Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Huzzah, Mitt! You're the toppermost!

Grosse Pointe must have sounded like a popgun war zone tonight.  The tuxedo-ed elite were no doubt popping open the Dom Perignon by the case.  Mitt Romney, old chap, you pulled your bacon out of the fire.  You gave a right good slap to whacky Rick Santorum in the Michigan primary.   And, in so doing, you delivered a back-of-the-hand rebuke to the grubby Republican commoners that, of late, have seemed awfully forgetful of their social station. 

The vote was close.  As of this writing the margin is a mere 3 percentage points.  But a win is a win, as you pointed out yourself in the victory speech.

You won big with Republicans who earn more than $200,000 per annum.  Blue bloods all across the nation will surely sleep more soundly with the Michigan results.  They can feel just a bit more assured that, although the rabble puts up an awful cacophony, in the end they'll bend to the lash like they always do.  Mitt, you're their man, and they'll just have to live with it.  "The bums always lose," as the Big Lebowski put it.  Or, as Monty Burns said, "What good is my money if I can't use it to intimidate my fellow man?"

But, darling, there are just a few trifling details that, as much as it pains me to mention them, might trouble your bubbly dreams when you lay your head on your silk-cased eider down pillow. 

The Detroit News reports that voter turnout was "pretty light."  Lower than it was in 2008, when you defeated John McCain in that year's primary.  Light turnout is the trend this year.  Republican enthusiasm seems to have fallen off rather precipitously since the Big Red Wave of 2010.

But if you really plan to move into the White House, Mitt, you'd better find a way to spunk up the worker bees.  They seem still to be upset about your sound advice to "let Detroit go bankrupt" back when that awful negro fellow concocted the socialist auto industry bailout.  And then there was that remark you made about "the very poor" and how they weren't really your concern.  The very nerve of it!

This is what comes of coddling Johnny Lunchpail, eh, Mitt?  Give him a decent wage and health insurance and he starts to get cheeky.  If you do make it to the White House, Mitt, I'm sure we'll soon see an end to all of that nonsense.

But Santorum isn't giving up.  He gave a fiery concession speech tonight, with every indication that he'll keep fighting.  And, Mitt, old chap, you know what that means:  more saucy talk, more uppity behavior from the hired help. 

Dreary, yes? Isn't life dreary, old chap?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writer issues

Been having a rough go of it, lately.  Thinking of things to write about.  Sitting at the keyboard --nothing.  Every fitful start ends in disgust. 

Browsed through some Flannery O'Connor quotations.  Found some good ones.

This:  “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

And this:  “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.”

And this:  “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”  (This was my favorite of the three.  It made me laugh.  Sheepishly.)

But when my fingers hit the home row, inspiration fell dead.

Then I tried to write a post about a conversation I had with Dave Hauth on Sunday night.  We were debating the constancy of human nature.  His position was that technology was transforming humanity.  I argued that technology is just a tool; human nature is constant.  "But rate of advance!" he insisted.  "It's a matter of degree," said I.  I offered literature, with its eternal themes, as proof.  

It was a good conversation, and I banged out a few sentences about it, but the flame never took.  I might have another go at it one of these days.

So I find myself stuck here yet.  Still nothing.

The only way to get through these things is to write your way out of them.  That's how I've always heard it, anyway.   Keep pushin'.  Push on through.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Republican misogyny

If you haven't already heard, the Virginia state legislature recently proposed a bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to pay for and be subjected to an ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the fetus before the procedure could occur.  The ultrasound would be administered by means of a vaginal probe.

Several states (Alabama, Michigan, and Texas (naturally), among others) have already enacted similar laws that require women to undergo ultrasounds before an abortion.  But the Virginia bill raises the level of degradation .

A vaginal probe?  A government-mandated, medically-unnecessary procedure that violates a woman's body?  It's nothing less than bureaucratic rape.

Last week, the bill was on the fast track to enactment.  It passed the (Republican-controlled) Virginia State House and looked to be heading for easy passage in the (Republican-controlled) Senate, from whence it would head to (Republican) Governor Bob McDonnell's desk.  McDonnell indicated that he intended to sign the bill.

Then, all hell broke loose.  National media attention and protests by concerned Virginia citizens caused such a ruckus that on Thursday morning the Governor backed down and the Virginia Senate withdrew its version of the bill.

At this point, the Governor and the Senate look to be seeking a way to alter the bill such that it satisfies the Republican base but does something to cool the white-hot anger they've stirred up among outraged women.  I wish them luck.  (Not really.)

Take a good look, people. This is what today's Republican party is all about.  Never mind the sanctimonious rhetoric about "unobtrusive government."  The Virginia legislation reveals the true priorities of the GOP:  expressing contempt, debasing and humiliating the people who don't believe as they do.  In this case, women who demand control over their own bodies.

