Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Movie review: Get Low

Get Low, Robert Duvall's latest production, is a rural American folktale. 

Gruff and mysterious Felix Bush (played by Duvall) emerges from a 40 year hermitage in the Tennessee backwoods to make arrangements for his eventual interment, which he senses is near.  Bush enlists the help of a fast-talking Chicago undertaker, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and his assistant, Buddy (Lucas Black) to plan a funeral which Bush insists be held while he is still alive.  Along the way, he encounters an old flame, Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek) and a long-estranged friend, Reverend Gus Horton (Gerald McRaney).  As the story progresses, shadows from Bush's past are revealed.

Disregarding the favorable reviews the film has received, in the end, I think it fails.  With all due respect to writers Chris Provenzano, C. Gaby Mitchell, and Scott Seeke, I find fault mostly with the script.  None of the characters, frankly, are believable.  They lack development; their motivations are obscure and confused.  For example, Buddy, the assistant undertaker, seems to take filial interest in Bush.  But viewers are never given a reason for this interest; Buddy's past is never revealed.

[Note to readersAn anonymous commenter pointed out that brief reference to Buddy's past is made during the narrative.  I stand by my point, however.]

Some plot elements are introduced, but never explained or developed further.  For example, at one point, one of the principal characters is knocked unconscious by unknown assailants.  We never learn precisely who are the perpetrators, the crime is never solved, nor scarcely alluded to:  a clumsy device, that seems unnecessary. 

Further and most egregious, the terrible secret in Bush's past, the history upon which the story is constructed, when fully revealed is nothing all that sinister.  Run-of-the-mill love triangle stuff.  Certainly a lot  less than all the ominous, haunted expressions, and the vague, enigmatic dialog would indicate. (On the other hand, maybe I've been reading too much Cormac McCarthy, heh.)

Any flick that includes Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek has, at least, the raw materials prerequisite to success. And between them, they nearly pull it off with just the strength of their performances. Duvall's culminating soliloquy would be mesmerizing were it not sabotaged by the lack of story. (I'll refrain from describing it... wouldn't want to reveal any spoilers.)  

Bill Murray did an adequate job.  Don't get me wrong; I love the guy.  But I'm beginning to believe he won't succeed in his jump from comedy to drama.  (Lost in Translation, anyone?)  Lucas Black's performance was adequate as well.

The plot line is supposedly based on a true story from the 30s.  Be that as it may, the clumsy script demanded too many indulgences, too much suspension of disbelief.  Such a pity.  I had high hopes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Headin' into vacation

This afternoon, I cut out of work and began my late-summer vacation.  Right on!  Time to "sharpen the saw," as Dr. Covey puts it.  I'm going to be staying here at home, for the most part.  But I'll be pretty busy.  I've got some general goals for this time of recreation.

Couple saints enjoying the cool weather up at St. Stephen's Catholic
Family time

I'm going to spend time enjoying my family. Four of my six siblings and their respective families are congregating at my house tomorrow for barbecue. Maty is preparing shish kabobs for the grill as I write. I can't wait!

Mom is also coming for a visit. She, Maty, and I will be heading down to Salem for the Oregon State Fair.

Good, quality family time.

Movie Madness never lets a man down
Cerebral growth

I am determined to absorb good art and literature during my vacation. 

At the suggestion of the Esteemed Mister Frederick Taylor Means (of Klamath Falls) I'm viewing John Patrick Shanley's Doubt (featuring Meryl Streep) tonight. 

Also on my list:  Robert Duvall's new flick, Get Low and the novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. 

I'll probably read a couple Shakespeare plays as well.  Julius Ceasar's tragedy has been calling to me for a while.

"Doubt" is in the Meryl Streep section

I'll be journeying into the mountains in the next week.  And to the sea, as well .  I hope to get a good deep draught of my beloved homeland, see if she won't grace me with a little more of her deep, solemn and joyous wisdom.

Posting may lag, or it may continue uninterrupted.  Just have to see how it goes.  Hope you all enjoy the last of August, either way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Big John takes the helm

SceneSunday morning, August 22, 2010.  The sitting room of a New York hotel suite.  Scarlet carpet and drapes.  White-liveried servants (mostly of dark complexion) service a small breakfast bar to one side.  Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor are watching a massive television screen, on which David Gregory is speaking with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

Boehner [to a woman carrying a tray of flute glasses containing a melichrous, bubbly liquid]: Don't go anywhere with those mimosas, sweetheart. 

Cantor:  Just watch!  Mitch is gonna cut that punk a new one!

[on screen]
Gregory: ...as a leader of the country, sir, as one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, do you think you have an obligation to say to 34 percent of Republicans in the country--rather, 31 percent who believe the president of the United States is a Muslim? That's misinformation.

McConnell: The president says he's a--the president says he's a Christian, I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute.

Gregory: And do you think--how, how do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread around and prevails?

McConnell: I have no idea, but I take the president at his word.
Cantor:  Point!  Set!  Match!

Boehner: Good God!  Turn it off! [One of the servants turns off the television.  The woman with the tray takes an empty glass from Boehner's hand.]

Cantor:  What's the matter, boss?

Boehner: Are you deaf?  Or just stupid?

[Cantor stares, mouth agape.]

Boehner: Forget I asked.

Cantor:  I don't get it, John.  Mitch played it just right, didn't he? 

Boehner:  Yeah, just right.  He's probably got every moonshine hillbilly from Hickman to Paw Paw shooting guns into the air.  But Mitch never did understand:  hillbillies get pretty scarce outside Kentucky.  Not everybody believes Fox News.

Cantor:  What are you saying?

Boehner:  You can't be that thick, can you? 

[Cantor frowns, concentrating.]

Cantor:  You think... the base is... dumb?  

