Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nobody digs a witch-hunt like the Tea Party

Michelle Bachmann:  ever on the lookout for witches to burn
Oh, baby!  That GOP is puttin' on one hell of a show!  Check it.

Michelle Bachmann, former presidential candidate, US Representative from Minnesota, and a woman of inestimable gravitas (ahem) wrote a letter to five federal agencies asking for an investigation to determine the extent of infiltration of the federal government by --get this --the Muslim Brotherhood!

In addition to Representative Bachmann, the letter was signed by Representatives Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney and Lynn Westmoreland.  Republicans all, if you hadn't already guessed.  (But where is Peter King?  It can't be a Muslim witch-hunt without Peter King!)

Bachmann specifically named one of Secretary of State Clinton's top aides, Huma Abedin, a Muslim-American and the wife of former New York Representative Anthony Weiner, claiming Ms. Abedin is "connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations."

Nothing surprising about that, really.  The GOP convention is less than a month away, and Bachmann and her cohorts are pulling a Marc Anthony.  You know?  "Cry, 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war!"  Whip all that nativist sentiment into a froth and hope it carries them through the election in November.

What is surprising, though, is that high-profile Republicans Mad Johnny McCain and Speaker of the House John Boehner publicly repudiated Bachmann.  Quoth McCain, "These allegations about Huma and the report from which they are drawn are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant."  And Boehner chimed in:  "From everything that I do know of [Abedin], she has a sterling character and I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous."

Nice to see, but this kind of responsible rhetoric is just not fashionable in today's Obama-addled GOP.  And, sure enough, no sooner had McCain left the Senate floor than the monkey chatter chorus had begun. Gohmert called McCain a "numb nuts." Judson Phillips, head of the Tea Party Nation frothed, "John McCain needs to sit down and shut up."

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, his eye firmly affixed to the Speaker's gavel, tried to play it down the middle.  In an interview with Charlie Rose, Cantor sniffed, "If you read some of the reports that have covered the story, I think that [Bachmann's] concern was about the security of the country."

Get it?  Don't pick on Michelle Bachmann.  Her heart was in the right place!  So what if she accused a governmental official of treasonous behavior without any evidence? 

Here's what I think is happening:  "responsible" Republicans like McCain and Boehner are trying to discredit the Tea Party in order to save themselves.  They've seen what has happened to "old guard" Republicans like Bob Bennett of Utah, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, and on and on and on.  They've witnessed the purge.  They're afraid of it.

But here's the problem:  after years of coddling and condescension, the Tea Party freaks actually believe that the GOP should take them seriously.

And the truth of the matter is that the Republicans need the Tea Party.  Without it, they cannot win another election.

By the way, the soon-to-be nominee of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney, has said nary a word about the issue.  Surprised?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Chilean family in Portland

Walking to the river today, I saw a man, a few years younger than me, shepherding two kids, a boy of about ten and a slightly younger girl, along MLK Boulevard.  The three were smartly but casually dressed, with backpacks strapped on their backs.  The man was keeping an eye on the kids as they crossed the busy boulevard, and at the same time glancing around, as if he were lost.

As I walked past them, he spoke to me.  "Excuse me, sir?  OMSI?"

The way he pronounced OMSI, ohm-see, clued me in.  These were Spanish-speakers from another country.  So, I answered:

"Sí.  Al rincon y a la izquierda.  ¿Donde vienen?"

The boy stepped forward, surprised and delighted.  "¡Usted habla español!"

It turns out that the family is from Chile.  The man is studying at OHSU and he brought his family with him.  They'll be staying here for a year.  The man speaks some English, but the kids speak none.

Chilean girl in Santiago
My heart went out to the kids.  Leaving home to live in a faraway country where relatively few speak your language would be difficult.  Especially for kids that age.  I imagined they'd be lonely and scared.  I asked them "¿Les gusta el país?"

"" the boy answered, brightly.

I told them that I'd been to Chile back in 2004 and that I'd flown into Santiago and traveled south as far as Castro.  They seemed very happy to be speaking with someone about their home in their own language.

Jose Estay and his family
Our paths parted.  They stepped away with renewed vigor now that they were sure of their way, and I fell to reminiscing about my trip to Chile -- the only trip I've made south of the Equator.  (So far, anyway.)