A vaginal probe?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

La Grande Mayor Pokorney apologizes

Mayor Pokorney apologizes for comments he made on Facebook
According to the La Grande Observer, that city's mayor, Daniel Pokorney, went to Eastern Oregon University on Tuesday to apologize for anti-gay remarks he made on Facebook.  You can read the whole story here.

Pokorney said of the recently-enacted Washington state legislation recognizing gay marriage that Washington was the “latest state to transition to Sodom and Gomorrah.” In another comment, he criticized the state of New Jersey for continuing the “abomination of same sex unions.”

His comments sparked outrage and disapproving remarks from the La Grande community, most of it from an organization on the Eastern Oregon campus known as the Gay-Straight Alliance.

My, oh, my!  How things have changed!

Mayor Pokorney's comments don't rise to the standard of out-and-out hate, in my opinion.  Yes, they are tasteless.  And, yes, they would seem to reveal an unsavory attitude.  But he didn't use a slur to refer to gay people, the way Texas Governor Rick Perry, for example, used a racial slur as the name of his ranch.  And, frankly, you'll hear worse broadcast over the AM airwaves or on Fox News on any given day.

Nonetheless, there is small tolerance for these kinds of indiscretions here in the Beaver State.  In Oregon, sexual tolerance is "in".  (Eastern Oregon, at that!  Be proud, Oregonians!) 

It's a different story in other parts of the country, of course.  Particularly in culturally-backwards places like South Carolina, where politicians use racism and hatred to win votes.

Credit Mayor Pokorney for recognizing his error.  It was a mistake and he owned up to it.  That deserves respect and forgiveness.  After all, if you can't forgive a man who honestly repents, none of us are going to get anywhere.

Way to own up, Mayor Pokorney.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mitt's day of judgment

Next Tuesday, February 28th, is the Michigan state primary.  Judgment Day for Mitt Romney and for the Republican party.

Michigan is, in many ways, Romney's home state, as he points out with regularity.  His father, George Romney, served as Michigan's governor from 1963 to 1969.  Romney the Elder was a popular governor and Mitt himself defeated John McCain in the 2008 Republican primary, which did much to keep the Romney campaign alive in those early months.  So the Romney name would seem to be an asset in the Wolverine State.  Up until recently, anyway.

As the countdown to the Michigan primary ticks away, all of a sudden Romney is looking rather weak. Polls show him in a dead-heat with hate-spewing conservative Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum!  The guy who said of birth control:  "It's not OK, because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.  They're supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal... but also procreative."

If the Santorum "surge" (gads, what an image!) isn't proof positive of Romney's weakness as a candidate, I can't possibly imagine what would be.  He could shrug off his loss to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina as an outlier, a protest vote by the neo-Confederate wing of the party, outside the mainstream.  He could ignore the string of defeats he suffered in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota since those contests awarded a mere 67 delegates between them.

But Michigan?  That's a problem. 

Rick Santorum owes a lot to Newt Gingrich.  Hard-core conservatives never did trust Romney very much, and Gingrich played on that mistrust in spades after Newt's big win in South Carolina.  He made Romney into a pariah to the point that Santorum, who lacked a campaign organization and had little money, is now the non-Romney candidate and a serious contender.  In Michigan!  In Romney's home state!

To repeat, Judgment Day is fast approaching for the GOP.  If Romney loses Michigan, Santorum will have to be considered the favorite to carry the Republican banner in the fall.  That is mind-boggling!

Just how far has the Republican train jumped the rails?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The benefits of Pandora

Perhaps the best new development in this Age of the Cloud is internet radio.

Last summer, at the suggestion of Brother Eric, Maty and I took the plunge into the world of smart phones.  The first app I downloaded was Pandora, the internet radio service.  Since then, I don't think a single day has passed when I didn't spend time listening to it.  In the last 6 months, Pandora has expanded my appreciation of music far beyond anything I might have achieved by collecting CDs or downloading MP3 files.

Pandora lets you set up "stations," which you seed with the name of an artist, a genre, or even a song.  You can have up to 100 stations.  When you play that station on your mobile device, Pandora selects music by that artist, or in that genre, as well as music by other similar artists.  I've created my maximum allowed stations and set Pandora to randomly play from all of them.

The result is that, in the short time that I've been using Pandora, I've become fluent in reggae, zydeco, country/western, 70s singer-songwriters, blue-grass, Celtic, Mbalax, classical, crooners, jazz, gospel, Motown, funk, and rap.  I'd had some exposure to most of these genres before, but with Pandora, I've become well-acquainted with many different artists.  Miles Davis, Beethoven, Etta James, Manu Chao, Andy Williams, Spoon, the Black Keys... I could go on forever.

At one time, I had what I considered to be a respectable collection of CDs.  All my favorite classic rock and pop bands (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, et alia) were represented, their jewel cases proudly displayed on my bookshelves.  (And before that, of course, were vinyl albums.  I've still got a stack of those collecting dust in the basement.)  But when a CD cost $15 a pop, limited resources curtailed any notions I had toward exploring new types of music.

