Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Review: Cthulu

This week, the Rose City is playing hostess to the annual HP Lovecraft Film Festival. HP Lovecraft was a pulp writer from the early 20th century who invented an eerie cosmic mythos, commonly known as the Cthulu Mythos. Lovecraft related this mythos via various short stories and novels. Succinctly put, the Cthulu mythos consists of a pantheon of insane, evil godlike creatures (chief among them, a squid-like being named Cthulu) that have been exiled to Earth, where secret cults arise to worship them. The protagonists of Lovecraft tales typically stumble onto these cults and, in the process of discovering the reality behind them, go insane. (It ain't Winnie the Pooh, people.)

Anyway, last weekend, my friend Dave Hauth and I went to view one of the festival's featured films: a film directed by Dan Gildark entitled Cthulu.

After viewing the film, Dave pointed out that the story is actually a conglomeration of two different Lovecraft stories: "The Festival" and "The Shadow over Innsmouth." It is the story of a Seattle history professor, Russell Marsh (played by Jason Cottle), who must return to his home in Rivermouth, Oregon (a fictional township) to oversee the sale and distribution of his recently-deceased mother's estate.

Upon arrival, Russell makes some unsettling discoveries around a strange religious cult that is headed by his father, the Reverend Marsh (Dennis Kleinsmith). His inquiries around town draw the attention of various twisted personages including his insane aunt, a mad and raving fisherman, a blind and near-catatonic boy, and Susan (Tori Spelling), a woman determined to conceive a child with him, even though Russell is homosexual. Unwelcome and unsettling memories of his childhood blend with eerie events in the present as Russell is drawn ever deeper into a web of insanity and horror. The story culminates in Russell discovering the secret of his own life and childhood and facing a terrible and momentous decision.

Well, this was definitely a low budget, B-movie. The acting was, in places, embarrassingly bad. The story had a lot of holes in it, and left a lot unexplained. The sound quality was generally poor. The film's greatest flaw is its lack of editing. Some of the sequences simply make no sense in terms of the story.

Having said that, I enjoyed the film. Tori Spelling's performance was quite good; and considering the burden placed on him, Jason Cottle did a respectable job. Gildark and crew obviously put a lot of love into their picture. Clever camera work and lighting kept the suspense and horror constant; the mood never lapsed. And writer Grant Cogswell deftly inserted larger world events (global warming, terrorism) into the story to give it a modern day relevance.

I imagine most Oregonians will enjoy recognizing landscapes and waterfronts from Astoria, Pacific City, and various stretches of beach all along our spectacular coastline. I know I did. But perhaps the singlemost important accolade I can give the film is that I'm still thinking it over, three days later.

I give this film a qualified recommendation.

Is he out there?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Death of an American summer

My beautiful city
Every year, when summer gives way to fall, I am assailed by feelings of regret and sadness. It's as if I am losing something precious, losing it forever, and that from here to the rest of my little piece of eternity, all I will have are memories of this lost treasure. Because each summer is a treasure. Each sunny day, where life is easy and relaxed and happy is a precious gift. And when the gift is gone, well...Joni Mitchell said it best: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"

Willamette River
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the fall equinox is behind us, and the days are shortening at a rapid pace. In Portland, this weekend, we got a wonderful two days of sun and mild temperatures, and even though it is officially autumn, the evenings were like those of the high summer that are alive with people sitting at the sidewalk cafes, talking late into the night, drinking beer, laughing, enjoying life.

View from the Springwater Corridor
I went for a bike ride on Sunday, pedaling first through the surface streets of Southeast Portland, then on the east bank of the Willamette River along the Springwater Corridor. I crossed to the west side over Hawthorne Bridge, took a spin through Waterfront Park, then turned east at the Steel Bridge and headed for home in the Hawthorne district.

Enjoying the good weather at Waterfront Park
As I rode along, I saw my fellow Oregonians out enjoying the good weather. My solipsistic nature no doubt causes me to project my own feelings onto the people around me, but it seemed that as I saw the families riding their bicycles, the readers laying on blankets in the park, the couples strolling along the river, admiring the view, I had the sense that the regret I was feeling was shared by my fellow citizens. Summer is gone, and the dark days of winter are looming.

We're Oregonians, after all, and once you've experienced an Oregon rainy season, you know that weekends like this last one will fade to dreamy memories long about January or February.

But, my regret (and again projecting onto the people around me, their regret) is not solely due to the summer's annual death, but to the death of our American summer. With the pending financial crisis that looms, with banks closing, with a gas panic occurring even now, this very moment, in the southeastern United States, with a Russian bear claw resting on our Tblisi jugular vein, a lack of trust in the American financial system, and a fierce cultural divide within our country, dark days are ahead. And everyone seems to know it.

Adieu, vous bon temps.
So, yes, brothers and sisters, let's raise our glasses today, and let's laugh while we can, for as long as we can. The darkness and gloom of winter are on the way. The winter of our American prosperity, the winter of our hope.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rumble at Ole Miss

The following are my initial impressions of the Presidential Debate that occurred between Barack Obama and John McCain. I'm writing it from memory, less than an hour after the debate, without referring to notes or transcripts, so take it for what it is worth.

I make no claims to objectivity, but it seems to me that last night's debate in Oxford, Mississippi, between Barack Obama and John McCain was clearly an Obama victory.

McCain came into the debate at a clear disadvantage, a good share of it his own making. His political stunt of "suspending" his campaign earlier in the week, allegedly to forge a solution to the financial crisis that is threatening this country's economic future, and his indecision about even participating in the event made him look confused and frantic.

And, in the end, he relented. He "blinked," as it were. That made him look weak.

