It’s just weird. News arrived today that I’d lost a friend. I knew him for less than three months and yet, a fog of sadness lays thick about.
We met while traveling together but separately to Alaska. He and his wife Connie, she the epitome of graciousness, motored in their tall and broad-shouldered powerboat “Lori Lee” with frequent guests; Jane and I slipped along aboard my long and thin sailboat, Foxy.
The list of differences is much, much longer than any list of what we had in common. He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman from Alabama, while I grew up an Oregon Boy much in need of refinement. He was a builder who created an empire, first by laying bricks, if memory serves, eventually building hospitals. I just push sentences to their breaking point, endlessly polishing ideas. Grady and Connie were devout Christians who shared their deep faith in the Bible, while my study of religious philosophies led me to distill truths I found in all of them. He was “conservative,” I am “liberal.”
And yet, we became friends, even while disagreeing about almost everything except catching salmon. Oh, sure, there was evangelism involved, an attempt to save my soul. But then, Grady asked me once what to do about a loved one who had fallen into a relationship with drugs. We were both shocked that my recommendation, though wrapped in a message of acceptance and love, was so tough: “Anything you do to mitigate the consequences delays the first day of recovery.”
And the time, when pressed to accept the Word of God, I told Connie that while I did not share her faith, I had the utmost respect, if not envy, for what their faith had given them.
When we disagreed, Grady listened to my point of view and tried to address it honestly. I tried to get behind the curtain woven of words and assumptions, and find what was illuminating his opinion.
Often, it was futile. Even if we agreed on root cause, we disagreed on solution. But there was always a shared respect, and a desire, I think, to find a common ground we could walk upon.
Grady and Connie sold their boat early this year, a difficult admission that they had already made their last trip to Alaska. Connie’s health had not been great, and now, Grady has died three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
As a good-bye gift, Grady leaves me with the question of why we were able to communicate so well, from such different points of view, when those with whom I share values and life experiences seem completely out of reach, brothers with nothing to say. I’ll probably never know.
But thank you, Grady Sparks, for time spent in the cockpit or salon of Lori Lee, exploring different views within shared mutual respect. You allowed me to experience your sense of loss for an America I never knew. You will be missed.
Much has been written about why Republicans have refused to approve more pandemic relief for the unemployed, small businesses and state governments.
It’s not about “blue state bailouts,” and it’s certainly not about fiscal prudence after the GOP promoted $2 trillion dollar deficits to pad the incomes of the top 1% long before the pandemic struck and 215,000 people died (about 60,000 as a direct result of Trump’s incompetence).
The actual reason Republicans in Congress are not helping Americans? They know additional relief is needed to avoid national misery. They want that misery, not relief, to be identified with the administration of Joe Biden. The Republicans in power do not believe Trump will win.
Yes, this is callous nearly to the point of incomprehension, but Republicans in Congress have become the party willing to sacrifice the institutions of democracy and welfare of Americans to achieve their goal of hanging on to power at all costs for as long as possible. Which means ignoring the plight of the American people in the midst of a pandemic and economic meltdown.
The surging stock market means nothing to working Americanss. The waitress with two kids doesn’t have a 401K, she doesn’t even have a job. The guy stacking apples at the market is not investing in Apple. The 70 year-old breathing hard while struggling to help customers at the hardware store is as likely to own Amazon stock as he is to paddle down the Amazon.
Republicans know this. Republicans in Congress know they could help the people of America, they know that Americans need help as millions have lost jobs and with those jobs, lost health insurance. They know Americans need health care.
But Republicans in Congress do NOT want relief to come during an administration with a Democrat in the White House. They want the misery to stick to Democrats, they want to be able to blame “socialism” (which is a lie), and they sit on their hands rather than do what they can to help Americans because they believe Trump will lose.
The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U. S. Supreme Court has ignited commentary across our society, from Fox News to the Washington Post.
My favorite conservative writer, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, is Catholic, brilliant, and meticulous in his arguments. Douthat, who feels feels society lost its equilibrium as it embraced liberal values, wrote a piece grandly titled “The Meaning of Amy Coney Barrett.”
In “Meaning…” he tries to describe what a “conservative prescription” might look like:
“…professional women across the country (and, by extension, many husbands in their dual-earner homes) whose life courses generally resemble the rest of their class, but with certain choices that seem somewhat more eccentric or askew. That means shorter dating lives and earlier marriages, four or five children instead of two or fewer, and other more traditionally coded choices — more frequent churchgoing, denser social networks, living closer to extended family, work lives designed more around home life than the reverse.”
