Monday, February 28, 2011

The Zeuses you've seen

Another of the Things to think about.  From Jason and Medeia:
Tell me, child, are they then so many --the Zeuses you've seen? --John Gardner
A child with a pilgrim's staff presents himself at the gates of Zeus' Olympic palace.  Mighty Zeus, glorious, wise, and magnificent beyond all imagining, fresh off victory over the dragons, comes to greet the child, personally.  As Gardner puts it:  "It was a point of pride with Zeus that he wasn't as yet too proud to meet with the humblest of his visitors."

The child says that he has come to look upon Zeus.  The child has heard that Zeus is mightier than any god that has come before.  The child has come to see this grand new god.  Zeus is amused that the child should speak so boldly, and so he gently asks, "Tell me, child, are they then so many --the Zeuses you've seen?"

The child answers calmly.  In a fascinating recitation, the child tells of an infinitude of gods, of Zeuses, rising and falling in endless procession.  "Like delicate boats they float on the fathomless waters that form the Unnameable."  And when he has finished, Zeus, King of the Gods is humbled.

Is it plausible that the king of the gods could be deemed young?  If so, this Zeus, the one portrayed by Gardner, is young.  Full of his own glory, fascinated by his own image, amazed at the complexity of his own thought.  And, if it is not too laughable to suggest that mortals be compared to gods, I've known young men (and some young women) who display evidence of a similar outlook.  (Lord knows, at one time, even me!)

The conversation that Zeus has with the child is symbolic, perhaps, of a point in life at which every glorious youth in his (or her) pride will arrive:  the moment when one's own mortality becomes an incontrovertible fact.  Often, this revelation occurs when a parent, a leader, a hero, a "Zeus," if you will, is overthrown. We've all seen our Zeuses, yes?

Those Greeks!  They had a metaphor for everything!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie review: The King's Speech

Without exception, every person with whom I spoke about The King's Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, was unequivocal in praising its merits.  "Inspiring."  "Uplifting."  "Magnificent."  Well, after our viewing on Saturday afternoon, Maty and I both append our names to the roll of the film's admirers.

This flick is the second item in Tom Hooper's curriculum vitae that I've had the pleasure of enjoying.  (He was also the director of the magnificent John Adams mini-series.)  Hats off to him, for his masterful depiction of 1930s England.  The images he chooses, everything from fog-shrouded London cityscapes to crowds of English citizens with worried faces, convey a sense of what surely must have been the prevalent sentiment in the United Kingdom at that time:  a nation at the threshold of a war that, no matter the outcome, will usher in an end to the once-mighty British Empire.

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert, the stammering second son of King George V.  Albert, in many ways, is the embodiment of the English people at that time in history.  He is a man determined to do his duty, but deathly afraid that he may not be up to the task.  Firth's portrayal is so sincere and convincing that the viewing audience suffers with him as he struggles (both figuratively and literally) to perform his duties. 

In his efforts to rise to the occasion, Prince Albert turns to an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffry Rush).  Logue is a "commoner," and thus completely outside the isolated world of symbolism and impotent ceremony that Prince Albert knows.  Together, the two men struggle, not only to overcome the Prince's speech impediment, but to find the commonality of their existence, the human thread that holds them (and all of us) together.

Both of these actors turn in great performances.  Firth has an especially moving scene in which he describes the genesis of his stammering.  And Rush brings all his charisma to bear in his depiction of an honest family man who has taken a shortcut or two to earn a living.  I also enjoyed Derek Jacobi's role as Archbishop Cosmo Lang.  Jacobi is a natural for that part.

But for my money, the most memorable performance came from Helena Bonham Carter in her role as the Duchess of York.  Carter portrays a strong and courageous woman who has resisted the pampered surrender of a royal life in favor of doing her duty to her husband and her people.

Hooper does a great job of conveying the isolation, the alienation, and the oppressive sense of duty that must surely weigh down on British royals.  If we examine it closely, we can see how those sentiments are in fact what links the royalty to all of humanity.  We all struggle with isolation and alienation.  We all bear the burden of our own duties.  Don't we?

The film is not about victory.  It is about finding the courage and strength to face the trials that will come.  It's about rising to the fight, about defying fear.  Not for yourself, but for those who need to see it in you.

Great flick.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

All things of grace and beauty

One of the Things to think about:
No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. --Cormac McCarthy
This passage occurs at the end of McCarthy's novel, The Road, as the chief protagonist, the Man, comes to terms with his own death.  McCarthy's casual mastery creates a beautiful sense of solace and peaceful resignation.  Is it not so?  "No list of things to be done.  The day providential to itself.  The hour."

Anyone (which is to say, everyone) who has anguished at the short life of a timeless sunset; anyone (which is to say, everyone) who has endured the agony of watching something beloved move forever beyond one's reach, watched it migrate from life to memory --he will understand.  "There is no later.  This is later."

The circumstances surrounding the end of the Man's life are bleak, seemingly hopeless.  And yet, McCarthy plants a subtle seed.  "All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes."

Everything comes at a price, right?  When we can live every day of our lives with this knowledge, we will have paid it.

Update:  ¡Perdóname, hermanita! ¡Casi se me olvida! ¡Feliz cumpleaños a Chae!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some things to think about...

