Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Presidents Club: A Good Book

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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 death-dealing 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 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.


Sunday at John and Basia’s…and Zimbabwe 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. So perhaps a lazy life review?

And then there were the cows/pet cows/pets.


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.

One of Those Days

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!  Even though an aunt or cousin may have taken the old ones—but now they’re mine.

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?

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.

Bon Voyage, Lina!

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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.


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 standards 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 the 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 the 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 the West which is nowhere near Wall Street.

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


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.

Naval Gazing

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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—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’ mindset 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.




TODAY X 365 #2 STARTING APRIL 14. 13 146The Boston bombing and Chechnyan boys. What a boon for the xenophobic conspiracy theorists. They can wrap up Russians, communism, Islam, foreigners all in one big bundle of anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-Obama-who-is-responsible-for-all-bad-things.

It feels like a tragedy of novelistic proportions at every level. The beloved Boston Marathon, happy celebrants and then bombs and death, and the young guy of Chechnyan origins who from all reports was completely Americanized which is, sadly, not the same as being non-violent. Was he bullied into this by his older brother who does seem to have been involved in some suspect activity? No excuse. But… As I write they have just taken him into custody. The details are still so murky. But I keep thinking he just really intended to be a student and lead a regular life. What the hell happens to people?

It remains a puzzle of bombs and hold-ups and shootings and carjacking and motives and family. It will be a hell of a film someday.

I could continue writing about Boston or switch to murdered Texas judges and chemical plant explosions or I could write about Senators and the gun bill. Or not.

Looks like a writer of great future fame and fortune to me.

Looks like a writer of great future fame and fortune to me.

Friday evening now. The day began with an early morning coffee chat at Java Joe’s with a writer friend who also teaches at North Fourth Art Center. We commiserated about the near-impossibility of just being writers…it seems a day job is always essential. Not that we don’t like our day jobs but I think we both could envision ourselves in book-lined offices gazing out over the intellectually-stimulating but emotionally soothing wilderness of a rural backyard–brilliant new story ideas infiltrate our brains and inspire our computer/notepads. Back to reality. My friend is early in his writing career while I am just hoping to be legitimately labeled a writer before I succumb to reading large-print Readers Digests at the nursing home.

Java Joe's low-cal breakfast burrito.

Java Joe’s low-cal breakfast burrito.

Then my office. It was hard to work today. Went out for a luncheon Starbucks—an iced venti non-fat latte and then back to making flip charts outlining future work! Friday afternoons are excellent times to make lists of all the things you’ll accomplish the following week. It is almost as good as actually accomplishing them! Here are the people at the office who were actually working.

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I was bored this afternoon. Which rarely happens to me I am happy to say. And which I cannot existentially afford since life is what I alone make it.

So then. Gym. Home. Messy apartment. Yogurt. CNN. Downton Abbey, last two episodes Season 2.

The Multiple Personalities of Anthony Bourdain

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I am, in general, a fan of that f**king foodie adventurer, Anthony Bourdain who apparently still thinks of himself as the f**king bad boy of the f**king culinary world even though he is a successful TV star and author and no longer the slightest bit f**ked up.

In fact, now that he is the proud father of a young girl, he needs to stop punctuating every part of every sentence with f**k. He’s wearing out its value as an exclamation all by itself or as an exclamatory noun, verb, adjective or adverb. And we need words like that for describing the senate or when we stub our toe or when the engine light in the car comes on.  

 Susanna and I spent $75 each to see our favorite cooking icon at the Kiva Auditorium last night. Susanna because she is approaching true foodie status, me because he travels all of the time. We left a little disappointed…analyzing why…because Bourdain is certainly funny, articulate (except for substituting some variation of f**k for a whole bunch of other possibilities!) and as gorgeous as all the girls and boys watching his shows might have imagined.

His performance was comprised of three main components: trashing Paula Deen and her gross concoctions (true but over-reliance on the f-word negated some of the hilarity); a lengthy treatise on his kid and natural/organic foods (language substantially toned down but still interspersed with that go-to word); and smart compassionate essays on the world and its relationships to food (exceptionally articulate including a variety of words starting with the letter f, all or most of which had more than four letters).

Since I really want my $75 to have been well-spent, I have evaluated the Bourdain performance in the following way. We were privy to being part of a major passage in our culinary/literary/TV/travel hero’s life. He was a true wild child (Personality #1); he is now traversing the passage between wild child and grown-up (Personality #2); and soon the  Anthony Bourdain that is truly concerned about relationships of human beings to each other and to other living things on this planet, and is never afraid to confront stupidity and ignorance can reign supreme. This Bourdain will still reminisce fondly about his wild child past but do it less profanely—on behalf of his own kid! (Personality #3).

If I am still a bit uncertain about value for dollar it’s because I really like and admire this guy tremendously but I was very put off by the overuse of variations of f**k. Not because it offends me morally but because it is simply boring and stupid. The first speaker I heard do this (if possible even more extensively) was a woman traveling on the speakers’ circuit with Gloria Steinem in approximately 1970! Honestly…it is just so old-fashioned to try to get any part of your laughs from the overuse of one poor old abused word.

Okay, so Anthony you really are beautiful and smart and funny and better yet a consummate traveler. What’s not to love about you…except for that one little four-letter thing!

Our hero in front of a giant photo of Paula Deen monster food

Our hero in front of a giant photo of Paula Deen monster food

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