Friday, May 30, 2008

Are You For Real?

So Dunkin Donuts has pulled the ad with Rachel Ray because her black and white scarf looks too much like a keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. Rachel called her scarf black and white paisley. This would be even more laughable than it is except xenophobia isn't really high humor and the tiny minds that revert to this kind of stereotyping are stunning in their ignorance and paranoia. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who originally made this ridiculous accusation, called it "Jihadi chic." What's she been drinking?
I gave up donuts and weak coffee ages ago, but any thinking person (there are a few still out there) would certainly need to rethink patronizing any business that bends to this kind of reactionary bullshit.
Up here in Oregon, when we look at the picture we wonder what Rachel Ray is doing in Salem, the state capital. The non-domed capital building is clearly in the background, as well as some nice beautiful Willamette Valley cherry trees in full blossum.
Rachel may have been to Salem, but when she donned the pseudo-controversial scarf she was standing in front of a green screen and the stock file image was photo shopped in by the ad agency.
This bogus issue begs another question. Reality matters little when it comes to the marriage of media and consumerism. So here's Rachel not really wearing this, not really in this city, and not really using this product. All good reasons why you should?
You know, folks, as far back as I can remember, the Chicago police, those historic purveyors of democracy, have worn a black and white check pattern on their hats not unlike the aforementioned image of Palestinian nationalism. I hope Ms. Malkin has made them aware of this.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sleep You Weary Hobo

Utah Phillips died last week. I knew he's been quite ill with congestive heart failure for most of this year so it was no surprise. Bruce Phillips, aka U. Utah Phillips, the golden voice of the great southwest, was more storyteller than singer. Sure he played guitar and sang on key, but he was non-pareil with a good story. He had a bindle full.
I first met Utah back in the 70s where he enjoyed a huge fan base in the Bay Area. When the Woody Guthrie show I was part of was invited to perform and do some workshops at the Santa Rosa Folk Festival back in 1979, I sat around under trees listening to and recording most of his performances when I had free time. Glad I still have those tapes today because Utah was something special in a live performance.
Bruce Phillips was a Woobly. An active member of the Industrial Workers of the World, he kept much of the history alive and could sing and talk about the little red song book endlessly. Newer versions feature his songs as well. In the mid 80s, as part of a Master's thesis I was working on, Utah agreed to an interview with me. I was interested in the history of politically active Tramps and hobos and Utah Phillips was the logical place to start. At the time, I was also completing a radio documentary on the folk music and culture of hobos and rail riders, so we spoke a good deal about his experiences too. The evening before my interview with him, Utah had a gig at Freight and Salvage, in Berkeley. During his first break, we set up a meeting time. When I told him I'd take him to breakfast anywhere, he agreed to meet me at Chez Pannise. Unfortunately they were closed that morning and we settled for a less popular place nearby. Damn, I would have loved to have been to Chez Pannise with Bruce Phillips.
The interview went well and before he took off, he told me something that not too many folks knew at the time. He talked about being a Korean War vet and hoboin' all over the west. In a moment of despair, "seeing what a military power can do to another country" he contemplated suicide. Strapped on a gondola car, over a bridge with a mighty river below Utah told me how he was seconds away from reaching his jackknife and cutting the tether. Even in his funniest most outrageous performances, I never forgot that moment.
A few years ago, I took a mental health day off work on a Friday in October. I'd convinced Katie to go with me to the Upper Yuba River for one last chance to fly fish before winter descended. She wanted the chance to stay overnight in Nevada City because it's a great place to spend a few days. I knew Utah Phillips had moved there a few years earlier and lo and behold when we parked along the main drag about 11:00 that Indian summer morning he exited a small Chinese restaurant.
"I know Utah Phillips lives here now, hey look, there he is over there."
Utah recognized me faintly and we exchanged the names of mutual friends. We spoke for a few minutes more and like a total dork I forgot to introduce Katie formally. I really believed before that weekend was over I'd get another chance.

