Wednesday, January 11, 2012


“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC2c. with Battery D, 2d Battalion, at Phu Loc 6, near An Hoa. During the early morning hours, an estimated battalion-sized enemy force launched a determined assault against the battery's position, and succeeded in effecting a penetration of the barbed-wire perimeter. The initial burst of enemy fire caused numerous casualties among the marines who had immediately manned their howitzers during the rocket and mortar attack. Undaunted by the intense hostile fire, HC2c. Ray moved from parapet to parapet, rendering emergency medical treatment to the wounded. Although seriously wounded himself while administering first aid to a marine casualty, he refused medical aid and continued his lifesaving efforts. While he was bandaging and attempting to comfort another wounded marine, HC2c. Ray was forced to battle 2 enemy soldiers who attacked his position, personally killing 1 and wounding the other. Rapidly losing his strength as a result of his severe wounds, he nonetheless managed to move through the hail of enemy fire to other casualties. Once again, he was faced with the intense fire of oncoming enemy troops and, despite the grave personal danger and insurmountable odds, succeeded in treating the wounded and holding off the enemy until he ran out of ammunition, at which time he sustained fatal wounds. HC2c. Ray's final act of heroism was to protect the patient he was treating. He threw himself upon the wounded marine, thus saving the man's life when an enemy grenade exploded nearby. By his determined and persevering actions, courageous spirit, and selfless devotion to the welfare of his marine comrades, HC2c. Ray served to inspire the men of Battery D to heroic efforts in defeating the enemy. His conduct throughout was in keeping with the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.” 1
Most people would call this heroism.  The above is the citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Hospital Corpsman Second Class (HC2) David Robert Ray for his actions on March 19, 1969.  
It is also important to realize that HC2 Ray could easily have served the duration of his commitment in a hospital safely behind the front lines or even on American soil but had requested duty with a Marine combat unit. 
It would be difficult to consider any of the actions of HC2 Ray as self-centered.  He consistently showed concern for others above himself; both in putting himself in combat status and in repeatedly risking and then sacrificing his life for his patients/comrades.  Most people call this altruism.

In fact, war is inherently altruistic.  The the risks taken by combatants rarely benefit the actors.  The reward to the soldier for success in combat is further combat with an increasingly desperate opponent.  The benefits of this combat are reaped by individuals and institutions remote from the action who rarely are in any immediate danger themselves.
We laud this selflessness universally as one of the highest achievements of humanity.
Let us look further in the medical world.  Paul Farmer went to Duke for undergraduate study in anthropology and then Harvard for further studies in anthropology and concurrently in medicine and upon licensing, rather than working as a physician for six figures, embarked on a career with essentially no monetary compensation throughout the global South.  He has contributed to transforming the way medicine thinks about infectious diseases, particularly in impoverished populations, insisting on a preferential option for the poor.  2

Finally, the world of personal wealth.  Bill Gates worked tirelessly beginning in the 1970’s to change the way the world accesses and uses information.  By 1995, he was the world’s wealthiest man.  Yet in 2008, he stopped working for Microsoft to devote himself to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation seeking to alleviate worldwide poverty rather than personal wealth.  3
All of these individuals’ altruism is heroic.
Why is it then that when it is suggested that people consider others’ well-being in their financial lives they are ostracized as socialist, communist, or in some other way lacking personal ambition or a moral compass?  Heroes realize that the well-being of all is of equal or greater import than the interests or wealth of the individual.
How can we praise the self-sacrifice of people’s lives yet decry the suggestion that everyone has a right to survival and health in the most affluent society in the history of the world?  Why do we praise altruism on the battlefield yet chastise it on our own streets?  We codify and mandate altruistic death on the battlefield in the Uniform Code of Military Justice yet sabotage it in the halls of congress, the media and on the streets throughout the world dominated by American culture.  How does this phenomenon embody any of the finest traditions of the United States or of humanity?
Do we vilify financial altruism, often called socialism in American society, because it accelerates the decay of American society?  Is it simply a reflex carried over from the Cold War mentality that communism is evil?  Or is it that seeing people live out the idea of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is taxing on the conscience of those who do not have the moral fortitude or integrity to do so themselves?  Perhaps if we peeled away these labels and looked at the underlying values of these actions, individuals and ideas we might be able to agree on what is right and human.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OccupyWallStreet and consensus

