Thursday, March 30, 2006

It's Here. Now.

Spring has come and gone here in Oregon. We had approximately 2.5 days of it, and now the weather has switched back to its stubbornly wintry ways. I’ve been reading all these stories about global warming lately. But believing the dire predictions has been an exercise in not trusting my own eyes. Because if had to judge by what the weather has been doing here in Oregon this spring, I’d have to swear we’re going into another Ice Age.

That’s why they’ve taken to calling it “Global Climate Change.” “Global warming” is not necessarily descriptive of what climate change means to all areas of the globe. Some places will turn into saunas. But weather patterns and gulf streams and such will undoubtedly be affected to the point that some of us will actually get cooler weather. And my fantasies of owning a house on the ocean may come true without my even having to move. I won’t have to go to the beach. The beach will come to me.

Of course, I’ve been aware of the concept of global warming for a couple of decades, but I haven’t been able to make up my mind about it. It all seemed so vague, so theoretical, so…slow. I understood that we humans have been thoughtlessly fouling our nest for the last hundred years; but the process of the incremental increases in global temperatures still might have been explained away by the theory that we were in the process of emerging from the last Ice Age. A much simpler and much less frightening explanation. It’s amazing how easy it is to rationalize something that scares the shit out of you. Especially something that you feel is completely out of your personal control.

So when I came across articles about bird migrations taking place weeks earlier than they did fifty years ago, or glaciers shrinking by a couple inches more a year than they used to, I filed them away in the folder in the back of my brain labeled “Things That I Probably Should Be Worried About But I Don’t Want To Deal With Right Now.” And then came the hurricanes. And the fires. And the floods. And the huge cyclone that ate a chunk out of Australia. All in the space of the past twelve months. And as I put on my winter coat to take out the garbage, and look at the snow covering the low foothills in the east, the like of which I haven’t seen in the twenty years we’ve lived in Oregon…I get it. All of a sudden, it’s real. And it’s very possible that it’s all going to go to hell a lot faster than we ever imagined. Here’s the clincher, from Jeffrey Kluger’s article on climate change in Time Magazine:

What few people reckoned on was that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives way to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Pump enough CO2 into the sky, and that last part per million of greenhouse gas behaves like the 212th degree Fahrenheit that turns a pot of hot water into a plume of billowing steam.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Scare tactics? Perhaps… But it sounds, and looks, all too plausible.

My Dining Room Window

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bush is Losing the War of Words

Today, I caught the first few minutes of a “Hardball” segment before I growled to my husband to turn it off lest I physically attack him to gain control of the remote. The topic of the day was President Bush’s recent campaign to paint the press as the bad guys in the Iraq War. (It must be mentioned here that we are on vacation; ensconced in a beautiful little cedar-shingled cabin perched among the treetops overlooking Siltcoos Lake, one of a string of freshwater lakes separated from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy hillocks of the Oregon Dunes. I am here to watch the birds, inhale the scent of laurel blossoms, and search out the perfect Oregon coast dining experience. Not to have my stomach soured and my blood pressure raised fifty points by the latest Bush Administration campaign to transfer blame for its history-changing fuck-ups on to anything but its own incompetence.)

It took a few days of following Mr. Bush all over the country, and having veteran Washington analysts gush about how (why?) he unexpectedly set aside his extreme aversion to informal and unrehearsed interaction with the press, to figure out exactly what his game is. Out of one side of his mouth, he is joking, cajoling, bantering, and buddying up to the press. And, out of the other side, he is blasting them for focusing on pessimistic reports coming out of Iraq. Somewhere in there, he is attempting to salvage the image of the plain-spoken, dedicated War President being wronged by the sensationalist, money-grubbing media which insist upon focusing upon images of death and destruction coming out of a war zone. How un-American of these defeatist reporters!

I guess my answer to that is: Mr. President, if you wanted positive images to come out of Iraq, perhaps you should have sent in a humanitarian force rather than an army. Perhaps you should have focused on building schools and improving infrastructure and promoting diplomatic understanding from the outset, not as “let’s make nice now” damage control after an ill-considered pre-emptive military invasion of a sovereign nation with a complicated and convoluted history which you made no effort to comprehend.

