Wednesday, October 29, 2014

VOTE!

In Oregon, where our schools are inadequately funded and some counties don't have the tax base to hire a sheriff, we are finally being showered with cash. Record amounts of the stuff are pouring in to defeat a little ballot initiative that doesn't even have guns or fetuses in it anywhere.

The initiative, to require labeling of genetically modified foods, is similar to ones already defeated in neighboring California and Washington. All three started with polls indicating some 80% of the voters approve of labeling, but support dwindled under a crush of TV ads financed by the likes of Coca-Cola. The ads are following a well-worn, successful script. And it's aimed right at liberals.

If it was aimed at conservatives, many of whom might not care one way or the other about GMOs, there'd be a lot about "government overreach." There might be a suggestion that GMO labeling is a threat, somehow, to job creation, or personal liberty. And that it would be horribly expensive.

Home Grown Arugula
This campaign does indeed say that it would be horribly expensive, but adds that "it would hurt those who can afford it the least." That part is for the liberals, who are happy to buy heirloom arugula at Whole Foods but can be expected to care about the poor. In fact, one ad soberly maintains that adding GMO labeling to all the other labeling that is already required would raise grocery bills by "up to $500 a year" for a family of four. Gracious! Evidently we will need to examine each head of cauliflower before sharpening up the ostrich plume and inking the results. (Independent analysts put it closer to $2-3 per year, which is, after all, included in the "up to $500" claim; and when you've got the coin to drop millions of dollars on a campaign, the difference between two dollars and five hundred dollars is kind of a rounding error.)

Point number two, for the liberals: this measure is "poorly worded." Liberals will respond to that. Some of us devote hours every week to correcting other people's apostrophe use. Let's see, says the liberal: I like this measure, but could it be worded differently? Might there be unforeseen consequences from the way it's worded now? Things that only a very thoughtful person might anticipate? I'm a thoughtful person...maybe it's the right idea, but the wrong measure. The liberal's pencil hovers over the "no" column.

Hmm. The ads seem sincere and reasonable. They don't shout TOO EXTREME FOR OREGON, which would be a red flag. A soupcon of doubt has been introduced. Liberals even know what soupcon means in French.

Point number three: the straw man, dressed up in professorial tweed. "This will introduce needless anxiety about GMOs that is not based on science." Liberals love science! If it is true that studies show GMOs don't endanger health (ignoring, for the moment, the catastrophic rise in diabetes, asthma, allergies, heart disease, and the like that neatly coincides with the advent of GMO food, and trusting that Monsanto's scientists have it right), then it is unreasonable to ask those big corporations to label their food.

But. There are legions of us liberals who have no problem polluting our own bodies on a daily basis with pizza and beer, but still care about things beyond our own skin. Maybe we are concerned that organic farmers cannot protect their crops from windblown GMO seed. Maybe we are concerned that the ubiquitous Round-Up Ready GMO crops have resulted in soaring pesticide use that pollutes the watersheds and destroys the soil and harms the biosphere, including our pollinators. Maybe we feel helpless to dismantle an agro-industrial complex that is capable of producing a shitload of Cheetos--which we will totally eat--but is not in any way sustainable. And maybe we realize we can only get movement on the big issues, like GMOs and climate change, issues that have proved intractable on a national level, by using a local lever.

Technology is seductive. It's tempting to put faith in the Army Corps Of Engineers to have dominion over water, even when (billions of dollars later) it's clear that their math skills and concrete don't work nearly as well as the natural wetland environment that they have replaced. It's tempting to think someone clever enough to twiddle a genome can be trusted to manage any repercussions that might come up.

But some of us liberals are actually conservative. Some of us would prefer to run a thorough credit check on Pandora before letting her open her box. Pandora's a slut.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unexpected Fabulous Objects


If you really want to be joyful, you need to be surprised, often. And to do this, you really need to go outside. There's only so much astonishment you can manufacture for yourself if you're in your house or (worse) in your head all the time. You might come up with something unexpected in your refrigerator, but if you thought about it, you'd realize you should have seen it coming the moment you stuck that thing in the used yogurt container and shoved it toward the back. But if you're outside, paying even a modicum of attention, something is bound to slap you happy.

It could be a bug. In fact, it's likely to be a bug. You might see a beetle tripping along in the dirt, armored up in a metallic green they'd only dream about on Project Runway, and you'd catch your breath and say when did they start making those? Actually, they're common as hell, but you're thrilled anyway because you hadn't known that. And it's thrilling to come across something you don't know, unless you're the sort that has it all figured out all the time, in which case you might as well stay inside and mock people on the Internet.