No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes. --Cormac McCarthy
Tell me, child, are they then so many --the Zeuses you've seen? --John Gardner

Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond. --Ernest Hemingway
Friday, Friday!  Friday at last! --Your humble anthologist

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Neo-feudalism, as I understand it

Beggin' yer lordship's pardon...
Feudalism is a term used to describe the political and governing systems that arose across post-Empire Europe (from around 800 to 1500 anno domini).  These systems relied on a relationship involving a lord, his vassals, and his fief.  Very briefly, the lord is the landowner, the vassals are the people who work the land, the land itself is the fief.  The vassals pay tribute to the lord and there exists a sort of mutual responsibility between vassals and lords for military protection.  Wealth and power flow upward, from fief to vassal to lord.

Neo-feudalism is the modern-day incarnation of the same basic system of relationships.  We have our lords, nowadays:  the mega-rich who control vast financial, media, or resource extraction empires.  We have our vassals:  the people who perform the work of these empires and rely on them for income and health care.  And, under the authority of the insane sanctity that we afford the concept of "capitalism," the fief, the land, the authority of power, is hoarded in the completely ethereal abstraction of numbers that portend the future.

Lords these days are people like Rupert Murdoch, George Soros, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Junior Bush.  They are not necessarily malevolent.  Some are philanthropists and humanitarians.  Some are self-made while others inherit their fortunes.

Lords are afforded greater rights and privileges than are their vassals.  Lords are generally exempted from contributing to the "common good."  Lords are not subject to the same laws that apply to vassals.  

For these people, these lords, money is something other than a means of living from day to day.  It is their birthright awarded by destiny.  It is the irrefutable source of their authority. 

There is a great scene in the old Roman Polanski flick, Chinatown, wherein Jack Nicholson's character, Jake Gittes, confronts John Huston's Noah Cross, the powerful water baron in Depression-era Los Angeles County who builds an empire with murder and corruption: 

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

And what a future it is!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joinin' in

Tips on organizing
On Saturday, February 19th, I took part in something called "Grassroots Volunteer Training."   Without really knowing much about it, I signed up for the event several weeks back, in response to an email message that came my way somehow.

(Hoodwinked, I say!  I thought the event was to be roadie tryouts for an upcoming reunion tour of the old 60s band!  (A joke...  that's what I call a joke, people.  Aw, come on!))

To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that excited about spending the day listening to a presentation about how to organize, but with everything that is going on all over the world, and especially in our own Rust Belt, I felt I had a responsibility to do my part.  To join in.

Impressive turnout
It was an all-day event.  So I was more than a little surprised when I arrived and saw the turnout.  Lots of people, fired up and ready to get to work.  And why not?  If we proved anything in this last election, Oregon progressives have a great ground game.  The Republican party in this state has no answer for it.  (And, Governor Kitzhaber, you're welcome.)

Kinda looks like an "O," don't it?
The event was actually organized by several groups:
  • The Democratic Party of Oregon
  • The Multnomah County Democrats
  • The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, and...
  • An organization calling itself "Organizing for America-Oregon"
There is a degree of irony in all of this, since I am neither a registered Democrat, nor a union member.  But I usually line up pretty close to them on most issues.  The last group, "Organizing for America," was new to me. 

Well, according to the organization's web site:  "Organizing for America, the successor organization to Obama for America, is building on the movement that elected President Obama by empowering communities across the country to bring about our agenda of change."  There's more here.

Break-out sessions
Early in the event, as part of an ice-breaking exercise, the dedicated volunteers who ran the event (names escape me, I'm afraid) were passing around a microphone and asking people what the term "grassroots" meant to them.  When my turn came, I said "Solidarity.  Especially with our brethren in Wisconsin."  That elicited a cheer and a round of applause and made my day.

I enjoyed the event, believe it or not.  I met a lot of my neighbors in the break-out sessions.  The event coordinators were incredibly organized, motivated, and good at their jobs.  They kept the event moving; they exuded positive energy.  The prep team had our names, email addresses, areas of residence, all of it cataloged and referenced.  It was an impressive achievement.  Hats off to the folks at Organizing for America.  Great job, you guys.

Hiked on up to Tabor in the afternoon
But I didn't stay for the whole thing.  I had to get back home so I could get in my hike and get cleaned up. 

Maty and I, partyin' with the Gambians
Maty and I had a party to attend that night, you see.  It was Gambian Independence Day and we have many Gambian friends...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If they can do it in Tripoli, they can do it in Madison

Just to repeat:  the people demonstrating in Tripoli who are being brutally attacked by the military regime of our dear, old "friend," Revolutionary Leader Gaddafi, and the people standing together and demanding that they be heard in Madison, Wisconsin are brothers.

Though they may differ in nationality, ethnicity, language, or religion, they have more in common with each other than with corporate robber barons, insurance company executives, and usurers.  And if people ever figure that out, if they can see through all the hysteria and fear generated by the mouth pieces, we could be standing at the gateway of a very exciting time to be alive.   

As Professor Howard Zinn showed us in A People's History of the United States, occasionally, populist movements arise.  People, working together, affect great social change. 