The people of Chile were kind and warm.

My host in Santiago, Jose Estay, was a fount of information.  He spoke perfect English and we had rewarding conversations about Pinochet and Chile's future.  Jose gave me invaluable tips about places to visit in Chile, and he helped me arrange my travel southward.

There was also the gentle doña in Valdivia who took me into her home for 3 days.  She spoke no English, and I'd learned by that time, that my Mexican-Spanish ear wasn't going to serve me well in Chile. but we still managed to communicate enough for me to learn the story of her son who was off at University and how proud she was of him.

It was a lonely time in life for me, when I made that trip.  But it was made less so by the people I met in that faraway land.

Fishmonger in Valdivia
As I continued to the river, I was warmed with a happy sense of having welcomed a family of Chilenos to my home city.  I was able to return a small part of the kindness that had been extended to me eight years ago.

One of life's little victories.  Paying into that karma account.  Gotta love it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Romney may be worse than Palin, but he's still a-okay with the GOP base

From Politicususa:
The British reaction to Mitt Romney has gone from openness, to skepticism, to mocking, to concluding that Mitt Romney is worse than Sarah Palin.

Daily Mail Political Editor James Chapman has been providing the world a play by play of Romney’s British implosion via his Twitter account. Romney started things off by criticizing London’s preparedness for the Olympics. He then forgot the name of British Labour Leader Ed Miliband, and then he admitted that he had been given a secret briefing by MI6. This led the British to ask aloud if they have another George W. Bush on their hands, “Romney blunders again by revealing he’s had (supposedly) top secret briefing by John Sawers, MI6 boss. Do we have a new Dubya on our hands?”

After his visit to Whitehall, Chapman offered two of the kinder reviews of Mitt Romney, “Serious dismay in Whitehall at Romney debut. ‘Worse than Sarah Palin.’ ‘Total car crash’. Two of the kinder verdicts.” Chapman also reported another verdict from British meet and greet with Mitt, “Another verdict from one Romney meeting: ‘Apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity’”
If you aren't aware, presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney is on a tour of foreign lands in the hopes of establishing some world leader credentials.  In addition to the United Kingdom, Romney will visit Poland and Israel to hobnob with various big wigs. So far, as the excerpt above reveals, it hasn't gone well.

But, as delicious as it is to see Romney, the face of the Republican party, ridiculed on the world stage, I don't expect it will hurt him with his base.  The lambasting he's receiving may even help him with the nativists and xenophobes.  The prime motivation of Romney supporters is not Romney, himself; it's that he's running against a hated incumbent.  That's an advantage Romney has that Mad Johnny McCain never did.

Whether or not that will be enough for him to win the White House is an open question.  I have my doubts, though.  In 2004, when the Democrats nominated John Kerry, we had a similar situation in reverse.  I didn't vote for John Kerry so much as I voted against Junior Bush.  And we all know how that turned out.

The problem for Romney is that this (so far) disastrous foreign trip is compounding doubts in those voters who might otherwise have considered voting for him.  

British media is notoriously ruthless, so I think it prudent to add a dash of salt to the remarks.  It doesn't seem possible to me that anyone could truly believe that Romney is "worse than Palin."  But the reception he's getting in the capital of one of our closest allies reveals just how ridiculous the Republican party appears to the world at large.

See, progressives?  It's not just us!  Everyone outside of Hush-Puppy Land knows the snake-charmers and Tongues-speakers are nuts!

Oh, and I absolutely love the last line of the Politicus article: 
"Not since World War II has London seen a bombing as thorough as Mitt Romney’s."  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A letter to Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association

I sent the following letter to Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association.  You can contact the organization from its website, which you can view here.

Dear Mr. LaPierre,

This nation needs a solution.  The tragic events that occurred at the movie cinema in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012, are but the latest in a series of horrific incidents that continue to plague this country at semi-regular intervals:  a deranged killer legally armed with a lethal arsenal opened fire on innocent people, killing many, maiming more.

The fact of the matter is that, in large part due to the National Rifle Association's influence in Washington, gun control legislation will never be enacted.  And yet, as I'm sure you agree, we must have a solution.  It is intolerable that these United States regularly endure this random bloodshed.

I'm writing to you in supplication.  You've won the political argument.  You've demonstrated your power. 

