Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Say goodbye to “the common good”

November 8, 2007

I ranted a couple of days ago about our cowardly legislators, and I suppose this is a related topic. The election results are in, and I am very depressed all over again.

I was born and grew up in Oregon, although I haven’t lived here all my life. But I’m old enough to remember when there WAS an Oregon. People who lived here or were from here were always proud of the fact. Oregon was different. It was, perhaps, peopled by an odd assortment of folks, but it worked, maybe because there were so many odd ones. They respected each other’s right to be odd.

Now, it seems we live in a divided state. It’s divided in many ways, but certainly the most obvious one is the urban/rural divide. And the differences are so great that it might as well be two different planets.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in three counties–Multnomah (Portland), Washington (Beaverton/Hillsboro), and Clackamas (the eastern suburbs). The combined weight of all these bodies (and votes) is enough to skew most elections in favor of what the urbanites want. And far, far too many of them have no idea what Oregon is really all about.

But what’s worse, they have no idea that what is a great solution for Portland may not play out so well in counties where the average town population is under 10,000 people. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Here are the election results:

Measure 49 (severing restricting the property rights voted in twice by the people of Oregon in majority votes, most recently in Measure 37): Passed handily, about 62% of the vote statewide. But the heavy yeses were all in the populous counties. The lesser populated counties had a mix, but generally voted no.

Measure 50 (adding a very large tax to each pack of cigarettes to pay for children’s health care): Failed. No one disagrees that children need health insurance, but as one columnist pointed out, if we really think it’s so important, a levy of $1.29 a month on each household would pay for the program. The legislature had extra money this year and opted to allocate not a cent of it for the project. I’d like to note at this point that Measure 50 actually passed in Multnomah County, the only county in which it did. But it did not pass by sufficient margin to outweigh the votes of the rest of the state. In more rural areas, people are aware that the ones they are taxing are their neighbors, and they seem more sensitive to issues of fairness.

I’m actually in favor of things like user fees. If they would tax cigarettes to pay for the increased health costs of smoking, I probably would even vote for that. If they would license bicycles to pay for bicycle lanes, I’l love it (and I would have a way to identify the asshole bicycle riders that you meet occasionally). Let’s increase alcohol taxes and spend the money on drunk driving enforcement and additional police officers and more treatment programs. That sort of thing actually makes sense.

One of the concepts that the original European settlers brought with them was the concept of “the commons.” Each of the old, old towns you find on the east coast has a “commons” area. The commons was a part of the landscape that residents shared. Each resident could graze a cow or sheep on the commons instead of having to have enough property to do it at their residence.

The commons was a cooperative concept. No one was allowed to hog the grazing space. It was for the good of all.

What I think we’ve lost is the idea that decisions should be measured in terms of what is “good for all.” It seems to have been replaced by “what is good for me”: “This is important, but I don’t want to pay for it. Who can we stick with the bill?”

I’m also tired of being barraged with the old canard that I need to maintain my place in its pristine condition so that city residents can take a drive in the country and enjoy the view. Aside from the fact that they often trespass, leave behind beer cans and other garbage, and roar down the road with radios blaring, I frankly don’t think it’s my responsibility to maintain their amusement. Of course, if they wanted to help pay my property taxes and other maintenance costs, I might feel differently.

I have another rant about our state’s largest newspaper, but I think it’s going to have to wait for tomorrow.

But I have to admit I’m mulling over new possible meanings for the “not im my back yard” attitude.

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.

I suppose this is why I blog

August 28, 2007

My mailbox today had a couple of comments from people I’ve never met but suspect I would like to–Nathan and ClapSo.

Nathan lives in Israel, and I met him virtually in the course of my former employment. He was a great source for some articles I wrote, and in the process proved himself witty and simpatico. When I think about the madness in the Middle East, Nathan and people like him are always a consideration.

ClapSo feels a bit like an alter ego. When I lived in the Bay Area (in what seems like a completely different lifetime), he would have been one of the folks who sat and drank wine and smoked assorted things with me and argued (less lucidly as the evening went on, admittedly) about whatever the hot topics of the evening were. And he’s a poet, a nice synergy there, too.

Blogging is a way of sending thoughts out into the atmosphere and seeing what comes back ( a little like those SETI researchers I wrote about earlier).

