Friday, April 30, 2010

More disasters for the Grand Ol' Party

Slow motion car crash.  That, my friends, is what we are seeing.  God!  Would it suck to be a Republican right now?

Disaster #1:  Gulf oil spill

The Obama administration had only just announced its plan to open portions of the US coastline for oil exploration and drilling when a British Petroleum oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank.  (On Earth Day, no less.)  Then, Thursday, we learned that rather than the mere 43,000 barrels of crude oil spilling into the ocean every day which were initially reported, the actual amount was more like 5 times that. News cameras are following the slick as it spreads toward the mouth of the Mississippi River like the Black Hand of Sauron.

All those Big Oil stooges chanting "Drill, baby, drill!" at the GOP national convention in 2008 look pretty damn foolish as we all await the coming ecological and economic disaster.  Newt Gingrich, Michael Steele, and dizzy Sarah have most blessedly shut their mouths, however briefly.  Clouds, silver lining, yadda, yadda, yadda...

As for President Obama, I resent that he was so ready and willing to open up our coastlines to rapacious resource-extraction conglomerates.  I hope this spill will convince him that he needs to rethink his position.

Disaster #2:  Charlie Crist goes rogue

 "I never liked those pr*cks anyway."
Faced with defeat in the Republican primary for the US Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez, Governor Charlie Crist opted to leave the GOP and run as an independent.  Crist, it seems, is not going to meekly accept that the GOP is being hijacked by right-wing extremists.

His Republican opponent is Marco Rubio, the Speaker of the House in the state legislature, and a fire-breathing tea-bagger.  Rubio was leading Crist by some 25 points in polls of registered Republicans.  But polls of the entire Florida electorate indicated that, with Governor Crist running as an independent, the race became nearly a three-way tie between Rubio, Crist, and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

This is a big disaster for Republicans.  By losing Crist, they perpetuate the perception that none but the most ideologically pure are welcome in the party.  That's not going to attract many converts.  (Don't forget good ol' Arlen Specter, eh?)

And, then, of course, a US Senate seat that Republicans regarded as secure is quite suddenly in jeopardy.  They have no one to blame but themselves.

 Disaster #3:  Immigration debate looms

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid displayed marvelous dexterity, delivering a shiv in the political chit'lin's of Republicans this week by announcing that the Senate will begin debate this summer on comprehensive immigration reform.  The Democrats presented a proposal on Thursday.

This is not a fight that the Republicans want to have right now.  They are only now in the process of surrendering on financial reform legislation which revealed cracks in their vaunted solidarity.  But, beyond just exposing fissures, the immigration debate promises to crack the GOP wide open.  The party is split between the xenophobic tea-baggers, and the labor-devouring corporate robber barons.

But now, thanks to the Arizona state legislature, Republicans dare not try to defer or stall the debate.

Only one day before Senator Reid made his announcement, President Obama had been downplaying the likelihood that there would be significant immigration legislation this year.  But that was before Harry Reid made his pitch.  The immigration debate is political gold for Democrats.  They win the loyalty of the fastest-growing demographic in the country (Latinos) and they drag all the ugly skeletons in the GOP ideological closet right out into the open.

Ragnarok, baby

The GOP is heading into a period of intra-party warfare.   I do so very much hope it will be long and ugly with lots of casualties.

Time to kick back in the recliner with some microwave popcorn and a nice glass of lemonade.  This is going to be fun.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rainin' on the parade

Rain strobe goin' in springtime Portland;
Drenching downpours 'tween bright, short sun breaks;
Life in Willamette Valley;

Got caught under an old redbud
Fall rain fall, like no man's bizness
Broad green heart-shaped umbrellas;

Foliage:  gentle cacophony;
Insistent hiss on black pavement:
Each splash its splosh evoking;

Reminded me of walking that day
Rose City streets with March Forth band
Plus peaceniks more in thousands;

March seventeen, two-thousand eight;
It was rainin' that day, for sure;
A hoot and cheer, we put up;

Do tell: did you notice my despair
When joyous voices rose above the din
As wartime thunder cracked above us?

My fault, brothers; all my fault;
Can you believe I almost forgot-- ?
But never mind; the rain's stopped;

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No enemies on the Right

Tea-bagger's America
The Republican party is in a world of hurt.  The "base" of the party, which includes the tea-baggers, is flexing its muscles in ways that some of the brighter bulbs in the GOP know to be politically toxic to the larger voting public.

Specifically, there is the new Arizona state legislation just signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer.  The law allows for law enforcement officers in that state to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they "reasonably suspect" (whatever that means) of being an "illegal alien."  Or, stated more plainly, the new law gives police the authority to stop and question anyone, at anytime, for any reason whatsoever.  The constitutionality of the law is in doubt.  Many believe that it will not survive legal challenges that are already being mounted.  The White House is said to be considering its own challenge.

Let's be clear.  The reason this law is vile and reprehensible is not because it attempts to address the immigration problem, but because it is an assault on the rights of American citizens.  Are there any tea-baggers out there who would care to explain to me how this law, which allows the police to stop American citizens and demand they show proof of citizenship, is virtuous and necessary while the recently-passed health care legislation is somehow a threat to their freedom? 

But the law is symptomatic of the Republican party's Big ProblemTM. You see, in the bitterly-contested travesty that was the 2004 presidential election, Junior Bush and the Republican party was able to squeak out a victory by riling up the most ignorant and obnoxious of their supporters, today's tea-baggers, by using that oh-so-juicy political motivator, fear.  (It still works, in red states, apparently.  Already Texas and Georgia state legislatures are showing signs of following in the footsteps of Arizona.)

Well, this noxious legislation is serving several useful purposes, from a progressive perspective.
  1. It is consolidating Latino support for the Democrats and destroying those feeble inroads that Junior and Karl Rove made during their hateful tenure.

  2. It is galvanizing the political left and center of the electorate against Republicans.  Already, boycotts are being organized against the state of Arizona. The prospects for a robust mid-term turnout this November were dim enough for Democrats, but this legislation could well be political Red Bull.

