Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Hobby

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
This summer I've begun collecting some Rex Begonia varieties. They seem to like the environment of my sun room, and they're really quite beautiful. I've yet to see one of them bloom, but that doesn't worry me. It's the foliage that wears their crowns.

The shape and texture of the leaves runs the gamut from palmate to oblate. Some even develop with a swirl worthy of any fossilized nautilus. And the colors!--every shade of green from chartreuse and pine to kelly and watermelon rind; there's chocolate and blood red, mauve, silver and brick, as well. They are spotted, striped and veined, even traced in their multi-colored designs. As they remind me of the wings of butterflies, I'm sure they display to both attract pollinators and give camouflage to the same in the wild.

I still love my geraniums and this has been a particularly good year for me and ferns; but orchids just need more than I can give, and bougainvillea? Beloved, but not a match....

Hence, "Hail the Begonia!"

Isn't It Ironic #2

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
On the cusp of the Republican convention, the Gulf Coast around New Orleans is again bracing itself for a mega-hurricane.

The symbolism and IRONY is so thick, it's really hard to knwo where to begin idealogically. It's NOT hard to start this post on any other level:

PRAY. Ask your God/s to send waves of grace, compassion, and providence to the people of the Gulf Coast.

As to the rest of it....Let's pretend we are Pat Robertson. That seems fair and amusing enough. Natural disasters are NOT natural but acts of God, after all. So what's bringing this one on at this time?

1) Is God angry at Republicans and therefore wants to kill innocents and sinners alike in Louisiana (once again) simply to disrupt their convention in St. Paul? It will work, but God probably already knew that.

2) Is God angry because Louisiana's incumbent Democratic senator has surged in the poles from in Jeopardy to safe status in retaining her seat?

3) Is God simply trying to give all the political leaders along the Gulf Coast a SECOND chance at compitency? What a generous God.

Or is this just another harbinger of our world gone logical in the realm of global warming? And God remains happy enough to let us stew in our own juices?


Saturday, August 30, 2008

The State of the House #01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
I realize that I've been sharing polls regarding both the race for the Presidency and the Senate races, but haven't said anything about the House of Representatives with its 435 members all up for re-election on November 4th of this year.

The map is one that I drew showing all of the congressional districts. They are red/pink if held by Republicans and blue/aqua if held by Democrats. The pink and aqua signify that the representative is a woman. The districts are so tightly drawn in major metropolitan areas, that I drew them in a larger scale and included them as insets. From Top Clockwise these are: Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Newark-New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Presently, Democrats hold 235 of the seats to the 201 held by Republicans (this includes the hybrid seat of the District of Columbia which is served by representative Eleanor Holmes-Norton, a Democrat). The most conservative estimates of the November 2008 election results gives the Democrats a net gain of 1 additional vote, while the most optimistic predictors look at a 111th House of Representatives with around 260 Democrats. The truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle, but in any event this is another Democratic year.

Many prognosticators create lists of vulnerable incumbents and too close to call races, and for the purposes of my own point-of-view, I'll go with the thinking of the Congressional Quarterly. CQ identifies 16 critical races. I will add 4 of additional interest to me to round off this list at 20. In parenthesis after the candidate's name I have place an (I) for incumbent or a (C) for challenger. When there are 2 "(C)" the seat is an open contest.

The top 20 most contestable seats in the House of Representatives are:

Alabama’s 6th District
Democrat Parker Griffith (C) vs. Republican Wayne Parker (C)

Alaska’s At-Large District
Republican Don Young (I) vs. Democrat Ethan Berkowitz (C)

Connecticut’s 4th District
Republican Christopher Shays (I) vs. Democrat Jim Himes (C)

Florida’s 16th District
Democrat Tim Mahoney (I) vs. Republican Tom Rooney (C)

Kansas’ 2nd District
Democrat Nancy Boyda (I) vs. Republican Lynn Jenkins (C)

Louisiana’s 6th District
Democrat Don Cazayoux (I) vs. Republican Bill Cassidy (C) and Independent Michael Jackson (C)

Minnesota’s 3rd District
Republican Erik Paulsen (C) vs. Democrat Ashwin Madia (C)

Nevada’s 3rd District
Republican Jon Porter (I) vs. Democrat Dina Titus (C)