The demonstrations occurring in Tripoli, Cairo, Bahrain, Tehran, Madison, and perhaps soon, across Michigan and Ohio, could be the beginnings of something awesome and irresistible.

We, the people, the common people that make the world work, could awaken to our own power.

We all saw what happened in Egypt.  Now people are trying it in other places.  As they succeed, they increase their own power, and diminish that of the shadowy figures who get rich by keeping them divided.

We could be there, brothers and sisters.  We could be standing at the dawn of one of those awakenings that changes everything.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What just might be happening in Madison

Do you know what we just might be looking at here?  Do you know what this thing in Madison might mean?  If you don't, I'll tell you.  It is just possible, my lefty liberal bleeding-heart one-worlders, my Howard Zinn disciples, my closet Trotskyites, that something Really Bigtm is afoot.

After 6 days of protest and paralysis, the people in Wisconsin are yet refusing to submit.  By resisting Governor Scott Walker's union-busting budget bill, they're standing up to the oligarchy.  Reports from Ohio and Michigan are that sympathy protests are being planned in those states.  The Badger State folks are showing amazing determination.

Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that the people of Wisconsin might be inspired by the recent scenes that took place in Cairo's Fahrir Square?  They saw what happened in Egypt.  And they learned from it.  Just as everyday people all over the world are learning a very powerful secret.

And that is this:  If we all stand together, there is nothing they (the plutocrats, the robber-barons, the swindlers and usurers) can do.  

Think about it:  a worldwide populist movement.  

Oligarchs and plutocrats must be more than a little troubled about what is happening.  All of the millions of dollars they spend pitting people against each other could prove to be wasted.  And, more importantly, their ultimate impotence in the face of an organized and determined populace will be laid naked before the world.

This isn't a left-right thing.  It's a distribution of wealth thing.  The people at the top of the economic pyramid want people to be afraid of each other.  Be afraid of the Muslims!  Be afraid of the gays!  Be afraid of the Mexicans and the kids with earrings in their noses and the people who put ketchup on their scrambled eggs!  Because if you're afraid of them, you don't pay attention to the guys who are systematically robbing you blind.

And here's the big news for all the people who are afraid:  Unless you're one of the richest 2% of people in the world, you have a lot more in common with the people rallying in Madison, Wisconsin, (and with the people that gathered in Fahrir Square in Cairo, or anywhere else in the "Jasmine Revolution") than you do with the war-mongers and robber-barons that are pitting you against them.

So, if what we are seeing with all the recent popular demonstrations really is, or really might someday become, a huge worldwide populist movement, the next battle is occurring right now in Madison.

Support your brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.  And in Bahrain, and Libya, and Jordan.  


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Puttin' the zen on

Hawthorne Bridge
Takin' a walk on a gray winter Sunday in Portland.  Cool, but not cold.  A bit windy.

Between the noise of the traffic and the rush of the wind, the savory aromas of garlic and ginger coming out of the food courts and the smell of human shit under the freeway ramps where destitute vagrants unroll their tarps and their sleeping bags, between the quiet wisdom of the river, and the comically purposeful bustle of the walkers and bicyclists along her banks, a man can be held spellbound.

Mid-span, Morrison Bridge; looking south
In fact, can find himself wandering, drifting along, taking everything in, drawing it all to him.  And suddenly come upon a sad memorial on the south side of the Morrison Bridge.  It is a place where, in separate incidents some 7 years apart, two citizens died.  Both killed by drunk drivers.  You can read the story here.

So... Vikings... Has it been them all along, then?
Espying a flag atop the Spalding building confirms a long-held suspicion:  Vikings are established in Portland.  Their longboats no doubt slipped up the river, riding some inward flood of a moonlit night.  Fair enough.  Vikings these days run pretty tight ships.  Not bad folks to have around.

Havin' a walk in Portland, in the middle of winter.  Puttin' the zen on. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sondheim sing-along at the GOP watering hole

SceneFriday night, February 18th, 2011.  The end of another week on Capitol Hill. Speaker of the House John Boehner is sitting alone at an elegant bar, leaning on an elbow, martini near to hand.  The bartender stands near him, wiping out a brandy snifter.  A piano player sits at a piano, singing a Tony Bennett tune.  The clientele is mostly solitary drinkers, including several members of Congress.  But most everyone is keeping to himself.

Bartender:  So, how's it feel to be called "Mr. Speaker?"

Boehner (giving a sidelong glance):  Don't you start, too, eh?

Bartender (chuckling):  I'm sorry, sir.  I just couldn't resist.  But, really... I mean, "So be it?"

Boehner:  I don't see you up in front of any microphones.  You think pourin' drinks for guys like me is tough?

Bartender:  "Read my lips?"

Boehner stammers, then laughs. They both laugh. The bartender notices another client approaching, quickly regains his composure.

Bartender:  Leader McConnell!  What will you have, sir?

Senator Mitch McConnell is there, standing with his hands clasped in front of him.  His jacket is buttoned fast, as if he were even then, in the well of his beloved Senate.

McConnell:  Would you mind fetching me a mint julep, son?  You know how I like the mint along one side?

Bartender:  I know just how you like them, sir. [Exit.]