Old habits die hard.  Even though I never listen to my CDs anymore, I've still got them stored away and everything is backed up on the Cloud.  But I'm not sure there is a need, apart from those few CDs in my possession that are so rare that they aren't included in the Pandora catalog.

Pandora is a great way to discover new music, to explore genres, and to reacquaint oneself with music from one's past.  If you're "wired up" I recommend it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Great movie heroes

Following up on a post I wrote about a year ago, entitled Great movie villains, a list of some of my favorite movie heroes.

Paul Dano as Howie Blitzer in L.I.E.

Howie Blitzer is a 15-year-old boy in crisis.  His mother recently died in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway.  Howie's father wasted no time, bringing his trophy girlfriend into their home a month after the death.  Howie is just discovering his sexuality and develops feelings for his best friend, Gary, a delinquent and a male prostitute.  While Howie's father faces prosecution for fraudulent real estate dealings, a middle-aged Vietnam veteran pedophile named Big John Harrigan begins stalking Howie, whose lonely world is quickly falling apart.

This is a great film for many reasons.  But chief among them is the story.  Howie is an unlikely protagonist.  He's vulnerable and naive.  The viewing audience is filled with dread as it perceives all the dangers that surround this innocent young man facing challenges that would overwhelm people twice his age.  And yet, through it all, Howie displays grace, courage, and compassion.  In weathering the terrible storm that descends upon him, he not only saves himself, but offers redemption to the irredeemable.

Jon Voight as Ed in Deliverance

Jon Voight's Ed in the 1972 classic, Deliverance, is another character who triumphs over unimaginable adversity. Ed is part of a group of West Virginia businessmen who set out on a camping trip in rural Georgia. While canoeing down a remote river, they are set upon by armed hillbillies. Violence ensues and Ed finds that he must not only negotiate a dangerous river, but fight off hostile locals and concoct a story to hide the grim events from a suspicious sheriff upon return to civilization.

Although less sympathetic than Howie Blitzer (after all, Ed, is a grown man), Ed faces down an impossible situation, overcoming his own fears and validating himself.  Viewers may recoil from the ghastly challenges that Ed faces, but they secretly envy him as well, for proving himself in the face of mortal threat.

Robert De Niro as Roderigo Mendoza in The Mission

Robert De Niro's Captain Roderigo Mendoza is a ruthless slaver and a master swordsman in 18th century South America who, in a fit of passion murders his younger brother.  In spite of his belief that he is beyond redemption, he agrees to enter the service of a Jesuit priest who is bringing religion to the very people that Captain Mendoza once enslaved.  Flummoxed and amazed by the forgiveness of the people he oppressed, he dedicates his life to their service, even as politicians in Rome, Spain, and Portugal callously decide their fate.

Mendoza's is a powerful story of redemption, and of the power of love, of how it may triumph even in defeat.  Every would-be hero longs for a cause that is worthy of his life, a cause for which he would gladly die.  Mendoza is one of the lucky few who find it.  And if his ultimate acts are futile; if in the end his path is folly --well, there are plenty among us who would choose the same path, even knowing its futility.

Anyway, those are a few of my favorite movie heroes.  There are plenty more, but it's late.  I've got to get to bed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

MahD (Pt. III): Pippin

A man and his dogs: Pondering the relationship between humans and dogs.

Read Part I, Match made in heaven, here.
Read Part II, Trixie, here.


How I found him

In 1982, I was two years out of high school and not going much of anywhere.  I made a half-hearted stab at college, but the allure of independence was greater than that of an education.  So, I quit school and got a real job that paid $7.20 per hour.  I shared an apartment with a roommate on Mount Whitney Street and did a lot of partying with the young Klamath Falls social set.  Life was pretty good.

Young men are not prone to over-think things much.  One day at work, while I was prowling back and forth on the catwalk by the sorter chain, I decided I should have a dog.  It seemed like something that a (somewhat) responsible young man should do.

So I drove down to the Jefferson Square mall after shift.  There was a pet store where a litter of puppies had caught my eye earlier in the week.

The pups were a dingo-sheltie mix.  They'd been there for a few days and were steadily going off to homes with new families.  By the time I got there, what had started as a litter of 5 or 6 was now just 2 puppies:  one male and one female.  I chose the male.  I figured we'd have appetites of a similar variety.

Brother Calee and Pippin, both pups at the time
Pippin had some dingo in him, which was obvious when you looked at him.  At least, when he was a puppy.  He had sharp, pointy fox ears and a tawny, short-hair coat.  In his youth, his hair never got very long.  But, just like humans, dogs may favor one parent in appearance early in life, then come to favor the other over the years.  Toward the end of his life, Pippin's coat got shaggier, more sheltie-like.

Pippin and Sister Mia
He was a smart dog and a gentle dog.  An old soul, I've always imagined.

