Saturday, August 08, 2009

Japanese Peace Ceremony

Tonight, at Aquatic Park in Berkeley, peace activists gathered to fold "paper cranes" in memory of those who perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years ago this week.

Each artist drew messages of hope and love and peace. My ten-year-old daughter picked a bright golden color for her lantern.

Once launched, the lanterns followed currents and breezes out into the estuary.

Most of them grouped together, creating a lovely scene.

My lavender crane chose to separate from the fleet to come ashore on the rocks, rather to my embarrassment, but one of the volunteers got it to rejoin the group, ending my "failure to launch" moment.

As the sun sank behind us, the candles inside the lanterns cast a lovely glow over the waterfront.

As darkness settled in, I thought about my parents on this weekend when had I hoped to be able to go to Michigan, where I would have been able to honor their memories at another body of water in another type of ceremony.

Tonight, instead, I was able to participate in a ceremony of remembrance of all humanity's common hope for world peace, so I incorporated my parents' memories into this event.

I'm quite sure they would have approved.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Yossarian & Me

In Joseph Heller's classic novel Catch 22, the protagonist navigates through Orwellian bureaucracies and Kafkaesque scenarios to encounter absurd social insanities at once hilarious yet terrifying in their familiarity.

(Hilarious only in the sense that we laugh hardest when we feel the worst pain.)

I read the book the year it was published, when I was 14. It's stayed with me ever since as a template to interpret my increasingly absurd life.

In my fantasy, today was a day when I would walk the green fields of my youth. Instead, it was a day spent largely on the telephone with people who only go by their first names -- Robert, Julio, Mara, Michelle, Mia, and Hakim. They are all exceptionally nice people, able to express empathy as they explain to my why in every way that matters I am totally screwed.

If you are a person who opposes President Obama's efforts to reform our health insurance industry, please stop reading now. I really don't want you to find out how much I hate your guts.

After wasting virtually an entire day with all of these nice people, it appears that I may have secured my three minor children health and dental insurance going forward.

That's the good news.

As for me, an unemployed, older man in excellent health who has faithfully paid his insurance bills for some 40 years? Not a chance. Nobody wants to insure me. There are a thousand reasons, none of them true, meaningful, or relevant.

This is not a capitalist system; this is not a socialist system; this is an Orwellian system. And it has no place left for a person like me.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thinking Home From Afar

Photo By Doris Bachert

A little over four months ago, I first published this photo taken by my cousin, Doris. It may not look like much, just a young tree on a hill in a rural part of Michigan, but for me, it is probably the sweetest spot on earth.

This coming weekend, dozens of my relatives are converging on the spot for the first big family reunion we've organized in years, no doubt since we buried my mother's ashes among the roots of this little tree six summers ago.

Since then we've lost relatives, including Uncle George. It had been one of my fiercest hopes in this year of multiple disappointments that I would be able to attend this family gathering, partly to honor those who have passed, but even more so to connect again with my Michigan family, few of whom ever venture west of the Mississippi more often than once every half century or so.

I may be a grizzled, old lefty journalist, a long-time radical activist from the 60s, a stereotype in many of their eyes; but if so, they don't really know the man I have become. Yes, I have strong opinions on any number of topics, but I defy anyone to accurately classify me politically, spiritually, or intellectually. I just do not fit into anyone else's projection; never have; never will.

None of that matters, of course. Such matters are trivial compared to the bond of common blood. Blood is blood; family is family. I would do anything for a relative of mine, except something morally or ethically wrong, like harming someone else at their request. (No Godfather-type gathering for us!)

I've always loved my family. But I wouldn't be the family person I am if I squandered our dwindling resources to allow a horrible monopoly (Northwest/Delta Air) steal hundreds of dollars from me for a three-day RT visit. This is the Scottish side of my family that is gathering, after all. They understand how important it is to live within your means, and to first take care of your children.

But I admit to being very, very depressed that I will not be there. I feel very much a failure in this regard. I've checked every airfare deal for weeks. There has been nothing. Thus, I'm reduced to sending my greetings from afar.

They will miss me, of course, but they have no idea how much I will miss them. Saturday night, I am going to attend a different kind of ceremony, in the spirit of my family, or at least my version of my family. I will post that in honor of the gathering at Rolling Hills.

Love from San Francisco. Enjoy those meat pies! And if you follow the treeline from camp southward, you'll find a good patch of blackberry bushes. Don't know if they're ripe yet. Check out the apple trees. Catch a fat blue gill or sunfish for me. Better yet, a small mouth bass. I'm sure my dad still holds the all-time record for pulling delicious bass out of Mud Lake.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Welcome Home, Our Truest Americans

As those two lovely young American journalists, both Chinese-American women, returned safely to their families today, in the custody of the wonderful Bill Clinton, I couldn't help but wonder why the right-wing freaks in our society continue to hate every good thing any Democrat, or Liberal, or just plain good person does on behalf in our collective interest.

And then I got it.

These extremists are so scared, racist, and ignorant about the economic realities of our time that they just cannot handle the great things that happen right before their eyes.

My message: Shame on you!

Do not come back to class until you do your homework. I am ashamed that you would even continue to call yourself an American. This culture has long since moved beyond the likes of you.

Shut up until you have something useful to say.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Mob of Rightists and How to Silence Them

Most Americans are probably confused by all of the media noise that is emanating from the so-called "Truthers," and other extremist elements on the far margins of American society.

