That walkway? Pretty much under water right now ...

As anyone at the Weekly (or anywhere in my life) could tell EW! A Blog readers, I'm kind of obsessed with the flooding in Iowa City right now. I lived there for seven years, and I consider it my hometown. (Sorry, Kansas City.)

The Des Moines Register is doing the best job of staying up to date with flooding around the state, including Iowa City, but if you're interested, also check out the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Daily Iowan and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Um, just sayin'. If you're interested.

So yes, I'm obesessed ... and pretty heartbroken. Thousands of volunteers couldn't keep the water away from the buildings where I spent most of my (first, formative) grad school life. Library. English-Philosophy Building. Iowa Memorial Union. Art Building. UI Museum of Art. Hancher Auditorium. Theater. Music Building.

Credit to Brian Ray at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. That's the Museum of Art from across the river. Usually, there are banks, sidewalks, benches, berms and bridges. Not so much right now.

Some big new housing developments and a huge evangelical church, idiotically built in the flood plain after the "100-year flood" (they're calling this one a 500-year flood) of 1993, are flooded. Not caring about those so much.

But everything else ... the homes ... the dorms ... City Park ... the Shakespeare Festival home ... it's just painful to watch. And I can't sandbag from 2,000 miles away.

So I started giving money. Anyone else wanting to give, here are some links (I KNOW there are a lot of former Midwesterners in Eugene and environs. After all, we're escaping the damn summers and winters, no?):

  • Iowa City animal shelter (which has evacuated to the Fairgrounds and has a huge number of new animals thanks to the flooding)
  • Cedar Rapids Humane Society, which, along with the Cedar Rapids Animal Control, had to rescue thousands of animals when a levee breached while people were at work and couldn't get out or get their own animals out.

Just some ideas as we finally enjoy our beautiful weather. God, Oregon's beautiful today, isn't it?!

Woop! Since the last time I posted, I’ve seen three candidates: Bill Richardson, gov of New Mexico; Chris Dodd, good senator from Conn. (as opposed to crazy Joe Lieberman); and John Edwards again for a short stop at the Mill. (That makes four senators and a governor, one of the senators twice, from 9 pm Tuesday to noon today, or 39 hours of presidential candidates.) I should say that everywhere I go, people are talking about the candidates and the caucus. This is not a "media creation" and this is not some elitist thing. And also, everywhere I go, people are undecided but leaning toward Edwards or Obama or Dodd. (Which is weird — where's Hillary Clinton in all of this?)

Also: Hot talking points for the Dems have been:
• taking back the Constitution
• an America we can be proud of again
• giving services to the wounded troops and civilians
• killing No Child Left Behind
• universal health care or some kind of health care plan.

Oops, let me back up: Bill Richardson was coming to the Mill (site of many a Greg Brown concert, among other things, though what I mostly remember from it is many nights of trying to find something decently healthy to eat during concerts and poetry readings) at 8:30 last night, so we popped down for dinner around 6:45. (I’m so, so happy our friends are undecided and still want to see all of the candidates!) Last night, it was colder than the proverbial you know what, but around 150-200 people packed into the Mill’s (finally nonsmoking) back room, and we were glad to have been there early. (I'd post a picture, but I can't force it to go in the right direction for some reason. Halp, James and Molly!)

A weirdly boring blues band played for a while, and I plugged my phone in behind the bar to charge so I could get the exciting photos that you can't see just yet. We mixed healthy spinach salad with cheese fries and jalapeno poppers for a mixed Iowa/Oregon-ish experience.

Edwards’ stop on Jan. 2 began with his wife speaking, then Mary Culver (gov’s wife), then John. Obama’s started with young, organized campaign dudes. Richardson? He had a military pilot who had been a prisoner in the Sudan, an older guy now, whom Richardson had helped get out of the country. The guy said, “I was a lifelong Republican until I met Bill Richardson.”

