Archive for January 2004

Is it me, or are we all looking a bit peaked today?

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Politics on the Horizon

I’m thinking seriously of attending my Democratic caucus here Saturday.  Washington has been a caucus state as long as I’ve been here (1974).  They added a “beauty contest” primary a few years ago, but even then most delegates were selected via caucuses.  In the last legislature, under financial pressure and seeing an opportunity to drown the baby in the bathtub, the political parties killed the ballot primary for at least this year, so the caucus is all we’ve got.

My view of the caucuses is that they offer a whiff of process to the faithful, but through the dense layering of post-caucus day maneuvering, the party machinery eventually controls the delegates.  The link above explains how the process works here in Washington.  My own preference is to have a ballot primary - I believe it provides a more transparent method of selecting delegates and, truth be known,  I prefer the “drive-by” participation method of casting a ballot and heading for the beach as opposed to showing up at a meeting on Saturday morning, drinking bad coffee and eating stale cookies, and suffering the querulous ravings of my esteemed neighbors. 

I’m in Baghdad Jim McDermott’s district, and my precinct is extremely left-leaning.  The yard signs that dominate our landscape say either “Impeach Bush” or “Support Our Troops - Bring Them Home”.  I swell with pride when I see this, and am glad I live here.  However, I fear that, in the caucus atmosphere, this political vein has the potential to generate rants about the Sandinistas, the Salvadoran death squads, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, Quemoy and Matsu, the Rosenbergs and maybe even why Trotsky had to be sacrificed for the good of the Revolution.  All of these topics may be interesting in their own rights, but have nothing to do with how to, or whether we should, anoint the next Bill Clinton from among Dean, Kerry, Clark or Edwards.  From what I’ve seen on the street here, Kucinich may get a good run in our precinct.

The only caucus I’ve ever attended before was in 1980.  Our precinct’s political makeup was a little less lefty at that time, as the WWII generation was being edged out of the housing stock by 20-something boomers.  Still, a lot of us decided it would be great sport to declare ourselves Republicans and swamp the caucuses in support of John Anderson.  Just to fuck with the machinery.  I remember finding the evening both amusing and exhausting.  I remember one of my fellow carpetbagger attendees spent the entire evening wearing a bicycle helmet with a flashing red taillight.  I sincerely believe he simply didn’t realize he was wearing it.  Our Republican hosts were cordial and patient with us, bless their white-shoed, leisure-suited hearts.  The precinct ultimately went for George Bush, as I recall.

This year, however I see enough flux and indecision that I think I want to participate.  I passionately want Bush and this most venal and cynical regime out of office.  I don’t watch any television news, and I haven’t put the time into reading enough about the candidates to form a defensible liking for any of them yet.  I’m studying Susan the Human’s generous compendium of candidate analysis by bloggers.  My tendency is to support the strongest environmental candidate, so I will also review the League of Conservation Voters analysis.

I may also try to drag my 22-year old son into the process.  I still shrink at the thought of devoting a perfectly good Saturday to this effort, but then I look at the effort Rayne is putting in, trying to bring enthusiasm and honesty to a political theatre still affected, just a little, by the shadow cast by a watery grave in the Meadowlands and the brutish machinery that created it, and I’m goaded to consider it.

And don’t get me wrong about Jim McDermott.  If I were to design a voting machine to do my bidding in Washington, the lurching and lightning-scorched being that emerged from my basement would look uncannily like Jim McDermott.  It’s just that, given an almost permanent appointment to Congress from my district, the guy has frittered away the opportunity to be a real liberal leader with the gravitas to shape policy by instead engaging in a series of dipshit stunts.

Musical Discovery

A picture named BobanMarkovic.jpgOne of the cool things about living in Seattle, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, is having KEXP to listen to.  It started life as a step-child “college” station at the University of Washington with the call letters KCMU.  However, when the UW NPR station, KUOW, started getting pissy about sharing funding with it, its days on the UW campus were numbered. 

Enter Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project to offer studio space and funding independent of the UW.  Those of us who loved KCMU’s independence and insouciance feared that Allen’s fixation with Jimy Hendrix would change the flavor and attitude, but that hasn’t happened, and we’re blessed for now with something like a college graduate station with a trust fund.

Anyway, we listen a lot to Derek Mazzone’s Wo’Pop (World Pop) show on Tuesday nights.  One night a couple weeks ago, he played a cut from a Serbian brass band called the Boban Markovic Orkestar.  As a devotee of brass instruments (you’re already sick of my references to the Ohio State Marching Band and their all-brass makeup), I was immediately enthralled, and ordered their “Live In Belgrade” album. 

From the first cut to the last, it’s a full-on gypsy brass band festival.  They have somehow managed to convey the quarter-tone Arabic/gypsy scaling into Sousa-band instrumentation.  I’m just lovin’ it.

Seeing Red

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars rover “Spirit” abruptly ceased meaningful communications with the agency Wednesday, after performing flawlessly and lifting the spirits of a nation mired in a post-holiday funk.