Now, please, sir, will you propose a solution that fits with the principles and beliefs of the National Rifle Association and at the same time protects citizens from random wanton violence from deranged killers? 

The ball is in your court, sir.  We desperately crave your guidance.

Dade Cariaga

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another mass murder by a deranged lunatic

It's happened again.  Another incident of American terrorism.  This time in Aurora, Colorado.  The entire nation is once again expressing sorrow and shock.  The media are replete with eye-witness interviews, tearful remembrances from the bereaved, mournful remarks from politicians and officials.

Farce.  All of it.

With all due respect to the dead and their grieving families, the long faces and somber tones broadcast across the country turn my stomach.

Whatever the supposedly-revered Founding Fathers intended, the Second Amendment, the "right to bear arms," has come to mean that there must be no restrictions whatsoever on a person's ability to compile a lethal arsenal.  James Holmes carried out his dark comic book fantasy with legally-acquired and legally-possessed weapons.

If we're not as a nation willing to do something to curb access to high-powered weaponry, why should we continue to be shocked when this kind of incident occurs?  Does anyone doubt that there will be more such incidents?  How many have there been already?  There is no shortage of deranged lunatics in this world.  Take for example, Texas Republican Louis Gohmert, who said this of the incident:
"It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying," said Gohmert
People, this is the reality we've created.  Let's either change it or learn to live with it.

I guess I've been on the crazy train too long.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Play review: Troilus and Cressida

Friday night, I attended a performance of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.  The production is directed by Rob Melrose.

The play loosely recounts events that occurred near the end of the Trojan War (as originally recounted by Shakespeare's literary ancestor, Homer).  King Priam's youngest son, Troilus, falls in love with the beautiful Cressida, daughter of Calchas, a high-ranking Trojan who has defected to the Greeks.  No sooner are the two lovers brought together by Cressida's uncle, Pandarus, than the treacherous diplomacy of war separates them.  As their tragedy unfolds, Greeks and Trojans vie with each other and themselves for political advantage.  Each of the great Greek and Trojan heroes claims to love Honor above all else.  But actions reveal that Ego is the true object of their devotions.

My expectations for the play were high.  Being a life-long Oregonian, I've had many opportunities to see Shakespeare productions in Ashland, over the years.  There have been some great ones.  (MacBeth in 1979 and again in 1995, Othello in 1992).

Alas, and with all due respect to Mr. Melrose, this production was not among them.  Not by a long shot. 

The acting was excellent.  Raffi Barsoumian put his heart into the role of Troilus and Tala Ashe made a valiant effort as Cressida which I felt was undermined by Melrose's interpretation of the role.  (More about that later.)  Mark Murphey was delightful as the owlish Ulysses, and Michael Elich and Barzin Akhavan both put in high-energy perfomances as Thersites and Pandarus, respectively.  But my favorite performance came from Bernard White as the noble Hector, Troy's great hero.  Shakespeare's Hector is virtuous and sanguine, and White is completely convincing.

The problems with the production, however, were several.  Firstly, it uses quasi-modern uniforms and weaponry when depicting soldiers in the field, which, I imagine is meant to impose currency and relevance.  But it's been done before.  Over much.  Remember the machine-gun toting Romans in Jesus Christ Superstar?  Or how about the recent Rob Fiennes movie-adaptation of Coriolanus?  Delivering lines in iambic pentameter while firing automatic weapons can be made to work on the big screen.  But on stage it didn't come off well.  It brought to mind children playing with toy guns.

Secondly, I felt that Melrose's production suffered from a lack of clear purpose.  It flits back and forth between comedy and drama and acheives neither.  The courtship scenes are presented in comic fashion with Cressida's uncle Pandarus assigned the role of clown.  But the scenes of battle and diplomacy are presented with grave menace.  The audience' emotions strobe between delight and disgust.  It is as if Melrose tried to produce a play that would please all audiences:  those that prefer frolicking comedy as well as those that like gut-churning moral examination.

Then there is the shaky interpretation of the roles of Cressida and Patroclus.  While scholars have often speculated that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, Melrose forgoes subtlety and thrusts the relationship to the fore.  In this era of out-of-the-closet gayness, I suppose it's the politically-correct stance.  But I'm not sure that Shakespeare would approve of the lack of subtlety.

