Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Horror Double Feature

Last night we watched the two scariest movies ever made. I did not realize how scary they are the first dozen or two times I saw them, but in today's climate these films frightened the hell out of me. Both were made over fifty years ago and both starred Spencer Tracy, a man not noted for horror films. What scared me so terribly is the fact that films made that long ago remain relevant today, in some ways even the more so because, as the saying goes, he who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. The first film was "Inherit the Wind," the great play turned movie based on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 wherein science and religion clashed head-on over the issue of teaching evolution in school. The film really is about a man's right to independent thought, a concept that is precious to us in this country but relatively recently accepted as the pervue of all men and women. Line after line, thought after thought in that film screams against intollerance. The difference between the fundamentalist Christian Brady and the agnostic free thinking Drummond comes down to this: Brady will not allow for other points of view, while Drummond will. Put another way, when Drummond slams Darwin's book on evolution and the Bible together and carries them off as he leaves, it is an admission by a thinking man that he believes in science, he believes in truth, and he believes in possibility. At one point he says that ignorance and fanaticism are constantly hungry and need feeding. In America the rise of the Creationist movement arrogantly proclaims its own self-importance: no other way is possible. I have known people whose view is even more narrow, that their way to God is the only road available. I believe in what Arthur C. Clarke said, that there are nine billion roads to God; mine might work for me, but you have to find your own, and I encourage you to seek. But do not exclude mine in the bargain. Ignorance and fanaticism need feeding. They also propogate readily, spreading their poison everywhere, a poison that tastes of lies. Adolph Hitler once said, “The art of leadership . . . consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a common adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” Keep them ignorant, stroke their fanaticism, and hold it together with lies, and they will do anything for you. The second film, "Judgment at Nuremberg," dealt with the consequence of wielding that kind of power over others when you yourself had intellegence and knew the required course of action was wrong. Gandhi said that "non-cooperation with evil is as important as cooperation with good." I follow this solemnly with this unpopular observation: The United States is a warrior nation. Our militancy is the face the world sees. Our actions abroad have become as questionable as the motives behind them. Our unmanned drones kill civilians and no one bats an eye. In fact, we have gone nearly to bankruptcy largely on our extreme military spending over the past decade, and yet Americans at home act as if we have not been at war for the last ten years. WE KILL PEOPLE, and too many of our victims are not guilty of anything -- they were in the way. How do we reconcile that with the good we want to do? Or do we hear Spencer Tracy's words echoing in our heads when Burt Lancaster's Ernst Janning asks for forgiveness and says he had no idea Nazi Germany would come to such horrors -- Tracy said (I'm paraphrasing), "It came to that the first time you convicted a man you knew to be innocent." In some things there cannot be any compromise. Ignorance and fanaticism need constant feeding, but non-cooperation with evil is as important as cooperation with good. Even small people with no power at least can state their opposition, and if the course they object to is the wrong one, maybe they still can turn us onto the right path and promote and protect the greatness of their homeland. If not, be scared, be very very scared.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

At Least Somebody Is resting On Sunday!