Obama, on the other hand, in the lead up to the debate has seemed a steady hand at the helm. Obama's objection to postponing the debate, arguing that the nation needed to hear from the two candidates at this critical time, seemed measured and rational. Further, his reluctance to inject himself into the debate over the Wall Street bailout showed a sensitivity to the delicate nature of the negotiations that are currently underway. (And, in fairness, Obama probably doesn't want to get too closely identified with any ugly legislation that those negotiations are likely to produce).

As far as the debate itself, it was billed as a foreign policy discussion, but in light of the current headlines, emcee Jim Lehrer spent the first half hour querying the candidates about the bailout. Each candidate put forth the same arguments with which we have become familiar over the last few months: tax policy, Iraq strategy, policy toward Iran, Pakistan, Russia. But, it seems to me that in these debates, the policies and the positions that each candidate advocates matter less than does the personal perceptions that each gives off.

And this is why I think Obama won. McCain came across as aggressive and condescending. He repeatedly used the phrase: "Senator Obama doesn't understand..." He never once looked directly at Obama, even when he addressed Obama directly. That made him seem devious and furtive. I can't imagine that that will sell with Middle America which is still under the illusion that there is a level of decorum in politics.

On the other hand, Obama came across as gentlemanly. He frequently acknowledged McCain, saying "John's right about that," or "Senator McCain and I agree on that." And Obama landed some good shots when he pointed out that McCain had been utterly wrong with his pre-Iraq invasion remarks about Americans being "greeted as liberators," and that the war would be "easy." Further, Obama subtly and repeatedly associated McCain with the Bush administration, which, in today's political environment is lethal.

Well, initial polls conducted by CNN indicates that the viewing public thought Obama won as well. The numbers I saw had it Obama 52%, McCain 38%. Hmm...could that ratio be a precursor for November?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The meltdown continues: Sarah takes a turn!

"I just can't wait to be President!"
If there were any doubts as to why the McCain campaign has been managing Sarah Palin's interactions with the media so tightly, Sarah dispelled them all with her embarrassing performance on the CBS Evening News on Wednesday. Take a look at these gems!

On the Wall Street bailout:

Uh... yeah, Sarah. I... uh... I see what you mean... heh. (The look on Katie Couric's face as she listens to Sarah flounder is priceless.)

On her foreign policy experience:

Um... yeah... I... uh... well... (If this had been a boxing match, they would have stopped it at this point.)

On Rick Davis (McCain's campaign manager) and his conflict of interest with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and on McCain's record as a (supposed) champion of finance regulation:

Oh, Christ! This kind of performance doesn't need any commentary.

Embarrassing. Just f**king embarrassing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain meltdown...

If John McCain somehow wins this election, it will be the most damning indictment of the American electorate imaginable. There is simply no way, after this week's shocking collapse of anything resembling a campaign strategy, that anyone can make a plausible case for his fitness to be president.

McCain suspends his campaign

Start with an examination of McCain's latest political gimmick: a "suspension" of his campaign so he can go to Washington to convene with the administration and congressional leaders to produce legislation addressing the threat of a collapse of the nation's financial system.

McCain's announcement, as it turns out, was a hastily constructed effort to beat Barack Obama to the punch, since the Obama campaign actually initiated contact with McCain on Wednesday morning, calling for a joint statement on the need to work together to solve the crisis. McCain apparently smelled a political opportunity and tried to turn the effort to his advantage. He also called for a delay of Friday's scheduled presidential foreign policy debate, then went even further, to try and save Sarah Palin's bacon (heh) by suggesting a postponement of the vice-presidential debate to a yet-to-be-determined date.

If that's not a sign of weakness, then you're reading this blog on a stone tablet.

The problem for McCain is that he really is not instrumental to the negotiations going on between congress and the administration. As a senator, he can cast a vote for or against the proposal when it comes to the Senate floor, but he will not be involved in crafting the actual legislation. He does not sit on the Senate Banking Committee where the real action is taking place.

His lack of leverage in the high stakes negotiations exposes his call for a suspension of politics as a stunt, no doubt in response to the latest polls that show him falling behind in a significant way.

Palin stumbles and stammers

Sarah Palin, for her part, seems to be unable to keep pace with the rapid learning curve that has been imposed on her. Last night in an interview with CBS, Katie Couric asked Palin to name some specific examples from McCain's congressional career where he had pushed for more regulation of Wall Street. Palin's response? "I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you."

Earlier in the week, the McCain campaign trotted Palin up to the United Nations, where she got to sit down and have her picture taken with Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, and with the hideous corpse that houses the wraith that is Henry Kissinger. At first, the campaign tried to allow only photographers and camera persons to attend, but the media (even Fox News) raised hell until the campaign relented and allowed reporters in for a full 29 seconds. (They were not allowed to ask questions.)

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Rick Davis

Mad Johnny had only recently seemed to find his footing regarding the financial crisis by criticizing Barack Obama for having donors tied to the two mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that are now being bailed out by the federal government. The allegation was that Obama was partly responsible for the current crisis because he had fought against greater regulation of these entities while in the senate.

Of course, Obama did no such thing. But to make matters worse for McCain, it now turns out that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis was paid nearly $2 million by Fannie and Freddie as a consultant.

According to Robert McCarson, a former spokesman for Fannie Mae, “The value that [Davis] brought to the relationship was the closeness to Senator McCain and the possibility that Senator McCain was going to run for president again.”


"I'm melting! Melting! Melting!"
Meltdown, baby

McCain's reaction to the financial crisis, his desperate machinations to keep his running mate insulated from reporters, and his uncanny knack for putting his foot in his mouth in new and different ways each and every day are symptoms so obvious that even the most dense of Republican yahoos cannot fail to recognize them. Never mind his campaign....the old guy is losing it.

