Monthly Archives: July 2018

Califoregon Summer

Greetings from Oregon! Or maybe California.

I hope everyone has been well. Everyone’s okay in my family, in whichever place.  I can’t say whether I’ll finish this update in which state.  I’ve been back and forth a couple times, and my sister drove my mother to California and back, so we’ve all been set in motion.  Meanwhile, my frequent flyer miles are building.

This message’s “airplane picture” shows the east end of Portland, Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge, one of America’s most beautiful scenes, whether seen from the air or close up.  It’s worth clicking on it to enlarge it.

A few days ago, I was out in front of the house in Portland, when a young woman came down the sidewalk, walking two dogs. When she reached our house she stopped and said, “You know, I really like this house. It’s one of the most beautiful on my route. I love seeing it every time I walk the dogs.”

I was more than a little proud to tell her that my two grandparents had built it all with their own four hands (no subcontractors allowed), back in the 1920’s, almost a century ago. I snapped a picture of it, and here it is. The house is rather drowned in vegetation these days, but otherwise looks just the same as it did so long ago.

As for my health, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the last several months. Repeatedly, in the course of a week or so, it would steadily worsen, painful and ear ringing almost to the point of despair, no better than a year ago, and then I’d have an afternoon more pain free and quiet than ever.  Such afternoons often followed a visit to my Chinese medicine practitioner. And that’s when I’d write an update and see friends. Then the whole process would start over and I’d drop out of sight for awhile.  Meanwhile acupuncture and physical therapy have been slowly realigning my bones, which had been twisted through years of stress.

This month, for the first time, the pain didn’t reach debilitation before the next pain free afternoon.  It’s a hopeful sign.  I appreciate all the kind thoughts people have been sending my way to make this happen.  With any luck, I’ll soon be attending a major league baseball game and taking part in a pain-free seventh-inning stretch, which may be one of my physical therapy-assigned stretches!

Parades again

I always told my students in China that Americans can recast anything into a parade. Now that I’m back, parades seem to pop up more frequently than even I had thought.  (And I again missed the victory parade for our hometown basketball team — the Golden State Warriors.)

This month, for the first time since I was 12 years old, I watched the annual Rose Festival Parade, which celebrates Portland itself, the City of Roses. And roses really do bloom everywhere, such as this example from my mother’s own garden.

Anyway, I took loads of pictures to share and I will still share them, but  just as I was preparing to write about them, the news programs announced an event so shocking and heavy that to simply write about parades seemed  frivolous and callous.

It hit me with the same deep coldness in the pit of my stomach that I’d felt in 2001 at Schafer Park School, where I taught back then.  Some of my teacher colleagues had turned on the teacher-room television early, before classes started. While we watched, one of New York’s Twin Towers, just struck by an airliner,  suddenly collapsed. It was too stomach-wrenching to watch, yet impossible to turn away.

Just so, this month, we found out that our own country has been systematically taking away children, some younger than one year, from their parents, Central Americans who had come to ask us for help.  This policy began six weeks ago, and over two thousand children had been taken during that time. In the middle of the night, they were spread out across the whole country, to perhaps a couple dozen internment camps. Some flight attendants, and some airlines (but not all), have meanwhile refused to be a part of what resembles child trafficking.

Records were not well kept, hindering the eventual reuniting of families.  So a whole cottage industry has sprung up to locate these kids and figure out who belongs to whom. This chaos came about not through carelessness, but by design, as part of a policy meant to scare off these people, who were often fleeing certain death in their home countries.

To treat asylum seekers like that violates international treaties that we’ve long been part of, but even if it didn’t, and even if these supplicants were not truly in need, what amounts to a policy of kidnapping is still appalling.

A few months ago, an official had asserted that to stop immigration, they’d have to attack families. What I thought was just one cruel person turned out to be system-wide immorality.

As in 2001, it feels like what our country stands for is under assault. If any of my colleagues back then had treated children like that, they’d have been arrested, no matter whose children they were. If our school district had adopted it as policy, then, in addition, it would have been dissolved and reconstituted.

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Well, it’s been awhile. I wasn’t sure that I’d even finish writing. Now I’m in California. The “airplane picture” shows the Hayward Shoreline, on the edge of San Francisco Bay. It’s a series of old salt-reclamation ponds allowed to go natural.  Its creation was a labor of love for my old boss at Hayward Schools, Leo Bachle. The visitor center stands by the highway. Again, it’s worth clicking on to see the large version.  If anybody comes to visit me, I can take you out there to enjoy the fresh air, take in the beautiful views, and watch birds.

