Monday, January 30, 2012

The best day of my life (so far)

Stammering in front of a big crowd.  Nephew Gino looks on.
A post today to say thanks to everyone who did me the honor of attending my 50th birthday celebration.  Whether you were physically present or there in spirit, I want you to know that I'm grateful.  More grateful than I can adequately express.

Professor Stewart King, myself, and my old friend and weight-lifting partner from Klamath Falls, Brian Purnell
It's always a wondrous occasion when the various social spheres of one's life intermingle.  In my case, those spheres included family, childhood friends, friends from college, friends from more recent times, coworkers, band mates, neighbors, and members of the local Senegalese community.
 
Three-quarters of Mahatma Candy, plus guitarist-extraordinaire Jon Haas and the affable Patrick Edenfield
Some of those in attendance I had not seen for 20 or 25 years.  There were friends from my times in Klamath Falls, Redmond, and Salem as well as many of the friends I've made since moving to Portland in 1988.  People came from all over the Pacific Northwest (and Arizona) to attend.

Sister-in-law Sarah and Brother Calee
My entire family went to extraordinary lengths to make this gig come off.  Eric, Kristi, Paige, Tim, Torin, Mia, Kyle, Gino, Calee, Chris, Sarah, Tami, Chae, Seth, Jeanne, Doug, and most especially Mom and Maty.  My beloved wife went full throttle for the 48 hours preceding the event.  She cooked up an enormous amount of African-seasoned chicken and her incomparable shish-ke-bobs.

Edward and I, Broken Home Boys
I also want to acknowledge the other Senegalese ladies, (Mbarou, Naboo, Awah, Nana, Rakki, and all) who generously contributed with their various West African specialty dishes.  I'm so grateful to the Senegalese people who have taken me in to their community with open arms and have become dear friends since the day I married Maty, six years ago.

Good Mister Minor and Diane Freedman, friends and coworkers
When it came time for me to blow-out the candles on my cake, I duly made my wish, drew a deep breath and let 'er fly.  Alas, I came up one candle short.  Humanity will not achieve world peace this year.  But I'm going to keep my fingers crossed anyway.

Myself, Bill Easton, and OrCAD compatriots Cindy Easton and that ol' dawg, Jeff Irwin

So, how do you measure wealth?

I'll tell you how I measure it.  Better yet, I'll show you...


Fritz Siebert, Tony Madarieta, and Cindy Siebert, old coworkers and dear friends
Kris and Mae, one could not ask for better neighbors
Terry and half of the 70s garage band, Constellation IV, featuring Dwight Stroh and me
Sultry Amanda Hauth, Professor Stewart King, naturally-curly Vicky Danielson, perennial candidate for Multnomah County Sherriff Andre Danielson, myself, studious and considered Kurt Kemmerer, and trend-setter Jim Kidwell
Myself, with my dear old friend from Redmond, the estimable Mr. Jeff Lucas, his lovely and elegant wife, Kelly, and wise Mary Minor
Amanda, Jim Kidwell, little Moira Hauth, myself, and political agitator David Hauth
Dignified Eelimaan Mbeng and kids, myself, and two of the King children
Yo y mi sobrino, Torin, que habla el español mejor que yo.
Brother-in-law Tim, Sister Paige, myself, and Mrs. Bobbie Batey, my dear (old) mother

Nana and Mbarou
Maty Bombay, Mrs. Cariaga, the one who made it all happen
Maty and Mom

Maty and me
Saturday, January 28th, 2012, was one of the best days of my life.  Boundless thanks and love to all. Peace!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rolling over the chronometer

Freshly shorn and 50
Today, I'm 50 years old.  God help me, I'm proud of it.  I find dignity in that number.  Fifty.

The way I see it, if you've managed to make it to fifty, you've qualified.   You've demonstrated a certain competency just by staying alive that long.  Which is not to say that there isn't any luck involved.  Certainly not!  Health, wisdom, strength, prudence, temperance, charisma, intelligence, money... even if you have all that, you're still going to need a good dose of luck.

Well, I've had plenty of that.  Luck, that is.  Lots of it.  I didn't have any say into how I came into this world, but if I had, I don't know how I could have asked for more.

I was born in Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis, Oregon, at 12:06am on January 27th, 1962.  Half a century later, I live 81 miles away in a vintage house in inner southeast Portland. In the interim, I've made my home in Klamath Falls, Salem, and Redmond.  Always in Oregon.  Oregon is my home.  I hope I am here, in Oregon, when I exit the stage.

I've beheld a marvelous tale thus far.  I rode the railways across western Europe.  I traveled the highways along the western slopes of the Andes.  I roamed across the plains in northern India, and the savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa.  I've seen the painted canyons in Utah and Arizona, the grandeur of untamed Alaska, the paradise of Hawaii, the dazzle of San Fransisco, New York, Los Angeles.  I say all this not to brag, you understand, but out of gratitude.

I've never lacked for friends.  True friends.  Loyal friends.  Dear friends.  I can't begin to name them all.  I wouldn't want to omit any of them.  They know who they are.  Nor do I lack for uncles, aunts and cousins whom I am proud to have in my family.  I'm grateful that not a day has passed when there was no one for me to turn to. 

