Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Diapers Of Doom

Archival Photo
If anything will bring down this great country, it will be our inability to see past the next election cycle. We are doomed if we settle for short-term solutions to long-term problems. Thank God Texas is still producing Gomers who can see the big picture. No wait. Gohmert. Louie Gohmert. He is so far ahead of the curve he might actually be around the bend.

Here is a man who gets right to the heart of an issue. When he observed that some of his constituents were hopping mad about his opposition to health care reform, he concluded that congressmen should not be expected to take heat without being allowed to pack it, too, right there in the Capitol building. He's not only not going to listen to you, he's willing to put a cap in your ass, and trust me, he's already run it by Jesus. Jesus is cool with that.

His whole website reeks of common sense. To wit: "So if you are oriented sexually toward children or toward animals or corpses, or shoes, or whatever, that's okay." Don't be fooled. He means it's NOT okay, and I agree. That's why I always wear socks.

Or, in his most ringing statement: "It is high time the people of our country started deserving better." Amen, brother, we're already a quarter past rightful and they probably won't even seat us at entitled until intermission. More inspiring words have seldom been inflicted. It's a true call to reaction.

And best of all, thanks to Rep. Gohmert, we have been alerted to the threat of terror babies. Terror babies are those babies dropped in the U.S.A. via the international terrorist maternal missile system, consisting of visiting women with full-term pregnancies concealed beneath their burkas, who snatch up U.S. citizenship for their infants and whisk them back to their home countries to be schooled in mayhem with exploding training pants. There they remain until they come of age and are ready to be sent back to America as citizens and wreak havoc. Terror babies can be spotted by their garlic burps, suspicious diaper bulges and beards. Now that we're on to them, we can take them out, thanks to Louie. He'll see those infants past the threat of abortion, but once they've hit air, they're fair game.

Asked by an interviewer what evidence he had of this dastardly plot, Mr. Gohmert sighed, letting his bandolier out a notch. "Two things. One, you're a Nazi. Two, terror baby purveyors are very sneaky," he confided. "And this is a very sneaky plan. That's your proof right there."

And, America, he's right. It's almost unbelievably sneaky, but there already is a precedent for the degree of foresight required to launch the terror baby plan. One need look no further than the brilliant ploy by Kenyan agents who,  in 1959, managed to plant an African newborn in Hawaii, where people are distracted by falling pineapples and rogue chickens, and raise it up to be the President fifty years later. Most people in those days would not have placed much money on a black child accomplishing such a thing, but Eisenhower-era Kenyans took the long view, which is precisely what is lacking in modern America. We can't even get a bullet train built.

Do we, even now, have what it takes to put a terror baby plan together? I submit that we do not. Our children can't hide explosives with their pants on the ground, nor can we get them to leave home.

This is big-time, long-range thinking, Mr. Gohmert. This is moon-shot material. Some day, because of people with your kind of vision, we may be able to harness the power of Uranus.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Only A Vapor Moon

My friend Dale, who slings English like nobody's business over at mole, recently lamented that so many people were baffled by the movements of the moon and planets. The dynamics underlying the phases of the moon are so evident to him that he believes people are being, if not deliberately obtuse, unobservant in the extreme. He makes a good point. Whatever the moon is doing, it has been doing it in a regular and predictable manner for the span of our lives, and we've all had plenty of time to absorb the rhythm of it. I think highly enough of Dale that I hate to mention I am one of those clueless people.

I asked my Daddy about it all more than once, and more than once he dragged out the flashlight and tennis ball and ping pong ball and paper and pencil and WD-40 and plunger and whatever else he thought it might take to transfer some clarity into my noggin. He succeeded every time, too. I always got it. Then I'd look up suddenly and all of it would tumble out my downhill ear. Daddy was a mathematician and amateur astronomer and there really wasn't anything in the natural world he didn't understand. His mind was a huge repository of information. Mine is more like a culvert. An awful lot of stuff has gone in, and shot right back out again.

