A critique of “Improvement,” by Joan Silber

It was so dispiriting for me to discover — this late in the game — a terrific writer who has been at it for decades. Where has Joan Silber been, this winner of the 2017 Book Critics Circle Award?

Washington Post book critic Charles Finch calls Silber our equivalent to Canada’s Alice Munro. He writes that like Munro, Silber, “talks a story past its easiest meaning.” She measures favorably against short-story writers like Joy Williams, Lucia Berlin and Grace Paley.

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And I guess it would be easy to simply see Improvement as a series of short stories. In it, we encounter a handful of characters trying to bring their actions into alignment with their intentions.

But here Silber goes beyond building a book of short stories. She skillfully links her characters’ lives as intricately as are woven the threads in the Turkish rug that Reyna’s aunt Kiki gives her in the opening chapter, providing for its reappearance at the story’s end. Indeed, it is the lives of Reyna and Kiki that establish the fabric of this artful meditation.

Improvement really is Reyna’s story. She begins by telling you about her aunt Kiki, who went to Istanbul in her twenties, fell in love with a carpet merchant, followed him back onto his family’s farm when business took a turn for the worse, and eventually returned to New York City and got a job booking housekeepers and nannies through a small agency.

Kiki is a bit of an intellectual, a citizen of the world, given to quoting Averroes and recommending that Reyna read Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way. As if Reyna, single mother of Oliver, receptionist at a veterinary clinic who barely made it out of high school, would likely read anything longer than the directions that come with a bottle of prescription drugs.

Reyna’s preoccupation is Boyd, a three-month resident of Riker’s, who had gotten caught selling five ounces of marijuana. We learn a lot about what Reyna thinks about life: “I loved Boyd but I wouldn’t have said I loved him more than the others I’d been with,” she says. “Fortunately no one asked. Not even Boyd.”

Interestingly, the role played by love in human decision-making is revisited in subsequent stories. And Reyna returns to the theme near the book’s close. “Too much was asked of love,” she tells the reader.

Unfortunately for Reyna and Boyd’s relationship — and it’s especially unfortunate for little Oliver, for whom Boyd has turned into a real buddy  — things take a turn for the worse when a cigarette smuggling enterprise goes horribly awry. Boyd lays some of the blame at Reyna’s door, since her cooperation might have made the difference in the plot’s success. Reyna is white and Boyd and his cohort are black. (This is the only place in the story where race is referenced aside from the fact that Reyna lives in Harlem.)

Part I of the novel is devoted to Reyna, Boyd and Kiki. Part II takes us to other stories and other characters whose lives are linked to the plot to smuggle cigarettes across state lines and Kiki’s life in Turkey, where she comes into contact with smugglers of antiquities. With the stories we move back and forth geographically and historically. The characters are varied: a black home health care worker in love with one of the smugglers, a truck driver involved in an accident with them, three Germans, overnight guests of Kiki’s.

Curiously, the issue of provenance — of the carpet, of a cunieform tablet — and the question of stolen goods becomes somehow central to the linked stories. Does anything really belong to any of us?  Part III of Improvement returns us to Reyna and her story. And also, maybe, with the possibility of bringing action into alignment with intention.

Improvement reminded me of How It All Began, by Penelope Lively, which plays with the idea of how the ripple effect of a dramatic event — a mugging — can change people’s lives. Charming though it is, Lively’s book is over once you reach the last page. Silber’s stays with you. I was ready to open Improvement back up to Page One and start it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Book Reviews, Commentary | 1 Comment

A critique of “Lake Success,” by Gary Shteyngart

lake successIn Lake Success, author Gary Shteyngart works overtime to create a hero it’s hard to like.

We meet Barry Cohen, a hedge-fund manager who oversees 2.4 million in assets, as he enters New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. Drunk and bleeding, he is leaving his beautiful Indian wife, Seema, a first-generation American and non-practicing lawyer many years his junior. He is leaving Shiva, his autistic, three-year-old son, with whom he cannot even make eye contact.

