop the War,
Bring the Troops Home Now!
South Park Blocks, Portland
March 15th, 2008

PDX Peace coalition is hosting an all-day event with an action camp, march and rally, and more opportunities for Portland to explore what we can do to end this war and prevent the next one. Can you help build a World Without War? Spread the word! New posters, flyers, handbills, stickers and buttons are now available! Download flyers or find pick-up location.

Speakers at the 2:00 PM rally include:
  • Zahra Sultan, Iraqi Social Worker, director of
  • Sean Lewis, First Gulf War Veteran, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace Chapter 72
  • Bob Watada, father of Lt. Ehren Watada, the first Commissioned Officer to refuse deployment to Iraq
  • Andrea Cano, Executive Director, Oregon Farm Worker Ministry
  • Youth organizers Terell Wilson, freshman at Madison H.S. and Lizo Wallace, United Voices Youth Program
  • Barbara Dudley, Professor in the Hatfield School of Government, former Executive Director of Greenpeace USA
  • Tom Chamberlain, President of Oregon AFL-CIO

This is the sixth such annual demonstration, including the demonstration that occurred 2 days before the commencement of the invasion, on March 15, 2003.

March 15, 2003
At times, it is very hard to imagine that these demonstrations make any difference, as I mentioned in a previous post. But, at the very least, they do serve to remind those of us who hate this war that we are not alone.

March 15, 2003
The first of these demonstrations was a glorious affair. Some 15 to 20 thousand people filled Waterfront Park and closed down the streets of Portland. It was an awesome event to see and a very proud moment in my life. Some 25 of my friends and family gathered at my house and boarded Tri-Met buses (which were filled to capacity) to go to the demonstration to demand that we be heard.

Well, they heard us. And they chose to ignore us.

March 15, 2003

But now, after 5 long, hellish years of war, upwards of $2 trillion, nearly 4000 American and God-knows-how-many Iraqi dead, the scales have fallen from the eyes of even the most ignorant or dogmatic of Americans.

March 15, 2003
I contend that even those Americans who still support the war do so out of shame for themselves and hatred for their smarter countrymen --even war supporters no longer believe the Bush administration's claptrap about "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here." (I base this contention solely on my own interactions with war supporters, so take it for what it's worth.)

March 15, 2003
I hope that the people who know me best know that I will be there. Even if I were alone, I'd be there. And I expect that is true of the others that I know will be there. It's the right thing to do.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

¿Que piensa usted?

¿Qué piensa usted?
¿Qué piensa usted cuando dice que el inmigrante tiene un camino fácil?

¿Se imagina usted que nosotros gozamos los trabajos insignificantes que usted ha dejado para nosotros?
¿Se imagina usted que nosotros soñamos de cortando el césped?
¿Se imagina usted que nosotros hemos aspirado a cosechando sus fresas y sus manzanas?

¿Qué hace usted?
¿Qué hace usted cuando dice que el inmigrante trae el crimen a su hogar?

¿Se imagina usted que nosotros gozamos viviendo en una tierra dónde estamos vistos como ladrones?
¿Se imagina usted que nosotros no notamos los insultos y los visajes de burlas?
¿Se imagina usted que nosotros no vemos su odio y su temor?

¿Qué quiere usted?
¿Qué quiere usted cuando trata de negarnos una voz, un lugar a la mesa?

¿Se imagina usted que nosotros pararemos viniendo aquí?
¿Se imagina usted que tenemos otras oportunidades a la pobreza?
¿Se imagina usted que nosotros no seríamos más bien en nuestro hogar dónde somos queridos?

¿Qué desea usted?
¿Qué desea usted para el futuro?

Yo le diré usted qué yo deseo.
Deseo que todos nosotros, ustedes y nosotros, podamos aliviar nuestros temores.
Deseo que podamos crear una sociedad que honora las dos culturas.
Deseo que podamos aprender de uno al otro, usando nuestras fuerzas vencer nuestras debilidades.

La verdad es que esta tierra tiene bastante para todos nosotros.
La sangre de los humanos es rojo, las lágrimas son saladas,
Y el amor que todos llevamos es fuerte.

Cristo dijo que todo que hacemos a los menos de su hermanos, hacemos a él, también.
¿Pues, qué hará usted? ¿Qué haremos nosotros?

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Iraq's agony: lost behind the Spitzer scandal

Thanks, Elliot. I owe you one --John
The media is all abuzz today about the scandal involving New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and a high-priced prostitution ring. Just in case any of us had any doubt, Spitzer provided a reminder that falsity is not an exclusively Republican trait. The media is all over the story. A powerful man is being brought low, and there are, no doubt, many lurid and unsavory discoveries to be aired as it all plays out.

But, one thing is for sure, John McCain, despite his new-found moral piety, will not be eager to see the embattled governor resign. He may call for Spitzer's resignation, but his heart won't be in it. One has to imagine that, secretly, McCain hopes the governor will fight on.