Go to Sleep you weary hobo
Let the towns drift slowly by,
Can't you hear the steel rails hummin'
That's the hobo's lullaby

Monday, May 26, 2008

War Is A Force

Last night I watched a piece on the NBC's Dateline. Timed for memorial day weekend, it focused on a Vietnam Vet, Rich Luttrell, who had held on to a haunting photograph for decades. As an 18 year-old, he volunteered for service in Vietnam and really had no idea what would follow. Like many young people today, he'd been raised on all the images and myths about war. When faced with the reality, his moral emotions got in the way.
In his first fire fight deep in the Vietnamese jungle he came face to face with a North Vietnamese soldier. They stared into each other's eyes for an endless minute and then the American shot and killed the Vietnamese. In the aftermath, he noticed something in the corner of the dead soldier's pocket. Sightly larger than a postage stamp, it was a small photograph of a man with what looked like his daughter. A quick glance at the corpse on the ground in front of him, and he knew it was this man and his daughter.
Other fire fights and killings followed, but the American serviceman kept the photo and never forgot the haunting portrait of the Vietnamese soldier and his daughter. Years passed. In an attempt to get beyond the photo that would not leave him alone, the American vet went to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. and like so many others before him, left the photo at the base of the wall. On a given day, park guards retrieve all manner of items left at the wall. Baseball gloves, rifles, photos, dog tags, and uniforms often decorate the ground. On my first trip to the wall I noticed two ice cold quarts of beer left for one of the 58,000 names.
You know what's coming... A few years ago the official historian for the wall published a book called Offerings At The Wall. Of course the small photo was in the book. When an article about the book appeared in a Vietnamese newspaper, the photo was published in Vietnam. When an old woman living in Hanoi received a package with something wrapped in newspaper, she chanced to see the photo and recognized the man and his daughter.
Recently, the American soldier and the little girl from the photo met. Lan, the girl, is now in her 40s. Rich Luttrell wanted to return the photo. Face to face, the white haired veteran and the Vietnamese woman cried, embraced, and healed, or at least tried to heal. A most poignant moment. It filled me with pride and respect for both.
Watching this program evoked so many things. The American vet wept freely, but seemed to feel the need to say that he did not regret being in Vietnam. "I do carry some guilt because of that action, but I have no regret as a soldier and participation in that war." I did not expect him to change his stance about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Yet, as he held the little girl who had become a woman repeating "I'm sorry," I felt a disconnect. Isn't there a bigger issue here that needs to be articulated? It's important to recognize that this veteran is an empathetic, moral human being. Equally important is the recognition of what war does to empathetic, moral human beings.
The remainder of the program dealt with young men and women returning from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other ailments both physical and mental. How sad and sorry I feel that each generation must learn these horrible lessons alone. It seems that we think most often of the physical consequences of combat and not enough about the psychological consequences. Suicide rates for veteran of the invasion of Iraq are quite high; quite under-reported.
The Chris Hedges book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaningshould be required reading for anyone seeking citizenship, joining the military, getting a driver's license, birth certificate, passport, or high school diploma.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Intent v Impact

