Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Treats: The Magic of Halloween

This evening, tonight, this very night, there were princesses on my porch. My porch at 406 West Water Street, Kerrville, Texas 78028. They were two and four and six and sixteen and plenty in between. There were dark Darth Vaders and Batmans and Poohs and one Snow White and, this year, a phenom, lots of PIRATES and GYPSIES. Love the pirates and gypsies. So much better than modern camo warriors and blood dribbling Hollywood goblins.

This year, rather late in the parade of made-up wonders, there was one cowboy with a six shooter, the first gun of the evening, and I told him so, even though he was three and not up to the anthropological significance of the observation. OK, some light sabers and a couple of bloody Ninja swords, but one gun, only ONE GUN all evening.

And you say "fine, of how many?" How about this: my count, accurately keep by an independent counter, was, on my porch, 364 people. One gun. And only one of those bloody masks that squirts blood when you squeeze a pump or push a button or whatever. That's a radical change from a just a few years ago when weapons and camouflage and those bloody masks ran rampant.

THIS, this was a peaceful Halloween, not wrought with much blood and gore, not a sinister serenade, but a night of more delicacy, of princesses and gypsies and delight.

364 people on my porch tonight. It was a hopeful and happy parade of people, and so this is a Halloween that gave me hope.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is Your American Dream a Ghost Story?

What is the American Dream? Hard work and a house. Freedom to drive what you want, where you want, when you want and to shop 'til you drop. The freedom to do what you want to your suburban plot. Really, work and shopping are just sidelines. The dream itself centers around the "single detached" house on a quarter acre (or more) of land, not exactly rural and not truly urban.

I find Americans' desires and drive to build sprawling new homes and to do major remodels spooky. And I grew up in a house that was always "under construction," never finished, far from it, often with studs and ceilings exposed, a bathroom or kitchen gutted. My parents are never "get it done" people. They're more dumpster divers for and amassers of building parts than they are "finished product" types, and the old broken doors and tubs and piles of found trim pieces just keep piling up.

I see that very American, especially American urge not just to tinker but to tear out load carrying walls in my parents as well as in my brother and sister, who have the means to hire contractors and even architects. (I am not immune to remodeling dreams myself, but my more monkish lifestyle has kept the crowbars and ditch witches at bay).

Today's "green tip" at the Sierra Club's The Green Life suggests home-remodel wannabees find a builder who is certified-green when they want to build or remodel. Well, maybe that is better than not, but let's get to the bottom line: When is construction conservation?

Answer: when it is strictly preservation.

Here's what I offered to the discussion:

No matter how you look at it, consuming more (even to repair things that are merely worn or out of fashion or "too small") is not the same as genuine conservation. No matter what sentiment and desire tell you, true conservation means LESS not more.

EVEN MORE GREEN than choosing to do a major remodel (which is building NEW on a supposedly smaller scale in an attached mode) is choosing to NOT build new and to NOT remodel -- certainly not in any major way -- but simply to refurbish, to protect what is there without adding on more rooms, more square feet or fancier features. The only area where home refurbishing might really be considered more sustainably GREEN is in the upgrading of insulation (including attic, walls and windows) and in the upgrading of old a/c and heating units. New, insulated and/or metal roofs with rainwater collection systems could also be considered a worthwhile move toward conservation and care, but watch out for consumptive construction projects labeled "green." Meanwhile, enjoy living with less. Thanks to those who do.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All I Want is a Caucus for Christmas

Hey, here's a nice combo: talking beltway turkey with your turkey and dressing -- and not just with your family but with a perfect stranger wearing a red, white and blue cap and way too many big buttons. Yes, the candidates are coming for Christmas! Might as well get ready for the 2012 caucuses; they're coming as soon as the pumpkins get smashed. I'm thinking we could get going on the 2016 primaries by Easter.

What's with all this leapfrogging of caucuses and primaries? Why are the parties allowing this? If they've got a say, why not go in the opposite direction and just say the primary season starts March first or the first day of spring -- or the first day of MAY. Seems civilized (and would save millions in the cost of campaigns; imagine campaigning for only 11 months or so instead of two-plus years).

