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October 2010
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December 2010

On the Banks of the Willamette

The Willamette River divides Portland, Oregon, my home town. It is pronounced, by the way, Will-am-met. The city and river in Illinois are the Willa-Met. And, of course the state is Ory-gun, not Ore-e-gone. I could go on, but the point is that I was on the banks of the Willamette, on the west or "snooty" side, staying in a lovely house from the turn of the last century, directly across from the Oaks Park amusement park and the Sellwood neighborhood. It is the fourth time Vicki and I have stayed there while visiting Portland. Portland's White House remains our favorite B&B, but if you need a kitchen, there's nothing like renting a house. This one is smack dab in the middle of the Willamette Parkway, a long thin park on the west-side bank of the river that runs from the Sellwood Bridge to downtown. It is so amazing what my hometown has done. When I was a boy, the city had turned its back on the river, which was an open cesspool. If you fell in, you were required to get a tetanus shot. Today, sewage is treated upstream, and the paper mills at Oregon City are long gone, with the result that the river no longer stinks at any time of the year, and people can use it for water sports without fear. Both shores were given over to industry and cut off from residents in the middle of the last century, but by the start of this one, the pendulum had swung. The Harbor Freeway was torn out and replaced with a park. Despite the industry and railroad tracks on the East Side, you can walk along the river over there too. It is nothing short of an urban miracle. If I hadn't spent more than 30 years building a life in California, I'd think about moving back.

Plus, we teach our students that the forest canopy on the East Coast was so thick in the 1600s (when the Europeans arrived in great numbers) that a squirrel could go from the Atlantic to the Mississippi simply by jumping from one tree to another without ever touching the ground. Of course no squirrel would ever chose a mode of transport that inefficient :-)

So we flew in Southwest Airlines from Oakland, my wife, our older daughter and me (our younger daughter went up early). The much-dreaded "enhanced pat down," while demeaning, was not the groping that the extremists contended. At Oakland there were a few full-body scanners. In Portland there were none. It is still the case that I can't go through a magnetometer because it would do bad things to my pacemaker.

Wednesday was supposed to be the busiest travel day of the year, but although the plane was full, the security lines were short. Portland was in the freezer on Tuesday, with sleet and freezing rain making driving a disaster; there was even a dusting of snow. By the time we got there, the temperature had crept above freezing, and we spent our weekend in typical Portland winter conditions: highs in the mid-40s and rain every day. Since both my daughters and I belong to 24-hour Fitness (a chain of gyms), we got our exercise there every morning, at the Super Sport on McCloughlin Blvd. on the East Side. Vicki took out a guest membership. They had a hot tub. I forgot my trunks, but they had gym shorts on sale for $15, so it wasn't so bad. Just another "swimsuit" added to my collection.

Thursday we picked up the dinner we had ordered weeks ago from Zupan's, the high-end family-owned grocery store across the street. We hauled Dad over from my East Side home (he still lives there) and threw my nephew into the mix when he arrived from Sacramento. The food was as good as the company, and another Thanksgiving was spent in the arms of my family.

Friday and Saturday we goofed around with Dad, ate leftovers, and took him to dinner at the Riverview Restaurant in Troutdale. The place is definitely better in the daylight and the summer, when you can see the view and eat outside, but it is also utterly amazing on the inside, and the food is quite good. It may be high priced for Oregon, but was quite reasonable compared to San Francisco. We topped off our whirlwind tour with breakfast Saturday at the Spare Room, the only remnant of the once proud Columbia Bowl on NE 42nd Avenue just south of Prescott. The food was edible. I don't know what the scenery is like, because there are no windows.

We shopped at Powell's Book Store, ate more leftovers, and took off Saturday. If you want to see a REALLY quiet airport, fly on a Saturday night. The natives tell me it is the quietest night of the week.

A good time, as they say, was had by all.

Upcoming Concert

It is time once again to plug one of my enduring passions. I play tenor sax in the Danville Community Band, and have been its master of ceremonies since its inception in 2001. All our concerts are great, but the Christmas concert is ultra-amazing, and we give cookies to the audience during intermission! Please come early (the place fills up) for our 3pm concert on Sunday, Dec. 12, at East Bay Fellowship, 2615 Camino Tassajara in Danville. You may even see Santa!