I want to express special gratitude to my four grandparents, Bob and Gertrude Metzger, and Ross and Jenny Cariaga, all of whom have passed beyond, and each of whom offered gifts of wisdom and love.

And thanks as well to the Great Whatever for blessing me with my brothers and sisters, Eric, Paige, Mia, Calee, Chae and Seth, who are my best friends and most trusted counselors. 

And thanks for Dad.  For Ross Cariaga, Junior.  The mercurial, larger-than-life personality that cast his shadow over everything for the first 30 years of my life.  It was not always easy orbiting that star.  Rage, not anger!  Grief, not sadness!  Joy, not contentment!  After Dad, I was ready for anything.  He was only 59 when he passed.  A mere 9 years older than I am today.

The two women who are first in my life are my mom, Bobbie Batey, and my wife, Maty Bombay.  (No honest man will have any other.  Is it not so?)  Mom taught me the vital importance of compassion, of kindness, of using one's strength to protect, to nurture, to love.  And Maty --well, Maty teaches me wisdom and nobility each and every day.  They've both endured a lot from me and, even on my worst days, their love never faltered.

My dad used to say that the one wish he asked of God was that all of his kids would outlive him.  He got his wish.  And, even though my wish isn't nearly so quantifiable, no matter how it goes from here, it's already been granted for all the reasons I've mentioned.

I know you don't get any guarantees in life.  You never know what is coming down the pipeline.  And I've known hard times and grief and fear and, in my worst moments, hatred, despair, self-pity.  That comes with being fifty, too.  But when I step back and take in the entire tapestry, with all its squalor and glory and its infinite complexity, I can see that, once it is fully woven, it is going to be a marvelous, beautiful tapestry.

Hindus, in accordance with their belief in reincarnation and karma, hold that one's life is the sum total of all previous lives.  Indeed, that one's enlightenment, one's contentedness, is a function of the good deeds committed during previous life cycles.  Well, if that's the case, I have only one question:  What did I do to get so lucky?  What the hell did I do?

Fifty years old, humbled, and grateful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Atando cabos

Atando cabos

Tying up a few loose ends today.

More about President Obama's State of the Union speech


That's a poll number that has got to strike cold fear into the heart of the Romney-for-President campaign.  Between that and the rebellion of the Know-Nothings, Mitt is in real trouble.

But not just Mitt, the GOP caucuses in both houses of Congress!  Consider these proposals, which the President outlined on Tuesday night:
  • Passage of Obama’s proposal that millionaires should pay an effective tax rate of at least 30 percent on their income —a sort of alternative minimum tax. This is in line with the so-called “Buffett Rule” that no household making over $1 million a year should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay. Under current law, the wealthiest Americans technically pay a 35 percent rate on their income – but only 15 percent on earnings from investments and capital gains. While Obama did not detail how he would tax investment income, he did say he would eliminate millionaires’ ability to claim tax deductions for housing, child care, retirement and health care.
  • Use half the savings from ending foreign wars to create more jobs and make the U.S. more competitive.
  • End Senate filibusters and obstruction of judicial and “public service” nominations. The Senate would have to pass a rule that all such nominations would receive a simple up or down vote after 90 days of submission.
  • Immigration reform, including legislation that would give responsible, productive and law-abiding illegal immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

    (excerpted from the Fiscal Times)
Fiscal Times writer Eric Pianin predicts that these proposals are going nowhere.  That's a pretty safe bet.  Even though they're popular,the GOP must oppose them in order to protect its true constituency (no new taxes) and not to rile their nativist base even further (no leniency for immigrants).  Tough times, GOP!

Stand fast, comrades!


In December, I wrote a post (Stand fast, comrades!) promising that Dave Hauth and I would be engaging in another Red Barricades battle with modified victory conditions.  In that post, I speculated that we would begin our game within the next month.  Well, it hasn't turned out that way.  Dave and I are both focused on other of life's multitudinous aspects and our Red Barricades engagement is deferred.

Eventually, the call of the perilous factories will lure us back.  And when it does, I'll be sure to post our experiences on this blog.  But, for now, Stand fast, comrades! is on hold.

So, ASL friends, don't despair.  The game will get underway at some point.  But not in the time-frame I'd originally imagined.  My apologies to those of you who (I've noticed) have been checking back in the hopes of seeing a new Red Barricades post.  Didn't want to leave you hanging.

Check back tomorrow

Tomorrow's a big day for me.  I'll be passing a milestone in life.  I apologize in advance for the self-indulgent nature of tomorrow's yet-to-be-written post.  But a guy only makes 50 once in his life.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address


Well, what'd ya think?

It seemed to me that the entire speech had a hard undertone. It wasn't overtly political. But while the President was speaking, it was hard to forget that this is an election year.

Just a few observations:
In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior. 