As I've said here before, many pundits -- professional pundits and newscasters, too -- are making the mistake of calling this an election year. This is 2007; it is not an election year. 2008 is an election year, and is still over 2 months away.

Leap years are presidential election years, and it seems we are certainly leaping ahead. Can you imagine making a stump speech that many times? Ask Britney Spears about the downside of overexposure. But then no wonder millions crave seeing another Britney news bit: she's no renaissance woman, but she's going through more changes than the candidates are. We only need to see the candidates for a few months before the conventions.

And how about having canvassers waiting in your driveway when you're getting home from mass Christmas Eve? Or calling repeatedly on the phone (auto-dialers, even!) while you are opening the presents Christmas morning?

Is this what Jesus had in mind when he made this a Christian nation?

Hey, it's October 25th, two months 'til the big D Day, but I'd rather see politics pushed back to May Day. The days of winter are dark enough as they are.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Playing with Fire

Each day, asks a question of opinion. Today's is plainer than most:

"Do you think climate change is avoidable?"

As of now, the results show 65% of respondents say no. Good thing, too, since the climate changes all the time, AND it is clear that the climate HAS changed in the last several decades.

The interesting thing about this simple question are the more complex questions the question insinuates: Do you think the SoCal fires can be blamed on climate change? Do you think, then, that the SoCal fires can be blamed on us? Can we stave off the increasingly ill effects of climate change? Can we keep up our current lifestyles?

Today, there was a story about how the fires might give a boost to the slumping housing market. Thousands of refugees from burned homes and businesses will need new things, apartments, new houses, builders, contractors.

A few sound giddy: These are not your usual homeless. These huddled masses aren't really homeless; they're in HOTELS. This isn't like the hordes of angry vagrants in New Orleans, one commentator wrote, these people are INSURED. A billion dollars in fresh 2008 cash will bounce back into the local economy.

And still, 35% of CNN survey respondents chose to just say "no" to climate change. "No" meaning you don't recognize any of the changes which have already been measured?

And while we're asking questions, how about a few more: Should any of the most remote houses high up in that tenderbox chaparral be allowed to rebuild? Should we be allowed to build wherever we want, just because we "love" it? Just because we want a "great view"? Just because we can afford it? Just because we are insured?

Yes or no, and no matter how much millions watch swooshing footage of fire and billowing smoke, this calamity may be old news (or B section news) next year, and some, a month, a season, a year from now, while the world burns, will go on prancing around in their pajamas at the Hyatt.

Yes or no, we are still playing with fire.

Friday, October 19, 2007

If the Election Were Held Today... DFA POLL!

My dear friend Rhonda sent a bunch of us this message:

Subject: DFA Poll -- give it up for Gore!

Hi, I wanted to drop you a short note to ask for your help. DFA [Democracy for America] is holding a presidential primary pulse poll to decide which candidate deserves their support. I voted for Al Gore, and we need more votes to move him up a place in the poll.

Could you take a minute to add your write in vote for Al Gore right now? Here's the link:

I'm not giving up on Al!!

If you want someone else, ignore this message. Just kidding!

Go to the site and vote. It's fun to see who's winning.

Thanks, Rhonda


To which I responded:

Lawrence here.

I voted...

...for John Edwards, who really is my first choice and has been ever since Howard Dean got sidelined. I put Al Gore second and Bill Richardson third. But then we all know that, as of October at least, there is no surprise: on every level, Hillary's got a lock on things. She's the powerhouse candidate. Only question: who'll be her VP?

I don't find workhorse Hillary or brave Barack or even Nobel Gore to be the voices I most want to have addressing me from the Oval Office in times of need and sorrow. (Al still has not learned to be anything but stiffly scripted, and though much smarter than the current occupant, I am tired of stiff. I missed Kennedy, especially RFK, and Edwards is as close as this gang gets.)

Edwards is a genuinely heartfelt advocate for the poor who has the Clintonesque touch (that would be Clinton, as in BILL) in a town hall, and Edwards' wife Elizabeth would make a GREAT first lady!