[Long, pregnant silence.  Enter Sarah Palin followed by Newt Gingrich.]

Gingrich:   Sarah, I don't really expect you to understand this, but  I'm a man, just like any other.  At least in that sense.  I just happen to also be brilliant; I refuse to let myself be shamed by my inferiors.

Palin:  Aw, Newt.  You're such a kidder!  [She punches his arm, playfully.]  I'm not ashamed of my inferiors, either, you know.  What do I care if some New York magazine doesn't like the way I decorate my house?

[Gingrich frowns, rubs his arm.]

Cantor [to Boehner]:  You're saying the people we count on for support are idiots?  What should we do about it?

Boehner [sighing]:  Not much to be done, old bean.  But, when this is all over, I won't let it be said that I didn't go down with the ship.  Tomorrow, I'll lay it out.  A speech at the City Club in Cleveland.  The new Republican vision. Tax cuts for businesses.  Geithner and Summers out!

Cantor:  You mean specifics?  But why?  We've got this thing in the bag!  We don't need to say anything!

Boehner:  Jesus!  I need a real drink! [He waves away the woman with the tray of mimosas.]  Have that kid over at the bar stir me up a martini, will ya, sweetheart?

Gingrich [to Palin]:   Sarah, I feel like you're not catching my drift...  [He leans next to her and whispers in her ear.] 

Palin [smiling, patiently]:  Now, Newt... behave!

Gingrich:   But aren't you just a little bit attracted to my intellect?  Be honest.

Palin:  Newt, in case you didn't know, I'm married to Todd Palin, Alaska's First Dude.

Boehner [smirking]:  That about says it all, doesn't it, Newt?  [He flips on the television, changes the channel to Cartoon Network, accepts the offered martini from the white-gloved hand of a servant, takes a big slurp.]  I can't take this anymore.  I've got a speech to write anyway. [Exit.]

Gingrich [sitting on the divan]:   You know what my favorite old cartoon is?  Davey and Goliath!

Palin:  Too preachy!  I always liked Powerpuff Girls.

Gingrich [to the servant at the breakfast bar]:   Eggs Benedict.   Don't spare the hollandaise.

[Cantor sits with his hands on his knees, frowning.]

Gingrich:   Eric, you need to lighten up.  Life is good!

Palin:  Now you're talkin', Newt. Life is very good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sit down, bigot!

Disgraceful, ignorant bigots
If anything has become apparent in the wake of the ridiculous faux debate over the construction of a Muslim cultural center at Park 51 in Manhattan it is this:  if we value our Constitution we must now demand that the center be built, as planned, on the proposed site.

When rank hypocrites like Newt Gingrich refer to religious practice as "triumphalism," when poltroons like John Kyl and hacks like John McCain start suggesting that we amend the Constitution in order to deny its protections to certain people, when (according to one poll) 31% of Republicans profess to believe that President Obama is a Muslim and therefore somehow "not an American," it is past time to publicly excoriate those who hold such views.

This entire dust up might be the work of some right-wing political operative, some beast from the Karl Rove school of politics (if not Rove, himself).  It could very well be a pseudo-controversy conjured up in the hopes of keeping fake patriot passions running high through the dog days of summer.  But this ploy may backfire.  As easy as it is to demagogue against Muslims (and gays and Mexicans), once you start impinging on First Amendment rights, Americans start getting angry.

My friend, Kurt Kemmerer, sent me this video.  Take a gander and see what you think.  Substitute uses of the words "negro" and "Catholic" with "illegal immigrant" and "Muslim."  Then listen to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh for an hour or two and see what you think...

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean stated recently that he believes there may be room for compromise on the issue surrounding the planned cultural center.  Well, I'm sorry, Governor:  when bigots start insisting that citizens forgo their rights because the bigots are offended by them, there is no room for compromise.

The conversation must hinge on a single question:  are the Muslim citizens acting within their Constitutional rights?  If the answer to that question is "yes" (which right-wing freaks have already conceded), the conversation is at an end.

If rights can be compromised because some people are offended when those rights are exercised, then they are not rights at all, but concessions.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Broken home boys, redux

August 20, 2010, the day before Edward's forty-eighth birthday, and here we are, seated at the bar, in a wood empaneled, elegant watering hole, not far from the State Capitol building, in Salem, Oregon.  Although we do not discuss it, I'm certain we both find the young woman tending the bar to be gorgeous.  She has ivory white skin, a high, round forehead, generous lips, a slightly-upturned nose, and hair the color of rich, black coffee, cut so that it just brushes her shoulders.  She possesses an innocence in her manner and expression that makes me at the same time feel paternal and wistful.

"Do you get politicians in here?" I ask her.  She nods, smiling.  "How about Governor Kulongowski?" I ask.  "He's been here," she says, nodding.

Edward watches the exchange.  When the young woman turns away, to see to another patron, he shakes his head, and says with a knowing smile, "I can't take you anywhere."

I shrug, embarrassed.  No use denying anything.  Even with long gaps in these thirty-eight years, we still understand a thing or two about each other.  "It's true.  I love to flirt," I say.

His smile is a grin now.  His eyebrows draw down to a point where his aquiline noble Italian nose begins.  All those Latin good looks must make my feeble antics seem amusing.

"Anyway," he says, returning to our conversation, "she liked to pretend she was Super Mom, you know, but there were times when we were on our own for days."

"Really?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah," he says.  "She was mean."

I travel back across three and a half decades, and run the tape.  Yes, I remember now:  stealthy footsteps across the rafters toward the attic; angry tears, shrill accusations; a sense that things were changing forever.  "Why?" I ask.

He shrugs.  "Chasing men.  Chasing money."

