Archive for October, 2007

Our legislators are a bunch of cowards

October 30, 2007

OK, so I don’t usually write about politics. Mostly that’s because I find the whole topic disgusting. There’s something in me that wants my elected officials to live up to the vision of the Constitutional Convention, a vision that had regular folks (OK, white males that owned property) going off to do the nation’s (or state’s) business as a form of public service, then returning home to live out the rest of their regular lives.

I admit it. I’m on a tear tonight.

This comes from reading my Oregon voters’ pamphlet over and over and wanting to go out and shake my fist at the sky and shout curses. What is wrong with these people?

I want my elected representatives to figure out what’s required to do the business of the government and then to get on with making it happen. I don’t want a bunch of numb-nuts (an old car-racing expression) calculating what will make them more popular in the next election cycle. I think decisions should be made based on what is right, fair, and practical, not on what will make the official more popular with the voting public and able to come back and suck from the public trough for another two, four, or six years.

I want people of character and courage. There don’t seem to be too may of them around any more, at least among our elected officials.

As an electorate, we probably have only ourselves to blame. When someone running for office had the audacity to tell the truth, we pilloried them. I’m thinking here of national figures like Edmund Muskie and Thomas Eagleton, but I suspect local examples abound as well.

What I don’t want are the sort of people we have in office now, people who are afraid to make the hard decisions. Instead, the elect to send the to “the voters,” a singularly ignorant bunch of consumers who, it appears, can be easily swayed by political rhetoric and a NIMBY attitude–“If it doesn’t have a negatice impact on me, I’m all for it whether it makes any sense or not.”

My ballot has two measures on it (actually three, but one is local and so non-controversial as to be ignored). These two measures have in common that they can be presented in language so distorted as to be downright deceptive. One is an attempt to circumvent the clearly expressed will of the people of the state of Oregon, clearly expressed in not one but two elections. It truly is, as opponents have advertised, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Measure 49 will probably pass because the majority of the people who will be voting on it are too lazy to read the entire measure and too ignorant to understand what it really says if they did.

Measure 50 is another animal altogether. It’s a blatant attempt to raise taxes by assessing a minority too small to obstruct it: smokers. But it is an absolutely immoral and irrational approach to goverment and to government financing.

The Oregonian supports both measures. I don’t know if the editorial staff is that dumb or if they have been co-opted somehow. But I’m disgusted, thoroughly.

This, of course, is only part of the problem. I’ve wondered for years how people elected to do the most important business of the republic could be so caught up in sexual peccadilloes and fantasies that they could ignore the business of the government to address moral issues. If Larry Craig is not fit to represent Idaho, it seems to me that this is a decision for the people of Idaho, not the U. S. Senate. Focusing on scandal is a way of ignoring the important things that need to be done.

This is the end of this rant. I can’t fix these things, any more than Tiresias could protect Oedipus from his fatal flaws. But I think I feel better for having vented.

Life in the country, contemplating birds

October 25, 2007

It’s gorgeous and sunny here, and I probably should be out doing some of the things that need doing in the yard, but instead I’m trying to complete a writing assignment and using this as an excuse not to do so. Also, it’s very cold out there for a wimp like me (hasn’t yet hit 45 degrees today), so it’s also more fun to be in here keeping the fire going.

I’ve been thinking a lot about birds this morning, probably because that’s what I’ve decided to write about, if and when I ever get around to writing it. But so much of what we conjecture about our world here revolves around observing the wildlife.

We didn’t get our usual sunny October. It started raining around the first of the month and, with a break of a couple of days, has rained pretty steadily since. This is what we all call November weather. But somehow the birds knew it was going to happen. The hummingbirds and swallows migrated nearly a month early this year, just disappeared the way they do, headed for South American or the Mexican Riviera to ride out the winter in a less cold spot. And I saw the first bald eagle of the season this morning, also about a month earlier than I expected. They winter here and fish the river, and in January they’re very common. But not in October.

A big old ruffed grouse, the biggest we’ve ever seen, was hanging around the woodshed yesterday pruning and eating the twigs from some brush. It was so large I thought at first it was a rabbit, but then I got the glasses and got a better look.

Haven’t seen the cougar again, which is fine with me, but the fact that it made an appearance so close to the house has everyone a little ruffled. It makes you pay attention (and carry a pistol) when you’re out walking around. Logging has reduced their habitat, and with the new restrictions on hunting, the populations are exploding, so I expect we’ll see more of them.

Tonight feels like black bean soup with vegetables and sherry to me. I think with a big plate of Southern-style hot biscuits it will suit my mood perfectly.

Wildlife, and getting wilder

October 8, 2007

I went to Salem yesterday to sort through some things with family, and so I missed all the excitement.

Ben was working in his office and looked out the window (early afternoon) to see a mountain lion strolling across the meadow about 50 yards from the house. !!!

We know they’re around here. We’ve heard them mating, and I’ve seen two cubs in the last three months while on the road. This one, Ben estimated, was probably about a year old, bigger than the cubs I’ve seen but smaller than a mature lion. To have it close to the house in broad daylight was a little scary. Ben’s right, I need to dust off my .38 special.

