Friday, September 27, 2013

letter writing

i love receiving letters.

they often say nothing, don’t really describe anything.  i don’t live in victorian england, writing letters back and forth to share the details of our lives away from each other.  the phone is more convenient, easy, expedient.  my sister and i talk a couple times a week.

but every once in a while i receive a postcard or a letter from her in the mail.  simple, whatever she has written always seems to underscore something we discussed earlier, maybe something i missed, reminding me of something important perhaps.  i can read it over and over.  i can stick it in a book and take it with me.

“Someone just asked me if I go crazy here in Charm being by myself all day.  Yes, but no.”

and even emails from old friends.  

the best part about a letter from a friend may be hearing their voice.  written in even the simplest terms, a letter aids my memory.  i can hear their voice exactly.  i received an email from my friend in austin and i can hear her southern twang, her nearly monotone delivery, served with a smile at the end.  her jokes are always in the words and never in the performance, never in the rise and fall of her voice.

What do you think your cat does at night? Have you seen those videos where they strap little cameras to the cat collars? So much carnage....”

i miss her.

and i wonder if i moved from portland who would write me still.  who would send me emails?  who would keep up with me, send me letters to fill me in and maintain all the jokes and turns of phrase that generate inside a relationship?  i appreciate the time it takes to write a letter, to respond and reply and develop a new thread or thought.  i appreciate the punchlines, carefully crafted and thought out because you know you will not be there to explain it to the other person.  i appreciate the talk about the weather, comparing the still hot days of summer in birmingham or austin to the increasing chill here in portland.

Friday, September 20, 2013


despite their name, there's nothing expedient about the nightly bedtime ritual of the vaux swift.  the community of birds that descends each year upon portland during september spends a couple hours each night swarming and swooping, funneling above the old chimney of an elementary school in which they take up residence during their migration south to mexico.  they chirp, flap their wings, congress with their family, and take their sweet time tucking in as the last of the sunlight melts behind the west hills.

i wish i could fly to mexico each year to winter.

adam and i sat watching the show the other night with a chirruping gaggle of portlanders.  i turned to him and said, "don't you sometimes think it would be nice if we lived in a small town where there was nothing to do each night except go to town gatherings like this everyday.  like everyday in september we'd watch the swifts.  and then in october the pumpkin festival.  and november would bring the turkey convention."

there are certain things i do each night before bed.  brush my teeth.  wash my face.  think about what i could do to prepare for the next day and then not do anything but strip naked and get under the covers.

each year has its rituals.  christmas eve at embers.  the ice cream social on north mississippi avenue.  as many pilgrimages as possible to rooster rock during the summer.  and so very soon: spookitinis, the party that rob throws yearly, same time, same place, and one of my favorite parties of the year.

the only flight i may take during the year is through the seasons.  or through glasses of wine.  and though i enjoy adventure, i somehow always look forward to the ritual event, the unfailing community.  i want to be so comfortable and so predictable.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

liberal justifications

"liberals" in america do not support president obama's proposal for intervention in syria.  "liberals" in america need to reconsider what liberalism means.

i support social liberalism in america, because i see an importance in fostering equality for all people over absolute freedom.  political and social equality: equal treatment of all people socially and legally, equal access to a pursuit of happiness, equal guarantees of safety.  this means the freedom of others may sometimes be limited.  an entrepreneur cannot use a river or a parcel of land if the activities he conducts pollute those resources, causing harm or limiting the activities, health, or pursuit of happiness of others.

liberalism's fierce protection of equality over liberty puts its goals in opposition at times to conservative and libertarian america, but our ideals as liberal americans, our sympathies and compassion, should not crumble at the border.  liberal america is understandably tired of war, but we also seem to have lost compassion for those people in the world who do not live in a society like ours.

