Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crystal and Micah: Wed

Congratulations Crystal and Micah! July 30, 2011. You both looked radiant, and your wedding was bomb.

Looking Out

I snapped this shot at my cousin's wedding.

Vaughn Summer 1

I drew this to show the beach house view off. Sometimes drawing expresses the location better

Friday, July 29, 2011

Figured Out

“You know what it is about this house? It's not the furniture or the floors, it's the art. Where else can you go to see so many original oil paintings?” My dad had a point. The beach house was beautiful partially because of the huge amount of art. Of course there is more; the beautiful view, the enormous white porch with farmhouse columns, the orchard in the back, the sprawling lawn, the beach front property, the sun bleached driftwood, and the secluded location.

I have made some contributions. But no solo acts here. I have worked for years with my dad on various things. The driftwood table in the back was one summer, the restored motor was this one. Every year I work the yard and try to make it just a little prettier. This year it felt like I was really helping make the house more beautiful.

I still want to add an art piece. I suppose I should get into oil paintings. I think it would be as great an honor to have a picture of mine put on the wall of the house as it would be to have it put up in the Met or MoMA.

One artist with his paintings at the beach house is Kurt Solmssen. Almost every year he tells me the story of how he was painting off the back of his station wagon one year and my dad came over to look at it carrying me. I was about one year old and I looked at the painting sternly, looking at it, trying to figure it out. Kurt always says, “you got it, you figured it out.” I don't know if I did, but it is a nice ego boost.

My aunt Liz tells the story of how, when I was about a year old, I stole the keys from my dad and starting trying to open a door. My aunt commented how smart I was, my dad replied, “not really, those are the car keys.”

My dad and I spent three hours trying to design a simple stand for the motor. It took us so long that we barely finished it before we left the house today. It looked good, but we certainly didn't need to take that long. “We've spent so much time overthinking this and I just want to make it work,” my dad said.

Sometimes I'm smart, other times I still need to figure it out.

Lifetime Polishing Up

My lifetime is piling up. And even paradise fades with time. When the family says it's time to go, when the things we put on hold just can't wait anymore, when we finally have had enough of each other, we pack up and leave.

This morning I sat on the front steps taking in a few rays of light. I sipped from my favorite mug here. It is a mug with the periodic table of elements on it and an index on the other side. I looked at the rings on the inside edge of the mug, each one signifying a point of time in the past. I grabbed the brass fastener out of the bucket. I started cleaning it and polishing it.

My dad has been obsessing about a few things: paddle-boards, kite-surfing, paint, leftover pancakes, and the old British Seagull outboard motor. We have been restoring it slowly. The biggest part of the restoration process has been stripping the brass parts of paint and oxidization and polishing it back up. The gas tank is brass and I have spent a ton of time cleaning it, polishing it, and making it look good. It takes a ton of elbow grease.

My hands have been dark green from applying polish. I found my hands shaking last night after polishing. The motor looked good. A few pieces and it would be done—well, mostly. I took a break from polishing and looked at the piece. It was already shinier.

The last car was packing up. Phyllis, Andrew, George, and Louie were getting all their stuff together. Jackets, bags, shoes, and sleeping pads were piled by the car.

Packing is part of the process. The last day is one where all the toys are packed up and the house is put into hibernation to await its next visitor. They were leaving, but I wasn't.

I took a break from the motor and went upstairs. My dad was starting the painting process for the yellow room. It was going to be tough work to put down a layer of yellow. I grabbed a roller and laid down the paint on the wall. Three long strokes and yellow appeared on the wall. The job would be long and hard but it would happen. I finally finished painting with my dad and sister. It looked good. But I was exhausted. It takes so much energy to paint a room even with help. But it was done.

I returned downstairs to the motor. It was close but needed a stand. My dad was touching up the porch. I continued fixing the motor. When it was almost done, we started building a stand for it. There was only a little time left to work yet we sanded out and made beautiful a makeshift stand.

The list of jobs for the house when I got here was enormous. Two pages of notes, each line constituting something that needed to get done. I had chopped down endless blackberry bushes, fixed small things, cleaned surfaces, and generally trudged along. It was job after job. A labor of love. The house exists because we work so hard to love it.

The list now was mostly struck through. Almost nothing needed doing. At least for this time. I looked over my accomplishments. This list was like many lists before it, and I had contributed to the completion of many for years. These lists don't even scratch the surface of things I have done in my life. What is a resume but the most condensed version of achievements in one's life. I am accomplished and I can't wait to see how my lifetime has piled up.


“I had a dream I saved the world.”--Natalie Hara

The commons. In economics we often talk about the tragedy of the commons. It is a concept that seems to elude even the brightest of us sometimes. Ellinor Ostrom has explored the concept for over 40 years and still a full explanation and the repercussions of it have eluded us. So what is the tragedy of the commons? What makes a good common? And how do we manage it?

First, imagine your neighbors next door are having a huge party on a Thursday night. You have to wake up early the next morning for an important business meeting—something that completely threatens your welfare; if the meeting goes poorly you could be out of a job. The noise is raucous and discordant. No matter what you do to try to block out the noise it persists. Finally, in an exhausted rage you yell to the neighbors next door to, “keep it down! People are trying to sleep!” The volume temporarily drops and for a moment all seems well, but soon the party reaches its zenith once again and you are left sleepless. Finally, in total exasperation, you call the cops with a noise complaint.

And that is the commons and how we have managed it for years. The commons is a space that isn't owned by one person, but by everyone. The noise has no border or barrier; it is a thing that, despite what we do to give control to one individual or another, it bleeds across any artificial human border. A wall—a conventional one anyway—cannot contain a loud enough noise. It is the tragedy of the commons that the mutual experiences of you and the neighbor are degraded because the noise cannot be managed to either of your satisfactions. Often people try to dictate some sort of direct agreement between each other with a commons (in this case yelling at one another to keep it down). For whatever reason, these agreements are often lacking in enforcement or individual adherence and someone breaks the agreement. The sound peaks again and someone (you) is at a disadvantage.

Now go back to the scenario. The cops have left and the party has continued, much more muted. Soon, twenty, maybe thirty minutes later, the sound is back up again. It is like a jet plane is taking off and so is your temper. In a huff, you turn your sound system toward the neighbor's house and blast Rebecca Black's “Friday” on repeat.

This kind of escalation is common in the tragedy of the commons. Without an agreement that anyone adheres to about how to deal with a common pool resource, in this case the noise, there is a propensity to over-consume until everyone loses. That is the tragedy of the commons; a total loss because everyone is taking until there is no more. Here there are so many sounds that everyone loses—the rule of law has failed to enforce anything and the new agreement assures the destruction of everyone's well-being.

Now flip the scenario. You are having a chill party, having fun because your friends are in town and the sound might be a bit loud but the next door neighbor is yelling at you to “keep it down! People are trying to sleep!” You try to keep it down, but the sound of the party steadily rises; you are having fun. Then the cops come, you assure them that the party will tone down. But apparently it isn't enough because 20 minutes later all you can hear is Rebecca Black's “Friday.”

And it isn't hard to see how the problem fails to resolve itself. In the tragedy of the commons the problem is escalated even further because it doesn't involve just two neighbors but a whole neighborhood. And no one is quite sure where the sound is coming from. At this point we end up with a headache and no sleep. That's the tragedy, a tenuous agreement falls apart in the cover of anonymity.

Many things are common goods. Sound and air, water, information systems, parks, and views. The general way that we manage our common goods is through different systems of ownership and proprietorship. Water rights are a good example of the variety of ways of managing a common good. Private buyers can purchase water rights, often large developers. Generally a public utility controls a large number of the water rights and distributes water via a water system, managing it to maintain it somehow. But intake is poorly monitored and often private owners will use more water than there is. This is an especially large problem in desert states like Nevada where actual water can vary greatly from the water that has been delegated. Furthermore there is a certain selfishness to how the system works—humans get all the water and nature often gets none. This causes droughts where there should be none.

The issue is how we have devised our public policy. Generally our system of laws regarding the management of common pool resources has been a piece-meal one. Systems devised thousands of years ago have changed little in the intervening time. Management is often effective though even in ungoverned systems. The common denominator seems to be effective communication or shared goals. In systems where there are competing interests and little communication between interests a resource tends to deplete until there is none (ex: the silence disappeared because the yelling was ineffective and the two neighbors had different goals, sleep and fun). The natural conclusion to this should be democratic governance—but it doesn't have to be. A unitary authority can manage a resource better than popular majority in many cases. In a democratic system the question becomes, “how much am I willing to hurt myself to hurt those I work against?” In a unitary authority it is totally dependent on the benevolence of the authority, it is equivalent to a monarch, sometimes good and sometimes in-bred and dumb.