  3. It is agitating the fissure within the Republican party between "responsible" party leaders and the racist hoi polloi.  The Arizona law has evoked meek, half-hearted condemnations from such Republican leaders as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Alas, Republican leaders dare not be too vocal in their protestations.  Here's why:  already there are problems with their base.  If they make too big a stink, they risk dampening the enthusiasm of the fired-up rednecks who are their only reliable base of support.  So here they are, trying to cool but not quell the passions they stoked, trying to find the point of equilibrium where their base is still apoplectic, but the political middle is not repulsed.

Tough job.  Republicans are trapped in a snare of their own making.  For too long they coddled and humored the most ignorant of the American electorate.  For too long, they espoused the lethal doctrine:  No enemies on the Right.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Questions for Catholics

St. Stephens Catholic Church
Yesterday, I attended Mass at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, up on SE 41st and Taylor, with my sister, Chae.  (This is a year of great faith for me, apparently, seeing as I have now attended Mass twice in one year!)  The priest is a man of Asian descent, Father Petrus.  His sermon included two anecdotes, one humorous and one exemplary, both of which I enjoyed.  He and the deacon were friendly and welcoming.

This was the first Mass I have attended at St. Stephen's church.  Mostly, I attend the St. Philip-Neri Catholic Church down on Division Street (when I attend at all).  The congregation at St. Stephen was older and not nearly as numerous as that of St. Philip-Neri.  The church itself was spectacular, with its stained glass windows depicting various biblical scenes, and its vividly-sculpted (but not overly gruesome) Stations of the Cross.

In truth, although I am not a member of the Church, never having been baptized, I long to be a part of it.  I find the ritual and tradition associated with the Church to be beautiful.  I believe the Church can serve (has, in fact, served) as a vehicle to improve the lot of humanity.  I yearn for a way to express the brotherhood I feel and the love I have (or wish to have, anyway) toward mankind.  And, then, there is that my father, on his death bed, expressed his wish that I be baptized.  

During the Mass, one of the congregation, a tiny, prim, elderly woman with her head bent down between her shoulders, and her chin only just reaching the top of the lectern, led us in a prayer for the priests of the Church.  Of course, that got me to thinking...

The Catholic Church is currently enduring some (much-deserved) criticism.  Over the years, for the last several decades, pedophiles have penetrated the priesthood and have sexually abused children within the Catholic flock.  But, of course, pedophiles are everywhere in our society and there is no reason to expect that they would not be in the Catholic clergy any less than anywhere else.  The issue that Catholics and others find most egregious is that there seems to have been a cover-up of this activity by the Church hierarchy, extending all the way up to the Vatican.  Indeed, even the Holy Father is implicated in the cover-up.

The scandal is grievous.  But there is no question that the Church will survive it.  After all, the Catholic Church is the largest single institution in all of humanity, as measured by the number of people that claim membership. The Church has been shaped by some of the greatest minds that mankind has produced:  Thomas Aquinas, Michelangelo, Pope John Paul II, and many others.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church is guilty of egregious sins.  The pedophilia cover-up is not even the worst.  How about the Inquisition?  How about the slaughter and enslavement of indigenous Americans?  Or how about the systematic murder of pagans in the early days? 

Further, I am uncomfortable with many aspects of the Catholic creed.

I am uneasy with the concept of so much power resting in the hands of a single man (the Pope).  As today's headlines so often remind us, any man can fall.  Check that --rather, every man will fall.  And the process by which a pope is selected is highly-political, which will make wary any but the most blind of zealots.  So, why should so many people ever accept as "infallible" the words of a man, any man, who is capable of sin and who has attained his position as leader of the Church through political maneuvering? 

Then also, I have doubts about my own motives.  I can't say that I believe in the Virgin Birth, nor that Christ died for my sins, nor that He was anymore the Son of God than anyone else.  Can I truly be a Catholic without believing these things?  Must I will myself to believe them before I become baptized?  And, if so, how do I do that?  Do I simply accept them as true?  I'm not sure that is within my ability.
I've appealed to the clergy for help with these questions, but the priest seemed impatient with my queries.  (I don't blame him.  Priests have a lot of demands on their time.)  So, this time, I thought I'd appeal to the laity.  Are there any Catholics out there who have wrestled with similar questions?  How did you deal with them?  How do you reconcile your misgivings and your doubts?

In all sincerity, I'm asking.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Red states vie for title of "Most Ignorant"

Man, oh, man!

It seems that the red states (those states that went for Mad Johnny McCain in the last presidential election) are each trying to outdo the others to attain that coveted redneck title, "Most Ignorant."  Consider:
  • Oklahoma, already a serious contender by virtue of its troglodyte US Senator James Inhofe (who calls global-warming a "hoax") strengthened its bid when tea-baggers and Republicans in the state legislature advocated the formation of a state militia to defend against "improper federal infringements on state sovereignty."  Tea-baggers in the Sooner state are ready and willing to play army in the woods, just like the Hutaree, if it means they don't have to have health care.

  • Texas, a perennial favorite by virtue of having launched the political career of no less ignorant a figure than Junior Bush, continued to display considerable strength by handing a Republican party primary victory to neo-confederate Governor Rick Perry for this year's gubernatorial election.  And the Texas State Board of Education has contributed mightily to the effort with its crayola-crayon revisions of history.

  • Alaska, after showing promise early, fell out of the running when the Queen of Tea-bagging, Sweet Sister Sarah, resigned the governorship mid-term, amid sagging approval ratings.  Apparently, Alaskans just aren't ignorant enough for Alaska to be a real Red state.

  • But my pick for the most ignorant of tea-bagging red states goes to Arizona.  I mean, guys like US Senator Jon Kyl and Mad Johnny don't come along every day.  (And let's not even mention that beacon of enlightenment, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)  But Arizona has pulled out all the stops to win the title of America's "Most Ignorant" with two recent actions by its state legislature:
    1. The state house passed a resolution requiring presidential candidates to show a valid birth certificate in order to be listed on the state ballot for elections.  This is a direct pander to those tea-baggers that cling to the idea that President Obama was not born in the United States and, therefore, is not legitimately the president.  Further, it is an insult, intended in the most personal of terms, to the President himself. 

