Thursday, February 27, 2014

Laying Down Of Arms


A few days ago the Obama administration announced plans to implement austerity measures in the military which would reduce the standing American force in personnel to levels below those of pre-World War II. This is Obama doing exactly what he promised, ending wars, reducing military spending, and focusing on the domestic agenda. But nobody really seems to care. Or rather, the conservative right and those with a vested interested in continuing the expansion of the military industrial complex care, but their whining that these cuts will reduce them to still being the biggest and best prepared military in the world, just a leaner version, are hard to have sympathy for. The truth is, this is huge. This is massive news for anyone interested in foreign policy, social welfare, or peace. This is a quiet revolution spearheaded by the White House to shift our paradigm from war mongering and diplomacy by force to...well, none of us know do we? What would a United States without major warfare look like? Can any of us picture it? How will we make out money? Will we go back to growing our own food and valuing crafts people and educators? It seems unlikely. What Obama is doing is giving us a chance to reshape a small part of our economy and ourselves. Let's do something useful with it.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lost In Space- An Excerpt From Girl Gone Wild


So at some point, it just went wrong.  My folks either made a bad choice at diverging trails, or got turned around, or just walked right passed a juncture, but their demeanor changed.  They slowed.  The tone of their voices got more serious.  My sister and I were hot and tired and getting crabby in a sustained way.  My parents probably were too.  We should have been back to the car by now, it was getting on towards dinner time.  We came to a stop.  And there they were,  lost, with darkness falling and two very very tired girls with them.   They started to discuss.  They could not be that far offtrack, we had not walked very far.  They could still see the ridge we had descended, and the sun was setting in the west, they had a sense of where they were.  They were young and resourceful and figured worst case scenario they would be fine overnight with us if we got caught in the dark, everyone had a warm layer tied around their waste.  It would be an adventure, a story to to tell.  And also quite likely entirely unpleasant.  My Dad thought we could backtrack and either discover where we had gone wrong or return the full length of the way we came before it got too dark.  There was also the possibility that we were only a short distance from a connecting trail, or even the trail head itself, the trail simply being longer than we anticipated.  But we knew how to get back the way we came.  We turned around.

This terrified me.  I was little, I had no sense of time or distance with which to put the problem into perspective.  I was still afraid of the dark and I remembered the view from the top of the trail, it seemed like a really really big place to be lost in.  I was imagining lions and tigers and bears and Yeti and rodents of unusual size.  I was thinking that this very kind of thing was what had happened to those Hobbits.  My sister was fixated on talking about spending the night out there; she may have said something about having to eat me first.   In all, this probably only happened over the course of a couple of hours, but in my memory it feels like we wandered forever, like Lawrence of Arabia, parched for water and slowly weakening with hunger.  Walking with my Dad holding my hand, I started to cry.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Beginnings Of A Bat Thing- An Excerpt From Girl Gone Wild


We spent the evening watching the sun go down behind the high rocks on the far side of the lake. As dusk sank in around us swarms of bugs appeared above the water, and then, bats. Bats are a threshold animal, somewhere between something harmless like a chipmunk or a bird, but just creepy enough and with enough pop-culture stigma to make us skittish. Bats are mammals; like us, they are warm blooded and have hair, but they also have featherless, skin-covered wings and are mostly blind, instead using echo-location to navigate and hunt. There are thousands of species of bats, and it is estimated that bats make up one-quarter of all mammal species in the world. In the evening, if you see something flying, especially if it seems extra maneuverable or is near open water or a field, it is usually a bat. Bats love insects, and they are a social animal, often living in giant colonies that go out to hunt together in the evenings. On this evening, is seemed we were being visited by a large colony. Far from being scary or gross, these bats were magnificent. They were about the size of a swallow, fast, and fearless. They zipped past our heads diving low to skim across the surface of the water. They twisted and cavorted midair to snatch up dinner and avoid running into one another at the same time. They were acrobatic and mesmerizing and they entirely released me from my worry over sleeping out.

Monday, February 24, 2014



Sometimes it is the mundane things in life that give us comfort. The simplicity of routine, the soothing nature of familiar and menial tasks. I think many forms of happiness are hidden in the everyday completetion of small goals and obligations. The shape of a week, in list form but no particular order:

Go to the grocery store. Try to remember to get actual food that I will actually eat.

Clean bathrooms. If, that is, I have remembered to buy new sponges and cleanser.

Complete a load of laundry from sorting to putting away in less than 72 hours.

Open the scary looking mail I have been avoiding.

Corner cat and force her to take her medicine so she stops throwing up everywhere.

Do the terrible awful paperwork that I have also been avoiding.

Make dance. Undo. Make again. Edit. Repeat.