In the early days of the Iraq war, with their embedded reporters and vise-like grip upon the information and images trickling out of the war zone , the Bush Administration was able to tell exactly the story they wanted—no more and no less. They were unquestionably (in their own minds, at least) in perfect control of the message; it was an easy step to believing they controlled not only the perception of the war, but the war itself. A classic and tragic case of believing your own press. Alas…in its own stubbornly contrary fashion, the Iraq conflict did not magically resolve upon the airing of the “Mission Accomplished” speech scarcely two months into the nightmare that was, at that point, only just beginning. Though, admittedly, the ADHD-afflicted American people have been a little slow on the uptake, it has become painfully clear—an additional two years and ten months into the steadily decaying process—that the mission is anything but accomplished.

Control of the media has been, from day one, the most powerful weapon in the GOP’s arsenal. Time and time again, the administration’s gurus have expertly manipulated the message that reached the eyes and ears of the American people. What has gone wrong? Could it be that they’ve gripped the information pipeline so tightly for so long, they’re cramping up? They’re starting to tremble, and dance, and juggle, and look more and more foolish as they struggle to hold on to that weapon that is quickly slipping out of their grasp. Bush and Co. are scrambling to reconcile their early-war “We’re out to save the world” image with the increasingly desperate situation that they can no longer hide. Demonstrating their typical bull-headed inability to change gears when the situation calls for it, they continue to reach for that weapon to which they’ve grown so attached. This time, however, they find themselves in the schizophrenic position of trying to kiss up to the press, and slap it upside the head at the same time. It’s quite the Laurel and Hardy moment. And the American people, treated to this sorry bit of slapstick, are finally ready to turn off the movie and focus on reality.


I've been neglecting poor little "Better Terms..." I think it's become a casualty of having too many blogs. I'm going to drag a couple of Blue Voice posts over here...

Meanwhile, I want to change my profile here it is:

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Favorite Fours

Cynthia (A Crazy Quilt Life) tagged me, but she didnt thinkI'd really do this. It's been a long time since I've done one of these. I think I lost my thumbs this past winter...[obscure Dick Van Dyke Show reference that no one will get :-)]

Four jobs I've had in my life:
(Oh, my! How do I choose…?)
Production worker, Little Monk Home Winemaking Kits
Pizza Queen!!
Manager, Le Chatel Bakery, VRC
Production Manager, Ultimate Baking (biscotti!)

Four Movies I Can Watch Anytime:
Gone With The Wind
Little Women
While You Were Sleeping
Holiday Inn

Four Places I have lived:
North Suburban Chicago
Willamette Valley
Suburban Portland
Columbia Valley

Four favorite television shows:
Boston Legal
Judging Amy (reruns)
What Not To Wear
Designed to Sell

Four Places I have been on vacation:
The Baseball Hall of Fame
Grand Canyon
Door County, Wisconsin
Glacier National Park, Montana

Four of my favorite dishes:
Red Robin’s Mile High Mud Pie
Hot, crispy, batter-dipped French fries
Fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies
Spaghetti with garlic bread

Four Websites I visit daily:
The Blue Voice
Dogpile (Search Engine)
Weather Channel Forecast

Four Places I would rather be right now:
Toiling away in the back of the house of my own restaurant
Washburn State Park, feeding the jays from my hand
Getting off the plane for a six-month stay in Europe
Anywhere warm, dry, and sunny

Four bloggers I am tagging:
Tina of Ride Along With Me
Meredith of Another Country Heard From
Jackie of Pixels, Politics, Posies, and Pussycats
and Judi of talking to myself

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Winter, Spring, and Words

Tina wrote on Sunday about the power she gains from some combinations of words that suddenly seem to come to life for her. Her latest discovery is, "It is what it is." I so understand what she’s talking about with these five little words. I recently discovered them myself, and they have unlocked a lot of chains for me.

I found another set of timely words for myself the other day. It’s not a motto…it’s more like a sound byte. But it explains a lot of what is going on in my life right now. And it might even go a long way toward explaining the general "blahness" that seems to be afflicting just about everyone in the Land of J these days.

Only 30 percent of those polled by the Los Angeles Times believe that the country is on the right track. That is such a historically low number it's a surprise Americans even get out of bed in the morning.