Barry is on a quest to rekindle a romance with his college sweetheart, Layla. Perhaps that is where it all went terribly wrong, he muses. He is also on the lam from the SEC for shady trading practices.

Seema has accused him of having “no imagination,” having “no soul.” He’ll show her. He’ll leave the world where everything has a price tag. He’ll do a deep dive into the real world. Isn’t it “imaginative” to take a Greyhound Bus out of New York? Isn’t it “soulful” to mix with folks who have to go by Greyhound?

But first, he will fill his roller bag with a sampling of his most precious, collector wrist watches. He’ll max out the ATM limit on his three credit cards ($1200) before ditching them and his cellphone. While Barry seems none the wiser for his contact with the hoi polloi, the reader delves into his cluelessness as he journeys, to Richmond, Atlanta, El Paso, hitting rock-bottom in Phoenix, where he must beg for bus fare with a sign reading:

THEY STOLE ALL MY MONEY. I HAVE AN AUTISTIC SON. PRAYING FOR A MIRACLE. ANY LITTLE BIT HELPS! GOD BLESS YOU.

(The layover In Phoenix includes some other less appetizing details, not included here.)

Does Barry actually get anywhere? I’d say “no.” Not really, but perhaps he’ll come to recognize his limitations and, like Candide, retire to cultivate his garden.

Lake Success is a primer in self-deception and the self-serving isolation wealth and power affords those who achieve it. Shteyngart alternates chapters tracing Barry’s descent with Seema’s. While Barry is experiencing his imaginative construct of a “soulful” America, Seema is acting out erotic impulses with a handsome neighbor. Neither is able to articulate to others that their child is autistic and that they are heartbroken. They aren’t straight with themselves; they aren’t straight with others.

One of the others is Jeff Park, an ex-colleague who explains why he can’t bail Barry out with a short-term loan.

“I always have the same visualization,” Park says. “I start with a row of middle-class houses like the one my dad lives in. And then I see you. You go from house to house, from family to family, and you take money from their wallets, from their purses, from under their sofa cushions, and you put it in your pockets, and when your pockets are full, you put it in a duffel bag with the logo of your fund. You don’t sneak in. You don’t break in. You just walk among these people as if they’re invisible and you take the money they’ve earned. And then you go home and you buy a watch or whatever.”

Park’s commentary is a serious place marker for what are concurrent streams of humor and pathos demonstrating America’s disunion in the age of Donald Trump.

Readers are carried along through humor and disbelief until pages 117 to 122. There, in a few pages, juxtaposing memories and experiences, Barry goes from “the ecstatic crunch of fried chicken on the bus” and his own hunger to a hard landing at Vantage on Peachtree, a tony condo structure in Atlanta. He has $740 to his name.

Shteyngart writes: “He did not know whom he was visiting. He was not sure if he had come to deliver a package. And he did not know his own name.” Leaning over the desk of the concierge, “Barry felt the muscles knot in his shoulders. ‘Water,’ he said.”

Barry is having a nervous breakdown and Shteyngart has sucked me in. From the beginning, I had felt privy to his inner life — the thoughts of a man filled with self-loathing but one who still wanted to be loved, even if only by a dachshund. Here I was capable of feeling sorry for him.

Since Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, the art of satire has been hijacked by late-night comedians like Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert. Shteyngart has restored it to its rightful place as a literary tradition. This is not to mention that outright stellar gems of description along the way. Like this one: “They walked outside into a mild coronary of a late afternoon Phoenix day.” (I know whereof he writes.) Or here, where Barry struggles to get his bearings on a side trip into Ciudad Juarez. “Time was still passing. The watch spoke the same language as Barry. It told him that the world was still moving relentlessly on its melancholy axis.”