Write things. Undo. Write again. Repeat.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Scarlet Cap


For those of us worried about the sustainability of Pope Francis' policy changes or the robustness of his legacy in the church as he ages, hope arrives today in the form of nineteen newly appointed Cardinals.  Pope Francis, perhaps aware of his progressing age, is appointing nineteen new Cardinals, the equivalent of replacing the entire US Presidential cabinet. What is exciting about these appointments is the potential for trickle-down reform. Cardinals serve as liaisons and advisers to the Pope, but also run individual archdiocese which set policy and for entire regions. Cardinals are powerful and influential. And now, thanks to Pope Francis, they are also multicultural, hailing from traditionally unrepresented Catholic regions such as Haiti. If the good decision making of Pope Francis holds true, these men will embrace his vision of their new position.

 " This does not signify a promotion, an honor nor a decoration: it is simply a service that demands a broader vision and a bigger heart," 


Listen to Meryn Cadell's "Pope" Here:


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Another Escape


There is a new edition of the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm out that focuses less on translation and interpretation, although they are a lovely treatment of the stories, and more on the artwork that accompanies the stories. Editor Noel Daniel brought vintage fairy tale artwork from late 19th and early 20th century artists, each with their own unique vision, together into a new and amazing rendition of these stories. If it has been a while since you have read the Grimm fairy tales it is worth it to revisit them. The stories were never intended as children's tales, nor were they really intended to be anything at all. They were a collection of stories that already existed formed from collective fears and dangers. The Grimm's were cultural researchers interested in preservation of folklore and oral traditions, they traveled and listened, and wrote their own interpretations of old folk tales. While many of their stories are placed in a particular region or culture, what they found was that many of the characters and themes were cross-cultural, appearing over and over again in tales from all kinds of disparate places; he wicked stepmother, the wolf. This new collection of images challenges us to reinvent our own fantastical interior landscapes, outside of the Disney paradigm, and it is wonderful. A new escape.

For pictures and Maria Popova's take on this collection:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rainbows and Puppies and Picnics


Life isn't always. It can be hard to face another day or week or month of whatever it is that we are having to face. Today, I find strength in simple memories and melodies from my youth. Today, it is rainbows. Maybe they can help you too.

IZ Kamakawiwo'ole


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Water Works


The City of Portland is debating what, if anything, to do about their already high and rising public water water supply costs. While it is true that Portlanders pay more for their water than most major cities, even Phoenix, Arizona, that proponents of cost reductions use this as evidence in favor of making water more affordable only shows their lack of understanding of the issue. Portland water is more expensive than Phoenix because of bad water policy in Phoenix, not exorbitant prices in Portland. Arizona has a long history of devaluing water even as it becomes more and more scarce. Arizonans use water that is shuttled through the desert for hundreds of miles in open-air aqueducts that allow more than fifty percent of the water to evaporate before reaching its destination. Once it arrives in Phoenix it is used in misters, to water lawns that should never live in the desert, and to wash cars, but not for drinking. Arizona, like much of the rest of the country has terrible tasting drinking water.

Portland is different. Even though we live in one of the few areas of the world that has a water surplus (in non-drought years) Oregonians have implemented good policies around water quality. We have a pristine and well protected natural water source, and we just pent over a billion dollars for a much needed upgrade to our sewage system that will prevent raw sewage from leaking into the Willamette river every time it rains. The tap water in Portland tastes great.

That a city that prides itself on it's environmental image does not understand that good clean water is both important and expensive bewilders me. We chose to upgrade our sewer system, and now we have to pay for it, which we should, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves how very important this resource is. Call or email a Portland City Council member or County Commissioner or the Mayor today and tell them that the best things in life are never free. Good water is worth it.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Salvation Mountain


Leonard Knight died last week at the age of 82. Known for nothing, he lived a quiet life In the desert bringing to life his own unique oasis of art made from materials salvaged from the desert and donated by passers by and the curious.

I love to see quiet labors of love and artistry played out in simple lives. I love to be reminded of how much art, how much creative time and energy can be into projects that exist only to satisfy the creator, not for financial gain or prestige.



A Roar To A Whimper


Just this:

There are more tigers held in private homes as pets in Texas than exist in the wild in India. Tigers. In private homes. All over Texas. 

There are more exotic pets held in private homes in the US than in the zoos.

This speaks volumes to me about critical thinking and the role of impulse buying in the American population. The regulation or restriction of exotic pets in the US is fragmented and sketchy at best. In many states there are no real restrictions or regulations whatsoever, the average fishing or hunting licence may be more timely or costly to obtain that then ability to purchase an exotic animal. Beyond the first considerations, the safety issues within the home, the proper and humane care of the animals, and the cost of that care and maintenance, a broader concerns regarding this practice. 

Exotic animals that escape pose a risk to public health. Your tiger might not bite you, but it will bite the first neighbor kid that tries to poke it with a stick. And reptiles and other smaller animals that escape often find a new suitable habitat in the US, breeding in the wild and pushing out native species, impacting both competitors and prey populations.

I do not think that this information will have any impact on anyone that wants an exotic pet. I think that people that keep these kinds of animals are living out a kind of tangible fantasy, fulfilling a kind of escapism that is far beyond reason or rational. But do know this, there are entire organizations dedicated to the removal of exotic pets from owners in over their heads. 