So he went on about Richardson’s foreign policy experience and courage. All of this time, Richardson was on stage, quite close to where we were sitting, and he was looking at some notes that later on turned out to be the counties in Iowa he had visited in the past 48 hours (I think). And where Clinton was wearing a nice skirt and blouse (I think — we were farther from her than from anyone else we’ve seen), Obama an open-necked shirt and jacket, Edwards the same (and Chris Dodd this morning a full suit), Richardson? He’s the governor of New Mexico. You know, the West. (As a matter of fact, if you're reading this blog, you probably do know.) That means ix-nay on the uit-says, I guess; he wore his shirt untucked, and it had leather elbowpatches, and he wasn’t wearing a jacket. I found that kind of impressive (perhaps because I chose to live in casual country; I mean, there’s a reason for that!) Turns out someone on the radio this morning said she thought the same thing, and combined with his generous informality on stage AND his foreign policy experience, it changed her to caucus for him. He spoke a lot about environmental issues, including saying, “I mean, 30 miles per gallon? That’s pathetic!” If I didn’t think he was such a nuclear power proponent, I would have fallen for him right then. (This Grist interview addresses some of the issues though not super-critically. Hey, maybe I'm totally wrong!)

We had to sleep sometime, and I was frozen by the time we got back through the crazy cold.

Speaking of foreign policy experience, anyone who made it to Chris Dodd’s campaign stop at the same coffee shop where Edwards was yesterday (Dodd’s was at 8 this morning) might have changed her mind to caucus for him. Besides the firefighters who lined the stage and the East Coast folks near me in the audience and the press corps, I’d say there were about 95-125 people there. Yes, it was the smallest crowd so far, but damn. Dodd knows his stuff. I mean, he knows his stuff. Peace Corps and military service both combined with years of Senate work. His wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, came out after Iowa City’s youngish (our friends say he’s in his lower 40s, but he looked pretty young!) city council person Matt Hayek (sp? Will check soon) talked for a long time about why he was supporting Dodd. Jackie Dodd was also quite convincing (“Chris has gotten seven pieces of legislation passed this year, and that’s more than the top three candidates combined have ever gotten passed,” well, that there’s a good point), and then Dodd spoke.

He talked about how the new president won’t have time to get up to speed and talked about how Benazir Bhutto had called him when she was under house arrest and asked for his help. Though that seemed a little disingenuous, it was still impressive. He talked about Darfur also and about legislation he had gotten passed. I don’t know why he hasn’t gotten more attention, possibly because he IS totally qualified? (But, as I thought with Richardson, I think he’s running for a cabinet position, really. Though the conventional wisdom on Richardson, who has already been a member of the cabinet [of Bill Clinton], is that he’s running to be Hillary’s VP candidate.)

That was my fifth candidate in three days, and though I liked both Dodd and Richardson, and though Obama was moving and well-coordinated, and though Hillary Clinton is my super-strong second choice, I’m an Edwards fan through and through. He’s the only one who said a word about corporations. He’s the only one who talks about the gap between CEO pay and the pay of the average worker. He’s the only one who talks about the ways these things destroy the American, blue-collar dream; he’s not stuck only talking about the middle class; he’s devoted. And so I returned to the Mill, with yet-undecided friends in tow. I admit to an ulterior motive: After every candidate we saw, they’d say, “Well, I think person X might be it!” and I really, really wanted the last candidate they saw to be John Edwards. They didn’t come with the two Oregonians (that is, me and someone else) to see him yesterday, and they sure as hell didn’t come with me this morning to Dodd (I’m just so excited to have these chances, you know? It’s damn exciting! I can't stop going to candidate things! I haven't even seen my friends. It's so wrong. Yet it's a political junkie's dream three days ... ). So.

’Twas the shortest campaign appearance yet, as he came in, talked with people, shook hands, answered people's questions (one woman was crying, and whispered her question in his ear, and he said, "I'm sorry; I'm so, so, sorry," and I think she decided to vote for him after that — the Bill Clinton tradition, which worked well here) gave a last-minute appeal. "We're all in this together, we're in this with you, and you know what this is all about: this is about changing America, this is about fighting to change America. It's about being able to be proud of this country we live in, to make an America where our children can succeed." He asked people to make calls, get friends to the caucus, get to the caucuses early: "We need you to be on time, we need you to be present, because you are the ambassadors for the change that we've vbeen fighting for. You are the agents of that change. We're going to start a movement here in Iowa that everyone of us can be proud of." Then he took off for Cedar Rapids.

But as he left, Elizabeth Edwards moved back to chat with the crowd where we were, and she, just being herself, charmed the HELL out of the friends, who were already leaning toward Edwards. Well, at least one of them now says her first choice is still Obama, but that her very strong second choice is Edwards. It’s my desire now to get her moved over; her partner already seems moved over. We’ll see. There are four hours before the caucuses supposedly start (2 now that I'm finally at a place where the wireless is strong enough to post the blog) though it seems that they will be ultra-crowded and might be overwhelmed with people and start late.

