Saturday, December 24, 2005

Season's Greetings

We have arrived in Amherst, the family seat, and
are preparing to celebrate a traditional New England
Chrustmas Eve. Warm wishes to everyone.

Escape From New York

Dateline: Waben Massachusetts, December 23

We got out of town early yesterday. We woke up early and decided to make a dash for the bus station in the morning cold and dark. The hotel sent someone out to snag a cab. Cab was snagged by a guy who said we’d pay ten bucks apiece for the ten block ride. What the hell, we were saving almost two hundred bucks by not staying in the hotel for another night so I figured we were money ahead.

The four hour bus ride back to the family hospice on the outskirts of Boston was spent in a feverish haze never soundly asleep, so that we were always conscious that the seats were too small, and didn’t lean back far enough. I can only conclude that fully half the people on the bus were in the same state. They seemed to be asleep, but it was a sleep punctuated by wracking coughs. We resembled nothing so much as a group of vectors for a biological warfare attack; suicide coughers sent across the country in the spirit of Holiday terrorism.

This trip has confirmed in me a crotchety determination never again to stay with relatives, no matter how generous, or long suffering, or eager to attend to my comfort. I regret that I have become an "old guy." But I am an old guy, a man whose ability to accommodate has been worn down like an Eskimo’s teeth from trying to chew down on inconveniences until they are soft enough to be comfortable.

An example, if I may. Phone jacks…there are only two in the house. One is servicing a fax machine which I dare unplug at my peril since at any moment of the day or night it is likely to produce medical charts and records. The remaining phone jack ( a different line) is located where there is literally no flat surface to put the computer down and where the power outlet is well buried behind a heavy antique clothes cabinet.
So if I manage to post this you’ll know I found a Starbucks.

Enough grumbling. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so we’ll travel from Boston (Waben) to Amherst to attend Christmas Eve church services with Katherine’s father, and then return on Christmas day with the rest of the extended family.

Note: This would have been posted in a timely fashion had I been able to plug in at the local Starbucks. My Computer’s battery is as dead as last Thanksgiving’s turkey and three folks had laid down a permanent claim to the only electrical outlest so I couldn’t wifi.

It is now December 24th, Christmas Eve. Back in a moment for a short, timely post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

New York Report Three

Patient and her attendant have spent the day in their…what to call it?… bed stander. It is very nearly too small a room to be a bed sitter because the sole chair must do double duty as night table, clothes rack, or landing pad for odds and ends ferried in on behalf of the patient. The patient is not hungry, and she is hungry. It’s a problem for the attendant, who has so far observed the dietary niceties for himself with beer and tootsie rolls…to the snuffly, coughing disapproval of the patient.

Actually our hotel is clean and comfortable even though the room is little larger than the California King bed.

I went out this morning to fuel my caffeine hunger at Starbucks. I know, I know, some people don’t like Starbuck’s coffee, but it’s not under-roasted like the coffee in some local coffee houses. Tastes like coffee. Scours your nerve endings. The crowd was very unlike the gang at my (local) Tucson Foothills spot. There were lots of young people. Not high school kids; a post- college group with lots of very good looking young men and women. No golden geezers.

I had plenty of time to watch the crowd milling past outside. The huge purse…sometimes carried by men…is in. I suppose the guy’s bags are actually couriers’ bags but considering how well dressed some of the guys were I doubt they were couriers. Back packs are in, really in.

The courier bag makes a lot of sense. Busy professionals are so lumbered with ipods (saw plenty) cell phones, lap tops, and palms that they could hardly stuff all that stuff in their pockets without spoiling the look of their fitted overcoats. Of course women in this strike-struck city need some place to stuff dressier shoes while they are hiking to work in their tennies.

Incidentally, I know why they call this the city that never sleeps. Who could sleep with the screams, sirens, garbage trucks, and assorted shouts of joy and despair as crowds empty out of the bars that line our street.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New York Report Two

Say over and over again: The Bronx is Up, The Battery’s Down. We’ll not be going to either, in all likelihood. The subway strike is up, and the subways are down. We walked everywhere, which is fun, what we’d planned to do anyway, and what greatly inconvenienced New Yorkers had to do.

The chief assistant to the assistant-chief-housekeeper at our hotel had to start out at four in the morning. Up until eleven in the morning cabs must have four passengers. Folks have been pretty kind to one another, though—we saw a driver stop to pick up a woman who was waving futilely for a cab.

We had a tasty Starbucks coffee to start our day, but the only available seats were in the dormitory. I had to move a street guy over, chair and all, to make room at a counter. Street guy opened one eye and then went back to sleep. A woman came in, put a small pillow on the counter, put her head down and went beddy-bye. It was bitterly cold and windy outside. Can’t say I blamed ‘em, and the Starbucks people paid ‘em no mind.

My laptop is five years old, which means that in addition to being heavier than a new one, it’s incredibly slow to boot up. The strategy is to press "go" and then make a pot of coffee, or take a shower, or bake a loaf of bread and then when you get back old reliable is up and running.

There is no wireless in our hotel. They have free cable instead, but I have no way of plugging the cable jack into the computer. I’m using a Juno dial-up, which is annoying beyond measure. But what the hell, "Toujour Gai" as Mehitable used to say. Dial-up used to be great.

We walked a lot in crowds that were muffled up to the ears. Because of the transit strike Sixth Avenue turned into a very long parking lot, and the sidewalks were even more crowded than usual…or what I expect would be usual. All of us, out-of-towners and New Yorkers, did a terrific job of charging forward at the stream of people passing in the opposite direction and never touching. The opposing streams of people simply melted together to make a continuos stream moving in two directions at once, as if a river were flowing both upstream and down.

Best part of the day: A serendipitous discovery of an exhibit of illustrated manuscripts at the New York Public library. Fascinating.

The cold weather and general exhaustion have saddled Katherine with what promises to be a lalapalooza cold. Tomorrow we’ll take a walk with the cold to breathe contagion on a little grand-niece and grand-nephew who live about 30 blocks north of our hotel.

New York Report

We have arrived in New York after two excruciating four hour rides. Four hours yesterday packed in a Steerage Class seat on US Airways, and then four hours wedged into a Greyhound bus seat while we traveled from Boston to New York. On balance the bus trip might have been a tad more comfortable.

The next time I fly I’d just as soon not. And I’d like to travel to a city where the people servicing the tourist business speak English. Like Lisbon.

You can’t escape politics, even on vacation. The cab driver who drove us to the bus station this morning had an accent, but it was a Massachusetts accent and you could understand every word he said…which happened to be a very well-informed diatribe on the financial performance of the 60 worst performing companies in America. He showered us with statistics about the outrageous pay received by the companies’ CEOs. I tipped him handsomely.

The last time we had a hotel room this small was in New England, where Katherine and I had to put the room’s one chair on the bed in order to close the door.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Season’s Greetings and Jack Jackson, Jr.

Apparently it gets harder and harder, as the Season develops, to maintain a spirit of high moral dudgeon and political outrage. I notice, over in the StarNet forums, that a kind of cheerful drifting off topic is taking place.

I’m drifting off myself, tomorrow, to the Eastern gloom. First to Boston, and I can hardly wait for freezing cold and melting slush that slops over shoe tops. From Boston to New York for a short round of museum hopping, then back to Boston for Christmas with family and home to Tucson.

And during all that time I plan to avoid thinking about politics. Well, no, that’s not quite true. I’m going to try to avoid thinking about politics. I may drop a note or two into the blog from New York because I’m lugging my laptop with me, something I’ve never done before. It’s an old laptop, bulky and heavy, and will surely be a nuisance. But what the hell, it’s a new trick for an old dog.

As long as I’m still here, however, let me suggest y’all might like to take a look at Jack Jackson, Jr.’s web site. Jackson is running against Rick Renzi in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. The site has lots of information, well organized and easily navigated. Other candidates should take note.

The Coach's Wife and CD8

The most interesting political rumor of the day is that the former Christine Toretti, Pennsylvania Committeewoman on the Republican National Committee, is getting her paperwork in order to make a run for Jim Kolbe’s CD8 seat. She’s still registered to vote in Pennsylvania, of course, but that’s a small matter.

Eat your heart out, Randy Graf. How’re you going to compete with Mrs. Lute Olson?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Money and Volunteers Rally for Giffords

The Gabrielle Giffords’ CD8 campaign for Congress cranked up an impromptu gathering at Tucson’s Hotel Congress yesterday afternoon.
It was strictly an after work drop-in sort of gathering, but it was well enough organized to actually interview fifty volunteers to work the campaign. That was in addition to the more traditional volunteer cards filled in and left with the campaign.

