Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grandfather Trilogy (Pt. I): William Robert Metzger

Bob Metzger circa 1966
William Robert Metzger was born May 22nd, 1916 in Gresham, Oregon.  He was a 2nd generation native of the state, the seventh of eleven children born to Frank and Josie Metzger.  He had a namesake uncle who had already laid claim to "Bill" so my grandfather was known throughout his life as "Bob."

He was born at the height of the War Over There.  Back then, ethnic and racial Germans were sometimes subjected to nativist animus, just as Muslims and Latinos are today.  Grandpa told me that, even in little Gresham, Oregon, which in those days numbered less than 2000 souls, the Metzger family endured the slur "Kraut."

Grandpa grew up a farm boy in the Willamette Valley.  Back then, Portland was half a day's journey from Gresham, and Salem was hell-and-gone.  Very different from today, where there is no clear delineation between Portland and Gresham, and Salem is but a 45 minute jaunt south on Interstate 5.

It was a different world, back then.  And, being a farm boy, Grandpa had an adventurous spirit.  More than once, he told me how, one day on the family farm, after he had graduated high school, some friends came by and told him they were on their way to Pasadena, California, to attend college.  On the spur of the moment, he ran inside the house, told his mother, Josie, that he was leaving, packed a bag, and set out with his friends.  Just like that. 

Bob was graduated from Oregon State College and newly-married to his sweetheart, Gertrude Baldwin-Metzger when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in December of 1941.  Bob and Gertrude had an infant daughter at the time, Roberta (or "Bobbie").

In the national effort to defeat fascism that followed, several of Bob's brothers (including Dick, Ed and Herb) served in the US Army, but although Bob tried to enlist, he was rejected because of scar tissue on his lungs from a childhood bout with tuberculosis.  The Great Depression was only just starting to ebb away, and there was a great sense of patriotism and civic duty, and years later, Grandpa expressed a sense of disappointment to me, that perhaps he had not done his part.

Bob spent much of his life teaching mathematics to high school students in Salem, Oregon.  He and Gertrude had two children besides Bobbie:  Jenifer, born in 1944, and Wayne, born in 1945.  Bob and Gertrude lived in Salem up until the year before Gertrude died in 1984. When Gertrude was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they moved to California, where Gertrude had lived as a child.  Gertrude's death was a terrible blow to Bob. Although he would live another fifteen years after Gertrude passed, he longed for her always.

Grandpa returned to Salem, after Grandma passed, to live in a house just a few blocks from South Salem High School, where he had taught for many years.

Grandpa and me, 1988
After I moved to Portland, in 1988, one Saturday per month I would drive to Salem to spend time with him.  Ostensibly, I was there to help him with his yard work and his endless projects (he had a good dose of that German ingenuity), but most often my visits consisted of just hanging out, cooking and eating, and watching political shows on television.  Grandpa and I loved to talk politics.

Grandpa always named FDR as his favorite president. Grandpa may have been a lifelong Republican, but he was an Oregon Republican. That was back in the days when being a Republican did not require falling into lockstep with the party line.  Grandpa was a Republican in the model of Oregon's late great, much-beloved Governor Tom McCall.  The last Republican presidential candidate that Grandpa ever in his life voted for was Gerald Ford in 1976.  He cared not at all for Ronald Reagan nor for any of those who came after.  I am thankful he did not live to see George W. Bush installed in the Oval Office.  (As the old joke goes:  it would have killed him!)

In my childhood, Grandpa was a stern, noble figure.  But he was always quick with a joke, and his eyes often twinkled with merriment.  To me, he was the wisest man in the world.  As I grew up,  I judged the morality of my activities by whether or not Grandpa would approve.  This was especially true in the time when my mother, two closest siblings and I lived in Salem, in the years after my parents divorced.  (Of course, much of my behavior in those years would hardly have met with Grandpa's approval had he known.  But let's not go there.)

I learned a lot about patience and tolerance from Grandpa.  He never lost his temper; I never heard him raise his voice in anger.  Never once.

I learned about honor from him, too, although that's not a word I ever heard him use to describe his ethos.  He was utterly honest in all things.  He was always courteous toward others, always respectful. Grandpa was also very out-going, very friendly.  He never failed to extend his hand to anyone who came into his life.

Granpda and Aunt Jenifer, 1993
In his last few years, Grandpa's mental faculties started to break down.  There were disturbing incidents:  he sometimes forgot where he was driving, or forgot to turn off the burner of his gas stove, or, most painfully, came to suspect that his grandchildren were stealing from him.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in the mid-90s.  Although he never deteriorated to the point that he did not recognize his family, he nonetheless suffered from cloudy, befuddled and sometimes paranoid thinking.  In moments of lucidity, he recognized the decline and it frightened him.  Physical decrepitude was one thing, but to lose one's mind...

In 1999, while I was traveling on my Grand European Tour, my family finally convinced Grandpa that the time had come for him to enter an assisted living facility.  He was not happy to lose his independence, but he recognized the need.

That Christmas, my family gathered in Eugene, at my brother Eric's house.  My Uncle Wayne picked up Grandpa at his new home and the two of them drove down to join us.  At the gathering Grandpa was more quiet than usual.  Only later did we learn that he wasn't feeling well; it wasn't like him to complain.  Six days later, on December 31, 1999, Grandpa succumbed to pneumonia.  He was 83 years old.

About a year before he passed, Grandpa told me rather soberly that he had already lived to a greater age than any other male in his family.  I can still see him, sitting in the recliner in his living room, shrugging as he said it, as if it were some unfathomable mystery.

