In Memoriam, 2007

by Steve, May 28th, 2007

In the waning hours of Memorial Day, a US holiday evidently devoted to the beginning of barbecue season, I sit awake, thinking about the war dead. It is traditional to commemorate those who fought and died for their county, and surely they deserve their due. But I have to give you another perspective.

Because the soldiers who die in “modern” warfare are in the minority. Most casualties are civilian. Women, children, old people. Dying in their beds, on the street, at the market, at school. In the US wars of my lifetime, several million civilians have been slaughtered. In Viet Nam, some 60,000 US soldiers died, bringing untold grief to their families and loved ones. But anywhere from 2 to upwards of 6 million Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian civilians were killed. In the current Iraq war, we will soon have over 3,000 US troops killed, and tens of thousands more badly disfigured. A statistical survey by the Lancet last June found 654,000 excess Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion and occupation.

Memorial Day has a way of distracting from the brutal reality of warfare. Can we honor fallen soldiers while questioning their mission? (I say yes.) But maybe the best way to honor their memory is to also remember the vastly greater number of fallen civilians. Maybe if we can see war for what it really is — extreme violence against the very weak — we can finally put an end to it. What political goal is so noble and righteous that the wholesale slaughter of children is warranted? To honor the war dead, combatants and noncombatants alike, we must reject war and shun those who sell it and profit from it. How many more children must be sacrificed before this is clear?

Canada vs. Disney

by Steve, May 23rd, 2007

Hockey fans have probably stopped reading this blog in droves of late, as I’ve been more obsessed with gay marriage, Portland politics, classical music and economics than hockey… even during the Stanley Cup Playoffs! (Meanwhile, my blog software tells me I’ve got pending missives on Neoliberalism and Portland Public Schools, What the Bible Tells Us, and Ugly Beauty, my paean to the big ball of contradictions that is Portland.)

But I have been following the playoffs, and I (and Wacky Mommy) were sorely disappointed to see Paul Gaustad and the Buffalo Sabres eliminated by Ottawa. I’m not sure what happed to the Sabres. They were unstoppable early in the season, with four lines able to score and my favorite coach in the NHL. I guess they just peaked early. And the Senators played a great series.

Anyway, once the Sabres were out, I turned my attention to the “West”, where Detroit was giving the favored Anaheim Ducks a run for their money, with the series tied 2-2. Then the Ducks took game five in overtime. Then, last night, they eliminated the Wings 4-3 win. So we’re left with a Canadian team (that’s cool!) and a team that originated as an extension of Disneyland, named after a fictional youth team in a Disney movie. (Disney no longer owns the Ducks — née Mighty Ducks — but still….) No Canadian I’ve talked to cares much for Ottawa (“It’s too cold and too French”), but none of them are rooting against the Senators. I mean, come on… Ducks… Senators… Ducks… Senators…

All I can say is, “Go Canada!” Too bad it wasn’t the Leafs, or even the Habs or Oilers. Or Calgary. Or Vancouver. Whatever, man. I can’t bring myself to say “Go Ducks!” But seriously, folks, it should be a good series. Ottawa has been on fire, and the Ducks had a tough go against Detroit. And no matter who is playing, it’s for the Stanley Cup. Puck drops for game one on US Memorial Day, May 28, 5 p.m. Pacific time.

My New Favorite Blog

by Steve, May 22nd, 2007

(Not counting Wacky Mommy, of course.) I recently stumbled across the Dingleberry Gazette, written by a “middle-aged guy with the heart of a twelve-year old” who works nights in a 24×7 convenience store in downtown Portland. This is some good, funny stuff. Quoth the author, “The running commentary in my head needs a place to rest, so I chose here.” Check it out.

Two Minutes in the Box

by Steve, May 21st, 2007


I’ve added another design to my stable of t-shirts. I’ve also consolidated all my designs under one roof, the Left Coast Hockey League Team Store. The “Shop” link above now leads directly there, as does the link in the sidebar. Thanks to all for your support, and don’t forget: If you buy something and are not satisfied, please call customer service and request a refund. Everything is backed up with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.

And: Go Wings! (I’ve got to write up a commentary about the playoffs one of these days….)

Friday’s Feast #1

by Steve, May 18th, 2007

I’ve gotten kind of tired of Thursday Thirteen. I can’t ever seem to come up with thirteen of anything all at once. I thought I’d try my hand at this meme, which I first saw on Jon Tillman’s blog.

List 3 emotions you experienced this week.