So where does that leave us? There are no straight answers. The tragedy of the commons is a mind-bending problem that has found many functional ways to manage itself and many dysfunctional ones that hurt the consumers.

At Mama's house I was trying to sleep but David was playing video games loudly. I went into his room and asked him to turn it down a notch. David, seeing my displeasure and being empathetic to my state of mind, didn't turn down the sound. Instead, he found a blanket, draped it over his door and closed the door. It made for super-effective sound proofing. He could play his games at full intensity and I could sleep peacefully. It was an agreement about the commons and it worked.

Effective management of the commons is predicated on better communication and empathy not more intricate laws.

Beautiful and Melancholy

I cast the line into the water, reeled it in slowly. I felt the force of a fish on the line, but it didn't feel right; the tug was different. Something off. I had snagged a tiny trout. It was beautiful. The scales were a brilliant silver and green. The form was sleek and lovely; a trout is a predator and it is built like one. The eyes, while those of a fish, convey the supremacy of a creature that sits near the top of its food chain. If there were no animals that breathed in the open air then the trout would have no worries.

The seal that played in the water near me earlier, and the osprey that circles overhead are just about the only worries a trout has. Well that and me. I am quite deadly. As I pulled in the fish, I felt it stop struggling. I realized I had snagged its gill. And the sea was sad. A dark gray cloud slowly passed over the sunset, casting a shadow over the horizon. It crawled and spread like a net tossing itself into the sky. The sky was split into the red sunset and the hand of storm moving steadily forward.

Orange and red waves rolled in. Not the chaotic waves of a stormy sea. These were portents of a different wind. The waves were constant and regular. The breath of the planet, in and out. Shhhh as the waves broke along the shore. Sssss as the waves ebbed back. Shhhh again. Ssss...

I did not catch the fish, I had inadvertently tugged a hook into its gill. I pulled it onto the shore. I tried to delicately prise the hook from its gills. I looked at it reflect the light. It shimmered from green to red to silver. Just a tiny fish. I pulled the hook from the gill; it gushed deep red blood. I put the fish back into the ocean.

The red-orange waves pushed and pulled on the fish. It swung on its side, helplessly tossed by the forces of the water. The grayness spread further. The fish was going to die. I mused on the sadness. I was fishing for the peace; for the gentle tune of nature that it allowed me to hear. Pulling in a fish was not meant to be deadly, especially for the ones I did not want to keep. I had become a grim reaper; taking the lives that came, choosing arbitrarily. I cast my line out again. Reeled it in. I turned my eyes to the fish, ebbing in the waves. Its life had been sucked from it but the creature remained sleek and beautiful. It was a melancholy moment.

Earlier in the evening I was in the kitchen and noticed that the little espresso coffee maker had been put away. It was pulled out originally because my Aunt Leslie drinks decaf coffee. Because the big pot held regular coffee, she made herself personal cups in the morning. Its absence struck me; it answered the question my dad had posed to me earlier, “is this what we will be remembered for?”

We had 20 people at this beach house. They left in waves. Cars disappeared with 2,3, or 4 people until just 9 remained. Each exit made meals a little less hectic until we were no longer using paper plates. A new routine, a quiet stability settled in. Family did not inundate me. Instead their absence did. And the silence that accompanied it. My dad worked on restoring the British Seagull, a small outboard motor that he wanted to leave as a shiny gift for the house when he left.

And the coffee maker was gone. And I had the wrenching feeling of knowing quite suddenly what death really meant. It's the little things. The things that we can't quite remember. The things that we can't quite grasp. They disappear to remind us of an absence. What we leave is a space where something used to be; something useful and necessary. But somehow we continue to survive, and unable to pin what the missing objects' uses were, we hobble on; lighter, emptier.

I found a golf ball on the beach today. I put it on a tee and shot it out past the furthest buoy. It sliced hard but the distance was good. The ball hit the water with a satisfying plop. The clouds passed over the water, the shore. They opened to let the sun through, they closed to put rain into the soil.

Kippy and Elliot and Annie Pitts stopped by today. Their husband and father Steve died late last year. It was good to see them, it felt natural and soft. But Steve's absence was there too. That feeling. One seat empty in the car: lighter but emptier. They all seemed well, moving on and living. But Steve was gone. And we enjoyed each others' company.

The day was. It was warm but not hot. Cloudy but not oppressive. Humid but not muggy. It was a day. The clouds opened up and the Pitts' puppy played in the water. She retrieved the stick with gusto. The day was beautiful and melancholy.

Flesh Meat

Flesh. Meat. I cracked into the crab claw. A hard carapace could protect these creatures from anything pretty much. Only the unlucky ones, the ones that would find themselves on the surface unintentionally, would ever die. The ocean was a soft body and a crab's hard shell could protect it. But not so on land. The elements were harsh and the predators deadly.

Humans have devised a way to bring the creatures to us. We set a bait trap, and then we scare the crap out of a now helpless sea creature. We tug it toward us, in a net or on a line. And in the case of the crab, in a trap. Then we measure it and decide if the biggest, strongest looking ones should be removed from the gene pool.

And with crab it is just that way. The big ones end up in the pot of boiling water. It boils slowly, screaming and then ceasing motion. Dead inside its carapace. What was once protection from the elements has turned into an insulating heat fryer. As the meat cooks inside the shell, we lick our lips and think of the meal that is before us. A feast, a rare treat from the sea.

I prefer crab meat to lobster meat.

There is little preparation in the process. Seafood tends to look as if it were alive still. Clams and oysters are whole—the entire body gobbled down without a second thought. The crabs similarly, are served whole. The meat and the steam cooker—its once formidable carapace. And we place it down on our table.

The family descends upon these heated corpses. We tear off limbs, suck the meat out of the shell, and break the carapace with nutcrackers. Our tools; we are men and we have designed things to make our world accessible. And we eat crab by taking tools to crush the calcium patterns of the shell; intricate patterns of red and black and white weaving in and out of each other in a mottled fashion. It is easy to place the nutcracker around the shell and apply pressure. Just a little squeeze and the juices flow out, often squirting on clothes and the table. We lap it up. We remove the meat, eat with ferocity.

I partake in this feast, but I can't help but feel like I'm wild. The act of opening each piece of the shell makes me feel like a seagull, the family crowded around it like hyenas. We are so a part of this ecosystem and we are so close to the wild. Our tools keep us lulled into a false sense of superiority but at the end of the day we are just animals tearing apart other animals to eat them. We are just flesh. Meat.

Heaven is a Place

I'm so sunburned. My beautiful bronze skin is actually making me an awful stereotype of our indigenous American predecessors. Family is where you go to be a petulant child once again, free from the restrictions of the outside world; a projection of a society that is constantly holding oneself from instant gratification. And in the family, that's what I can be; angry and loud and in need of constant attention. Not that any of my relatives would like that. In fact I'm pretty sure they prefer me on my best behavior.

But cousins do that to you. Instead of being a polite individual I just fall back into the fold. I interact with my cousins as a peer; barely adolescent—mostly sunburned.

No one seems to think too much about it. I work hard to keep the house pretty. I cook and I fish. I babysit and I read. I just read William Gibson's “Neuromancer.” I would like to turn it into a screenplay but I suppose that “Ghost in the Shell” is already an adaptation of it in some form. Good movie—watch it. Good book—read it.

I have eaten crab caught from the waters in front of our house everyday. I have eaten oysters on the half shell. I have eaten wild salmon. Every meal ends with cherry pie and ice cream. The days move slowly, marked only by the passage of one meal into another. The calm morning passes into a midday breeze. The midday breeze turns to a sweltering afternoon. The water is beautiful. People lounge on the beach. People grab floatie toys and boats, play in the water. Life stops here. And it moves too fast. All too suddenly the sweltering heat turns to evening. The shade passes over the house and then the sun sets for the next four hours. From 6 to 10 it turns slowly from yellow to orange to red to purple to deep blue. And blackness.

I am consumed by this place. This lifestyle. Everything I want can be here. Which must be why I am so childish about my desires. I get angry when not satiated. My whims are instantly given fruit here. It is the nearest thing to heaven.

“Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”--David Byrne. I watch the osprey fish in the morning, the great blue heron fly gracefully low along the water, the crows caw and scavenge until the heat hits. A bald eagle passes overhead. A seal pops its head above the water and curiously looks at us on shore. A fish jumps. A jellyfish washes to shore. A giant sea star inches its way toward the depths. Three whales breach in the distance. Events here are but the stirrings of nature. Nothing ever really happens.


Theory: drinking and hanging out in the sun increases your chances of getting burned. Proof: Fun Day 2011. I drank less than my friends and didn't put on sunscreen. They drank more and put on sunscreen. At the end of the day they were burned horribly—like a bunch of cherries. I was not. My theory for why this is: the dehydrating effects of alcohol consumption, namely that it displaces water in your body, make the skin dry and unable to cool itself as well, thus more susceptible to sunburn. Prove me wrong.

Theory: men have periods. They won't admit it. They get grouchy and bitch and moan too. But they won't admit it. Pre-manstrual syndrome. This isn't my theory and I don't know if I believe it so I don't have to prove it.

Theory: little cousins are annoying purely because that is their nature. Proof: Georgie has now read my blog over my shoulder now twice despite asking him to not. He's doing it now. And he's read the blog aloud. And he's f-ed around with my phone a bunch. Little cousins know how to push your buttons and they do.

Theory: fish bite when you least expect it and when you forget you are fishing. Proof: all the trout I have caught in the last 10 years have been when I wasn't paying attention and had forgotten I was fishing. When I started fighting over the rod with my sister? Cutthroat trout. When I had given up on my bait in the river? Beautiful 16 inch rainbow trout. The last fish I caught at the beach house? Last toss just for giggles while waiting for Ciera. Just forget you are fishing.

Theory: my grandmother is awesome. Proof: she sasses back. When I give her crap she throws it right back at me. Everyone respects my grandmother not just because she is the matriarch but because she is still sharp as nails in the brain. She's old—88—but she still kicks our asses with her biting commentary. It is a well known fact that you don't mess with her.

Theory: I've run out of theories but no one will fault me for it because no one will read this. I feel like I am spitting in the wind sometimes. It just comes back into my face.

When the Relatives Came

I live in a tent city. The family got in today. The population of the house ballooned to 20 people. Silence is no more. I thought I would put a line in the water, it quickly became the afternoon activity. My aunts Leslie, Phyllis (and her boyfriend Andrew), and Nancy. My uncles Fred and Paul. My grandparents, George and Yone. And my cousins Evan, Rader, Adam (and his girlfriend Jessie), Georgie, and Louie. Not to mention my mother, my sisters Olivia and Natalie, and my father. Oh and Rene. The place is crawling with people.

No matter where I go there is activity. I can find a party anywhere. And the place seems happy and full. It sighs and creaks pleasantly. And the weather agrees. Today was a perfect day. It was glass in the morning, I paddled about 3 miles out and came back—trolling with a line behind. I didn't catch anything; that's a rarity. Actually I did, the same as always though. Seaweed, bullheads, and this time a sea snail. That was new.

Anyway, the quiet of the morning gave way to the bustling activity of the afternoon. The arrival of my relatives also required creative sleeping arrangements. The four bedrooms and 10 beds can only hold 14 people. And that's stretching it. Fear not, the Hara family loves their tents. Tents everywhere. Evan and Rader will be sleeping in the tent mansion that proved that the cousins and I are complete idiots. It took us nearly an hour to get that one set up. Olivia and Rene will be sleeping in the traditional triangle tent. This one has a bonus though, it smells like puke. It smells awful, like a Frat party after a night of bad beer and spoiled seafood.

But that's part of the appeal of the beach house, people crammed together just to be together. People happily pushing and shoving for abundant food. People out in all the boats. People lounging in the sun. People swimming in the warm afternoon water. Just people, family here.

While I may express annoyance at my family—make fun of Paul because he snores, beat the crap out of Georgie and Louie, call Evan a bro, make fun of grandpa's bad hearing, Phyl's spoiled attitude, or any other myriad of personality quirks that comes with being in tight quarters with family—i genuinely love and appreciate them being here. What photo conveys the chaos and joy that accompanies their presence? What words? Nothing can express it but the time I spend with them all.

This reminds me of the children's book, “When the Relatives Came.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Speaker Parts

“Where's the cover for this?” my dad would ask in exasperated confusion, “Where're the batteries for the remote?”

I used to keep some of my dad's screwdrivers in my room just so that if I needed to take something apart I could. All the remote controlled cars that I got, instead of driving them around, I would find where they were screwed in and promptly disassemble them. I had boxes full of r/c parts, trucks and cars, in pieces. And I always had a screwdriver hidden; even when my dad retrieved I would keep one around somehow.

I can't imagine being my father, trying to wrangle his tools together. It must have been hell to try to watch tv and find that everything was in disarray; the batteries missing and the cover a loosely fitting part. I see him sitting down with his glass of wine, ready to watch just a little tv before going to bed and after putting us to sleep—a long ordeal that often took hours—and finding that the remote was completely broken. My body feels heavy after a tough day and I try to pull my body from the comfortable couch. It must have sucked to have done that after putting me and my sisters to bed.

Anyway, it all paid off. At least for me. My dad wanted to install speakers on the porch of the beach house, when he plugged in the speakers he found that one wasn't working. His distress grew as he found that hitting it wasn't going to fix it. Actually I hit it. But then we disassembled it. Completely took it apart. And I fixed it. Never mind the scary details, they're too complex for your puny mind, I fixed the speakers. And they are sounding good. They are outdoor speakers on the porch and they add ambiance and life to the deck.

Today we used them for the first time. The sound of good music, something so integral to my experience here at the beach house, follows me wherever I go. Back to the barbecue, out to the picnic table, and on the front stoop. It took me 22 years to make my curiosity pay off.

Cherry Clouds

Sometimes we can't escape our dreams. Last night I had the most vivid dream that I was sailing a boat. The water was rough and we were heading back in to be safe. I was steering fine, everything was simple. Then a freak wave, about 100 feet high capsized the boat and tossed everyone into the cold water. We swam the boat to shore and pulled it up.

I talked to my dad about the dream today and he told me that it was symbolic of my goals and impending failure due to something unforeseen. I brushed the disconcerting thought off. It was unsettling to hear the possibility of my works disappearing before my eyes. I looked out on the stormy waves. The beautiful night before had turned into a windy day with choppy whitecaps. What was supposed to be a sunny day was in reality gray and cloudy. The sky undulated indistinctly between gray and darker gray. But it was still fairly early in the day, it would open up and be sunny, hopefully the wind would die down.

Earlier, we had surveyed the house and looked over the things that needed to get done. Getting a machete was one of those things. I just want a hedge-trimmer that is also a deadly weapon. I want to attach a chain to it and start swinging it to cut down the bushes around here. I want to be the 'Bush Assassin' and I mean that only in the context of blackberry bushes all you dirty minded/political readers.

The other thing I noticed in my Tour de Vaughn was that we were experiencing a peculiar growing season. Instead of blackberries out in full force, there are only the green bitter buds of the fruit, and still a fair few flowers. It is still spring here. But the cherries said that was a load of crock and are beautifully ripe. Natalie and Olivia picked hundreds of cherries and we ate them on the beach. The clouds parted for a minute and we stood on an island of sun eating dark red cherries.

The day passed rather uneventfully forward. The wind stayed constant. I decided I would like to go paddling in the kayak. Rene (my sister Olivia's boyfriend) wanted to come too. So we went out. I should have known it was a bad idea from the start. Right on the first wave a huge deluge of water washed into the boat. Every wave subsequent was just about the same. As I paddled further and further out I realized that two people in the kayak was perhaps too many people in this weather. I told Rene to lean with the wave so that we could try to keep some water out.

That was bad advice. The boat capsized. Falling into the water is such a moment. It happens quickly, slowly, never, and eternally. It is experiencing the moment between two binary states; something that shouldn't be, yet is. And once it is done, the mind has to take a moment to shift states as well.

I wasn't planning on swimming, especially in the cold windy weather, but there I was, swimming with my sister's boyfriend, trying to get back to shore. I collected my thoughts and headed in, soaking wet. Sometimes you can't escape your dreams.

Beach House Again

I am back at the beach house. It feels like I return to the place without time and there is no such thing as tragedy in the world. Every concern that exists in this world melts because only the moment here matters.

