Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paige's 45th

Sister Paige makes 45 years today.  Quite a journey.

Paige was born and lived the first five years of her life in Klamath Falls, Oregon.  She was a sweet little girl who liked ballet dancing and sucking her thumb.

When our parents divorced, Paige moved with Mom, Eric, and me to Salem, Oregon.  She attended grade school for four years at Candalaria Elementary, then moved to Redmond, Oregon when Mom landed a teaching job at the junior high school in that Central Oregon town.  In 1976, she moved back to Klamath Falls with Brother Eric and me to live with our father.  But a year later, she left to live in Gig Harbor, Washington with Mom and Mom's new husband, Doug.  She's been in Washington state ever since.

In 1988, Paige earned her Bachelor's Degree from the University of Washington (despite being the product of two Oregon State Beavers), then went to work for Microsoft, where she remained for many years.  In 1990, she married her husband, Tim.  The two of them spent the next 12 years establishing themselves in the Seattle metro area.

Then, in 2002, Paige gave birth to Nephew Torin, who is the joy of her life.  For Mother's Day this year, Torin, who attends Spanish immersion school, penned this thoughtful and sincere poem to his Mama:

Mamá, Mamá
Eres bonita como el sol,
Amable como un perro.

Talk about economy of words!  The lad has a gift.

 Paige as "Squeaky the mouse" at the ballet dance recital

The poem speaks with more eloquence than I can muster.  But I'll chip in a heartfelt "Happy Birthday!" to my beloved sister, and one of the very best friends I will ever have in my life.

Happy birthday, Paige.  I love you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Enfilade 2011

Grown men, playing with toy soldiers
Friday morning I made the two hour drive up to Olympia, WA, to attend the 20th annual Enfilade gaming convention put on by the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society.  Enfilade is a three-day event drawing war-game enthusiasts from all over the Pacific Northwest. 

Attention to detail
Officially there were 280 paying attendees, but including vendors and staff, I estimate there were close to 500 people sitting at the gaming tables in the various event rooms.  Enfilade seems to be a phenomenon born of men of a certain age (from about 35 to 65).  Attendees mostly fit into the white, middle-aged male demographic, although a few women and some younger participants attend the event. 

A Barbarossa battlefield 
The convention runs from Friday through Sunday.  At the height of the activities, one can walk through the game hall and see elaborately-constructed map boards, peopled with miniature soldiers, tanks, and siege engines, in every imaginable military situation.
I saw games simulating everything from Hitler's 1941 invasion of Russia, to the 1812 Battle of Borodino, to chariot races in ancient Rome's Circus Maximus, to a sci-fi depiction of post-apocalypse survivors fighting off flesh-eating zombies with scavenged weapons.

Hobbyists pay enormous attention to detail.  It's a labor of love, obviously, and one really must admire the results when viewing the elaborately constructed battle maps and delicately painted miniatures.

Anti-tank battery
My own event was the Advanced Squad Leader tournament.  ASL is a tactical World War II game system that provides rules for simulating small unit engagements during the defining conflicts that occurred in the middle of the 20th century.  ASL doesn't use miniatures.  Rather, units are represented by cardboard counters that represent tanks, infantry, and ordinance.

This year, the ASL contingent at Enfilade was relatively small.  There were no more than a dozen of us.  In past years, there have been twice that number competing for ASL bragging rights in the Pacific Northwest.  Nationally, there are tournaments in Ohio and Maryland (among other places) where hundreds of players vie to be champions.  But it's been at least a decade since I've attended one of the big national tournaments.

ASL players Lyle (Vancouver, WA) and Brent (Boise, ID) locked in battle
Just as well, too, judging by my poor performance this year.  I lost my first game to the eventual tournament champion, Rich Julanis, early on.  The scenario we played was called Friday the 13th.  I was the Russians in 1944, trying to stem a determined attack by German Fallschirmjaegers.  My poor Russian farm boys got run over by the grim Huns and their murderous Sturmgeschützen.

I then followed up with a loss to Sam Belcher to eliminate myself from contention.  In that game, called Opium Hill, I played the British, defending a village against a Japanese armored-infantry assault.  Sam's Imperial Japanese warriors rushed my troops (most of which were local Malaysians) and vanquished them in hand-to-hand combat.

In my third (and final) game, I played Lyle Fisher in the metaphorically-named Shouting into the Storm.  This was a late-war scenario set on the eastern front.  I was the Germans, attacking across a bridge to seize a village held by the Red Army.  My order of battle included three of the German King Tiger super-tanks and they proved too much even for hardened Red Army troops.  Lyle had been undefeated prior to our game, so I played the sour role of spoiler with my victory, but Lyle took it all in stride.

 ASL players
I've been coming to this convention for about 18 years now.  It used to be that when I attended  tournaments I obsessively invested myself in the effort to win.  But over the years, the competitive part of it has faded.  Now, it's more about having a fun get-away weekend and hanging out with old friends.  (I trust it is unnecessary to point out the obvious correlation between diminution of competitive spirit and the natural drop in testosterone production by middle-aged men.  But, let's not go there.  At least, for now.) 

