Friday, February 11, 2005

A Poem

Inertia, by Bob Ferrer

Inertia is like ...
... what I mean is, inertia ...
... what was I saying? ...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

One More Thing

The report to the Senate by Charles Duelfer—on the complete lack of WMD stockpiled in Iraq before the U.S. invasion—is only outdone in its incredibility by Bush administration officials who state that the report is the basis for attacking Saddam Hussein.

I can only say that in speaking the spin they do, navigating the truth through a slippery waterslide, whose path is only downhill, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have become the caricatures they've drawn for others not to elect: trial lawyers.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Dancing on the Fence

Political Interlude

A friend and I passed a couple of emails to each other, this was my portion of it. Mind you, I'd be happy to see this President's administration gone. I think his war with Iraq did little more than plant the seeds of a newfound American market in a dry land.

Anyway, when she invited us over to watch the debates, I sent this response:

"To be honest, I think I’d rather do something fun with you guys than to watch George Bush on television. It’s a little disheartening. He’s a good debater, and unless he screws up, or N. Korea sets off a nuclear bomb, or insurgents in Iraq kill off the Iraqi government, or the price of oil tops $45/barrel [which it did since I wrote this], or Colin Powell jumps ship, or Donald Rumsfeld resigns, or there’s another terrorist attack on US soil, or manufacturing revenues drop in September, or job numbers go down in key states, or somebody goes on a killing spree with an assault rifle, or Florida actually plans to count every vote … I don’t think anyone is going to change his or her mind based on the debates."

My friend assured me that Kerry will win.

And it's not that I don't want to believe that, or that I'm a doomsayer or cynic. I do believe that we deserve better leadership, and personally, I don't want a President with whom I can sit and have a beer. That's a quality? Take a good look at your friends the next time you're out drinking with them. Does it ever occur to you that you would want any of them to run the country? Call me a conservative, but leaders are supposed to inspire, to show vision, to persuade and to succeed—and not just for their base constituency.

As I mentioned to my friend, I think the disappointing truth is that because half of the country wants him, and the other half doesn’t, America is rudderless: a country with no clear idea of its moral structure or place in the world (a lead country, an isolationist, or a member of the world community). I am frustrated because it seems no one on either side (myself included) wants to work with the other. I’ve always thought that the best idea comes from listening to lesser ones. I don’t always practice it, but I think that should take place openly in politics.

I will most likely watch/listen to the debates, because it is the only place to hear the candidates give a go at speaking frankly—but not necessarily honestly. Unfortunately, rhetoric doesn't have the grace and power of persuasion it used to have. It's been replaced by the silly soundbite.

Sometimes I think the answer to the country’s problems is to do more art. Art gets better during these times. Art creates movements. Art gets noticed. A handful of corporations may control the pop channels of media, but now the internet offers more artists and audiences accessibility. For example, there’s a website that will help you can create a book—a printed and softbound version—that's affordable. My friend Barak is doing that with his photography. I don’t know if he’ll sell any, but I think he’s got the right idea.

Let's make art. Let's build a movement.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Man's Place in the Kitchen

I had drinks the other night with some men. We sat around the kitchen table, emptying our host's wine cellar of his cheap stuff. Now I don’t know what your experience is, but discussions with men—especially over drinks—is not one of my favorite pasttimes. There's always a chestbeater in the crowd, which through some testosteronic telepathy prompts us other men to beat louder, drink more and be, well, manly.

Once, the day after a rather large Thanksgiving dinner at my friend's family home up north, the women and kids decided to see a matinee, leaving the men behind. It was noon, so the four of us opened a bottle of champagne and sat down. We passed quickly through the initial acquainting politeness—the weather, last night's dinner, personal living status, and recent travels—and then we opened another bottle.

One guy told the story of getting pulled over in Mexico by the police for no apparent reason and how he narrowly was able to leave without trouble nor a word of Spanish. Another man then relayed his story of standing in a foreign airport unaware that he had lost his passport until the ticket counter asked for it, which he then somehow was able to get on the plane and make it back to America. Another man told of his lightspeed trip through the hills of Berkeley, carrying his girlfriend on his motorcycle, the police unable to catch up until they pulled over to admire the vista. Even then, no ticket was handed out. We went round and escalated to tales of near-death by natural disaster, whether by fire, earthquake, tornado or lighting strike. You would have thought Hell, although a place to avoid, is just off the freeway between Stuckeys and the Howard Johnson's. When the champagne ran out we switched to white wine. We grunted and guffawed, howled and gasped, and slapped each other's backs. By the time the women had come home, they found men surrounding the kitchen island, and dead center was the carcass of last night's turkey, looking worse for wear.