I overheard a couple on the bus behind me this evening bemoaning the fact that Occupy Wall Street has not developed a coherent set of demands, that they’re not for anything.  ‘I would totally get behind them if I knew what they wanted.  They just seem shiftless and opposed to a lot of stuff but not FOR anything.’
This came close on the heels of a conversation with an elderly friend of mine decrying the occupation for similar reasons.  ‘They aren’t moving in any direction, they just are.  I wish I could get behind them, but I don’t know what I’d be behind or where we’d be going.’
It is important to remember that the Occupations, on Wall Street and across the country, are consensus-driven.  There is no leader and there is no mouth-piece.  Each individual in the movement has the same say as every single other individual.  It is possible to gain a coherent, consistent voice from such a group operating under such rules, but it takes time.
The Zapatistas called it carocol and represented it visually with a snail in its shell.  The Quakers call it the sense of the meeting and are willing to devote any length of time to achieving it and prefer no decision to one which violates it.  On Wall Street, any single person present at the General Assembly can halt a move by crossing her/his wrists.  The spirit fingers of consensus and celebration are patient, strong and loving enough to tolerate and exult the delays in the process because the conclusion arrived at through consensus is the best possible solution in human decision-making.
Having said that, and under the clear condition of being the words of ONE individual in the occupation (although my works have thus far been largely remote and based in the realm of thought), please permit me to explain to you what I would like to see come out of the occupation.
The goal is very simple.  Deducing from the demands as stated to date, the Occupation wishes to see the compassionate respect for the dignity of all individuals regardless of circumstance or peculiarity.  A rich black Catholic deserves the same respect as a poor white atheist and the same opportunities as an unemployed gay Latino and the same voice as an illiterate single high school drop-out mom.  Money does not have a voice and the holders of money are not any better or deserving of any greater or less consideration than anyone else.  As long as the government who enforces laws contrary to this simple principle and as long as those with money use it to maintain greater considerations, the occupation will continue.  In brief, the statement “We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.” will be discredited.
Written in Portland, Oregon on the 19th day of the occupation.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An open letter to Occupy Wall Street

For those unaware, there have been hundreds of people demonstrating on Wall Street around the clock since Saturday, September 17, 2011.  Their progress can be seen at  On Monday, September 26, 2011, the following letter will be sent by me to the protestors, an open letter to which I direct your attention below.

Addressed to:

The UPS Store
Re: Occupy Wall Street
118 Fulton St. #205
New York, NY 10032

24 September 2011, Portland OR
My dear brothers and sisters
You inspire and convict me.
I am writing to express my solidarity with you in this beautiful, long overdue action in keeping with the highest, most central values to humanity in general and to America in particular.  I am humbled not to have taken a similarly bold, clarion stand against the citadel of greed, oppression and hypocrisy yet.  But this is not about me, this is about all of us.
I have learned and hope to better embody, that it is impossible to be neutral, to remain sitting on the fence, in a democracy.  When our leaders, our lawful representatives, behave in ways clearly contrary to our interests and beliefs, we lend them support and give their actions legitimacy if we do anything fhort of adamantly opposing them and their actions.  By remaining silent, the “silent majority” not only forfeits its prerogative, but effectively becomes complicit in the wrongs perpetrated by their representatives.  Thank you all for helping to drive this point home to me.
I particularly appreciate the concept of your “one clear demand” which cuts me to the quick.  you are absolutely right in your expectation: the just respect for each individual’s dignity, and each deliniated facet of this demand is right on point.
In closing on a personal note, there is a young woman in our number with orange hair who was photographed with a brown cardboard sign with blue lettering stating “Wall Street is screwing us so take off your clothes.”  Plese tell her that her smile made my week!  I love you all.  Please be safe and never give up!
Josh von Kuster

For more on the protests, follow the hashtag #occupywallstreet , on the link above and the "One Clear Demand" can be read, with analysis, at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Trip to Nicaragua

