Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Presidents Club and why I love all the members…for the moment

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After watching all of the living presidents at the Bush Library dedication last week, I decided it was time to read the Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy book, The Presidents Club. I am a couple of chapters in and marveling at the Truman-Hoover team as they worked to alleviate global starvation and misery after WW2, and worrying about the twists and turns of the Truman/Eisenhower relationship which is not turning out to be quite as satisfactory. It is obvious that the sense of being a member of the world’s most exclusive club does inspire a degree of fellowship we would never believe possible after a typical vicious mean dirty dishonest campaign. The book’s concluding paragraph describes it well however: All presidents are fellow travelers in the parallel universe where past, present, and future blur, where the terrain of regret looks very different and where there is hardly ever such a thing as a perfect outcome. They are the jurors who will not pronounce a verdict, because they know they have not heard all the evidence—and they are predisposed to be merciful. (p.527)

 I am feeling predisposed to be merciful as well. Those five men at the Bush Library dedication who have been or are a U.S. President have made many decisions with which I disagree. For the most part though I believe they made them out of a desire to do what was best for the country and not for personal gain or revenge. As far as we know none of them have ‘disappeared’ their opponents or stashed vast amounts of wealth in places safe from the taxman’s grasp. Okay, so between them they have been responsible for a hell of a lot of death and destruction around the world but it was/is well-intentioned—right? After all, your drone is my weapon of self-defense.

 Last week, there they all were. The elderly and distinguished-looking Jimmy Carter with whom I have always had a little problem in that I do not trust religious fundamentalists of any faith. President Carter however has proven himself that rarest of birds, an authentic religious do-gooder. Also, I believe he is the only president to admit to lusting in his heart after someone other than his wife; while Bill Clinton seems to be the only living president to take that whole concept a step further. Who knows about the Bushes and Obama but their wives, at least in the case of Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama, appear to be women whose wrath you would not want to experience.

George Bush the elder appeared very frail. He spoke briefly and struggled to stand for a few seconds but he obviously is in serious decline. I felt badly for this almost-last-of-the-rational-and-dignified Republicans. He is an old-fashioned gentleman, member of the upper classes of noblesse oblige and good manners, an anachronism.  

 Bill Clinton was at his most disarming, joking about being ‘the black sheep of the Bush family’ because of his partnership with the elder George H.W. Bush and his good relations with the family. He is just such a natural politician—in the good sense of the word. At ease, articulate, by turns serious and funny. And talk about power couples; Bill and Hillary side-by-side probably represent more knowledge about the world and the machinations therein than the other four put together. It occurs to me we could do worse than have the Clintons and the Bushes keep getting elected by the Democrats and Republicans—sort of taking turns. Certainly Hillary and Jeb are the devils we know versus those we don’t who lurking out there on the edges of rational thought.

 I haven’t liked George W. a lot although I have always had a sneaking respect for his honesty about who he is and what he believes. Had he not been in thrall to Cheney and the neo-cons the Iraq war might not have happened…and after all that’s why most of us are so mad at him. Now, looking at the fact that there’s still a lot of nasty stuff going on in many places, much of it being planned and implemented by the U.S. under Barack Obama, I am inclined to give Bush the younger a break.

 My friends will wonder at my saying this but I think George W. Bush and Barack Obama have quite a lot in common. Neither of them wanted or want to be part of the Washington crowd—Bush wanted to go to bed early and Obama doesn’t like that old-fashioned wheeling/dealing back-slapping way of doing business. They both seem completely at ease only in their own chosen environments with their own words—smart but sometimes passionless in Obama’s case and garbled as they often were coming from Bush.

 I watched them all speak to us and the crowd and each other. Pleasantly, even earnestly, complimenting the man of the moment, George W. Bush. I appreciated them all for their sincere beliefs that they have done and will continue doing good for America…and me.

 More about the book when I’ve read it all.

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Sunday

 In Albuquerque we celebrate many beliefs including the belief in sunny backyards and prayer flags and rescued puppies and glazed tomatoes.