How he won Dad over

I moved back into Dad's house in 1984 when I returned to school.  Dad didn't like animals.  But Pippin and I had been together for over a year, and I wasn't going to give him up.  It was a battle that Dad chose not to fight, thankfully, and I brought Pippin with me back to the house on the lake.

Such a good dog was Pippin that he won even Dad's heart.

It happened in winter in the blue light of morning.  Klamath Lake had frozen over.  The ice was thick.  Dry powder skittered with the wind across its surface.  Far out from shore, Canadian honkers gathered in the open water.  That morning they were trumpeting their lonely calls, mournful as be-grieved peasants.  Something had set them off.  I lay in bed and listened.

It was known that coyotes would sometimes brave the ice to harry the flocks.  I'd sometimes see their dark silhouettes stenciled against the white void of ice.  Perhaps a goose had been carried off.

Outside my window, and above, on the deck that came out from the front room, I heard the glass door slide open, and then Dad's voice, shouting.  "Bring it here, Pippin!  Bring it here!"

I got out of bed and went upstairs to see what was the matter, but it was all over before I got there.  "Pippin had a honker," Dad said.

Tami's dog, Mingo, and Pippin sharing a snack
The way Dad told it, just as he arose for the morning, he looked out over the lake and saw Pippin dragging a honker over the ice toward the house.  Dad, at one time in his life an avid bird hunter, stepped out on the deck to shout encouragement.  Pippin became confused, dropped the goose and ran toward Dad.  The goose picked up and waddled back toward the open water.

They lost the goose, but Pippin won Dad's heart.  The open ice in mid-winter is a dangerous place for a dog.  There are coyotes; there are thin spots in the ice.  But Pippin was tough.  Dad saw that and admired it.

How his life went

In the time when I lived at Dad's house, Pippin was with me much of the time.  I took him swimming at Lake of the Woods and Link River.  I took him with me camping at Lake Shasta.  I took him to parties and to work and on road trips to Salem and Tacoma.  He spent a lot of time out along the lake.  He would roam miles from the house in all directions.  He loved to swim and scramble over rocks.

One morning, as I stepped out onto the front stoop, near where we parked our cars, there was Pippin running toward me, cheerful as ever.  Thick white whiskers protruded from his muzzle.  He appeared to have grown a snowy beard.  On closer inspection the truth was revealed:  porcupine quills.

"Tried to make the wrong friend, didn't ya, boy?" I said.  We had to go to the vet for surgery that time. 

When I graduated college in 1988, I moved to Portland.  Pippin stayed behind, at the house on the lake.  Dad was with Tami at that point, and Tami is an animal lover.  So I knew my dog was in good hands.  And he was happier there, where he was free to roam all day, than he ever would have been in the confinement of a Portland apartment.

He had a good life.  Lots of freedom.  Lots of love.

Pippin and Sister Chae
Pippin died in 1995.  Cancer.  It was a long death.  Toward the end, Dad and Tami argued heatedly about it.  Tami didn't want to put Pippin down, but Dad insisted it was the best thing to do.  Dad was sick himself at that time.  He'd been diagnosed with Lupus and the prognosis wasn't good.  I think that played into the argument.

In the end, Pippin chose his own time.  Tami took him to the veterinary hospital for observation and he died there.  I got the news the next day. 

At first, when I would go back to Dad's house for a visit, Pippin would wag his tail and come to me to be petted. But over the years, his eyes grew cloudy, and perhaps his mind did, too. Eventually, when I came to the house, he'd bark at me, like a stranger. But I didn't hold it against him.

Not that good dog. No way.

This concludes the Man and his dogs series.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012

Maty and her roses
We've got some big expenses in the very near future.  Kitchen remodel.  It ain't cheap.

So yesterday I asked for confirmation of the agreement we'd made earlier in the month.  "No gifts this year, right, honey?  We're gonna go for dinner and save our money, right?"

"Yes," she said.  She was going through our cupboard, looking for something to cook for supper.

"Okay, then," I said.  "No gifts."

She nodded, but she wasn't really listening.  Her mind was on cooking.

This afternoon, in spite of our agreement, I found that I couldn't bring myself to keep my end of the bargain.  I couldn't let Valentine's Day pass without something, even if it was a little something, to present to this woman.  Not in good conscience. 

She came from the other side of the world.  She chose to place her life beside mine.  She's never once given any indication that she regretted her choice.  Never once.  And, folks, I'm no picnic to be with.

So I bundled up and braved the cold Portland drizzle for a jaunt down to Fred Meyer where I acquired a dozen red roses. 
Valentine's Day dinner
This evening, we dined on garlic naan and palak paneer (extra spicy).  The folks at India Grill know us by now, and they know we mean it when we ask for extra spicy.  They like Maty better than they like me.  (But, then again, so do I.)

We didn't talk much.  Maty, I think, had her mind on the new kitchen.  And I was wrapped up in how damned lucky I've been in this life.