Boehner:  I wondered how long it would be 'til you showed up.  [Tilts his glass at McConnell.]  Thanks for not keeping me in suspense.

McConnell:  Why, John, my friend, is that any way to treat your old friend from Kentucky?

Boehner [shouting to the bartender]:  Go 'head and start me another!

McConnell seats himself on a nearby stool.

McConnell:  You see, John?  Being a leader is not easy.  Probably not as easy as you must have hoped, back when you were handing out tobacco lobby checks on the floor of the House. 

Boehner stares into his drink.

McConnell:  Do you remember how it was in the 111th, John?  Remember how I held my caucus together?
Boehner: Go ahead and get your yahyahs, if it makes you feel better.  I've got more important things to worry about.

McConnell:  Let me ask you, John.  Do you suppose you will be able to pass any legislation this session?  I'm asking because I'd really like to know the answer.  It would be nice if we had something to debate in the Senate.  You know how Senators are if they don't have enough to keep them busy.

The bartender returns with a tray and the two drinks.  Boehner snatches the martini, sloshes some onto his pant leg.

Boehner: Alright, Mitch.  Have your fun.  But, don't forget, I'm from Cincinnati.  I know all about you Kentucky folk.  And even if I didn't know you, I'd hear it in your pipsqueak voice.  Just like at the football game.  Nobody watches what happens away from the ball.  Wait until the public gets a good look at Rand Paul and Mike Lee.  Then, it'll be my turn to laugh.  I want you to remember tonight when that time comes, Mitch. 

Mid-rant, Boehner slouches onto his elbow, sullen.  McConnell sips at his julep.  

Boehner: Aw, hell, Mitch.  Never mind.  It's not your fault. 

Senator Harry Reid approaches, though neither man notices.

Reid:  You fellows mind if I join you?

McConnell:  Harry!  By all means, have a seat.

Reid:  I really can't, Mitch.  I just came by to wish you both a good weekend. 

Boehner: Harry, can I offer to buy you an orange juice?  Fresca?

Reid:  Seven-Up, John.  "Never had it.  Never will."   But I really can't. I'm on my way home for the weekend.

McConnell:  What's the occasion, Harry?  Is that wonderful Tabernacle Choir giving another performance?

Reid:  Something like that...  Oh, bartender!  [He hands a note to the bartender.]  Give this to the piano man, will you?   

Bartender:  Certainly, Senator.  Have a wonderful weekend, sir.

Reid[to McConnell and Boehner]:  Gentlemen, I'll see you next week!  [Exit.]

They sit silently, listening to the singer finish "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  

Boehner:  Mitch, can we be real with each other for a minute?

McConnell:  Sure, I'll play along.  For now.

Boehner:  How do you feel about Harry?  I mean, really.  Love him?  Hate him?

McConnell:  I love him.  I've never blamed him for making me look like a fool.  I'd do the same to him, if I had the chance.  It's all part of the job.

Boehner[nodding]:  I feel the same about Nancy.

Singer:  I've just received a special request from the distinguished majority leader of the United States Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada.  The honorable senator has asked me to send this out to his two dear friends, Senator Mitch McConnell, and the Speaker of the House of the United States Congress, Mr. John Boehner.

This is a beautiful song by the great Stephen Sondheim, and it goes a little something like this...

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

McConnell finds that he is singing along, raises his voice and puts on a harmony.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.

McConnell leans over as he sings, and rolls his eyes to Boehner, who glumly joins in.

Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Suddenly, another voice rings out from across the room.  It belongs to none other than former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich!

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,

From out of nowhere, former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin appears!

Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

The piano softens.  And then, it is just McConnell.  He seems to be singing directly to Boehner.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

At last, the lights dim, and there is only John Boehner, tears streaming down his face.  This is not the Speaker of the House, nor the most powerful Republican in the country, nor even the guy on the links with the 77 handicap.   At this moment, he is John.  Just John. 

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Go you, Wisconsin!

Be strong, brothers and sisters!

Wisconsin's newly-elected "Tea Party" governor, Scott Walker, dished himself up a whole plateful of "oops" with his ill-advised attempt to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Ensconced in the governor's state budget proposal, which calls for state workers to contribute more to their pension and health benefits, is language that strips these workers of their collective bargaining rights.  So, under the guise of being a tough fiscal conservative, Governor Walker is attempting to bust Wisconsin's government workers unions.

Governor Walker, it has been revealed, is supported by deep-pocketed plutocrats including the infamous laissez faire capitalist Koch Brothers.  Charles and David Koch took full advantage of the newly-awarded, Supreme Court sanction of their ability to pollute the political airwaves with as much money as they might wish.  In last year's midterm elections, they gave $212 million to the Karl Rove political machine to help elect "fiscal conservatives," as they are sometimes called.  ("Oligarchs" and "plutocrats" are what I call them.)  Now, fresh off their electoral successes, the Brothers K have jumped right in to the Wisconsin fight, tossing money around like candy to support Walker's union-busting attempt.  It is rumored that the brothers are paying people to manufacture counter-demonstrations of so-called "Tea Party" citizens.

Well, the people of Wisconsin are having none of it.  Upwards of 30,000 people descended on Madison and occupied the state Capitol.  Wisconsin has never seen anything like it.  And reports this morning are that protests are spreading to Ohio, where that state's new governor, freakish John Kasich, is attempting a similar union busting maneuver.