Regarding Cressida:  In the playbill, Melrose claims "Shakespeare gives Cressida a self-awareness as a woman in the politics of love that is striking and modern."  And he runs with that idea.  Maybe just a hair too far.  Cressida, a feminist hero?  Color me doubtful.

In his playbill remarks, Melrose says of Troilus and Cressida, "[This play is Shakepeare's] Moby Dick, his Ulysses, his Iliad."

Well, any Shakespeare lover is a friend of mine, but --and I hesitate to even say this --I don't think this play is Shakespeare's best work.  It's no Hamlet.  It's no MacBeth or King Lear or Othello.  The play was never produced on stage until the 20th century and that may be a telling fact.  It meanders.  It wanders.  It lacks focus.

So, all in all, this was not the best experience I've had at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  But I still love Ashland.  And I will always love Shakespeare.  I imagine I'll go back someday.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thinking about redwoods on the road to Ashland

Smith River, California
I had another idea about the sequoias on the way out of California.  The Redwood Highway took us by Jedediah Smith State Park and we glimpsed a few more of them.  Sequoia sempervirens, the Coast Redwood, has existed as a species on the coasts of northern California and southern Oregon for 20 million years.

Indulge me, just for a moment, and imagine that the great trees possess some vague sentience --some retained memory passed on through sequoia generations. 

"Pacific Madrona" in America; in Canada "Arbutis"
I love that smooth red-orange skin!
(It's not all that much of a stretch, actually.  As the park ranger informed me, the DNA of a single tree can continue for tens of thousands of years.  You see, often, when one of the great trees falls, one or more shoots may sprout up out of the fallen corpse and become trees in their own right.  These sprouts are actually extensions of the original tree.  It is one of several ways in which the sequoias perpetuate.  And it raises interesting questions about the nature of mortality, does it not?)

At a cat park near Cave Junction.  I didn't dig the place.  Bad vibes for the cats and from the hosts. 
Anyway, if we entertain this idea about a collective memory, or a sentience of some kind that exists within the eerie-holy groves overlooking Pacifica, the sequoias remember a time when giant sloths and saber-toothed tigers and three-toed horses ambled and prowled and scampered at their feet.  They remember a time when whale spout was very rare and when the world was slightly warmer.

Restuarante mexicano en Jacksonville
Lentitud del servicio, pero comida deliciosa

The arrival of the bipedal apes, which occurred in the last twenty thousand year blink of a geologic eye, has been a catastrophe.  Even as the spew and roar of the great mountains to the north changed the landscape, the apes suddenly and savagely took to preying on the solemn giants.  They leveled 95% of the great groves. 
This is the life
To have survived these millions of years and to find themselves on the verge of extinction --talk about being confronted with mortality!  Were the trees making their peace with whatever deity they might conceive as they awaited the bite of the apes' contrived teeth?  Are they yet?

But now, for a time anyway, the apes have halted their slaughter.  Rather than reaping the trees, they've taken to wandering among the giant roots.  They putter around in their noisy, stinky contraptions or lope on their hind legs, swinging their arms harmlessly.  And they peer up toward the tops of the great trees or place their hands on the vast boles and grow solemn and quiet.

It all happened so fast.  Where does it go from here?  Will the apes finish off the last of the great sequoias before they follow the giant sloths and the saber-toothed tigers and the three-toed horses into oblivion?  Or will they become nurturers and protectors?

Crazy, eh?  No answers for those questions.  Trees and apes must each look to their respective deities.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great sequoia wisdom

Leaving Crescent City
Redwoods National Park!  As we left Crescent City, an old sea pelican bid us travel well.  I approached respectfully.  He gave me a dignified pose.

We took the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. You won't go far on that road before you will be startled by the tall, solemn giants, bathed in white light, that stand silent sentinel.  Seeing them, placid, mute, undeniable as all glory, made me wonder:  What plain truths am I not seeing?  How do we grow blind?
Natural cathedral
Part of the answer may have been revealed in a conversation we had with a married couple from Orange, Texas. They were warm, slow-talking, plainly-vested folk.  The kind of folk who would not fathom pretension or vanity.  I mentioned that we were from Portland and that I hadn't been here, to the Redwoods, in 40 years.

"But that's just a day's drive away, isn't it?" said the old guy.

