Saturday, March 31, 2007

24.) The Hitchhiking Years: The Storm

By the time I got to Ohio again, the freshness of Spring had given way to the first signs of Summer. There was no question I was also not the same. The person who had slept in a farmer's field the night after my 18th birthday was significantly less idealistic than before. Do you remember that? I had been attacked by a dog in Buffalo and the next night in Ohio was when I really dealt with the paranoid aftereffects, especially when I heard a pack of dogs barking in the distance.

This time it was around 5 weeks later and I was in southern Ohio heading East. Yes, I was much more used to being out there. My first major hitchhiking trip had been from Massachusetts to Florida and back on Spring Break earlier in the year when I was still 17, but that was with another guy from my hometown of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It's much different when you're out there on your own, and I had gone through quite a bit. Of course, this account is skewed because I mostly just mention the dramatic stuff, whereas much of it was just rides, conversations, and hitchhiking strategy: Lots of decisions on what to do, and lots of Americans to meet.

Here, I should say that the American People came off great. Sure, there were individuals who were a threat, especially the guy who tried to kill me in Arizona, but for the most part the citizens of the United States were terrific, and they really impressed me a lot with their warmth and humor.

I go through different levels of disgust with the government but I'll always love the American People. It's a hip room. I should add that you can also get a negative opinion of a country like England based on the pompous Royals, etc, but when you go there and meet the People they're great. It's the governments that are causing the problems. I always get a kick out of it when someone visits the Middle East and realizes how wonderful those people are too, despite what we've been told to believe.

I had some great conversations out there. You know a hitchhiker like me is a perfect confidant because I'm just passing through. I was told things that nobody in the driver's immediate life knew about. Plus, as opposed to taking a bus, these drivers would point out the really cool details: How a bomber had crashed on that hill over there, or how Timothy Leary had been arrested at that last intersection.

The other part that exceeded my expectations was the actual countryside. I love Arabia and I'm a big fan of the desert, but seeing the Rockies and the Wild West? What a stunning piece of land we have here. Mt Shasta, the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, the Pacific Northwest. Every state had amazing parts. It's a gigantic, beautiful place.

Of course, there was no way the reality of the United States could match the mythical version formed in my brain overseas. At best, there were moments when it was close, such as the time I saw a young Jerry Garcia in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn in downtown Philadelphia. Or from this trip, the time I saw Willie Mays play baseball. But being here tore the mythical nature of the place apart.

By the time I hit southern Ohio on the way home, I had seen the heavy political wounds that were also everywhere in 1972. We were heading into Richard Nixon's reelection, Watergate was just ahead, and Vietnam hung over everything.

This led to an incredible lack of understanding between the generations, that manifested itself in millions of painful family scenarios. I also was aware of the racial problems but I didn't realize they were such a factor in society. I guess social issues in general seemed much more daunting than I had imagined as a kid.

When you heard the music of Chuck Berry or the Beach Boys you formed one opinion, but don't look too closely at Chuck Berry's real life - including prison time - and don't look too closely at the relationship Brian Wilson had with his father. If you do, the music might not sound the same.

1972 was the year I began to see these truths, although I didn't let my idealistic version of America go. I still kept it in my heart and visited there sometimes like a childhood memory. You know, I really enjoyed seeing certain places I had heard so much about, but I also appreciate the legendary cities where I didn't go. It's nice having those, too. For me, Detroit is still Motown because I've never been there.

So it was a weary and a somewhat more cynical hitchhiker who hit a roadside cafe before retiring into the woods to sleep that night in Ohio. I do remember sensing some really ominous energy in the air. The sky, and the way the humidity felt, seemed a little scary.

Sure enough, during the night, these thunder storms rolled through that shook the earth. I broke camp and jogged for cover under a freeway bridge amid intense flashes of lighting and giant Booms! Mother Nature was putting on an amazing display of fireworks. It was so violent that just being under the bridge wasn't good enough. It was raining sideways and I had to scramble up the hill and hide at the very top, right under the roadway of the overpass. Interestingly some other hitchhikers were pinned down all the way across the freeway and their voices traveled on the beams so they only sounded 30 feet away. At first they were whooping and hollering almost like at a rock concert, but with each devastating explosion of thunder they became more and more quiet. We were getting knocked loopy out there, and there was nowhere to go.

I realized I would have to stay the night on the concrete incline so I took my belt and some rope and tied myself to the beams. I got in the bag and eventually fell asleep, but it was one of those nights when you wake up three times as tired as you started. I was almost back to New England but I needed to hurry. America had been great, but I was fading fast.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Slow Times on Hawthorne

When it comes to construction on Hawthorne, it ain't over till the orange barrels are gone. So in that sense the Tabor Hill Cafe is still a construction site even though the concrete was finally poured this week.

Let's review: Two Thursdays ago the city tore up the old sidewalk and part of the street, finishing that phase the next day. Then everything basically stopped for around 10 days. Incidentally, this is the part that bothered me. They acted like this guy could put his business on hold. Yes, you could still go in, but here is a shot of how inviting that looked.Of course, from across the street the barrels and fences made it look like you'd need a pole vault to get to the front door. This Monday there was finally a breakthrough. Work resumed and things were looking up. Here is a shot of how disruptive those days were.Then one day this week, the city literally made the small business owner walk the plank. Well, the concrete is done, but the orange barrels remain, possible because of work farther up the street. By the way the guy's attitude has been great even though he actually looks a little thinner than a few weeks ago. Plus, he did mention that this was nothing compared to the Khmer Rouge back in Cambodia. I'm delighted to hear that, but then again, if the owner of a small business in Portland has to point out that the City Council isn't as bad as the Khmer Rouge, isn't that already a little grim?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Big Targets in Comedy

I always feel great when I sell a joke that takes on somebody big. The best example was when the leader of China came to the States and there were protests about his human rights record. My joke was that he didn't seem that phased by the demonstrations - have you seen his new cologne? (It showed his picture on the bottle and the cologne was named Oppression.)

Another time there was a conference between Thatcher, Reagan and Gorbachev after they were out of power. I wrote I didn't know what the conference was about but judging from these 3, it sounded like it was about unemployment. There have been hundreds of jokes about individual leaders, but this was a rare 3 in 1.

Of course, it was not anywhere near as important as showing the leader of China's face on TV in over 70 countries with the word Oppression under it. That sure had more impact than carrying a sign at a protest, unless the sign also made it on TV, which could happen.

Faithful readers of the Portland Freelancer - and hey, it's possible - might have seen the last post where I tanked with a joke, leading to fears that I would be out of the rotation for a while. Well, last night was more like it. I noted the shenanigans of Prince Harry falling down drunk in the gutter outside a nightclub, and Prince William grabbing a woman's breast in a photo and asked when Buckingham Palace had turned into a Hooters? They laughed pretty hard as opposed to the other night, so I'm back in the game.

The secret is that the crowd loves it when big shots are made fun of, especially if these big shots present themselves as superior, stuffy, pompous nitwits, which could be the Wilkapedia description for England's Royal Family. So last night was fun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Music, Comedy, and Criticism

I love watching these Classic Album and rock history shows on VH1, and one statement by Eric Clapton really floored me. I immediately filed it with some other comments I've heard over the years that shed some light at what it means to be great at music.

As a musician, I've always been sensitive to criticism but I figured it's because I'm not that good. I can't believe how proficient the greats really are. In fact, for years I assumed amazing records that I really loved were just that one magic take. I didn't understand that the Beatles could bang out those harmonies at the drop of a high-hat cymbal. I still find it hard to believe when I read about their actual output from the logs at recording studios like Abbey Road. They could crank out 2 or 3 classics in a day.

It was also quite a shock to realize that Ray Charles was putting out an album quality performance basically every night. Prince, too. So I began to collect little anecdotes that showed these people were normal humans after all. One was reading that Paul McCartney panicked just before "Revolver" came out because he thought the whole thing was out of tune. Another time the great soul singer James Ingram finished recording and asked Qunicy Jones if it had been in tune, and Quincy said, "I don't know - it sounded good." That actually freed me in a sense - I knew the process was like that for me, but I didn't think it was like that for James Ingram and Quincy Jones.

Contrast all this with comedy - something that is easy for me - so easy that I never realized I had a marketable skill till around 14 years ago. If someone says they don't like one of my jokes, it's no big thing. I feel like saying, "And?" I guess I am proud of some of them but it's not that super-sensitive deal like with music.

When somebody said I sucked as a singer, I never forgot it. And back in the day? Oh, my God. I might be resentful for years. And what makes it even worse is that I do suck as a singer. I know it's true.

Well, guess what? I'm onto my new project and it's going to take some serious recording. Fortunately, it's mainly instrumentals. I've recorded more seriously in the last week than in the previous year, and it's like watching another personality come out of the deep freeze. If I play it back for my wife, no matter what she says about it, I sort of take it the wrong way. I'm right back at square one maturity-wise.