One of the best parts of these tournaments, believe it or not, is the conversations that spring up between games.  Larry Spangler and I were having a conversation on Saturday evening.  We talked about our respective lives, about our ups and downs, about how we each feel lucky.

"Think about it," says I.  "Here we are, spending an entire weekend at a hotel in Olympia, Washington, playing games."

Larry chortled.  "That right there says we got it pretty good, eh?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rick Perry latest to say no to GOP

"I'm Rick Perry and I'm not runnin' for President.  Yeehaw!"
If we can believe what polls among Republicans are suggesting, the rank and file of the party are none too happy with the current slate of presidential candidates.  According to a recent Gallup poll, Mitt Romney gets the most support (17%), edging out Sarah Palin (15%), and doubling up on Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain (8% each).  Considering that Mitt, fresh off a $10 million fund-raiser, is just barely nosing ahead of a woman who has not yet declared her candidacy (and I believe she never will declare --she's just in it for the money), there doesn't seem to be a lot of fervor behind anyone.

Big name Republicans like Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Huckabee have ruled themselves out.  Others, like New Jersey governor Chris Christie, are playing coy.  But, time's a-wastin'.  At this point in the 2008 election cycle, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were already sparring for the Democratic nomination.  (Back then, everyone thought that Hillary had it in the bag.)

Well, add another carcass to the refuse heap!  As recently as yesterday, the buzz was that neo-confederate Texas governor Rick Perry might jump into the race.  Check what the Washington Times reported about a meeting of Republican leaders in Dallas recently:
“I would love to see a movement to draft Rick for the nomination if that’s the only way we can get him to run,” said Republican National Committee general counsel Bill Crocker after Mr. Perry delivered a luncheon address that had several hundred party officials attentive throughout.

“The comments I got after his speech made it clear I am not alone,” Mr. Crocker said at the meeting of GOP state chairmen and other RNC members.

Interviews with more than two dozen people after Mr. Perry spoke produced a highly unusual degree of consensus about the third-term governor’s potential prospects as a candidate.

The party officials had been meeting here since Sunday, all the while bemoaning the chances of the current field of Republican candidates to raise the pulses of voters and mount a formidable challenge to President Obama.
But then, just this morning on the Greta Van Susteren show, Perry killed the idea.  "I can't say I'm not tempted, but the fact is, this isn't something that I want to do," Perry said.

It's just as well.  Governor Perry hasn't proved to have any more control over his mouth than any other loud-mouthed redneck.  (Newt Gingrich, for example?)  Some of the governor's public remarks come right up to the edge of sedition.  There is a loud secessionist movement in Texas, and that movement is a significant part of Perry's political base.  The Governor's rootin'-tootin' rock-of-the-westies talk plays well with those folks, but I don't know if many Americans outside of Texas would take a cotton to a presidential candidate that advocates secession.

The old adage about beggars and choosers applies here.  When the alternative is Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin, a Rick Perry candidacy must seem like a good option.  Perry enjoys the respect of conservative big shots and pundits.  He's a hero on Fox News.  And he has three times been elected governor of a populous state.  That's more than Newt or Sarah has ever done. 

But Perry is smarter than those two.  And while the GOP desperately needs someone to carry the flag, Rick Perry apparently has no desire to lay his head on the chopping block.

It's too bad.  There is nothing I enjoy more than kicking a Texan's ass.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ryan budget hanging like a noose in front of GOP senators

This week, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office, the US Senate will vote on the House Republican budget plan, the brain child of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.  This is the plan House Republicans put forward to address the budget deficit.  It proposes to "reform" Medicare, changing the program from guaranteed health benefits for seniors to a voucher system that allows them to shop for their own health insurance.  The plan passed the House with all but 4 Republicans (and not a single Democrat) voting in favor.

Since it passed, however, and as details of the plan have become known, public sentiment has turned overwhelmingly against it.  Regardless of how poll questions are framed, the Ryan plan pegs out with something less than 40% approval and over 50% disapproval.  Even Tea Party folks think it's a stinker.

Before the House voted on April 15th to pass the bill, their own pollsters were telling them it was a loser.  Since its passage, Republicans have faced angry constituents in town hall meetings that recall the Tea Party apoplexy ginned up by Fox News.  And today, in New York's 26th district, which, historically, is as red as Speaker Boehner's eyes at the end of a three-day bender, the Republican candidate, Jane Corwin, is in an unexpectedly tough race with Democrat Kathy Hochul.  This upset-in-the-making is seen by pundits as a result of public reaction to the Ryan budget plan.

But the plan passed the House.  And now it sits in the docket of the US Senate, like a big stink bomb.  And Senator Reid gets to light the fuse and throw it into the Republican caucus conference room.

Senate Republicans are well aware of the unpopularity of the Ryan plan.  But they dare not speak out against it.  (Look what happened to Newt Gingrich just last week!)  When Reid brings the bill up for a vote, Republican Senators will be faced with a dilemma.  Vote against the bill and risk the wrath of right-wing cognoscenti, or vote for it and face opposition ads highlighting it as a vote to kill Medicare when running for reelection.  Tough spot.