We know from the beginning, that if Barry is going to survive his road trip and the reader is going to feel vindicated for making the trip with him, he’ll have to return. Shteyngart is too much of a realist not to give his “hero” a soft landing,  but it is a lonely one.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Commentary, fun stuff, Phoenix | 2 Comments

A critique of “The Bomb Shelter,” by Jon Talton

img_20181014_121508211     Jon Talton, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, currently works as business columnist for the Seattle Times. He is also an historian and mystery writer. “The Bomb Shelter” is the ninth in his series of mysteries starring David Mapstone, a detective in the Phoenix sheriff’s department who specializes in cold cases and is, in many ways, Talton’s alter ego.

Talton knows Phoenix and Arizona, continuing to write about this part of the country from an historic and economic perspective in his blog, Rogue Columnist, to which I subscribe. In many ways, “The Bomb Shelter” gives Talton the opportunity to insert many of the observations he regularly makes in his columns.

This is not a bad thing. Talton is opinionated, observant and knowledgeable. He also is nostalgic about the Phoenix of his childhood and outraged about what Arizona could be if real estate developers and state government — which he dubs the “kookacracy” — did not rule the roost.

“The Bomb Shelter” is more that his bully pulpit. In it, the author fictionalizes a 1976 car bomb that killed Arizona Republic crime reporter Don Bolles, who had gone to the Clarendon Hotel for an assignation with a source. The real-life event and its investigation exposed a side of Phoenix known to few people. The crime and the trials that found three men guilty of the plot to kill Bolles made national news. Talton doesn’t only hypothesize about a past in which business and political wheeler-dealers rubbed shoulders with mobsters. He re-looks at the original crime through a series of copycat murders that connect the present to the past.

He does a good job of filling in the blanks on relationships and characters: Mapstone, his wife, Lindsey,  a skilled, high-tech criminologist, his sheriff and good friend Mike Peralta. He inserts real-life notables — architect Will Bruder, Del Webb, Harry Rosenzweig , Barry Goldwater — and events — excavation discoveries at a superstore mall site. He takes readers on car chases around today’s Phoenix. A key scene ends with a “scuffle” at Dobbins Overlook on South Mountain.

Though the plot is filled with twists and turns, the story ends with a photo finish. Crime doesn’t pay and Talton’s handful of female characters play prominent roles. “The Bomb Shelter” is a good read, particularly entertaining for those of us who live here.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Commentary, Phoenix | 1 Comment

Let them eat crepes and chocolate chip cookies

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img_20181005_124507357With all the bad national publicity little Portland is getting for street brawls between Alt-right and Antifa thugs, homeless camps of tent dwellers scattered throughout city center and along major motorways, let’s remember one thing: Portland is still the best place to get a beautifully prepared meal in America.  It’s worth coming here — indeed, living here — for the food scene.

As Bruce and I wind up our summer-into-fall months in Oregon and head off to the Valley of the Sun for the winter, I’m leaving behind some memorable culinary experiences. Let me entice you with a couple of them here.

Coquine (6839 SE Belmont). My sister’s good friend and fellow pianist Lori Kolb, a retired flight steward who still gets around, first told me about Coquine, a neighborhood spot in the Mt. Tabor district of Portland’s east side. It took me awhile to track it down, since this cozy corner is not on any of my beaten paths.

I’m so glad I found it.

Katy Millard and husband, Ksandek Podbielski, a noted sommelier, opened Coquine in 2015. The place was recognized by Bon Appetit as one of “America’s Best New Restaurants” the next year. Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength with Millard’s more recently having been named a James Beard contest finalist. Thank goodness for those of us who live in Portland that this young couple has stuck to what they’ve captured here: exquisitely prepared meals served unpretentiously.

On the misty Portland day I ate lunch at Coquine, the place appeared to be filled with folks familiar with the fare or living within walking distance. I went for the $26 three-course lunch: a first plate, main course and dessert. I chose the coffee roasted carrots with eggplant, smoked green farrow and other bits for the first course, a fisherman’s stew of potatoes, black cod and fennel floating in a yellow Sungold tomato broth for the entree.

