Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm sad

America slides deeper into fascism every day (see the House of Representatives spending a day debating whether to censure the NY Times for 'disclosing' something that Bush has been publicly speaking about since October 2001), Greenland is melting twice as fast as the computer projections, and Karen is in the other room, watching 'So You Think You Can Dance?'

It's not so much the inanity of the premise of the show, it's the repeated sounds of the crowd squealing in delight at the great moves. It's the sense that we are living in a false reality.

It's paranoia, but you know the old saying about that.

Maisie the cat lies around panting shallow breaths. Her tumor is obviously growing. At some point, her discomfort will be visible, and then we must act. We pet her and talk to her, and tell her how happy we have been, to have her in our family.

I spent some time today reviewing the digital photos from the trip. Many are quite good, and they tell a fine story, of the assorted remnants of vanished cultures - the Moors and Jews in Spain, and the Jews in Morocco - that might have turned out completely differently, had a few events been slightly modified.

At the Alhambra, our guide was an old gent, named Pepe. He was full of love for his subject, and wonderful anecdotes about tourists. He really made us understand both the joys and the losses of the world of the last Moorish kings.

The reality of living in an Islamic culture was clear everywhere you look, in Morocco. Driving along the highway, we passed numerous tiny villages, each with its minaret dominating its modest skyline. On many occasions, we saw people taking time in public to pray, unselfconsciously and with great devotion. It's easy to see why Islam was so easily able to overwhelm the Christianity of the 7th century, which must have appeared to be a religion of superstition, magic, and idolatry.

The contrasts between Spain and Morocco were deep. In Spanish cities, the evenings are for people to fill the taverns and cafes, drinking and eating their many ham appetizers. In Morocco, the eveings are for people to fill the squares, drinking sweet mint tea and eating sweet pastries.

When I got to JKF in New York, and we were all cleared and waiting for our flight to Portland, the first thing I did was to go to the bar and order a pint of cold, delicious beer. That first sip, after a week of traveling in a land where alcohol was forbidden, was truly satisfying, as is the cold, Spanish white wine I am drinking with my dinner, tonight.

Morocco was surprisingly green and fertile (at least the areas we drove thru, west of the high Atlas). We saw endless fields of grain, vegetables, grazing animals, and even grapes (they are not fools). The cities were relatively clean, and the many old people walked with dignity.

The call to prayer occurs five times a day. We often heard it at sunrise, late afternoon, and sunset. It's sort of like bugle calls in a military camp - everyone takes notice, and does what is required. Maybe it's a good thing that America doesn't live under that sort of enforced regimentation, but one has to admit that it imposes a regular reminder of social responsibility, and maybe there are benefits to that.

Also, it was neat seeing so many donkeys.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I take back what I said

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my well-reasoned-and-inciteful opinion that Ron Howard is a pedestrian film-maker, whose work can (and should) be dismissed.

Well, to escape the heat last evening, Karen and I went to see 'The DaVinci Code', in a mostly-empty-but-nice-and-cool theater in Tigard. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it on several levels. The direction, while obvious in places, was totally competent, the message of the film as potentially-revolutionary (to the uninitiated) as the Catholic Church has every right to fear, and Tom Hanks simply improves everything he's associated with.

Some reviewers have taken issue with the historical digressions/reconstructions, but, after all, how can you fully understand the implications of what Dan Brown and others are trying to tell us, without the Council of Nicea front and center?

Now for something completely different.

Readers of this blog (both of you) must surely be wondering what happened with my sick cat, who we debated euthanizing before we left for Spain. Well, Maisie is still with us, her abdominal tumor obviously growing and her energy level obviously low, but she is still affectionate, still eating with enthusiasm, and still a miracle to have around.

We love this cat. She is dying slowly, but still a big part of our family. The vet's best guess, three weeks ago, was that she wouldn't survive our absence. Every day is a gift, in so many ways.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Back home in Portland

We arrived late Saturday night, after 20 hours of travelling, from Casablanca.