We entered another dimension. This place does not even have an address. This place does not have access to the outside world. The modern world is so foreign here. It is almost non-existent. The main form of entertainment is sitting around a coffee table playing cards or reading a book. When those exhaust us we talk and laugh with each other, perhaps staring at the fire in the fireplace. There is no tv, there is no dishwasher, and up until a few years ago there wasn't a clothes washer.

Have I written this before? It all feels like I have. I return here like I did before—endlessly before. And I will be back.

But more than anything I want my friends to come visit. I want to sit on the porch with them and show them the beauty of the water. At sunset the sky lights up red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. The entire spectrum, in the sky and reflected on the water. A seal emerges from the rainbow water and gentle ripples spread out in from his inquisitive face.

Words have no meaning. I want to be rich for two reasons: I don't ever want to worry about paying bills, and I don't ever want my friends to worry about theirs. I want them here.

But my family is here. By their request, I will describe them according to how they have ordered me.

Olivia: My sister who says she's being honest about our relatives but thinks that I think she's just a lazy bitch. She's not talking to me, she just told me.
Natalie: My youngest sister, but she says, “No! No! No! I don't care what you say just make it more interesting than 'my youngest sister.'”
Rene: Olivia's boyfriend has pretty eyes. The prettiest Mexican in the world—he's Salvadoran.
Dad: The guy just looking for a brewery—a brew pub.

So that's the big happy family for now. I understand that the whole place is going to get crowded with lots of family visiting.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sun Here it Comes

I will be headed off to the beach house for the next few days so my blog will not be updated very regularly. I will do my best but the lack of an internet connection makes posting difficult.

Anyway, Crystal's wedding is coming up. She will be married under a cloudy sky, if the weather previous is any indication of the future. But it never really is. As Sondre Lerche says, “be prepared to be surprised.”

Mama drugged me today. Let me explain. Normally she makes a big pot of decaf and I drink a few cups knowing that it will not crack me out. After drinking three or four cups of coffee today I noticed that she had made regular coffee. So there is a ton of caffeine in my blood, far more than a pansy decaf kid would ever be used to.

It has been nearly 2 months since I graduated. It is the middle of summer. It rained so hard last night that it woke me up at 5 am. I have barely worn shorts at all this year; probably cumulatively no more than 7 days this year. What perpetual dour life do I lead? But I try to make the most of the nice days.

And I believe I have, there are eleven rolls of film that Ciera and I have to get developed. At 24 exposures each, that's a doozy. I seem to have misplaced my digital camera. I hope not to use the 'L' word (Lost not The 'L' Word) and give up on recovering over 300 photos that need to be posted. Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

The new Coldplay song is very mediocre. “And all the children dance.” C'mon what weak lyrics are these? Sometimes I worry Coldplay is going the direction of U2, where their songs start eliciting a false emotional reaction. No band should ever take itself too seriously. Down that path is failure and Bono-ism; the death of people caring because you have shoved your head up your ass and started whistling.

Anyway, it is essential to get some sunlight. Not going out has been correlated with nearsightedness and depression. So if it is sunny and warm/hot out please go outside; it's healthy.

Debt Ceiling

I know that everyone wants to hear all about my life. Well too bad. This post is going to be a bit about the big news story—the debt ceiling talks. I thought it would be nice if I dropped in my two cents and helped everyone decipher the debate a bit. So I'll try to keep this concise and accessible.

First, the debt ceiling (DC) is how much money America can borrow. The $14.3 trillion debt we have is reflective of past spending. Without a budget deal, the US will not be able to pay off its debts accrued. That's right, raising the DC is actually about paying for money we have already borrowed; a borrowing spree that started with George W. Bush and continued with Barack Obama. Our debt is not a partisan issue or fault.

Much of the media and misinformed tea partiers have portrayed the DC as if it is somehow part of the current budget talks. It is not. Both parties want to raise the DC; the current debate is a matter of how the US will pay off the debt.

Second, a default on credit would be catastrophic. Any reputable economist will tell you that. The American dollar is the reserve currency for most of the world. It is also the largest economy in the world. It has maintained this status partly because of its AAA bond rating. America has always paid off its debts on time. Not doing so would have dire consequences—the deadline is August 2.

In 1979, the government ran into technical problems with processing its debt and the US failed to pay interest on about $120 million on time. The repercussions were huge. For a small technical default that creditors were unconcerned about, the US still paid a huge price. The interest rates on the loans were permanently raised by one half of one percent. “That's like making your mortgage payments on time for years, seeing one monthly check get hung up in the mail for a few days, and getting hit in response with a higher rate for the life of the loan.”

If this deal were to go south we would be facing a huge crisis, defaulting on loans would jeopardize the world market, not just the American one.

So let's look a little at history. Mr. Robert S. McElvaine wrote an excellent editorial for the Washington Post explaining how the Depression happened, deepened, and why the GOP (and me up until today) largely misread the lessons from it. To exemplify the perspective I quote Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnel, R-KY “One of the good things about reading history is you learn a good deal, and we know for sure that the big spending programs of the New Deal did not work. In 1940, unemployment was still 15 percent. And it's widely agreed among economists that what got us out of the doldrums that we were in during the Depression was the beginning of World War II.”

Somehow that point is supposed to illustrate that market mechanisms will correct themselves and 'socialist' programs are bad. In fact it illustrates just the opposite. FDR actually cut spending in 1936 after his re-election was secure because he was “fearful of a massive budget deficit.” The economy promptly took a nosedive. In 1940, when America entered WWII, government spending skyrocketed. There was no market mechanism, no spending cut that pulled the US out of its malaise. It was precisely the opposite. “The reason the New Deal failed to end the Depression is not that Roosevelt and Congress overspent, but that they underspent...The war ended the Depression precisely because it obliged Roosevelt and Congress to spend greater and greater amounts without worrying about where the money was coming from.”

Enough contextualizing, what's the state of affairs? Well, for about every dollar America spends, about 40 cents are borrowed. Currently the prevailing proposals would do almost nothing to reduce that number significantly.

Obama's proposal has been about $3 of cuts for every $1 of revenue gained. Obama has proposed basically a huge compromise, something he and his party are uncomfortable with. But 233 members of Congress have taken a pledge (created by Mr. Grover Norquist) to not raise taxes period. Even closing an estimated $1.1 trillion in tax loopholes is considered a tax hike by these members. Because passing the House would require a minimum of 218 votes the talks have stalled.

No one wants to compromise. It's a lose-lose situation truly. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Charles Krauthammer, writing for the Washington Post, aptly described the politics behind the debates currently. And while he takes aim at Obama (I think in the overly vicious manner of someone who knows he's lost) he does well outlining how the Obama administration has effectively outmaneuvered the GOP on this issue and they are bound to fold.

While I hate to play games of chicken and compromise, it is important to note that this is a distinctly political issue with all the 2012 big-wigs getting their poo ready to throw for the campaign. So the two parties are looking to run head first into each other and pull out at the last minute, each claiming the other the loser.

Some of the alternatives on the table might work. The clause in the 14th amendment that “the national debt shall not be questioned” possibly gives the president leeway to bypass Congress and raise the DC without approval. But that's the last ditch effort.

The second to last option is McConnell's plan, which allows the president to veto a bill twice and Republicans to vote against a raise to the DC twice and technically raises the DC at the same time. It has been called ingenious, but it is also facing huge difficulties. The 233 House members of the anti-tax persuasion will want to tack on spending cuts as riders. House Democrats are unwilling to vote for something like that, so for every Republican gained, it is probable a Democrat will be lost. Gwen Ifill said so and I believe her, “even the bare bones fall-back plan will have difficulty passing.”

Finally, what the hell is going to happen? Well, I don't really know. But hopefully, the fact that 80% of Americans are ok with tax hikes to get the budget balanced indicates that a deal will be made. My theory? We'll get a crappy deal. Social programs will be cut and reorganized drastically, to the point that the Democrats might be kicked out. Or if they leverage it well, they regain a majority in both Houses and they grow a backbone and make the necessary expenditures to truly pull us out of this mess. Just kidding, the Democrats will never do that. They can't pull that together—they are too scared.

We'll probably limp along for the next ten years staging minor comebacks contingent on our burgeoning industries but never restoring ourselves fully because the concept of sustainability is a stupid liberal trick. And we will start calling this moment the collapse of the West.

Austerity packages are transparently backwards and there isn't a big war coming that will force us out of this. Say goodbye to the American Empire and almost 7 decades at the top.