Hillary references the California Primary 40 years ago as an example of nomination races going deep into June before they decided. Barak, trying to accommodate an anxious reporter says "just a minute sweetie." Both need to apologize within the day. Damage control becomes the priority. What's happening here?
Teachers know all too well the fine line between intent and impact. Every inflection of the voice, every use of a word that's OK under these circumstances but definitely not OK under those is suspect. Only the speaker knows what she meant. Yet, it's inevitable in the current climate that anyone and everyone is going to be held accountable by the Impact Nazis.
It is not about being "politically correct." It's about being correct. If somebody goes to a Sen. Clinton rally with a sign saying" iron my shirts" that's sexism. If someone makes a statement purporting to explain why white people or black people or Indian or Latino or Asian people are this way or think that way or vote this way or look that way, that's racism. Granted, the institutionalized forms of racism and sexism and ageism, et. al. are more difficult to delineate for many, but they too need to be separated from their intent.
Do you think Barak Obama was ever called sweetie by anyone? Do you think he uses the term with his wife and children? Do you think I am not the only person that knew exactly what Hillary Clinton meant when she spoke about RFK's win in the California primary in June of 1968?
Here's a thought: Maybe we could train people to play the role of communication facilitator. They'd be like referees; could even wear black and white striped shirts. Then when someone makes a statement where impact might supersede intent, the whistle would blow.
"Sen Obama, you are not talking to your kids, perhaps a better word choice is in order."
"Thanks ref, just a minute, Ms. I'll answer your question after I answer this one."
"Acceptable, continue."
Sen. Clinton, referencing the assassination of Robert Kennedy is probably in poor taste; rephrase your comments please"
"No see I was talking about nomination races that run well into or beyond June and in '68 the California primary...
"Deal with it now or deal with it later, Senator, people do not care about your intent now, it's the impact that will cause you undo harm."
"OK, I apologize, (what am I apologizing for? Oh yeah, I'm old enough to reference RFK as a viable candidate, not an assassinated martyr)
As the saying goes, "when you least expect it, you're elected..."
Smile, the Impact Nazis have your thoughts in a vice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Poetry and Groceries

Poetry and Groceries

The difference between my life now and two years ago
Is what makes Portland my home,
In the WholeOatsWildSeasonsNewFoods grocery store is a magazine rack,
Beyond health and current affairs, sidestepping Gourmet, Outside, and Harpers
My eyes rest on Poetry Northwest,
Two chairs invite like campfire stumps,
I read poetry
before buying toilet paper,
admire similes before spinach,

Yesterday, while camped, a poet takes me to Market Street at dusk, riding the streetcar into the amber breast of darkness looking for a lover in red shoes. I rise to pick up milk and eggs.

The boundaries of age and wisdom make me an observer now,
Each day youth depreciates like an oak desk,
An atrophied bank account,
A fine wine, turning,

In the aisles I’m finding unbridled joy in bread sampled, the palate of apples,
a butcher’s banter,
I read and re-read the poems; the universe provides sudden escapes,
Hours later, I see myself at 30 in the eyes of a coffeehouse model;
Brushing crumbs off her Levied thighs, talking to her computer screen, unaware that it’s her black cowboy boots that do the most for me.

C2008 Bruce L. Greene

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wild Weekend Part II

The wow factor continues as 75,000 people snake through downtown Portland, in and out of shade and the record-setting 90 degree weather to see and hear Barak Obama speak. Katie and I go with niece Rose, her husband Eric, Annika,5, Naomi, age 3, and their newborn, Soren, about 4 months. Everyone knows that history is in the making. There are very few traffic cops, yet the mood and demeanor of the crowd is fairly laid back despite the heat, the constant cries of the hawkers, and the long wait. We get in line about 12:30, Obama is scheduled to speak at 2:30. At 1:30 there is movement and we wind and wend our way to the river's edge. Along the way we pass some notable folks. The 70+ gentleman behind me looks like a retired navy man. He is wearing a tee shirt that says "Barak is my Homie." A huge selection of Obama faces is available for purchase on tee shirts. He looks like everything from a smiling Alfred E. Newman to a stern faced Malcolm X. Two very Irish looking kids are selling green shirts with shamrocks on them. The text reads O'bama O'eight.
Around one corner and Jimmy Hendrix appears. The hat, the guitar, the face; a reasonable likeness. He is in demand for photos. "I don't have any money," a young man regrets. "That's all right Jimmy says, the next guy might give me $100." I give him a buck and he gives me the brother man greeting and moves on down the line.
Eventually we get inside Waterfront Park and wait for the appearance of the Obama family. The Willamette looks like McCovey cove with Bonds at bat. All types of kayaks, small personal water craft, a jet ski or two, and a few yachts. The county sheriff has two boats present, but they seem as eager to hear the speaker as everyone else.
The crowd waits and bakes. Some Oregonians are the whitest people I have ever seen. You'd think more would know about sun screen. A 40 year old skateborder who looks like a refugee from Telegraph avenue is shirtless and reddening by the minute. Sunlight flashes off his piercings and the blue letters T R U T H tattooed vertically on his left arm make his body as red white and blue as the flag sticking out of his hat.
Obama doesn't disappoint. "This is the most spectacular setting for any rally I have ever seen," he tells the crowd. He orates. We listen and punctuate with applause and cheering at all the right intervals. Most of us have heard every word already but we know that history is shining down on us too.
On our way out, we chance to pass behind the staging area where a small side street is blocked off. Obama stands outside his bus and is briefly visible. Fifty people sprint his way, most of them young women. It's all very orderly and over in a minute.
The crowd is diverse. For Portland, and Oregon, in general, the crowd is very diverse. They are Black, White, and Latino, they are Asian, some Native Americans, and of course, many people of mixed backgrounds. While definitely young, I saw a man about 90 walking alone, carrying a cane and a water bottle, and a look of determined delight.
The kids are tired. We explain that it is an important day and they seem to get that.
In this time of new technology it's important to note that every appearance of a candidate, every ball game, every rally has a sound track. When Obama left, there was no encore, just another stop along the way. There was, however, his music, Signed Sealed, Delivered. He's ours.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Wild Weekend