The current political scene in our country is so dismal. War. Bigotry. Hatred. Political infighting. And there’s nowhere you can go to get away from it. If you turn on the television or radio, open a magazine or newspaper, it roars at you like a constant gale, blasting away and wearing you down until you are simply…numb. The world, seen through the darkened lens of our national moral turmoil, looks drab and bleak and hopeless. The fitful weather of the last gasp of winter only serves to enforce that lethargy induced by the sheer weight of the depressing issues we face on our political landscape.

Personally, I’m languishing for want of Spring. I’m desperate for soft, warm breezes, coquettish sunlight peeking out from between the clouds, and bright green knobs of new life breaking through the dark, damp, icy earth. And for the warmth of charity, the light of wisdom, and the life of understanding and new leadership to break through the murk of the cold political fog that has settled upon us. I don’t want to hear that "It is what it is." I want to know that it can be so much more…

Friday, March 10, 2006

Choosing Liberalism

I jokingly call myself a “bleeding-heart liberal.” I’m not a left-wing radical; but, given a choice between leaning liberal and cruising conservative, I choose the former nine times out of ten. But I don’t always walk in lock-step with the liberal mindset that some, friends and enemies alike, would have us believe is carved in stone.

For example: I have real problems with late-term abortions. When does a “fetus” become a “baby?” I don’t know…does anybody know? At what point in time does a collection of cells that, barring any one of nine million cosmic mishaps is destined to develop into a human being, become a viable life? With the advances that have been made in neo-natal care, any fetus that has survived into its seventh month can arguably be called a baby. If it looks like a baby, and cries like a baby, isn’t it a baby? And if you have to kill it because a woman couldn’t exercise her “right to choose” a couple of months earlier in the process…well, then, isn’t something screwed up?

This is where the left-wing lock-steppers get all red in the face and start sputtering the discourse about reproductive rights, and women’s rights, and how right-to-lifers are not about protecting unborn babies, but rather about keeping women in a place of social servitude. And if a woman’s right to choose is not kept sacred for the entire nine months between conception and delivery, then the last fifty years of hard-won women’s rights are going to swirl right down the toilet. We’ll be back in the kitchen in our house-dresses, aprons and Donna Reed pearls before you know it. Or being dragged by the hair into some cave. And I think…whoa. Maybe I’m not really cut out to be a liberal after all. ‘Cause I’m not even coming close to buying this stuff.

But then, I realize: I’ve never been poor; I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never been a frightened pregnant teen-ager; hell, I’ve never even been pregnant. And I haven’t been to divinity school, or medical school, or law school. So I am probably not the best person to pronounce judgment on the issue. Come to think of it, if I had been any or all of these things, I still wouldn’t be the best judge. The point is: I don’t know. And I want to be assured that the people who do make the judgments on questions of this magnitude don’t know, either. I want them to understand there is a kaleidoscope of different perspectives on every issue, and every one of those perspectives demands consideration.

Which, now that I think of it, is the essence of liberalism, isn’t it? That we don’t know. That we recognize every viewpoint, and allow it its fair review. That we don’t resort to advancing a set of archaic proverbs recorded thousands of years ago—a body of literature so old and so obscure that we can assign it any meaning we please—as having the answers to all of twenty-first century humanity’s complex problems. Because we’re too lazy or too intimidated, too rigid or too uncurious, to find our own answers.

Unfortunately, that may be what makes liberalism so…ineffective. “Liberal” means “broadminded, unprejudiced, tolerant.” The openness to ideas, the cosmopolitan inclusiveness of the philosophy, make it almost impossible to choose one person, or even a manageable few, to crystallize the vision of the movement; to lead the charge in the myriad of diverse issues and viewpoints we embrace. But every movement that hopes to promote significant change needs a leader. Who’s in charge? Who is going to call the shots?

We’ve always had a problem choosing one, or two, or even half a dozen issues to advance above all others. Every change we stand behind, great and small, is vitally important to someone. And the antics of the Bush Administration have added items to the list that weren’t in our wildest dreams ten years ago: war for oil, torture, due process for political prisoners, cashing in constitutional rights for “security.” But there are too many of us trying to keep too many plates spinning; they are falling and smashing with disturbing regularity. We need to come to some consensus on what will define us as a political force. We need to choose the biggest plates, confidently hand them to the one or two individuals best suited to getting them up in the air, then gather around and keep those plates from hitting the ground. Better to opt for success on a few great issues, than mediocrity—or failure—on a thousand smaller ones.

