Saturday, April 30, 2011

She is wise

In new-fallen darkness, who first gains her sight?
She is wise.  She is wise.  She is wiser than I.
Who stands on the high ground, try though I might?
She is wiser, much wiser than I.

Wounded by insult, whom do I seek?
She is wise.  She is wise.  She is wiser than I.
When wavered by doubt, won't let me be weak?
She is wiser, much wiser than I.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Atlas flopped

Let me start by saying I have not seen (nor am I ever likely to see) John Aglialoro's new flick, Atlas Shrugged (Part I), which he intended to be the first installment of a trilogy of films dedicated to Ayn Rand's eponymous novel.

Sorry, John, but I've already read the book.

Right-wingers everywhere have been licking their chops in anticipation of this production.  Remember how Tolkien geeks (I admit, I was one of them) piteously anticipated Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series?  It's like that, only worse.

Because, unlike Tolkien fans who were enthused and excited about seeing lifelong heroes brought to life with cinematic wizardry, Ayn Rand fans seemed to imagine that rendering Atlas Shrugged for the big screen would make the Rand philosophy, Objectivism, accessible to the masses.  It is as if they somehow hoped that the movie might bring the Light of Truth to the hoi polloi, that it might usher in a bold new world where self-love is the only real love. 

(Objectivism, of course, holds that the profit motive, the motive of attaining personal gain, is the only truly virtuous motive.  According to Rand and her disciples, altruism, charity, and even love are sabotaging notions that diminish the individual.)

Well, too bad, so sad, Objectivists.  After a respectable limited-release opening weekend, when emotionally-stunted Tea Party patriots rushed out to see it, the film's revenues dropped drastically.  In its second weekend the film grossed a mere $900,000, even though the number of screens showing the film expanded to over 400.  That is nearly a 50% fall off.  And as box office numbers go, that spells "flop."

Having suffered through all 1000+ pages of Rand's monstrous magnum opus some 20 years ago, I can't say I'm surprised at the muted response to the film.  I found the book to be repulsive and horrifying.  It is a cold, nonsensical diatribe, delivered with an embarrassingly naive conviction.  I find it difficult to believe that Objectivism can have much appeal to anyone who has ever --oh, I don't know --loved another human being, for example.

One right-wing blogger, who apparently drove an hour and a half to get his dose of Ayn Rand goodness, afterward urged his readers to go see the film or, if it was not showing near them, to call local theaters and demand that it be shown.  He closed with an unintentionally hilarious plea, urging action from fellow Objectivists because, after all,  "'s not just for you."

Er --Mr. Rightwing Freak, crack open that book and have another look.  I'm not sure you got it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rainy day pho

Any man who knows what is good for him will take note of days like these.  They're little jewels that refract and magnify the light you must find inside you during dark times.

Today, the sky was dark, low, and heavy.  It menaced all day, unpredictable as a surly drunk.  But it held off while Dave Hauth and I made the climb up Tabor and back.  We talked a lot about books, about religion and philosophy, about history.

The pregnant clouds grew darker as I drove out to Mall 205 where I picked up Maty from Target.  She came out as I pulled up.  She was pushing a cart full of supplies for the bathroom.  Soap, shampoo, and the like. 

A few raindrops hit the windshield as we drove homeward.  She'd had a long day and didn't feel like cooking.  We decided on pho.

We were safely seated in the corner booth of Pho Dalat, waiting for our soup when the sky finally broke.  An audacious deluge of big, warm, sloppy drops spattering the pavements.  Outside, on Cesar Chavez, the tires of passing cars hissed in the wetness.  A mist rose up from the blacktop.  "It's rainin' now, honey," I observed.

"I think so it's gonna rain more harder," she said.  She peered out the glass, up toward the ponderous slate sky that hung over the city.

"We're fine right here, honey," I said.  "We'll be nice and dry in here."

Just then, the young woman who waits the tables came.  She had two big bowls of pho.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GOP: So far, they got nothin'

Is this what you're offering, GOP?
Eighteen months before the 2012 national election and one thing is perfectly clear:  the Republican party is in a shambles. There are no leaders who can speak for the party on national issues.  Contention within the party is causing it to take insane positions. 