Saturday May 17, 2008
I think it might be time to use the "S" word. After Big Brown romped around the Pimlico oval and added another chapter in his brief record book, I could see Secretariat's Belmont. To compare the two, even 2/3 through the triple crown trail isn't wise. Big Red was certainly one for the ages, but Big Brown looked like one too.
Around the racetrack trainers and jockeys use the word freak. This is a supreme compliment. Miesque, who won the Breeder's Cup Mile two years in a row, was such an individual. A trainer I know who ran against him told me before the race that they were all running for second place. Such was the case Saturday. When Kent Desormeaux angled out for a bit more room turning for home, Big Brown eased to the lead with remarkable fluidity. His rivals looked desperate, ears pinned, legs churning, hearts broken. Big Brown pricked his ears crossing the wire, geared down, having hardly turned a hair.
I turned to the guy standing next to me at the track and said, "Wow." I turned back to the monitor and said, "Wow...Wow...Wow." Yes the race was dull in it's predictability to some; yes the bettor's were beside themselves, not knowing what to do, or if they should do nothing and just watch the race. (not an option for most)and yes, it is a complete downer that this newly crowned champion will run only one or two more times before heading to the breeding shed, but for now, and for the upcoming Belmont...Wow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Coffee and Crosswords

The coffee shop was unexpectedly crowded. No place to sit, barely an empty chair even at the tables occupied by one person reading or typing frantically at a keyboard. I'm going for green tea anyway, it's too late in the day for more caffeine. Besides, I can just stand here by the counter and quietly wait the four minutes steeping time recommended by the barista. Three minutes and fifty-five seconds later and no movement. Even the card table with the blue handicapped sign has two young women sprawled over its surface. Their purses and backpacks at one end, a newspaper crossword between them. They struggle with "an eight letter word for the largest city in Jamaica," but sense my presence and dilemma.
"Would you guys mind if I sat down here?" The one with darker hair looks up smiles, and says,"Oh no, go right ahead, here let me move something."
"Thanks," I reply," and I can help with that crossword too." Damn, why did I say that? I should be more sensitive to people's privacy. These two twenty somethings don't want some old fart meddling. And they were so nice to let me share the table. I'll just chill out. See, here's the deal. I am so comfortable talking to young adults that I unconsciously assume they feel as comfortable talking to me. Thirty years working with high school seniors will do that. I forget sometimes that they don't know me and I don't know them.
"Hey do you know the biggest city in Jamaica?" They both look up with hopeful eyes; the one with short blond hair is the scribe.
"Let's see," I say, "that's Kingston, I think; does that fit?" It does. And then it's on. They plod along but look up and ask, "How do you spell Nasdaq?" I oblige. Two minutes pass. I hear them baffled by a four letter word for "catch sight of..."
"Let me see that," E---. "It's e s p y." They look puzzled. "It's a crossword puzzle word," I explain. "You know, the kind of word that comes up all the time in puzzles."
"I've only been doing these a couple of years," says the dark haired one flashing a beautiful smile. "I started doing them my last year in college when I'd get bored."
"I started doing them regularly two years ago when I retired from teaching," I countered.
"Well I've got a degree in English and one in philosophy and I've never heard of some of these words," she counters.
"Doesn't matter, some are just crossword puzzle words."
In the next fifteen minutes we three finished the puzzle. A tripod of fists touched and then my two new friends decided to get lunch. I returned to my education article, trying to look terminally cool, but out on the edge of my vision, I espied the dark haired one turn and look back over her shoulder and flash that grin again.

