Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Portland - Sunday at the camp

Cacophonous message (in need of a spell-check)
On Saturday night, a splinter group moved from the main camp site at Chapman/Lownsdale Parks to occupy Jamison Square in the Pearl District.  The City would have none of it.  Police in riot gear and on horseback swept in and arrested twenty-some people.  Others left voluntarily.  There was no violence.

The Occupiers released a statement in response to the arrests, saying they "stand in solidarity with people in Oakland, Atlanta, Chicago, and other cities where aggressive police raids and 2,826 arrests have attempted to forcibly disperse peaceful assembly and political protest.  The occupation movement condemns police brutality as well as the unjust and growing inequality of wealth, resources, and political influence in the nation and world."
Portland police still on-hand
Fair words.  But no police brutality occurred at Jamison Square.  Throughout this Occupy demonstration, Portland police have conducted themselves admirably.  At least so far as I have seen.  Certainly, they haven't pulled anything like they did when Mayor Katz had them pepper-spray down citizens because they were protesting Junior Bush when his presence blighted the city back in August 2002.

Mayor Adams, it seems, has made the decision to contain the Occupiers and wait them out.  A test of resolve, then.  So be it. 
Ethan Edwards
On Sunday, coming home from the early matinee, I stopped in at the Occupy Portland camp.  I spent a little while chatting with Ethan Edwards, another fellow named Deva, and the irrepressible Raya Cooper, whom I had met before.

I asked them:  "What needs to happen in order for you to pack up your gear and go?  What needs to change?"

"We were talking about that earlier," said Ethan.  He didn't exactly shrug as he said it, but none of the three provided a clear answer.  I wonder, is there anyone associated with the movement that really could provide an answer?  I have my doubts about that.
Deva and the irrepressible Raya Cooper
But I don't think it matters.  As I've said before, the demonstration is a broad indictment of a thoroughly-corrupted political and economic system.  The Occupiers don't necessarily have to provide the answer.  Their function is to draw attention to the injustice so that we can all figure out the answer.

Ethan, Deva, Raya and I had a pretty good chat.  They seemed in good spirits.  I didn't think to mention it, but I'm grateful to them and to all the Occupiers.  Someone needs to take a stand. 

On my way out of camp, I went by the kitchen.  The Worn-out Shoes were laying down a bluegrass jam.  Overhead, heavy raindrops pattered on the tarp, like a chorus of low voices, murmuring assent, urging strength and solidarity.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Movie review: Anonymous

Who really wrote Macbeth?  From what mind did such triumphs as the St. Crispin's Day Speech, or Hamlet's existential "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy spring?  Who, in fact, is responsible for creating the pinnacles of literary achievement in the English language?

These questions, which are real and debated in scholarly circles, are what drew me to see the heavily-promoted Anonymous by Roland Emmerich.  False lead.  The identity of Shakespeare is not examined in the flick, despite its misleading subtitle "Was Shakespeare a fraud?"  But, even though the flick doesn't investigate the historical mystery, all in all, I'm glad I saw it.

The film is a visual delight.  Emmerich and company went to great lengths to create convincing Elizabethan era sets, and viewers are rewarded by their efforts.  Sets and costumes are made all the more convincing by the stately dances and court manners delivered by the cast.

Rhys Ifans plays the Earl of Oxford, a blue-blooded aristocrat, enmeshed in a web of schemes between the various political players of late 16th century London.  Edward of Oxford is something of a failure at politics and finances, but has a literary gift, and a plan for the approaching day when Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, passes without legal heir.  Edward employs the talents, or rather the lack thereof, of a local playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Arnesto) in an elaborate and highly-unlikely scheme to thwart William Cecil (David Thewls), the Queen's most trusted advisor who has plans of his own.

I found the film's opening to be brilliant and made all the more so by the cameo appearance of Derek Jacobi as the Chorus.  I'll refrain from describing it here (no spoilers from me, by golly).  But I was well-and-truly drawn in by the time Jacobi had finished his opening and we were transported back to late 16th century London. (Is there any other Shakespearean actor with such wide renown as Jacobi?  Well, maybe Kenneth Brannaugh...)

The film's great flaw, alas, is the story.  Did I say "highly-unlikely?"  That don't cover the half of it, I'm afraid.  The concocted and completely ahistorical passion play that unfolds over the two-hour-ten-minute run time stretches credibility a bit too much, frankly.  A promiscuous queen dropping bastard children?  A tacked-on Oedipal twist?  Come, now. 

On the other hand, Shakespeare (whoever he was) took quite a few historical liberties in his own work, so what the hell?

With the works of Shakespeare as his backdrop, one can easily forgive writer John Orloff for penning a clanker now and then.  But it seemed to me that he missed some real opportunities with his dialog.  There aren't many memorable lines in this flick.  (And how is that for irony?)  Further, the implausibility of the story demands that the actors chew the scenery like there is no tomorrow to make it fly. (This seems to be an unfortunate recurrence with Emmerich.  Remember Independence Day?)

I came away with a favorable impression of Ifans and particularly enjoyed Sebastian Arnesto's performance as well.  (In no small part because I identified with his character.)  Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth was all we have come to expect from her, as well. 

The subject matter is fascinating and, in the end, that's what keeps the flick from dying a tragic death.  This film is not the unmitigated success that was Miloš Forman's similarly-themed film, Amadeus.  But if you love Shakespeare (and who doesn't?) I recommend this flick.  Go, enjoy.  Feast your eyes and let the film awaken that hunger for Shakespeare that so many of us know so well.