It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag. In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.
As the President spoke these words, the cameras were trained on Treasury Secretary Geithner.  Kinda took all the air out of the room.
The state of our Union is getting stronger. And we’ve come too far to turn back now. As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.
Maybe I'm delusional, but with the Republican party in such chaos right now, I believe there might be an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation.  With no clear leader, the GOP is jittery and adrift.  So-called "establishment" Republicans are panicked about next week's Florida primary.  If Newt Gingrich somehow manages to win it, Republicans everywhere will freak out! It will become imperative that they distance themselves from Gingrich and his supporters. They will take extreme measures up to and including cooperation with the Obama administration. (Senator Scott Brown is probably feeling a little tight around the collar, right now.)
The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now. But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.
Perilous ground for Republicans.  Immigration is a big red dividing line within their party.  A lot will depend on how the presidential race looks in a few months.  If Obama looks strong, there is a chance that an immigration package might make it through.
Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.
This sounds something like what Governor Kitzhaber proposed for Oregon schools in 2010.  It makes perfect sense and therefore has no chance in the US Congress.
Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa – an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.
That probably caused some butterflies in the audience.  Some of them have already signed the leases for their K Street office buildings.
So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.
After all the ugly politics of the last 3 years, I'm deaf to these clarion calls.  I don't believe in them anymore.  I can't make up my mind about President Obama.  I'm still followed around by the ghosts of lost hope.  I remember what it was like to believe.  I miss that.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gingrich rides Confederate rage in South Carolina

Ugly.
Here's how Michael Tomasky, of the Daily Beast put it, two days before Newt Gingrich's sudden surge to victory in South Carolina's primary:
"If he actually wins South Carolina, the nomination fight and the party are suddenly in turmoil. It may only be for a week, but even just for that week, it would reveal a primary electorate that is so consumed with its paranoias that it has turned politics completely away from the question of who might govern the country well to who can best embody our hatreds and revenge fantasies."
Well, Newt won. And he won because of two separate moments in two consecutive debates that gave voice to the rage that burns in the breasts of conservative Republicans in South Carolina.  The Juan Williams moment and the John King moment.  After those two (shameless and appalling) displays, the Palmetto State was in the palm of Newt's sweaty hand.  On Saturday he won the primary a full 12 points ahead of the hapless Romney.  (Tomasky has a wonderful piece on it here.)

Newt knows how to stoke redneck fire.  That's for sure.  He's a demagogue and mob orator at heart.  I'm not surprised that he'd "go there." 

If you examine Newt's career, there is little evidence that he is any more ideologically pure than the despised Mitt Romney.  Gingrich called the vaunted Paul Ryan budget plan "right-wing social engineering."  Gingrich was a big government spender, a check-kiter, and a deal-cutter when he was in Congress.  He made $1.9 million in "consulting fees" from conservative bugaboos Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (according to the Romney campaign).  He epitomizes big government abuse, with his historic $300,000 ethical reprimand conferred on him by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  While he was Speaker

And now he's the right-wing champion?  The anyone-but-Romney conservative

Yep.  That's the fact of it.  And here's why.  For those people, those conservatives, there is nothing more important than that they find a candidate that sufficiently expresses the depth of their hatred.  In their grim, joyless worldview, they are a persecuted minority.  President Obama is at the head of an army of gays, racial minorities, undocumented immigrants and labor unions that is working to destroy them, destroy their way of life. 

Gingrich is their champion.  Gingrich bleeds for them.  Gingrich sings for them.  Gingrich gives voice to their rage and agony.  Gingrich hates for them. 

Newt Gingrich.  Charlatan drum major for the neo-Confederacy.

Ugly.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chin up, dear friend

Hang in there, kid!
A "chin up" to a good friend who needs it.  No names.

I'll tell you what, my friend.  I know you're shell-shocked and overwhelmed and a little humiliated.  Buddy, I've been there.  Everybody hasYou have.  You've been there before.  You know how it goes.  You just pick yourself up, dust off  and move on.  One of those not-so-nice lessons in life.  No one will blame you if you shed a tear or two, either. 

But don't go overboard with the hair suit and the cat-o-nines, my friend.  Self-flagellation, doubting yourself, your worthiness, your integrity, or your 24-karat heart is just plain wrong.  You're a better man than the people who passed judgement on you.  A rebuke from an inferior is less than meaningless.

We've talked about it before.  We've talked about it so many times that we ought to be able to say it together by now:
Matthew 5:45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Chin up, my friend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

GOP 2012: Koo-koo crazy!


God!  Watching the Republicans go through their nominating process is not for the squeamish.  It is an appalling display.  Everyone knew that with Newt Gingrich in the race, it could not go otherwise, but this is some ugly stuff.

Ballot box foul-ups call into question the results of the Iowa caucus.  Was it Romney?  Was it Santorum?  No one knows for sure.

Rick Perry dropped out of the race with astonishing suddenness.  He was in last night.  He was out this morning.  South Carolinians never even got the chance to vote for him.  (You can bet he got a promise from Gingrich in exchange for it.  I wonder how that will work out for him...  Newt's not big on keeping promises.)

Mitt Romney went from unstoppable front runner, to a man very much in trouble electorally.  Not only is his victory in Iowa now under question, but his lead over his competitors in the South Carolina primary has withered under the privately-funded attacks leveled at him about his association with Bain Capital.