The conversation pauses for a beat.  Then, "Yeah," I say.  "I had a crazy grandma, too."

"Grandma Metzger?" he asks, incredulous.

"No, not her," I say.

"Yeah, I can't imagine," he says.  "Grandma Metzger was pretty solid."

"I must've been about six," I say.  "So Eric would've been four or so... wandered into the kitchen... Dad and Grandma were in there speaking Spanish ...lotta tension, I remember... Grandma points at me, says 'Who do you love more, son?  Your dad or your mom?'  Didn't know what to say, you know?  But she wasn't gonna let it go...  'Come on, son.  Tell me,' she says.  Dad laying on the couch... eyes shut... frowning.  He says, 'It's better that you boys love your mom more.'  So I say to Grandma, 'Yeah, I love Mom more.'  And Eric says, 'Yeah, me too.'  Grandma turns to Dad and says 'You see?'''

Edward's face is open and frank.  "Your dad sure was bein' a man, though...takin' a bullet for you guys like that."

I think about it.  "Yeah.  Yeah, he was, wasn't he?"

"That's something Ross and I share... fatherhood," he says.  "Sometimes you just gotta take a bullet for the team."  He lifts his glass, shakes his head.  "Here's to Ross."

We clink glasses.

I find that the tone of our conversation reveals a lot.  Our lives are unalike; each of us has acquired his wisdom from very different experiences.  And yet, we agree much more than we disagree.  We talk about our mistakes, our victories, our griefs; we enunciate our theories about justice, about ethics and morality.  It turns out that we're both moral men.

And, like all moral men, we're each carrying around a few unforgivable transgressions.

"But don't think I didn't pay for them," Edward says.  "It's all karma."

"Yeah," I agree.  "Send out good vibes, good vibes come back.  Send out bad vibes..."  Karma never fails.

Thirty-eight year ago, Edward and I met.  Right here, in Salem.  Arrived in similar circumstances at a similar age;  played pick-up football with neighborhood kids at "the Rez;"  vandalized automobiles; shoplifted cap guns; threw fir cones at cars from the top of the bank that overlooked Crestview Street, out behind Marie Bello's house (Marie, forever young and beautiful in my vision); smoked dope; laughed; cried; pondered the mysteries of teenage girls; did our best to be brave.  Broken home boys.

Bonds forged in those years, in those tween years, sometimes endure for lifetimes.  Especially bonds between socially ill-adjusted boys living on the poorer side of the hill, with no fathers at home, searching, in those last years of boyhood, for something to hold fast and true in their hearts; something to swear allegiance to across the turbulent sea of life, thirty-eight years wide.

All it takes is a little luck.  And the fact that Edward and I are sitting here in this bar, none-the-worse-for wear, thirty-eight years later just goes to show --we always were pretty lucky.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pakistan flood disaster

So, I need to underscore that, today, we're doing what we're doing for Pakistan out of pure humanitarian need. There's one other point I would like to make which is extremely important, and it was made today by both the foreign minister, Qureshi, and Dr. Rajiv Shah, the head of AID, USAID, at the Asia Society Conference this morning of NGOs.

They both said that this was a manifestation of global warming, that the melt off the Himalayan glaciers they both thought it was possibly linked to the fires outside Moscow. And Dr. Shah said very clearly that he thinks the world should expect more of this kind of event.

I know that sounds almost like a science fiction movie, but I think it's worth your viewers recognizing that we're at the... we're... we may be in the process of seeing a dangerous new trend. I'm not sure about that. Our focus tonight is emergency rescue and relief, but I thought that's important to mention.
--US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke on PBS Newshour, August 20, 2010
At times, the allure of head-in-the-sand obliviousness is like a verdant oasis amid the endless dunes of Sahara.  Especially when one contemplates the nightmare unfolding in Pakistan.  But, just as the lush green of a desert mirage proves phantasmal, so does our attempt to limit our own awareness prove futile and pointless.  Folks, it's out there:  hell on Earth.  And it's coming our way.

End times?  Well, as much as I want to avoid going off the deep end into eschatological panic, at some point we might just have to face up to it:  the gift of our existence, our time as a species, may be expiring.  No need to recount all the unprecedented disasters that pile up, with horrifying and accelerating frequency, one on top of the other.  We can all see what is happening.

Twenty million people in Pakistan are left homeless from the floods that are occurring now, at the beginning of the monsoon season. For those of us lucky enough to live in a calm and peaceful part of the world, that is unimaginable suffering

My employer is donating to the Pakistan Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and is urging myself and my coworkers to do the same.  I'll be writing a check forthwith. Should you, dear reader, be so inclined, you can make online donations here:
Or, you can donate through your cell phone, as described here:
The other day, as I was walking around the neighborhood, a cry of distress roused me out of my ambulatory reverie.  I looked up and saw a middle-aged woman crouched down on the sidewalk, next to a man, presumably her husband, who was stretched out, full-length on the concrete.  He had just fallen, flat on his face.  The woman was panicked.

Myself, some bike riders, and several other pedestrians dashed across the street to help.  It turned out that the old gentleman had tripped on the uneven walkway, but was unhurt.  Initial fears of cardiac arrest or some other catastrophe were unfounded.  We helped him to his feet, dusted him off, and dispersed.  But I came away from the incident buoyed by the responses of the people at the scene. 

I'll tell you, folks, I haven't given up hope that we still have a promising future ahead of us.  But, if we are entering the Final Days, if humanity has crossed the point of no return, all that is left to us is to choose how it will end.