Already, some Republicans are abandoning the plan.  Scott Brown (MA) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) have both expressed doubts about it.  Can Maine's two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, be far behind?  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell provided proof of the rift in the Republican caucus when he made it clear that his office will not whip support for the Ryan plan when it comes to the floor. 

Well, we'll see how it comes out.  The GOP still has the inside track for winning control of the Senate in the 2012 election cycle.  But their newly-won majority in the House could be at risk.

The next move belongs to Senator Reid.

Monday, May 23, 2011

(Post-Rapture) State of the 'hood, 2011

No more Safeway

According to California minister Harold Camping, the world ended at 6pm (irrespective of time zone), Saturday, May 21st.  Reverend Camping's biblical research revealed that, at that hour, God made the call, summoning devout Christians to Heaven.

Well, here in Southeast Portland, we're always a little behind the curve.  I had a walk around the neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, just to see who might have heard "the Call."  But no one I know made the grade.  In fact, the only evidence of the Apocalypse that I found were the razed remains of the Safeway store that used to stand on the corner of SE 28th and Hawthorne.

Seeing as Safeway had already scheduled the building for demolition (to be replaced by a new Safeway late this year), the Rapture came at a convenient time.  God's wrath apparently saved Safeway the cost of tear-down.  Very nice of Him, eh?

Firwood Lake, fillin' back up

Meanwhile, things seem to be progressing as usual for those of us who didn't have tickets for the Lord's Train.

The City is refilling Firwood Lake (in Laurelhurst Park) after a $1.28 million project to dredge out the sediment accumulated over the years.  Conditions were so bad last summer that the average depth of the water had been reduced from 15 feet to 18 inches.  That's a lot of duck sh*t, folks. 

Clear water

You can see the difference. I walked along the water's edge and was shocked to actually see the lake bed. Before, the algae so choked the water that it was impenetrable.

Pond of pea soup, June 2010

So,even though the world ended, those of us who got "left behind" seem to be doing alright.  Yesterday, Day 1 in the post-Armageddon era, was cool and drizzly, but otherwise not too bad.  A typical spring day in Portland.

Fyodor says...

By the time I circled back around homeward, I was halfway convinced that Reverend Camping had it wrong.  But then the mural on the side of the used furniture store reminded me what Monsieur Dostoyevsky had to say about it:
Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those whom they have slain. --Dostoyevsky
Well, who am I to argue with a great mind like Dostoyevsky?  I reckon I'll cut Reverend Camping a little slack.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday photos

Old Man Hood glowers and grumbles.  One can almost hear him mutter.  "Humans?  Here today, gone tomorrow."  Or that is what he might say, were he to notice us at all.

Advice from the billboard near the east-side terminus of Hawthorne Bridge.  During last year's election, eastbound river-crossers were advised to vote Dudley-for-Governor.  Today's message is closer to the mark, as far as I'm concerned.

More than anything, the Dragons recall Viking longboats.  When the Dragon people start pleating their beards and tucking hand-axes into their belts, hang on to your hats!

Riverplace Marina:  morphing toward a Brave New World.  This part of river front has changed tremendously over the years.  But I wonder how it will fare if we get another winter like the Winter of '96.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

GOP crumble

Oh, you merry band!
Progressives everywhere, take notice! After years of outrage and disbelief, your reward is here.

Sit back, relax, and watch it unfold --this beautiful thing that is unfolding.  The GOP is coming apart at the seams. 


Newt does his Newt thing

Newt Gingrich, on Meet the Press last Sunday, called the vaunted Paul Ryan budget plan "right-wing social engineering."   (Ya gotta admit, the man has a flair for offensive rhetoric.)  This is the very plan which Speaker Boehner dutifully passed through the House to show Tea Party people that he's really (wink, wink) listening to them.

Immediate condemnation from various right-wing panjandrums (Charles Krauthammer all the way down to Rush Limbaugh) was so strong that Gingrich was back-pedaling within 24 hours.

Paul Ryan got to play martyr (a delightful role for any politician) on Laura Ingraham's radio show, plaintively crying:  "With allies like that, who needs the left?"

(Let's be real, though.  Newt has a lot of enemies in the GOP.  Guys like Dick Armey were laying in wait, ready to jump Newt as soon as he said something stupid.)  Oh, and I just love this video:

But here's the bigger problem:  Conservatives are burning Newt at the stake for attempting to move the party off a politically suicidal position!  Polls consistently show that the Ryan budget is reviled, even by Tea Party people.  But see if any Republican will ever have the courage to speak out against it after seeing what is happening to Gingrich. 

Newt did Democrats a big favor with his Meet the Press remarks.  All but four House Republicans voted for the Ryan budget.  Now they get to defend it while Democrats run adds of Newt calling it "right-wing social engineering."

Speaker Boehner in the hot seat

Meanwhile, Speaker Boehner delivered some unwelcome news to the Tea Party.  At a meeting in his home district in Ohio, the Speaker was asked if Republicans would raise the national $14.3 trillion debt limit.  "Yes," he replied.  "And we're going to have to raise it again in the future."