With economic conditions being what they are right now (8.9% unemployment, gas prices at the $4/gallon mark) one would think there would be a full clutch of Republicans lining up to run against the President.  But the party is so fractured and divided within itself that no leader has yet managed to find the political sweet spot that appeals to the various warring factions.  And apart from Mitt Romney, bless his heart, none seem eager to try.  (Good ol' boy Haley Barbour just today eliminated himself from consideration.)

The party's lack of leadership is so glaring that a few weeks ago, when "The Donald" started fanning the nativist flames, he shot to the top of GOP polls.  (Sarah, honey, you're just so yesterday.)

Speaker Boehner, the most powerful Republican in the country, is acutely aware of the bitter divide within his party.  He's the poor sap who has to deal with the Tea Party caucus.  You know?  The same folks who threatened to shut down the federal government unless funding for Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio was halted?  So tenuous is Boehner's leadership that no one is certain he will be able to rein in the radicals enough to allow Congress to extend the federal debt ceiling in July.  (Go here to read how the thieving bastards at Standard & Poor's issued a "negative" outlook on the long-term U.S. bond rating.)  Boehner has to thread the needle.  The big budget deal only happened due to his Herculean efforts.

But with none of its potential presidential candidates catching fire, and its leaders in Congress expending all their energy trying to hold the party together, the GOP finds itself promoting policies that are insanely unpopular.  Defending tax cuts for upper incomes. Advocating to abolish popular entitlement programs.

It sure would suck to be a Republican right now.

But, if you like your humor black as coffee, it is amusing to watch.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Looking for a muse

In the evening, I planted lettuce and spinach, and laid two short rows of carrot seeds in the vegetable planter.  The garden is four paces deep and four and a half wide.  Three blueberry shrubs show much promise, adorned with bell-shaped white blossoms.  Raspberry canes, with sharp minty leaves, sprout everywhere, but mostly thrive along the south edge of the yard.  They make forays into the neighbors' rose beds.  Two pots grow strawberries.

Maty calls.

Springtime rain shower, mischievous imp, insists on a laugh at my expense, catching me hat-less and coat-less in my hotfoot to the market where I meet Maty to help her carry groceries.

It has been difficult to find words of late.  For anything.  I only know to keep trying.

One day, the whisper of her broom on the linoleum or the menthol scent of heat balm rubbed into an aching shoulder may seem miraculous.   Why not? 

Watching the world rise in springtime.  Dazzled by that old familiar light.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter wish

Vine maple canopy
If it is possible that phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny, as Ernst Haeckel proposed, might also the eternal cadence of the seasons of the year recapitulate the emotional life of a human being?

We all recognize the tragedy of summer which, like glorious youth, is a pinnacle from which one must inevitably fall.  Autumn resembles the solace of middle age, when we learn that glory diminished is still heart-breaking and worthwhile.  And winter, of course, is the ultimate peace that awaits us all; the Triumph (as the Christians call it) that we will all come to know.  It is resignation and acceptance.

If these are true, then spring is hope and aspiration.  Spring symbolizes not only birth, but rebirth and, perhaps even more, the human penchant to have faith in what is to come.

Saint Philip-Neri, early Mass
Well, after all, comparing human emotional development to the cyclic patterns of the year is rather trite, is it not?  Poets have been making such comparisons for as long as there have been poets.  The Wiccans have always seen things that way, and the Catholics, opportunistic though they may have been, chose springtime to mark the occasion of their Resurrection.

So, begging your pardon, I hope this springtime, this rebirth, might give life to those hopes and aspirations you have for your own future and for our collective future.  And since I did attend early Mass this morning, I'll go ahead and say it the Catholic way:

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy 420, everybody!

Happy 420, dude!
A bright haze hung over Southeast Portland this afternoon when I set out on my daily constitutional.  I usually let my feet take me where they will when I go on these rambles and, often as not, they have me climbing on up that extinct little volcano about a mile to the east of my house.  It's a magical place, after all.
Up on top of Tabor
Today, as I reached the intersection of 55th and Hawthorne, where the Seminary interrupts Hawthorne's straight run from the river, I was hailed by a passing driver.  "Hey, brother, how do I get up to the top of the mountain from here?" he called.  He was a few years younger than me, maybe 40.  He had the look of a hippie about him, with his John Lennon sunglasses and his gawdy gold earring dangling from his left lobe.  He was bald as a priest, tanned like a farmer, and grinning like a fool.  I liked him.
I pointed to the east.  "Straight on.  Right on 60th, left on Lincoln.  Follow 'er on up," I said.