New Jersey’s 3rd District
Republican Chris Myers (C) vs. Democrat John H. Adler (C)

New Jersey’s 7th District
Republican Leonard Lance (C) vs. Democrat Linda Stender (C)

New Mexico’s 1st District
Republican Darren White (C) vs. Democrat Martin Heinrich (C)

North Carolina’s 8th District
Republican Robin Hayes (I) vs. Democrat Larry Kissell (C)

Ohio’s 15th District
Republican Steve Stivers (C) vs. Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy (C)

Ohio’s 16th District
Republican Kirk Schuring (C) vs. Democrat John Boccieri (C)

Texas’ 22nd District
Democrat Nick Lampson (I) vs. Republican Pete Olson (C)

Washington’s 8th District
Republican Dave Reichert (I) vs. Democrat Darcy Burner (C)


Florida’s 13th District
Republican Vern Buchanan (I) vs. Democrat Christine Jennings (C)

Missouri’s 6th District
Republican Sam Graves (I) vs. Democrat Mary Jo Shettles (C)

Ohio’s 2nd District
Republican Jean Schmidt (I) vs. Democrat Victoria Wulsin (C)

Pennsylvania’s 3rd District
Republican Phil English (I) vs. Democrat Kathy Dalhkemper (C)

On this list the vast majority of vulnerable incumbents are Republicans. All of the at risk incumbent Democrats won their seats in their districts for the first time in 2006; or, as in the case of Don Cazayoux from Louisiana, in a special election since the 2006 general elections. The Democrats can be characterized as oddities OR if they repeat this time, harbingers of a blue-ing America. The Republicans are mostly established politicians whose fate this "blue-ing" may be about to determine.

And in the interest of full discloser, I am a Democrat; and I give to candidates who strike my fancy. In 2006 I gave $2,100.00 to 27 different candidates for the offices of Senator and Representative. All were running for open seats or against Republican incumbents. 18 of the 27 WON! 67% return on my meager investment seems pretty damn good to me. It's like gambling, but with a purpose that isn't about just me.

Of those on the current list, I gave to Nancy Boyda, Darcy Bruner, Don Cazayoux, Christine Jennings, and Nick Lampson in 2006. So far in 2008, I have made contributions to Darcy Bruner, Martin Heinrich, Larry Kissell, Ashwin Madia, and Victoria Wulsin. In addition, I have made contributions to Chris Van Hollen, MD 08; Jennifer Dougherty, MD 06; Al Franken MN Senator and Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential candidate. Thus far my giving is off the mark set in 2006, and so I am just getting started really exploring candidates and supporting their bids.

And that's the bottom-line. IF you believe that America needs a change of direction back toward the essential ideals that make us unique in the history of the world, then do something about it. Send a Democrat a dime!

Sunday Funny on a Saturday Night

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
If only it were actually a joke....

Presidential Race 2008 #11

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
First off, none of these polls reflects yesterday's announcement by John McCain of his running mate, Sarah Palin. The most recent poll reflected here is from the 28th.

With so many states in flux, you could argue that this week was Obama's by a landslide; however, 3 key states Florida, Virginia, and Ohio only tipped in his direction by a margin of 1 or 2 percentage points. having said that I am going to revert back to a list of states and their movements to recap the results.

Obama states that are hardening:
Oregon 7, New Mexico 5, Pennsylvania 21, New York 33, Delaware 3, New Jersey 15

Obama states that are softening:

Obama pick-up states:
Ohio 20, Florida 27, Colorado 9, Alaska 3

States that went from tied to Obama support
Virginia 13

McCain states that are hardening:
Missouri 11, Indiana 11

McCain States that are softening:
Arizona 10

McCain pick-up states:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympics Redux Silver

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A recent study showed that the middle medal is the most difficult medal to win. The Gold is clearly without baggage. Those receiving the bronze are left by-and-large humbled and grateful to have won anything in the company of such an elite group of athletes.

So the Silvers tend alone to perseverate over the fact that "but if," they would hold a medal that would make them #1.

And yet in the grand scheme, #2 is so amazing. And here are a dozen #2's to represent the dozens and dozens from the Beijing Olympics.