You take three flights from Portland, spanning 13 hours, and finally touch down at Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua, just before 9 pm local time, right on schedule.  You grab your bags through the remaining fog of coach class dozing and make your way to the front of the plane to exit at the main cabin door.
And it hits you.
The tropics bombard you with humidity, heat, closeness and life: a constant presence for the duration of your 11 days here in the poorest country on the American mainland.  The sun will rise and set, the rain will come and go, the birds, frogs, insects and assorted other fauna will be more or less vocal in the same rhythm, but the tropicality remains ever-present.
Clearing customs is always interesting for gringos.  Perhaps due to too many Hollywood portrayals, likely influenced by the California and Florida boards of tourism, you have a foreboding of prison guards interrogating you in Spanish in a decrepit stucco jail.  Occasionally you are greeted by alluring young locals with flowers and rum drinks.  Tonight, you are simply asked to pay the 10 dollar entry fee and permitted to enter the country.
You then pile into the short-bus, bound for Ciudad Sandino and the Center for Development in Central America by way of the Pan-American highway with very few delays thanks in large part to the numerous roundabouts (yes, there is hope for Sandy Blvd.).  While you are intrigued to see men both in and out of uniform standing in the back of the police pick-up as it hurtles down the road past you (all transportation is communal in this country), the ride is fairly uneventful.
The bus turns off the highway onto a side boulevard by way of a U-turn and a hard-right.  The street is cobbled and bumpy but far superior to the unimproved driveway up a steep bank as you enter the Center’s compound behind a 2 meter concrete wall and members of the security company required to comply with international trade conventions (thank you CAFTA).
The bulk of the Center’s staff welcomes you as you disembark the bus and give your thanks to Chico for the safe, speedy journey.  The greeting is brief as you’re exhausted despite sleeping on all the flights and soon you collapse on your top bunk under two fans, naively optimistic that the sweating will soon stop.
In the morning, you awake to the reality that you are indeed in a third-world country.  The bathroom comes equipped with trash bins next to all the toilets with prominent placards requesting you to put your toilet paper in said bin rather than the toilet as it causes the septic system to back up.  In case the point wasn’t clear enough, another placard at the door on the way out by invites you to return to the toilet and fish out the offending paper with your hands if need be (and then wash your hands “really really well”).
Now the best part begins: superior coffee grown less than 100 miles distant and roasted even closer.  Despite being ground days in advance and its plastic brewer, this coffee’s incredible flavor cannot be vanauished.  And gallo pinto (pronounced GUY-o PEEN-toe, meaning “speckled rooster”), the national dish, accompanies 2 meals a day, everyday.  Yes, that’s right, your author is indeed big in Nicaragua.
Following breakfast, you discover what blue collar life was like before automation and the assembly line.  Your job is to make adoquines (ah-doe-KEY-nays), or paving stones, to improve the driveway with which you will become intimately familiar over the next week.  This gives you the opportunity to meet Pedro “the Baptist” who presides over every step of the process in the manner of Leonard Bernstein.  
It is a fairly simple process: mix concrete, pour and then pack it into a steel mould, then stack the formed stones to permit them to set.  The trouble is, it’s all by hand.  And there is a seemingly endless supply of all the constituent materials.  And Pedro is not easily impressed by your exertions, having overseen similar projects for numerous years and countless volunteer teams including aspiring civil engineers.
The critical step in the adoquine process is wetting the concrete just enough to be able to form it easily into the mould.  This is where Pedro proves his worth (and entertains quite thoroughly) by spreading the water over the pile of concrete mix as if it were the newest-born Catholic and he the priest; blessing each paving stone before it is even formed, the source of his name.

This is life in Nicaragua: arduous labor which you must enjoy or go crazy, fueled by rice and beans.  And that’s for the healthy ones.  You see a number of obese people as do your colleagues at the clinic in Nueva Vida, thanks in large part to the introduction of highly processed foods into the diet available at the numerous pulperias (octopus shops) or convenience shops run out of residences.  Malnourished pets abound and all the children are skinny, some showing the reddened hair indicative of kwashiorkor, chronic protein deficiency.
Yet you are not so aware of the problems with society in Nicaragua as you are of the happiness and determination of the people.  Through horrendous living and working conditions, the people remain happy and jovial.  On the occasions when you get the opportunity to converse with the residents, they all seem incredibly aware.  They are informed of the futility of the political process (the father of the 1979 revolution is now establishing himself as an autocrat) and the great odds against their situation improving either personally or nationally.  Yet they enjoy life, love their family, and work hard with and for each other.
The most striking absence is greed.  While there are clear boundaries placed on personal space (every home has a structural perimeter ranging from substantial concrete walls to an insignificant piece of string).  But resources are shared.  Things asked for are readily rendered and returned just as readily.  Complimenting a person on their ear rings often elicits a spontaneous exchange for the item.
Everywhere you look, you see the human spirit triumphing over the material realities of the situation.  In dirt streets with open storm- and gray water-sewage in front of homes boasting the latest in latrine technology, you see people laughing as they sit in the shade on their porches and waving at the passers-by.  With our fiber-optic internet and wireless clouds and high-definition, 3D tv’s and glass-smooth asphalt, do we ever ask ourselves the price?  Why you can walk down the streets of the most opulently wealthy country in the world and never see a soul?
After 11 days, your trip comes to an end.  You feel this Nica world escaping you as you walk through Augustino C. Sandino airport, with its duty free shops and manequin-like sales women.  As you board the Continental flight, the artificiality of western life welcomes you back with air conditioning.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Best of Portland

Presented for open debate.

