Friday, January 30, 2009

I Have Before Me...

On Saturday night Cathy made me go to a play. Too often this means I grit my way through a musical, lubricating the proceedings as much as discretion allows.

This time, though, she nailed it. We saw the Boise Contemporary Theater's production of "I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given To Me By A Young Lady From Rwanda."

The play is about Juliette, a young lady who escaped the war in Rwanda and made her way to London, where she lives in a tiny room and tries to write her story. Simon is a writing tutor who tries to help her and, in the process, himself.

The performances were fantastic, especially the completely captivating Nylda Mark as Juliette. (Richard Klautsch was solid as Simon, but this show was undeniably stolen.) We hung on her every word and gesture, waiting for her terrible story to come pouring out, barely able to stand it as it did. I've never been so heartbroken during a play as when she lit a series of candles and introduced us to her family.

The play dragged into naked light of day the undeniable fact that there is much in the experience of a refugee, especially one driven from home by brutality and war as in Rwanda and The Congo, that someone like me can never hope to understand. It's so far removed from one of the fundamentals of my existence: Safety. Sure no one's ever completely safe, but the difference between my daily life and the life of someone in the midst of that sort of conflict, running from it, losing family and friends, living in a refugee camp, for years and years, it boggles the mind.

Go see this play. It's simple, it's short, there's not even an intermission, and it's brilliantly done.

The Pursuit of Happiness

There is a wonderful graphic op-ed piece in the NY Times today. Maira Kalman is the artist, and I only wish there were more of this in the paper. I remember when Marjane Satrapi did a series of graphic op-eds last year. Great stuff.

Here's one frame:

And maybe my favorite, a rendition of the mall during the inauguration:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Context, Same Point

This came out during the election, early Septemberish, but the point holds true today.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today's Greatest Moment

If you can't appreciate this, I feel for you.

A New Day

I am finding it difficult to put into words the way I'm feeling today. Joyous, of course, but not only.

Barack Obama is taking office at a time at once more complicated, frightening, and hopeful than any in my politically- and socially-sentient lifetime. The promise of the future is tempered by the trials of the present and, both globally and personally, the tragedies of the recent past.

While Cathy and I watched the inauguration together, we were both giddy with the excitement at this wondrous event taking place in our nation's capitol and melancholy with the knowledge that, for us, the dawning of the Obama Era does not hold all the hope and promise that it did some months ago before our baby Eleanor left us.

I think the sadness magnifies the happiness, if that makes sense. I feel acutely every nuance of what Obama says about the future. I choke up at the most mundane and routine things, not to mention at discourse on the enormity of the first black president taking office. I look forward to the future with great hope and optimism, though those feelings will always be tinged by sadness and loss.

The only thing better than watching Obama take office would have been to watch it with my wife and soon-to-be-born daughter. As it is, I watched with my wife, looking forward to a time when we will again be expecting to start a family. Among all the calls to service, to sacrifice, to citizens to do our part and make this country a better place, I cannot help but feel that my own promise has been somewhat diminished. But I am also more determined than ever to make this place--this country, this world, my own home and family and life in Idaho--a better one, filled with joy and prosperity and a spirit of community and the promise of a brighter future.

So Pathetically Obvious

I sense a trend here. The other day I published a quote from one of Kristol's recent columns about how W has given Obama the gift of victory in Iraq, or some such smelly pile of bullshit. Kristol runs the Weekly Standard, that unconscionable righty hack rag. And now, Goldfarb, also at the Standard, is piling on.

Obama has inherited victory in Iraq. Bush has done more than, as McGurn
quotes Biden in early 2007, "keep it from totally collapsing...[until he could]
hand it off to the next guy." Now rather than retreat in defeat, our new
president must manage to withdraw American troops without undermining their
success. It will be a tremendous challenge, but the press will not be able to
blame Bush if security deteriorates in Iraq after Obama gives the Joint Chiefs
their "new mission." The victory in Iraq is Obama's to lose.