I shrugged.  "Crazy, ain't it?"

He laughed the laugh that comes when you discover something obvious.  "That's the way it goes.  You never see what's close."

The old gent took our picture.  We shook hands and bid each other travel well.

We spoke with many people on the trails. People from all over the United States and all over the world.  Many Texans, some Arizona folk, a friendly, intelligent couple from Denver, some folks from the Netherlands, some Germans, some Swiss.

Lichen on the foot of a giant
And we saw many of the giant Coast Redwoods.

The great trees may live for 2000 years or more.  They are among the largest trees in the world.

Delicate life
A crowd had gathered around "Big Tree" at a pull-out along the highway.  Big Tree stands 350 feet high, with a 21.6 foot diameter.  He is approximately 1500 years old. 

A ranger stood nearby, dispensing facts and information.  He indicated places some 30 to 50 feet from the ground, where the tree has started to rot.  "So, Big Tree is dying, then?" I asked.

"It's got some rot, but that doesn't mean it won't live another 300 or 400 years or more."

That made me scratch my chin.

Banana slugs procreatin'
The ranger was full of interesting facts.

The biggest enemy of the Coast Redwood is wind.  Especially after a heavy rainfall, when the soil is water-saturated.  Redwood roots spread far and wide, but never deep.  A tree 200 feet tall will delve no more than 12 feet into the earth.  Coast Redwoods are in their prime at about 800 to 900 years of age.  That is when they are tallest.  After that, the wind tops them.

Maty in nature
Only one of every million sequoia seeds will ever sprout.  The seeds need bare earth; no needles, no encroachment from fern or rhododendron; only bare soil will do.  And of those one-in-a-million sprouts that find bare soil, only those that have the good fortune to find sunlight will survive.

But they are patient.  A sprout may remain a sprout for 30 or 40 years, awaiting opportunity.

Holy light
Because eventually, even 1500-year-old Big Tree will fall.  Big Tree sprouted up out of the earth as Rome and Persia were vying for dominance in the Middle East.  What will the world be like when Big Tree finally falls?  It is possible that even the sapling white oak in Mount Tabor Park will have lived a full life, died, and returned to earth before Big Tree succumbs.

The fall of a Coast Redwood is a cataclysm and Big Tree will be no exception.  Each tree is a universe entire for the flora and fauna that live upon it.  But when Big Tree falls, hopefully, there will be 30 and 40 year old sprouts to drink in the light that his fall lets in.  Hopefully, they will then begin their centuries-long journey skyward.

Elk bein' mellow
Redwoods National Park is one of the reasons I love America.  Spare me the red, white, and blue jingoism and the warlike fake patriotism.

Curious plant life
I love America because of these great treasures; these endowments of the Great Whatever.  It's a love for the land of America.  The land itself.

Inside a charred bole
As the rock band Kansas sang:
Virgin land of forest green  
Dark and stormy plains  
Here all life abounds  
Sunlit valley, mountain fields  
Unseen in the rain 
Here all life abounds
Maty on the Lady Bird Johnson trail
Redwoods National Park exemplifies the unfathomable endowment of this wondrous land.  Looking upon it, my heart hurts for the many millions who never have the opportunity to see how beautiful is this world.
Redwood jay
We can be a people of knowledge and generosity.  We can be a people that others welcome to their lands with hope and glad hearts. 

Ancient grove
That's what I remembered when I went to Redwoods National Park.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vacation pix 2012

Beach at Crescent City, California
This morning finds me in the lobby of a motel in Crescent City, California, speculating on the wonders that await Maty and I in Redwoods National Park.  We've been trekking down along the Pacific Coast, enjoying the scenery in spite of the mist and rain.

Which brings to mind the time when I was in Munich and I encountered an Australian busker strumming a guitar and singing in the arcade of a government building:

"Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you..."

Mist-shrouded Oregon beach
We took our time driving south from Lincoln City, right along Highway 101.  I'd determined that we would pull over at every attractive highway-side viewpoint so I could snap photos.  But if we'd adhered to that ambitious plan, we'd still be on the road, now.  Twenty-four hours later.  

There's too much beauty to absorb.  As hard as I found it to be, I forced myself to pass by pull-outs where I saw motorists standing at the guard rails, pointing out to sea. 