As conservative columnist George Will wrote in his column of September 23, McCain "because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency."

If the cretinous red state voters do elect McCain, it will not be because they imagine him to be the better candidate. Even they are not that stupid. It will be because their fears, bigotry, and hatred, and their ludicrous pride are more important to them, more comforting to them than their country or their humanity.

"Country First," indeed!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Movie Review: Burn After Reading

Perhaps one of the drawbacks to artistic success is that one's work is necessarily measured against one's previous efforts; that is, earlier successes set a high bar for future endeavors. And so it was for the Coen Brothers latest release, Burn After Reading, which I viewed last weekend.

While I surely did not expect Joel and Ethan Coen to attain the heights that they set for themselves with their penultimate effort, the masterpiece No Country for Old Men, I did anticipate a damn good flick.

The film is described as a dark comedy, and it certainly fits the bill on both counts. The story follows the efforts of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), a single, lonely and insecure middle-aged woman working at a gymnasium in Baltimore, as she schemes to garner enough money to pay for various plastic surgeries so she can "reinvent" herself. When her oafish, muscle-bound coworker, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), stumbles onto a computer disc loaded with what they believe is raw intelligence related to international affairs, the two of them set out to make themselves some money using blackmail, subterfuge, and burglary.

Meanwhile, in the higher social circles of Washington, DC, former CIA analyst Obsorne Cox (John Malkovitch), and his cold and imperious wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), are thoroughly enmeshed in the struggle for supremacy of status with the childish Lothario, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and his wife. Their lives revolve around careers and divorces and extramarital affairs and, above all, money.

As the story unfolds, the various characters bungle their way forward, with hilarious results, but punctuated in that uniquely Coen Brothers way, with a couple brutal murders. I laughed out loud throughout the movie. Brad Pitt's performance was particularly hilarious.

And while this movie is definitely a comedy, the Coen Brothers did not fail to pose some serious questions about our American society, with its misplaced priorities, its isolation, its inherent loneliness. The discordant brutality of the murders push us out of the easy comfort of a comedy and force us to examine these issues.

All in all, I judged the movie a success. But as my friend, Jeanine Potts, pointed out when we discussed the film afterward, there were times when I found my mind drifting as I watched. Burn After Reading did not draw me in completely and hold me rapt in the way that other Coen Brothers films like No Country... did.

So, with the stipulation that it does not stand at the top of the Coen Brothers achievements, I recommend this film.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The abortion issue: GOP Gold

Recently, I gained some more insight into the mentality of some people who support Mad Johnny McCain's presidential candidacy. The opportunity came during a phone conversation this last weekend. I asked this person (a person with whom I am very close) for whom she would vote this election and got the reply: "Who do you think, Dade? Not the person you're voting for."

I said, "So, you're voting for McCain?" I wasn't surprised, but I was still disappointed.

"Yeah," said she. "He's not that great, but what choice do I have?"

To which I inquired: "What is your objection to Obama?"

"Well, the abortion issue for starters," she said, and then followed with a wandering monologue about the dangers of "big government," "socialized medicine," and other vagaries.

Our conversation was interrupted by external events and so I didn't get a chance to pursue the dialog any further. But I found it interesting that the first and, apparently, the most prominent, objection this person had to Obama was his stance in favor of a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

Well, it seems to me that, tragically and cynically, the abortion issue is just another red herring being used by the Republican party to fool people into voting for it.

Yes, John McCain is taking a "pro-life" position (which, I suppose means he favors allowing the individual states to pass legislation to make abortion illegal); and, yes, Barack Obama is "pro-choice." But haven't the last 8 years of Republican domination of the federal government proven that Republican leaders have no real interest in seeing Roe vs. Wade overturned? In fact, it seems to me that the Republican party's interests dictate that they do whatever they can (secretly, of course) to prevent any restrictions on a woman's rights regarding the termination of a pregnancy.

Here's my thinking: By the very nature of the issue, anyone who has a position on abortion will be strident in his/her advocacy. People who are "pro-life," who view human life as beginning at the instant that a sperm fertilizes an ovum, are of course convinced that an abortion is the willful taking of an innocent life. And it follows that such people would believe that abortion is a monstrous crime. Equally, however, those who are "pro-choice," who believe that the beginning of human life occurs at some unknowable point in the process of fetal development, believe that women must have complete control over their own bodies, and that infringements on their reproductive rights are obscene governmental intrusions.

Well, this kind of hard-and-fast philosophical dichotomy provides rats like Karl Rove and his ilk an opportunity to secure a voting bloc, yes? Any demagogue can keep the passions of an issue like abortion high with some cheap, inflammatory rhetoric, yes? And while people scream at each other, while they accuse each other of the most beastly and base of behaviors, financial scandals, cooked-up intelligence reports, and abuse of power don't seem as interesting or vital to those engaged in the moral war.

Going back to my phone conversation, my McCain-voting counterpart feels morally compelled to vote for McCain because he is "against" abortion. But, if the abortion issue were moot, would her already lukewarm support of McCain evaporate into nothing?

And, let's go further, and imagine that the Supreme Court were to either overturn Roe or to rule on a related issue so as to render Roe irrelevant. Would not the passion of the rabid right-wing base of the Republican party be quelled somewhat? Would issues like rebuilding our national infrastructure, or developing alternative fuel, or providing access to health care or education suddenly come to the fore? Would people actually start demanding that Washington move its spending priorities away from corporate bailouts and tax-cuts for the wealthy elite toward things that might benefit the commonwealth?