A word of caution to those who join me for a meal. Though I eat with my mouth closed and don’t slurp my soup, people seated around me know when I like something. Perhaps I should carry a sign: “Sorry if my noisy pleasure is interfering with your meal.” Such a sign would have been appropriate at Coquine.

img_20181005_130911984_hdr4“People comes from miles around for their chocolate chip cookies,” my lunch date alerted me.” So of course I had to have one for dessert. I ordered it “to go” so I could share it with Bruce, whom I found stretched out on the couch reading a heavy book of history when I got home.

Yes, this cookie, crisp on the outside, chewy in the center with chunks of dark chocolate and caramel-covered smoked almonds inside, finishes off a perfect meal. Even better when shared with a friend.

Arugularium (8337 SE 17th Ave). My friend Molly always seems to have some useful discovery to share whenever we hike. It’s she who put me on to Arugularium, a bakery/creperie in Sellwood near her home. This ideal spot for a breakfast, brunch or lunch is an offshoot of farmers market vendor Chris Douglas’s Savory Et Sweet. Four days a week from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., patrons at Arugularium have a choice of three batters for their crepes: white flour, gluten-free buckwheat and a vegan and gluten-free polenta.

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Arugula anyone?

My frequent lunch companion is Ann, whose husband George has as little interest in img_20180815_1230408051culinary adventures as does Bruce. She and I decided to share both a savory and a sweet crepe. The chicken crepe contained plenty of arugula and fresh tomatoes. The fresh peach dessert crepe was laced with sweet cream.

Both were delicious.

Arugularium is big on veggies. The bakery’s breads and desserts put together unexpected combinations such as a chocolate beet cake iced with cream cheese and glazed apricot chipotle rolls with sherried raisins. Experiments come and go; some take hold, others disappear. One thing that lasted many months was a fundraiser for a new server named Kelly, who broke her foot, couldn’t work and need money with medical expenses. The bakery’s website shows an ominous picture of someone (Kelly?) stretched out on a kitchen floor with a caption “Uh oh!”

We all hope that Kelly is back on the job.

Posted in Eating Well, fun stuff, Portland | 3 Comments

A critique of “All for Nothing,” by Walter Kempowski

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It is always satisfying for a lover of history to happen upon a literature that recreates so believably a time and place as does All for Nothing, Walter Kempowski’s window into East Prussia in January, 1945. The Russian Army is marching west relentlessly shoveling refugees ahead of it. Before it ends, all the characters that populate All for Nothing will have joined the exodus.

This, indeed, is a book to savor for its little stories of a dozen or so people: the residents of a small estate, the Georgenhoff, dwellers in a housing development across the road, known as the Settlement, and the passersby who seek temporary lodgings among them.

Still, All for Nothing goes beyond portraiture; it is is a deeply philosophical book.

Though the book’s authenticity resides in the use Kempowski has made of the countless journals, documents and memoirs he has collected from those who survived World War II — 750,000 refugees fled west along the Baltic coast escaping the eastern front, with only 300,000 surviving — the book’s power resides in the questions it poses.

In fact, All for Nothing ends with a question: “Was everything all right now?” And it begins with an answer, a quote from Martin Luther: “To save our souls from sin, dear Lord,/ Our lives are all in vain./ Only Thy grace and Holy Word/ Obliterate its stain.”

The Martin Luther quote aside, none of the book’s characters display any deeply held religious convictions. In its pages, we meet Katharina and Eberhard von Globig, landholders of the Georgenhoff and members of the civil service aristocracy created by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Eberhard, a special officer in the army, has a desk job in Italy, leaving his beautiful, distracted wife and twelve-year-old son Peter at home. Their efficient care is provided by Eberhard’s aunt, a sinewy whirlwind of activity.