Also, if you think I'm wrong I'd like to point to the latest news in the European Union (EU) where I accurately predicted (in May) that Spain would be dropped from the list of nations about to collapse and be replaced by Italy. Sure enough, in the last two to three weeks, the EU nations in dire need are Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and Italy. Spain has apparently been dropped. NBD but I'm kind of a BFD if you know what I mean. But I still invite debate.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Zoo: Polar Bears

Ciera and I went to the zoo on Tuesday. $4 every 2nd Tuesday of the month. This bear loved the barrel.

Harry Potter: The End?

Edward and Bella at the premiere to HP7P2

I can't think of any better way to call attention to my inauguration into the real world than to attend to the final Harry Potter movie premiere. It came to mark so many milestones of my growing up. The first book came out when I was nine and by the time I was 15 the books were coming out every year on par with my own actual age. The seventh book came out when I was 17, the year I graduated from high school. The main cast is largely my age. I can't help feeling that beyond Harry Potter being part of my generation it is ingrained in my year. I am now 22 years old and the final movie comes at the same time as my graduation into the real world begins.

Much like my commencement, this movie grew up. The major themes of the seventh book were how a child and the wonders of being a child evolve into the tempered and sober views of a person living in the real world. This seventh movie plays on that as well, bringing into stark view the sophisticated tragedy of death and taking responsibility in this world.

The tone of the film is the darkest yet, but that's what they have been saying since book 3 and movie 3. Of course there are many plot points from the book dropped for the sake of the movie; it's to be expected that some things just don't make the cut. But overall the movie is good.

I can't help but feel the same way about the movie as I did about the seventh book. It is good but not the bang we expect from such a phenomenal series. Some of that may be Ms. Rowling's fault, the epilogue was bad in the book and can't be helped in the movie. Other points were weak because of the direction.

David Yates is not a bad director, let me be clear. He just made a choice that I would disagree with. He focuses firmly on Harry Potter, a boy growing into a man. What sparked the worldwide phenomenon was not the boy but the universe though. Yates streamlined the plot to follow the core three and at many points just 'boy who lived'. While the adaptation actually improves on bits—the addition of the re-opening of the Chamber of Secrets is excellent in the movie—I can't help but feel that part of the universe is lost. I craved more screen time for Luna and Neville, Fred and George disappeared, Grop was non-existent, and perhaps the biggest loss Tonks and Lupin were glossed over.

So the movie paces well but not excellently—Harry Potter almost never runs even though he says he is in a hurry—and it relies almost too heavily on the fanaticism of its followers to fill in the gaps—look for Teddy in the final scene.

This is by no means a discouragement. Go see it, especially if you are a fan. This is a cautionary review that nothing can live up to the expectations that we have built up. JK's characters no longer belong to her and when she or the studios have creative control over something like that we will be bound to be disappointed (just look at George Lucas and the hatred he has engendered with his fans). But remember that we can let the books live on in our collective imaginations; what JK has sparked we have fueled. This is a universe collectively owned now; I happily dreamed about the movie and parts that did not exist.

It is not over, just as graduation was not the end for me. We do not say goodbye to our friends permanently, just until we see them again. We say goodbye to what we have known and embrace our newfound world, full of uncertainties. So thank you Harry Potter for growing up with me, I think I can take it from here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Week: Parents and Illness

The Week is an excellent publication that gives a short summary of the news. I have been writing a little commentary of my own on topics I find of interest in the magazine.

“The average paycheck for top executives at 200 big companies in 2010 was $10.8 million—a 23 percent gain from 2009”--NYTimes. The median household income has been decreasing in the recession. In 2009 the number was about $46,000 and projected to decline further.

Older generations are hemming and hawing about the new satirical children's book “Go the F—k to Sleep.” Old-ass columnists convinced that the younger generations are ruining society have claimed, “today's 20- and 30-somethings never quite grew up themselves, so the self-sacrifice and patience required to raise children comes as something of a shock. Now that they've been forced to behave like adults, they're angry—and worried they're not up to it.” Hold on a sec. That's kind of a big accusation—the latest generation of parents are immature brats that haven't got a clue how to be a parent. The age of first-time parents in the US has steadily been increasing. People are waiting longer to have kids—for a variety of reasons. Among the well-reported and numerous reasons being that these new parents want to be more emotionally mature and financially secure.

That's right, our new parents want to be more mature. But more mature than what? Well their parents and the people railing against this wry attempt at explaining the perpetual condition of parents of young children. Y'know the parents that were barely out of college and in many cases barely out of high school to raise kids. What a presumptuous notion to call these new parents immature.

So what is this about? This is about a book by Adam Mansbach that is written in the form of a children's picture book and directed at frustrated parents. I have personally encountered the book in Powell's and found it to be hilarious and insightful. As a former child that refused to sleep under any circumstances I can imagine the frustration I wrought upon my parents. It is no fault of the author's that he merely called to attention the difficulties of being a parent. I think we can sufficiently put to rest those who claim the sky is falling. And we can turn back mirror back on them.

Also, apparently people who live in urban environments are more excitable and are more nervous under stress. The other claim is that there would be 30% fewer people with schizophrenia. Not sure how I feel about all that but I think that it should be investigated further.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Week: DSK

The Week is the compendium of news that Mama gets once a week (hence the name) and I have decided to make my own commentary.

First, clapping is now illegal in Belarus. Lukashenko, illegitimately elected dictator of Belarus has instituted this Orwellian crackdown after realizing that protesters have resorted to clapping, smiling, and cheering as their last available form of free speech. You can't make this up.

Second DSK. Here we go with another complex problem boiled down to inaccuracies and character sniping by the media. Good for us, at least “there's and odd kind of egalitarianism in the American media: everyone gets smeared equally.” But more to the point. I'd like to go over some facts pertaining to this case. Rape is one of the most underreported, under-convicted, and most importantly has the least false accusations of crimes in America; the world as well. Let me be clear. Only a very small percentage of rapes are reported. An even smaller portion are convicted. And an even smaller percentage—smaller than all other crimes—are deemed to be false accusations.

In light of recent 'character flaws' in the accuser, Dominic Strauss Kahn has been released on minimal bail by the judge overseeing the case. The accuser's falsification of certain information on her immigration documents and some shady connections she has have called the veracity of her accusation into question. Sounds pretty bad, maybe this 'hotel maid' is just another predatory proletariat woman trying to squeeze some settlement cash out of the victimized rich white male in power. I can assure you that all is not as it seems.

But what do we know about DSK? Well, he used to be head of the IMF until this scandal broke out. And the second the evidence for this case seemed shaky, another woman stepped forward alleging an unsuccessful sexual assault in 2003. So he is a powerful man who has twice now been accused of some form of womanizing and sexual abuse.

What do we know about the maid? She is in this country after seeking asylum. She allegedly lied on her application saying that she had been gang-raped. I'd like to make a brief side-note and mention the difficulty in gaining asylum in an industrialized nation—there are a battery of tests and high bars set to get into and stay in the US for asylum. That being the case, there is no doubt in my mind that many cases have some amount of falsified evidence. While that is a grave violation it has nothing to do with the case at hand. Next are her alleged connections to bad people. She is recorded in a phone conversation with a convicted inmate—a drug runner with a bad history—talking about how moving forward with the DSK case would be good because he has lots of money. That's pretty damning. But some evidence is pretty incontrovertible despite poor character portrayals. There is no doubt that there was a sexual encounter as evidenced by semen on her maid's uniform and vaginal bruising.

So Mr. DSK who walked out of the courtroom happily hand-in-hand with your wife grinning widely, what do you have to say about your unfaithfulness and aggressive sexual encounter? Was it a purely consensual romp involving painful vaginal bruising and a bit of French affair? Maybe. How about the fact that the woman who is accusing you of attempted sexual assault in 2003 has told investigators and the media that she did not come forward because of your political clout—specifically your relationship with the woman's mother who was a top official in the party? Mr. DSK even if you are 'not guilty' you have many very hard questions to answer.

If anything, there are many questions we have to answer still as well. Why do we treat the accuser with so much contempt? Why do we use the media spectacle to prematurely condemn whoever is in our sights? Why don't we make gaining asylum an easier process? What constitutes enough evidence to turn a sexual encounter into a rape? Why are we so squeamish about finding the answers?

So Mr. DSK, who is on trial here? Is it your history of illicit affairs and aggressive misogynistic behavior toward women or is it the political refugee woman of a lower class who defied probability and came forward with enough of a case to actually convict you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Week: Grover Norquist

The Week is an excellent publication. Pulling together pieces of information from all over the media world, it sums up many issues, people, and events succinctly. I can't help but want to bring attention to many of these stories with a little commentary of my own.