And, standing around waiting for the act that’s currently on center stage to self-destruct and get the hook? That shouldn’t even be an option.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

In Like a Lion...

This season has truly been a "Winter of the Soul" for me. And it just doesn't want to go away.

Eleven days until the vernal equinox.

Winter is getting in its parting shots...

Friday, March 03, 2006

Common Bigotry...I Mean, Sense

Driving home yesterday morning from my early AM encounter with the endodontist, I caught the last ten minutes of a segment on Talk of the Nation. I like TOTN. I’ve learned a lot from the show. But host Neal Conan generally pilots his ship pretty straight down the middle of the channel…avoiding the higher seas and icebergs to the far right and far left. But Neal was out of the office yesterday; the guest host tackled the topic of the recent legislative pushes in several states to ban adoptions by gays and lesbians, and the S.S. TOTN strayed into some slightly choppy waters. And darned if I didn’t find myself hollering (incoherently, through my half-dead lips) at one of the guests—Charmaine Yoest of the "Family Research Council." Such a calm, soft-spoken, rational-sounding raging bigot…

Dr. Yoest’s mission was to point listeners in the direction of a study which concluded that children "do better" in homes with a Mom and a Dad. When other guests referred to thirty years of research that did not back her point, Dr. Yoest politely interrupted, called their research "flawed," or accused them of misquoting it. In the end, backed into a corner by the other guests, and challenged by excellent points made by several callers to the show, she exhorted listeners to check out the research, but, more importantly, "use your common sense."

Common sense? Wouldn’t common sense dictate that a system overloaded with children in desperate need of loving homes should welcome any and all responsible families willing to provide those homes? Wouldn’t common sense tell you that any child would "do better" in a stable adoptive home than being bounced from foster family to foster family? Hasn’t common sense been telling us for ages that homosexuality is not a learned behavior, and that gay couples do not adopt in order to raise up armies of little gay children? (And, come to think of it, what if they did?)

No, Dr. Yoest’s calm, reasonable exhortation was right-wing speak for, "Tap into your personal prejudices. If you feel threatened by homosexuality, we’ll just call that common sense." Common sense, religious right style.

Yep…just made me want to reach right through the radio and slap her upside the head.

It's The Economy, Stupid...

President Bush, making diplomatic nice in India on Friday, dealt this slap in the face to the hemorrhaging American middle class:

"In my country, some focus only on one aspect of our trade relations with India – outsourcing."

"The United States will not give into the protectionists and lose…opportunities," Bush said… "For the sake of workers in both our countries, America will trade with confidence."

The story by AP writer Terence Hunt, goes on to fill in a little background on what "protectionists" might find objectionable about the US’ trade relationships with India:

An estimated 40 percent of Indians live on less than $1 a day. Yet the middle class has swelled to more than 300 million -- larger than the entire U.S. population -- and India's exploding economy has created millions of jobs.

The outsourcing industry -- in which Indian firms handle everything from software engineering to customer service call centers for foreign companies -- is expected to bring in $22 billion in revenue alone this fiscal year. Much of that outsourcing business is generated by U.S. companies, many that have eliminated domestic jobs for cheaper Indian labor.

The president said the United States should see this rapidly growing nation as a land of opportunity instead of a threat. America's best response to globalization is not to erect economic barriers to protect workers, but educate them to make sure they can compete on any stage, Bush said.

Twelve years ago, my husband took a job with a Portland manufacturer. The company, which had been in business for more than a decade before husband signed on, boomed during the nineties. It became one of the largest players in its market. Executives with six-figure salaries, showroom on Fifth Avenue, write-ups in the trades…the whole nine yards. And then…then, along came the Far East. Their cheap labor, cheap goods, state-subsidized dirt-cheap manufacturing has all but put the company my husband works for out of business.