Top to Bottom/Left to Right:

And the SILVER MEDAL goes to:

Yusup Abdulsalomov of Tajikistan
Men's Wrestling
Freestyle 48 Kg

Vanessa Fernandez of Portugal
Women's Triathlon

Fernando Gonzalez of Chile
Men's Tennis

Hoang Ahn Tuan of Viet Nam
Men's Weightlifting
56 Kg

Emma Johansson of Sweden
Women's Cycling
Road Race

Eric Lamaze of Canada
Show Jumping

G. Khotso Mokoena of South Africa
Men's Track & Field
Long Jump

Catherine Ndereba of Kenya
Women's Marathon

Gundegmaa Ofryad of Mongolia
Women's Shooting
25 M Pistol

Diego Salazar of Colombia
Men's Weightlifting
62 Kg

Richard Thompson of Trinidad & Tobago
Men's Track & Field
100 M


Maja Wloxzczowska of Poland
Women's Cycling
Cross Country Race

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dem Convention Moment #2

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Oh, Hillary!

You hit the ball out of the ball park! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Take this speech on the road--I beg you. You need to campaign in Pittsburgh, Erie, Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, you need to rally the troops in Fort Smith, Little Rock, Stuttgart, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans: Grab their hearts in Tupelo, Jackson, Boluxi, Mobile, Montgomery, Tifton, Americus, Macon and Marietta! Make winning the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, of Arkansas and Louisiana, and of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia your goal and I'll bet you, you can secure at least 70 Electorial College Votes for the change you spoke of this evening!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dem Convention Moment #1

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Ted Kennedy's apprearance and words expressed the end of an era more completely and forcefully than anything else in this election.

He's an amazing man--faults, warts, and all, and....

It's a Barack world now.

Olympics Redux Bronze

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed the Beijing Olympics. I joked with a friend today that the IOC should reserve the right to host the games to countries that are Totalitarian regimes with no respect for human rights: London in 2012?--Pfff!--why not Saudi Arabia? And 2016 Let's go to Myanmar!

For no more than the spectacle has become an homage conceptually to the end of the era of Nationalism, and therefore, obsolete by any PC standard of the 2nd millennium--it also retains a charm. The beauty of the individual. A completely paradoxical value that was both present again in the mega stars like Bolt, Kexin, and Phelps; and lost upon most of us in the constraints of both our own nationalistic fervor and the sheer magnitude of covering the event.

So many winners so little time.

So here are 12 bronze medalists for the record. How many of them have you heard of? Before exploring the options, only the guy from Togo was known to me. A kayaker from Togo!?--Now, of ALL the Kayakers, in all of the countries, in all of the world, the 3rd BEST out of the surely millions of guys is a guy from Togo! THAT'S a story.

Top to Bottom/Left to Right:

And the BRONZE MEDAL goes to:

Paddy Barnes of Ireland
Men’s Boxing
Light Fly Weight 48Kg

Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo
Men’s Kayak/Canoe
Kayak K1

Natalia Falavigna of Brazil
Women’s Taekwondo
68 Kg and over

Mariya Grabovetskaya of Kazakhstan
Women’s Weight Lifting
75 Kg and over

Bruno Julie of Maritius
Men’s Boxing
Bantam Weight 54Kg

Tigran Martirosyan of Armenia
Men’s Weightlifting
68 Kg

Reiko Nakamura of Japan
Women’s Swimming
200M Backstroke

Rohullah Nikpai of Afghanistan
Men’s Taekwondo
Less than 58Kg

Stephanie Possamai of France
Women’s Judo
78 Kg

Maria K. Yulianti of Indonesia
Women’s Badminton

Andrejus Zadneprovskis of Lithuania
Modern Pentathlon


Shahar Zubari of Israel
Men’s Sailing
Windsurfer RS:X

Well done each and one of you and all those your image and data represent.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ex Nihilo

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
I saw this image and immediately thought of the sculpture over the central portal arch of the front of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. depicting the creation of human beings. Granted, this photo omits women... So no analogy is ever perfect!

Dem Veep Thoughts

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
What I recall from the primary race was how early on Joe Biden was seen as the most qualified of all of the candidates to serve as president, but he just lacked any of the critical attributes to get noticed. And saying this by no means is meant to besmurge any of the other wannabe's most especially Barack Obama who was my candidate early on in this process. It's more a reflection of the Dem's embarrassment of riches. And I had on my personal short list: Senator Christopher Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson...also members of the wannabe club.