"Thanks, brother," he called, waving as he drove off.  "And happy holiday to you!"

Celebrating the cannabis culture
His remark puzzled me.  Happy holiday?  What could he have meant?  Easter is still a few days off...

I rambled on.

As I got into the park and started climbing to the summit I noticed that there were a lot of people about.  More than usual for a Wednesday afternoon.  They were mostly younger folks:  skateboarders, dread-locked Rastafarians, hacky-sackers, and well-tatted roustabouts.  In a word, hippies.  Some people were toting bongos or djembes.  Others had guitars slung over their shoulders.  Everyone seemed to be climbing for Tabor's crown.

Stoners admire the view
I was making the final push up the steep northern shoulder when it dawned on me.  It's April 20th!  Four-twenty!  I could hear people cheering and shouting above me.  I pulled out my cell phone and checked the time as I climbed.  4:18 pm!  Two minutes!
I hurried up the last bit of slope and finally saw what was going on.  People were gathered at Tabor's  summit.  They were laughing and cheering and smiling and greeting each other with calls of "Happy 420!"  I had to smile.

And to give the story an unambiguously happy ending, it just so happened that I was serendipitously prepared to join in the celebration!

You never know what you're going to see up on Tabor.  Happy 420 everybody!

Peace out!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tea Party: Don't cut Medicare!

"Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"
Bad news, Paul Ryan!  A new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that 70% of people who identify themselves as part of the Tea Party oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.  That puts them in line with 80% of registered voters nationwide.

Representative Ryan (R-WI) has only just submitted a revolutionary new budget, passed last week by Republicans in the House of Representatives, calling for the phase out of Medicare for people under 55 and replacing Medicaid with block grants.

When Ryan released his budget, so-called fiscal conservatives hailed it as "serious and detailed" (Senator Mitch McConnell).  But as the details of the budget got more scrutiny, Republicans got a little more cautious.

Check this quote from Rep. Steve Chabot (R., Ohio), who returned to Congress in January after losing his seat in 2008:  “We are still studying [the Ryan budget], what the implications might be for the budget.  I’m not ready to announce a position. I’m sure there are parts of it that we agree with — probably the vast majority of it — but there may be some things we have problems with. We need more time.”

Or this, from Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.). “It’s something we are digging through slowly,” he says. “I’m not prepared to make a statement on that.”

Nonetheless, Republicans did vote to pass the budget, knowing that Senate Democrats and President Obama have already vowed to defeat it.  In that light, it was a relatively safe vote.  But this poll must surely be troubling.

Tea Party people, for all their supposed desire for what they call "fiscal responsibility," probably never imagined that budget cuts might affect them personally.  And note that Ryan, in typical Republican fashion, included a ploy to divide opposition to his bill by exempting people 55 and older.  (Remember how Governor Scott Walker tried to split police and firefighter unions from public employees in the Wisconsin fight?)  Now, as the potential consequences of extending Bush tax cuts to the top incomes become apparent, Tea Party people are falling into confusion.

One can almost hear their plaintive cries:  "But Paul Ryan is one of us! He wouldn't screw us over like that, would he?"  Surprise, Tea Party people!  The GOP is not concerned with your well-being or your interests.  It views you as a resource.  The GOP has only one true constituency

If these poll results don't cause Republicans to squirm they are either

a) confident in their ability to confuse and mislead the Tea Party people into supporting their regressive plan;


b) hellbent on destroying themselves.

At this point, I'm willing to believe either.

Monday, April 18, 2011

That quirky Tribe of Ross

Families.  Funny things, no? 

Many families, especially larger families, come to develop their own unique cultures and channels of communication.  It's a tribal thing, for the most part.  At least, I think so. 
Brother Eric and I did some reminiscing recently.  Thinking back to our early days in Klamath Falls in the 60s and 70s.  Back when we lived in the house of our father, Ross Cariaga, Jr.  We found ourselves remembering  some of those things that identify us as a family.  Just a few.

When I think back on how we ate in those years!  The sugar intake was appalling.  Twinkies, Ding Dongs, RC Cola.  Almond Joys, Cup o' Golds, U-No bars.  A while back, Sister Paige posed a query to her siblings.  Which had Dad preferred:  Ding Dongs or Twinkies?  I was of the Twinkie faction, which won out, I believe.  But Ding Dong and Twinkie each had its advocates.  The truth remains unclear.