” ‘You must keep the kitchen door closed,’ ” Auntie proclaims. “She kept a handkerchief tucked into her sleeve, and put it to her red nose again and again,” Kempowski writes in his thumbnail-sketch of her. “None of it was as easy as others might think.”

Other members of the household are two quarrelsome Ukrainian kitchen maids, Sonya and Vera, and Vladimir, the Polish farm hand. (Not to overlook Jango, the dog.) They are regularly visited by Dr. Wagner, the schoolmaster who gives private lessons to Peter, whose tonsillitis has kept him from participating in the Hitler Youth. A Pastor Brahms also figures in tangentially when he involves Katharina in a plot to provide clandestine lodging for a mysterious overnight guest.

And then there is Drygalski, a kind of deputy mayor of the housing development, who fancies himself the resident Nazi authority of the area. His activities range from interfering with the local children’s fun and peeping in the windows of the Georgenhoff.

The first half of the book is imbued with a feeling of suspense. From the civilian point of view, all war is a time of waiting, of weighing options over which one has little control. Chapter 12, entitled “The Offensive,” for example, begins with “It broke out in the east that same night. A constant rumbling just beyond the horizon, and the sky lit up brightly.”

Kempowski captures this awesome sense of suspended animation with a moment when the two maids draw up chairs to join Katharina and Auntie in anticipation of what will come.”They all had their mouths slightly open so that they could hear better, and they sat together with their shoulders hunched.”

These are not bad people; they are not good people. They are ambivalent: both petty and grandiose — selfish in their thoughts and actions — but motivated by a sense of duty to values long held. Kempowski writes of them with tolerance and humor, interspersing descriptions and conversations with a quick Heil Hitler, inserted as an almost satirical footnote to the horrors as they unfold.

All for Nothing will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Many will tire of the repetitious detailing of the characters’ inner thoughts and their re-examination of past events. I read it slowly, chapter by chapter. For a follower of podcasts like “This American Life,” All for Nothing is like a radio show. You are there.

Kempowski was born in 1929, raised in Rostock. As Jenny Erpenbeck writes in her introduction to this excellent translation published by the New York Review of Books, the author comes by his story-telling skill by first being a listener. In 1948, he and his brother were found guilty by Soviet occupying forces of collaborating with American intelligence and they were sentenced to prison. Walter Kempowski served eight years of a twenty-five year sentence.

Prison became his school. Upon release, he was deported to the west, and became a teacher and a writer. He amassed more than eight thousand documents and hundred of thousands of photographers, which became his ten-volume magnum opus, a collective diary of World War II, named the Echolot or “echo sounder.”

In All for Nothing we can “listen” to a fictionalized version of their stories as they unfold. They have the ring of authenticity.

I would set All for Nothing on a special bookshelf alongside Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada.

Posted in Book Reviews, Commentary | 2 Comments

A critique of “Some Rise by Sin,” by Philip Caputo

I wanted to like Philip Caputo’s Some Rise by Sin a lot more than I did. It contains many of the elements that make for an exciting story, and it takes place in Sonora, a part of Mexico adjacent to Arizona, where I live for much of the year.

Caputo himself spends his winters in Patagonia, Arizona, south and east of Tucson. someriseHe knows the region and he has written extensively on border issues between Mexico and the United States. This novel profits from the research he did in writing his previous fictional work, Crossers.

Timothy Riordan, an American Franciscan, is the missionary priest of the parish in San Patricio de las Colinas. Some Rise by Sin is the story of his struggle over the sanctity of the confessional and the role he plays protecting his congregants in the war between Mexican authorities and proponents of the drug trade. Dr. Lisette Moreno, also an American, runs the town’s free clinic. Her story parallels Riordan’s as she brings health services to the town and surrounding countryside, while handling a troubled amorous relationship with Pamela Childress, a manic-depressive painter, who joins her in San Patricio after losing a teaching position at University of Arizona.