Grover Norquist
. Some of you poli-sci majors will recognize this name. Otherwise, you probably only know him for his policies. He is a self-proclaimed radical against any form of tax increases. Any form. “He recently feuded with...Republican senators because they had voted to eliminate $6 billion in ethanol subsidies to farmers. Norquist insists that removing existing tax breaks violates the pledge.” He has said, “my ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA [Individual Retirement Account]-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that guy doesn't need the goddamn government for anything.” The problem with his anti-tax agenda is that it has paralyzed Republicans into a mantra that any sort of tax increase, even closing tax loopholes, is bad. That it will somehow lead to a totalitarian society. To be clear, “our tax code is rife with tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy; many, for example, erase their liability by deducting pas capital-gains losses from this year's income,” says Bruce Bartlett of the NYTimes, “perhaps we can agree at least on closing loopholes for wage-earners at the very top. It's not socialism to ask them to pay something.”

Except Norquist and his pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, keep any sort of real progress on the debate over taxes from occurring. He refuses to acknowledge that the government pays out to large corporations and middle and upper class citizens, purely because they have had the political clout to do so, and allows our working (read lower class, because let's be real about how we view and treat them) class to have better Medicare benefits, safe food and drugs, art, or education. He has called for the abolition of “such agencies as the FDA, Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Arts.” This is negligent and myopic.

If Norquist were to get his way and shrink government until he could “drown it in a bathtub” who would pay for roads? Who would pay our public officials? Who would manage our public buildings and museums? Who would preserve our nation's history and monuments? Our national parks? Our borders? Anything. The bottom line is that our government does a lot for us. It does a lot for even the independent types like Mr. Norquist who got his start in government, appointed by Reagan in the Chamber of Commerce.

By taking absolutist positions such as his, he is hurting this country and its fundamental values of free discourse and open discussion. By backing Republicans into a corner with their “voting constituency” he is keeping us from actually practicing Democracy. He is creating voting blocs dedicated to one single position. We strive in this country to let all perspectives be heard, putting our personal views and morals forward as part of the public debate. When the complexity of your position is “no new taxes” there is little room to argue and even less in which to find workable solutions.

This also is kind of odd. Reagan expanded government to record levels of spending and actually raised taxes in 1983. It is odd to think that people think themselves Reaganites whilst ignoring the obvious and incontrovertible. The modern Republican hard-line of no new taxes stems directly from Reagan's administration, but a nuanced perspective on his presidency shows someone known for his rhetorical flairs but surprisingly complex and compromising policies. He knew the difference between winning the electorate and running a country. Bottom line: don't buy the crap. Politics are politics, and this nation is far more moderate than any cute one-liner a radical like Norquist can hand you.

Chip: The Story


“Nick, you have to come down here and pick up a duckling for me.” It was Ciera, and she spoke less in words and more in syllables smashed together.

“What? A duckling?”

“Yeah, come down here, a woman found a baby duck and I volunteered to take care of it. So can you come here?”

“Umm...ok, I'll be there soon.” I hung up the phone and tried to imagine what was going on down at the restaurant. A baby duck was with some woman who had discovered it and I was going to pick it up. Maybe it was just on the sidewalk as the valet's parked the cars. Maybe it was chirping while people barely avoided stepping on it. It was hungry and cold and lonely. I packed up my things from my grandparents house, gathered some latex gloves and a box, and jumped in the car. I drove fast and arrived in about half of the usual time.

Aquariva is a restaurant situated on the South Waterfront of Portland. It is on a tiny street with some office buildings and the Avalon Hotel, which it is attached to. Aquariva used to be called the Rusty Pelican. I think it was renovated since then because it now has a modern look and huge windows that look out on the river—that doesn't really fit the old name. Behind the restaurant is a pedestrian trail where the fitness obsessed citizens of Portland walk, bike, and jog. Ciera just started hostessing there and she seems to like it.

When I got there it was the peak of meal time. The cul-de-sac it was situated in was filled with cars. Typical. The business buildings next to Aquariva are malicious. They tow anyone. Aquariva, to counter this, has instituted a mandatory valet service to try to curb instances of towing. So when I arrived I went to the valet. He recognized me and asked if I was just picking up. “Yeah, a duckling I think.” He smiled and nodded; told me to go on in.

I entered the restaurant and saw Ciera. The advantage of having your girlfriend as the hostess is that you never have to ask where she is. She looked at me, smiled and gave a slight nod toward the bar. Before I could decipher what that meant an affable woman called my name and motioned me over. “You must be the boyfriend!” She had a box on her lap. She told me the duck was inside and that it had been quiet for the duration of its ordeal. She proffered the box to me, “the restaurant named it Chip.” I took it, said a quick goodbye to Ciera, and left the restaurant.

As I walked back to the car, a couple was heading in, and suddenly, Chip chirped. I stopped momentarily, embarrassed. The valet looked at me funny and I told him, “I guess I have a duckling.”

He smiled as if to say, “you don't know what you are getting yourself into.” He was probably right. I set the box gently down. Checked all of the mirrors twice, and drove off. I drove slowly and carefully. I turned the radio off. I wanted to do anything to reduce the stress of the bird. I pulled into Mama's driveway, and opened the box. The original box was far too small, so I was going to transfer it to a larger one. I put paper towels at the bottom of the box and put on the latex gloves. I was excited and timid. I wanted to cut my human contact down to zero.

Once in the box, I could calm down a little and look at it. Chip was adorable. The perfect duckling, he was covered in fuzz and obviously scared. I got him situated and petted him with the glove. I then proceeded to research everything I could on ducklings on the internet. There is a ton by the way. People find ducklings all the time. I was still extremely nervous.

When Ciera got home my nerves subsided. Something kicked in with her and she got it all figured out. She got food, water, bedding, and a bigger box for Chip. Then she held him. Apparently, and I can confirm this, ducklings can be handled. They are fragile, but their social nature and ducks' poor sense of smell makes touching them anything but a faux pas. It is actually a heartwarming experience. Chip's heart was beating a mile a minute, but when Ciera held him close, he just calmed down. They are social and need to be near a source of safety all the time. When he got comfortable in his space, we watched him eat and drink by dipping his beak in the shallow pan and pecking, then shaking his head and repeating the process. It was adorable. We got him actually situated and finally calmed him down. Ciera held him until he fell asleep and we slept.

In the morning I held him, trying to get him to calm down but he was up. So Ciera and I went downstairs with him in his box, thinking he might like a little fresh air. We took the box outside and I went to get some coffee for the two of us. As I was pouring milk into the coffeee, I saw Chip running across the lawn and through the bushes. It was so cute. Except Chip wasn't supposed to do that. He was supposed to be in his box. I went outside.

“He was on the table and then he ran. I tried to catch him but he was too fast.” Ciera was frantic. We searched through the bushes. There was no sign of him. Then we heard his call. A distinct sound. I motioned to Ciera, she ran in the direction of him. It was a funny wake-up call to watch Ciera chase chip in the neighbor's backyard. She caught him and we took him to the Audubon Society without further incident.

Once there, the woman told us that Chip could have been no more than 5 days old. Ducklings are precocial, which means they know how to do drink, eat, run, and quack right out of the eggshell. Kind of an abrupt wake-up call to human superiority where it takes years for us to be so self-sufficient as all that. Most Americans these days still don't know how to run.

Ciera and I reluctantly said goodbye to Chipper and went downtown for a celebratory breakfast.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chip: The Picture

Some of you may know a bit about Chip. James thought his name was "Shit" when I talked to him on the phone last night. I promise to relay fully the story later.

The Final Frontier

Today was the last space shuttle launch. It intrigues me that such an historic moment does not feel like something different. The world just continues. It is as the lady on LSD says, “the air, the room, everything, I am part of it, can't you see it?”

The world keeps spinning. My Uncle Harry explained to me that at the edge where oil and water merge there is not the defined line that we believe in. The particles are intermingling minutely. We cannot possibly observe these interactions on a singular level. Suffice it to say that the line is more of a fuzzy haze at the appropriate scale. This intermingling is actually more bizarre than that. Nothing in this universe is actually touching anything else. The majority of an atom is empty space. And there is always a repulsion of electrons in an atom. Nothing touches anything else. Bill Bryson, “When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.” And electrons do not have a set position. If you were able to look at an atom you would see only a hazy cloud, something hinting at the possible locations of the electrons.