Dad had a way of opening a bottle of soda (it came in glass bottles, in those days) so that we could all share it.  Using a nail or a pocketknife, Dad would punch two small holes in the bottle cap, then pass the bottle among his kids so that everyone could have a drink.  You had to suck the soda out through the tiny holes in the lid.  This is what he called drinking a soda "Indian style." 

I never could figure out why he did it that way. Why not just take the bottle cap off?  I posed the question to Eric, and I think he may have come upon the answer.  Sharing a bottle of soda with young kids is sometimes not the most appealing refreshment, yes?  Sometimes, kids leave a little "something extra" floating in the bottle, you know?  Drinking a soda "Indian style" was a clever way to prevent backwash!

Dad was a master communicator.  He could talk to one person and at the same time communicate a message completely apart from his words to another with his body language or hand gestures.  He set up ways for us, his family, to communicate with each other in the presence of other people without revealing ourselves.  For example, he had a special whistle --two high quarter-notes --that our family learned to identify.  It came to serve as a sonic beacon whenever we found ourselves in a crowded place, a market or a park.   

We had our own special cant, which we call G-language.  It follows the principles of Pig Latin, but beyond that, I will not tell.  If you have a quick ear, you might catch on to it when you hear us speak.  But the secret of the language only goes to family and a very few longtime family friends.  We still use G-language today.

And there were other of these idiosyncrasies that we adopted specifically to identify ourselves.  For example, in Dad's house, we ate "SANG-wiches" rather than "sandwiches."  My paternal grandmother, Jennie Cariaga, had always pronounced the word that way.  Probably because her first language was Spanish, and "sandwich" is a difficult word for native Spanish speakers.  So that's the way Dad learned it, and that is the way it was taught to me and my siblings.  For years after I learned the correct pronunciation (all the way into my twenties), I continued to pronounce the word incorrectly, just as Dad had done.

When I think of Dad as he was those 30 to 40 years ago, I picture him standing a head above all of us, head up and alert, shoulders tight, leading the way forward as we would troop through Kmart or Disneyland or the OIT gymnasium.  He was the nucleus, we the wandering electrons.  All his life, Dad had his children around him.  I know he liked that.

Family eccentricities are marvelous things.  Some are funny and good and positive.  They warm my heart and make me smile.

And then there are those others.  But that is another discussion entirely...

That crazy, ol' Tribe of Ross.  I'll tell ya...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bipartisanship, courtesy of the Tea Party

Yesterday, Congress finally passed the legislation that resulted from the eleventh-hour deal cut between House, Senate, and White House to keep the federal government up and running through the end of the fiscal year.

The big news about the actual vote is that it was bipartisan.  Speaker of the House Boehner was not able to persuade enough Republicans to vote in favor of the bill to pass it without Democratic help.  Fifty-nine House Republicans (nearly all of whom identify themselves with the Tea Party) bucked their leadership to vote against the deal.

Not to go ringin' my own bell, but back in January, I predicted that this day would come.  Boehner was faced with a tough decision:  hold the line with the ideologues in his party and kill the deal he had cut with Harry Reid and President Obama, or reach across the aisle to Democrats to get the votes he needed and risk rebellion in his own caucus.

He chose the latter, and I must say, I admire him for it.  Lord knows poor old John must have spent a good long while thinking it over.  He's got Eric Cantor (who is not above demagoguery if it wins him favor with the Tea Party) breathing down his neck for the speaker's gavel.  He's got his nemesis, Nancy Pelosi, ready and capable of exploiting Republican divisions.  Talk about swimming with sharks!

But in the end, Boehner reached for the phone and told the Capitol Hill operator:  "Put me through to Steny Hoyer's office."  Hoyer, the House Minority Leader, did some whipping of his own and got 81 Democrats to save Boehner's bacon.

Now, of course, Congress moves on to the much bigger battle of the competing federal budgets offered by President Obama and Republican Representative Paul Ryan.  But as that battle is joined, an important (and for Boehner, a dangerous) precedent now exists:  bipartisan cooperation.

The very idea that Boehner and allied factions within the Republican caucus would cut a deal (any deal) with Democrats is anathema to the Tea Party.  Indeed, there are already rumblings of primary challenges to "aye"-voting Republicans.