It is late Sunday evening. Diane and I have spent a quiet afternoon and evening, resting. As if we needed the rest -- but we do. Quiet days are good for the soul. So this blog is filled with a handful of tidbits, jotted down as Miguel Cabrera bats for Detroit. His two run homer had the Tigers ahead, but Buster Posey just gave the Giants back the lead. Cabrera just struck out. It's hard to keep good hitters down, and impossible to keep Cabrera in the yard for long. But as I write, SF defense and pitching still dominates the Series. Time is running out for Detroit, and as I say THAT Delmon Young just tied it up. I love baseball. On that note I have a suggestion for Tim Lincecum -- maybe you should think about changing your job. As good as you were as a starter in days past and might be again (I don't doubt you can regain form in that arena) your work in relief this year has been nothing short of amazing. As quickly as you can get ready, as devastating as your stance is to batters, you might consider becoming a closer. Just a thought -- you will be remarkable in 2013 regardless. And what about Hurricane Sandy? This storm may prove to be a President maker if it disrupts voting on the mostly Blue Eastern seaboard. Or will the election officials postpone the election on account of rain? And 95 mph winds -- voters would feel like they just walked into a baseball park with a thousand Justin Verlanders and Tim Lincecums throwing at their heads. Final note for this blog is more personal. This week Xander got to go on a field trip to the Apple Barrel, where he learned about how apples are turned into apple juice, repleat with samples. Curious George had an episode about the same subject, but there's nothing like the real thing. It was also the very first time he got to ride on a school bus. His Oma and Opa got to ride along. It was great fun to be a part of this first for him, and it reminds me that this preschooler is going to have a great many firsts coming at him fast and furious. There are two blessings in that. One, when a young person learns something new or has a new experience and you get to witness it, that same thing becomes new for you as well, as if you are learning it all over for the first time. And two, as Neal Degrasse Tison happened to observe Thursday night as a guest on Totally Biased, we have to let our children experience and experiment. He said it something like this: we spend a child's first year teaching him how to walk and talk; how can we then spend the rest of his youth telling him to sit still and be quiet? After all, he (or she) might grow up to find a cure for cancer, pitch the clincher in the World Series, run for President of the United States, deliver your mail to your doorstep or NDCBU, protect you, take care of you, prepare food for your consumption, or teach your children's children well.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Giant Success!

I love baseball. This time of year I love baseball so much I overlook the high salaries and inflated egos that sit in the club boxes, and watch the game and its players at their finest. It's World Series time, and there are two fundamental rules about World Series time as opposed to the rest of the season. First, the post season is comprised of short do or die sets, which means each single game is crucial to the success of the team. There are (this year) a maximum of 20 games available to the last two teams, the ones facing each other in the Series, and the first team to win eleven (or twelve with the extra wildcard) takes all. You can't have a four game losing streak in the Post Season and still come out on top. That said, my hat is off to the San Francisco Giants. It's still early in the Series, but they did what they had to do so far, against a very heavy hitting team. Now, I grew up a Yankee fan, but I also grew up a Giant fan, allowing me one favorite per league. I had hoped for a NY-SF series, reprising the 1962 games, but Detroit's pitching and the Yankees' total lack of hitting outside Ibanez put an end to that dream. It did give me a no conflict choice to root for, and the Jints have done to Detroit in Games One and Two what Detroit did to New York. Sorry, Bill! The Giants won Game 1, 8-3. But it was never that close, largely due to Panda slamming three home runs, Blanco making two great catches, and Zito and Lincecom baffling Detroit hitters. What I saw was a great pitcher bested by a good one, and a good hitter having a great night -- and how a bad hop can open up the floodgates. The Giants showed the Cardinals that they were stingy with runs allowed, would not beat themselves on the field, and had a knack for grabbing opportunity when it came to them. Game Two against Detroit followed the same formula, as great defensive plays robbed Detroit of any scoring opportunities, the starter and relievers gave up zero runs -- managing to keep both Cabrera and Fielder