Saturday, December 26, 2009

I'm a Jack Russell Terrier

Who knows how accurate these things are but . . .

Wonder about your inner canine? Find out at

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Depressing Quote of the Day

From Section A-1, p. 26 New York Times, Sunday, December 20th in regards to the new gelded health care bill. Just in time for Christmas:


"The insurance companies were probably among the merriest of industries last week. Because the legislation mandates that everyone buy insurance, those companies stand to gain 30 million new customers - and there will be no government plan to compete with.

"But the drug companies were certainly joyful, too. So far, they have kept intact a deal with the White House to bar the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada and elsewhere. In exchange, they agreed to give up $80 billion over 10 years through discounts and rebates."

Unlike Congress, I am speechless, simply speechless.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bin Laden . . . the New "Snowball?"

George Orwell, wherever he is now residing, has probably noticed a resemblance between the ANIMAL FARM character "Snowball" in exile and Osama Bin Laden. And he may be laughing.

Today's "Oregonian" ran an Associated Press article that says, in part:

"Osama bin Laden may be slipping back and forth from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Or the U.S. might not have a clue, more than eight years after the al-Quaida leader masterminded the terrorist attacks on America."

Recall that "Snowball" the pig was one of two faction leaders in the book ANIMAL FARM after the farm animals declared their independence and became self-governing; the other was the boar, "Napoleon." "Napoleon" staged a coup and drove "Snowball" out of the barnyard and the Animal Farm boundaries. Nothing was seen of "Snowball" after his narrow escape from "Napoleon's" attack dogs but thereafter he was conjured up to explain every mishap, theft or problem to occur on the farm. Because he was such a useful bogeyman and scapegoat, no serious attempt was ever made to hunt him down or to capture him.

We're far beyond 1984, but we find ourselves in a future drearily reminiscent of a literary past we should have learned from.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Seen this evening on Twitter:

"Switching from Afghanistan talk to the Knicks game. At least with the Knicks there is a small chance it will end well."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More On Health Care

Steve Adcock, writing on the website, Small Government Times, recently brought up an interesting point regarding the idea of mandatory health coverage:

Is mandatory health insurance Constitutional?

Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, was asked by the web site to cite the Constitutional authority for the government to require the American people to buy health insurance. Apparently, Reed will have to get back with us on that one.

"Specifically where in the Constitution does Congress get its authority to mandate that individuals purchase health insurance?" asked Reed.

"I would have to check the specific sections, so I’ll have to get back to you on the specific section," Reed said. "But it is not unusual that the Congress has required individuals to do things, like sign up for the draft and do many other things too, which I don't think are explicitly contained [in the Constitution]."

Unbelievable. We have a sitting politician in Washington D.C. who admits Congress has used the government to require mandates of the American people without explicit authorization from the very document that provides the government with their just authority.

"It gives Congress a right to raise an army, but it doesn't say you can take people and draft them. But since that was something necessary for the functioning of the government over the past several years, the practice on the books, it's been recognized, the authority to do that."

It gives Congress a right to raise an Army and a Navy, Senator. Read Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution for more on what you, and your fellow colleagues, can legitimately do with the power that our election process has provided you.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the government has never required the American people to purchase a good or service, and doing so would be an "unprecedented form of federal action".


The only other exception I could think of where mandated purchase of a product is involved is car insurance, but people can choose whether to buy a car or not. Not everybody is forced to purchase car insurance. And the thing that necessitates car insurance - an accident that might impinge upon the property and person of someone else - doesn't exist in a situation where one's own health is the only consideration.

I don't think this argument is going to fly but it deserves attention. What kind of a world do we live in where nobody has the guarantee of safety, a job or a roof over their head but they could be forced to pay into a system where money they can't afford to spend goes down the toilet year after year against their will? That's the way the American insurance system is set up and it doesn't appear that that is going to change.

I guess, in another way, we are forced to pay for a service that we'll probably never see . . . social security. But again, only if we're working. Nobody makes us pay into social security . . . or even pay taxes . . . if we are unemployed. And a good thing, since so many of us are.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Fundamental Unfairness of American Health Care

Re. the health care debate, my primary question is: Why must people be legally compelled to buy health insurance? If they can do so because the insurance available is affordable and gives them the protection they need, they'll do so. If not, why punish them?

There are two important facets of any useful universal health care plan: the first is availability . . . to be able to be insured regardless of preexisting conditions. The second is affordability. I don't see that the second aspect is being adequately addressed.

And the single most aggravating thing about insurance of any kind is that it doesn't carry over. I pay thousands of dollars every year for health insurance and homeowner's insurance (and did, for car insurance, before I sold my car) and at the end of every year, everything rolled back to zero and started over again with the inevitable deductable. It's like dropping money into a hole. And if one changes jobs, it's not possible to carry the insurance over without extra expense and even if allowed, it doesn't last for long. The odds are stacked in favor of the insurance companies.

Why not just call it a legalized "protection" racket, which is what it is.

Doctors and dentists have begun to fight back by insisting that customers pay the complete bill for visits the day of the appointment and then make them go after reimbursement from the insurance company. This is the single reason I have not had any dental checkups or work for 8 years. I can't afford to pay $200-$300 or more and then wait a couple of months to be reimbursed. I don't HAVE that sort of discretionary income. And so what happens is that I have a yearly checkup for which I pay a deductible and the rest of the money I pay into health insurance goes directly into the coffers of the insurance company.

I suppose that later, when I become elderly and my health fails I might be able to take proper advantage of my health insurance but by then I probably won't be working for the place that has subscribed to a plan I'm paying thousands into.