Tomorrow is my regular writing-group day, so I’m going to have to go off shortly and get prepared for that. The generator is running on fumes at the moment because I was too lazy to fill it earlier, and I expect my UPS to get a field test any minute.

Here are some things I have learned from my garden this summer:

  • How to extend the life of basil: When it starts to flower, cut the main plant off leaving just two leaves at the base and water it like crazy. It grows a whole new plant.
  • Herbs are really important: It really doesn’t matter what you have to cook. If you have good fresh herbs, almost anything can become ambrosia.
  • The late crop of raspberries is even better than the first crop: Most of these are nearly an inch long. A handful makes a great breakfast.
  • You can rejuvenate cabbages, too: If you cut them off just right when harvesting, the root and a couple of leaves that you leave will grow a whole new crop of mini-cabbages, sort of like giant brussel sprouts. They steam beautifully.
  • Never say die: If you get one of those weird years where you’re having plenty of sun but little heat (like we are this summer), plant a second crop of the brassicas and lettuce. They do just fine.
  • Flowers scattered through the vegetable garden feed the soul the way the fruits and vegetables feed the garden.

It’s a lovely evening tonight, but now I have to go type in my revisions and print out the stuff I need tomorrow.

ClapSo, I haven’t forgotten that you tagged me, and I promise to act on it this week.

UFOs, unexplained events, and the laugh of the day

June 8, 2007

This just hit my mailbox, and I must confess that I can’t resist posting it, even knowing the FBI is probably already monitoring this blog:

“Many will recall that, on July 8, 1947, witnesses claimed an unidentified object, with five aliens aboard, crashed onto a sheep and cattle ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico.

” This is a well-known incident which many say has long been covered up by the United States Air Force and the federal government.

“However, what you may NOT know, is that in the month of March 1948, exactly nine months later, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Condoleezza Rice, and Dan Quayle were all born.

See what happens when aliens breed with ranch animals? This information may clear up a lot of questions.”

Actually, if I had just known that these people were in all likelihood all Pisces, it would have explained a lot. . .

Slogging through my poetry manuscript, I discover that Whig has weighed in. . .

June 4, 2007
  • whig Says:
    June 3rd, 2007 at 6:32 am   editMy needs are to have a way to live together with people in a society which does not sustain itself on the blood of the innocent, which does not sacrifice people on the altar of profit, which acts to benefit humanity and all of us who will have to share this world in the future.
  •  I think this is in response to a comment on a previous post.

    Whig, I doubt that there’s a person reading this that would not agree with you. But I have to ask: What does that society look like? Not the abstract higher aims, but the reality.

     An example of what I mean:

     You wrote: “a  society which does not sustain itself on the blood of the innocent, which does not sacrifice people on the altar of profit.”

    What does that look like? If I’m part of a 10K-employee firm, do I get 1/10,000 of the profits? Who’s shedding blood? Where?

    I’m not trying to be a smart-ass. But I need something a great deal more concrete than what you offered me to even know what we’re discussing. Give me your vision for consideration, please.

    And please don’t forget to identify your standards for what benefits humanity. I suspect this is another area where there might be radical differences of opinion.

    Whig, I’m not trying to put you on the spot, just to point up the places where language, particularly abstract language, gets us into a great deal of trouble as a society/culture.

    This is why I think politics has nothing to really offer us. No one can get elected on anything but an abstract platform.

    Think globally, act locally

    May 23, 2007

    I’m not very good at being retired, I think. When interesting opportunities present themselves, I find myself jumping up and waving my hand saying, “Me! Me! I’ll do it!” when anyone with an ounce of common sense would look the other way or, in Army parlance, take one step backward.

    I am getting to that time of life when you look backward and say, “Things were so much simpler then.” But people have been doing that for centuries, no, millenia, and while it may be true, it’s basically irrelevant.

    The world changes, and people must change with it.

    But some things are, in my opinion, nearly universally true. One of them is this: If we are all to get along, then we have to communicate with each other.

    And I’m not sure we’re doing a very good job of that now.

    We have more ways to communicate and to communicate more quickly than we have ever had. But it feels to me as if there is less real communication going on than at any time during my lifetime. We are polarized as people, in this camp or that. I’m not just talking about the “red state/ blue state” phenomenon (I think this is largely a media and wonk invention). But we seem to be losing the ability to empathize with others, in our own culture and in other cultures, just as the world is shrinking faster than the ice floes we’re all worried about.

