Monday, November 29, 2010

Mad Lib Myth Creations

My first thought on hearing about the attempted bombing of Portland's living room was 'I wonder how much of this was the boy's idea, and how much the FBI's idea?  My next, he must be mentally ill.  I first learned of this via the Mayor's blog post via his Facebook feed.  At least his headline made clear from the beginning that people were never actually under any real threat: The bomb was a fake but the suspect thought it was real.

My first concerns were that the facts of this situation might never be truly available to us, it would certainly be distorted in the media to fortify calls for greater security, it would fortify the continued erosion of civil rights, and it would be difficult for this young man to get a fair trial.  More concerns tumbled through my head, like, isn't it convenient that this great threat comes on the heels of several weeks of protest over the implementation of full body scans or full body pat-downs at airports?  No doubt it will be used to shut people up.  And oh yeah, wikileaks has published more embarrassing duplicitous stuff by government officials.  Could this be a wag the dog event?  While the world looks at the US Embassy cables and gets mad, will Americans be caught up in this home terrorist threat?

As the fallout news shakes out, I begin to realize this could have been a very calculated wag the dog event.  Five years ago, thanks to the persistent voices of activists on the street and in city hall, and a rational liberal mayor, Portland said no to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.  No, the city would no longer share its police officers with the FBI in a task force that pushed the limits of civil rights.  Now, the voices are rising for it. Could it be the FBI never forgave Portland for pulling out?  These two news stories are becoming one and the same.

My wish to know more about just what part the FBI played, and what part the young man played, was quickly fulfilled.  At least a couple of friends in my social networks shared the link to the original affidavit.  From this I learned that this seems to be a teenage misanthropic fantasy only allowed to come to apparent fruition through the encouragement of the FBI agents.  Young Mohamed Osman Mohamud allegedly had email contact with someone based in Pakistan that allegedly used coded words regarding his willingness "to prepare for violent jihad."  His attempt to contact a second "Unindicted Associate" failed.  After that, the FBI contacted him, pretending to be a third associate to numbers 1 and 2.  

The undercover FBI agents gave Mohamed several options.  Multiple choice.  I thought, would this boy even have gone this far without those choices made concrete?  Before this, he had vague notions of going to the Middle East, and going to Alaska to earn big money so he could go to the Middle East, but he was unable to do either.  Without the suggestions by the FBI, might someone have noticed he was emotionally disturbed, and got help for him?  What he needed then was compassion.  He certainly needed to be watched carefully, but he didn't need someone to give him a road map to dark fantasy fulfillment.

It seemed to me the agents rounded him into a corner (you can't join up overseas, you're on the no-fly list) and gave him a clear route out to his dark desires.  The affidavit makes this sound so reasonable, like they never led the young man to these choices, that he just stepped in this pile of shit of his own free will.  But I wonder, what kind of body indicators were they giving them as they asked?  What subtle hints in intonation?  Choice number 1 was praying 5 times a day, and number 4 to become "operational."  A young man has finally met his heroes (he thinks) and he wants to impress them, right? 

So then, the FBI agents lead him down a path.  They have a blueprint for action, and they tell him what they need to fill in the blanks.  It's like Mad Libs for terrorists.  OK, we need an action.  He comes back with a dramatic one, bomb the tree-lighting crowd in Portland.  Oh, that's good! Now, how do you want to do this?  More dark drama, the more dramatic the better...kill the women and children.  Video games, movies, rap, they all call for the dramatic.  He wants a bomb, a big bomb?  Well, then he needs to buy this stuff. They give him the money for the stuff.  (Only a portion of the supplies actually needed for a bomb.)  They give him the money for a hotel to hide out.  The FBI builds the "bomb."  The FBI provides the van, and the strategic plan.  More blanks for him to fill in: a map with several possibilities for the "bomb"-loaded van to park.  The FBI makes sure the parking spot is available.  He has to drive the van, but he doesn't have to get himself to a remote location.  The FBI can do that.  Final blank to fill in: he must make the phone call to trigger the "bomb".

So the news is that a bomb threat was foiled.  The FBI narrowly prevented a tragedy. "The bottom line of all this is that the FBI saved Portland from a potentially horrendous attack."  No...the bottom line of all this is that we are seeing myths created before our eyes.  There was never a real threat to the festive tree-lighting event in Portland. There was no real bomb threat to be foiled or narrowly prevented.  A young man who had adolescent fantasies of destruction was fed fantasy fulfillment, and given experts, money, and a clutter-free path to give it a form bigger than he'd probably ever imagined on his own.