But the abortion issue is not going to go away. And I don't necessarily think it should go away. A healthy society should always be examining its social mores and its traditions. As Herman Hesse said in Steppenwolf, each age has its own horrors; those things that seem natural and correct in one age seem barbaric and cruel in the next.

Our society must wrestle with the moral implications of the willful termination of a pregnancy. That's our burden. But the outrage around the abortion issue is that it has been used by charlatans to inflame passions in the most cynical of manners: as a smokescreen to obscure the misdeeds of a corrupted political party.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My family spells tough "E - R - I - C"

Do yourself a favor...don't pull this dog's tail!
On September 19th, 1964, my brother, Eric Todd Cariaga, was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Klamath Falls is a high-desert, lumber-and-agriculture town that some say produces hard-bitten fighters with iron in their fists and spines. And, if that is true generally, then Eric is the epitome of a Klamath Falls native.

Eric is an avid outdoorsman, a driven athlete, and, truth be told, probably the closest thing we have to an "enforcer" in my family. He hunts ducks and geese, and fishes for bass and steelhead and rainbow trout, like any good Klamath Falls native. He rides his bicycle like a man possessed, and exudes an aura of confidence and self-assurance that I can only envy.

My father used to say to Eric and me, "When things are too tough for everyone else, they're just right for you." Well, Eric took it to heart. He was always feisty as a kid, but now, as an adult, he is definitely someone for whom it is well to remain on the good side.

Don't get me wrong: Eric is charming, friendly, and has a sense of humor that can render you helpless with laughter. But woe to he who foolishly provokes Eric!

Eric and I, like all brothers, I suppose, have had our differences over the years. But I put those down to each of us feeling he knows what is best for the other. We identify with one another so strongly that it is sometimes hard, for me at least, not to offer advice and counsel even when it is not solicited.

There have been times in our lives when Eric and I could tell each other more with a glance than others could relate in hours of conversation. We have been best friends, travel companions, and trusted advisers. Of course, we have always come to one another's defense and support in times of crisis.

Lifelong friends and companions
Well, it has been 44 times around the whirligig for Eric now. He's still going strong. He's known joy and sorrow and triumph and defeat, just like anyone else. But there aren't many that can stand up to it as fearlessly as he does.

Happy birthday, Eric, from your loving big brother.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Raven song, Robin song

One tale ends as another begins, with threads of joy and sorrow;
Raven on the windowsill; red robin greets the morrow;
And though maybe the raven's song is tuneless and forlorn,
Dwell not upon the ending note, but on the promise born;

The robin sings of hopeful times;
The robin sings of gladness;
A joyous dawn arises now,
To lift us from our sadness;

The squalor of an ending oft can hide the summer sun;
A raven's voice accompanies "adieu" to our loved one;
And never will the pain of night depart our long recall,
But let us hark the robin's song; its joy may yet heal all;

The robin sings of hopeful times;
The robin sings of gladness;
A joyous dawn arises now,
To lift us from our sadness;

(Dedicated to M and K)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Troopergate: Palin shows that she is a quick study

"Public inquiry? Kiss it!"
In spite of her careful avoidance of reporters and pesky questions, there is one thing that we can easily discern about Sarah Palin: she's a quick study.

Her speech at the Republican National Convention was an impressive feat for a woman so recently thrust into the national limelight. Although it was largely written before she was even selected as Mad Johnny's running mate, somewhat diminishing the magnitude of her accomplishment, it was nonetheless an impressive delivery.

But the real indication that Palin is an apt student is the swiftness with which she has adopted the Republican tactic of flaunting, defying, and avoiding legitimate public inquiry.

At issue is the investigation into a potential abuse of authority by Palin in her official capacity as governor of Alaska. The Alaska state legislature, on the strength of a bipartisan vote, initiated an investigation into Palin's firing of the Alaska public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan after he refused to fire a state trooper who had divorced Palin's sister.

Palin, at first, and before she was chosen as McCain's running mate, promised full cooperation. Then, on September 1st, three days after McCain tapped her for the bottom of the ticket, she lawyered up. Today, Alaska's Republican Attorney General, Talis Colberg, said that state employees that have been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation will not honor those subpoenas. Further, a McCain lawyer, Edward O'Callaghan, has been dispatched to Alaska to do what he can to squelch the inquiry altogether. His argument? The inquiry is "tainted" by Democratic state lawmakers. This, despite the fact that the initial vote to launch the investigation was bipartisan.

From the beginning, the whole thing reeked of poor vetting on the part of the McCain campaign. It is unclear whether Mad Johnny's people knew about the investigation before they chose Palin, but what is clear now is that they are moving aggressively to squelch it.

Well, after all, over the last 7 years, if there is one skill that the Republican party has perfected , under the leadership of Big Dick, it is the ability to forestall, delay, and squelch when it comes to pesky investigations. Shall we go through the list? The investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity? The secret energy policy task force? The practices of the Bush administration's Justice Department? (And much more, besides.)

"Sorry, can't hear ya."
Sarah Palin is learning quickly what it means to be a power player in the thoroughly-corrupted Republican party. And, after all, she's learning at the knee of the master.

Monday, September 15, 2008

GOP: The party that wrecked America

Castles are burning.

The news from Wall Street today is that two financial giants, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, collapsed under the weight of 12 years of Republican negligence in overseeing the financial industry. Lehman Brothers is dead, filing for bankruptcy. And Merrill Lynch (apparently, no longer "bullish" on America) sold itself to Bank of America Corporation for $50 billion.

If you've got the intestinal fortitude to face really bad news, I recommend that you read today's post on Custerf**k Nation by Jim Kunstler. Be forewarned: his assessment of the current US financial crisis is bleak and alarming.