As to the questions I mentioned at the beginning of this post --who wrote those works attributed to William Shakespeare? --I'm a subscriber to the Oxfordian theory.  There are many Shakespeare aficionados to whom such an admission is blasphemy.

Nonetheless, after hearing both sides of the argument, I'm convinced that it was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who wrote these, and all the other sublime words we attribute to William Shakespeare:
WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
    But one ten thousand of those men in England
    That do no work to-day!
KING. What's he that wishes so?
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
    If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
    But if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
    God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
    As one man more methinks would share from me
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
    We would not die in that man's company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
--Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3

Friday, October 28, 2011

#occupywallstreet: Continue to exist

In politics and this other the first thing is to continue to exist.  --Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
One oft-repeated criticism of the #occupywallstreet movement is that it has no identifiable leaders and no specific demands.  Those in sympathy with the movement bemoan these lacks as weaknesses.  Those opposed hold them as proof that the movement is simply the plaintive crying of an idle rabble.

I disagree.  I think the lack of a clearly-articulated message and the leadership void are strengths.

Here's my reasoning.

Since there are no explicit demands, the movement stands as a broad indictment of all the injustices and inequities of the current system.  It's not just a political system corrupted by money and corporate lobbyists; It's not just a tax system that absolves the über-wealthy of any responsibility toward the common good.  It's not just a financial system that allows swindlers to fleece the common people with impunity.  It's not just the economic conscription of the working class into wars fought for corporate profit.  It is all of these things.  And more.

I think the lack of leaders and specific demands is what frightens the movement's opponents most.  If there are no leaders nor specific policy demands, there is no one and nothing for right-wing demagogues and political charlatans to attack.

The robber barons and Wall Street fleecers already know all the different ways in which they are screwing the lower classes.  None know better.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, just by existing, serves as a public indictment of the entire corrupted system.  Were the movement to single-out one particular aspect of the Great Screwing, the plutocrats could send out their double-talkers and snake-oil salesmen to confuse the issue and sow dissension.  As it is, they can only make disparaging remarks and keep their fingers crossed.

I hope the movement will continue to grow.  As it gains steam, the bankers, corporate executives, and political shills (of both parties) will be forced into acknowledging those egregious abuses that they would rather not discuss.

They know how to fix things; they know how to placate the just demands of the people.  They're just hoping they won't have to do it.

Hell with them!  Occupy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Portland - Labor joins in

It's no surprise, I suppose, that I am on Trent Luntz' email list. I've signed so many petitions, visited so many web sites and attended so many fora that my email address (, by the way) was bound to reach the office of the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Oregon by any of a multitude of routes.

(Say what you want about national Democrats, including President Obama.  I'll probably agree with you.  But Oregon Democrats are a different breed altogether.  Much more fight to 'em.)

So that's how I heard about the planned march this evening. Trent sent email announcing that organized labor, as represented by the AFL-CIO of Portland, AFSCME, and other unions, would demonstrate in solidarity with the Occupy Portland movement.

Hurrah for the boisterous working class!

So, I went.

A rally in Director Park (dowtown on Yamhill) preceded the march.  As with most union events I've attended, there were many speakers and they went on at length.  I lost track of their number.  Jobs with Justice, the US Postal Service, and many (if not each) of the unions had a spokesperson on the playbill.

Vive le prolétariat

The principle demands that I heard repeated were these:  federal jobs legislation and increased taxes on corporations and top incomes.  I thought the USPS spokesman was rather eloquent as he urged people to rally to save the postal service.  (Alas, I don't recall his name.)

Statement of fact

This was a smaller demonstration than the big march that kicked off Occupy Portland.  But my inexpert estimate is that there were just over a thousand marchers.  Mostly union folks. Union support ought to lay to rest the absurd assertions by right-wing media outlets that the (now-international) demonstrations springing up everywhere are composed of mere hippies and Trustafarians.

KATU reporter speaks with a demonstrator

While at the rally, I noticed a bespectacled and sharply-hatted woman standing near me.  She was making notes on a notepad.  She saw me watching her, so I asked "Are you a reporter?"  She handed me her card:

Anne Saker
Staff Writer
The Oregonian

She asked me a few questions, and I suddenly felt bashful.  But I hope I gave her coherent answers.

Everyday folks

The march went from Director Park north for a few blocks, then turned west, then south on 4th, to go past the Occupy Portland camp and thence to Pioneer Square.  I dropped out at Madison.  That was my bus stop.  But I shot video as the marchers streamed past.  I raised my right fist in solidarity.

I have no idea where this movement is going. It is hard to be optimistic in times like these. But it is important to remember that this country has a long tradition of populist movements bringing about real change, real reform.

And more than that, it just feels good to be doing something.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tea Party versus Occupy

Our crack national media (that's sarcasm, folks) continues to struggle to understand the #occupywallstreet movement.  It is enigma to them.  It is alien --a phenomenon resulting from something that they cannot understand.  It is driven by something other than money.  It is driven by a lack of money.  And, in this gilded age, that does not compute.

Mark my words.  Ultimately, the much-ballyhooed Tea Party movement will be regarded by history as chimera, while the Occupy Wall Street movement will endure and be regarded as a game-changer, a signature development that sparks a great transformation.

Whether the transformation will be for better or worse, of course, is still up in the air...

Watchmen, the iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (recently translated into a very good film by Zack Snyder) provides an interesting analogous postulate.  Watchmen is a novel that explores how the world would be different if there really were extra-legal costumed vigilantes (think Batman) roaming our streets and "protecting" our society.