So said, I honestly believe that choosing Joe Biden as his partner in the executive branch is an excellent choice. Too many of the others on the "short list" lacked experience. The selection of a woman would have been too risky...electing a man of mixed race parents will be enough of a paradigm shift after the past eight years of regressive, self-serving, and xenophobic governance.

And though I know that Hillary Clinton is a wonderful, capable leader in her own right, her very actions throughout the primary process right down to her ultimatums regarding her place in the agenda of the convention next week, demonstrate how IMPOSSIBLE it would be for her to play a supportive, second-fiddle role in Barack Obama's administration. I would argue that she is an excellent candidate for Majority Leader of the Senate, but I wouldn't even think that there is a role for her in an Obama administration worthy of her ego. A woman has already done all the good stuff. What fun is there in being Ruth Bader-Ginsberg? when Majority Leader would make her a Nancy Pelosi or Frances Perkins!

In his introduction as the Veep, Joe's credentials in foreign affairs, his affinity for working class/blue collar Americans, and his Catholicism have been emphasized. Now that's a sign of growth. The last time a Catholic set his sights on the white house, he had to promise America that he would maintain a separation of church and state at all costs and bent over backwards to de-emphasize his faith affiliation.

My favorite part of the speeches today from Springfield was the assertion that Joe Biden knows the names of every conductor on the Amtrak commuter train from Washington to Wilmington. And I'll bet he also knows how many houses he owns!

Final thought: Good choice Barack. My contribution has been sent via the WWW. Looking forward to getting the T-Shirt.

Presidential Race 2008 #10

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
On the cusp of the Democrat's Weeklong Infomercial a.k.a. Convention the movement in the polls is like leaves gently settling in the breeze. The candidates flipped Nevada for Indiana and for the first time since I started charting polls back in June Obama no longer has enough ECVotes to win, but neither does McCain (O sweet Virginia....)

Texas has firmed up for McCain, Minnesota for Obama. And New York has softened toward McCain. Nine states have polls within the margin of error, and of these, eight are on the side of McCain. It will be interesting to see how many of these states flip as a result of the mythical convention "bump".

Delaware remains firmly Obama's. That's a safe bet!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sweet Dreams

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
It's a new school year. For me that means that I'm just about ready to start my 25th year of being a public school teacher. OMG Where has all the time gone?

The pic is my night stand, the first thing I see every morning as I wack the alarm's sleep mode for 9 more precious minutes. It's the last thing I see at night as I grab the chain and turn off the lamp.

With a quarter century under the belt of my vocation, I have no regrets. In an era when we are told that most people will change careers 5 times in their life time, I am so thankful that my career (my calling) remains the same and is aging for me like a fine wine -- it gets better every single year.

In my present role, I am an extra-classroom educator in the role of Staff Development Teacher. It's my third year in this postion at my school.

In this postion, I support the staff in every way possible to ensure that they bring each student to their highest potential. I am most humbled and thrilled by the fact that I lead the charge in eliminating the gap between the success of our students without distinguishing between their racial, socio-economic, differently-abled, and non-english speaking status. I believe that no child should be left behind.

Today, the leadership of my school hosted a luncheon for the new staff members -- it's an annual pre-service event. This year we welcomed 11 new members to a staff of 110. After the eating, there was a time of presenting services from various members of the leadership like the Media Specialist and the Counselor. I went last.

I surveyed the glazed-eyes and made a decision to keep my remarks breif and focused (I do like, god-aweful everything and anything for the teachers -- my remarks alone could have usurped the entire hour.)

So I said to the new staff:

"You are getting tons of information about the students you are about to teach: Facts, figures, opinions, histories, anecdotes. No doubt you've already thought about some students who will present to you a particular challenge in this year. I would ask you to make this commitment: Decide to be their best friend, to be their catalyst, to make for them this year their BEST year ever -- to rock their worlds with your attention, your patience, your rigor, your grace, and your power. You are powerful. You have the power to rock worlds, fix hurts, and change lives.

And I am your greatest advocate, your first resource, your constant cheerleader. Go forth and have the most amazing year of your career!"

I hope you're as challenged and content with your jobs as I am.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Quintessential Quandries #1

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Innie or Outie?