The crisis has been brewing for years, of course, and anyone paying any kind of attention at all has heard the increasingly loud rumblings of catastrophic collapse rolling out of the dark tunnel into which we are about to descend. Dark times ahead, my dear people. Dark times, indeed.

Remember the deal that the US government made during the weekend of September 6th? The deal that involved the federal government "taking over" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and thereby assuming responsibility for trillions of dollars in mortgages? That was one stark sign of disaster. (The Bear Stearns bailout was another.) The alarming spate of foreclosures over the past several years are the result of deregulation of lending practices, allowing unscrupulous lenders to write sketchy loans to naive borrowers who only wanted to take part in the myth of the "American Dream." Then, the loan writers would bundle up these sketchy loans and sell them to Fannie and Freddie as "securities," with absolutely no concern whether or not they would ever be paid back. And, now, as the bill comes due for this irresponsible behavior, the US taxpayer is left to pony up the lettuce.

The deregulation came about because of a Republican administration and congress doing the bidding of their banking and insurance industry overlords. Under the guise of "getting government out of the way," the Republicans, in their feverish lust for power and money, rubber-stamped deregulation legislation that, in many cases, was actually written by finance industry lobbyists.

There have been other signs along the way as well: the Enron Ponzi scheme, the questionable mortgage practices of Countrywide Home Loans. As Mr. Kuntsler puts it, these schemes were designed to create the illusion of wealth without anything real to back it up.

In the context of the current national election, the choice is clear. Obama has not addressed the crisis as directly as one would hope, but he certainly shows a sensitivity to the problem. Contrast that with Mad Johnny McCain's remarks, on September 13th, that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong." McCain's plan for recovery (corporate tax cuts and more deregulation) is so ridiculous that even Alan Greenspan calls it irresponsible. It is, in fact, a continuation of the policies that have brought us to this point. Don't forget that McCain's recent financial advisor, former Senator and all-around rat, Phil Gramm, was instrumental in engineering much of the deregulation that led us into this crisis. You remember Phil? The guy that called us "a nation of whiners?"

Here it comes...
I'm no finance industry guru; I don't know much at all about the workings of the financial world. But I know a stinky, plague-infected rat when I see one. And, people, that shadowy creature we've all feared was lurking in the sewer is now emerging. As we sink down into the depths of God-knows-what, make no mistake who has brought us to this point: the Republican party of the United States... the party that wrecked America.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Human river

Hawthorne district is hip, baby

I moved into my current residence in December 1999. At that time, I had only just finished two and a half months of backpacking and riding the Eurail system through many different lands in western and central Europe and Scandinavia.

I found this house, in the Hawthorne district of southeast Portland, and snapped it right up. This is a fantastic corner of a great little city, and I felt very fortunate to land a residence right in the heart of it.

I was divorced and alone (apart from my two cats, Hannah and Roxanne) when I bought this house. I had a good circle of friends, but I wanted to be immersed in people all the time; I was afraid of loneliness and solitude. And besides, the house was too big for just myself and the cats. So, I sought out roommates.

One of the "guys named Dave"

Well, in the 9 years since I have lived here, there has been a steady stream of roommates that have come through this house. It's been an eclectic mix of people, from beautiful and kind Satoe, the Japanese woman who could never understand why I thought the show "Seinfeld" was funny, to a hip and handsome Lothario, to a startlingly naive young man from Eastern Oregon, to three guys named Dave. I count that there have been 9 roommates that have passed through this house. Some of them are dear friends, some will hopefully never cross my path again.

Satoe and another "guy named Dave"

But now the house has transformed from a communal living arrangement to the home of a married couple, Maty and I, and maybe someday our child. Even Hannah and Roxanne are gone.

The point of this long rambling reverie, however, is to establish that there have been a lot of people that have passed through my door over the last nearly decade. And they all bring stuff with them. Lots of it.

In fact, my basement had accumulated huge stacks of the detritus that they had left in their wake.


Cleaning out the basement was like cleaning up after a flood. But instead of water and mud, the sediment left by the river of humanity that passed through my home was the accumulated discards of people on the move: old clothes, kitchen appliances, furniture, books, blankets, towels, curtains, fans, computer equipment, bicycles and bicycle parts....

Maty and I spent the entire late afternoon and early evening getting it out. Anything that is still usable will be taken to the Good Will on the morrow. The rest is even now sitting in a dumpster awaiting removal.

Roommates: scan this picture before asking me where your stuff is...

Well, if any of my former roommates read this, anything you left here when you moved out is gone, gone, gone. I figure if you'd really wanted it, you'd have asked me for it by now.

People's lives are like rivers, are they not? The current just keeps rolling along, while the silt and sediment sink to the river bed.

Flow, river, flow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A moonlight caress

Kindly, didst thou steal upon me
As I lay pondering the blue-white face;
Gentle, soft, was thy fearful touch,
But I, too weighed down with useless sorrow,

Was awash in ghostly moonlight,
Blind as the dead to thy soft, subtle shade,
And skyward turned my anguished voice,
Luna to sing my lunatic verses;

Soothing caress between us passed;
Now I awake to see thine offered dawn
Is honest and modest and wise,
And brings forth the dew that softens the world;

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

US Chamber of Commerce: Ambassadors of --something

Recently, I saw a political ad for Oregon's junior senator, (spineless) Gordon Smith. This ad touted Gordie as a friend of the Oregon Health Plan and is part of a $20 million campaign by the US Chamber of Commerce aimed at helping to protect or elect politicians whom the Chamber deems "pro-business." Well, any advertisement that paints Gordon Smith as anything other than a craven supporter of rich, white oligarchs is, by definition, misleading. But when I saw that the ad was put forth by the Chamber of Commerce, I hearkened back to my own brief, but revealing experience with that less-than-august body.