Cliff dwellers
Maty is not what one would generally consider to be an outdoor enthusiast.  (I think it's an African thing.)  I was concerned that she might become wearied, what with me pulling the car over every 20 minutes or so.

Coastal traffic

All such fears were laid to rest when we came upon the imposing rocks on the shore near Brookings.

Coastal rocks
Ramadan having commenced, her faith is very much on her mind.  Quoth she:  "How great is God, to have made these rocks?"

No answer, of course.  It's a rhetorical question if ever there was one.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mitt, John, and Eric talk veep

SceneFriday afternoon, July 13, 2012.   A dark, smokey bar in the basement of a DC office building.  Speaker of the House John Boehner slouches on a bar stool, forearms resting on the mahogany surface before him.  Seated on the stool next is presumed Republican nominee for President, Mitt Romney.  There are only the two of them and the unobtrusive bartender in the entire place.  Romney leans toward Boehner as he speaks.  Romney's hand, perched on Boehner's shoulder is a fleshy, wingless mosquito poised to bite.

Romney:  And, listen John, I kid you not --there we are, well into the vetting process --last round of interviews --and Rhodes asks her about that thing in Belgrade.  You know.  What did she tell POTUS?  Why wasn't there a forceful response?  Why didn't she let the president handle it?  And --as I live and breathe, John --she blew a gasket.  Like a goose protecting her gosling.  "Leave that poor man out of this!" she says.  "You have know idea what his mother did to him."  Can you believe that?  She said that about the former president of the United States. 

Boehner[casting a sidelong look]:  Have you ever seen that old Bush battleaxe get her knickers in a knot?  She could make anybody cry.

Romney:  You've got a point.

Boehner:  So I assume Condi didn't make the cut, then?

Romney:  She doesn't fit the ticket anyway.  We're not gonna win this thing with outreach.  Karl ran the numbers and he thinks we can pull one more rabbit out of the Southern Strategy hat.  Boy, I was eating up those boos at the NAACP thing.

Boehner:  Can't argue with a well-executed plan, I suppose.  But, if not Condi, who?

Romney:  All in good time, my friend.  All in good time.

[House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appears in the entrance to the bar, looks around then spots Boehner and Romney.  Cantor turns around and starts to leave.]

Romney:  Whoah, whoah, whoah!  Eric, my friend, why such a hurry?  

Boehner[wryly]:  Yeah, Eric, come sit down.  How're things now that Mudcat Saunders has taken an interest in your district?

[Cantor's sholders sag.  His chin drops to his chest; his feet are cast iron weights pulling him down as he turns and makes his way to the bar.]

Boehner:  Lookin' a little down at the mouth, Eric.  Come on, now.  That's no way for the leader of the Young Guns to be.

Romney:  Really, Eric.  What gives? 

Cantor:  So this is how the game works?  A guy gets a few bad breaks and everybody lines up to jeer at him?

[Romney looks confused.]

Boehner: Let me ask you something, Eric.  Have you ever been on a farm?  You ever seen how chickens act when they're penned up in the coop?  They call it a "pecking order."  And guess what?  You've got the smallest pecker in this coop.

Cantor:  Asshole!

Boehner: Yep, I'm an asshole.  [He lifts his glass, points his little finger at Cantor.]  But you're a Young Gun. [He knocks it back.  The bartender, a drink-slinging veteran, is already at hand with a fresh one.

Romney[brightening]:  Hey, now.  Those Young Guns. Don't get the wrong idea, anybody, but I've got my staff talking to Paul Ryan.  Hate to potentially rob you of one of your Guns, Eric, but, you know, Paul could maybe help in the Great Lakes.

Boehner:  Paul Ryan?  What's wrong with young Eric, here?  He's not a Gun; he's the Gun!  He's the guy who put the whole thing together.  Isn't that right, Eric?

[Cantor shoots Boehner a look that would drain all the color from a garden-fresh salad.]

Romney[looking wistful]:  Yeah, I thought about it.  No offense, Eric, but you know, I'm Mormon, which is already pushing it for a lot of our base.  I think adding a Jew to the ticket might be too much of a stretch.

Cantor:  Oh, yeah, Mitt.  No offense.  Instead, you're gonna take Ryan.  Or better yet, Marco Rubio.  Marco Rubio.

Romney:  Yeah, Rubio.  He's Mexican.