    2. Both houses of the legislature passed a bill, now awaiting signature by the state's Republican governor, aimed directly at Latinos.  The new bill would give law enforcement officers in that state the authority (indeed, the obligation!) to demand proof of citizenship from anyone for whom those officers have "reasonable suspicion" of being in violation of US Immigration law. 
Does anyone imagine that the Arizona state legislature was motivated in either of these actions by anything other than racism?  Already, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva is calling for an economic boycott of his own state if (Republican) Governor Jan Brewer signs the anti-Latino legislation into law.

But redneck ignorance in Arizona is potent stuff.  Recall that Arizona was a long holdout against recognizing Martin Luther King's birthday as a holiday, even when it cost the state millions in lost income due to the relocation of 166 conventions and Superbowl XXVII as a result.

There are millions of good, decent people that live in red states, of course.  But, unfortunately, they don't hold sway.  Instead, the face that red states present to the world, is the face of ignorance, bigotry, and prideful stupidity.  Half-assed Klansmen.  The kind of people that mutter insults at you under their breath, then deny it when confronted.  Vile, cowardly people.

Rock on, you Red State numb-skulls!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day, 2010

Earth Day, today.  Forty years ago, on April 22nd, 1970, twenty million Americans demonstrated to express concern about the despoiling of our air and water.  Conditions were so bad at that time, that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire in 1969.  Smog produced by millions of cars burning leaded gasoline hung like gray death over American cities.

I remember passing through Riverside, California, with my family sometime in the late 60s. Riverside is located west of Los Angeles, surrounded by mountains and hills. A dense, choking gray presence hung in the lifeless air.  It was as if the city were enshrouded in a thick fog, obscuring vision beyond a certain distance.  But the thickness of the air was not due to vaporous water that would burn away with the sun.  It was smog. The breeze from the Pacific was strong that day and all the smog produced by drivers in Los Angeles, had blown inland, to Riverside, where it was trapped by the surrounding highland.  I had never seen anything like it before (nor since) and it had a profound effect on me.

The first Earth Day started something, though.  No one can deny that environmental regulations and public awareness have resulted in vast improvements to water and air quality here in the United States.

But, although I don't want to rain on the parade, I'm at least half-convinced that all our efforts are in vain, that humanity may have already passed the point of no return, environmentally.  The huge environmental crises that are looming before humanity are so vast and perplexing, and are further complicated by the willful ignorance of people who would rather not be bothered, that I have trouble believing humanity can take the steps necessary to reverse the tide.

Global warming, depletion of water resources, deforestation, and the unprecedented rate of extinction of non-human species seem to indicate that Earth is getting ready for another Big TransitionTM.  Even to slow the progress of these destructive trends would take an unprecedented level of cooperation on a global scale.  I'm not sure human beings are capable of it.

One would think that preserving the Earth, the one shared endowment of every single human being, would be of utmost importance to everyone.  And I think every human being probably does know that, at least at some level.  The problem is that human institutions, which often have interests that are in opposition to the interests of human individuals, wield inordinate power.  What is good for a corporation is not necessarily good for a human being.  (And I don't care what the Supreme Court has to say about it.)

Nonetheless, it is my duty to keep trying and to keep hoping.  So, I do my best to curtail my driving.  I have a relatively efficient car (~35 miles per gallon).  I keep the thermostat in my home at 62 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.  I recycle; I try to buy locally-produced food.  I vote green.

In the end, it may not be enough.  But, like I said, it's my duty.

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

La batalla de inmigración empieza en Arizona

A pesar de las advertencias de republicanos de los peligros del gobierno intruso, la nueva ley pasada por el poder legislativo del estado de Arizona revela sus intenciones verdaderas: suprimir latinos.  La ley, que aguarda la firma de Gobernadora Jan Brewer (R), dice que la policía pueden demandar prueba de ciudadanía de cualquiera ellos escogen.

¡Ahora vemos conservadores cómo valorar los derechos de individuos!

Pero, de veras,  no es una revelación que los Republicanos, especialmente esos que creen que el Senador John McCain es un liberal, son racistas.  La pregunta más importante es esta: ¿cómo afectará esto el debate sobre la política nacional de inmigración?

Los representantes de Arizona en EEUU Congreso, incluyendo Luis Gutierrez y Raul Grijalva, han llamada en el Presidente Obama para intervenir. Pero, no es claro qué él puede hacer. De veras, ellos  llaman para un boicot económico de su propio estado si la Gobernadora firma la ley.

¡Qué lástima que mi mamá y su esposo han comprado un hogar para el invierno en Arizona recientemente! Pero yo no los culpo. Ellos quieren disfrutar de su jubilación (la cuál que ellos han ganado). Sin embargo, yo evitaré el gasto cualquier dinero en Arizona hasta el gobierno del estado cambia la política.

Presidente Obama ha dicho que proponerá una nueva política nacional para la inmigración. Bien, las racistas indican que la batalla ha empezada.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pullin' chain at DG Shelter

In the spring of 1983, I left off school and went to work at the little lumber mill outside Klamath Falls, Oregon run by DG Shelter Corporation.  The timber industry was well-respected in Klamath Falls in those days.  The town owed a lot to the saw mills. If it weren't for Weyerhaeuser and Modoc Lumber Company and all the rest, it is hard to imagine that Klamath Falls would ever have been more than a farmer's hamlet.

I got a job there because the foreman of the planer mill on day shift was Joe Tacchini, an old family friend.  DG Shelter paid me 7 dollars and 20 cents an hour, and that was respectable money.  Not as much as the union workers at Weyerhaeuser were getting, but plenty for a college drop-out just looking to have a little fun while he figured out what to do with his life.

Mill work was tough.  I worked on the planer chain.

The way it worked was this: 

Smeltzer, standing over at the planer feeder, would let in the rough-hewn planks, just out from the kiln, one after the other, making sure they didn't jam.  The planar would hum and the planed lumber would shoot out the other side and onto the belt table which carried them past the graders, Les and Philo, who would look them over and scrawl a grade on them with colored chalk, according to their warp and the size and number of knots.  They had a way of marking instructions for the trimmer that told him how much to trim off each end.