December, 2001, found me in Delhi, India on a business trip. I was staying at a 5-star hotel: luxurious when compared to my usual travel accommodations. I generally dislike being so isolated from the local people as I was in this walled hotel compound where the only Indians I saw were serving me food and cleaning my room, but it was on the company dime, so what the hell?

The staff at the hotel was overly attentive, to the point of being obsequious, and I learned on that trip that I'm not comfortable with the idea of having servants. I literally could not open a door for myself or pour myself a glass of water at the dining table without some liveried servant rushing to do it for me. When I was in my room during waking hours, there was a knock on my door nearly every hour, inquiring whether I required anything. I found it burdensome and it didn't jibe well with my egalitarian notions.

Anyway, after two weeks, the business part of my trip was over. I had arranged to stay an extra week to take in some sights around India before going back to the States and, although I didn't change my hotel, I reverted to my normal travel mode in other ways: I dressed very casually, I toted my guitar around with me, and I spent time just walking around the city.

Wandering around Delhi
In those days, my hair was very long and I was sometimes mistaken for (or perhaps recognized as, I don't know) a hippie. I definitely did not fit the image that one normally associates with a business traveler.

One morning, as I was riding the elevator down to the main floor to get breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I encountered another American. He was a young man, perhaps in his late twenties, dressed in American business apparel, including tie and jacket. He was immaculately groomed. I could tell he was an American because he was holding an issue of USA Today, along with his briefcase, in one hand.

When one is traveling abroad, it is usually reassuring to run into one's countrymen. There is often a bond of friendship, even between people who would not normally associate with one another. But this fellow's body language, the purposeful, but vaguely harried expression he wore on his face, and his absolute refusal to let his eyes stray in my direction did not invite conversation. I got the sense that he was uncomfortable.

Eventually, the elevator door opened to the main floor, no doubt to the relief of both of us. I went to the hotel restaurant, was greeted warmly by the restaurant manager, and was led to an empty table. The young man from the elevator came in shortly thereafter, and when the hostess approached him, he preempted her with a brusque "Coffee and bagel to go."

Well, I was admittedly a tad miffed at being ignored in the elevator, but his arrogant attitude cemented my resentment toward him. Nonetheless, I went about my breakfast and tried to let it pass.

As the impatient young man was waiting for his coffee and bagel, another pair of Americans entered the restaurant. The first was a paunchy older man, probably in his early fifties, dressed in a dark blue business suit. He seemed hurried and purposeful and carried himself with an air of authority. Following behind him was an attractive young woman, immaculate in her business skirt and jacket, holding a notepad and a cell phone. She was obviously the older man's assistant, speaking to him as he strode forward: "At 10 o'clock you have a meeting with the finance officer, and then at 12:30 you're scheduled for lunch with the sales reps." The young woman contributed to the air of importance that surrounded the older man. This was a very important person, indeed.

Marketplace in Delhi
Upon seeing them, the young man that I had encountered in the elevator changed his demeanor immediately. He suddenly became open and jocular, with just a hint of submissiveness in the way he bent his head downwards, in the set of his shoulders. His face contorted into something approximating a smile, and when the new pair sat down at a table, he joined them. About this time, the hostess returned with a box containing the previously-ordered bagel and coffee, but the young man waved her off. "I'm eating here," he said, loudly. "The big boss is here now."

The three of them settled into their seats and began jabbering about all the important things they were going to accomplish while they were in Delhi. While I listened to them talk and watched their interactions, I had the feeling that they were maintaining a certain facade, as if, at some level, they were aware of the inanity of their behavior but were striving with all their might to ignore it. I found the whole thing delicious. While they went about their "business" they studiously ignored the people around them. Apparently, their affairs were too important to be interrupted by the sights and people of another culture, even in the relatively sterile environment of a 5-star hotel lobby.

When I had finished my meal, I got up and started to leave. I saw the older man glance up at me, and then look away quickly. "Aha," I thought. And, I just couldn't resist. I approached their table and stood directly in front of them, forcing their acknowledgment. At first, they ignored me, but when I showed no sign of wandering off, their conversation faltered, and they turned to stare at me.

"You're Americans?" I asked.

"Yeah," the older fellow said. He managed a weak smile.

"Business trip?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"Who ya with?" I asked. I was enjoying the moment immensely.

"US Chamber of Commerce," the older man muttered.

"I see," I said. "Well, have a good trip." I turned and walked out to catch the bus that would take me around to the various sights of Delhi and the surrounding area.

"Chamber of Commerce," I thought as the liveried servant ran to hold open the main door of the hotel. "That explains everything."

Gandhi's tomb

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Si ustedes me pueden creer, yo entiendo

En los campos de uvas
Yo digo, sin pretensiones, yo sé un poco el estado de los trabajadores emigrados en los EEUU. Ya sé que la vida es difícil y existe en la frontera de desesperación. Ya sé lo que significa de levantarse a la madrugada y yendo a los campos para trabajar. Ya sé.

Tal vez, ustedes me preguntan, "¿Cómo puede saber?"

Porque, cuando estuve un chico, yo trabajaba en las viñas en el valle de Coachella, California. Con mi familia, durante el verano, fui a California para trabajar en el negocio de mi abuelo paternal, Ross Cariaga, un trabaje contratista.