Meanwhile, I had a joke on national TV two nights ago that sank an entire monologue. It was so lame that it made the audience insecure in their ability to judge humor. I would say it took maybe 80% of the energy from a raucous Spring Break crowd and put it right into the garbage can.

Did that bother me? Oh, sure. I'm not going to say that it didn't bother me, but not the way it should have. It was just another day on the job - more like a "Whoops!" moment. In contrast, when my wife said the song I was working on yesterday was a "nice little tune" I became sort of defensive and weird about it. Isn't that strange?

So where is this leading? Okay, I always assumed rock gods like Eric Clapton would be different. Maybe not immune to criticism, but certainly more likely to shake it off. I mean he knows he's Eric Clapton, right? What can be so bad?

Okay, on the show last night they discussed how Rolling Stone magazine had a really harsh review of Cream. It's even been mentioned as a factor in Cream breaking up. It said that Clapton was a "master of the blues cliche" which is just ridiculous. So how did he handle it? Clapton said when he read the review he fainted. I'm not kidding. He said he stood up and got all dizzy and fainted. Eric Clapton said this. THE Eric Clapton.

Okay, I'm good to go. I might act a little sensitive to criticism sometimes, when it comes to music, but I never fainted over it. Time to wrap this up. I've got some guitar to record.

A Shocking Picture That Will Make You Feel Horrible

This is a picture from a beauty pageant in Russia. Notice how they make the contestants wear numbers over there? Isn't that sick? Can the Russians truly be free from the remnants of communism if they treat their people like this? The Portland Freelancer wants to go on the record and say that these women are more than mere numbers to me. What a disgusting picture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

23.) The Hitchhiking Years: A Conclusion Near St. Louis

American History is never as simple as we were taught in school. There's always more to it, but we make our own approximations and do our best. I'd say America in 1972 was about a generational divide. It really looked to me like it came down to the parents and the kids, and to us, the parents seemed to be driving the station wagon right off the cliff. That was what we thought of Vietnam.

We would become known as the Boomers, and we dressed differently, talked differently, and partied differently. We had landed in a pretty soft set of circumstances when you compare our time to the Great Depression, and rather than be ashamed of how we responded, I'm sort of proud. I mean, we were given an opportunity to have fun and did we ever. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were not just for rock stars back then. All three were hugely popular with our entire generation.

Any thought to the pitfalls of what we were doing, had not crossed our minds yet. We were too busy focusing on how our parents had screwed up the world, and Vietnam was a classic example. I distinctly remember looking at Nixon and knowing he was a weird creep. The fact that the adults seemed to go for him was proof they were out of it. But not to worry, we had a plan. For a brief time including 1972, it seemed possible to party our way to a better world. More than possible - it seemed like a sure thing.

So we weren't just having fun, we were doing something heroic. I really miss that level of delusion. I'm sure beautiful young girls still take rock musicians by the hand and lead them outside the gig to kiss them, but there is some realism now. Back then they would do it with a look in their eyes like you were a political hero. Merely by strumming a guitar you were fighting the establishment. The young foxes would offer themselves up partly as a reward for your political courage - even though you had not technically done anything. It was a time I am very glad I did not miss.

The history books will also discuss the Cold War. We were in a struggle with the Soviet Union and there was a serious fear that humanity could end in nuclear annihilation. Incidentally, that did not endear the establishment to us either. It was horrible enough knowing they had screwed up Vietnam - that they were snatching young men by the tens of thousands and shipping them off to die. There was also distain for the idea that the whole crazy situation could end up in a nuclear mushroom cloud. And unlike Iraq, the Soviets really did have the weapons.

We still had hope though. Hope and a plan: Maybe some kid with an acoustic would sing the right song and save the world. Hey, we're still here so apparently, it worked.

When I hitchhiked into St. Louis, I made a mistake. I went too far into the city, late in the day. I should have stopped outside of town. I was actually right under the arch - I just saw the exact spot again on TV during the NCAA Regionals of March Madness. I decided I had to ask for help and advice so I approached 3 young counter-culture types and asked where I should go to camp. They said to come with them - they would take care of me. It became apparent that at least 2 of them were on LSD. We got in the car and the Children of the Butterfly Gods drove me around 20 miles into Illinois to where they lived. Unfortunately, that was on an air force base.

I still don't know what their true motives were, but as we approached the check point for Scott Air Force Base, the guards recognized them and waved them in. Apparently I was also with some Children of the Cold Warriors. Okay, this was not a Strategic-Air-Command base where the big B-52s took off full of nukes in their continuous patrol for Armageddon, but it was close enough. Once more, I was screwed.

What had just happened? Why not drop me off somewhere else? Perhaps these tripping kids were trying to help. Perhaps they were using me to lash back at their parents. It had elements of both. Who knows? Maybe it was just a laugh. At any rate, they dropped me off at a baseball field and I went to the bench on the third base side, stretched out my sleeping bag, and began a troubled sleep.

I didn't know how close I was to the actual center of the Cold War, till the next morning. That's when a large military plane came thundering down a runway aimed right near me, and took off over the left field fence of the baseball diamond. My God, what a roar. It was not a B-52 but the symbolism was impossible to miss. I was camped out on a baseball diamond in America's heartland and part of our military industrial complex was taking flight right over my head. It was another ominous morning in America - the beginning of a long day of nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union. I scrambled out of my sleeping bag, realizing one thing immediately: I had to get the hell out of there.

I started walking along the perimeter fence warily. I saw ominous signs stating how anyone found on the base could be searched and detained, and at the time, I didn't know what kind of base it was: Would you want someone carrying a backpack full of God-knows-what getting close to our nuclear arsenal? So I was very concerned about being caught.

This was a classic example of the problems of my generation. These kids on acid were - at the very least - having trouble fitting in. Their efforts to help me had not been wise - their plan simply did not mesh well with the United States Air Force.

This said a lot about the gap we had with the establishment. It was also a preview of what we would learn later about the perils of drugs. Just the idea that there were people on LSD on an air force base was weird enough. You throw in the Cold War, and from a historical perspective, this was a defining moment of the trip.

So I was walking along the perimeter fence when I looked ahead and saw some kind of electrical installation. Lo and behold, there was a civilian literally on his knees facing the other way, working on it. Best yet, he had unlocked the gate to the outside world. It was a chain-linked, door-sized gate complete with a scary sign on it about the dangers of trying to come onto the base, and it was wide open.

I started walking really slowly and carefully. I snuck up within 10 feet of where the guy was working away and I eased out that gate. It was a close-call and a real glimpse at what could go wrong in the Fail Safe world of nuclear war. I had survived my night on Scott Air Force base and the world would survive another day on the nuclear brink. I was once more free to head home.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tabor Hill Cafe: Life On Hawthorne

When last I visited the subject of the Tabor Hill Cafe it was around 10 days ago. The sidewalk was torn up on a Thursday and on Friday the orange barricades were up with a dirt path to the door. Then it sat with no apparent work for a full week, at which time someone did a little more on the edging. The workers were there on Monday, today, preparing the ground for the pour.

My first post about this was critical of city hall for not having a more timely process. Today I walked by and the place was empty, except for the restaurant owner sitting down having a bite with two others. You can get in, but it doesn't look like you can from the other side of the street so business has suffered.

I know these things take time, but there shouldn't be a down week off where everything just sits there. It's hurting businesses on Hawthorne and it's just not fair. City planners would do this differently if their livelihoods were on the line. I originally was going to do a day by day pictorial of all this but I could have put the pictures from Day 2, a week later. Nothing changed for a whole week.

This is not the Baghdad Theater, where interestingly the barriers were pushed aside earlier and an improvised path through the site was formed. The Baghdad Theater is not going to go under based on these 10 days. But what about the small business owner? This guy at the Tabor Hill Cafe is working his ass off to make it in a tough competitive restaurant environment and the city is threatening his chances of making it. Even when this is done, his momentum could take a while to return.

I wonder if any of the city planners who threw this together work these hours. This is the guy's schedule: 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. 7 days a week, except for Friday night where he often stays till midnight.
That's right: 7 days a week, every week. It's a vision of the old American Dream when the immigrants first moved here. Incidentally, he came through the Cambodian Killing Fields so he still says this is nothing, but still....Are these the people we want to screw over in this city? The hardest working among us? I'd like to see the city planners try to keep those hours for a couple of weeks and then have some outside force put a hurt on their chances of making a living. It ain't right, and worse than that, it's wrong.