I've always suspected that Grandpa made a conscious decision when his time came.  His older sister, Maude, had passed earlier in the year, and I think Grandpa felt that with her passing, he had accomplished all that could be expected of him regarding familial duty.  His children were all on solid footing, his grandchildren were adults.  He had no reason to linger.

He was not a religious man.  He never expressed a belief in an afterlife or a Heaven.  Regardless, I know that when he passed through the Veil, he reunited with Gertrude and with Frank and Josie and all his brothers and sisters who had gone before.

I figure that now, he's sitting back watching, waiting for the rest of us.

To be continued...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie Review: The Karate Kid

Director Harald Zwart's 2010 remake of the 1984 coming-of-age classic, The Karate Kid, may be short on originality of plot (in fact, apart from the setting, the story is identical), but don't let that stop you from going to see it.

Twelve-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) must leave his home in Detroit for Beijing, where his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) has work with an automobile manufacturer.  As Dre attempts to integrate himself into an alien culture, he runs afoul of a gang of bullies trained in kung fu.  Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), the maintenance man at the apartment building where Dre and his mom reside, reluctantly agrees to help the boy in his quest to earn respect.  The story unfolds more or less predictably from there.

But Zwart's creation is poignant.  Jaden Smith's performance is moving.  With Zwart's direction, Smith achieves just the right combination of vulnerability and cocksure youthfulness.  The interaction between young Dre and his Chinese crush, Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han) is awkward and (dare I say it?) cute.  Jackie Chan's performance is vintage Chan:  funny, charming, charismatic.

The fight scenes are well-choreographed and entertaining, although parents of young children (younger than 10, perhaps) should consider carefully.  There is plenty of (non-lethal) violence.

The movie also endows viewers with a glimpse of modern day Beijing which I, at least, found surprising.  Far from a colorless Communist monolith, the Beijing presented by Zwart is bustling, alive, and full of surprises.

The biggest surprise of all, for me, was how much I enjoyed this movie.  I had gone in expecting a trite, shallow adaptation of a moderately good flick from my youth.  Instead, I got a beautifully rendered, well-acted, touching portrayal of the timeless trials of a boy emerging into manhood.

Good flick.  I recommend it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going home, 30 years on

Klamath Union High School
July of the year 2009 was a significant milestone.  In that month, my term of residency in Portland reached 21 years:  longer than I had lived anywhere else.  Portland surpassed Klamath Falls by one year.  So, technically, I could no longer call Klamath Falls my home; it was no longer where I was "from."

Further, since my father passed in 2001, and his widow, Tami, left in 2004, I had had no occasion to go back to the town that had been my home for two decades.  Six years had passed since last I'd been to that tough, old town built on timber, cattle, potatoes and alfalfa.  Six years since I'd been to hard-bitten Klamath Falls on the western edge of the high desert, nestled up to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, twenty-some miles from the state line with California.

But this year, Klamath Falls sent out her beacon, calling her children back.  "Come back from Portland!  Come back from Louisiana!  Come back from California, and from Bend, and from Medford!"  Thirty years had passed since the Class of 1980 for Klamath Union and Mazama High Schools had graduated.  There was to be a reunion. 

Salt Creek Falls
On Friday, Maty and I took a day off from our respective jobs so we could make the ~300 mile drive at a leisurely pace.  We stopped to admire Salt Creek Falls along the way.  As we drove, my mind roamed out in front of us, to our destination.  I wondered how the town would be different.   I wondered about my old classmates.   

It always was about the water, wasn't it?
We got to town in the early afternoon and checked in to the Quality Inn on Main Street.  Right off the bat, that disoriented me, because what is now called the Quality Inn had been called Molatore's Motel in all the years that I had lived in Klamath Falls.  As we drove around town, later in the afternoon, I was taken aback by some other changes:  Motorcycle Hill, just off the Alameda Bypass now has buildings on it!  What had once been sagebrush hillsides on the approach to OIT from Biehn Street are now business parks and fast food joints.  Idella's Market, at the tee of Alameda Bypass and South Sixth Street is gone.  The Tower Theater is long gone.  Jeanne Carnini's Dance Studio, that Dad, my brother and I built from the ground up is now a dentist's office.

Shasta Elementary School
But, then, as we cruised through town, memories arose, like rainbow trout silently breaching the surface of Klamath Lake.  "See, honey?  This is where I went to elementary school." 

Front entrance of Mazama High School
And, "This is Mazama, where I went to middle school."  And, "This is where Kevin Scott and I swam across the canal after football practice."  And, "This is where my friends and I drank a keg of beer in honor of my 19th birthday."

Modoc Field
Or, "This is where we played football."  Or:  "That building used to be a tropical fish store, but it's shut down now."  Or, "There's the House of Shoes.  It's been there since the 60s."  Or, "There's Wong's Chinese Restaurant" and "Moore Park" and "Summers Lane."

And with each spoken thought, came a roster of names:  people I had known for 40 years or more.  Mike Lestch, Bob Waters, Greg Blaisedale, Steve Lee. 

Some of the memories were sweet, some were bittersweet, and some were not at all sweet. Together they wove the tapestry of a life in a small mountain town in southern Oregon. 

Later that evening, my old friend Rick Means came to the motel room and together we went to Mia and Pia's Pizzeria (formerly Summers Lane Market) to see our classmates.