JFK on Secrecy

A colleague reminded me that I missed the 47th anniversary of JFK's assassination. He reminded me in a way that suggested he believed it was a conspiracy. On such occasions, I respond with the words attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence"

The publication (made possible by the selfless efforts in the national interest by Wikileaks) by The New York Times (and other newspapers) of newly revealed public information about the conduct of the official governmental business of the American people (as paid for by the people), reminds us of the speech given by Pres. Kennedy on April 27, 1961  to the American Newspaper Publishers Association. Here is an excerpt:

The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. . . .  Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The King's Speech

5 stars out of 5

"Oscar" comes readily to mind with this wonderful film, which chronicles the latter years of King George V, the brief reign of his elder son Edward (the Duke of Windsor) succeeding him before abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson, and the unexpected coronation of Albert (the Duke of York) as King George VI In 1937. The King's Speech centers on Albert (Colin Firth) and his debilitating stammer, detailing years of failed, royal-appropriate therapy until Albert's wife and future queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) finds Australian commoner and elocution specialist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) in threadbare surroundings on Harley Street in London. What distinguishes The King's Speech is manifold - riveting performances by Firth (A Single Man) and Rush (returning to the heights of Shine after profitable but undistinguished work in the  Pirates of The Caribbean series);  a screenplay that covers the essence of important historical events with economy and grace; small but powerful supporting contributions from Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, and Derek Jacobi; and a lovely interplay among all the characters, especially the grudging, class-based sparring between Albert and Logue that evolves into deep and abiding friendship over time. This is one of the year's best films, and the superb, controlled work of both Firth and Rush makes them shoo-ins for best acting nominations.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Made In Dagenham

3.5 stars out of 5   

Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, Saving Grace) has made another small, pleasant film that explores self-empowerment in the United Kingdom, in this instance dramatizing a real-life 1968 labor action against Ford in Dudley Moore's hometown that apparently helped reduce gender disctrimination in pay in many indutrialized nations. The storytelling is a bit formulaic and predictable, but Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, An Education) gives a nice performance as the accidental union activist, both Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook) and Miranda Richardson (The Young Victoria, Fred Claus) shine in small roles, and there's the lovely Rosamund Pike (Fracture, Surrogates). An appealing diversion, albeit somewhat out of scale with its message.

Dan Grobstein File

  • OPINION   | November 21, 2010
    Op-Ed Columnist:  Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha
    Sarah Palin's amateurism and liabilities are her badges of honor, and Republican leaders who want to stop her, and they are legion, are utterly baffled about how to do so. 
  • Steve Benen wants to know why folks trying to actively make America weaker are not being called out.
    Benen in the link asks why no outrage. The answer is that Fox news says that everything is the Democrats' fault. And this is the reality that their viewers believe. Three Fox viewers that I know agree. One asks where are all the jobs that Obama promised. You can't convince her that the Republicans are blocking his plans. Another thinks that everything is Obama's fault. I brought an Obama doll to his house and his wife threw it down on the ground saying all our problems are his fault. Another (who has Drudge up on his computer whenever I walk by) was gloating after the election that Karl Rove's strategy worked out very well. I don't want to argue all the time. It does no good. I try to slip little items for thought into conversation, but I don't know if it does any good.
  • Living in America
    The President of the United States can unilaterally order the assassination of an American citizen, but needs the cooperation of opposition party Senators to get an Assistant Secretary of Commerce or a US Marshall in office.
  • "Get There First Or Not At All"
    Last Xmas I got the bright idea to send out packets of Hollandaise Sauce with the greeting "Happy Hollandaise". Then I googled it. Been done. 216,000 results in Google.

