Greetings from Portland, Oregon !!
Birthdays at the extremes of life
Mom made it! She reached a hundred years. And she also liked the cookie that I baked for her (seen in this picture) Now when she’s sitting at the dining room table, she’s surrounded by bouquets and cards. She actually didn’t seem to know what to make of it all. I told her, “There are a lot of people who care about you, Mom” And that’s the truth. The commemoration took place in our dining room, surrounded by a century’s worth of knick knacks – mostly Swedish figurines, photos, and butterflies, including Dala horses, Dala chickens, an authentic mounted Peacock Butterfly from Sweden, a Chinese analogue of a Dala horse, and butterflies from a friend in China.
Mom was joined by my sister and myself, my brother-in-law, my nephew-in-law, and my niece-in-law. The angel-food cake was baked by Helen Bernhard’s bakery, where our family has been buying pastries, cakes and cookies for about a century. Who says there’s no history in America!!
This week we also celebrated my great-niece-in-law’s fourth birthday. I didn’t know about it, so I had no gift. But my sister said she had spare presents that I could bring. She also wrapped them for me and found me a card to sign. I told her that she made me feel like I was married.
Snark aside, I would not want a marriage like that, but I know a lot of people who do. Still, one shouldn’t look a gift gift in the mouth.
The ceremony took place on a warm, sunny day, in Happy Valley‘s municipal park, next to a huge Oktober Fest, that most classic of German holidays. Needless to say, there was Bratwurst and Pommes Frites for all (for a price), not to mention spätzli. There were even polka bands. We claimed a table under a shade tree, which somehow stayed in the shade all day.
Although my own family is minuscule, my in-law family is huge, composed of folks representing a wide variety of interests and points of view. And almost all of them live in the Portland area! 13 of them (not all of them) attended the party. I tended to hang out with the sort-of youngsters (40-ish). Nice bunch of folks.
How I’m doing
The effects of the chemotherapy continue to fade. One of the oncology assistants told me this week that these effects generally disappear (to the extent that they’re going to) about three to six months after the infusions have run their course. Why didn’t they tell me that before? I’m not quite three months out.
My brain fog continues to slowly disperse. My numb toes are gradually regaining some feeling. The oncologist had declared that the numbness would be permanent. Well, according to what I feel, it’s certainly not completely permanent. His assistant later told me he must have been in a bad mood that day. Actually any permanent numbness was more like a fifty-fifty chance, according to the assistant. I’ll be getting a new oncologist next month. I don’t think I’m going to miss the old one.
Yesterday my body suddenly snapped itself into shape as I drove back from Costco. Suddenly I had smoothly writhing muscles with strength and control, without the vibrations and wooziness that had plagued me all year. You know, nobody would ever mistake me for a body builder, but according to the rules of the universe, each man is given a default lump of masculine muscles as a starter, kind of like a universal basic income of masculine buffitude. Mine disappeared along with my various treatments many months ago. I missed it! The possibility of getting even part of it back again made me burst into masculine tears, right there in the car !!!
And I thought of the beauty and wonder that is existence. I’m so thankful that I have some time left to enjoy it and to contemplate it and maybe do some good for somebody. I’m trying to get as much done as i can during these periods of feeling even subnormally buffed.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is that this cancer is not curable. It’s the symptoms from the poisonous chemotherapy that are wearing off, not any cancer symptoms. The cancer can be beaten back for a time (what I’m experiencing now), but in the end it’s only a matter of time, even though I feel eerily healthy now, like I’m walking through the eye of a hurricane. For how long? Nobody wants to say. If there’s an office pool about it, nobody will divulge which number is leading. Well, that’s all right. Recently I took advantage of my relative strength to finally finish my will and a living trust. And then I walked two miles to celebrate. I’m rejoicing in the time I have left in that hurricane eye, time which now seems more precious than ever.
Young Hooligans Still Prowl the Streets
Our house in Portland seems to be set into a different neighborhood than the peaceful land of drizzle where my grandparents built it, 100 years ago. Nowadays we’re sinking in a drizzle of petty crime. Cars with neither mufflers nor license plates course the streets, or sometimes the drivers park and sleep. For what purpose, I wonder?
Then, the other day, a bunch of young hooligans staged a side show. Click here to hear the racket that interrupted our viewing of Sixty Minutes. It took place at the corner of 72nd and Sandy and Fremont, about seven blocks from here, and it lasted well over an hour.
Some of those whippersnappers had jammed up the streets that feed into the 6-way intersection with parked cars, in order to block traffic and clear out the intersection for their major action. These street blockades were inconvenient for ordinary citizens, but it probably did keep some of them from getting run over.
But these hooligans couldn’t make things too safe, could they? Somebody fired off large and very illegal fireworks over the raging cars, and somebody else brought out a giant-sized flame thrower. It’s a miracle that nobody was killed (although a couple were killed at a related side show across town) and nothing was burned to the ground. It took a while to clean up the street later, though.
Some of our neighbors had called 911, but they were told that police officers were unavailable. It was Sunday, and the few available officers were occupied, investigating murders on the other side of town. And so the squealing continued. Those hooligans had picked the right day to squeal.
Yes, this neighborhood doesn’t quite have the feel that it did in Grandpa and Grandma’s day, even though the housing stock hasn’t changed much, and people maintain it well.
Getting Ready to Vote
I got my California voter’s guide in the mail, and the ballot will soon follow. However, I’ll likely be voting from California, and not Oregon, since I’m planning on flying home on Friday of this week. I plan to stay through November 8 and then return to Portland for health monitoring and to meet my new oncologist.