Then, tonight, Gingrich's second wife thrust herself into the picture.  I've been through a few relationships myself, so I'm not comfortable commenting about how things fall out with other couples.  I know it can get ugly.   And, let's face it, in this matter Gingrich is hoist upon his own petard.  Recall how zealously and eagerly he examined President Clinton's lurid behavior back in the day.

But Newt, when asked at this evening's debate about his ex-wife's comments, handled it brilliantly.  He blamed it on the media!  Utterly shameless, of course.  But brilliant!  And, guess what?  It may actually galvanize support for Newt with South Carolina Republicans.

The world they inhabit, those morally-narrow Evangelicals... it's confounding to me.  Koo-koo crazy!  I cannot conceive it.   

A horrifying spectacle.  Like a scene from a Cormac McCarthy novel.  Or an Hieronymus Bosch painting.  Yeah.  Let's go with that.  How about Garden of Earthly Delights? 

Welcome to tonight's GOP debate!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GOP bares its loathsome fangs in South Carolina

Playin' to their audience
Take a good look, America!  Take a good look at the people rallying in South Carolina.

No matter how you feel about Barack Obama, do you really imagine that these people offer a viable alternative?

Check out how Republicans talk when they get to the heart of Dixie; the very state that first seceded from the Union in 1860:
  • Rick Perry:  "I'm saying the state of Texas is under assault by federal government. I'm saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration."



  • Newt Gingrich:  "President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history."



  • Rick Santorum:  "I don't want to give black people someone else's money. I want to give them the opportunity to make money."

Rick Perry once again flirts with treason (because, you know, that's what they call it when you advocate war against the Federal Government).  Newt Gingrich gives a blow on the old Southern Strategy dog whistle.  And Rick Santorum does Newt one better, disposing of all pretense with some overt race-baiting.

President Carter named the beast two and a half years ago, but it never fails to shock and appall when it rears its ugly head.  For anyone who wasn't sure, this ought to lay to rest any lingering doubts, eh?

Most appalling are the responses of the audiences.  They ate that stuff up!  Santorum made his remarks in Iowa, but Newt and Rick Perry were speaking to a fired-up Fox News audience in Columbia.  Man!  They loved it when Newt talked down to Juan Williams (who, by the way, is African-American).

And it seems to be working.  Mitt Romney, who has notably refrained from participating in the ugly rhetoric, is watching his lead in the polls shrink as South Carolina's primary nears.  Gingrich is coming on strong.  Gingrich!

I know plenty of good people who call themselves conservatives; who are registered Republicans. Why aren't they speaking up?

Appalling, I tell you.  Disgusting.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A note about this blog


According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, people who live under materially and emotionally plentiful conditions (we lucky few) have a need to express themselves creatively.  Some cook; some perform music; some work with stone or wood. I write.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Creative expression creates vulnerability and I have, on occasion, been bruised by comments either made privately or left on this blog.  (The ugly, rabid comments that come from close-minded bigots bother me not a whit.  Those are good for a laugh.) 

But the gamble has paid out.  Because, far outweighing any hurt feelings, is the gratitude and love and humility I've experienced. 

I started this blog four and a half years ago.  Its primary function was (and is) to provide a forum for me to write.  But there is sublime pleasure in discovering that people enjoy my words. 

I've said all this before, but it bears repeating:  I am deeply honored.  Deeply.

Blessings.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weathering

Iceman cometh!
Portland's been waiting for the other shoe to drop for the last several days.  Weather prognosticators were all a-warning.  "Batten down, Portland.  Pacifica's blowing in.  Snow!  Perhaps even on the city floor!"

If so, then welcome, thought I.  We haven't had a cold spell as yet this winter.  And when I'm warm and dry, sitting at the window, reading, writing, sipping coffee, it is pleasant to watch the flakes flurry down. 

But Sunday mid-morning the snow had not yet come.  I began to doubt. 

I set out walking.  Halfway up Tabor, I saw the front approaching from the west.  A gauzy, gray curtain marked its advance.

I no sooner made the summit than the weather was upon me. Tabor's crown stands some 450 feet above the surface streets where I live (on the high ground east of the river).  The difference in elevation proved enough to transform drizzly sleet to snow.  Actual snow!

On top of Mount Tabor
The snowflakes came down thick and silent, impermanent as stars.  They caught in the needled boughs of Douglas-fir.  They clung to windward boles. They made drifts among roots.

Although I wasn't comfortably seated in a coffee house or on the sofa by the fire, a sense of warmth and security descended upon me.  The shoe is dropping, and guess what?  It ain't all that bad.

I descended by eastern trails.  Here the wind did not reach.  The weather was spent assaulting the western slopes.  Standing in the shelter of Tabor's lee, one might scarcely believe there was any snow falling on his crown.

And then, descending further to the city streets, there was no snow at all.  Only halfhearted drizzle.  But away across the river a patchy white blanket still lay on the hunched shoulders of West Hills.

The best part, I've decided, of being in a storm is the weathering.  It's the weathering.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sun in bright winter


Just like sun on bright winter days

Pale white dream beyond deep-piercing cobalt,
Past knobby, crooked fingers,
Grasping, forlorn, bent,

Of exposed white oak, vine maple, cherry
Long stripped of mouldered vestments,
Crimson, auburn, gold;

So is this love you hold for me

This love, that love, my precious and dear love,
Shines so brightly it hurts me
To look upon it.


