Friday, September 12, 2008

Feeling it

I’m finally learning how this blog site “visits” thing works. And it is confirming, in strange ways, a lot of my suspicions about this presidential campaign.

All the “visitors” in the past week aren’t reading about Mount St. Helens or my motor scooter diaries. No need to “warn” them that I’m going off their topic of choice: Sarah Palin’s glasses.

Alas, they never even see the posts about what E10 does to two-stroke engines or how I walked away from Mount St. Helens a wiser man.

And they will never see these words either.

No, they are coming directly to the “spec-tacular” Sarah post.

Yesterday when I googled “Sarah Palin” and “glasses,” the Red Electric came up something like eighth on the list. No wonder I had 800 visits on Saturday, up from the normal 40 to 50. It’s still running around 150.

As the glasses freaks mellow out and go back to doing whatever they do, the visits will drop.

The rush to read about Sarah’s glasses is a reminder that it’s not what Sarah (or any politician) says that will get her or him elected. It’s not what she tells Charles Gibson; it’s how she looks — how she “feels.”

Yes, television is a tactile as well as a visual medium.

Tactile is a concept, first applied to our “Teflon president” Ronald Reagan. Nothing stuck to him because he was just such a “feel good” guy with a sunny personality,

And nothing is sticking now to Sarah with her intriguing marmish glasses and her “frontier fundamentalism.”

Not Bristol’s baby
Not Troopergate
Not Bridge-to-Nowhere flip-flops
Not hubby’s secessionist streak
Not state per diems on her own house
Not bravely shooting fish (wolves) in a barrel (on the tundra) from an airplane.

Why isn’t it sticking? We don’t live in a rational, thinking times. We see, relate and feel. That’s why the Christian Right us so excited about Sarah. Religion and reason don’t mix. It’s all about “feeling it.”

How Sarah looks and acts trumps what she has (and hasn’t) done, and certainly what she merely says.

Memo to Barack Obama: Look and act presidential and pissed as hell! Let’s feel it!

Don’t quietly lay out your education policy in front of a bunch of kids, teachers and administrators assembled in a school library, as you did the other day. (Shhhhh!! This is a library.)

Take it to the streets, Barack. Put it to throngs. Large ones.

Whip them up. The streets are where drop-outs end up. Tell 'em that if they “get back in school,” the Obama administration will make the schools worth getting back into.

Go after the plutocrats, the politician with nine houses, the “bubble” politician who thinks you aren’t rich until you make $5 million a year, the oil barons and the Gucci Gulch lobbyists.

Do it, do it fast and do it with feeling!

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scoot returns with stabilizer, holding tank

There are still a few dozen of you grazing here from the “Sarah’s glasses” stampede.

Posts since you have arrived have diverged wildly from Sarah’s specs.

I mean how far off course can you get than the rim of Mount St. Helens?

This one should send the rest of you back from whence you came. Then again, you are welcomed to browse, just note that you’ve been warned.

The scooter is back and running again. I explained last week how it suddenly died on me, how I wheeled it several city blocks to my mechanic, the sweltering, bandana-ed Kevin. On his cigarette break, he informed me that the ethanol required in the gas throughout the city (and, it turns out, the state) is killing off two-stroke engines.

Actually, when I went to pick up the scoot, he said ALL small engines are going through death throes from E10 gas.

Kevin, who is co-owner of Scooter Street with his wife, Paula, still had work to do on the scoot — flushing the gas tank, replacing two fuel filters and cleaning the fuel line.

I wandered up to the County Elections Office to pick up voter registration forms. Yes, I’m out to mint some new Oregonian voters in our typically Democratic Portland neighborhood.

The Elections Office was quiet and efficient. I still had time to kill so I wandered into Columbia Scooters, which is not far from the competing Scooter Street.

“What do you know about how ethanol affects your scooter engines?” I asked the young guy on the sales floor.

“No problem,” he said. “We don’t even recommend premium gas.” He didn’t take the opportunity to sell me one of his seemingly care-free scooters. “Most of them are accounted for,” he said. These are good times for scooter dealers.

Back at Scooter Street, I didn’t share my Columbia Scooter story with Kevin and Paula. Kevin showed me specks of crude that he had found in the fuel line. He recommended storing newly bought gas in a separate tank to let impurities settle out. He also told me to get some “fuel stabilizer” for the stored gas. (See Scoot with new "accessories.")