What a terrible waste of time. What a terrible waste of an animal.

The Elephant In The Room, a documentary about the exotic pet problem in the US.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Notes On A Winter Day


Today I am aware of sounds; the roar of the fire, the crinkling of falling flakes, the cat dragging it's dish across the kitchen floor. I call my parents to make sure they are tucked away, out of the storm. They are out gallivanting and in wonderful spirits. I remind myself not to underestimate them. Over breakfast, one of us cracks a joke that sends us into fits. Neither of us can remember it. The varied thrush is at the feeder. He is a strictly foul-weather friend. The house has been thoroughly cleaned, as other chores have been postponed. The cook book lies open to "pies" on the kitchen counter, and everywhere, another cup of tea.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Best Served Cold


Last month Federal agents arrested the owner and director of IsAnyoneUp, a website that specializes in revenge porn. It turns out, there are a lot of people, an estimated five percent of Americans, that participate in revenge porn, which is best described as the public leaking of personal images and video, usually after a breakup. Ouch. That this is an industry amazes me. For such a thing to exist requires a long series of morally and ethically questionable decisions from everyone involved from the people that make the media (in the privacy of their own homes, which they have every right to do) to the people that submit, edit, and post it, and finally the people that choose to view it. I can only imagine the kind of karmic return one receives for doing such a thing. is it not enough that an estimated 99% of the internet is filled with pornographic content made largely by people who willingly participated and knew the images would be made public? Do so many of us lack the basic human compassion required to prevent us from doing public and permanent harm to someone we used to feel a close connection to? And what is happening with the rest of us that we want to be active players and witness one persons revenge and another's downfall? Even with recent law suits and arrests this is clearly a trend that is not dying any time soon. So make good choices, be kind, and watch your back for the cold dish.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Part-Time Racket


Portland State University is locked into a months-long labor dispute that focuses on the role of temporary and part time teaching faculty at the University. While the Oregon State University system averages about thirty percent part time staff, PSU is reaching towards fifty. No one, not the administration, the faculty, nor the students think more part time faculty results in a higher level of quality in education. And they are right, it doesn't. The part time teaching racket exists as an employment catchment for people with Master's degrees in particular, those that find themselves under-qualified for tenure track positions but over-qualified or too niche-educated for mainstream commercial jobs. From experience I can say that part time faculty are typically paid a flat fee based on in-class hours, a system that devalues extra time spent on curriculum development and grading. And in order to earn a living wage, and make the inevitable student loan payments, part time instructors teach many, many classes, sometimes at more than one campus. What ends up being created is a factory-farmed education. The students are numbers, the curriculum is simplified, attachment to the university fades, as does pride in one's vocation. The recent higher education boom has seen massive increases in infrastructure and technology at our universities, but little investment in the heart of education, the people. Are you an alumni? Tell your school how you feel about the role of part time staff. They listen. Or at least they should.

Monday, February 3, 2014

More Than A Muse


After nearly twenty years of relative peace, Mia Farrow is back in the storm. Recent accolades given to Woody Allen have spurred the reemergence of decades-old family ghosts. The briefest version is that after more than ten years together Woody Allen and Mia Farrow split in spectacular fashion, with public accusations of infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, tantrums, tirades, and craziness. Oh yeah, and one seven year old girl with claim to molestation by Allen that many people did then, and still do, find valid. It is this claim that has resurfaced after all these years. Regardless of the outcome, it is a a personal tragedy that will be played out in the public eye and likely never really resolved.

There are many things that could be and will be said about Mia and Woody and their children and relationship. Which I think is such a shame. I think that like any victim Dylan Farrow deserves justice and privacy. I think that besides the personal tragedy is a grand tragedy of intention, and the obscuring of Mia Farrows legacy, not as an actress, but as a humanitarian and activist. Far from the waif-like muse come-scorned woman of Woody Allen that we have all bought into, Mia has spent the last two decades devoted to illuminating the poverty and poor living conditions of North-Central Africa. She has moved on from Hollywood and turned her attention and energy to more important things than Page Six. Perhaps we should allow her to do so. Her work would be so much easier if we all paid attention to her, rather than her story.

You can follow her on Twitter @MiaFarrow


Saturday, February 1, 2014

All Hail The Superbowl


Today, even the front page of the New York Times has yielded to the Superbowl. It does not matter what else is happening in the world, on this weekend, Americans do football. Or rather, they use football as a vehicle for the indulgence of vice and bad behavior, for throwing aside family time, chores and errands and, well, mostly just watching tv and getting drink. There is also recreational drug use, sex trafficking, illegal gambling, and an increase in domestic violence. And for advertisers, it's almost as good as Christmas. Do you watch the Superbowl? Do you watch football in general? Are you even watching the game or is it serving a kind of social purpose or curiosity? Either way, be sure you understand the impacts of this game on our world, and make your choices wisely.