new year’s day 2017

January 1, 2017

It’s been an edgy, uncomfortable time, but I am in a good mood today.  I saw a great concert last night, the jam band Railroad Earth, in a loving environment filled with light and balloons.  this is coming off of a holiday season filled with friends and family.  Our house is cozy and warm.  I tend to be a default positive person, and I cannot help but feel happy.

Please forgive me if I sound preachy, but there has been a wringing of hands/end of days mood going on since the election that is driving me crazy.  I have a few New Year’s meditations and advice to send out into the world:

  1. Remember that no matter how heartfelt and valid your opinions are, there are no doubt people in the world–both in this country and in countries that are our supposed enemies, who hold equally heartfelt and valid opinions that are quite different  It’s especially important in these divided times to listen to people with an open heart and grant their viewpoint and values the same weight that you do your own.  While campaigning for Bernie Sanders last year, I ran into several people who preferred Bernie to Hillary because they thought he was more supportive of their socially conservative views.  In reality, his personal views on these issues, such as abortion, were the same as Hillary’s.  But what he was doing was validating other, equally respectable beliefs instead of scorning or pitying them.  If Hillary had not called half the US population “deplorables”, she might be President today.  Also people’s values are not a package deal. They come in many nuanced varieties.  Do not presume.
  2. The means determine the end.  I definitely come down on that side of this ancient philosophical debate.  If you wouldn’t overlook political malfeasance in the Republican party, not to speak of foreign countries (ie Russian hacking) don’t overlook it in the Democratic party.  Demand integrity from all entities.
  3. Think critically.  Not every meme blasted about social media is true.  For that matter, neither is everything written in the New York Times.  Think like the investigative journalists that should be out there.
  4. Be as strong as you need to be.  I don’t know how we will be tested this year.  I hope not as much as we think.  But whatever we face we are going to need to face it with courage and never be afraid to speak out or take appropriate action.
  5. Let’s forget about identity politics and concentrate on our shared humanity.  We are one little species on one little planet; do our minor differences truly define us?  I don’t think so.  Every human on this planet deserves their basic needs met, every one deserves to live a meaningful life.  Let’s concentrate on that and fight the economic structures that hurt us all and the threats to the environment that endanger us all.
  6. This is no time for wringing your hands!!!  (no time is, really, but especially not difficult times).  We cannot control what life throws at us.  But we can control our reaction.  How strong we are, how understanding, how joyful–these are decisions that are always in our power, every minute of every day.  We are resilient beings.  We will get through this.
  7. Happy New Year to everyone!

Blogging for Books: The Mortifications, by Derek Palacio

December 31, 2016

This book deals with the traumas of the Encarnation family, who are split apart when the mother, Soledad, flees Cuba with her two young children in 1980, leaving her “counterrevolutionary” husband Uxbal behind.  the family settles in chilly and strange Hartford, Connecticut, where Soledad begins a tempestuous relationship with a Dutch tobacco farmer, Willems , who aspires to re-create fine Cuban cigars.  Her troubled daughter Isabel misses her father desperately, and at the age of 18 or so, returns to Cuba, locating Uxbal, who is dying of alcoholism in a raggedy rebel camp.  Her brother Ulises soon follows, looking for her, and eventually Soledad and Willems show up too, for a bizarre family reunion.  (how all these folks get to Cuba in the 1990-‘s I truly wonder??)

While Palacio exhibits flashes of eloquence, especially when describing Cuba, the novel never truly comes together.  The politics of the time are evidently clear to the author, but he never conveys any sense of them to the reader.  I never understood what the “rebels” were rebelling against or what drove Soledad to take her children and leave everything she knew behind.  The characters always feel symbolic, never like real human beings. Hartford is never portrayed at all–we see the area only from the point of view of Willem’s tobacco farm, and why he chooses to grow this quintessentially Southern crop in New England is never elucidated.  Palacio tells his story from a weird omniscient perspective, diving erratically into all the character’s point of view in an irritating and distracting manner.  Lots of ponderous Catholic theology drains any emotional tension the book manages to build up.  And there’s tons of random weirdness–Soledad, dying of cancer, becomes fascinated with the soap opera “As the World Turns,” and makes elaborate diagrams of the multitudinous storylines therein.  She and Willems enjoy violent sex.  Ulysses is practically seven feet tall. Why?  Who knows? Who cares?