At the very least, a perfectly good factory, which at one time provided living wages and benefits to upwards of 250 people, has been turned into little more than an import hub. I visited the factory the other day…the machines were eerily quiet. Looking out over the production floor, the only activity I saw was a little group of employees, a tenth of what the work force used to be, repacking goods shipped from China and India. My husband and I have had to face the fact that it is probably only a matter of time before his own living wage and benefits (such as they are after three years of cuts) go away, too. He will be fifty years old this summer. Too young to retire; arguably, a little long in the tooth to start over.

Yesterday, President Bush stood before an audience in India, a nation that the American government has finally conceded to embrace, in all its nuclear proliferation, oil-consuming, booming economic glory. And he had the nerve to call my husband and me "protectionists." Somebody, somewhere, exported our livelihood to India, and the Bush administration believes that we should now embrace that fast-growing economy without bitterness, without rancor. And I should do this from where, Mr. Bush? From the unemployment line? While the Bush Administration coddles and rewards the rich, our poor become more destitute, and the American middle class perishes from excessive transfusion of its jobs and income into India’s and China’s booming middle classes?

What does George W. Bush, privileged son of the oil-rich president that voters rejected fourteen years ago for not knowing the price of a pound of ground beef at the supermarket, know of the middle class? What does he care?

This time around, we have a number of heavy factors to consider when we enter the voting booths. We have an illegal war. We have state-sanctioned torture and unwarranted spying on American citizens. We have incompetent disaster relief. We have a health care, drug and insurance crisis of epic proportions. We have ecological rape. We have lies and corruption. And more lies and corruption. Lofty and worrisome problems all.

But, you know what? Despite all the (cunningly manipulated) facts and figures that point to a strong, thriving, healthy, choose-your-superlative economic recovery here in the good ole U S of A, in my world, "it’s [still] the economy, stupid." And my little sliver of the American dream that has been shipped halfway across the world.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Shot of The Good Stuff

Last weekend, we were in Newport (Oregon) serving food to the mostly tipsy patrons at the 29th Annual Seafood and Wine Festival. I had great plans for this, our first event of the season. Optimistically, I had projected a 25% sales increase for the weekend. Since last year was our premiere year at the festival, I just naturally assumed that the word was out and that we had nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired to prove me wrong…we ended up actually seeing fewer customers this year, though our new-season price increase bumped our total sales by about 8%. Needless to say, I was disappointed. During the season I sort of live and die by the numbers… So I’ve been in a little funk the last few days.

But last night, I received an email. I almost deleted it, because, as a rule, I don’t open emails from people I don’t know. Imagine my surprise when I opened this one:

I had one of your Salmon Dill puffed pastry sandwich pouches at the Seafood and Wine Festival in Newport this last weekend. It was incredible!

Do you have a restaurant in Scappose? If so, can you give me your hours and location, please?

Thank you, I will look for you next year at the festival, but I hope I can eat your wonderful pouches before then.

Thank you –
(a happy customer)

To say that this message made my day…week…month…would be an understatement. I wrote back and asked how she got my email address, since I only remembered giving out one business card to someone scoping us out for another event. Turns out she had emailed the Newport Chamber of Commerce to get the information. How sweet of her to go through all that trouble just to let me know that she enjoyed our product!

Look how someone taking a few minutes out of their busy life to say thank you, send a compliment, give a virtual pat on the back, can suddenly change the whole color of life. Words cannot express how grateful I am to this woman, and to whatever Greater Force led her to send that message at such an uncannily perfect time. It was an upper for which I did not even know I was so desperate.

Moral of the story? We’re so eager, these days, to complain, to bitch, to degrade. We deal with over-worked, underpaid people daily, and the quality of service we get often reflects the degree of over-workedness and underpaidness with which these folks cope day in, day out. Years ago, when I was the one standing behind the counter, I knew how far a kind word or a compliment could go to brighten our bleak world. Since I promoted myself to "entrepreneur," I had forgotten…

Is it so much harder to thank or compliment good service than it is to complain? Why don’t we do it more often? And, you know, I have a feeling if we did do it more often, the quality of the service we receive would rise apace. This dismal pool of acrimony, conflict, and despair that is twenty-first century America could surely use an infusion of positive energy. I, for one, am going to try to carry this lesson with me for as long as I can keep it imprinted on my old dog/new trick brain.