If I may, I'd like to suggest that we face whatever is to come nobly, with compassion for each other, for ourselves.  When we see people in need, whether it is an old gentleman on the sidewalk along Division Street, or twenty million desperate Pakistanis, let's do what comes naturally.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Licorice ferns recall Medusa's tangled locks
Anyone who listens at all to the news knows there is a crisis in Pakistan.  Monsoon rains are drowning the country.  The Indus River, on the banks of which rose some of the earliest civilizations, more than 5000 years ago, has run amok.  Some 20 million people are displaced.

Imagine a Texas-sized population with nowhere to go.

The thought of that horror fills me with humble gratitude and with pity.  I've got to dig up a little scratch somewhere, cut a check to Catholic Relief Services or Red Crescent.

"Nice take!"
There was a good game of basketball in the park.  Full court, five-on-five.  These guys ran plays.  They communicated, worked together.  Young men full of the joy of competition.  It was a pleasure to watch.

"Away with thee, and thy pesky camera!"
My neighbor's cat was having a snooze in the driveway.  He blinked an admonishment at me when I stopped to take his picture.

There is nothing so tragic as a cat's dream, interrupted.

This particular dream was of a shady patio with a clear blue pool where goldfish, fat and solemn, idly fanned pectoral fins just below the surface, upon which was reflected the whiskered mien of the dreamer, eyelids half-dropped, drowsy, only just revealing yellow-green irises within which a sliver of black pupil offered a tunnel into the placid brain, lulled and fascinated by the fluid arc made by goldfish fins as they fanned...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque "controversy" more proof of GOP death

The Grand Ol' Party is dying.  It is dying a very ugly death.  Poor Mr. Lincoln, betrayed one final time. 

The latest piece of evidence is the pseudo-controversy over the "Ground Zero" mosque.  You know the story, yes?  New York Muslims are constructing a cultural center at Park 51 in lower Manhattan, about 2 blocks from "Ground Zero" (the site of the former World Trade Center).

There really is no controversy.  The Muslims have every right to build the cultural center.  Even opponents acknowledge it.  But right-wing freaks are having a field day, whipping up their demented base.

Newt Gingrich was on Fox & Friends on Monday, saying "the proposed mosque would be a symbol of Muslim 'triumphalism' and that building the mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks 'would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.'" 

Conflating Islam with what happened on 911 (not to mention the gratuitous Nazi invocation):  now that's leadership.

Between Newt and former New York Governor George Pataki (who has also been ginning up the Islamophobes) it looks like we have two men who want to run for president in 2012.  They know that the only way to the GOP nomination is through nativism, bigotry, and ignorance.

In the past, even as recently as the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican leaders would sometimes urge restraint when the rhetoric got too ugly.  Recall when John McCain tried to calm the roiling hatred during his campaign. 

But now, as Gingrich and Pataki so gratuitously demonstrate, ambitious Republican leaders positively leap to the fore at any public stoning.

They are killing their party.  After 150 years, the Confederates are finally killing the party of Lincoln.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cackle and crow

Epitomize and confirm, marteau!
Cackle, yes!  Cackle and crow!
With my blessings, sir!

Comes he, all vested in fair words and humility,
Honoring youthful days, foggily remembered;
A gracious debt, he piously pleads,
For extending my hand in friendship;

Thinks he I have forgotten old-score grudges,
Indignities suffered at his poltroon hands,
Unwilling descents down to honor-less squalor?

"Well," thinks I, "no raven ever paled from ebony
So far as I have seen;  yet Savior telleth:
There's no soul beyond redemption;
Arm's length can do no harm;"

Fooled again!  Already he has sensed his opening,
Uses grudgingly granted license to the very hilts, incapable of restraint,
Knowing that, inevitably, just as before and always, he will be driven out;

See?  There!  He menaces a cripple!
See?  There!  He hands out funny-money promises!
Watch, now!  Soon will he come with sorrowful words,
Watch, now!  He will gesture feebly toward remorse;

Nay, marteau, no tears!  Raise a glass to cruel cirrhosis!
Chant a dirge to misery!  Vomit on your debauched shoes! 
But never mind:  bemoaning his just-made bed, he's on to the next freebie;

For me there is a great satisfaction;
Few finer gifts will a man be given in his life
Than to have those whom he hold in low regard justify his contempt!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kitzhaber campaign kicks off

Heading right into an August roast, like we do every year.  Well, nothing is to be done about it, anyway.

The Kitzhaber campaign kicked off today, from its Portland headquarters at SE 31st and Division.  They called me a couple weeks ago, and I promised them some time, so I spent the late morning and early afternoon walking door-to-door, reminding folks that we've got a gubernatorial election this year.  And, oh by the way, we really want to make sure to elect Governor Kitzhaber. 

I walked down to headquarters, arriving just at 10am.  There was a lot of bustle and activity.  The operation was well-organized, with canvassing packets ready to hand out to volunteers.  It is hard to estimate their number since people were constantly coming and going, but when Attorney General Kroger spoke, just before we set out, there were some four or five dozen people.

Comings and goings
I got paired up with Lisa Jean, a woman from Raleigh Hills.  We drove to the area around Providence Hospital, on NE Glisan.  The campaign had given us lists of voters and their addresses.  We were to knock on a door and try to establish face to face contact.  From there, we determined (by asking directly) if the person was likely to vote for Governor Kitzhaber, and inquire as to the strength of that person's support.  We were also prepared to hand out campaign literature, register voters, and, if we did not make contact, to leave campaign leaflets in the door.

Together, Lisa Jean and I knocked on about 50 doors.  Most times, we didn't make contact.  But, of those we did contact, support for Governor Kitzhaber was overwhelming.  Of course, these weren't random voters.  The campaign had given us rosters of registered Democrats, independents, and a few Republican women.  There were no Republican men on the lists.  (I found this to be a revealing set of data.  But, I guess it should come as no surprise that Republican women might be restive within the bounds of that repressive party.)