I'm going to charge up the laptop so I can live-blog, if that's possible, the caucus tonight (Iowa City precinct 15, I think, though I might switch among precincts if that's possible).

UPDATE: Just walked into the house, and the formerly-Obama-Edwards-as-a-second-choice person has switched to Edwards. Wow. But of course, anything could happen tonight! (Except that I don't think Dodd or Richardson, Kucinich or Gravel, has a chance.) Also, I'm about to give the other friend my sound file of Edwards yesterday at the coffeeshop. Next up: Caucus liveblog if at all possible!

OK, small break before Bill Richardson (at 8:30, not 6:30, oops, and we're missing Biden right now, which is driving me nuts, but oh well).

Obama at the huge, massive, bizarrely alone on the snowy hills of Coralville Marriott at 1:30 pm today. Super crowded, at least a thousand people, possibly more. (I think. Don't have official counts.)

I made my way as close to the stage as I could get. We were there at 12:35, and I have no idea what people who got there closer to 1:15 or 1:30 did. Yikes. I stood by Rose, a former nursing professor who now lives near Iowa City, and Rose's grandbaby Rose.

Rose's dad used to live in Iowa City and now lives near Yosemite, and he also used to live in D.C., I think, because he mentioned that he used to know frequent EW letter-writer Mark Rabinowitz (and he mentioned that he had read this issue sometime last summer when he went through Eugene). He made buttons for himself and his mom and daughter.

Obama was incredible. I mean, incredible. I can't get the info off of the recorder, and there's really no way to tell what a masterful job he did unless you've seen him in person, but I'll be very surprised if people who saw him don't switch. (One of the people I know who was leaning toward Clinton is now pretty strong on Obama. "His message came through, and he countered a number of other people's criticisms.") I will be quite surprised if Obama doesn't take the highest percentage of the caucuses. I thought he was a bit too slick or perhaps...I don't know, a bit too...whatever, I'd be happy to vote for him. The energy in that room was so strong, so committed, so full of joy and momentum. SO many young people. SO many (not just counting Baby Rose).

Then we went to see John Edwards at a coffeeshop next to the new Iowa City Public Library. That was a much smaller venue, but it was also completely packed, with more obviously working-class people, and more obviously poor people, and more older people than were at Obama. Elizabeth Edwards came out first. They're doing 36 straight hours of campaigning, including midnight stops etc., and they're tired people. Elizabeth Edwards was so awesome ("It's easy to think about this here in the heartland, and John talks a lot about it, the men and women who built this country with their hands. our fathers and grandfathers, our mothers and our great-grandmothers, and all of those people on whose shoulders we stand today. But it turns out that they built it for Exxon, they built it for HCA, and they built it for United Health Care, and for Eli Lilly,and what they'd intended to build for us doesn't so much work for us, so in this moment, we have a chance to switch that back the way it's supposed to be.")

Frankly, looking at their children (who came out with their mom), I got all teary-eyed thinking about her cancer. Mary Culver, the wife of Iowa's new(ish) Democratic governor, came out and spoke to introduce John Edwards. She was also interesting, far more interesting than somewhat conservative Chet, her husband.

John came out, and I was so close to him! OK, I admit it, I shook his hand. Who could resist? He was also incredible, but in a totally different way. He was after corporate greed from the very beginning, and he and Elizabeth both talked about a shelter in Des Moines for homeless single moms and their kids. He called them "extraordinary," and he talked about how much his grandparents and parents sacrificed so he could have a better life, and how the promise of that was being taken away by corporations and corporate greed. "A CEO makes more in ten minutes than a worker makes in a year," he said, and the crowd booed. He talked about the the girl who died of leukemia after her insurance company refused to pay for a liver transplant and about how you couldn't negotiate with these kinds of people. (Obama had talked about negotiating and sitting down at the table and how it wasn't a bad thing to be so nice, and Edwards was just like, "These people don't care about nice. They will stomp you if they can.")

Let me just note that there was a baby for Edwards as well (the baby's older sister was wearing an Edwards '08 campaign sticker).

I don't know what will happen, let me repeat. Lord knows if I were still living here, I can only hope I'd caucus for Edwards. Clinton would be my second choice for her absolute smarts and experience, and Obama for charisma, and then probably Joe Biden. But we'll never know because I didn't go hear him!