When I was a little girl, I was pegged in the academic system early on as "gifted," mostly because I drew people with shoelaces. That could have been because I was nearsighted and short and that's where my attention was, but there you go--if you're going to be tagged with a label, it might as well be a hopeful one. Because math was a big deal in my family, I assumed that being gifted meant I was good in math. Relieved of math phobia, I took lots and lots of math and always understood it and thought it was really cool. I loved it. I loved it for the entire duration of every class, and then after that I remembered having loved it, as opposed to remembering the math.

The big science light went on for me the day, in tenth grade, I read about stomatal pores. These are paired cells on a plant's surface responsible for regulating water. They're shaped like buttocks, complete with the hole in the middle. When they swell up with water, the hole gets larger and the water can run out. When they lose water and go slack, the hole shuts down. Feel free to abandon this particular analogy if it doesn't work for you, but I thought the whole scheme was elegant. Those tiny botanical fannies got me on the road to a science degree. I loved all that too. Don't ask me about it now. My head is packed to the rafters with correctly-spelled words, jostling and forming cliques and swapping around promiscuously, and all the other stuff just passes through; it can't get a purchase with all the commotion.

I'm especially challenged by visualizing things in three dimensions, which comes up surprisingly often in life. If you hand me one of those wooden 3-D puzzles, I'll give it five minutes and end up solving it with a hammer.

Dave can't figure out where I'm going wrong with my spatial reasoning, but he gets all upset at how English is spelled. It's easy for me to spell: I hold my brain up to the light and read the words right off the roof of my cranium. But when Dave tries to explain to me how something goes together mechanically or what pieces to cut out of fabric to achieve a particular shape, he can look into my eyes and see right through them. Not to my soul, but to a little musty area where lint balls of bewilderment tumble around in a lonely, whistling wind; and he knows he's not getting through to me, so he explains it louder. My situation is tragic, really. "Gifted," my botanical fanny.

But oh, those words: words with shine and juice and rambunction. Plump ones, like "gibbous." I look up at the moon and wonder why it has that shape. I imagine rustling up my dad, maybe poking a stick in  his ashes--he wouldn't mind--and I hear him saying, "not the flashlight and the tennis ball and the ping pong ball again? Okay, one more time." And one more time, I'd understand. Almost everything strikes me as new information, a condition so close to dementia that the transition should prove seamless.

So a week ago I went out at sunset and peered into the east for the big orange moon that was supposed to show up--the biggest in eighteen years. Naturally, it wasn't there. We've had cloud cover for eighteen hundred consecutive days, and that's just since Thanksgiving. Nevertheless I squinted into the fog, right where I knew that moon was, felt it trying to press through. I like to hear unseen geese hootling through the clouds too. The list of grand things I can't see is enormous. Pretty much the whole universe.

Yesterday we had a half moon, I'm told. Was it half full, or half empty? If the moon, or the fanny cells on a nasturtium, or anything else is out there glorying away and we can't see it, or won't see it, or learned it once and forgot it, is it still magnificent? I'm going with yes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not That I Don't Like Lizards

I'm seeing trailers on TV for an animated film about a chameleon, starring the voice of Johnny Depp. If there's a bigger waste of resources than that, I'm not aware of it. No one needs the voice of Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp's voice is not what any of us are interested in. It all reminds me of how people sink huge money into elaborate caskets and then bury them six feet under. What's the point?

But that is what people do. People go to expensive lengths to pretty up something that is only attractive in an entirely different context (a maggot convention) and from an entirely different perspective (a maggot's). You can spend up to $65,000 for a casket, and thousands more for embalming and makeup, and shovel dirt over the whole business three days later. It's plumb odd. It's as useless as inner beauty, which I keep stashed near my spleen in case I need it, which no one ever does.

Embalming has been done in different ways and for different reasons over the years. Ancient Egyptians did it because they believed a person's soul might come back to re-inhabit the body and they didn't want it to be all run-down. That's just good citizenship. These days embalming is done to allow mourners to remember the deceased as he or she was when alive, even though that was only a couple days ago and hardly anyone's memory is that bad. The embalming compounds used can be any of several types, as long as worms and bacteria find them unappetizing. The fluids are injected into the circulatory system via a neck artery and the blood and whatnot is ejected out of a drainage vein in the neck on the other side, unless of course there are blockages, which is sometimes the scenario with your dead people, in which case additional injection sites are used. Then various organs are unburdened of their contents and re-stocked with embalming ingredients. It's a complicated procedure, but if done well, you end up with something that looks as lifelike as Joan Rivers, only with the mouth sewn shut.