Ted ran the trim saws.  He'd set the lumber just so on the chain feeder and hold it with his right hand until the cleats caught it and carried it up under the hood to the line of trim saws.  Then, with his left hand, he'd push the keys on the control box, dropping the trim saws and making the cut according to the grade.  Sometimes, especially when he was just starting the job, he'd miss a grade and just drop the whole line of saws down, cutting the lumber into useless 2 foot segments that fell down onto the hog feeder belt, and were carried up and into the hog to be chipped.  But Ted got to be pretty good at it, and those instances were rare.  Mostly he got it right.

The trimmed and finished product would come out the other side at a length of between 4 and 20 feet.  The sorting belt caught it from there and brought it out to us where we read the grade and pulled it off the belt and onto the appropriate stack.  When you finished a unit, you'd signal the carrier driver by patting the top of your hardhat to indicate that you had a full load.  The straddle carrier would drive over the top of the load, pick it up with the lifting shoes, and carry it off to the yard where it got loaded for shipment.  As the carrier pulled out, we'd jump down and set the bolsters for the next load, then jump back up and start again.

They called it "pulling chain."  The lumber would get to coming out of there fast at times and we'd have to move quickly. But, toward the end, our team of pullers was pretty good.  There were Dave Azevedo and Doug Brown and Jeff Anderson and I.  And some other guys, too.  The line-up changed from time to time.

The mill was located on the shores of Lake Ewana, south of town.  In the winter, the lake froze over and the wind would come up off the ice and whip through the mill.  That was the one time when we liked being in the "hot spot" up on the sorter line:  the first position past the trim saws where the lumber came out fastest and you had to move the most.

Dave Azevedo was my best friend of the bunch.  We had been teammates on the Klamath Union football team.  (Go Pels!)  In the warm weather, he'd ride me to work and home on his motorcycle.  Dave was killed in a car wreck a few years after the shut-down. It's a shame.  He was a good guy.

I liked the old-timers, too, like Les and Philo.  They'd been working in lumber since the heydays of the late 60s and early 70s.  Most of them were pretty broken-down.  A lot of them were missing fingers or pieces of their hands.  Working around heavy equipment, year in and year out, things like that did happen.  Once you got to know them, if they liked you, the old-timers would always say, "Son, get an education.  This life is not the way to go."  I had many of them tell me that.

It wasn't a bad life for me.  I came to appreciate the  homespun wisdom and the funny, rustic dialect.  But, then again, I knew that it was just for a short while.  I planned to go back to school. For the old guys, though, who had been supporting families and paying mortgages all their adult lives, it wasn't an easy existence, nor did the future hold much promise.

When DG Shelter closed down, in the spring of 1984, I was there.  Tom Monterossi, the plant manager gave us the news in a big meeting in the main break room. 

There was some carping and some griping but most of the guys seemed resigned to it.  They took it with a sense of humor.  After all the writing had been on the wall for quite a while.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Kitchen spill

False cheer melody
Announces Monday morning,
From soulless cell phone;

Sour, obscene, it seems,
Now our battle lines are drawn
On silly small beer;

Juice-stained kitchen floor,
Pretext of our division:
Wee causus belli;

I will acknowledge
Peace must break, at intervals;
This happens sometimes;

But Monday morning,
Crouching in stupid foxholes
Is dreary and gray;

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A glance at the Oregon governor's race

This year, Oregonians must elect a new governor to replace term-limited Governor Ted Kulongoski when he leaves office in January of 2011.  A full slate of candidates from both major political parties are lined up for the job and have begun the task of selling themselves to Oregon voters.

The three names that garner the most attention in the media (and that must, therefore, be regarded as the "front-runners") are former Governor John Kitzhaber, former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, and retired Portland Trailblazer Chris Dudley.

I like all three of these men for various reasons.

Chris Dudley

Chris Dudley is a great guy with a great work ethic, as evidenced by his career on the NBA basketball court as a Portland Trailblazer.  Dudley was a workhorse and a team player.  You didn't look for him to score points, but you always knew that he would be down in the paint scrapping for those loose balls and blocking shots.  His work in the community speaks highly of him, as well.  Dudley founded the Chris Dudley Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting kids with Type I diabetes (an affliction from which Dudley himself suffers).

But... I am concerned about Dudley's lack of experience.  Oregon is facing some real challenges and I think we need a strong, experienced governor that knows how to work the state legislature to get things done.

Then, there is the unfortunate fact that Chris Dudley is a Republican.  Although I like and admire Dudley, my disgust for the Republican party, for what it has become, is such that I cannot vote for anyone associated with it.

(Please note that I have not always felt this way.  In the past, I have voted for Republicans.  I voted for Governor Vic Atiyeh in his reelection bid in 1982, and I voted for Norma Paulus in her unsuccessful bid to succeed Governor Atiyeh in 1986.  But the Republican party has changed since then.) 

Bill Bradbury

I have met Secretary Bradbury and he is a genuinely nice guy.  I like his positions on gay rights and green energy and I find his idea for a "Bank of Oregon" intriguing.  I like the idea of using state revenues to support local banks which will, in turn, use money to support local businesses.  In short, Secretary Bradbury's positions and philosophy jibe with my own views very nicely.

However, I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about Secretary Bradbury's ability to put up his dukes and fight, when warranted.  I was deeply disappointed with his performance in his 2002 race to unseat Senator Gordon Smith.  I volunteered for the Bradbury campaign back then and I really felt that Senator Smith was vulnerable.  I still believe a stronger performance by the Bradbury campaign could have succeeded.  The stakes in that election were very high, and it was offensive to me that one of the senators that represented my state supported Bush administration abuses.  Without Gordon Smith's mewling "aye" to add to the bleating Republican chorus, this nation might not be in such a terrible state today.

When things got tough with the state legislature, would a Governor Bradbury put up enough of a fight to get a progressive, pro-Oregon agenda passed?

John Kitzhaber

Governor Kitzhaber is a fighter.  That much is assured.  As governor, he implemented the Oregon Health Plan and held in check a Republican-controlled state legislature back when the state was in the grip of anti-tax demagogues represented by loathsome Bill Sizemore.