Rick Means, moi, et Dave Stratton
It was a joyous surprise to walk onto that patio at dusk and to see people I hadn't seen in 30 years, and to recognize them instantly.  I told Dave Stratton:  "Man, I don't care if we were in Oslo, Norway.  If I saw you in a crowd of people, I'd walk right up to you and say, 'Dave Stratton!  How are you, old friend?'"

Same with Brian Purnell, Juanita Nelson, Teri Webber, Larry Vaughn, Todd Hyatt, Leslie Bennett, Heidi Bruner, Dave Powell, Ray Holliday, Karen Childers, and forty other people I could name.  And even though I hadn't seen these folks in decades, I felt right at home.  To know a person as a scion of one's hometown is to see past any veil.

Hog's Back Mountain
There have been times, I'll admit, when I might have smirked when I told someone that I was from Klamath Falls.  I may even have maligned her in my thoughts or my words.  But never again.  Not after this visit.  I went home and found that I loved that old gal, Klamath Falls; that I will always love her.

In recent years, whenever anyone would ask me if I'd been back, I had fallen into the habit of answering, almost as if by rote:  "None of my family is there anymore.  I have no reason to go back."

Well, I have gone back, now.  And now I realize how superficial and ignorant and just plain wrong are those words.

How could there be no reason to go back to Klamath Falls?

Where I've got a story for every street and every corner?  Where, thirty years on, I could still walk through town blind-folded and never lose my way?  Where folks never had any pretensions to be anything other than what we are?

Which is to say:  good people.

Which is to say:  humble and proud.

Which is to say:  family.

Yes, that's it!  Family... Klamath Falls... family. 

(All my love, classmates!)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Afghanistan: Item #1 of the Bush legacy

 Old boss, new boss, yadda, yadda, yadda
About 9 months ago, I speculated that the war in Afghanistan was lost.  Well, here we are, 9 months later, with another 506 deaths among coalition forces, and an unspecified number of Afghanistan civilians (estimates are over 2000 this year alone) to add to the tally.  Beyond that, nothing has changed.

And again, even with the BP Oil Disaster still devastating our homeland, Afghanistan is thrust to the front of the national awareness.  It's like a terrible chronic disease that we can almost forget about for a little while, until the next crisis occurs.

Obama sacks McChrystal

Just today, President Obama sacked General Stanley McChrystal, the US Afghan commander, because of the general's exceedingly poor judgment.  (Read the explosive article by Michael Hastings:  The Runaway General.)  McChrystal will be replaced by General David Petraeus, the man who some say salvaged the Iraq effort.  

This is certainly not the first time that General McChrystal has been in trouble with his superiors.  Recall that, last year, General McChrystal conducted an Afghanistan policy review for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in which the general called for an increase of 40,000 troops.  Somehow, McChrystal's report was leaked to the press, raising the suspicion in some quarters that McChrystal was trying to bully President Obama into agreeing to the general's terms.

So, given General McChrystal's record, we can dismiss him as just another general who has trouble understanding the chain of command.  History is full of them.

What worries me, believe it or not, is the way the Republicans are reacting to this news.  Or rather, the way they are not reacting to it.  They have shown uncharacteristic decorum, refraining from criticizing the President's handling of the situation.

That can mean only one thing:  even Republicans know that we're stuck in a very bad, very dangerous war.  And no one can see a way out.

What now?

As General Petraeus assumes command, questions about policy and strategy are reopened.   The July 2011 deadline that President Obama set for withdrawal from Afghanistan looms.

It is clear that we will achieve nothing in that time.  Nothing, that is, beyond more deaths, more wasted billions, more devastation.

If the inertia of bureaucracy will not allow for anything sooner, then let this next year pass quickly.  We've got to get out.  We're only making things worse by staying. 

And let me just repeat what I said 9 months ago:
Junior Bush in his cavalier, aristocratic way, started this war the way he did everything in his life: half-assed, and with no personal, emotional, or financial risk of repercussions. And, just as with Harken Energy, the Texas Rangers, and the State of Texas, the Idiot Prince  f*cked it up, royally.
Thanks again, Junior.

Please shut your face!
Shut up, Jeb

From Firedog Lake:
For months now, Jeb Bush has been listening as President Obama blasts his older brother’s administration for the battered economy, budget deficits and even the lax oversight of oil wells.

“It’s kind of like a kid coming to school saying, ‘The dog ate my homework,’ ” Mr. Bush, this state’s former governor, said over lunch last week at the Biltmore Hotel. “It’s childish. This is what children do until they mature. They don’t accept responsibility.”
Childish, you say?  Well, Jeb, since I know you speak Spanish quite well: ¡Yo cago en la leche de su hermano!  I have no patience for anyone who holds that the Bush administration, led by vile Dick Cheney, was anything other than an unmitigated disaster for this country.  For humanity!  And your mealy-mouthed effort at rehabilitation makes me want to vomit!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lament for the waters

Drown'd Ogallala, heed my prayer:
These grave-robbing prairie-dwellers
Desiccate thy corpse!

Poison'd aguas de México:
Biped mosquitoes that bite thee
Desiccate thy corpse! 

Sluggish, feeble Colorado:
Vampire lettuce fields sap, deplete,
Desiccate thy corpse!

Snake River canyon, wild and fierce:
Spuds and onions do from thee leech,
Desiccate thy corpse!

As each little trickle runs dry:
Hope, peace, and well of creation;
Desiccate our corpse!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pity me, ye Muses!

Struggling right now;
I'm struggling; Write now!
Are there none of the Nine to come calling?