But until someone develops a casket-cam app, this is all money down the drain. If we're really going to be serious about this, we should offer taxidermy as an option to embalming. If you really, really love your mom and dad, you could keep them up topside with you, mounted, or just holding hands.

But preserving the appearance of the recently deceased just so we can look at them for a few more days at great expense? Ridiculous. I'm willing to make an exception for Johnny Depp.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Get Me My Formica Hat

The news wasn't good on NPR. We were driving home in a hailstorm listening to speculation about radiation clouds emanating from Japan. The planet had made a little adjustment in its outerwear, as it must do--it doesn't mean anything by it--but the human consequences were devastating, and still unfolding. Finally Terry Gross's show came on, the hail let up, and we were just settling in to hear a very old man sing his own composition, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," even though he had just died, when the Emergency Broadcast System began bleating away. It was not preceded by "this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System." It just busted right in. My first reaction was to want to pull over to the right side of the road, but that was inappropriate, and we waited for the bleating to stop and tried to figure out which direction Japan was.

Then a man came on and said there was a severe thunderstorm warning for central Multnomah county and that everyone should take shelter inside a building and stay away from windows.

This still sounds pretty silly to a girl who grew up near Washington, D.C., where we had a severe thunderstorm every afternoon between 4pm and 4:30pm during the months of July and August. I always loved thunderstorms and never was afraid of them. They were so refreshing, and I would stand at the front door looking out and smelling the ozone and sticking my tongue against the wire screen in the door. I liked the taste of of wet screen door. "The littlest Brewster kid is licking the screen door again," I imagine our neighbors used to tell each other, but they're probably dead now. I don't know what sort of metals might have been in the screen that appealed to me so, but I don't think they were harmful. Shoot, in those days, our mothers used to scrub behind our ears with asbestos pads to get the lead paint off. We were made of stouter stuff and it didn't bother us a bit. We were made of stouter stuff and it didn't bother us a bit.

The storms were plenty loud, but I liked to go out in them. For a blessed half hour we could be drenched in seventy-degree water and begin to remember the point of living again. Then the sun would come back out and the steam would hover in the air and the thunder would rumble away in the distance like Satan cackling and our sweat would revert to an inert slime that nothing but a trip to Gifford's Ice Cream could compensate for.

Anyway, here in Portland we have thunder so infrequently that a little bout of it that sounds  like celestial indigestion will cause people to remark on it all the next day. A severe thunderstorm warning hardly seemed worth jumping up and down about. What the Emergency Broadcast System was really designed for, as we kids who grew up in the shadow of the Capitol well knew, was to warn us of an imminent nuclear strike. We practiced diving under our desks with our hands over our heads, utilizing our nation's primary defense, Formica.

But the last time we had a severe thunderstorm warning here, it knocked the scoff right out of me. It screamed down the valley bending trees parallel to the ground, which is especially impressive in Douglas fir country. Unanchored Chihuahuas vanished. Comb-overs were revealed. Bits of minced weatherman and other debris rocketed by. It was an emphatic sucker, and I was impressed. So this time we took shelter and stayed away from windows.

No matter what Dave might tell you, it's not my fault that the nearest shelter happened to be a fabric store, or that he was the only one with a wallet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Procreate

The end of the Brewster line (arrows)
Out of four of us siblings, only my brother managed to eke out a child, and he totally didn't mean to. Only a small part of him wanted a child, and that was the part that won the day. We're all pretty thrilled with the results, though. My niece turned out way better than we dared hope. She, however, isn't doing anything about having children herself--quite the opposite--so it looks as though this particular branch of the Brewster tree has gone stumpo.

Grand-nephew in production
Dave's side is doing a little better. He has one sibling, and she, the rabbit of the family, produced two entire children, both of them top-drawer items. We two, on the other hand, have manufactured nothing, and at this point, if we do, we will have to gin up a whole new religion over it, which would be a tremendous bother. Ours was a conscious decision not to procreate. Genetically speaking, we were too likely to produce flatulent progeny with poor eyesight and no ambition, unless of course they rebelled, but we couldn't take that chance.