In the controversy over where to site a new state prison, Kitzhaber showed political courage by opposing a proposal to build the prison in rural eastern Oregon, instead choosing Wilsonville, just south of Portland.  Kitzhaber is a proponent of land-use planning, which does anything but endear him to developers:  another mark in his favor, as far as I'm concerned.  Kitzhaber is a medical doctor (a surgeon, in fact) and an avid outdoorsman. 

Which, then?

At this point in the race, I'm leaning toward Governor Kitzhaber, but I haven't written off Secretary Bradbury.  I have nothing against Chris Dudley other than the "R" behind his name.  Put it down to "blowback" from the Junior Bush administration.

The Oregon primary is only a few weeks away, so I'll have to make my decision soon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tea-baggers flirt with armed rebellion

Racist losers looking snappy in uniform

It was inevitable, of course, that all that spew that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sister Sarah vomit out onto the airwaves would lead to something like this:

One of the leaders of the Oklahoma tea-bag movement, Al Gerhart has proposed creating a state militia to "defend against what [he] believe[s] are improper federal infringements on state sovereignity." Catch that? He's advocating creating an armed force as a counter to the federal government!

Tea-bagger Al Gerhart:  Just like Jeff Davis, only dumber and less hairy
The purported "final straw" that caused Mr. Gerhart to propose this drastic step?  The passage of health care reform legislation by Congress last month.  You see, if health insurance companies are required to extend coverage to more Americans, if they are not free to renege on their commitments to those who pay premiums, if they are held to account for how they use the money that they extort from the American populace --well, then we are no longer "free."

Of course, one dim-witted tea-bagger justifying his fever-brained paranoid fantasies by reciting Fox News talking points is nothing new.  But here's the kicker:  Mr. Gerhart has apparently found a sympathetic ear or two in the Oklahoma State Legislature!

Said Oklahoma State Senator Randy Brogdon (a Republican), "[The founding fathers] were not referring to a turkey shoot or a quail hunt. They really weren't even talking about us having the ability to protect ourselves against each other.  The Second Amendment deals directly with the right of an individual to keep and bear arms to protect themselves from an overreaching federal government."

Oklahoma State Senator Randy Brogdon:  traitor?
Er... not exactly, Randy.  Here's what the Second Amendment of the Constitution actually says:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
See?  Nothing in there about an overreaching federal government.

I suppose it is possible that Senator Brogdon communicated directly with the Founding Fathers in some right-wing orgiastic seance.  Can't you just see it?  Senator Brogdon, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Glenn Beck holding hands around a table, in a candle-lit room, chanting, weeping, beseeching their gods, when the spirit of Thomas Jefferson appears and exhorts them to raise an army to fight off the tyranny of people getting health care insurance?

Tea-baggers can dress it up any way they like:  Second Amendment Rights, defense of the Constitution, whatever. Let's refer once again to the Constitution of the United States to see what the "revered" Founding Fathers had to say about it.  Article III, Section 3, Clause 1 of that document states:  "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them..."

Isn't it ironic that the Republican party, birthed on a platform of abolition and the indivisibility of the United States, should today be co-opted by the descendants of the very people who chose to secede from the Union rather than accept its first Republican president?  Isn't it ironic that the Republican party is now the party of treason and sedition?

It will be interesting to see how high-profile Republicans react to this new development.  Will they denounce the rhetoric coming out of Oklahoma?

Well, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Tom Coburn, Eric Cantor?  How are you going to deal with this?

I have my own personal message for rascally tea-baggers.  Quoting the character Duncan Idaho from Frank Herbert's novel God Emperor of Dune:  "Draw that knife or take your hand off it!"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book review: A thousand moons on a thousand rivers

This month, my book discussion group selected the novel A thousand moons on a thousand rivers, by Taiwanese author Hsiao Li-Hung (translated to the English by Michelle M. Wu).  I just finished reading it last weekend.

My friend, Jim Kidwell, described the novel as "Chinese Norman Rockwell."  And, indeed, much as Rockwell sought to portray an idyllic, innocent America, so Hsaio depicts an edenic and disappearing Taiwan from the vantage of a small fishing village in the south of that land.

Although the novel is set in the 70s, as Will Johnson pointed out, there is a certain timeless quality to Hsaio's descriptions of village life. It is a glimpse into Taiwan as it must have existed for centuries:  agrarian, sedate, governed by a calm, ancient wisdom.  As industrialization and modernity encroach on long-settled traditions, people find themselves in conflict with their own beliefs and mores.  They are forced to evaluate age-old truths in the light of humanity's forward march.  They must attain a balance between the desire to preserve and the need to adapt.

Hsaio relates these complex growing pains through the eyes of Zhenguan, a spirited and honorable young woman.  Zhenguan emerges from the world she has known, the little village where her family has harvested fish for generations, to the fast-paced and alien world she finds when she leaves to take work in Taipei.  Zhenguan's journey is not only physical, but spiritual, as she attempts to take with her the wisdom and values instilled in her by her traditional upbringing.

Zhenguan is not alone in her journey to the modern world.  Other young people from her village are also confronted with the same challenges, including her dashing childhood friend, Daxin, to whom Zhenguan gives her heart.  The two of them perform a careful and respectful courtship that mirrors the relationship between Taiwan's past and its future.

What I enjoyed most about the novel was that it afforded a view of a culture that I rarely encounter.  Hsaio conveys much about Chinese reverence for family, for filial duty, for modesty and propriety.  I gained a better understanding of Chinese culture, generally, and found myself applying that understanding (however dim) to those few glimpses of Chinese culture in my own experience.  (For some reason, memories of my time as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant in Klamath Falls sprang to mind.)

My one complaint about the novel was that the prose was sometimes rather wooden.  I attribute this mostly to the difficulty of translating Mandarin to English.  I'm sure it is no easy task.  And, in spite of the difficulties, translator Wu still manages to capture some lyrical, poetic descriptions which echo what must surely be Hsaio's eloquence.

