Friday, July 18, 2008

Humiliation, Humility and Healing

I confess that yesterday’s post about the proposed naming a San Francisco sewage plant after George W. Bush isn’t sitting well with me.

I don’t really WANT the Oceanside Water Pollution Control plant renamed after the president. What I really want is for him to be UNworthy of such humiliation.

Let’s face it, he is abundantly worthy of it now.

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, New Orleans.

The economic mess, the massive deficit, the deceitful oil war, the wiretapping, the torture, the grotesque and growing inequality here.

The shame of our health care system, the denial of global warming, the effort to undermine Social Security, the travesty of our schools.

This is the sewage of the Bush administration, which should be planted, at every opportunity, before the president.

That’s why it is so important to ask the president at each and every press conference how he views the San Francisco ballot initiative. Does he, at long last, get it?

Certainly nothing else has gotten his attention. His blind and persistent arrogance is matched only by his towering ignorance and crushing isolation.

The sewage naming idea is humiliating for a purpose. It is a raw substitute for richly deserved impeachment. May it produce humility so we, and he, can begin to heal from the shame he has caused us.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

George may get his due — do

It's almost enough to get me to move to San Francisco so I can vote there. A measure to name the city's sewage plant after George W. Bush has qualified for the November ballot.

You can read the story here.

I particularly like the line that the White House refused to comment. Utter public constipation.

The president should be asked directly about the proposal at his next press conference.

Nor should Portland be outdone by the City by the Bay. We should insist that the Portland City Council name the city's new sewage storm water overflow pipe for the president:The George W. Bush Sewage Overflow Pipe.

Write Commissioner Sam Adams. His e-mail address is:

Indeed it would be fitting if every last sewage plant in the country were named after the president.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Etiquette, Kettledrums and Germans

I’m standing in a Hillsdale storefront that we have filled with donated books for our July 27th community book sale. The assortment amazes.

I’m staring into a musty and worn little volume titled “Social Etiquette of New York.” Suddenly, the year is 1882, the date of publication.

It lists no author but bears the inscriptions of three previous owners. The first is a name and nothing more. A mark of ownership. The name is a little difficult to make out. It looks like Celtn (sic) B. Cole. The year "1882" is written beneath the name. Cole apparently bought the etiquette guide new.

The other inscriptions are relatively recent.

The first reads “For Juni, From Christopher 1974 December ‘propriety prospers propensity.’” “Propriety” is spelled “propreity” but never mind. I’m still pondering the meaning; it seems distant and appropriately Victorian.

The second is “For Mary Jo from MaryEllen, 1980 Nov. 'Travel transcedes timeliness.'” “Transcedes” is not a word in my dictionary. I think the writer means “transcends.” If so, it’s a worthy thought, but I don’t know what it has to do with “Social Etiquette of New York.”

Diving into the little book I scan its Roman enumerated XIX chapters. They move from “The Value of Etiquette” to “Debuts in Society” to “Morning Receptions and Kettledrums” to “Giving and Attending Parties, Balls, and Germans” to “Etiquette of Weddings,” to “Christenings and Birthdays,” to “Extended Visits,” and, finally — inevitably — Chapter XIX, “Funeral Customs and Seasons of Mourning.”

I’ve left out a few chapters, but you get the idea except for the “Kettledrums” and the “Germans.” I’ll return to those in a moment.

There’s a lot here about breeding, grace and refinement. A passage from the Chapter I captures the tone:

“Fortunate are those who were born in an atmosphere of intelligent refinement, because mistakes to them are almost impossible. They know no other way than the right one in the management of their social affairs. As to the unfortunates who have been reared at remote distances from the centres (the book’s spelling) of civilization there is nothing left for them to do but to make careful study of unquestionable authority in those matter of etiquette which prevail among the most refined people. High breeding may be imitated, and a gentle courtesy of manner may be acquired through the same processes by which other accomplishment is perfected.”

You can see where the author is headed. But do you really want to go there?

Somehow this pocket-sized tome migrated across the continent to the “remote distance” of Oregon. What could be more remote than that?

All kinds of readers of this book come to mind. Plots emerge. The low-bred scoundrel preparing a trip back East to infiltrate and rip off New York society. The rough-hewn Oregon damsel cramming for a transcontinental trip to visit a well-bred aunt, who has secret designs to pass the niece off as versed in more than slugs, downspouts and rattlesnakes. Or perhaps the little book is a cast-off from a life left far behind. “How far,” CB Cole muses before tossing it in some dustbin, “I have come from the stuffy ballrooms and stilted receptions of Gotham.”

Kettledrums, as you no doubt have been eager to learn, are “very simple and yet altogether elegant” receptions. The term “kettledrums” is “said to have originated in garrisons, where officers and their wives, who have been accustomed to elegances, are compelled to extend only the most informal of courtesies, owing to the necessary limitations of camp life.”

Note: “garrisons,” those outposts that dotted the plains, warded off the natives and protected pioneers.

A “German” is a form of dance and also describes a party at which the dance is featured. The book has this intriguing line: “Of course, nobody gives a ‘German’ without being familiar with all the necessary and peculiar etceteras, which it is not in the province of etiquette to explain.”

The modern reader naturally wonders why a German “not in the province of etiquette”? Could it be that the German, a dance listed last on the schedule of an evening’s events, was the designated time to … Get DOWN!

We can hope….

I snap the little Victorian book of New York etiquette shut and look out over the sale's sea of post-Victorian books. The topics range from how to raise a Springer Spaniel, to having sex when and where and how you want it, to why Rush Limbaugh is a jerk, to Robert Frost's poems, including "The Road Not Taken."

Inscribe them, inscribe them all, "Hillsdale, July 2008."