The novel includes a chapter in which a retired crime-fighter, Hollis Mason, recounts how the costumed hero phenomenon began and how it transformed itself.  When they first appeared, the crime-fighters enjoyed popular support and celebrity.  They were so successful at winning the sympathies of the general populace that corporate banks sponsored their own costumed hero, Dollar Bill, for publicity purposes.  As fate would have it, the unfortunate Dollar Bill was killed serving his banking masters.  While pursing robbers, Dollar Bill's cape got caught in a revolving door and he was shot dead at point-blank range.

Another corporate sucker collects his paycheck!

Figuratively, the Tea Party is facing the same fate.  While I won't deny that Tea Party folks have a lot of passion, it is the passion of the confused.  All the support and adulation they receive from Fox News and other media outlets will eventually sap their enthusiasm.  After all, how angry can one remain when it seems that everyone is on your side?  All the talking-point memos with instructions for disrupting congressional town hall meetings, all the charter buses to transport angry, ignorant people to protest sites, all the Fox News pep rallies --all of it will be for naught.  Just like poor Dollar Bill, the Tea Party "patriots" are being played for suckers by corporate bigwigs.

On the other hand, the folks at the various Occupy sites endure the censure and scorn of the corporate media and Capitol Hill boot-lickers.  There are no air-conditioned buses to convey the protesters comfortably from place to place.  There are no voices of authority urging them on.

And yet, they endure.  They endure through bad weather, through heavy-handed authority, through the fearful scorn of hollow-hearted demagogues. The occupiers are driven by something other than mere anger and corporate-funded rhetoric.  They're driven by a hunger for justice.  They're driven by outrage over the inequities of the current system, by disgust at the corrupted political system that cannot address the basic needs of the citizenry.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October meander

Proud October.  The bright happy wonders of a year winding down.  Everyday marvels announcing themselves in parks and traffic circles and along the streets.  Bright gold and red and green, emerging under the pale blue sky; the faintest sweet odor of fallen foliage starting to rot.  In a month, the skies will be gray and dark, the leaves will have fallen and the smell will be much stronger.  So ends a year.

The wheels were turning as I went up Tabor, let me tell you.  Had a lot on my mind.

 Pause.  Let it ripen...

"A lot on your mind, then?"  That's what you're supposed to say.  To which I then reply:  "Yes, indeed.  This bright October day made me anxious.  I don't know why.  There's really no 'why' to it." 

Actually, that's not quite true.  I know what is making me anxious.

Rather this:  I feel unprepared for what is to come.

There are some things for which one cannot prepare.  No matter how predictable, how plainly inevitable they might be.  Like the confirmation of a fearful suspicion on the eve of one's mother becoming a septuagenarian. She is slowing down.  She has slowed down.  There is no denying it.  I'm not prepared.

Nor wise.  I look to the women in my life for wisdom.  Or respected writers and artists.  So I read about Granny Weatherall today, because Katherine Anne Porter was wise.  I thought she might offer insights or solace.  Insights, yes, but solace... not so much.  

Instead it came from Maty.  (Who else?)  She helped me remember what is important.  "You have to be happy.  It's not good you're going to be sad about it.  Celebrate.  Mom is seventy!"

She's right, of course.  Everything doesn't have to be about me, for goodness' sake. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obamney for president!

Birds of a feather...
Believe it or not, I sympathize (to a degree) with the so-called "base" of the Republican party.  All those xenophobes, pseudo-Christians, under-educated rednecks, and confused Tea Partiers are learning a lesson that their left-wing counterparts have known for a while now.  And that is this:  all those cherished ideals that they hold so close to their stingy, misinformed hearts don't make a god damn bit of difference.  No matter which of the charlatans vying for the GOP nomination ultimately gets the nod, even if he (or she) manages to unseat President Obama, the corporate political machine will grind on.

Now that Sarah Palin has dropped her facade as a political contender, grass-roots Republicans have rushed frantically, their hat-hung teabags a-sway, from one pseudo-champion to another.  First, it was Michelle Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Chris Christie, and now it's Herman Cain.  (Will Ron Paul's day never come?)  All done, of course, in the wistful hope that they might avoid settling for the one candidate that actually has a chance to win:  Mitt Romney.  And, no matter what he may say now, if Romney is elected, he's not going to bring about some kind of right-wing utopia.

Trust me on this, right-wingers.  I know.

Liberals and progressives have learned that bitter lesson ourselves (albeit from the other side of the spectrum).  The candidates that we've held dear to our hearts over the years --Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, even Ted Kennedy back in 1980 --have been ridiculed, pooh-poohed, and treated with contempt.

In the end, a compromised candidate wins the nomination and the Oval Office and falls in line with the wishes of the big banks, energy corporations, and insurance companies.

Whether Romney or Obama (and I predict, come January 20, 2013, it will be one of those two men taking the oath), it'll be more of the same:  tax-payer subsidies for corporations and the mega-rich; cutbacks and neglect for everyone else.

The one ray of hope is manifested in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is a movement with no clear message.  In my view that is a strength and a cause for hope.  The movement is an expression of general outrage:  the country is falling apart, people are out of work and living in poverty, and the overwhelming wishes of the population are discounted and taken off the table.  Need examples?  How about the call for a single-payer health care system?  How about the demand for investment in public infrastructure?  How about protection for Pell Grants? 

Despite right-wing demagogues claiming otherwise, I believe the Obama administration is rattled by the movement.  Obama, like Romney, talks a good game when it comes to appeasing his base.  But now the Left is stirring up trouble.  It wasn't supposed to be like this.  Obama thought he had liberals and progressives in his pocket. 

