Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 11, 2006

Brokeback

Broke my usual pledge to avoid popular movies last night and attended Brokeback Mountain. It is a pretty darned good movie, beautifully made, well-acted, thought-provoking, debate-stirring, and so on--but above all, artistic.

The austere ranch scenery, houses, trailer homes, bars and restaurants memorably rendered. If you love the mountain west--and not just the scenery, but the culture--you'll like the movie. If you like beautiful camera work, this movie has two hours of it.

I dread most movies which are at all serious because they can be so emotionally abusive, deliberately trying to make you weep, or change your social position, or carry a banner, or whatever. No such histrionics or pedantics with Brokeback. It is a subjective, artistic depiction--trying to be true rather than trying to convince. Whether it succeeds or not, each viewer has to decide.

I dread movies where I have heard ahead of time that one of the heroes dies. I don't want to endure the moment when the brains spatter on the wall. Hollywood just can't seem to handle a death without slapping you with it, rubbing your face in it, galling you with it. Brokeback was gentle and classy about it. I was relieved and thankful, although the fist fights did cause me to have a night-full of dreams of people bashing each other over the head.

It was a sorrowful movie more than a sad movie. I say that assuming that sorrow has in it a mix of richness that mere sadness does not. There are many rich, but sorrowful moments in Brokeback. The whole film has a haunted quality to it from beginning to end. It moved slowly without ever getting tedious.

There were weak points: The first twenty minutes of the movie just don't fit. The character played by actor Dennis Quaid wasn't realistic. He came across as an actor playing a tough, angry man without knowing what it really felt like to be a tough, angry man. Odd, since Dennis Quaid, of all people, looks like he should know what it is like to be a tough, angry man.

There were surprising lapses at other points in the film--things which didn't feel right, such as when Ennis has a loud, violent argument with his ex-wife in his ex-wife's kitchen while his ex-wife's wimpy new husband just sits in the living room, reads the newspaper and smokes. Not likely.

But overall, it is just a beautiful film, one which would sustain another viewing.


February 10, 2006

Magic words

In this drab time of year, I heard a phrase which darn near made my spine tingle with excitement yesterday: Spring training starts in a week.

Wow, that means spring is on its way. And the most magical thing about spring, with apologies to the gardeners out there, is the beginning of baseball season.

I am more patient now than I was as a kid; I couldn't stand the wait back then. Now, I look for any chance to throw the brakes on advancing time, so I am determined to relish February no matter how foul it is. But it isn't more than six weeks until I get to watch the Twins again!

It was during February of my childhood that I spent more time at home sick with various ailments--mumps, flu, strep, whatever--than I did in school. I think I was just depressed much of the time. February and early March can be the worst.

But now I am on happy pills, thank goodness, and I feel downright good. The gray weather might make me slightly grumpy in the morning, but not despondent.

SORRY ABOUT THE LACK of pictures lately. I took a bunch earlier in the week. In fact, I stopped traffic on a highway out in the valley while I took pictures of windreak rows covered in frost. The sky was blue. The photos were prize winners, at least most of them.

But alas, I had forgot the memory card again. So, there went those prizes.

MY DAD's first cousin Roy from California, who was in the area for business, is spending the weekend at the house. Roy is a retired high school principal who at present organizes exchange programs to China. He travels there two, three or four times per year. He knows the ropes, and he wants me to come over there so he can show me around and report from China, with pictures, on this weblog.

Now, that sounds like fun.

ROY and Aunt OLLA go way back. Roy is in at the Fertile Hilton visiting Olla now. Olla has a stack of pictures for him to go through, and then they will talk about the old days for a long time. Roy's father was Olla's oldest brother. Roy is apparently a chip off the old block, so Olla is just in her element when he visits.


February 09, 2006

Cartoons

Frankly, I find this cartoon snafu darkly funny. The humorless are killing each other over cartoons. There has to be some irony there.

It amazes me that people think there is some right not to be offended. If you don't like what is in a book, don't read it. If you don't like what's on TV, don't watch it. If you don't like a cartoon, don't buy the newspaper which prints it. Vote with your feet. But for goodness sake, don't try to prevent others from seeing the funny stuff.

The humorless have no way of fighting what the cartoons say, so they try to get them squelched. It happens all the time in this country, too.

Publish it all, I say!

Our journalism today is too serious, too tame. We have no H. L. Mencken knocking down the pretentions of the humorless, whether they be left-wing utopians or right-wing moralizers.

I don't watch much TV, but when ever I come across South Park, I find it wonderfully funny. It steps on everybody's toes equally. Fun stuff. But it ain't for everybody.

So, it makes me kind of sad to see newspapers tripping over themselves to find an excuse not to publish cartoons which offend the humorless. We should revel in our free speech! Irresponsible free speech is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Speech which merely offends is probably on to something.


February 08, 2006

Progress?

Long-term readers of this weblog might remember last fall when I wrote about what I saw as horrible abuses in a farm exchange worker program. One of the workers was Cassio, who worked for me. When I took Cassio to California to meet with other Brazilian students on the program, I found out how little they had been paid ($300 per month) to work, in many cases, more than sixty hours per week. They lived in squalorous conditions and some were also physically abused. The program, which bills itself as some sort of educational institution, is actually a cheap foreign labor brokerage. They not only do not care if their students are abused, they regard any complaints of abuse as the fault of the worker, who should just shut up and work harder--and maybe get a reward at the end for working on a "hard farm."

Well, I got a letter from that program today. Apparently, the State Department is looking into charges that some foreign workers are coming in on programs which are billed as educational but which are actually used by farmers as a way to procure cheap labor. The State Department has been "working with" the Agriculture Department and the Department of Labor to make sure that there are no such abuses.