It reminds me of the company birthday lunches I used to attend where I'd get a salad, watch co-workers throw back drinks and have steaks and then get the entire thing split up equally among everybody present. It's not fair but nobody seems to be paying any attention to what's happening.

It sucks.
Most amusing sign seen recently near work:


Which makes me wonder if there's any such thing as Cold Molten Zinc. And if there is, should we be afraid of it, too?

Friday, November 20, 2009

"One feels so damn sorry for writers, the poor posers. People like Hemingway and Yeats spend their whole lives trying to make good a pose because they despise themselves. They put infinite time and energy into trying to make themselves come true, when they know that it's all a damn lie, anyway."

-- James Dickey
"I never expect to see politicians tell the people: 'Quit buying. Quit using all that electrical stuff. Quit traveling all over the world. Quit driving. Just eat, be happy you are breathing and work to grow your mind and soul and let's see if we can come to understand this ruined world around us and how to heal it -- or at least do less damage. Let us change our entire idea about what constitutes governance, and work and happiness.'

"That's what it will take."

-- Joe Bageant

Friday, November 13, 2009

Terms That Should Be Taken Out and Shot

I'd like to see the following terms disappear. And the sooner, the better:

"Vigilant" - as in "be vigilant" about any boogeyman the government wants to use to manipulate us or distract us from the things that really deserve attention. If we were truly "vigilant" about everything we're told to be "vigilant" about, we'd be emotionally exhausted. Maintaining a vigil means, "keeping awake during the time usually given to sleep." The public is supposed to be so disturbed and upset by whatever the threat du jour is that it exhausts itself watching for real or imagined threats.

"Consumers" - as a designation for shoppers. It depersonalizes people, consigning them to a single flock whose behavior is lemminglike enough to predict and control.

"Make no mistake" - as demeaning and preachy a phrase as ever came down the pike. It says: "We know what you're thinking and it's wrong. You should think this way." The assumption is insulting to any discriminating and informed person.

"The Homeland" - What's wrong with "America?" The term "homeland" reeks of xenophobia and conjures up images of Nazi Germany.

"The War in Iraq" or "The War in Afghanistan" - They aren't conventional wars. They are, at best, preemptive strikes, conflicts or occupations. Call them what they are.

"The War on Terror", "The War on Drugs", etc. etc. - Wake up, congressmen and women. You can't declare war on a noun. Or at least you can't declare war on a noun and hope to win such a war. The perpetual inclination to define any sort of task in terms of warfare or sports isn't a positive or a sensible thing.

"Is thought to work . . ." - as in those pharma commercials. That says to me, it's not proven. What's more, it suggests that they really don't know if it can help you. Shame. I also loathe the use of the word, "as" in these commercials. "If this terrible side effect happens, let your doctor know, as it is . . ." What in the world is wrong with the word, "because?" Why in the world - other than money - does our government allow pharmaceutical companies to flog drugs on television? They didn't use to. It's second-guessing medical professionals - your doctor. My guess? Your doctor hates it when patients come in *asking* for a particular drug that may not even be appropriate. This advertising also permits drug companies to push drugs as a primary solution, giving little or no lip service to diet and exercise . . . not allowing older patients to reconcile themselves to the fact that some things decline with age and trying to hang on to them could actually endanger one's health.

"ED" - Call it what it is. You can't get it up. Or you're impotent. Do we have "respiratory dysfunction" if we have a cold? Or "perception dysfunction" if we don't get a joke? Or perhaps "financial dysfunction" if we bounce a check. Sheesh.

"Pandemic" - wait until distribution of a disease actually qualifies it for this term.

The use of "quote-unquote" without putting anything BETWEEN the quotes so people know WHAT you're referring to.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Leash You Can Do

Your dog is off lead, trotting yards ahead of you, out of your control and sometimes out of your sight as you talk on your cell phone, text message or chat with your walking partner. Maybe you are carrying a plastic bag to pick up his droppings. Maybe you can’t be bothered.

Let me introduce myself:

I am the frail elderly person your “friendly” dog jostled and caused to drop my groceries and walking stick. I know he may not have meant any harm but I was alarmed. If I fall I could break my hip and if I did, not only would I suffer, you would be responsible for my medical bills.

I am the small child your dog cruised up to and began to lick on the face and hands. Perhaps I am enjoying the attention but maybe I’m afraid. I might begin to cry or shriek, causing your dog to become more excited – perhaps knocking me over or nipping me. My parent will not appreciate a mouth that may have recently consumed feces or been under the tail of another dog covering my face with saliva.

I am a small breed dog that was stepped on, mauled or harassed by your loose dog. My owner has grown tired of picking me up in order to rescue me from large loose dogs who rush up at me. Some of them are aggressive and try to get at me in my owner’s arms. Maybe they only want to play but maybe not. My owner has me on a leash and is following the law. I am not bothering anybody else. Why are you?

I am the owner of a people-loving, dog-disliking breed. You are turning our daily walks into a hell . . . an obstacle course . . . causing us to forgo trips to the park because you exercise your dog off lead outside of the off lead dog area. Your dog spots mine and makes a beeline for us. I don’t care if your dog is friendly or wants to fight. My dog does not want anything to do with your dog and the situation is only made worse because she is on a leash and your dog is not. Keep your dog away from us!

I am the jogger in Forest Park who rounded a corner and stepped in a pile of poop left by the off lead dog you did not pick up after because he was so far ahead or behind you that he was out of sight when he did the deed. I’m also the walker who was knocked off the trail by your dog when he charged by me in his rush to chase wildlife.