Lucky guy
Damned lucky.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Amahd (Pt. II): Trixie

A man and his dogs: Pondering the relationship between humans and dogs.

Read Part I, Match made in heaven, here.

A mournful look
My family adopted our beagle, Trixie, from a breeder who ran a place outside Medford, Oregon. The five of us, Dad, Mom, Eric, Paige, and I made the mid-winter drive over the pass from Klamath Falls in our VW bug.  We set out to find a new member for our little family.  A dog.  I was eight years old.  The year was 1970.  Although Mom and Dad may have suspected, we kids had no inkling that the event would be one of the last for that incarnation of our family.  Mom and Dad divorced shortly thereafter.

We drove to the place, as I recall it was a farm, with horse stables, and Mom went with the breeder to choose our dog while Dad waited with the kids in the car.  The first time I laid eyes on Trixie, it was from the back seat of the Volkswagen.  Mom and the breeder were picking their way through the snow toward us.  Mom held a tan and black puppy with long, floppy ears.  She was Trixie, our beagle puppy.  Trixie, our little princess.  She was the runt of her litter which I suspect is what endeared her to Mom.  Eric, Paige and I instantly adored her.

In those early days, Trixie was the object of all the love and kindness we kids could muster.  Our world was coming apart and I believe Trixie gave us something --someone --to care for and console.  In our childish minds, we consoled and protected her in the way we may have wished we would be consoled and protected. Those were troubled times for us.

Clowin' around while Trixie snoozes on the couch in Klamath Falls
Trixie was a beagle, alright.  Beagles are bred to be hunters.  They have extraordinary noses and enormous baleful voices.  They are strong-willed and determined.  And they're adept at making their way through tangled, dense terrain.  Chasing foxes across the countryside requires all of that.

Well, Trixie had it in spades.  When she got to baying, she put up a caterwaul that could be heard up and down the street.  There never was a fenced yard that she couldn't find her way out of.  She leaped off high walls; scrambled under wire fences; climbed, burrowed, and wriggled. 

Mom contends that Trixie had some phobia, some canine neurosis, that caused her to panic at confinement.  But I'm of the opinion that Trixie was being a beagle.  That's what beagles do.  If she went missing for a day, which she occasionally did, we were sick with worry.  But she always came back and when she did, we were flooded with relief and joy.

She was mostly a gentle dog.  But there were a few occasions when she nipped someone.  And there was a particularly traumatic instance with a squirrel.  

Rollin' in the grass
It was Trixie's fate, I'm afraid, to have become a part of a family in transition.  When Mom, Eric, Paige, and I moved to Salem so that Mom could return to school, Trixie came with us.  From there, she went with us to Redmond when Mom graduated college in 1975.  When our family split up again, in 1976, she went back to Salem to stay with my grandparents for a while before finally going to live with Paige, Mom, and Mom's husband Doug in Gig Harbor, Washington.

In all that time, though, she never lacked for love.  Mom, Eric, Paige, and I had our squabbles, our tearful, angry dramas, like all families do.  But there was never an angry thought or a harsh word for Trixie.  She was our little princess.

She died on November 15, 1977.  It was the day before Mom's birthday.  Trixie strangled herself trying to escape from confinement at Mom's house in Gig Harbor.  I got the news when I called the next day to wish Mom a happy birthday.  (Eric and I were living in Klamath Falls at that time.)

I was grief-stricken, of course.  But I'd been through so many transitions by that time that I suppose I was ready for it.  Or rather, I knew how to adapt.  Yeah.  Go with that.  I knew how to adjust to terrible news.  Just one of those things you learn.

But I still miss my little beagle sometimes.

To be continued...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie review: The Woman in Black

Word is that Daniel Radcliffe, in an effort to avoid being forever known as "Harry Potter," is selecting his roles carefully.  Understandable and admirable. How many actors, once they hit it big, are content to ride the gravy train all the way to the end of the line? (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, and Julia Roberts are three names that come to the fore when considering such matters.)  Nonetheless, Mister Radcliffe should perhaps have been a bit more selective when considering the lead role for James Watkins new supernatural flick, The Woman in Black.  

Set in the 19th century,  the story is straight-forward haunted house fare.  Recently-widowed London lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) must leave his young son, Joseph, in the care of his governess so that Arthur can travel to the Oxford village of Crythin Gifford, there to sort through the papers of a recently-deceased woman.  Said papers are, of course, scattered about in an isolated and dilapidated manor which the local villagers fear to approach.  Undaunted Kipps goes about his work and quickly learns why.  The ghost of a mournful mother lurks about the place, exacting a vengeful toll on the nearby village whenever she is disturbed.