I was not in attendance myself, but the gnomes who watch such things for me reported a large crowd, with people constantly coming and going, nominating petitions being turned in and a substantial amount of money raised.

How much? The gnomes failed me there, but the “suggested donation” was ten bucks and apparently some folks donated a lot more than that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A CD8 Candidate Heard From

Jeff Latas has responded to my December 10th post, "Election '06 or 'Election '96" saying that he welcomes open debate and discussion with voters and candidates. I have suggested that an easily used, neutral, venue for the project would be the Arizona Daily Star Forums. They are easy to use, and they are free. More importantly they cannot easily be tampered with.

Each poster can, of course, delete his own posts but it would be hard to completely obscure the direction that discussions take.

So what is to be done? Latas has begun and while I suspect, from his comment, that he would love us to proceed on his web site we have to convince him and others to use a neutral site over which they have less editorial control. I have already sugested that. We'll see if he appears in the forums. link

Next, if any of you out in the blogosphere think this kind of project has merit you have to contact the other candidates and urge them to participate.Let's see if we can change the nature of political campaigning... if only a little bit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Possible Senatorski?

The Data Port noticed with pleasure this morning a political note in the Arizona Daily Star to the effect that influential Arizona political blogger Ted Prezelski has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Gabrielle Giffords as District 28’s State Senator.

Some of us are speculating about what this might mean for our favorite political blog, Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.

The picture is that of brother Tom Prezelski, presently serving in the Arizona House. Some of us have never been able to tell these lads apart. This should prove useful as one Prezelski could serve double duty as necessary, dodging from House to Senate.

Good luck, Ted.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Torture or Military Necessity?

Many years ago, at the very beginning of our involvement in Viet Nam, I had a graduate school acquaintance who had just returned from Nam. A Princeton graduate, he had enrolled while still in school in a program called, as I recall, something like the Platoon Leader’s class.

At any rate, when he graduated (with a major in French) he went into the Marines and from the Marines to Nam as an interrogator. He was a fluent French speaker after all.

I was interested in this…what sorts of questions he would ask, how he would develop the interrogation process, in general how he structured the whole process. “Good guys”- “Bad Guys” or what?

Rather bluntly I asked him, “How did you do that?”

With equal bluntness he said, “Electrically,” and moved on to other topics. I have no idea if he was dramatizing for the girl sitting with us, putting me on, or telling me a painful truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the truth.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Election ’06 or Election ’96?

We need a new kind of political web site, independently maintained, that crosses party lines.

This web site would be apart from, and independent of, individual candidate pages...a place where candidates and voters would be urged to ask and answer questions directed at the candidates; where candidates would debate one another, their cross-aisle opponents, and the voters.

During the election cycle of 1996 The Arizona Daily Star’s StarNet launched a web site called “Election 96.” It was basically the work of seven volunteers working with the blessing of StarNet’s Robert Cauthorn.

The volunteers were Democrats, Republicans, A Libertarian and Independents. We were all starry-eyed about the capacity of the internet to transform politics. “Election ‘96” would be a place where local candidates would have their own sites, where letters and comments could be publicly posted to candidates and where the candidates’ answers would appear.

We were not just ahead of the curve…there was no curve. We either failed to convince candidates of the usefulness of this sort of public presence, or we convinced them and they were very uncomfortable with the notion of too much uncontrolled contact with constituents or their opponents

No one wanted to enter into a public debate with their opponents or the voters. And no one wanted these exchanges to be part of a public record. (The one exception was Barbara LaWall, who was then locked into a tough primary contest.) The few candidates who did come on board had merely a passive presence…stating a position, asking for donations, urging support. In other words they had the beginnings of what we have today: One way web sites.

You can send today's candidates an e-mail, or make a donation, but there is no way to post a public complaint, criticism, or compliment and read the candidate’s public answer. There is no place for a public debate between candidates.

I understand that no candidate wants to loft his or her own web site and then find s/he is giving time to the other guy. That’s why we need a new kind of political web site, on the model of “Election ‘96” and we have to tell all candidates that the voters want to hear from them, and hear them debate one another.

Look at the sites for Giffords, Graf, and Latas

Friday, December 09, 2005

As American as Apple Pie

The idea of the suicide bomber as a weapon to redress real (or imagined) social injustices is much older than contemporary Muslim fanaticism. I’ve been reading “Murdered by Capitalism”-- A Memoir of 150 years of Life & Death on the American Left—by John Ross and ran across a reference to American Radical Lucy Parsons.

What caught my eye was this quotation from Ross’s book:

“’Learn the use of explosives,’ Lucy Parsons would preach. She exhorted the homeless to strap on a bomb and take out a Capitalist rather than throw themselves into the Chicago River in despair. ‘Every dirty, lousy tramp must encamp on the steps of the palaces and shoot, stab, or bomb the splendiferous elites who lounged therein.’ That’s verbatim from Lucy’s To Tramps!.”

A brief biography of Parsons can be found here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


The Data Port has been running in two locations for a number of months.I have decided to wind up the Radio UserLand version of this blog. I simply find Blogger more user friendly. It’s much easier to post pictures here and posting can be done from any on line computer, while Radio User Land requires special software on my laptop, which I seldom carry while traveling. ( Motorcycle Bounce Bounce)

You’ll notice two links are gone from the link panel. “Motorcycles” and “The Curmudgeon” were sub-categories of the Radio UserLand version of The Data Port.

Nuff said. And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Precinct Heard From...Patty Weiss enters Arizona CD 8 race

So far, here’s what we know of this ex-anchor’s political views: "I have always thought that I would like to serve in Congress," Weiss said. "I am a fan of democracy."

Well, so say we all Patty.

There seems to be a certain fascination with Weiss’ name recognition and what that promises, but in a primary race I don’t think it promises very much. The active Democrats who have worked campaigns, walked neighborhoods, and performed all the political scut work know her as a TV personality, but not as a fellow worker.

Of course that was inevitable. She couldn’t even pretend to be an even-handed journalist and a political activist. It’s sure to affect her fundraising and she is already behind hand in this. It may be a sad reflection on the state of American electoral politics but two million bucks trumps being known as an anchor.

Some folks at the national level are reported to be saying that for Democrats this is a two-million-buck campaign. Does anyone think the Republicans will pony up any less? Ho Ho Ho…it makes to laugh.

Monday, December 05, 2005

As Long As You’re Up... Get Me A Grant

A friend from the StarNet forums posted an interesting question: Need a job? Want a billion? Well, who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t? And our very own government wants to provide you (us) with both the job and the bucks.Before we continue I suggest you follow this link and when you’ve read and digested it return here.

Ah, there you are, back again. So here’s what we have. Our nation’s wise leadership has sucked us into a war and they have no clear cut idea about how to get us out of it. But wait.. maybe the thing to do is to…”implement a social and economic stabilization program impacting ten Strategic Cities, identified by the United States Government as critical to the defeat of the Insurgency in Iraq.”

For this they will pay upwards of one billion, 200 million bucks.

Now of course for that amount of money the government would want to be sure that the program provider they chose had a program that had some chance of working. But if the Bush wizards don’t have the foggiest idea of what to do... what would work…if they are helplessly calling for outside assistance…how in the world will they be able to choose an effective program?

By what criteria will the clueless get a clue? I could use the money, I think I'll apply.

Pima Council on Aging "Overwhelmed"

According to Stew Grabel, the Ombudsman for the Pima Council on Aging, the PCOA has been buried under an avalanche of calls for help in dealing with what Grabel describes as “this complicated, poorly planned, constantly changing Medicare program.”

The phone system has been “overwhelmed” and staff has been driven to work evenings and weekends helping people figure out just how to cope with the “benefits” of Medicare. You want help? They’re booking appointments a month in advance.

Here’s the kicker, though. You’d think that the place to go for help would be to the folks in charge, not to an under-staffed county agency that’s struggling to keep up with the demands for service. You know…Social Security, AHCSS, The Center for Medicare Services.

But the folks in charge are apparently baffled and confused, too. They are referring people with questions to The Pima Council on Aging!

Oh, I get it…they either don’t understand the wonderful Bush drug proposals with their magic donuts and sliding enrollment scales or they do understand all that and are too embarrassed to say.

We can’t be bothered to explain em…we just write ‘em.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Arizona Voter Registration

A story in this morning’s Arizona Daily Star raises the question of possible disenfranchisement of Arizona voters who depend on their driver’s licenses to establish citizenship when they appear at the polls to vote. The problem is in Arizona’s Proposition 200.