I am the driver who hit your loose dog. He had spotted something attractive on the other side of the road and all of your whistling and shouting couldn’t prevent him from darting into traffic. I love dogs and my heart is broken. This was so unnecessary. Why couldn’t you keep him on a leash? Most of us don’t live on 40 acres, we live in an urban setting that we share with others.

I am a dog hater. I post venomous messages on Craig’s list and in other forums. Your loose dog makes it easy for me to convince others that companion dogs don’t belong in apartment buildings and shouldn’t be allowed in public parks. Thanks folks, you’re making my job easy.

In truth, I am none of these things. I am only a dog writer who loves dogs and whose heart sinks a little lower every time I see one of the above scenarios occur. Please be responsible. I know it feels “cool” to walk along with your big, loose dog surging happily ahead of you, off lead. I know you think you have “voice control”. I know your dog “just wants to be friends.” I know you think it is cruel to put a dog on a leash and that he “hates it.” Leashing your dog outside of your own home and yard and designated off-lead park areas is not only the law in Portland, it is a kindness to your dog and to your neighbors. It also protects you from the expense and heartache involved in being held financially liable for damage and trauma that occur if your dog injures someone else, whether intentionally or accidentally.

For dog’s sake, leash your canine friend.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"As you get older, you laugh less because you've heard most of the jokes before."

- John Cleese

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where the Wild Things Went

This delightful bit from Jonathan Carroll's blog:

"One of the most famous children's books in America is Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. The story, in short, is about a very bad little boy named Max who is sent to bed without dinner one night because he's been so naughty. But as soon as he gets to his room, The Wild Things-- wonderful monsters of all shapes and sizes-- appear and they all play happily together till morning. Max is delighted and has no fear of them. He's a brave little guy. Sendak has said readers often ask what he thinks happened to Max when he grew up. One night years ago the author was at a dinner party in New York. Seated next to him was the actress Sigourney Weaver. It turned out the glamorous Weaver was a big fan of his work and they chatted throughout the meal. Later she pointed to a man sitting across the table. She said he was her husband and one of the reasons why she fell in love with him was he reminded her so much of Max in Where the Wild Things Are. Delighted, Sendak said he finally knew what happened to his famous character: Max grew up and married Sigourney Weaver.

"And that’s what he tells anyone now when they ask what happened to the boy."

Hail to the Chia?

I've now seen the ultimate in questionable taste.

You can buy a George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama ("happy" pose or "determined" pose) Chia Pet.

Water it and the hair grows. It's patriotic. Just listen to the TV commercial! And they'll even throw in the Statue of Liberty.

On a related note, I recently listed my Obama election and inauguration issues of the New York Times and Oregonian on Craig's List for "best offer" and didn't even get a nibble.

The thrill has obviously gone.

Tapped Out

These interesting economic times have produced entrepreneurs and scroungers in a volume I've never seen before. Our neighborhood bottle guy is expressing his frustration over what he feels is a breaching of the unspoken bottle return creed: that anybody new to the neighborhood shouldn't infringe upon his schedule or his territory. He gets no respect anymore.

A couple of days ago a nicely groomed young man knocked on my door. He described his desire to start a salon but before he could get to the part about asking for donations or investments, I explained that I was living on the edge and had nothing to give except prayers and best wishes for his success. At that point, he asked if I had something cool to drink. The only thing in the house was water so he declined. Then he asked if I could share dinner with him. Since my dinner had consisted of a couple of tomatoes and some plums from the apartment garden and from friends, I offered a couple of both. He was underwhelmed but polite and I went to the fridge to get a handful for him to take. When I returned, he had pulled out a cell phone and was talking to someone.

I guess if you're trying to set up a salon or even between jobs you might want to keep a cell phone to be accessible to potential employers or investors. Still, I don't have a cell phone. He accepted my last tomatoes and plums and continued on his way. I hope he'll eat them and needs them.

I'm not cheap and I am sympathetic. But he'd do a lot better further up the hill on Thurman where they're doing well enough to generate a bin of wine bottles and a recycling container full of magazines per house each week on recycling day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Giant

He was 8 feet thick and 200 feet tall. He was the giant of the forest. For 500 years, he played with the Wind and smiled at the Sun. Birds and squirrels nested in his branches, and deer lay in his shade. He grew taller and broader year after year. He stood against the storms, and the cold of winter could not hurt him.

But one day some men said, "There is so much of him. He can heat our houses. Let us fall him."

The men came with saws and axes and hammers and wedges. They chopped a hole in his side and then they sawed. The giant put all his weight against their saws so that they could not move them. The men took wedges and drove them into him and then they could move their saws some more. The giant had no defense against their saws' wedges. Finally, the men sawed all the way through him -- but he would not fall. Again the men took wedges and drove them into where they had cut through him -- but still he would not fall.

Night came, and the men went home. They would return the next day with bigger wedges and heavier hammers. The giant knew that he would die. He was angry.

"These men will not make me fall," he said. "I will not let them. I will call my friend the Wind."

"What is it, friend?" asked the Wind.

"Sing for me," begged the giant.

"I will," said the Wind.

And the giant fell.

-- Vincent Hauth, Ashland, Oregon, 1982

Crazie Phychos

Found stuck to a sidewalk on a rainy day in Atlanta, Georgia.

For more fascinating found items:


“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
- Robert Frost

"Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act."
- Truman Capote

"Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend,
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again."
- Steely Dan, Pretzel Logic, 1973

Nothing new under the sun

On the steps of the Paris stock exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers. Gabbles of geese. They swarmed loud, uncouth, about the temple, their heads thickplotting under maladroit silk hats. Not theirs: these clothes, this speech, these gestures. Their full slow eyes belied the words, the gestures eager and unoffending, but knew the rancours massed about them and knew their zeal was vain. Vain patience to heap and hoard. Time surely would scatter all. A hoard heaped by the roadside: plundered and passing on. Their eyes knew their years of wandering and, patient, knew the dishonours of their flesh.