I admit I thought to myself Why am I immediately suspicious?  This is what people refer to when they say someone like me hates America.  What can I say to them?  I say it is not new to the peace movement that agents will insinuate themselves into a group, look for weaknesses, and wedge the cracks open. They will incite members to plan violence where no motive toward violence existed before.  Because I want my country to live up to its professed ideals, I don't want government-sponsored agent provocateurs doing this kind of thing.  I say I would simply like to know the facts, if it is possible.  The peace movement's greatest weapons are transparency, honesty, and commitment to non-violence.  The weapons of secret agents are isolation of individuals, deceit, and incitements to violence.  I would just like this case to be transparent.  Let's hear those conversations between secret agents and the violent-jihad-bound young man, not just the picked bits chosen to fortify the affidavit and the fears of the masses.

Further reading supports my fears.  Salon shares that the crucial conversation, in which Mohamed chooses from five options, is missing, that there were technical difficulties.  Really? Scarily convenient.  We'll never know how unequivocal he was about it now, will we?  I learn also this Mad Lib for Wanna-Be Terrorists has happened before.  It looks like you could have quite a bit of reading, if you care, at this link to a Truthout story on that.  Indeed, my Portland pacifist friend reminds us that it's not even the first time in Portland that the FBI has cooked up some completely false allegations.

I am not trying to say this is entrapment according to the law; I have no idea.  I was surprised to find from the Salon article that the multiple choice options are to address that very concern, when to me it seems the very options put the ideas into an impressionable young man's head.  But what about the people who will say I am making excuses for terrorists?  I feel sorry for Mohamed Osman Mohamud. It may be he is a dangerous person.  If the cherry-picked statements regarding his wish to kill families and children are to be believed, he is a scary person.  I only hope he gets a fair trial, and I regret that it already appears his case exists to fulfill fears of terrorists and to encourage the loss of civil rights.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I posted a review at Yelp for It has become my preferred grocery delivery method.  I don't usually do Yelp reviews, but Spud spurred me along at Facebook with a chance to win dinner for two.

Seriously, I'm not sucking up, I really do like Spud a lot.

Let me count the ways I love Spud as a delivery service:

1. Delivery is free if I buy as little as $34.00 worth of stuff. Other grocery delivery services only sometimes give you a coupon for free delivery, and that's only if you buy certain stuff and spend at least $150.00. Even if I had no other reason to like Spud, this makes them a winner.
2. I don't have to be home when they deliver.
3. Even if I am not home, they keep the cold stuff cold with ice packs and dry ice.
4. They use reusable crates rather than disposable paper or plastic bags. (and no deposits required for crates or ice packs)
5. When I buy milk with returnable bottles, Spud takes the bottles back and reimburses me the deposit.
6. I never trust other grocery delivery services to give me good produce that I would pick myself, but I've always been happy with the produce from Spud.
7. I have a choice, to ask for a delivery when I want one, or to ask for a regularly scheduled delivery, and I have a choice as to how often that happens.
8. I don't need some rewards card, but I do earn points for money spent, and actually get money back towards my next delivery fairly often.
9. Spud makes it very easy to know if what I'm buying is from a local company, and even rewards me with the possibility of free stuff if I buy enough local stuff.
10. I get to pick and choose what I want delivered, but if I forget to do that in time, Spud picks some produce for me based on my preferences.

I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting. As with any delivery service, I love not having to cart those heavy groceries home on the bus. The only drawback: they don't have as many choices available as those other services that charge around $10 for delivery. They do have the kinds of things I want: organic, local produce; and environmentally friendly household goods. The funny thing is, since I started using Spud, those other services are offering me free delivery if I will come back to them. Now, if only they started carrying Swheat brand cat litter...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I dug out my family recipe for kuchen.  There's no great family secret about this could do a Google search for a kuchen recipe and find dozens that are similar.  As I look at it, I am reminded of the form of the recipes my family shared.   These days recipes take the form of listing the ingredients and numbering the steps to bake.  The way we shared, I realize now, was designed to fit all on a 3X5 card.  It was assumed the recipient cooked and baked, and didn't need step by step instructions with full sentences.  It doesn't say so, but I'm sure this recipe came from Great Grandma Spradau.  I copied it from her daughter's recipe card,  Grandma Knowles.  That's Grandma Spradau in front, with her birthday corsage, one of her daughters in the back (Aunt Vera?).

I got this out because I'm going to bake a kuchen for my co-workers.  Somebody started a cake-of-the-month club, and way back when I signed up for November.  I don't do so much baking now.  It's years since I baked this...but you don't forget, do you? 

A month or so ago somebody also proposed we create a zine with all our recipes, and each of us who brought a cake could design a page of the zine, or at least hand our recipes over to the zine editors.  I started to think in terms of story as well as cake.  I'd really hoped the recipe would be in my grandma's handwriting, then I would scan and put the recipe in the zine as-is.  Sadly, it is in my crappy mistake-ridden handwriting. Perhaps I will still include it that way.