It's all worked out for the best. We have not been exposed to diapers or adolescent insolence, and no children have been scarred by our singular version of couth. The niece and nephew most likely to have been harmed by exposure to us have come through unscathed, if a little deficient in useful computer skills, and outside of the family we have also been able to collect a set of fine, pre-wiped, post-angst twenty-something friends through the ruse of feeding them or renting a house to them. We're pleased.

Now comes the news that the nephew has defied tradition by charging right out there and whomping up a whole new person. Yes, he is all set to produce us a brand-new baby, with invaluable assistance from his wife. For a family that could hold a reunion in the back of a Volkswagen, this is thrilling news indeed. Especially since there are a lot of good genes in play from both parties involved. This one should be a humdinger. We've already seen him--there are photographs. So far, he's small, although not for his age; he's black and white and shades of gray, with a grainy texture. He has nice flippers with very long fingers; I dream of a piano player and Dave fantasizes someone who can palm a basketball. Either way, we are standing by ready to instruct. Somebody else bags up the poop, right?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Expensive Speech

The word has come down from the Supreme Court that Fred Phelps and his pious pustule posse at Westboro Baptist Church are supported in their right to picket military funerals with obnoxious, hurtful, and factually inaccurate signs (if God hated fags, he would never have made them so fabulous). What some people call hate speech is, from the church's point of view, an informational picket. For once I agree with the Roberts court. Our right to free speech is our best national idea and critical to our very glory. As a person who is likely to say something at any time that the ruling junta would find objectionable and smackworthy, I want to see it protected.

Interestingly enough, the court specifically upheld these protesters' speech as protected political speech. I am wondering if the same judicial consideration would be given to a rag-tag passel of funeral spectators in foam suits waving signs that said "MATTRESS SALE CLOSEOUT! LAST DAY!" If not, then there may be other ways of contending with the particular furuncle on the fanny of Freedom that is represented by Fred and his festering friends.

My inclination is to protect all speech, but there are lines to be drawn, and many of them involve what, exactly, is considered speech. Here in Oregon, for instance, nude dancing is defended as free speech, even though you're really expected to tip.

But at least nude dancers are demonstrably human. The case that I find really deplorable is the other Roberts court decision that allows corporations to spend as much as they want on political campaigns in the guise of it being free speech. But that's a mighty big G-string and it holds a lot of cash. Free speech is one thing; I don't think we should lay out the red carpet for expensive speech. If Corporation can somehow be barged in, squeezing between the buildings downtown and locating a spot in the public square he can stand in for a turn at the mike along with everyone else, fine. I personally would like to limit free speech to those entities who, I don't know, breathe, and fit on a bus.

And although there are laws against misrepresentation in effect, they do not, apparently, apply to political figures, who are free to say any fool thing they want, regardless of its proximity to the truth. And that is why James Inhofe's face has not yet been duct-taped shut. He recently pronounced that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and should not be regulated as such, even it it's cooking our planet. The legal problem here is that it is still permissible to not yell "fire" in a flaming theater. So we'll have to come up with some other solution for Mr. Inhofe (R-Hell). I'm thinking of a counter-demonstration. Like carbon dioxide, water is a naturally occurring substance and thus, according to Mr. Inhofe's reasoning, not a pollutant. I submit we could hold the good senator under a bunch of it until he quiets down.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Murr: It's What's For Dinner

I am proud to know someone from Newfoundland, a region whose existence has only been verified in my lifetime. My friend Sara is a repository of disturbing facts, among which is the revelation that people in her part of the planet eat Murrs. Or not murrs, precisely, but murres, the dashing and athletic sea bird with the dapper black-and-white outfit, shapely rear end and world-class sense of humor. Only they do not call them murres, but "turrs." It would seem odd to mispronounce a word like "murre" in this way unless you take into account that in Newfoundland, above-freezing is not their native temperature, and initial consonants can be unpredictable.

Besides, my own name only came about because the people I went to college with couldn't pronounce "Mary," so we've got no room to complain. Its spelling is thus arbitrary, and has been reinterpreted variously as Myrrh, Muir, Murre, Merv, Merle, and Sally. Nevertheless, it's mine now, and I'm not sure how I feel about being fried up with carrots and potatoes.