    We line up in our positions and take a stand. If someone disagrees with us, we shout at them or call them stupid. But too often, if you quiz someone about a position they’ve taken, they know very little of the real facts behind the problem. They’ve been sold a sound bite or a rallying cry, and they will stick to it without any real understanding of the issues involved.

    Communication is inherently two-way. You talk, I listen. I talk, you listen. And we don’t just listen, we hear, we register somewhere deep in our cores the problems you are concerned about, the problems I am concerned about. And we internalize them. I may absolutely disagree with a solution you propose to something that is bothering you, but I understand at a gut level why it concerns you and am willing to help try to find a solution amenable to us both.

    My needs and interests may be different than yours, but that doesn’t make them any more important. We are both people.

    But none of this happens unless we freely communicate with and listen to each other.

    An opportunity has presented itself to perform a little experiment, to see if it’s still possible to bridge some of those ideological gaps and get people actually talking not to, but with, each other.

    I’m not going to say a lot more about it at this time. There are some “i”s to be dotted and “t”s to be crossed first. It’s very much a local sort of thing, but it feels like a step forward. And it involves Marianne’s salon going live, face to face. I’ll update things here periodically.

    Wish me luck.

    “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”–FDR

    May 15, 2007

    One of my great pleasures each week is reading the Sunday NY Times Magazine from front to back. Actually, it’s usually back to front, because I always start with the puzzles on the next to last page.

    It offers many of the hallmarks of a well-edited publication, including this one: The articles included are often synergistic. When you have read the whole magazine, you realize that the individual pieces complement each other in such a way that the sum adds up to more than the individual pieces. This week’s magazine was no exception.

    I haven’t even read the premier feature article this week. It is about the exodus from Iraq of many of the people who could help rebuild the nation. But after reading the other stories, I think I already know what it’s going to say. Here’s why.

    The critical essay, the one that tells you what most of the rest of the issue is about, is by Israeli novelist David Grossman, a piece called “Writing in the Dark.” He begins by talking about Kafka’s fabled mouse, who is caught in a trap with a cat lurking nearby. The mouse says, “Alas. . .the world is growing narrower each day.”

    Grossman builds on this to talk about the ways in which we use language to deceive ourselves. My friend Whig has written elsewhere that he never deceives himself with language. I hope that is true, but I doubt it. To fail to deceive ourselves in times of terrible pain might become unbearable.

    Grossman writes: “Fear makes us shut down our sensibilities.” He is careful to note that he is not just writing about current conflicts in the middle East, although these obviously weigh heavy on his mind. But what he is obviously concerned about is the weigh we jigger language to reduce our pain or our sense of inevitable disaster. He writes: “The language with which the citizens of a sustained conflict describe their predicament becomes progressively shallower the longer the conflict endures.”

    Grossman’s main point seems to be this: By writing, and by writing as truthfully as we know how, we can prevent that shrinkage of the world. Writing opens our eyes and our hearts, It makes our world bigger.

    This has also been my experience.

    When the truth is unbearable, whether it’s international conflict, interpersonal relationships, or any other circumstance that’s weighs heavily on our sensibilities, we find ways to describe it that mitigate or deaden the effect. We become somewhat less than fully human in our efforts to avoid pain.

    Also in this issue is an interview with Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey. In it she (as did Grossman) talks about the conflict between imagination and memory. Her prize-winning book is, in many ways, about her mother, who was murdered.

    She makes this interesting observation: ” For the sake of sanity, there is a lot of necessary forgetting. But the trick is to balance forgetting with necessary remembering, to avoid historical amnesia.”

    At any rate, there’s a terrific amount of meat in this week’s magazine. If you’d like to read some of it, you can find it here.

    Another day, another $.50, blah, blah

    May 6, 2007

    Elsewhere, Rabbit has written aabout the difficulty of writing in a blog when you don’t feel like you have anything to say. But she is determined to write anyway, and I applaud that.

    So I’ll try to emulate her example even though I still don’t have anything remarkable (or perhaps even worth remarking on) to say.

    My daughter is out visiting this weekend, so I’ve actually had a rather enjoyable day. We listened today to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” my favorite NPR show, and are still laughing tonight over dinner at one of the new stories.