I thought briefly about making the Poppy Seed Cake, written out by my grandma, all for the story.  There's Grandma Knowles' handwriting, and Grandma Spradau's name, and there's the form our recipes took: brackets pointing from the ingredients to the actions, ever more cramped at the bottom of the card.

I don't think I've ever made this cake though.  I loved it when my grandma made it.  It doesn't even say, but I"m pretty sure when done she would wrap it in tin foil, and the cooked vanilla pudding would soak into the cake, unless that was a different recipe.  However, another reason I love it is that there is NO LEMON.  Why does everything sweet poppy seed also have to have lemon these days?

But there is story  to the Fruit Kuchen recipe as well.  I had to do a Google search myself, seeing that no fruit amount was listed.  Some recipes listed about 4 cups.  Then I remembered that you put enough fruit to cover the batter, and of course, in this old school way of sharing, the women would just know how much they would need.

Grandma, my mom, and my aunt most often made this in the spring and early summer.  First when the rhubarb was ready, later, when the raspberries were ripe. 

There's my mom, my grandpa, my grandma, and my aunt at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  I wasn't able to attend because I was away at college.

I know my great grandpa came from Germany.  I'm not sure about his wife...I'll have to ask my mom.  Either she did too, or her parents did. As a family, we certainly had a lot of German eating habits, like kuchen, and vinegar on vegetables. (And we would say we would "go by so-and-so's house" rather than "visit" or "go to"'s a German thing.)

I suppose I could find some rhubarb in the frozen food section, but I decided I would find something fresh and local, so I put pears and apples on my grocery delivery list.  I'm not sure which one yet...maybe both.  I still want to plant rhubarb in my front yard as a part of the edible landscaping. I want to make rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb kuchen, and take a raw stalk and suck on it, making my mouth pucker so I can remember that childhood feeling of wondering why I was doing that if it was so tart.  And, with rhubarb in my yard, I can feel connected just a little bit to my family's traditions.  Everybody had a rhubarb patch.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

books books books

Unless I suddenly stop reading, this year I will surpass the number of books read in previous years since I started keeping track at Goodreads.  I have been so much more interested in reading than in writing.  I blame the Kindle, among other things. I don't recall feeling the reading bug bite me so bad since I was an awkward kid in junior high. In August, I read the entire Sookie Stackhouse series in 2 weeks.  Some of us who've been attending the Read the Classics series didn't want to take a summer break, so we read and discussed Absalom, Absalom!, Heart of Darkness, and The Sun Also Rises.  Especially notable from my Hollywood Library book group were The Echo Maker and The Sparrow, though we've been reading some great books all along.  Here's this year's schedule.

More recently, I got to meet the author of Lean on Pete.  He's also the singer/songwriter for Richmond Fontaine. He was sweetly authentic.  The several nurses who attend our group were stumbling over each other encouraging him to keep going with his current project about nurses. I told him as soon as his other books were available for the Kindle, I would buy them.  He'd certainly like them to be, but apparently his publisher has other ideas.  They are available in the UK, but not the US....grrrr.  This turns out to be the only book for my book club that I couldn't read on the Kindle.  Seriously, the device has helped me be a better book group leader.

I also got to see Margaret Atwood and Ursula LeGuin as part of Portland Arts and Lectures the same month we read Oryx and Crake.  As soon as I finished that, I immediately read the parallel sequel, Year of the Flood, which, it turns out, I really should listen to as well, as songs are key pieces of the book.  Finish a book at 1 am, it's all too easy with the Kindle to buy the next one in 30 seconds.

I will say though, that because I have fully embraced my preference for reading books on the Kindle, I have returned many library books.  Often I would say all those books with all those due dates were like a ball and chain.  What a burden bounty can be, eh?

So I was thinking, I must have spent a lot more money on books, right, now that, if I have the choice, I read it on the Kindle?  I received my first Kindle for my birthday in May 2009.  (Oh yes...I did buy the "latest generation" of the Kindle, and I am happy I did.  My first one went to a good home.)  I looked at the money I spent on books from May 2008 to May 2009, and then from May 2009 to May 2010.  I actually only went from $270 to $336.  The immediate past 12 months, however, add up to $570.  All those Stackhouse books....  So yeah, you could say the Kindle has rekindled my love of book-reading.

Everyday Zen, I read twice over, as I co-led a class on it at my Zen Center. The first class did not record, but you can listen to the other classes.  Download Class 2, on Chapter 2, here.  Class 3, on Chapter 3. Class 4, on Chapters 4 and 5.  The final two classes haven't been uploaded yet.  We had a handout for the can find it here on Facebook. (and no, you don't have to belong to Facebook to see it.)  As far as preparing for the class, I bow again to the Kindle.  It was so easy to highlight, jot notes, review and print notes and highlights to discuss with my co-teacher and our mentor, and consequently prepare for the class.