I know families like those Douthat describes, and my love and envy for them are both deep. But there’s more to think about in Douthat’s ideal than I have thought about, though a few ideas float immediately to the surface.
First, different women want different things, and there would have to be some form of coercion — legal, social, or economic — to arrive societally at the place he describes. Telling a woman she should have five children instead of two would result in some interesting conversations, at least with the women I know.
Second, there would be an absolute irony, if not outright contradiction, for those on the right who favor individual responsibility and self direction in almost every other facet of personal, political and economic interaction to coerce — call it what you will — a particular form of behavior in a free society.
Third, Douthat’s argument is about “professional women.” The vast majority of women in today’s world find themselves without many of his “eccentric choices,” but overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control in an internet society that does not or can not reenforce these choices (see first point).
So even if I did not disagree with Douthat’s “conservative prescription,” I am uncertain we could ever get there from here.
Democrats should not oppose Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is not an endorsement of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s breathtaking hypocrisy in pushing Barrett’s nomination through the Senate while Trump is still president, after his reprehensible blocking of Merrick Garland’s nomination. Stripped of its ridiculous contortions, McConnell’s argument is that “Trump is president, I run the Senate, together we will do what we want with judical appointments,” and is accurate.
No, Democrats should not oppose Barrett’s path to the Supreme Court for reasons even more simple.
The first is that they will lose, and look bad in the process, right before the election. It is a given that the U.S. Supreme Court will become more conservative, whatever that means. There is nothing to be done. Why give Trumpistas ammunition and momentum as America decides on its future?,
The answer from many Democrats is that just to fight the fight is a political win, with abortion rights as the litmus test. But too many Democrats forget their primary goal is not to win over people like themselves, but to convince the “marginal middle” that Democrats best represent their interests.
Partisan grandstanding in an ugly judicial fight, followed by the inevitable loss, does not do that. Labeling someone an “originalist” and offering obscure arguments over “precedent” do not do that.
The second reason is that Judge Amy Coney Barrett is supremely (sorry) qualified to sit on the high court. Her background as a law professor, the quality of her writings, and the opinions of many of her associates show that she is a jurist of the highest calibre.
It’s almost ironic that her achievements are the sort that Democrats celebrate for women, even as Barrett’s politics are an anathema to the left leaning. Yes, she’s a “conservative.” But given Barrett’s intellect, this is an opportunity for liberals to reexamine some of their core beliefs. It’s also ironic that Barrett has suggested she might recuse in cases where her faith conflicts with her duties as a judge, frustrating conservatives hoping for an ironclad majority.
Not that long ago, the qualifications of a judicial nominee mattered more than politics to senators of both parties. This showed faith in America and in the Constitution. That timehas passed, with both Democrats and Republicans at fault through the last few decades. Hopefully, an ember of that light still glows, somewhere.
The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is an opportunity, however small and overshadowed by today’s divisiveness, to set foot back on a path to unity. Judge Barrett is qualified. Democrats should not oppose her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Was the dinghy I’d left tied to the dock slowly deflating? Was it now tipped stern down, bow pointing pathetically to the sky, the precious motor drowning in salt water? Will I even be able to get out to Foxy on her buoy, and if I can, what condition will she be in?
I’d left Foxy a month ago thinking I’d be back in a couple of weeks. A friend sent a photo, but it was grainy from a distance so it might not be a big deal that I could not see the boot stripe at the stern.
On the drive back to Sisters from a car race in Portland on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, a friend called to warn that “historic winds” were due Monday afternoon. Fires in the Cascades threatened to explode. As I ate my sandwich and drank my coffee from Rosie’s Mountain Cafe in Mill City, I said I’d be through the mountains long before then.
Of course, I had no clue to the devastation that would arrive within 48 hours. The loss of trees and wildlife along a highway driven so many times over 35 years that I’ve memorized the number of curves between passing zones, and the horrific destruction of Mill City, Detroit, and other wide places in the road where mill towns still struggled, are mind bending.
So are indefinite closures of highways that link my mountain town of Sisters, with its tourism-based economy, to populations centers of Portland, Salem and Eugene. Hundreds of thousands of killed trees need to be removed. Rock slides litter the highways.