obama is not proposing we go to war.  he's not even proposing we involve ourselves in another war.  he is merely proposing that we have compassion for other people and solidarity with the international community.  chemical weapons should not be used against any people and we have an external, technological advantage to the situation in syria to discourage the use of chemical weapons by the assad regime.  a strike by the united states would not commit u.s. forces to the conflict, would not aim to kill syrian citizens, would not cripple the assad regime, nor aid to any great extent the syrian rebels.  the strike proposed by the president would hopefully dissuade the assad regime from continuing the desperate and monstrous use of chemical weapons on the people it ostensible governs.

the diplomatic compromise worked out by russian president vladimir putin (and john kerry) to destroy the chemical weapons held by the assad regime will probably just lead nowhere.  the country is a morass of a civil war.  according to experts and history (see qaddafi), the destruction of chemical weapons can be difficult even without a war and time-consuming.  we haven't even started the process of negotiating with syrian president assad.  we have not been able to actually negotiate the destruction of these weapons with the syrian government.  this is just an idea floated by the russians.  meanwhile the syrian civil war continues and maybe the assad regime will again use chemical weapons against its own people and half a year from now we will again find our president asking for permission to conduct strikes against the assad regime.  we will find ourselves right back where we are and without even putting boots on the ground we will america sunk in this.

i think the united states will be influential in the world for a long time yet.  we do not have to champion democracy; we do not have to fertilize the world with our goals and ideals; we can make it a goal of ours to protect and encourage all humans so that they may pursue their own purposes.  if universal equality is ever an ideal, we must take measures to protect life equally.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

time untidy

all the wasted time.  hours as long as southern summer heat stifling.  it's hard to breathe under all those hours.

sometimes i get home and look around the apartment and know i should tidy up after spending the entire weekend out of the house.  my eye can't land on anything: the papers on the desk; the cords on the floor; the stack of books on the footstool; the clothes cradles in the chair; the unmade bed.  i sigh and leave it all there suspended.

a swirling madness all around me - that's what my apartment can feel like.  colors and shapes and blurs and sensations; a cyclone like the hitches and switches and flips and connections i can feel pop and jolt in my head.  sometimes everything gets done in segmented swooshes of activity, regimented, regulated, easy.  time seems steady, trickling forward in every direction all at once, a stream banked by my own consciousness.  then sometimes whole rooms and whole days get swallowed up by the hours, the by the minutes, my head swollen with seconds.  nothing seems possible.  i couldn't lift a finger.  i couldn't drink a cup of tea.  there isn't time.

these are the worst days.

active not aggressive

it's doves versus hawks.  it's neo-conservative versus liberal.  it's john mccain against hillary clinton.

a diplomat needs finesse, but the world knows the united states better for its hubris.  john mccain doesn't understand foreign relations or what the word influence means.

“Now this is the same president that two years ago said that Bashar Assad must leave office, and so where is America’s credibility?” Mr. McCain said on Fox News. “Where is our ability to influence events in the region? And I promise you that those who say we should stay out of Syria do not understand that this is now a regional conflict.”

i have argued that obama should be more aggressive about addressing the situation in syria.  it seems like europe is ready - they're looking for consensus from the rest of the world.  and by ready, i mean by lending support to the opposition as we did to the rebels in libya.  syria deserves this sort of aid from us.  let them fight their own battle.  let this be their own independence.  but let the u.s. aid them so that they may successfully break from the yoke of a dictator who uses chemical weapons to quell his own people.

if obama has committed to the level of activity in syria i would have recommended, this doesn't mean he's been completely idle.  he has been attempting to extend influence.  he leaned on bashar al-assad to commit to first form a unity government; he has allowed funding for the rebels; he set a "red-line" against chemical weapons to at least encourage the assad government to avoid their use, assuming at least the posture indicating that the united states believes the government should step aside.

america does not want to become involved in the syrian conflict, but if one looks at the media that seems to be exactly the direction we are headed.  not only is the direct involvement mccain calls for scary, i'm not sure that it will be necessary.  the united states can do plenty to support the syrian opposition without moving troops to the country.  what america should see is that the media is overblowing the situation and mccain is playing politics.  the situation in syria is emotional but our involvement does not have to be.