Buried beneath today's headlines is another story; a story that lacks the steamy titillation of a verboten sexual relationship and the comeuppance of another flawed human being.

In Iraq, two separate suicide attacks killed 8 US soldiers and an interpreter, and wounded 13 others. A third attack, a car bomb detonated in the Kurdish city of Slaimaniya, killed 2 Iraqis and wounded 20 others.

Reading the report from the New York Times is a heart-breaking exercise. In the account of the principle attack, the story relates that the American soldiers had stopped at a market and were chatting with the merchants and restaurateurs. One gets the idea, reading the story, that real, human connections were being made; that maybe the soldiers and the Iraqis were bridging the gap that has been created by warfare. One clothing merchant said that the soldiers had promised to come back to his shop, before they went on vacation, to buy clothes. Minutes after they left the store, there was an explosion and the soldiers were dead.

But the surge has been a success, according to John McCain. Even though there is and has been ample evidence that the reduction in violence was more of a temporary ceasefire than actual political progress, and even though none of the stated political goals of the surge have been achieved, the surge is a success. The war is justified. The war is "worth it."

Everything's good. Everything's groovy.
McCain's strategy for winning the White House requires that the public perception of the Iraq war is just so. Remember, last year, when he went to the Shorja market, accompanied by a military escort of armored Humvees and helicopter gunships, and shopped for carpets? Remember how he later admonished the media, saying "The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here. They are not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city, the situation in Anbar, the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades who are performing well and other signs of progress."? (The day after his visit, the very next day(!), Shorja market suffered sniper attacks.)

McCain seeks to portray himself as the tough, stern father figure who has the courage to see us through the trials of the war. But Americans are war weary, after 5 long years. So it is vital to McCain's aspirations that there is the perception of progress.

Governor Spitzer's exceedingly poor (and all-too-human) judgment has provided a temporary veil behind which the tragedies that continue to occur in Iraq can be obscured. But, in today's cultural climate of 30 second ad spots and flashing subliminal images, the Spitzer story will soon be old news. And the agony of Iraq will continue.

I imagine that the McCain camp is alarmed by the news from Iraq. Already they must be crafting a message that they can spew out if the violence continues to escalate. Perhaps they'll go with the spin that "al Qaeda in Iraq" has stepped up violence to try and influence the American elections. Or maybe they'll go with the old Cheney line about these being the final throes of the resistance. We'll know soon enough.

But, I'll tell you one thing for sure: the longer the Spitzer scandal drags out, the better it is for John McCain.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Conyers goes to court

The battle for accountability and congressional oversight continues. From today's Los Angeles Times:
House File Contempt Lawsuit
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
7:14 AM PDT, March 10, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee has filed suit to force former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten to provide information about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Monday says Miers is not immune from the obligation to testify and both she and Bolten must identify all documents that are being withheld from Congress.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers said, "We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress."

Conyers says he is confident the federal courts will agree that the Bush administration's claims to be immune from congressional oversight are at odds with constitutional principles.
The lawsuit has become necessary because Attorney General (and torture apologist) Michael Mukasey has refused to call a Grand Jury to enforce the congressional subpoenas served on Miers and Bolten.

Don't go soft on us, John.
All I can say is that it is high time Chairman Conyers got things rolling. He was one of the toughest talkers in the lead up to the 2006 mid-term elections, but has since toed the line put forth by craven Nancy Pelosi, avoiding direct confrontation with the Bush administration.

As the lawyers take us into the weeds with legal argument and procedure, it is important to remember what it is that the administration is trying to conceal. Miers and Bolten are summoned before congress to provide information regarding the firing of US attorneys by the Bush administration back in the days of Alberto Gonzales.

If congress could ever pry open the door on this scandal, it could lead to a flood of revelation regarding other, related, scandals: the imprisonment of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, the discussions and decisions involved in instigating the illegal wire-tapping programs that the Bush administration has been using in defiance of constitutional law, the truth of the Downing Street memo that imply that the Bush administration manufactured evidence in order to sell the Iraq war, and much more.

In short, if Miers and Bolten are ever put before congress and forced to testify under oath, the whole Bush house of cards could collapse. And here's the kicker, according to Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution:

The President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment
Catch that last bit? The ol' Scooter Libby gambit won't work for Junior this time. As long, that is, as Congress can make a case for impeachment based on the testimony that Miers and Bolten provide. So now it falls to the courts to determine if Bush's argument (that Miers and Bolten are exempted from testimony by virtue of executive privilege) has any merit. That is, as Cheney argued when he fought to keep the names of his energy policy task force secret, in order for the President to receive "unvarnished" advice, his aides must be assured that they will not be forced to testify under oath about that advice.

Well, legal precedent heavily favors the congress. As I pointed out before, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, in 1974, that executive privilege is not absolute and cannot be used to cover up potential wrong-doing.

Of course, the make up and attitude of the John Robert's Supreme Court is vastly different than that of Chief Justice Warren Burger. And Nino Scalia is an old hunting buddy of Dick Cheney. But it is hard to imagine that the court could countenance a complete overturn of the previous decision.