Caputo is an excellent reporter. He imparts a lot of information about law enforcement in Mexico, distinguishing the federal police from the military, and their rankings and overlapping area of responsibility in drug enforcement, as well as about two organizations involved in the drug trade: the Brotherhood (La fraternidad), a quasi-religious cult that pledges allegiance to an icon, La Santa Muerte, and the Cartel, whose titular head is in hiding. He is knowledgeable about Catholicism and its rites as practiced in the United States and in Mexico, where the native cultures reinterpret the ceremonies surrounding Christmas and Easter.

Two events set the story in motion. First, a demonstration staged by a local militia, the autodefensa, is interrupted when army officers shoot into the crowd and kill two young bystanders. Second, when Riordan goes to the military installation to see if he can get Captain Valencia to make amends to the townspeople, the captain, together with a federal agent, Gregorio Bonham, seek Riordan’s help in discovering which locals are complicit in the Brotherhood’s smuggling operation.

None of the major characters is without a thorny past, least of all Riordan who regrets having compromising his vows in the States and while in Rome. Now, he is being asked to break the sanctity of the confessional.

Caputo can tell a good tale and manages the action in a couple key scenes brilliantly: an aborted attempt at capturing ringleaders at a birthday celebration, and Moreno’s operation to remove a bullet under duress. Also, he does a good job mixing English and Spanish vernacular, though he doesn’t come close to the finesse of description and dialogue in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and The Crossing.

Caputo is more reporter than novelist. His writing here is uneven. He is not a stylist. And he simply takes on too much. If this is primarily the story of a man’s fall from grace, I should have felt more sympathy for Riordan’s dilemma.

Part of me simply shouted: Yanqui Go Home!

Posted in Book Reviews, Hispanidad, religion and culture | Leave a comment

Welcome to Cannabis Nation

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my neighborhood suppliers

I paid a visit to my neighborhood cannabis dispensary yesterday and got a half-hour disquisition on marijuana in Oregon from a thirty-something named John. Two years ago, friends visiting from Arizona had told us they were surprised at the number of dispensaries they’d seen on the Oregon Coast.

“Way more than coffee shops,” Candee said.

Her observation raised some questions. Where had I been?

Actually, I’d been in Arizona, where only medical marijuana is legal.

It wasn’t until this year, when we returned after eight months in Phoenix, that I took a look around my hometown. I began to suspect that what was true for the Oregon Coast was also true for Portland. So I did a personal survey. How many dispensaries were there within five miles of my house? As it turns out: Eighteen. How many coffee shops? Slightly fewer.

In fact, at last count (Sept. 7), the Oregon Liquor Control Commission had licensed 480 dispensaries, medical and recreational, to sell marijuana throughout the state, 168 of which are within the Portland city limits.

I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise. Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts and among the first to authorize the use of medical marijuana.

Welcome to Cannabis Nation. As goes Oregon, so goes the country. Twenty-eight states already authorize the selling of medical marijuana; twelve of those will be selling recreational cannabis by the close of 2018.

What does this mean? For one thing, big bucks for state and local revenue. According to a report issued by Willamette Week (Aug. 29, 2018), which, by the way, has a reporter dedicated to covering cannabis, the Oregon Department of Revenue took in $8.57 million in weed taxes this July, a 66 percentage increase year over year. Local government taxes increased even more: 73 percent.

My new best friend John, the “budtender” at Happy Leaf, tells me that 40 percent of that tax revenue goes into Oregon’s common school fund, 35 percent is divided between local and state law enforcement agencies.

And then there is the business of federal taxes. According to estimates from New Frontier Data, marijuana business owners across the U.S. owed $2.8 billion in taxes in 2018, under a provision in the tax code (280E).  And because marijuana is an illicit industry under federal law, these taxes must be paid in cash. (Happy Leaf has an ATM set up in the outer office handy to where my ID was checked to authorize entry.)

