McCain’s gift

August 21, 2008

John McCain’s inability to remember how many houses he owns is a gaffe that will prove more damaging than John Edwards getting a $400 haircut. Count on it. Especially because McCain, after consulting with his staff, said the number is at “at least four” when in fact it may be ten or more.

The Jed Report has produced a Google Earth tour of the properties. The Talking Points Memo details the ill-timed most recent purchase by Cindy McCain.

I don’t fault McCain for his wealth or lavish lifestyle, including hobnobbing with movie celebrities and flying around in his private jet. But not knowing how many houses he owns puts him way out of touch with the people he’s seeking to lead.

The McCain campaign’s response: the POW excuse, again, and another slam on Barack Obama for liking arugula. I like it too, so I must also be an elitist. I definitely know how many houses I have: one with a fat mortgage payment and home equity loan.

Now all we need is a photograph of McCain eating arugula, and he’ll be toast.


For about the tenth time in a week, I’ve been hit up for money by the Democratic National Committee. Solitictors call me on the phone, send me emails, corner me outside the grocery — you name it.

This evening, a nice but persistent young woman came to my door to ask again. When I told her I’ve given several times to Barack Obama, she said: “He just raised $51 million in July.” As in he has enough, so how about spreading it around to all the other Democrats running for office.

Her approach irked me, and she knew it. Yes, she’s working for a worthy cause and has a tough job, but that’s hardly the approach to take.

My irritation faded a short time later when I found this “story” about Obama’s half-brother, Cooter, threatening to derail his campaign. Sadly, some people will believe it. Obama needs all the money he can muster.


Goodbye sun, hello world

August 19, 2008

Easily distracted, I am. Especially when I find a web site based on an idea brilliant in its simplicity and stunning in its execution.

Welcome to Constant Setting, featuring a single photograph taken in a place where the sun is setting at the moment you view it. (As I write, the fiery sky of Bora-Bora is one click away from filling my screen.) You also can get a map of the locale. Read more here about the concept, summed up in the tagline: Simply because the sun is always setting.

When I rise in the morning, I’ll watch the sun go down — somewhere, and start my day with wanderlust.


A mystery no more

August 18, 2008

“How old are you, Jimmy?” I ask. He’s sitting behind the wheel of his thirty-year-old, faded blue Cutlass Calais, fiddling with hearing aids in both ears.

I’m standing in the street next to my home office, leaning down to talk to Jimmy through his open car window. For years I’ve wondered about this gaunt man who pulls up to the curb for a minute or two — always in the same place — then drives off. I saw him stop about lunch time today and decided to end the mystery.

“Eighty-seven,” Jimmy shouts in a raspy voice, as if I have the hearing problem. Thick glasses magnify his eyes. One looks at me, the other turns outward. Jimmy seems pleased that I’ve introduced myself. Read More

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Art after death

August 17, 2008

Insane, abandoned, and anonymous. This describes many people who lived out there lives at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, starting in 1883 and into the 1970s. Their cremated remains were put in numbered copper canisters and stored.

But time and chemical reactions have turned them into art after death, art challenging perceptions of what it means to die. Acclaimed photographer David Maisel has documented the stark individuality blossoming from each person’s remains.

In an essay, Maisel, who gave me permission to publish one of his pictures, writes:

The canisters ask us to consider ‘What happens to our bodies when we die; what happens to our souls?’ Matter lives on even when the body vanishes, even when it has been destroyed by an institutionalized methodology of incinerating the body to ash and categorizing it by a number stamped into the lid of the ashes’ metal housing. Does some form of spirit live on as well?

I’ll consider those questions when I see Maisel’s “Library of Dust,” his Portland Art Museum exhibit that opens September 1. My context will be the remnant of my mother’s ashes that haven’t been scattered. I’ve divided this smattering into three tiny piles, stored less evocatively than those of the insane, one each for my two brothers and me.

In life, my mother might have found Maisel’s questions too weighty. But she would have laughed at the idea of resting, at least temporarily, in my three-year-old son’s discarded plastic Play-Doh containers.

I need to find something copper that would better suit her aesthetic tastes until the time inevitably comes for her to mix with me.