“Under Proposition 200, anyone registering to vote must provide proof of citizenship. The most popular form is usually an Arizona driver's license issued after Oct. 1, 1996, when the state began demanding evidence of legal U.S. residency to get a license.”—Arizona Daily Star

Now I have two problems with this story. First, mere legal residency is not a sufficient condition for voting. (I guess obviously…Green Card holders are legal residents but not voters). Did the law require proof of legal residency, or of citizenship?

I checked my license…which is dated 06/15/05. Can I use this to “prove” eligibility to vote? Hardly. My first license was granted in 1973. I was not asked about citizenship then; I have never been asked about my citizenship since.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe Packs it In

It was announced today that the Congressional race in Arizona's 8th Congressional District will officially become - HooHaw! A mad house! With Kolbe out of the game the mad scramble will begin. On the Dem's side look for Gaby Giffords to toss her hat in the ring, along with Shacter and Latas. Republicans? Well, Randy Graff for sure...and maybe Toni Hellon will deep six her primary battle with Huffman and run for the big time.

Ah, we live in interesting times.


I have been the victim lately of what Anthony Powell once called “A Dance to The Music of Time”…the kaleidoscopic shifting of relations between people and projects over time. It seems to me that I have been whirled around my life’s ballroom in ways I have not entirely controlled. It’s been very distracting. It’s slowed down my writing.

One of the distractions has been the re-birth of forum participation.The Arizona Daily Star has revived its on line public forums, whirling me back to the first great days of the StarNet forums under Bob Cauthorn.

At the moment there are only 200 folks registered, where registration is required for full participation. Of those two hundred only a large handful are actually engaged, but those who are posting regularly are having some interesting exchanges. I must say that the whole scene seems much more active than the blogosphere…and in some ways more fun.

We’ve had one troll, who ducked in and out of the forums with a couple of name changes, but most folks did not rise to the bait. I imagine he’ll be back, when it gets lonesome under his bridge.

At any rate I’ve been spending more time attending to the forums than to the blog. What goes on is probably of more interest to Tucsonans than to others…but take a look. Register even…it’s free. Link

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Shacter Declares for Arizona CD 8 Run

Another hat in the ring: Francine Shacter, who declared her candidacy less than two weeks ago. She wants a shot at unseating Republican incumbent Jim Kolbe and joins Democrat Jeff Latas in the primary race.

I met Ms Shacter at a precinct meeting recently and if nothing else she impressed me as a woman of bulldog tenacity. She has met with Democratic Party county chairman Paul Eckerstrom and with Pamela Sutherland, the “honcha” of Arizona List. (AL is devoted to getting pro-choice Democratic women elected.)

Shacter said that she was courteously received by Eckerstrom, but was left with the feeling that ‘the party’ had already decided that Latas should be the candidate. In the discussion with Sutherland Ms Shacter was reminded that although it was not a requirement the D-Triple-C, (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) believed that candidate ‘viability’ could best be demonstrated by raising 100 Grand by December 31. She has confidence that she can.

Ms Shacter has a long record of government service and Democratic Party activism. Latas may find her a hard nut to crack.

Her website is here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Call to Arizona Progressives

The Arizona Daily Star has revived its free on-line forums and they provide an excellent venue for spreading discussion of progressive political issues.

They provide something else as well…a place that offers a link to your blog. When you register (free) you also have the option of listing your blog. You’ll notice that The Data Port and Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion have already done so.This is a good way to increase your reach and readership.

You’ll also notice that I have launched a discussion of the state of healthcare in the United States. At the moment that discussion has reached something of a dead end with two of the major participants butting heads from what are essentially irreconcilable political positions. You are welcome to join in.

Inveterate bloggers may have forgotten the value of forums of this sort, but they attract readers and participants who may not be part of the blogosphere.

Take a look at the “Star’s” forums. Join in. link

Watching Tucson's "Star"

Tucsonans and other Baja Arizonans following the twists and turns of management at the Arizona Daily Star should take a look at Walt Nett’s latest Media Watch column.

Some months ago the Star was purchased by Lee Enterprises and David Stoeffler came on board as editor. He resigned after about six months, but Nett gives him fairly high marks and comments on possible successors.

What particularly caught my eye was that Lee, which also owns the once great St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has been RIFing (RIF=Reduction in Force) employees; among them 41 newsroom employees. P-D Editor Ellen Soeteber resigned, and Nett suggests that the resignation was connected to the newsroom reduction.

I wonder what’s in store for the Star?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Two Blogs…One Old Friend, One Newcomer.

I regularly read David Kaiser’s long, thoughtful, blog History Unfolding. The Data Port has carried a link to it for a number of months and I hope that some visitors here have found time to visit it. If you haven’t, you should.

Kaiser describes his posts as: “A historian's comments on current events, foreign and domestic.” The articles in History Unfolding are longer than most blog posts. They are more like the pieces you are likely to read in the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, or
The NY Times Magazine.

The articles are well worth both your time and your attention. The current offering, titled Information Warfare at the White House, raises the question “whether America can in fact be governed by an Administration that refuses to admit basic facts both about what it is doing, and what is happening in the world.”

The Newcomer

The Newcomer is the blog for “Voices,” which is all about the writing and photography of a group of young men and women (sorry, I refuse to call them ‘kids’) who annually publish the magazine 110 Degrees devoted to telling stories, past and present, of the Tucson community.

A new staff comes on board at the start of each year. Along with them comes a group of volunteer mentors in writing and photography. I was fortunate to be one of that group last year and am looking forward to doing it again this year.

Check out the blog here.
Read past stories from 110 Degrees here.
Read about 110 Degrees here.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tucson: Time to Write Kolbe

Peristaltic waves of common sense seem to be passing through the ranks of Congressional Republicans, who yesterday resisted the conservative plan to lower taxes on the rich while cutting programs and services that serve the less well to do.

In case you missed it, the Star's coverage is here.
More detailed coverage is in the Washington Post. (Free registration required)

I don’t know if Republican Jim Kolbe…one of Tucson’s two congressmen… was in the ranks of Republican foot-draggers, but it’s a position we should certainly encourage him to adopt.

There would be some point in (politely) reminding him that last Tuesday’s Democratic victory was due in part to annoyed Republican voters not going to the polls. That sort of behavior could well carry over into the next congressional elections. I’ve spoken to Tucson Republicans who are extremely unhappy with the administration, although loath to comment too publicly.

You can e-mail Kolbe by clicking here. Kolbe’s Tucson office phone number is: 520-881-3588

Armistice Day

It was the "War to End War" and it was the war to "Make the World Safe for Democracy." It ended at eleven o’clock in the morning on the eleventh day of November in 1918.

Until wars to come transformed Armistice Day into Veterans Day, Americans across the nation stopped whatever they were doing—in businesses, or stores, or schools—at eleven o’clock and observed a minute of silence. I remember one Armistice day when I was in Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store with my mother. A bell rang and the whole great building hushed and was still.

I have always thought that moment of silence was a fitting way to honor sacrifice and express a devotion to peace. Our parades and celebrations are certainly fitting and proper… but wouldn’t it be wonderful if once again at eleven o’clock in the morning that great and reverential quiet could roll across the country.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Democrats Sweep Tucson Elections

Tucson is the urban center of a metropolitan area that will push to a population of one million before the next census. In the city of Tucson there are 248,777 eligible voters yet slightly less than 22% of them actually voted, and half of those voted by mail.

We often decry this low level of voter participation, but I wonder if it really makes any difference to the quality of government we get. This may be heresy, but might it possibly be the case that low turnout gives us better government?

After all, the people who vote are the political activists, the politically engaged, people who are well enough informed to have some understanding of the candidates and issues.

Being Paid To Vote

There may be an initiative on the ballot in 2006 that will pay eligible voters to vote. Every voter will be given a lottery ticket. Such a deal--- but do we really want this? “Whodja vote for?” …”Who knows, but I got my ticket.”

Vote by Mail

Talked to Tucson city councilman Leal last night. Look for him to try move the city to an all-vote-by-mail policy. It cost Tucson a half million dollars to open the polls yesterday.

It would certainly save the city money, but it does make elections more expensive for the parties, so in one sense you are just shifting the costs.

On a purely personal note I would be sorry not to be able to go to the polling place to vote. It always seems to me that actually going to the polls, seeing my neighbors, marking a ballot in the privacy of the voting booth, was a kind of public affirmation of my belief in the system.

Monday, November 07, 2005

National Health Insurance

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NY Times makes some interesting points about Americans' health care. Fewer companies are providing workers’ health benefits and those that do are reducing them. Krugman says it’s plain that the only solution to our growing health care crisis is national health insurance, but..