It was truly a man's day, but later that night as we all sat to watch reruns of an old British comedy and allowed the alcoholic buzz to clear, I grew restless and left the room to get some fresh air. I now realize that my uneasiness then had to do with the fact that I had not contributed to the storytelling earlier that day. I felt embarrassed to have never challenged a cop, or taken a couple of ignorant steps in the right direction to avoid falling rock.

A month later, I quit my job and headed to the Philippines for a couple of months. Sure, it was a chance to see extended family again and explore a new country, and I had already been toying with the idea of traveling. But there is nothing as personally affecting to a young man as he stands among men with their trophies, helping himself to another glass of wine to keep up—and to dull the prodding of self-doubt, tucked away in his back pocket like an empty wallet.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Daily Bread

Once, as I was getting ready to call it a night, my girlfriend—already in bed and reading a book—looked up at me with panic and said, "Isn't it frightening? I mean I'm actually starting to think about what it would be like if we have kids."

She spat the words out, as if she had just mistaken shoe polish for dark chocolate. I was speechless, being 24 years old at the time, I hadn't given kids much thought, much less having kids with Liz. But this came from a woman whose other memorable epiphany of us as a couple went something like, "I always thought I'd end up with a famous writer or someone with an enormous creative talent."

We only lasted nine months together, but she had touched on a favorite anxiety of mine.

I was 18 and living in the summer of Michigan, the night I took a friend to the Farmington Civic to see "Amadeus." Before that movie, my cinematic evenings included the likes of "Beverly Hills Cop," "Silverado," and "The Empire Strikes Back," all good fun for a teenager. But that night at the Civic, I walked out with two questions that are still with me.

Could I ever throw a crucifix into the fire?
You have to have been raised Catholic to answer that one. I'm sure Protestants could answer it, too, but Catholics—they don't stop with the cross as their symbol of faith. They nail a figure to it. Why Catholics couldn't choose a happier personal moment in Jesus' life, I may never fully appreciate. How about the time when he kept the wine flowing at the dinner celebration in crisis? Talk about a lifesaver. That message alone surely resonates in today's world. Why, Catholics would have embodied the phrase "the life of the party."

Anyway, as a child, I would hop from bedroom to bedroom comparing the crucifixes that hung over each bed. I would stare into the small faces of Jesus, looking for that special, minute detail that captured his suffering on the cross. As a present for attending my first confession, my parents brought me to a Christian store to pick out a new crucifix—something to help nurture my religious worship. I came home with a glow-in-the-dark Jesus on a wooden cross. The figure was translucent with unpainted features, so I could make out no detail on Jesus' face; no eyes gripped shut to block out the pain; no jaw slacked from anguish; no trace of suffering. But at night I would lie in bed, staring up to the green glowing crucified figure, whose luminescence faded as I fell asleep.

Now, because I no longer practice the faith, I could say, sure I can throw it into the fireplace. Just don't ask me to do it. When I pause to think about the crucifix, that thing is tied to my childhood, my parents, every Sunday between the years 1971 and 1986, the Philippines—so many parts of my life are nailed to that crucifix as well. It's like my appendix. I haven't been using it all that much, and I can live without it. It's not an elective surgery, but if I ever did take it out, folks who still have one would notice the scar and try not to stare or point.

Am I Mozart or Salieri?
All modesty aside, I lean toward Salieri, but I’m holding out for Mozart in the end—the depth of his creativity, the ease in which his art flowed from within himself out, like turning a spigot and letting the water flow. My talent usually involves digging in a few places for a well, rigging a pump and swinging a strong left arm.

I don’t mind the struggle. It’s frustrating at times, of course, but I do like the work. If anything, the struggle is a reflection of what I need in my life, what I often forget or from which I get distracted. I pick up new hobbies, new interests, I read the headlines off the internet, and I forget why I started this blog. I know the facets I choose to focus on are important. They all offer more to me for the effort I give to them: A marriage for love and foundation; a job for a means for living; a bike for air and health; a piano for hand-aural coordination; landscaping for a connection to basic nature; woodworking for meditation and manifestation; and Ripley and Jojo for responsibility.