Paula referred me to an on-line Oregonian story warning of the E10 problem. She and Kevin had linked to it from their site, but when I went to the story, it was no longer posted. Never mind. There were others. Here and here for starters.

Meanwhile, no one at the Oregon Scooter Club has responded to my question about the problem.

I’ve decided to take Kevin’s advice, just to be safe. When I went to Fred Meyer, I found not just a stabilizer, but a stabilizer additive that directly claimed to deal with ethanol issues.

I don’t know what to believe at this point, but I do know that pushing the scoot along the sidewalks of Portland is not my idea of scooting.

Here’s to stability.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah, pigs, lipstick and overhead wires

Memo to Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt huddled in the McCain Campaign War Room/pig sty looking for targets and churning up muck:

At recent neighborhood meetings I, an ardent Obama supporter, have said that you can do everything you like to spruce up stuck-in-the-Fifties storefronts in Hillsdale, but until you underground the utilities on SW Capitol Highway, you will be just...

putting lipstick on a pig!

I was not, repeat, NOT, commenting on Sarah Palin, tabloid celebrity candidate for the second highest office in the land.

If you want a comment on Sarah (and John), try this:

John McCain’s motto is “Country First.” So what’s the most significant decision of his “Country First” campaign? Choosing as his running mate — and, alas, it seems our next vice president — someone who two years ago was mayor of an Alaskan community with a population the size of our neighborhood's.

You can call that “experience” if you like, Karl, Steve and John, but it sounds a lot like putting our country last and, from the looks of the polls, John’s candidacy first.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Perspectives on reaching a volcano's rim

The view from Mount St. Helens' south rim: Beyond crater, dome and Spirit Lake is a distant Mount Rainier.

On Sunday, I joined a group of 10 guys to climb Mount St. Helens. I came away wiser, and most importantly, alive.

I write this as a 66-year-old, out-of-shape, and, as it turns out, self-deluded male.

Two thirds of the way up the south flank of the volcano I wondered what had I gotten myself into.

The “hike” is supposed to take four or five hours for the four-and-a half-mile ascent.
I toiled up in six.

It is supposed to take roughly two and a half hours to descend. Knees aching, drained of energy, I eased down in four. A little stumbling, a couple of hiker’s toes and a few scrapes and abrasions didn’t help.

I was the oldest in the group, but that’s no excuse. Paul, the next oldest at 62, climbs mountains every other week. To take the strain off my knees, he lashed my back pack to his for the final two and a half miles down to our campsite. “It’s nothing,” he assured me.

I believe they call these people “heroes.”

But to begin at the beginning.

The first two miles of the climb are literally and figuratively a walk in the woods. It’s a shaded, gentle grade. Deceptively easy.

Then, you are in the open and, wham, just like that you are staring at an unending, ascending flank of boulders. They range in size from hassocks to filing cabinets to Volkswagens. Jagged and angular, they confront you every which way. A maze of quasi trails meander in, over and between them for more than a mile.

Eventually after a short eternity, the boulders become more scattered, giving way to more than a mile of steep scree at the “angle of repose.” The term describes the steepest a slope can be without collapsing.

Trudging up the loose pumice, I found myself at my own “angle of repose," breathless, pulse-pounding, on the verge of collapse.

Two things kept me going. The first was the sight of my distant, speck-like colleagues waiting for me above on the rim of the volcano (you see some of them here, resting and peering over the rim). Three dozen steps made them visibly larger, ant-sized, and, more importantly, closer. The steps held out the promise of reunion and, yes, shared accomplishment and celebration.

The second was the quiet, reassuring presence of Paul and Stace. Among the most experienced climbers in the group, they stayed behind with me and another slow hiker, Mike, who was nursing a questionable knee, (Mike’s wife had warned him, “If you are injured on that mountain, I will kill you.” She wasn't smiling when she said it.)

Paul and Stace were there simply to be with us, to make sure we were OK. To them our experience was more important than theirs. They were, without ever saying it, our guardians.

What did I learn? The meaning of “strenuous” is relative, especially as used on various outdoor web sites to describe this hike. “Strenuous” is in the knees and lungs and pulse of the hiker.

“Grueling” or "arduous" might be a more apt term for someone like me. Then again, I saw 10-year-olds bounding up the mountain with their parents. “Must be genetic,” I thought.