What if Oregon has one of our every-decade-or-so “pineapple express” events, where snow falls right around Thanksgiving with warm rains in December? Will ODOT be able to even find the highways under the mud slides?Will the federal administration blame Oregonians for that catastrophe, too, and be slow to send financial assistance because it would bail out our mistakes in funding the PERS system?
East winds finally abated, giving those fighting the conflagrations if not a break then at least a bit of breathing room. Speaking of which, while prevailing breezes from the Pacific Ocean began to clear air in the Willamette Valley, they carried the smoke to the east side of the Cascade Range (eventually to the east coast of the U.S.) Visibility outwindows of my home dropped to 1/4 mile. The bitter stench was on everything.
Then a some rain helped, for a couple of days. I prepared to return to the boat, if for no other reason than my asthma was not liking the available atmosphere.
Then, in what might have been metaphysical intervention, a sty in my left eye delayed departure. My ophthalmologist recommended warm compresses but warned of complications with low likelihood. Within four days I was back in her office, infection spreading around my eye and down my cheek, my eye reddening, the eyelid glued closed when I woke in the morning from a concrete mix of pus and tears.
The doctor thought I should check into the hospital for an overnight intravenous drip of antibiotics. “What?! Oh hell no!” was my shocked response. Doctor was willing to see how I did on oral antibiotics for 24 hours, but I had to come back the next day, my third visit in less than a week. I followed dosage guidelines and applied warm wet compresses every couple of hours, along with an antibiotic ointment with which to fill my lower eyelid twice a day.
There was progress. The next day the doctor cleared the trip back to the boat, after asking how far away I would be from emergency care. Not that far. I went home, threw things in a bag and hit the road, late in the afternoon and two weeks later than the latest I expected to return to Foxy, aware that it would still be almost a full day before I’d be back on board.
I pulled into Anacortes at about 11 p.m., took too long to fall asleep because I was “wired and tired” from the drive up through Yakima on the east side of the Cascades, fell asleep finally just as I remembered I hadn’t set an alarm, but ignored that since I don’t usually sleep past 6:30 and would have plenty of time to catch a ferry scheduled for 8:55.
It was 8:07 when I woke and looked at the clock. Holy sh*t! Showered fast and out the door at 8:30, but so damn proud of myself I stopped for a coffee, then had to rush. The ferry pulled out about two minutes after I sat down. I was a bit smug until I realized I’d forgotten my rain jacket in the car.
By the time the ferry arrived in Friday Harbor, clouds had condensed into a drenching downpour, but the dinghy was still afloat! There was water sloshing about, the gas tank and life jackets were floating, but I’d bought an industrial size hand pump after lessons learned in Alaska a few years back. After the water was cleared, I pumped up the tubes with air.
Would the motor start? It had been showing attitude this year. But it fired on the second pull and purred like the two-stroke it used to be! I waited in the soaking rain for the ferry to disembark, worried my motor might quit in the middle of the channel, then headed over to Foxy. From a distance I saw no signs of problems.
The boat smelled surprisingly fresh when I unlocked the companionway. That’s always the first test. Some boats never lose that damp smell. Water had splashed on the floor from where the hatch covers had blown to one side, and I went above to put them back. I lit the diesel fireplace and put things away.
Eventually, I unlocked floor panels over the keel, certain there would be two hours of unpleasant work ahead. The bilges were dry! The space where I’d built a shower water recovery system was dry! The toilet was full of fresh water too, just as I’d left it. Despite heavy overcast, solar panels were putting electricity back into the batteries which were at 95%. The fridge system I’d installed was keeping the refer cold and freezer frozen!
Relief came in a rush. After what had felt like a never-ending cascade of bad news and stress, Foxy was sound and I was aboard. I moved her over to the marina where she’ll spend a few months this winter. The sun came out. There is something about being on the water that feels like it’s exactly where I belong.
Let’s wrap our heads around this: Trump says he supports the military, uses the military to show he is “strong,” yet privately calls veterens who died in war “losers” and “chumps,” confirmed by a Fox reporter that Trump is now trying to “cancel.”
Trump knew last January, certainly by February 7, that COVID-19 was a particularly serious disease, far worse than the flu. But over the last six months, Trump lied to the country that the coronavirus wasn’t serious. At first he said it was “one person, from China.” As it got worse, he blamed others: “It’s Obama’s fault, it’s China’s fault, it’s WHO’s fault, it’s New York’s fault… “
We still don’t have enough masks. Whose fault is that?