Unless you are fascinated by anything Cuban, I would give Mortifications a pass.


essay in literary mama

December 23, 2016

This is not really a post.  Many more posts are on their way! I just wanted to let me readers know about my essay, “An Unsettled Woman in an Unsettled World”, published in the December 206 issue of Literary Mama, an online magazine.  I invite everyone to check it out!


keep your eye on the important stuff

December 9, 2016

Donald Trump is the shock jock of politics.  Believing that any attention is better than no attention, he has spent his entire career spouting outrageous statements that provoke people and make headlines.  Maybe just for once we shouldn’t fall for this distraction?  It would be wiser to focus on who Trump is rather than his last ridiculous tweet. And that  is  a billionaire developer and the producer of a hit reality TV show. He manipulates the public with the same disdain as other business titans and producers of  television shlock.  He runs with an elite cosmopolitan crowd in New York and Florida, including the Clintons, that is by no means culturally conservative.    While he has awoken and given legitimacy to a truly vile form of racism, sexism, and homophobia  there is no sign he actually believes any of this in his personal life.    He may yet  crack down on the rights of women, gays, or religious minorities but so far he gives no sign of doing so.  What he is doing, however, is consolidating the oligarchy Bernie Sanders tried (and is still trying) so hard to fight, and betraying the economic hopes of many of his (misguided) supporters.

Stop worrying about transgender bathrooms for a minute and take a look as his cabinet appointees.  His pick for Labor Secretary, Andrew Putzer, is a fast food executive who opposes raising the minimum wage.  His pick for the head of the EPA is Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic with close ties to the oil and gas industry.  Tom Price (HUD), financier Wilbur Ross (Commerce Dept) and Ben Carson (HUD) all favor rolling back regulations that restrict the overreaches of business interests.  He’s picked two Goldman Sachs veterans to oversee our economic future:  Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary and Gary Cohn as Treasury Secretary.

This does not sound like “shaking things up” by anyone’s definition.  What it sounds like is more of the same.

The other thing to pay close attention to is the fight for power within the Democratic Party.  Anyone who thinks Clinton’s picks for these cabinet positions would have been radically better is deluded (witness her speeches to Goldman Sachs and pharmaceutical industries, the fact she has yet to take a position on the Dakota pipeline, the fact that her honorary campaign head Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a big promoter of the TPP, etc). Yet her wing of the party–after all the damage they’ve done, at this place they’ve led us to–are still desperately trying to hang onto power.  Keith Ellison, Bernie Sander’s pick for  head of the DNC has long fought for the rights of the 99%.  He also happens to be black and a Muslim.  Tulsi Gabbard, a two time Iraq War veteran quit her job as vice chair of the DNC to campaign tirelessly for Bernie Sanders.  She is a rising influence in Congress and even met with Donald Trump to counsel him on foreign policy issues.  She also happens to be a woman and a Hindu.

Let’s not let shock headlines and cultural differences distract us from what’s really important for all of us as Americans.

Foodie discoveries: Portland Night Market

November 21, 2016

Portland’s Central Eastside exemplifies what I love best about living in a city:  all the old wood, slanted floors, tin roofs, angles, shadows, and surprises.  Always a place where things are made and sold, the Central Eastside is now home to many new enterprises including chocolates, salts, distilleries, and import emporiums.  But its after the work day is done that things get truly interesting, with innovative restaurants, electronic music concerts, and other entertainments that are just tantalizingly off the beaten path.

One new discovery is the Portland Night Market.  Or at least it’s new to me; apparently it’s been  going on for a year.  Mash up Last Thursday with Saturday Market and you will get the Night Market.  Close to 4 PM (opening time) your only clue to anything special going on is the line forming in front of a cavernous old warehouse.  But inside the space is bustling with several rooms of food and craft vendors–distilleries, hot sauce makers, T shirt designers, ceramicists, bakers, jewelers and more.  Go upstairs and you will find a pop up speakeasy brought to you by the new Sellwood speakeasy, Bible Club. Speakeasies by definition have an enticing illicit air but Bible Club carries this off better than any other Portland speakeasy I’ve seen, an improvised room with impeccable Prohibition style detail complete with tin ceiling, on the otherwise largely deserted second floor of the warehouse. The bartenders are dressed twenties-style as well, and create craft cocktails with panache, complete with giant ice cubes chopped from an ice block, artfully zested oranges, and artisan maraschino cherries that bear no relationship to the neon red ones in jars. The Old Fashioned they made me was the best I’ve ever had.

Behind the warehouse are more vendors and an appealing array of food carts, including some fantastic looking Korean fried chicken. As evening sets in, live music starts, a diverse and friendly crowd fills the place to bursting, and everything truly gets jumping.  This is everything that’s great about Portland.

Portland Night Market is open one weekend per season, from 4-11 PM



living in a trumpian world part II

November 18, 2016

If you are anything like me, your reaction to last week’s election disaster was to draw inward, to control the aspects of life you can control.  To hug your children, to do yoga, to eat organic vegetables, to put fresh flowers in your vase.  And that is fine. But it isn’t enough.  We can’t escape the fact that our actions need to reverberate out into the larger world, and that world, no matter how many defenses we put up (financial, geographical, psychological) has a way of ramming into our personal one.