"…to see the obvious we'll have to overcome pride - the unwarranted belief that America has nothing to learn from other countries - and prejudice - the equally unwarranted belief, driven by ideology, that private insurance is more efficient than public insurance.

"Let's start with the fact that America's health care system spends more, for worse results, than that of any other advanced country.

"In 2002 the United States spent $5,267 per person on health care. Canada spent $2,931; Germany spent $2,817; Britain spent only $2,160. Yet the United States has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than any of these countries.

"Above all, Americans are far more likely than others to forgo treatment because they can't afford it. Forty percent of the Americans surveyed failed to fill a prescription because of cost. A third were deterred by cost from seeing a doctor when sick or from getting recommended tests or follow-up...and our fragmented system is unable to bargain with drug companies and other suppliers for lower prices."

Yeah...National Health is great idea but I'll probably die on the couch before the bought-and-sold Congress stands up to the Insurance Industry.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Cost

Yesterday the Arizona Daily Star reported the human cost in American lives of the war in Iraq.

Dead: 2,022
Wounded: 15,477

Iraqi casualties? Women, Children, Insurgents, Innocent by-standers? Sorry, we don’t keep a count of those. The only records are occasional pictures of survivors’ tear-stained faces.

I have withdrawn from all debates about weapons of mass destruction, liars in office, smoking guns, or shameful and deceitful bullying by high officials. I’m beyond caring about any of that. I am left, as are all of you, clasping the Iraqi tar baby to my breast; and I am left with a kind of aching puzzlement:

Has the sacrifice of 2,022 young men and women, and the wounding (some of it savage) of 15,477 others been worth it? What have we gained as a nation? Safety?… The friendship and respect of other nations?…Oil?…Anything?

I would love to hear from anyone who believes that this war has been anything but a meaningless failure, anyone who believes that the 2022 have not simply been thrown away for nothing. Like many other families in America we are closely connected to two servicemen. They are in harm’s way; they are courageous and patriotic; and I would like to know from someone why, if they should become statistics, their sacrifices wouldn’t be an idiotic, meaningless waste.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An Anti-War Sign

I saw it in Tucson. It was hand lettered and took up not quite half of a car’s rear window. It had been written with magic marker and although it was perfectly legible there was a spontaneous, free-hand feel to the lettering. It was as if the writer could hardly wait to give expression to outrage. The sign simply said:


Too Many

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Catching Up

A lot of this to do. Let’s begin by noting Starnet’s new design, which is certainly a step in the right direction. If you are reading this out of town you should know that this is the web site for Tucson’s morning paper, The Arizona Daily Star.

The Star, under the leadership of Robert Cauthorn, was one of the first daily papers to float itself on line. The initial look was elegant and simple. With the passage of time the look became cluttered and jittery. John Bolton’s new offering, while fairly complicated, is a great improvement.

I would be happy to pay for access, if I could have the content either ad free, or with substantially reduce advertising. Still, it would be graceless of us who have been pretty critical of the look not to wait to see how it all works.

Thanks, John.

Lost Wages

I spent the last weekend in one of my favorite places, America’s most American city: Las Vegas. I know this comment really twists some folks’s knickers, but the sheer audacity of the place seems perfectly American to me. A replica New York; the Luxor pyramid; Paris with one leg of the Eiffel tower piercing a hotel and casino; fantasy and make believe.

Another Very American Experience

On the drive home we pulled off the interstate just south of Phoenix to hit a Mickey D’s…the rest stop of choice for a pee and a Senior Coffee. While we were there dosing on fries and salt a homeless man walked in, talking loudly to himself about Columbus and the fact that you had to be an officer in the Spanish Army to be one of Columbus’ company.

He bought a large coffee and shuffled out on “shoes” that seemed to be held together by ragged socks. His clothes were not just old and dirty, they were an assemblage of rags. He was clearly “disturbed.” Disturbed, hell, he was as unbalanced as the national budget. Was he ‘happy?’ Enjoying his life? God only knows, but God, if there is one, probably weeps to think that one of his creatures is not better cared for by the rest of us. Surely this man deserved some modest care from the rest of us…some place to camp, to bathe, to receive rudimentary care and shelter.

I thought that this too was, sadly, a very American experience.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Balcony Continued

At some point early in the performance weeks the cast members began to exchange e-mails about the show. Director Joe McGrath joined in the exchange and, with his permission, I want to pass on to Tucson theatre-goers some of the comments that he sent to all of us.

What a pleasure to see The Balcony last night. It's such a wonderful departure from what I've been doing. And it's clearly a delicate beast, that needs all your attention and energy and musicianship throughout. You've come to be comfortable with the language and scenes. ….. You're now getting to do what you're capable of with this.

Something occurred to me about the Rogue, and what I would hope to pursue in the future. I've noticed a tendency, recently, in play production to spend all sorts of money on high quality illusion - as if this were the core of the theatrical craft. Many a tourist walks about backstage and marvels at the way a wall of muslin, pine sticks and glue has been rendered beautifully into a palace, a railway station, or a pagoda. In the same way, people are easily swept away by five pirouettes followed by a double tour en l'air, a high C, or real tears splashing over someone's cheek.

All these things display marvelous technique. In the end, however, these phenomena are only a tribute to the cleverness of the human animal. They display our skill in mastering this world and our own instruments, but say nothing about our perception of other, unseen worlds. Nor do they give the audience something that they can take away and use to great effect in their lives or that might affect their notions of life itself. We must, I think, devote ourselves to something much more profound and meaningful than provoking the audience's admiration.

I don't mean, by this, to reject the actor's vanity. As you know, I'm a great lover of the actor's vanity. It is like self-interest in the market economy. It is not only a tremendous energy source, it is an element, like the sea. It cannot be pretended away. Nor would you want to.

As we develop this ensemble and a way of working that unlocks the actor's potential and the ensemble's character, I'm hoping to continue to find work that carries messages transcending the "theatrical experience"; transcending high quality acting, scenic design, costuming, lighting, and all those elements of our craft that merely render a thought. The thought itself must be worth our and our audience's time.

I've come to love our peals of bells, and explosions, and blood silks, as you know, because they are not preoccupied with illusion. These elements of The Balcony strike at the heart of this thinking that our work stands not to be admired, but to be interpreted. The audience sees us banging drums, hammering the platform, rattling a barrel - they are not busy marveling at our sound design and the scenic wonder of the real plaster dust dropping from the fly loft, or the chunk of wall that collapsed by mysterious unseen technical wizardry stage right. Consequently, when someone says "A royal palace never stops blowing up" our audience is free to hear those words. I can't take a marvelous special effect home with me. I CAN take "A royal palace never stops blowing up" home with me. (I'm still not sure I know what it means, by the way, but I will some day.)

New Post In Motorcycles

For a long time I’ve felt that the motorcycle press has been failing its readers by not regularly covering the used motorcycle market. Declining real wages have not kept up with inflation-adjusted motorcycle prices. My extended commentary is up over in “Motorcycles.”

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Balcony Closes

We closed the Rogue Theatre production of Genet’s play with a Sunday matinee yesterday, ending 9 weeks of rehearsals and 3 weeks of performances.

For twelve weeks my life revolved around those rehearsals and performances. My normal work schedule was twisted out of shape with evenings, when I would ordinarily write, spent either in rehearsal space or at the theatre. I can hardly remember a “normal” dinner hour sharing an end-of-day meal with my wife, Katherine, during that time.

Like everyone else in the cast, all of whom had demanding daytime jobs, I had to find time and energy for life’s obligations. I supervised an enormously disruptive re-model of large portions of our home (bad call that); tried to write, and ran the necessary errands of householdery.

The whole process must have been more demanding on my fellow actors than it was for me…after all I am freed of the demands of the daily “nine to five” grind by the happy circumstance of a retirement bolstered by on-again off-again freelancing.

I realize, looking back, that despite other chores and obligations my consciousness was largely filled by the play, thought about the play, and learning my part. Reciting lines to myself became a compulsion and I would find myself saying lines of dialogue, or parts of lines, in utterly inappropriate places.

We hear people apparently talking to themselves in all sort of public spaces, but they are usually on cell phones. When we notice someone talking to himself, and perhaps gesturing broadly with no phone in evidence, we edge away from someone “gone mad and wandering amongst the crowd protected by his madness”… as the Envoy once said.

A Strange Psychological Occurrence

The alarm went off this morning about five-forty-five. I had been waking up for some time and simply lay in bed thinking about the scene in which the Envoy comes to Madam Irma’s house of illusions to persuade her to accept the role of Queen, to create the appearance that would crush the people’s rebellion. This was “my” scene, the major piece I contributed to the puzzle of “The Balcony.”