Bonne sixième anniversaire, ma bel amour!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Genre fiction revisited

I like to think I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. Pride is the deadliest of the Deadly Sins. Ask any Catholic. And nothing will ruin one's credibility faster than defending an erroneous position, not out of conviction, but out of pride.

Therefore, today, I retract my previous post, entitled "The problem with genre fiction." Two respected friends, Dave Hauth and Dan Binmore (the Hopeful Muser) have made me see the error of my ways.  Here's what I wrote previously:
I'm afraid I take a rather dim view of arguments that hold genre fiction to be literature.  I've raised a lot of hackles over the years, even amongst respected friends, by suggesting that any book that is ascribed a crass label like "fantasy," "science fiction," "romance," "thriller," or "what-have-you" cannot be literature.  Labels categorize.  They restrict.  Genre fiction, then, is confined by the label that identifies it.

Art, literature, cannot sustain such confinement and remain art.
Here's why what I wrote is wrong:

As Hopeful Muser pointed out, many of today's "classics" were, at the time of their publication, genre fiction.  Muser cited Charles Dickens as his prime example.  Dickens' novels were published serially in weekly journals.  And, as anyone who has read A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist or David Copperfield can attest, these novels served to indict contemporary social policy and to advocate reform.  In a certain light, those works would qualify not just as genre fiction, but out-and-out propaganda!  Nonetheless, the longevity of those novels stands as evidence of their literary worthiness.

Dave Hauth hoisted me upon my own petard by recalling a conversation he and I had about Alan Moore's Watchmen.  He reminded me that I had declared that work a great literary achievement and then pointed out that there is nothing that more conforms to a specific genre than a graphic novel about superheroes.  Dave further pointed out that I was comparing the vast sea of shlock that gets published nowadays to known classics like War and Peace, For Whom the Bell Tolls, or (gasp!) Shakespeare rather than comparing it to other less worthy works from those times; works that have faded to obscurity.

Right on all counts, gentlemen.  I humbly stand corrected. 

As pennance I offer up some of my favorite passages from those great works you've mentioned.

How about the lyrical opening of A Tale of Two Cities, that recalls Ecclesiastes 3:1?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. 
Or how about the words that super-being Dr. Manhattan uses when he confronts Adrian Veidt, the arch-villain in Watchmen?
I'm disappointed in you, Adrian. I'm very disappointed. Reassembling myself was the first trick I learned. It didn't kill Osterman. Did you really think it would kill me? I have walked across the surface of the sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast, they could hardly be said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, you're just a man. The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.
I'm grateful to have such smart friends.  (And I still stand by that bit about Lev Grossman.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book review: The Art of Racing in the Rain


Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of a young family in Seattle undergoing the trials and tribulations of everyday life (as severe as they can sometimes be) told from the perspective of Enzo, the family dog. 

Enzo's master is Denny Swift, an aspiring race car driver.  The plot (such as it is) revolves around Denny's struggle to break into the racing circuit while dealing with a gravely ill wife and an ugly legal battle for custody of his daughter.

The narrator, Enzo, is "different than other dogs" in that he can (apparently) understand not only basic commands but abstract human conceptions.  (He offers his opinions on everything from health insurance to the legal profession.)  He learned much of what he knows from watching television.

Although the other members of my group found the book enjoyable, I found it preposterous and boring.  Preposterous because, I'm sorry, the idea of a dog offering insights and opinions on matters that many humans don't even understand strains the "suspension of disbelief" too far.  Boring because I found Stein's prose to be wooden and colorless.

Here's a passage from the opening chapter:
We leave our apartment; the night is sharp, cool and breezy and clear. We only go down the block and back because my hips hurt so much, and Denny sees. Denny knows. When we get back, he gives me my bedtime cookies and I curl into my bed on the floor next to his. He picks up the phone and dials.

"Mike," he says. Mike is Denny's friend from the shop where they both work behind the counter. Customer relations, they call it. Mike's a little guy with friendly hands that are pink and always washed clean of smell. "Mike, can you cover for me tomorrow? I have to take Enzo to the vet again."

We've been going to the vet a lot recently to get different medicines that are supposed to help make me more comfortable, but they don't, really. And since they don't, and considering all that went on yesterday, I've set the Master Plan in motion.
Really? A dog with a Master Plan? 

Stein tends to get swept up in himself, frankly.  There are many scenes that are intended to evoke strong emotions, but there are very few that actually manage it.  (I did shed a tear when the dog died.  But I think I was just feeling a little blue anyway.)

The book is further burdened by some highly contrived situations that Stein was forced to concoct in order to include Enzo in the action.  It's a first-person narrative, after all.  But, a dog strapped into the passenger seat of a car that is speeding around a racetrack?  Come on!

Stein does offer some interesting insights into the science of race car driving.  I could have used a lot more of that and a lot less of his commentary on unrelated human absurdities.

My companions summarized this book as "a good beach read," but I think that's being charitable.  I didn't enjoy it.  In fact, I was annoyed by it.  Perhaps most telling, our conversation about the book lasted all of 10 minutes.  There just wasn't much to say about it.  Bummer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are these really the issues you worry about, GOP?