- James Joyce, Ulysses, Nestor Ch. 2

Friday, September 11, 2009

What if we provided education the same way we provide health care?

Fellow Portland blogger Isaac Laquedem, possibly a crankier curmudgeon than I, offers a whimsical and sobering look at the question, "What if we provided education the same way we provide health care?"

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Death be not proud!

Yes, Death has been busy. All one has to do is sample titles in the
inventory of Powell's Books.

We learn that Grim Reaper can be fickle. Death is Compulsive, but
also Late to Lunch. We read that Death Never Takes a Holiday but the

next thing we learn is that Death Goes On a Holiday, Crosses the
Border, Rides a Carousel and hangs out In a Beach Chair.

Death Is No Sportsman, and yet Death Rides Tandem and
Death Rides the Surf

Sometimes Death loses it. Death Flips Its Lid, Death Is Belligerent
and Death Cries in the Street. However it's also said that
Death Never Weeps

Beware if you are pleasingly plump because Death Comes for the Fat
Man. You can hide at your private club but Death Is a Member.
Climbing a mountain won't save you . . . Death Finds a Foothold.
Death Lurks in the Bush, Death Knocks Twice (do not confuse Death
with the Postman), Death Moves In and the next thing you know, Death
Lives Next Door. Death Interferes, damn it.

What kind of a love life does Death have? It's not a subject that
arises in polite conversation. Let's say Death comes on a bit strong.
Death Stalks the Fleet. Then Death Drops the Pilot, Death Turns a
Trick, Death goes to the doctor and Meets 400 Rabbits and
soon Death
[is] in a Family Way. All is not lost, however, as
Death Points a
Finger, Death Comes for the Archbishop and
Death Takes a Honeymoon

Time passes and love wanes. Death Plays Solitaire and Death Dines In.
Death is Called to the Bar and presumably loses her case. Rebounding,
Death Takes Up a Collection, Tidies Up, Wears A Fabulous New
Fragrance, A Red Hat and Gloves. Then Death Takes the Stage
and Death
Takes a Bow.

Finally, Death Takes a Sabbatical . . . but not for long; everyone
knows that Death Shall Overcome.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"My theory was that [the readers] just thought they cared about the action; but really, although they didn't know it, they cared very little about the action. The things that they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain of his face and his mouth was half opened in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn't even hear death knock at the door. That damn paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just wouldn't push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell."

-- Raymond Chandler, in a letter to Frederick Lewis Allen, May 7th, 1948

Wasn't there

Sitting on the #75 bus headed east on Lombard, I saw a middle-aged woman get on and make her way down the aisle. Once and awhile she would stop and look suspiciously at certain seats. She sat next to me. Presently, she said, "There are so many invisible passengers on the bus today!"

I looked at her but said nothing. "And they don't pay for their tickets, either!" she added.

"You were lucky to find a seat," I replied.

But I really wanted to ask her how she knew they hadn't paid.


"Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
Oh, how I wish he'd go away."

Hughes Mearns. Antigonish 1899
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget the perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in.

-- Leonard Cohen

Can't see the forest for the tweets

The gardening company is currently swarming over our apartment grounds with noisy, smelly leaf blowers. You know that the loathesome toad who invented this gadget from hell probably owns a jet, several homes and has an offshore account in the Caymans. How gratifying it would be if, whenever a gas-powered leafblower were used anywhere in the world, he had to personally deal with the exhaust, the noise and the flying debris. Would he go deaf or be overcome first by carbon monoxide poisoning?

It's a hard choice but my current nomination for the most anti-social, insulating and obnoxious commercials go to "Clear" broadband which seems on a quest to make sure every American is never more than a foot away from the broadband or cellphone tit. I differentiate between these commercials, which disgust me, and the Chase commercials ("you're everywhere to me") which are simply frightening. There are Stepford people out there who would welcome the oversized, ubiquitous image of Big Brother and stand in line for broadband cranial implants.

A couple of days ago I was putting my purchases in my pack in our neighborhood quik mart when the guy behind me barged to the counter, cellphone glued to his ear and pushed his stuff at the clerk. He didn't make eye contact, didn't acknowledge that another human being was helping him and didn't react to the clerk's, "Thank you." He just kept jabbering into the phone. It was a personal call and obviously not urgent. After he left, I told the clerk that I found his behavior extremely rude. She defended him by saying that she often had to take business cell calls while helping customers. I countered that she had no choice . . . and the guy who dissed her DID. Then I said that, since it must happen often, it was probably a good thing that she didn't take it personally.

The message someone like this guy projects is that nobody matters but the person he is talking to, and - ultimately - himself. He is not interested in meeting anyone new. He is not interested in manners or any sort of interactive, community-based behavior. His behavior was completely selfish.

I see people pulling their dogs down the sidewalk with phone-glued-to-ear. No stopping, no sniffing, no contact. Many of these people have been working all day. Their pet has been at home, alone, waiting for them to return. What could be personal interactive time with a beloved pet has turned into a mindless jabbering phone activity where the dog comes in a distant second in the attentions of the owner. Clear Broadband reinforces this crap trend by running a commercial where a woman arrives at the dog park with a laptop, releases her dog to run unattended and begins to yammer to someone on the screen ("I'm at the dog park!").