Pre-canvass briefing
When we finished, Lisa Jean and I drove back to headquarters, where they were barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs.

Attorney Kroger's remarks, and the exhortations of the campaign staff all indicate that Democrats know the key to victory this fall is voter turnout.  The higher the turnout, the better are the chances for success.

I'm encouraged that there is so much activity.  And we're still in August!

I remember well the 1998 election when Governor Kitzhaber crushed Bill Sizemore's sleazy power grab.  Back then, perhaps knowing that victory was writ in the stars, the Kitzhaber campaign had seemed lackluster, anemic.  

But that was then.  As Attorney Kroger pointed out, Republicans try to win elections by suppressing voter turnout, and by flooding the airwaves with corporate-funded messaging laden with fear and ugliness.  But they still don't have an answer for the Democratic ground game:  volunteers manning phone banks and knocking on doors.  Ask Gordon Smith how well a ground game does against money.  I'm sure he'll tell you.

Chris Dudley might be a nice fellow but, just as he was never the go-to guy at the end of the Blazer game, he's even less the go-to guy in state governance.  Especially not when we're in such a fix.  Especially not when his solutions are warmed-over GOP hash about tax cuts for upper incomes.  That trickle-down Reagan crap never really caught on, here in Oregon.  I'm not sure if Dudley knows that.

Junior Bush put us in a deep hole, folks.  His administration looted us, ran us into debt, bogged our military down in unwinnable wars, and left us with catastrophe on every front.  So, if we're going to get out of this, we need smart, capable leadership.  That's why I'm on board with Governor Kitzhaber.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rough summer

Complaining about the weather is a futile and pointless undertaking, but I'm going to do it anyway:  It's been a rough summer so far.

The clime has really been stingy.  Cloudy mornings and moderately warm afternoons have been the norm.  My little city garden looks scrawny and pathetic this year.  Here it is, mid-August and I've got little hard green berries instead of ripening tomatoes. 

But now, we're heading directly into the brutal part of summer.  If we're to believe the local news, Portland is about to enter a four or five day heat wave, with temperatures approaching the century mark. No easy transition measured out by a stretch of those nice summer days, when it starts warm and stays warm, but never gets too hot; those days when Portland is the best and easiest place to be in all the world.

What a shame!

With all the bad news lately, despite a victory or two, I'm starting to recall all those premonitions of disaster that were so prevalent during the Junior Bush era.  Any person who cares to observe facts and trends can see where it's all heading.  Nothing lasts forever.  It could happen any moment.

Ah, why worry?   We get summers like this every now and then. C'est le temps.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

¡Amnistía! ¡Amnistía!

According to Reuters, there were an estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants living in the United States on January 1, 2009.  That is approximately the same number of people as live in the state of Ohio.  Think of the implications:  a population equal to the 7th most populous state in the United States, living "under the radar."

Now that the Republican party has been forced to bow to the xenophobic sentiments of their obnoxious base, it seems that the only ideas the right-wing has to offer are exclusion, estrangement, and alienation.  There have been calls from reactionaries to repeal the 14th Amendment. There have even been delusional crys to deport all illegal aliens!

Can you imagine how that would play out?  Attempting to deport 11 million people?  Consider the bitter complications that would occur from dividing families, from tearing apart communities. Even considering the logistics alone, the task would be impossible.   
    Right-wing freaks are always quick to attack a vulnerable population, whether it be illegal immigrants, gays, or name-your-minority.  But this is a bridge too far.  Regardless of how much it will rankle xenophobes and nativist blockheads in this country, there is no deportation solution.  Those millions of people known as "illegal immigrants" are here to stay.  That's the reality.

    So, what do we do about it?

    It seems that there are two options.

    One option is to continue as we are doing.  That is, deny citizenship to these millions of people living within our borders, relegating them to a shadow society.  In that case, they will live outside the laws and structures that make our society function.  There are all kinds of reasons that this is not a good idea.  People who fear deportation are unlikely to report crimes to law enforcement, to contribute to the public treasury in the form of taxes, to participate in public health initiatives.  A huge shadow population in our country presents no benefits, only dangers.

    The other option is to create a path to citizenship for these people.  Bring them out of the shadows, have them contribute to the general welfare.  Yes, that's right:  amnesty.  Even dim-witted Junior Bush understood the need for it.

    Border enforcement is a legitimate issue.  Any nation has a right to demand respect for its borders.  But that is a separate issue.  The millions of illegal immigrants in this country are still here.  So, I ask again, what do we do about it?

    For me the answer is obvious:  ¡Amnistía!

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Laurelin et Johnny, beaucoups de joie!

    Laurelin, Johnny, and Maty back in 2007
    Well, well, well... ol' Johnny Whitfield got married!  I can't say I'm too surprised given that he married Laurelin Muir who, by anybody's light, is a beautiful, sophisticated, and intelligent woman.

    Johnny was my roommate here in Hawthorne from 2003 through 2006.  I remember well the first day he came to my door, responding to an ad I'd placed on Craig's List.  Johnny exuded so much charisma, with his friendly, open manner, his intellect, and (ask any woman who knows him) his devastating good looks, that I knew immediately that I wanted him as a roommate.

    Over the course of our three years as housemates, Johnny and I became dear friends.  We could talk for hours about religion or politics or human relations or anything.  We had active social lives and we would orbit in our respective circles regularly.  When Johnny moved in, I got acquainted with a slew of fascinating people. 

    But none was more fascinating than Laurelin.  I met Laurelin in 2006, when she and Johnny first began dating.