Ouch.  That is not bound to sit well with Tea Party rank and file who are already seeing red because of the compromise Boehner made with Democrats over the budget resolution last month.

Boehner's in a tough spot.  He knows that a failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to economic calamity.  But try convincing Tea Party folks of that.  If Boehner can't get enough of his own caucus to go along with him, he'll have to make a deal with Democrats and the GOP will be riven cleanly in two. Sharpen your claws, Nancy!

Karma, honey

The GOP has big, big problems:  the natural consequence of stoking insane rhetoric for all these years.  Xenophobia, anti-gay bigotry, "American exceptionalism," Christian zealotry --all of it has led to this.  The Republican party may not be racist, but it is #1 with racists.

Apart from poor, deluded Mitt Romney, and puny Tim Pawlenty, no sane person wants to get in front of this band of yahoos.  Who would blame him?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shedding grace on the profane

Ma cherie amor
Gift of love, bestowed by God, whatever He may be,
Upon disheveled, unkempt fool, bereaved, afraid, lonely;

Cut away the withered fronds that sap root of its life
Renew the growth that comes within; I learn this from my wife;

Thirty-two the count of years you've held earthly domain;
By standing here beside me you shed grace on the profane;

Joyeux anniversaire, ma belle femme

Monday, May 16, 2011

The St. Paul hippie

Pseudo-hippie at Oregon Country Fair 2003
NoteAlthough this story is (more or less) true, I've used fictional names.

What's a hippie?  Anybody know? 

I've been called a hippie before; I've even described myself (in jest) as a hippie.  But I'm no hippie.  Granted, years ago, when I had long hair, wore tie-dye tee-shirts and sandals and tied a peace sign around my neck, I might have looked like one.  A little bit, anyway.

But, although I'm all on board with the counterculture values of peace, love, and understanding, even if I wanted to be a hippie, I couldn't make the grade.  Hippie-ness is a mindset; it's something wired into one's DNA.  Hippies are born hippies.  And, here in the Willamette Valley, hippies rise up out of the rich, black soil of the valley floor, as natural and inherent as oak groves.  We've got whole tribes of them.  We're lucky that way.

St. Paul, out in the middle of the Willamette Valley
In the summer of 1997, I undertook to ride my bicycle from my home in southwest Portland to Eugene to attend the Oregon Country Fair.  It was a good long ride (about 120 miles) which I planned to do in 2 days.  I would ride along the rural back roads and highways that meander through the Willamette Valley and arrive at Brother Eric's house on the day before the Fair opened.

I had barely got out of Portland, my saddlebags heavy with clothing, sleeping bag, and camping equipment, when a construction staple, part of the detritus that litters the sides of our highways, punctured my front tire. And me without a patch kit!  So, there I was, with a punctured tire and no way to repair it, out in the middle of the vast Willamette Valley farmland.  Nothing for it but to start walking.

I walked several miles before I saw a church steeple, a grain silo, and some sleepy buildings sitting in the July sun.  The little village of St. Paul was up ahead.  There didn't look to be anyone about; it was a hot day, and I imagined most folks were indoors, staying out of the sun.  I wondered if there would be anywhere I might be able to get my bike tire patched.

As I approached town from the north.  I passed a ramshackle, old house on the side of the highway.  It had at one time been a fine, old manor, but was now a dirty white house with a cluttered and unkempt front yard.  There were chickens hunting and pecking in the grass, a dog or two asleep in the shade, and cats prowling around the periphery.  As I walked past, a screen door on the side of the house banged open to produce a wiry man with light, curly hair, dressed in a tatty shirt and short khaki trousers.  He looked to be in his mid-forties.  I knew him for a hippie the minute I saw him.  He glanced at me curiously as I passed. 

I had gone only a short way further down the road when I heard the clatter of a rattletrap VW bus behind me.  As it came alongside, it slowed.  I looked to see the St. Paul hippie in the driver's seat.  The passenger window was down and he kept pace with me as I walked.  "Wanna race?" he asked, grinning.

"You know someplace I can get my bike tire patched?" I asked.

"Prolly have to go to Salem," he said.  "Nothin' here in town for ya."

This was not welcome news.  Salem was another 15 miles at least.  My disappointment must have shown.

"I'm going to Salem, now," said the hippie.  "Whyn't I give you a ride?"

"That'd be great!" I said, much relieved.

He pulled the VW over and jumped out.  "Let's get you loaded up," he said.  There were several dogs asleep in the back of the van.  One of them, a puppy, yelped in indignant protest as we wrestled my bike inside. "You're alright.  Go back to sleep," said the hippie.

We got things arranged and I hopped into the passenger seat.  "Name's Willard," he said as he sat at the wheel.  We shook.  "Good thing I saw you," he said.  "St. Paul's a one-hippie town and I'm it."

We kept the windows down as we drove toward Salem.  Willard drove slowly.  He talked a lot.  The dogs napped indifferently in the back.

"How is it for a hippie out here in St. Paul?" I asked him.