The four of us agreed that this is not a novel any of us might have picked up off the shelf.  Nonetheless, I'm glad I read it.  I learned from it.  That is reward enough.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Four decades of Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull circa 1974 
Front row:  John Evan, Ian Anderson, Martin Barre
Back row:  Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, unknown child, Barriemore Barlow
In one of those rare and magical instances of synchronicity, as I was walking home from Pho Van yesterday evening, my ambulatory ruminations turned to one of my very favorite pop/rock music bands:  Jethro Tull.  I was thinking, specifically, about my collection of Jethro Tull albums, which includes every album they released in the United States from 1969 (Stand Up) through 1987 (Crest of a Knave).  I was deep in my reverie, thinking about that ripping instrumental jam in the middle of "Backdoor Angels" (War Child) when I got a call from Dave Hauth informing me that, at that very moment, local classic rock station KGON was running an interview and retrospective of Jethro Tull's career as part of the "Off the Record" series.  I hurried home to listen.

I've been a Jethro Tull fan since I discovered them during my junior year of high school in 1977.  By that time, Jethro Tull had been making albums for a full decade and so I had an entire catalog of music to investigate.  I quickly discovered that Jethro Tull was (and is) a band that is constantly evolving.  In the late 60s, Jethro Tull was mostly a standard rhythm-and-blues band.  But then, in the early 70s they transitioned to progressive rock.  In the late 70s they began incorporating traditional Celtic music themes into their work.  Then, sometime in the 80s they attempted to transition to a heavy-metalish band, although not particularly successfully.  I enjoy everything the band created up to the mid-80s, but I am particularly fond of their "progressive rock" period, with bookend albums Aqualung (1971) and Minstrel in the Gallery (1975).

The band's lineup has changed radically over the years as well.  In fact, Ian Anderson, the band's songwriter and front man, is the only artist who appears on every Tull album.  Even guitarist Martin Barre, who has been with the band since 1968 was not in the original lineup, replacing Mick Abrams on the band's second album, Stand Up. 

The first time I saw a live Jethro Tull performance was in Seattle in 1985 as part of their Under Wraps tour.  Since that time, I've seen them perform on some half-dozen occasions at various venues in the Pacific Northwest including one of the best live performances I've experienced when they played at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, here in Portland in 1987 as part of the Crest of a Knave tour.  (Fairport Convention opened for them.)

I actually had the opportunity to meet Ian Anderson when Tull passed through Portland in the early 90s.  My (ex-)brother-in-law is an avid autograph hound and he knew that Ian routinely greeted fans at the stage door after the show to sign paraphernalia and shake hands.

And so, my brother-in-law, myself, and my brother Eric (also a die-hard Tull fan) waited in the rain for some 45 minutes after the show.  We stood at the front of a line of about 50 people, just outside the stage entrance to Portland's Civic Auditorium.  We hoped to get Ian's autograph.  We were not disappointed.  Eventually, someone associated with the band opened the door and let us in where I came face to face with my hero.

He looked a little wary as I approached him.  I don't blame him.  I was dressed like a vagabond (my own version of the down-and-out Aqualung) and I was thoroughly soaked by Portland rain.  I stammered, "Mr. Anderson, I'm a huge fan.  Will you sign this?"  I had been carrying the album cover of Minstrel in the Gallery under my jacket in anticipation.  I pulled it out and thrust it at him.

"Sure," said he.

"I've gotta tell you," I went on, "Baker Street Muse is an awesome tune."

"Oh yes, that one," said he.  He put his hand to his chin, remembering.

Eric was right behind me, and he got Ian to sign Eric's copy of Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll:  Too Young to Die! which Eric still proudly displays in his living room hutch.

In all honesty, I have to say that I haven't much cared for anything that Jethro Tull has produced for the last 20 years.  But, I'm still a huge fan.  If they pass by on their next tour, you can be sure I'll be at the show.  Just another one of the hundreds of thousands of Jethro Tull fans.
They grow all their roses red and paint our skies blue
Drop one penny in every second bowl, make half the beggars lose;
Why do the faithful have such a will to believe in something
And call it the name they choose having chosen nothing?
--Backdoor Angels, Jethro Tull

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is a tea-bagger? (Plus a couple springtime pics)

I've spoken with a couple friends about it, and we are pretty much agreed that the tea-baggers --excuse me -- the Tea Party Movement is motivated, whether the tea-baggers know it or not, by a deep-seated fear of "the Other."  (I call them tea-baggers because that was the name they gave themselves when they first started their histrionics.  Boy, was I laughing up my sleeve at that!  It's a pity that they finally caught on.)

It makes them anxious, for example, when they find themselves at the Shell Station on Highway 97 and everyone there --the guy filling the tank, the woman behind the counter, the local clientele --speaks Spanish.  That's why we see bumper stickers on tea-bagger pickup trucks that say:  "This is America.  Speak English only." 

Likewise, homosexuals make tea-baggers nervous and uncomfortable because they dislike being confronted by their own sexual repression.  A gay person who seems comfortable with himself or herself is obviously someone who has faced questions that the tea-bagger cannot. Which is not to say that all tea-baggers are repressed homosexuals, but that for an indoctrinated tea-bagger, his or her sexuality --gay, straight, or otherwise --is irrelevant.  The tea-bagger must maintain the appearance of a heterosexual if he or she wants to be accepted into tea-bagger society.  (As we all know, however, the reality is often quite different).  That's why tea-baggers feel so strongly that "marriage" is between a man and a woman.

Tea-baggers vehemently deny that they are racist.  And despite the reports in the news about racial slurs directed at Congresspersons, I think tea-baggers are sincere in their protestations.  As the old saying goes, "Some of my best friends are [insert your racial/religious/ethnic slur here]."  I don't believe the majority of tea-baggers actively hate black people or Mexicans or Muslims.  I do believe, however, that tea-baggers are uncomfortable with the idea of black people or Mexicans or Muslims having any authority.  That's why they have such antipathy toward President Obama.  That's why black people, Mexicans, and Muslims steer clear of tea-bagger rallies.  And, I suppose, being the spouse of a black person and a Muslim, and myself being (partly, at least) Mexican, that's why I despise tea-baggers.