Oregon VA Hospital: A Bat Out of Hell

How come I keep hearing Don Imus talking about a Veterans Hospital in White City, Oregon that's so bad it has bats living in it, and yet I don't hear about it from our local media? This is a major disgrace for our state. Here's a paragraph from the link below:

The White City facility said its colony of bats was tested and showed no signs of disease, and that the animals may even prove to be of some use. Notes accompanying the report said the bats ``keep the insect pollution to a minimum which is beneficial,'' and that eradication of the colony had been discussed but not implemented.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The "Born to Slack" Show Finally Covers the Anti-War March Right

The Drudge Report is a subtle right-wing site, and it rarely misses a chance to bolster that side of the argument. That's why it is still running video from Portland even though it is a week old, from the day of the anti-war march. This is the second major story Drudge has run on this group of 50 anarchists, and Drudge's implication is obvious: This is somehow representavtive of the anti-war protesters last week. Those who oppose the war hate the troops because these 50 anarchists hate everything. Way to cover the news.

The local Portland stations ran with the shots of arrests, so the end result was this march of over 10,000 citizens to protest the war, turned into a major media event for a small group of anarchists. That is the power of the media in the wrong hands.

Of course, it bothered me because it was counter-productive to the anti-war effort. It gives the right wing all kinds of ammunition to say, "See, these protesters are so bad!" So what is the Portland Freelancer doing about it?

I also video-taped the march and it will be on TV tonight. I must admit it was interesting to relate to the problems other TV editors face. You can't put it all on, so the networks use the most explosive footage, short of what could offend their audience. Believe me, both the banner and the visuals of this small group of anarchists would have offended most Portlanders. It was truly ugly which is why Drudge jumped on it.

So how did I edit my view of the march? I start with an intro sitting in my car, then I show a confrontation on Pioneer Square. I taped the anarchists and I even included a shot of them without showing their banner. That was my editorial compromise. I also showed a positive shot of the police chief. She was right there and exuded cheerful confidence which came off great.

However for the most part, I just let the camera run as the marchers went past showing their signs. Check out for yourself who actually made up this protest. Over the next two weeks I'm going to show all of them, although the ones on my side of the street come through the best. My cable access show, "Born to Slack", airs Sunday at 10 on 22, Tuesdays at 10 on 23, and Fridays at 11 on channel 11. I know we have some viewers because they told me directly that day at the march.

It's sort of sad really: What turns out to be the best news source on a major event here in Portland? The most fair and balanced by a 100 miles? Not the local network news which emphasized the arrests, nor the Drudge report which gave a huge stage for the anarchists, but my humble little cable access show. Tune in to see what really happened.

The 15 British Sailors and Marines: What Would Gonzales Do?

These captured British sailors and marines scare the hell out of me. Could this be the trip wire that sets off the Iran attack? It's a troubling issue and I sense a sort of denial about it. Nobody seems to want to fill out any office pool brackets on where this is going. These sailors better not mysteriously turn up dead in the next couple of weeks or this could be the false flag operation of 2007.

The websites I read have been predicting some sort of incident that will precede our next preemptive attack, so anything in this area is drenched with suspicion for me. It's truly remarkable how things have changed. When I hear a story in the media or from the government I automatically assume there's a deceptive angle to it, and I sort of work toward the notion that it might actually be true. This one certainly seems unnecessary - that's for sure. There is no upside to it immediately apparent, especially since a kidnapped soldier story was the trigger for last summer's war between Israel and Lebanon.
This could be the early stages of another major crisis, and that's what I'm concentrating my worries on.

Still, I couldn't help wonder how Alberto Gonzales would feel if the "quaint" Geneva Conventions are ignored with these British sailors. How about if they were treated like we treated detainees at Abu Ghraib under the guidance of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? Wouldn't that be horrible?

I would prefer to live in a world where we could at least say, "How barbaric that these thugs treated the British sailors like this." Instead, we would have to listen to the rest of the world correctly point out that the Iranians had just used the incredibly low bar set by America with its pro-torture Bush administration.

It's kind of sad thinking these sailors could be in in safer hands than some innocent Iraqi who had the misfortune of being captured by the United States of America.

Wonkette Writers: Please Read This

I'm a professional comedy writer, and I want to give you some advice. I know it's not easy finding the right range of glib. Your founder has moved on to Time Magazine and maybe you're feeling a little lost.

The recent bit entitled, "John Edwards announces that his slowly dying campaign will not be rushed by his slowly dying wife" was not funny. At the core of all writing, there is an underlying assumption that whatever you're reading was written by a human being. Even when I see the sickest possible stuff, I never wonder if it was written by a machine or perhaps an alien blogger. There is something about this that is so devoid of even the basic spark of the lowest of the low-lifes that it makes me wonder about your humanity. I've seen the original Wonkette on Imus and she seemed intelligent and amusing. You're not doing her or anyone else any favors writing this.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

22.) The Hitchhiking Years: Taking the Wheel

I was homeward bound. The only official business of the trip had been to register for the draft, and the stop in New Mexico had taken care of that. My plan to see some of America and have adventures had gone well, but I was tired. That's why I was now content to hitchhike for distance, rather than to stop here and there.

In my fading state, the ride with Jimi Hendrix's ghost seemed perfect. Arizona to Missouri? That's a long way. The only question left unanswered was whether there'd be some kind of symbolic conclusion to my trip - something that would encapsulate all that was going on in the United States in that long-ago year of 1972. The answer is yes, and it would occur just past St. Louis after the marathon ride in the Ryder truck.

Not that the driver was really a ghost - he was very much alive, but looked a lot like Hendrix. The guy, whom I'll also call Jimi, was as cool as can be. He was young, happy, and full of life. But he was also sort of concerned about his position in our society, especially driving a rental truck across such places as Texas.

You know, I once wrote comedy for Jimmy Walker who starred in the "Good Times" TV show and whose signature phrase was "Dyn-o-mite!" It was interesting to feel the difference in the premises between him and some of my other clients. What does it imply when you say, "A black man is walking down the street in America", compared to "A man is walking down the street in America"? There's a difference, wouldn't you agree? I mean, as a comedy writer I felt it. If you are black in America you are already in a little trouble. That's what I sensed writing jokes years later for Jimmy Walker.

Back to the story: The guy in the Ryder rental truck was a little concerned and he was also irritated because this was not his job. His job was to assemble electronic equipment, but they had a rush order for the military and he was elected by his boss to drive it as fast as possible from Southern California to someplace near St Louis. I can't remember exactly where.

He obviously enjoyed talking and was bored with the drive, but that wasn't the reason he stopped for a hitchhiker. I could tell he was worried about the trip. It was clear he wanted someone else in the cab with him when he drove across the northern part of Texas, and through Oklahoma. I'm not talking about paranoia here - just concern.

Meanwhile, I was going through some paranoia of my own. I couldn't stop thinking about registering for the draft back in New Mexico, imagining how things could go wrong with signing up the way I had.

Of course, it was 1972, and there was also reckless behavior with drugs. Jimi took out a clear jar and in it were a bunch of different colored pills and 5 or 6 joints. We smoked a joint and settled in for the long journey ahead.

After several hours, Jimi said, "Can you drive?" I had a license but at the time, I couldn't handle manual transmissions - I couldn't shift gears. We were in a real situation though. I don't know if Jimi had popped some pills or what, but he was fading out and we needed to keep going. A plan was devised after some discussion. Jimi would have the truck moving at around 60 miles-an-hour in 4th gear, and he would lean way forward. I would slide over, grab the wheel, put my foot on the gas and he would slide to the passenger side. I knew enough to stop the truck, so as long as I didn't have to shift gears we were okay. There was one scary wobble, but it worked. Within minutes of taking the wheel, I looked over and Jimi was out. As we used to say back then, he had crashed.

So there I was, behind the wheel of a large rental truck full of electronic equipment for the military, bombing along across the Southwest, and I was stoned. It certainly symbolized something about our chances of winning in Vietnam. It was also irresponsible, and that definitely symbolized how life could be back then.

This part of the journey went on for two days. We crashed in a motel somewhere, and started off the next morning. It was all about getting down the road, and the switch where I would take the wheel became routine. I would tell him when we needed to stop for gas, and he would take the wheel back and do all the gear shifting. Then out on the freeway, we would switch again. Frankly, after riding all that way around America in the passenger seat, I enjoyed driving the truck - even if I didn't know how.

Jimi spent the bulk of the trip resting comfortably, occasionally popping a pill, or sharing a joint. We would have made Dr. Hunter S. Thompson proud. Incidentally, parts of Texas were so flat that I imagined the cows sticking out from the side of the planet. There was much conversation and many laughs.

By now I had learned how to push in the clutch to help slow down, and I was changing lanes and feeling pretty confident. I drove hundreds of miles without ever shifting a single gear, and this was how it would stay till the night we got to Oklahoma City.

First, let's get the obvious image out of the way, and believe me, I thought of it, too, years later when the bombing happened there. We were driving a big yellow Ryder truck like the one Timothy McVeigh drove. Maybe the point of that little historical coincidence, is to remind us that these were different times. 1972 was a very serious year because of Vietnam, but with all that's happened since, it seems almost innocent now.