Here is my list of places most likely to endear Portland to newcomers/visitors.  Comments and suggestions for addition are highly encouraged (I suspect my thought on Voodoo Doughnuts will elicit some feedback!).

The short-list:
Barista (best cappuccinos in town)
Stumptown (arguably the coffee heart of PDX)
The Green Dragon  (beer selection, outdoor seating, and beer specials during happy hour)
Full Sail Brewing (food specials during happy hour)
Prost (German beer & food)
Hot Lips Pizza (slice and a pint for 6 bucks all day every day)
Bakery Bar (one word: Jammers! with good baristas to boot)
Random Order Coffee (cream pies)
Dutch Brothers Coffee (highly presentable drive-through coffee, numerous locations)
Namaste (excellent Indian buffet at a great price)
At length:
There are two locales I STRONGLY recommend putzing around in.  The first is what I call the cappuccino axis which extends along Alberta Street between Barista and Caffe Vita, or from 17th Ave to 30th Ave.  Other points of interest along this street:
1700 NE Alberta
Random Order Coffee (wicked-good cream pies and other tasties)
1800 NE Alberta
La Petite Provence (patisserie)
1824 NE Alberta
A quick disclaimer RE the axis: I hold the two ends of this axis are the best cappuccinos in town, even though Barista doesn't roast their own beans and Vita is based in Seattle.  It's not a particularly popular position to hold in the ultra-local circles prevalent in PDX (which is the FAA code for Portland International Airport and as synonymous with Portland as is the 503, the local area code).  The local competitors for this prize will be listed later.
The second locale is Woodlawn, which is significantly more compact and lower-quality for coffee but uber-cool.  On the corner of Dekum and Durham are the following businesses:
800 NE Dekum
808 NE Dekum
820 NE Dekum
In Woodlawn Park, one block west of the Corner Saturdays and Sundays
Also spitting distance from the Corner is
Peninsula Park (rose garden and fountain)
Corner of N Ainsworth St. and N Albina Ave.
And with honorable mention due to its proximity to the water is the area where I currently sit in front of 
315 SW Montgomery St.
Full Sail Brewing (formerly the McCormick and Schmick's Pilsner Room
307 SW Montgomery
There are also numerous boutiques and other little bistro-type establishments along this section of the Greenway.
Alright, now for the businesses:
Of particular note, one of the most significant businesses in Portland is Stumptown Coffee whose Annex at 3552 SE Belmont runs a free cupping daily at noon and a smaller one daily at 2 pm.  Stumptown is one of the earlier and by far the most successful third generation (Starbucks was the second generation) coffee companies in Portland.  Giving credit where credit is due, much of the below information was aided by the Espresso Map (which is not entirely up-to-date, so you may wish to call the individual establishments not listed below before traveling).
2921 NE Killingsworth St.
1465 Ste B. NE Prescott
1028 SE Water Ave
1300 SE Grand Ave (easily the coolest looking space in town, sharing space with a bamboo carpenter)
Heart Roasters
2211 E. Burnside St.
Coffeehouse Northwest (Brewed Stumptown when last I visited, but apparently beginning to roast their own as Sterling Coffee Roasters)
1951 W Burnside
Bipartisan Cafe (brews Stumptown)
7901 SE Stark
Albina Press (brews Stumptown)
4637 N Albina
5012 SE Hawthorne
Bakery Bar (brews Stumptown)
2935 NE Glisan
Case Study Coffee (brews Stumptown and does lots of cold brew)
5347 NE Sandy Blvd.
The three places who don't primarily serve their own beer but are phenomenal are:
The Green Dragon (great outdoor seating with 50 beers on tap)
928 SE 9th (corner of SE Yamhill and SE 9th)
Horse Brass Pub (popular among YAFers and close to the our meeting)
4534 SE Belmont
Prost (GREAT German fare, or at least beer)
4237 N Mississippi
My fave own-brews:
5115 NE Sandy Blvd
2828 NE Glisan
2944 SE Powell Blvd.
Numerous others listed at Pubcrawler by searching for "beer places" in "portland" "OR"
Doughnuts and other bakery types
Another disclaimer: everyone will tell you to check out Voodoo Doughnuts at 22 SW 3rd Ave, but their lines are long, their quality only good, and their fare too eclectic for me, but people will insist you haven't been to PDX without having a Voodoo, so be advised.  My faves are:
Doughnut World (way out in Gresham and highly convenient to my house)
720 NE Burnside Rd.
Gresham, OR 97230
Annie's Donut Shop
3449 NE 72nd Ave (near the corner of Sandy Blvd. and Fremont St.)
Pacific Pie Company  (I haven't been there yet, but I had a taste yesterday and it's legit)
1520 SE 7th Ave
Cupcake Jones (ridiculously good stuffed cupcakes on a rotating menu)
307 NW 10th Ave.
Bike shops:
Clever cycles runs a rental program where you can test pretty much everything they sell before buying.  They specialize in internal hub bikes and folding bikes, both of which are pretty handy for urban commuting.  The coops will have much better prices and even a few second-hand bikes.
Citybikes (annex)
734 SE Ankeny St.
908 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Bike Gallery (numerous locations, downtown:)
1001 SW Salmon
Namaste (Indian)
8303 NE Sandy Blvd.
Pho Van (Vietnamese)
1919 SE 82nd Ave
Other PDX resources:
Portland Transportation bike map (painfully slow to load, also available in paper copy for free at bike-friendly stores throughout the city)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Declaration of Independence Text