Awe, what difference does it make?

What I'm Listening To #39

Originally uploaded by Randuwa Conor Oberst's first solo CD. Recorded acoustically while on a retreat in Mexico, "Bright Eyes'" lead singer gets even more if that were possible.

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Conor's vocals are raw and painful, vulnerable and joyful, ALL in a quintessentially American way. He will remind you of Bruce Springsteen, Rufus Wainwright, and John Cougar Melancamp. His lyrics tell stories and describe moments with a range that goes from the poems of Frank O'Hara to the folksongs of Pete Seeger. It's a great CD.

He should visit Mexico as often as he can....

Senatorial Races 2008 #03

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Two weeks have passed and the polls are giving the Republicans a reason to celebrate. Gordon Smith in Oregon has widened his margin over his Democratic challanger to 10 points. From too close to call, Oregon moves into "Remains Republican". Other margins have widened in favor of the Republicans in Maine, Georgia, and Mississippi.

The Democratic incumbent in Louisiana, Mary Landreiu, has also widened her margin just inside the "Remains Democrat" side.

Meanwhile, the race in North Carolina is tightening toward the Democrats, and the race in Minnesota is now so close that double digit votes could be the margin of victory if the election were held today.

And these are the doldrum days of August....wait till things really take off!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Presidential Race 2008 #09

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
In nine weeks of culling the polls, this is the tightest the race has been. While Obama still has a 5 point buffer in the ECVote, that should be little comfort given the fact that he's been over 100 point over the margin of victory needed.

McCain's advantage of being in the limelight pretty much on his own this week has translated into slim margins in Colorado and Nevada for a pick-up of 14 points. Polls have also soften in favor of McCain in Minnesota and Iowa.

Obama saw polls in Oregon and Washington firm-up for him, and the latest poll in Florida shows a softening in his favor, as well.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Presidential Race 2008 #08

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
This was McCain's week with only one state switching, it was a doosie -- Florida with 27 ECVotes.

Three states softened and all are in Obama's column; Oregon, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Stamp Collecting

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
I do. Isn't that a surprise!

The summer has given me time to update my collection. For people who don't bother with stamps, this series might seem exhotic.

Begun in 1999, the stamps are geered to highlight some of the most amazing places in the United States vis a vis natural beauty. Aren't they simply lovely in this collage? Created for over-seas consumption, they highlight many of the most amazing vacation sites that this nation have to offer. I have been to three of them: 1) 60¢ Mount Desert Island, Maine, 2) 69¢ Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia/Florida, and 3) 75¢ Great Smokey Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina.

The next issue is a 94¢ of the beach at St. John's U.S. Virgin Islands. I might audaciously suggest future issues for Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan; Mammoth Caves, Kentucky; and/or Arches National Park south of Moab, Utah.

Hoping you find time to explore your interests and pursue your collections.

Lego Factory Series #5

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
In the spirit of the Lego "Factory" series of architectual models I have completed my second offering. It's a firehouse based on images from New England, the Midwest, and the District of Colombia. As such it really doesn't looking like anything to be found in Manchester, New Hampshire, Georgia and Sheridan Avenues in D.C., or Madison, Indiana--but it draws aspects from all over the place.

In keeping with the Lego models, it is detachable in 5 parts. The main floor reveals a reception area, and desks for dispatchers and central control teams. The second floor features a rec room with a ping-pong table, a dinning room, a kitchen, and a sleeping room with four beds and six lockers. The top of the watchtower is basically an empty space. At least, for now. . . .

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Our Latest American Hero #122

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Army Spc. Ronald A. Schmidt, 18, of Newton, Kan.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 161st Field Artillery, Kansas Army National Guard, Kingman, Kan.; died Aug. 3 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries sustained Aug. 2 in a vehicle accident in Ashraf, Iraq.

“Newton Soldier Killed In Iraq”

A strong-willed, spontaneous car enthusiast with a heart of gold. That's how Specialist Ronald Schmidt's family and friends in Newton say they'll remember the 18 year old. Schmidt died over the weekend when his vehicle overturned in Iraq.

"Ronnie was not afraid of anything or anybody," Stacey Dennett said. Fearlessness drove Ronnie, as his friends called him, to enlist in the Kansas National Guard. He didn't go alone.

