Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sugar Gum

On Earth Day last week, of all days, while jogging through Balboa Park here in San Diego, I noticed that my favorite tree in the whole world was absent. Earlier this month, the city cut down the magestic 120-foot Sugar Gum tree that has lived in front of the Old Globe Theater since 1935. A significant portion of its top was dead & threatening to fall to earth - too much of the tree to cut off with out killing the whole organism. Every time I had passed that portion of the park, I always made a point to stop at the tree's base to admire its soaring heights. Now what will I do?

"The whole world is, to me, very much 'alive' - all the little growing things, even the rocks. I can't look at a swell bit of grass and earth, for instance, without feeling the essential life - the things going on - within them. The same goes for a mountain, or a bit of the ocean, or a magnificent piece of old wood."
-Ansel Adams, February 1941

Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's Raining Porn in Oregon

What is happening in this country? Is the Meese Commision still active? Another state - this time, the normally forward-thinking, bookseller-friendly, progressive state of Oregon - has passed a law (H.B. 2843) that restricts the display and sale of "sexually explicit" materials, such as books and magazines, to minors under the age of 13. Similar to the Indiana law passed recently - although, not as blatently idiotic - it's not so much that such a law is on the books, as children should be protected from graphic pornography such as it is, but more about the vagaries of the law that are the issue. If a 12-year old walks into a bookstore and opens a sex education book that just so happens to have some images related to human sexuality in it, under the Oregon law, this can be construed as "furnishing sexually explicit material to a child" and the bookseller can be prosecuted - up to a year in prison and/or a $6250 fine. Michael Powell, owner of Powell's Books in Portland: "It says a 13-year-old can legally buy these books, but it's a crime to sell them to a 12-year-old. How do I card a 12-year-old?"

The good part of this - and the reason I was made aware of the law's existence - is that the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and six Oregon booksellers are challenging the constitutionality of the law in a lawsuit filed this past week. It seems that everyone involved understands the intentions of the Oregon legislature, but feels that, again, the vagaries of the law are the issue. Because a book may have a "sexually explicit" passage, should this deem it "illegal"? Under the phrasing of H.B 2843, yes, the whole work will be judged on such a single passage. It's just left too wide open - how many books have you read that have descriptions of sex in them? Should all of those books be illegal to sell to a 12-year old? Not that seventh graders need to be reading "Lady Chatterley's Lover", but it should not be illegal to face it out on a shelf where they may see it. Maybe we should just burn all the books that are questionable, lest they fall into the hands of babes.

I just hope that once this and the Indiana law are brought before the courts, we won't be seeing such half-assed state legislation for awhile.

Sure dummy, keep dreaming.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Some Stolen Fiction (& A Plug)

So I return. I don't have anything profound to lay out at the moment, I just wanted to share this piece I have stolen out of Nam Le's forthcoming short story collection entitled, The Boat (Knopf, May 2008). I have always been a swimmer - though now I don't hit the pool as often as I should. So, this excerpt from Le's story, Tehran Calling, just leapt out at me. My full review of Mr. Le's collection is now available for your reading pleasure over at KPBS's Culture Lust.

To think about it now, the closest she'd ever come to real happiness had been by herself: swimming at the local indoor pool before work. She liked the silence of new morning, the crisp smell of chlorine, the high stained windows that, during summer, filtered the light through like bottled honey. Sometimes, when she was first to arrive, the rectangle of unbroken water shone with the hardness and sheen of copper. She liked the companionship she shared with the other swimmers - all serious swimmers at that hour - the feeling of being alone, unrequired to commit any of the compromises required of human interaction, and yet a part of them; her mere presence the stamp of her belonging. Here she belonged. She liked standing on the blocks, goose-pimpled, second-guessing, and then the irretractable dive into cold water - the sheer switch of it against her skin - she was wet now, cold - her hair wet - and there was nothing to do but to swim herself warm. Lap after lap she would swim: pure sound and feeling; matching the rhythm of her strokes to the pace of her breathing, the ribbed circuit of air through her body. Conditioning herself into a kind of peace. Then, afterward - home.