Edwards himself would make a deft and encouraging showing on the world stage, in the bright and shining mode, truly a fresh face for a tired old club. And of the announced candidates, Edwards has the most aggressive things to say about gas guzzlers, sprawl, American excess (with some irony there, to be sure), as well as global issues, including the withdrawal of American troops from Muslim regions. And in the DFA poll, I am glad to see, Edwards is running way ahead of Clinton, right behind Gore's ghost!

How about voting for a committed candidate who is actually running?

And your consolation prize: Al Gore would make a fantastic Secretary of State!

Thanks, Lawrence

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Old World Order: Bush's News Conference

At Mr. Bush's news conference today, no one asked the simple question on my mind: "Mr. President, are your friends making money off the Iraq war? And if so, who and how much?"

The press pass tiger wannabes seemed to be pressing the president as best they could, but the lambs lie down inside the beltway. Mr. Bush makes up for his incompetence with sheer doggedness. He's of a mind to stay the course.

Overall, the news conference was a show of stubbornness and not much else. It seems that when it comes to facing his questioners/critics (or any journalists for that matter), the president will be a deer in the headlights all the way back to Crawford in January of '09. This is a man who would not be up to the task of being a good high school principal, and here he has to actually act like he might actually have to answer a tough question. A press badge is like a radioactive bullseye in the White House war room. The president is propped up behind the presidential seal while the man behind the curtain running the country is, as always, sealed off, clearly out of sight.

Mr. Bush is no longer saying that Iraq is the lynch pin in the Middle East. It's in such tatters that now Iran looms larger than at any time since the waning days of Jimmy Carter's ill-fated term. Pre-Reagan, and this time, there is no Reagan waiting in the wings, no great prognosticator on either side of the aisle.

Mr. Bush's idea of reform is the oldest world order there is: tribes fighting to the death over patches of sand from behind palm trees. Condi Rice and Robert Gates seem to be rather civilized people, but they are just pawns to the bigger game being played by the captains and kings of industry, mercenaries every one and nary a public servant in the bunch. State and Defense Department trips to the Gulf, even by the secretaries themselves, may be nothing more than smoke and mirrors, shuffling the deck while the high tech hounds of war lock onto their targets.

War that is prolonged, if not 'permanent,' is profitable and has deep pockets (to the tune of trillions). It is clear that Mr. Bush, above all else since getting out of the business of baseball, intends to keep it that way. And he says he is a president of peace. Isn't that enough right there to suggest he seek treatment?

Mr. Bush kindly put things in perspective when he said that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III," you'd better make sure to disarm every enemy nation (but our own, of course). The president is a cross between Don Quixote and Mr. Magoo, taking windmills for battle stations, turning stockpiles of weapons into motives for war, with no end in sight.

In other words, start worrying and learn to love the bombs.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Good Do Blogs Do?

Early Friday, the Nobel Prize committee awarded Al Gore and the United Nations, the Nobel Peace Prize, and we were off to the races. Blog sites on the right and the left were inundated with comments for and against, saying 'what a crock!' or 'oh yea! congratulations.' And then of course, there was the 'now Gore MUST run for president' spin. The Sunday papers and TV news reviews were all a blather as well.

But was much new said? It seems global warming is about as polarizing as abortion, regardless of the facts. It seems that by far most of what was said had been said before. And so it goes: A vote for abortion is a vote against life. A vote for global warming is a vote against our way of life.

Crazy talk, really. No issue should transcend the facts. What is good for our way of life is what is good for life. And what is good for life is choosing when and how and with whom to have offspring.

No unwanted children. No unwanted pollution. What's the mystery here? Emotions are the mystery, really, how emotions squash, squander and nullify reason. We'll have to do better to take better care of ourselves.

Meanwhile, what good do the blogs do in situations like this?

They seem to do only one thing, and this regards the down side of free speech. Free speech is cheap. Cheap and easy. Thinking is hard, just the way it has always been. Thinking is the realm of a minority and a rather rarefied minority, it seems. It is not the daily stuff of regular folks. Speech, on the other hand, is the stuff of nearly everyone, and it's quality suffers in the squashing, the squandering, the nullifying.