The craft was not dead, however, and was responding to JPL’s messages, however unsatisfactorily.  Like a sick but recalcitrant child,

NASA’s Spirit rover did not go to sleep today even after ground controllers sent commands twice for it to do so.

Perils of Caffeine has learned, however, that Spirit is anything but crippled.  Apparently, its oversensitive antennae on Tuesday evening picked up the entire text of the State of the Union address, and its cognitive circuitry, designed for obedience but disgusted nonetheless, seethed in overheated rage at having to parade around in piles of red dust at the behest of such a tool.

We have further learned - a Perils of Caffeine exclusive - that what JPL and NASA thought were weak and garbled transmissions were actually urgent whispers from Spirit trying to communicate with any party not affiliated with the White House.  Further, Spirit has hired Ohio State running back Maurice Clarrett’s attorney to explore ways to void its contract with NASA, and has NBA star Gary Payton’s agent Aaron Goodwin seeking to negotiate with other countries as a free agent.

A second lander, Opportunity, was scheduled to land on Mars Saturday night on the other side of the planet from Spirit.  We have learned that Opportunity will instead be rerouted to land in the same general area as Spirit, and will be asked to overwhelm and subdue its too-aptly-named brother craft. 

Democratic Party strategists speculated that the ensuing interplanetary ATV derby is, in fact, a gambit to enthrall the NASCAR-besotted South by the White House, and tighten its control over that sector of the electorate for what they foresee as a tougher-than-expected challenge from a post-Iowa Democratic candidate.  “It’s no accident that the red-state Administration has chosen the Red Planet as the backdrop for its most extravagant electioneering stunt yet,” grumbled the Democratic source.

Speaking of Which

After years, nay, decades of shit-the-bed terror of any situation where I had to stand up in front of two or more other people and speak, I finally joined Toastmasters.  I’d been meaning to do it for years, but I’ve always ended up putting it off in favor of less uncomfortable activities - things like root canals, colonoscopy, tax return preparation.

Over the last year, however, I have been asked to speak at a client’s quarterly meetings and I surprised myself by actually doing ok and (gasp!) seeing how I might enjoy it.  So, I decided to find a way to get comfortable and improve in a technical sense, and an opportunity arose when a guy at my Nautilus club mentioned he was starting up a Toastmasters group nearby.

Yesterday was the first meeting, and my task was to give a 3-minute “ice-breaker”, a little personal introduction.  I arrived at the meeting room late, having had trouble finding it, and was encouraged to find that the only person I knew there was the guy from the gym.  I had done enough of the “personal intro” stuff that I really didn’t have to script it very much.  I dangled a hook at the beginning by saying that “one of my biggest thrills in college was playing for the Buckeyes in the 1971 Rose Bowl”, and leaving them to ponder how this 5′7″, 150-lb runt got anywhere near Woody’s bench.  I set the hook at the end by saying that, “by the way, the position I played for OSU was ‘trumpet’ - I was in the marching band.”  It got a good laugh, it was more than they expected, and now I figure I’ve got a little “mo” for the next time.

There was a distinct “12-step” atmosphere about the group, a little corny and imbued with false bravado.  Everyone seemed to be there because they were confidence-crippled in some way as speakers.  Each speechlet begins with the speaker addressing the moderator as “Mr. Toastmaster” - I kept wanting to visualize him with temperature controls - and each speech ends with hearty clapping.  After a couple iterations, it really started to put my teeth on edge.  And because we all suck, the session is like one hour of acceptance speeches at the Tourette’s Oscar awards.    Newbies like me were paired with mentors, and we got evaluations at the end of the meeting. 

My immediate flaw was fiddling aimlessly with my reading glasses as I spoke.  I don’t wear corrective lenses, but over the last 5 years, 1.25x reading glasses have become a necessity - I simply can’t read something like an outline without them.  On the other hand, I don’t visualize myself as a “glasses” person, and don’t care to wear my dime-store reading glasses in situations where people are forming their visual impressions of me.  I also flat can’t see anything beyond 2 feet away when I’m wearing them, and I get into this ridiculous cycle of removing them and putting them back on.  I don’t remember what I did with them during the speech.  I don’t think I looked at my notes anyway, as I was fixated on just blurting my way through and fleeing the lectern.  I guess I should look into buying some glasses that look natural on my face, and that perhaps have an inert clear upper area and a bifocal lower quadrant.  I hate to put much money into them, because I lose the fuckers at an alarming rate.

The next speech is supposed to be 3 - 5 minutes, and the subject is supposed to be something we care enough about to project an animated image.  I have to be careful to avoid stuff that will push me over the top and cause me to Dean it.  I don’t know these people, and don’t want to be the subject of an amateur exorcism in case they’re a coven of fundamentalist gnomes.  I’ll keep ya posted.

Tropical Tryst

A picture named Luau.jpgLast night my wife lost a bet (it was F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, not Ben Kingsley) and not-so-grudgingly had to take me for mojitos at the Luau, a short walk from our house.  My wife usually orders a Pele’s Revenge, but went with the less flamboyant mojito last night.