We're going to eat dinner at the The Mill, where Richardson will be at 8:30. Looks like Edwards will be at the Mill tomorrow as well. Jeez, maybe I'll get to see Biden tomorrow! (Dodd at 8 am at the same coffeeshop where Edwards sold a whole buttload of coffees and gelato and pastries as people waited, I mean, he didn't sell them, but the anticipation sold them.) More on Richardson later.

I don't have anything, really, for Giftmas blogging right now.

Except maybe a solar charger for my iPod and for my laptop.

Oh, and motivation. I'm peculiarly unmotivated right now. Perhaps I need a vacation? (I will take Christmas Day off. I think. I worked it last year. Hm.)

Luckily, vacation is coming, and I'm going away to the snow and the caucuses. Exciting!

1. What crazy ass fools would deny kids health care coverage? Would it shock you if I said the Bushies?

2. Maybe they had health care 14 million years ago. And now we'll be able to see!

3. Ha! Not to insult Prince Hal or anything ... Nice try, people, but we know Bush ain't no Shakespearean hero.
After the 2000 recount, plenty of us hoped - we really had no choice - that Bush would turn out to be Prince Hal in Henry IV, the layabout brat who, on succeeding to his father's throne, finds the maturity to lead. His presidency has indeed turned out to be like Henry V, but in reverse.

4. Health care in Ohio is screwed too, thanks to "the market." The profit motive runs contrary to the best cooperative and Samaritan traditions of medical practice and training.

5. Healthy food Less instantly bad for you food at the Indianapolis State Fair. Oh noes, they has to change the oil more often!

Um, dudes, that's a good thing. However, problem:
And if this meant they could indulge without guilt or have one more helping, so much the better.
No, see, the one more helping thing? You're missing the point.

6. OMG, the West Coast is so ... far ... away ... from East Coast newspapers, that is.

7. But not as far as Iowa, apparently. Not that the farmers help that myth, either.

8. Rain: It's messing with Mexico & Jamaica and killing people in the Midwest. (And freaking me out in Eugene: Give me back my sunny days! Until October!)

9. More disaster and a slow response: Peru needs help.

10. Kids these days! It's the annual Beloit list about entering first-year students, and it's a bit confusing:
62. They have no idea who Rusty Jones was or why he said “goodbye to rusty cars.”
Me neither, dudes.

BONUS: The Remains of the Day Lily
That just hurts. Ouch. Stop it!

I once had a group of students in my rhetoric class at the University of Iowa who wrote and presented about the problems with hog lot farming.

Now you may think, "This has nothing to do with me! I'm a vegetarian!" or "Hunh, I live in a city, yokels in Iowa mean less than nothing," or something like that.

Oh, my friend, my friend, farming — the ways of big agriculture — they affect us all. From the desire of farmers in the Klamath Basin to irrigate their crops — thus destroying the fishing industry and salmon runs up and down the West Coast — to the nitrogen-based fertilizers that farmers, at the whims of a greedy corporation, put on their crops (crops that are grown for hogs, for cows and for biofuel, not to mention for tofu, for tempeh, for soy isolates easily stuck into almost anything from tennis shoes to "protein bars," which means this does affect and involve you), those ways are the ways that ruin our planet.

But. Though I'm not a fan of more hybrids or more modified food, here is some good news about one possible development that may save the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and the wheat farmers.

Huzzah, I say. (I like the direct-sow idea, but I know that large-scale farmers will want something less labor-intensive.) Huzzah, and let's please figure out something to help corn not be so evil as well.

OK. So I haven't been blogging. I've been outta town (again). I took a friend from Iowa City on a whirlwind trip around Oregon.
Here's a pic of Iowa City:

That's the Iowa River and, shockingly, the University of Iowa. I used to work (teaching first-year and transfer students composition and speech and research and How To Be Good People, or something) in the building on the right. Ass ugly building, but great people, those first-year students. And that river was beautiful, especially frozen. Though the -60 degree windchill thing was what convinced me to get my butt to this much warmer state.

Anyway, on my first visit to Oregon from Iowa (10 years ago this week!), a different friend and I went all the hell over the state, and I fell in luuuuuuuuuuv with everything from PDX to Crater Lake. OK, and I liked the mulch-smelling UO campus too. After much consultation with her, I decided to recreate that trip in miniature with my Iowa buddy.

We went to Crater Lake first and camped there. I remember when I saw Crater Lake the first time. Well, first of all, it was August and there was snow! And then we got to the rim. Holy sweet mother of...