Our wildlife here is generally pretty reserved and people-contact-averse. I prefer it that way, I must admit. We don’t keep animals, but several of our neighbors do. The deer have been a little sparse this year (very scarce now that hunting season is on us–I’m not sure how they know, but they seem to), so I suspect the lion was looking for something to eat. The neighbors are now officially alerted.

My DSL has been down for two days. I hate working by dial-up, but at least I can still get online. The DSLAN is down for the whole valley, so I can’t even take it personally.

Holy crap! In praise of White Lily flour

October 6, 2007

A couple of decades ago (plus a few years), I invited a total stranger to Thanksgiving dinner. This was set up by a mutual friend who said, “I wonder if you would do this for me. If you don’t Adele will be alone on Thanksgiving, and that shouldn’t happen.” So I invited Adele to share our crazy family feast.

For some reason, that year I was doing the whol Martha Stewart thing. I had new china (still have it, and it’s still glorious) and some heirloom crystal butter dishes that were round. Round butter dishes? But I had seen somewhere (despite my previous comments, this is long before anyone had ever heard of Martha Stewart) instructions for molding butter into little shapes under cold water. So I made two absolutely fabulous butter roses to go in my round butter dishes. I’ve never done it again. . .

But here’s what I remember most about that day: I walked into the dining room to see Adele, drink in hand, talking to my 7-year-old daughter. “Listen, Inger,” she said. “I am 52 years old and I’ve never been anywhere before that they shaped the butter like roses. That means that no matter how old you get, there are always new experiences to be had, and you should welcome them.”

I’m thinking about this today because I bought some new flour this week. Actually, I bought it about 10 days ago, but what with shipping and stuff, it only arrived three days ago.

Flour? Flour is flour, you say, and a few days ago I would have agreed. But those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know that I REALLY like to cook. And this particular flour, White Lily, kept surfacing in odd places–a recipe from “The Splendid Table,” a story in the Atlantic Monthly about scones.

Now, when something repeats itself, the universe is trying to tell you something. So I shopped, and looked, and searched, and I couldn’t find White Lily flour anywhere. That only made me more determined. So I looked on the Web.

It’s a southern product, and it has mostly been distributed regionally. The company was recently bought by Smuckers, so this is probably going to change. I hope the distribution is all that changes. This is an amazing flour.

My browser hated their shop online site, I suspect because it was redirecting to Smuckers. So I sent and e-mail and said, “Help! I want to buy your flour. What can I do?” Within minutes I got and 800 number to call. I ordered three different kinds (interestingly enough, not including the one I was most interested in, probably because I was so flustered trying to do it by phone instead of by Web site).

The flour arrived three days ago. The first day, I made white cornbread, something I’d never made before. The second day I used the bread flour to make my artisanal French bread. Today I made a pie using the all-purpose flour. I think it might be the most beautiful pie I ever made. We’re about to cut into it, so we’ll see if it lives up to expectations, but I have very high hopes.

This is amazing stuff. You can feel the difference when  you touch it. It talks to fats better than any flpur I’ve ever used. It requires less water for pastry dough, so I’m confident the pastry will be tender. The bread flour is very high-gluten. You can feel the difference when you knead it.

I’m in love. I’m about to place another order, and next time I’m in town I’m going to see if I can’t get our local organic store to stock it.

For years I’ve been buying what I perceived was the best flour I could get at the market. To discover that there is something out there so far superior to anything I’ve ever touched is an eye-opener.

There’s a new experience to be had every day. Savor them.

A big apology to my online community–I do care about you

October 5, 2007

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Dave that said something like “OK, it’s close enough to thirty days since you posted that I’m worried about you.”

 He’s right. It’s not fair to just abandon things in mid-stream. But I’ve suffered from an amazing period of not being able to write. Here is the cause of the blockage:

My brother Tom is almost certainly dying. His doctor has told him that he no longer has any faith that his treatments will substantially improve his condition. The chemo has stopped the growth of the tumors in his lungs. The tumors in his head continue to grow. In a couple of weeks, they’ll try a slightly different treatment. But the prognosis is not good, and in the meantime, he is in pain.

I didn’t want to write that, but perhaps, having done so, I can go on and write about something else. I hope so.

At the moment, what I really want to do is go out in the night into the darkest part of the woods and scream at the universe about the unfairness of it all. If I thought it would really help, I would. But somehow I’m losing faith that the universe really cares.

Untimely death shakes your faith in “truth, justice, and the American way,” to quote someone (Superman, perhaps?). Death is a part of the life cycle, but it belongs in its proper place. It should not be allowed to intrude out of turn where it’s not expected.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn. There is a scene right after an untimely and brutal death where Zorba asks: “Why do the young die?”

The Englishman responds: “No one can answer that, although many men have tried to.”

Zorba, in exasperation, says: “What’s the good of all your damned books if they can’t tell you that?”

I’ve paraphrased the dialogue, but that exchange has stuck with me for 30 years or more. I’m a great believer in books. But I’m also a great believer in order, and frankly, the older I get, the less there is.