Or you could watch a spider wrapping a fly burrito.  You knew they did that, but maybe it's been a while since you had your nose that close to a spider, close enough to admire her eyessss. Maybe you didn't remember just which legs she spins the burrito with.

Even people who actually do know a lot of stuff can be delighted at any moment, say, when they discover a rare violet peeking out of the duff. Nobody else knows it's rare, but they do--they can tell it by its little nose-hairs--and they're as tickled as you are with your green beetle. The power of surprise does not diminish with education. Education only improves your odds of being elated at something.

Dave and I like to give ourselves as much time to be surprised as we can, so we spend a lot of time outside. We were hoping for beauty at the least when we took off for Paradise Park on Mt. Hood the other day. There were few people on the Timberline Trail this late in the season, so we had the destination meadow to ourselves, and we sat down for lunch, expecting to be entertained by hawks hunting from the thermals at the mountaintop. We weren't expecting to have a front row seat to watch those thermals assemble lenticular clouds out of pure water and jazz, right above our heads.

Lenticular clouds are surpassingly cool. They're saucer-shaped drifts of perfection that form over objects such as mountains. They are frequently misidentified as UFOs by people who are insufficiently awestruck by reality. Sometimes they lift off fully formed and sail away in stacks. But on
the mountain, there's nothing static about them. They're a snapshot, in water, of the air currents rolling over a peak. Water molecules coalesce as the air rises over the obstacle, and evaporate on the other side as the air current slides down again. So the water in the cloud is constantly renewing itself and trailing away. It's the very illustration of ephemera.

They're just like us. We too are an assembly of molecules that form us-shaped objects as time passes through us. We might take different shapes depending on the obstacles we encounter, but we evaporate away when our time's up. Maybe some of us make enough of an impression that we float on in the memories of others, for a while. But then we're gone. Surprise! Rejoice!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whatever It Is, It's Contagious


In what analysts say is a sign that Americans are more divided than ever, clashes continued over the weekend between factions that believe the Ebola virus is God's judgment for Obama's attempts to divide Jerusalem and those contending it is God's judgment for Obama's embrace of marriage equality.

White House spokesmen protested the characterization, but were undermined when a report surfaced that the President himself had insisted on the presentation of bush meat at a state dinner, according to the neighbor of a cousin of a disgruntled White House sous-chef recently fired for an inflammatory meatloaf and chronic sauce incompatibility.

Epidemiologists confirmed the first Ebola case occurred when Obama was fifteen years old; this seems to underscore the complexity of Obama's plot in that it might have extended to several fore-Bamas. Observers had already pointed out the extraordinary family cunning involved in timing the future President's conception to coincide with the introduction of a state Americans were not even fully aware of, and which was considered too tropical and laid-back to maintain proper record-keeping. Others expressed skepticism that any African Muslim family could be so clever and far-sighted, noting that any association between the President's family and the virus could be more elegantly accounted for by invoking the phrase "the spawn of Satan." This theory also absolves God of responsibility, since it is generally acknowledged He never intended this disease to move beyond the colored folk.

Several pundits are warning of the likelihood that terrorists will make little Ebola bombs of themselves and fly to America to barf on people; others insist the terrorist menace had begun much earlier, noting that infected fruit bats are almost indistinguishable from drones.

Many express relief that at least the sheer diversity of opinion proves that Americans have not succumbed to a sheep-herd mentality. They cite the broad range of reasons given for Obama's orchestration of the epidemic, from his desire to elevate Muslims to his desire to impose martial law and take away citizens' guns. Either proposition is preposterous, according to some, who point out the epidemic began decades ago after Henry Kissinger expressed an intent to depopulate Africa using birth control, arms shipments, monkey parasites, and--as a backup--Dick Cheney.

Adding a note of levity to an otherwise dire national conversation, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) checked in from his newly rubberized office to declare that Obama was waging a war on women by deliberately endangering nurses, who are, or should be, women. "They set them up and then they throw them under the bus," he thundered, although others in his own party were equally vehement in their disagreement, preferring the rhetorical use of the phrase "sent to the back of the bus" for its ironic historical resonance.

Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, inexplicably still alive, insisted that Obama engineered the epidemic because he thinks America is no greater than any other nation and that if Africa has Ebola, the United States should, too. Aggrieved members of the cabinet were overheard to complain that saying Africa has Ebola is like saying North America has pineapple trees. This reminder further inflamed the birther contingent, which sneered that Hawaii is not much of a state, really, and was only added to the union on paper to make the flag stars come out even. Nodding vigorously, an unnamed representative of the Palin family, which has always bristled at the presumed equivalence of Alaska and Hawaii, said she could see that point from her back porch.

Analysts urged caution, saying that it is too early in the epidemic to pinpoint the precise depth of Obama's involvement, or even determine who he intends to kill.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sticking With What Works


A Texas man has sued a daycare center for damages after its proprietor was discovered to have duct-taped his child to the floor during nap time. Attorneys for the defense noted that the duct-taping was discovered only after their own surveillance cameras revealed it. "If we hadn't gone to the expense of installing security in the first place, to monitor gunplay and non-custodial interference and the like," defendant said, "none of this would have come to light. And if a child is duct-taped to the floor and there is nobody there to peel him up, can it be proven that adhesion has occurred?" Defense further stated that plaintiff's spawn was not himself duct-taped to the floor, but merely his blanket, into which he had been expertly folded and sealed in accordance with industry standards.

"It doesn't matter," said plaintiff Earl Ray "Ray-Ray" Ray, indignant. "That there is theft of intellectual property, plain and simple."

Mr. Ray had already run trials of the duct-tape child security and escape prevention system in his own home and in the homes of grateful neighbors. The system appeared to be functioning as visualized, and a startup for the Juniorator 5000 was to have been announced in the next year.

"It fills a need," Mr. Ray explained. "Maybe in your fancypants neighborhoods, anyone can afford to install a Velcro wall and buy matching vests in sizes 2T and up. But we're here for the real Americans."

Witness for the plaintiff Molly Ray Bygolly nodded enthusiastically. "I can't always rely on my harness and leash," she said. "I got things to do. Oh, sure, over there across town you'll see mothers trotting after their Tylers or their Sophies or what-have-you, pleading with them to turn around before they hit the intersection, and offering them the choice of skipping or leap-frogging back," she said. "But I need yanking capabilities and I need the Juniorator. I don't have all day--I gotta go to work."

Mr. Ray nodded. "This is America," he said. "We don't all of us have cellars, and them what do don't always have the jingle to hire a locksmith. There needs to be an affordable alternative for parents like us."

He raised his shoulders. "I mean, what have we got left? The gubmint is already fixin' to outlaw spanking. Twenty-four other countries already have, they say. Like we ought to be doing what all the other nations do. Well, that's all we need. Bunch of kids running into traffic yelling 'fromage, fromage.' BAM!" He illustrated his point with fluttering hands, followed by a fist pounded into his palm.

Mr. Ray's father Earl Ray Ray Sr. stumped in, folded his arms and sat down in the witness stand with a commanding thunk. "Candy-asses," he said, with a curdling stare toward the defendant's lawyer. "All of 'em. Hell, we didn't have the niceties when we was coming up. This 'un here, he came out okay, but he was only one of eight. My mam and pap had fifteen or sixteen, originally, depending on whether you ast Big Earl or one of the middle Earls. All I know is you learn to play it straight when you're in a family of more kids than your parents can count. We come from a long line of butchers, and Pappy could keep track of ten of us at first, but once the fingers started to go, it got dicey for the littlest ones. Nobody's ever gonna miss little Earlene, or Raylene neither, but if we'd had duct-tape technology, we might have saved 'em all. Might have saved us a No Bell prize winner," he said.

Earl Ray Ray Sr. paused, tapping his chin with a stub, and regarded his son thoughtfully. "Probably not, but maybe," he mused.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Virtual Support

Our friend Max had come to Portland for another race to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Last year it was a marathon; he maintained a killer pace in near-hundred degree heat, put his arms up at the finish line in victory, and briefly dropped dead before a chocolate-milk-laced resurrection. This year he opted for a half-marathon, but trained for a stupidly fast walking pace. Max is neither young nor spare. Max does have stamina, motivation, heart, and calves that could slice tomatoes.

Our role was to support and to cheer. It was the least we could do, and Dave and I are always good for that. Max's husband Peter came along to help with the supporting and cheering. The morning of the race, Dave--an early riser--was detailed to drive Max to the starting line at oh dark thirty. Peter and I stayed in bed to be more prepared for the supporting and cheering, finally crawling out at the last possible minute.