When I think of the Declaration of Independence, the following invariably comes to mind: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This opening section goes on to state: “... whenever any Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...”
What is less often remembered, however, is the heart of the Declaration, the list of grievances: 30 affronts which the colonies suffered from King George.  Here are a few of that score-and-a-half.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
Executives from both sides of the aisle have ignored the war powers act, the executive order banning assassination, innumerable environmental laws, and whistle blower protection in the past 15 years.  How many UN conventions have these same political parties failed to recognize both in the executive and legislative? (Kyoto climate protocol, International Criminal Court, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, etc.)?  Are members of the judiciary appointed for their juridical imminence and their career of seeing all as created equal or for their party affiliation?
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
Immigration reform can never pass under this system; there is money backing the status quo in both parties and no one with money wants to change it.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
While technically at war with Korea, the United States’ political structure has not declared a war in over 50 years.  Yet we maintain more than half a million uniformed soldiers in the Army alone and nearly 1.5 million in all services.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
There are currently classified federal laws, particularly within the Patriot Act, which trump the civil liberties outlined by the Bill of Rights.  Were Yasser Hamdi, John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla permitted any of their rights?  Let us speak not of non-citizens whom the government, controlled by Democrats and Republicans, has not treated as created equal.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
Granted, this one is a stretch from the original grievance, but no less appalling.  In August 2007, a USAF B-52 flew from North Dakota to Louisiana carrying 6 armed nuclear cruise missiles.  What has our government done to ensure that we do not flynuclear armageddon inadvertently over our country?
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: 
Has any of you ever supported oil company subsidies, pharmaceutical company subsidies, ethanol subsidies, or any of the other big-money handouts to big-money which our tax dollars currently cover?  How about the triangle nuclear arsenal we maintain?  Yet the parties in Washington refuse to enact widely popular change because it’s not profitable to them personally.
I hold to be self-evident that our current government is immoral.  The Democrats and Republicans in Washington have been running around making a proper mess of things for far too long.  I ask them to graciously seek the closest exit and to extend us their gratitude on the way out for our decades of generosity in not demanding their departure sooner.
Each human is created equal and endowed with the unalienable right to struggle for his/her survival.  This means both that no one is entitled to not have to struggle and that no one is not entitled to survive.  It means that no one has the right to oppress another and that no one has the right to see him/herself as a victim.  
Money is a relatively recent phenomenon and not endowed with any rights.  The Declaration does not hold all money to be created equal.  The colonies were far less wealthy than was the Crown at its passage.  The Declaration and was written AGAINST moneyed interests.  The modern incarnation of these moneyed interests currently controls the United States government.  
Our nation exists because patriots, idealists, rebels and guerillas valued their equality and that of their fellow man more than their lives or their comfort.  Why do we, their progeny, acquiesce to the money which has co-opted their legacy?  Can we be true to the Founding Fathers without throwing off the Democrat/Republican yolk 235 years later?