Obviously I'm not Qwest, Comcast or Clear's target consumer (despite burying me in mountains of newspaper inserts and junk mail circulars) because I tell you it gives me hives to think of being so constantly accessible to anyone who wants to tweet, e-mail, blog or call me salivating to a phone with a trendy ring-tone. I don't own a cell phone or an IPod and I don't want one. Life is short. I prefer to enjoy the day, the strangers, the view when I'm out walking or when I am having coffee. Some of the most interesting conversations I've experienced have been on occasions when people shared my table or stopped to talk on a street corner. I prefer the opportunity to enlarge my world.

There's something ironic about technological advances in communication that result in greater personal isolation.

In her marvelous book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, author Fannie Flag writes, ". . . there's something else I want you always to remember. There are magnificent beings on this earth . . . that are walking around posing as humans." Someone who lives life with a cellphone glued to their ear is unlikely to meet one of these beings.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Biggest Clunker of All

As I write this, the curiously-named new federal program, “Cash for Clunkers” or CARS (CAR Allowance Rebate System) finds itself lauded as a success by elected officials who are busily pushing it down the street, pretending they are leading the pack in the Indy 500 of economic recovery and environmental responsibility. This program is such a gas guzzler it's already run dry and pulled up to the pump for a refill.

During a severe economic downturn peppered with high unemployment, foreclosure and overextended credit, who decided that the purchase of a big ticket item like a new car should top the list of fiscally responsible moves made by a typical member of the American public?

Who codified the plan’s ridiculous definition of a “clunker” which excludes most real clunkers and results in perfectly good, well-maintained and insured older cars being trashed rather than resold to people who can’t afford new cars, even with an incentive?

The official site lays out the following guidelines:

• Your vehicle must be less than 25 years old on the trade-in date [This means that it can’t be older than 1984]
• Only purchase or lease of new vehicles qualify [You can’t use your rebate to purchase a good used car that gets better mileage than the one you drive, even if the increase in gas mileage is greater than you might get in the CARS program]
• Generally, trade-in vehicles must get 18 or less MPG (some very large pick-up trucks and cargo vans have different requirements) [It’s easier to qualify for this program if you own a gas guzzling SUV or heavy truck and want to buy another SUV or heavy truck that gets marginally improved mileage; only the well-to-do can afford to pay the difference so – in many cases - we get to subsidize the sale of a new guzzler to someone who doesn’t need the help]
• Trade-in vehicles must be registered and insured continuously for the full year preceding the trade-in [Meaning that almost all of them will have been regularly serviced and cared for . . . great reliable transportation for someone who can’t afford a new car . . . yet according to the program, these vehicles will not be resold but will be scrapped]
• You don't need a voucher, dealers will apply a credit at purchase
• Program runs through Nov 1, 2009 or when the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first.
• The program requires the scrapping of your eligible trade-in vehicle, and that the dealer disclose to you an estimate of the scrap value of your trade-in. The scrap value, however minimal, will be in addition to the rebate, and not in place of the rebate. [This means that you’d be an idiot to apply for this program with a vehicle worth more than $3,500 because no dealer who can’t resell your car and must scrap it is going to pay you one red cent more than the government gives him]

Various results are expected and none of them seem to have been realized. Supposedly the program will 1) Stimulate the economy, 2) Improve the environment, 3) Take inefficient “clunkers” off the road.

The “success” of the program is the result of artificial stimulation in the form of federal money rebates. There’s no denying that a small percentage of people have taken advantage of the promotion to trade in older cars and get a new one. But many of these people would have purchased a new car anyway at full price a month or two down the road as the economy or their job situation improved. When the incentives go away, so will many of the buyers. And the opportunity is an impossibility for anybody who can’t make up the difference between the rebate and financing/insurance/fees associated with a new car. You can’t turn in your “clunker” and purchase a more fuel efficient used car for less money.

The slight improvement in fuel efficiency and mileage on the small percentage of cars sold will make almost no impact at all. The program doesn’t help Americans replace REAL clunkers – older cars that either don’t qualify for the program – and poor and lower middle class vehicle owners who can’t afford the program will continue to drive the beaters they CAN afford. These cars will still be on the road for years to come. Vehicles that qualify for the program must have been owned, serviced, insured and tested for at least a year before being surrendered. These are NOT clunkers but they will be trashed and sent to the junkyard.

Because of the foregoing, the program does NOT take true clunkers off the road.

It doesn’t help vehicle owners who really need the help. It doesn’t steer buyers to truly economic cars. It doesn’t distinguish between millionaires and those barely making it.

Seen on the web:

“People who are driving around beaters with terrible gas mileage are not doing it because they choose to. They can’t afford a cash purchase or monthly financing necessary to get a new car. A $3,500 incentive will not enable them to afford one. The incentive is probably worth only $70/month over a 5 year period on a car loan; guess where the rest is coming from?”

“I am on a fixed income with a 1990 F150 that I pay $100.00 a month on. Why should I buy a truck that will cost me $300.00 a month, which I cannot afford? According to this plan, they will give me cash so I can walk."

“We are creating an artificial demand for a product. When the incentives disappear, the pendulum will swing the other way resulting in a lack of demand. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid. Oh and I sure am glad that they are using my tax dollars to buy other people NEW automobiles when I don’t even buy NEW automobiles myself.”

“I don’t plan to participate in this plan and buy a new car; I'm going to wait for 6 months and then I'll buy a slightly used 6-month-old car, because many of the people of low or moderate income who are participating in the program won't be able to make their car payments without a job, and all these cars are going to be repossessed.”