The film, based on an eponymous novel by Susan Hill, has it charms.  Like any good ghost flick, it succeeds in creating an unsettling ambiance.  Lots of mist and shadow; a delightfully eerie house with creepy toys (glass-eyed wind-up monkeys, Victorian dolls, and the like), baleful, horror-stricken expressions from the cast, and a few cheap gotchas to cause viewers to jump in their seats.  In fact, through the first two-thirds of the viewing, I was convinced that I was watching a really good flick.  But, ultimately, I'm afraid the story fails. 

The best ghost flicks leave viewers wrestling with questions.  Might the portrayed events be explained by a combination of unlikely circumstances?  Or is there something more to it?  Another approach is to introduce a twist in the ending that re-frames the entire story.  (Alejandro Amenábar's The Others, is a great example.)  The Woman in Black, alas, eschews both these approaches in favor of a disappointing ending that seems both condescending and half-baked.  I don't want to let slip any spoilers, so I'll say no more about it. But the ending didn't work for me.

Daniel Radcliffe does well enough in the lead.  The role primarily requires him to do a lot of terrified gaping --a skill he undoubtedly mastered in his Harry Potter roles.  But the best acting came from veteran Ciarán Hinds and from Janet McTeer as Mr. and Mrs. Dailey, a wealthy couple with a dark tragedy in their past. 

All in all, The Woman in Black isn't a complete waste of time.  An adequate Saturday afternoon diversion.  Mildly entertaining and soon forgotten.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Amahd (Pt. I): Match made in heaven

A man and his dogs:  Pondering the relationship between humans and dogs.

In 1998, Professor John Allman, Hixon Professor of Psychobiology and professor of biology, published a theory.  According to Allman, Homo sapiens sapiens and Canis lupis formed an alliance far earlier than the 30-some thousand years most anthropologists speculated.  Professor Allman theorizes that the partnership was formed almost as soon as the two species came into contact, roughly 140,000 years ago.  That was when modern humans migrated out of Africa to encounter wolves in Europe and southwestern Asia.  The symbiosis was so perfectly attuned that Canis lupis quickly evolved into Canis familiaris, modern-day dogs.   Professor Allman further suggests that this partnership may have played a pivotal role in the eventual dominance of Homo sapiens sapiens over his bigger, stronger, but dog-less cousin, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

While the timeline may be unclear, what is perfectly clear is that it has been a profitable relationship for both species.  Human beings and dogs conquered 5 continents together.  Imagine all the occasions in humanity's chronicle in which humans and dogs have relied on each other for survival.  Even today, it seems doubtful that either species would be as successful without the other.

My beagle, Trixie
In addition to serving as sentinels, soldiers, shepherds, guides, and rescuers, dogs are loved and revered companions of unimpeachable loyalty.  They are an integral part of our civilization as well as members of our families.  Wherever there are humans, there are dogs sharing their homes and their hearts.

If we adhere to the Catholic creed, dogs, lacking souls, become non-beings upon death.  Doesn't make sense to me.  I prefer to go with the Hindu view of the matter.  In that way of thinking, dogs, like all beings, are manifestations of God, traversing the cycle.  The dogs we know in this life will be with us in our next, albeit transmogrified.  (I recently read a mediocre book that touched on this philosophy.)

Pippin, livin' the dream at the house on Klamath Lake
I've had two dogs in my life.  One was a pure-breed beagle.  Trixie.  The other was a dingo-sheltie crossbreed.  Pippin.  Two dogs. Two cherished and irreplaceable family members. Trixie and Pippin.

Good dogs.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Santorum's big night

Looking for an appropriate image to head up today's blog post, I did a quick google of "santorum."  Boy, was that a mistake!
The three February 7th primary elections that occurred in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota, provide yet more evidence that the GOP is a party at war with itself.  Gaff-prone Mitt Romney, the nominal front-runner, got swept by big margins in all three contests.  His vanquisher?  Senator Rick Santorum. 

Romney's got a problem.  An Evangelical problem.  Right-wing Evangelicals don't trust him, can never trust him.  Because he is a Mormon and the former governor of a very blue state.  Because, despite his rhetorical attempts to seem so, he is not a frothing xenophobe, an authoritarian, nor a moralizing prig.  And right-wing Evangelicals know it.  He is not one of them.

Santorum, on the other hand, is all of those things.  And, unlike Newt Gingrich, Santorum is so out of conviction.  When Santorum complains that contraception is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be," when he declares that he doesn't "want to give black people someone else's money," Republican Evangelicals swoon.  That's what they want in a presidential candidate. A guy who says it from the heart.

Romney must be exasperated at this point.  Despite shoving his foot into his mouth with the "I'm not concerned about the very poor" remark, he had just won Florida, the biggest primary to date, by a convincing margin, and destroyed Newt Gingrich in the process.  But, hydra-like, another right-wing trog springs up in Gingrich's place. 

This is all another manifestation of the fragmentation between the various factions within the GOP.  Anything can happen from here.  Sit back and enjoy the show, progressives.