Well, none of this is anything new.  Although today's tea-baggers see themselves as part of an unprecedented, grass-roots movement, these United States have a long history with this nativist, latently racist demographic of the population.  Back in the 1840s and 1850s, they were called "Know Nothings."  But, back then, "the Other," were German and Irish immigrants. In fact, so familiar are we with this political demographic that many have risen to prominence and made tons of money by catering to its fears and prejudices. 

Anyway, that's how I see it.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

There's something about

I was thinking today about my life: taking tally of those humble achievements, goals attained, and rites dutifully completed that together comprise the curriculum vitae I might present to the Universe.  You know?  When the End comes.  Or, rather, the Great Transition.  As Dr. Manhattan said, "Nothing ever ends, Adrian."

There's something about stepping off a train to a gray, rainy morning in a little town in western France, not knowing a soul, with no more than a dozen French words in one's vocabulary and, nonetheless, feeling completely at ease and assured.  Confident in one's self and in humanity --crazy, bewildered humanity.  I don't believe I have experienced anything like it.

Unless it was sitting on the pier in Stockholm harbor, with the warm wind drying my hair and the yellow diamonds blinking on the choppy surface of the gray-blue Baltic water.  I remember being proud that day, and being embarrassed at my pride.  And I remember I had a deep sense of solace.

Or strumming my guitar on a bench at a sleepy bus station in Pucón, being fascinated by the vaporous white ejaculate emitted by that macho old Chileno:  volcán Villarrica.  The sky was clear and blue and forlorn and that day haunts my memory like a grief-wizened, young widow, with sad, hollow eyes.  I don't know why. 

Or standing on the deck in back of my house, face turned toward the stars, dimmed and faded though they were by Portland's electric halo, imagining those impossible distances and the implications of scale.  But I knew then as I know now that every wave emitted must factor in to the equation.  And anything we might call God must certainly penetrate the infinitesimal.  And so I cast it out there:  "Lord, what have I done to deserve these blessings Thou hast bestowed upon me?"

Humbling, I tell you.  Humbling.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Dying elephants

Can you see it?  The GOP appears to be in its death throes. But unlike the elephant in Hemingway's Garden of Eden there is no majesty nor dignity in the demise of this pachyderm.  Only a withering, wasting rot, both ugly and debased.  The party is in the death grip of a crisis, incubated by political defeat and public rejection, amplified by hysterical, seditious rhetoric from the nutty redneck base, and prolonged by the Bush-era legacy of disregard for law and decency.

Senator Ensign continues his slow burn

According to the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada Senator John Ensign could very soon be on the receiving end of a Justice Department indictment for "structuring."  Structuring, as I understand it, is a form of money-laundering that attempts to conceal pay-offs and hush money.

The situation has its genesis in Senator Ensign's admission, in June of 2009, to having an extra-marital affair with the wife of his chief of staff and close friend.  (That's how Republicans do their friends.)  Ensign, of course, is a "family values" man.  So outraged was he, during the Lewinsky scandal that he called on President Clinton to resign.  But, hey, hypocrisy is no crime.  (If it were, the entirety of the GOP caucus would be behind bars!)

Ensign's legal problems stem from a series of actions he took to conceal his hypocrisy. 

Allegedly the Senator used his influence as a United States Senator to land a job with a Washington lobbying firm for his former friend, the cuckold.  Further, the Senator's in-laws, the parents of his aggrieved wife, made a payment of $96,000 in one lump sum to Mr. Hampton after discovery of the affair.  Both of these acts were in exchange for his silence, according to Mr. Hampton.  The Senator claims the money had nothing at all to do with keeping Mr. Hampton quiet, that it was merely a "gift."  (If that's the case, can someone please tell me how to get on the Senator's Christmas list?)

If this were an isolated incident, the GOP could write Ensign off as a bad apple.  But taken in conjunction with other scandals involving Senator David Vitter and all the other Republican hypocrites, the word "Republican" is becoming synonymous with "rot" or "corruption."

RNC Chairman Michael Steele points at the cliff and stomps on the gas pedal

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is dissolving before our very eyes.  The latest resignation is that of "unpaid advisor" Alex Castellanos, who appends himself to the growing list of Republicans who have lost faith in Chairman Michael Steele.  Castellanos' resignation comes on the heels of revelations about RNC expenditures (of donor money) at a fetish nightclub in Los Angeles, and the abandonment of the committee by top donors.

The RNC has done nothing but stumble since Steele took the helm in a hotly contested party election last year.  Since that time, the RNC has burned through its cash faster than it can sucker donations out of its misguided adherents.  According to The Hill, Steele's RNC spent $15 million more than it took in last year, including an $18,500 expenditure to redecorate Steele's personal office.  Further, Steele appears to be cashing in on his status as chairman.  He's been flying around the country giving speeches and charging fees. 

What I found to be particularly rich, however, was Steele's response to George Stephanopoulos when the latter asked if Steele's race (he is, after all, African-American) gave him a "slimmer margin of error."  Steele made the mistake of telling the truth:  "The honest answer is 'yes,'" said he.

Well, no sh*t, Mr. Chairman.  As the father of former African-American Congressman JC Watts (Republican) once said:  "A black man voting for the Republicans makes about as much sense as a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."

Senator Coburn makes his Moses bid

Just as darkness descends on the Grand Ol' Party, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn made what some might call a chivalrous and brave gesture at a recent town hall meeting.  Not only did the Senator criticize Fox News, but he defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and corrected right-wing distortions about the recently-enacted Health Care Reform bill!

Here's how the Portland Examiner reported it:
However last week at a town hall Senator Coburn warned his constituents about Fox News and urged them to consult other sources of information.  The incident occurred after one constituent asked if it was true that citizens could be put in jail for not complying with the new health care law.  This myth was spread in part by Fox News who warned of a mysterious provision in the health care bill in which people could be put in jail for not buying health insurance.  In fact no such provision exists.  The health care reform bill expressly prohibits the government from imposing prison time, or even liens in order to enforce the bill.  Senator Coburn stated as much when he told the constituent, "The intention is not to put anybody in jail.  That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that isn't the intention."