Boehner needs the Tea Party.  But, more than that, he needs to prove that he can govern.  It doesn't seem to me that he has ever bought in to the crazy talk that gets aired in Tea Party circles.  I wonder if, in the end, that will sink him.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mitt is IT!

Aw, hell.  You write the caption... I just don't have the heart.
Yesterday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney announced he is forming an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States.  Exploratory committees usually represent the official launch of a presidential campaign.  Candidates can officially start raising money once such a committee is formed.

I believe that Mitt Romney's candidacy portends much for the future of the Republican party, especially when you consider its condition coming into the election.

The field of potential candidates is already winnowed, with such potentials as Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour looking reluctant or out-and-out averse to running.  Who does that leave for the GOP?  Rick Santorum?  Michelle Bachmann?  Newt Gingrich?  These candidates (or at least, Mrs. Bachmann) may have some appeal with Tea Party folks, but they are generally anathema to so-called "mainstream voters."  (Oh, yeah, let's not forget Tim Pawlenty.  How could we forget Tim Pawlenty?)

Well, Romney may be more palatable to the political "middle"  than these others, but Tea Party people view him with suspicion.  After all, Romney was governor of one of the bluest states in the nation.  That alone is enough to cast him in a bad light with the GOP base.  But there is more.

While governor, he oversaw passage of a state plan for universal health insurance coverage, dubbed "Romney-care." This legislation was a precursor and model for the health care legislation passed by Democrats last year that is so loathed by right-wingers.  (Romney recognizes the problem, having gone to (rather ineffectual) lengths to try to play down the association.)

Also, this:  In 2002 as he was running for governor, Romney claimed to support a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices.  But now that he's gone national, he has come out as anti-choice.  Given the strict adherence demanded by the GOP base on the abortion issue, it is surprising that Romney does not deem this flip-flop to be fatal to his chances of success.

And then there is the fact that Romney is a Mormon.  Tea Party folks may weep and tear their beards whenever anyone suggests Romney's faith would dissuade them, but I don't believe, in the end, they could bring themselves to vote to elect a Mormon as President of the United States.  And I think most Republican king-makers know that.

Nonetheless, I think Romney has a better than even shot at getting the nomination.

Here's why:  Republican mucky-mucks already suspect that 2012 is a lost cause for them.  In much the same way that they offered up Mad Johnny McCain as their sacrificial lamb in the wake of the Junior Bush disaster, they will now nominate Romney, who they know has very little chance.  Why waste an asset like Haley Barbour or Jeb Bush in a year when they face a relatively popular incumbent president?  Rather, let Romney take the fall and blame it all on the moderates in the party.  Those few that are left, anyway.

Like nearly every Mormon I know and have known personally, Mitt Romney seems like an honest, decent guy.  I've got nothing against him.  And, as far as Republicans go, I think he might not be a bad leader.  But Mitt Romney finished second in 2008 to a man who was resoundingly rejected by the national electorate.  And honest, decent men don't fare very well in the Republican party.  Just ask Gordon Smith.

The GOP is so locked in to its regressive, primitive doctrine that any variation on the party line clangs like a dented cowbell.  And Romney has a public record that he cannot escape.  The GOP will never get behind him the way they would someone like Bush or Barbour.

Tea Party legislative "successes" aside, the GOP still seems headed for a brick-wall.

You won't catch me crying about it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Partyin', Senegalese-style

Among the many advantages of marrying a Senegalese woman is the opportunities it affords to party Senegalese-style.  And, last night, the Senegalese Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington threw another of its Independence Day bashes.

Nadiya and Maty all tricked out for the party
This party was months in the planning.  Meetings were held, funds distributed, responsibilities conferred.  Each of the dozen or so women in the Senegalese community (which includes Senegalese women, and American women married to Senegalese men) prepared a traditional dish, in huge quantity.

The banquet was impressive.  Tiebou-djen (fish fried-rice, very spicy) by Naboo.  Barbequed chicken and lamb courtesy of M'barou, who also contributed yassa (onion sauce, also very spicy).  Awah slow-roasted michou (lamb), Ana hand-rolled ném (Senegalese spring rolls) and Rakki made mafé (peanut sauce, usually served over rice) and fataya (similar to fried wonton). Sarah baked dozens of (superb) chocolate-chip, raisin, brown sugar cookies.  Reina brewed hibiscus juice and Janice was general sou chef.   Nana, being 7 months pregnant, was exempted from cooking responsibilities, but insisted on making the steamed rice. 