Boehner:  Actually, he's Cuban.

Romney:  Hispanic, John.  Hispanic. That's what counts.

[Boehner chuckles, in spite of himself.]

Boehner[To Cantor]:  You're not gonna tell me you didn't see this coming, are you?

Cantor:  Just because you're right doesn't mean you're not a washed-up shlimazel. 

Boehner:  We play the hand we get dealt.

Romney[looking confused]:  What are you talking about?  What the hell are you talking about?  Really!

[Boehner and Cantor study the dark surface of the bar.]

Romney:  We're all on the same side, right?

[Silence descends on the scene, broken only by the sound of the dishwasher behind the bar.  Happy hour is approaching.]

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy little time

Remember, remember. Make note of times like these!

The garden is doing well.  Our blueberries are but a few days from producing record bounty.  We'll have squash and tomatoes next month.  The raspberries have been tart and plentiful and --who knows? --we may even have watermelons by September!

We've got a nice relaxing road trip through Oregon and Northern California in our near future to look forward to, as well as a couple big, exciting international voyages further out.

The new kitchen still looks great, and the new paint makes the house look --well, maybe not young; she's 97 years old after all --but fine, happy.  She's a happy house on the inside and the new paint makes her outside look happy too.

It's a happy little time we've got right now, my love. Let's savor it. Let's let it linger. We don't know what we'll find a little further up the path.  But it's a happy little time, right now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ethnic food cornucopia

Senegalese food served up in Portland
Mom once told me that she did not know what a taco was until she was in college.  I was a kid at the time, born of a Mexican father, and I found her revelation to be hilarious and inconceivable.  But, as she pointed out, there just weren't many Mexican restaurants in the Willamette Valley in the 40s and 50s.

People my age, of course, grew up with a plethora of ethnic foods available.  Well, it seemed like a plethora.  Specifically, there were three:  Chinese, Mexican, and Italian.

My, my, how times have changed!  The three varieties of ethnic food I knew as a boy are so integrated into American culture that they're hardly considered ethnic any more.  Who doesn't know what a taco is today?  Or an egg roll?  Or chicken parmigiana?

Ethnic food today is much more diverse.  Indeed, within walking distance of my home in Portland there are half a dozen Thai restaurants, several Indian restaurants, a sushi house, a couple Mediterranean places, an Ethiopian place, a Korean barbeque, and a couple Vietnamese pho houses.

Just another benefit that comes from ethnic diversity here in the land of plenty.  It's a good thing I have such an iron will when it comes to dietary restraint.  (Er --strike that --heh.)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Ernest Borgnine passes

Ernest Borgnine, the star of numerous films and television shows, passed yesterday of renal failure at the age of 95. 

Borgnine is perhaps best known for his role as the conniving skipper of a World War II PT boat in the 60s television comedy "McHale's Navy," but he was successful on the big screen as well.  His list of films include some of my favorites:
  • The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah's ground-breaking 1969 film;
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1979 adaptation of the novel by Erich Maria Remarque;
  • Emperor of the North, Robert Aldrich's set-in-Oregon 1973 film about life on the railways during the Depression;
  • The Poseidon Adventure, the 1972 seminal disaster flick about a capsized passenger ship;
  • Marty, the touching 1955 film about a lonely man who fears he will never find love; Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film.
When I was 10 years old, I met Ernest near Cottage Grove, Oregon, where he was researching his role for the upcoming Emperor of the North film.  My Grandpa Metzger convinced me that I should approach him for an autograph, which I did.

Ernest was very kind to me.  He laughed and patted the back of my head and signed, then took the time to ask me my name and age.  From that point on, he was my favorite actor.

Ernest and Lee Marvin having an honest exchange of ideas in Emperor of the North
Although many of his movie appearances had him playing the "heavy," Ernest Borgnine was also capable of subtlety and poignancy.  In the Marty flick, he delivers this touching soliloquy to his mother as he contemplates life as a bachelor:

"Sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don't wanna get hurt no more."

Adieu, Mr. Borgnine.  You'll be missed.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Gettysburg exposed the unvarnished truth

Pickett's Charge:  Confederate delusion reaps its just desserts
One hundred forty-nine years ago this week, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of General George Meade and the Army of the Potomac near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The three-day engagement was the culmination of Lee's second foray into Union territory and, like the previous episode, ended in defeat for the Confederacy.  Although Lee's reputation as an invincible commander had already been shaken at Antietam some 9 months previous, Gettysburg, as this battle would be named, forever dispelled the mystique.