The flight from Portland was uneventful, but two hours late. Our plane had come from Las Vegas, and the pilot explained that the US president had arrived there earlier, which delayed all other flights a couple hours.  The cabin erupted in boos.  It’s like the days of the old emperors.

It feels like the old Vichy regime in France – a system imposed from without, but by whom? Many argue the Russians. Others argue the rich and their international conglomerates.  Some think it’s just the leader and his family.

I don’t think it’s an argument worth having.  Instead, one can just look. From his own words and actions he furthers all their interests over our country’s, mainly by setting Americans against one other, but also by withdrawing America’s leadership role in the world, eroding its trustworthiness,  alienating allied countries, refusing to implement Congressional-mandated actions, and promoting Russia and the rich at every turn.

Thinking about it is painful, but like watching the Twin Tower fall, it’s  hard to turn away. And we ignore it at our peril.  But sometimes I make myself take strategic retreats from the news, just to maintain sanity and perspective, as I have for the previous week or so.

Of course for me, who believes that objective reality exists, the most problematic aspect is the attack upon truth and science, and the fact that significant numbers of my fellows don’t care much about either. It used to be said that you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. These days, some instead would “have it all.”

The US president lies more brazenly and more habitually and with more cruel intent, than any person I’ve ever known, or even heard of, even literary characters.  How can such a man be the face of our country?  It’s shameful and humbling.

In this case, he lies about a Latin American invasion when in fact the number of immigrants on the southern border has steadily dropped for over ten years, and in fact more Mexicans are now moving to Mexico than the other way.

The only significant numbers come from three Central American countries, and they’re not here to sponge off of others, but to avoid being murdered. He lies that they’re all criminals driving up crime levels, when overall crime levels in the USA are the lowest in decades, and among immigrants even lower (the same holds true, by the way, for Germany, despite having admitted proportionally way more immigrants than we have) Immigration needs to be controlled. It doesn’t have to be stopped or reversed (I’ve heard of officials exploring ways of stripping naturalized citizens of their citizenship).

So many lies.  Honestly, I don’t understand why journalists even report his words anymore. Instead, just report actions.

This attack on truth didn’t start with him, though. It’s been engineered over the course of decades, mainly by a sect within the republican party, but not limited to that. I first became aware of it back in 2004, when journalist Ron Suskind interviewed Karl Rove, then an advisor to the president. This paragraph of his continues to reverberate in my mind:

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.

Rove says it was somebody else who said it, but few believe him at this point. When I first read it, it felt like the words of someone mentally ill. Well, it was just one official. Just one official.

Meanwhile, it’s not helpful to anybody when our country’s reins of power have been taken up by a man who revels in chaos and a sort of casual cruelty, which anybody can observe just by looking — no journalists or pundits required.

And it’s against our country’s ideals to veer from the rule of law towards rule by family relationships and elitist friends. Corruption settles in and holds fast. One of the most corrupt of them  now heads the Environmental Protection Agency. After only 18 months, he’s under a dozen investigations for misuse of his office. Meanwhile while environmental protections based on facts are scrapped and agencies dismantled to promote the profits of international business conglomerates.

So again, it’s very humbling. I never expected to see anything like it in the country that I love. But we were outsmarted and outplayed.

And they certainly do seem to enjoy “twisting the knife.”

Meanwhile, there’s better environmental news from China – My friends there have written about more blue skies this year than ever.   Things are not acceptable yet, but they’re moving in the right direction.

And I’ve had a small personal victory. My weekly Sunday School in Berkeley is compelling and interesting, but since returning two years ago, my body’s been too broken to pay attention for an entire lesson. But a couple weeks ago, I finally could pay attention for the entire session!

My friend Arlene said it was nice to have the “old Paul” back again. It gives me hope that this will happen more often and I will eventually work my way into a condition of usefulness. Thanks again for the kind thoughts from others that support this healing.  And especially thanks to those who have stuck with me through the darkest period of my life so far.

The last couple pictures feature  the participants that every parade needs – especially with so many horses — the folks who clean up horse droppings. The Portlanders  handle this necessity with a panache not always evident at other parades. They deserve to be celebrated.

It’s a privilege to greet everyone on this, the 242nd birthday of our nation!