These are the frightened fringes of old America. Every one active in this fringe group is white (most are fat), and please do not take offense at that. Almost all live in the midwest or the south, and almost all are Christians vulnerable to the messages of Christian extremists.

These people are to be pitied. Their messages, which currently are mainly geared to stopping health-care reform, are orchestrated by a small circle of rightest creeps who, if they actually had any real power in America, would no doubt institute a Nazi-like system.

But their day is over. Every poll of Americans' current political opinions indicates that there are -- at most -- five safe Republican states left in this country. The reality is that Republicans have no realistic chance to gain seats in Congress or challenge the second term of Obama in the White House in 2012.

So, the rightwing in this country is in full freak-out mode and though they are a tiny minority, unless the decent among us, the truly caring people, organize ourselves and make the much larger noise that we can are capable of making, and shut these freaks down, we are in for a far less compassionate, inclusive future than we all collectively deserve.

Why? Because those who shout (albeit paid by corporate sponsors) get listened to. Those who suffer in silence are ignored. Such is America, circa 2009.

Passages Recalled

It's her birthday today. She would have been 94. That's her in the lower left of the old photo, in San Antonio with my Dad during WW2. He's right behind her, his face partly obscured.

Happy Birthday Mom.


The Farallon Islands were visible from San Francisco, 27 miles west of the City today.

Usually they are shrouded in fog.

Looking at them made me think of what lies beyond -- Hawaii. For whatever random reason, I found myself going over to Google Maps to try and get directions from here to Hawaii.

Of course, the search giant took my query seriously, and provided me with a route that involved driving north to a point on the coast of Washington near Seattle. Then, it instructed me to "kayak across the Pacific Ocean" 2,756 miles to Oahu.

Who thinks this stuff up? An algorithm?

The total distance for this trip would be 3,614 miles, and Google estimates that it would take me 14 days and 19 hours to pull it off. Check it out.

View Larger Map


Monday, August 03, 2009

Who Actually Pays for Things

Much of the time, all over our planet, it feels unbearable -- life.

I'm not talking about my life, exactly, or the lives of those I know, but rather the human condition. Compared to the majority of humans on the planet I am a lucky one, even though these days, it never feels that way.

But here is what lucky means here in the USA near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.

My ability to get through the day is controlled by Orwellian bureaucracies. I have no real access to health care or health insurance. Unless I am persistent and polite (two qualities I possess, luckily), I cannot count on maintaining my high-speed Internet connection, my land line phone service, or my Cable TV, which is mainly here for the benefit of my kids.

I'm 62 years old, and somewhere in one if my closets are at least half that many awards, some of them quite prestigious (others quite gratuitous) given on behalf of the work I have been doing since I turned 19, which is actually nothing more than trying to craft words into some sort of form that resonates with others, and maybe makes their struggles a little bit easier for them to bear -- at least for a moment.

Another goal of my work is more selfish -- it has been to support my lovely children (and my ex-wives and girlfriends) as they navigate their own crooked paths through this strange American economic landscape, which is a place that shows up on no maps, and appears in no travel guides, but makes our travel bones ache just as much as the potholes, bad mattresses, and evil pickpockets who exist simply to torture us as we try to get through our days and our ways.

Truth is, as I tried to explain to my 13-year-old son today as we bought a used video game he wanted to replace for one that has become unplayable due to a scratch, is that the MARKET views the likes of us as nothing more than consumers.

In my line of business, the "media," he and I are nothing more than eyeballs with dollars (or more likely, plastic) in our pockets. We are reduced to spenders. But we are so much more, he and I, as are you, dear reader.

Those who advertise, market, or attempt to manipulate us are the true creeps in this society. They don't fool us, with all of their moves. We see through them as if they were invisible ghosts, which with any luck, they soon will be.

They are nothing more than assholes, creeps, scumbags.

If the product is something he or I want, we buy it, and we have the power to do so, because we are of the hard-scrabbled, working classes, debt-less, and extremely conservative with our money.

Really, this is about him, then. He never lets me buy him a game unless he can reimburse me from his own funds.

I'm not saying I'm a great Dad.

But compared to many Americans, I am saying that I have great kids. Never over-indulged, they know it is their duty to come up with the cash.

So it should always be.



I've always learned more from my children than they could possibly learn from me. Today, driving, a song came on the radio, the alt-rock station my 14-year-old son has converted from a never-listen to a frequent-listen for me, even when I am alone. (Although NPR still rules the airwaves in my world.)

The song that came on was "Hurt" by Johnny Cash,a cover of the brilliant Trent Reznor's song recorded near the end of Cash's remarkable life.

I love just about everything about Johnny Cash -- his music, his life, his weaknesses, his great love. Especially his relationship with June Carter, truly one of the great American love stories of the past century.

The movie. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Great performances.

But this late song cuts me to the bone. When we grow old, so old that our voices weaken and tremble, our steps falter, our skin becomes pocked with dark spots, our eyes grow milky, our bodies bend southward, we still have things to say that may prove to be of value to the young.

This song is that kind of gift. Please listen to it. I never stop being amazed by the emotional depth of the young boy who introduced it to me. Or by his music, my music, our music.

Or by the ability to teach from any age to any age; old to young, yes, but also young to old. It's all in the song.