These guys know what's important, alright.
The New Hampshire primary is today.  It doesn't really matter how it turns out.  GOP priorities are completely out of whack.

10th Circuit Court slaps down Islamophobes

A "ban on Sharia law" passed by voters in Oklahoma (ah, Oklahoma!) was ruled unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  While the Court's ruling is certainly good news, why is our over-burdened justice system forced to deal with this kind of nonsense?

After all, as the Court stated, "[supporters of the ban] do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma."

Get it?  Neither the Court, nor even the proponents of the ban themselves, could identify how Sharia law is a threat to anyone.  (Sharia law, of course, is an Islamic school of thought that deals with individual religious practice, not with societal laws.) 

Just as they have done with gay rights issues and undocumented immigrants, Republicans have been whipping up fear of Muslims as a sure-fire way to win the support of under-educated Red State folk.  (I'm talking to you, Representative Peter King.) 

Romney, Santorum, and Newt vow to stamp out pornography

A group called Morality in Media demanded to know of several GOP presidential candidates if they would strictly enforce obscenity laws.  Because we all know what a terrible threat is posed by pornography, yes?

Mitt, Rick, and Newt were all over it.  Each of them bravely stepped forward to assure the Morality in Media folks that any Attorney General in a Romney/Santorum/Gingrich administration would certainly enforce obscenity laws.  (You've got to wonder how Senator David Vitter feels about that...)

Remember back in Junior's first term when Attorney General John Ashcroft directed the FBI to spend 13 months and use 2 full time agents to close down a prostitution ring in New Orleans?  That morally-forthright administration felt that prostitution was a mortal threat to our way of life, apparently.  Certainly more than terrorism, in those pre-911 days.  But who can argue with success?  Because we all know that prostitution has been eradicated in New Orleans.  Right?

Don't you get it, people?

GOP demagogues love these kinds of issues because they distract from the real issues we have in this country:  issues about income disparity and corporate oligarchy

There won't be much talk from GOP candidates about the need for banking or tax reform.  Not this year.  Not when they can rant and rave about people who have no public voice, who can't effectively defend themselves.

It's the Republican way.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Miscegenation?

Lonesome landscape
As mentioned in a previous post, Maty and I made a day trip to Sedona, last month.  During the drive north from Phoenix, we stopped at a maintained viewpoint along the highway to snap a few photos.  Among the handful of tourists gathered there was a young family:  a tall, blonde, broad-shouldered Caucasian man, his petite, black-skinned dark-eyed wife, and their two cocoa-colored children, three to five years of age.  They made a beautiful, touching picture as they walked from the restroom to their car.  They walked hand in hand, one parent on either side, the two children between them.

I recognized the woman as African.  Not African-American, mind you, but African.  (I can always tell.  It has something to do with the set of the eyes, the depth of expression.)  Being married to an African woman myself, I felt a kinship with this little family.  It was a kinship tinged with sorrow and compassion.  I can't exactly say why.  Maybe it had to do with the silent, lonesome landscape and the stark blue sky.  Partly.  But partly, it also had to do with the ugly, racist undercurrents that exist in these United States. 

Back in the bad old days, some states (I'll let you guess which) had laws that criminalized interracial marriage.  But in 1967, the United States Supreme Court declared these miscegenation laws unconstitutional. (The ruling came as a result of the famous Loving versus Virginia case.)  Well, those days are behind us, hopefully forever.  Nonetheless, we're a long way from a color-blind nation.

Later that same day, as we walked along the main drag of Sedona, I became aware of an older woman, perhaps in her mid-60s, giving Maty and I a wide-eyed stare.  She was trying to be discreet, but I noticed her out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked directly at her, she shifted her gaze to a point somewhere over my shoulder.  But I knew she was looking at us, at the black woman and the ambiguously-colored man.   She turned to watch us as we walked past.  She was Caucasian, with bright, startled eyes behind round-wire framed lenses.  She was not smiling.

Maty noticed her too and we had a laugh at her expense.  I suppressed an urge to approach and confront her.

Doing just fine, thank you very much.
No worries about Maty and me.  We're doing fine and we sure as hell aren't going to let some frightened old woman affect the way we feel about ourselves and each other.  But I thought of the family we'd seen earlier that day, especially about the children.

It is a terrible, mortifying realization that there are people who disapprove of you, distrust you, perhaps even hate you for no better reason than being who you are.  People who hold these attitudes are cruel and ignorant, and I find it hard to tolerate them.  If I were a better man, I would pity them.  Theirs is a fearful and despairing existence.

Vestiges of miscegenation, the residue of institutionalized racism, pollute this country.  Miscegenation!  Just as with the hysteria about gay marriage, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense!

What kind of a society puts restrictions on the types of people who can love each other?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Shakespeare and genius


Who was William Shakespeare?  Who was it that wrote the magnificent plays and sonnets we all know so well?  Who wrote those works that are still regarded as pinnacles of English-language literature some 500 years after they were written?