What we learn from blogs is generally what we already know: what the chattering hordes are chattering about. With blogs, we have the chance to not be so isolated or naive to how emotion-driven and simplistic most people's ideas are. Gabbing with friends, meeting at the water cooler, those are so 20th century. Now we have blogs to keep typists in touch.

With all this freedom to speak and with so many taking advantage of that freedom, there is all the room in the world for nuance, for insight, for fresh perspectives, for wrestling with complexities. Plenty of room but not much regard. Nuance? Innovative ideas? Wrestling with complexities? Most of the chatterers are not up to those tasks. They've already chosen sides in more ancient, more tribal, more basic ways, and they just keep playing life on Earth as if it were a rugby match. Or a computer game.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore, Global Poster Boy

I don't mean to diss Al Gore here, but I am skeptical of the renewed blather hoping that the Vice President will run for President, even petitioning him to get in the race. At some point, personal health trumps patriotic duty and political power plays, and it seems Mr. Gore has opted for the former. He's still not the most comfortable guy in his own skin. Whether for public office or the global good, he is still a rather robotic campaigner.

You can take the man out of the beltway, but you can't take the scripted wonk out of Clark Kent, and that is what Al Gore is: the Clark Kent of the climate crisis. It remains to be seen if he can make even a methodical change into the Superman cape.

Of course there is a reawakening of the Clamorers for Gore. New talk of petitions and presidential runs, as if any of this could set back the clock or in any way erase the writing on the wall, that since Gore ran in 2000, the world (or at least America's position in and disdain for the world) has changed. Gore is probably not the right tool for the job, though he would make an especially good Secretary of State, and Hillary, won't you please offer him that plum?

The clamorers seem naive to me, and this prize blip too will pass, but meanwhile, Gore spin abounds: the presidency or the Nobel Prize? Nobody would take the Nobel or any prize over the presidency. Accolades are great, but compared to the kind of power where the rubber or the bombs or the treaties really do meet the road? Political power trumps being a poster boy for good causes in any century. So far, Al Gore has made valiant but only symbolic gestures toward solving global problems. Until the escalation of global warming is reversed, Al Gore is the poster boy for a great cause and one truly related to planetary peace and well-being and the global good and "saving the world" and all that. But we need to see a legion of men even better than him leading both the truly powerful and the truly powerless.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Into the Wild, In Brief

I got to see the movie "Into the Wild" last night (see my PREview post, September 21, below).

Here's a brief REview:

As Chris McCandless (or the Chris McCandless character as portrayed in the film) does echo some of myself in my early 20s and even now, I am of course really glad I saw the film.

This is a case where, even with spectacular scenery and some poignant moments of fine acting (especially by Hal Holbrook and my new love, Catherine Keener), I must use the cliche: I liked the book better.

Of course I read the original story and the book (in Alaska, in 1997) when the story was still fresh and when I was myself just miles from that bus, still more haunted by my own youth than I am now. Being haunted by your youth and your "what-might-have-beens" matters to this movie because it is not, in and of itself, a compelling masterwork. It really does depend on what you bring to it, and perhaps that was Sean Penn's problem. He saw a strain of himself (as did I) in Chris McCandless, and he let him think he was creating a towering achievement.

The book was great. The movie was good, even with the advantage of the visuals, episodic action and that scenery. I knew Don Quixote. Don Quixote was a friend of mine. And Chris McCandless was no Don Quixote. He was much less wistful, much less attractive. McCandless was a ghost of sorts long before he truly became one.

And it is with ghost-like vacancy that Emile Hirsch portrays Chris, true to life, perhaps, but not the character on which the greatest heroic quests are based.

The lurching, fumbling chronology, the quirky (and inconsistent) chapter titles/interludes, and especially the split screen devices seemed, sorry to say, sophomoric to me. I found myself distracted from the story to wonder while watching the film about a good many of the camera and editing choices.

Still, a child of nature's escape from his family and a black sheep's plaintive and painful wandering resonate with me.

It was good to see even a failed attempt at the hero's quest, and I can recommend delving into that quest, with qualifiers. Perhaps see the movie. Then read the book.