If you were to 'track' the electron's movement, it would appear to be in many places at once. Even, in the laws of probability flitting in and out of existence occasionally—very occasionally. And if one were to zoom in closer and try to 'see' any particle that is smaller—a quark for example—we would be colossally disappointed to find that it appears to be more a disturbance in the fabric of time than something we consider solid. The best way to represent these things in our very 'solid' world is by applying probability to the situation. There is a huge probability that the laws of physics will continue to hold as we know them, and that a particle's position is 'here'. That is the general thrust of our experiments and knowledge. It is based on what we think is probably there (based off rigorous scientific experimentation of course, but a probability nonetheless).

The point is that what is here and what is not, what is real and what is imagined, are almost indistinguishable. In fact, the laws of probability and our odd universe make it possible for the laws of thermodynamics—all physical laws really—to be broken on a regular basis. As far as we can tell though, those transgressions exist for such brief moments that they can be disregarded. Or can they? The lines that we see, the distinct rights and wrongs, the boundaries, are mere creations that our brains have developed.

A moss can grow on a rock on a barren cliff for decades. It will do nothing other than live. “It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life.” Ray Bradbury said that. And so what is history? We are intellectual creatures, given the gift of thought at the expense of relishing life for itself. The question is not the answer in our world. We detached from what felt like one—the universe—and instead we found our individuality and use our science and our technology to find it again. History is but the passing of time recorded as if it will help us find what we have lost.

But we are one, and the space shuttle missions end an era of science and exploration. One that was enlightening and inspiring yet largely ignored. Let's hope that the next era captivates us wholly. The next era must encompass the deep inquiry of the mind, the purity of living, and the art of the soul. Once we sufficiently blur everything, only then can we find real clarity and purpose.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Word Up-chuck

Today is Bungie day.  Not actually sure what it is but I have to go play Halo.  David's (my cousin) request.

So I'm going to make this basically a spate of things.  First, Archer the tv show is really funny.  Quirky and obscene but funny.  Also Star Trek: TNG and Voyager and Enterprise are all now on Netflix instant watch.  Geeks everywhere rejoice.

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is an awesome book.  Painfully outdated and scientifically wrong in many ways but an excellent allegory.  Read it sometime.

I really liked the scene in Bridesmaids—actually I loved the whole damn movie—where Kristin Wiig's character is talking to her hook-up in bed.  He's a real jerk and she invites him to a wedding.  He declines and she says it's ok, she was going to go with a guy, “”  The jerk is disbelieving and they have a little conversation, and then he looks at her and goes, “well, can George do this?”  And he starts rubbing her boob in a kind of grotesque manner.  Wiig replies after a time, “probably.”

I thought that was really funny.  But the point is that I want to do a whole sketch based on pillow talk and couple-y things.  But I don't know if I can pull it off without making it seem mushy and therefore just disgusting to watch.  I don't want to write repugnant things.

Except when I do.

I have applied to too many jobs.  Mama asked me earlier, “what can you do?”

I replied, “be unemployed.  It's the only thing I can really seem to do.”

I love to listen to public radio.  It is the most amazing broadcasting and has excellent journalism.  Depth and intrigue.  Watching 24 hour news is like masturbating; it's shallow and only worth shame and a mess you have to clean up.  Public broadcasting is like having the best sex of your life, pillow talk, and then breakfast in bed.  And then going outside and finding a Ferrari in your driveway.

Food is super important to people.  I want to make a restaurant that is healthy, philosophically sound, and really takes into account the social aspect of a meal's importance.

Attach it to a gym.  It would have menu categories based on how the customer wants to shape their workouts: a muscle-man category with lots of lean protein, a skinny bitch category with filling and wholesome selections that are light on actual calories, etc. 

I often use etc when I mean to put in more ideas but actually have none.

I was going to write a fantastical sci-fi story tonight.  Sorry.  I have to go get lost in my worlds.


I ask the question all the time. I feel like it is a rhetorical and childish one, but I continue to ask it—of myself and the world. Why are people so mean? I do mean things, but I try hard to mend the damage.

There are people who do not try to mend anything. They instead let it continue. Pain begets pain and the world is full of pain. What does that say about us.

I often speak of forgiveness and its potency. People do not believe me that it can be so powerful. They can continue to believe that to be so, but they cannot escape the logic.

Listen to this (RadioLab)

And read this.

If you want the world to be a better place—the one where people with many disparate ideas live together in harmony—what good would a tit for tat policy do? How does that make the world better? You know the answer, it is always the same. It is a recipe for mutually assured destruction. Our most influential philosophers have all come to the same conclusion, perpetuating violence leads us nowhere.

The war we wage is a personal one. Our rage and pain, while possibly caused by outside forces, is under our control. A sense of injustice and transgression is a matter of pride. That does not mean it is a personal journey to deal with that pain. Rather, we need to deal with the interpersonal. We need to communicate the inner fuel that gives energy to the outer fire. And when we take that energy and instead build with it the fire has nothing to burn. Our rage subsides, channeled into productive outcomes.

If we preach peace, we speak not of the minor harms that hurt the world. We speak openly and honestly. We give back what can only help. And we apologize, seeking forgiveness by our fellow man for our transgressions. There is no other way in the world that can result in real happiness.

And we all know this. We think on it rarely. We agree with it. We don't apply it. And why is that? What do we get out of nursing our wounds? It is pride and anger that holds us back.

And it is only human to do so. At least we say so. I believe that we can be humans that take that truth and turn it into something better—without passing it off as human nature.

Hope that isn't too preachy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ciera's 4th

Ciera has written a guest entry:

We finally got out of the car at the beach house; greeted by partially dead grass and the most beautiful view I have ever seen. I have been known to exaggerate, but I will reaffirm this truth. In fact, every time I see the panoramic views of Vaughn Bay I still don’t believe it is a real place. We had made it!

Nick and I scrambled out of the car, ready to unload and get some much needed (and so far rarely seen) northwest sun. We spent the day reading, kayaking, and swimming. The exhilarating thing for me about swimming in the ocean is that it feels like playing Russian roulette. Lets be real here – my exposure to the ocean is minimal, and despite my constant eagerness to hop right in I have a paralyzing yet irrational fear of jellyfish. And the jellyfish at Vaughn Bay look like giant raw eggs sitting in a pan, or in this case, in the ocean. Getting me to jump in has far less to do with the freezing water, and far more to do with convincing myself to man up as I am barraged by images of giant jellyfish sucking my face off. But in the end I always dive in. Nick however, never does. This is the second and possibly most interesting part of my swims at Vaughn Bay. I spend at least half of my trying to convince Nick that it’s really not so bad, as he looks slightly pained while laughing at my complete joy of waves and salt water. This time he forgot his bathing suit. Likely story.

After my swim I had an unfortunate surprise. There was a giant jellyfish on my face! Just kidding. More unfortunate than even that, I could no longer walk without serious pain, and the lower half of my back seemed to have turned into concrete. I have spent all of my time since trying to lie down. This for me, at my favorite place, is a difficult task. My new endeavors instead of swimming or kayaking consisted of pestering Nick to play games with me like a six year old bothering her babysitter. Again, this earned me the slightly pained and yet amused look I frequently see on my boyfriend’s face.

Nick and I were joined at the beach house shortly before my swim by a small part of his extensive and lovely family. We were there with is Maman, his Uncle Harry, Harry’s wife Ling, Ling’s son Jackie, and their dog- the infamous “BowBow”. BowBow likes to spend her days grunting, snorting, barking at all speed boats, and peeing right in the center of the grass in front of the stairs where humans are most likely to step. So it goes.

But now to the most dramatic part of our 4th of July – the stuff family legends are made of. We lost Jackie. Rather, Jackie lost Jackie. This was Jackie’s first trip to the beach house, and as a beach house enthusiast I was pleased to show him as many things as possible that I found enjoyable. I’m not so sure he enjoyed them, but I did my best. About 5:30 pm, Jackie decided to go out in the kayak. (I was in pain and stuck in child’s pose on the couch, with Nick being my loyal yet chagrined companion). After tipping over once, he got going and headed straight to the islands across the bay. The problem was, he didn’t return.

As dinner was ready, we all solemnly sat down to eat, with a set but empty plate for our missing beachgoer. I kept looking out the window, and despite our piling dishes of salmon, corn, and sausages no one seemed very hungry. We all rushed back out again with binoculars to stand watch for Jackie on the beach. At this point it was nearing 8, and with each passing minute I felt more and more helpless. With dark approaching and fireworks blasting from the yards of all our neighbors it felt like the 4th of July had left us behind as we kept straining our eyes for the little yellow kayak. Soon, Harry called the Coast Guard.