Clia, have thee no offspring to boast?  Calliope, no tale to tell?
Enterpe, thy silence abuses my ears!  Erato --perhaps just as well;

Thalia thy laughter has faded away; Malpomene's tears are run dry;
Terpsichore sits moping, Polymnia sleeps, Unrania's face turned from the sky;

Struggling right now;
I'm struggling; Write now!
Please!  One of ye Nine must come calling!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer solstice, 2010

Today is the solstice.  Earth's axis has tilted 23.45o so that the sun's most direct beams strike Earth at the Tropic of Cancer.  The North Pole is pointed inward, toward the center of the solar system, away from the cold, empty void.  Days in the northern hemisphere are long.  

Summer is finally arrived!  Now, we begin the slow decline into darkness.

The spring just passed was rather bleak insofar as we had record-setting rainfall and cool temperatures here in Portland.  Oregonians, by necessity, are stalwart in the face of dreary weather, but the climate this spring has tried even the most web-footed among us.

This year, the mercury did not make it to the 80o mark here in Portland until June 9th.  That is the latest calendar date for such an event since the American Meteorological Society began keeping track, in 1940. The temperature for the last several days has hovered somewhere around 60o.  Already, with 10 days to go, more rain has fallen this year in the two months of May and June than ever before.

Rough sleddin', SADD sufferers!

As much as I try to create my own weather (by being such a "sunny" personality, har, har, har) I am past ready to have some good weather.  Cool, overcast days, long though they may be, just don't burn away the vestiges of misty, dreary winter.

Let's hope that, now that summer is here, she will quickly ripen to her full glory and cast her warm, sunny legacy well past the equinox into October.

Stout hearts, people! 

Lord, is that a sun break?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Savor this moment, America!

Even in the midst of sheer, horrendous disaster on our much-abused Gulf Coast (will those people ever catch a break?) I urge my countrymen, even Tea Party people, to savor this moment.  A huge, powerful international corporation, for the first time in decades, is being held to account for its crimes.

Too many times in recent history, things have played out differently.  Just two examples:
  • In 1984, in Bhopal, India, a Union Carbide pesticide plant leaked gas into the village and exposed 500,000 people to deadly poison.  As many as 15,000 people died as a direct result.  Victims sought $3 billion in compensation.  After a protracted legal battle, Union Carbide agreed to pay a mere 15% of that amount.  Four hundred seventy million dollars for poisoning an entire village.

  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, Exxon got away, cheap and easy, from the 1989 Valdez disaster, by waging a war of legal attrition.  Exxon paid barely more than 10% of the $5 billion the court had awarded as punitive damages.
Instances like these are what makes the $20 billion escrow fund created by BP in cooperation with the Obama administration such a victory!  It is an astonishing display of an incredibly wealthy, incredibly powerful international corporation being brought to heel by a government acting in the interests of its people. 

You see, Tea Party people?  This is what government can do for you!

Let's hurry to agree that this crisis, this Great BP Oil Disaster, is far from over.  And no one has any idea how it will end.  But the $20 billion disaster relief fund is an unexpected and hopeful sign of the welfare of the People trumping the interests of wealth and power.

Is it too much to hope that this god-forsaken disaster in the Gulf might finally, finally, finally wake people up?

Is it pie-in-the-sky daydream to believe that the human spirit (thank you, God!) may yet prove more powerful even than fleets of supertankers stuffed with money?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Obama puts the hammer down on BP!

Impressive, Mr. President!

After delivering a dispassionate speech from the Oval Office on national television the night before, President Obama met with the top tier of British Petroleum executives, as promised.  The result?  A $20 billion escrow fund to help recompense victims of the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico!  Twenty billion dollars! 

The money is to be managed not by BP lawyers and accountants, but by Kenneth Fineburg, the person who managed the 9/11 Compensation Commission.  In effect, BP has lost control of the money.  A $20 billion shakedown!

The President emphasized that this $20 billion is not a cap to damages.  It is a down-payment.

If you recall, Congress had been debating whether or not to raise the penalty cap from an insignificant $75 million to a more significant $10 billion, but couldn't manage to do even that because of BP's bipartisan gang of defenders in the US Senate.  Let's list some names, just so people can remember:  Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), James Inhofe (R-OK).  There are others, as well.

And recall back to the last big oil disaster, the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.  Exxon worked our corporate-structured legal system for all it was worth.  Five years after the spill, a court ruled that Exxon must pay $5 billion in punitive damages for its negligence.  But Exxon lawyers went to work with appeals and legal stall tactics.  In the end, 19 years after the spill, Exxon had reduced the amount they must pay to a paltry ~$508 million.  The Alaska fishermen and conservationists got the shaft.

President Obama precluded any such injustices.  With this move, the President has outflanked BP's defenses.  Those Armani-suited corporate lawyers, the bought-and-paid-for Congress critters, all are rendered irrelevant.  The money goes into an escrow account over the next 3 years. 

What a victory!  My confidence in the President was flagging after what I had considered to be a desultory statement the night before.  I feared that he was afraid.  Now, BP has been given notice that the down-payment of their penance is to be $20 billion and no dividends will be paid to investors.  And all the Big Oil robber barons at the other Big Oil corporations got a message, too.

To top it all off, after the meeting, after they had just had their ears pinned back like truant juveniles, BP executives came to the microphones to apologize to the American people!

Can anyone imagine how differently it would have turned out back in Junior's day?

Wait!  I see a vision.  A grim but satisfying vision.

I see Dick Cheney, fists clenched at his temples, teeth gnashing, face bent upward toward the ceiling of his Wyoming dungeon.  He is raging, raging, raging. White hot fury!  Raging, in the darkness!  "Never!" he rages.  "Never! Never!  Never!  I'll die first!"  