I have the pieces from without. I need to just throw them all into the dry well and start pumping.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Amtrak Trek

I’m on the Amtrak heading for Bakersfield. I’m punching out my next blog entry, trekking through the Central Valley, and every so often my wireless card pops up and says an internet connection is available. I look up, outside the window and see cornfields, empty farm equipment lots, and irrigation pools. Where is the connection? Signals come and I pass rusted barns, tall narrow cypresses, propane storage tanks, country roads, box cars and hay stacks 10 bales tall—no office parks, no downtowns. The few housing subdivisions and mobile home parks offer no connection.

My guess: somewhere, in the middle of farmland, SBC or AT&T has thrown a line out to a main house of an almond tree farm or vineyard, and someone is out in the field in his or her pickup or John Deere with a laptop, on a wireless, emailing buyers, paying the farm’s mortgage, searching for cheaper tractor parts, or maybe just surfing Amazon, Grainger or porn.

Do you suppose that planting palm trees on your farm in the middle of the Central Valley was at one time a sign of wealth or considered fashionable? Once before, driving up Highway 99 I’d see farms with driveways lined with cypresses, palms and eucalyptuses. I understand that grand gesture, but one or two? They’re over 60 feet tall, dwarfing the house it stands beside. It must be a landmark, for strangers asking for directions. “… The bunkhouse? Just head toward that palm tree—that has no business being out here in this arid land, and make a left.”

I buy mineral water from the snack car. Spartacus Natural Spring Water, to be specific. It’s bottled at the source in Bulgaria. Shooting through the middle of California, errant internet signals from lettuce fields, lonely palms from the tropics, water from Bulgaria.

One thing is for sure. After five hours on the train, driving through the Central Valley and seeing impending crop after impending crop, I find it hard to believe that any Californian could ever go hungry. I know you have to work for it. I know, but look: if, for example, we agreed that one of the top five political priorities in California included that no one in California should ever go hungry, wouldn’t that drive us to the root of every issue? What if every political candidate in California ended his stump speech “because no Californian should ever go hungry.” You folks running for a state office, try it out.

“We need to strengthen education in this state. Education leads to opportunity. And that’s what we need. Because no Californian should ever go hungry.”

“We need to attract more businesses to California. Businesses create opportunity. Because no Californian should ever go hungry.”

You could probably attach that to any issue, any platform. Who would argue with you? “No, no. I think some Californians should never go hungry.” See? You’d be winning in no time. After a year of hearing that on the airwaves, and seeing it in the paper and on billboards, we would take it to be true. Churches would stand by you. Hollywood would stand by you.

I know, it’s a tough, complex road to office, with the food-stingy people standing in your way. At best, they’d be willing to settle for “Every Californian deserves a Snickers.” But if this worked in California, other states would adopt the priority as well, and soon we’d be saying that every American should never go hungry, and then countries would find us unique again, grow fond of us again, and respect us again. The road is long, but the reward is grand, and if you ever need some inspiration, just take Amtrak through the Central Valley.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

DramaPresident

Okay, so the 9/11 commission just disclosed that, on the day of the World Trade Center attacks, Vice-President Cheney had stated that under the president's authorization, he had ordered the military to shoot down any hijacked commercial airlines deemed hostile. The President, at the time, had been en route to a safe location, via his plane. Earlier, he had been visiting a Florida elementary school—reading a book to a fifth-grade class—when he was notified of the incident. President Bush apparently had sat for 10 minutes or so with the class, before taking action. Unfortunately, amid all the confusion that day, by the time VP Cheney called the order in, it was moot because by then the four planes had already been down.

So here's the thing: It's Air Force One that the President is on, right? It's a warroom in the sky, right?

I can't help but wonder what Harrison Ford would have done in this situation. Upon hearing of the event, he would have quickly, but politely, exited the classroom—perhaps leave a secret service agent behind to both finish the story to the kids and offer a sense of security to the school, like leaving a knight behind to protect a small village.

Once in the air, he, the Vice President, cabinet members and a few generals would be on video conference. Hawks and doves back in Washington hashing out what action to take. And just before the argument turns into a full-on brawl, the President, who had been quiet and attentive, breaks the air into silence. "We're going ahead," he says, "we have no choice."