All day, yesterday, Maty was at the grill on our back patio, cooking up beef shish-kebobs.  The night before, Friday night, she set the meat to marinating in her own secret marinade sauce. (Among its ingredients are garlic, ginger, and lemon juice.  Beyond that, she will not tell.)  She also stirred up 10 gallons of ginger juice.

All these women take pride in their cooking and I can attest that each has an artful hand in the kitchen.

As the party got started, Baba Wague Diakite, a Senegalese folklore interpreter, told stories for the kids.

The Old Man Who Loved to Dance

Dinner was served according to what my friend Babacar calls West African International Time. (Get it?  W.A.I.T.)

Babacar and me (sporting my Senegalese shirt, a gift from my father-in-law)
The women of the Gambian community arrived late, contributing 3 or 4 dozen roasted chickens, banana bread, and more.  (The Gambian women are magical in the kitchen.  Even Maty defers to their skill.)

While people were lining up at the buffet, the drumming started. 

Dancing drummers

After the drum show, everyone was fed.  It was time to dance.

Dance floor was hoppin'
This event has grown in the 5 years that I've been attending.  I venture there were the better part of 300 guests this year.  There were many Senegalese, but also people from Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Congo, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, and of course the generous Gambians.  And there were many Oregonians and other North Americans as well.  I had the pleasure of meeting a Portland couple, Fred (fire-fighter) and Marybeth (nurse), who, like Maty and I, came together as a result of the Iraq invasion.  (They met at an anti-war demonstration.)  Another silver-lining story from the darkness of the Bush years.

As the evening wound down, I was well-fed, entertained, and dog-tired.  Another year, another great party.

Party on, Senegal!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Brother Eric and the osprey


On Monday, Brother Eric was driving slowly toward his home along the winding lane that leads from the electric gate that guards the entrance to his community in Eugene, Oregon.  He was talking on his cell phone as he drove.  It was late afternoon and the sun cast slanting beams of light, west to east, across his path.

As he cruised past one of the many decorative fountain ponds placed throughout the community, he caught a sudden rush of motion in the corner of his eye.  A swift, violent downward strike, a splash!  He turned his head and saw an osprey rising from the water, a bluegill sunfish gripped in its talons.  The fish gaped, dead-eyed, nose pointed forward.  The osprey, carried forward by the thrust of its dive, strained to rise, but seemed headed directly into the front fender of Eric's car.

Eric let go with a "What the f*ck?" (no doubt to the confusion of the person on the other end of the phone).  He slammed on the brakes.  There was a thump as something struck the car, and then, in a frozen instant, Eric saw the osprey, unharmed and in full flight, inches from his face, the windshield glass between them.  In the next instant, it was gone.

Bluegill at peace

When Eric got out to inspect his car, he saw fish scales on the fender.  And, sure enough, the dead bluegill was lying on the pavement, where the osprey had dropped it in the effort to avoid colliding with the car.

Although this was not the first time he'd seen it, this was as close as he'd ever been to an osprey taking a fish.  The half-dozen or so events he'd seen before occurred while he was hiking or fishing in natural settings.  This encounter, with the raptor coming within a foot of his person, occurred while he was in his car, in the middle of a residential area.  The irony was not lost on him.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing," he said.  "I've spent all my life fishing, hiking, and spending time in the outdoors.  The thing that happened with the osprey was magical.  It was positive.  I view it as an acknowledgment."

"An acknowledgment of what?" I asked.

"Of me.  Of who I am," he replied.

It is easy to see why he would view the incident in this way.  The osprey is a perfect totem for Brother Eric, the fisherman, the outdoors-man.  Osprey have exceptionally keen eyesight.  They survive by fishing.  (Osprey inhabit six continents, making their homes near lakes, rivers, marshes, mangroves, and seashores). 

"But, if it's an acknowledgment," I asked, "what is the source?  Who or what is acknowledging you?" 

"I don't know," he replied.  "Nature?  Earth?"

"God?" I asked.

"I wouldn't call it that," he said.

Eric, after all, has never had much expectation about benevolent super-beings.  And yet, in order for the incident to be significant, it must have been the result of some guiding hand, some expanded consciousness.