Anyway, it was dark, and I was hauling along, just trying to get through Oklahoma City. All of a sudden there was a construction project dead ahead, and the freeway went to one lane. I yelled to Jimi who was out of it, but there wasn't time to switch back. I decided we had to bail out. When he finally woke up, we were rocketing up an exit ramp, and I was just trying to get the truck stopped. We came to a halt at a stop sign, and this is where I would have given Jimi the wheel back. Unfortunately, we couldn't make the switch.

Sitting right there was a squad car, and the cop was looking right at me. It was time to learn to drive a stick shift - and I mean fast. Jimi really was as cool as Hendrix, but I could tell he was rattled now. This was the scenario he had imagined: Getting busted - a black man with drugs in Oklahoma. He hurriedly described what to do. I pushed in the clutch, keeping my foot on the break so the giant truck didn't start rolling backward. He put the stick into first gear, and said, "Okay, let out the clutch nice and slow."

The truck began rolling forward, then the trouble started. We did the inevitable first time move where the truck shudders and almost stalls, jumping ahead in violent starts so you could hear the load in the back moving around - all this with a cop staring right at us. But then it started rolling smoothly, and we were in first gear. Now, the real question: Would the cop respond to this display of screwed-up driving? We rolled by him and he just stayed there. Whew!!!

We didn't bother trying another gear change, we just kept it in first till we could pull over and he could take the wheel. We were a little freaked out, but we were going to be okay. I always thought this was one of the big symbolic, close calls of the trip. At least, I thought that till I got to St. Louis.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How I Got My Groove Back

I'm in a somewhat ridiculous position here - as if I need to tell you that. I've played in bands since I was 11, and you get used to it. I mean you need it. Let me use the slot analogy developed over years of analyzing life and lives. There are around 10 or 15 major slots in a life, that decrease in importance as you go down the list, and the problem is when one of them is empty. When this happens everything moves up and takes the wrong place on the list. That's when you get your blues or worse yet, a stagnant feeling like your life is missing the magic.

For example there's the slot of "What is your core identity - what do you need to be you?" I think a lot of problems in our society come from people putting their jobs in that slot. You might see it after they retire and seem lost. Then there's "Who means the most to you - who do you love?" Sadly some people have lost someone in that slot so everything moves up. Often the love of a religious figure takes the place of a missing loved one, and that works. People stay in balance and carry on. Sometimes it's a pet, but when that slot gets filled with something like a job or a drug or gambling, watch out.

In many ways, Bush and Cheney just seem to have the wrong things in the slot called, "What does it take for you to get your groove on?" For some people it might be stamp collecting or painting a mural. For them it's launching an unnecessary war. When Dick Cheney no longer is allowed to make decisions that crush other people's lives, he is going to be miserable. In fact, he is miserable right now because he has "Power trips" in the "What I Love" slot and it ain't working for him. It's hurt his heart.

That's what this is about. Keeping as many aspects of your life as the right choices in the right slot. It's key to your health. So what do you do when you've played in bands all your life and your band seems to have disintegrated? You take a few months to mope about it, (November and December), and then you start noticing life going a little stale. Everything moves up and for me that meant comedy writing was in the band slot.

This was trouble. For me writing comedy is a profession. It's a quirky thing that I can do, but if it moves into the wrong slot, I become less good at it. Now, I'm never going to have writer's block or anything dramatic like that. I've been given a weird gift and the stuff pours out as fast as I can type. That's how I can write dozens of marketable jokes in an hour or two every day allowing me to be free, but if there is no music happening, it becomes tedious and irritating.

Right now my brother and I are kicking around the idea of doing a documentary and I realized I needed an acoustic to make it happen. I blew out my wrist playing bass so I only play electrics, but I found one of these new high-quality acoustics so I can handle it. I still have the foot-playing tambourine skills so suddenly, I was in range of a one-man act. Now, the reason I never did this before is that I am not a lead singer, or at least it doesn't sound like I am. But these are desperate times, and frankly, I don't care about that anymore. I can't afford to worry about the audience's needs - sorry, but this is about my needs.

So the other night I took it to the stage and played for a loud noisy bar. I went off for about an hour and 15 minutes straight. It was high energy complete with songs by the Clash, and 2 or 3 that I made up on the spot. I also played my song, "Let's Leave Iraq" which has been on cable access maybe 50 times - but not like this. Oh well. At least I can generate a serious groove and that's enough to keep them from requesting that you stop. One funny moment was noticing there was still a tag hanging down from the top of the new guitar while I was playing. Whoops. Nothing like showing the crowd that you've just been doing this for a few days.

When I came home I was better. My wife hated the cigarette smell on my clothes, but what was the napalm line from the movie? It smelled like victory. Everything held together although when I reached down to pick up my radio later, I got a huge cramp in my rib cage. Ouch.

The next morning comedy writing was back in its proper slot and I wrote a statement joke that was on national TV last night: "I love it when the pundits say this fired attorney story could lead to a Constitutional crisis. Please! We haven't used the Constitution in years." I also had another one on about Spring Break and the jokes for the radio network wrote themselves. Everything was back in its proper ridiculous balance in my life so thing's flowed. I should be okay for a while.

My only concern now is running into someone who was in that bar and having them ask, "What was that all about?"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

UFOs: France and the Phoenix Lights

Readers of the Portland Freelancer know I'm deep into the UFO subject, so if that puts me in whack job country, forgive me, unless you're a Republican Bush supporter, in which case you're already there. I resist using this blog to hammer you with UFO stories but since France has taken the bold, courageous step to release its UFO files, I think I'll use this occasion to bring up one recent development that also caught my eye:

Ten years ago when the Phoenix Lights incident occurred the part of the story that so many missed was the earlier sightings that night of huge triangular craft making their way silently across Arizona for something like a half hour. There were literally hundreds of witnesses. The one interview I saw that stuck with me was with a suburban family. The father was saying how low one of the craft was when it went over and the kid said they could have hit it with a tennis ball.

Later, what turned out to be flares dropped from National Guard planes went on to be called the Phoenix Lights. The unidentified craft went over at around 8:30 and the flares happened at 10. Suspicions in the UFO community involved dropping the flares to come up with a cover story for the other sightings.

Everyone was in an uproar and Governor Fife Symington called a press conference to say an investigation was underway. Later, before the press, he announced that the culprit had been captured, then his chief of staff walked in wearing an alien costume. It got a nice laugh, and I'm sure UFO skeptics enjoyed it immensely.

Well, it's been ten years, and Fife is out of office, and guess what he's saying now? He, himself, was one of the many people who saw the huge triangular craft early in the evening, so if you want to suggest that no officials ever admit to seeing these things - outside of Ronald Reagan, that is - remember the Governor of Arizona saw a huge triangular craft flying over his state and he had no idea what it was or what to do.

Of the craft he now says: "It was enormous and inexplicable. Who knows where it came from? A lot of people saw it, and I saw it too."

Former Arizona Governor Now Admits Seeing UFO-UFO Casebook Files

Richard Engel: Another Screenplay Lost

I was listening to an interview with Richard Engel, the amazing NBC reporter who's been covering Iraq for years, and my first thought was, "Well, there goes another screenplay down the drain." Especially when the interviewer said, "You just decided to move to Cairo and ended up a big-time journalist? Nobody does that."

See, my brother and I wrote a script about his days in the international journalism business called, "Covering It." His career began when his girlfriend at the time went from Minnesota to study in Cairo. He followed her there with minimal funds, eventually landing a video news job with a British company called Visnews. Richard Engel also got his start when he went to Cairo as a freelancer taking only 2 grand with him.

My brother eventually moved up, roaming the world including a stint in Baghdad prior to the Gulf War. Richard snuck into Iraq prior to this war with 20 grand taped to his leg, and began freelancing for ABC. My brother's company of Visnews was eventually gobbled up by Reuters with some connection with NBC. Richard Engel started working for NBC, too, bringing some of the most compelling coverage of the war to the NBC Nightly News.

It seems like just yesterday that my Mom called up and said to watch David on the NBC Nightly News. I asked what he was doing and she said, "He's running from the South African police and they are trying to trip him." Sure enough, he showed up running with a TV camera in tow across a square in the days before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. There were police chasing him, and trying to trip him. He made it safely to a huge crowd of protesters.

It was one of the more powerful shots ever of the risks of being a video journalist. In fact, it was included in a CNN Special called, "Dying to Tell the Story" and since the shot was used in the promo, it was on TV around the world dozens of times.

Of course, Richard has us on the dramatic, horrible war footage, having spent the last 4 years in Iraq. He mentioned that so far, 3 of his hotel rooms have been damaged badly by the violence. Then, they transferred him to Lebanon just before war broke out there last summer. He has a shot of a bullet coming into his room. My brother's "bullet in the hotel room" story was in Afghanistan. But David has some ridiculously scary footage from a hotel lobby in Thailand that shows live gunfire and ends with soldiers coming in and beating the people with rifle butts.