Governor Walker has stated that he's ready to call out the Wisconsin National Guard, if necessary, in response to the demonstrations. Straight out of the Hosni Mubarak playbook, eh?  And probably not a smart move.  But what else does he have left?  He already attempted to split the union coalition by exempting police and firefighter unions from the new measure.  But that didn't work.  Firefighters have reportedly joined the protest movement in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters.  State-wide, schools are closing as teachers and students call in "sick" to show support. Wisconsin's cherished Green Bay Packers have also released statements in support.  Some of the players have even joined the protests.

Democrats in the state senate have left the state to deny a quorum, without which, the bill cannot come to a vote.  There are rumors that one or two Republicans in that body are wavering in their support of the measure, which could be enough to block passage.

Worker's rights are on the line today.  The front line is Madison, Wisconsin.

Fight on, brothers and sisters!  Fight on!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great movie villains

I don't know about you, but I'm always perplexed when someone asks me something like "What is your favorite movie," or "book," or "rock album," or "foreign city."  Equally impossible are Top Ten Lists and the like.

I fall in love with so much art that I can't adhere to something as confining as a list.  And, anyway, there is only art and imitation.  Art always succeeds.  Imitation never does.  That distinction is how you tell them apart.

So, these are not "The Top Movie Villains of All Time."  These are successful performances.

And among my favorites.

Eli Wallach as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

More clown than villain, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez is the ultimate pragmatist; a survivor in a hard world.  His way out of any dilemma is dictated by the answer to a single, unvarying question:  What is good for Tuco?  Illiterate, superstitious, but curiously moral (and decidedly not free of his Catholic heritage), Tuco manages to retain his humanity as he roams between Union and Confederate lines in Civil War Texas, chasing after stolen gold.

Hand it to Sergio Leone.  His masterful direction in this 1966 classic brought out the very best in his dynamite cast.  And Leone let Eli Wallach run.  Taking nothing away from Lee Van Cleef and (young) Clint Eastwood, who both turn in great performances, Wallach quite simply steals the show. 

Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman

Comic book villains are always a little over-the-top, and Jack Napier is no exception.  Jack is an ambitious gangster in a powerful gang in Gotham City.  That makes him dangerous.  But after he has an horrific accident involving chemicals in a heist gone bad, he becomes even more so.  His motivations are incomprehensible, insane.  They make no sense.  Not to anyone, anyway, other than the Joker, which is the personality Napier assumes after the accident.  The Joker is a complete sociopath, delighting in chaos and death, and in the disfigurement of beauty.

No actor is better suited to portray a psychotic clown than Jack Nicholson.  And his portrayal of the Joker is masterful.  I'd argue that it is among his best.  Nicholson conveys the Joker's macabre and twisted sense of humor, his catlike sadism, with such seeming ease that one suspects script-writer Bob Kane knew who would be cast in the role before he ever sat down at the keyboard.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh is one scary dude.  (I mean, my God, look at that face!)  Governed by an absolute conviction in the inevitability of fate, Chigurh is a pitiless and chillingly effective killer.  Part of what makes Chigurh so terrifying is his lack of passion.  He isn't driven by anger or hate.  In fact, throughout this Coen Brothers classic, Chigurh displays only the mildest shades of emotion:  irritation, when one victim can't see why her murder is necessary; disappointment, when another, a man who should know better, tries to make a deal for his life. 

I had seen Javier Bardem in other flicks before I came to know Anton Chigurh.  But his bone-chilling performance in No Country has defined him for me.  And I hope and pray that there aren't too many people out there in the world like Anton Chigurh.

Christopher Walken as Max Zorin in A View to a Kill

Max Zorin is another in the long tradition of eccentric James Bond villains.  The product of Nazi medical experiments involving injecting pregnant women with massive amounts of steroids, Max is super-intelligent and utterly psychotic.  He embodies all the arrogance and delusional superiority one would expect of a manufactured Übermensch.  He is loyal only to himself.  He's the best that humanity has to offer, after all.  In many ways, Max Zorin resembles Alan Moore's Adrian Veidt, the villain in Watchmen.

This may have been the film that first made me aware of Christopher Walken.  Although, at this point in his career, he seems to be typecast as creepy-eccentric, Walken is a great actor with a diverse range.  Max Zorin is memorable in his long list of successful roles.

Anyway, those are some of my favorite movie villains.  There are plenty more...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Horror story from Cairo

 Lara Logan, moments before she was attacked in Tahrir Square
This story isn't getting much airplay, perhaps at the request of the family of CBS reporter Lara Logan.
Lara Logan, the CBS News correspondent, was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo on Feb. 11, the day that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power, the network said Tuesday.

After the mob surrounded her, Ms. Logan “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers,” the network said in a statement. Ms. Logan is recovering at a hospital in the United States.

The evening of the attack, Ms. Logan, 39, the network’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, was covering the celebrations in Tahrir Square in central Cairo with a camera crew and an unknown number of security staff members. The CBS team was enveloped by “a dangerous element” within the crowd, CBS said, that numbered more than 200 people. That mob separated Ms. Logan from her team and then attacked her.