Evangelical pastors laying hands on Santorum, praying for victory.   Nothing scarier than a bunch of freaky right-wing Evangelicals hopped up on the Holy Spook...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Raging wind

Yesterday, the wind came howling down out of the Columbia Gorge.  Not cold, but fierce, angry.  Last night's repose was disturbed by rattling windows, flexing jambs.

This morning, I emerged to find chaos.  The ranks of recycling, yard debris, and garbage containers my neighbors and I had deployed along the curb last night were in disarray.  Here and there lay a casualty, where the assailant's full force had fallen.  One neighbor's yard debris container lay full length on the asphalt, lid flung wide, contents spilled out like brain matter.

The scene brought to mind a time back in 1993 or 1994.  My (ex-)wife and I lived in southwest Portland, in a cold little house on 52nd Street, with four giant Douglas-firs in the back yard. 

We were considering a remodel of the interior of our house.  Our marriage was not going well.   

On the day that the contractor came to assess the job, an east wind had been raging for days.  The Dougs bent and swayed with the force of it.  They sighed endlessly, as if grief-stricken.  Occasionally, a loud crack signaled a broken bough.  Already our yard was carpeted with blue-green needles and limbs.

The contractor was a jolly fellow, broad-shouldered and hale.  He had long curly hair, pulled back in a ponytail and an open face and a booming laugh that defied the wind.  His stride was bold, his smile unafraid.  His presence echoed in the house, like an opera singer in an empty auditorium.  It was strange for us to have so much noise --happy, carefree noise --after having become used to the noise of the wind.  In later days, we would recall his laugh. 

During the consultation, he posed questions that we had trouble answering.  What was it that we were looking for?  How much did we want to invest?  When did we want to make a decision?  As he spoke, my wife and I kept our eyes on him.  We didn't look at each other.

The consultation ended and the contractor left.  The house fell back into cold silence.  But outside, the incessant roar of the wind threatened, as if it were seeking us out for some evil purpose.

It raged on for days.  We couldn't decide what to do about the house.

At some point in that time, it occurred to me that human endeavor is frail and pointless. A few days of raging wind could destroy everything.

Then, one morning, I awoke to find that the wind had stopped and I was left with dead, cold certainty

And so I got up, went outside, and set about cleaning up the yard.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

St. Christopher talisman

St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child --Hieronymus Bosch
"Take this, son."

So said Dad as he handed me the St. Christopher medallion, strung on a thin silver chain.  The image of St. Christopher fording a river, a mysterious child on his back, was molded into the metal.  It was 1977.  Football season. The Klamath Union Pelicans varsity football team was riding north up the entirety of the state of Oregon's y-axis, to Portland that Friday to play the Beaverton Beavers. It was an overnight trip. 

"Someone gave this to me when I was a boy," he said.  I could feel his eyes watching my reaction as I took the talisman.  It was a delicate moment.  It might have gone any number of directions.  But after long years of practice, I had a good poker face.  He couldn't tell what I was thinking.  Not that time.

Who knew if it was true?  Dad liked to attach significance to everything he did.  Sometimes that meant he had to make shit up.  It was as easy to believe he found the St. Christopher in a lost-and-found box at the OIT gym.  With Dad, you never knew.  But his tone suggested that I should respect the gift.  So I did.  And I have. 

St. Christopher (his Greek name was Reprobus) stood seven and a half feet tall and was strong as horse, according to legend.  (You can get all this from Wikipedia, here.)  While in the service of the King of Canaan, Christopher, no doubt in the full flower of his boastful youth, decided that he must only serve the greatest king of all.  When he saw the King of Canaan blanch and cross himself at mention of the devil, Christopher perceived that the devil was a greater king than Christopher's present master, and so left to seek out the devil.

In his travels Christopher encountered a band of cuthroat bandits, the leader of whom claimed to be the devil.  Christopher immediately entered into his service.  But when he saw the devil avoid a cross standing on the side of the road, Christopher perceived that Christ was greater than even the devil.  So Christopher left the bandits in search of Christ.

Eventually, Christopher fell in with a religious hermit, who taught him the (Christian) truth.  Christopher wondered how he might serve Christ.  The hermit suggested that Christopher use his great strength to help travelers ford a dangerous nearby river.  In that way, Christopher might please the Lord.

Christopher found this work agreeable, and was at it for a while.  One day, a child stood on the river bank and asked Christopher if he might help the child ford the river.  Christopher took the child on his back and started across.  But the child weighed heavily upon him, as if Christopher were carrying the entire world on his back.  Very nearly he was drowned, but he made it across the river with the child on his back.

"You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were," Peter remarked.

"You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it," replied the child. "I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child then vanished.

Today, St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelersSi en San Cristóbal confías, de accidente no morirás, as the Spaniards say.