in the yard -- and the hitters manufactured the only run they needed late in the game on a double play grounder, with an insurance run on a sacrifce fly after a bunt that should have rolled foul didn't. The Giants only got five hits in the game. Detroit got two. Who are these guys? Detroit must be wondering the same thing, like Butch and Sundance persued relentlessly. The Giants hit 103 home runs as a team, lowest total in the majors. Their name recognition players are mostly on the mound. And yet, over the last five games they played, they have allowed four runs and hurled three shutouts while scoring thirty times. Go Giants! Detroit is an excellent team. They will be playing at home in a short while for Game Three. It is hard for me to imagine the Tigers not taking at least one game at home. If they take one, then Verlander will get the chance to pitch again, and he probably won't repeat the mistakes he made to Sandoval in Game One. But the Giants will take the Series, in six games, back home to a screaming crowd in PacBell Park. If they don't, and Detroit rebounds, well, after slipping into this hole it would make them as remarkable a team as they seem to be. Right now, the Giants seem just that little more remarkable, and for a Giants fan it feels really good to have the edge be in our favor for a change. But baseball is a funny game. That's why I love it so much -- anything can happen, and with the Giants, it usually does.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I should be writing about the World Series, or the weather, or my grandson Xander. I would like to, but instead my mind keeps drifting toward a frightening image: what the world will look like when we all awaken from our slumbers two weeks from today, with Mitt Romney as President-elect. It could happen. I am still convinced that it will not happen, that President Obama will win re-election by a comfortable margin, both by popular vote and in the Electoral College. But two things have to happen for that result to occur. One, people have to come out and vote, and they have to vote in favor of their own interests and not the imagied greater good as postulated by an outsourcing Prince from the American elite who wants to up military spending and down women's rights. Perhaps we believe in American militarism. I'm not talking about military preparedness and defending ourselves. We proved in 1941 that we could mobilize an entire nation in short order and fight a massive two front war with a Citizen Army. I am talking about the fact that we hold the most powerful military in human history and out spend per year the next fifteen great nations combined. What is all that hardware for? Look at the map, and follow the money. The American military is not there to protect you and me. I repeat, they are not our protectors. They are deployed all around the world to protect somebody, but it is not the common citizen of the United States. Look at the map, follow the money. Under the guise of promoting democratizing the Middle East, we are taking control of the region and its oil -- and the "we" in that sentence refers to American led corporate interests. And if you disagree that our motives in this region are driven by profit, at least you should acknowledge that the people in the Middle East believe it is, and winning their allegiance under that cloud will be tricky at best. We were warned 52 years ago to beware the military-industrial complex, by a man who was an great American hero, a Republican, a President and a General, by the name of Dwight David Eisenhower. We have forgotten his warning, while the MIC has grown and entrenched itself to the point that America's military has become a mercenary force basically for hire. Candidate Romney in fact wants to increase military spending should he win, by something like 25%. Meanwhile our poor grow in number and our status among other developed nations in education, health and welfare keep dropping. Taking care of our neighbors is not a priority. Add to that the growing repressive attitude toward women, and a domino effect seems to be building, but this time as the dominos fall they will tumble over our rights, our freedoms, and the already outsourced American Dream. But our military is strong! The Romney Presidency promises to look something like this: By 2014, women will no longer have the right to choose, down to contraception. Barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen with ya, gals! Abortion will be illegal even in the case of rape. Legitimate rape to follow. But don't ask the State for help. And there will be a war, probably against Iran. Maybe we should elect Mitt Romney President so the illusions Americans persist in holding dear will be blasted apart by the truth of just how little we really matter to the powers that be and their bottom line.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brief Weather Report