  • But They're Our Greatest National Treasures
    Banksters have some problems.
    The top 35 US banks will be short of between $100 billion and $150 billion in equity capital after the new Basel III global bank regulations are imposed, with 90 percent of the shortfall concentrated in the biggest six banks, according to Barclays Capital.
  • God Bless Dubya’s Library (and What’s Left of Cheney)


If this sounds familiar, it is because, in the great tradition of Herb Caen and Jon Carroll, I am recycling my eleven  previous Thanksgiving messages. I missed a year--maybe I was too distracted by teaching.

This year we will all be in Portland, Ore.; my wife and daughters, my dad, my niece and nephew. Who knows what wackiness will ensue this year. Vicki has  to work the week of Thanksgiving (including a bunch of volunteering for Amma's visit). Marlow's last day is Nov. 23. But for the fourth time, I have the whole week off. I pay for it at the end of the school year, which is now the second week of June instead of the first.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a job that still gets better every year, I have my health, such as it is, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Regular readers know I earned my teaching credential and now teach 8th grade US History at a middle school. It is still true that I have not been this excited and challenged since 1974, when I started working as a professional journalist. This is my eighth year. Each year gets easier, and I get better, but it never gets easy. (as Kent Peterman puts it). 

Still, my most important role is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae. Of course, Marlow is now headed off for Mali on Jan. 31, so I will go from seeing her once in a while to once in 27 months. Rae is also in her own apartment in Rockridge.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office.

The years I spent full-time with my girls are priceless. The time I spend with them now is priceless as well.

Not everyone can work in a home office--and I don't anymore.

But no matter where you work, the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Also give thanks for your friends and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can. I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, as I have had every year of my life.

I am thankful that I have a living loving parent and a loving brother. I am thankful for my loving and understanding wife, and for the two most wonderful daughters I could have imagined, both of them turning into vibrant, intelligent young women before my very eyes.

I am thankful for every sunrise and sunset I get to see, every moment I get to be in, every flower I try so desperately to stop and smell. I am thankful that I can move closer every day to living a life in balance. Every morning, I am grateful to be alive. Not a bad way to start the day. For reasons I don't want to detail, I am extremely grateful just to be alive.

I am thankful for 250; down 50 from my peak. I am thankful for the fact that I will still be near that weight next year at Thanksgiving.

Every week at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Orinda, the priest concludes the service with this homily. The provenance seems uncertain; the Internet lists several attributions. All I know is, it touches me every time I hear it and is sound advice for life:

"Remember that life is short and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be quick to be kind, make haste to love, and may the blessing of God be with you now and always."

It has been with me. I hope it is with you. In the meantime, I am thankful, finally, for each and every one of you reading this column. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Fiscal Responsibility, GOP-style

Fiscal Responsibility Without Touching Social Security, Medicare, or Veteran's Care

72% mainly progressive tax increases
28% cut unnecessary spending
a. from domestic programs and foreign aid choices:
cut foreign aid in half; eliminate earmarks; cut pay of civilian federal workers by 5%; reduce the federal workforce by 10%; cut 250,000 federal contractors
b. from military choices:
reduce arsenal and space spending; reduce military to pre-I size and reduce troops in Asia and Europe (65 years after the end of World War II); cancel or delay some weapons programs; reduce troops in I and A to 30,000 by 2013 (still about 30,000 too high so there is an additional at least $30B per year to be saved in 2015 and an estimated $60B (using the Times' savings ratio) in 2030)
c. from existing taxes choices:
return estate tax to Clinton levels; return investment tax rates to Clinton levels (this leaves the capital gains rate at 20% and this rate should be at ordinary income tax rates so additional billions are is available here); PROVIDE A CONTINUING TAX CUT FOR EVERY AMERICAN WITH INCOME (IS ANYONE IN THE WHITE HOUSE LITERATE OR PAYING ATTENTION?) and allow expiration of 2001 tax cuts for income above $250K per year; payroll tax above $106K per year;
d. from new taxes choices:
millionaire's tax on income above $1 million (this should be at 10.8 percent (as opposed to the 5.4% suggested which means the additional cash is $100B in 2015 and $190B in 2030); eliminate loopholes but keep upper bracket tax rates slightly higher and the corporate rate goes above 35% rather than to 28% (this also generates more cash than the NYT suggests); reduce tax breaks for high income households; carbon tax; bank tax

The Times acknowledges to PSACOT that "You solved the deficit" (and PSACOT would have been pleased to do so (as part of its internationally respected long-standing public service program) for way less than the $500,000 or so being misspent by the Catfood Commission and to announce the results earlier than September 1, 2010, so the public could have considered a reasonable plan during the campaign along with the almost totally unpublicized and unemphasized $280B in tax cuts provided by President Obama and his party in 2009).