It was a great trip, and I will post some stories and photos soon.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I am not here

A cloudy, cool Saturday morning in Portland, and I am sitting, listening to music, and drinking coffee. In familiar surroundings, our dining room, where I can look out the big window, and see little but green shrubs and trees.

My dog sleeps on his dog-bed, in a corner of the kitchen. Maisie is still alive, still eating a little, still affectionate, but she spends most of her time sitting motionlessly and staring. It's hard to tell how much she is aware of her condition - the vet said that she certainly has some abdominal discomfort.

We fly to New York at midnight tonight, so there are about 12 hours left to make the final decisions about what to take and what else to do around the house. So, even though I am where I often am, my familiar places and objects will be very distant in a couple of days. It's quite odd.

We hope to visit Ellis Island tomorrow afternoon. I can't help thinking about my grandpa Ben, who left Lithuania in 1902, never to return to his homeland. I will make a photocopy of the photocopy of his steamship ticket, which he saved his entire life. I will show it to my boys tomorrow.

Then, I go back a few more generations, to HIS distant ancestors, who left Spain in 1492, never to again see that homeland. I am about to complete that circle, and the spirit of my family will return to the streets of Toledo, after an absence of over 500 years.

Now I am day-dreaming. Portland seems less solid. I am not here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Getting ready to shove off

Here's an image from Google Earth, showing the places we're heading to.

Madrid -> Toledo -> Cordoba -> Granada ->
Gibraltar -> Tangier -> Fez -> Casablanca ->

a few good laughs

This has been making the rounds on the Internet for a while, but it's amusing if you've never seen it. It's a 1950's 'Ideal American Family' propaganda film, with a superimposed group of wise-ass commentators.

I'm half-packed - we leave for New York tomorrow night. Last night, I played a little piano program over at the Jewish Old Folks home, and that was pretty easy. They even paid me $40, the first time I've been compensated for all the work I've done over there.

I had thought that this was my last social obligation before we leave town, but a client contacted me with a potential program bug, and I am heading over there in a few minutes, to try to figure out what the heck is going on. Naturally, I can't reproduce the error they are seeing, on my copy, so it's either flaky data (unlikely) or something weird in their environment. I hate those - straightforward bugs are so much easier to find and fix.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Relief and Alarm

So, the outcome of the Busby/Bilbray election is officially 'in doubt'. Good.

Speaking as a paranoid, if I were going to steal an election, I would make the margin of 'victory' for my boy pretty slim, and a 5000 vote margin qualifies for that. After all (to paraphrase Barbara Bush), that has 'worked out pretty well for them.'

It is indisputable that unsecured (and proven vulnerable) electronic voting machines were left overnight and unsupervised in the hands of volunteer election workers. Hmm, not at all suspicious, right? What part of 'Doh!' isn't clear, with that plan?

Finally, and, to me, most significantly, there's the matter of over 60,000 absentee ballots, that (unlike the results from the machines) CAN be counted AND recounted. I'm just guessing, but isn't it reasonable to assume that many of those absentee ballots were cast by Democrats who are damn well aware of the flaws of the Diebold system?

If I were Bilbray, I wouldn't start packing for the move to DC just yet. If I were Busby, I would damn well start raising a stink. Fight, fight, fight - win, win, win.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A gorgeous day - why am I ready to cry?

Sunny and mild in Portland. After the big rains of the past couple of weeks, the trees, shrubs (and weeds) are bursting with vibrant, green Life.

We are off to New York late Saturday night, the first leg of a journey that will take us thru southern Spain and northern Africa. I should be starting to pack - I should be making final lists - I should be trying to figure out how to get Ben to a shoe-store in the next day or so.

Instead, I am on the verge of tears.

I took Maisie, our elderly, smart cat, to the vet this morning - she has been there a lot over the last couple of months. She is clearly declining - not eating much, not grooming her generally lush fur-coat, not doing much but sitting quietly and staring.