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Day Off

House where I grew up, now all fallen down...rather like me.

House where I grew up, now all fallen down…rather like me.

April is my January, the month I start over each year; April 3 is January 1 when all my annual resolutions kick into gear. Here is my update. I am doing this because there must be a post to TODAY X 365 or my primary resolution will be broken—which is to post an essay, story or new photograph each day. EVERY DAY.  ALL YEAR. By the end of these 365 days I will be a polished writer and a moderately successful photographer.

 Of course there are other resolutions since it would not be possible to start a new year without resolving to improve exercise and diet habits.  I get B for exercise, missing only one abs class and two cold morning walks; B- for the 5-2 diet plan because, while I’ve been more careful than usual, I haven’t managed the two 500 calorie days each week. I get an A for no NCIS marathons (until today) and for not buying any new books. Obviously daily posting to my new blog is the biggie—where I must get an A.

 That’s my problem today. Like yesterday, today is a bit of a downer. Not sure why. But I cannot think of one single thing about which to write…except writing about not writing. And I do not want to even walk around the block to take a new photo.

 I cannot break my resolution however. Like yesterday then…three paragraphs of whining and some old photos newly scanned.  If I do this ever so rarely my A will hold!

 Here’s the short version of my life story:

The MAIN BUSINESS OF NORTHERN MINNESOTA.

The MAIN BUSINESS OF NORTHERN MINNESOTA.

House where I was born in BLACKDUCK, MINNESOTA.

House where I was born in BLACKDUCK, MINNESOTA.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox--whose hoof prints created Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox–whose hoof prints created Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

Ovidia's apple pies, the world's BEST.

Ovidia’s apple pies, the world’s BEST.

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Besides baking pies, mom raised cattle–I think this is Shorty?

And this was Rosy...or maybe it's the other way around.

And this was Rosy…or maybe it’s the other way around.

Sometimes it was cold.

Sometimes it was cold.

Sometimes it's hot...I love Minnesota swamps...

Sometimes it’s hot…I love Minnesota swamps…

Eventually I became interested in the arts.

Eventually I became interested in the arts.

One of Those Days

Blogging is full of pitfalls, even in addition to the fact you must actually write sometimes. This morning I wrote a post about the fond feelings I was having for all five living presidents as they gathered for the Bush Library dedication.  But it needs a lot of editing which, because of the following, I do not feel like doing.

 I just found out that it is not kosher to include any photos from the web on one’s blog without the express permission of the photographer even if the website where the photos live is credited—for example a tourism site. Fortunately I’ve used very few and I have always made sure it was clear they were not mine. But, feeling rather criminal, I rushed home to delete them. Which, in addition to already feeling like a cheater, made me feel like a blogging failure, a depressed blogging failure.

 So then I ate too much bread and olive oil which made me feel kind of bloated and made my throat hurt from all the salt I put in the olive oil.  

 Now, to end this perfect day I will watch four Downton Abbey episodes, mostly seen before but my addiction is so total that I cannot bear to think I might miss even one illness or one duplicitous act.

 So because…well just because… here are some old photos newly scanned that only various family members will enjoy but damn it…they are mine!  Well I think my brother took a couple so I suppose he may sue.

Snowy Minnesota.

Snowy Minnesota.

Out at the old place on a cold winter dawn.

Out at the old place on a cold winter dawn.

Summer. In the front yard with some of mom's fowl--what are they anyway?

Mom's kitchen. Something is baking I know.

Mom’s kitchen. Something is baking I know.

When the California kids came to spend part of a winter in Grand Rapids. Teresa, Steven and Great Grandma in a little place I was house-sitting fronted by a logging road where the trucks passed day after cold miserable day.

When the California kids came to spend part of a winter in Grand Rapids. Teresa, Steven and Great Grandma in a little place I was house-sitting fronted by a logging road where the trucks passed day after cold miserable day.

Friends and Food

In the end it’s all about friends and food isn’t it?

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  Lina will go back to Toronto for the next phase of an interesting life with family and love and adventure.