Pre-emptive revisionism. That, and plain old bullshitting. And the amazing thing is how obvious it all is. Pathetic.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day of Service

In joining with the spirit of MLK Day and Barack Obama's request that we make this holiday a day of service, Cathy signed us up to go to the Veterans' Home here in Boise and help out. The Old Time Fiddlers had a gig in the cafeteria this afternoon, and they needed help setting up chairs and bringing residents to and from the show.

As you'd expect, it was a pretty great experience. These people have a lot to offer and to teach us. But mostly it's just nice to talk. I found myself having to get over the knee-jerk feeling that I've got to go, got things to do. Once I did, I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

The band played all sorts of classic old-time and country tunes, along with a few originals from members of the band. Like Velma here, who did a beautiful tune she wrote about her native Nebraska.

Cathy even got to cut a rug to Tennessee Waltz, though somehow I didn't manage to get a picture of it. She and her partner, navy pilot James Halcomb, had quite a turn at the front of the room.

Good way to spend MLK Day.

Kristol in the NY Times: Not Fit for Outhouse Use

I did not make this up. And if you're wondering, check the context. But according to Kristol:

...the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat.
So, Barack Obama should be thankful to W for handing him the war in Iraq. W has been right about this all along, and thank goodness he was in power as long as he was.

Let's hope this makes enough rope for Kristol at the Times.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

X Ascendant?

I've been thinking about this a lot. I've written about it a little. And I'll be doing more of both. A snippet, from a CBS News story from last year:

The irony is that X-ers -- a sociocultural label typically used to describe those born between 1961 and 1976 -- have become invisible at a time when they are changing the face of politics. As Jerome Armstrong, founder of and best known as the Blogfather of the progressive netroots, says, "It's people drawn from Generation X -- the people who have gotten involved in politics this decade -- who have brought about the whole new movement of progressive Democrats."

Obama's one of us. As this article points out, he's moving us past the boomers, and he's talking to the millenials, but it's the Xers who are in there, doing it, taking over and changing things.

I recently read Jeff Gordinier's X Saves the World. Not to dwell on generational divides too much, but there's a lot to talk about here, and I think the topic will only become more visible with the election of the first Gen X president and the retirement of vast numbers of boomers. So this is a conversation that is only starting.

Sullivan: "On Old Soul"

Articulate as ever, passionate as ever, Sullivan goes on about Obama taking office. Definitely worth reading.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Carried by Cherubs

David Brooks, in his ongoing conversation with Gail Collins:

It’s true, I did break bread with Obama. It was amazing. He was carried into the house by cherubs, Bruce Springsteen and Oprah Winfrey spread rose petals on the carpet where he was about to walk and he very considerately asked me what vintage of wine I wanted my water turned into.

It’s also a sign that Obama can talk to and understand Americans at all social levels. For example, that night with us, he had an elegant dinner filled with sophisticated ideas and complex policy conversation with a bunch of right-leaning commentators. Then the next day, he had a meeting with some liberal commentators where, I presume, he was just as fluid while using much simpler sentences, shorter words and serving Froot Loops and Hostess Twinkies. There are pundits at all levels of cognitive distinction, and Obama has to learn to address all of them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Educating Hamas?

I don't understand the conflict going on between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. I see what's going on and the strategy each side is pursuing, but I can't claim to have a true grasp of everything involved and behind it. Who can?

Besides Friedman, that is. His column in this morning's NY Times is a helpful piece of writing when it comes to getting a handle on the recent blowout. It's easy enough when we see the carnage on TV to cry out and raise fists and make judgments, but those judgments are inevitably wrong.

Read this piece. And look forward with hope that the incoming administration in this country can do something to change the way life works over there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Death of a Newspaper

And, arguably, a glimpse into the death of an industry. A very important and necessary industry.