If the Tea Party folks could somehow get past their contempt for liberals and progressive, and if liberals and progressives could get past our contempt for the Tea Party (those are some big "ifs"), and we could join together, we just might get something accomplished.

This country needs major political and economic reform.  Obama, Romney --it doesn't matter.  Until the system undergoes a fundamental correction, we're just pissing in the wind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cross-cultural faux pas

At the Taj
I'm a traveler.  I love traveling.  Travel teaches you things about yourself, about humanity, about the world and your role within it.  You learn about your own limits; you stretch your perspective.  As Mark Twain put it:  "Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness.  Broad, wholesome, and charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one tiny corner of the globe."

Travel, of course, is more than booking an ocean-view cabin on a cruise line.  If you want to reap all the benefits of travel, you have to invest money and time.  And, most importantly, you have to be willing to put yourself into situations where you are not entirely comfortable.  You have to take chances.  The rewards, as I've said, are well worth the investment. 

Front row:  Martín
Second row:  Nelson, myself, Jason
Back row:  Cannabis sativa
Brazilian boys in Copenhagen

In 1999, while undertaking my Grand European Tour, I found myself in Copenhagen with another US citizen, Jason, and two Brazilians, Nelson and Martín.  It was early September and the weather was fantastic.  The Danes were out and about in the city, riding bicycles, sitting at tables along the waterfront, crowding the streets.

Danes, like most northern Europeans, are more reserved and stand-offish than are Americans.  More so than North Americans, like Jason and me, and certainly more than our two South American companions.  Danish people wear stern expressions, generally.  Their high cheek bones and square jaws, and their tall, broad-shouldered stature give them a chic and intimidating appearance.  Especially, the beautiful Danish women.

Well, Jason and I found the Danish women intimidating, anyway.  Not so, our Brazilian companions.  In fact, they were far from intimidated.  Nelson and Martín overtly admired the tall, flaxen-haired beauties.  "Hey, baby!" they would call, or putting two fingers to their lips, they'd emit shrill, piercing whistles.  They blew kisses; they winked; they leered.  "Mashe, mama, mashe!"  ("Move it, baby, move it!)

"You wanna get us run out of town?" I asked after the first few instances.

"What do you mean?" Nelson asked.  He and Martín did not comprehend.

"You don't do that!" Jason said.

"Do what?" asked Martín.

"Don't whistle like that," I said.  "They don't like it."

Martín and Nelson exchanged glances and shrugged.  "In our country," Nelson said, "the women like that."

"Is true!" Martín confirmed.  "Brazilian women expect us to whistle."

Jason and I shrugged, then.  There was nothing to be done for it.  We got into the habit of ducking away quickly whenever the whistle went up.

And, truth be told, the Danish women didn't seem to mind two Brazilian men whistling at them.  If they had been Danish men, however...

Sikhs in Delhi
Sri Gupta's lovely daughter

In 2001, I was in Delhi, India.  While there, I was honored to be invited to a traditional Indian wedding.  Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.  Indian weddings occur after nightfall and run well into the wee hours of the morning. 

This wedding occurred at an outdoor pavilion somewhere in the hopelessly labyrinthine streets of the city.  Before the ceremony, guests gathered to eat hors d'oeuvres, and socialize.  I was by myself and feeling a bit uncomfortable.  I made a few attempts at conversation, but didn't have much luck. 

Then, I espied a beautiful young Indian woman, perhaps 18 years of age, standing with her family.  She was a vision of Hindu mystique, with her veils and jewelry.  I caught her eye from across the courtyard and approached her.

"May I take your picture?" I asked, brandishing my camera.

Her father asserted himself abruptly.  He stepped between us.  "No!" he said.  He wore an expression of outrage.  Startled, I looked to the young woman for appeal.

"Sorry," she said.  She shrugged.  The family --father, mother, beautiful young woman, and siblings --turned away from me as a single unit.

I was left standing by myself in the courtyard.  I sensed that I had transgressed some boundary but I wasn't sure how.  Later, I asked an Indian friend about it and he told me:  "You spoke to the daughter without speaking to her father first.  You insulted him."

I was abashed, let me tell you.  And, of course, I didn't get a picture of that beautiful Indian girl.  But she looked something like this:


When you travel, it is best to assume that at some point, you're going to unintentionally step on some toes.  These cross-cultural faux pas --believe it or not -- are great learning lessons.

Admittedly, awkwardness can be painful.  My advice?  Have a laugh about it later.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book review: A Walk on the Wild Side

When Nelson Algren's novel A Walk on the Wild Side first hit the shelves, in 1956, it raised a lot of eyebrows.  The book is a story from the darkest years of the Great Depression:  an illiterate Texas drifter, Dove Linkhorn, makes his way from east Texas to New Orleans across a morally-lurid landscape.

But in 1956, America was in ascension.  A world war had just been won, and demand for American goods and services throughout the world were at an all-time high.  A book like Wild Side, with its depictions of prostitutes, flimflam men, drunks and social outcasts, its matter-of-fact acknowledgment of American racism, its honest presentations of the misery of America's all-too-recent past, was bound to make folks uneasy.  The book was declared obscene and banned from the Chicago Public Library.

Well, Chicago readers missed out.  Because, in addition to being powerful social commentary, Wild Side is hilarious.  Dove Linkhorn's misadventures made me laugh out loud.  Though a simpleton, Dove is complex and conflicted.  On the one hand, he is kind and sensitive and, in his own way, honest.  On the other, he sometimes uses his own ignorance to absolve himself of responsibility for his own appalling behavior.  His world is populated with intriguing characters:  Achilles Schmidt, the whore-stricken double-amputee with the strength of a bear; Finnerty, the fast-talking pimp; Hallie, the prostitute with a secret hope. 