Watch your back, Mr. President!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

President Obama's remarks on the BP oil disaster

President Obama spoke last night from the Oval Office, regarding the British Petroleum oil disaster.  His remarks were brief (running about 17 minutes) and vague.  Very short on specifics.

A few things I noticed:
Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party.
Not forceful enough, frankly.  First of all, why did the President refrain from naming Tony Hayward, British Petroleum's CEO? Why allow Hayward that bit of anonymity?  Many of President Obama's critics claim (preposterously) that he is a socialist.  A real socialist would seize BP's assets and nationalize the corporation.

Beyond compensating the people of the Gulf in the short-term, it's also clear we need a long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to a place that has already suffered multiple economic disasters and decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats. And the region still hasn't recovered from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's why we must make a commitment to the Gulf Coast that goes beyond responding to the crisis of the moment.

I make that commitment tonight.  Earlier, I asked Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy, a former governor of Mississippi, and a son of the Gulf, to develop a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible. The plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents. And BP will pay for the impact this spill has had on the region.
Certainly, when President Obama says this, the words carry more meaning and significance than ten thousand of the lies that Junior used to blabber in the aftermath of Katrina.  But the President's rhetoric was vague.  Speaking in vagaries worked as a tactic in the health care debate, but this is different.  We're in the midst of a real-time national disaster.  I was looking for something more immediate:  a summoning of resources, or a call to action.

One place we have already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility -- a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.
One unlooked-for benefit of the BP oil disaster is that it seems to have shut Dick Cheney's yap for the time being.  Remember those energy policy meetings that Cheney fought to keep secret all the way to the Supreme Court?  I wonder, was the Minerals Management Service discussed at all in those meetings?  Could Attorney General Holder find out?  Did Big Dick's ticker do a little hop-kick when he heard the President's words?  I hope so.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
Straight talk.  We could use a lot more of it.

The President went on to discuss the need for energy independence and some general ideas about how to approach it, concluding:
...the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny -- our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet know precisely how to get there. We know we'll get there.
It seems clear that the President plans to approach energy legislation using the same tactics he used in the health care debate.  That is, as a "community organizer," setting the framework, making suggestions, advocating positions, but leaving the hard-knuckle implementation to Congress.  And why not?  Although the health care debate was bruising, in the end, Congress did produce.  But with toxic black spew gushing into the Gulf, reminding us of the urgency, President Obama seems detached.

All in all, I'd have to say the speech did not inspire confidence. The President's remarks left me vaguely disappointed, and very sorry.  Disappointed, because the President seems reluctant and uncertain.  Sorry, because I can't summon enough faith in, or respect for, my countrymen to believe that we can pull together.  Not even in the face of this disaster

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Musing on the rain and other stuff

I’ve lived in this climate, off and on, for over 20 years, and I can’t say I mind the rain.  It is cleansing and reassuring, and the days are long enough now that when the sun sets below the cloud line you get to see the bellies of the clouds lit from below and it is beautiful and reminds you of that thing beyond all understanding that brings tears to your eyes, just because it is so beautiful and irrefutable.  And you just know that you’re a part of it; a tiny, essential part of this whole thing, and that it is you, and you are it.  But no, you aren’t really, because it is so much bigger than that; so much bigger than this corporeal form that extends to the ends of your fingernails.  It is better to say that you are only a part of it:  essential, fully-integrated, and infinitesimally small.

This idea of oneness is a source of reassurance.  When you can know, even just for a second, that all those terrible things and those beautiful things and those insanities that are all around you, are all just a part of it…well, then you have something.  There are so many faiths that have grasped at this concept:  Catholicism and Hinduism and Islam.  But, being a human, I have to place my template on this truth, this concept of oneness and I have to turn my face up to the lit underbellies of the clouds in the late spring and mouth the word “Why?”  Yet, somewhere in my self I know that it is a meaningless question.

As I understand it, if one believes in karma, truly believes in it, the way one believes in one’s mother, or the sun, or the barrel of the gun pointed in one’s face, there is no reason whatsoever, to ever believe that anything can go wrong, there is no reason to be afraid.  There is no need for despair; it’s irrelevant.  And joy, though it is still available, is tempered somewhat , mellowed like the mind of a man that has one more beer than he normally would of an evening.  Joy comes in the sanguine knowledge that everything comes around, always and forever.

I feel my own personal development, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, has brought me to believe in karma.  Or my version of karma; I’m certainly no Hindu holy man, no Buddhist monk.  My interpretation of karma leads me to believe in the inevitability of things, the ultimate (incomprehensible) justice of the One.  And, frankly, that belief has carried me through some raging tempests.

But, with regard to writing, every once-in-a-while, you get one of those fits of…something…I don’t know…call it inspiration, and the words just flow through your fingers and out through your pen and flow right onto the paper, as if there were channels cut in its surface because the nib of the pen just follows them and the words just come out.  And then, you look back later, with your red pen in hand, but you can’t bring yourself to mark any of it, because, maybe it’s not perfect, but it is exactly what it should be, and it truly reflects where you were at the moment you put your hand down and followed the invisible channels on the face of the page.  Those are the best ones.  The frequency of their birth seems to be in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend writing.  And you might write ten pieces of schlock, and then you get one of those good ones.  And, I suppose that’s why you keep doing it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What about Bertram?