Another Opportunity

Here's another opportunity:

Friday, May 9, 2008


The Chinese Character for Crisis includes the Character for Opportunity. It might actually be Danger = Opportunity. Or, it may or may not be true. Some say this is a "New Age" urban myth. Only those that can read Mandarin can be certain of the blended concepts here. No matter. In crisis there is often opportunity; that's the important thing.
Think of all the crises going on in your world, in your life, on the planet, in your mind. Nice to know that all are potential opportunities. That may be where the danger comes in. The danger of doing nothing. The danger of status quo. Complacency= no opportunity.

My top five crises:

War- not the answer, only mythology, terror, violence, breakdown of communication
Leadership-Help is on the way.
Present economic reality- make changes, give something back, drive less, move your ass, value the natural
Education-it's not what you cover, it's what you uncover; testing isn't teaching; harder does not mean relevant, curiosity, curiosity, curiosity.
Thoroughbred breeders- strength and stamina before all else. Greed makes winners lose. Greed is ugly. Greed dehumanizes.

Pay it Forward

Read this article:

That's What I'm Talkin About...

Eight Belles' Gift to Seabiscuit Author |
From even the greatest tragedy can come good. Eight Belles' death no doubt will be a catalyst for Thoroughbred racing to provide better safety for the ...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tell Me About Your Life

If you listen, people will tell you everything.  For such a loquacious person, I have come to the belief that if you listen, people will tell you everything.  From the grocery clerk to the person who you happen to sit next to in any public facility.  
     It's not always the case, but often, if someone begins a sudden conversation, sit back and listen.  You'll get it all.  Case in point: a few days ago I was privy to someone's drug dealing past. I heard all about his former life, why he doesn't need to go that route now, and, get this, why he really misses the good old days.  Cocaine was so reasonable.  Nowadays these meth heads have screwed up everything.  No argument from me, up here in the Northwest, they're taking anything metal that isn't nailed down, and even taking pipe cutters and welding torches to a few things that are.
"Tweakers" are so desperate for the almighty scrap metal dollar, they are going after statues in the park, catalytic converters under cars, fire hydrant fixtures, and all types of copper wiring.  
     So I'm listening and this dude is telling me everything.  His need to tell it is obviously greater than my need to hear it.  But, as a writer, it's how I learn things.  So I listen harder and he details his customers from a senator's son to a bulimic jockey.  Now I'm really listening; and he's really telling me everything.  
     He's so likable too.  Even when he tells me about a certain trip to Vegas when, "we turned the Jew on his head and took all his money."   Imagine him looking into my face and telling me all this.  Is he that out of it?  Apparently.
He spots an old friend in the crowd who asks what he's doing now. "I'm following the Cubs," he says, yeah, I go to a lotta ball games, the Cubs, the Giants sometimes, and the Roy-als." He refers to the Kansas City Royals as the Roy-als. It reminds me of the Travolta character in Pulp Fiction who was so amused that a Big Mac in France is called a "Royale with cheese." They'd like each other.
 So now I have a new friend.  Oh boy!
Eventually I move on.  He took off with his brother to have lunch and I saw a chance to change seats.  An hour later I feel a tap on my shoulder.  Deep in concentration I look up and guess who?  Fortunately, a quick handshake from my new bud and we part company.  
What a great day I had.  No really.