Daniel Dennett trained and bunked with Ronnie and the two got into plenty of trouble together. They were practically family.

"We thought of him as a grandson, as another one of our grandsons," Sherry Neuhring, Dennett's grandmother said. Ronnie had lived with Neuhring and her husband Larry, the past two and a half years.

Neuhring says she had just spoken with Ronnie Wednesday. "He was already telling me about the food he wanted me to fix him when he got here. That's why it was such a shock to see the lieutenant captain and chaplain at the door."

Ronnie died in Iraq Saturday when his humvee overturned. Daniel's mom, Stacey, says her son was with him.

"They loved each other like brothers. They got to say goodbye to each other," she said.

Sherry says, "He came off with this real tough persona, underneath he would have given you the shirt off your back."

They're traits he carried through the halls of Newton High and onto the wrestling mat. "He was not a person you could easily ignore. He had a number of friends. Busy social life. I don't know when he had time to sleep," Newton High Assistant Principal Roger Erickson said.

Erickson says Ronnie had a good, strong work ethic. He put in 40 hours a week at the McDonald's in Newton his junior and senior years.

Ronnie enlisted in the Kansas National Guard shortly after he graduated January 2007. "They were all supposed to come back. We were having a coming home party. Not like this," Stacey said.

His extended family now waits to hear the plans to say goodbye.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Summer Gardens 01

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Phlox. Phlox bursting like displays of fireworks. Pink, white, and every shade in between. I should do more to encourage the spread of this mid-summer beauty....

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Art I'm Seeing #31

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
Washington, D.C. has a near embarrassment of riches when it comes to museums. And many of them are free, which only adds to the fun. One that isn’t free is the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It’s $10.00 well spent.

Works currently on display include this one from the show “Something Pertaining to God: the Patchwork Art of Rosie Lee Tompkins”. The show was orginized by the Shelburn Museum in Vermont, and originally hung there.

The works are completely in harmony with those African American quilters from Mississppi collectively known as Gee’s Bend; however, this artist lived and composed her works in Richmond, California.

Ms. Tompkins (a pseudonym) was born to share croppers in Arkansas in 1936 and moved to California 1958 where she enjoyed two marriages, raised five children and worked as a practical nurse in convalescent care. In the late 1970’s she suffered a “breakdown” that resulted in symptoms consistant with schyzophrenia. It was a condition that remained with her for the rest of her life and deeply influenced both her drive to create and the process by which her creations took shape. Voices in her head competed against her fervent faith in Christ and prayer life.

The show gives you only a briefest of possible dips into the pool of an amazing artist. There is a photograph of Tompkins in the exhibit taken in 1986. You see a woman of 50 who could pass for 30 without a doubt. It’s the photo a woman whose life tells you of struggle and hardwork, but who’s face testifies to a quiet strength and grace.

What I'm Watching #156

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
You can’t always judge a DVD by its cover. This one highlights a slightly impish young man cradled in the arms of two other slightly older men in bed with the phrase, “when the cat’s away. . . “ Farce? Comedy? You might think so, I did. And nothing would be further from the truth.

The coverboy is the third wheel in an established relationship. He’s really like one more pet in these guys’ collection of tropical fish, hamsters, rabbits and feral cats. The story is that the couple is off to California for Christmas and our little hero, Ricky, is left to condo sit and care for the pets.

From the get go, Ricky, has a plan. He’s going to commit suicide under the Christmas tree on Christmas eve. And before he gets there, he’s open to hooking up and doing drugs as often as he can get either the guy, or the dope (or both). At some point during the week he begins a friendship with Blake, who is living in a nearly polar opposite world from Ricky. Blake is home from college and planning to celebrate the holidays with his two moms and extended family. Can Blake save the day?

The blurb on the back of the DVD case describes the film as “fearlessly raw and surprisingly tender” and I think that’s a fair summary.

Senatorial Races 2008 #02

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
It's been two weeks since my initial review of the senate races, and the polls have placed two more seats in the Democrat's column, Oregon and Alaska. Kentucky's incumbent is in a safer place, but the numbers have tightened in North Carolina. The latest Rasmussen poll puts the candidates in Minnesota 1 percentage point appart with 15% of the electorate undecided. The situation is much the same with the open seat in Mississippi.