Who knows what we'll find if Miers and Bolten ever have to sing?
Look for all manner of obscure technicalities to be thrown up by the White House legal team in order to delay and forestall. It is unclear how this will all play out, and I can't say I'm optimistic given the cowardice displayed heretofore by Congress. Nonetheless, things are moving forward.

Karmic justice, of course, is infallible. Neither Bush, nor Cheney, nor any other of the myriad of criminals in that administration will know another day of peace in their respective lives. But it would be extremely heartening to me (and I imagine to many others) to discover that our petty human justice system is capable of functioning at least somewhat. Especially when the affronts committed by this administration are so damn obvious!

Friday, March 07, 2008

As the war drags on...what did you expect?

Noble hearts...but does it matter?
Peace activist, writer, and care-giver Shusli Baseler-Johnson (also known as Rhonda Baseler) recently published an article on her blog, entitled The Great White Hope for Peace, excoriating the peace movement for its ineffectiveness in bringing about an end to the Iraq war. The article also appeared on the Portland Indy Media website. Shusli, a dedicated and fervent activist for peace, expressed her extreme frustration at the lack of success of the peace movement, generally, and in particular of the sincerity and effectiveness of the "conflict resolution" program at Portland State University. She argues that the peace movement has become so tame, so careful to operate within the "acceptable" framework imposed by the larger society, that it is of little consequence.

Shusli's article was met with much outrage and indignant breast-beating from various quarters of the activist community (and also with some messages of support). But, you know, the criticism she received seemed shrill and defensive and, frankly, pathetic to me. I mean, the war is still on, people, and there's no end in sight. What did you expect?

I don't doubt the sincerity of peace protesters. But, 5 years into this war, I have to agree with Shusli that the demonstrations have not been effective in changing US foreign policy. For a while, shortly after the Democrats crushed the GOP in the 2006 election, I hoped that the message had finally gotten through. But what has since become apparent is that the powers-that-be are long on mouthing placations and short on taking tough stands.

(Regarding the criticism of Portland State, my own experience is that certain departments at PSU are (not totally, but largely) staffed by self-important nobodies who lack the competence to take positions at any prestigious schools.)

Peace demonstrations do serve in one important way, though. They afford people who feel isolated and alone an opportunity to see that there are others who feel as they do. That is, they provide a feel-good opportunity for all of us lefties who thought we were losing our minds as the Bush crime family ran rampant.

But, to bring about real change, the peace movement (to that extent that such still exists) is probably going to have to stretch out a little bit. That is, maybe the demonstrations are going to have to really disrupt things. Maybe Monday morning commuters need to be prevented from getting to work because the demonstrators have filled the streets. Or maybe the bridge authorities have to close down river traffic on the Willamette because the demonstrators will not allow them to raise the bridge.

I'm of the opinion that the reason this war has dragged on so long, indeed, the reason it even came into being, is because the general, and generally apathetic American public is not/was not inconvenienced by it. As long as American Idol aired on time and everybody had his microwave popcorn, it didn't much matter what was happening in Iraq.

Well, now, with gas prices climbing toward $4/gallon, American casualties mounting, and our country's fiscal health destroyed, maybe everyone is paying attention. Now might be the time for the peace movement to take the next step.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Faces from the road

Today, I browsed through my travel photos and found these. Some of the best parts of travel are the random encounters. You meet people from everywhere. And each one writes an entry in the journal of your life.

Bartender in Amsterdam
This young woman was the bartender in the famous Grasshopper coffee shop in Amsterdam. I had just arrived in Europe that day, commencing my Grand European tour, and I was a little scared and very tired. I was very glad to find a friendly, out-going person with whom to converse.

Bluegrass band "Snake Oil" in Newark Airport
During an interminable lay-over in Newark, I met the band "Snake Oil" who played a few ditties to kill the time.

Madeleine Vedel (center) and family in Arles, France
One of the best travel experiences I have ever had occurred in Arles, France. I was attempting to buy a train ticket to go to Barcelona and having a very difficult time of it. I spoke no French, and the ticket master spoke no English. The dilemma was defused when an ex-Patriot American woman, Madeleine Vedel, came to my assistance. Madeleine then invited me to the home she shared with her husband and young son for lunch. We were joined by their friends, the Jewish folk singer (on the left) and the beautiful, Valerie, right. We dined on tomato salad, beef, wine, cheese, and chocolate. Madeleine and her husband have since opened a cooking school in Arles. I occasionally get email from them, announcing the latest developments.

Polish musicians in Copenhagen
Wandering around the streets of Copenhagen, my friends and I stumbled on an ensemble of Polish classical musicians, preparing for a concert. We chatted with them while they smoked.

Chilenas in Santiago
I was sitting near the foot of the statue of the Blessed Virgin, in Santiago when these girls laughingly asked if they could take my picture. I agreed on condition that I might reciprocate.

World's full of people.