My editor at Healthwise, Roya Camp, used to be an editor at this paper. We wonder how the wholesale slaughter of newspapers in this country will be resolved. Our democracy cannot function without the fourth estate. News is essential, and it doesn't write itself--local news especially. And, lovely though they are, an informed citizenry cannot survive on blogs alone.

So what's gonna happen? How can every small town rag become an aggregator of all the world's news? Especially if people are no longer willing to pay subscription fees? I don't know the answer, but I'd like to be the one who figures it out.

Monday, January 12, 2009


No apologies for this. As a policy, we shy away from unabashed cuteness here at Range Life. But this is just too good to not post.

Thanks to Cathy, we've actually been following this Tennessee elephant sanctuary for some time. There's an elephant cam. You can watch them all day. It's oddly calming. But this story about an elephant and her strange friend is just too much. Watch it and feel really good for a few minutes. You deserve it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Serious Regrets

There is not much to be gained in regret. Most of the time. But, for Leonardo Piepoli, regret may be all that's left.

After testing positive for doping in last year's Tour de France, the 37-year-old veteran is without a team, without any serious prospects for a comeback, and without even a very good chance of being able to work as a coach or trainer. Of course, people forgive, and Piepoli's long years of clean racing and hard work and sacrifice in the role of gregario before his unfortunate decision to cheat could in time work in his favor.

It's a very sad thing to see a career end this way.

Check out the VeloNews article for Piepoli's own words.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Finally, Skiing

Today was my first day on the hill. We had a dusting of new snow, but not any significant snowfall. I considered not going. My friend Hillary said, "It's way too early in your career to become a snow snob. Go skiing tomorrow."

She was right. The dusting on top of a really nicely set base made for a fantastic day of skiing. Not to mention the mid-20s temps, lack of wind, and brilliant blue sunny skies. Nice day. I've remembered why I made such an effort to do this the past couple years. Time to relight the fire.

The pic above is from the webcam at the top of the Pine Creek chair, where my friend Derek and I spent the whole morning. Anyone up for a ski vacation? I know of some cheap lodging in Boise. With a hot tub...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion's account of losing her husband and almost losing her daughter, all in the same year, is an intense and insightful journey through fear and grief. We are led by the widow who keeps thinking that something she could have done could have saved her husband--and further, who thinks that something she still could do might bring him back. That's the magical thinking.

I'm not terribly familiar with Didion's work, nor with that of her husband John Dunne, but the manner in which she deals with the events of this year really cut close. The obsessive research and learning about the conditions behind the tragedies, the focus on words and what they might or might not mean, what they might or might not bring about, the searching for reasons or answers or some sense of sense in it all, even some comfort, in meaning, is a tack that is both completely understandable and bound to fail. Or, if not fail, ultimately push her onto a different track of acceptance and coping.

It took me about a year to read this book. In the beginning I was interested but couldn't really identify, so the words were a bit more distant, less forceful, than they might be. By the end, just last night, new layers of meaning had crept out of my own life onto the pages of the book. My analytical view of her daughter Quintana lying unconscious in a hospital bed changed to a more immediate and emotional reaction. Life has a way of interfering with art, sometimes.

In the end, I appreciate this book a great deal. The difficulty she must have faced in writing it. The torture of reliving things and wanting to get them exactly right. The skill with which she laid out her thought processes, her grieving and coping, her inability to get back to life and the steps she took to try and get there, the resignation, in the end, to the idea that things were not going to change back.

The Year of Magical Thinking is, I would venture, as much a necessary book as a good one. But it is certainly both.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New on the Range

Range Life is back live this week after a couple Wednesdays off. And I'm stacked with the good stuff.

New stuff from DJ /rupture, Times New Viking, The Mae Shi, Ponytail, and lots more rock. On the softer tip Juana Molina, Grouper, car & trains, High Places, and The Sight Below. Plus lots more. Tune in from 5 to 7 mountain time at

Seat Burris

The appointment of Roland Burris to the US Senate by dirtbag governor Rod Blowjobovich is becoming a most unfortunate piece of awful political theater. Unfortunate because, by all accounts, Burris is a good guy and a good politician and would be a valuable member of the Senate, but he is now and for the foreseeable future attached in the public mind to Governor Blago.