It’s not unusual for me to let my waking mind drift over yesterday’s work-a-day events. When it does my consciousness carries with it a sense of distance, the sense that, yes, that was what I did or said at work yesterday; but also a sense, or feeling, or tone that suggests I am now a third-person observer of remembered events “at work.”

This morning the impact of recollection was quite different. I was not simply remembering “that I did such and such, said such and such as an actor at work in Scene 7 of “The Balcony.” Rather I remembered visiting Madame Irma, remembered being there rather than simply looking back at the last day’s performance.

The sense of having been the Envoy was actually disorienting…a momentary sense that somehow a hole in being had opened up.
A dream? The result of having concentrated so much on the part? Who knows

I suspect that no actor could survive if he literally and completely became the character he was playing while he was on stage. Imagine what it would be like if, while you are reading this post at your computer screen, you turned around to find the fourth wall of your room had disappeared.

However much we try, metaphorically, to become the character we are playing it would be terrifying to find that suddenly we were.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bush, Genet, and The Balcony

I have several times mentioned that I am playing in the Rogue Theatre production of Jean Genet’s play The Balcony. It is a play about mirrors, appearances, images and the shifting boundary between them and reality…if indeed there is any such thing as ‘the real.’

The Balcony is Madam Irma’s whore house. It is a house of illusions to which quite ordinary little men come to play the great archetypal figures of society, The General, or The Bishop, or The Judge among others. Sexual gratification comes through and while playing these roles.

(One of the whores, Carmen, plays the role of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes, dressed all in blue, and when she is carried to the bed by the “leper” she has miraculously cured “it is into the blue that he penetrates.”)

The people’s revolution that swirls around the Balcony is finally crushed by the Chief of Police with the aid of the patrons offering themselves as the real General, Bishop and Judge, with Madam Irma as the Queen. The symbols triumph.

The Chief is not happy, though, because no one has come to Irma’s ‘Mausoleum’ studio to die in the chief’s heroic image. In the end someone does come, which justifies the image as one of the great archetypes, one of the great functions and the chief, not satisfied with simply being the chief, the leader, El Caudillo, enters the Mausoleum to become one with his own image.

Frankly this strikes me as the example of a profoundly diseased consciousness. Unhappy with himself this essentially diminished personality cannot simply be himself…he must identify himself with a desired image.

I am reminded of a man in a flight suit standing--- not on the elevating cauthorni worn by the patrons of the Balcony to make themselves larger than life---but on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Couldn't Have Said It Better

TheRepublicans responded late to the hurricane
Delay was indicted
They've bloated the deficit
It's time we Democrats did something
Just as soon as they really screw somthing up
I think I'll take a nap

Yeah, yeah, copyrighted material. I generally avoid pinching other people's stuff but I couldn't have said this better myself. I am disappointed with the failure of my former party to be what Dean once called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

I am re-registering as an Independent. I’ll almost certainly vote Democratic (although I give no guarantees) but I am not going to work for the Democrats until I see some evidence of spine.

Thanks to the guys at Rudy Park

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Winning The Lottery

It’s a game we all play: What would you do if you won the lottery, won big, won so big that you could frame your life any way you chose?

Except in the two ways I am about to tell you I don’t believe my life would change too significantly…or say, rather, that I would not initiate great changes. I like my home and think I would keep living in it. I enjoy household chores, fixing things, puttering in the yard and so on and except for hiring the occasional handyman or housecleaner I can imagine my life grinding on pretty much as it does now.

I might buy another motorcycle, but we have two already and motorcycles can only be enjoyed one at a time.

Whenever the what-would-you-do-if-you-won-the-lottery question is asked I think of my father’s friend Harvey Hayes. When my father was a young actor Harvey was an old one. He lived in a bed-sitter in Chicago’s South Shore Country Club. My father took me to visit Harvey once (I sat quietly while they rehearsed a scene together) and I can remember being fascinated by the fact that Mr. Hayes didn’t have a kitchen.

He had a sort of pantry with a small sink and a fridge, but he clearly never cooked. I asked him what he did for meals…his situation was now riveting…and he replied, “Well, young Arthur, I go to restaurants. I’m an actor, not a cook.”

That answer had a more profound effect on me than I suspected at the time. To that in a moment.

The minor change in my life that I would effect if I won the lottery is that I would have cut flowers delivered to my house every day, or every other day, and maintained by a florist service. I don’t like gardening, but I do love the results and if I could have the latter without the former I would be delighted.

And then I would never cook again. I simply loathe cooking. I know it’s supposed to creative and satisfying and all that, but I simply hate it. I dislike having to prepare a dinner for guests and getting all the courses to come out right at the right time. I would much rather treat my guests to a nice meal at an excellent restaurant. I could afford it since I had won the lottery.

Oh, I might have a small pantry kitchen like Harvey’s where I could keep some bread and peanut butter or a box of orange juice… something I could eat at the sink when I got peckish… but for the most part I would eat all my meals out.

At my favorite places I would be well known. As a regular I could ask for special service…”I’m not very hungry tonight, do you suppose the chef could do a plate of sliced tomatoes and romaine, with some nicely buttered sourdough toast?” Well of course…because I was a regular who had won the lottery and always tipped well.

And I would never cook again.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Little Disturbance

The tile guys are still on the job. I’m very pleased with them, everything is moving along admirably. Soon the noise of jack-hammering old tile will be forgotten; the dust will be swept up, wiped up, mopped up; the screaming whine of the tile saw will be a memory; the cats will be home and nearly all the furniture will be back in place.

When the work gang arrived they brought the full range of industrial grade tools, the sort of brawny, heavy-duty gear you need on a job site. Nothing ‘home improvement’ about this stuff, these were real tools for real men. They also brought the one accessory that no work gang seems able to do without: An industrial grade portable radio.

Look at that sucker…it’s wrapped in roll bars. Go ahead, drop a beam on it. Those speakers are more than loud, they’re built to penetrate the cloud of noise generated by saws, hammers, tile cutters, and construction chatter…and they are the single most annoying racket generated by construction.

When I walk thirty feet down the street and stand in front of my neighbor’s patio I can’t hear the construction noise, but the smeared, garbled, vaguely musical but unintelligible, radio is a background sound that pretty well covers the bird song, the sound of wind in the trees, and even the relatively benign white noise of distant traffic.

Tool noise is intermittent. Radio racket is continuous and unrelieved. I’m baffled by the musical sensibility that can have music present, apparently needed, but not listened to. I think that what makes background radio so annoying to me is that I unconsciously try to make sense of it.

The other thing I can’t make sense of is why the guys need it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BMW f800s

Finally! Official pictures and details of BMW’s new 800 cc bike are up on a number of internet motorcycle sites. The new bike, in the aggressively sporty “s” series, is going to delight canyon carving beemer fans.

Older riders, who were hoping for a mid-weight two-cylinder touring mount are going to be disappointed.

I’m disappointed, but I’m not angry or annoyed. I had hoped for one more new Beemer before my long-distance touring days were done, but my wife and I have two perfectly adequate touring mounts in the carport: My 1990 K75 and her ’03 F650cs.
They’re better than good, they are just right for the sort of motoring I did when I started riding BMWs forty years ago: Days of leisurely touring that ended around a camp fire.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Random Notes

There’s a new post up over in Motorcycles. Although everyone who drives a car might profit from reading it, it’s essentially directed toward fellow riders.

I may be absent from the blog for a day or two. The tile guys are driving us out of our house sometime today and I’m not sure I’ll be within striking distance of a wifi site. I’ll take the laptop with me, though, just in case.

Tonight is the last dress rehearsal before The Balcony opens tomorrow at the Zuzi theater here in Tucson. Am I excited? You bet, because this is theatre for the real theatre fan. I’m no longer worried about my lines…I’m worried about my voice. I have managed to catch a truly savage cold.

One advantage, though is that my normal light baritone has been dropped into the basso profundo range. Soon everyone I work with will have the same cold and we’ll all sound like the double bass section of a Russian Orthodox choir.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

After The Fact

I’ve stepped back in time and made a minor change in yesterday’s post. I often do this, tweaking the writing for clarity or what I imagine to be a greater felicity of style. This morning’s change is so slight that I doubt anyone will notice it, and it certainly doesn’t change the meaning of what I wrote.

This raises an interesting question, though. Personal journals, whether they are old fashioned diaries or modern web logs, are more than dispatches to the world about our daily comings and going. Whether they are intended so or not they become the psychological engines by which we become explicitly conscious of our own lives.