For the last six months, Trump encouraged behavior by his supporters that made our country one of the sickest in the world: Don’t wear masks. Protest governors trying to contain the virus. Hurry and open bars and schools, the virus is no big deal, it will magically disappear.
As a result, tens of thousands of Americans died needlessly from the disease.
My Trump-loving neighbors, Trump has said that he does not respect you. It’s your loyalty he craves, your vote, that’s all, and he said as much even before he was elected:
“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible!”
Translation: “It doesn’t matter! I could be a murderer and those chumps would vote for me! It’s like incredible!” This is a man whose moral compass points only at himself.
Evangelicals? Here’s what Trump thinks of your Christian faith: “Can you believe that bullshit? Can you believe people believe that bullshit?” How can Christians support a man whose entire life is a repudiation of Christ, who mocks your Bible when not holding it up pretending he’s a Believer?
Please, Trumpers, see this awful man for who he is. He sits in palaces lying to you while at the same time laughing at you. See the contempt so obvious in his words and his belief that you will accept anything he says, everything he does. Understand that he has killed tens of thousands of us with his lies, and could not care less about that.
The two-cycle Yamaha outboard on the dinghy used to start on first pull, but had recently become balky. Of course, this morning it did not start despite careful attention to our ritual: key, choke, throttle, pull.
That meant it might take five pulls, or 20, or that I would have to wait for a few minutes for the combustion chamber to clear, the spark plug to dry. The motor had acquired an attitude, possibly bad intent. Timing seemed malevolent. It was a little after 7 a.m., and I had a ferry to catch.
Fog lay close to the water, too. I couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet. I’d need to take special care when crossing the ferry route from my sailboat to the dock where I get off the dinghy to walk to the ferry terminal.
The Yamaha came to life on about the tenth pull, then ran without a sputter just like there was no problem at all, like it had just been waiting for me to ask.
“Bastard,” I said, then realizing my ongoing dependence quickly added, “Just kidding!”
I wanted to crank the throttle wide open and scoot across the channel, but the water was glassy smooth and full of sticks and seaweed at a minus low tide. I imagined what it would be like to hit something, kill the motor or worse, have to limber the oars and row across with a ferry bearing down in the fog.
I resisted the temptation and motored carefully across. The early start meant there was still plenty of time.
More than I knew.
After getting coffee and slice of “egg pie” with ham, bacon, and cheese from The Bean, my favorite café (unasked, Holly reheated the quiche when I told her I needed it to go), I wandered down to the ferry dock. Between bites, I tracked the ferry online. It was late.
Of course it was late. The ferry wasn’t going to steam at full speed, possibly running over inattentive boaters, some without radar or tracking devices of their own, or those in a dinghy recklessly thinking they could cross in front of a ferry hidden in the fog. The Samish blew its horn from the other side of Brown Island, warning boaters of its presence before easing into the harbor.
This is August in the San Juan Islands. Warmish moist air settles down onto 55 degree water, causing fog. The month is nicknamed “Fogust” by locals.
The ferry bellowed about every 20 or 30 seconds. It’s a huge sound, felt as much as heard. Normally you see the ferry approach, becoming larger as it comes closer. But this morning the Samish suddenly appeared out of the fog, already huge, towering and heavy, and slid into its berth.
We loaded and departed, 40 minutes late. Fog clung to the water for the entire trip over to Anacortes. The Samish bellowed to alert those who cannot see, who cannot be seen.
I spent my first 18 years of life in the Portland area, and seven years after that until my early thirties when I came to Sisters, Oregon to publish the local newspaper.
I loved Portland. For years I said Portland was like a well-worn leather jacket I could slip into any time and it still fit just fine.
That hasn’t been true for more than a decade, and certainly not in the 2020s. At the beginning of June I visited the city, taking 405 downtown and exiting at Everett Street, close to where I used to live in Northwest Portland when I waited tables at a couple of the finest restaurants in town, The Ringside and Jakes Famous Crawfish.
The scene at the Everett Street exit hit me like a bucket of water thrown from a second floor window. The tents, the trash, the squalor were like nothing I’d seen in person since I travelled through India. Portland had become a third world experience. I was devastated.
I started to write a letter to the Willamette Week newspaperthat began, “Seriously, Portland?” But I didn’t finish it because I didn’t have anything to offer beyond my shock and disappointment, really. I had no solution, besides, “Don’t do this to yourself! You’re beautiful! You have a future!” The same advice I’d give a friend sliding back into addiction, sores on her face and angry, dripping lesions in her arm.
