Friday, February 13, 2015

Kitzhaber resigns!

This morning, Governor John Kitzhaber, just a month into an historic fourth term, announced his intention to resign the governorship effective Wednesday, February 18th. The governor will be succeeded by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.

The resignation comes as allegations of misuse of state resources and influence plague the governor's office. Allegedly, Kitzhaber's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, used state resources to promote her own private consulting firm. Ms. Hayes is also under federal investigation for under-reporting her income on federal tax returns. The governor himself may have directed state employees to implement policies that directly benefited Ms. Hayes' interests.

Yesterday, Willamette Week reported that the governor's office attempted to destroy private emails on a state server, raising suspicion of a cover up and perhaps even violating state law.

As political scandals go, this one is pretty innocuous, especially when compared to some of the scandals that have brought down governors of some of our sister states. (Rob Blagojevich, anyone?)

But in Oregon our politics are clean. And we like it that way.

So, today, the governor raised the white flag.

This is a sad day for Oregon and a major disappointment for me, personally.

To say I've been a supporter is to state the obvious. I first voted for John Kitzhaber when he ran against Denny Smith for the governorship in 1994. I voted for him again, when he ran for reelection in 1998.

When he ran for an unprecedented third (non-consecutive) term in 2008, not only did I vote for him, but I volunteered for his campaign and worked hard to help get him elected. And just last fall, I cast a final vote for him, even as the allegations that would become his undoing first surfaced.

Well, here we are.

Responsibility, of course, falls squarely on Kitzhaber's shoulders. At the very least, the allegations reveal a lack of judgment unbecoming for the governor of this great state. Well, he certainly isn't the first leader to fall victim to hubris.

I wonder... could some of this been avoided, or at least mitigated, if the Republican party in Oregon were not in such a sorry state?  Oregon's GOP is a laughing stock. The last four Republican gubernatorial candidates included two Tea Party radicals, a retired professional basketball player, and Kevin Mannix, a man with his own special brand of crazy. Responsible, civic-minded citizens simply could not vote for any of them.

When the opposition party is that weak, it's bad for everyone. For legitimate, sane conservatives there is no one to represent their interests. And it allows Democrats to operate under the illusion that they are invulnerable.

(It wasn't always this way. The GOP dominated Oregon state politics in the 70s and 80s. I actually voted for a few. I voted for Governor Vic Atiyeh when he ran for reelection in 1982. In 1986, I voted for Norma Paulus in her losing effort against Neil Goldschmidt.)

Well, Oregonians, let's try to find the silver lining in this mess. As a Democrat, I can take relief in the fact that Democrats still control both houses of the state legislature, and soon-to-be governor Kate Brown is a Democrat as well.

But what would be best for Oregon would be for the Republicans to use this opportunity to rebrand themselves, to make themselves into a responsible party. You know? A party that people like me might actually be able to vote for?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book review: The Girl with All the Gifts

Whatever it may say about Western culture these days, a particularly dark, pessimistic genre of art seems to have arisen in the last couple decades. A neighbor of mine once referred to it as "zombie porn." It's a variation on the holocaust meme that ran through earlier books like, On the Beach or Lord of the Flies, but with a twist. Instead of portraying a world in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust (the Soviet Union is some 25 years gone, after all), the new spin on apocalypse is infrastructure collapse, viral infections, or some other equally terrifying cataclysm, in the aftermath of which, survivors must contend with hordes of cannibals or zombies.

M. R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts is one such book.

A young girl, Melanie, exists in a strange world where she and other children are held captive, isolated but for their time in a school classroom, where they are bound to their chairs and taught mathematics, reading, writing, and (especially) Greek mythology. Their lessons are taught by a compassionate young woman, Ms. Justineau, for whom Melanie has developed an admiring crush. An austere administrator, Dr. Caldwell oversees the school and the children. A menacing, hard-boiled military man, Sargent Parks, provides security for the facility.

That's about as much of the plot I want to reveal, since Carey goes to pains to conceal the nature of the world so that the reader may discover it over the course of the opening chapters. Suffice it to say that mankind is under assault, and that civilization teeters on annihilation. (If you really want to know, go to the Wikipedia page. They blab.)

In fact, the process of discovery, which occurs over the first half of the book, is the most intriguing and compelling part of the novel. Unfortunately, once the truth is laid out, a significant event transpires, transforming the story to a standard "zombie gauntlet run."

At times, Carey's prose became tedious. He seemed to overuse the adjective "really" to the point of abuse, which became distracting and annoying. But, all in all, I found Carey to be a decent writer. He put effort into character development. Although I wouldn't call the characters in this novel "complex," he does provide them with plausible backgrounds and motivations. That's more than you'll get from a lot of genre fiction writers.

Carey's creation may lack the eloquence and beauty of McCarthy's The Road, but it is certainly more intriguing than Atwood's drab, half-hearted Oryx and Crake.

All in all, The Girl with All the Gifts is a good, fast read. The perfect pastime for a rainy Portland winter.