In April, the vet did some tests and found a curiously-elevated calcium level, but couldn't point to a specific cause. We got some appetite-stimulant pills, that we've struggled to get Maisie to swallow. They do seem to induce her to eat a little more, but she is obviously losing weight. Her backbone and pelvic bones protrude. She still purrs, and is happy to snuggle with us, but the change is obvious.

This morning, the vet felt an abdominal mass, that she hadn't felt before. I left Maisie to get an X-ray - we'll know in a couple of hours, if it's, as suspected, a cancer.

If so, we will probably put her down in the next day or so. The vet said that, with a sick, old pet, having the human be absent for two weeks is frequently enough to bring on the end.

Nobody should have to die feeling abandoned.

I came home, and, on this glorious summer morning, I went out to a rarely-visited corner of our yard, where the ivy and blackberries are encroaching on three other graves, and I cleared some space and dug a fresh one.

I am so sad.

UPDATE: 4:30 pm

Yes, Maisie is dying. We have to decide whether to put her to sleep before we leave town, or let the housesitter deal with her as best as she can, in hopes that the cat will live until we get back.

Karen is totally opposed to putting her down before we go, so that's going to be the decision, unless something happens in the next 48 hours.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why I am no longer worried about Global Warming

It just hit me a couple of minutes ago. What is the logical outcome of these apocalyptic times?

Two words, from the '80s: Nuclear Winter

One thought on this week's 'Anti Gay Marriage' publicity

Whenever the Right makes these moral issues front-and-center, your pocket is about to picked again. Watch closely as, without the fanfare, the repeal of the Estate Tax moves thru Congress.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Al Gore on 'This Week'

Just watched the video, from ABC's web site. Gore pretty skillfully deflected the more consciously inflammatory questions from Stephanopolous.

On the questions about 2008 and Hillary, Al basically said "Look, I'm enjoying what I'm doing now and there are many aspects of politics that are loathsome. My role is to generate public awareness of the global climate crisis, so that the next President will be able to go forward with the issue, without having to spend time on the basic education."

Sounds good. Al doesn't have to be President if he really doesn't want it - Secretary of Energy will do fine. However, just as Al said he can't visualize any circumstances that would have him running, I can't visualize any circumstances that will derail the inevitable public outcry for his active pursuit.

His credentials are simply too good - his historic positions on the big issues have simply been too consistently correct. His current position is enviable, and he recognizes this, appreciates it, and knows how to milk it to achieve his stated goals.

Remember where Richard Nixon was in 1966.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Roger Ebert's review of 'An Inconvenient Truth'


An old Jewish tradition, that's new to me

As you may know, we are leaving on June 10th for two weeks in Spain and Morocco.

A friend was just over, and, as she was leaving, she handed me 2 dollar bills, saying that I should give them to someone in need. She explained that it was an old tradition, when someone is going on a journey, to do this.

I had never heard that one before, but I really like the karmic balance it implies. As everyone knows, the highest form of charity is when the giver and recipient do not know each other.

Nice, huh?

Another unexplained mystery

There was recently a flurry of stories about a new poll, that rated W as among the worst Presidents in history. That's no surprise to the discerning readers of the 'reality-based' community.

To me, though, more head-shaking was generated by reading the amazing fact that, among Republicans, Ronald Reagan is still viewed as near the top of 20th Century Presidents.

Ronald Reagan, for God's sake?

I always detested Reagan and his years, I believe, planted ALL the seeds which have now born such rotten fruit - catering to the Evangelical Right, corporate corruption, secretive government schemes explicitly designed to thwart the clear intent of Congress, denial of AIDS, Glorification of The Leader, etc. etc. etc.

Although, ultimately, I believe that Reagan's greatest sin is the denial of the Environmental warnings, that were clearly voiced at that time, I can't help thinking that a close second, in his Hall of Shame, is the 'Star Wars' missle-defense dream.

This program is indeed the Maginot Line of the Modern Age. Not only has it proven to be technically and strategically flawed, but the extent of its drain of our national treasure is once again in the news. What a waste.

At least, from the Space Program, we got teflon and Tang.