All's Well that Ends Well
Epilogue (revised)

Scene:  Rosillion, before the Keep
Enter Parolles, in fool's garments

And so our tale is ended,
It's parts played out,
It's drums and heralds quieted;

And yet, for my part, I would part with one more gift,
Ere I bid you all adieu;
For my fear is that, of the truths imparted in our tale,
There is one that may pass unnoticed,
As the merest of Morpheus’ notions that fly fleetingly through Nocturne’s domain;

Note ye: the tale now imparted,
A fool hath been exposed,
And another concealed.

The former, being myself;
Brought low as befits my behaviors, demeanor, and general character.
No grudge have I for this naming;
Have not my deeds precluded an alternate?

If one is to behave as a boor,
One will be named such.
Indeed! No complaint may I,
A rascal, and base villain,
Hold ‘gainst those that name me so.

Yet, what of the other fool?
What of he whose base behavior hath showed him no more than I,
Though his blood be of a higher stature as befits his noble lineage?

In truth, I name none, other than Bertram himself!

In his particulars, how doth he differ from foolish Parolles?
Note ye how he may feign love for a woman,
That he may enjoy the picking of her womanly bloom,
And yet discard her, as a wilted rose, when he hath done?
Or that he may hold his blood as sacrosanct;
As if its properties alone do raise him above the good heart of a sainted commoner,
Though he be little more than a scurrilous cur?

But, soft!

Enter Bertram and Helen, above.  They embrace, as lovers.

Parolles [aside]: 
In truth, I pity him,
Held as he e’er shall be
In a life that he both deserveth and deserveth not;

Enslaved, through the honor of his blood and dignities,
To a woman for whom he would feign love,
Though he despise her.

For which among mortal men can so quickly change his mien
From scorn to love?
Especially when his outward companions do compel it of him?

All the more bitter, then,
The courtesies afforded him by his peers and his lessers,
Knowing, as he must, what a base person his heart makes him.

A better part is that of humble Parolles:
To be despised openly and truthfully (and deservedly).
Parolles need never fear that the rueful smile cast upon him
May hide more than it doth reveal:  scorn, derision, contempt.

For Bertram, each smile is but a mask,
To hide the sneers and whispers that follow him to his unhappy grave!

If our play doth offend in this matter,
Blame not, Parolles!

Your scorn, I accept, and having accepted,
Care not for it!
Those base parts of yourself may chide you,
And if it please you to make Parolles the object of your scorn,
So be it!

I’ll to my grave an honest man, in my dishonesty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday walk

Sunlight slanted across our path, from west to east, to splash upon the facades of westward-facing houses with windows blinded against it and upon low stone retaining walls that preserved beds planted with foxglove or red hot pokers or dusty miller or strawberries.   Some were planted with cucumbers and squash and tomatoes.  It was late afternoon on Sunday, one week before the solstice and there was still much daylight left.

We stopped outside the coffee shop at the corner of 35th and Division so our guest could smoke.  The shop was closed at that hour, but we sat on the benches outside, some in the sun, some in the shade.  I was the sole North American of the group, the one member of the group that ne parlait pas français, and although they did their best to include me, the Africans would often revert.  It came easier to them. 

Which was fine with me, to tell you the truth.  I was enjoying myself just walking and listening, making a bit of an effort at learning, catching a word or a phrase here or there, but mostly just enjoying the music of their language.  (Well, one of their languages.)

The razor wire coiled along the top of the fence guarding the home restoration business across the street cast a sharp, negative vibe onto the scene that twitched some vague anxiety within my chest.  But to the Africans, it made nothing.  In Dakar, in Lomé, in Ouagadougou, businesses and homes have wire or bars guarding them as a rule.  I guess I've just been lucky to have spent my life here in Oregon.  (Actually, I don't have to guess...)

Somewhere along the way, a Cream-sicle orange and white cat lay sleeping on the sun-warmed walkway of his master's house.  Our approach had aroused him from a beautiful dream. In that dream, he had been sleeping on the sun-warmed walkway to his master's house, dreaming that he had been sleeping on the walkway, dreaming.  He gave us a mildly annoyed eye blink as we drew near.  I regretted that we had disturbed him.

We walked easily.  Our hands dangled as we swung our arms.  For an instant, I was tickled by the idea that the Universe was winking at me.  Buddha cast a blessing from a flower box in an overgrown front yard, laughing as we walked past.

Friday, June 11, 2010

No talk of God, tea-bagger

One thing I have learned in my short time on this mortal coil:  Whenever someone tells you that he knows what God wants, he is a fool or a liar or both.  And this:  you can be sure he has an agenda to sell you.

That's the problem with you, tea-bagger.   You say you know what God wants.  You've told me that.  But I'm not buying it.

You proudly proclaim "I stand with Israel" as Bibi Netanyahu's goons board ships laden with humanitarian supplies for an oppressed people, shooting relief workers dead.  You strain at the lead, praying for the day that the bombs will fall on Tehran.  You write demented letters to the world bemoaning your fate just before you empty your guns into crowds of people who don't believe as you do.

It's okay.  It's what God wants, right?

Oh, I have marked how quickly and willingly you strike the martyr's pose.  "Christians are oppressed for their beliefs!" you wail, even as you insult and dehumanize Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and other Christians that don't adhere to your dogma.

"Why must you call me a racist?" you yelp, as you wave around your placards depicting President Obama as an African witch-doctor, as you mock and insult blacks and Mexicans, as you cheer Israeli helicopters firing missiles into Gaza apartment complexes killing "Arabs," as you advocate war.

"Why must you call me a homophobe?" you cry, as you hypocritically denounce gays as perverts and pedophiles.