A beat later the Vice President stands, and snapping his fingers to an aide, says, "Yes, Mr. President. I'll make the call—"

"—No, Mr. Vice President." Harrison Ford levels his eyes at the man on the screen. He holds his stonecast face for a moment, then softens and says again, "No, Dick. I'll make the call."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

If Only Gilda Had It Right, "Voilins on TV"

Is anyone else taking the last few weeks of world events personally? I only ask because a Senator on Capitol Hill questioned the attention the prisoner treatment in Iraq has been getting, since after all, they are the enemy (and the all the evil behind that word). My reaction to date has been to ask everyone not immediately involved to please retreat from the media for a couple of days, regroup and come back with a fresh perspective.

Noodle's Retreat
At our old house, we had a roommate, Ellen, and her two dogs, Morgan and Noodle. Together with my dog, Ripley and later, Tyler, we were a household of three adults, four dogs and two cats. Now, overall, everyone got along fine. Among the dogs there were a couple of food issues and ranking clarifications, far more loud than anything else, but dogs are dogs, and they have to settle things in their own language. Tyler was usually the catalyst. Once he decided he wanted to be number 2 behind Ripley, but Morgan wouldn't have any of it. Tyler became cocky, and Ripley – then Morgan – sent a clear message as to the pecking order, and Tyler found his place close to the ground between my workbench and table saw. When the dust settled, though, Noodle was nowhere to be found. The two-year-old pitbull mix – rescued from an military base after her owners were arrested for running dog fights – hated violence. She found refuge in Ellen's bedroom until it was safe and quiet. Needless to say, she was at the bottom of the pack.

As I said, I would want all my friends to hide from the news, but hiding does little good. Make no mistake, the moment America decided to create a foreign policy as a colonial power, we are forever linked in world affairs. I may wince at the news and take a bike ride to escape, but that doesn't stop somebody in another country who's my age, man or woman, from getting caught in the middle of an American-related conflict, from getting arrested or kidnapped, tortured, raped and/or killed.

Then I take a glance at the violence in the United States. I realize that I have desensitized myself to what happens in my community. The violence here, I think, has stemmed largely from desperation, poverty and hate, and to a degree I've bought into the pervasive stereotypes within the mass media messages that inevitably perpetuate violence. I've put standardized faces to strangers in stores and on sidewalks, to people of whom I know nothing. And I have quiet, steady, mental bouts, wrestling the preconceived notions down to allow an individual to fill his/her empty image in my head. It frustrates me to no end. I'm not an atypical person, so I'm sure folks do it to me as well.

"Arghhhh!"
That's what I would love to hear from our leadership. I'm not seeking a sign of weakness to exploit, but rather a nonpolitical collective sigh of exasperation from the inability to transcend violence. Could you imagine a President saying, "Let's dig out the roots and end the spread of violence." Could you imagine a police force not carrying guns, but rather lesson plans for kids or classifieds for the unemployed, or hold degrees to carry out spot arbitration? Could you imagine the US military made up of engineers and teachers and farmers, and our bases abroad become learning centers? Instead of dreaming of landing on Mars, we could be dreaming about responsible world business culture. I wouldn't think the President silly for thinking these kinds of thoughts aloud. Someone with money, someone with ingenuity, someone with ambition – any of whom are just as exasperated with the current situation – might take him seriously.

Another night, Tyler showed his cockiness again. He began to stand his ground again with Morgan, and I quickly hushed him before it escalated, to keep order our private world. This time, though, Noodle did not leave room. She was on the staircase above the fray and ready for a quick exit, but she let out a low growl a beat after me, as if to say, I have had enough.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Passing On

I passed out the other day.

Our friend Arlynne needed help packing because the movers were coming the next day to take her boxes and furniture to her new place. Having just moved ourselves and grateful for her help, we thought we would reciprocate. Only I just purchased a bike and was only too happy to ride and meet my spouse, Venée, at her apartment. Twenty minutes later, after riding on a very slow incline and walking up the stairs to Arlynne's kitchen for a bottle of water, I sat down. I felt nauseous and I was breathing hard.

I admit, I do not exercise regularly. I had worked in a cabinetshop for a couple of years, but I've been behind a desk for a several months, and my muscle has since flattened to flab. I am not overweight, though, just out of shape.