God, it was awful. We had been carbo-loading for days in solidarity with Max, and there are a lot of carbs in beer.

I'd had a restless night. I didn't have to set an alarm to make it to the marathon, but I am nothing if not sympathetic to those who did, and I woke up every ten minutes or so all night to make sure whoever was supposed to be awake either was, or didn't need to be yet. It was hell.

By the time I de-carcassed my mattress, I was a wreck. I had spent the previous two hours fretting over how we would know when to get downtown in time to watch Max cross the finish line. He was supposed to be there ready to go at six; the last walker was to cross the starting line at 7:30. We didn't know when he actually started. We didn't know how hard it would be to park. I came down to the kitchen to hash it out. There were more carbs cooking; Dave already had protein wrinkling up in a frying pan.

"So, guys, how are we supposed to know when to get down there? We don't even know when he started..."

"Yeah, actually, we do. We're tracking him right now," Peter said, bright with coffee and technology.

I plunged my hand down my pajama bottoms. This wasn't going to make sense, absent a good ass-scratching.

"See? He's right here. He left at 7:18..."

"...and twenty seconds," Dave put in, flipping a pan of carbohydrates, perfectly browned.

"And he's already over here. Look! You can see him move."

I peered at Peter's iPad. There was the half-marathon route lined out in blue; a tiny square balloon named MAX ROTH was attached to an arrow, and chugging incrementally over the route.

"OH! YAY! Go Max go!" Tiny Max dutifully chugged. Looked like he had the whole course to himself. Just street signs, mileage markers, and little clock icons to dodge.

"And he's going at a 12:38 per mile pace, and scheduled to cross the finish line at 10:03."

"Holy cow! This is amazing! Look at him go!" Tiny Max dinked steadily toward the Broadway Bridge. "How do they do that?"

They chip him like a beagle, is how, and surveil him from space. "Look at that! He's coming to the turn-around point! He's right there! He's making the corner! Go, Tiny Max, go!"


We were absorbed. Whenever Tiny Max crossed a clock icon, the site updated his pace. It was steady.  It was remarkable. The man was a machine. We poured more coffee and supportively slugged down a combo carb-grease-and-salt platter. We were exhausted. We were elated. We were not dressed. We were late. Tiny Virtual Max was going to beat us to the finish.

Stopping only for a box of restorative doughnuts, we squoze into the car and raced for the finish line. Tiny Max plugged along on the iPad. Parking was sparse. We had to walk for, like, Jesus, blocks. A cyclone fence surrounded the finish line like it was the White House, because the terrorists had won, and we wouldn't even be able to watch him cross the finish line. Meanwhile, Tiny Max chugged ever forward on Peter's tablet.

"Maybe he has an app," we said. "'Virtual Cheerleader' or something. Let's make sure he hears us! Siri, find Max! Find Max! Go, Tiny Max, go! Go, Tiny Max, go!" we all bellowed into the iPad.

Racers swarmed by in anonymity, blocks away, dim and distant through the fencing. "Could have done this from home," we said, recalling the softness of our pajamas with longing, and dabbing the last doughnut crumbs from the box with pudgy fingers. Big Actual Max appeared anon. He was interested in a ride home. It was the least we could do, so that's what we did.

And now a word from guest poet Actual Max:

They told me I had melanoma.
Turned out it was B-cell lymphoma.
But thanks to Rituxan
I can raise lotsa bucks 'n'
Walk 13 miles through Multnomah.





Saturday, October 11, 2014

Count Your Holes

German citizen Rolf Buchholz was denied entry into Dubai at the airport, ostensibly because he was suspected of practicing black magic. The horns he'd had installed on his head made Security nervous. If I were to see him coming through my line with those horns on his head, I wouldn't have immediately thought of black magic. I'd have thought, dude can't buy hats off the rack. But they're touchy in Dubai.

Mr. Buchholz had plenty more going on than just the antlerage, though. In fact, he is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most piercings of anyone on the planet. And you know what that means. That means there's someone in the world whose job it is to count holes in a human being, outside of a medical setting.

Many of Buchholz's personal barnacles are in the facial region, especially around the mustache and soul-patch zone. Which means his stubble has to fight its way through a lot of rubble. Perhaps he doesn't have much of a beard at all. Perhaps that's how this whole business got started in the first place. "Pretty thin beard," he probably said, only in German. "Perhaps it would look more manly if I sewed in a raft of little beads." Black magic aside, this can be a serious threat to passers-by if he does have to shave. When we try to mow the alley next to our house, pebbles shoot out everywhere. It's not safe. And God forbid the guy has to sneeze--he'd be all Dick Cheney on a duck-hunt.