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tap water drinkers, mind your grammar!

I almost chased down a motorist this evening for displaying a bothersome bumper sticker.

Mind you, I wasn’t angry. I even agreed with the sticker’s sentiment, but the grammar gave a worthy cause a bad name.

The bumper sticker read:

I only drink tap water

Given the sticker's message, I assumed the driver would be sober, not drunk like the infamous bicyclist who last week used his bike to bludgeon a critical motorist.

I know what meaning the tap water bumper sticker intended to convey, but we can safely assume that the driver does more than merely, or only, drink tap water.

She may wash dishes with it, or rinse off lettuce, or water house plants.

Picky, picky, I know, and I deserve whatever is coming to me. Just don’t pour tap water on me.

The last time I went off on a grammatical toot, two grammarians wrote to point out grammatical errors in my post.

Who knows what howlers lurk above?

Someone, I’m sure.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

A non-warning warning

On my walk the other day I found more evidence that the tobacco industry is writing copy on the “warning” labels on cigarette packets.

The “warning” on a pack of Marlboro Lights is even more deceptive than the one on the Camels pack I reported on the other day ("Warning: dangerous Camels").

the Marlboro label is also printed on a gold mesh background that makes its black letters nearly illegible.)

Here’s the Marlboro “warning”:

“SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.”

So what is the “warning”? You don’t warn someone to do something, in this case, "quit." You warn them NOT to do something. Is the smoker being “warned” NOT to quit.

Well, not exactly.

Once you decipher the sentence and realize it isn’t a warning at all but a statement, you are off into the vagaries of reducing risks. Hey, smokers know that smoking has risks. They pride themselves on risk taking. They figure they will beat the odds, or simply don’t want to think about them.

Risk isn’t the problem. As I suggested in the earlier post, show them the consequences (rotted teeth, a cancerous lung) as they do in Canada, Britain, Italy and the countries whose politicians aren’t bought off by the tobacco industry.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Porsches, Putters and Typewriters

Saturday took me on a strange mission to an out-of-the-way (to me at least) part of Portland.

I packed seven typewriters and an old RC Allen crank adding machine into the back of the RAV4 and headed north on I-5 to the Expo Center.

I was to rendezvous under the freeway overpass with strangers from Bremerton.

Don Feldman had seen my Craig’s List ad offering up a host of typewriters. I’m paring back from 55, which I bought in a mad-dash, eBay frenzy three years ago. It is time to throw the frenzy into reverse. Sure, I’ll save a few of these endearing old creatures, but most have to be moved.

Don and I had carried on friendly but intense typewriter negotiations via e-mail until we struck a deal.

As I pulled up, he and his wife were dosing in their red Jeep Cherokee after returning from the Expo Center’s Antique Collectors Show across the street. He was younger than I had imagined, which is good because it means another generation will care for the typewriters.

He proudly announced that he has 500 in his collection.

Actually 500 and seven, I thought. But who’s counting?

We transferred the cargo, he paid me $300 for the lot (he got a deal), we shook hands and parted.

My next activity was to pace off my daily 10,000 steps somewhere. As I considered my many options, I drove behind the gargantuan Expo Center. The sprawling center is built on in-fill near the Columbia Slough. As I looked for the freeway on-ramp, the slough intrigued me. Ducks, songbirds, willows, cattails and patches of green water. I spotted the entrance to something called the Heron Lakes Golf Course and figured it might yield a hike.

I diagonal parked in a pull-off lot for hikers and non-golfers and set out along the electric golf cart trails that skirt the fairways.

If the golfers noticed me at all, I must have looked odd. No clubs, no “Titleist” or “Nike” golf/baseball cap, no electric cart, no competitive edge. Just me, my cleat-less hiking shoes, a floppy hat to shield me from the sun and a determination to reel off a few thousand steps.

Occasionally I would watch a foursome drive, lay-up and putt. I’ve learned gallery etiquette from viewing the U.S. Open. I've learned awe from watching Tiger Woods.

On Saturday, with a distant, respectful, almost worshipful silence, I watched the graceful arcs of the drives, a slice kerplunking into a slough and wobbly, befuddling putts.

As I was drawn deeper and deeper into the maze of links, a distant rasping invaded the silence of Heron Lakes’ rolling fairways. As I strolled the back nine, the noise became inescapable, persistent and, finally, rattling.

Somehow, the sanctuary of a golf course had been built next to Portland International Raceway, or maybe it was the other way around. In any case, all that separated the two were a narrow slough, a chain link fence and thin air.

On this Saturday, the throttle-jockeys, like the duffers, were out in number. Downshifting, sliding into the turns, then running up through the gears down the straight-aways.

aaaarrrrrrrrr!….aaRRRRRRR!….RRRRRRR!!!!! …. GREEEEEEEEEEummmmmmm!!!!! choff, choff, choff.

The golfers seemed unfazed. They crouched over the greens, studying, measuring, lining up their putts. Not 100 yards away, a pack of Porsches smoked out of a curve, spitting fire, screaming with speed.

No one, not even a pair of mallards in the slough, seemed to notice the incongruity of it all. I stood perplexed on a knoll above a bunker. Before me in the distance beyond the fence sprawled the fuming, reverberating track with its cockpit-encased, wheel-gripping speed freaks. And here, just a chip shot from my vantage, an intense foursome paced and deciphered the green before teasing white balls toward its hole.

By now, Don was on his way home to Bremerton, proud owner of 507 typewriters. I had 15 crisp $20 bills in my pocket as I wandered the fairways, feeding my pedometer.

As I turned for the long trek back to the car, I wondered what, if anything, it all meant, or whether it was even worth asking.

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