I do know that I'm not likely to partake of one myself. That's not out of any allegiance to murres, but because Sara says they're greasy and stringy. There is a bit of a taboo about eating your own kind, though, most places. It's frowned upon in America, for instance, which is a quite typical attitude in countries marked by obesity. The subject probably never comes up in your more gristly populations. But survey a random sampling of Americans and you're likely to find they think human meat tastes immoral.

Actually, the flavor is probably not the problem. Human meat is called "long pig" and is reputed to be delightful. There are contradictory texts, however. In the Bible, it is reported that during the famine in Samaria, two women agreed to boil and eat their sons, and the first woman did so, and shared the meat. But the next day the other woman did not pony up; so maybe it was not so palatable after all.

No one really knows how prevalent the long-pig cuisine is, world-wide. There is evidence of it in Neanderthal populations, where a good eyebrow roast could go a long way. In my youth it was depicted fairly often; the typical scene in 1955 A.D. (30 B.P.C.) shows a duo of white men, one of whom is usually Bob Hope, in a large stewpot attended by dark chefs whose accoutrements are made of disassembled skeletons. Nowadays it is rare to medium-rare to see such a depiction.

Some cannibalism was observed during the days of Christopher Columbus, and when Queen Isabella decreed that Spanish colonists were only allowed to enslave natives who were cannibals, their numbers spiked dramatically.

I'm probably not as averse to the practice as most people; at least I'm not willing to reject it out of hand. "How can you even think about eating a human being?" I've been asked, and I'm not entirely sure how to answer that, but I do know butter and salt would have to be involved. For all I know, I've already had some. When someone does all the cooking for you, you don't ask a lot of questions. The main reason I'm against it in general is out of self-preservation. I'd be the first to go. Some of my flesh is already falling off the bones. When people seem to be giving me their full attention as I rattle on about this or that, they might well be thinking: "mmm. Juicy. Good cracklins'."

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Our cat Tater is a litter box whiz, unlike our previous cat Larry, who was less fastidious. When it came to distributing poop, Larry was a Democrat. But Tater is robust and productive and not at all private about pooping. She likes you to watch. After she's done, she turns around, looks at her output, and then scratches away. Not at the litter, but at the little plastic-lined wastebasket right next to the box. When we take the baggie out once a week to the garbage, it's shredded to ribbons. There's some kind of primal instinct going on here, but it's not very relevant. It's a little off-topic, in fact.

Tater's scratching of the bag and not the litter might seem like a case of cognitive dissonance, but that's only from our standpoint. From hers, she knows all she has to do is poop, and it's somebody else's job to clean up after her while she goes and sits in the sun.

This is one of the reasons we're pretty sure she's a Republican. She's got nothing at all on Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, for instance. Governor Walker took over a state with a $120 million budget surplus and immediately engineered a $140 million tax break for out-of-state corporations. Then he declared a budget emergency and said it was the fault of the unionized state workers. Scratch, scratch.

He's not interested in winning appropriate concessions from the workers. He's interested in taking away their right to organize altogether.

Unions seem to have a bad reputation these days, and they've got their problems, but they're a big part of what kept this good middle-class economic engine going for as long as it did. Until a bunch of people fought and died for the right to organize, workers didn't have much to say about their working conditions  or wages. Employers could pretty much write the ticket, especially if they were the only game in town. But, after banding together, workers were able to negotiate for a living wage, maybe health care, maybe even a pension put aside. Even their peers who were not unionized benefited from the standards they set. It wasn't a way to get wealthy, but it was a way to make a decent living, and all over the country, communities thrived, full of decently-paid workers and the people who sold them merchandise and services. Plus, most of us got weekends off.

Organized labor was one of the last remaining impediments to the concentration of all the wealth at the very top. But it has been much weakened, by design, resulting in a predictable narrowing of prosperity. People were encouraged to think of their homes as cash machines and the economy still raced around for a while like a cartoon coyote that zips over a cliff, before it notices that there's nothing holding it up.