Oregon’s senator Jeff Merkeley introduced a bill, the SAFE Banking Act of 2017, to free up financial services for cannabis business. “You don’t want to have this cash economy that invites money laundering and cheating and all sorts of stealing,” Merkley told CNN Money (January 18, 2018).

The new cannabis culture in Portland also means a change in its general acceptance and a grudging recognition that smoking it in the privacy of your home and in private social gatherings is leaking into the mainstream middle-class.

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Courtesy of Rooted Northwest

Cannabis connoisseurs interviewed on local public radio praise the variety of buds available. They talk about their favorites using the same language — fruity, earthy, citric-forward, distinctive perfume finish — that wine aficionados employ to describe their preferences. A friend told me recently that one of her Instagram correspondent regularly posts photos of favorite varietals. Nor is it unheard of to be offered a toke as easily as a glass of wine at a gathering of friends.

Willamette Week, Portland’s oldest alternative newspaper, has assumed the role of marketer to the weed culture. A recent article entitled High Fashion discussed a local effort to “move stoner style away from tie-dye toward high-end street wear.” Away with little leaf decorations on sunglasses and bobby sox.  For the last three years, the freebie has polled its readers for the Best Organic Cannabis Dispensary and Budtender. (Mind Rite in Northwest Portland is this year’s winner in both categories.) In WW‘s pages you can learn about local efforts to provide vocational training for youth interested in a career in cannabis (Green Loop Academy) and an accelerator program to support women in the business (the Commune).

Restrictions on smoking marijuana in public are more stringent that on smoking in general. Pity the poor visitor to the state. He can buy, but where can he smoke? Motels have restrictions. Many landlords specifically prohibit cannabis consumption on their premises. (When I vacationed in Colorado a couple of years ago, Airbnb listings mentioned whether or not they were “cannabis-free” households.)

New Revenue Coalition, an advocacy group, hopes to expand the number of places where cannabis consumers can gather. The group wants to see a 2019 legalization of cafes and lounges dedicated to cannabis consumers. Additionally a measure to this effect may appear on the 2020 ballot.

Meanwhile, the state is overrun with product. Weed prices are at an all-time low — the cheapest in the country — currently advertised on street corners and billboards at $5 and $6/gram retail. The glut is putting growers out of business and the over-abundance is leaking cannabis into the black market. On Aug. 24, state regulators restricted the ability of medical marijuana cardholders from buying weed in bulk. Regulators found that one-third of all Oregon sales of eight ounces or more came from sales by two retailers in Multnomah County.

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Courtesy of Pakalolo

Though recreational use has not gone up for teens since legalization, it has increased measurably for adults (Kaitlin Washburn, The Oregonian/OregonLive, July 1, 2018). However, the latest data show the overwhelming majority of Oregon adults didn’t touch marijuana in the past month. (The same cannot be said for alcohol.)

Conversations now about product controls center around clearer disclosures in packaging, particularly in regard to edibles and concentrates, as well as improving the general public’s understanding of potency and the limits of THC amounts per serving.

Many are troubled by the movement of marijuana farming into the mainstream. Most recently, Rachel McCart, a lawyer in Beavercreek, has joined forces with Laura Underwood in a suit against Oregon Candy Farm for growing a product that the federal government has outlawed. Underwood says the Candy Farm’s processing plant lowers the property value of her home in Sandy, Oregon (WW, Aug 22, 2018.)

Will the endangered species advocates be far behind? A Mark Trail comic published in  the Sunday Oregonian (Sept. 9) was dedicated to the preservation of the few Humboldt martens still in the wild in northern California and southern Oregon. These small weasels slinking through the redwoods are carnivores living right where cannabis cultivation is booming. Many marijuana growers use rodent repellents that make their way into the forest food chain, the comic claims.

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California protective legislation is pending. It sounds like the return of the spotted owl controversy to me. This time, instead of the conservationists versus the loggers, it pits counter culture against wildlife advocates.

Oh my! What’s a progressive to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Commentary, fun stuff, Phoenix, Portland | 5 Comments