"And so it goes. One program after another that leaves out people who are struggling and barely getting by. I understand that helping people buy cars helps the workers who make the cars and all the ancillary jobs associated with that. But I’m not at all convinced that the government is going to spend us out of this recession."

“Many people who qualify were already going to buy (no gain) or probably won’t or can’t take advantage of it. People who would take part in it don’t qualify. That’s why it’s stupid.”

Pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Toad

"Do you love me?" I asked
"Love you? How could I love a toad?"

That made a lot of sense,
so I asked her, "How's about
if we just kind of sleep together?"
Naturally she had to think that one over at some length:

"And never turn on the lights?"
"All right," I said.
"And you are gone before the sun comes up?"
"All right," I said.
She lowered her voice: "But you will
love me toad-style, not like humans?"
"How else?" I said.

"Well then," she said, "we'll try it
for a week, but let's not ask for miracles."

I came to her each night for half a year,
returning with the sun to quarry
in the steaming, mud-caked bean fields.
Did she ever think about me at her
gay martini luncheons, her dinners
for two at Scandia?
To think that I, a humble toad,
had given my heart to a fashion designer!

In May I lost her to a troll,
a recent arrival from Brooklyn.

- Gerald Locklin
The Toad Poems, 1970

Friday, July 24, 2009

All skins are shed at length

Time, that renews the tissues of this frame,
That built the child and hardened the soft bone,
Taught him to wail, to blink, to walk alone,
Stare, question, wonder, give the world a name,
Forget the watery darkness whence he came,
Attends no less the boy to manhood grown,
Brings him new raiment, strips him of his own;
All skins are shed at length, remorse, even shame.

Such hope is mine, if this indeed be true,
I dread no more the first white in my hair,
Or even age itself, the easy shoe,
The cane, the wrinkled hands, the special chair:
Time, doing this to me, may alter too
My sorrow, into something I can bear.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay
Wine From These Grapes

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Which is it and which is me

While I was speaking with a phone customer at work, the subject of love at first sight came up. His example was of the famous tenor Enrico Caruso and his wife Dorothy (or "Doro"). His descriptions of passages in Dorothy's book, Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death, were interesting enough that I got the book from the library and have just finished it.

Because Dorothy has included transcriptions of letters written to her by her husband while he was on the road - reproduced in creative Italian/English - the result is very personal and appealing. Words like "emotionated" are used to describe his reaction to a very positive audience ovation.

Here is a favorite passage:

"Everything that Enrico did was as great as his singing because his vital force was expended on each task. As the public didn't know this, they regarded his singing as a huge outgrowth, overshadowing all else he did. But he always used his full emotional energy for any accomplishment - whether it was for singing a perfect song or making a perfect envelope. Once he needed several large envelopes for his clippings, but had only one. I suggested that we send the chauffeur to fetch more. 'No,' he said, 'I will do myself. That way I learn something new.' He took a large sheet of wrapping paper and with the greatest care measured, cut folded and glued a perfect envelope, using the old one for a model. Patiently he repeated this operation eleven times. When he had finished he shuffled the original model among the eleven others and handed me a dozen envelopes with a smile. 'There,' he said, 'you cannot tell which is it and which is me.' "

Another excerpt:

"When Enrico cared for people it was for their inner qualities, not for what they could give him. Soon after we were married he told me of his experience in the San Francisco earthquake. After describing it vividly he added, 'I save my big picture of President Teddy Roosevelt that he presented me the week before when I sang in the White House. Then I went to London from the earthquake and the King and Queen asked me to tell all about. They were very interested and happy I save the photograph. Such nice people. King Edward so good and so kind.' At this moment little old Gravina came into the room. he was an impoverished actor - once a great comedian in Italy - whom Enrico had saved from starvation by making him a cutter of his clippings. One day he had displayed to me an astonishing trick of his comic art - that of shooting his eyes out of his head like a snail - but he was so timid in Enrico's presence that he trembled visibly. When he had left the room Enrico said, 'That is a nice kind man too. I like to have him near me.' To Enrico there was a similar quality of goodness in the King of England and the old actor, Gravina."

Monday, June 22, 2009

The black snake

When the black snake
flashed onto the morning road,
and the truck could not swerve -
death, that is how it happens.

Now he lies looped and useless
as an old bicycle tire.
I stop the car
and carry him into the bushes.

He is as cool and gleaming
as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet
as a dead brother.
I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking
about death: its suddenness,
its terrible weight,
its certain coming. Yet under

reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones
have always preferred.
It is the story of endless good fortune.
It says to oblivion: not me!

It is the light at the center of every cell.
It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward
happily all spring through the green leaves before
he came to the road.

- Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems

They're books for kids but . . .

they were written a long time ago and how times have changed.

A few days ago I picked up a couple of discarded children's school books. The first, Good Health (Gulick Hygiene Series) by Frances Gulick Jewett, was published in 1906. In one chapter, the author tells of a Dr. Hodge, professor of physiology in Clark University, Massachusetts, who decided to force liquor on kittens and puppies to see how it would affect them. They didn't cotton to the idea of imbibing and so Dr. Hodge dribbled it down their furry little throats. Not surprisingly, the drunken kittens and puppies didn't thrive like their littermates and this was supposed to be a morality lesson for impressionable children. As if forced alcholism wasn't enough, Hodge dubbed the drunken puppies "Bum" and "Tipsy." Picture this in a modern health book for today's kiddies!

Next, the case of a trapper, St. Martin, is revealed in hideous detail. The poor guy sustained a wound in his side that never healed and allowed anyone who had the nerve to peak at his stomach. This inspired yet another doctor - Beaumont (no doubt urged on by Hodge) to force liquor on the unfortunate trapper to see what sort of damage would result.