1. Joy at beating the snot out of the other team in beer league hockey last Friday
2. Contentment that we’ll at least have one new school board member in Portland, with the faction that hired and supported Vicki Phillips now in the minority.
3. Trepidation when my son came home from day care with a bloody contusion on his forehead

Name a car you’d love to have.

My friend Anthony dreamed up this idea to join two bicycles side by side, with a cargo sling between them, and perhaps an aerodynamic weather shell over the top of it. There would be a linkage between the handlebars and brakes, but the drive trains would be independent.

Describe your typical morning routine.

Get up. Get kids up. Shower. Get dressed. Make breakfast for self and kids. Make lunches for kids. Drive kids to school. Drive to office. Go get coffee with office mate. Read e-mail. Think about playing hockey.

Main Course
Have you ever emailed someone famous? If so, who, and what did you say to them? Did they reply?

I e-mailed Rick Lyon to congratulate him on Avenue Q. Rick is a professional puppeteer and puppet maker who conceived and designed the Avenue Q puppets. He has worked with the best, including on Sesame Street. He’s been behind (and inside of) the most beloved Muppets, including Big Bird, Grover, Oscar, Ernie and Cookie Monster. He wrote back to thank me for my kind words, and let me know Avenue Q may skip the traditional post-Broadway road show in favor of a Las Vegas run. The only reason you’d ever catch me in Vegas would be to see that show.

Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones?

Nope, never.

Congratulations Ruth Adkins!

by Steve, May 17th, 2007

Things just got a little brighter for Portland Public Schools with the overwhelming election of Ruth Adkins. Adkins garnered endorsements from all four major Portland print media outlets, and trounced Doug Morgan by nearly 20 percentage points.

Michelle Schultz, who did not have such establishment support behind her, still managed a respectable showing against the pre-anointed David Wynde. Bobbie Regan, running unopposed, lost 3% of the vote to write-in candidates.

Those who hired and supported Vicki Philips are now in a minority on the board. With Philips gone and her cheerleaders backed into a corner, we can now start rebuilding in earnest.

Congrats to Ruth!

Judy Park and the Portland Youth Philharmonic: Outta Sight!

by Steve, May 14th, 2007

It takes great chutzpah to choose Rachmaninoff’s infamous 3rd Piano Concerto as an 18 year old. It takes even more chutzpah — and raw talent and sheer dedication — to pull it off with aplomb.

Judy Park did both Saturday with the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Park led off the PYP’s final concert of the season, also the final Portland concert with Mei-Ann Chen as Conductor.

As chance would have it, Wacky Mommy and I put off buying tickets until just before the show, and chose seats I normally wouldn’t consider from the few that were remaining. Front row, keyboard side, with a perfect view of Chen, Park (and her hands!) and the first violins. Park nailed Rach 3 technically, with strong backing from the orchestra. It was an audacious choice of material. Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote it to show off his own virtuosic piano skills, and many seasoned professionals shy away from it. It’s considered the most difficult concerto in the classical piano repertoire.

Despite all these warning signs, the young Ms. Park plunged ahead and pulled off not only a stunning technical display, but also a nuanced, emotional and powerful rendering of the beast. It left me wanting to hear more of Park, and I have a feeling we will have the chance to hear much more from her as she matures as an artist and enters the professional world.

After the intermission, the brass section took up two opposing formations for a brief antiphonal fanfare by self-taught Japanese Composer Toru Takemitsu, from his Signals from Heaven. Takemitsu claimed Debussy as his “teacher”, and Chen followed his sleepy fanfare with a Debussy Nocturne.

The evening was capped off with Béla Bartók‘s Concerto for Orchestra. I’m kind of a Bartók nut, so this was a great capper for the evening. There is nothing on this Earth that compares to sitting in the front row with your eyes closed, enveloped with the three dimensional world of sound sketching the ethereal outlines of Bartók’s soul onto your psyche.

I’m ashamed to say that this is the first PYP concert I’ve been too. I’m very sad to have missed Mei-Ann Chen’s tenure here. Judging from her final concert, she is something of an undiscovered genius. She had an obvious rapport with the musicians (several of them presented her with flowers and touching tributes at the end of the evening). But she is also an obvious task master, a stickler for details, and forceful, emotive and sure in her conducting. She had this band of teenagers playing together in ways many (ahem) professional orchestras don’t pull off on a typical night.

You still have one last chance to hear Chen lead the PYP, May 27, 2007, 4:00 PM at the Resort at the Mountain in Welches, Ore., featuring highlights from the ’06-’07 season.