"Took a while," he said.  "But they're used to me now.  When I first came here, they didn't like me much.  There's an ol' boy here, Kenny Gills.  He's what some might call a redneck.  He's the toughest guy around.  He used to give me grief, 'til I stood up to him one night in the bar.  He asked me if I had any leaf, which, of course, I did.  When I showed it to him, he grabbed it out of my hand and put it in his pocket and tried to ignore me.  But I kept after him.  'You gonna do me like that, Kenny?' I asked him.  'You really gonna do me like that?' 'I don't know what you're talking about,' he kept sayin'.  So I said, 'Kenny, go f*ck yourself.'  Don't remember much else from that night.  He cleaned my clock good, but I saw him the next day.  He had a mark or two on his face from where I'd tagged him.  Nobody gave me sh*t after that."

"What is it you do out here?" I asked him.

"That's my ol' lady's house where you saw me," he said.  "She's retired military.  We've got a big garden, and a whole bunch of animals that we take care of."

"What kind of animals?"

"We got a couple goats and some pigs.  Chickens.  Cats.  Dogs."

"You like animals, eh?"

"Love 'em," he said.  "That's our family.  My ol' lady's a special gal.  Folks around St. Paul come to her when their animals get sick.  We take 'em in, get 'em healthy."

"Is she a vet?"

"Naw.  Just gives 'em love.  Lotta times that all they need."  He went on, "She's a giver, my ol' lady.  There's some of the kids around town come hang out at our place.  Kids who don't fit in well, or are just lookin' for something different from what they know.  Most of 'em never seen anything like us."

"There's a lot of hippies in the Valley," I protested.

"Not in St. Paul, there's not," he said.  He smiled his crooked smile.  "Like I said, it's a one-hippie town.  Little smoke?"  He produced a joint, held the steering wheel steady with his knee while he got it lit.  He took a toke and passed it to me. 

Eventually, we arrived in Salem.  Willard pulled into a gas station to fill up.  He pointed out a bike shop nearby as we pulled my bike out of the back of the van.

"Well, thanks, Willard," I said.  "Want some money for gas?"

"Sure, if you want to give me some," he said.  I handed him a five.

"Keep the faith, brother," he said.  Grinning.  He was always grinning.

We shook hands and I set off on my way.

Hippies.  There are hippies; and there are people who like to hang out with hippies.  Willard, whom I have not seen since that one short encounter 14 years ago, is a hippie.

Me?  I just like to hang out with them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Let's get our schools fixed

It's going to be a big financial hit at an economically uncertain time.  That puts a lump in my throat.  Top-of-my-head estimate is that it'll cost me between $50 and $100 each month for the next six years!  Most folks I know have to swallow pretty hard before making that kind of commitment.  I do, anyway.

Nonetheless, I'm voting "Yes" on Measures 26-121 and 26-122, the bond and levy measures aimed at raising much needed funds for upkeep of our public schools and preserving teaching jobs.

Speaking as a homeowner, I've learned from experience that ignoring structural and efficiency problems only makes them more expensive to fix in the long run.  Our schools are in a sorry state.  The buildings are old and falling apart.  It seems to me we ought to just bite the bullet and fix them now.  Besides, better schools means higher home values. 

Cleveland High School, in my part of town, was built in 1929.  The bond measure will pay for a complete renovation of Cleveland, along with 85 other schools.  (You can read more about the measure here.)

And let's not forget that raising tax money and spending it right here at home will benefit everyone in the community.  These measures will pay to keep our hard-working teachers on the job and to keep class sizes from getting out of hand.  It'll keep local construction workers and peripheral businesses in work.

Of course, most importantly, the kids --and therefore all of us --will benefit.

The condition of our schools is a measure of our commitment to the future.  We've got a great thing going here in Portland.  I'm willing to chip in to keep it that way.

Yes on 26-121 and 26-122!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Newt throws his hat into the ring!

Great God, he's going to do it!
Newt Gingrich finally steps forward and offers himself up to march in front of the Crazy Parade.  The grandest and most flamboyant of the GOP drum majors defiantly announces his arrival to the party like a flaunting, disgraced debutante.  "See how she laughs and smiles!  As if we didn't all know..."

And there is so much to know about Newt Gingrich.  Ethics violations, defamatory and reckless rhetoric, petty human cruelty; these form the milieu in which Gingrich operates.  I refrain from citing chapter and verse here.  It's all out there and readily available.  (Try googling "Gingrich baggage."  That ought to do it.)

But watch out, Mitt!  Newt brings a lot of firepower to the Republican nominating process.  He's always been an ace at raising money and he will not hesitate to attack his opponents viciously and scurrilously.  We can all anticipate a wonderfully ugly mud fight when the primaries get started.

In the end, I think Republicans will reject Newt.  Even they know he is a loser.  (A recent Quinnipiac poll revealed that 42% of general election voters said they "would never vote for" Gingrich.)

To tell you the truth, I'm gleeful at the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy.  For years, I have longed for the day when he would expose himself to the voting public at large, not just to some right-wing suburb outside Atlanta.