Algren's narrative voice --his wry tone and his humor, his dialog --reveal him to have been a student of Mark Twain.  And, just as with Twain, Algren provides deep wisdom, laced throughout the hilarity.  For example, the book is famous for this passage, which is the advice given to Dove Linkhorn by Country Kline as they both sit in Tank Ten in the local stir:
But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this:  Never play cards with a man named Doc.  Never eat at a place called Mom's.  Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.  Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man's jolt.  And never you cop another man's plea.  I've tried 'em all and I know.  They don't work.
Today, A Walk on the Wild Side stands as an admonition against that most sanctimonious of American myths, capitalism.  The novel illustrates the human wreckage that is created when excesses of greed bring about calamity.  In 1956 Algren told how it had been --and perhaps how it may be again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Portland - Continuing to evolve

"What seems to be, is, to those to whom it seems to be." --Blake
Sunday morning found me riding #14 downtown once again to see what I might see at the encampments in Lownsdale and Chapman Parks.  Joni came up on the playlist as I rode, striking the exact emotional chord that declared my heart at that moment. (She does that so often.)
Take off take off
Take off your stay-at-home shoes
Break off shake off
Chase off those stay-at-home blues

Stairway stairway
Down to the crowds in the street
They go their way
Looking for faces to greet
But we run on laughing with no one to meet
--Night in the City (Joni Mitchell)
When I last visited the camp (on Wednesday evening) I'd left with grave concerns about the viability of the demonstration. On Sunday morning, some of those concerns were mollified.  According to a gregarious young woman who introduced herself as "General Assembly," when the City reopened Main Street on Thursday morning, a lot of tension was released, and spirits were renewed.

Tents pitched everywhere
The camp was just waking up as I arrived (about 9:30 or 10:00).  People were emerging from their tents, bleary-eyed and somber.  The scene reminded me a lot of the Oregon Country Fair in the morning when everyone is getting set up for the day.

Community policing

The bleak October sun displayed the naked world.  In the cool morning air, neither the camp nor its denizens conjured any menace at all.  Everything was calm, but Portland's finest were on hand.  The officers patrolled around the outskirts of the camp, with their hands in their pockets, chatting amiably with each other and with the folks around them.
Camp mascot:  The flying tiger that eats banks for breakfast
There were some colorful and strange characters, to be sure.  But after one has been around hippies for a while, one learns that those unique persons with their loud voices and tattoos, with their wild eyes and eccentric mannerisms, are play-acting.  They crave audience.  They're harmless.  Many of them are friendly.

Jeremy and Pinkie:  colorful personalities
They were serving up coffee under the tarps in the center of the park.  Campers filed up to the makeshift counter and came away clutching mugs of java.  A general spirit of cooperation prevailed.

Dish-washing crew
In the kitchen they had a full crew washing dishes at the wash station.  I learned that they now serve three regular meals every day and two snacks.  No one is turned away.

The Food Not Bombs kitchen brings food every evening, and sympathetic web sites have set up programs whereby anyone can order pizzas for the demonstrators from local pizzerias.

In fact, while I sat on a park bench in the middle of camp, a delivery man came through with a pizza box, announcing "Pizza! Free pizza!"
KBOO on hand
The camp was well-wired, with an open-access wifi network. And KBOO radio was on hand, preparing to broadcast live from the scene.

At the information booth, I spoke with Raya Cooper, a responsible young woman with an open face and a sunny demeanor. 

I asked her about the sanitation issue.  Specifically, it did not seem that there were enough toilets to service all the people at the demonstration.  She acknowledged that it was a problem, but assured me that the Sanitation Committee was working to resolve it and that demonstrators had access to the restrooms in City Hall across the street.  (I'll bet that makes Mayor Adams happy!)  And when I looked around, I was pleased to see that the sidewalks were swept and clean and that people were strewing fresh straw around the grounds.

No friends to Democrats

The camp is getting a lot of support from the community.  But, then again, that might be because the camp really is the community. 

Raya held that the demonstrators are a cross-section of society, including young and old, professionals and blue-collar workers, homeless people, college students, and everything in between.  She said it is difficult to accurately estimate the numbers at the camp.  People come and go.  There are lots of sympathetic observers (like me) who come to show solidarity and check out the scene, but don't camp.  And there are some who go back and forth between their homes and jobs and the camp --rotating demonstrators, if you will.

To quote Joe Baegant, from The Ants of Gaia, "... hippie optimism dies hard."  That is why I can't make up my mind about this Occupy Portland demonstration.  I want to believe.  And, after all, if the common people can't find a peaceful way to bring about much-needed political and economic reform --well, it won't lead to anything good.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Movie review: The Ides of March

The Ides of March, the new political thriller written, directed, and starring George Clooney is first-rate entertainment.  Especially for political junkies like me.

Start with the cast.  Ryan Gosling gets top billing on a fully loaded roster:  George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood.  There is no weak spot in that line up.  And they all came to play.  Two-thousand eleven appears to be Gosling's year to ascend.  This is the second consecutive flick that I've seen with him as the lead, and he's delivered both times.

In Ides, Gosling is Stephen Meyers, an up-and-coming political kick. He's the right-hand man to Paul Zara (Hoffman) who runs the presidential campaign of  Governor Mike Morris (Clooney).  Morris is engaged with Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) in a bruising Democratic primary in Ohio.  There is a lot riding on the outcome of the election.  Ida Horowicz (Tomei), the New York Times political reporter is snooping around looking for some dirt and Molly Stearns (Woods) is a young and beautiful intern with a "thing" for Meyers.  In the thick of it, Pullman's campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Giamatti), approaches Meyers with a tempting but dangerous offer.