"Why must you call me a hater?" you lament in one breath, then rant about the evil of "secular progressives" in the next, as you resort to intimidation and thuggery when the old rules no longer work for you.

How very brave you imagine yourself to be!  "I stand with Israel!"  "I'm a conservative Christian!"  "You can pry my gun from my cold, dead fingers!"  Tell me, tea-bagger:  is it brave to stand with the strong against the weak?  Is it brave to side with the demographic that sits at the pinnacle of economic power?  Is it brave to wave a gun in the faces of people who find your views to be asinine?

And how strictly you adhere to the Bible!  Except, of course, when you find it inconvenient to do so.  Thus, we see you reinterpret the Sixth Commandment to more closely fit your agenda.  He didn't mean "kill," He meant "murder."  Isn't that the schtick?

And your reverence for the Constitution would be admirable if you didn't declare the United States to be a "Christian nation" in direct conflict with the First Amendment of the Constitution, which unequivocally declares "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Because you know what God wants, yes?  

But if you want to talk God, we can do that, tea-bagger.  Let's try this:  Of the deadly sins, there are seven.  Of these, Pride is deemed the most deadly.  It was Pride that felled Lucifer.

Let me ask you, tea-bagger:  Is it not prideful to imagine that one can know the mind of God?

You say you know what God wants while you insult my Mexican family and my Muslim wife.  Well, I'm not buying what you're selling.  So, spare me your talk of God... tea-bagger.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Again, I dreamt the canyon

O'er the precipice I need not peer,
To know what lies at the bottom of the canyon;

Yet will admit, I'm keen to hear
River lady's siren song, summoning companion;

Falling, passion fueled by fear,
Knowing of the broken stones she and I have stranded;

Rapids roar in full career!
To rinse the shameful traces that our selfishness demanded;

But still...

I grant our fall would glory seem,
Just as proud angels do;
I grant ecstatic windy flight,
As Lucifer once flew;

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Respecting food

Being married to an African woman has taught me many things.  As Maty and I have gone about setting up our household over the last four and a half years, I've learned a lot about our American culture, about how our American attitudes differ from those of people from other places.

One aspect of the different attitudes of Maty's and my respective cultures is the way in which we think of food.  In my experience, Americans, generally, have a more casual relationship with food than do Africans.  Succinctly put, Africans respect food more than do Americans. They treat it almost with reverence.

Maty is very careful in the way that she stores food.  Our refrigerator is clean, and Maty is aware of everything stored in it.  She keeps food rotated so that the older food gets eaten first.  When, on occasion, food goes bad, she disposes of it respectfully.  Rather than tossing uneaten pizza crusts in the garbage can with everything else, the way I did back in the day, Maty ties them in a plastic bag before placing them in the can.  Fruit and vegetables are composted for use in our garden.

Maty is definitely aware of the nutritional value of food, as well.  She is mindful of the amount of sugar, salt, and fat in her diet.  She cooks and eats a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I know that my own diet has become a lot more healthy since we have been married. 

Further, Maty has taught me to speak respectfully about food.  If, for example, while leaving a restaurant where the cuisine was poor, I were to say "That burger tasted like sh*t," I would be sure to draw an admonition from her.  In her culture, one doesn't talk about food that way.

One of the (many) gifts that Maty has given me is the recognition that food is precious and a blessing.  It is a gift from God, as she would call it.  And therefore, it should be honored and respected.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Halliburton: Cheney fiefdom

A villain for the Ages
This, I assert:

History has few such villains as Richard B. (Dick) Cheney.  The man is a perfect beast.  A villain to rival even Iago in pure malevolence of heart.  Dick Cheney is a man who saw an opportunity for immortality, an opportunity to make his historical mark on the world, to establish an empire of his own.  And he seized it.

In some circles that passes for greatness. 

Hearken back to Cheney's time as Secretary of Defense in Bush the Elder's administration.  Like some death-obsessed necromancer, wandering the dark passages of a medieval dungeon, Cheney learned many secrets in that time.  He learned how government contracts were written, about how they were awarded, about how they were overseen and managed.  Whether he came into the job with evil in his heart, or whether he succumbed to the temptation of the unimaginable wealth of the Federal Treasury is unclear.  But what is clear to me is that Cheney viewed the Federal Treasury as an oilman would an oil field.

There were incredible riches to be had.  It was just a matter of extraction.

When he left the Defense Department, Dick Cheney hooked up with his friends in the resource-extraction industry, no doubt leveraging the knowledge he had gained as a "public servant" and arranged to be named CEO of Halliburton

When Junior Bush needed a running-mate for the national election of 2000, Cheney saw that if he had the courage to act, he had the power to shape history, to brand it with the Cheney iron, the way he no doubt watched ranchers brand their cattle in Wyoming.   

It is well-documented how Cheney manufactured a case for war with Iraq and that, as a result of the invasion, Halliburton was awarded military contracts for billions of dollars without being subject to competitive bids. It is well-documented that Cheney, as sitting vice-president, was being awarded a salary en absentia from Halliburton.  Halliburton went from the verge of bankruptcy in 1998 to $15.26 billion in revenues in 2008, at the end of the Junior Bush administration.

The services that Halliburton provided in exchange for those billions of dollars were, by many accounts, shoddy or non-existent and by all accounts rife with corruption. But the well was gushing, the dollars fell from the sky.

It should come as no surprise that Halliburton is implicated in the BP Oil disaster.  Federal regulators are investigating the cementing techniques that Halliburton employed to prevent blowouts for the deep sea well that is now spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, despoiling the Gulf Coast.