This needs a little explanation.

We don’t go through our daily lives like automata, but our consciousness is directed outward, toward the puzzles, activities and challenges of those lives rather than inward toward the acting self. I’m pretty sure that it is only in reflection after the act that we become fully, explicitly, conscious of the self that did all that acting.

That said, I leave you with this question: Should we ever return to yesterday’s diary to change, however slightly, the examination of our lives? How much more interesting…at least for ourselves…to make those corrections, however slight, in our next diary entry.

A re-evaluation is one thing, but simply changing yesterday’s record is forging history.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Reading The New Yorker...

...probably forever, or in my case to the end of my days. I celebrated my birthday last Wednesday. Well, ‘celebrate’ might be too grand a word since I am practicing a kind of magic where birthdays are concerned: If you don’t celebrate, you live forever.

Of course ‘forever’ doesn’t happen, which is why I’ve settled for ‘the end of my days’—see above. But I’ve digressed.

Probably to keep me pacified during my declining years, my wife gave me The New Yorker. No, not a subscription. I mean she gave me the whole New Yorker, 4,109 issues, half a million pages, every cartoon, ad and article starting with the very first issue back on February 21, 1925. All on eight DVDs.

A couple of astonishing things here. First, someone actually had to scan in each of those half million pages. That must have required an iron will on the part of whoever did the job just to avoid looking at all the cartoons, reading an article or two, and popping over to the next cubicle to share some tidbit.

Most astonishing of all is the fact that they still had the four thousand, one hundred and nine copies of The New Yorker. How big a stack is that!

So I did what you’ll do if you ever get every single New Yorker since 1925. You’ll look for the issue nearest your birth date and take a trip in time. In my case there was an issue dated exactly on my birth day: September 28, 1929.

If I had been my mother or father I could have gone to the movies to see Ronald Coleman in "Bulldog Drumond," (all movies in the listing talkies unless otherwise noted.) It was also reported that the Radio Corporation was about to offer more than 18 months away. And if Dad had just a tad more than seventeen hundred dollars he could have bought a top-of-the-line luxury Marmon straight eight town car.


We are busy throwing away stuff. We have to because we are launching into home improvement and that means reducing our living room, dining room, three closets and a hall down to the bare walls for the tile guys. This effectively cuts our home into three parts, leaving the kitchen at one end of the house and the two bedrooms (one of which is a home office) at the other end separated by newly set tile that can’t be walked on for a day.

We will throw ourselves on the mercy of a neighbor, who has agreed to take us and our two cats. (The cats, incidentally, will surely be badly spooked by the noise of hammering up all the old tile.) More about this later.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Saint Hillary

Matt Bai has an interesting piece on Hillary Clinton coming out in Sunday’s NYT Magazine. The main thrust of the article is that Clinton’s shift toward the center can be seen as perfectly consistent with attitudes and positions she has had (but perhaps under-expressed) since the days of the Clinton presidency. Bai points out that there is a rift in the Democratic party that Hillary may not be aware of, or the significance of which she may not sufficiently appreciate.

"What Dean's candidacy brought into the open…. was another kind of growing and powerful tension in Democratic politics that had little to do with ideology. Activists often describe this divide as being between "insiders" and "outsiders," but the best description I've heard came from Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic operative who runs the advocacy group N.D.N. (formerly New Democrat Network), which sprang from Clintonian centrism of the early 1990's. As Rosenberg explained it, the party is currently riven between its "governing class" and its "activist class." The former includes the establishment types who populate Washington - politicians, interest groups, consultants and policy makers. The second comprises "Net roots" Democrats on the local level; that is, grass-roots Democrats, many of whom were inspired by Dean and who connect to politics primarily online, through blogs or Web-based activist groups like The argument between the camps isn't about policy so much as about tactics, and a lot of Democrats in Washington don't even seem to know it's happening.

"The activist class believes, essentially, that Democrats in Washington have damaged the party by trying to negotiate and compromise with Republicans - in short, by trying to govern. The "Net roots" believe that an effective minority party should disengage from the governing process and eschew new proposals or big ideas. Instead, the party should dedicate itself to winning local elections and killing each new Republican proposal that comes down the track. To the activist class, trying to cut deals with Republicans is tantamount to appeasement."

The whole piece will be available on line Sunday. (Free registration required) I recommend it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Random Selection

The Balcony

We are tumbling head over heels towards our October 6th Preview. In the words of Cynthia Meier, our Managing Director:

“The play is big and sprawling and wonderful and awful and scary and sweet. We've been through this enough times to know that somehow, some way, magically, it will all come together and be the best we could possibly make it. The Balcony is a great adventure!”

If you live in Tucson, I hope you’ll make an effort to get to The Balcony. Jean Genet is probably not for everyone although his take on politics, appearance and reality is surprisingly appropriate for our time.

But take heed…this ain’t The Sound of Music. Visit The Rogue Theatre here.

Riding Safe

Isn’t it odd that when we write about the motorcycle life we find it so easy to use an adjective to modify a verb.

I have always tried to “ride safe,” paying particular attention my riding gear. When I started riding forty-five years ago about all we had for protection was leather for road rash and layers of sweaters for warmth. Well, sweaters and newspapers.

Folk wisdom held that if you got stuck in cold weather you could pad yourself with newspapers inside your jacket and pants. The problem with that is that if you had already gotten chilled all the newspapers did was to make you bulky. Electrically heated riding suits were unheard of.

Rain gear? We had some, but it was frequently bulky rubberized stuff that didn’t breathe, so you got just as wet from the inside out as you did from the outside in. I remember the almost boundless joy with which I received my first Belstaff jacket, an English contribution to motorcycling that more than made up for ‘reliable Lucas electrics.’

Belstaff was the best riding and rain gear I ever owned and I still have one of the older jackets. Belstaff continues in business, by the way.

(I’m sure Lucas’s reputation was not so well justified as we all believed but it was fun to refer to ‘the prince of darkness’ and the motto on the Lucas coat of Arms: Never Go Out After Dark)

I’m prompted to these recollections by the fact that we continue to have temperatures in or near triple digits, and I have succumbed to the climate. I have given up all protective gear except helmet and gloves; no jacket, no fancy euro-style riding suit, no ventilated “Joe Rocket” gear. I’m riding around town in devil-may-care t-shirts.

He Wasn’t Wearing a Helmet

Sometime in the past two weeks the Star printed a short notice of the death of a local motorcyclist, who was killed by an automobile. I can’t find the piece on line, so my recollection of the details is sketchy. I do remember ‘killed’ and ‘wasn’t wearing a helmet.’

That old refrain again. What else wasn’t he wearing? He wasn’t wearing a bra; he wasn’t wearing a seal skin hat; he wasn’t wearing golf shoes; he wasn’t wearing a tuxedo; there’s a lot of stuff he wasn’t wearing. Was not wearing it contributory to his death?

The helmet reference would only be pertinent if he died of injuries that wearing a helmet would have prevented. If not, then the old ‘no helmet’ refrain is just another way of blaming the victim.

Of No Conceivable Interest to Anyone But Me

Today is my birthday. It’s been a helluva ride.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Spooky Tooth Cycles

Riffing On The Star

There’s a long article in today’s Arizona Daily Star about a local mo-ped builder, named Roland Bosma. It’s a good piece, written by Tina Velez, and you can read it here.

Giving you the link is just a little courtesy and the only reason I mention it is that it is a courtesy the Star seldom extends to its readers. Tina knew there was a web site because she mentions it. I guess the editors were afraid we’d jump to it and not return to the ad-cluttered pages of the Star.

Since Tina didn't help, I googled Spooky Tooth and found this…the Spooky Tooth web site. Now that’s pretty interesting. Go ahead and visit…you might dig the band, and I don’t care if you leave the blog. But come back, because this is the link for Spooky Tooth Cycles.

That’s a pretty goth look, but basically full of good stuff about the bikes. Once you’ve poked around there for a while you’ll probably find a little rat in a white sporty car. Click it and go here.

If you’re back, wasn’t that fun?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Rogue, Genet, and The Balcony

I picked up a copy of Robert Brustein’s, “The Theatre of Revolt,” from the resource table at one end of our rehearsal space. I can’t hope to summarize Brustein’s extended treatment of the theatre of revolt and of the relation between Antonin Artaud and Genet, but one or two sentences struck me squarely between the eyes.

Genet has “the capacity to transform pathology into ceremonious drama through a rich, imaginative use of the stage. Genet’s plays take the form of liberated dreams, organized into rites.”