I've long held that the man is without shame, but I believe even he will be put to the test by the humiliation that is in store for him.  And let it be said:  if I ever live to see Newt Gingrich sworn as President of the United States, on that day I will know that the Universe is a fevered dream and that we are the playthings of cruel, insane gods.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gerald Ford: the last good Republican

A good president; a fine and decent man
On May 3, the National Statuary Hall, which houses bronze statues of notable figures from each of the 50 states, introduced a new statue in honor of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford.

President Nixon appointed Ford to the vice-presidency when Nixon's Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign amid charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy.  When Nixon himself resigned, on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford became the first President who had never stood for election on a national ticket.  No one had ever voted for him on the national level.

The country was in a bad way, back then.  The Watergate scandal had rocked le monde politique.  Inflation was running at 11%.  Ho Chi Minh was closing in on Saigon.  Disruptions to foreign oil supplies sparked an energy crisis .  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh?

I remember the night Nixon resigned.  Mom and I spent that evening watching the little rabbit-eared television in our family room in the house on Doughton Street in Salem.  I was 12 years old at the time, and already I had made up my mind about Republicans.  But Gerry Ford seemed different.  As he spoke to reporters that night, he seemed measured, calm, and good-hearted.  

It turns out that my intuition was right.  President Ford was a stolid, reliable presence for Americans when we really needed it.  He was conscientious and honest.

During his 2 year presidency, Ford survived two assassination attempts, signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which established special education for children with special needs, responded forcefully to an act of piracy by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge (the Mayaguez Incident), and continued the détente initiatives between the US and the Soviet Union which Nixon had initiated.

President Ford took a lot of ribbing from the national media.  They often portrayed him as an oafish ex-athlete. (Ford had played center for the Michigan Wolverines football team in college).  They ridiculed his Whip Inflation Now (WIN)  initiative (which probably deserved a little ridicule, truthfully).  But I always felt that they were unfair to him.

The biggest political mistake that Ford made as president was indisputably his pardon of Nixon.  It proved disastrous for him.  Many people believe that pardon cost him the 1976 election, when he lost to President Carter.  (Ford and Carter later became fast friends.  President Carter delivered a eulogy at Ford's funeral.)

It is hard to imagine that a moderate like Gerry Ford (who, in the 70s was considered a staunch conservative) would win much support in today's Republican party.  Too bad.  The stridency and hysteria of the modern Republican party precludes the possibility of noble persons like Gerald Ford contributing to the welfare of our country.

President Ford passed in 2006.  I'm glad that, 5 years later, our nation chooses to honor his memory.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Rain strobe

Cherry blossoms on top of Tabor
Living this close to the Pacific Ocean, here in this land of temperate rainforests and plush, green valleys (a lot like valleys in Ireland, by the way) one learns never to trust a spring day.

Pacifica rules all the earth between here and Tokyo, and Zeus' Queen Hera had nothing on that one for raging, full-blown bitchery.  Today, her restless, indomitable will shed a strobe --sun, rain, sun, rain --upon the city.  When I went out to walk, I took the jacket with the hood.

West side Portland, behind the rain curtain
At the reservoir, I paused to have a look across toward the West Hills.  A rainy partition, a gauzy haze of drizzle, divided the city roughly along the river.  West Side was getting wet.

It was easy to imagine the rain curtain to be the smoke of combat, and I, standing on Tabor's west slope, some general or staff officer watching a battle unfold.  A jogger had paused beside me to watch.  "It'll be here in five minutes," he said, grinning.  "Yep," I said.

Similar words surely passed between Harold and his housecarls as they watched the Normans advancing on their Anglo-Saxon shield wall. 

As it turned out we were wrong. The rain wavered and fell away northward.  The sun grew prideful and scattered the clouds like truant children.

Up on top, the birds of Tabor --chick-a-dee, jay, warbler, thrush --performed a mad, frantic symphony.  In their rests, echoes of human music drifted up from the city.  Auditory fragments of a Cinco de Mayo celebration on Hawthorne.

"What's all the fuss about Cinco de Mayo?" a middle-aged woman nearby asked.  Well-kempt and alert, she seemed pleasant enough.  "Cinco de Mayo is taking over, if you ask me," she said.  She was from Chicago.  She and her husband were in Portland visiting their son.  He was a young man, not yet jaded.  He shrugged.  "What else do we have going on in early May?"  She cast a sharp look at him, but said nothing.  Her husband raised his eyebrows, then brightened and chimed in, "It's another excuse to have a party." 

Hawthorne Boulevard:  Home, sweet home
Walking back down toward Hawthorne, jacket tied around my waist now that the day had grown warm, I was grateful to this City of Roses for having taken me into its arms and kept me for these 23 years.  Happy and grateful.  And I wished I wasn't so mean sometimes.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Your happiness offends them

Cardinal Altamirano, calling 'em like he sees 'em
Quick digressionIf you have not seen The Mission, starring Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro (with a young Liam Neeson in a supporting role) by all means, rent it today!  The cinematography, the score (by Ennio Moricone, who also wrote the score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), the acting, the direction, and most especially, the writing are superb.  A must see for movie lovers!
This seeking to create a paradise on earth... how easily it offends.
Your Holiness is offended... because it may distract from that paradise which comes hereafter.
The Spanish and Portuguese kings are offended... because a paradise of the poor is seldom pleasing to those who rule.
And the settlers here are offended for the same reason.  --Cardinal Altamirano, The Mission
Thus dictates Cardinal Altamirano, the Holy Father's personal envoy, in the opening scenes of the 1986 Roland Joffé classic, The Mission.