And, just as with the Iraq war, Halliburton, having extracted what wealth it can from the situation, is now attempting to extricate itself.   Leave the clean up for the chumps, just like with Iraq.

Halliburton is the endowment Dick Cheney plans to leave behind when he exits this mortal coil.  Note how he has groomed daughter Liz to take over when he is gone.  Halliburton is the Cheney family's fiefdom.  It is the source of their power.  Real power.  Not the fickle, illusory power that comes with the consent of the governed.  Cheney's is the kind of power that can only be ruthlessly seized.  It is the kind of power that one protects with murder, with torture, with bald-faced, shameless lies.  The kind of power for which one must sacrifice one's humanity.

No doubt Cheney has no regrets.  Greatness, after all, has its price.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Another day in the neighborhood

Sawman saws on the cello as I walk past.  I'm on my way to Fred Meyer to get 7Up for Maty because her stomach is upset.  His music sounds discordant, agonized, chaotic.  It is hard to hear it clearly, at this distance, through the sighing traffic, the faint whisper of the rain, the echo created by the concrete sidewalk in the dry space beneath the enormous protruding facade of the Bagdad theater.

People are stopping to listen. I'll continue on, though.  7Up for Maty.

Outside the entrance to Fred Meyer, a bedraggled, raggedy, younger man stands near the public disposal bin.  He wears a cap with the bill pulled down low so you can't see his face when he bends his head.  He has long, dirty hair, unkempt beard and moustache.  His clothes are ragged and dirty.  He shifts from one foot to the other, standing close to the disposal bin.  He will not look at me as I approach.


He was there this morning, too.  I saw him earlier when I came to buy yogurt.  He wouldn't look at me then either. This morning there had been a woman standing near the disposal bin, too.  But she didn't look like a vagrant.  She was dressed like many of the young hipsters you see around this neighborhood on the weekend.  She looked at me with mild alarm as I walked past.  She seemed agitated.  She stood there and watched me as I walked past, while the raggedy man shifted back and forth, his face turned down at his feet, hidden under the bill of his cap.


On the one hand, it's none of my business.  I've pulled enough shady stuff in my time that I can't feel comfortable about passing judgment on anybody.  Not even people like that.  And I sure resent it when people intrude in my life.  Live and let live, etcetera, etcetera.  And who knows how he got there? 

On the other hand, this isn't kids smoking dope in the parking lot.  This isn't some panhandler begging for change.  And, hey, this is my community, where I live and where I don't want to have to worry about my wife walking to the bus stop.


I walk inside.  The store-greeter and the checker are standing by the scanner-register near the door.  It's slow.  They're chatting.

"What's that guy doing out there?" I say.

The greeter is a young man with a soft tuft of moustache and black curly hair.  He is young, but already there are a few strands of gray at the corners of his temples.  He shrugs.  "He's panhandling," he says.

"I've walked by him twice," I say, "and he hasn't asked me for money."

The checker is a woman about my age.  She's short and chunky with straight black hair and a wide face with a wide mouth.  "He's selling sh*t," she says.  Her eyes squint to narrow slits as she says it.

"Why don't you call security and have them talk to him?" I say.

She picks up the receiver of the phone by the scanner.  I go to find 7UP.

On the way back, I come along the north side of Hawthorne.  I don't know if I did the right thing.  After all this time, how could I know what is the right thing?

A beautiful young woman with Red Irish hair is on her break, smoking a cigarette on a bench outside the Italian restaurant.  She is looking down the street to where Sawman is still sawing on his cello.

"What's the verdict?" I ask her.

She turns her face toward me.  I expect freckles, but her skin is clear and beautiful.  I'm startled by the pale blue of her eyes.  "He's amazing," she says, passionately.  "I'm very glad he plays here every day."

"Oh, really?" I say, but she has already turned back to listen to Sawman.

And so, I walk down and listen.

He is using an electronic device which allows him to capture a riff, and then continuously repeat it while he plays an accompaniment over the top of it.  His music is solemn, with rises and falls that evoke a longing, a high and light sadness.  He plays with his eyes cast down across the body of his instrument, his face hidden by the bill of his cap.  I sit in a chair nearby and listen.

When he finishes his piece, I clap, along with a half-dozen other listeners.  He casts a brief glance at those of us nearby, mouths a silent word of appreciation, then turns back to his cello.

I take the 7Up home to Maty.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Racists? What racists?

Friday, Friday. What, were it not for Friday?

Just to hone the point I tried to make yesterday...

Republican State Representative Jake Knotts of Lexington, South Carolina
State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, used the word, "raghead" to describe Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Rep. Nikki Haley, also of Lexington County, and President Barack Obama during an online political talk show Thursday evening.

Haley is of Indian descent. Obama, who is bi-racial, has an African father and white mother.

Knotts, who supports Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in the Republican primary battle, said, “We already got one raghead in the White House, we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion,” according to several people at the live broadcast of "Pub Politics."

State Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd issued a statement, calling on Knotts to apologize.
  --from The State
You know you've stepped in it when even the Republican Party of South Carolina wants you to apologize.

I wrote a little note to Representative Knotts myself:  "You have sullied yourself in the eyes of the nation with your ill-informed 'raghead' remarks.  Take pride in your ignorance!  At this point, what else have you got?"

I hope I didn't hurt his feelings.

But here's the rub:  there are people who will view Jake Knotts as a hero because of this.  I know some of them myself.  You know them, too, dear reader.

Wear that tea-bag with pride, Republican!