Was the poet and playwright actually the man that bore that name?  The man born of a tailor in Stratford-upon-Avon, with the grammar school education?  Or was the name Shakespeare a pseudonym for some other person?  Perhaps, as the movie Anonymous speculated, "Shakespeare" was actually Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.  Other Shakespearean scholars have suggested Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe.

I'm of the belief that "Shakespeare" was actually Edward de Vere.  But rather than recount all the arguments and evidence supporting the various theories, let me explain my conclusion with an examination of the term "genius."

The Online Dictionary defines genius thusly:
A person of extraordinary intellect and talent: "One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius" (Simone de Beauvoir).
That's a broad definition, of course.  And Lord knows the term "genius" gets thrown around a lot these days.  I've heard it applied to pop musicians, football coaches, and nerd-whiz software developers. Put that down to human admiration and hyperbole.  Nonetheless, no one can reasonably doubt that "genius" is an apt descriptor of the author of Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet.

So, using the strictest interpretation of the term, which historical personages can we safely call geniuses without being disputed?  Let me suggest several:  Mozart, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Beethoven.

What do these men have in common?  Firstly, they were all beneficiaries of the finest of educations.  Mozart was instructed by his father, Leopold, who was a virtuoso violinist in the employ of the Archbishop of Salzberg.  Leonardo and Michelangelo were both tutored by the greatest minds of their time.  Beethoven learned at the knee of Haydn, who was himself a gifted composer.

Further, all of these men had access to considerable resources.  Michelangelo and Leonardo were sponsored by the Catholic Church.  Mozart and Beethoven were scions of wealthy families.

Lastly, all these men lived in stable societies unconcerned with the immediate requirements of daily survival.

In short, not only were these men exceptional, but their individual circumstances were such that they had the resources and conditions that allowed them to fully develop their gifts.

A genius, then, is like a delicate plant that can only thrive under a very specific set of conditions.

Now, returning to Shakespeare, it seems highly unlikely (to me, anyway) that the son of a tailor, with a middling education and unremarkable resources (Stratford man's sole endowment to his wife, upon his death, was his "second-best bed") had the tools necessary to pen some of the most eloquent expressions of the human condition that have ever existed.   Don't you agree, dear reader?

In the end, I suppose, it doesn't really matter who actually wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.  They exist, and we all benefit from them.

But, if my postulate has any merit, it does beg the question:  How many potential geniuses have lived and died forever unrecognized?  How many Shakespeares are even now begging for food in the streets of Calcutta or tending their crops along the Niger River?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Pecados mortales


El espíritu de la temporada
Perseguimos a través de las noches
Largos, fríos, interminables,

Pero como un fantasma viejo
Llenado con los recriminaciones
Amargas, implacables, negros;

O como un amante desdeñado
O un padre olvidado y sin amor,
Lágrimas desapercibidos,

Rechazó nuestras disculpas sinceras;
Debido no se puede volver nunca
De los pecados mortales

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Iowa fallout 2012


Here we are, barely into the New Year (Gregorian) and the stench of national politics asserts itself.  I'm loathe to descend into those stinky depths.  But I can hardly allow the Iowa caucuses to pass unmarked.  (Can I?) 

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney squeaked out a victory over Rick Santorum by a total of eight (8!) votes, while Ron Paul came in third.  Those three candidates accounted for over 70% of the total vote, with the others together garnering somewhat less than 30%.

Here's how I see it for the individual candidates.

Mitt Romney

The punditry (and the Republican candidates, themselves) are divided as to the significance of Mitt's victory.   On the one hand, he did get the most votes.  And even as recently as a month ago, most prognosticators thought that Iowa, with its hard-core Evangelical Christian base, was beyond Mitt's grasp.  On the other hand, Romney only barely eked out a victory after out-spending his opponents by huge margins.  And his share of the vote was roughly 25% of the total.  That's a threshold beyond which he can't seem to advance.

Nonetheless, the Romney campaign has to feel good going into New Hampshire next week.  That's Romney's turf and a win there, which is almost assured, will at least give him the perception of having the "Big Mo" behind him.

Rick Santorum

Last night was a big night for Rick Santorum. He came out of nowhere to challenge and nearly beat a vastly better funded candidate.  He did it on the strength of the aforementioned Evangelical Christian base that composes much of the GOP in Iowa.

But I'm not sure that Santorum's apparent strength will endure.  I suspect that, more than anything, he is the beneficiary of fortunate timing.  Other GOP candidates have risen to the top of the polls over the last 6 months (Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Hermann Cain, and Newt Gingrich), only to whither under the glare of the media spotlight.  Santorum, it seems to me, is simply the non-Romney of the moment.  The next few weeks will reveal the truth.

Ron Paul

Since 2008, Ron Paul has maintained a core of support within the GOP:  the Libertarian wing of the party.  But last night, in Iowa, he got 22% of the vote, which is better than he's done in any previous primary or caucus.  Paul was practically giddy when he made his remarks at the close of the evening.

My guess is that Paul's relative strength is another symptom of Republican disaffection with the more "conventional" candidates.  There are many conservatives who simply cannot bring themselves to support Romney.  Ron Paul is, for those people, a protest vote.  Sort of the right's version of a Dennis Kucinich.  I think his support will remain steady, but it won't be enough for him to make a serious run at the nomination.