And don't those words ring true?

(The name Altamirano, of course, is a play on words in Spanish.  Roughly:  "far-seeing." )

Well, I've got a theory...

I believe that there are people who are unhappy with their stations in life.  This unhappiness seems to stem not so much from the conditions that surround such people --many of them are financially well-off and living in comfort --but more from some unhappiness deep within their psyches.

To these people, society is a ladder.  One's position higher or lower on the ladder determines the rights and privileges one should expect.  Kowtow to those higher on the ladder; spurn and scorn those who are lower.

So, for people who hold this mindset, stories of corporate corruption or financial scams are not overly troubling.  After all, the perpetrators of those crimes are "higher" on the ladder, and therefore not to be judged by those "below."

But it is offensive in the extreme when they see people "below" them who are content, who care not one wit about the all-important hierarchy, who have achieved some version of Cardinal Altamirano's "paradise of the poor." It vexes them to no end.  After all, they bitterly envy those whom they deem to be "above" them.  They bow and scrape on cue and readily.  Why are they not afforded the same deference and submission from those "below" them?

I think many (but certainly not all, let me hurry to stipulate) of the people who supported Junior Bush and conservative policy hold such views.  To them, programs that attempt to address the needs of those lower on the ladder blur distinctions, make the hierarchy less pronounced.  Universal health care, for example, diminishes their stature:  it removes one more advantage they have over the "lower" people.  It gives life to "paradises of the poor." 

As Cardinal Altamirano observes, it offends these people when they see others who are not caught up in their game and seem to be getting away with it.  By not sharing in their misery.  By daring to be happy.

Tough life, that.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Two big defeats for the GOP

"It seemed like such a good idea at the time..."
Two big surrenders by the GOP on the domestic front.  According to the New York Times, top Republican aides, quoted anonymously have a pretty bleak assessment of the current political climate.  "It is a big problem,” one aide said. “Things are unraveling."

Health care repeal is dead

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) said Thursday that repeal of the 2010 health care legislation is "dead." 

Quoting Mr. Camp:  "Obviously, I voted to repeal the bill and you pretty much know where I am on replacement because I put out a bill last year on that. Is the repeal dead? I don’t think the Senate is going to do it, so I guess, yes."

Sour news for Tea Party folks. All that sturm und drang that the GOP stirred up with their talk about "death panels" and "socialized" medicine may have helped them win control of the House, but in the end it comes to nothing.

But there is more...

Paul Ryan budget is dead

Now that GOP representatives have had a little taste of some down-home grass-roots fury at their town halls, they can't run from the Paul Ryan budget plan fast enough.  Check what Speaker Boehner had to say: “It’s Paul’s idea. Other people have other ideas. I’m not wedded to one single idea, but I think it’s — we have a plan. Where’s the president’s plan to deal with the nightmare that’s facing Americans?”

That, my friends, is called "throwing Paul Ryan under the bus."  So much for all that Ayn Rand claptrap.

But there is still a problem, Republicans.  Remember that vote you took back on April 15th?  When all but 4 of you said "yea" to the Ryan budget?  Now you must explain to your constituents (Tea Party folks and everyone else) why you voted to end Medicare as we know it.

It will be interesting to see how Senate Republicans vote when Harry Reid brings the Ryan budget to the floor in the upper body.  One can practically hear Mitch McConnell's sour lament:   "Why, thank you so very much, Mr. Boehner."

But, of course, we all knew it would come to this. 

They got nothin', folks.  Nothin'.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bin Laden death exemplifies Obama's courage, Junior's cowardice

Mission accomplished
The successful military operation that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden is a crystal clear example of the superiority of our current president, Barack Obama, over his imbecilic predecessor, Junior Bush.

President Obama faced huge political risk when he authorized the operation.  (And, isn't it telling that there has been no snazzy, poll-tested name given to it?  No "Operation Iraqi Freedom" hoohaw?)  If the mission had somehow ended in disaster, the President's already shaky approval numbers would most likely have fallen through the floor.  (Remember President Carter's Operation Eagle Claw?)  But Obama did something that today seems almost unbelievable.  He put the interests of his country ahead of his own political interests!

Junior, when faced with a similar opportunity in December 2001, chose to protect his political capital  According to a definitive account by Peter Bergen (senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The Osama bin Laden I Know), even as US military forces and their allies had Osama bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, "the Bush administration’s attention was distracted by the planning process for Iraq."  The last thing Junior and Cheney wanted, going in to the new year, was to have significant military casualties broadcast across the airwaves, dampening public appetite for war.  Their goal was Iraq and nothing must interfere with that.  Osama bin Laden escaped Tora Bora in mid-December.