Portland: Have You Voted Yet?

by Steve, May 8th, 2007

Ballots are due in a week for the May, 2007 special election on May 15. This is a very important election for the struggling Portland Public Schools. The Vicki Phillips era is thankfully ending, and two of her major supporters have worthy opponents in the race. I’ve already gone on record in my support of Neighborhood Schools Alliance founder Ruth Adkins, who is running against Phillips’ cheerleader Doug Morgan.

I’m also throwing my hat in the ring for Michele Schulz, who is challenging another Phillips supporter, David Wynde.

Victories for Schulz and Adkins will be a major win for the children of Portland, which is to say the future of Portland. Both represent grass-roots, community based ideas, and both represent a positive change from leadership that has given us the Jeferson Cluster debacle, fast-track school closures and radical school reconfiguration, all with token (if any) community involvement.

Please vote soon so that you don’t forget. As I mentioned in an earlier post of the subject, even if you just skip the city charter change questions, just mark the ballot for these two candidates and stick it in the mail. It’s that important!

So it Goes.

by Steve, May 8th, 2007

You’d be hard-pressed to find a eulogy of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that doesn’t include that phrase, so I thought I’d get it out of the way in the title. Considering the body of work he leaves behind, I think it is appropriate.

Growing up in Iowa City, you pretty much have to be a fan. Vonnegut taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1965-1967, and left an indelible imprint both on the Writers’ Workshop and the community. He lived in a big old farm house at the cobble-stoned end of Van Buren Street, just off Brown Street. Later, after he’d left to go teach at Harvard, the house was turned into a rental. I don’t know when it started, but an institution took hold that was beyond anyone’s control.

Each May Day, the grounds of the house became the scene of the biggest party in town. The “Vonnegut House” became legendary, not for the kind of party that once drew the likes of Saul Bellow and Jose Donoso, but for all-night, beer- and psychedelic-fueled, shout at the moon craziness. I was surprised by how well organized the thing was, despite having a life of its own. Bands played, including mine in 1988 and 1989. There was a beer trailer. A giant bonfire. Somehow, the huge old barn that served as stage never caught fire.

The cops would just block off the cul de sac and let the party run its course. Some time in the ’80s, the house was sold, and the tradition ended. The new owners wanted nothing to do with the tradition.

A tradition which, of course, had nothing to do with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I came to love Vonnegut when I was working as a waiter at a steak house in Coralville, housed in an old power plant along the Iowa River. Between shifts, I devoured his novels in chronological order. Even though many of them were written before I was born, they seemed to fit the zeitgeist in Iowa City at the time. They probably still do (I wouldn’t know; I moved away in 1989).

I only knew the man through his work and his imprint on my home town. I have enjoyed reading all the eulogies on the Web. Salon has a nice compilation of remembrances from some who encountered him in real life, capturing a hint of who he was as a human. The L.A. Times published an excellent obituary. (There are many more out there; too many to list here.)

When Vonnegut came back to Iowa City in 1989 to speak, he would only speak to students at the Workshop. This annoyed the hipsters in town to no end. The light his legacy cast across Iowa City was ultimately larger than he could have known. His influence on my writing and world view is immense, and the world is a poorer place with his passing.

So it goes.

Gay Marriage: Thirteen Cartoons

by Steve, May 2nd, 2007

With Oregon’s passage today of domestic partnership legislation, I join the celebration with thirteen cartoons on the topic. (Most of these are from the New Yorker, and I’ve just used text links for them. They’re worth clicking, and you can buy prints and t-shirts, etc.)

Again, congratulations to all the couples who will soon be able to enjoy the rights that hetero couples have long taken for granted. It is one small step, but a very significant one.

1. Here’s the New Yorker cartoon Wacky Mommy referenced on my post earlier today: “Gays and lesbians aren’t a threat to the sanctity of my marriage. It’s all the straight women who sleep with my husband.”

2. “Gays and lesbians getting married–haven’t they suffered enough?”

3. “So if you’re the best man at a gay wedding, is that like being first runner-up?”

4. “No, but I do think there should be a law against no-sex marriage.”

5. “There’s nothing wrong with our marriage, but the spectre of gay marriage has hopelessly eroded the institution.”

6. “Sometimes I think you only married me for the political statement.”

7. “I’m sorry, Jim. I love you, but I hate Vermont.”

8. “You knew I was straight when you married me.”

9. “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last gay person on earth!”

10. “Relax, Captain Bush says he’s gonna ban gay marriage.”

11. “Our family is getting clobbered…”

12. “The nation is crumbling! amend the constitution!”