On a brilliant, clear day, buffeted at times by a stiff, cooling winds, I gained a new perspective on this place I call home. I could see the distant city and its hills. On their slopes resides my house.

I witnessed a panorama of volcanoes, as far south as Mount Jefferson out beyond the cone of Mount Hood; as far east as Mount Adams, and as far north, over St. Helen’s rim and crater, to Mount Rainier. To the west was the Coast Range with its promise of the Pacific. To the northwest were the Olympics.

One member of our party conservatively estimated that we could see, north to south, a distance of 300 miles.

I learned the interplay between my limitations and my aspirations, and how to negotiate between the two. I learned another way in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Colleagues and companionship make us stronger than we are.

Two days after the expedition, most of the aches are gone. Over-the-counter drugs help. The scrapes and bruises are mending. I vowed when I came off the mountain that I would never take it on again. I’m already amending that. I’ll never take it on, or anything like it on, again in the physical condition I was — and am in.

Is it worth getting into shape to climb a mountain whose challenge is “strenuous”?

Probably not, at least not for me.

But forget volcanoes. Is it worth getting in shape?

After Sunday’s climb, I know the answer. I have work to do.

P.S. Now two days later, I feel much better, stronger, in fact, because of the challenge of Mount St. Helens.

Above, my old friend Andre and me, on the right.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

In politics, "It's the media and us, stupid"

Note: In order to return life to normal here at The Red Electric, I am no longer adding to "Sarah Palin" the tags "glasses" or "sex" just to see what might happen. If you are interested in Palin's relationship to those topics, you will not find comment about them here.

I know that the hundreds of you who have visited because of those tags in the last few days will find satisfaction elsewhere on the Web.

So Sara Palin made it through last week without excusing herself to deal with her “personal problems.”

It remains to be seen whether the other shoe will drop in the next eight weeks. Drug use? Alcoholism (there seems to have been a touch of that)? Black sheep (remember the former brother-in-law? Phony college transcripts? Christian values hypocrisy (where to begin?)?

Or maybe “The Base” is so enamored with Sarah and her “just-like us” family values that nothing would matter. Whatever is under the carpet, once exposed, would just add to her “just-like-us” credentials. “Let him who is without sin etc.”

So far the tabloid readers and the God, Guts and Guns groups are loving the minutiae of Sarah’s “just a hockey mom” story.

And, of course, the Christian Right, whom we can thank for two Rovian elections of George W. Bush, are back in the hunt. “Energized” as they say.

McCain’s strategists are clever (some prominent of their colleagues have called them “cynical”) to join Palin and McCain at the hip. They are appearing in tandem on the hustings and attracting throngs.

McCain basks in the media stardom of his tundra “Cinderella.” Walled off from probing questions (does she know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites? Does she know where Iran is?), Palin projects personality and a contrived maverick image.

The ticket conflates opposites in ways that only the influential visual media can accentuate. Old/Young, Male/Female, Doughy/Attractive. Mix in the non-visual but very much proclaimed heroic vet/Military mom-to-be. Unspoken but palpable are insider/outsider, wishy-washy religious/red-meat fundamentalist, obscenely rich/just-folks working class.

Never mind what they believe or would do about the environment (whatever happened to global warming?), the economy (meltdown anyone?), Iraq (it’s still about oil).

Never mind that The Old One may not be around for four years.

For now, it is all about story and its telling — the plot, the setting, the arch of the story, pacing, the characters.

McCain, Palin and the True Believers are right: It’s the media, stupid — but not in the ways they would have us believe.

It’s the media AND the voting public’s relationship with it. The media have so dumbed down political discourse in this country and we have so bought into it that we are in mortal danger.

As noted before, politics is all about entertainment. We, the People, have complacently embraced the fun. It consumes our time and our lives. It’s so easy to be entertained. Attractive candidates. Compelling story lines. Stage sets. Neck-and-neck horse races.

Republican media manipulators have chosen a candidate/actor to fit the desired plot line. Palin has been cast not to be vice president, but to fill the role of a running mate who can offset the stiff persona of old what’s-his-name.

Media moguls know that successful casting creates “para-social” relationships between members of the audience and the character. This is the staple of soap operas. Viewers often identify more with the travails of media-concocted characters than they do with members of their own families. When candidates forge the same relationships with voters, the voters end up caring more about the candidates than they do about the state of their nation or the world.

We will never see real change in this country until this media manipulation and a complacent public’s surrender to it end.

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