The Balcony is a rite, a ceremony, the closest analogy to which is, perhaps, a high mass. One of the challenges for the actor…especially a novice, which I count myself, is to recognize that there are ceremonies within the ceremonies, appearances within the appearances.

At some point trying to winkle out the logic underlying the pieces of the ritual is nearly impossible. Who am I? Am I an actor participating in a ceremonial ritual? When I become “the Envoy” what do I become?

Am I an envoy on a mission to save the social structure attacked by revolution? Am I, that is, an element piercing the illusions of the Balcony from outside? Or am I simply another customer of Madam Irma’s illusions playing out a sexual fantasy with a whore dressed as Saint Teresa? Or am I a combination of those possibilities?

At Mass, when the host is elevated, is it important to settle the question of whether it is a wheaten wafer or the body of Christ?
No, because what counts is the ritual of elevation, the rite in which Priest, Acolytes, and the worshipers take part.

So it is with “The Balcony.”


Friday, September 23, 2005

A Change of Season

The thermometer outside my home-office window is registering 100 degrees, typical early fall weather for the Sonoran desert. Relatives, who live in the small dark place we call New England, are always riffing on the theme of changing seasons.

They wouldn’t want to live here, they’d miss the changing seasons. Well of course they would. After a long, dark, cold, slush-filled winter (followed by mud time) who wouldn’t rejoice at the emergence of the occasional crocus or tulip and the odd sunny day filled with weak yellow light and temperatures in the low fifties.

Crisp, brisk, fall days? You bet. And what a relief after steamy eastern summers that leave birds gasping on the lawn. And just think, in five or six weeks all the leaves will be gone (from the trees, but not from the yard) and late fall mists and rains will be followed by…oh boy...winter.

Despite what they think we do have seasonal changes here in the desert, but Desert Rats have had to become sensitively tuned to changes of light and temperature to enjoy them.

I noticed riding home from rehearsal last night that there was a very slight edge to the air. Still plenty warm enough for shirt-sleeve riding, but not the unabated continuance of daytime heat that we notice in June.

We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with ornate picnics in the desert, sunglasses welcome, but keep a light wrap available for the post-sundown brandy. Right after Thanksgiving our Malls will fill with shoppers, many of whom are visitors from the east. They are confused. They are wearing flip-flops and shorts in weather that the desert rat understands requires a light-weight sleeveless down vest.

And they say we don’t have changes of season!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bush Approval Ratings? So What!

Approval Ratings? Phooey!

Democrats are taking a good deal of pleasure in the President’s falling approval ratings. They seem to believe that a great turning in their favor is taking place and that there is, at last, Democratic light at the end of the Republican tunnel.

Actually this is an illusion…not because the approval rating isn’t really going down but because (excuse me, here) the Conservatives don’t give a shit what their numbers are. The public doesn’t vote in Congress and it’s in Congress where their numbers still give them control.

There’s plenty of time between now and November 2006 to continue to dismantle the social progress of the past 70 years. The destruction of a strong and humane system of social welfare policies requires only that they be starved of money, which huge deficits will do.

I am (for the moment) a lifelong Democrat, and I despair at the inaction of the Democratic minority in Congress. It should stop worrying about its own re-election and speak out forcefully in favor of reinstating the Bush tax cuts.
We had a war tax in WWII. We should have a war/disaster tax now.

The ‘fight’ over the Roberts appointment was a wasted effort. Could no one count to 60? The election in ’06 is probably our last chance and I’m afraid the party will blow it.

Independent’s Day.

Arizona’s election laws allow Independents to vote in either party’s primary contests. I happen to live in a state legislative district that’s dominated by the Republicans. Next primary cycle my Republican state Senator, Toni Hellon, will be opposed by a troglodyte Republican house member from the district who is “term limited.”

Hellon may not be the greatest, but she is, at least open to reason. I’d much rather have her than Huffman so I’ll re-register and give her my vote.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Times Select

Times Select Redux

I amused myself yesterday cruising the blogosphere for reactions to the NY Times’s decision to charge for some of its content. Generally I would have hoped lefty bloggers to be tougher, but many of them were squealing like recently deflowered virgins.

They were shocked…shocked…to find out that newspapers felt they had a right to be paid for their wares. One blogger, I’ll spare you her name, was outraged that on top of her 40 grand tuition bill she would now have to pay to read Krugman on line.

Well, it’ll be a hardship all right. She’ll have to go out to a news stand and buy a copy of the paper once a week…twice a week if she wants to read Maureen Dowd, too. Or she could go to the college library, or any library most likely, and read them for free. Or aren’t they worth the effort?

Here in Tucson it’ll cost a buck a week (total) to buy the Arizona Daily Star on the days those columns run. (They won’t be on line in the Star, either.)

In The Meantime The News is Still Free

Well, almost all of it. Tricky business, here. Op-Ed columnists like Krugman don’t make stuff up out of whole cloth. Their opinions are grounded in facts that they point in our direction. I admit it’s arguable that we may be more poorly informed without them.

But most of the Times reportage is still on line and still free. And I’m pretty sure that we can count on activist bloggers to point us in the direction of material in our favorite columnists’ offerings.

More important to me is the fact that the entire NYT archive is going to be available to me (100 hits a month) for the price of my annual subscription.

A Changing Business Model

It may be that in 20 years dead tree editions of newspapers will be niche products and that most reporting will be on line. When that happens you can be sure that we’ll be asked to ‘subscribe’ to the online versions. And who could complain? No, really, who could complain? I’d like to hear from my many reader about this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Monday Morning Report

Bumper Stickers

Driving around Tucson you still see plenty of ‘Kerry-Edwards’ bumper stickers, but practically none for ‘Bush 04.’ Maybe Democrats are flying the flag in the same spirit that that the South continued to cherish the Stars and Bars. Perhaps Republicans have stripped their bumpers clean in the spirit of ‘well we won that one, so let’s move on.’

But frankly, I don’t think the Democrats are continuing to fly the flag in the spirit of a lost cause, but as a proclamation that the evidence has demonstrated that they were right about Bush after all… and I wonder if many moderate Republicans aren’t just a tad embarrassed by their emperor’s naked incompetence.

NY Times Select

Well, I popped for it. I paid for online access to NYT columnists and special features. I could have subscribed for home delivery and got Times Select for free, but even at the introductory rate for the dead tree edition I’d have quickly been out of pocket.

Eventually Times Select readers will have access to NYT articles back to the first year of publication.

You can take a look free for two weeks and that will give you a chance to look at the video interviews with columnists Krugman, Friedman, Kristoff and the others. I thought the interviews were fascinating.

Will it all be worth my 39 bucks? We’ll see what the year brings.

Arizona Daily Star

I know I’ll never be able to get my wife, Katherine, to give up her “paper” paper, but I’d be happy to. It costs me 156 bucks a year to subscribe to the Star. I’d be willing to pop for 50 bucks a year if I could get a "Star Select” on line that had only the news and features that I regularly read and if, and make that a big IF, it was less cluttered and jittery than it is now.

The Star on line is one of the least attractive news sites on the web.

Take a look and see if you don’t agree. Link. If you do agree that the Star’s web site needs cleaning up, drop a note to Starnet Online Editor, John Bolton:

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Get Fuzzy

I’m a big booster of Darby Conley’s cartoon strip, “Get Fuzzy.” Satchel the dog is enchanting and Bucky the cat is wickedly loveable…in a depraved and irresistible way.

I suspect that there is more of Bucky in Conley than we have ever suspected and I offer the following as proof. Some months ago Conley ran a short series of “rejected story ideas.”

I was rifling through my image collection earlier today and discovered that I had saved on of those strips, which I offer below. It perfectly suited the bloody-minded emotional mood I’ve been in lately.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Angst and Taxes

Tax Time

Two hundred billion here, two hundred billion there…but what the hell they’ll just pass the bill on to us, and the next gang to take charge inside the Beltway.

Already the Republican leadership is saying that we can re-build New Orleans and Iraq if we just cut spending on some other programs. Why, we might even be able to continue to cut taxes, too!

This is a testing time for the American people and for Congress. Most especially it is a testing time for Democrats in Congress, who are going to have to stand up and make some tough decisions.

One of those is the decision to raise taxes, either with a war-time style “recovery tax” or by re-instating taxes that have already been cut. If the President, Congress, and the rest of us really want to rebuild New Orleans we have to be willing to sacrifice to do it.

The alternative is to push the “sacrifice” ahead to some future generation, which can cope with it while seated in the rubble of a deficit-savaged economy.

Thank God It’s Just Another Day

Do you remember, however dimly, when we thanked God it was Friday? When the weekend was the time for recovery from a work-filled week? When we looked forward to the escape from quotidian anxieties?