Richard also has us by filming a video dairy which was turned into a special on MSNBC last night. He had a little camera and filmed his own personal observations as well as the gruesome stuff you can't see on TV because if the American public saw it, they'd be even more against the war. The TV special last night did show one guy yelling at the camera as he held up someone's severed hand.

Sadly, Engel's piece also documented the breakup of his marriage while all this went on. It's no surprise, really. He became more and more isolated during this exposure to the horrors of war, and that's one of the things that happens. My brother called me after seeing a car bombing in Kurdistan one time and frankly, I worried that his head had been cooked. It's tough when you have to rush to see the horrible things and video-tape them. Another time my brother was video-taping a suffering child near Mt. Pinatuba in the Philippines and the child died while he was filming. So this is a brutal business, and the number of these journalists who've been killed is staggering.

Fortunately, my brother's wife went along on the journey and they had kids in Cairo, London, South Africa, and the Philippines. There were extraordinary scenes from so many countreis, all tucked neatly into the screeplay: Talking with Mother Theresa in Egypt, or sitting in a garden in South Africa with Nelson Mandela the day after his release from prison. There were also bad scenes for David like missing his daughter's graduation because he was being detained by the Chinese police.

However so much of the story is the same: The incredible bonds with your workers from the local population. The hassles and dangers of getting the story and then getting it out so the whole world can watch. Incidentally, some of David's colleagues are still mentioned in the news. He flew into Bagdhad with Mo Amin and John Simpson. I just saw John Simpson on the BBC website and the late Mo Amin is still remembered as the legendary photo journalist who broke the Ethiopian famine story back in the "We Are the World" days.

Of course, one way we've got Richard Engel's script - if he ever writes one - is that he still needs a happy ending. Fortunately, for David and his worrying family, he got out after the hand-over of Hong Kong and is now chilling in Minnesota. It's funny. I still remember the time my Mom had enough and called Reuters Television in London to check on David's safety in Iraq. Those were exciting times, but I'm glad they're over.

The screenplay, "Covering It" is still pretty great, but it would have been a very expensive movie with lots of location shots. Richard Engel has us on that, too. Ever notice how every place in Iraq looks the same? Oh well, it's not going to happen now. Nope, if anything you'll be seeing the Richard Engel story. Now there's an idea for a screenplay. Of course, if he's waiting for the war in Iraq to stop, he might not get a happy ending for a long, long time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

John Canzano: A Quiet Day in the Oregonian

Today was the first day that I truly understood how much trouble the Oregonian is in. No, it wasn't the memo from the editor, or the many stories about declining newspaper circulation. It was the fact that their main sports columnist, John Canzano, wrote a column that was - to my eyes - factually erroneous to such an extent that I thought there would be a big uproar. There wasn't. This thing came and went and nobody even noticed. What if a tree is cut down in the woods to make a newspaper, but nobody cares? Is there even a sound when it falls?

Here's the first part of the piece called, "For Blazers: Who to draft and who to do the drafting?":

"The best-kept secret in the franchise might be that the Portland Trail Blazers went through their entire NBA predraft process a year ago, held discussions, watched film, scouted games, handed out psychological tests, evaluated workouts, gathered reports and decided they absolutely had to have . . . Adam Morrison. True story. The Blazers' top scout was sold on Morrison -- lock, stock and mustache. Fans were lobbying for Morrison. Then, according to a source who was in the draft room, assistant general manager Kevin Pritchard, who was told "this is your draft," by owner Paul Allen, decided to pick Brandon Roy. "It's the kind of move that gets you fired if you're wrong," an insider said. This is why the Blazers made the draft-day moves to secure Roy, which only proves that these draft-evaluation things can be a blend of art, science and gut."

The only problem is that this "True story" and "best-kept secret" is false. We didn't take Brandon Roy instead of Adam Morrison. We took LaMarcus Aldridge instead of Adam Morrison. We could have taken both Morrison and Roy. So this whole thing with insider quotes about how the move could get someone fired doesn't make sense, because the piece is talking about the wrong man.

Okay, I'll drop it. I mean, I've written a few columns in my life that contained errors. Not this big, but they were big enough so that I heard about them the next day. I wrote a joke one time that caused Jay Leno to apologize on national TV. This is not about being perfect.

What got me though was the response. Nobody seemed to react. The big trees came crashing down to make the newspaper to print the story, but the only sound in the woods was crickets. Nobody cared.

George W. Bush: Trying to be the Lion King

The statue of Lady Justice (or the Goddess of Justice if you prefer), sure looks different these days. The blindfold was intended to mean justice was impartial. Now it just seems like she's afraid to look.

Thom Hartmann had some interesting information on Air America this morning. If Congressional subpoenas of Karl Rove or others in the Bush White House are ignored, the next step is to hold Karl and his fellow creeps in contempt of Congress. After that, the matter lands in the lap of the federal prosecutor of Washington, D.C., a man named Jeff Taylor, who was appointed by Gonzales 6 months ago without Senate confirmation.

Oh, and before that he was Gonzales's assistant and going farther back, helped to write the Patriot Act. So the misuse of the Justice Department involves someone who got his job using the provision inserted into the Patriot Act that facilitated the abuse. And he helped write the original Patriot Act. It's perfect. Cue the Elton John music. This is the Washington, D.C. version of the Circle of Life.

Now to be fair, the former prosecutor was not fired - he was promoted making room for Gonzales's buddy, so now the prosecutor who must decide if the case moves forward - assuming it gets to the contempt of Congress stage, is in a terrific position to prove why appointing prosecutors without Senate confirmation is such a dangerous idea.

So sing with me, children! This one goes out to our attorney general and George W. Bush, the little lost cub who became the Lion King!

"From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life"

Frankly, I'm glad Lady Justice now symbolizes something new. For a while there, the blindfold reminded me too much of one of President Bush's torture victims.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bush Caught With Hand In Constitutional Cookie Jar

While the pundits of cable news bury themselves in the particulars of the fired attorney story, let's not forget what really happened here. The problem with President Bush is that he sees himself as the Decider, the living law of the land. Legislation passed by Congress? Mere suggestions that he'll follow if he feels like it. That's what all the signing statements are about. This has always been an executive power grab, for total authoritarian rule.

One law Bush feels like following is the War Powers Act. It grants him special powers if there's a war on. No problem. We'll have a War on Terror that will not end in our lifetimes. They'll always be a war so he'll have permanent special powers. Taken to the fullest extent, his interpretation of presidential powers during wartime means that all he has to do is declare someone a national security threat, and he can arrest them, detain them forever, and execute them without ever leaving the executive branch. That's his theory anyway, and yes, it is scary. You know how these attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President? Well, the real story is that we now live at the pleasure of the President.

Of course, his inexplicable fans rush to say that he would never take advantage of these powers - just trust him - but the whole point of America was that we didn't leave that to the people in charge to decide. We checked their powers so they couldn't act as tyrants - not legally anyway. President Bush wanted to destroy that. He wanted it all. So we have been living in post-Constitutional limbo here. If he wanted to right now he could declare any of us an enemy of the state and nab us on national security grounds, just as a king or dictator could. That's the problem.

We don't have time to go into what this all-powerful authoritarian ruler means to international law, but think "preemptive strike" and you'll get the picture. Nor am I going to explore the weird religious angle in which God speaks to George telling him what to do. Clearly, the real God would have included a better plan for Iraq (like stay out), but we have a leader who thinks the voices in his head are God, and that God put him in charge. The effect is that George W. Bush is God's representative on earth, a standard position for psycho leaders throughout history.

But let's focus on this attorney thing. The problem was that the Patriot Act changed the way these fired attorneys could be replaced. It eliminated the role of the Senate in confirming them giving total power in this matter to the executive branch. That led to the shenanigans because suddenly Gonzales could use the Justice Department as a weapon, knowing the sole hiring function was now in Bush's hands. If someone was investigating the wrong person - fire them and replace them in the dead of night.

Surprise! It turned out the people in charge couldn't be trusted not to take advantage of unchecked power - just as the Forefathers understood. You'll hear the details of these individual cases, but the problem all stems from unchecked power - in this case from a provision inserted into the Patriot Act.

The results were predictable. Gonzales was the obediant White House lap dog who gave birth to a new litter. The end result would have been a pack of prosecutorial pit bulls doing the bidding of their White House master, with Gonzales as the proud bitch waiting to go back into heat and do it all again.