Once she was rescued, CBS said she “reconnected” with the team and returned to the United States on Feb. 12.

The CBS statement mentioned nothing more about the attackers. It also said that there would be “no further comment from CBS News, and correspondent Logan and her family respectfully request privacy at this time.”
This is a horrible story, evoking grim images.  I'm sure I don't want to know the details of the attack.  To be isolated and attacked by a savage, insane gang --it's an image to match anything that might be conjured by Cormac McCarthy or Edgar Allen Poe. 

When I first learned of the story, I was sickened.  It seemed a stain so ugly as to irreparably mar the triumph that Egyptians (indeed, the entire world) enjoy in the wake of the largely bloodless overthrow of a corrupt government.

But, then, I was struck by a horrifying realization:  What happened to Lara Logan in Cairo, might happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Thank God for the women and soldiers who came to Ms. Logan's rescue.

Ours is a feverish world.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oregon, my Oregon

Lower South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, near Silverton, Oregon
The Great State of Oregon is 152 years old today, which puts me in a festive mood despite the gray, sodden weather currently holding sway over the Willamette Valley.  On February 14, 1859, Oregon graduated from territory status to outright statehood.  She's the crown jewel; the brightest and most precious of the fifty stars in our nation's constellation.
Portland waterfront

My own people (those on my mom's side) came to Oregon in the 1870s.  They were farm folk from the prairies of Kansas and other points in the Midwest; part of the westward population drift that came in the wake of the Civil War.

Lower Klamath Lake, southern Oregon
Today, Oregon's population is about 3.5 million.  But back then, Oregon was home to about 175,000 souls.  Chinese immigrants came to work in the mines of eastern Oregon.  Scandinavians and Germans (among them, my folk, the Metzgers) took their plows to the rich soil of the Willamette Valley.  And the indigenous peoples, the Klamaths, the Siletz, the Coos, the Paiutes, and others suffered the sad fate of being pushed out of their homelands and onto reservations.  There was some bloodshed, but it never got to be as savage as it did out in the Dakotas.  Oregonians certainly never perpetrated anything as outright cruel as Andy Jackson's Trail of Tears.

(One of Oregon's greatest sons is Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe.  His is a sad tale.  To him, I can only express regret.  I hope we're wiser now.)  

Coming down out of the Cascades on Highway 58, near Oakridge, Oregon
Dr. John McLoughlin is "officially" recognized as the "Father of Oregon," and from what I've read about him, he seemed like a decent-enough fellow.  French-Canadian, Catholic.  By most accounts, honest.  For a time, he advocated forming an independent nation of Oregon rather than joining the United States.

Sometimes that doesn't seem like such a bad idea.  With all due respect to Dr. McLoughlin, though, I prefer the wisdom of Chief Joseph.

Mount McLoughlin looming over Lower Klamath Lake in southern Oregon
Governor Oswald West, who served from 1911 through 1915, heroically acted to save Oregon's natural beauty, ensuring that her unrivaled beaches were available for public enjoyment in perpetuity.  He also created the office of State Forester, and established the Bureau of Forestry and the Fish Commission and Game Commission.  (No need to talk about his prudish and reactionary positions vis-a-vis prohibition and homosexuality, eh?  Save that for another time...)

Central Oregon coast, near Haystack Rock
In my own time, Governor Tom McCall established a state policy of land-use planning that has saved our beautiful state from rapine at the hands of greedy land developers.  (But the fight continues... the fight continues...)

Salt Creek Falls, high up in the Cascades
As you can see, Oregon has many scenic waterfalls.  But I guess you might expect that in a land that sees 155 days of precipitation per year.  (At least, in the most populous parts of the state.  Eastern and Central Oregon, about two-thirds of the state's area, are very dry.  High desert country, over there.  Colder than hell in the winter.  Hotter than hell in the summer.) 
Southern Oregon coast, near Agness
I've lived here in Oregon all my life and I hope to die here.  Oregon is paradise on Earth.  I was born in, and have lived most of my life in the Willamette Valley.  I lived for 20 years in Southern Oregon, in the proud and tough town of Klamath Falls, and I lived for a short while in Redmond, which is almost exactly at the geographic center of the state. 

But enough blabbing.  I'll let the old girl speak for herself.

Lava-molded landscape, central Oregon
Ol' Man Hood

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia Gorge
 Oregon, my Oregon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day 2011, Maty Bombay

I find it hard to believe that we've been together for 6 years now.  I remember well the first time I laid eyes on you.  You barely spoke a word of English and didn't look to be a day older than 17, even though you were actually 24.

I find it even harder to believe that two people from such disparate backgrounds could somehow end up together, making a go of it.  First, there am I, the agnostic, moral relativist, from the temperate Pacific Northwest.  Then, there are you, the devout Muslim from sweltering sub-Saharan Africa.  Add in the racial and ethnic divide and the 17 year disparity in age, and the whole thing seems pretty unlikely.

But, if we look deeper, some less apparent, but more important, similarities assert themselves.  You're a kind soul, my love.  We both are.  Kind and compassionate.  And we're both guided by our individual moralities, which don't always match up completely, but are as close as any two people might hope to expect.  And we adhere to them as best we can.