"Before this time doctors could only judge about alcohol by the way men felt and acted after they drank it. Even when Bum and Tipsy used alcohol, Dr. Hodge could not tell what the drink really did to their stomachs."

Dr. Beaumont found that the liquor didn't do St. Martin any favors. "Whenever he looked in the lining was redder than it was the time before; then there were sores on it; after that the sores were worse and blood came from them." So did he stop the experiment? Of course not.

"Dr. Beaumont tried his experiments over and over again at different times and in the end decided . . . alcohol made the lining of St. Martin's stomach sore and unhealthy." Eventually he came to his senses and after he had, "found out all he needed to know, stopped giving alcohol to St. Martin, whereupon the lining of his stomach grew more healthy."

There's no word as to whether St. Martin was a hopeless sot by that time.

Well, on to the second book, Reed's Introductory Language Work: A simple, varied, and pleasing but methodical series of exercises in English to precede the study of technical grammar by Alonzo Reed, AM. This one was published by Maynard, Merrill & Co., 1904. To teach certain parts of grammar, bizarre little stories are used. In the first, kittens are once again in peril:

"One bright, sunny spring morning a family of kittens were playing about the door of a farmhouse. The mother had lain down, and was watching the playful tricks of her happy kittens. A large hawk, which had been searching all morning for his breakfast, saw them. Like an arrow he darted upon one of the kittens. The mother saw the danger of her little one, and sprang at once upon the hawk. a long and fierce battle was fought, but at last the hawk was killed. Though the cat had lost one eye and was covered with blood, she first ran to her kitten and licked its wounds."

Then we have a dulcet and sylvan story that quickly descends into utility:

"Helen, here is a pretty flower. Willie, do flowers have legs? O Helen, how much this butterfly looks like a flower! Thomas, put the net over him."

And what does one do with the following fact:

"The fly does not grow after getting legs and wings."

Thank God.

Finally, amusing Lesson CLXV: The Wise Goats

"Two goats meet on a narrow ledge. A steep rock and a deep chasm. One goat lies down. The other passes over him and bounds away. Suppose they had quarreled."

Ah, it HAD a happy ending. Why spoil it by asking why one didn't act like a horse's (er, goat's) ass?

I guess if he had, it would have made a story at least as interesting as the one about the cat and kittens mauled by the hawk.

Goodnight and sleep well, children!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To The Matterhorn

The misspeaking crossing box in the previous post reminded me of a misunderstood phrase made into a family joke by my sister. Someone said, "to the manor born" and she heard, "to the Matterhorn!" It became a toast.

Later, and still years ago, I found myself in Zermatt. While it is a beautiful place, the thing that impressed me the most was the great number of climbers from all over the world buried there, usually as a result of dying in an attempt to climb the Matterhorn. While they hoped to add a notch to their belts they were, instead, claimed as a trophy by the mountain they wished to conquer. I was told that many climbers underestimate the Matterhorn, thinking of it as an old uncle in an age of K2, Everest and Seven Summits ascents. This old uncle still has some tricks up his sleeve. Bad weather and rotten ice can spell disaster on any climb, even on something as relatively tame as the south side of Mt. Hood.

As I stood admiring the Matterhorn nestled in its corona of clouds, I knew that there was something that had to be done. In the town there are many shops offering postcards of the famous mountain. A stamp, an address and - on the back - "To the Matterhorn."

Why nya non!

I was headed home afoot after taking care of errands in the downtown area of Portland. At busy W. Burnside and 19th, while waiting for the light to change so that I could cross, I was surprised by a "coo-coo" noise issuing from the pole nearby followed by a Buzz Lightyear voice uttering the phrase, "Why nya non!" followed by the coo-coo noise and a repetition of, "Why nya non!"

Bemusement sent me halfway across the intersection before I realized that the voice had been trying to say, "Walk sign on!" but had some sort of problem. Long ago, my younger sister owned a Chatty Cathy doll. With four older brothers in the house, let's just say that Chatty's life was not an easy one. She fared better than Raggedy Ann, who had been dismembered in a reenactment of a Spanish Inquisition torture chamber interrogation . . . but not by much.

Rough handling had distorted the normal functions of her voice box so that when her string was pulled, rather than hearing, "I love you!" or "Let's play!" something like "Frabbl tramus noon!" or "Zent grams!" was more likely to come out, phrases that might be understood on the Klingon world but not in your everyday American home. We found this hilarious.

It would have been interesting to skulk somewhere near the crossing and watch for peoples' reactions but I would probably have been disappointed. Portland had a naked bike ride last week and things like a bowling ball garden in SE are not uncommon sights. An uncommon sound, though - that's something new.

When I got home, I gave Lola a treat and intoned, in the Buzz Lightyear voice, "Why nya non!", driving her into a frenzy of excitement.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Pride" is a Poor Term

With the month of June, the Gay Pride parades and festivals put in an annual appearance throughout the country. And once again I am confused by the concept of being proud of something that is an innate condition.

Of the many gay and lesbian individuals I know and have met, many would not choose to be gay if it were a choice they could make. They acknowledge that life would be much easier if they had been born heterosexual. Regardless, they are good people who live lives of dignity and joy. Others would express their position as having come to terms with their lives, considering their sexual orientation as secondary to their identification as a whole person, a parent or a partner to whoever they love, regardless of what the gender of that person may be. "Pride" in ones homosexuality doesn't enter into the equation in the opinion of those who simply want the same opportunities, safeguards and access as anybody else.