I hope to get together with as many old California friends and neighbors as possible. I simply do not want to continue living the life of extreme loneliness that so wore on me after I left China. So if anybody reading this lives in the Bay Area and wants to get together for tea or a meal over the next three weeks, my answer is “Yes. I’ll be there”
Getting back to elections, California is a state that encourages all of its citizens to vote, unlike some OTHER states I could mention. (/teacher voice). In those OTHER states, the people in charge know that they would lose their power and positions if all citizens had equal access to the vote. They’d be voted out. So in several clever ways, they suppress the votes of those who won’t vote for them.
Why would those suppressed voters want to vote them out? Because they serve the rich (What James Madison called the minority of the opulent) more than they serve ordinary citizens, and by far the most voters are ordinary citizens. Nowadays, these enablers of rich people are most commonly known as Republicans, but their attitude towards wealth and privilege is older than our country, older than Republicans.
Our country’s founders (and the current Republicans) favored economic inequality, not simply because they were mostly rich already and wanted to keep it that way, but because of the widely-held belief that the wealthy are simply more competent human beings than the rest of us. (Their wealth and education proves this). And if no rich people are available, then get somebody else of privilege (actor, musician, TV star, comedian, etc.) to rule us all.
When I was young, my father often used the phrase “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” to describe a dysfunctional society where too many people have a say in what’s going on (in other words, a democracy) rather than just working in obedience to the leader, who was competent by definition. “Too many cooks spoil the broth” had a similar meaning.
Indeed, the former guy’s one and only successful major bill reflected this bias. It was a permanent tax-cut for the rich to help them to rule, because they are more competent and they are job creators or some such trickle-down excuse. The bill also included a temporary tax cut for the middle class to gain their support. In fact, that temporary tax cut is starting to phase out about now. which makes it appear that the Democrats, who are in charge now, are raising taxes.
Speaking of Republicans, my latest YouTube obsession is a history professor from Boston College named Heather Cox Richardson. She put out some lecture series during the pandemic so that claustrophobics like her would not be driven crazy by the isolation. One series outlines the history of the Republican Party, and is rooted in the years before its founding.
Like Dr. Richardson, my interest in Republicans (even though I’m not one) is long and ongoing. It began when I worked in their local Castro Valley office to elect Richard Nixon. (whom I’d no longer endorse, but I still kept his campaign poster!)
A succession of different kinds of Conservatives
All parties change through time, and the Republicans are no exception. For the longest time, they were traditional conservatives. That is, they wanted to conserve what we already had, and allow change only at a measured pace. In addition, American conservatism is historically rooted in the Declaration of Independence, particularly in the phrase “all men are created equal,” so these conservatives were in favor of governmental action to promote equality before the law and equality of opportunities.
The second- most recent major change to Republicans is the rise of “Movement Conservatives,” beginning in the 1950’s with William F. Buckley, becoming prominent in the 1990’s under Newt Gingrich.
In contrast to traditional conservatives, Movement Conservatives pledge no allegiance to “all men are created equal.” They return to the older American belief in wealth (especially if acquired through business success) as an indicator of worth and ability. They’ve spent decades trying to dismantle programs like Social Security and Medicare, which are designed to support the weak members of society. Instead, those weak people should compete on their own along with other ordinary people. The rich, of course, let their money compete for them.
With their commitment to the rich and to cutting their taxes, and their disdain for a social safety net, movement conservatives found that their voters decreased in number over time. So they began espousing new issues that had little to do with previous Republican positions in order to gain new blocks of voters. And the more emotion that these issues stirred up, the better. Examples are abortion, the social safety net (presented as lazy poor people absconding with the money earned by hard workers through taxation), more money for unregulated private schools, crime (whether actually present or not), the ethics of homosexuality, competition for jobs from immigrants, and other issues which are mostly different from those espoused by traditional conservatives.
In order to gain even more voters, Movement Conservatives also signaled that they would be tolerant of racists within their ranks, if they could help them win elections. Thus, Ronald Reagan began his run for the presidency with two unmistakable dog whistles – a speech given near to where civil rights workers had been murdered by racists, and the espousal of state’s rights. (A dog whistle is a message that can only be properly understood by the target audience.)
And so, many racists left the Democrats for the Republicans. They would be a minority within the party, but a rabidly motivated minority. So they were welcomed. But like an infection, they grew in numbers and influence out of sight.
The End Game?
The most recent change is the dominance of MAGA Republicans. The racist contingent within the party has expanded about as far as possible, because their leader, the former commander, shares their views and gives them permission to act upon them. He is an authoritarian by nature, as is the supremacist contingent of today’s MAGA Republicans, which dominates the party now. Motivated by grievance, their whole goal is not to serve their fellow countrymen, not even just the rich ones, but to amass personal power, by any means that the rules permit, and by some that they may not. In fact, they have destroyed and replaced the Republican party (except for Liz Cheney), though they kept the name “Republican” for marketing purposes.
And now I fear that the authoritarian MAGA Republicans, if they gain power, may decide that tolerating democracy makes ruling too inconvenient, because it allows too many chiefs as deciders (like the civil service) and not enough Indians as obedient laborers.
So all this is what occupies my mind as I await my ballot in the mail. Democracy itself is under attack. It’s not the first time this has happened. I trust that those of us who believe in Democracy (like Liz Cheney does and I do) will work our way out of our conundrum this time, too.
The Requisite Pachyderm Page
This time the Pachyderm Page features a compendium of emotional moments in the first three years of the life of the baby elephant Khanyisa. I posted at least one of these before, but it’s worth watching again.