Cada mañana, mis padres, mis hermanos, y yo, nos levantabamos antes del amanecer y íbamos a los campos de uvas. (Esas uvas eran por la mesa, no por el vino.) Comenzábamos trabajar en la madrugada porque, en el valle, hacía mucho calor, con temperaturas a menudo cerca de ciento quince. En los campos, habían serpientes de cascabel y arañas venenosas. Y también, mosquitos volaban cerca de los ojos, la boca, y las narices.

La gente con quien trabajabamos eran mexicanos, por la mayor parte, pero también habían algunos filipinos. Todos de ellos eran personas de dignidad y honora. Los trabajadores eran de todas edades, incluyendo ancianos y niños. Todos trabajaban con ardor. Y eran amable a mi y mis hermanos.

Trabajo arduo
En ese tiempo, no me gustó el trabajo. Pareció innecesario a mi, y muy difícil. Pero, actualmente, añoro esos días en los campos con la gente noble. Yo recuerdo que mi padre, y su esposa, Jeanne, me dijeron que un día, me daría cuenta de la experiencia era muy valioso.

Bien, ahora yo lo veo. Aprendí mucho de compasión y del común de la humanidad en esos campos. Y le agradezco a mi padre para aguantando mis quejas y se quedando inexorable.

Esas lecciones me ayudaron comprender, hermanos. Ya veo. Ya entiendo.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Black Crowes blast Edgefield

The Black Crowes

Last Friday night, my old pal, Andre Danielson and I headed on out to the Edgefield Pub to catch the Black Crowes on tour for their latest album, Warpaint. It was a splendid evening for an outdoor concert, and the venue is such that you can get a good view of the stage from nearly anywhere. It was a general admission show, no advance seating, but the lawn was gently sloped toward the stage so that the people in the back could see over the people in front of them. All in all a good venue, although I don't recommend the food at this or any other McMenamin's establishment.

I've been a fan of the Black Crowes ever since their first album, Shake Your Money Maker was released way back in 1990. The band's fortunes have risen and fallen since then and I've lost track of them for years at a time.

Some controversy surrounded the reception that Warpaint received from the music media when the magazine Maxim wrote a mediocre review of the work without ever having heard the album! (In it's March issue, the publication assigned the album 2.5 stars (out of a possible 5) and wrote that the work "hasn't left Chris Robinson and the gang much room for growth.")

The Crowes were understandably upset about this irresponsible journalism and they issued a scathing press release in response. Maxim later apologized.

So, as yet, I haven't heard the new album. Rather, I went to the show on the strength of the Crowes past as a good down-home rock-and-roll band that puts on a great show. Their sound is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones or the Faces, and that, to me, is just good rock and roll. I had seen them once before, back in the early 90's at Portland's Civic Auditorium and I new that it would be a high-energy event.

This incarnation of the Black Crowes features the band's two founders, brothers Chris (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Rich Robinson (guitar), Luther Dickinson (guitar), Adam MacDougall (keyboards), Sven Pipien (bass), and Steve Gorman (drums). There were also two female backup singers, but I couldn't find their names anywhere. Gorman and the Robinson brothers are the only remaining members of the original lineup, but I'm happy to report that the Crowes still maintain their southern rock, jam band flavor.

The show was high energy and full of the long drawn-out jams that fans of the jam band genre really dig. (Think Allman Brothers, or Phish, or the Grateful Dead, or String Cheese Incident, or Leftover Salmon.) The band opened with some old favorites including "Gone" and "Soul Singing." There was a long middle set where the tempo subsided somewhat while they played material from the new album. Then they finished up with a rousing third set that included a playing of their break-out hit version of the old Otis Redding tune, "Hard to Handle." (Although this was a crowd pleaser, it seemed to both Andre and me that the band was not overly enthusiastic about playing it. I'm sure it gets boring after some 18 years.)

Energetic and dynamic performers

The Crowes came back out for an encore, doing cover versions of the Little Feat tune, "Willin'," and the Band tune, "Don't Do It."

Overall, the band seemed in good spirits, and it was infectious. If you get a chance to see them, I recommend that you do so. They put on a great show, full of exuberance and energy.

Here's a performance from Amsterdam, earlier in the tour:

Friday, September 05, 2008

RNC Day 4: Mad Johnny tries to steer the GOP off the rocks

"You can trust me to not be a Republican."
Last night, Mad Johnny, looking very much like a snarling, half-blind badger, delivered his acceptance speech before a rabid, hate-filled gathering of Republican faithful.

Fresh off of Sarah Palin's sneering screed of anger, resentment, and cynicism, the fever-brained remnants of Karl Rove's coalition of the rich and the stupid were all set to pick up where they left off in the 2004 campaign. That is to say, they were ready to vilify, demean, and hate. McCain has had trouble nailing down this base of GOP voters but Palin served them well on Wednesday night by feeding them lots of red meat.

The last night of the convention began with Senator Lindsey Graham stoking the coals with a speech that mocked Barack Obama. Then came Cindy McCain (whom Karl Rove smeared as a drug addict in Junior Bush's 2000 primary campaign in South Carolina). Ms. McCain took the time to praise her husband and to introduce her children. It was a gracious presentation, delivered without vitriol, and it presented her family in a positive light. But, its lack of rancor cooled the angry embers that Senator Graham had stoked only moments before.

So, when Mad Johnny came out to make his speech, the crowd was in a state of flux. And, in a daring rhetorical move, McCain crossed his fingers, hoped that Palin's rantings would suffice to sate the Republican beasts, and delivered a speech aimed not at the crowd in St. Paul, but at the television audience.

The speech he delivered focused on McCain's intentions for his administration, and on his personal history. He gave a long and effective recounting of his time as a prisoner-of-war in Hanoi. But his speech did not serve up any red meat for the lunatic crowd that had been whipped into a murderous frenzy by Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, and Lindsey Graham.