Even if he isn't a danger to others, his enhancement project can't be good for him. I only ever got the standard two extra holes put in. Had it done at a mall with the neighbor girl. I can still remember the sound of the chnnk as the needle poked into my iced-up earlobe, followed by the kchrrrr of the dental floss pulling through. Within a year I had accumulated a bunch of huge hoop earrings with metal dangly bits. Liberace's piano would have looked right at home under them.

It worked for me for a while. I'd discovered long hippie dresses made of India-print cotton, and with earrings like wind chimes I was finally, for the first time in my life, fashionable, and on the cheap. Then the earholes began to sour. They were sore and crusty and I'd knock the pus off and keep jamming in the jewelry. Then I left it out for a bit, and then a bit longer, and eventually abandoned it altogether. It was just as well. Sometimes they'd get caught on my hair or my dress and start ripping things, and it wasn't worth the trouble. Poor Mr. Buchholz is at risk of losing half his face every time he pulls off his T-shirt.

So why do that to yourself? I can only assume Mr. Buchholz wanted to distinguish himself in some way. And he just wasn't up to learning the violin.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Advice To The Young

A lot of kids are stressed out these days trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, which seems to them like a long time, even though a percentage of them are going to be culled during Spring Break. And it makes sense to have a plan, I guess, if you're bent on spending the equivalent of a house mortgage on some crappy education. I think it's a shame, though, because that having-a-plan business isn't how life works.

When I was a college freshman, I was concerned that I didn't have a major yet, and everyone told me not to worry about it. I was planning to major in psychology when I applied to college, but that infatuation lasted only a couple weeks and it seemed like the worst idea in the world once I got there. So I took English and German and music and literature and logic and calculus and something else and waited for a plan to materialize. All I knew was it was going to be something in the liberal arts. By the next year I was taking science classes and knew it was going to be something in the sciences, but I didn't know which one. When my four years came to a close and the music stopped, I happened to be closest to the Biology chair and that's where I sat. I even got a sort of job in a closely related field (mouse torture).

Here's how life actually works. You wind up with a Classics degree in some cool college town with a bunch of other kids you know and you get any kind of job you can, and then someone at a party mentions a great job opportunity in another town far away. And it's not in your field or anything, but it's in your girlfriend's field, and off you go with your girlfriend and try to find another job. And you don't, and your girlfriend seems kind of high and mighty all of a sudden, and you complain beerily about that to the woman at the end of the bar, and she knows someone, and you wind up with a part-time gig in Inventory at a department store, and after about ten years enough people have dropped dead that you can slide right into a slot in Sales, where being able to insult people in Latin comes in handy, and meanwhile some of your sperms have accidentally made something of themselves, so you bump up to Management and stay there, and then you die.

There were the rare kids who knew exactly what they wanted to do in their lives. And they marched straight through and took all the right courses and slid down the Greased Path of Inevitability to their goals, and then one day they woke up miserable in their forties and said "fuck. I'm a lawyer." But they can afford good enough toys to distract themselves for a while, and then they die.

When I was young, I wanted to be an author. I didn't really have any other ideas. I wrote a lot of awful stuff. You know what they say: "write what you know." Which presents an obvious problem when you're a teenager.

I was dismayed by not being acclaimed as a genius and eventually quit writing altogether, and lurched my way into that biology degree, and drifted to Boston, and got a job slicing up mice, and broke up with another boyfriend, and moved to Oregon just because, and made scrimshaw for a few years, and got a job Moving the Nation's Mail for another thirty, and then started writing again, and now I'm an author, just like I planned it.

You might not believe me, but I can prove it. I have actual physical copies of my book Trousering Your Weasel, with my name on the front and everything. And, by the way, there's no more perfect or inexplicable Christmas gift than that. Your friends will be rendered speechless with gratitude. So if you want a couple dozen autographed copies, fire off an email to me and we'll talk. We can go ahead and leave Amazon out of this--they're already set for life.



Prices (domestic) including shipping and handling:
One book       $12.99 + $4.00 S&H = $16.99
Two books    $25.98 + $4.50 S&H = $30.48
Three or more books  $12.99 apiece; no shipping fees.