Following the boy sailor

August 15, 2008

Not often do I read about a sixteen-year-old boy and immediately wonder what he will do doing thirty years hence. I hope I’m around long enough to see how life unfolds for Zac Sunderland, who’s attempting to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Zac’s departure two months ago from Marina del Ray in California escaped me. Now I’m following his progress via his blog and its link to Google Earth, which vividly pinpoints his location and route.

When I was sixteen, I had trouble driving a car straight. Too many decades later, I’m living vicariously through Zac as he battles the contradictory demons of storms and no wind in the middle of the Pacific — alone but so very much alive.


Behind McCain’s mask

August 14, 2008

In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.

So proclaims John McCain. His short-term memory loss is, well, disturbing. Maybe Iraq doesn’t count. More disturbing are his efforts to interject himself into an international crisis for political gain. But then again, one of his top foreign policy advisers, Randy Scheunemann, was until recently a paid lobbyist for Georgia. Like McCain, he also was an energetic proponent of invading Iraq.

McCain and George Bush’s ties to Georgia run deep. And now comes speculation that Karl Rove may have a hand in what’s unfolding. Would anyone be surprised if it’s true?

I watch and listen to McCain closely. I’m baffled that someone who spent years as a prisoner of war, was tortured and confessed to crimes he didn’t commit, appears so eager to see our nation go to war — again.

At any moment I expect to see McCain rip away his face, a mask behind which lurks Dick Cheney.


Feast amid ghosts

August 13, 2008

We sit at long tables, nearly one hundred of us, amid fields of bounty. It’s Sauvie Island, ten miles west of Portland. I can smell the earth, fertile from Columbia River floods. The sun eases toward the hills, setting aglow acres of vegetables sprawling between guardian white oaks half a millennium old. Read More


Wildlife in the city

August 12, 2008

“Daddy, I see raccoons,” Atticus says over breakfast today, his third birthday.

The raccoons frequently visit our garage roof and use the ladder leading to our Portland backyard. Read More


Obsessive close encounters

August 11, 2008

An autopsy photo? A closeup of an alien’s skin? Or nature in all its bizarre beauty and symmetry?

Hint: I captured the image today at Hughes Water Garden south of Portland in Tualatin. Going there is my crack cocaine: the sound of running water and plants everywhere. Read More


A new poll concludes that eighty percent of Americans now believe global warming is a real threat to our future but more than half of them are unwilling to bear any financial hardship to address the danger.

Of course there would be no hardship, only opportunity, if we hadn’t wasted most of the last eight years under an administration that either denies the problem or does nothing substantive to address it. Denmark, among other countries, long ago began wrestling this problem to the ground and in the process helped its economy.

Economic survival is why General Motors is rushing to develop an electric car, the Volt, by 2010. The man leading the project owns “16 classic cars and eight motorcycles and two helicopters and two military-surplus fighter jets (which he flies).” according to Harper’s Magazine. He also calls global warming “a crock of shit.”

Those three stories lead me to ponder the guy I’ve seen several time driving around Portland. Something tells me he wants to increase offshore oil drilling but doesn’t know that the Bush Administration estimates doing so will only increase the nation’s oil supply by one percent — in thirty years.

What’s the guy driving? A white stretch limo Hummer.


Gun: does not compute

August 9, 2008

Atticus Bales Tong, three days shy of three years old, doesn’t know the meaning of the word gun. Suzame and I didn’t set out to deprive him of this knowledge, though it’s no doubt a dividend of allowing scant TV viewing — and only since he turned two.

I learned this today when I handed him a garden hose. The hose has a squeeze-handle nozzle. I said, “Here’s your gun.” And he didn’t know what I meant. And this is a boy with a remarkable vocabulary, including some Spanish, French, and Cantonese.

Sometimes ignorance is a state of grace. How long can it last?


Arc of nations

August 8, 2008

I doubt I’ll ever see anything as wondrous as tonight’s opening ceremonies at the Olympics. Never has a story been told so vividly on such a sweeping scale. Perhaps only an authoritarian government could pull it off. And yes, the story glosses over a shameful past and present. But to conceive and execute it so stunningly and with so many people playing roles — 15,000 — was awe-inspiring.

When the camera found in the audience a slouching George W. Bush, leg bouncing and eying his watch, I surely wasn’t alone in concluding that more than the grandest spectacle ever produced was unfolding; I was watching the ascension of one nation and the decline of another.