Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's TV

     There is something about the old political conventions that can't be replaced.  Spontaneity.  They are so orchestrated , scripted, silly-slick that they are hardly entertaining any more.  Bad enough we have to endure sound tracks at ball games, political rallies, and weddings, now each campaign has to have a theme song, or an official group that hopes to embody the candidate's "message"  in a three minute sound byte.  Oh I know the history of political tunes and campaign songs.  I vaguely remember the "I like Ike" TV spots from 1956.  Something about what we've got now that's just too slippery.
     Gone is all the drama of the roll-call votes.  Gone are the self-serving speeches about "the great state of ..."
"Mr. Chairman, delegates to this great convention, the state of  (your choice), the only state in this mighty union to produce tomatoes all year long, the state of  Jonathan Knox, first printing press operator in the union, the state that invites you all to our annual sunflower celebration, the state where your smile is our only business...the state of (insert your choice) proudly casts it's 5 votes for (insert your candidate here)  fade to rousing chorus of Happy Days are Here Again.
Today is full of history and I'm as happy and proud an American as my cynical little self will allow, but nope...not like they used to be.


What's up with these Hillary supporters that can't back Obama?  What planet are they on?  They scare me the most.  No, really they do.  They're the ones who will decide your fate when the trucks roll.  They'll put you on the truck.  Their racism is the worst kind.  What you see is not what you always get.  It's laughable how they need Bill and Hillary to make it OK for them to back Obama.  Scary that these kind of folks are representing others.  It's like those creationists, in this century, this day and age, still cling to their anti-intelligence based beliefs.  Double scary.  I see Yogi walking slowly up to the mound.  He spits, he adjusts his crotch.  He spits again.  He looks at the 3 big ducks on the pond.  He senses the ump about to remind him to play ball.  "It ain't over till it's over," he says.  
It ain't over.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

River in the City

Even for native Portlanders, the Willamette River conjures up that massive wide body that winds it's way through the city and divides the East from the West.  Some folks cross it multiple times each day.  It is perceived as everything from an open sewer to a "party" lake.  The murky sepia water has uncommon beauty at dusk, and often windblown, or sparkling in the last light of day can provide a romantic thought or two.  People walk and ride bikes over it, they jog and stroll alongside, and they fear it's chaotic, fickle currents.  But it's Portland's river, and it rhymes with dammit-the Willamette.  
     Every great river has to start somewhere and the headwaters of the Willamette tell a different story.  I had no idea at the time, but 35 years ago when I drove my old VW bus down the Interstate and east through Eugene and Springfield to Lowell, Oregon, I was almost there.  I'd read a classified ad for a teaching job, and armed with nothing more than a college degree and a passion to teach, I interviewed for a position in the little logging town of Lowell.  
     "Did you ever belong to an organization that advocated violent overthrow of the U.S. government?"
     "No, but my last employer was the U.S. government."
Still, they weren't going to give that job to the 23 year old kid who looked like me, hailed from California, and had barely a year of teaching experience.
Last week, on my way to a Trout Unlimited outing at Gold Lake, I took a few hours to go beyond Lowell, on the way to Oakridge, Oregon.  Right before Highway 58 scoots through Oakridge, I took the turn for the village of West Fir and then followed Highway 19 up the North fork of the Middle fork of the Willamette.  Here the river is a pristine mountain stream.  This is a community of covered bridges, folks who hunt and fish, make their own jerky, and are proud of their schools and volunteer fire department.  
     On this Friday morning, I pulled into a turnout and fished for an hour or so.  A few small but beautiful wild rainbows attest to the purity of the Willamette here. They fancied a black stonefly nymph I had tied myself! Only a few cars passed by on the highway above me. Solitude, clean air, rushing water.  The river has no idea what's in store once it gets to the big city.

Booked for Books

     Lots of interest last week in the young woman from Wisconsin who was arrested and booked, then fined for not returning library books.  It's easy to see this as a major overreaction; but is it?  Sure her overdue paperbacks won't impact Western civilization as we know it, but she is forgetting something very important that does.
     Apparently she ignored phone calls and a court date, and ultimately a law enforcement officer had to stop by her home and haul her in, cuffs and all.   A couple hundred dollars later, her picture in all the tabloids, a few TV/Radio morning show appearances, and she's back in her life of quiet desperation.  
Here's what I want to say to her, and let me make it clear that even though my library record is fairly clean, I seem to remember a time or two when the temptation not to return a book reared it's selfish head.  The important thing here is that if we keep the books, others don't benefit from them.  It's called a library so that we own the contents in common.  It's part of the social contract, girl!  We make various agreements with our government for the benefit of all.  If we fail to uphold the contract, consequences follow.  Haven't libraries got enough problems already with funding, internet predators, and a populace that reads less and less.  

ITEM: Last year more than half the American people did not read a book!