The other day, I was out walking.  And I came across a sunset.  And I want to share it with you, as part of my Valentine's Day gift to Maty Bombay, the love of my life.

I'm so glad to have you at my side.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hosni Mubarak bids farewell to Cairo

 Hosni Mubarak's Cairo
The news this morning is that Egyptian president/strongman Hosni Mubarak has abdicated power and left Cairo in deference to massive demonstrations by the Egyptian people.

Got me to thinking...

Put aside, for a moment, all the legitimate complaints of corruption and human rights abuses leveled against his government and consider (just for a moment, mind you) the person of Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak assumed the presidency of Egypt as the result of a horrifying political catastrophe.  For 30 years, longer than most Egyptians have been alive, he has been at the top of the Byzantine Egyptian political system.  And, in spite of his heavy-handedness and corruption, I have to believe he loves, always has loved, Egypt and its people and its ancient, mysterious city, Cairo.

I wonder, how it must have been for Mubarak, at 82 years of age, to look out the window of the plane this morning as he left Cairo for the last time?  To be exiled from his home?  To be detested by his own people?

Dade Cariaga's Portland

Were I to imagine myself, some 30 years from now, exiled from Portland, from Oregon, taking with me only the contempt of my Oregon brethren...

It would be a terrible fate.  I don't think I would survive it.

What must it be like for Hosni Mubarak?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Isaac and the wolves

On the drive home, traffic slowed through the Terwilliger curves.  A small, gray, nondescript coupe sat cock-eyed across the right-hand lane, the passenger side front quarter-panel smashed in.  Shiny cubes of auto safety glass lay scattered on the pavement like careless jewels. Blue, red, and yellow lights of emergency vehicles flashed to eerie effect in the cold sunlight of the mid-winter afternoon.

One hand on the wheel, Isaac pulled at his lower lip with thumb and forefinger of the other.  There but for the grace of God... His own little car but one more in the long procession of autos easing by in the left-hand lane.  Add that to the list, as he made out EMT-uniformed personnel in the ambulance, attending to a figure laying prostrate on a gurney in the back of the vehicle.

Many worries weighed down on him.  His long list of petty woes.  Relationships in flux, uncertainties about employment, about money, a thousand thousand vagaries that flitted about the periphery of consciousness.  Was I supposed to pick something up on the way home?

The traffic freed up, past the wreck.  Isaac stayed in the left lane:  the off-ramp for Naito Boulevard approached.  A quick glance in the rear-view confirmed that the driver behind him was impatient for Isaac to speed up.  He smiled smugly, easing up on the accelerator.

Right on Naito, and then the immediate right onto the Hawthorne Bridge, eastbound.  The wind gusted as he drove across the trussed steel span.  The massive counterweights, suspended on the bridge towers, loomed like grim fate.  A young woman, pale and solitary, made her way along the walkway.  Her hands were thrust into the pockets of her long, elegant coat.  Her hair, frazzled and deeply auburn, whipped wildly in the wind.  In the instant he passed her, Isaac saw tear streaks on her white apple cheeks. He winced.  Soldier on, sister.  Whatever it is.

The Willamette pushed on, gray-green and swollen.  It flowed inexorably, like some great untamed beast grown weary of the pipsqueak humans around it, pushing through their flimsy restraints and harnesses to go where it would.

The house was cold and empty when he got home.

Changed shoes, put on a sweatshirt and set out immediately for the top of Mount Tabor. He walked purposefully, with dogged, determined strides.  The items on his list, on the List, nagged at his heels, like wolves tracking an old bull bison, testing to see how much fight he had left.

Car payments, toothache, unhappy loved ones.  His mind passed over the litany as he strode through the streets toward Tabor's lifeless husk.  The wind howled in his ears, chorus to his weary thoughts.

When Clovis man arrived here, in this part of the world, --10 or 15 thousand years ago --there were real wolves.  The story unfolded in his mind.  Long before there was a city on the banks of the river, some elder tribesman had made his way up that very hill, lupine shadows in his wake.

What a luxury it seemed!  Wolves!  Real, physical threats against which a man might test himself.  Isaac envied the simplicity of that elder tribesman's world.  As Isaac plodded up the steep slopes of lifeless Mount Tabor, extinct even in the days of that Stone Age pilgrim, he imagined how it might have been, hustling up animal trails, unseen wolves panting and yipping behind him.

And perhaps that old fellow knew then, just as Isaac knew in his own time, that eventually the wolves would sense his failing strength, and would close in for the kill.  It was a timeless story.  And so he strode on, even as the end neared.  Perhaps, as he sensed his final ebb, the tribesman recognized that the only choice left to him was how he would punctuate his existence.

Isaac huffed up the steep shoulder of Tabor's southern slope.  Mid-reverie, he emerged from a thicket of evergreens, to find himself at the summit.  To the west, the agonized, searing call of the sunset stilled his heart, like the promise of unattainable glory.     

And, just as had the ancient tribesman, ten thousand years before, Isaac paused and admired the many-colored sky.  Wolves be damned.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

ASL Red Barricades: Today the Volga, tomorrow the Vistula (Pt. VIII)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

Dave Hauth and I are engaged in a playing of RBCGI:  Into the Factory.  I'm the Reds.  He's the Jerries.