In the senate 60 votes is the magic number; with Leiberman and Sanders caucusing with the Democrats their majority stands at 59. The perfect storm in the senate would have both Minnesota and Mississippi go to the Dems, thus making Leiberman irrelevant. But it's still early.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Costa Rican Memoir #9

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
It’s summertime, and while I’m not planning an actual trip to the beach this year, I find myself remembering one from many years ago. It’s a new Costa Rican Memoir, the last being offered in the summer of 2005. This one, in particular, is about a trip with my friend “S” (first mentioned in a post here on 16 JULY 2005). The first important thing to know is that S. is a native Costa Rican.

In Costa Rica there are many holidays. Not as many as, say, in France, but more than in the United States. It was the occasion of one of these holidays that precipitated my adventure with S. S. was always eager to show me his country, and I was more than happy to experience it; so when he purposed that we take advantage of the holiday by spending the weekend at a beach on the Pacific Ocean, I was right on board!

In order to get there, we would have to rely on public transportation, and I in my insightful naiveté, suggested that we purchase our bus tickets in advance. S. was simply appalled by this. He explained to me, his ignorant American friend, that obtaining tickets was no big deal. “Right,” thought I, but having been wrong on other occasions for reasons directly blossoming out of my cultural ignorance, I acquiesced. My mistake.

When the day arrived we met at my workplace, Colegia Métodista at the end of my workday (mid-morning) and with backpacks mounted upon our shoulders, headed toward the central bus depot. Arriving, I noticed how crowded the place was, and when S. finally had his turn at the ticket counter, his attempt to purchase our fare turned into an angry discussion with the vender. I approached and assured S. that there was no need to be angry; and in the end we purchased tickets that worked out like this:

1) We boarded a very comfortable luxury bus with service to an exclusive resort. This bus took us to the edge of the central valley where it dropped us off at a place designated as a pick-up site for the bus to Querpos. When we arrived we discovered that we were not the first people to have been sold this bill of goods. There were five hopeful holiday sojourners ahead of us. As we waited, our numbers swelled to more than a dozen, and then OUR bus arrived…

2) Which was a very unglorified, decommissioned Blue Bird school bus. It was clear that there would be no place to sit, and so we found our slots in the aisle, straddled our backpacks, grasped the safety bars above out heads and prepared for a very long trip to the Pacific. If I was ever tempted to feel sorry for myself, such emotions were completely obliterated by the elderly woman standing directly in from of me on the bus. She was all of 5 feet tall, carried a huge bolsa full of items acquired in San José. She flopped it down in the aisle, straddled it, grabbed the safety bars on the backs of the nearest seats, locked her knees like some amazing old mare, and endured the next 4 hours of bumps, jerks, bounces, and turns without any acknowledgement of peril let alone inconvenience. Men, mind you ~ nay, young, healthy, strapping men in the prime of their lives and virility had seats on this bus. But she didn’t. And no one gave a second thought to this: it’s called Machismo ~ and in the summer of 1984, Costa Rican men practiced it with the ease and non-chalance that I devoted to breathing.

As we made our way further and further into the mountains and further and further away from San José, the roads became more decrepit and thus more of a challenge for the school bus. The blessing was that from time to time we stopped and someone on the bus exited; however, most of these stops also permitted someone else to embark. And so it wasn’t until dusk was finally settling upon our journey and we entered the town of San Marcos were enough people left the bus to finally make way for S. and I to have seats.

What a blessing. To finally rest in a seat. As the bus pulled out of San Marcos we both felt so grateful. Barely had we time to savor the moment when the baby in the arms of the woman in the seat behind us convulsed, and then vomited all over S.’s backpack! I swear to you, it was such a bizarre and yet perfect metaphor for poor S’s response to my request that we plan ahead. In my youthful vengeance, I burst into laughter while he exploded into invective and assaulted the poor woman demanding from her a restitution that she was no more able to provide than to comprehend . . . baby’s vomit, get over yourself rich boy!

In the end, S. was left to sop up and swab off his belonging as best he could. The sun had set during the episode, and the bus was headed down the mountain toward the flickering lights of the port of Querpos.