What unfolds thereafter is a delicious passion play.  The story twists and turns unpredictably to arrive at a conclusion that, though we cannot have foreseen it, confirms our most cynical suspicions.  Politics is a dirty game that sometimes has tragic consequences.

It's not that the story is all that unique.  I can think of three or four "politics corrupts a young idealist" movies off the top of my head.  What makes Ides a really good flick is the dialog and the chemistry between the cast.  The lines come sharp and fast and expertly delivered.

I've been a Clooney fan ever since O Brother.  Great actor, great writer, great director, and a political lefty.  What's not to like?

Two nits.

One:  although I enjoyed Ryan Gosling's performance in Ides, and I enjoyed him in Drive even more, the two roles are pretty straight-up.  In both flicks, Gosling's character is a tight-jawed tough guy with a spine of steel.  Well, after all, that kind of role launched careers for great actors like Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen.  But I'd like to see Gosling try something a little different next time.

Two:  The Ides of March is a good flick, but it ain't Shakespeare.  I find the title to be pretentious. (Hell, I don't know.  Maybe I'm just too sensitive when it comes to Shakespeare.) 

Thumbs-up on Ides.  Go see it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Portland - The Radical Thought Committee

The Radical Thought Committee
As I walked around the protest camp in Chapman Square on Wednesday evening, I noticed a group of people sitting in a circle, discussing something.  It was a little oasis of organization in an otherwise chaotic scene.  So I set my camera to video mode and I moseyed over to listen. 

I learned that I was witnessing a meeting of the Radical Thought Committee.  As I arrived, the floor belonged to a diminutive African-American fellow with red and tan feathers in his black felt hat and a five-day beard covering his cheeks.  He spoke passionately and expressively, gesticulating with his hands, stomping his feet, leaning forward and peering at the faces in his audience, looking for agreement.  It didn't take long to figure out that he was insane.

He spoke gibberish.  I don't think he managed a single coherent thought in the time he spoke.  There was something about "politicians" and "corruption," but that's about all I caught.  The people in the circle were glancing uncomfortably at one another.

Eventually, the chairman of the committee, a clean-cut young man in a dark blue jacket, managed to interrupt the speaker and gain control of the meeting.  He explained that the purpose of the meeting was to propose workshops for demonstrators --workshops that would educate people on the evils of capitalism and how it might be resisted.

As I mentioned, I was recording it all on my little camera and I started noticing some dirty looks being shot my way from meeting participants.  Eventually, a slight young woman with a nose ring and cropped black hair sauntered over to me and whispered in my ear "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure," I said.  I was pleased as punch, just as I'm sure most any middle-aged man would be when an attractive hippie chick picks him out of a crowd for a word in private.  I followed her the few steps to the bronze elk sculpture that stands on the traffic island between Lownsdale and Chapman Parks.

"Some of the people here have expressed a wish that they not be recorded," she said.  "Can I get you to delete your video."  Her tone had a distinctly aggressive edge to it.

I was a bit taken aback, but I wanted to cooperate.  After all, I'm sympathetic to the "Occupy" protests, so I wanted to respect the wishes of the protesters.

"Sure, I'll delete it," I said.  "Let me figure out how to do it."  I started to fumble through the complex menu system on my camera.  She continued talking.

"This is the Radical Thought Committee," she said.  "We're discussing how best to overthrow capitalism."  She waited to see if I would respond, but I did not.  I was still trying to figure out how to delete the video.  She tried again.

"So we want to overthrow capitalism and I was just wondering if you're down with that."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I continued to fumble with my camera.  "Ah, there it is!" I said.  "Here ya go."  I pushed "Delete" and showed her the display so she could confirm that I had deleted the video.  Then she saw that I had taken some photos as well.

"Delete those, too," she said.

"Excuse me?" said I.

"You didn't ask before you took those pictures," she said.

But now my hackles were up.  "This is starting to sound like censorship," I said.

Her fangs came out.  "I'm just expressing a request from some of the people here," she said.

"Sorry, sister," I replied.  "This is a public place and I'm a member of the public."

Now she was hostile.  "No one is going to tell you that you can't do it," she said.  "But it would be nice if you asked."

"Duly-noted," I said.  "The video is gone.  I'll keep the pictures."

She disappeared into the crowd and I went back to listen to the Radical Thought Committee meeting.

The meeting was well-run, I'll give them that.  The chairman held the floor and allowed everyone to express their views.  But nothing concrete came out of it.  Each speaker seemed more eager to air his or her opinions than to propose anything.  Eventually, the chairman announced that he had been informed by city officials that unless Main Street was cleared to allow traffic to pass through, the city would no longer service the two public restrooms that were serving the camp. 

At last, here was an actionable item --something that the committee might address meaningfully!  But the committee declined.  The chairman's announcement was met with blank stares.  He shrugged.  "Well, if that's all then, I move that this meeting be adjourned."

A young woman at the edge of the circle raised her hand to be recognized.  The chairman obliged.  She looked very small, standing among the crowd.  She had her arms folded across her midsection.  She wore a gray hoodie and jeans.  "I wanted to announce that there may be a need to physically remove an aggressor from the camp and so anyone who wants to help with that, please see me."

More blank stares.

"Sounds sticky!" I said.  Expressionless faces turned toward me.

Everything hung there for a moment and then the chairman spoke again.  "There's a motion on the floor to adjourn."

"Seconded," someone muttered, and the committee dispersed.