     Maybe I feel so strongly about this issue because I maintained a classroom library for my students for many years.  Inevitably, every year books would disappear.  Of course I'd make sure to remind my students to please return all borrowed books, but there were always a few that would disappear every year, literally.  There were some titles I bought over  and over again for the classroom.  The big winners were Fromm's The Art of Loving, a few books on the enneagram that my psychology students found compelling, and Girl Interrupted.  The English students kept copies of Into the Wild and The Bluest Eye most often.  
     I'd always say "if there is any book in this room that you simply must own, I'd be glad to get it for you, just let me know."  Occasionally someone would take me up on it.  Berkeley has so many great used book stores (at least it used to) that I'd easily provide a clean copy of the requested volume.  Isn't the point that when people want to own books we should oblige them?
Just don't take them from the library and think it's OK.  It's not.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


1. "Book losing words" 
How many times can the reporters and correspondents at the Olympics ask the tired old question, How did you feel? In the aftermath of triumph or tragedy, all we seem to be getting these days is How did you feel winning, losing, falling, falling short, coming back, winning a medal, being here in Beijing, being an American, seeing the flag, hearing the anthem, accumulating all those medals, all those endorsements, all that wealth? How did it feel? Sometimes I think that most of those working journalists are too young to know that it's the question you never ask! They should have been better prepared. We're all "feeled out" having been asked how we feel when our homes are burning, when floods have destroyed our land, our possessions, and our dignity. We get asked for feelings when we come into money or go away to prison. Time for another line of reasoning. Push the question back, how do you think I feel? How do you feel asking me how I feel?
Most of us are well aware that folks are losing their vocabulary. It's dwindling about as fast as our savings accounts. I read somewhere that the average American teenager has lost about 14,000 words since the 1950s. It's no doubt much more than that by now. For some reason, as a culture, we've placed the burden of all our perception on the words amazing and awesome in the last decade or so. Everything is awesome or amazing. Fast food, little Timmy's refrigerator art, the color of a car, a cheese sandwich. I'm going to call a moratorium on those words; give them a much needed rest or we're going to lose them. I have at least a few uses planned before I deflate my float tube. I'm saving them up for a time the wonder index hits 10. In the meantime, I suggest we use the word portentous. It has a similar meaning if needed, but it also contains the connotation of warning! Look what happens when we use the same word for everything. Portentous dude!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eagle Eyed

Sometimes the fishing is much better than the catching. It's been a slow summer in the catching department, but the fishing has been wonderful. I've been all over the Cascades in the last two weeks. A real reminder of why I live in Oregon. Last Tuesday I wandered up a narrow rough road for a few miles and landed at Three Creeks Lake. It's a rare eco-system that surrounds this little jewel; an alpine environment with patches of snow still on the ground in August! Sometimes I wonder how much longer places like this will continue to exist. Given how many ranches and large tracts of land are being sub-divided, how many little tracts of homes are springing up, jet skis in the driveway, BBQ grill and mountain view in the backyard, and how much the area is changing I sense the need to savor each day and be thankful what it brings. While float-tubing and probing the depths with nymphs and streamers, my eyes caught a flash of white in the vivid blue above. An eagle came buy not so much to mock my efforts but to remind me that I was in "his house." He circled a few times and then landed in a tall pine and settled in right on the top of that tree. He watched a good while before moving on unnoticed. I'm going back someday and I'll bring a friend and a housewarming present too.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Who You Think You Are

We want to believe.  It's in the blood.  Whether it is a way to confirm what we desire but fear might not be, or whether it's completely unconscious, people will believe, because they need to believe.
     We need Barak Obama to be everything George W. is not.  Not as easy as it seems.  Certainly this Democrat is and will not be beholden to any corporate agenda.  Or is he?  He's already changed his position on off-shore oil drilling.  He'll command respect from our adversaries just because he's so different.  He's articulate for starters.  He's young, willing to listen to all sides of an issue, apparently free of scandal, and thinks deeply.  He's promise personified.  It's almost as if we would wish all things wronged in the last decade to be right simply with his election.  We want to believe.  It beats the alternative.  It works for gossip, for religion, for palm reading, and for astrology.  It is because we want it to be.
     When Big Bown hit the track today, the air cleared.  We wanted to believe, again.  I sensed the ghost of Seabiscuit.  He got thrashed and knocked around on a number of occasions, but always came back.  Maybe Big Brown will have that kind of career.  He sure won ugly today.  Seabiscuit would have loved the race.  He knew something about digging in, gutting it out and getting the head down in the shadow of the wire.  Big Brown didn't look anything like Secetariat today.  Maybe tomorrow.
     A final thought:  That the Bush administration did not face impeachment is significant.  Apparently, most folks want to believe that it hasn't been as bad as it has.  I can't imagine what any future administration would have to do to fear impeachment.  Oh yeah, that.  I think it'll be a good while before knee pads invade the oval office.  
Say good-bye to an old friend.  The newspaper.  They are disappearing fast.  Unless we figure out a way to re-invent, they don't seem to have a chance.  Like the frequency of student trips to the library, not the virtual library, the newspaper has all but outlived it's function.  They make good wrapping paper, don't they?
     Here's a profundity that came from a recent pub outing with my friend and fellow writer Cameron.  Think about the difference between reading book pages and scanning web sites for information. Web pages are often dubious in their validity and content.  Books, at least most, invite time.  Time to read further, consider publication date, resources, acknowledgments, and bios.  Web pages ARE lighter though.  Don't do damage to the hips, (I've carried lots of books in my time) but just don't cut it when it comes to tactile satisfaction.  I certainly don't want to go back.  I love that everything that ever was is available on line.  I'm seldom disappointed, often astonished.  Yet, my jury is still out.  Guess when it comes to research, I want to hold what I believe.  Like James Baldwin once said:  If I am not who you think I am, then you are not who you think you are.