But it is this false attachment that is the problem. By seating Burris, the Senate acknowledges his credentials and qualifications, and denies that he is connected to Blago at all. Sure, he gets to make the appointment, but in light of what's coming his way, big friggin deal. The glow won't last.

And then there's the small matter of what's legal and constitutional. From a NY Times op-ed:

The Constitution’s text is simple enough: “Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.” Since no one disputes that Mr. Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, possesses the constitutional qualifications of age, residency and citizenship, the remaining issue is whether the Senate can adjudge Mr. Burris not to have been properly appointed. Although federal prosecutors are seeking a corruption indictment of Mr. Blagojevich, he is in fact still the governor. The charges that he sought bribes to appoint certain candidates to the Senate do not automatically render illegal other official acts of his office like signing laws or pardoning criminals. And because there is no evidence that a bribe was solicited from, or proffered by, Mr. Burris, his appointment is presumptively lawful.

Seating Burris is unquestionably within the law. Not seating him, not so much. This whole thing is an unnecessary distraction and should be brought to a swift and decisive end by the Senate.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Genius, Gone

Years ago, I reviewed a collection of short stories for the Austin Chronicle. It was called Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and in the advance proof stage I had it, the artifact itself was none too impressive.

But inside, so much was happening. Though the subject matter of the pieces was a bit discomfiting, even squirm-inducing, perhaps I can go so far as to say nearly unbearable, there was no mistaking that a writer of some peculiar and astounding intellect was at the helm.

That writer, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide on September 12th of this year, and his departure of this world at the tragic age of 46 leaves a gaping hole in modern fiction.

Check out this fantastic article from the NY Times on Wallace's philosophical past, an enjoyable examination of the author's undergrad honors thesis in philosophy.

I've just finished reading his first novel, The Broom of the System. This is quite a book. To be honest, I can't say that I loved reading it, but neither can I stop thinking about it. A set of narrative threads that weave and dance and brawl alongside each other until they all eventually collide, the work to be done at the end, to tie it all together and leave the unbelievable legitimate, was perhaps a bit much to accomplish.

Of course it was not accomplished, not tidied and bowed, which is to be expected, but the contortions undertaken to get to the end left me cold, and even a bit upset. Characters who were enjoyable become unbearable, those at the center of the action do not overcome anything. It was an amazing ride and an ultimately frustrating book, but even so, I can't wait to read more.

Thinking back to Brief Interviews, I'm reminded of this same feeling then. So much promise, so many glimpses of remarkable writing, so many moments of readerly bliss, that to be unfulfilled at the end, to have nearly as many reasons to grind teeth as to sing praises, is confusing. But then that is likely the sign of true talent. He's not making it easy. And neither should he.

Wallace's body of work is not large. All too soon I'll exhaust what he's written, and that, I predict, will be the most frustrating thing of all.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Elizabeth McCracken wrote a beautiful book called An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. I read it in two days.

At the beginning: "A baby dies in this book..." That tells us what to expect, but as in life, it doesn't prepare us for when it happens. McCracken takes us through a year in rural France, spent pregnant, that ends terribly. It's a frank, often hurt, sometimes hardened and always honest telling of a terrible terrible thing.

McCracken tells her story in progressive fragments, going only so far with a particular thread of the story line as she seems able, before having to pull back, move on to a different subject to regain perspective, or to hold on to poise.

Our good friend Kimberly recommended this book to us, and we're both glad she did. This hit hard. It scratched at some still-raw wounds, set to nagging some of our own lingering questions, and forced another walk through our own worst months. But in this sadness there is beauty, as in much sadness, and painful and difficult though it was, recasting our own history in the light of literature is if nothing else a way of dealing with things. I'm glad for the opportunity to read this book.