I took another stroll through the camp feeling very unsettled.  Then I cut out and walked back home.  It took a real effort for me to fight back a creeping anxiety.

Anxiety, after all, is the precursor to despair.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Portland - Anecdotes

The scene, Wednesday evening
One popular chant that never fails to be employed at political demonstrations goes like this:  A cheerleader from within the crowd calls out "This is what democracy looks like," and is answered by those surrounding him, "This is what democracy looks like."  It gets everybody fired up.  And, speaking from experience (although I don't chant myself) it is heartening, especially if the Portland rains are pouring down on you, like they were in March of 2008.

Well, folks, I'm hear to tell ya, demonstrations are what democracy looks like, alright.  Democracy is messy and complex and I'm learning a whole lot about it these days.

A couple anecdotes.  (Please note that I may be misremembering some of the names.)

Marathon woman

On Tuesday, I rode Trimet (good ol' #14, runs every 15 minutes) into town to see the demonstration and to bring them some plastic food containers, as told.  So excited, I was, at the thought of the common people, with our latent optimism and our righteous cause, taking to the streets to demand change.

The camp seemed to be running smoothly and spirits were generally high, even after several days of intense rain.  I walked around and took it in, feeling happy and hopeful.

While I was having a look, a woman about my age, with iron gray hair, round spectacles and an air of authority shouted out "I need volunteers to help bring in some food."

I eagerly hopped to it.  I was joined by a huge African-American man in his early 30s named "Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like" from Cinncinati, Ohio.  The top of my head reached no further than his shoulder.

We were introduced to a woman from west Portland.  She was in her mid-thirties, perhaps.  She appeared to be a suburban housewife, dressed casually in jeans and a light jacket, with the perpetually-exhausted expression of a mother of young children.  She led us to her nearby station wagon, where she had some crates of bottled water and some other food.

As we walked, she explained her reasons for contributing.  "I ran in the Portland Marathon on Sunday, and for a while we were afraid that it was going to be called off because of the protest.  And I was worried, but then we ran, and all the protesters cheered us on at the end.  And I was so grateful that I just wanted to help."  She began weeping as she spoke.  "It meant so much to me."

I was touched by her emotion, which made me embarrassed.  And being embarrassed made me sad.

Such a cynical age, we live in.

Victoria and Curtis

Next day, I went back to see how things were going.  As I crossed the Hawthorne Bridge, I overtook an interesting procession.  Some people were headed west, hauling their belongings in shopping carts, which they'd tied together in a baggage train.  They caused quite a commotion.  The conveyance was unwieldy and heavy and there was a lot of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the bridge.

Victoria and Curtis, headed to camp

They were Victoria and Curtis and they were on their way to the protest.  Victoria was a cheerful young woman, with a cherubic face and a mind that went in several directions at once.

"Where ya from?" I asked.

She smiled a big toothy smile.  "We're homeless," she said, proudly.  "We're from over there."  She pointed back away toward the Warehouse District.  "Babe!  Watch that!" she reached and tugged at Curtis' sleeve, pulling him to one side so a bicyclist could pass.

"But where do you call home?" I asked.

"I'm from Portland." She jabbed a finger at her chest.  She leaned forward as she walked, pulling against the weight of her burden.  She pointed at Curtis.  "He's from Portland, too."

Curtis smiled and nodded.  He had a gap between his two front teeth.

"You going to the protest?" I asked.

She nodded firmly.  "Oh, yeah," she said.  "Going there now.  Babe, did you find your hat?"  Curtis shrugged.

"They'll be set up there," I told her.  "You'll be able to grab some chow, too."  I had such faith in protester organization and determination!

"We're gonna camp out there," she said.

Our paths split when we got to the western terminus.  They took the ramp that sloped down toward McCall's Restaurant, while I kept on straight.  I never did see them at the camp.

But then again, when I got to camp, I had other things on my mind...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Portland - An ugly premonition

I took a stroll down to the Occupy Portland demonstration again this evening. What a difference a day makes! I spent about an hour wandering around the encampment and it quickly became apparent that things are going downhill fast.  The lack of identifiable leaders and organizational structure is starting to manifest itself.

The Portland police are a visible presence at the camp.  And I was glad to see them there, frankly.  There was a noticeable "sketchiness" to the entire scene.

The camp has attracted a lot of homeless deranged people.  You know?  The poor souls who hang out under the eastern terminus of the Hawthorne Bridge, or down along Burnside in Old Town. Who can blame them for infiltrating the camp and getting in line for a free meal?  No one is turned away.  The influx is overwhelming the fragile cooperative infrastructure that I saw yesterday.  And the ratio of rational, purposeful protesters to indigent homeless folks is diminishing. 

If sanitation isn't already an issue, it soon will be.  There are too many people and too few facilities.  Tents are pitched literally side by side and everything is wet from the rains. 

I'm in sympathy with the movement, believe me, but there are some big problems looming.  Putting aside all my hippie-dippie "power to the people" sentiments, I don't see how this demonstration can last very long. 

I don't know how it is with the other "Occupy" demonstrations throughout the country, but this one is in trouble. Anarchy is threatening.

If there is a solution, I don't see it.  No matter what happens, though, these demonstrations have awoken something in the national zeitgeist.  At least I hope so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Portland - Portland's occupiers

The barricades arisen
The Occupy Portland protest is now well-established in downtown Portland at SW 3rd and Main Street. A visit to the web page earlier today alerted me to an urgent need for food storage space.  So I picked up some big plastic storage containers at Costco (oh, the irony!) and took them down to the camp.

I wanted to help and I was curious to see what I would see.