We're each maintaining a blog correspondence as the game progresses.  We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

You can read earlier episodes of my account:
You can read Dave's blog here

"When defeat is inevitable, it is wisest to yield"

The above quotation is from the Roman rhetorician, Quintillian.  I find it sufficient to express my sentiments now that I have conceded defeat in this great game that Dave and I have played.

Day 8 was a nightmare for me. Dave's purchase of Assault Engineers (on-board, no less!) caught me by surprise and I had no answer for the overwhelming firepower that he brought to bear.

He was careful not to activate my reserve units, which meant I was fighting a battle at a 1 to 2 disadvantage.

And while I did my best dealing out 6, 8, or 12 firepower attacks, I was subjected to attacks of 24 and 30 firepower, directed by ruthless German leaders.  It was hopeless.  A count of CVP at the point of concession showed that Dave was on track not to double, but triple my score.

Approximate perimeter at the point of concession
I hate to quit if there is even a slight chance of victory, but as my forces dissolved around me, I had to face the music.  It's been a great game.  I've enjoyed the hell out of it.

I think I made a couple mistakes that contributed to my defeat.
  • I was too cavalier with my big tanks.  I lost 4 of my 6 best tanks due to carelessness.  (Please refer to the Aftermath of Day 6.)
  • On the last game day, I should have purchased my reinforcements on-board.  I think I was still playing a game of position, while Dave had correctly made the transition to a game of attrition.
But none of this mitigates the fact that Dave played a great game.  Come October, we might start a game of RBCGIII with some modifications that we hope will address issues of balance.

Thanks for following this game, everybody.  Maybe I'll see some of you at Enfilade this May.

Monday, February 07, 2011

No fondue for Junior

Well, Americans, I must say, for all our red, white, and blue pride, we don't seem to have much moral courage in this country.  At least, when compared to the Egyptians, who are still taking to the streets, shutting down commerce, refusing to accept the status quo, demanding change.  Or even, perhaps, compared to the Americans of yesteryear, my parents' generation, who marched in the streets to demand an end to an illegal war and to racial discrimination and segregation in Dixie.

And now, here are the Swiss, showing us up again, by threatening to bring charges against the man who most typifies American ignorance and anti-intellectualism, Junior Bush.

According to Reuters:
Bush was to be the keynote speaker at Keren Hayesod's annual dinner on February 12 in Geneva. But pressure has been building on the Swiss government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he enters the Alpine country.

Criminal complaints against Bush alleging torture have been lodged in Geneva, court officials say, and several human rights groups signaled that they were poised to take further legal action this week.
Color me grateful. If it weren't for human rights activists in Switzerland (which has her own problems vis-a-vis human rights), Junior Bush might be happily jetting around Europe, clowning like an idiot, telling dirty jokes, and remaining blithely ignorant of the hatred directed at him by so much of the world.

I'm grateful to Swiss activists for having the courage and the fortitude to take these steps.  And my biggest single complaint against President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid is that they lacked the courage to bring justice to an obvious war criminal and his cartel when they had the chance in 2008. 

It is a bitter lesson of life that evil will often go unpunished.  At least from the outward human perspective.  As scripture states, in Matthew 5:45:
...he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
But I do believe that Junior, in his half-aware, blithe ignorance, still experiences pangs of guilt and unhappiness.  I do believe that, in his most private moments, he regrets that he has failed so miserably, not just as a president or a leader, but as a man, as a human being.

And, Switzerland, thanks for reminding him.  Junior, you are not forgiven.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Fate and destiny

fate n.  The supposed force, principle, or power that predetermines events; the inevitable events predestined by this force.
destiny n. The future destined for a person or thing.
Fate and destiny: two concepts that are closely related, but that differ subtly (at least, by the definitions listed above).  I find the differences between them fascinating.

Fate is an entity, an irresistible force, a vehicle.  Fate is not luck.  There is nothing random about fate.  Fate simply is.  "As well ask men what they think of stone," as Judge Holden said of war, in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.  Fate is the conveyance that brings you to your destiny. 

Destiny, on the other hand, is the state at which a person or thing must inevitably arrive.  Destiny is akin to a destination.  (Indeed, both words are derived from the Latin destinare, to determine.)  Destiny is the ultimate condition that the laws of the Universe impose upon you.

Perhaps a few examples will help illustrate the distinction.

How about a happy example?  Let's try this:  my destiny is to accrue a massive fortune.  My fate then, the vehicle by which I arrive at this destiny, might be to win the Megabucks Lottery for $200 million.

Or, go dark, if you prefer:  my destiny is to die on the side of a rural highway.  In that case, my fate might be to hit a patch of black ice while driving to Klamath Falls.

But the best example is probably the one that is true for each of us:
  • My destiny is to be an infinitesimally small, but absolutely essential part of the greater consciousness of the Universal Mind.

  • My fate is to experience life as a human being on the planet Earth.

(The Devil's Dictionary provides an alternate, amusing definition.
Destiny:  A tyrant’s authority for crime and fool’s excuse for failure.
What a nut, that Ambrose Bierce, eh?)