When he gave it to me, I hung Dad's St. Christopher around my neck.  I nearly lost it that very weekend.  The eyelet that attached it to the chain broke while I was staying in Beaverton with the Pelican football team.  (We lost that game, 14-13.  It was ugly).  As we were boarding the bus to return to Klamath Falls the next morning, one of my teammates, Chip Garrett, asked me, "Did you lose a St. Christopher?"  I felt around my neck and, sure enough, the pendant was gone. I had no idea before Chip asked me.

For many years after, the medallion lay in a cedar box that I kept near my bed.  But for the last decade or so, St. Christopher has ridden in the console of my car.

In fact, St. Christopher is even now waiting in my car much as he may have waited on the riverbank, back in the day. 

Or maybe it's all just Catholic superstition.

Whatever works.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

How's that shoe leather tasting, Mitt?

"I'm not concerned with the very poor in this country.  We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."  --Mitt Romney, in an interview with Soledad O'Brien, February 1, 2012
Ouch, Mitt!  Bet you wish you could take that one back.

Here you are, fresh off a big victory in Florida, where you put a foot to Newt Gingrich's ass (and thank you for that), established yourself not just as the front-runner, but as the inevitable nominee, and had things looking nice and rosy... and then you go and do this.

It's like telling an obscene joke at a wedding banquet.  It can really take the air out of the room.

Now, not even two days after your big victory, you've got not only Democrats, but Newt and the Tea Party calling you an out-of-touch, blue-blooded patrician with no understanding of the common man.  (I know, Mitt.  I know.  The very nerve of it!)

I don't think you're a bad guy.  Sure, you threw a little mud down there in Florida, but you weren't eager about it.  And I don't blame you.  Newt Gingrich brings that out in people.

But now you go and say this, and it reinforces everything they've been saying.  Not that what they've been saying is wrong.  Of course you're out-of-touch!  You are a blue-blooded patrician!  But, at least up to now, you'd managed to cast a little doubt on the assumption.

A pity, old chum.  That bit of mummery is at an end.

To add to your misery, Newt exposed some very big weaknesses in your candidacy.  Your role in and ties to Bain Capital, for example.  Even now, no doubt, there are squadrons of snoopy reporters poring over those books.  Who knows what they might turn up?  Who knows what your enemies in the GOP might give them?

But, see, Mitt, here's the thing:  I really don't think you're a bad guy.  I don't think you're indifferent to poor people.  You're a Mormon, and the Mormons I've known are, by and large, first-rate people.

I suspect that you said what you did because you thought it was what Republican primary voters wanted to hear.  It came from your politician brain, not your human heart.  This isn't the first time that you've done it either.  You've changed your positions on so many issues that no one can keep track of them all.

And that's what bothers me most about it.  You'll say anything, but you won't ever say what is important to you.  Why would anyone trust a guy like that to be President?

Not that I was going to vote for you anyway.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bad day for the Tea Party

Suzanne Bonamici, keeping a blue district very blue, indeed
Apparently, the folks in Oregon's 1st Congressional District don't much care for tea.

Yesterday, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici won a decisive (double-digit) victory over Republican Rob Cornilles in the race to replace David Wu as that district's congressional representative.

Tea Party folks might want to take note.  Their brand of politics doesn't sell over here in the Pacific Northwest.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee saturated the airwaves with ads showing footage of Rob Cornilles declaring himself the "original Tea Party candidate."  In Oregon, that's akin to calling yourself a chronic porn hound.

(And aren't we glad this race is over?  Here in Oregon, we don't do ugly like they do in South Carolina or Florida, but speaking for Maty and myself, we were still mighty sick of seeing all the political ads on the boob tube.)

"I hate you all."
Meanwhile, in Florida, Mitt Romney, the man Tea Partiers love to hate, absolutely clobbered Newt Gingrich in that state's Republican primary.  Another double-digit loss.  The ever-magnanimous Gingrich forwent the traditional congratulatory phone call to his opponent, but vowed to fight on in the remaining 46 states.  Even though his campaign did not manage to get his name on the ballot in at least one of those forty-six.  (Oh, yeah, and he called on Rick Santorum to drop out of the race.)

All good for a laugh.  It is still too early to be sure, but it seems that Mitt Romney is well on his way to winning his party's nomination.  Now, it is just a matter of how much damage Newt Gingrich chooses to mete out as his own campaign crashes and burns.  I predict his vitriol will be directly proportional with the size of his (unwarranted) ego.  Bad news, Republicans!

The extreme right-wing of the Republican party is getting a good dose of the medicine that lefties and progressives on the Democratic side of the ledger know all too well.  And that is this:  their party deems it unnecessary to cater to their concerns.  The GOP knows right-wingers have nowhere else to go.

It will be interesting to see whether the Tea Party folks will swallow that bitter pill or if they will let their blind rage set fire to the Republican house of cards.  Many of the Tea Party folks feel that the whipping they received in 2008 was a result of having settled for "liberal" John McCain.  And, of course, they've got this Ragnarok/Rapture complex, which just might propel them onto the path of mindless destruction.

Rage on, Tea Partiers!