Today there was a historic vote. It represents the beginning of a dismantling of Bush's attempt to overthrow the Constitution. The Senate voted 94 to 2 to seize back this power and take the provision out of the Patriot Act. That's quite a lopsided vote, don't you think? It's almost like people in Washington are beginning to get it, isn't it? That's what this story is about. President Bush got caught with his hand in the Constitutional cookie jar.
Senate Limits Gonzales' Hiring Authority

Blog Comments in the Wild West

We're in the early days of blogging, and it's a wild time. It's the old West except the wilderness land of the Internet expands forever. In rock and roll terms, blogging is still in the 1950s, exploding into the culture and reinventing media the way Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis changed the music business. Take the recent anti-war march. Bloggers had coverage of it with pictures almost instantly, but so did the Oregonian. It put lots of its pictures on the Internet, too. That's profound when you think about it. The Oregonian, a print newspaper, was forced to compete in the instantaneous world of the blogs or just seem irrelevant.

So what's the end result? Instead of three or four pictures in the print version the next day, we got to look at dozens of the Oregonian's pictures for free. Coupled with the blog sites who were on the case, we were given a much fuller version of events. It was like being able to watch the local TV station's raw footage, instead of just the clips of the small group of arrests among the thousands of marchers. What we saw on local network TV screens was such a distorted view of what happened.

Incidentally, I'm putting the actual march on my cable access show the next couple of weeks, so you'll see what it really looked like. The more information to choose from the better, which is why the blogging world is so exciting right now.

That's the good news. Now for the dark side. These comments can be very feisty and downright insulting - and that's one thing. But every now and then someone threatens physical violence against another participant in the blogging world, or perhaps against one of our leaders. I find myself wondering what kind of legal position that puts the blogger in. I mean a newspaper wouldn't print a threat or they could be sued. I know various blogger comment cases are already underway around the world, including one to decide if the blogger is liable if a comment includes or links to copyrighted material. Does the blogger become liable for physical threats in a comment?

No matter how diligent the blogger is, there is a window in which the threat will be there for all to see. Even if the blogger is on the case and sees it in 5 minutes, that's 5 minutes. And what if the blogger doesn't see it for hours or days? Is the blogger liable for providing a place where one person threatened another, the way a business owner would be if two employees got into it and nothing was done?

All this is yet to be worked out, and I think the key thing is to enjoy the revolutionary aspects of this while they are still with us. It won't be long before we lose some of the freedoms we are currently experiencing because we'll have to. It won't be the government or the legal system that screws this up. Sure, they'll be doing it too, on some other level. But I'm just talking about the chill that will follow when the first blog comment leads to the first real life incident and the first blog host gets sued. We can talk all we want about losing our liberties to the Patriot Act, etc...but it will be ordinary people who've been given a place to vent, and use it to threaten others, who ultimately impinge on our freedom in the blogging world. It will be the People who screw this up.

For now, welcome to the Wild West. Chuck Berry's playing in the local saloon and the fresh winds of freedom are blowing through the blog world. How long before we are saying, "You should have seen it in the good old days"?

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Iraq War: I Think I Finally Get It

Could it be that my brain has been deceiving me? Call it a protective filter of denial, but there's some level of my conscious thought that still doesn't believe any of this is really happening. That's what these years seem like. They are so much like a nightmare that I'm running with it.

Somewhere in this cavernous skull of mine, a message keeps going out not to be too upset. It's a whisper that argues persistently, saying, "If it's this much like a nightmare, maybe it really is a nightmare. You never know." Hey, you can't fault the brain for trying to lessen the anxiety level. The whispers continue, "Just go on sleeping and eventually you will wake up and the Iraq War will be over. You'll kick yourself and laugh at how upset you were, when it was only a bad dream." A bad dream that's now lasted 4 years.

The Anti-War March yesterday was a deeply sobering and sad occasion. I filmed the marchers walking by and it took something like 46 minutes - 46 minutes of banners and signs and all types of people, and in the end, I couldn't pretend anymore. Not in the darkest recesses of my head could there be any doubt. The Iraq War is very real - a living breathing nightmare that seems to become more tragic by the second.

I've seen Portland for years including during many protests when I was working at a hotel downtown. It was downright unsettling to see this many people winding through the streets. It seemed extremely dire, as if I was watching a funeral procession - an angry, sad funeral procession. Even the light hopeful moments were drenched in the overwhelming knowledge that something horrible is happening and we can't seem to make it stop. There is no alarm clock that will snap us out of this.

By around 4 o'clock yesterday, I think I got what this is really all about. I felt it. This is about the State's ability to kill someone - a citizen who hasn't done anything to anyone else. Not just to ask politely to kill them, but to entice them into a situation with all manner of noble talk, to deceive them as to the real reasons why, and then to turn around and get them brutally killed. And if along the way they become onto it, to keep sending them back over and over again, as virtually permanent government wards who can't go home. That's what we have here right now. That's the nightmare we're living in.

Yes, we all know there are extreme circumstances when young people are called upon to defend our country. We all know that. But what is it when the State tells them that's what they are doing, and then sends them to die unnecessarily in something else? That has to be a crime, doesn't it? I mean what's manslaughter? What's murder? Is the State so big and powerful that it can do things that would be crimes for anyone else?

No, or at least it shouldn't be, which means we are living in a time when the United States government's leaders are criminals. They shouldn't be allowed to take a 19-year-old boy and blow his limbs off and then let him die on the side of the road in a place that wasn't threatening us.

Of course they said it was threatening us, because they had to say that. This should only happen when our country is being threatened, so that is what they said. Don't you see this as the proof? The State can only be allowed to do this if it is a matter of national security - defending the country. That's the threshold that makes this behavior not a crime. Self defense is not a crime. This was not self defense.

What was their point? That if we didn't respond, these same streets this march went down in Portland could have been taken by the Iraqi Republican Guard? It was ridiculous when they first said it, but it just seems tragic now. It is obvious that it was a marketing job - it was not the truth. The State lied and took some of our young people and killed them. That cannot be legal.

What worries me most are the millions of people out there who are okay with it. They see something about their lives as being so important that a certain percentage of the lesser ones should be asked to die for an errand. For a mere whim. If the leaders just feel that it's a good idea that could lead to a beneficial result, than that is enough to kill a young person.

What I realized yesterday is that it isn't enough. Oh, I knew it already, but it came into greater focus. First, the idea behind America is that there are no lesser ones. And the State doesn't exist as something so great that it can ask someone to die carrying out some mere agenda. It has to be absolutely necessary. It has to be a matter of life and death already. Iraq wasn't. The President has sent young people to die for a vision, a hunch.

Who cares if it was about oil or what it was about? It wasn't about defending America from an actual attack - there was none from Iraq - so the reasons we did this are not good enough. You can't kill young people over something like this. In fact, what our leaders have done is a crime. Sure, it feels like a nightmare, but in the final analysis, it's a crime.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sights from the Anti-War March, 3-18-07

Here's some images from the march downtown today. It was quite an occasion exactly 4 years into the Iraq War. Let's not make it five.

Trump and Rosie: A Political Marriage Made in Heaven

Of all the ridiculous celebrity spats this past year none was more pathetic and transparent than Rosie versus the Donald. Let's start with what it was about: Miss USA going to rehab and getting a second chance. Anytime there is a beauty pageant involved you're already in the superficial zone, but then the insults began. In an obvious attempt at ratings on both sides, Rosie mocked Donald's hair and Donald called Rosie disgusting. It was clear they would only really make up if Rosie got Donald in a jail cell with the right strap-on device. Okay, that was unnecessary, but so was the entire feud.

Actually, there were a couple of interesting insights. First, I thought it was revealing how Donald kept saying Rosie hadn't accomplished anything - that she was a failure. In Donald's world just making millions as a standup doesn't count. I guess you have to be a billionaire to make it now. Then there was Rosie, defending the less attractive contestants on American Idol for the cruel things that were being said about them, then launching into an attack on Trump's appearance. So which is it? Is it okay to make fun of someone's looks? Personally, I think Donald Trump's haircut is fine and I hope it lands its own show on Animal Planet someday.

So this was all heading towards a giant waste of time: Celebrities using their position in society to be pointless, right? Wrong. In the last week, Donald has said that President Bush is probably the worst president in the history of the United States, and that's helpful. This gigantic machine that keeps reinforcing the manufactured fake image of this pathetic leader must be stopped. President Bush is a mediocre, dangerous loser and the sooner his supporters get it, the better. Listen to the Donald, people.

Now we come to one of my pet topics: 9/11. Rosie is now part of the movement questioning the obvious problems in the official story. I really believe this will catch on more as people get a chance to think about it without as much emotions as right after it happened. This thing is hiding in plain sight and any time a celebrity like Rosie comes onboard it's a welcome thing for the 9/11 Truth movement.

Incidentally, that's why the Portland Freelancer is supporting Rudy Guiliani for the Republican nomination. I believe his candidacy would shed more light on this topic and could blow the lid off this dark conspiracy once and for all. The timing of those terrorist confessions last week was interesting. Why now? A desperate attempt to keep the light focused elsewhere?