What to do?  The list is overwhelming.  I personally have picked three points of action that especially resonate with me.  They are:

  1. Support the Muslim community.  As a Jew I feel a special responsibility to guard against the scapegoating of religious minorities. I saw scapegoating of Muslims spike after 9/11 and now that this disgusting attitude has institutional support (George W, for all his flaws, was not a bigot) I fear it will escalate. I have volunteered to work with our synagogue (Havurah Shalom) in their outreach to Portland’s Muslim community and Syrian refugees of all religious stripes.  I also recommend that people vocally support Keith Ellison in his bid for chairmanship of the DNC.  Ellison, who has the backing of Bernie Sanders, is a long time advocate for the working class who also happens to be a Muslim.
  2. Keep our environmental laws strong.  We are doing a pretty good job of this in Portland and should continue.  But things like the Dakota pipeline and the Paris climate change agreements affect every single one of us, no matter our demographic.  March, write letters, sign petitions, do whatever you have to.  It’s not a matter of “saving the planet”, the planet will be survive our foolishness. It’s a matter of saving humanity.
  3. Support free speech.  This past election cycle has seen a major decline in both professional journalism and critical thinking.  I’ve been appalled at how many people, of ALL political persuasions I might add, take the blurts they read on the internet or the front page of the paper on faith and never look any deeper.  Do not believe everything you hear!!!!  Think about it!!! Research!!!  And never be afraid to speak up!!!

Blogging for Books: A Proper Drink by Robert Simonson

November 18, 2016

This is an extremely comprehensive history of the rise of craft cocktail culture from the 1990’s to the present day.  Simonson writes about cocktails, bars, and bartenders for the New York Times, among other publications.

I enjoy ordering craft cocktails when I eat out as they come in a remarkable number of fascinating attractive permutations and we normally drink wine at home.  However, drinking cocktails and reading about them are two different things.  Simonson is an engaging writer and the emergence of the craft cocktail scene, and some of the idiosyncratic characters involved, would make for an interesting long article, say in the Sunday Times magazine.  But I think only someone in the industry could muster sufficient sustained attention to read the plethora of detailed history crammed into this three hundred plus page book.  It got boring.

The other problem I had with the book was its New York centrism.  Portland was a major pioneer in the craft cocktail scene and most trendy restaurants and bars here (and there are tons) boast extensive menus featuring such exotica as smoked ice cubes, elderflower liqueurs, cilantro infused vodkas, etc.  But to listen to Simonson, all the action was happening in New York.  Portland gets only cursory mention.

On the positive side, there are intriguing cocktail recipes following each chapter.

living in a Trumpian world

November 17, 2016

This week has been scary and difficult and it would feel great to march and chant.  Frankly, it would feel good to throw some “flaming projectiles”, if no one else was in the way.

But we are going to have an abundance of things to protest in the coming months and we need to be careful where we spend our energy.  Protesting the results of  a lawful election is not a productive way to spend that energy.  Trump won fair and square.  It would be much wiser to contemplate the reasons behind his victory rather than questioning the unfortunately legitimate results.  I find it strange that those who are now objecting to the electoral college (I agree  it should go, but its been in place since George Washington’s election) were perfectly sanguine about the Democratic party’s superdelegates, which were not introduced until the 1980’s.

One good place to start protesting is Trump’s transition team’s horrible reccomendations for Secretary of State, Rudy Guiliani and John Bolton.  These guys will have you longing for Hillary and her rogue email server.  Guiliani, you may recall, is NYC’s own second coming of Mussolini.  He called the removal of troops from Iraq “the worst decision made in American history” and has called for the bombing of Iran.  He is also drawing scrutiny for his regular appearances at events supporting an Iranian opposition group, called the Mujadehin-e Khalq, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization from 1997-2012.  Guilianni recently called for an armed overthrow of Ayatollah Khameini’s regime.  Bolton holds similar bellicose, interventionist views, so incendiary that he was rejected for UN ambassador when nominated by George W.

Interestingly, another regular speaker at the MEK is Howard Dean, a fervent Clinton supporter who is currently opposing Keith Ellison, the Sander’s backed candidate for chair of the DNC.

Obama’s Iranian agreement, largely engineered by John Kerry, is one of the few bright legacies of his terms in office.  Let’s keep these warmongers out of position of power!


the day after

November 10, 2016

We could have been looking at a very different America today.  We could have been celebrating a President Bernie Sanders.