"Is it an acknowledgment, then?  Or is it an omen?" I asked.  "Does it portend something?"

"I don't know," said he.

And there it lies.

So, we'll remember this incident.  And maybe, years from now, with time-deepened perspective, we will draw conclusions, recognize its synchronicity with other as-yet-unrecognized developments in Eric's life.

I believe that human beings long for the reassurance that comes from belief in a higher power, a guiding hand, a Grand Scheme.  I suppose it is possible that Eric's encounter with the osprey is nothing more than a combination of random circumstances.  But there is no way to know for sure. And, if we can't know, why not choose to believe that which provides the most solace?

Isn't it better that way?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Book review: Artificial Respiration

Ostensibly a novel, Argentine author Ricardo Piglia's Artificial Respiration reads more like an agonized dissertation.  Set in Argentina during the Dirty War, the novel examines a phenomenon that scholars refer to as "cultural hybridity."

According to a study at the Annual Students & Graduate Conferences at Humbolt:
Cultural hybridity has been a term to describe societies that emerge from cultural contacts of European "explorers" and those "explored". Instead of explaining these contacts as mere imposures of a major culture onto a minor culture, hybridity emphazises their mutual intermingling. 
And, of course, Argentina is the prime example of a culturally hybrid nation, with its American and European influences.

Artificial Respiration is the story of a man named Renzi who leaves Bueno Aires to search for a long lost uncle, Maggi, in a rural village called Entre Ríos.  Renzi hopes to discover the truth about his uncle, who it is rumored, is a traitor to his country.

Piglia relates the story by way of letters written between Maggi and Renzi, or in long, rambling conversations --conversations in which it is rarely clear who is speaking.  The principles of the story, Renzi, his sickly and aging patron, the Senator, and a Polish writer named Tardewski, expound on the current state of affairs and speculate on the influences of various artists, philosophers, and writers on Argentina.

Toward the end of the novel, Tardewski relates a very interesting story from his days as a student.  He describes searching through the archives of the library of the British Museum in London and coming upon some letters written by writer Franz Kafka.  In these letters, Kafka describes some encounters in Prague with a young Austrian Anti-Semite named Adolph!  (What history geek doesn't love to speculate about encounters between historical figures?)

It is important, I think, to remember that Piglia wrote this novel in 1980, as Argentina was in the midst of its Dirty War.  During that period, which lasted from 1973 through 1983, Argentina was ruled by a right-wing military junta, which "disappeared" as many as 30,000 Argentine trade-unionists, left-wing activists, students, journalists, Marxists, and "inconvenient" witnesses.  Argentina endured systematic, government-sponsored rape, torture, and murder in those years.

In the novel, Piglia does not directly speak of the Dirty War.  I imagine it would have been dangerous to do so.  But, the novel's protagonist, Renzi, never does find his Uncle Maggi.  Readers are left to wonder if Renzi's uncle has joined the ranks of the "disappeared."  Is this an oblique protest?

Mostly, I found Piglia's novel to be difficult and inaccessible. I think, in order to fully appreciate it, one needs be steeped in Argentine history, culture, and art.  I, unfortunately, am not.

Artificial Respiration is the voice of a tortured nation.  I am glad, at least, that I gave ear.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Call for writers in inner Southeast Portland

My old writing group from the '90s 
Jack (on the right) passed in 2002

Every craftsman, regardless of medium, has the responsibility to continue to improve his skills.  It is a charge conferred by his brethren, past, present, and future, in furtherance of the craftsman's chosen pursuit.

With that in mind, I'm making a call to other writers.

I'm looking for two to three writers willing to meet once per week somewhere in inner Southeast Portland to critique, edit, and comment on one another's writing.

There is a writing group format that I've used in the past with some success.  It works like this: 
  • The group is composed of 3 or 4 writers. 
  • Each writer reads, without introduction or preamble, a piece he has written.  The reading should take no more than 10 minutes, so larger pieces should be broken into episodes. The other writers listen, without taking notes.
  • The writer reads his piece a second time.  The other writers listen again, but this time take notes.
  • Upon completion of the second reading, each of the listeners, in turn, gives feedback to the writer.
  • Rotate to the next writer and repeat.
With four writers, the meeting is wrapped up in 2 hours.