Monday, May 5, 2008


We hardly had time to enjoy the finish when we heard the news about Eight Belles.  I knew what was coming.  First the disbelief, then the onslaught of media spin, hypersensitivity and non-sensitivity.  I've been  watching all the network and wire service stories today. Most of them are either so lightweight or just plain get it wrong.  
In racing the highs are the highest and the lows are the lowest.  When they come so close together, it's an earthquake. 
     I never planned to write any "I told you sos" about Big Brown.  I said my piece two days before the race and cashed my tickets with the rest.  It was his day and that performance will always stand tall.  Sometimes when I go to the track and chat with people I can't resist the urge to tell them something I know about either a jockey or the sire or dam, or a trainer or some other bit of information I have come by in my years following the sport and writing for The Blood-Horse.  Now, being in Portland and knowing very few folks who go to the races I just keep quiet.  But I could hear Kent Desormeaux saying, "I took the freeway" as he angled Big Brown from the outside...way outside in the 20th position, all the way around and then stepped on the pedal to cruise home.  He used that phrase some years back when I had a chance to talk to him after winning a race in Northern California.  He knows that when your have the right vehicle being in the fast lane can be on the outside.  Avoid the surface streets, take the freeway.

     Saturday evening I just crashed.  It was all I wanted to do.  I'd planned to have a shot of Maker's Mark and watch the race again.  Another time, perhaps.  There is more sorting out to do.  Put in perspective with auto racing, boxing, skiing, and here in Oregon, mountain climbing, the sport of horse racing will survive.  If nothing else, hopefully more folks will learn more about horses, the people that care for them and their athletic ability.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Chance in a Lifetime in a Lifetime of Chance

One of the things that I love most about horse racing is that it demands risk.  It helps to have ice water in your veins from time to time.  Anything I want to say about the 134th Kentucky Derby I need to say now.  No one will care after the race.  Only what the participants say at 6:00 pm (Est)on Saturday May 3, 2008 will be worth listening to.  It will take that special combination of speed and stamina to prevail, as well as plenty of luck.  Some folks think the luck factor is the most important of all.  
     When the race is run my first concern will be that all 19 runners make it home safely.  The variables of running at Churchill Downs on Derby Day are amplified.  Jockey Paul Niccolo once told me that turning for home in the Derby is like entering a sound tunnel.  His horse was 50-1 but it took weeks to wipe the smile off his face.  "It was great just to be there," he reminisced.
This year's Derby like most is wide open.  Of course there will be a favorite, one horse will get lots of late money, one might drop out before the gates open 48 hours from now, and one horse will no doubt make a huge move in the final eighth of a mile.  
     The pundits are already spewing wildly.  I marvel at how easily some dismiss Big Brown.  When Rick Dutrow, his trainer calmly chose post position 20 (granted he had to pick 16th) it was such a "not to worry" smile he flashed.  He thinks he has another Spectacular Bid.  If the undefeated colt wins from out there, we'll know.  Some of us think we already do.
Look for Colonel John to run his race too.  Not all horses take to Churchill's "cuppy" surface; he does.
Finally, don't forget the Kentucky Oaks.  Tomorrow's filly race is offered in a daily double with the Derby.  I think it's one of the best bets in horse racing.  With the filly Eight Belles running in the Derby, the Oaks is wide open too.  I don't think this filly belongs in the Derby.  I certainly have nothing against running a filly in the Derby, it has to be the right one.  When I see Big Brown, I'll think of Winning Colors.  She, like he, was the right one.