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 I will miss her.

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 We had Chicken/Asparagus Divan. And Zimbabwe Cherry Tomato bake. And champagne. And Smoked Sea Salt Honey Caramel Gelato.

 Bon Voyage Lina.

Meryl Streep, where are you when we need you?

BBC and Aljazeera both led this morning’s news with the 8-story building that pancaked into an earthquake-like rubble heap in Dhaka, Bangladesh yesterday. Upwards of 120 people are dead. The stories referenced the frequency with which this happens in Bangladesh where the regulatory agencies that do exist are beholden to the politicians who are generally bought off by garment industry interests. Needless to say not a lot gets done in the way of worker safety.

 There was a related story last night on “All in with Chris Hayes” about the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion where 15 people were killed and at least 200 injured. Gross violations of safety standard appear to have been present at the site. In the U.S. we have lots of regulatory agencies—they aren’t well funded, Congress is anxious to get rid of them and often the regulators are buddies with the regulated.

 Mostly the American TV has ignored the above “accidents” and focused on the admittedly fascinating case of the guys at the heart of the Boston bombings—the foreigners/the terrorists. Wonder who’s winning in the contest between death by “international terrorism” versus death by workplace negligence?

 Who knows if the citizens of Dhaka are royally pissed? I’m sure some are; lot of good that will do.

 What really shocks me is that apparently the citizens of West aren’t.  Royally pissed.  Not at the owners who are “part of us…we went to school with their kids” or their government that presumably should have offered some assurance that it is not ALL about dollars—that workers’ safety is a consideration.

 Why then are right wingers railing about the “nanny state” where the community well-being is protected? It is gone. If the citizens of Dhaka and West can’t/won’t/don’t want to rise up in wrath why should I care?

 The thing is…I don’t think the good people of Dhaka have very much choice, their minimal wages for stitching up my GAP jeans are at least putting some food in the mouths of their kids and there hasn’t been a Bangladeshi Spring.

 But here at home…I honestly thought that when criminality was exposed, when it killed our communities’ kids or fire fighters and demolished our homes, we would always rise up in wrath and denounce the acceptance of greed over concern for community. But greed is no longer one of the seven deadly sins, it is an American value. Even in West which is nowhere near Wall Street.

 Silkwood was a true story. OR. Capitalism is all good. Choose one.

Walking

West along the ditch bank.

West along the ditch bank.

6:30: Bacon frying on Laguna Boulevard.

 The big flashy bird dives low over my head.

 Maybe those tufts of white hair sticking out of a lime-dyed Icelandic head wrap is a snack, he says to himself. A white mouse in a nest of spring green grass.  

 Sorry bird, it’s just me.

 A cyclist says ‘passing on your left’ as he passes on my left.

East along the bike path.

East along the bike path.

NAVEL GAZING (“… excessive self-contemplation, self-absorption, introspection, concentration on a single issue.”)

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 Monday morning, April 22, 2013.

In Syria the killing goes on, hundreds a week; in Myanmar ethnic cleansing is resulting in hundreds dead and in Nigeria 200 people were killed in Abuja over the last few days. Not much about any of that on the news because we are still in grip of ‘excessive concentration on a single issue.’ 

 There was a horrific act of terrorism here last week, three people were killed, many injured. Apparently the act was carried out by two young men whose new-found belief in a disgusting and twisted version of Islam provided them with the impetus.

 But my god people…stop with the navel-gazing—with the ‘it’s all about us’ (Bostonians, Americans, Christians, whatever.) I imagine most of those Syrians, Burmese, and Nigerians are unimpressed with the extent of our tragedy. In fact I’m wondering if the people of Newton, Aurora, Tucson, West—all of whom have experienced fairly recent acts of terrorism of one kind or the other—are feeling quite as shocked by the events in Boston as the rest of us seem to be.