Hoo boy...
Further, contrast how the two men, Obama and Junior, portrayed their various successes.  President Obama made a brief factual statement on the evening of the conclusion of the operation.  Junior, on the other hand, in May 2003 played dress up just like a real soldier and gave a premature victory speech in front of a banner on an aircraft carrier.  (By the way, the mission Junior was celebrating went on to last another seven years.)

Today, President Obama graciously invited Junior to join him in placing a wreath at Ground Zero in memory of the victims of 911, but Junior declined.  A spokesman said Bush appreciated the invitation, but "has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight."

Just serves to confirm what I already knew:  There's no contempt like self-contempt, eh, Junior?  Sucks to be you.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Book review: Peace

A complicated web of eerie, subtly related stories, the reminiscences of a confused old man named Alden Dennis Weer. This is Gene Wolfe's Peace.

Alden doesn't sleep well. He wanders through the rooms of his "house," reliving significant episodes from his life in the small town of Cassionsville on the Kanakessee River in the American Midwest.  All his people have passed.  There is only Alden left to remember them.  As he puzzles through the mysteries of his life, he remembers stories.  There is a colloquial Irish story about a banshee, related by a young nanny.  There is a Shogun-era glimpse at infinity, told at a contentious dinner party.  There are oddly-written letters, penned by carnival freaks.  There are weighted conversations fraught with hints and clues.  Taken together, the array of stories within the larger story conveys themes of disinterment, fraud, and the ambiguity of truth.

To get the full value of Peace, read with care.  The book is chock full of details, facts and allusions that have subtle significance.  For example, early on in the novel, Alden remarks that his secretary at the orange juice plant has gained weight.  Later, as certain facts come to light, this seemingly casual remark takes on real significance and provides a clue to a mystery that develops over the course of the narrative. 

Wolfe uses cleverly-concealed hints and obscure clues to sketch out a larger story that occurs in the background, as it were.  Wolfe's disdain for clear-cut, fully-resolved endings can, at times be frustrating.  But, in addition to the delight provided by the stories themselves, the work in its entirety is fascinating and difficult to fully penetrate.  It demands examination.  Peace might be a ghost story.  Or, it might be the confused ramblings of an old man. 

Wolfe is a great writer.  His narrative descriptions are first rate.  His ability to keep track of the multitude of threads that run through the novel is impressive.  His characters, while perhaps not as finely drawn as those of --say David Mitchell or Ernest Hemingway --are real enough.  And, while I'm still not certain that the book offers any discernible moral postulate, there is definitely a common thread that runs throughout.

I'll be reading more of Gene Wolf.  To quote one of his admirers, "Wolfe is a total mindf*ck."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Death revelry

Spontaneous celebration at the news of Osama bin Laden's death
I suppose I'm portraying myself as a joyless scold, but whatever.

I'm uncomfortable with all the revelry on display in reaction to the news about Osama bin Laden's death. Chants of "USA!  USA!" and cacophonous public renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner" strike me as unseemly, even crass.

I grant that bin Laden's death was necessary.  Just like a grizzly bear that has taken to raiding human garbage pits, some people are simply too dangerous to live.  I certainly think Osama bin Laden fit the bill on that score.

But when society determines that it must take a life, I believe it should be done soberly and purposefully and without passion.

The death of bin Laden evokes emotion.  I understand that.  I can understand relief.  I can understand satisfaction.  But this is not a sporting event.  It is death

New York Times financial writer Diana Henriques said of  Bernie Madoff  "...he is not inhumanly monstrous; he is monstrously human."  It was thus with Osama bin Laden as well.  

So, I'm not going to be joining the triumphant, chest-thumping conversations springing up in offices and schools all over the country today.  Instead, I'll quote Nietzsche:  "If you stare into the Abyss long enough the Abyss stares back at you."

Take a good look, America.  What are we staring at?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A dangerous man is no more

Strange news.  You will have heard it before you read this.

A dangerous man is dead. What does it mean?

There is a story I've heard repeated about John Lennon.  Perhaps you've heard it.  (Osama bin Laden to John Lennon... how's that for a jarring segue?)

The story takes place in that period when John was living as a recluse, in an apartment in New York, where he kept little company and mostly stayed hidden with Yoko and their son.  The legend goes that one day as he was wandering around Manhattan, taking advantage, perhaps, of one of the last places on Earth that afforded him any anonymity, he happened upon a hotel or a convention hall (the story is not specific) where was being held a Beatles convention.  On a lark, he went inside.  Among the activities, and the vendors selling Beatles memorabilia, someone was organizing a John Lennon Lookalike contest.  According to the story, John entered the contest... and in a sublimely ironic twist, was awarded third place!

Seems plausible, doesn't it?  Would you have recognized the authentic John Lennon?  Or would the myth of John Lennon overwhelm the man?  Although John Lennon the man has been dead for over 30 years, John Lennon the legend lives on.  Has grown, in fact. 

Now, about Osama bin Laden...