According to the Times calculation, the PSACOT choices would result in a surplus of $315B in 2015 and a surplus of $12B in 2030 all without touching social security, medicare, or breaking promises made to our veterans before they promised to risk their lives for our country.
The additional savings referenced parenthetically above (of $130B in 2015 and $250B in 2030) indicate the actual surplus would be at least $445B in 2015 and $262B in 2030 all of which could be used to reduce the government debt.

(It is truly remarkable that an alleged conservative (but actually a reactionary and destructive radical) Republican such as Alan Simpson would so cavalierly suggest breaking promises made to those who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States (as he did by suggesting increasing the cost of health care for veterans) and thus freely acknowledge the anti-national security anti-veteran anti-defense anti-military anti-American deployed troop attitude so prevalent in Republican actions since the start of then-Assistant Secretary of State Nelson Rockefeller's company's activities helping the Nazis kill American troops in World War II by supplying them with critical petroleum products without which their war machine could not have functioned so effectively (Rockefeller later was Governor of New York and appointed and unelected Vice President of the United States following confirmation hearings during which little if any attention was given to the money he and his company made supporting Hitler's war machine using his federal government position during World War II).

  • An MIT Professor's view of fixing the budget and tax system
    "Highly unequal countries tend to become unstable and dangerous places. How unequal do you want the United States to become?"
  • Who Benefits?
  • "The main proponents of unconstrained financial globalization may have been U.S. Treasury officials in recent decades, but it was European banks that really became too large relative to their economies. Along the way, they captured their regulators and engaged in incredibly irresponsible behavior."

    "There is a much more general or global phenomenon in which powerful people cooperate to build an economic model that provides growth based on a great deal of debt. When the crisis comes, those who control the state try to save their favorite oligarchs, but there aren’t enough resources to go around."

Nilsson on Death and Politics, Dan Grobstein File

Bob Nilsson writes:

FYI and apropos your “some thoughts on death”, at the recommendation of your blog I recently read Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir. Great book. I’m now hooked on the Kindle, which among other things makes it easy to look up new words. I’m sure you’ve heard this joke: "I’d rather die peacefully in my sleep like my father than screaming in terror like the passengers in his car."

To re-iterate Richard Dalton’s comments, Massachusetts did maintain sanity during the recent election: Massachusetts: The state that forgot to turn red. “Last Tuesday was a depressing night for Massachusetts Republicans, one that dashed their hopes that Brown’s victory might signal a reversal of fortunes in a state where they have long been a largely irrelevant minority.”

Dan Grobstein File

  • The Most Dangerous Man In Ameica
    Watched this on Netflix streaming last night. I'd forgotten what it was like to have a functioning Senate, House and Supreme Court as well as functioning newspapers.

    I remembered that the NY Times had to stop publishing the papers and that the Washington Post had then started until stopped, but I'd really forgotten that other newspapers all over the country then started publishing excerpts. Also that Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) had read portions into the Congressional Record.

    At the time I was fascinated by the contents. My only objection was that if you had somebody trying to break your codes and you gave them clear text copies of cables they had intercepted, but not decrypted, it would help them break your codes on other communications.

    Then again, maybe the government doesn't care about that. Maybe they were using one time codes based on sunspots even then.
  • Interesting article. Every time I read an article about term paper ghost writing I think of Robert Silverberg's story "Dying Inside."

    My dad wrote a master's thesis about Emily Dickinson for a friend of a neighbor. She had written her own, but it was rejected. I remember when he did it, but I've never been able to find a copy. The thesis was accepted. I know that she paid him, but I have no idea how much.

    Writing for a living
  • More, much more, at Dan-o-Rama