That's great! I wonder where I can write them my story.

However, what was the response of this program? They underlined the relevant passages in the State Department document that some farmers don't even call their workers "trainees," they just call them "workers," or "employees." Gasp!

So, the purpose of the letter was to inform farmers who use this program (I never will touch it again--they are making money by channeling in slave labor as far as I am concerned) that they must call their workers "trainees." Even the farmer's children must call them trainees. Even the parrot! (Ha, ha.)

Oh, and farmers are never to hit, strike, or verbally abuse their trainees. And they are never to make them work more than sixty hours per week. Please don't do this stuff or the State Department will shut us down--and you won't get your cheap labor and we won't get our $500 per month to funnel the cheap labor into the country.

The only possible way this program can claim to be educational is if abusive boot camp conditions promote character--and I'll be darned if that the route the agency took in the letter (which wasn't signed by anybody): Maturity, character-development, etc., were listed prominently--technical skills and expertise in their field never came up.

This agency is crooked to the core, and so are the farmers who use it to get cheap labor. For some reason, I think this agency actually caters to abusive farmers and seeks them out. Only about 10-15% of the "trainees" I met, and Cassio agreed with this, were treated with any dignity.

So, I am glad that the State Department is onto this abuse, and I am trying to figure out who to write to encourage them to not let up.


February 07, 2006

Iran so far away

Here are some of the details of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's view of the world. Apparently, his favorite prophet is going to return to earth after a period of bloody destruction and usher in a millenium of peace.

Now, it is pretty common for fringe elements of various religions to predict the imminent return of their prophet, the supernatural and violent destruction of those who don't agree with them, and a future period of peace and prosperity for the elect. However, you just don't expect somebody who indulges in such fantasies to be elected president, particularly of a country as sophisticated as Iran.

Scary.


Feeder frenzy



The peculiar-postured nuthatch rarely sits upright long enough for a photo, but this one was hungry enough to sit still on the feeder peg for a second or two.



This redpoll looks like he got caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. I discovered recently that I have been spelling redpoll "redpole." The second is improper, even though it looks better to me. Neither of them make any sense. One is a communist Polish person, the other is what Gallup would do in the USSR.



The finch, although they sit primly, lose their dignity when it comes time to chow down.


February 06, 2006

Spinning wheels



Went for a drive again tonight because I thought the sky looked intriguing and thought for sure that I would eventually find something to put in front of the sky. This was the best I could come up with, about six miles east of here.

Earlier in the day, I tried to saw some firewood. The new Caterpillar with the tracks is in for maintainance, so I used one of the old Mitey Macs, and it was a disaster, as it usually is.

I went plowing into the snow to get at a big log of ash I wanted to saw up. I immediately got stuck. No problem, I'll just push myself out with the bucket--except the bucket didn't snap in place like it should have and it fell off. Now I was helpless. So I lifted the bucket into place and got it back on--about a twenty minute process, once all was said (censored) and done.

Not to be defeated, I made it to another pile of logs and started sawing. Got one bucket of wood sawn when the saw hit something and so dulled the chain that it wouldn't saw any more.

So, I took what I had and dumped it by the stove, only to get stuck right there. I went forward and back, forward and back, and finally worked my way to the edge of the swamp where it was call-on-Dad time.

Dad came out with the International 574 and tried pulling--but with a layer of ice underneath everything, we had no margin for error at all when it came to spinning. Once the tire spun, you were done.

It took a while, and we had to use some ashes from the stove for traction, but we got out and I had to be satisfied with spending almost an hour-and-a-half getting together three days worth of wood.

All that saved me from the trauma of watching Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez talk in circles in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's the one who came up with the legal theory that in a time of war, it is okay for the president to do whatever he thinks is necessary to protect us, regardless of its legality.

The exchanges went something like this:

Senator: Under this theory, could you look through people's mail without a warrant?

Gonzalez: Oh, we wouldn't do that.

Senator: But could you?

Gonzalez: We wouldn't.

Of course, under the interpretation of the law authored by Gonzalez, the president can do most anything he wants. We're supposed to trust that he would maintain good faith and only do that which is necessary. There is no evidence yet that Bush broke faith and used the wiretapping for political ends. But in a constitutional democracy, those things aren't supposed to be left to chance. There is supposed to be a check in place. That check was provided by the FISA law, which Gonzalez and Bush chose to ignore.


February 05, 2006

Stones

Well, Mick Jagger, 62, Keith Richards, 62, Charlie Watts, 64, and Ron Wood, 58, can still outdo any other rock and roll band in a live show. The Rolling Stones provided the first worthwhile half-time Superbowl show I have ever seen. Wholesome, too!

Now I can turn the game off.


Sunday photo safari



Lance and I took a Sunday afternoon photo trip, once again going around behind suburban Rindal. The sky tonight was pastel, and the horizontal lines in the fresh-blown snow makes the hills look a bit like the sky.



One doesn't realize how blue everything is until one looks at the photos on a screen.



As the sun set behind this shot, the colors to the east were more blue than ever, even purple.



Here, a hill covered in snow gets confused with the sky.



A little swatch of woods provides some perspective on the oceanscape.


A new role for government

As a part of a deficit reduction bill, Congress approved $750 million to improve marriages. What is that all about? Since when is it government's role to improve people's communication? Can you imagine how unbearably stupid a government-sponsored marriage improvement seminar would be? Where are the conservative advocates of smaller, less-intrusive government when we need them?

Oh, that's right, they're in power.