Hello everyone! Tonight politics takes a day off in the Blokker household. I am more excited about the Giants' stunning victory last night than the fact that the Presidential debates are in the bag for better or worse. It's more fun to write about what I call the revenge of 1987. In '87 the Giants were up three games to two in the NLCS and had hammered nine homers against Card pitching, but the Cards shut them down in Games 6 and 7, allowing narry a run. In this year's NLCS the Cards were up three games to one, and this time the Jints shut them down, outscoring them 20-1 in the final three tilts and getting a well earned ticket to the World Series. The only damper for the City By The Bay was the rain -- the last three outs came in a downpour. Since a post season game, by rule, cannot be called before nine innings are played, and the umpires knowing this kept the game going so it would not have to resume the next day with three outs to go and the result a foregone conclusion. That same rain storm wound up dropping two feet of snow in the mountains of California and covered the entire northwest with weather. The snow began to fall here in Lakeside right around nine, gently but insistently. By this morning the snow had stopped falling, but what had fallen managed to gather into about four inches of fresh pack. And, yes, I got my snow shovel from the shed and cleared off both porches and the walkways and driveway, just as if this were the middle of winter! Olaf and Erik, I got some great shots right from my Sun Room window in the bargain!

Monday, October 22, 2012

News and Notes

Today's blog is sort of a personal miscellany. First, I have to say that humble pie is not very tasty or satisfying but sometimes you have to eat it. The second half of my last blog was a bit of a gripe fest, and now, as it turns out, I was unreasonably unforgiving. The fact appears to be that all of the State of Idaho is a dead zone when it comes to cell phone reception. Add car trouble to the mix, and I wind up asking for their forgiveness for my attitude. Plus, the visit went really, really well, and it was good to see them all after a very long time. Other matters: when the Catholic Church demands not to have to pay to cover health care costs for contraception, I understand their point of view. After all, I pay taxes and have no say about where my money is spent. I have a religious and moral objection to military spending, so I now demand that my tax dollars be spent on things to which I do not object. Like education, PBS and NPR, oh, and univeral healthcare including everything that helps support a woman's right to choose. And if any of my tax dollars go to the Catholic Church, I hereby withdraw them. An observation about the minimum wage: If I did the math right, given the Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and the poverty level for 2012 for a family of four is $23,050, to earn that amount in a year at the minimum wage, it would take approximately 397 days at eight hours a day. Ask Paul Ryan if THAT math adds up. Now, for the virtual tie in the upcoming Presidential race -- WTF???? I mean, if Obama has a sizable lead among women and minorities, how can he possibly lose even if white males are overwhelmingly voting for the Great White Hope? It is a sad state of affairs that so many people are ready to vote against their own interests just because the incumbent is the worng color. But, then, we did re-elect George Bush and most of us are finding ourselves having survived that chronic illness. We just have forgotten who the doctor is. Part of the problem, I think, comes from the non-reality of our two party system. The Republicans have shown again and again that they are a Party -- solid, unified, determined to undermine the opposition at the expense of everybody else. On the other side, the Democrats are a coalition, everybody welcome, but without a solid voice. Given the dynamic, no matter who becomes president in 2012, we're in for four more years of Washington Gridlock. Finally today, I am happy to report that I am back in print with three very short stories on Black Heart Magazine. The link is: http://blackheartmagazine.com/2012/09/28/three-flash-pieces-by-roy-blokker Paste it in and enjoy!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In A Spare Moment

It is a beautiful autumn afternoon here in Lakeside, Montana. The sky is a mixture of clouds and blue skies, and the wild turkeys just paid a visit, passing through on their way up the hill to find something to eat easier to grab than grubs off our grass. The grass is short; I mowed it for probably the last time this year a few days ago. Jumpy the Squirrel and JR (Jumpy Redux) are chittering away, busily gathering nuts and bits of bread for winter storage in one of the tall trees adorning our yard. They seem happy in their work, scampering and sqwaking as they go about their business. It is a good day to ignore politics and other worldy events and hunker down with a lovely espresso brewed tenerly by my bride. Nice to write about the quiet. We are awaiting more guests from California, but we have no idea when they plan to arrive. It is frankly a little annoying that they have not made the effort to clarify their plans or their ETA, or if they are even getting here today. I know that we have no real plans for the day, but if we had we would have had to put them on hold, and besides, we have a lovely meal prepared for guests who may or may not make it. One call would have sufficed -- please let this be a message to all of you that it is only polite, if you've made arrangements with someone, especially long distance, to let them in on your progress so they can prepare. But that's just me. It does give me a few minutes to write about the weather.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One of the 47