    Maty has a story about Johnny preparing for his first date with Laurelin.   Johnny and Maty were in the kitchen and Johnny was carrying a mango that he meant to give Laurelin as a gift. Maty stopped him on his way out the door, saying, "Johnny!  No mango for gift for dating!  You should buy roses!"  Johnny was uncertain for a moment, but then followed his initial instinct and took the mango anyway.  Laurelin later told Maty that it was delicious. 

    Maty and I had only recently married, but she and Laurelin hit it off immediately.  Laurelin, you see, is fluent in French.  Maty's English, at that time, was pretty shaky (it was her fourth language, after all).  I would watch the two of them, Laurelin and Maty, speaking French with such ease, that I became a little jealous:  Laurelin could speak with my wife at a much deeper level than could I.

    Well, what a pair do Laurelin and Johnny make!  They complement each other in so many ways.  They're extremely intelligent, French sophisticated, thoroughly cerebral, and hopelessly charming.  Maty and I both feel very lucky to count them among our dear friends.

    So, here's to the happy couple!

    And a special message from "Mango Maty" and me:

    Nous vous souhaitons le meilleur dans la vie et dans l'amour. Nous sommes honorés d'être vos amis.

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    SeaTac drivers: You suck!

    Photo from a wreck that occurred on I5 near the Tacoma Dome back in June.  What do you expect, dumb asses?

    Just got back from a trip up through beautiful Washington state, where I stood by the side of David Thompson when he married lovely Nicole Thompson (née Chatfield).  The wedding took place in the San Juan islands, amid the beauty of Puget Sound waters and Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii).  An exhausting, but rewarding trip.

    I must say, as Maty and I trekked along the I5 corridor, through Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth.  As much as I love my neighbors to the north, it must be said:  SeaTac drivers suck.

    I'm not ashamed to admit I was more than a little nervous on the drive home when, on the stretch that runs from Fife, Washington, past the Tacoma Dome and on to south Tacoma, an 18-wheeler took offense at my driving a mere 60 miles per hour (which was 5 mph in excess of the speed limit).  I was in the middle lane, trying to keep a safe distance between our car and the car ahead of us.  But this truck driver took no such precautions.  He tail-gated me for several miles, to the point that the grill of his truck filled my rear view mirror.

    Meanwhile, other drivers in their appalling SUVs and minivans were dodging in and out of traffic, changing lanes without signals, riding in my blind spot, crowding me on all sides.  An aggressiveness pervaded.  I got the feeling that every driver around me was looking for an opportunity to screw the others, cutting them off, tail-gating.  It was a hair-raising experience.  Even Maty, who does not drive, noticed the difference from slow-paced Portland.

    This aggression probably stems from Seattle's utter intransigence vis-a-vis a workable public transportation system.  They recently implemented a European-style active traffic management system, in which signs provide up-to-the-minute traffic information.  But this is 2010!  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in 2001 that Seattle was 2nd in the nation for lousy traffic problems.

    I usually endure SeaTac traffic a couple of times per year, and it is always scary.  One Christmas, as I was heading north from Tacoma, I passed an accident on the southbound side of the freeway.  The police were zipping up a body bag as I drove past.  The traffic beyond was backed-up for miles.

    Church steeple:  I5 northbound somewhere along the SeaTac wasteland

    Don't get me wrong.  I love Seattle, but she's a far cry from my home, where the pace is much slower and the people are friendlier.  Of the major cities in my part of the continent, (bounded by San Francisco in the south up through British Columbia) Seattle would be my last choice for a place to make a home.

    For a time, Seattle was the nation's favorite up-and-coming city.  At least, it seemed that way, back in the 90s when grunge rock was surging, and everyone drank Starbuck's Coffee.  But nowadays the sheen has come off the emerald, as it were.  The only real Big City trait I can discern in Seattle is the poor attitudes of the drivers.

    So to all those SeaTac drivers with their hostility and aggression toward people who are just trying to get through their sh*thole traffic system:  You suck!

    In Portland, we're not burdened with any pretensions of being a "Big City."  And I'm thankful for that.

    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    Congratulations, Dave and Nicole!

    When Dave  Thompson called me (what was it? four months ago?) and asked me if I would stand beside him when he married Nicole, I told him I would consider it a high honor.  If a man thinks enough of you to ask that you be his second at the nuptial gig --well, any man with any character is going to relish that responsibility.

    And part of it is saying a few words at the banquet.  Tradition dictates that I recount the virtues of bride and groom, which I am more than happy to do.  But I'm faced with a difficulty in that I haven't spent much time with Nicole.  Apart from a few hours together in September of last year, and the time this morning, Nicole and I haven't had much opportunity to get to know each other.

    Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure I know a thing or two about Nicole.  And here's why:  I know her husband.  I've known Dave Thompson now for over 10 years.  We met while working at a company called OrCAD, in Beaverton, Oregon back in 1998. 

    Kindred spirits are quick to recognize one another, and it didn't take too many cigarette breaks at the loading dock before we were aware of our mutual love of acoustic guitars, and from there we discovered our similar (Dionysian) attitudes toward life.

    Friendship led to guitar-playing led to forming a band, Mahatma Candy, that became, more or less, the primary focus of our lives (and the lives of our two bandmates, Dan and Lori) for nearly 2 years.  Dave and I were roommates and travel companions and coworkers and best friends. 

    And in that time, I came to know Dave very well.  We've each seen the other through some crazy times:  sometimes helping each other, sometimes each contributing to the other's destruction.  Whatever we did, we always did with love and trust.

    And so that's why I feel like I know Nicole:  because I know Dave.  I know Nicole is wise, because Dave recognizes wisdom.  I know Nicole is kind, because Dave dislikes cruelty.  I know Nicole is beautiful, because... well, I guess I don't need Dave to tell me that.  And I know Nicole is responsible because Dave has an eye for responsible women.