 Of course every city or country or ethnic group or religion believes “it’s all about us.” So Bostonians/Americans are not alone on that front. But we need to be careful. As they captured the boy in the boat, people were already filling the streets chanting “USA USA USA….” This is not a game and that is a dangerous road to go down because at the end lies a condition called xenophobia (“fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”) and we do not want to go there as a nation. That’s where the Germans and the Serbs and the Cambodians and the Rwandans went—and the final destination of a xenophobic journey is always murder.

 But back to navel-gazing. The ‘all about us’ mind set is encouraged by the endless “news” channels’ day-after-day focus on an event that is sad; complicated; birthed in suspicion, confusion, hatred. Unfortunately however the event is largely portrayed in the media as a struggle of us against them, good against evil. It is a mindset that sees only ‘us’ as valid…Bostonians; Americans; Christians…. You know. US. “USA USA USA…”

 The reality is that tragic unwarranted unexplained unmourned deaths are so common in this world that if we actually gave a damn, we would probably take a stand somewhere somehow against violence. Usually however we only take action when there is an ‘other’ to blame.

 Another reality is that cutting back on global violence would be bad for American business (our defense industries would complain mightily) and we are definitely also all about capitalism—so I guess we can navel-gaze all we want as long as ours are bigger than theirs and the dollars flow in.

 USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA ………………..  

THIS IS NOT A RANT!

Twenty Days and Counting

Twenty days ago TODAY X 365 was launched. It still seems like a good idea…with major changes! 

 THE SCHEDULE: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will make smartly-written, calm and sometimes witty observations about where in the world the morning news sees fit to take us; my sources are CNN, MSNBC, Link-Aljazeera, PBS-BBC and the NY Times. I will read and watch for approximately one hour each of those mornings. I will reserve my emotional rants for FB posts and telephone conversations with my brother.  

 On Tuesdays and Thursdays, early morning walks will offer up a photo spread of the neighborhood, including the Bosque, maybe Old Town and parts yet unknown, before the day gets hot and people-filled. I will try to move beyond pictures of ducks and geese, at least part of the time.

 Saturdays are reserved for semi-learned reviews of murder mysteries and, sometimes, related web sites. This reconsideration of 365 came about partly because of yesterday’s attempt to write something quick and easy about Henning Mankell, one of my favorite writers of international crime fiction (or, as I prefer to call them, murder mysteries). An hour with Google and a look at my stack of Wallander and other of Mankell’s books reminded me that the authors worth reading deserve more than a couple of hastily scribbled paragraphs. So I will write, for those of you who have asked and for my personal pleasure, about my own preferred murderous leanings and the writers who satisfy them.

 Sundays will remain open season. Maybe if I am as tired as today, I’ll just post one of my latest ‘ducks of the Rio Grande’ photos. Or another pot of steaming kale.

 THE REASON: Saturday evening’s performance and tribute dinner for UNM’s Jim Linnell was the main prompt for change. I was in the company of the people I admire the most in the world. Writers, professors, thinkers—word and idea people. That is who I wanted to be but without the necessary intellectual focus, talent or determination it did not happen. However there is no reason not to come as close to being a writer and thinker as I can at this stage of my life.

 Old friends were there last night, professors of mine from endless years of university classes in one thing or the other. It was so good to see them. I wanted to say proudly ‘you must read my blog…here’s the address.’ Of course I did not because this blog isn’t really something to be proud of yet. But it will be!

Blogging is not for Sissies

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TODAY X 365 was intended as a daily blog through which I would develop consistent writing habits, hone my writing skills, and write small pieces that were of some small interest to a few people. I have only half succeeded…truthfully maybe that’s only one-third.  I have written something every day and several days have brought forth well-written posts OR a great photo. But there are all those other loser days. Got to up the average to make this worthwhile to me, followers (the four of you), and the cyberspace I am consuming.

 While 365 isn’t intended as great literature it is supposed to be more than my daily diary or a Facebook post or a text message. Unfortunately that is what it’s about to become unless I remake the whole idea.

 I am doing that. Tomorrow the new plan will be posted in all its brilliance and with great sustainability potential.

 Thank you and Goodnight.

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