Organized and administered
The camp and the occupiers are well-organized.  Tarpologists (as they are called) have hung tarps throughout the park to hold off the worst of the rain.  (And it has been raining today!)  There is a kitchen serving donated food.  There is a medical station and an information booth.  The camp is run by various committees:  Sanitation (the self-named "shitty committee"), Information, Food, and so on.

Keeping informed, informing
There is a lot of cooperation and a lot of determination, and a good dose of hippie ingenuity.  No one hangs tarp like a hippie.  It's in the blood.

Not all the folks at the camp are hippies, though.  Not by a long shot.  There can be no categorical description of the people at the camp.  They're just Americans.  Everyday Americans.  (I did meet an elderly woman from Argentina, la quien habló conmigo de San Carlos de Barriloche.) 

Serving kitchen
Last week, as told, I attended the demonstration and march that initiated the protest.  I was hopeful, but I'm always hopeful after a march.  Then, I noticed media coverage picking up and my hope grew.

Still, I have learned over these last two decades, one protest march isn't going to change anything.  If we want change, only a sustained and organized effort will suffice.

So, I've been thinking about the Occupy Portland folks ever since the big march.  Every day, I've held my breath, hoping that their efforts would not falter.  It's hard living in a camp in the rain in the middle of a bustling city. But they're doing it.  And they can't be ignored. So I have to help. 

Let me encourage you, dear reader:  if you're at all sympathetic to this movement, this statement of outrage, this demand for reform, go to 3rd and Main and see for yourself what is down there.  And, if you can find some way to help, so much the better.

This could be history in the making. 

Power-generating bicycle
I've been attending political demonstrations ever since Bush the Elder launched the first Gulf War, and there have been some cruel defeats over the years.  But this time may be different.  Maybe.  If we pull together.  If we rally.

That's just it with humans. Broken hearts don't give up. The romantics among us go through life with the forlorn hope that there is deep wisdom in the Universe --a wisdom we cannot grasp, but that we know is just and beautiful. I'm banking on it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

They are afraid

The most stark indication that the Occupy Wall Street protests are working is the manner in which the plutocracy is reacting to them.

They are afraid, people.  They thought they had everything under control, undermining President Obama, containing any efforts at financial and political reform, crushing unions, whipping up hysteria among the Tea Party crowd.

But the protests demonstrate that their schemes aren't working.  As I watch them flail around, trying to find a way to counter this grass-roots uprising, I'm reminded of an episode of the Sopranos.  It's a situation that I'm sure every parent can understand to one degree or another.

Tony and Carmella are trying to determine how best to discipline their daughter, Meadow.  They discuss their options:  cut her off from her credit card, restrict her liberties, and so on.  The conversation ends with Tony cautioning:  "Let's not overplay our hand here, 'cuz if she finds out we're powerless, we're f*cked."

Similar conversations are no doubt unfolding in the air-conditioned board rooms above Wall Street and the elegantly-decorated conference rooms on Capitol Hill.  And, yes, in the West Wing of the White House as well.

But when the people take to the streets, and stay there, it quickly becomes apparent how powerless are the monied elites.  And see how they squeal!
"If you read the newspapers today, I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town, have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans. But you sent us here to fight for you and all Americans." --House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  (How's that for bald-faced hypocrisy?)

We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise and frankly, a strain of hostility to classic America starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country and I regard the Wall Street protesters as a natural outcome of a bad education system teaching them really dumb ideas.  --Newt Gingrich ('nuff said)

We have to be careful not to allow this to get any legitimacy.  I’m taking this seriously in that I’m old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up shaping policy. We can’t allow that to happen.  --Representative Peter King, Islamophobe
Tony Soprano couldn't have said it any better.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Little Beirut keeps rockin' in the free world

Filling the streets
Well, Portland, we did it.  We once again led the way, demonstrating that we're worthy of the honorific conferred onto us by George Bush the Elder.  We're still "Little Beirut."

Initial reports had the size of yesterday's Occupy Portland march at 3,000 to 5,000.  But those estimates have been revised upward.  Some reports have the number of demonstrators at 10,000.  Still not as big as the pre-Iraq invasion demonstration (which approached 30,000) but very big.  According to KGW, Portland's demonstration was the biggest of the day, even though bigger cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston) had their own "Occupy" marches.

Cops and demonstrators were all well-behaved
Punditry and national political figures have taken notice of the movement. First, they mocked.  Then, they belittled.  Now, with the movement growing (to their utter bafflement) they struggle to understand it, to encapsulate the impetus behind it in a succinctly-worded statement.  But President Obama came closest to accurately describing the sentiments behind the "Occupy Wall Street" phenomenon.  He said yesterday that he thought the protests express "the frustration of the American people."

That's right, Mr. President.  Frustration.  Anger.  Bitterness and outrage.

And unlike the artificial Tea Party movement, our movement does not have a clearly articulated message, formulated by Dick Armey and the Koch Brothers and Roger Ailes.  There are so many things that we are angry about. Where could we possibly begin?

President Obama must understand that we are angry and that he needs to figure out what he's going to do about it.  I wish him luck.  But he's in a deep hole.

The worst of it all is this: the folks marching in the streets today were behind President Obama all the way just two short years ago.  We gave him as much of a mandate as anyone could expect in this divided, unhappy era. We dared to believe that he would lead us in the fight against the neo-feudalists.

Instead, he accommodated them.

Snot-nosed Eric Cantor, spacey Rand Paul, and other corporate shills call our movement a "mob."  Fine with me.  We're the mob from Little Beirut, then. 

Keep rockin', Portland.