This brings me to my final point: I wonder what Donald thinks about 9/11? Of the two celebrities, Rosie has figured it out, and yet Donald's the one with expertise about buildings. I wonder what he thinks about the way Building 7 came down? Will someone please ask Donald Trump about this? Perhaps this is the issue that could unite Rosie and the Donald - stranger things have happened...but not many.

If that does occur and a Rosie-Trump alliance leads to the truth about these last few years - about the Neo-Con plot to take over the world using a false flag operation to create a new Pearl Harbor - then think about it. We would owe it all to a partying beauty pageant contestant who kicked the feud off. Okay, maybe not, but let's run her picture anyway. Just in case.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

10,000 Gather For Obama Rally

The Portland Freelancer's early pick for Obama to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, is based on the Elvis factor - what happens when the American People take to someone. The crowd of 10,000 that gathered in Oakland this weekend to see him, is significant. You don't get that many unless there's something very charismatic happening.

It's much more than this racist talk of him being articulate. When Barack speaks - unlike with Al and Hillary - you don't have the cringe factor. I have met Al and Hillary. Al can be so boring it makes the paint crack. Hillary is not dull but she had better reign in her ambition a little and start sounding like a better candidate or this thing will be over by the summer. Her phony southern accent last week was an embarrassment and it sent the cringe meter into earth orbit.

When Obama addresses a crowd there is an air of greatness, like you're watching footage from another era in politics. Of course, W. - who, like Hillary, also breaks out a phony accent on the campaign trail - has lowered the bar so far that it might be hovering somewhere between the planet's crust and the mantle. People are ready for greatness again. We have to listen to these leaders every day - why not make it inspirational and fun?

The only fun part of a W. speech is waiting for him to screw up. His act is old and pathetic - especially since he's disgraced the country so badly. People want to like their leaders, not feel ashamed of them. The Dixie Chicks were way too kind just saying W. was an embarrassment. Don't you want to send an American leader to other countries that will wow them and make them wonder why they can't have a leader that together? It's time we excelled again and it all starts with a connection between the People and the personality.

I think America is beginning to take to Obama and it's going to be very obvious very soon. This is a star. This is Elvis. The Portland Freelancer has spoken.
Obama draws 10,000 to Oakland rally | The Huffington Post

Friday, March 16, 2007

Memo to the GOP Spin Team: The Babe Just Kicked Your Ass

I knew the way they would play this one - I swear if I just got rid of all my morals, I could write for the Republican spin machine. For example, I sensed the Valerie Plame slant today would concentrate on her undeniable babe-like qualities. Drudge went with a cute little headline about how she was ready for her close-up, showing a picture that might have been a beauty pageant contestant primping for a shot at Miss Congeniality.

Then the Babe came in and kicked them in the balls. This was a real FOX, not the phony news kind. The spin on this had been allowed to go unchecked for way too long, but today it was time for the Mary Matalin set to take a seat along the wall and check out the Homecoming Queen.

You remember Mary Matalin, don't you? She'd been calling Joe Wilson a lying bozo, even while she worked for Dick Cheney. Well, here was Joe Wilson's wife testifying that it was Mary, Cheney, and all their little buddies who've really been lying. Wait, what's the administration phrase for that? Oh yeah, "Who've been having hazy memories."

One thing was immediately obvious that shredded the GOP case in an instant: Bozos don't land women like this. It was obvious who was credible, and even more important in the spin world, it was clear who was cool. Who would you rather hang out with at a party? Scooter Libby or Valerie Plame? When Valerie finished, the GOP talking points looked like a little pile of torn up cheerleading pompoms on the floor.

One talking point was that Valerie had been behind her husband's trip to Africa. This was a classic tactic by the family values, chicken-hawks to make Joe seem like a henpecked "girlie man" as Arnold loves to say. The only problem was that according to Valerie, it is not true. Oh, by the way, girlie men don't land women like this, either.

Next was the idea that she was not really a covert agent. Not only did Valerie say that she was and only a handful of people knew it at the time, she also said that whole networks of contacts and agents were lost because of the outing of her identity by members of the Bush administration. This made sense. In fact, even if she had retired the knowledge that she used to do this work puts her colleagues who haven't retired in extreme peril.

When spies are exposed, the results usually include lethal termination, and if Valerie's testimony is true, people who put their lives on the line for the United States were probably killed. Fortunately, for the GOP the real damage is classified to prevent more intelligence assets from being lost.

Now, from this testimony yesterday, does it sound like she was retired?

"In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the counter-proliferation division of the CIA, still as a covert official, whose affiliation with the CIA was classified." She worked on, "solid intelligence for senior policy makers on Iraq's presumed WMD programs. I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence. I loved my career because I loved my country."

She was repeatedly and specifically asked if she had been on overseas CIA missions within the last 5 years - the statutory definition of covert. She said she had and a top CIA official backed her up.

That takes the magnitude of what happened here back to the original level of outrage, before the GOP spin machine played it down all these years. If she is to be believed, she risked her life for America. And the reason the Bush people would go to the extent of risking other people's lives? To keep the lid on their little box full of BS they were using to get us into Iraq.

It really is amazing how spin works. It dulls the truth so that when it finally comes out, it seems less serious. Yet, when you really ponder the damage these scoundrels did to the United States of America, this was a gigantic crime.

Are all potential assets in the future, going to worry that some political creeps in the White House might expose them if it suits their political agenda? This could have long-term implications for our national security.

Yes, Valerie says it destroyed her career and made her fear for the safety of her family. All to try and get back at Joe Wilson for saying the intelligence on Iraq was cooked - which it was. But what about the future? Bush and Cheney have harmed our ability to gather intelligence from now on. They have hurt America for reasons that are criminal. What do you call that? Let me sum it up:

To try and prevent their treasonous reasons for going to war from becoming known, Bush and friends committed more treason by selling out our undercover people. Sounds like an awful lot of treachery when you look at the end results. Meanwhile, the GOP is howling about the Scooter conviction saying it is unwarranted, when if justice had prevailed, every major player in the White House and at least one at the State Department would be in prison or worse. In that sense the spin worked.

All this should have been the story, but there was something else: Who won the battle of public opinion today? In our celebrity world, who had the star power? The politicians who lied us into a war, or the super-cool, beautiful agent? This was a bunch of bumbling losers versus one of those women in a James Bond film. You tell me.

I have to give the right wingers credit - they were correct about that: Valerie Plame is a total babe. It's tough to imagine that Ann Coulter is even from the same species.

Lisa Molinaro: Looking Good on 39th

If you thought Portland's Hip Quotient was soaring today, I've got the reason why. All right, the Spring-like weather didn't hurt, but I can also report that the Coolest Woman in Portland is once more back with us. I was driving to edit my cable access show, "Born to Slack" when Lisa Molinaro drove by on her bicycle giving me a nice smile and wave. She looked lovely as always - apparently touring with the Decemberists agrees with her. I am so proud of this person, and it was great to see an actual working musician kicking back and enjoying the sunny weather on a well-deserved break.

I was in a hurry or I would have pulled over to chat. See, my cable access show just hit its 150th episode and this is no time to stop the momentum. (Just play along.) Seriously, there is an Emmy on the line here.

Afterwards, I went by the Zupan's on Belmont and the cashier buddy said she had seen Sam Elliot in the store. I had to confess I wasn't sure of who he was, but I looked him up later and he played Cher's biker boyfriend in "The Mask". Temporarily seeming out of it in front of the Zupan cashier, I immediately went with my Decemberist sighting, and came off as slightly less clueless than usual.

I love this city. Yes, there is some bad stuff that happens here. I was at the light right outside the store where the guy had been shot in the robbery. The store is painted in a fun Portland mural type way. What did it say, "From Apples to...." some kind of wine. The painting seemed to be more true to what this town is about than the horrible crime that happened inside. On days like today it's so obvious that Portland rules. Plus, it just got a lot cooler now that Lisa's here again, a touring musician with a national act, back in the neighborhood riding around on her bicycle and looking beautiful.