When we finally chugged to a stop, we grabbed our backpacks and headed toward the National Park known as Manuel Antonio. In town, we purchased a loaf of bread and some oranges for breakfast. I had been to Manuel Antonio once before and so I knew that to enter the park you had to cross a shallow stream; however, in the glow of the moonlight, it was clear that the stream was more substantial in it’s width than I recalled. But I assured S. that it was not a big deal, and we should cross the water to enter the park…. Little did I know.

The tide was fully in, and the crossing was a veritable river. As we crossed there was literally a point where we had to hold our backpacks over our heads to keep them dry with water swirling around our armpits. Once on the other side, we found a place on the beach and pitched our tent. We stripped off our clothes and hung them on a line strung between to nearby palms to dry, and thankfully entered the tent for one of the most restful nights of sleep either of us had ever had.

In mid morning, an American ex-pat in park ranger garb visited our site to obtain from us the park fee (15¢ per day). He asked us how and when we arrived and when we told him about crossing the “river” at night, he faded to an even paler shade of white. It seems that at high tide, the little estuary is a favorite feeding zone for sharks – we missed the warning signs.

Fair in is fair out! I had S. on the whole bus booking thing, but now he clearly had me on the shark-infested river crossing. Like what the hell could I say about that? My bad?

The next two days were spent in restful play. We read books in the shade of palms. We swam in the crystal waters of the Pacific Ocean. We slept in my tent in the platonic embrace of friendship. We were so young, so happy, so good to one another. My experiences in Costa Rica back then and more recently in Nicaragua have taught me that men in Latin America are by an' large so much more at ease in their own skins and with one another.

Presidential Race 2008 #07

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
A relatively quiet week for polls with none issued from Sunday through Wednesday, but the end of the week gave both candidates something to be thankful for. McCain saw the numbers strengthen in Mississippi and Montana moved into his column from Obama's, if just barely. McCain's numbers softened in Ohio and the two candidates split two of the three tied states: McCain took Missouri while Obama came out on top in Florida, a position in the polls in the Sunshine state that he last held in early June. McCain picked up 14 EC Votes, and Obama posted a net gain of 24 EC Votes.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Military Life

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
There's a wonderful article in the August 4th issue of The New Yorker magazine about Army Major Alan Greg Rogers (1967 ~ 2007). “A Soldier’s Legacy” exposes the life of a man who exemplifies what it means to be a model American soldier. Alan began his life as an orphan in NYC, as a teenager moved to north central Florida with his adoptive mother. He was devoted to both of his adoptive parents.

He was devoted to God. He was devoted to his friends; friends that he seemed to make easily and friends who felt a very special connection to this son of a Trinidadian domestic who was raised by the good Rogers.

And he was man who's deep and devoted friends didn't always know or even imagine that one or another were part of Alan's life. You see, Alan had friends who knew he was gay and friends who didn't.

The New Yorker article brings together a host of remembrances and reactions from his friends, and the single most interesting thing is how the idea that a highly regarded, decorated, promoted army officer, an ordained Christian minister, and a gay man can all be one and the same person. But isn't that lack of imagination at the very heart of what homophobia depends upon?

Major Rogers was honored by articles in the Washington Post and on NPR (NPR chose to feature his story as a way of honoring the 4,000th casualty in Iraq.) Both organizations were aware of his sexuality and BOTH decided to make no mention of it. And we're talking about a man who in his position as a minister participated in same sex unions, and received an award from an organization of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender veterans. He was working on a master's thesis at the graduate school of Georgetown University on the effects of DADT (don't ask don't tell) on military recruitment and retention. So while in life, his commanding officers weren't aware of his sexual orientation; his best friend was, as were dozens and hundreds of others.

In the end, the article quotes a letter that he had written to his best friend, but hadn't had time to send before his was killed by an I.E.D. "My only regret is that I have never found that special one to grow old with and watch the sunset with."

I highly recommend this article to everyone with an open heart.

Random Quote #93

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"The trouble with the profit system has always been that it is highly unprofitable to most people."

~ E. B. White, 1899 - 1985

What I'm Reading #11

Originally uploaded by Randuwa
"Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds" is the latest collection of poems by Angela Ball. Ms. Ball teaches English at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her poems are quirky, intimate, insightful little portraits.

A lazy summer afternoon, a glass of lemon ade, the gentle sway of a porch swing, and this collection of poems ~ ah, good times.