The total number of casualties from the battle are some 46,000.  (Forty-six thousand casualties in three days.)  Although this number is divided nearly evenly between the two armies, it was a much greater loss, proportionally, to the smaller and less adequately supplied Army of Northern Virginia. 

Although it was not clear at the time, historians today point to the battle of Gettysburg as the high-water mark for the Confederacy.  It was all downhill thereafter.  When Lee abandoned the field, two days after Pickett's disastrous charge up Cemetery Ridge, his army was mortally wounded. 

The war lasted another two years, but after Gettysburg, any quaint, idiotic notions about honor and righteousness were cast aside in favor of the unvarnished truth.  "War is cruelty," as Union general William T. Sherman so famously said.  The Union generals, Meade, Sherman, and Ulysses S. Grant, understood the new reality: attrition, economic destruction, total war.  Although Meade failed to press his advantage in the battle's immediate aftermath, once General Grant assumed command, they set about systematically crushing the Confederacy. 

Perhaps General Lee and his generals understood as well.  But, if so, how could they have imagined that there was any possibility of Confederate victory?  And why would they continue?  How much blood was owed to the antiquated and ridiculous notion of honor?  How much blood would sate the appetites of fanatics like Jefferson Davis?

Meade and Lee:  victor and vanquished
Were it not for the abolition of slavery, it is difficult to see how anything positive came out of the war.  The practical reality of the Civil War is that it was not so much a victory for Union and abolitionism as it was a triumph of industrialism over agrarianism. 

Put aside President Lincoln's beautiful words at the consecrated graveyard.  The Civil War was ruthless capitalism subjugating and destroying delusional aristocratism. Pick your poison.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Okay, bro!

Two years in Shanghai, China, population 23 million!  The most populous city in the world!  What an adventure!

Invoking older brother prerogative, I'll tell you that although packing up and moving across a vast ocean to an alien world is a terrible hassle, not to mention a bit intimidating, in the end it'll be worth it.  A recurring acknowledgment in conversations I've had with other world travelers (Bobbie and Paige most prominent among them) is that travel is best in retrospect.

Travel causes disruption in one's life.  Before the trip, arrangements must be made.  Funds put in order.  Then, there is the commute to destination.  Long lines; unforeseen expenses; terminally monotonous waits at terminal gates.  When you do arrive, you're exhausted, jet-lagged and frazzled.  But then there's the touchdown scramble to orient yourself, arrange transportation and exchange currency.  It's a frantic melee made all the more complicated by communication problems.

Frustration mounts when all those things that were so easy at home are suddenly very difficult.  Ordering food off a menu, for example.  Calling someone on a telephone, for example.  Finding a drug store or giving directions to a cabbie, for example.

When you're away from home on a trip like this, nothing is easy. 

I remember coming home from Chile as the year of our Lord 2004 was coming to an end.  I'd been 3 weeks on the road, and had wandered all the way from Santiago down to Castro, a journey of some 800 miles.  I made the trip alone (¡Que valiente! una mujer me dijo;); I was at the desolate (even desperate) end of my financial resources, confidence in my Spanish language skills had been shattered by that notorious Chilean accent, and I was afflicted with a nasty respiratory infection.  One big hassle, let me tell you.  But on the 15-hour bus ride back to Santiago I looked back on the previous 3 weeks, on everything I'd seen and experienced in that time, and I was gratified and awestruck.  I recognized that this enormous ordeal I had been through, was in fact still going through, was one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of my life.

This trip will change you.  You'll come back to Oregon a familiar stranger.  You'll learn things and know things that you'll never be able to relate to anyone else.  In the light of this new knowledge you'll see everything --Oregon, your friends, your family, America --differently.  You'll have a depth of wisdom outside the purview of everyone that you know today.  That's another gift that travel gives you.

So I'm green with envy.  Not because of the frenzy and fuss that you are, at this minute, experiencing, but because of the epiphany that is in store for you when you've finally cleared the hurdle.

I refer you to a quote I found by one Regina Nadelson:

"Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage."

Enjoy, hermanito!