Sitting in that chair in Arlynne's kitchen, my heart beat against my rib cage, just as it did when I ran the 400 meter race in middle school. The time it beat the hardest was when I came from behind. I didn't win, but I was racing for third. It was all that was left, and so I wanted it. The last 20 meters passed the track's grandstand. It was a meet among early teens and gathered little attention, but in the last 20 meters, two dozen in the stands could deafen a young boy's mind. As I came from behind that crowd grew around me, and when I crossed the finish line I knew it was my race. Hands on hips and gulping for air, my heart confirmed it all.

Sitting in the kitchen, my heartbeat began to slow. And when it slowed past the point of what I knew to be normal, I remembered reading a chapter of Evan Connell's Mr. Bridge, when Mr. Bridge himself woke up in the middle of the night because he felt his heart stop briefly, and he then realized his own mortality. It happens late in the book, and it's not the moment itself that is poignant. It is that moment coupled with everything else that you read about this man's unflattering life, and the choices and beliefs he made and kept.

I rested my head against the wall behind me. I felt my heart calm itself to silence. And I thought, this is what it's like.

Friday, April 16, 2004

I Just Filed

Don't you look at me with those holier-than-thou eyes. I don't revel in the notion that I'm giving the universe just another reason to jot another chit on my scorecard of Karma. I'm not like this. I'd like to think that in my tax return history I average a March filing. My self-perception is one who would not want to rush the process of filing in January and finger others for their lackadaisical, errant ways, but one who contemplates the nature of filing, who mulls the prospect over with intention and style.

Mine is an attitude, similar to cutting the Thanksgiving turkey. Dinner table eyes upon me, carving knife and large fork present—how they revel the moment beyond my choice of discreet wine, my potatoes scalloped in basil, onions and heavy cream, rather than boiled and mashed, dolloped and drowning in gravy. Eyes upon me as I stand at the head, sipping from a glass, making casual witty talk with the guest closest to me but in earshot of a couple others, especially you. Sooner than later, someone will prompt me, and I will pick up the knife, but not before I finish the anecdote's point. And not before I see my point of entry, my way in, my path toward grace. And there we sit, before the feast, enjoying each other's company. In an while, our favorite friend will chat up the topic of the evening. Through groans and tones of opinions and puns, we'll carry forward to a night we'll remember fondly the next morning over coffee and sunlight. Just as soon as I take up the knife and make the first cut.

That is how I want to approach my tax return: with a sharp methodical knife. But tonight, with excuses beneath my breath and truths behind my excuses, I bludgeoned the beast with a dead-blow mallet and a wearied, panicked, sobered mind.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

There Are Ads on My Blog

There are ads on my blog. Now, I know that the reason I'm getting this space for free is because I agreed to having ads on my blog, but have you seen the one up above? Is it the one about the health issues related to smoking and secondhand smoke? Or the one about quitting smoking? Is it even working?

Oh, makers of Google, I love you guys, but please, please, please, don't take key words from my writing and make assumptions about which ads are appropriate to show; this isn't the smoking section. Have studies now shown that talking about smoking is cancerous to my health?...

Gosh, it's a little creepy, huh. To think that a word on my blog could set off a program in a server to insert a related banner ad, why I could utter anything, say "bad credit" or "refinancing" or ummm... what's the other popular reason why people surf the web...

Oh well, for now, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Let's enjoy the rest of this wonderful warm evening.

Bob

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Bush's Best Play: How Bush could have orchestrated democracy in the Middle East, make friends everywhere and put a (wo)man on Mars

I told myself in starting this that I would not be delving into politics, but gosh, sometimes when I'm read the AP wire off the internet, the answers come to me like bats to baseballs. I've got the plan to get democracy (or something like it) in the Middle East. Here it is: We develop alternative energy resources. We get off oil for good.

I know. You're saying, Bob, well, duh, we should do that anyway, but what does that have to do with the Middle East?