Have a Heart for Hawthorne

Small businesses are not DVD players. You can't just hit the pause button and come back later. They are more like plants that must be tended to and watered or they will die. The construction work on Hawthorne is a threat to these businesses' chance of survival. It's that simple. The Tabor Hill Cafe, around 38th on the south side of the street, is a perfect example of what makes Portland great - the person running this business couldn't be nicer. He's not just a great person - he's also got a lot of depth as a human being. His wife's pregnant and he's working ungodly hours to keep things going.His business was already impacted by the recent work across the street that made it tough to cross over, and that went on for weeks. Now they're at his door. The first shot is from yesterday. The sign might say open but you literally couldn't get in until around 2 p.m. Today it looks like this. You can get in on a dirt path, but at first it doesn't appear like you can from the other side of the street, so business suffers. The Portland Freelancer is going to keep track of how long till this is back to normal. There were no workmen on the site this morning, but maybe they'll come back Monday.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be heading out for breakfast or lunch in the Hawthorne area, consider the Tabor Hill Cafe. Think of it as fighting City Hall and sticking up for the small business owners of America.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

21.) The Hitchhiking Years: Homeward Bound

So here's the situation. I had been out on the road for over a month all over the States when somewhere in Arizona, the trip changed. Maybe it was when the guy tried to run me over, but I don't think that was it. I had just reached the burnout stage. You know hitchhiking is completely different from getting in your own car and driving somewhere. There's much more suspense and thinking that goes into it. For one thing there's a theoretical chance that you will never get a ride again, and a lot of it is finding your way out of situations where you get stuck. Plus you are constantly on high alert dealing with a stream of people, many wonderful, but some not. Then there's the exposure to the elements. It was tiring hard work, and I was becoming worn down.

There are many books about wild road trips - demented jaunts that young people go on - but it's different when every mile is improvised. The incredible thing about my first long solo journey around America was that just as I started to get a little shaky mentally, the road chimed right in with a dramatic finish of its own.

It was as if the biggest themes of the times would all interact for one last statement, and life took on a symbolic tone. What was happening to me seemed to encapsulate what was happening to the country: There was the establishment with their war, and there was the counter-culture with its insanely reckless lifestyle. My last jaunt from Arizona back to Massachusetts would feature a giant collision between these two worlds, and it was something to behold.

The big yellow Ryder truck pulled over with a young black man behind the wheel. It was immediately obvious that this guy was great. I mean he was as cool as Jimi Hendrix, and looked a little like him, only more cheerful, handsome, and full of life. I'll call him Jimi just to make it easier.

There had been a contract for some serious electronic equipment for the US military, and the supplier had screwed it up. Jimi's company was contacted to do a rush order to provide the equipment, and Jimi had worked on it. He was very proud of his skills manufacturing the stuff - he talked a lot about how the military needed soldering iron work that was just so. That part was fine, but then when the order was done they had to rush it to St. Louis from California. If not exactly St. Louis, it was someplace near there - I remember that. The drag for him was that his boss was making him drive the rental truck and he was not into it at all. It was not his job.

I perked up. Here I was just trying to get home and I'm riding with a guy going that far? Plus he was great company - just really cool as if the ghost of Jimi Hendrix was out driving around. So this sounded like a terrific break, except for one minor inconvenience: My little appointment to register for the draft. It had to happen that day, but fate would play along. Jimi had already said that he had to stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico to do something, so that's how we left it. That's where I'd say goodbye and go sign up for Uncle Sam.

By the time we made it there, we were having a great time: Lots of laughs, lots of talk about music, drugs, women, and life. Just in case, we made an arrangement to remember which exit we took, and he said he would drive by there on the way out of town. If I was there, he would pick me back up again. So this was cool but my mood became increasingly tense as I was dreading registering for the draft. I had put it off for as long as possible, but there I was in downtown Albuquerque, heading in to sign up.

The man at the window was not impressed with me, my haircut, my backpack or anything at all. He certainly wasn't going for my story about being from Saudi Arabia. See, there was a draft board - or at least this is what I was told - for the children of Americans living overseas. I think it was called Draft Board 100. Diplomats' kids, etc...would be on it and there was no chance of getting selected. We did have at least one young man I knew from our little town who was killed in Vietnam, but he might have even enlisted or been drafted in the States. They could make you register where you were going to school, or at least try.

The beautiful thing about my situation was that I was out of school and I didn't know where I would be going to college. This old guy pressed me hard to come up with an address here in the States, but the fact was I was a resident of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Now I could have given the farm address in Massachusetts, but that would have been going out of my way to try and get myself killed and I wasn't going to do that. This was not my war.

The old man at the window got more and more agitated, checking my passport and grilling me on the school situation. "What do you mean you graduated early?" That kind of thing. It was exhausting, but I held my ground and when the form was complete it showed my true residence in Arabia. I don't know where these papers went but I never heard another thing about it again.

You might say, how can you be so critical of Dick Cheney when you yourself avoided the war in Vietnam? First, my complaint with Cheney is that he sent so many other young people to die in Iraq, when he himself got out of military service. I wouldn't do that. Second, I didn't get a deferment or anything - nobody else had to go in my place.

I admit I felt guilty about it still. I could have given the farm address and been a lot more available. However, as luck would have it, my year was the last where the draft lottery took place. My number was 69 - that's how much of a fighter I was. And here's the crucial point: Nobody was drafted from my year. By the time we made it to 19, that had stopped. So as usual, I had lucked out, and what little guilt I could have had if someone else was sent instead of me, was not founded on reality. I'm in the clear on this. Besides I was born and raised in Dhahran and that was my residence, so I didn't lie about anything. God, Vietnam sucked. Imagine growing up thinking you could be whisked away to die for that?

This process was exhausting, but I felt somewhat victorious as I left the office in downtown Albuquerque. The old guy had laid quite a head trip on me, but I didn't back down. I began walking and hitching to the same exit where I came in. I hadn't been there 15 minutes when the yellow truck rolled into view. The ghost of Jimi Hendrix was back, I had my ride to Missouri, and some true craziness was about to begin.

The Real Surge: The Election That Saved America

All this hullabaloo with the attorneys general was never supposed to happen. Karl Rove and George Bush went into 2006 smug about their chances. They had done all the usual tricks and then some, including rigging the vote the way they had in Ohio in 2004 and Florida in 2000. Everything Karl Rove did from the moment 2004 was stolen, was spent concentrating on the results in 2006.

One of the ongoing goals was to rig the judicial system and ensure a Republican lock on power that would go on virtually forever. The plan was to seize control of the United States in a way that couldn't be overturned. The Constitution would become irrelevant as we slipped into the all-powerful executive who was the living breathing word of law. It was nothing short of abolishing our form of government, and it was well on the way to happening. Parts of it are still in place.

The problem for Bush and Rove was the surge. Not the one in Iraq - the one here. The Republicans tried to steal 2006 but the margin wasn't close enough. The cheating was swamped by angry voters. Miraculously, the balance of power was restored, and everything since then has been unplanned territory for these treachorous plotters. They are now winging it through their own falling wreckage.

That's where we are today, and every new rock that we look under, produces another slimy creature waiting to slither out. It's awesome really. The extent to which Karl Rove tried to game the system was downright mind-boggling. No advantage was too small to take. Every little issue in this country was checked over to see if it would help entrench Republican rule. And Rove had his nose in all of it.

That's the priceless part of the Libby trial for me - how journalists could even wonder if Rove was in the middle of the action. It's happening again with this justice department scandal. Rove is a man who has been running dirty tricks and exerting power in unsavory ways since he first slithered out from underneath a rock himself. He's been doing this since he was a zygote. The minute the doctor slapped him on the bottom, Rove started scheming to have the doctor fired. This is a shark-like creature here moving forward with a single purpose that is almost demonic.

The only reason Alberto Gonzales ever made it to the justice department is because Rove knew he was a 100% servant of the Bush White House. This wasn't some gifted choice who just happened to agree with what Rove wanted. He is a little lapdog eagerly awaiting his next orders from the boss. That's what this has come down to, and the idea was to bypass Senate confirmation using the Patriot Act and use the replacements as a whole new litter of lapdogs. Hey, I like that! Gonzales was going to be the little bitch who raised a new litter of White House lapdogs. (Eat your heart out, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.)

Then the Bush team could go on using the mighty weight of the machinery of justice to crush opponents. Rove has a long history of doing this in Texas before he even emerged on the national stage.

So everything was in place. The grip on power was nearly complete, and things looked like a lock. But then November of 2006 came along and the country was saved - at least temporarily - from these wretched power-mad traitors. How else can you describe them? They tried to destroy the American form of government using criminal means. What more do you want? Do you think they've kept their oath to uphold the Constitution? Did you make so much money last year that you're ready to swallow that?

Incidentally, that was what the tax breaks were really for: Rove knew the upper class wouldn't complain about anything as long as they were doing well enough, and it worked. Their support was purchased with the money from future generations. It wasn't good for America, but this had nothing to do with the good of America. It was about buying rich people off and it worked.

In fact for Karl Rove, the entire plan was working right up to Election 2006. Then it all went south. From that point on Rove has been a drowning rat, swirling down the drain of his own sewer. You know what Karl Rove said to the official from New Mexico after he called the White House to complain about replacing the one attorney general: "He's gone." Well, fortunately, this crew will be gone one day, too. Maybe sooner than we thought.

I predict we'll realize two things as the years go forward. 1. That the scope of the power grab was much, much worse than even we had feared, and 2. That the election of 2006 was actually one of the more important events in American History. It might even have prevented American History from coming to a halt - replaced by a Neo-Con empire.