In my experience, there are several pitfalls to avoid with writing groups:
  • Leave the ego at the door.  
    • If a writer is prone to getting his feelings hurt when others offer criticism, the group will not succeed.  (Of course, it is incumbent on the reviewers to be fair, and to provide praise as well as criticism.)
    • The purpose of the group is to improve one's writing. It is not ego gratification or validation.
  • Avoid conversations that distract from the focus of the group until after each writer has had his work reviewed.
  • Each participating writer must bring something to read.  
  • Each participating writer must make the weekly commitment. 
In summary, for the group to succeed participating writers should be thick-skinned when it comes to their work, fairly prolific, and invested with a sense of responsibility toward the other writers.  We work together to hone our individual skills.

Although in this age of electronic communication, the stipulation that participants actually physically meet might seem an anachronism, I still believe that face-to-face communication and discussion is most effective for these kinds of exchanges.

So, I'm sending out a call.  Anyone out there interested?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A riddle from the past

Amergin Glúingel was a prince, druid, and bard who along with his two brothers, led the Milesian Invasion of Ireland which historians speculate occurred several centuries before Christ. But no one knows for sure. 

According to Irish mythology, the druids defending Ireland raised a storm a to keep the Milesians from landing at the harbor.  But Amergin sang an invocation calling upon the spirit of Ireland, which came to his aid, and calmed the waters.  The Milesians landed, brought the defenders to battle, and triumphed after heavy losses.

According to a flier I encountered on SE Main Street, the verse below is ascribed to Amergin.

I find it haunting, solemn, and weighted with a perplexing certainty.  How about you?  (Especially my Irish friend.)

The Mystery

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am the beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,

I am the wild boar in valor,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire.

Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?
(If not I)

Friday, April 01, 2011

Let's see what you've got, Tolkien fans

One ring to rule them all... yadda, yadda, yadda.
Everybody's a Tolkien fan nowadays.

Not to get all "Old Guard" on you, but I've been hip to Middle Earth since way back when Tolkien himself was still among the living.  So, you'll forgive me if I let fly a derisive snort at people who maybe, you know, went to see Peter Jackson's travesty and think that that qualifies them as Tolkien aficionados.

Fortunately, real Tolkien fans have certain innate tools at our disposal.  (Innate, I tell you!)  If you can correctly answer these questions, you are one of us.

Answers below.  No cheating!  If you cheat, I'll know. I've upgraded from palantíri to full-on Manwë VisionTM!

Galadriel:  Stuck up wench!

1. Which one of the following was turned away by the doorman at Túna's exclusive Noldor-only nightclub, The Mingled Light?
  1. Fingon
  2. Galadriel
  3. Olwë
  4. Caranthir
Dwarven jam session
2.  If the size of one's smoke rings is an indication of lung capacity, which attendee of the Unexpected Party was the biggest stoner?
  1. Bilbo
  2. Gandalf
  3. Thorin
  4. Bombur
"Sorry, babe.  Dad says we should wait."
3.  Beren to Lúthien:  "Honey, I hate to break it to you, but that hell hound just bit off  ____!"
  1. my hand.  
  2. your clothes.
  3. my aspirations.
  4. more than he can chew.
Fingolfin to Morgoth:  "Dude, be mellow!"
4. Morgoth is to Sauron like Dick Cheney is to...
  1. Junior Bush.
  2. artificial heart technology.
  3. light, life, and happiness.
  4. It's a poor analogy.  Morgoth had some redeeming qualities!
Now, then... let's see how you did.

 Okay, so maybe he's an insufferable prude.  But nobody makes cheese blintzes like good ol' Manwë.

1.  Olwë.  You know those Noldor, eh?  Teleri just don't fit in with the beautiful people.  The good news is that Mingled Light kitchen staff needed a dishwasher, so Olwë did make it in the door.  The backdoor.

2.  Trick answer!  It was Balin.  Dude got so high he lost track of where he was going and ended up in a very bad neighborhood:  Post-Durin Moria!

3.  Beren lost his hand.  His tossin' hand at that.  No worries, though.  He and Lúthien got set up in a cottage in Ossiriand.  Nice and private.  Heh.

4.  Junior.  Except, unlike Junior, Sauron is not an idiot.

Update:  UnitFour's comment is incorrect!  Olwë was Thingol's little brother.  When the Teleri couldn't find Thingol ('cause he was out "doing" Melian), Olwë led them to Aman in Thingol's stead.  And all this time, I thought UnitFour was one of us...