Last night's debate seemed like a pissing contest between two boys squaring off in the school yard. Still, much came out of the meeting that proved informative but nothing that changed my opinion. Good thing, that, since I already voted. After the debate, PBS aired a special concerning race in America. Several diverse and inciteful people made comments and observations, some of which had not occurred to me before. Among them was the idea that white people for the first time see the world they are leaving for their children as worse than the one they inherited, while people of color have a much more optimistic view. This stems from the fact that the whites in America pretty much ruled the roost and had all the priviliges, while most minority families can look back one or two generations and see how things were then and how far they have come. With the country now 36% non-white, this strikes me as an element in the blending of America that I hope is taking place. Another sign of that blending is the feeling that the younger generation does not see color lines as sharply as we do. Their icons and heroes are more of a mixed bag, and though race and culture make up a huge part of a person's identity, all those factors seem to be cross-polinating. This is good, but scares quite a few of us who don't want to see it coming. Racism still exists, and we talk about it in couched terms behind closed doors. But we talk about it and some of us get downright loud, even nasty. One presenter in the special made a most interesting observation, that race and racism are a cover for class difference. I have often thought (and said) something similar, that racism is a smokescreen used by the ones in power to keep us at each other's throats so we don;t see the real issues. Divide and conquer. We use racism so we don't have to confront classism in America. We deny that there are classes here. The example the gentleman in the special cites is poverty: when we think about the poor in America we see Black faces. But poverty cuts across all racial lines. It has become a class in America. I am lily white. In fact, I'm an import from northern Europe, the whitest of lands. My parents were both Dutch, and though a Spaniard might have gotten into the mix along the way, I'm pretty much ethnically un-mixed. I live in a state which has very few people of color, and attitudes toward those people fall in line with white attitudes nationwide. I have no illusions. Anyway, I am a white dude in a white state, and of a certain age. Diane and I will earn just enough money in 2012 to stay above the poverty line. It looks like we may not even have to pay Federal taxes this year, making us part of the 47%. This after a lifetime of paying our fair share. In fact, due to an odd set of circumstances, in 2011 our tax rate was about double that which Mitt Romney paid. We are doing fine. Things are tight for us, as they are for millions of Americnas, but we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. The point is that we are not part of the upper class, the upper middle class, or the middle class. We are both well educated and well spoken and, racially, part of the majority, but fiscally we don't belong. As for savings, we don't have any. It is so very nice of Mitt Romney to offer tax breaks for middle class families saving up to $250,000. Most of the people I know have trouble saving $250. A good number of them had their savings invested in their homes before the bubble burst on GW's watch. There is a ruling class in America. Under that elite group there are several layers separated not by race but by income, education, living conditions. All too often racial minorities find disproportionate numbers from their ranks within the lower levels, but this is changing, and the winds of change usually foreshadow the storm to come.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing about Hitler

It feels so odd to stay away from my craft for so long -- to be too busy to write. I am at a point where the writing is so crucial to who I am that suspending it normally would lead me into a minefield of frustration, dispair and outright grumpiness. But no -- I'm having too much fun! Since May Di and I have had an almost steady stream of guests, including Erik and Annemieke from Holland, the McPalmer crew from California, Olaf and Anneke also from Holland (and their very first trip to America), Brenda and Bill from California with two cats in tow, and this upcoming weekend, if the weather holds, part of the de Bord clan. People want to come to Montana. Nobody ever wanted to come to Salinas. In the middle of that, we traveled to Oregon for niece Myra's marvellous wedding, at which we got to see all four of Diane's siblings and their significant others and many other friends and family. Busy having fun indeed! I did manage to finish the second draft of my novel between Dutch visitations, but I have not looked at it since September 1. The third and hopefully final draft awaits me, as well as plenty of material for several more long projects. Then there are the poems, short stories and articles I want to write. And my blogs, which serve as both a journal and an outlet for my political opinions, and which keep me in contact with all of you, call to me daily. I love being so busy! But, as I have said in the past, a writer will use almost any excuse not to write, and a retired person finds himself way too busy to do anything resembling work. It's the post season in baseball, which always distracts me at least as mong as my Yankees are in the running (not looking so good right now) and especially if the Giants are vying too (looking a little better after yesterday's win). Then there is Netflix, which allows Diane and myself to view entire TV series in a stream. Right now we're caught up by "Deadwood," with "Homeland," "Fringe" and "House" on the horizon and the ninth season of our favorite geriatric detective show, "New Tricks," finally available. And there's politics. You know my views. The debate is on tonight and I can't help but wonder of the President will be able to dislodge Mitt Romney from some of his falsehoods. I also can't believe, that any middle class American, or woman, or minority member, would vote against their own interests, but that is what it will take to elect Romney President. But we live in a diverse and fascinating country, wherein I have seen at least one Black male Mormon Republican. But I digress. I often do. It's fun, after all. I started writing about writing, and I hope to get back into full swing by World Series Game One and well before the anxious night of November 6. Writing about Adolph Hitler may alleviate some of my stress. At any rate, the creative juices are stirring, and there are many stories to tell.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Riding a Pale Horse