    A group of kindergarten children in California were completely traumatized, to the point that they went home and told their parents, by an old weird man with a guitar who came to their school and sang really scary songs. The story: Bob Dylan decided to entertain his grandson’s kindergarten class. Presumably the teacher was old enough to be a Dylan fan and acquiesced. This was the result.

    Today I planted onions and beans to join the rest of the crops already there. I’m fighting with my in-house starts–squash, cukes, and melons, for the most part. I picked up a seed packet a week or so ago to read it and almost fell on the floor laughing. When I could talk again, I read it to Ben: “Plant a week after the last frost, when soil temperature reaches 70 degrees.” Here in the Northwest, soil temperature reaches 70 degress about 4 months after the last frost, so clearly alternative methods are called for.

    I don’t yet have a greenhouse, so I start these things on my kitchen counter. From a temperature standpoint, it works pretty well, but my kithcen has limited daylight, so as soon as the seeds sprout, they start getting really leggy and I have to move them outside where even when the weather is clear the temperatures aren’t what one would want. I’ll be able to give you a better report on success in a couple of months.

    Today we made apricot scones and bacon for breakfast, catch-as-catch-can lunch, and  grilled fresh halibut with steamed broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes for dinner. It was actually pretty yummy.

    The current New Yorker magazine has a terrific profile of Barack Obama. Despite my apoliticism, this young man has appeal for me. I’ve seen him in live TV appearances a couple of times, and I’ve always come away impressed. He reminds me a little of JFK, and for a lot of the same reasons–an outsider, limited experience, a member of the “other” (people have forgotten what a big deal it was that Kennedy was Catholic), and seemingly infinitely calm and sane.

    It’s hard to say what Kennedy would have left as a legacy had he survived. I don’t really understand why anyone would want to be president of this country. It seems to age everyone who serves at an incredible rate. But Obama’s reason seems as good as any–he thinks he has something “special” to offer. 

    OK, I’ve done my $.50 worth for today.

    A bad year for the neocons. . .

    April 29, 2007

    A couple of years ago an acquaintance of mine whose political leanings are far, far to the left of mine (I don’t discriminate against people for their political beliefs–I have so few it seems silly) pointed me at a Web site for the “Project for a New American Century.”

    When I got over the arrogance of it (what are these people smoking, anyway?), I frankly just sort of blew it off. It seemed like total idiocy to be spouting a “new American century” in a world becoming “globalized” at lightning speed. There is no longer any place for jingoism. We can only hope that humanism (people for people, regardless) gets a fair hearing.

    If you look at the folks who signed the statement of principles on this Web site, you’ll find the names Scooter Libby (although he’s identified as I. Lewis Libby, apparently to give the weight of seriousness to his participation), Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney. “You can fool some of the people some of the time. . .”

    I actually feel a little sorry for George W. Bush. He is a dumb little banty rooster of a boy who is so far out of his league that it is laughable. And he picked the wrong companions, a circumstance that has done in others a lot smarter than he is.

    The way I live now

    March 31, 2007

    The thumping silence echoing back from my posts on globalization, global warming, and democracy in  America makes it very hard to continue on with this. This brings on a certain tristesse. My daughter says I’m far too pessimistic. I say she’s looking at far too small a picture. But it time to change horses, at least for the moment.

     Here are a couple more pictures from our place that I thought you might enjoy. As always, click on the thumbnail to see the real thing.

    This is a picture of Big Creek, my favorite spot on the place. It’s about halfway from our house to our gate.

    big-creek.jpg

    On the lower left you’ll see the lovely stone bench mother nature brought me a couple of years ago, dropping the seat and the back rest into the middle of the creek. The moss that now covers them just makes them more comfortable to sit on and write.

    When I went off to write on Tuesday, this sign greeted me at Big Creek:

    sign.jpg

    Now, no one in this household is given to stealing highway signs, but occasionally they fall from assorted trucks and are left in the middle of the road. There’s no good alternative except to pick it up and get it out of the way. I thought the guys found a good use for this one.

    Of course, you need to know that just above the creek in the previous picture is a whole swath of truly gorgeous trilliums cascading down the rock wall. I tried to take a picture of them, but I screwed it up. Another time, I guess.