Later Senator Coburn returned to the subject of Fox News when the crowd booed a the mere mention of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Senator Coburn urged the crowd to be civil and stated, "Don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody's no good,"  Finally Coburn urged audience members to consult both sides of the issue.  In addition to watching Fox News he urged constituents to also watch CNN and read The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Startling! My take on it is that Senator Coburn recognizes the need for the Republican party to move back toward the middle of the American political spectrum and away from the hysteria and public histrionics of the tea-baggers.  With his impeccable conservative credentials, the Senator is in a position to actually do something to make it happen.  (Now if he can just avoid implication in the brewing "C Street" scandal.)

The Republicans are being exiled into the political wilderness.  Perhaps Senator Coburn hopes to be their "Moses," the figure who will lead them through their time of tribulation.  Well, Tom, get ya a pair of Birkenstocks, a loose-fitting robe, a shepherd's staff, let your hair grow out and go for it!

Will it really die?

The (Junior) Bush era marked the ascendancy of the Know-Nothing nativist faction within the Republican party.  Their xenophobic, paranoid and fanatical nature now threatens to kill off what was once a noble party.  Political parties in the United States have certainly died before.  But it is not clear that the GOP will actually expire, or if it will be reborn.  I'm hoping for the latter.  Really.

Our country needs a strong two-party system to keep both parties honest.  The GOP of my grandparents, the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ike and even Dick Nixon was a party of moderate conservatism.  Does such a party even exist anymore?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Day old Easter hyacinths

Ambling through Fred's, 'cause Maty's workin' tonight
And I miss her presence in the house;
Apple cinnamon low-fat granola,
And something for her, too, just 'cause I miss her;

We had walked up the street for pho the other day;
Tulips, cherry blossoms, and blueberry buds;
"What is that one?" cocoa-colored finger extended;
Hyacinths, pink and pale, though I could not remember;

Flowers at Fred's cost less 'cause Easter's over;
Day-olds, dry and neglected;
One pale pink hyacinth, drooping, unloved toward the inevitable,
Moves my heart to pity... to love and pity!

A swift walk home to the kitchen sink;
Tap water deluge of love:  Drink up!
Drink long, drink deep, for God's and my sake!
'Cause if you won't drink, then no one ever will;

I hope to imagine there's never anything ever,
Never, ever --anything at all
That might be wrong with day-old Easter hyacinths
That I could not bear to forsake;

Monday, April 05, 2010

Party talk

What a weekend!  Senegal's 50th Anniversary, Sunday Mass at Saint Philip Neri, and Easter dinner at brother Calee's home.  Random snippets of conversation heard at these events:

Maty and Nadiya, dressed to kill for the Senegal Independence Day party
"All I want from someone is honesty. I'm a straight-up person. Maybe that's too much to ask."

"All the way from Sacramento to Bakersfield.  The Central Valley.  What a hole!"

"Some people get scared when things seem to be going too well. They thrive on chaos. If chaos is lacking, they create it."

Maty dancing mbalax to Senegalese drums
"No matter how unfair the report, no matter how incendiary and hysterical the tone, we cannot vilify.  We cannot kill the messenger.  We've got work to do.  The Church, like all human institutions, is sinful and must atone."

"Is it not true that a thoughtful person, upon discovery of a betrayal, will first ask 'What have I done to provoke this?'"

"Would you take a vow of celibacy?"  "Well, considering the last year, that's not a lot to ask."

"Don't make fun of her.  She can't help it if she's a blind midget."

Chae, Kyle, Gino, Mia, Calee, Kris, Sarah, Erin, Maty
Said while hoisting nephew Gino into the air:  "He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!"  Sister Mia:  "Dade, knock it off!"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Happy 50th, Senegal

This weekend, I will be joining the local Senegalese community, here in Portland, to celebrate its 50 year anniversary as a republic.  As I have mentioned many times on this blog, my wife, Maty, is Senegalese (even though she was born in and lived most of her life in nearby Burkina Faso).  More specifically, Maty is Wolof, which is one of Senegal's many ethnicities. April 4 marks 50 years since the day on which France signed the independence and transfer of power agreement that brought today's republic into being.  So, Senegal and I are roughly the same age.

The land lies to the south of the Senegal River, which is one of the larger rivers of west Africa.  The country has a population of between 12 and 14 million people.  Islam is the dominant faith, having been introduced to the region in the 10th century.

Here in Portland, there will be a big party with lots of food, music, and dancing.  In preparation for the party the women of the local Senegalese community have divided the cooking between themselves and are even this very minute cooking a multitude of Senegalese dishes in their various kitchens.

Maty plays her kitchen like a finely-tuned piano
As I write this, Maty is downstairs dicing beef for the shish kebobs.  The smells are tantalizing, but I'm patient.  Tomorrow will be quite a feast.

In the time since Maty and I "tied the knot" I've come to learn a lot about Senegal and its people.  I know about their love for lively happy music, especially when performed by superstar musician Youssou N'Dour.  I know about their piety and the reverence they have for the institution of family.  I know about their deep sense of duty toward parents and elder relatives.  Senegalese children nearly without exception are well-behaved and very respectful toward their elders.

Kebobs ready for the grill
Senegalese people have a highly refined sense of hospitality.  In the Wolof language, there is a word "terranga" which expresses the responsibility Senegalese feel toward guests.  Senegalese culture, in keeping with Muslim tradition, dictates that Senegalese people strive to make guests feel comfortable and happy in their homes.  It is unheard of to imagine that a guest is not offered food and drink.

Senegalese people love to dance.  One of their many dances, the one that Maty knows, is called mbalax (mm-BALL-ah).  It's a highly energetic dance, with flailing arms and legs, lots of booty shaking, and big smiles.  It's a lot of fun to watch.  The music is very fast, very percussive.  Lots of drums.

One aspect of Senegalese parties that is vastly different from American parties is that there will be little if any alcohol.  Most Senegalese are Muslim, and Muslims are prohibited by their faith from drinking (although I know one or two Muslims that will occasionally drink wine). 

Tearin' up the dance floor at Maty's 30th birthday party
Anyway, that's how I'll be spending my Saturday evening, partying with the Senegalese. I sure am lucky to have come to know this culture and these great people.