I looked at the voting map across the country, and noticed a distinct pattern.  Virtually every county, and every state (save the deep South) that Bernie won in the primary, Trump won in the November election.   States like Oklahoma, West Virginia, Michigan.  Rural countries across America.  In state after state, Bernie proved he could draw the alienated working class vote–Trump’s base.  Except unlike Trump, who took that group’s alienation and anger and fanned the flames of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, Bernie took that same anger and presented a vision of progress and inclusion.

The Democratic party decided long before this election started that Hillary Clinton was the anointed candidate.  They maintained that position even after it became eminently clear that Sanders was the stronger candidate, the one with the ability to defeat Trump.  But the powers that be were so enamored with anointing HIllary that, by means legal and illegal, they denied Sanders the nomination.  EVen after Hillary was nominated, she could have reached out to Sanders supporters (43% of the counted Democratic vote–probably more in reality) by choosing Sanders or a comparable progressive (Elizabeth Warren, say) as vice-president.  She did no such thing.  Throughout the convention and campaign she treated Sanders and his supporters with disdain, and she made no attempt to reach out to his base, both millenials and the above mentioned working class voter.

So what happened?  Millenials stayed home in record numbers.  Working class voters went for Trump.  And because of the blind arrogance of Clinton and her campaign, what we have feared has come to pass.

I have not encountered a single person today who is not entirely bummed and depressed.  My yoga teacher said something that resonated with me–“everything that happens is either a blessing or a lesson”.

This election is no blessing but it can be a lesson.  The lesson is not to let one’s ego get in the way of listening to people, especially if you are running for public office.  The lesson is also to run a campaign in a clear, honest, and transparent way.  The lesson is that the means do not justify the ends, but they do determine the ends.

Now let’s take a deep breath and prepare for the years to come.

eve of destruction part II

November 7, 2016

We have a sign in our front yard that accurately reflects our despair after the Democratic nomination was stolen from Bernie Sanders, leaving us with the pathetic choice we face now.  It reads:  “Everyone sucks.  We’re screwed 2016.”

A few days ago I walked outside to find our sign vandalized.  I fixed it.  Today, en route to a yoga class, I found it vandalized again.  I fixed it.  I returned home from yoga to discover the sign–you guessed it–pulled out and turned around again.

I have never seen an election season so lacking in civility.  I would never dream of damaging anyone’s election sign sitting on their private property. Yet it doesn’t surprise me, given the number of times I’ve been personally attacked for daring to impugn Hillary Clinton’s views and character.  And I’m sure its a Clinton supporter (s) vandalizing our sign as I haven’t seen any Trump signs within miles of our home whereas Hillary signs have sprouted like mushrooms.

Just because one candidate sucks horrifically doesn’t mean that his opponent doesn’t suck as well.  Clinton is not a bigot.  She is intelligent and experienced.  Beyond that, I have nothing good to say.  She is cynical and calculating.  She and her immense staff view the American population as interest groups to be manipulated, as borne out by the Wikileaks email trove.  (for example–I don’t appreciate being referred to as an “enviro”–as in “how do we calibrate our stance on fracking to placate the “enviros”, without alienating the fracking industry?”)  Her policies, such as they are, throw bones (largely disguised as tax credits) to assorted interest groups while leaving the corrupt power structure intact.  Oftentimes these incremental changes lead to unforeseen consequences that are actually more harmful than the original policy.  Obamacare is a prime example.  Her foreign policy is interventionary and downright scary.

What really disturbs me, most though, is her character.  Trump may be despicable, but Clinton is not that far behind.  Her narcissism and drive to power are simply better disguised.  She manipulated the Democratic machine–via superdelegates, funneling of DNC money, etc–in such a way as to make her nomination a foregone conclusion.  When Sanders campaign caught fire her claws truly came out and  she stopped at nothing to shut the campaign down–look at what happened in California, and at the convention.  Look at her manipulation of the media.  See how infrequently she gives press conferences or engages in unscripted interactions with the public.  Look at the remarkable intertwining of the Clinton Foundation and the powers that be in the corporate world and Wall Street.

Her arrogance, smugness, and ethical culpability are what is making this election as close as it is.  She could have reached out to Sanders supporters–43% of the primary vote–and welcomed them into the fold, but she did not.  She just figured, given a candidate as repugnant as Trump, they’d have no where else to go.  Nor did she reach out to Trump voters–she called them “deplorable”, she condescended to them.  In no way does she recognize the anger, frustration, and disenfranchisement of a sizeable portion of this country.

So now she waves the loaded gun of Trump in my face and wants me to hand over my vote.  But I can’t do it.  I just can’t.  I see nothing good coming out of this election.  I just want it to be over and pray for the republic to survive so we can do better–both in our candidates and in the democratic process–and have more worthy choices in 2020.