Now Friday is just the day before the next stressful bout with our own lives.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Odds and Ends

Busy Days

I’m in the last weeks of rehearsal for The Rogue Theatre production of Jean Genet’s “The Balcony,” which will open with a preview performance here in Tucson on October 6.

When I first read the script I wondered if many in a Tucson audience would “get it,” but over the weeks of rehearsal I’ve come to see this play not only as accessible, but as timely in dimensions that are really astonishing. They may not like what they “get,” but they surely will “get it.”

Visit the Rogue’s marvelous web site and read what the theatre’s all about. Link

The Environment Of Surfaces

Many months ago, before the Raven flew out of the blogosphere, I exchanged notes with him about the “environment of surfaces.” This, I take it, is the environment increasing numbers of us live in today. It’s an environment of appearances, like images on a movie screen, and like those images there is nothing behind them, or before or after them but more images.

These surfaces refer only to themselves and hence are always exactly what they seem. Can only be what they seem. Our political world has become exactly that, and the Bush administration has mastered its manipulation.

For the prisoner of the environment of surfaces there is not both appearance and reality, there is only appearance. And truth is what you are told it is.

In the Balcony the Envoy and the Queen come upon three photographers faking publicity scenes. The queen blurts out, “But those are false images.” The Envoy replies, “They are true images…born of a false spectacle.” The people will see the iages, the surfaces, and that will be their reality.

He is her majesty’s Rove.

Annoying Pop Up

The University of Phoenix, which is supposed to be an educational institution, markets itself with the aggressive determination of a used car lot. It’s main tool is an annoying pop-up that seems slyly capable of weaseling past my pop-up blockers.

If I could find the e-mail address of a President, or Chancellor, or someone on a Board of Directors I would suggest we bury him or her in e-mails of complaint.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Guilty Party

I imagine I'll be removing this post, with its nifty picture of the old curmudgeon as soon as I've managed to get it on my profile.
The blogger picture softward is much easier to use than Radioland, as I've commented elsewhere. Once I get my profile pic up I'll take this down. So don't get too attached to it. `Just a little joke there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Blame The Press

All They know Is What They Read In The Papers

The latest spin from the spin-meisters in Washington is a variation on the old “blame the press” theme. Government reaction to the growing disaster was slow because everyone was misled by the press into thinking that New Orleans had dodged the bullet.

Well isn’t that just peachy! Apparently the main source of government emergency information is the press. And here I was thinking that there was all sorts of sophisticated communications wizardry protecting me from natural and man-made disasters.

God help us if a first strike takes out the Washington Post. No one inside the beltway will have the foggiest effing idea of what’s happening.

Take a look at a short piece in Salon’s War Room

The Cinderella Man

I saw The Cinderella Man over the weekend. Boxing movies are not everyone’s favorite film fare. Boxing, for that matter, is not as popular as it once was, when there were more fights and boxing was largely a working-class guy’s sport.

This is a wonderful movie, stitched through with the history of the great depression and filmed in a subdued color that almost suggests the rotogravure newspaper sections of the Twenties and Thirties.

The recreations of the fights are (I’m told) extremely accurate. They are also very gritty and may not be for the tender-hearted. The story of James J. Braddock is the story of a man who literally fought his way out of the depression to become the hero of his working class buddies on the docks.

There is a good site devoted to Braddock that you can get by clicking here. Interesting sidelight: Braddock’s granddaughter is actress Rosemarie Dewitt, who plays Sara Wilson in the movie.

A Rite of Passage

I’ve written about this before, I think, but I’m sure it has something to do with my affection for the movie. There was a least so it was in Chicago…that going to the fights was as much a rite of passage as getting laid, or being able to smoke without hiding your cigarettes.

A father would come home and tell the mom that he and a couple of the boys were going to the fights that night and he thought he’d take the kid, if he wanted to go. Did the kid want to go? You bet. This was an invitation into man’s estate. Tonight he wouldn’t be a kid, he’d be one of the boys.

These were usually club fights, held in smoky social halls or neighborhood auditoriums, with fighters on their way up or their way down. There weren’t many women at these fights, at least not “nice” women. No one’s mother, no one’s sheltered sister went to the fights.

Your father’s friends might offer you a cigarette, or a seegar and a beer, and your father would look the other way and you’d try to smoke the one and drink the other without disgracing yourself.

That sort of thing could make you a boxing fan for life.

Monday, September 12, 2005


So I’m in my ‘second office’ at Starbucks the other day, pretending to work but really waiting for the nearly naked tootsies from Catalina Foothills High School to arrive on break, when the Borgs arrived.

These were two neatly dressed guys of indeterminate age with silver appliances screwed into their ears. They were talking but not to one another. Since Star Trek times the Borgs have apparently managed to get the control devices reduced in size. Pretty scary.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Building Freedom Day

Katherine and I visited the newest job site of Tucson Habitat For Humanity this morning. Nearly 1000 volunteers were building eight new homes for their fellow citizens, folks who would not otherwise have ever had a place of their own.

Recipients of Habitat-built houses must put 400 hours of sweat-equity into their homes. When they move in they become home owners, with a monthly interest free mortgage payment of 400 hundred dollars. The mortgage has a term of 25 years, and their monthly payment goes back into Habitat’s kitty.

When Habitat receives donations of $65,000 dollars it buys material to start a new building project. Current estimates of final building material cost is around $90,000.

The City of Tucson donated the land for the current project on condition that its own architect do the design…pro bono, I believe.

I thought today’s work project was an example of everything good that Americans think about themselves. Gay and straight, black and white, young and old, anglo and hispanic, all such differences unimportant as they sweated in the desert sun for their fellow citizens.

An American community.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reader’s Oasis: The Last Chapter

You may have missed the announcement buried in Thursday’s Business section of the Star: After five years one of Tucson’s few remaining independent bookstores is closing. In the end it was unable to compete with the giant bookstore chains or with the trend to on-line book selling.

Reader’s Oasis made a special effort to display and sell the books of local authors but what made it special for me was that its people were book people, not simply clerks who rang up a sale.

The Oasis was truly that, a green place in the marketing desert where you went if you couldn’t buy a book without holding it first, and where conversation about books always led to the suggestion of something else you were sure to enjoy.

The sales paradigm in the book business is changing and I suppose my kicking at the net isn’t going to stop the trend. Go on line, order the book, have it delivered to your door. The days of going to a bookstore in the same spirit that one went to a movie, or the theatre, as an entertainment in itself, are gone, or soon will be.

What a pity.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Curmudgeon Strikes Again

I got some e-mail from the Curmudgeon very early this morning. It really is a “Letter From Underground.” I think his liver may be diseased.

“Once you drag government into the kitchen and drown it in the bathtub there’s no point in being surprised if it leaves you to drown in the attic. Life in a state of nature (without a strong, efficient, well-run, intelligently managed government) is exactly what Hobbes said it was: Nasty, mean, swinish, brutal, and short.

“I might not have the quotation letter perfect, but you get the idea.

“These people are supposed to protect us against terrorists, as well as come to our aid in the event of a great natural disaster. Lots of luck. About the only thing they’ve managed to do is make airline travel annoying. I have a friend who bought metal-free shoes. They do not trip any alarms. He still has to take them off.

“It surprises me that nearly everyone in America spent hours glued to the tube and still polls show people think the President did a good job “handling” the disaster. What were they watching, re-runs of Charlton Heston disaster movies?


“I learned a tough lesson a few days ago: Don’t strike up a conversation with an old guy. I was leaving a local bakery and made a casual comment to an old geezer who was dusting his SUV with his handkerchief.

“I got his life story.

“The lesson I learned: No one gives a rat’s ass about how it used to be when you were a boy. Don’t bore the world around you to death. That was then, and this is now. The distance between then and now becomes greater with each passing month of technology-fueled change. Shut up and learn about “now.”


“A famous philosopher once said the bad art was corrupted feeling. Bad art can corrupt feeling, too. The principle applies to all art, including architecture. I would not normally obsess about this except for the fact that a local charter school has built a string of classroom buildings to house their little children that are bone ugly.

"Amphiboly warning: the classrooms are ugly, not the kids. If I thought I could count on your knowing when we use “that” and when we use “who” the warning would not be necessary.

"At any rate, I watched these classrooms being built (cheaply, I imagine) and they have all the charm of sheds assembled to house migrant cotton pickers.
“Kids are sensitive to these things. Oh, well. Perhaps the classrooms have lots of brightly colored posters.

Maybe something like, “Christ Curing The Esthetically Challenged.”