I'll get to the second part later, but first the first part. Well, yes, duh. But when I hear people talk about getting off fossil fuels the reasons are always connected to the ozone layer, the environment, global warning, increase of incidence in asthma cases, air quality, the list goes on. And to that I say, well, duh. I mean, I quit smoking because a powerful voice told me it was a nasty, addicting habit with the power to kill me, kill the people around me, kill, kill, kill. But I had an equally powerful voice in my head telling me, Bob: you're spending $5 a pack. That's about $1,200 a year. That's dining out 60 times. With wine. That's 98 movies, with popcorn, or at least 160 hours in the video arcade or 363 mornings sitting at Peet's with a cup of coffee and a cheese danish.

Phase 1: AlterEnergIn
You get my point, though. I get off cigarettes and I'll find other ways to better my life in otherwise superficial. I've got money I didn't count on, money I didn't know I had. That's how we need to be couching the Alternative Energy Initiative (AlterEnergIn). We need to draw huge, eight-story pictures of oil dependence like an ultra nasty cigarette habit. Stop linking fossil fuel to the environment. Get the churches to do that. They tout being the moral compasses of the country anyway, so put them to work. Instead, link--no, chain fossil fuel to personal health. Let's get Congress to put Surgeon General labels on every gas pump, with dinnertable quotables, like "WARNING: Surgeon General states that automobile smoke is known to cause asthma." Get all the bicyclists and pedestrians to cough loudly and glare at the driver whenever a car pulls up to an intersection. Patronize only the Starbuck's cafes without drive-thru windows. Get popular detective characters on television to quit driving their sports cars and classics and switch to Toyota Priuses and Honda Insights--just like the way Sonny Crockett quit smoking on "Miami Vice." And we air commercials. First, A gorgeous woman in an EV mocks John L. Smith ("L" is for "Loser") who's in at the gas station, his pants wet from getting backsplashed by the pump's nozzle.

Most of all, we show ads of people buying everything. Clothes, CDs, drinks, condos, golfclubs, vacations, wedding receptions, baby strollers--all because of the money saved by giving up gas. Every Walmart, Target, Pottery Barn and IKEA all would change the name of their usual sales to "Gas Sales." Amazon.com servers would be swamped. Consumer confidence could never be stronger. Wall Street would be a buzz, screaming "Buy!" in every pit, but one.

Phase 2: "Is that a fuel cell in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
We start strapping solar panels to everything. The houses, the cars, the microwave ovens, the daquiri blenders, the cell phones, the laptops, the office buildings, and the television sets. If it plugs into the wall or moves on wheels, we panel it. Every boxcar and every caboose. Every rest stop, restaurant and motel beside every freeway. Every grocery store, drug store and convenience store. Every Burger King, McDonald's, Arby's, Jack-in-the-Box, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's, Domino's, Round Table, KFC, Taco Bell, Roy Rodgers, A&W, Ben & Jerry's, Baskin Robbins, Denny's, Applebee's, Chili's, Chevy's, and IHOP.

We attach wind turbines atop every skyscraper in cities like Chicago and San Francisco--especially along Market Street in the Castro District. If you've been there, you know what I mean. We plug all the treadmills, all the weight machines, the rowing machines, every spin class in every gym in every city directly into generators and into the grid. We could attach tiny generators to keyboards, and the kinetic energy of typing could help power the CPUs and monitors. Then we could tell employees that the faster they type, the better their computers would work, the more work they would get done. That would feed right into the culture. Think of the productivity!

We do all this, and Europe would do it, as well. Japan would, too. In fact, every country that signed the Kyoto Treaty would, they already found religion.

Phase 3: The Happy Ending
The result is less dependence on oil imports from the Middle East and other oil rich nations. We don't have to cut it off completely; that would be a pipe dream. I'd say at least by two-thirds. What would they do then? Their supply up, their demand down, their profits dwindling, there would be no place else to focus but inward. So America would then say, hey, Saudi Arabia; hey, Venezuela; hey, Iraq; hey, Alaska: You know, we've got a surplus of gas pumps and gas generators and other oil-based technology. With all your oil, you could use it and build some pretty good infrastructure. Gas would be almost free for every citizen. All the auto companies would sell you some pretty good cars, cheap, because that portion of the market has fallen. (But demand only the most energy efficient motors; don't fall for the B grade tobacco crap.) Advisors from countries like, China, Japan and Germany would come in and say, change is inevitable, don't get caught up in dogma.

Armed with an abundance of electricity, heating oil, and energy to run industry, the Middle East becomes an economic tour de force. Cultural issues eventually wane to a waxing moon of a new goal: Beat America at its own game. Now we've got a new trading partner and competitor with which to better each other.