Then came the death of George Floyd, and more than 50 days of protests, what some call riots, and the abdication of leadership by city managers that has been taken advantage of by punks. And now, that has been followed by the invasion of Portland by federal agents using what are probably illegal tactics, pulling innocent people off the street without cause and beyond the stated mission to protect federal buildings.
But I’ll let others, who know far more than I about the law, debate the constitutionality of those actions. I think sending in federal agents, whether Trump’s idea or Barr’s, is a bad move for other reasons, and they should clear out and let Portland be Portland, let the city find its own level, let the policies of the mayor and city council play out to their conclusion.
Like any addict, eventually the city will hit bottom. Those in charge at that time will have to make hard decisions about what to do about homelessness, loss of opportunity, eratic law enforcement, financial ruin and finally, whether to look up, buck up, or give up. Portland is not healthy, and will soon be on life support.
A friend of mine was once powerful in the Portland area financial scene, and later a major developer of the Pearl District. The last time we met, he was lamenting the anti-business bias in Oregon in general and especially the city he called home, and said there would eventually be an exodus of investment and talent.
More than 50 days of protests, what some have called riots, have likely accelerated that process. It does not matter if the vandals, arsonists, and thugs are merely a small minority creating chaos within a legitimate protest movement. In a free society, those who can move eventually will move to places where streets are safe, where stores don’t board up windows or shut down in bankruptcy.
Yes, the death of George Floyd should be a catalyst for change. Yes, police brutality is a fact and the culture of Portland Police could use a thorough cleaning. That might more quickly be solved by pay raises, higher standards and accountability, as opposed to defunding the police. We’ll leave that conversation to another day.
But violence is not the answer to any social discord, whether in protest or counter protest. Violence and destruction are too damn easy, not sustainable, and turns people you need against your cause.
Trump sending in federal troops in anonymous uniforms and unmarked vans will end in failure and they should leave, by court order if necessary and damn soon, hopefully before death and more destruction. Protesters need to focus on their message, learn from Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and show responsibility to the community whose attention they are trying to attract.
The 50 days of protest, what some have called riots, is Portland’s problem in the final analysis, and fittingly a liberal’s problem, in my opinion. But Portland has sores that have been festering for a number of years. We now simply see a bit of gangrene that could have been prevented by better interventions a long time ago.
Hopefully it’s not a fatal condition for a city I still want to love.
This is how a Republican shows he is morally bankrupt:
“Mask-wearing has become a totem, a secular religious symbol,” one Republican strategist told The Washington Post. “Christians wear crosses, Muslims wear a hijab, and members of the Church of Secular Science bow to the Gods of Data by wearing a mask as their symbol, demonstrating that they are the elite; smarter, more rational, and morally superior to everyone else.”
Not only does this “Republican strategist” denigrate religion, by comparing the wearing of a COVID mask to a Christian Cross or Muslim hijab and, one assumes, also a Star of David; he (I just think women are smarter than this) misrepresents the reason why most of us who wear masks do so.
Let’s make this personal. He claims I belong to “the Church of Secular Science” without a clue as to my faith or affiliation. Then, claiming I “bow to the Gods of Data” proves he does not believe in science nor in data. In other words, he prefers ignorance and being uninformed.
Then Republican Strategist claims I wear a mask to show I am “the elite; smarter, more rational, and morally superior to everyone else.”
This is utter bullshit, but similar bullshit pours from the mouths of other Republicans eager to reflect the ugliness of Trump, giving us a pandemic of president pandering. I am sick and tired of this divisiveness, of men like this spreading lies about what I think, about what I think about my neighbors.
So let me clear this up. Here are the reasons I wear a COVID mask:
I wear a mask to save American lives, maybe of a loved one, maybe my own, and maybe yours. I wear a mask to save my business, which depends on healthy customers. I wear a mask because I am a citizen of the United States who shares the air with my fellow Americans when we are out together trying to feed our families.
It’s not socialism, nor dictatorship, nor about being superior. It’s just good citizenship based on good medical advice. Got that?
To the Republican Strategist who demeaned me, my faith, the various faiths of my fellow citizens, my integrity, and my morals, I extend this invitation: Take your greasy, manipulative lies about me and my intentions, wrap them in the COVID mask you obviously don’t use for its intended purpose, and shove the whole wad up your ass.
Your flatulent ethics are poisoning America.
(Photo by NYT)
Posts from Alaska
We took the boat to Alaska. Some impressions of the trip.