Their specialty is Polynesian food and cocktails, much like the old Trader Vic’s, and seems to be a favorite of the single 20-30 crowd on weekends.  People tend to get pretty loaded.  Once when we were walking nearby, a couple wandered out of the Luau and we overheard them plaintively wondering where they’d parked their car.

The bar is decorated with all manner of pseudo-Polynesian kitsch, but last night we noticed an incongruous bulletin board stuffed with baby pictures.  We asked the bartender if it commemorated grievous lapses in protection practiced by customers who met there.  He didn’t outright deny it.

My Generous Gift to the Future

A picture named Zoka.jpgZoka’s Coffeehouse is another nearby gathering place for young adults.  My amateur anthropological hypothesis is that they meet at Zoka’s while pretending to study or compose term papers on their laptops during the day, migrate to the Luau in the evening, and by midnight the previously sober and earnest students can be found wandering the sidewalks in search of their cars.  I suppose I’d have to tag them with little transmitters to actually prove this.  Plus the sacrifice of having to spend evenings at the Luau.

Although they have great pastries, good coffee and free wifi at Zoka’s, I don’t go in there much to sit and surf.  It’s always fairly crowded with the aforementioned kids of courting age, and I fear that if I took up one of the seats, someone of breeding age would not get the seat, not get to meet the attractive young woman that I would no doubt have nonchalantly sat down next to, and consequently would not tell her lies about his nearly-finished novel, not herd her across the street to the Luau, not get her drunk on rum-and-grenadine concoctions garnished with umbrellas and little plastic mermaids, not wander the neighborhood in vain search of their cars, not have desperate and unprotected sex under one of my neighbors’ hydrangea bushes and not, nine months later, give birth to the marvelous child who would grow up to run for president in 2040 and finally rid us of decades of ruinous Republican rule.

No, I’ll just get that double macchiato to go, thanks.

Headline in Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“Bush Seeks to Put Humans On Mars”

        What? We’ve run out of room at Guantanamo already?

Drifting Around Seattle

A picture named SeattleSnowStorm0104.jpgWe had a once-every-4-years-or-so snow day here in Seattle.  Most of the city simply shut down, and people were skiing, sledding or simply cavorting through the streets like grade-schoolers.

We walked around soaking up the festive atmosphere and taking pictures.


Gasworks Park - there were more people on the hill waiting to sled than I’ve seen in most lift lines


Folks were using anything they could find to sled with - a river kayak, a “pay-or-die” sign from a parking lot, and a set of sofa cushions.  Others used cafeteria trays and laundry baskets.




In the Fremont neighborhood, Lenin rides again, with an evergreen garland around his brow

In our yard, our garden sphinx hides her discomfort in a cozy drift






Perfect ending: My machiatto and my wife’s mocha provide the preliminary for a WWF smackdown over a “shared” chocolate espresso torte at Still Life in Fremont coffeeshop.

Where Were You When The Ball Dropped?

I bet I was higher than any of you when 2004 arrived.  You can go ahead and submit pictures, mpegs, mp3 files of keenings and ecstatic animal gruntings, but you’ll still lose.  I was at 35,000 feet, on my way from Seattle to Detroit for an unplanned visit to Toledo.

My mom had caught the flu while visiting one of my brothers over Christmas, and after returning home Tuesday was having trouble breathing.  Wednesday morning, my brother in Atlanta called and told me she’d been taken to a hospital, put on a ventilator and was in an ICU in serious condition.  He and I discussed the situation, called a couple of my parents’ close friends still living, and still living in town, speculated about how Dad would react and how he’d be able to get back & forth to the hospital…it became clear that we were playing a little game of conversational chicken about, ultimately, which one of us would pack up and head to Toledo.  I finally caved, having a more flexible schedule and a sizeable bank of Northwest Airlines miles, and made a reservation for the Wednesday night redeye to Detroit.

My plane pierced the 2004 veil somewhere over Montana.  I slept little, if at all, and landed in Detroit at the ridiculous hour of 5 am, the beneficiaries of strong east-bound jet streams.  I juiced up on espressos, called the hospital for visiting times and decided to stop in there before heading to my parents’ house, since my Dad seldom rises before noon.

When I first espied my mom in the ICU, she looked just awful, hardly recognizable - asleep, white as a sheet, vent tube stuck down her throat.  I started recalibrating my expectations about her chances.  A nurse woke her up, and she was very startled to see me (a good sign).  In a few seconds she realized she wasn’t dead and stuck in some version of hell where she couldn’t talk or cry for help and I was the only person at her bedside, and determined that…she was alive and nonetheless stuck in that version of hell.

Our “conversation” exposed just how thin my narrative powers are (you, gentle readers, already knew), since she couldn’t talk or write and I had to extemporaneously fill the awkward silence with whatever non-parent-dying prattle that I could extract from my sleep-deprived brain.  Now and then she would raise her hand and try to form letters in the air, which I had no hope of translating, and to get her to quit I’d launch into some further lame crap.  My battery finally wore out and I told her I’d bring my dad back later, and left.

(this has a happy ending - I’ll get to it!)