Newt Gingrich

When Newt Gingrich made his remarks last night, I was astonished at how transparent were the contempt and hatred he expressed for Mitt Romney.  Of course, one can't really blame Newt, since he was the target of a multimillion dollar negative ad campaign funded by Romney supporters.  Newt had no sooner risen to the top of the GOP polls than Romney brought him right down to earth... by telling the truth!

Well, regardless of the state of his campaign, Newt's vindictiveness is still alive and well.  Last night he vowed to "tell the truth," himself.  One thing we all know about Newt is that he doesn't let go of a grudge.  (Remember when, as Speaker, he shut down the government because President Clinton didn't let him sit in first class on Air Force One?)  That good ol' Newt Gingrich stink is gonna start flyin' now.  Watch out, Mitt! 
 
Rick Perry

Rick Perry was very dispirited last night.  His remarks indicated that he might even drop out of the race.  But phones were ringing overnight, apparently.  This morning, Rick was all full of Texas piss and vinegar, vowing to take the fight to South Carolina.  (He omitted next week's New Hampshire primary, though.  Confederates don't really sell up there in New England.)

My guess is that those big money contributors that fattened up Rick's campaign war chest to the tune of $16 million were miffed at Rick's willingness to roll over.  Sixteen million is a lot of scratch!  Governor Perry was probably on the receiving end of some serious ass-chewing.

Michelle Bachmann

Michelle Bachmann finally got the humiliation that most people believed she was destined to receive.  Even though Iowa is her home state as much as anywhere (she was born there), she managed only 5% of the vote.  If you don't believe her poor showing was due to her out-and-out crazy public remarks, her cavalier relationship to truth, and perhaps an inherent patriarchal bias in the hard-right conservative wing of the GOP, I don't know what else to which you might attribute it.

In any case, this morning, she dropped out of the race.  Good riddance!

John Huntsman

If we're to believe what he's telling us (and why not? he seems honest), John Huntsman is banking on a miracle in New Hampshire.  Seems like a pretty thin reed upon which to base one's aspirations.  On the other hand, Neighbor Mac is of the opinion that, for Republicans anyway, running for President is an iterative process.  It is true that Republicans seem to nominate the candidate that is perceived to be "next in line."  Well, if that's the case, maybe we'll see John Huntsman again in 2016.  But, for now, his campaign looks dead in the water.  I expect he'll drop out of the race after New Hampshire.

Summa

Anyway, these are all just my decidedly amateurish prognostications.  But what the hell?  There's no reason my guesses are any less valid than those of some schmuck on Fox News.  We'll see...

Monday, January 02, 2012

Lone Pine is down

Lone Pine, awaiting but the lightning stroke
Hog's Back Mountain rises from the Klamath Basin just to the east of Klamath Falls. He's a homely old mountain, marked by lava rock outcroppings and scree as with old battle wounds. Juniper trees and sage bristle up on his western flanks.  And up until quite recently, near the very top, there stood a lonely sentinel that looked out over the entire basin:  Lone Pine.


That old pine tree had stood at its post since before I ever came to the Klamath Basin in 1963.  I was a lad of no more than 6 or 7 when my neighbor, Mr. Carlisle pointed it out to me.  "See up there, Dade?  See that lonely tree up there?" he said.  We stood in the driveway of my family's house on Bryant Street in Molina Heights.  I could barely make out a figure high atop Hog's Back's massive hump.  It seemed forlorn and bent, like an old soldier, leaning on a crutch.  "That's Lone Pine," he told me.

Some years later, Brother Eric and I and our friend Gregg Goestch determined to make a hike up to see the old soldier, perhaps to press our hands against his rough bark, to tread on his fallen needles.  It was late spring, as I recall and the weather was as seasonable as it gets in that high and dry basin.  The three of us filled our Cub Scout canteens, packed lunches made by Mom, and set out up the slopes of Hog's Back to see if we might reach Lone Pine.

We were several hours climbing.  The slopes were steep and we hadn't the sense to pick the easiest path.  We took what we imagined to be the most direct route.  It was a tough climb, I remember, especially for boys from 7 to 9 years old.

We descended into a fold in the mountain and lost sight of our goal for a long while.  But then we emerged onto a rough plateau.  Patches of snow still lingered in the shaded places and it was much colder up there than it had been on the basin floor.  I was first to make the height and I when I looked up, I saw Lone Pine, still above us and more than a mile off, but much closer than when we had lost sight of it.  "Lone Pine!" I cried, and set out at a renewed pace.

But Gregg and Eric had had enough.  "It's cold," said Gregg, hugging himself.  "I wanna go home," said Eric.  And we had strayed rather far.  My morale failed me and I relented.  "Alright, let's go," I said.  We turned around and headed back down.

Lone Pine is down. 
Ever since that day I always imagined I would someday make another attempt at Lone Pine.  It's a goal I've held in my heart for 40 some years.  But today, I received this sad missive from Klamath County Museum via Facebook:

"Lone Pine is down."

All things must pass.  Nonetheless, I'm heartbroken.  And a part of me is defeated.

Lone Pine is down.