I am short, nearsighted and right-handed but it has never occurred to me to join others and march to demonstrate "pride" in any of these conditions. "Pride" is a demanding sort of word. The Oxford dictionary defines it as, "Overweening opinion of one's own qualities, merits, etc.; arrogant bearing or conduct; exalted position, consciousness of this arrogance." It is one of the seven deadly sins.

So what might a better term be? How about "Gay Hope?" "Gay Joy?" "Gay Community?" None of those things demands that a sceptical public extend carte blanche to every gay antic across the spectrum. But they do demand respect for a community that is intrinsically cohesive and supportive and deserves to receive the same human, partnership and family rights as any other.

Our society pays far too much attention to labeling others by gender and sex and should pay more attention to individuals and people. We'd all be far happier if we let each other be who and what we are without qualification so long as we don't harm each other in the process.

People who see the world in black and white have no idea how many rich shades of gray exist between the two.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shouting Until I Die Of Cold

Today while reading the words of the poet Pablo Neruda, I came upon these lines:

"Just the same it would be delicious
to scare a notary with a cut lily
or knock a nun stone dead with one blow of an ear.
It would be beautiful
to go through the streets with a green knife
shouting until I died of cold."

"Sin embargo seria delicioso
asustar a un notario con un lirio cortado
o dar muerte a una monja con un golpe de oreja.
Seria bello
ir por las calles con un cuchillo verde
y dando gritos hasta morir de frio."

. . and contemplate the mind that could conjure these words and these images.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why Not Doing The Right Thing Is Understandable

I've long considered why many hit and run drivers don't stop. Why a mother who abandons her baby doesn't come forward. IMO it's not because they don't feel terrible about what they did. I think the reason is more practical and tied to today's deadly economics.

I remember reading the reminiscences of people who either tried to help the injured and were then sued for whatever followed, whether they were responsible or not. And the reports of people who returned found property or money only to be accused to stealing it or not returning the complete amount.

The person unfortunate enough to hit someone, which they almost certainly didn't do on purpose, or the desperate or confused person who abandons a baby may want to do the right thing but so often doing the right thing means that they will be reviled, sued or financially destroyed.

So often nothing but punishment awaits someone who might otherwise do the right thing. Given this scenario, why are we surprised when they do not dare do so?

How different the result might be if these people could expect forgiveness, help or understanding?

We may not like it when people flee rather than staying to face the music, but I think we can understand why they don't want to accept an invitation to that dance.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pieces of the Past

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves the opportunity to delve into Gaylord boxes of discarded books and paper ephemera. Most book lovers who attend sales concentrate on books that are either within their personal areas of interest or those that they think can be turned on eBay or Craig's list for cash. I head first for the boxes of pamphlets, chapbooks and paper ephemera. It's called ephemera for a reason and here is where real treasures can be found . . .

Old softcover printings of Gary Snyder's first poems . . . the very first brochures ever distributed when Disneyland opened in Anaheim . . . histories of small communities . . . Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters' fanciful squibs published under pseudonyms . . . small, small press folios representing the earliest works of American writers.

Today, while gathering old books that were falling apart in order to practice book repair and case binding, I brought home a 1888 book in The Mermaid Series, edited by Havelock Ellis and containing The Best Plays of the Old Dramatists: John Ford. Published by Vizetelly & Co. of London, it is not a particuarly valuable or scarce book. The surprise appeared on the inside front cover where I found a small bookplate stating that it was, "From the Library of Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Pines, Putney Hill."

I am not a fan of Swinburne, but he is a known and famous English poet. It is interesting to know that I have before me a book that Swinburne bought, held in his hands and kept in his home. Various things were tucked between the pages and, judging by their age, might have been placed there by the poet. Of course I have no way of knowing if this is true but once again I must marvel at the tenacity of books, these time travelers, who - against all odds - survive their writers and their owners and move among us.

Had I not rescued this survivor, it would have been pulped. In what world will it move after it has left mine?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Use the Difficulty

"I was rehearsing a play, and there was a scene that went on before me, then I had to come in the door. They rehearsed the scene, and one of the actors had thrown a chair at the other one. It landed right in front of the door where I came in. I opened the door and then rather lamely, I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls, 'Well, look, I can't get in. There's a chair in my way.' He said, 'Well, use the difficulty.' So I said, 'What do you mean, use the difficulty?' He said, 'Well, if it's a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it's a comedy, fall over it.' This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty."

Michael Caine, November 17, 1992

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How much sugar is enough?

Starbucks is a regular and necessary stop for me on Sunday mornings. This isn't because of the coffee, although that's a part of the process. It's because of the availability of the Sunday New York Times which gets me through the first two working hours of the day and provides the intellectual stimulation missing from a quick gutting of the Sunday Oregonian of its advertising followed by a review of the remaining 10 minutes of news. This morning, there were no copies of the Times available. In an effort to make myself feel better about settling for the Oregonian, I ordered the "Perfect Oatmeal" without high expectations. It was not perfect but the real entertainment came with a bag of "toppings" which were supposed to put the cherry on the top of my watery oatmeal experience. The goodies included a bag of mixed, chopped nuts . . . a bag of dried cranberries and a packet of "Perfect Oatmeal Brown Sugar." The packet bragged that it was, "generously portioned to suit your taste" which I took to mean that no matter how greedy you were for brown sugar, there would be enough to satisfy even the biggest pig on the planet. What did this mean? Was it an insult? A brag? I dumped the entire packet into the paper bowl with the nuts and cranberries and it did improve the basic product to the point that, while not perfect, it was an acceptable meal to accompany a poor second to the Times.