McCain even delivered some lines of reprimand aimed at his own party. Check this:

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption.--John McCain, Sept.4, 2008
The applause following this line was decidedly subdued. And, although McCain did refer to Junior in the early part of his speech, he did it without mentioning the name "George W. Bush" --a name so toxic that it must be shunned even at the GOP convention.

It was as if McCain recognized that the old GOP ruse of fear and hatred is no longer sufficient to win a national election. So, with this speech he reached out beyond the crowd of low-brow conservatives that raged in the convention hall to the middle, to those Americans that are not firmly committed to one or the other party. A valiant effort, but probably a forlorn one.

Redneck: a person who has spent more on his pickup truck than on his education
Polls show that most Americans are so thoroughly disgusted with the GOP that McCain's feeble and belated effort will fall mostly on deaf ears. McCain's speech was twice interrupted by shouting protesters. The disgust and contempt that so many Americans feel toward the Republican party followed it into its own convention. Mad Johnny, Republican to the end, had to hold hands with the hateful and incompetent party that has brought the nation to its current state.

He's forever tainted by it. And by his association with Junior Bush.

Post-script: Thank God! The conventions are over! Having been watching 2 solid weeks of this insanity on television, I am now ready and eager to turn away from politics for a time. But not for too long...only 61 days until the general....

Thursday, September 04, 2008

RNC Day 3: Palin rallies the culture warriors

She's got stones....ya gotta give her that.
Sarah Palin came through for Mad Johnny on Wednesday night. Her spot-on delivery of a comprehensive speech wrapped up the rabid right. Not only did she bring some life into the Xcel Center (which, to that point, had carried the pall of a crypt), but she delivered a speech that accomplished all the goals that had been set for her: she introduced herself to the country, roused the fake patriots, and seemed to show a better-than-expected grasp of policy.

Of course, the speech was largely "canned," in the sense that it was written by Republican speechwriters before McCain had selected a running mate. Nonetheless, her delivery was excellent and few can doubt that the speech was a success. Hats off to her.

Courageous protesters
(Hats off, as well, to the two Code Pink protesters who got tossed during Palin's speech. It takes courage to go into the belly of the beast and raise hell.)

It was a given that, at some point, Republican nastiness would rear its ugly head. And last night was the night.

It seems that the McCain campaign is now banking on evangelicals to carry the day for it in November. Spineless Mitt Romney and fanatic Christian warrior Mike Huckabee spit out some bile early causing a stir in the zombie-like crowd. Then, just prior to Palin's speech, vampiric Rudy Giuliani spewed out the time-tested appeals to fear with talk about "Islamic extremism" and "evil." He had them roaring and chanting.

Governor Palin herself showed that she has teeth, delivering some biting lines about Obama and likening herself to a pit bull. By the time she finished delivering her low-brow cynicism and sneering throw-away lines the crowd was ravenous.

It's the old Karl Rove methodology and it is designed to evoke hatred toward some vast horde of enemies. Enemies which include not only "terrorists," but "liberals," "elitists," and "the left-wing media."

That strategy, the strategy of dividing the voting public through fear and hatred and then relying on a narrow electoral victory, has definitely worked in the past. But its success this time around seems less likely. The Republican brand is badly damaged by the stink of the Bush administration. And although McCain, with his pick of this well-spoken former beauty queen, the epitome of so-called "conservative" values, has finally and completely won over the right-wing religious zealots of the nation, it seems a little late in the game to be nailing down the base.

"Don't smear the lipstick, John."
Mad Johnny came out on stage after Governor Palin had finished speaking, to stand with her and her family. As he stood there with that young, beautiful family, he looked like a confused old grandfather brought out of the nursing home for Thanksgiving dinner. He didn't say much.

Thursday night Mad Johnny delivers his pitch to the nation. One wonders if he can scale the peaks that Sarah Palin has set for him.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

RNC Day 2: Now that's a party!

Plenty of good seats are still available
There is only one thing more pathetic than a bunch of Republicans having a good time.....and that's a bunch of Republicans pretending to have a good time. Last night's event in St. Paul was like the parent-sponsored punch-and-cookies graduation party at one's high school. While the cool kids are whooping it up with a keg of beer at the local make-out spot, the nerds are back at the school gym eating brownies and polishing their spectacles.

Last night, as each speaker came forth to try and rally the dispirited Republicans, the camera shots would occasionally pan out, away from the rostrum to reveal a lot of empty seats and a general miasma of boredom. The cameras even caught one or two Republican delegates yawning.

Joe Lieberman: he's kinda icky.
Joe Lieberman came out and muddled through a whiny speech with his usual hangdog expression and defeated tone. Poor old Joe...forced by his utter lack of political instinct to debase himself in front of a crowd of people that despise him for his "liberal" views, but that will pretend to honor him so long as he is useful to them. The word running through the various news channels is that Lieberman was McCain's first choice as a running mate, but that Republican insiders forbade it, saying that it would be the coup de grace for any support Mad Johnny might get from the rabid Republican evangelical base. Well, Joe, you're used to being the loser, right?

Tonight, Sarah Palin will come out of her sequestration, where she has been avoiding prying reporters and awkward questions, to speak. From a Republican standpoint, Palin is probably the highlight of the convention. Her nomination is said to be a big hit with the nutty right-wing religious zealots that represent that 28% of the public that still supports Junior Bush. Well, that may be, but it does not bode well for Mad Johnny that it has taken him this long to nail down that base.

"I just wuvs my wittle Johnny..."
Anyway, this slow motion shipwreck just keeps plowing on through. Let's see what they come up with next.