And still we waited.

A phone call! Harry tried to rush up the ramp to the house, but instead fell and scraped up most of his leg. No sign of Jackie, but now they were sending out a helicopter.

As we found band aids for Harry, Nick and I looked out at the water in disbelief. Everyone around us seemed to be in full swing of celebration. But suddenly, around 9:30, a white Camry pulled up to the house with three men inside. A drenched but grinning Jackie hopped out of the backseat with a plateful of salmon.

A bumbling, jolly fellow named Tom and his friend had found Jackie, after Jackie had paddled past his deck about four times. They invited him up, fed him dinner, and spent considerable time trying to piece information out of Jackie to find out where he had come from (besides China). Apparently Jackie kept saying “Bombay?” instead of “Vaughn Bay” which led to the general confusion.

As the family celebrated Jackie’s safe return, the man named Tom jovially handed me his fork (His trusty fork that he brings with him when interrupted by a lost Chinese boy during his 4th of July dinner?) which I faithfully held on to as he drew Harry a map to go back and get the Kayak. After Ling snapped some pictures, the men were on their way.

Usually, my most favorite part of the 4th is the fireworks. And I must say, ours were exceptional that night, despite Jackie’s exhaustion and my pained penguin-looking walk. I am happy to report that despite our weekend’s track record of accidents, no fires were started. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of 5 Things

So this entry will probably be in three parts. Maybe more. Maybe less. It just shows how organized I am. First, since I started posting with the pictures, the few of you that read might have noticed the significant slow-down that has occurred. I want my blog to be fast but the amount of content it has to load now makes it go slower. So, the bottom line is that to make this interesting you are going to have to deal with slower load times.

Second, because I think this is the second bit, Ciera hurt her back. Don't know how but she is walking around like a gimp. She injured it right when we got to the beach and she has been putting heat and all sorts of painkillers on it to keep it ok. We were hanging on the beach and Tom Mitchell came up and said hi. He hung around and filled me in on his life a little. We somehow got on the topic of Ciera's back and he volunteered to call in a prescription for some muscle relaxants. He did so. In a span of fifteen minutes Ciera was given the ok to consume diazepam (Valium). It's a potent muscle relaxant as well as anti-psychotic. She says it helps her a lot—with the back pain, not the psychosis—and she insists that she is getting better—which I believe—but she keeps starting an activity and quitting because it hurts. It's hard to get rest when there is so much she feels she should be doing. Threatening a crippling condition for the rest of her life if she doesn't just sit down doesn't seem to be helping. I'm really worried because her symptoms mirror my back injury in some ways and in others they seem much closer to a herniated disk—which is worse. Tomorrow she is going to see a chiropractor. I don't really trust chiropractors (call it the product of two doctor grandfathers) but he will at least get some x-rays and hopefully we can know what is going on. I hope she'll be fine.

Third, we lost Jackie. My uncle's Chinese wife's son wandered out into a kayak and disappeared for three hours. While we were wringing our hands Jackie had found a nice family that fed him. We called the coast guard. Just as the coast guard called to say they were going to send out a helicopter he pulls up with a full plate of salmon and corn and says that he had pie and a nice evening. Pie! I think I'm going to get lost in the Puget Sound. It seems to pay off.

Fourth, the fourth. The Puget Sound is perfect for fireworks because the entire bay lights up with big displays on all the beaches. In the state of Washington it is legal to purchase mortars (artillery shells, the big ones that shoot into the sky and burst) and other projectiles with reports. On the Indian reservations they also sell bottle rockets and firecrackers and other highly dangerous and fun things. From our view on the water, every coastline bursts into color. From the second the sun starts to set until one or two in the morning, brilliant lights illuminate the entire sound while the sounds of explosions echo back and forth in a brilliant cacophony. In true American fashion we celebrate our independence by purchasing hundreds of things made in China and then using them to pollute our air and water. The high tide on the fifth is the worst environmental hangover for the sound. Hundreds of discarded and exploded bits of colorful fireworks wash to shore. They fire into the night, but they do not disappear. Nevertheless, I must insist on continuing the practice of literally sending our money up in flames just for the beauty of the night of the fourth.

Fifth, I don't like how random the photos have been in relation to the topics, I will strive to give the photos now some form of meaning and correlation.

Circles and Tides

There is something eternal here. The beach house drives the mind into circles; peaceful circles. The sun rises, the sun sets. The waves come in gently; the waves come in harshly. Clouds roll in, clouds roll out. Boats leave the bay and re-enter it.

I always eat enough here, although I can never remember anything about the meal except that it was good. There is something eternal here.

I think in circles. I almost re-wrote the last blog. It is easy to drive oneself into a stupor watching the waves tug gently at the rocks. I fished for a time here. I sat on the warm beach and watched an eagle for a time here.

Everything happens for a time; indistinct and natural. I walked up the stairs today a few times. The red easy-riser steps reminded me of every time I had passed up those stairs. They creaked predictably and my feet clunked up them with a sameness that even puberty did not seem to erase.

At low tide people dug for clams. At high tide a few swam and others wake-boarded. I'm not sure how long I have been here. It is forever.

We all deserve our place to be recharged. I know I have found mine but I lament that others have not. What peace can be found in a place where time is everything? I swear that time disappears here, it melts away into the sea. But of course I will have to leave. The circularity here is only hopeful and the real world awaits.

It is easy to get lost here. Going into Gig Harbor feels like the hustle and bustle of a big city. It feels unnecessary. The mind is crushed momentarily as the walls of a society with problems, fears, and obnoxious drivers appear out of nowhere. It is an abrupt moment, to drop back into a place where things like jobs and money matter. It does not surprise me that people are driven to become beach bums. The real world is almost absurd by comparison. It also seems to explain the consumption of alcohol amongst that crowd. How can one live in the real world without a drink to make things just as romantically blurry as the beach house?

The sun starts red, breaks orange, turns yellow, disappears behind a cloud, transitions to orange, deepens to red, and ushers in the night. The sun sets forever. But then it rises again, and you aren't quite sure when you went to sleep but you know that it was peaceful because the only dream you had was of the waves against the shore—crashing eternally.

Saturday: Vaughn, WA

The beach house is the best place I have ever been. Hands down the most amazing place. The combination of childhood memories and stunning setting continues to solidify my love of the place year after year. The house has large white columns and an ample porch that looks out on the ocean. There is no tv there. The living room has seating furniture arranged in a circle around a coffee table. People are the focus of this environment, something rapidly escaping our notice as we absorb ourselves in our iPads and smart phones. I fear for the loss that represents sometimes. The other form of entertainment is the water. We sit on the porch and look out on the for hours. It is constantly changing. And because it is in the sound, in the nights leading up to the fourth of July fireworks explode across the sound. All of them have been purchased illegally and all are beautiful.

When we arrived it was perfect. A light breeze, not a cloud in the sky, and perfect weather in the upper seventies. The water was even warm. Being at the beach house is so energizing.

The Mitchells came over for happy hour today. Tom Mitchell's sailboat was anchored outside their house two lots down. There is a different pace and life to the beach house and Vaughn Bay. People come and go with nothing less than contentment and a romanticized version of events.

I remember the summer that David had a huge crush on Katelin Mitchell. I came outside the house and saw the two of them having an odd moment in front of the house. It was dusk and it was windy. I don't remember more about the moment other than the fact that David never mentioned it again. I suppose that the summer fling did not come to fruition.

I went and got groceries for the house with Ciera. Harry told me to get some cheap vodka; Mama liked vodka tonic's. The liquor store was very crowded. The man in front of me, tattooed and looking clearly local, turned and asked me, “what are ya makin' with that?”

“I don't know.”

“Well who's the vodka for?”

“My grandmother.” I replied earnestly—according to Ciera almost too much so. The man and the woman he was with howled with laughter. So did anyone who could hear me in the line. The bell on the door chimed and a woman walked in.

The woman with the tattooed man said, “It's a party in the liquor store.”

The woman that had just walked in replied, “yeah it's a party in the liquor store” and a little less enthusiastically and under her breath, “everyone I know is here.”

That's the beach house life. At least a part of it. I have to go now. Because I need to play board games before going to bed. This place is perfect—as near as I can tell, it is a paradise.