The next day, we drove dooooooown the mountains and into Ashland for a stay at the Ashland Hostel and a night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I heart the OSF even when I am not a big fan of some of the plays or the choices made by the directors. I surprised myself by not buying too many things at the Tudor Gift Shop; I mean, I'm a total and complete sucker for little knight statues, postcards, dragon paraphenalia, books (the usual purchase) or, I don't know, one of those book-art combos like the super-cool DK A Port Through Time. I admit, I did buy some English history cards for my England-residing mom and some literature-quiz cards for those rainy trips to the coast this winter, but still. Coulda been worse.

I had a great time at the OSF's Backstage Tour, which, for my money (OK, for my press pass), is one of the most exciting things around. I've taken it 3 times, and I never fail to learn exciting new things about the OSF and how a huge repertory theater company works. Is exciting stuff. A fourth time is in the works for mid-August. Sucker for the OSF info.

My friend surprised me by saying that she had never read or seen any versions of Romeo and Juliet. I had no idea that anyone could get through high school anywhere in the U.S. without having to read it out loud, agonizingly, in sophomore English, or perhaps at the least having a (lazy) teacher simply show one of the many movies. (Note: I had an excellent teacher who keeps on winning fellowships to Oxford to study Shakespeare. Don't know why she ever taught high school, but she was super brilliant.)

I long to put a photo from the Ashland production in here, but we don't have that capability just yet (long story), but soon, soon, I will pepper you with OSF photos. Review to come in print and online in September after Chuck and I have seen all of the plays. I'm sad there's no history play this year, but I am into As You Like It and of course The Tempest

From Ashland, where we had very nice food in general and once, while sitting on the bank at a restaurant not-to-be-named, watched a sad raccoon drag another raccoon, this one dead, off a rock and down the creek (the whole waitstaff eventually came out to watch as well), I drove to Bandon. Ah, Bandon:

I love Bandon. Ate the "famous crab sandwich" at Tony's Crab Shack. Was not impressed by the sandwich, but the crab was good. (I'm not much of a bread person.) Stayed at the Sea Star (in the hostel room, a bit, er, snug, but also incredibly affordable at $19 per person — on the coast! In high season!) and met a biker dude (from Australia, I think) who was heading down the coast to SF. He left me a copy of Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, which I'll get started on after I have a moment to read the first book in that cycle (Quicksilver).

Next up: Newport! But on the way...

Heceta Head Lighthouse tour. My second time. I love this tour! OMG, I'm such an Oregon booster. Woot, love Oregon. Woot, love the tales of the lighthouse keepers and, in this case, the one-room schoolhouse for the keepers' kids.

Once outta the lighthouse, drove directly to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. I know, I know, everyone has been there already, and it's a bit spendy (though $13.25 doesn't seem that bad, actually), but come on.

The otters are worth it! Not to mention the creepy Japanese spider crabs, the stripey tiger sharks swimming all over the place, etc. etc. etc. Also, say your blood sugar is low when you get there and you grab some strawberry ice cream from the lobby? You'll be even happier.

We checked into the Sylvia Beach Hotel, where we were staying in the dorm room (note to self: bring earplugs next time; the older ladies who tend to frequent the Sylvia Beach dorm room can be quite, quite loud in their snoring), and I dragged my friend to Yaquina Head Lighthouse and the tidepools. The low tide was a +3.3, so it was hardly low. But still, it was fun ... except for the dead animals (to be explained below).

We ate at the Whale's Tail on the bayfront after discovering that the owners of the Canyon Cafe have decided not to open on Sundays for some godforsaken reason. Newport survives on tourism, people. Open the frik up on Sundays! In any case, I enjoyed my locally brewed Lovin' Lager and my locally caught Dungeness crab, so pfffft to Canyon Cafe and Bookstore.

Discovered Tuesday morning that the reason for the many dead animals we saw (a sea lion, a seal, more common murres and seagulls than I wanted to count) on the beaches was that we have another huge dead zone (that's last year's dead zone, but please--same thing) in the ocean. And that was a terrifyingly sad end to a beautiful trip.

I don't exactly know how my friend liked the whole shebang, but I loved getting out and seeing the state for a grand total of like $400 (that's mostly for gifts, gas and the several times we ate out; the total price for camping, a private room in the Ashland and Bandon hostels and the dorm room at Sylvia Beach was around $118, and that's only because I paid the entire cost of the Ashland room and the National Parks permit into Crater Lake). I know why Oregonians don't usually vacation out of state ... except for the cities, of course ... why would you?

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