    So, I'm pretty confident that I know both parties of this matrimony.  No one can know what time will reveal, but, since I know them both, since I know Dave and Nicole, I'm happy and satisfied that the future for them looks pretty damn good. 

    Congratulations, Dave and Nicole!

    Friday, August 06, 2010

    Book review: The Left Hand of Darkness

    Ursula LeGuin's much-acclaimed The Left Hand of Darkness was this month's selection for the book review.  Generally, my group enjoyed the book.  Will Johnson was the most enthusiastic.  Left Hand is the fourth novel in the Hainish Cyle which consists of six novels.  (I haven't read any of the others.)

    I can't say I was all that impressed with this early work of Ms. LeGuin. 

    Like any good bookworm teenager, I read the Earthsea Trilogy back in the 70s and I remember finding it puzzling and morose and haunting.  I enjoyed it well enough.  But Left Hand to me, was not a particularly compelling novel, nor did I develop much sympathy for the characters, whom I found to be rather dull.

    Left Hand examines several themes, the most obvious of which is gender roles and their effects on society.  On the planet Gethen, humans are gender neutral for all but a few days a month when they assume a gender in a cycle called kemmer.  This cycle is akin to a woman's menses or an animal going into heat.  An individual might be female one month, and male the next.

    LeGuin takes a stab at how such a world, where there are no absolute genders, might be different.  For example, the political and sociological structures of Gethen are byzantine and ruthless.  There is murder and violence and treachery, aplenty, but there are no wars.  LeGuin introduces a concept of prestige and social stature called shifgrethor that governs all interactions between people.  I'm not sure I understood it, but I likened it to the Chinese concept of "face."

    The story is related via the journals of Genly Ai, an envoy from the Ekumen.  The Ekumen is an interplanetary organization of human-inhabited planets (think Star Trek:  Federation).  The Ekumen has only just discovered Gethen and seeks to establish relations.  Ai becomes embroiled in Gethen's politics and wins an ally in Estraven, the prime minister to the ruling monarch of a country called Karhide.

    Ai falls afoul of the various schemes in play around him and he is sent away to a prison camp.  Estraven, by now disgraced and exiled, effects an escape and the two set off across a continent of ice toward redemption.

    I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the novel, which involved politics and intrigue.  But I found the last third of the book, the part that dealt with the journey across the ice, to be tedious.  The novel is written from a detached perspective:  we read accounts from the various characters memoirs.  There is no immediacy to the book at all, and that kept me from much caring about the characters.  When one of the main characters was killed toward the end of the story, I was indifferent. 

    Ms. LeGuin draws a fascinating sketch of a universe similar to our own with subtle differences.  And she touches on many intriguing concepts.  From the perspective of a sociological discussion, the book has a lot to offer.

    But I just didn't care about the characters.

    Thursday, August 05, 2010

    A couple victories

    Court strikes down California's Prop 8 

    Yesterday, the California Supreme Court struck down the recently-passed state ban on gay marriage that was adopted by referendum (the infamous Proposition 8).  The decision, which takes effect in 30 days, clears the path for gay people to be legally married in the state of California, even if they are not residents of the state.

    This is a victory similar to the victory we had in Oregon, back in 2008.

    Justice Vaughn Walker of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California wrote:  "[Prop 8] fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. … Because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional."

    One weakness of the argument in favor of Prop 8, it seems, was the inability of proponents to demonstrate (indeed, even to articulate) how gay marriages might harm heterosexual marriages.  

    Appeal is a certainty.  This case will eventually be presented to the Supreme Court, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence.  But keep in mind, one of the legal eagles that is arguing the case against Prop 8 is former Solictor General under Junior Bush, Ted Olson, demonstrating that this issue does not fall neatly into the left/right dichotomy that allows for reflexive judgment.

    NYC gives nod to Muslim Cultural Center 
    "I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime - as important a test - and it is critically important that we get it right." --NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
    In spite of hysterical protests from the Anti-Defamation League, Sister Sarah, and Newt Gingrich, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted against ascribing landmark status to a vacant building in lower Manhattan.  This clears the way for plans to build a Muslim cultural center on the site, which is located near One World Trade Center.

    Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by clergymen of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, delivered an impassioned defense of the decision.  You can read his remarks here.

    This is not a popular decision, but it is a courageous one.  A recent poll revealed that New York City voters oppose construction of the cultural center by a 52% to 31% margin. Bloomberg and the Landmarks Preservation Commission are flatly rejecting the obvious hysteria, race-baiting, and demagoguery of right-wing opportunists who have the popular winds at their backs.

    Opposition to the cultural center seems to center around the dubious argument that it is insensitive to the feelings of the families of 911 victims.  But, I'm afraid I don't see how peoples feelings have much to do with it.  If the owners of the property are acting within their rights, no one has anything to say about it.  Just as racists are free to wear pillow cases on their heads and say ignorant, ugly things, Muslims are free to exercise their property rights.

    And further, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a nationwide group founded by family members of those killed on 9/11 issued the following statement:
    September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows strongly supports efforts to bring an Islamic Cultural Center to lower Manhattan, near the Ground Zero site. We believe that welcoming the Center, which is intended to promote interfaith tolerance and respect, is consistent with fundamental American values of freedom and justice for all.
    This fight isn't over yet.  An advocacy group founded by right-wing Bible-thumper Pat Robertson, the American Center for Law and Justice, plans to file suit to stop the construction. So be it.

    In any case, today, I want to acknowledge these victories.  The fight continues, but the good guys have scored a couple wins.  Take heart!

    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    Hang me up!

    Hang me up, hang me up!
    Everything else is gone
    So why don't you just hang me up?