Bush Could Do It
The Democrats could do it, too, but it would take them longer. About 16 years in office longer. George W. Bush could do it because he's got all the right connections. Hello--oilman in office. He's in the right place at the right time. And he's had the right turning point: 9/11. He could cater to his ego big time--I mean George Washington-Abraham Lincoln-Winston Churchill-FDR big time--and say, my God, we need to retaliate for what happened (which we did in Afghanistan) and now, let's fix this once and for all. Let's lessen the gap between poverty and prosperity, between uneducated and knowledgeable, between ignorant and informed. Let's find a really good reason for putting my face up on Mount Rushmore.

Bush could do it in two terms. It's a push now, yes, because his first is almost over and he blew a bunch of political capital on Iraq, but think about: by doing this, he'd put Americans to work because somebody has to make all the solar panels and attach them to everything. He'd give the religious right a chance to shine because everyone would tolerate, and even agree with their message, "Keep God's Country Clean." He'd have fewer attacks from the Democrats because he'd be doing everything they've wanted to do for years. He'd create eager trading partners for his friends at Chevron, GM, Bechtel, Halliburton, etc. Above all, he'd keep the swing vote in his pocket for himself and the next Republican to run for office.

Honestly, though, I don't know if a democratic form of government would take shape in the Middle East--or if it has to, but I'll hope for tolerance. Anyway, it seems to me when education, prosperity and mass media exist with infrastructure, change is inevitable, and those without rights will have voices coming from everywhere, not only from this blog, but from thousands of others, and others to come.

As for landing on Mars, well, the President's got that one covered.

Bob

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Prologue

Hi, how are you? Sit down, it's been a long week, and the next one is starting up again. Would you like something to drink? I'm having one myself at the moment, so don't be shy. Wine? Knob Creek? Sorry my choices are limited, but you see, my spouse and I recently moved to a new house in Berkeley, and there are boxes in every room.

By the way, if you have to smoke, could you do it outside? I'm a reformed smoker myself, and boy, having a drink and smelling tobacco is a sure fire way to make a fella leap from the wagon and into the arms of the Marlboro man, or better yet, an American Spirit. You nonsmokers don't have a clue, but man, first and foremost, smoking is a blast. For just a moment, throw out the ill effects of tar and nicotine, secondhand smoke, the fact that cajillions of Americans have suffered or are currently suffering from lung cancer, emphysema, birth defects caused by pregnant mothers who smoked. Forget about the non-Americans who smoke grade B tobacco or worse (I had the pleasure of smoking grade B in the Philippines for two months, and I ended up with a sore throat for two years). Just forget all that for a moment.

Close your eyes, and your nose. Dim the lights, and you're at the bar in a restaurant (having a drink helps). It's after hours, and you're telling a friend the tale of your past week or day, where the guy at the office who makes everyone turn their heads askew, brought your job to somewhere short of impossible but just past the point of 7,000 rpms. A friendly coworker walks up and catches the tail end of your story and laughs with sympathy and entertainment. And just beyond them, a jazz trio is starting up a set, setting aside the Bill Evans standards and deciding to kick up some dust of their own. The restaurant is full, the bar is SRO, and the bartenders stand in white jackets and bowties, with perfect hair and groomed mustaches, shaking vodka, vermouth and ice, spiking olives with toothpicks and dropping them into pre-chilled glasses. A person across the room catches your eye at the moment he or she does the same with you—no commitment or sure thing, just ... good timing.

The crowd's buzz is good and constant, not loud enough to cause you to lose track of conversation. Above, the stained glass rotunda is lit dramatically with shades of amber. No thoughts of what you need to do as soon as you get home, or what deadline you have to make at work tomorrow. For the next two hours or so, just here. Just now is all that matters.

At this moment, in this setting ... for a smoker, the candied, sweet smell. The subtle change between light and clouded light. The deep inhale. The dusty red embers. A hand is brought to the mouth, half covering a smile or introspection, half covering an expression or emotion—and half revealing it as well. Each person has a unique manner to exhale above or below, through puckered lips, a mouth's corner or flared nostrils. The high is only brief, but it is a reassertion of physical life. Of temporal life. Of intimate life.

So please, if you have to smoke, please go outside to the porch. And don't let me know where you're going.

Bob