You had to know that I couldn’t stay away from politics for long. Second blog since my return from vacation and I’m already at it. This is the most important election in the history of the United States. Both sides say so. The choice is clear, they say. Each side claims theirs is the new direction, even though the incumbent wants to continue on the path that seems to be leading to recovery, albeit much more slowly than our instant-breakfast fast-food nation wants; while the challenger wants to return to the policies that created the problems we face in the first place. I don’t see change on the horizon. I don’t smell it in the air. This is the most important election – every election is the most important there ever was. The truth is, I suspect the super rich don’t care who is President of the United States, which is why they back both sides with their surplus cash. President Obama has been a big disappointment to me. Well, frankly, not that big because I did not expect that much. I saw him for what he was, a politician. As Rage Against the Machine co-founder Tom Morello commented on Thursday on “Totally Biased,” even Alan Cranston, much farther to the left than Obama ever thought of being, spent most of his time running for office, which meant begging for money from fat cats of all persuasions. On the other side, Romney is a liar. For example: how can we expect him to create 12 million jobs by outsourcing? And what exactly are the details of these so-called plans he keeps mentioning? Oh, you know the joke. How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving. It’s been refined further, of late: How can you tell when Romney or Ryan is lying? They use the word ‘values.’ Unfortunately, the louder someone screams a lie, the more likely it is to be believed; the more reasonably the facts are presented, the more likely they are to be ignored. I have no other explanation for how Romney could pull dead even with the President in the polls even for a single day. Obama and Biden may be moving us forward slowly, but at least they are moving us forward. We didn’t start the fire. When he took office in 1969, Vietnam became Nixon’s war. He did not end it as soon as most of us wanted, and he did other things to make us disrespect him as a man and as our leader, but it was a war he inherited from his predecessor, who happened to be a Democrat. When he took office in 2009, the burst bubble became Obama’s debt crisis. So far he has done nothing that I am aware of that should make us disrespect him, but he is resolving the crisis much more slowly than we want. Still, we have to remember that he inherited the crisis from his predecessor, who happened to be a Republican. It is not a failure of current policies but of previous ones that we have to consider when we vote. Not that it matters: millionaires elect millionaires. We’re just along for the ride, but Americans don’t think we have a ruling class. Still, there are only a handful of ways the common man can express his opinion about the course our country should take, and feeble as they might be, weak as each single voice might be, taken together we can still shout out a mighty message to our ruling class. Your message might be different from mine, and the choices we are given might be seen as picking the lesser of two evils, or at best, the better of two possible goods. I have voted. Have you?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Back in the Saddle

Hell, everyone! It's been a long while since I've written a blog. The cobwebs have settled in and it may take me a little bit of time to shake them off. No matter -- truth is, I have been having so much fun that I haven't had time to write, and not writing has not bothered me! I know, that seems to be a crazy idea, a writer who is not bothered by not writing, so not bothered, in fact, that he cannot seem to put a sentence together without so many negatives that it's not funny. Well, the writing itch is returning already, just one day since the last of our scheduled guests departed the homestead. I like the itch, and I like to scratch it. So much has happened over the last six or seven weeks that I don't know where to begin. There has been family visiting from Holland for whom we got to play tour guide especially in Glacier and Yellowstone. There was a magnificent and fun wedding down in Portland -- actually in a fantastc spot within the Columbia Gorge, and the drivin' drivin' drivin' we did to get there with a four and a half year old riding in the back seat. But I choose to begin with the most recent event. The cats came back! Anyone who knows us well knows that cats have been a part of our lives since, well, since we've had a life together, and for me before that. But when the maneur hit the oscillator and we found ourselves moving to Montana, cats could not come with us. Even though our cats all were geriatric or approaching it, we managed to place all but four in good homes when our dear friends Brenda and Bill volunteered to take on all four. One passed away before we left, and a second passed away while in their care. But Kevin and Jane remained with our friends since March 2011. We never expected that we would be in a position to take them back, but we found ourselves in a comfortable home actually larger than the one we left in Salinas. But getting the cats to us formed a major problem, until B and B decided to drive them all the way up to us! Which they did, arriving late Sunday night and staying until Thursday. Not only did the cats come back, but we got a warm, fuzzy, laugh-filled visit with two of our favorite people in the whole world. I am reminded that a man's riches are not measured in money, but in friendships. Even among the four-legged community.