    Every ramshackle cot I threw together
    To shelter me from tickling breezes
    Fell flat before your gale; 

    Every hard-won truth I thought I might cling to
    When sneaker careered o'er wet beaches
    Dissolves in your rip tide;

    Every wee treasure held in my secret heart
    That I might one day be pleased to find
    Feeds your raging furnace;

    Tell me then, please tell me:
    Since everything's gone
    Why don't you just hang me up?

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    GOP senators call for repeal of 14th Amendment birthright provision

    Senator John Kyl: Maintaining the dignity of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body

    From CBS News:
    Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said today that Congress should hold hearings to look into denying citizenship to illegal aliens' children born in the United States, as the fight over immigration widens into the explosive "birthright" issue.

    Last week Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was considering introducing a Constitutional amendment to repeal a provision of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born within U.S. borders. Graham suggested that children born in the United States whose parents are here illegally should not automatically become U.S. citizens.

    The 14th Amendment was enacted in 1868 to ensure that states would not deny citizenship to former slaves. It reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
    This is another example of Republican desperation in the face of the decline of the one demographic they can still count on: white people frightened at the prospect of their irrevocable (and inevitable) loss of power and status.  And wouldn't you know it?  After all the hysterical tea-bagger jibber jabber that President Obama was going to repeal the 2nd Amendment and take away their guns, it is the Republicans who are calling for a repeal of rights from the Constitution that they (falsely and cynically) claim to revere.

    It is hard to imagine that Republican fear-mongers like John Kyl and Lindsey Graham might actually succeed in altering the Constitution.  That would require that they win a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, plus win passage in 38 of the 50 state legislatures across the country.  But I expect that they know that it is a pipe dream.  What they hope for, of course, is another hot-button issue they can use to rally their idiot base.

    They have used the abortion issue over the years in the same way.  And, if you recall, there was even some talk, back in the Newt Gingrich era, about a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance the federal budget every year.  Nothing ever happens with either of these issues but, boy, oh boy, do they work the right-wing fringe into a lather!

    It is offensive to me that a despicable loser like John Kyl (or Joe Lieberman) imagines he has any authority at all to determine the legitimacy of anyone's citizenship.  If anyone is going to have his citizenship examined, I propose that we start with bald-faced hypocrites who ignore the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment in order to protect a war criminal.

    But, even Cheney should be afforded due process.

    Because if we're going to start questioning each other's rights, where will it stop?

    Monday, August 02, 2010

    Payin' some bills

    You know how life is, eh?

    Sometimes you look around and see that you've wronged people to the degree that it becomes necessary to say "sorry."  And often times, you don't arrive at the realization until years later, with the help of time-deepened perspective.  After all, decent people don't set out trying to hurt other people; it just works out that way sometimes.  And sometimes, when the realization does finally occur, the tides of life have swept the aggrieved parties forever beyond your reach, and you can only hope that, somehow, they'll get the message. 

    With that in mind, I've got some bills to pay, today.

    Jeff, old friend, I consider myself in your debt.  I showed up on your door one Sunday; you dropped everything, and drove me from Eugene to Portland.  You got me out of a sticky situation, and you didn't hesitate.  I am sorry that years later, I said disrespectful, angry things to you.

    Casey, I've never understood what happened; why you felt the need to drop out of sight.  But, then again, that was a crazy time and passions were running high all around.  It was the time of Big Change for all of us, and I was plenty crazy myself.  I'm afraid that between the anti-depressants and the booze and everything else, I was running roughshod over a lot of people.  I deeply regret that I behaved so callously toward you.

    To the Basque Doña, who has never shown me anything but kindness and hospitality, please forgive me for being a thoughtless ass.  I have no excuse I can offer.  I can only stand here, with my hat in my hand, waiting.  Which I will do.

    To that other person who must remain unnamed, thanks so much for having the wisdom to do what I never could do.  I owe you a debt of gratitude.  You kept a clear head and got us out of the dangerous, confusing situation into which I, in my arrogance, had led us.  I think you showed courage and I respect and admire you for it.

    I suppose I will leave off there, for now.  If I were to try to write an apology to everyone that was due, I wouldn't have much spare time between now and Curtain Call.  But these are a few things that have been vexing me.  And you know how we Germans are with our guilt.

    Sunday, August 01, 2010

    News from the neighborhood

    Check out Fred Meyer's eco-friendly roof on the bottle-return outpost!
    The gentrification of the neighborhood continues apace.
    The Fred Meyer on SE 39th and Hawthorne has undergone extensive remodeling, both outside and inside.  Outside, Fred's has landscaped its parking lots with wetland-like areas.  They've constructed an eco-friendly roof on the bottle return building.  On the inside, they've created an open cafeteria/sushi bar/specialty bakery area that is very modern and inviting.

    All of this is done, of course, with the idea of stealing some of the thunder from the New Seasons grocery store under construction a block to the east, on SE 40th and Hawthorne (right across the street from Thanh Thao Thai/Vietnamese Restaurant).

    The New Seasons is scheduled to open in October and, boy, won't that change the whole dynamic in the neighborhood?  I've lived in this neighborhood for 11 years now, and I don't think I've ever managed to stay out of Fred Meyer for longer than a 3 or 4 day stretch.  But with New Seasons on its way, Old Uncle Fred might actually have to put up his dukes and fight!

     Soon to be New Seasons
    I'm glad to see new business coming to the neighborhood, but I really hope it doesn't result in rents on Hawthorne become too expensive for places like The Third Eye head shop, or the Blue Butterfly Import store.  What would Hawthorne be without a head shop, for God's sake?

    Hang in there, guys!

    A Dragon named Zucchini

    In the sea swam the dragon Zucchini
    Who loved to eat shrimp with linguine
    'Til one day a prawn
    Avoided his yawn
    And cried out "Must you be such a meanie?"