This situation flourished because regulations were cast aside and a whole new pirate fleet set sail, folding and packaging securities into derivatives and other unrecognizable instruments. Nothing real was created. Some people skated away with all the money, and the rest of us were left buried under a collapsed pyramid of financial origami.

So the Republicans campaigned against regulation and cut funding to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Scratch, scratch.

Tax cuts in the Bush era diminished total income by almost three trillion dollars. So the Republicans concluded that tax cuts grow the economy and called for more.

They hate budget deficits, so they enshrined tax cuts to the top 2% and added $700 billion to the debt.

They're taking a good hard look at the laws of physics to see what might be done to loosen them up.

Undermining workers' ability to band together may have nothing to do with helping the economy, but it does help elect Republicans so they can sit in the sun.

They don't even care if you watch all this shit come down. They're not even covering it up, and it stinks. We've still got to clean it up and get it to the curb, but it gets harder and harder when the bag is shredded.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Blizzard of 2011 (11:30pm - 1:12 am)

We had our big winter storm last week. You probably heard about it. It knocked American Idol right off the newscast. They had it pinned down a week in advance, too, which is unusual. Meteorologists are a fidgety bunch here. We're right at the confluence of a bunch of geology that likes to really bollix up weather prediction. We're in a bowl rimmed with mountains that wring the rain right out of the air and lob it back on us. We've got the warm, moist marine influence coming up from the south and west. Up top, we've got that troublemaker Canada breathing arctically down our neck. And we've got the Columbia River Gorge, through which a variety of delights is funneled, including, ice age permitting, the occasional 500-foot-tall flood, bearing boulders, mud and bits of astonished aboriginal Americans.

When all of these influences converge on Portland and duke it out, there's no telling what's going to happen. It's like tossing three oiled monkeys into a silo during an earthquake: will they fling poo or make popcorn? There are too many variables. Sometimes it just comes down to monkey moods. We have to be prepared for anything.

Our standard warm wet weather comes from the ocean, and when we get cold air out of the north it's usually dry, so when it's cold enough to snow it doesn't. That's why it was really something when we saw the prediction a week out for a big snow on Thursday. In the paper, they print out a seven-day forecast with helpful visual aids, and Thursday's picture had gigantic snowflakes. Here, the size of the snowflakes is a graphic indication of certainty, not moisture content. These were big ones. The sucker was on the way.

Nothing about the forecast changed the closer we got. It was awfully exciting. Television newscasts were dominated by reports on how to drive in the snow, illustrated by archival footage of reporters holding some in their non-mike hand. The principal recommendation was to not do it, and to take public transit instead, such as the bus or our newer light-rail system, which has an admirable record of service except in icy conditions, when it latches onto its overhead lines like a tongue on a flagpole. Snow is one thing; the stuff we usually get is undriveable, a bumpy ice lasagna, on which your car has all the gription of buttered mercury. Folks who are not from here cannot be dissuaded from rolling their eyes and complaining about our driving abilities. They engage their four-wheel drive and snap on their smirks and off they go, and later are easily picked out by their shiny undercarriages blossoming in the ditch like crocuses.

By Tuesday, I had settled on my proposed snow sculpture (an otter) and drivers all over town pre-ditched their cars to save having to do it in the cold. By Wednesday the weathermen on the television had damp stains in their trousers. Our city snow plow was rolled out to the theme of Rocky and bounced up and down in anticipation. Everywhere, folks who did not have chains for their bicycles donned their spring, fall and winter raincoats all at once,  doubled up on their sandal socks and walked to New Seasons to stock up on emergency arugula and Bananagrams games. Pugs whined nervously and licked off their sweater fuzz. By Wednesday afternoon citizens were glued to their media for up-to-the-second updates. The snow was inked in for seven p.m. At five p.m. came the announcement that the system had stalled over the Coast Range. Triple-A was sent out with a portable low-pressure zone to see what could be done. We went to bed under sparse spirals of flakes with Christmas anticipation. Thursday morning the schools were all closed, which had been done proactively on Tuesday in order to give the attention-deficit children time to absorb the information. Children frolicked up and down the block, many of them able to assemble an entire snowball within hours, which they tossed back and forth, re-packing as necessary. Their moms and dads stayed home too.

That's what makes Portland great. Any city can have a snow day when it's actually snowing.